Showing posts with label disco. Show all posts
Showing posts with label disco. Show all posts

Monday, April 2, 2018

video review: 'golden hour' by kacey musgraves

Okay, so let's see how well this goes down... I think I was cautious with the hype here while still thinking this is a pretty great record in and of itself, but again, I stand by what I say at the end, there are FAR more deserving albums of the hype, especially from women in country.

Anyway, next up is the Trailing Edge tonight, so stay tuned!

album review: 'golden hour' by kacey musgraves

I feel like I've been hearing a lot about what this record could have sounded like for so long that whatever I was going to get, I'm not sure it'd ever live up to expectations.

And I'll be the first to admit that's a really crappy thing to say or think going into one of my most anticipated records of the year from one of the heavy-hitters in artistically fascinating country adjacent to the mainstream, especially for an artist whose major label breakthrough I loved so much it was in my top three of 2013. But even since Same Trailer, Different Park, it's hard to escape the feeling that a certain amount of complexity and nuance that I was praying would expand in Kacey Musgraves' songwriting was slipping away in favour of increasingly lightweight textures and ideas. First there was Pageant Material - and yes, for as much as I loved the title track on that record, it was the sort of overly burnished traditionalist country as a whole that felt a shade too sleepy to really stick with me more deeply. And then when I had heard her next record would be a stab into 'emo country' coming after a remix collaboration with Miguel, I was thoroughly perplexed where Kacey Musgraves' brand of genre experimentation would take her...

And then she got married and started cowriting a very lovestruck, psychedelic-infused pop country album dabbling in disco and... well, it struck me as the last possible direction that would highlight her strengths as a singer or songwriter, especially when if you know your country history this is not a subgenre that's gone unexplored. Hell, if you want to take a look at disco-infused country tones, Lydia Loveless was reviving this sound two years ago to amazing effect! But even Musgraves will admit she's not as challenging or experimental as those on the fringes of Nashville or Austin these days, and in a sense, that could be fine if the writing was sharp and the compositions held up - Caitlyn Smith wasn't reinventing the wheel with Starfire and that's a pop country record that has only gotten better with every listen this year! And even despite some very concerning naysayers, the critical response has been insanely good across the board, and maybe I'm just worrying over nothing, so what the hell - how is Golden Hour?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

video review: 'i can feel you creep into my private life' by tune-yards

I'm not going to lie, I didn't really expect to like this... but I do think the conversation got interesting, and if anyone is going to claim I'm a blind SJW... well, yeah, that was never the case, and this is a hefty stack of evidence. 

Next up... whoo boy, this'll be a tough one, so stay tuned!

album review: 'i can feel you creep into my private life' by tune-yards

So I have a... let's call it complicated relationship with Tune-Yards, and I'm genuinely surprised the group is not more controversial among some circles. For one, if you're looking for a band that embraces a very pronounced social justice angle in their themes tune-yards will deliver, but dig a little deeper and you find a scattershot approach to songwriting that doesn't always do those ideas justice. And that's before you get the cultural appropriation conversation that has hovered around their aesthetic and production despite how you'd think graduates from New England art schools would know better. Or to put it another way, I don't think WHOKILL or Nikki Nack would have gotten nearly the same critical acclaim if they were released today in comparison to 2011 and 2014, and while I find the backlash against SJWs incredibly tedious and overdone, I'm self-aware enough to enjoy shots at Lena Dunham when she rightly deserves it, and Tune-Yards aren't far behind.

Now while I brought up all of that in my review four years ago, the larger truth is that I haven't given Tune-Yards much thought at all, mostly because they never brought any significant edge or potent melody to their sound that would draw me back. I got why a lot of critics liked them, but they were never really my thing and thus I was prepared to skip over this project altogether... until I heard two interesting revelations. One, frontwoman Merrill Garbus apparently rediscovered a love for house and disco music in the past four years, so there could be more of a defined melody to these tunes - and two, apparently those cultural appropriation comments got to Garbus and there were points where she overcorrects, and you can bet I wasn't going to miss a chance to riff on some of that! But I'll save that for the review - what did we get on the oh-so-awkwardly titled i can feel you creep into my private life?

Friday, January 19, 2018

video review: 'blue madonna' by BØRNS

Well, this should be way better than it is... gah, it happens, I guess, but still, I'm not sure that Lana influence is doing him any favours.

Fortunately, the next act uses all his momentum to fantastic effect even if the project is short, so stay tuned!

album review: 'blue madonna' by BØRNS

The more I think about BØRNS as an artist, the more I get the impression there is less to think about than I'm assuming, that he's actually less interesting than he might appear. 

Granted, some of this is not helped by me covering his debut Dopamine a full year after it was released for my anniversary in 2016, where he felt all the more out of place in the larger context of the year. But even with that there's a part of me suspicious that the image and flair was more compelling that BØRNS himself would ever be, considering he didn't quite play to his strengths as a singer and he had a bad tendency to indulge in production gimmicks and lyrics that felt increasingly hollow in their hyperstylized Americana, especially considering there was often a rock-solid glam and pop rock core to many of his compositions. It was a good project, but it's not one I found all that memorable just a year and a half later.

And thus I was skeptical about Blue Madonna - I drew comparisons to him sounding a little in his delivery and content and production like Lana Del Rey, and look who has two guest appearances on this project! And when you consider he pruned away all other producers and cowriters besides Tommy English, it was hard to avoid the feeling he might be doubling down on influences that didn't always flatter him, but could result in a more focused experience overall. And hey, Lana Del Rey has steadily been getting more tolerable, maybe this would be pretty stylish or fun, right?

Monday, July 31, 2017

video review: 'everything now' by arcade fire

Well, this wasn't good. I could have called that going in, but hey, I was there in 2013 and predicted this trajectory and so many weren't listening and who's laughing now-

Okay, I'll stop. In any case, it'll probably be Billboard BREAKDOWN next, but I might have something else to finally get off my schedule first, so we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'everything now' by arcade fire

Okay, in the modern internet age, especially on YouTube, it's not exactly a good look for critics to appear smug or condescending towards an audience. We rely on you guys, and I would lying if I didn't say I was grateful every single day for the growth of this community, be it through you guys who watch everything to those who support me on Patreon. You're helping enable something for me that's really exciting, and I'm looking forward to seeing where this channel could go.

That said, when I started seeing the reviews for Arcade Fire's newest record, with the sort of mixed critical reception the band has never really received, especially for the lyrics and songwriting, there was a tremendous sense of vindication that rushed through me - I'm not going to say that 'I told you so', but I am going to claim at least some credit for calling it. Because I was hard on Reflektor, partially for its sloppily realized song structures and lack of balance between its vocalists, but most of all for the undercooked themes surrounding an artist's relationship with fame and the smug, self-obsessed writing trying to explore and deconstruct it - and for a critic just starting out, that's the sort of controversial opinion that can cripple an upstart channel - even if eventually I wound up putting 'Joan Of Arc' on my list of my favourite songs of 2013! And while I will admit to never being a huge Arcade Fire fan, their first three records and especially The Suburbs do hold a special place for me in harnessing real wit and insight to temper the earnestness, most of which curdled in an off-putting way on Reflektor that reflected a band that has more ambition than the control or self-awareness to execute it well.

And while some of this critical backlash has been long-in-coming - for some critics thirsty for cred the knives have been out for Arcade Fire's pompous pretentiousness for some time - the reviews of Everything Now showed not just those critics getting an easy target, but also an audience who had been willing to excuse so much from this band finally hitting their breaking point - in many places seemingly for lyrical patterns that continued from Reflektor. So you can bet I wanted to get in on this, so how is Everything Now?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

video review: 'funk wav bounces vol. 1' by calvin harris

And here we go... and I actually liked this a fair bit more than I was expecting, which was generally pleasant. 

Next up... let's talk about Jay-Z. Whoo boy, here we go!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

album review: 'funk wav bounces: vol 1' by calvin harris

I think some people may have gotten the wrong impression surrounding me and Calvin Harris - it wasn't that I ever hated him, it's just that I never cared about him. I remember when he broke through around the early 2010s and while I could identify plenty of bad producer-driven EDM from that era, Calvin Harris just didn't stand out. The tones and melodic progressions got in your head, but the writing was formless and generic, the production was underwhelming, and his own singing voice... yeah, nobody was going to a Calvin Harris record to hear Calvin Harris, even despite the bizarre amount of success he landed with 'Summer' in 2014.

And up until 2017, that all seemed to be true. He had a few songs that were tolerable - I still hold 'Outside' with Ellie Goulding didn't get the push it deserved - but beyond that, he didn't resonate, especially a lot of his work with Rihanna that always felt incredibly underwritten and tired. And then 2017 happened, and the change in sound was measurable. Sure, given how Harris pivoted towards deep house on songs like 'How Deep Is Your Love' he's always shown himself to be a malleable producer, but a shift towards more organic disco, and adopting the splatter paint collaboration style more reminiscent of DJ Khaled... that was measurable, and proved that his new project might actually be interesting, especially considering how well songs like 'Slide', 'Heatstroke', and 'Feels' worked for me. So for the first time... pretty much ever, I was looking forward to covering a Calvin Harris record - so what did we get out of it?

Monday, July 11, 2016

video review: 'dopamine' by BØRNS

Thank you all for your support, folks - pretty happy how this review turned out too!

Next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN and Schoolboy Q, so stay tuned!

album review: 'dopamine' by BØRNS

I have to admit, I'm surprised this album got the top pick. Sure, it was a narrow three-way race, but I had expected the support behind those two records. After all, Kamasi Washington's The Epic had won a ton of critical acclaim as a behemoth of modern jazz, and Love Stuff by Elle King probably got the request thanks to how many people went back to rediscover her after 'Ex's And Oh's'. This guy, on the other hand...

Okay, from what I can glean, Garrett Borns is a Michigan-based singer-songwriter that's had some success on the rock and alternative charts after getting signed to Interscope. Apparently much of his work was inspired by retro-cool Americana, like the Beach Boys and Playboy magazines from the 60s and 70s. That's got some promise, and his collaborating producers also seemed interesting, most notably Tommy English, a guy who has worked for both 5 Seconds Of Summer and Black Veil Brides... and yet buzz was suggesting BØRNS was more retro-disco and glam rock. At the very least I like glam rock, and even though Kyle Craft set the genre an incredibly high bar this year with Dolls Of Highland, that's no reason why BØRNS couldn't also match six months earlier. And besides, you all recommended I take a look at this and I have to trust you guys have an idea of what I'd otherwise like, so how did Dopamine turn out?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

video review: 'vega intl. night school' by neon indian

So, not too big on chillwave, but this was pretty solid, and I'm finding it's grown on me with every listen.

Next up... okay, Carrie Underwood next. Stay tuned!

album review: 'vega intl. night school' by neon indian

So remember chillwave? Remember when that was a thing, a trend that seemed to spring partially from the warped edges of gleaming early 80s synthpop and the gummy, lo-fi production of Ariel Pink? Remember how it was a big thing in the indie scene for seemingly a year or two before evaporating in the hot sun for the next big trend?

Because I certainly don't. Now part of this was just time and place - I was listening to very different music in and around the latter half of the 2000s, and chillwave was one of those nebulously defined genres that completely passed me by, there and gone and I had never cared. But going back to listen through it now, I'm a little baffled why there was so much hype in the first place - yeah, the lo-fi eclecticism of the synthpop was a nifty trick, but many of the synth textures didn't really stick with me or blend into particularly solid wholes. it wasn't that it was bad - although there was a fair amount of mediocre stuff around the edges of the genre that was coasting on the fad - but again, Ariel Pink was already making similar music and doing it with more cohesion both in melodies, production, and lyrics.

That said, I do give Neon Indian a certain amount of credit for at least trying to bring a loose sense of humour and fun to a genre that often proved oddly humourless. The main project of frontman Alan Palomo, his debut record in 2009 got a lot of critical acclaim and buzz - so much so that it catapulted him into the festival circuit where he did surprisingly well for being loose, catchy, occasionally funny, and genuinely fun. So it wasn't surprising that as the backlash towards chillwave came in force, Palomo worked to double down on the bigger, buzzier, thicker sounds - even teaming up with Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann to overcompress and add more density to the mix. And yeah, the melodic core was still there and some of the quirkier elements did creep through, but I was among many who felt it was a slightly less satisfying effort, even though I never found much chillwave to be all that exhilarating to begin with.

So when I heard that Palomo was looking to bring in more elements of disco and future funk for his upcoming third album, adapted from the VEGA sideproject, I was interested at least, especially considering the critical acclaim started pouring back in. Did it pay off?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

video review: 'stories' by avicii

Well this was a surprisingly fun review to put together. Surprisingly easy too, but that can happen.

Next up... hmm, not really sure. Long weekend up ahead, and I want to make sure I make the best of it. So probably Julia Holter and The Dead Weather, but then there's The Game and Frankmusik and I should probably talk about Deafheaven if only to get it out of the way... eh, we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'stories' by avicii

Of all the electronic producers I've covered in the mainstream, both in full-length reviews and on Billboard BREAKDOWN, Avicii is one that continues to frustrate me.

See, those of you who have followed me for a long time know that I wasn't too kind to his debut album TRUE, not a bad record but ultimately an experiment that landed steadily decreasing dividends throughout its runtime in attempting to fuse folk with accessible EDM. And yet many of you probably know that two Avicii songs have landed on my year-end lists for my favourite hit songs of 2013 and 2014 with 'Wake Me Up!' and 'Hey Brother'. And the stranger thing is that I'll stand behind both of those choices even though I'd still argue that TRUE was only ever a decent album.

And here the crux of that argument: Avicii is the sort of artist who has a great grasp on the fundamentals and the broad strokes of his experimentation, but can get stuck on the details, which is why the folk sections of that debut album ended up working better than any of the electronic segments. Sure, he's a strong melodic composer in putting together dynamic, surging progressions and marrying them with well-textured guitars and banjos and solid acoustic grooves... but the second he starts adding in thicker beats or percussion, things kind of go off the rails. Hell, he's not even a bad lyricist - all of which makes me think Avicii might be a better songwriter than producer and performer - but I can't help but see the irony in an electronic producer who blended folk in and made it work, except in the underlying electronic production itself!

But that was 2013, and let's face it, the EDM world has changed significantly in even just the past two years. The leftovers of the folk boom that Avicii was riding is now long dead and most modern EDM has gone to the deep house or R&B/neo-soul route - that'd be your Calvin Harris - or suffered badly for it, like Zedd. Where does Avicii fall with his sophomore release Stories?

Friday, August 21, 2015

video review: 'psycadelik thoughtz' by b.o.b.

So this thing happened. At least it was better than Underground Luxury, if that says anything.

Next up... hmm, I want to cover Jess Glynne, but that Mick Jenkins project... we'll see. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

album review: 'psycadelik thoughtz' by b.o.b.

I can't imagine what it might feel like for a rapper who loses their hype, especially one who made it big for a second in the mainstream before it all fell apart. And the more I've reflected upon the career of B.o.B., Atlanta MC that was once being compared to Andre 3000 for his flow, eclectic fascination with other genres, and guitar skills, the more I'm starting to think this is the case. After a series of well-received mixtapes he smashed into the scene with The Adventures of Bobby Ray, which despite being pretty uneven did show off a rapper with real chops, a unique brand of production, and a fair amount of charisma that could play to the mainstream. Which of course was what happened, with huge songs like 'Airplanes' and 'Nothing On You' and 'Magic'. He followed it up with Strange Clouds in 2012, which was just as uneven but still had some solid songs I really love to this day, including 'So Good' and 'Where Are You (B.o.B. vs. Bobby Ray)'.

And then it all fell apart. His buzz seemed to evaporate without good singles, and as hip-hop went for the darker trap sound he struggled to keep up. But 'struggle' might be the wrong word, because I reviewed his 2013 record Underground Luxury and it sucked, not just because of messy trap beats but because B.o.B. was just wallowing in lazy, badly written hedonism. For a rapper who once had such imagination to devolve into that was incredibly disappointing for me, and for once it seems like everyone else agreed, with many critics trashing the album and the sales being miserable.

So what do you do when you're a rapper who has lost your hype? Well, from my point of view you've got one of four options: you retire; you slink back into the indie scene and try to rebuild your cred, you stay signed to the major label and hope to God you can follow trends well enough to churn out hits at the expense of your identity, or - and this came out of nowhere - you decide to title your next record Psycadelik Thoughtz and drop it with no promotion or lead-off single in the hopes surprise will draw curiosity, especially with a rumoured change in sound: go big or go home. And I was worried here: Tyga already tried this strategy with his long-delayed surprise release, and nobody seemed to care, and he had hype going in. What was B.o.B. going to deliver?

Monday, July 20, 2015

video review: 'currents' by tame impala

Well, I can't imagine this review will go over well. Eh, those happen.

Next review coming in a bit, stay tuned!

album review: 'currents' by tame impala

So here's one of the frustrating things about being a music critic who still has a massive backlog - as much as I try, I can't cover everything within the course of a year, and you occasionally miss things or listen to albums out of chronological order. And on the one hand this can be rewarding as you can go back and listen to the classics and hear the musical elements that eventually became influential. But on the other hand, it also shows how some of said elements were further expanded or explored by other groups and you don't end up with the same appreciation of the 'original' article.

Want an example? I originally heard of Tame Impala back in 2012 when they showed up on the collaboration album The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, and of the many, many acts that showed up on that album, their contribution wasn't exactly one that stood out all that much and I consequently never really bothered to delve deeper into the group. So when I started getting requests to cover them this year, it was really my first time exploring them in-depth, and I was definitely excited to see what this critically beloved band could deliver...

And man, I was underwhelmed. I'm not saying Tame Impala or either of their first two albums are bad - as a fan of psychedelic rock, they're very listenable - but the hype behind the group baffled me. The instrumentation was sprawling and languid but rarely brought enough driving groove in the percussion, instead smearing over so many of the melodies and vocal lines with egregious electronic effects that often felt like they muffled some real texture. Yes, Lonerism was definitely an improvement, but not being in love with Kevin Parker's vocals or his lyrics, which could definitely tread into exasperating territory, even if it is intentional, I found it hard to really appreciate them as much as I wanted. And it didn't help that the more I listened through Lonerism, the more I just wanted to go back and listen to Sun Structures by Temples, which brought a much more groove-driven, memorable brand of psychedelia to the table.

But seemingly like every indie band these days, Kevin Parker decided to focus more on a synthpop, even disco-inspired approach for his newest release, shifting from more guitars to synthesizers. Which to me was a little concerning, as the noisier guitar elements were the piece I liked the most off of Tame Impala's first two releases. But hey, maybe it'll mean they'll focus more on giving the melodies more presence, so I checked out Currents - what did we get?