Sunday, June 30, 2019

the top albums/songs of the midyear - 2019

So for one of the first times when I'm making this midyear retrospective, I have to introduce a major caveat: I'm putting together this list before listening to the long-awaited return collaboration between Freddie Gibbs and Madlib. Make no mistake, I want to hear it and it'll probably get a ton of praise from me given how much I loved Pinata, but it's also going to be a project I'll need time to process and I don't want to rush a review before the midyear and risk delays, so if you're wondering why that's not here, that's why.

But it's also important to highlight that even if that album is as amazing as I hope it'll be, it would face some stiff competition this year! I highlighted last year how even despite getting a pretty reasonable spread of albums it was easy to put things in position, and I wanted to say it'd be same here... until I truly took a look at how many truly stunning albums we've gotten in the first half of 2019! Country has delivered in spades, underground hip-hop is firing on all cylinders, I've got solid cuts from rock and punk and metal, and even pop and R&B have given me some choice cuts. As such, this is one of those years I've had to make some painful cut to whittle this list down to twelve albums and twenty-four songs outside those albums, and just like last year, I have to stress just because an album didn't make this midyear list is no guarantee it won't make the year-end, or that positions won't evolve or change. Also - and I feel this important to emphasize - if you're expecting to see some big name critical darlings here... well, suffice to say 2019 has been a year where I'm flying down a very different path than many mainstream critics, so if you're looking for certain albums... go check to see if I've reviewed them, that's all I'm saying.

And given that this is the sixth one of these lists I've assembled, I've got twelve albums, twenty four songs not otherwise on those albums, and let's start with...

Friday, June 28, 2019

video review: 'late night feelings' by mark ronson

Well, I'm a little late to the punch with this one, but it was a genuinely solid project that I really liked - enjoy!

Next up... okay, Resonators, Trailing Edge, maybe one more review, and then the midyear - stay tuned!

album review: 'late night feelings' by mark ronson

Am I the only one who feels like it's been years since 'Uptown Funk'? And yes, that song originally debuted in 2014, I get that it's been a while, but the pop landscape that was once open to the shamelessly retro, classicist approach Mark Ronson brought to pop music has mutated so much thanks to the onset of trap and the collapse of so many acts seem like they've left the producer and singer-songwriter in a weird place - it feels so much longer than it's actually been. Hell, if you want evidence of that, look at how it seemed like radio was anemic towards 'Nothing Breaks Like A Heart', a genuinely terrific Miley Cyrus collaboration that was one of the best songs she's made this decade!

So in a way I'm not surprised that it seems like Late Night Feelings doesn't have the buzz that greeted Uptown Special in early 2015, but I still wanted to cover it, if only so I could have an excuse to give 'Nothing Breaks Like A Heart' more attention and exposure. And Ronson still has the sort of clout to pull acts as varied as Alicia Keys, Angel Olsen, and Lykke Li along with Miley. And while I wasn't expecting a smash in the same way as 'Uptown Funk', I did have high hopes in terms of pure craftsmanship, so what did we get from Late Night Feelings?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

video review: 'help us stranger' by the raconteurs

Well this is... actually, I have no idea if this is going to be super controversial or not, we'll have to see.

Anyway, time to venture into a review that I'm genuinely surprised I haven't seen more folks approach - stay tuned!

album review: 'help us stranger' by the raconteurs

Of all of Jack White's side projects, this was the one I least expected him to revisit.

Hell, I thought he had moved on years ago, mostly because The Raconteurs felt like a precursor to everything Jack White would do in the 2010s, laying a foundation of classic rock for Jack White in the latter half of the 2000s to springboard his weirder retro-blues and garage side to wildly varying results in the 2010s. And I'll admit they were always the act that tended to draw the least of my attention, even as you could argue they were the most consistent Jack White side project. I attribute a lot of this to co-frontman Brendon Benson who had a much more measured, conventional rock tone to his song structures and compositions, but that might stand as the most telling drawback of the group, because of every stylized stab into rock Jack White made, The Raconteurs were the most backwards-looking and conventional. And sure, the albums were fine - probably getting the most interesting when they mined the compositional tension between White and Benson - but they were projects that didn't really add much great or boundary pushing in rock in comparison to Blunderbuss, or even Boarding House Reach, an album I'm mixed on to this day but at least was taking chances.

And I bring up Boarding House Reach because it's hard not to feel like the mixed reception or even backlash to that project might have prompted Jack White to reunite with Benson - sure, it's been teased for a while, but if he wanted an easy way to appease an increasingly unpleasable audience, a new album from The Raconteurs over ten years since Consolers of the Lonely would probably help. But at the same time I had low expectations - the songs would probably be fine, but firmly indebted to classic rock and blues and nothing great or challenging. But hey, I'm open to being wrong, so what did we get from Help Us Stranger?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 29, 2019 (VIDEO)

Okay, this looks to be a pretty busy episode... eh, we'll see.

Next up, let's finally deal with the Raconteurs - stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 29, 2019

There's something about this week that feels big. Not a lot of of new arrivals but we had two smash into the top 10, along with a few notable departures that give me the feeling that we're on the cusp of a major shakeup... although given that album bombs are a little less of a thing in 2019, I'm not sure I'm seeing the release on the horizon that's truly going to do it.

Monday, June 24, 2019

video review: '7' by lil nas x

Well, this exists... about as much as I can say about it, given that we're riding on a glorified meme, but let's see how far it takes the song...

Anyway, Billboard BREAKDOWN and maybe a review up next, so stay tuned!

album review: '7' by lil nas x

I bet there's some of you who thought this would never be released - and I include Lil Nas X in that group.

See, quite a few things have changed and evolved since I appeared on Dead End Hip Hop a few months back to try and clear up a few things about 'Old Town Road', the country trap song that has ruled the Hot 100 for months, where I described the Billboard controversy as less of a discussion of race in country and more one of industry machinations. And turns out for the most part I was right, as when the remix with Billy Ray Cyrus was released, Nashville was able to get its paycheque and let the song lodge itself comfortably on top. And then things started happening that kept proving what I said right - Lil Nas X conveniently leaks that he was an industry plant signed to Columbia, which you might think was a troll, but a.) he would have no reason to say that and it kind of undercuts his entire narrative by doing so; b.) how else did he get that Nine Inch Nails sample cleared on 'Old Town Road', c.) how the hell did the song wind up on so many prominent playlists for streaming and d.) how else did he get that big budget music video otherwise? Most meme songs don't get that widespread in the mainstream without someone pushing levers, the controversy between Nashville labels and mainstream labels was a convenient bit of backdrop and infighting to juice publicity with Billboard hapless in the middle, and it looked like Lil Nas X was content to ride his one hit for as long as he could.

But the ugly truth is that if you're an industry plant, even if your song has been on top for week after week, the label's going to expect something to keep the cash flow going, hence this quickly announced and released EP. All indications was that it wasn't going to be that good - very few folks could make the lightning of a cut like 'Old Town Road' strike twice, but at least it'd be short, right?

Friday, June 21, 2019

video review: 'too mean to die' by karly driftwood

And here we go - way too late to the punch with this one, but I'm glad to cover it.

Now the good news is that I've got the next week off to work on reviews and get ahead of things, so Resonators, the Trailing Edge, a bunch of reviews, and the midyear video are on their way. So yeah, stay tuned!

album review: 'too mean to die' by karly driftwood

So I'm going to start this review on a tangent that could be considered political - you've been warned - and it focuses around a musician's personal life outside of the music, namely the reality that the vast majority of them can't afford to make a living off of music alone. Sure, you get a scattered few who are marketing masterminds and who can position their web presence in a way to collect more than you'd ever believe, but that's not the norm, especially for indie acts who are just starting to build their buzz. And work/life balance is a thing as you want to find time to write and produce and play gigs but also pick up shifts however you can, and sometimes that can lead you to rough territory, sometimes stuff that to appeal to a wider audience might be a little transgressive to put in your lyrics, especially if you're a woman and especially if it's tied to sex and sex work. Especially in American society, if you write about that stuff it's considered uncouth, you're risking backlash.

And I'm here to say that's absolute bullshit. Yeah, Cardi B stripped before she started making music - who cares? I can respect genuine talent, stage presence, and rapping skill that she has, and if she wants to talk about her experiences, that's fine by me. In fact, I'll go one further: beyond the fact that I believe sex work should be actively decriminalized and destigmatized, the fact that a certain subset of hip-hop fans want to marginalize her because of that past and the fact she talks about it is bullshit - after what you've let fly by in all sets of hip-hop, especially towards women, suddenly this is where you develop a moral standard? But let's keep in mind that hip-hop has at least been priming the pump to have that conversation - what other genres of music have gone there? 

Well, R&B... to a point, and of course it's shown up in the riot grrl side of punk, but how about country? Well, you could have a lengthy conversation surrounding how a predominantly conservative genre has dealt with sex - normally by sliding it into subtext or getting coy about it, and a lot of women have gotten really creative in how they've sidestepped moral censors - or your name is Bobbie Gentry and you write songs like 'Fancy' that are decades ahead of their time. Maybe it's a bit more explicit in the indie scene with acts like Lydia Loveless, but never that far if you're looking to cross over or get to a bigger label - until now. Meet Karly Driftwood, where with songs titled 'Stripped My Way To Nashville' are looking to provoke a reaction, yank the content conversation to a rougher, more transgressive and modern place where the sex and violence are allowed, and when you have a debut titled Too Mean To Die, you do grab an audience's attention. I'll admit it's been on my schedule for some time and I figured I might as well tackle it in full before the midyear, so what did Karly Driftwood deliver here?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

video review: 'gold & grey' by baroness

Okay, this was a disappointment, but really, what perplexes me is how much critical acclaim certain mainstream establishments are still giving this thing. Either their systems are concentrated ass, they got a superior copy, or they're talking crazy - or all three.

Anyway, I want to knock off a quick indie project that gave me a lot to say, then back to routine - stay tuned!

album review: 'gold & grey' by baroness

So throughout the course of my reviews but especially in the past couple of years, I've gotten comments surrounding how much attention I pay to the production of albums I review. And even beyond my lyrical or thematic criticisms, I'd argue production is probably some of the least recognized part of discussing music, or at least serves as a strong differentiating factor between the casual listeners and the diehards. And believe you me, if I could ignore bad mixing or mastering or simply was able to tune out where it was average instead of possibly great, it'd probably make my life as a critic a lot easier... but when you hear a project where the production approach matches what the artist is intending, you can find something really rare and special, especially if it's not overdone.

But I'll admit the 'overdone' question is a loaded one, because sometimes an album's mood and vibe is created as much by a producer as the compositions themselves, and finding the proper balance can be incredibly tricky, especially if you're taking risks behind the boards. Which, inevitably, takes us to Baroness, the veteran heavy metal act who delivered a few genuinely excellent albums and yet had to claw their way back from near disaster to deliver the phenomenal Purple in 2015, which damn near had a shot for my year-end list even as their single 'Shock Me' absolutely made it. But one of my main criticisms of Purple was rooted in producer Dave Fridmann, who I knew most for his work with The Flaming Lips where I could respect his commitment to massive atmospherics, but also was embracing an increasingly blocky, blown-out sound heavily reliant on clunky compression. And it's tough to pinpoint the exact moment where things started becoming obtrusive - I'd argue it was Embryonic in 2009 - but by the middle of the 2010s it was starting to actively detract from the compositions, and it did prove to be a small blemish on Purple. So when a lot of the buzz around Baroness' follow-up Gold & Grey was linked to how the production issues were now at the forefront with Fridmann handling production and mixing and where more than just critics were noticing... yeah, that was scary. But hey, it's Baroness - they're a genuinely great band and I was excited to see how new guitarist Gina Gleason deliver, so maybe Gold & Grey would turn out just fine?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

video review: 'doom days' by bastille

Alright, that was mediocre - not really surprising or disappointing, though.

No, if you want that stuff... well, stay tuned.

album review: 'doom days' by bastille

...third time's the charm, right?

Look, I would have every good excuse to skip over this project. I was lukewarm on Bad Blood, a project buoyed by a few genuinely great songs and a lot of underwhelming mediocrity. I got even less to work with on 2016's Wild World, saved only by 'Blame' amidst a torrent of awful production choices and writing that seemed to miss treating its acrid condescension and surface-level poetry for genuine earnest swell. And then there was 'Happier', which stripped away the traces of organic swell and groove to work with Marshmello, and basically is a song that exists - nobody will remember or care about that track in a year or two, it was Dan Smith cashing in his limited connections for a momentary crossover so Bastille is no longer a one-hit wonder.

But hey, maybe this third album would work - framed as a concept album starting at midnight and working to the morning during an extended party with explicit lyrical timestamps, this is an arc that's connected before. Hell, one of my favourite albums from 2017, Written At Night by underground rapper Uncommon Nasa, took a similar window of time with more introversion, so I was morbidly curious about how Bastille would approach this, especially as they didn't seem like a band that would make a 'party' project in this lane. So okay, what did we get with Doom Days?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 22, 2019 (VIDEO)

Alright, this actually came together a fair bit better than I was expecting - go figure. 

Next up... well, the poll says Bastille, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 22, 2019

You know, one of the most frustrating things as a music critic is that sometimes you can find yourself in a bubble of your own biases - you know what you like and dislike, and thus while you're actively seeking the former, if you're stuck covering the charts you might totally forget a project dropped that could impact them. Hence was the case this week, where I did expect the Jonas Brothers would have a little more traction - and they do - and I remembered vaguely that Luke Combs was moving an EP, I completely forgot that Future still has enough chart cache to get his new EP multiple entries. Guess I'm going to wind up covering it after a fashion anyway - joy.

Monday, June 17, 2019

video review: 'shepherd in a sheepskin vest' by bill callahan

Okay, so this was promising... long-winded both in the album and me talking about it, but I think this turned out alright enough.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN for the week and then... hmm, not sure. Stay tuned!

album review: 'shepherd in a sheepskin vest' by bill callahan

So I'd like to continue off of something I brought up in the Weyes Blood review and it does come with a bit of self-awareness on my part. I opened up that conversation with the discussion surrounding the sudden critical convergence that can happen around indie acts for a single project that can leave just as quickly, but there's another category of acts in an adjacent lane: the indie acts who do get consistent critical acclaim, but never seem to reach the larger conversation. A lot of singer-songwriters and smaller-scale acts wind up in this group, the folks who will reliably make critics' year-end lists, but rarely at the top, and while they will have a persistent cult following, they tend to be artists that even critics forget to revisit - until, out of the blue, they decide on a lark to give the album a spin and are stuck wondering why they don't put it on more often. Which is not quite as bad of a situation as what happens to the one-album-critical-darling, but can be deflating for an artist who would probably wish their name came up in the conversation a bit more.

And for me, I can't think of many acts that fit the bill more than Bill Callahan, previously known as Smog for a string of good-to-spectacular albums throughout the 90s and 2000s - until he switched to using his own name in 2007 and the quality never seemed to stop. And I'll admit I was late to the party - I first heard some of his work with Apocalypse in 2011, but it was Dream River in 2013 that really sealed the deal, a stunningly subtle and potent album that featured one of my favourite songs of that year in 'Summer Painter' and brought a level of cohesion and laconic focus to his brand of writing and production. It's rare to confront a singer-songwriter who can say and imply so much with so few words - in the 2010s the only singer-songwriter who comes close to what Callahan delivers is Courtney Marie Andrews, and even then stylistically they're in different phases of their career and very different lanes, but there is a similar road-weary, textured atmosphere both can command that gives their words so much more. But it's been a while since we've heard from Callahan - he put out a dub album covering Dream River in 2014 and a live album in 2018, but it's been a while since we've gotten new material... and he's got a lot of it, a full double album with a renewed focus on his current domestic life. Now I'll admit I've had mixed results with these sorts of projects, just because of the phase of life I'm in - it was one of the reasons Lori McKenna's The Tree didn't quite hit as strongly for me last year, and there's someone else who deserves to be in this conversation - and twenty songs of Bill Callahan's style and cadence is a lot, but I figured I'd let this sink in, so what did we get out of Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

video review: 'infections of a different kind / a different kind of human' by AURORA

And here we are - everyone who is asking, I think you might handle this one a bit better than last time (or at least I hope so).

Next up... honestly, I've got a pretty light schedule for the week ahead, so we'll have to see - stay tuned!

album review: 'infections of a different kind / a different kind of human' by AURORA

So I've talked a little about backlash that I've received for certain reviews - I don't tend to bring it up much because it honestly doesn't faze me much anymore, but there are certain cases where I'm a little bewildered at the intensity of the anger or vitriol, mostly because it comes in reviews where I'm more mixed on the project than outright negative. And 2016 was a year where I had more of those episodes than most, but what I think threw me off the most starkly was the response to covering the Norwegian indie pop artist AURORA. Now I'll admit I wasn't really kind to her debut project, but the truth was that I was more ambivalent to mixed on it as a whole - it wasn't really bad, but it also wasn't that distinctive or memorable either, a well-trod indie pop lane that frankly has only felt more oversaturated in recent years. The comparisons I originally made were to Christina Perri and Elvya, but going back to All My Demons Greet Me As A Friend now, it's abundantly clear I should have made the parallel to Florence + The Machine, just swapping out some of the chamber pop with lilting, slightly gothic folk that played on creepy girl weirdness in a way that's felt depressing conventional, or at the very least overplayed. 

So I'll admit I was in no hurry to hear more from her and indeed I skipped her 2018 project Infections Of A Different Kind, especially with the expectation this was part one to a full-album part two dropping this year, which is why I'm covering both here. And I figured I'd go in cold here - after all, Florence has grown on me considerably over the past few years and I had to hope that all the Bjork poses AURORA was making would wind up translating to slightly more interesting music, so what did we get on both Infections Of A Different Kind and A Different Kind Of Human?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

video review: 'widow's weeds' by silversun pickups

Well, this was very much disappointing - hopefully AURORA will be better as she's up next, stay tuned!

album review: 'widow's weeds' by silversun pickups

So I've never reviewed a Silversun Pickups album before, mostly because there wasn't much demand for me to cover Better Nature four years ago, but I'll admit I had walked adjacent to the band before then - and yet the conversation around this band fascinates me as it exposes a certain divide between critics of certain ages, and also prompts a conversation that surely won't get that controversial, right?

Well anyway, let's go back to 2006 where Silversun Pickups have released Carnavas with the instant classic single 'Lazy Eye', promptly becoming the best incarnation of the Smashing Pumpkins in the 2000s. And if you don't like that comparison, you've immediately exposed the controversy that's unfortunately surrounded this band for years, as with a nasal singer, aggressive loud-soft dynamics coasting on jangling guitar grooves, pretensions to larger sounds, and later in their career a slow pivot towards electronic music, it was an obvious parallel. Now let's put aside that the Smashing Pumpkins hadn't been tolerable since the end of the 90s and that given how the mainstream rock scene was only getting flashier before the aggro tones took over for the end of the decade, there was space for a band like Silversun Pickups... but they were an obvious retread to many critics and that was enough to ostracize them.

And this is where I have to highlight the generational divide, because I'm not going to ignore how much Silversun Pickups sounded like Smashing Pumpkins, but coming from someone who only went back to the Smashing Pumpkins and is lukewarm on the group at best - they're way more inconsistent than you remember and the egomaniacal preening of Billy Corgan hasn't really aged well - I had no problem with Silversun Pickups taking a similar sound in a slightly different direction. That's not saying the band doesn't have problems - the pop pivot hasn't been exactly smooth, the writing has been underwhelming, the band doesn't have the sheer nexus of creative genius that is Billy Corgan, nearly everything they write goes on too long, and I think they've consistently failed to realize their melodic hooks are their greatest strength. But without the foundational Gen X nostalgia for the Smashing Pumpkins, I can recognize where Silversun Pickups are different - less goth and prog, more scuzzy post-punk and shoegaze, with a shaggier approach to melody that has gradually put them in a different lane. Granted, I had no idea what I could get with this project, swapping out producer Jacknife Lee for rock megaproducer and former early Smashing Pumpkins producer Butch Vig, so what did we get out of Widow's Weeds?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 15, 2019 (VIDEO)

Okay, that was a long episode... and yet amazingly I'm ahead of schedule with it, go figure.

Anyway, next up is the equivalent of a double album, so stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 15, 2019

So this is one of those weeks that I'm just convinced whatever I review, I'm going to wind up pissing people off. And while I'd normally be able to skate by such thoughts on Billboard BREAKDOWN, given that it's in its own separate, equally annoying ecosystem... yeah, a quick glance at our new arrivals is telling me everything I need to know, there's no getting out of the stupid here.

Monday, June 10, 2019

video review: 'titanic rising' by weyes blood

Yeah, I expected this one to get messy... it happens.

Anyway, Billboard BREAKDOWN is up next, stay tuned!

album review: 'titanic rising' by weyes blood

So I'll admit I find myself a little fascinated by the 'critically acclaimed indie blow-up' story, mostly because I'm curious whether they are genuinely as calculated as they might appear from the sidelines. 

And you know how it goes: an indie act who normally has put in a few albums that are well-received but never quite beloved or super-popular suddenly goes to put out a project, and it seems like without warning a majority of critics have decided this is the one to get onboard with this artist, their time is now, and the critical acclaim is so pronounced it almost seems extraordinary. Normally it's when the act puts out their most accessible project but not always - hell, at some points you find yourself wondering what the hell is so distinctive about this one that will drive folks bananas. And this doesn't tend to happen for the consistent critical darlings or your more widely popular hipster mainstays or even your one-and-done flukes, which often leaves me wondering why the hell it's this album or it's this artist. The criterion feels nebulous, and I kind of feel sorry for the artists who might see their hype balloon for one album before all of it evaporating for their next when the formula doesn't change that much. 

So when we get to Natalie Mering aka. Weyes Blood... look, the signs are there this is happening to her. She's been putting out albums in the underground that split the difference between fuzzed out dream pop and more vintage baroque textures - think the opulence of the pop of the mid-60s before firmer grooves took hold in the latter half of that decade - and I've always thought they were okay enough with decent writing, but nothing that jumped off the page or I found truly riveting, both on the albums or her collaborations. And that seemed to be the critical consensus too, and yet suddenly this becomes the project that has won folks over en masse and is one of the most critically adored projects of 2019, with fans who just will not shut the fuck up about it? I'll admit that it did seem suspicious, but I was open to this potentially being amazing, so okay, intentionally very late to the punch with this, what did we get from Titanic Rising?

the top ten worst hit songs of 2010 (VIDEO)

Well, this was a long time coming, but I'm happy this came out as loose and funny as it is. 

Next up... well, I put up a vote on Twitter and folks apparently wanted me to cover something else instead of AURORA and Silversun Pickups... so I've got a surprise in store. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

video review: 'happiness begins' by jonas brothers

So yeah, this was rough... but the interesting thing is that I'm not seeing a huge backlash to my review, which is kind of fascinating...

Anyway, now onto the bigger matter at hand...

the top ten worst hit songs of 2010

...what, you thought these retrospective lists would only cover the best of the year? 

Yeah, eventually we were going to have to get here, and we might as well start with the first year in the 2010s left uncovered. But first, a quick recap of the chart trends of 2010, a year knee-deep in the club boom, somewhat evenly between the songs that believed the party would never end and those who were desperately pretending it wasn't happening at all. And what was telling was how both sides of that binary wound up on the best and worst lists, which you'd think would balance everything out. And yet that's where you'd be wrong, because the bad songs seemed to grossly outweigh the good in 2010 in hitting the lucrative balance between offensive, obnoxious, or just plain asinine. More to the point, it was also a year where flimsy production that's aged rather badly was everywhere on the Hot 100, and sometimes a song sounding like ass is all you need here.

Now granted, 2010 is one of those years where the factor of, 'Oh, this sucked, but nobody cares anymore so why revisit it', and that tends to be a hidden truth about the Hot 100 - bad trends age badly, but the songs are so disposable that nobody really cares all that much, which tends to paint the years as better than they might be. And while this is true for some forgotten crap, there'll also be hits on this list that somehow remain massive to this day, either because the artists are still celebrities - and probably shouldn't be - or the radio has entrenched them as staples because nobody with brain cells came in the day they decided on syndication. And again, the songs had to debut on the Hot 100 in 2010 - it's widely considered a pretty rough year for the charts, all the more tainted by the fact I personally spent way too much time in the club in 2010, so let's go back to the gungy afterparty rightly forgotten, and the morning hangover that somehow has not gone away, starting with...

Friday, June 7, 2019

album review: 'happiness begins' by jonas brothers

I've said it before, I'll say it again: I missed the Jonas Brothers.

Not that I wanted them to come back or have some sort of fond nostalgia for the group - I literally had to check to be sure they weren't a part of High School Musical, even though they did come from the same Disney pop factory that gave us Miley and Demi - but that they were a little after my time. Strange that they missed my preteen years where I was an open fan of Hilary Duff and my university years where I was an open fan of Glee, but they were pumping out over-polished, basic pop rock where my tastes were more refined even then - you know, Fall Out Boy, Boys Like Girls, Simple Plan, that kind of thing.

But bad jokes aside, I've always had a bit of distance towards the whole Jonas Brothers thing - 'When You Look Me In The Eyes' was a good power ballad, sure, but the production was always mediocre at best and the band never brought a convincing edge or flair to bear, not helped by Nick Jonas needing a few years to grow into his voice... when he then promptly became an underwhelming solo act. And I honestly expected nothing more to come of the old group - Joe Jonas had gone on to his underwhelming pop-funk group DNCE, the third one - I've been told his name is Kevin - went on a bunch of reality shows, and irrelevance would hit once any of these guys hit their thirties. And then 'Sucker' became a radio behemoth riding on safety and nostalgia and suddenly there's a terrible follow-up single with 'Cool' and a new album waiting in the wings, and I'm stuck with a project that all the buzz was predicting was a multi-genre clusterfuck, not helped by the presence of executive producer Ryan Tedder. And look, Tedder has done great work in the past, but he's fallen off considerably since the 2000s and given that I have no real nostalgia for this group, I wasn't going to treat this with kid gloves - so what did we get from Happiness Begins?

Thursday, June 6, 2019

video review: 'between the country' by ian noe

Yeah, thrilled that I took the time to cover this - killer album, easily one of the best of 2019!

Now up next... I think I'm going to spend today catching up on other reviews and that damn top ten list that's not quite finished yet, but we'll see where this goes - stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

album review: 'between the country' by ian noe

So I'm not sure how to broach this the comment in a way that won't be misconstrued, so I'll just say it: I've been struggling with indie country in recent months.

And you wouldn't think that'd be the case - the expectation is that since indie country is free of the Nashville songwriting machine you'd find more variety or flair that's distinctive, but like with other underground genres, you tend to see trends take hold in much of the same way. The vintage rockabilly that might occasionally dabble with soul, the \southern rock and outlaw country bravado, and most frustratingly for me, the stripped-back folk-leaning singer-songwriter material that at its best can produce material like Emily Scott Robinson's stunning Traveling Mercies, but at its worst just becomes tepid, underwhelming, and a frequent reminder that 'unplugged' doesn't automatically translate to 'deep' or 'interesting'. And at some point Dave Cobb will produce something and it's basically a roll of the dice whether you get something striking and memorable or see him tip towards undercooked grooves or a delicate vintage palette that's just become a bit played out. And yes, of course there are exceptions I'll praise - the fact that Alice Wallace brought so much diversity to Into The Blue is one reason that album has held up for me this year - but again, they're exceptions, not the rule.

So when I heard about Kentucky native Ian Noe's debut album Between The Country pick up some critical acclaim with the comparisons to Colter Wall and the Dave Cobb production credit... look, I don't want to sound like a curmudgeon, but I was bracing myself for something good, but that I've heard dozens of times before. But hey, it was either this or listening to Miley Cyrus or Thomas Rhett, so what did I get on Between The Country?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 8, 2019 (VIDEO)

Well damn, this was a messy week (and by some miracle I dodged the copyright bots...) - anyway, next up it looks like I'm going to Ian Noe next, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 8, 2019

I think the chaos of 2018 warped how I normally see the Hot 100. Granted, part of this feels driven by the fact that at this point last year we had been hit by multiple album bombs where 2019 feels more quiet in general, but it also feels like projects that would normally hit with greater impact just aren't penetrating as deeply as you'd expect, leading to a more chart. So maybe consistency is our new normal...

video review: 'ZUU' by denzel curry

So yeah, this was fun - I'm a little pleased that I didn't really get much backlash to this one, but we'll see where that goes...

Anyway, Billboard BREAKDOWN is up next and then probably some country on the docket, so stay tuned!

Sunday, June 2, 2019

video review: '2waymirror' by gabbie hanna

So yeah, I found this better than I expected... actually, more or less exactly what I expected, go figure.

Anyway, next up is Denzel Curry, so stay tuned!

resonators 2019 - episode #017 - 'doom' by mood (VIDEO)

Okay, this probably won't get a ton of traffic, but I'm pretty pleased I was able to show some light on this...

Anyway, now for something completely different...

album review: '2waymirror' by gabbie hanna

If you're surprised that I'm covering this project, you haven't been paying attention.

Because I've mentioned before that I've watched Gabbie Hanna for some time now, for at least a couple of years, and I actually got into her content well before she started making music at all. Now you might be wondering why on earth I'm watching this - I'm clearly not her target demo in any criteria - but I've always been curious about framing, fostering a relationship with one's audience, and for Gabbie's brand of content to have survived so much, that speaks to her tenacity and work ethic.

That being said, I've been on the fence about her musical ambitions for some time now, mostly because she doesn't seem to cleanly fit into an easy box within the mainstream, and I question how much she should even go in that direction. She certainly has the presence and charisma and look of a pop act, especially given her commitment to dance... but you can also tell her other natural talents don't really fit in that lane. For one, there's her voice, which has a rough, throatier edge that I've always been convinced would be a better fit for rock or punk or emo - and that's not even taking into account her style of writing, which has a level of intricacy and poetry that'd be a natural fit for an act like Jetty Bones or Say Anything or even the old-school emo rap set - I remember seeing her 'Roast Herself' and being reminded of cadences from Sage Francis or Atmosphere, and that's high praise I rarely give! So packaging her into a mainstream-accessible pop package - when mainstream pop music is currently at one of its weakest points - it worried me that she'd play to a sound that was accessible but not the most flattering to her strengths, and given how she has a built-in, diehard audience, she doesn't need to do that. That said, I remember being pleasantly surprised by Emma Blackery last year, so what did I get from Gabbie on 2WayMirror?

Saturday, June 1, 2019

resonators 2019 - episode #017 - 'doom' by mood

So last month when I covered Slum Village, I made sure to highlight how much of that project was a springboard for legendary producer J. Dilla, who had started to pick up traction in a few years before but really launched into major cult prominence off of that project. And while that success would cascade down somewhat into the other members of Slum Village, both present and future, today we're going to be exploring a similar launch point in underground hip-hop, but one that time might have forgotten if you didn't know where to look.

So, it's 1997 in Cincinnati, a city which has never really been a hotbed for hip-hop in any era, but things are moving for an up-and-coming group called Three Below Zero, featuring rappers Main Flow and Donte and producer Jahson. More to the point, they've also got a connection to future big name producer Hi-Tek, who hit it up well with an up-and-coming Brooklyn MC named Talib Kweli, who we covered on an earlier episode of this show. They had released a few singles over the past couple of years - the one that tends to be recognized the most is 1996's 'Hustle On The Side', which is a pretty terrific forgotten gem in its own right - but they had changed their name and had ventured up to New York to record their debut which would be released in 1997... and depending who you talk to, is mostly known as the launch-pad for Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek, or is a forgotten underground classic in its own right... and it would take the group as a whole until 2011 to release a non-compilation follow-up. So okay, let's get into Doom, the debut album from Mood, and this is Resonators!

album review: 'ZUU' by denzel curry

I'll admit I wasn't expecting this.

Granted, I'll admit that might as well be a tagline for most of my experiences with Denzel Curry - from a smoked-out, nerdier brand hip-hop to the hyper-aggressive but potent as hell bangers of Imperial to the more stylized and diverse TA1300, his sound has only expanded and shown deeper wells of potential to grab a bigger and bigger following, so I guess I'm not averse to the 'coming home party banger' project that plays closer to a mixtape feel. Hell, one of my issues with TA1300 was that the experimentation felt a little undercooked, so maybe streamlining on a 'back to basics' mold could connect, and he's got a penchant for melody and hooks that puts many of his peers to shame. And considering how much I've really been looking for a "fun" hip-hop project over the past couple of weeks if he's going to drop something looser and overloaded with summer bangers, I'm be intrigued - I'm not sure I've heard Denzel Curry sound like he's having fun on an album in recent years, and I'm always conscious of the depth he'll slip between the lines. And while I'm not expecting him to give Sage Francis or B. Dolan a run for their money given how they came off This Was Supposed To Be Fun, I wanted to hear this regardless, and it was short enough to go down easy - so what did Denzel Curry deliver with ZUU?