Showing posts with label 2013. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2013. Show all posts

Friday, July 11, 2014

video review: 'paramore' by paramore (year one anniversary)

Man, this video took a ton out of me to get out. Would have been up yesterday, but the process to get everything to work was absolutely nuts, and that's not counting the noise complaint, the numerous glitches, and the upload process that kept failing. Thankfully, it works, and I sincerely hope it's everything you could have wanted.

And as we settle into the doldrums of summer, my schedule lightens significantly. I still want to talk about Open Mike Eagle - late, but still relevant - and Sadistik, but coming up soon is that new album from Rise Against, on which I will be joining as a special guest, so stay tuned for that!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

album review: 'paramore' by paramore

I don't think anybody should have been surprised by Paramore's career trajectory - and that anybody who knows my style of reviews should not really be surprised why I completely passed them by in 2013.

See, Paramore started off in the mid-2000s as a band loosely affiliated with emo with the harsher guitars, but it was a band that had its eyes fixed on one particular bandwagon: that of the pop starlets with attitude in the vein of Pink or Avril Lavigne or Kelly Clarkson. And considering this was a subgenre I liked in the decidedly uncertain pop landscape of the mid-2000s, when I was a teenager, you'd think I would have jumped on the Paramore bandwagon... but no, every single I heard from the band never really impressed me. That first album All We Know Is Falling was decent enough for its teenage angst and decent and Hayley Williams was a born star behind the microphone, but the songwriting did nothing for me whatsoever, lacking the colour and description and rawness that always gave Pink or Avril Lavignre distinctive presence. And coupled with some bare-bones melody lines and not stellar production, I could not have been less interested in Paramore.

Then came the second record Riot!, which was better and had 'Misery Business', 'crushcrushcrush', and 'Fences', three songs that actually had some interesting melodies and some better articulated subject matter. But for the most part most of the album fell into the grey zone of pop rock for me, lacking the edginess or punch of rock or the gripping hooks of pop to really stick with me, and while the songwriting had gotten better, I couldn't help but feel that the production was holding this album back from being truly great - just a little too flat and lacking in melodic focus to really stick with me. And with the slow collapse of the pop rock boom and rumors of instabilities within the band, I didn't expect to see another record. But in 2009 they apparently resolved enough of their differences to release Brand New Eyes, which was okay and did show a bit of improvement in the songwriting, but it wasn't as catchy or interesting as Riot! and it was this album that brought 'The Only Exception', which for me sealed Paramore's new pop direction after pop rock dropped off the mainstream radar.

And with that shift came a change in lineup, as the brothers Josh and Zac Farro both left the band in 2011 for reasons that spanned creative differences, accusations that Hayley Williams was being trumped up as the star over the rest of the band, and even conflicts in relligion and the band's content. Either way, it was an entirely different act that released Paramore's self-titled album last year, one of their biggest and most successful to date. So now, you're all looking for me to answer the big question: is it any good?

Friday, April 25, 2014

album review: 'retrohash' by asher roth

You know, there are certain one hit wonders that really don't deserve the title. Upon further research, bands like a-ha and Semisonic and Chumbawamba and Dexy's Midnight Runners turn out to be far more than just 'Take On Me' or 'Closing Time' or 'Tubthumping' or 'Come On Eileen'. Just because they managed to capture mainstream attention for a brief, shining second doesn't mean their larger body of work wasn't worth considering, or that the band could or should solely be defined by their one hit.

And then there's Asher Roth, who released 'I Love College' in 2009 and immediately fell into the trap so much worse than the one-hit wonder: that of the Novelty Song artist. Where the song might have captured the zeitgeist for an instant before immediately becoming an instant punchline - or hell, it might have been the punchline upon release. The later reconsideration that can redeem some one-hit wonders is much less likely with Novelty Song artists... and to be fair, it's not like some of them deserve the additional attention. Does Asher Roth deserve reconsideration?

Honestly, I'm not sure. Going back to revisit Asher Roth's debut album Asleep In The Bread Aisle wasn't entirely a pleasant experience. Sure, the production was pretty good and I liked the college-rock inspired instrumentation, but I couldn't exactly call Asher Roth a great performer. Technically, he wasn't exactly impressive as a rapper, and his stoner-douchebro affectation really got insufferable after only a few songs, mostly because it was plainly apparent that Asher Roth wasn't trying. And while there are a few acts that can make 'not trying' work for them, Asher Roth wasn't one of them, half because his lifeless flow didn't have the wit or punchlines to back it up, and half because the tracks where he did try were easily the best on the album. But even with that, I couldn't say that I really liked that album - it was smug, crass, and unbelievably petulant at points, and I really wasn't a fan of Asher Roth's style - the Beastie Boys had spent their time pretending to be and satirizing dumb frat boys, so to see Asher Roth do it somewhat unironically wasn't exactly pleasant.

But to be fair to the guy, he has finally gotten around to releasing his long-delayed sophomore album, and he's claimed that it's a major shift in direction. And while I'm never one to take an artist on his word, I gave Retro Hash a listen - how did it go?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

video review: 'that girl' by jennifer nettles

Well, that was a quick one. Next up is Jon Pardi, and then... well, I might have to put off Little Mix just to get up to date on the avalanche of albums coming out next week. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

special comment: 'pain & gain = wolf of wall street = spring breakers' (VIDEO)

My first movie-related video, where I talk about three films I liked, their striking similarities, and why the outrage against them is misplaced.

Next up... well, it's not going to be Asher Roth, because he delayed his album - again. So, I'll probably cover Kid Ink. Stay tuned!

special comment: pain & gain = wolf of wall street = spring breakers

There were three movies released this past year that I liked a great deal. Three 2013 films that came from different directors, had different casts, released at different points this year, and received vastly different critical appraisals. One came from cinematic junk food director Michael Bay, guilty of the Transformers movies and all manner of other garbage cinema. One came from Martin Scorsese, responsible for Goodfellas, Raging Bull, The Departed, and one of the men most responsible for transforming Leonardo DiCaprio into a movie star. And one came from Harmony Korine, a film-school dropout whose last film was called Trash Humpers and who can be blamed for writing the script of atrocities like Ken Park.

The movies I'm talking about are Pain & Gain, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Spring Breakers - and they all exist on the exact same spectrum. The movies are mostly trying to do different things, but they exist in the same universe and share a disturbing amount of common elements. And the moral outrage that was - in my opinion, wrongly - hurled at all three films comes from the exact same place - as will the people who love these films for all the wrong reasons

What, don't believe me? Let's start with a basic plot synopsis of all three films.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

video review: 'dirty gold' by angel haze

Huh, I should have put this up days ago. MAGFest sort of got in the way of that, but that's to be expected, I think.

Next up will probably be (sigh) Asher Roth. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

album review: 'dirty gold' by angel haze

Let's talk a bit about record labels.

It tends to be a well-known fact that the music industry has taken several body blows with the rise of digital distribution, streaming, and iTunes, with major record labels taking the majority of the heavy hits (no matter how much they like to blame it on piracy or artists behaving badly). And thanks to the connotations in popular culture associated with record labels thanks to endless negative portrayals in music, television, movies, etc., most people don't have the slightest degree of sympathy and would be happy to see them abolished entirely.

Now, I don't really share this opinion - in fact, I'd argue record labels play two important roles in the music 'process' that is often overlooked. For one, they handle a lot of the 'business' side of the industry in terms of promotion, production, and distribution, leaving the artists to be concerned about the art - like it or not, most artists aren't Jay-Z and don't have the business sense to handle this effective. And for another, record labels often act as an editorial board, something that artists might not like but is an essential part of the process. Speaking as a published author, it's always irksome to go through editing and criticism, but my work is often better for it and it's a constant acknowledgement that I'm far from perfect. Or let's put this another way - while I'm all for preserving the purity of artistic digressions, people have to eat, and session musicians, producers, managers, and the rest of the personnel involved in the creation of an album have to get paid - if the album doesn't sell well, that doesn't always happen.

So yeah, record labels have a purpose - the issue becomes how those labels are run. Thanks to the CD bloat of the late 90s, many major labels experienced obscene growth thanks to shady business practices, chart manipulation, and executive meddling in album releases - and that boom was unsustainable. But while the labels' relevance have waned, their attitudes haven't changed - and for once, artists aren't taking it lying down anymore. Macklemore wrote several songs about industry politics and ended up being the biggest charting success this year off of his own independent label, and I did a special comment discussing RCA and Kemosabe's disastrous business decisions in cancelling the Ke$ha and Flaming Lips collaboration Lip$ha in order to try to rein their rebellious artist in (and man, that's backfired big time - have you all seen the 'Dirty Love' video yet?). So I wasn't entirely surprised when upcoming hip-hop artist Angel Haze threw her label obligations to the wind and leaked her entire debut album in frustration. The story goes that the label said they would release the album if Angel Haze had finished it during the summer - but when the label went back on their word and scheduled the release for early 2014 (after Angel Haze finished the album in June of last year), she leaked the album. On the one hand, applause for being gutsy and following through on the bluff, but on the other hand, she basically guaranteed that outside of her fanbase, she's not going to be getting the same degree of promotion from the label, to say nothing of critical attention because nobody covers albums released in mid-to-late December by people not named Beyonce. But let's put the politics aside: how's the album?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

the top 25 best albums of 2013

And now we're down to the final list - my top twenty-five albums of 2013. This year, I reviewed 135 albums - and frankly, I should have done more. But I feel it's a plenty big sample size to discuss my choices, and all of these earned their slots on this list. I'll also try to keep this as quick as I possibly can - I've already talked about all of these albums in detail, and you should all check out my reviews if you want a more in-depth discussion. Also, my list isn't exactly going to correspond with common critical consensus - there are albums I have picked that have been ignored, and there are certain albums that some critics lauded that I didn't find nearly as strong. Got all that? Good, because we're not waiting any longer, let's GO!

the top 50 best songs of 2013 (PART TWO: 25-1)

Whew, that takes care of that.

Last one is the long-awaited albums of the year - stay tuned!

the top 50 best songs of 2013

Some of you are probably scratching your heads with confusion at the title of this list and wondering, 'Wait, didn't he already make this exact same list a few days ago?' Well, this list is significantly different than the last one, mostly because we're no longer talking about the hits. No, these are the songs, singles or otherwise, that appeared on the albums I listened through this year and stuck with me. They aren't the hits - most of you might not recognize the songs I mention, but all of them bear the highest of my personal recommendations. That's right, from the 135 albums I reviewed this year, these were my favourite songs. I'm not segregating them by genre or success - singles or deep cuts all have a chance to make this list, which was initially reduced from thousands down to 436, which was then narrowed down to fifty. And believe me, even with that I had to make some painful cuts, and what is on this list will surprise you. So, without any more delay, here are my Top 50 Songs of 2013! Let's get started!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

the top ten best hit songs of 2013 - video

So this turned out as well as I expected. List 2/4 done, stay tuned for more!

the top ten best hit songs of 2013

Here's a fun fact about me - as much as I nitpick and criticize and say all manner of things people don't want to hear about the music they love, I've got my own fair share of popular music that I cherish, appreciate, or outright love. Sometimes, quality rises to the top, and while none of this particular list will show up on my upcoming list of the best songs of this year, I still think they're worth mentioning if only to reinforce some vague sense of populism that I have. But really, it's nice to point out that some mainstream music gets popular because it's good, and sometimes pop or country or mainstream hip-hop can be just as good as the most underground of indie hits.

Now the rules are as before: the songs have to debut on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart this year - so as good as 'Die Young' by Ke$ha or 'Some Nights' by fun. are, I can't exactly mention them again on this list after they made my list last year. And on that note, don't expect any sort of coherent theme to these picks. While my year-end worst list had an abundance of terribly vapid luxury rap (especially near the top), on a year as varied and confused as the 2013 chart would indicate, my choices might surprise you. And fair warning: you won't agree with the majority of this list.

So let's get started with some Honourable Mentions, shall we?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

the top ten worst hit songs of 2013

It's that time again.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's that time of year where I take a look at the biggest hit songs of the year and pick out the top ten best and worst to the complete indifference of artists, producers, and fans alike! Sounds like fun, eh? Okay, let's get started, and I think the prime place to begin is at the absolute bottom: the top ten worst hit songs of the year.

First, some ground rules. For one, a song will only ever make the list if it debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End chart this year. Of course there are holdovers I dislike from last year, but they had their chance to pop up on my 2012 list (which is available here). And I'm only choosing songs from this list - of course there were worse tracks that I covered in my album reviews, but I want to make the point that not only are these songs terrible, they're also impossible to escape throughout the year.

And here's another thing to keep in mind: for a song to reach my list, it has to actively annoy or irritate me, and simply being boring is often not enough to propel a song into my line of fire. The year-end charts are less aggressively bad than they are boring, and this year had that problem more than previous years, mostly because the indie boom lost momentum and mainstream radio had no idea what to replace it with. That means large tracts of this year were dominated by easy listening slow jams, interchangeable EDM, increasingly listless hip-hop, and a disco revival that came out of nowhere. 

But that's not saying there weren't songs that pissed me off, so let's begin by tackling some Dishonourable Mentions, shall we?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

video review: 'parts of speech' by dessa

Well, this one turned out quite good. Surprisingly good quality in the change of location.

Next up are the year end lists. Stay tuned!

album review: 'parts of speech' by dessa

Exactly one hundred video reviews ago, I talked about the debut album from Colette Carr called Skitszo - which, much to my surprise, actually turned out to be pretty decent. I mean, this was a white female rapper who pulled half of her inspiration from Eminem and the other half from the Spice Girls, it would make sense to expect questionable results. Fortunately for everyone, Colette Carr proved to a good performer, and Skitszo wasn't a half bad album.

But If that album highlighted anything, it only served to show how very few albums existed from female rappers, let alone ones that actually produced viable hits. And the sad fact is that it actively seems to be getting worse - at least in the late-90s and early 2000s we had acts like Missy Elliott and Lil Kim and Lauryn Hill who had mainstream success, but who can you say fills that role now? The only two that spring to mind is Nicki Minaj and M.I.A., with the former squandering her talent making increasingly bland luxury rap and the latter losing momentum in recent years.

Fortunately, there are still female rappers making music, and great music at that - unfortunately, they tend to be underground acts, and today, we're going to be talking about one that really caught me by surprise: Dessa, a member of the Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree. When she released her album Parts of Speech back in September, I initially passed it over (mostly because I was swamped in September), but after hearing some rave reviews and recommendations, I figured I should go back into her discography and get a feel for her music.

Man, I'm glad I did that, because Dessa is awesome. With a measured yet forceful flow, baroque-pop inspired production with a ton of flavour and texture, a superb singing voice, and strikingly intelligent lyrics, Dessa's first two records (that have significant overlap) A Badly Broken Code and Castor, The Twin were memorable and easily rose above the conventional topics in mainstream rap. And thus, I was kind of psyched to listen to her new album Parts of Speech - how did it turn out?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

video review: 'sonic dopamine' by cousin ayjay

Well, this took a long time to get out, but it's about time I post it.

Next up will be Dessa, and then it's time for YEAR-END LISTS! WOO! Stay tuned!