Showing posts with label 2016. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2016. Show all posts

Monday, July 10, 2017

album review: 'stoney' by post malone (fourth year anniversary)

...I would say I'm surprised about this, but the truth is that I'm not. When it comes to YouTube after all, if you say you're not going to do something  - as I did - and then you give an option to the fans - as I did - you all will take the opportunity to watch me suffer. 

But here's the truth: I think any sort of conversation surrounding Post Malone that I'm having now is very different that if I had reviewed his debut record several months back, because his position has evolved with regards to popular culture. He's not entirely the guy that seems tailor-made by record executives to capitalize on mumble rap with a white artist, but instead more of a character who can accept jokes and criticism with good humor and shows up on a podcast with h3h3productions. It's led to a bit of a weird situation, and something I've noticed with a lot of white rappers: they either try to go hard with real hip-hop credibility, or they look to cash in with dumb party rap that's so disposable that the punchline for this guy's career has already been written. And while there is a part of me that feels it's a little twisted and wrong and says a lot about hip-hop audiences that black artists making more lyrical or interesting music - or even other mumble rappers - have been ignored in favor of someone appropriating that style that they can relate to because they're often white, I'm also very much aware that Post Malone has a shelf life. Frankly, I'm surprised he's had as much success into this year as he has, especially with 'Congratulations' being a top ten hit.

All of that being said, while the cultural apparatus and impact of Post Malone is kind of fascinating, his music isn't. To put it bluntly, while 'White Iverson' is terrible and deserves its spot on my worst hits of 2016, what makes it more exasperating is how boring and lifeless it felt, combining the worthless tedium of a Jack Johnson song with the shallow monotony of most mumble rap, and let's be real: 'Congratulations' is not much better. In short there was a very real reason why I didn't want to cover Stoney... but you all insisted, so now, beating all other possible options by a nearly a two-to-one ratio, I'm reviewing this: so what did we get?

Monday, January 9, 2017

the top 25 best albums of 2016

And now, the final list, the one that always gives me the most anxiety but also the one that I'm always happy to have finalized by the end of the year - or by the first few days of next year, I'm going on vacation for the first week of January and I'm in a bit of a rush to get packed and ready on time, so this video might be a day or two late. 

But in an odd way that's kind of representative of 2016's albums as a whole, as I've definitely not seen a lot of common consensus surrounding picks - and fair warning, that'll be very true with these as well. Great records in 2016 came in fits and spurts, with a lot of big returns that didn't quite impress me, some debuts that blew me out of the water, and a predominant theme of endings that ran through a lot of albums that I covered and loved this year. I'm not quite sure if it's reflecting the tempo of the times or my personal feelings surrounding the year, but this list really feels all over the place, all albums I loved but coming from radically different locations, styles, and genres than I expected. In other words, there are albums that you will not recognize on this list, and a few major exclusions.

But it also runs deeper than that: for instance, this is the first year I've ever given out a perfect score on this channel - and then I did it twice. I'll get more into this when I talk about the albums at length, but I would recommend you consider my top two choices as interchangeable at best, I flip back and forth with them every day. There's also a whole bunch of albums that narrowly missed the cut, from punk veterans like Against Me!, White Lung and Jeff Rosenstock, to metal and experimental rock like Swans, Savages, Epica and Tarja to hip-hop powerhouses like clipping., Ka, LMNO, Elzhi, and Denzel Curry. And as I've mentioned a number of times, country had one of its best years in recent memory, and that led to some extremely painful cuts, from the superb pop country of Jennifer Nettles to the neotraditional tones of Cody Jinks and Mark Chesnutt to the stripped back indie starlets like Karen Jonas and Dori Freeman. Everyone I just mentioned dropped albums this year you can consider honourable mentions that I couldn't rank if I wanted to and are all worth your time, but now it's time for the list proper, starting with...

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

the top 50 best songs of 2016

I've gone on record that this list in particular is always the hardest to make. Refining a list of songs that I've covered on albums I've reviewed over the course of the year - which numbers in the thousands of songs - down to a select six hundred or so, then down to a subset of just under 200... and then the final fifty. Suffice to say, there's always a lot to cover.

But I have to say, this year felt easier than others. I'd say part of it is that I'm getting a better handle on my organization going into these lists, but that would assume I've got some inkling of what I'm doing here. I think the larger factor is that the truly amazing songs that monopolized my year - the top 35 or so - they fell into place remarkably quickly, and that made ironing out the details easier than I expected. Maybe it was because it was easier for me to get passionate about some of these tracks than before, because if you ventured away from the mainstream Hot 100, there was a lot of great music in 2016. Away from the charts there was great metal, rock, synthpop, hip-hop, and especially country, which had one of its best years in recent memory, and fair warning, there's going to be a lot of it on this list.

As always, the songs had to appear on any one of the albums I reviewed - singles or deep cuts, all are possible, so no more wasting time, we have a lot to get through! So let's start off crazy with...

Thursday, December 29, 2016

the top ten best hit songs of 2016 (VIDEO)

Well, this was certainly fun to make - genuinely curious if it ends up blowing up as much as it did last year, given how wonky this year was, so we'll see!

Next up, working on that big top 50 list, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

the top ten best hit songs of 2016

So for those of you who saw my last list, you might have caught my general assertion that 2016 was not good for the Hot 100. And here's the deeper truth: the bad songs, while there were more of them, they weren't the sort of atrocious that keeps you up at night, at least not as a whole. Despite how angry I got, I can think back to a few other years that had far more contemptible songs that would inspire a lot more rage - I think society as a whole has pretty much forgotten that in 2013 Rick Ross teamed up with Rocko and Future to release a song with a verse endorsing date rape - yeah, that was a thing.

No, the bigger problem with the year-end Hot 100 in 2016 is that there was a lot less good songs - we always get a lot of mediocrity but this was a year where the pickings were very slim. On the one hand, it makes this list pretty easy - very little to cut - but at the same time in stronger years, like 2012 or even 2015, I'm not sure how much of this list would have measured up. Many people made that same observation back in 2014 - I didn't, mostly because I genuinely found a lot to like about my list that year - but I'm not denying it for 2016, especially because the majority of songs that will make this list were originally released in 2015 and only became hits this year. If that's not the most glaring indictment on pop in 2016, I don't know what is, and what gets all the more infuriating is that the mediocrity clogging the arteries of this year kept otherwise great songs from catching on, especially in country music which despite big improvements even on the Hot 100 practically disappeared for the year end. 

But again, it had to land on that list, and it's a thin list indeed... but still, it wouldn't have made this list if I couldn't defend it being here, so let's start with our Honourable Mentions!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

the top ten worst hit songs of 2016 (VIDEO)

So this happened... awful songs on a pretty horrible year-end list, but hey, it happens.

Next up, though, is the best hits of 2016 - man, looking forward to that one, so stay tuned!

video review: 'stc' by shane the crane

Nearly forgot to post this, but this was a surprisingly decent record - definitely check this out if you're interested in electronic music.

Anyway, year-end lists have started, and the worst has been posted - stay tuned for more!

the top ten worst hit songs of 2016

I'm going to try and maintain a level composure for as long as possible with this list. I know so many of you will want me to get good and furious - after all, it's the Worst Hits of 2016, this is when you're supposed to deliver the killing blow with righteous fury. This is your chance to exile the dregs to whatever just punishment they deserve, take a blowtorch to the rectum of a year that so many music critics have already branded as one of the worst in recent memory, certainly this decade. And if you look at the year-end Hot 100...

Well, here's the thing: due to my stipulation that I can only choose songs from that list, and the fact that I have my weekly show Billboard BREAKDOWN discussing all of these changes in detail, I've been acutely aware of this disaster for months now - I've seen it happen in slow motion. The calls of '2016 is the worst' picked up in the summer and exploded this fall - not helped by cultural forces beyond the charts themselves - but it becomes disheartening when you've been coping with it week after week and you can explain in excruciating detail why this happened. What it reminds me of most are the charts in the very early 90s - replacing Paula Abdul ripoffs for Rihanna ripoffs, an embrace of tepid tropical or adult contemporary sounds in pop that stank of non-effort, and when there were new acts on the horizon they looked to have no sustainable future in sight - or at the very least you hoped they didn't. Hell, even country in the early 90s was on the upswing thanks to the neotraditional sound like the Americana revival today, but whereas we could look to shifting trends in hip-hop and rock to revitalize that decade going forward... well, in rap we somehow managed to get the dregs of an otherwise promising year and the most 'rock' getting airplay was twenty one pilots and X Ambassadors. As I said, every critic has already told you this year was dreck, now it's time to go deeper and count out the worst of the worst. Fair warning, this is going to get ugly, so let's start with Dishonourable Mentions!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

album review: 'STC' by shane the crane

It's almost poetic that we end 2016 like this - not with a huge smash hit album, not with a critically beloved indie darling... but an album from one of you guys, one of my Patrons. I sincerely hope he sticks around now that his album has inched its way up the list organically to land in front of me, especially considering the gloves have never been on - I'm treating this with the same critical I treat everything else, as I've clearly warned many times.

So, Shane The Crane is an electronic music producer that you'd mostly likely find on Soundcloud, but unlike many of those guys he appears to have the backing of a record label Beatdek Records, and from what I can tell this doesn't appear to be a vanity label, it actually has a few artists behind it. From a lot of the blurbs it looked to be skirting the edges of modern popular trends in electronic music with a slightly weirder twist on top - so okay, I'm kind of on board, this could be interesting, so I took a look at his debut project STC - how is it?

video review: 'blood bitch' by jenny hval

Man, this was a weird record... and to the point where I wish I liked it more, to be honest. Ugh, frustrating, frustrating.

Anyway, one more record and then year-end lists, stay tuned!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

album review: 'blood bitch' by jenny hval

It's often considered one of the great contradictions of American popular culture that for as much it worships at the altar of violence and the military industrial complex - and Canada isn't that far removed, I'm not kidding myself here - everyone tends to get skittish around sexuality. You can have plenty of gore in your movie in your movies and still walk away with the PG-13, but show exposed breasts and you can expect the R, to say nothing of if you want to show a penis or vagina. Kind of amusing how parts of the entertainment industry gives a free pass to plenty of penis extensions that deliver death yet get antsy when confronted with the real thing.

Now music is a little different, mostly because you're not dealing with the image outside of the album art... but not that different. Let's get real, with rare exception the majority of modern music is a lot more comfortable talking about male sexuality than female, and even then it's often masked in innuendos or played as a tease. To actively dig into the fleshy, messy side of things, peel back the sensuality and bravado to get to something more primal but no less real, that's explored far, far less. And that's no surprise: for as much as some artists threw open the doors to openly embrace sexuality in their music, it's usually paired with a desire to make it sound accessible to an audience who isn't as comfortable, entice rather than get into the explicit details.

And then there's Jenny Hval - Norwegian singer-songwriter and experimental musician, while much of her music has been characterized by droning, oddly structured soundscapes full of weird experimental shifts - to say nothing of an odd pop sensibility that keeps creeping through - what's always caught my ear are the lyrics. And the best way to describe them is something akin to the inverted metaphor of the film Shortbus - usage of plainly sexual acts and language in order to say something more, rather than the other way around saying or doing something to imply sex. Of course, her themes and abstract writing have gone further than sex, but at the end of the day her music approaches the flesh-driven reality of sex with the sort of unrestrained frankness and language that for certain can startle and shock even the most sexually-comfortable and well-adjusted person. As such, her music for me has always required a concerted effort to fully contextualize and understand - one of the reasons this review is so late - but I have to say I was really looking forward to digging into Blood Bitch. Blending elements of 70s exploitation films, timetravelling and genderbending vampire iconography, and an acute focus on menstrual blood - seriously - into an experimental pop framework partially inspired by the drones of Norwegian black metal and produced by noise musician Lasse Marhaug, this was going to be the sort of trip that I expected to be challenging, but hopefully hugely rewarding. Was I right?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

video review: 'do what thou wilt.' by ab-soul

So this was a strange review. A lot of fun to make, and a surprisingly quick one to put together, but strange all the same. Huh.

Anyway, probably only two reviews left - at best - as I try to put together my year-end lists - stay tuned!

album review: 'do what thou wilt.' by ab-soul

I feel like I should like Ab-Soul so much more than I do.

Okay, that's a misleading statement, because for the most part I do like this guy. His breakthrough project Control System was a great record, with the sort of creativity and ideas that made for thought-provoking listens and could compensate for wordplay that either slid towards corniness or revealed more flaws than can really be excused. I had a lot of hope that on future projects he'd be able to refine his ideas and sound into something that was sharper and harder and more cohesive...

And then he released These Days. I'll be blunt, I was probably too easy on that record when I reviewed it, trying to search for deeper themes or satirical elements that didn't coalesce, and when the hooks just weren't there to match the production or slew of guest verses that were really all over the place, I found myself looking for reasons to like it and coming up short. And ever since then, I've heard plenty of guest verses from him, from collaborations with The Game to Jay Rock to Danny Brown and while so many have praised him, I've been consistently underwhelmed. I don't what to tell you, he's slipped towards corniness more often I'd really excuse and he's still not a consistently strong wordsmith in terms of constructing his bars. Hell, that's one of the reasons why I'm not all that surprised that it took so long for my Patreon voters to push this to the top of the schedule, maybe some of that spark had died out in comparison to his peers who had been more consistent or who had pushed out more interesting projects. But there was a part of me that still had real hope Ab-Soul could pull this off, although his list of guest stars was certainly different than I was expecting. I was more surprised than I probably should be that there was no Kendrick verse - he's consistently shown up Ab-Soul every time he's been on one of his records - but outside of ScHoolboy Q, Punch, and SZA, Ab-Soul seemed to be pulling from outside of TDE for this. I expected Mac Miller, they've worked together before, but Rapsody, Bas from Dreamville, Da$h from the A$AP Mob, and even Kokane, an oldschool veteran who started his career with Eazy-E? So yeah, I was curious - what did we get from Do What Thou Wilt.?

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 31, 2016 (VIDEO)

So this was torture, to both write and edit. My god, the more I went through this J. Cole album the more I dislike it, fucking CHRIST.

Anyway, now onto something a little weirder, stay tuned!

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 31, 2016

So do you want to know what can lead to real weirdness on the Hot 100? Not just one big debut - it'll have a ripple effect, but if you want to cause absolute havoc, drop two, and keep them within a few weeks of each other. And you might call me crazy for saying 'well, that rarely ever happens'... and this is the week where J. Cole followed in The Weeknd's wake with every single songs from 4 Your Eyez Only hitting the Hot 100 - I swear, why do I even bother to review the albums when this nonsense happens? This was the equivalent of a knockout punch for a lot of music, leading to what I think might be the most number of losses I've ever seen on the Hot 100 and sixteen new songs - because no, the stream of new arrivals wasn't really stopping either. And note that when I say impact, I'm not saying any of this was good - folks who saw that J. Cole review remember I wasn't fond of it... but then again, it's also featuring songs from The Voice and Post Malone, so we'll see what we get in contrast?

Monday, December 19, 2016

video review: 'remember us to life' by regina spektor

Well, this was a pleasant surprise - may have overshared a bit here, but eh, it happens.

Next up, though... all of the J. Cole wound up on the Hot 100, which is just fantastic... after that is probably Ab-Soul, so stay tuned!

album review: 'remember us to life' by regina spektor

So here's the unfortunate truth of being a critic and a human being: like it or not, sometimes it's not just the art that overrules your critical faculties, but circumstances and memories that are linked to that art. It might not just be the sound or a particular turn of phrase that sparks an emotion, it's the memories and people associated with that sound or lyric that renders fragile objectivity all the more precarious.

Case in point, about four years ago I was dating a girl who was very fond of Regina Spektor and encouraged me to check out her album What We Saw From The Cheap Seats. And while I had something of a mixed opinion on that record as a whole, when she and I broke up later that year it became a bit difficult to go back to Regina Spektor without pulling up old memories - not all bad or good memories, mind you, but fragments that place her music in an awkward context. And it's not helped by my frustrating relationship with Spektor's peculiar brand of anti-folk itself: earnest, frequently clever with some striking melodies, but brimming at the edges with an off-kilter quirk that added personality but could occasionally undercut the dramatic tension some otherwise potent songs. I've said it in the past that I've got a very limited tolerance for 'twee', and while it didn't compromise her early 2000s work up to 2004's Soviet Kitsch, after that it got dicier. And what's frustrating is that it didn't happen all at once or consistently. Begin To Hope actually had some emotionally poignant moments - especially the closer track - but Far started to push it for me, especially if you started getting into the lyrics. And that awkward dichotomy between heartfelt power and utterly garish quirk manifested most on What We Saw From The Cheap Seats - on the one hand you get powerhouse tracks like 'All The Rowboats', but on the other hand... well, let's just say besides that song I haven't had much of an impulse to go back to it.

But hey, maybe this new record - which was supposedly bigger and a little darker, it might hit a more satisfying point for me, and I've always thought Regina Spektor is an interesting songwriter, if not always a good one - she's got a penchant for random noises that drives me off the way - but whatever, how is Remember Us To Life?

video review: 'WORRY.' by jeff rosenstock

Yes, I know I'm late to the party with this one, but my god, I'm so happy I got to it regardless, so smart and well-written, I just wish I dug the hardcore parts more.

Eh, whatever, and now following it with another great record... well, stay tuned!