Showing posts with label pop country. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pop country. Show all posts

Thursday, September 26, 2019

video review: 'the owl' by zac brown band

Yeah, this sucked... but to be fair, pretty much all the critics and fans are saying it too, so preaching to the choir, I guess?

Anyway, I think it's about time I get to JPEGMAFIA, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

album review: 'the owl' by zac brown band

When you think of the Zac Brown Band, what do you think of?

Mostly likely you think of the band responsible for songs like 'Chicken Fried' or 'Toes' or 'Knee Deep', lightweight, relaxing fodder that has a bit of a jam band vibe but a lot of rich, warm harmonies and colour. If you're more of a fan you probably remember songs like 'Goodbye In Her Eyes' and 'Colder Weather' and how the band has always had an underrated strength for ballads, or even how their 2012 album Uncaged took a willingness to experiment into one of the best mainstream country albums of the decade. 

If you're deeper in the country scene, however, especially recently, you might know the Zac Brown Band a little differently. You might know that frontman Zac Brown has been chafing at what he might view as the arbitrary restrictions of country - seemingly unaware of how the indie scene has been plumbing new depths and sounds every single year, which you'd think he'd know given his collaboration with Dave Cobb in 2016, but that's a different story. You might have heard that the same year he put out a back to basics album Welcome Home produced by Dave Cobb, he also made an EDM-folktronica... thing called Sir Rosevelt near the end of that year... which wound up being universally panned by anyone who knows electronic music as dated, badly produced, and while having catchy moments feeling more than ever like a vanity project. And that's what we were hoping would remain the case for the Zac Brown Band, especially after their dabblings with electronic music on 2015's Jekyll + Hyde, which for the record did see some success, but nowhere near consistent enough to sustain a full project - so if Zac Brown had a side project to shove that sound into, all fine and good.

What nobody was suspecting was The Owl, a project where it appeared that Zac Brown was doubling down on the electronics and pop flourishes to the shock and alienation of all of their country fans - and let me make this clear, the buzz has been horrible for this album. Even mainstream critics are not giving this a pass, so as one of the few guys who can defend pieces of Zac Brown's electronic forays, I wanted to give this a chance... so what did The Owl deliver?

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

video review: 'GIRL' by maren morris

You know, there's a part of me that wants to say that this was disappointing... but that's a lie, I had no expectations this would be that good to begin with, and sadly I was proven right.

Eh, Billboard BREAKDOWN next, and then hopefully onto something more promising - stay tuned!

Monday, March 11, 2019

album review: 'GIRL' by maren morris

So here's a fun question: what genre of music does Maren Morris make?

Here's a fun follow-up: does anyone really care? Well, I'd argue it's at least relevant, because a lot of people sure as hell got heated when I made a point of it in reviewing her debut album HERO three years ago, mostly in noting how much her sound and songwriting felt distinctive in country and didn't stand out nearly as effectively in pop, and when you couple it with neither writing or production being as strong as it should be, it led to a messy debut. But what I've noticed is that the conversation surrounding exactly how Maren Morris is straddling both worlds has been much more contentious than her music: leveraging Nashville for streaming placements and promotion, but given that country radio doesn't promote women her most prominent successes have come on pop songs. 

And on some level I'm not going to disparage her for the pop pivot - the poisoned well of Nashville radio is only going to get worse before it gets better - except for two things: one, how much she continues to swipe up country promotion when it's abundantly clear she'd rather be anywhere else, which absolutely takes from the precious few slots for which other women are forced to compete; and more importantly, as a pure pop artist her work has been underwhelming in establishing an audience. Hell, if you look outside of 'The Middle', she's retreated to the easy push of country playlist placement when her solo material has underperformed - Bebe Rexha has done the same thing only coming from pop, and it's a cheap shortcut that only highlights the weaknesses of their music.

And thus I had no idea where her second album would go - I had no expectations that anything close to 'My Church' would be here, but would she bring enough country tones to hit that sweet spot in both markets - which for the record can work for acts like Kelsea Ballerini or Carrie Underwood when the music fits - or would this be a pure pop effort to drop her in the mid-tier and give her real competition? So yeah, what did we get from GIRL?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

video review: 'can't say i ain't country' by florida georgia line

And this was not good - man, I'm surprised I just had so much content out of it.

But heading for something of more quality...

Monday, February 18, 2019

album review: 'can't say I ain't country' by florida georgia line

You know, on some level I've always thought it was a cheap thing to judge an act like Florida Georgia Line by their album titles, especially when they're a solid five years past their prime in terms of relevance and seem to be fighting tooth and nail to preserve whatever's left. Their first two albums were called Here's To The Good Times and Anything Goes, bro-country projects that reflected a shallow, tossed off vibe that didn't really invite a lot of deeper thought, and while I'd call neither album precisely good, for what they were I couldn't exactly get angry or all that annoyed with them. No, where that manifested was on their third album in 2016, Dig Your Roots, not their first attempt to say they were going back to their core but arguably their most revealing of what that core could be, the project where they wanted to settle down and get 'mature'... but did so against some of the most lifeless pop-leaning production to date. And that did feel a bit telling... because for as much as these guys have referenced the pop of their youth, this album could have indeed referenced their roots directly - they're just not really all that country.

But you can tell Florida Georgia Line has taken this as a slight, and from the lead-off single 'Simple' that sounds like a mash-up of High Valley and Edward Sharpe to the defensive album title, this looked to be a lot of posturing and maybe even some hurt feelings at being so effectively sidelined by the pop-country of Dan + Shay or the heavier smolder of Brothers Osborne. So I'll admit a little concern when I saw their newest album was described by them as a tribute to 90s country - and then stacked with features from Jason Aldean and Jason Derulo, not to mention all still produced by Joey Moi! That said, I was willing to give this project a chance, mostly because Florida Georgia Line have a weird habit of sneaking at least one single through that's pretty good - I liked 'Dirt' back in 2014, I liked 'Simple' last year, I had the hopes there'd be something more on what looked to be their longest album to date... so what did I get, can Florida Georgia Like prove that I can't say they ain't country?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Monday, September 17, 2018

album review: 'cry pretty' by carrie underwood

I can't believe that I'm actually getting to the point where I'm starting to feel sorry for Carrie Underwood.

Because I've said it before that I'm not exactly a fan of hers - she's made a few scattered songs I like, mostly telling stories where folks wind up dead, but the albums are consistently inconsistent, handicapped by frustrating production choices and Carrie Underwood having a tendency to rely more on raw power than subtlety or a genuine edge. I'm not saying she's a bad artist by any stretch - although if I never have to hear 'Before He Cheats' or 'Jesus Take The Wheel' again in my life I'd be happy - but that I've always been less enamored of her material than most.

But the more I've read about the lead-up to this album, the more sympathy I feel for her. Putting aside the fall where had to get surgery, Cry Pretty marked the shift to a new label at Capitol Nashville, as well as a complete change in production team from the folks she had been working with at Arista Nashville. That's a sizable step... and yet the rollout does not seem to have been handled well, with country radio not throwing support behind a reasonably well-received title track and her label yanking promotion a few weeks before the album's release... both suspiciously timed right behind Carrie Underwood making statements criticizing the failure of country radio to play any women and instead shoveling out more interchangeable meatheads who have just as much of a pop focus - or worse still, promoting women in pop for the easy crossover while ignoring women in country or even pop country. And before you think radio executives wouldn't be that petty... well, they are, but the larger question is what this means for Carrie Underwood going into the album, because people can get sick of an artist if they don't deliver quality, and when you pair it with sloppy or sabotaged promotion, that could be a big red flag. But hell, I was still curious about Cry Pretty, especially with Underwood taking a much bigger hand in the songwriting, so what did we get here?

Saturday, June 30, 2018

album reviews: 'no shame' by lily allen / 'bigger' by sugarland / 'paid in exposure' by natewantstobattle / 'dan + shay' by dan + shay (VACATION)

So yeah, this was a mess - and about the last video I was prepared to deal with copyright bullshit about, but such is the age we live in. Anyway, midyear video is coming, so stay tuned!

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?

Saturday, February 3, 2018

video review: 'starfire' by caitlyn smith

So yeah, this was genuinely great, pleased I made time for this... and now onto one of my most anticipated records of 2018, so stay tuned!

album review: 'starfire' by caitlyn smith

So this was a record I didn't plan on covering, at all. And I can imagine for those of you in the know going in before this album came out, a lot of my assumptions might seem justified... but that's just it, they were assumptions, and from the critical buzz, they might have been the wrong ones.

So okay, background: odds are you don't know who Caitlyn Smith is unless you've been reading through the liner notes of very specific records. If you knew her at all outside of country it was for 'Like I'm Gonna Lose You', that big duet hit between John Legend and Meghan Trainor that came out a few years back, but what caught my eye was writing credits on 'Wild Boy' for Danielle Bradbery, and while her career may have gone off the rails in spectacular fashion, 'Wild Boy' was a really good song, and apparently Caitlyn Smith was a powerhouse vocalist on her EPs...

And then she signed to Monument Records. If you recognize the imprint at all it's probably for a ton of music that dropped in the 60s and 70s, but after some mismanagement the imprint was solid and then rebuilt as a short-lived country label in the late 90s-early 2000s. Most recently it's been revived by mainstream country megaproducer Shane McAnally, and while I've said a lot of good things about him in the past, inflicting Sam Hunt upon us in recent years killed a lot of good will and signing Walker Hayes as the first artist to Monument killed the rest. So while I knew Starfire was never going to be as bad as boom was for Hayes, I had no reason to believe McAnally was going to push Caitlyn Smith in a good direction... and yet apparently all the critics are going crazy over this, so there must be something I'm missing here. So I decided I'd check out Starfire - was this country debut I've been waiting for in 2018?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

video review: 'younger now' by miley cyrus

So this happened... joy, I guess? Ugh, let's move on to something much more compelling...

album review: 'younger now' by miley cyrus

You know, on some level... didn't we all see this coming?

Okay, maybe not everybody, but when I saw people genuinely surprised that Miley Cyrus was returning to country music - note the word 'return', that's going to be important here - I just had to sigh and shake my head. Right from the very beginning Miley has always played as the L.A. outsider from Nashville - hell, it's the entire premise behind 'Party In The USA' - and with her thicker accent and twang inherited from her country singer father Billy Ray Cyrus, there was a part of me that deep down knew a country pivot was coming.

Granted, if you consider her career over the past decade I can see why some might not have expected it, from electro-pop at the beginning of the club boom to the awkward trap sounds of 2013, a year where her fame was at its unsteady peak, all the way to the nightmarish mess of psychedelia that plagued her disaster of a 2015 record Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. Because there were some consistent throughlines - reckless provocation without much weighty content to back it up, production that tried and mostly failed to support her, and in her trap-leaning years an approach to hip-hop that all kinds of tasteless and raised some ugly questions about white pop stars pilfering black culture. And now that she got all the partying out of her system, she can leave that job for Post Malone and go back home to a nice, safe, whitebread sound. And as such, I had very little interest in this: if I wanted a pop star dabbling in country I'd stick with Kesha, who at least seemed to care about her art and who I could easily see fitting with those experimenting in the genre, whereas a disheartened Miley after the election last year was claiming she could reach out to a conservative demographic with this new image and genre shift. Now there are all sorts of problems with the assertion without even getting into the optics, but all of it would be irrelevant if we didn't talk about the music, so what did I find on Younger Now?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

video review: 'life changes' by thomas rhett

Hey, if it was truly awful believe me I would have said so. As it is... well, made for a good bait-and-switch with the thumbnail. :)

And next up... hmm, interesting, we'll see what we get here. Stay tuned!

album review: 'life changes' by thomas rhett

There's a part of me that doesn't even want to pretend I care about this record, to basically pull a bait-and-switch and talk about something that actually dropped this week and that got forced back on my schedule because according to my Patrons I should just 'get this over with'. Because that's the optimum attitude going into an album review, right?

In all due seriousness, I should have vetoed this from my schedule. I didn't because I've got a morbid sense of curiosity surrounding this guy's inexplicable popularity... you know, I can't even say that! I know what Thomas Rhett is popular, he makes doofy pop music for people terrified of the raw sexuality of Bruno Mars. I've always found it contemptible that he's still advertised on country radio, because let's be honest, he belongs on the pop stations - but he'd also be consigned to the same territory as the b- and c-list like Andy Grammer or just get stuck playing catch-up to Charlie Puth, Shawn Mendes and Ed Sheeran if he's not going to rip them off entirely. 

My larger point was that going into Life Changes I didn't expect the genre-defying abomination that was Tangled Up, I expected something more 'normal' and sedate after the success of 'Die A Happy Man', a set of pleasant, underwhelming milquetoast pop that'll be forgettable to listen through and absolute torture to review. But, at the same time it's not like 'Craving You' or 'Unforgettable' were bad songs - they weren't country but they were at least passable, and you really have nowhere to go but up after Tangled Up, so maybe this would be at least inoffensive?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

special comment: midland & authenticity in country music (VIDEO)

So this was something I basically did to avoid talking about the review I'm putting up tonight, but it was a pretty fascinating piece to dissect, especially given the current discussion around Midland. Glad to see it was received as well as it was!

special comment: midland & authenticity in country music

So in 1994, music journalist Bill Wyman made a statement praising three artists in the Chicago underground who were getting critical and popular acclaim by nudging their sound and marketing towards a mass audience - in other words, going pop but holding up enough trappings of alternative music to maintain their cred and avoiding the insularity of the 'strictly underground' crowd. These three acts - Bikini Overkill, Liz Phair, and a little group called the Smashing Pumpkins - were just breaking out with records that were starting to get real groundswell, even if with the benefit of historical context it'll tell you that would fade in the years to come. But to certain underground figures, in an era where the lines of alternative and mainstream music were blurring even further as popular culture tried to co-opt an organic revolution, this was damn close to heresy.

And leading the charge against these acts was acclaimed indie rock artist, producer and music writer Steve Albini, who fired back against Wyman in a blisteringly profane statement that these acts were never truly alternative but just co-opting a sound and trend without the actual depth to back it up, pop artists in the guise of something they never were. Now on some level the venom did feel a bit misplaced - Wyman wasn't claiming these acts were alternative but that it didn't really matter as long as the music was good, but Albini's larger point resonated, that through a disingenuous appropriation of the sound they were doing damage to both their own long-term careers and artistic ambitions, and the alternative scene as a whole, threatening labels of authenticity and years of hard work by underground acts that did pay their dues and would kill to have some of that same success without being pushed through the meat grinder of the music industry. And if you were to follow what happened to alternative rock and grunge and punk in the next decade or so, you'd see that Albini was mostly right on the money here.

With all of that established, let's talk about history repeating itself, and a little band called Midland.

Monday, August 14, 2017

video review: 'rainbow' by kesha

Well, this was pretty great. Yeah, like most people I wish this was a tad better overall, but still, pretty terrific all the same.

Can't really say the same about the next record up here... stay tuned!