Showing posts with label alternative rock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label alternative rock. Show all posts

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?

Monday, May 6, 2019

video review: 'father of the bride' by vampire weekend

UGHH... you know, I'm expecting a backlash, the only question will be how pronounced.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN and then I'm going to talk about P!nk, so stay tuned!

album review: 'father of the bride' by vampire weekend

You know, when I first started my channel, I just managed to skirt most of the messy conversation around Vampire Weekend - so who wants to have fun examining decade-old wounds and talk about cultural appropriation?

See, that's the loaded thing about Vampire Weekend - I know just by mentioning that band and the term 'cultural appropriation' I've triggered flashbacks for anyone who was involved in the indie blogosphere of the time, but the conversation has always been more complicated, especially since their debut. Because yes, like Paul Simon before them and tUnE-yArDs after them, they borrowed from African rhythms for a jaunty, generally likable, and very marketable brand of literate but safe indie rock that won a lot of predominantly white liberal critics over, but did leave a few of the more progressive ones questioning how much they should really praise them, especially given how the band always got wary and weirdly defensive whenever that topic got brought up, both on and off record. What I always find amusing is that so many critics turned themselves inside out trying to justify their fondness for this band despite the cultural appropriation conversation - which for the record I think is a valid accusation, especially given the band isn't really taking steps to uplift the originators of those sounds or even deliver them with much texture or context of their roots - and they skipped the band's over-educated deflective ego and awkward voyeuristic streak around women, especially on Contra, a pass that a few insightful critics made sure to highlight how a less privileged or well-connected band probably wouldn't have escaped so easily. And if you don't believe that, I just need to point to how Kyle Craft was treated by certain critics last year - and that's where the text was on his side!

And thus it should come as some surprise to everyone I just pissed off that their third album Modern Vampires Of The City - which I hold to be their best - wound up on my year-end list in 2013, so how can anyone justify that? Well, a lot of that comes down to really good compositional instincts and the band finally picking up some momentum along with jettisoning the antiseptic African flourishes that I never bought in the first place, but it brought at least a few more traces of self-awareness to bear, even if upon reflection that album does still have a few too many sour notes. And since then... honestly, I had no idea where Father Of The Bride would go - Rostam Batmanglij is long gone, members of the band have been writing behind the scenes for other acts for years, and it has been six years since the last Vampire Weekend album. So without hearing any of the singles - and stepping into a very different hype environment for any indie pop or rock act - what did we find on Father Of The Bride?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

video review: 'ultraviolet' by poets of the fall

Well, this was awesome. Yeah, definitely want to hear more of this, although maybe a bit more metal next time? Please?

Anyway, either Ron Gallo or Eric Church up next, stay tuned!

album review: 'ultraviolet' by poets of the fall

You know, I could rattle off a pretty impressive list of disappointing events in 2016, but if we're just to confine it to music, the last Poets Of The Fall album would be up there.

And no, I'm not going to mince words with this: Poets of the Fall were one of the most strikingly potent alternative rock and metal groups to break out of the 2000s with multiple albums I'd rank as among the best of their respective years... and yet in 2016, it didn't work. And for once it was strikingly easy to point to the cause of it all: not Marko Saaresto's delivery or the band's increasingly dalliances with atmospheric pop rock, but the introduction of a new producer who seemed to grasp the basics of a Poets of the Fall sound but none of the subtleties, leading to a glitch in the alchemy that gave us possibly their most underwhelming project to date. Don't get me wrong, there were songs that worked off of Clearview and it was still good, but this is a band that delivers magnificence, and merely good does not cut it in my books. 

But I had hope for this one, folks, I did. For one they had brought the production back in house and while buzz was indicating the wild experimentation that has characterized their 2010s work was still in swing, I've been of the belief that this band has a better grasp on genre blending than most - hell, I absolutely adored their biggest pop pivot on Jealous Gods, and if they were going to keep going in that direction, I had to hope they'd stick the landing. So, what did we get on Ultraviolet?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

album review: 'palms' by thrice (ft. the rock critic) (VIDEO)

So this was a tricky record to dissect, and even with The Rock Critic teaming up on this video, this was still tough to deconstruct. Thanks for Crash for coming onboard, this was intriguing.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN and Noname, so stay tuned!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

album review: 'tell me how you really feel' by courtney barnett

I feel like I've opened up a lot of my reviews in recent weeks with, 'when I covered this artist last time, it didn't go well'... and yet while I'll definitely question my presentation in those older reviews, the more I've gone back to the actual points I was making, the more I'm convinced that my opinions haven't really changed.

And yet if we're talking about one of my most contentious reviews, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett stands as one of the big ones - and what was all the more exasperating is that I definitely understood the appeal. The flat disaffection masking deeper wells of depression, the jagged garage rock tones, the well-framed self-deprecating passive aggression, it had a very stark mid-90s indie rock veneer that I could respect... to a point. And that was the frustrating thing - I kept expecting this project to actually cut more deeply in its content and production, but that would require a greater amount of investment and focus that it didn't seem like Barnett brought to the table in comparison with her sharper peers, and while she provided a firm rationale why caring wasn't on her menu, it also meant I didn't really have the same interest either. And that disaffection couldn't help but feed into her collaboration with Kurt Vile last year Lotta Sea Lice, which I may have liked more if it had felt like a cohesive or engaging project than an extended workshopping session.

And thus I had some serious concerns about the critical reception to this record, nearly all of which was pointing a finger at those Kurt Vile sessions as an indicator of what was to come in neutering any sense of direction or edge or deeper punch... most of which I'd question was on there in the first place, but hey, it's not like my expectations were going to get any lower: what did I find on Tell Me How You Really Feel?

Saturday, April 14, 2018

video review: 'sister cities' by the wonder years

Man, this was long in coming - and holy shit, this was awesome! Definitely happy to have covered this.

Next up, before I tackle Laura Veirs, I've got a crossover in the works, so stay tuned!

album review: 'sister cities' by the wonder years

So here's something as a music critic I'm very conscious of, but I doubt is noticed by anyone else: the 'token' album. And even if you're not a critic you've probably seen evidence of this in "I don't like x genre but I like this". Now on the one hand the records that typically fall into this narrow category can hit universal appeal that even those who might not be fond of the genre can't deny the greatness, but when you have musical subgenres that don't tend to get critical respect, there's an air of condescension that comes with these picks that can be pretty obnoxious. Now I've already mentioned this can happen with artists like Kacey Musgraves, but she was making an obvious play for crossover appeal - what we're going to be talking about today are artists who are damn great within their own genre and yet get picked up as critical darlings as the 'token band' by folks and critics who'll never deign to go deeper.

And yet with a band like The Wonder Years, you'd think critics would have learned. Coming from the fertile intersection of pop punk and the 2010s emo revival, their early work may have been slagged as formulaic, but by 2011 they had hit a serious stride with Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing, tapping into the decay of American suburbia and existential teenage angst on a much broader, more universal scale. This is a group that fused the layered, personal detail of emo with the huge hooks of pop punk, and it was a synthesis that won over fans of the genre very quickly, especially on their follow-ups The Greatest Generation and No Closer To Heaven, records that are pretty damn great even if I personally prefer Suburbia. But those records started to get picked up by some critics as their 'token' pop punk or emo act on year end lists, and as much as that could feel galling from the outside, it did mean their newest record Sister Cities was starting to pick up a lot more attention... which might have come a rough time, as many of the longtime fans were saying this record didn't quite hold up to earlier releases. But hey, I still wanted to cover it given that I've been criminally late to the party with this group before, so how is Sister Cities?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

video review: 'here come the runts' by AWOLNATION

Okay, this... well, the t-shirt mostly fits. :)

Next up... I honestly have no idea, it'll depend what winds up on the schedule, so stay tuned!

album review: 'here come the runts' by AWOLNATION

You know, for as wild and messy as AWOLNATION's records have been, I'm a little surprised I don't think about them more often. Seriously, it's been about three years since I covered Run on this channel and I don't think I've revisited even a single song since - which is kind of strange, because I do mostly remember that record's problems in overly-broad songwriting and utterly slapdash production, and I remember the backlash I got pointing that out - hell, probably more than I remember any individual song.

But that's the funny thing about AWOLNATION: they always seemed like a weird, misshapen hybrid of an electronic rock group that somehow struck gold when 'Sail' almost by accident became a monster hit in 2013, a full two years after Megalithic Symphony came out. And yet that song made a certain amount of sense at the time: AWOLNATION could be a band that made hits if the disparate elements came together, but the cracks in their formula ran so deep - and were exacerbated by their 2015 follow-up Run - that it seemed incredibly unlikely the alchemy would come together again.

And yet for some reason their next album showed up on my schedule - and what was strange was the buzz around it, namely that everyone was admitting it was messy, but this time the whiplash transition had actually worked? Encouraging, sure, but I'd believe it when I heard it... but I'm also not going to say I wasn't morbidly curious. So okay, what did I get with Here Comes The Runts?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

video review: 'concrete and gold' by foo fighters

I'm surprised the response to this review hasn't been more negative... huh, interesting.

But let's handle some old business here first...

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

album review: 'concrete and gold' by foo fighters

So there was an article written by veteran music journalist Steven Hyden I was reading that encompassed a lot of my feelings about the Foo Fighters quite aptly, in that they were a band that became spokesmen for modern rock radio... despite not really putting out critically acclaimed rock records. It's actually a little bit alarming, when you think about it: this is a band where it's been twenty years since they released what many would consider their best record The Color And The Shape, and ever since then? Yeah, some dependable singles but beyond that most people don't celebrate Foo Fighters records as album statements in the same way they would in rock's heyday. And you can make all sorts of wild extrapolations as to whether the decline of rock in mainstream culture is linked to its most recognizable act only being pretty good instead of exceptional, but at the end of the day, while I might enjoy parts of a Foo Fighters record, odds are I won't remember much of it beyond a few choice cuts.

And all the buzz coming out of Concrete and Gold wasn't exactly helping my fears here. Their touring keyboardist Rami Jaffee was finally upgraded to full band status, but with rumors suggesting that this was going to be a poppier record with producer Greg Kurstin didn't exactly raise my confidence, especially when the reviews were suggesting that they weren't pushing the boundaries as much as they had with Sonic Highways - and even that, that was a pretty reserved record in terms of experimentation. And when you are nine records into a career that's spanned multiple decades with an established fanbase, especially with rock radio continuing to feel irrelevant to modern pop culture, they had nothing to lose by coloring outside the lines, especially as Dave Grohl was always going to ensure the Foo Fighters didn't lose their trademark sound and intensity. But okay, does Concrete And Gold deliver?

Monday, September 11, 2017

video review: 'broken machine' by nothing but thieves

Ooh, I know I'm not going to make any fans for this one, especially after a particularly bad day of subscriber growth...

Eh, hopefully things will recover with Alvvays and The National hopefully coming up soon, but first, Billboard BREAKDOWN! Stay tuned!

album review: 'broken machine' by nothing but thieves

Of all of the albums that have landed on my schedule this year, this is among the more perplexing additions. And the funny thing is that you wouldn't think that if you knew anything about the group, but I'm perplexed all the same... mostly surrounding why anyone would want me to cover this. Let's get real here, I may have gone off on a rant on Twitter how modern hard rock frustrates me with its embrace of distorted blocky tuneless masses instead of actual melodic hooks, but the truth is that all of modern rock radio frustrates me these days, because on the flipside of the breakdown-obsessed chunks of riff we have the sleeper hold of reverb-soaked indie rock with lyrics that in a better era would be laughed off stage. And while of course there are exceptions - hell, I can't stop listening to that last Deaf Havana album which in retrospect defied entirely too many expectations and deserves a lot more attention - the rule is that once we tread into what's now defined by major labels as 'alternative rock', I have a hard time staying awake, especially if I spot the acts who obviously inspired them.

Enter Nothing But Thieves, another British alt-rock group that has toured with your trendy staples on rock radio that are hard to describe as rock, like AWOLNATION and twenty one pilots. Yes, they toured with Muse - their most blatant inspiration, especially for frontman Conor Mason - but they are a poor man's Muse at best, with nowhere near the progressive compositional chops and a penchant for theatricality that didn't always stick the landing. I don't think they're a bad group - good guitar and bass interplay can redeem a lot, and in terms of ballads they stuck the landing - but that self-titled debut in 2015 just didn't resonate much with me - not bad but not particularly remarkable. But apparently their sophomore album is a lot better and is even picking up a bit of critical acclaim, and my Patreon supporters wanted me to cover this before The National or Alvvays - indie rock groups I was very much interested in exploring - so what the hell: how is Broken Machine?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

album review: 'spirit' by depeche mode

I've talked in politics in music a lot in this series: hell, one of the first things I ever clearly delineated were my criteria for political art to work, I've been focused on this for some time. And initially, given the aftermath of the election last year down south, I was expecting a lot more politically-themed art to erupt from the woodwork, artists who now have a clear and present threat erupting forth to make their statement.

But in watching a Dead End Hip Hop conversation with MC Uncommon Nasa - who I have covered a few times on this show - he raised a few points that got me thinking, the first being that hardship rarely precedes great art. Like it or not, when by necessity you have to be concerned where your next meal is coming or whether you can make rent and your art doesn't have the necessary focus, it can feel slapdash... and while that can work for some punks or true prodigies, that added rush to say something can also lead to ideas that aren't fully thought out or explored. And that's the other thing: everyone is going to want to rush to make some sort of statement, cash in quickly to be the standard bearers - and that means a lot of acts who aren't normally political will try to become political, and that can have disastrous results.

As such, when I had heard long-running darkwave group Depeche Mode was breaking from tradition to release a more politically-themed record... I had mixed feelings, to say the least. On the one hand, they have explored complex emotional, spiritual, sexual and even socially relevant themes before, but the complexities of modern politics are a very different animal, and I wasn't really confident they'd manage to bring together the writing to make this work. And to further qualify this, I wouldn't say I was a hardcore Depeche Mode fan - I think between '86-'93 they put out good records, which is a longer 'good' period than most critics give them credit, but outside of isolated cuts before and after a lot of it can start to run together for me. But hey, they're also an English group, probably looking to focus more on the political scene in their own country, and the longer time to deliberate probably helped, and Lord knows their writing has felt stale for years so maybe uncharted territory would be good for them, so how did Spirit come together?

Monday, March 20, 2017

video review: 'infinite worlds' by vagabon

This took entirely too long to get out - should have been out on Friday, but eh, it happens.

But it's not the only thing coming out tonight, stay tuned!