Showing posts with label gospel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gospel. Show all posts

Monday, October 28, 2019

album review: 'JESUS IS KING' by kanye west (VIDEO)

I feel I should explain this.

I also feel I don't have to and that makes it more rewarding for those who know. Anyway, Anna Meredith and Billboard BREAKDOWN up next, stay tuned!

Monday, June 11, 2018

video review: 'stranger fruit' by zeal & ardor

You know, I have absolutely no idea how controversial this review will wind up being... but if anything, I'm more disappointed that I didn't like it more.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, and then whatever my Patrons vote for - enjoy?

album review: 'stranger fruit' by zeal & ardor

So the honest truth about much of the criticism I create is that it's pretty agnostic when it comes to the intent of the authors... or at least I try to be. As much as I might take issues with the ideology at the core of some work, I try to give everything its fair shake in execution. And sure, while there is something to be said for liking art that affirms your worldview and disliking art that rejects it, that's more amplification rather than a deciding factor - after all, I've heard enough anarcho-punk that while I might like or admire the politics, presentation ultimately pushes me away. 

But all of this comes from the fundamental assumption that the intentions of the artist are sincere, and while you do get your fair share of satires and genre deconstructions, artists that are openly disingenuous in their artistic pursuits and don't really give a shit about the aesthetic or ideas they're promoting can exist as well in a weird space. Now there are not that many acts in this lane - authenticity is a prized commodity from country to metal to punk to hip-hop, and flaunting your disdain for that tends to get you shoved out of a lot of spaces - but when there's a lot of money to be found they tend to pop up. You could make the argument that Limp Bizkit or the very least Fred Durst fell in this space for a time in the late 90s, using nu-metal and rap rock as a openly nihilistic cash grab artistry be damned, but I put that more along the lines of studio creations and reality show artists, where the money is the primary motivation but art can happen along the way. Then you get acts like Lil Dicky, who entered hip-hop to get famous to go on and do other things and to make a point that he could, which is one reason why so much of his music is one-note, nakedly contemptuous of good taste and tends to suck.

And then there's Zeal & Ardor, an act that when I first heard about it I was genuinely excited - following the wake of Algiers to fuse traditionally black spirituals, soul, and blues with black metal, that sounded awesome and indeed my first few listens really sucked me in... until I started seeing interviews where the band's frontman Manuel Gagneux said the band primarily started as a joke and dare on 4chan. And that would be fine - execution can overrule original intent, and I've seen art made for worse reasons - but both black metal and spirituals are two genres and styles that prize authenticity, and co-opting the latter for a cheap Satanic inversion felt in poor taste, especially given the current state of affairs in the world. But then something strange happened: the first Zeal & Ardor record actually got critical traction, and suddenly Gagneux had to expand a concept that he had approached somewhat haphazardly on the debut for something with a little more meat, and I was curious how on earth he could follow it up, especially considering he named the record in a clear reference to the Billie Holiday song. Maybe he'd take on these topics with more gravity, so okay... what did we find on Stranger Fruit?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

video review: 'cocoa sugar' by young fathers

Yeah, I knew this review would be controversial... but hey, it happens, I've got to be honest.

Next up, Judas Priest - stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

album review: 'cocoa sugar' by young fathers

I'm genuinely surprised it's taken me this long to talk about Young Fathers at all. It's not like I wasn't aware the group existed, but they always seemed a little adjacent to the music that's normally on my radar, so this review was going to be a learning experience for me.

So okay, Young Fathers: a trio from Scotland that started on the indie label Anticon with a particularly off-kilter brand of hip-hop to which I couldn't really trace a clear sonic lineage. The melodies were cavernous and droning, the beats were blocky but still carried an impressive amount of groove, and the two MCs presented a brand of unsettled melancholy that used blunt but heavy language to convey increasingly bleak ideas, along with harmonies that were surprisingly stirring. I'm not really certain it was my thing - I do think the songwriting took a dip for the full-length debut Dead along with a weird synth-rock pivot with a smattering of alternative R&B, but it was compelling in a curious way, not quite with the level of propulsive power I'd see in a group like Algiers or Injury Reserve or Death Grips, but I got the appeal. But then they shifted again towards a lo-fi, indie pop rock sound a year later for a record with the loaded title White Men Are Black Men Too, and... honestly, while I think it's a solid enough record, I think I might like it more for some of the ideas the trio was trying to explore conceptually than the sound itself, as the pop or rock-leaning elements could feel a tad hit-or-miss against their production style. But hey, who knows what direction they could be taking with this project, now on the Ninja Tune label proper, so what did we get on Cocoa Sugar?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

video review: 'the underside of power' by algiers

Well, this was awesome... but let's be honest, we all kind of expected that going in, right? Beyond that... yeah, I think maybe one more review before the midyear roundup, and whoo boy, it's a fun one!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

album review: 'the underside of power' by algiers

I remember covering Algiers' self-titled debut two years ago, and I remember the most prominent thought running through my head: since the dawn of post-punk and noise rock in the late 70s, it should not have taken this long to get a record like this. I think part of this was inevitable thanks to the internet and the rampant cross-pollination of genres, but still, it's not like there weren't common throughlines that could have enabled more of this fusion of the noisy grind of post-punk with a raw blend of gospel, soul and blues. Sure, there had been those who brought in more of a gothic or symphonic sound to the scene, but this was different, black Southern gothic in a much different but no less potent tradition, backed by the utterly fearsome vocals and writing of Franklin James Fisher. And it was the sort of fully formed debut that of course landed a spot on multiple of my year lists for songs and albums, but really the potential represented by this band was far more thrilling, and not just because when hip-hop looking to sample gospel finds out this exists, it's going to cause a sea change.

No, what drew more of my attention was knowing that their sophomore project The Underside Of Power was going to necessarily get political, and this should not surprise anybody. Much of their debut painted them as harbingers of doom and a brand of violence that only even perceived between the lines of those not willing to look - and that's before we even get the exceedingly well-framed and frighteningly relevant racial commentary - but given what happened last year... yeah, I had the feeling gloves were coming off. And considering the mountains of critical acclaim this record has received already, I was really excited for this. So what did we find in The Underside of Power?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

video review: 'sing it now: songs of faith & hope' by reba mcentire

I really need to get better about posting these videos when they're done and up, this one took nearly three days... granted, it was absolute hell to edit and put together, but still, no real excuse here.

Next up, though... stay tuned!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

album review: 'sing it now: songs of faith & hope' by reba mcentire

I don't even know where to start with this one.

See, when I saw this come up on Patreon, I literally went to the guy who requested it and asked politely if I could skip it or he could ask for something else, and I figured I'd have good ground: after all, it's a selection of traditional religious hymns, that's not something any critic normally covers. And there's a very good reason for that, given that the music on a record like this is normally secondary at best, with instead the main purpose being for worship. And again, that's not saying that music can't have religious themes, but when you're considering the art of it all, you're left scrabbling for something that's often not even as relevant, especially on a lyrical level. There are, of course, exceptions, but in certain brand of evangelical gospel, poetry and writing often take a back seat to conviction.

But then it was pointed out to me that there was indeed a second disc of entirely original religious songs... and I still wasn't very satisfied at all, my overall point still stood. But then I thought, 'Well, hey, this is Reba McEntire, the country artist who managed to survive the overly sanitized 80s in order to become one of the most impressive and long-running hitmakers in the 90s, there'd undoubtedly be some quality here'. And hell, I even stand behind her self-titled TV show as being a lot smarter and well-written than so many people gave it credit, and she was an expressive actress. And it wasn't like there wasn't a demand for this album: it debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200, it sold tens of thousands of copies, people clearly were interested. And hell, I still have faith, even though my view of it is a lot more complex and layered than what you typically see in evangelical parishes, so maybe this record could move me despite my extreme skepticism. So are these songs of faith and hope up to that challenge?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

video review: 'love & hate' by michael kiwanuka

So believe it or not, I'm expecting to get a ton of hatred for this review. This is, after all, one of the most critically acclaimed records of the year... and I think it's just solid, not great. Eh, we'll see.

Next up, Uncommon Nasa and Short Fuze, and then I can finally dig into that Mark Chesnutt record, so stay tuned!

album review: 'love & hate' by michael kiwanuka

So there's a term that's become popular in the online music critic scene, particularly on YouTube. Coined by one Todd Nathanson, it's one that's attracted a fair amount of attention, expansion, and detractors, one that I've even coined myself: the 'white guy with acoustic guitar' genre. It's a bit of a nebulous term - because obviously not all white guys with acoustic guitars make bad music, look at Mark Kozalek or James McMurtry - but it typically is used to describe a certain sort of gutless, edgeless, artless pretension that's perfect for scoring your average listless summer barbecue that wouldn't dare to threaten or challenge anybody. And given that most of this music tends to make my skin crawl, I have no problem whatsoever disparaging this type of music, not just for the often below-average songwriting and guitarwork, but more for the attitudes beneath the music - I elevate artists like Kozalek and McMurtry above this term because they're trying to make artistic statements, whereas stereotypical white guys with acoustic guitars make music in order to pick up chicks or put up a forefront of depth that isn't there.

But I'll also admit it's a narrow term, and it's by no means limited to white guys, so what about black guys with acoustic guitars? Well, you're going to find far fewer examples in this subgenre, but there are a few - Darius Rucker, former frontman of Hootie & The Blowfish immediately springs to mind, and it's definitely a fair comparison. But when you consider Michael Kiwanuka, I would definitely hesitate to assign that label, mostly because he seems to play in an entirely different ballpark, even if on the surface some people might be inclined to use the label. For those who don't know, Kiwanuka is a British singer-songwriter who got his start as a session player before his breakthrough in 2012 with his debut album Home Again, which definitely had its warm folk touches and a fair amount of acoustic guitar, but tended to play more towards old school soul touches with the organ and slightly rougher production. But at the same time, as much as I liked his delivery the writing wasn't always stellar - and to be fair, good soul doesn't always need brilliant lyrics, but it feel thin at points, enough that I could see why people at first glance might assign that the label, or at least consider him a bit of a throwback. But he didn't seem willing to accept that, so recruiting Danger Mouse and fellow UK producer Inflo, he dropped his sophomore album Love & Hate that on the surface looked to be getting more conscious and develop more lyrical bite. So after I caught some strong singles, I figured I dig into this: was it worth it?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

video review: 'coloring book' by chance the rapper

So yeah, trying to catch up on my schedule has been insane... which means Ariana is probably going to be next before White Lung and ANOHNI - either way, stay tuned!

Friday, May 20, 2016

album review: 'coloring book' by chance the rapper

Let's talk about faith.

Now before I blow open this can of worms, let me start by saying that I'm not talking about religion here - my own personal faith is private and complicated and probably would extend over more than just one video, and entangling it with religion doesn't make things easier. But that's not to imply that faith doesn't inspire art - often times it can inspire better art than religion itself, see the vast majority of the Christian music scene! Good art arises from conflict, and a crisis or conflict of faith is often times one of the most potent anyone can have, especially when there's no concrete answer to the questions presented.

But what about Chance The Rapper, the eternal bright-eyed optimist in modern hip-hop who has ignored major labels with aplomb to release free album after free album? Yeah sure, it's been called a 'mixtape', but at this point I doubt Chance is going to release anything outside of 'mixtapes' like these, so if I want to cover him at length, it'll involve me breaking my mixtape rule and talking about this. A rule, by the way, that I'm happy to break here: my experience with Chance The Rapper might be uneven - I really liked Acid Rap, Surf reveals itself as even more messy with every subsequent listen - but if you get him on a straightforward project he can spray colourful and relentlessly fun verses like no other - his verse on Kanye's 'Ultralight Beam' proved that and outshone nearly everyone else on the project. What did worry me was that, again like Surf, this project might have too many hands in the pot, with an overloaded guest list and many that you would not expect from reportedly a hip-hop gospel record! But hey, maybe Chance had managed to tap into the spiritual side of artists like Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Future, Young Thug, and Justin Bieber - at the very least, it would force them out of their comfort zone. So I picked up Coloring Book - what did I find?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

video review: 'mr. misunderstood' by eric church

Well damn, I didn't expect this to be nearly as good as it was. Not complaining at all - it's a nice feeling for Eric Church to be on track again, and it's good to put one of my most contentious reviews to the back of my mind for now.

But next up... oh boy, that Logic album is tempting. So let's go for it, stay tuned!

album review: 'mr. misunderstood' by eric church

You know, I've been asked a few times what I think are my worst reviews, or any that I regret. And here's the thing: over the course of nearly doing 500 of these things, you're going to encounter reviews where you look back and just wince a bit - maybe a bad turn of phrase, maybe a slip of the tongue or error in song interpretation, or maybe just an album that has grown or cooled on you over time that makes your review not reflect your feelings now. Now here's the thing: that happens. It's only human for opinions to evolve over time with more information or with changing emotions or even just the passage of time, and reviews being a snapshot of how one feels at a specific moments only further highlights how subjective they really are.

And as such, when you pair all of those factors with an album designed to court controversy with a major shift in artistic direction... well, those are the reviews that tend to spark the most vitriolic reactions... which takes us to Eric Church. I'll wholeheartedly admit my review of his 2014 album The Outsiders is not my best, and when combined with an album that showed Eric Church trying to bend country music in so many different directions, you got a mess all around. It didn't help matters that Eric Church is a contentious artist, drawing on tropes of outlaw country and some interesting songwriting ideas but playing them with little subtlety in the writing or instrumentation. Granted, if I were to reflect on the biggest miscalculation of The Outsiders, it'd be the overwrought, leaden production, courtesy of perennial frustrating producer Jay Joyce.

And as such, when I heard the two had teamed up again to deliver a surprise album of all things, delivered first to registered members of his fan club with ten new tracks not even cracking forty minutes... well, I wasn't sure what to expect. When you consider the record was cut just a few months back and slipped out as a complete surprise, you could either view this is Eric Church satiating his fans with something quick, or him attempting to pull a Beyonce, which he might have been able to do if it wasn't for Chris Stapleton's huge CMA success launching his sales into the stratosphere. But I already reviewed Stapleton's Traveller months ago, so what do we get with Mr. Misunderstood?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

video review: 'algiers' by algiers

Nearly forgot to post this. And I really shouldn't have, because the album is fucking excellent.

Anyway, next up... heh, you already know. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

album review: 'algiers' by algiers

There are some genre fusions that sound so insane that you'd never expect to see them work. Ambient music and country, for instance, two genres that rarely have ever crossed... until Devin Townsend created Casualties of Cool, one of the best albums of 2014. Or take, say, the entire genre-mashing careers of twenty one pilots, and they put together Blurryface, one of my favourite records of this year. My point is that oddball genre fusions can blow up in your face, but they can create something special and defiantly unique, especially in a world where the internet has proven anyone will try anything once.

But then there are the genre fusions that the second I heard about it, it made way too much sense, the sort of material that made me sigh and wish that I had thought of it first. Algiers falls into that category, an American band from Atlanta reportedly fusing post-punk, gospel, and industrial sounds for a distinctly unique debut to be released through Matador Records, the same label that's been responsible for giving us Savages and Iceage. And really, considering how much post-punk and goth culture crossed over in the late 70s and 80s, with the latter incorporating so much religious iconography it's not surprising Algiers might take a stab at pushing through a less classical and more gospel-inspired take. And given how strong the critical reception has been, I decided to give it a look - was it worth it?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

video review: 'hozier' by hozier

Wow, I did not expect this album to be this good. Seriously, get it, it's fucking amazing.

Okay, Tinashe is probably next, but I've got Iceage and Aphex Twin (finally) to cover too, so stay tuned!

Friday, October 10, 2014

album review: 'hozier' by hozier

Let's talk about religion. As I've mentioned in the past, I'm Catholic, mostly practicing but to say my faith gets complicated from there is understating it. One thing I'm quite certain of is that my faith is my business, and nobody else's, and if religion operated on that level on a broader scale, we as a society would be much better off. 

And yet unsurprisingly, there's a whole subsection of the music industry devoted to music with strong Christian themes, a subsection of the industry that tends to get relentlessly snubbed, panned, or outright ignored by critics. And to some extent that's not a good thing - when you shut down the critical discourse and artistic conversation, art developed in that environment tends to develop insular tendencies without the slightest element of quality control. But to be fair to myself and other critics, it's not like we don't have good reasons for ignoring that particular subsection of music - putting aside the issue that elements of the fandom immediately perceive criticism of the music as criticism of not just the artist, but the religion as well, the production and instrumentation is often substandard, or in some cases outright derivative of other non-religious acts. And lyrically... look, religion has inspired some fantastic artists to write classic songs - Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, the list could go on - but in that particular subgenre can fall into two distinctive traps. The first is that much of the material is not willing to directly comment or criticize the faith that underlies it, which can lead to a serious lack of drama - after all, if the answer always can be provided by deus ex machina, you really undercut the tension, which tends to lead to the music coming across at best placid and at worst self-satisfied. And the second problem is evangelicalism - for a critic, it can get exasperating when the music's sole purpose is to preach or go political in a way that lacks nuance, especially when their answers loop back to a holy book that should be read allegorically and metaphorically rather than literally.

What this also means is that, with rare exception, most Christian music never gets play on mainstream radio or the charts, and everyone tends to be okay with that. But at the same time, it's been a generally accepted rule that songs that are outright anti-religion don't tend to get a lot of airplay either - because let's face it, spitting in the face of people's faith without a certain degree of nuance is just as exasperating. So you can believe that I was surprised to see a song titled 'Take Me To Church' creeping up the lower half of the charts, a song fairly blunt in its 'losing my religion' metaphors when linking back to his complicated relationship. Now let me stress that this is a strong way to immediately grab my attention - strong single, intriguing content, doing something new - so I decided to check out his self-titled album. What did I find?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

video review: 'me. i am mariah... the elusive chanteuse' by mariah carey

Huh, I wonder which video will get more hate, this or the Special Comment. Either way, I'm glad to have gotten two birds with one stone here.

Next up... well, it's a bit of a slow week, so we'll see. I might surprise you, so stay tuned!