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

Sunday, November 24, 2019

video review: 'everyday life' by coldplay

Anyone who thinks critics enjoy making these kinds of reviews... yeah, no, this wasn't fun. I wanted to like this WAY more than I did.

And while I'm on that subject, I've got Beck up next - stay tuned!

album review: 'everyday life' by coldplay

It feels like it's been longer than it's actually been since I talked about Coldplay.

Now for you all that has more to do with Warner Music Group throwing a copyright block on my review of the last album to take it down worldwide only days after it was posted - because spineless violations of journalistic fair use are fun for the family - but the larger truth is that I just haven't had much incentive to seek or discuss Coldplay in the 2010s. Sure, they had a single pop up on my year-end list of the best hits of 2016 - that being 'Hymn For The Weekend' with Beyonce - but to be perfectly candid, it was more of a factor of the Hot 100 in 2016 being an absolute garbage fire rather than the song being a credible standout.

And yet this isn't coming from someone who as a critic dislikes this band, even if they've given me plenty of credible reasons - for the most part I like Coldplay, and they're incredible live. But if I were to compare the cyclical melodic progressions, strident crescendos, and willowy wistfulness of their best material across the 2000s, the 2010s have seen them flailing with pop and electronic pivots that don't fully play to those strengths, rarely bad but frequently underweight and bland. Granted, it didn't help the production quality took a nose dive when they ditched Brian Eno, but I'd argue the bigger problem was a collapse in dynamic range - at their best, Coldplay could take their broad abstractions to soar, feel like so much more than was present explicitly in the text, but with every layer of stiff percussion and underweight electronics, I just got no emotional impact. 

And thus I was worried about Everyday Life, because at this point, Coldplay's pop pivot wasn't going to stop, especially given Max Martin cowriting with them. And yet while this album was being advertised as a double album, in reality each disc was pretty short so this project still clocked under an hour - thank god. But hey, rock bottom expectations, there's nowhere to go but up, right, so how is Everyday Life?

Thursday, September 19, 2019

video review: 'miami memory' by alex cameron

Yeah, can't say I'm not a little underwhelmed, but it is still good.

Next up... yep, it's Peggy - stay tuned!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

video review: 'amidst the chaos' by sara bareilles

So yeah, this is one that I've left on the back burner for some time, but I'm happy I got a chance to review it just the same - not sure how many will care, but still, pleased to go back.

Next up... well, this Mountain Goats album is a thing, but I am seeing Avengers Endgame tomorrow, so stay tuned!

album review: 'amidst the chaos' by sara bareilles

You know, of all the releases over the past couple of weeks, it seems like this is the one that's flown under the radar the most.

And it's not hard to see why: outside of the singles, most of the mainstream seems to have had a touch-and-go relationship with Sara Bareilles' brand of sharply written adult-alternative indie pop - they're not going to complain about getting tunes like 'Love Song' or 'King Of Anything' or even 'Brave', but they're not really going to go out of their way to find more from her. Which is a shame, because while I'd struggle to put her among the upper tier of piano-driven pop rock - it's a crowded field, and while I think her albums are consistently pretty good I'd struggle to call her great across the board - I think Sara Bareilles has a lot going for her with a strident vocal tone, well-structured lyrics, and a pop sensibility that can give her a sense of accessibility and make her easier to revisit than many of her peers.

That said, the flip side to this is if she can't deliver the hooks or a more striking performance, it's easy to brush her music aside, and as much as I think there are some underrated album cuts on her 2013 album The Blessed Unrest, underwhelming compositions and slightly oversold production combined with weaker writing did leave the album as rather forgettable, or at the very least not as cutting as she's been in the past. Now that review was one of the first I ever put to video, so I was curious to revisit her material over a thousand reviews later, especially given this new album was coming off a lot of well-received stage work and was looking to get a lot more political. What caught more of my interest were cowriting credits from Lori McKenna - who I still hold as one of the best writers working in music of all genres right now - so I'll admit I had some high expectations yet again, so what did we find from Amidst The Chaos?

Thursday, December 13, 2018

video review: 'hill climber' by vulfpeck

So yeah, this was a mess... not my thing either so I expect the backlash, but eh, it happens.

Next up... yep, let's finally talk about SABA here - enjoy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

album review: 'hill climber' by vulfpeck

So here's something a little alarming about my job as a critic, and I'll walk you through the scenario. Say you're given a band, primarily promoted through Bandcamp so you'd assume they'd be a small-to-midsize act, and you've never heard of them. Fine enough, that's not uncommon if they're a step outside the mainstream or never have gotten Pitchfork coverage, so you start digging through their back catalog... only to discover that this band might be a lot bigger than you could have expected, with collaborations with named critical darlings and a social media presence that might actually guarantee an audience for the review... made all the more awkward by the fact that you really didn't like what you heard going through that back catalog!

And yes, this was my experience with Vulfpeck, an American funk act who broke out in the 2010s and have quietly been pumping out albums throughout the decade. And when you see the list of session players who have worked with them, it's a little astonishing that I hadn't heard of them sooner. Indeed, I can imagine some audiences are more familiar with how they were backing Darren Criss on his 2013 tour than the fact they had worked with Bootsy Colins, Bernard Purdie, and David T. Walker. Of course, if you're in the music industry you probably know them for having trolled Spotify in 2014 by putting an entirely silent album online in order to game streaming, which got them about twenty thousand dollars before the album got pulled, but in all due honesty, there are points I'd prefer to listen to that than their larger recorded output. Yeah, this is where things get awkward because I would struggle to say I'm a fan of Vulfpeck at all: limp production, underwhelming vocals unless they pulled up a credible guest, and with generally embarrassing lyrics that might just wind up as some of the most safe and sterile attempts at funk I've heard in a long time. Yeah, the playing is good, but with no edge or intensity or sense of greater texture, it got grating fast, and when you couple it with their social media presence which makes it hard to tell if they're a joke act that just so happens to have a few ringers who can play really well... well, that's not the sort of act I really feel the need to cover. That said, they slowed things down significantly for their album last year - it was more limp and boring than actively grating like The Beautiful Game was but at least was tolerable - but this new album has gotten some good reception, so what did we get from Hill Climber?

Monday, June 4, 2018

video review: 'god's favorite customer' by father john misty

And here's the first review of the night... but it's not over yet, stay tuned!

album review: 'god's favorite customer' by father john misty

So there comes two distinctive times in every singer-songwriter's life, especially if they've got a theatrical slant and even more especially if they've had any degree of crossover success. The first is the concept record: the overblown, overwrought 'statement of the human condition' record that often proves to be the point where even diehard fans start looking for the exits. These are the records that end careers, full stop... but if they don't, you get the second case: the inevitable comedown release, the one that might try to win back the fanbase but crystallizes more on the wide-eyed, panicked feeling that you have nothing else to say and thus are going to collapse inwards in spectacular fashion. They're often just as pretentious but considerably more uncomfortable, the artist ripping away any veneer in grotesque, self-destructive fashion to expose the humanity within, when the artist holes up in a mansion or hotel and truly starts to fly off the rails - and sometimes more rails than you might realize.

And I'm not remotely surprised that Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty took both of these steps, especially considering the narrow line he walks between biting self-aware satire and genuine earnestness which manifested most strongly on the breakthrough record I Love You Honeybear in 2015. And thus with Pure Comedy we got the overblown concept record and now... look, the seeds have been planted for years, Tillman knew he'd have to go down this rabbit hole in the same way Dylan and Beck and Berninger and Cave have, for as much as he has deconstructed his ego and artistic persona, it's still one he has yet to truly set on fire, and God's Favorite Customer looked like it would be that moment. And I'll admit records with these themes really get under my skin in a great way - beyond just the artistic deconstruction and raw humanity exposed, for an artist with such intense self-awareness of the artifice of his image and the crowd that has embraced it, ironically or otherwise, as Josh Tillman, he would know exactly what buttons to push, a You're The Worst-episode made flesh. In other words, this could be a total trainwreck and I'd be here for it, so what did we get on God's Favorite Customer?

Monday, May 14, 2018

video review: 'tranquility base hotel + casino' by arctic monkeys

So here's the first review of the night, bound to be the most controversial... but we're not done yet, so stay tuned!

album review: 'tranquility base hotel & casino' by arctic monkeys

Most of you probably don't remember the last time I reviewed the Arctic Monkeys. It was nearly five years ago, I didn't have a proper camera yet, but I was mostly positive towards the record and I did think it had some moments that worked for me...

And everyone hated it! Yeah, I'll admit I was still very much in the learning curve for making album reviews, but the backlash I got to being mostly ambivalent on this indie darling was pretty pronounced, mostly because my review consisted of some... let's call them mixed opinions on their back catalog. Suffice to say, Arctic Monkeys broke around the same time as a lot of other bands in a similar noisy, post-punk revival brand of indie rock, and when you paired it with observational songwriting that might have had moments of self-awareness but was often way too sour and acerbic to really resonate with me, as a group they just never clicked more deeply with me. Yes, you can make the argument that Alex Turner was one of the wittiest and smartest guys in the room, but if you know it and want everyone else to know it, any amount of self-deprecation doesn't make you any less of a dick! It's absolutely no surprise the band became a Gen X critical darling in the mid-2000s - and also no surprise that as they got older and arguably more mature and their fury curdled into detached, snide bitterness, said fans mostly stuck around... provided, of course, they could get behind the shifts in sound. Yeah, that was the other thing - Arctic Monkeys may have started in some furious, borderline punk territory, but they got way slower and more indebted to a conventional rock canon with every record, especially as they started embracing stoner rock elements on Humbug and psychedelic elements on Suck It And See and AM. And that was the frustrating thing for me: this band is clearly talented and had the capacity to take sonic risks and write some damn catchy songs... but the content and a lot of Alex Turner's delivery left a bad taste in my mouth.

Still, when I heard the band was taking a stark departure in their sound for lounge-inspired smooth jazz and spacey pop tones... yeah, you might have seen traces of that coming on previous records, but this sounded like something far out, and a record that has proven quite polarizing for a lot of fans. And hell, I was intrigued - maybe if Alex Turner could get out of his own head in terms of content, he could write something interesting, so what did we get with Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino?

Friday, December 8, 2017

video review: 'forced witness' by alex cameron

Yeah, this was a lot of fun. I know I'm late to the punch on it, but you definitely all want to check this out, it's legitimately great.

Next up, something I've been anticipating all year... or maybe a movie, not sure yet. Stay tuned!

album review: 'forced witness' by alex cameron

I'm not sure there's an easy way to begin this review, because to do so I need to explain Alex Cameron as an artist and the high-wire act he's walked throughout his career over the past ten years - and I'm not sure there's a way to do that without feeling like I'm walking through a hall of mirrors. Don't get me wrong, I like it when artists make art that is commenting on the artistic process and entertainment industry, but it's also the sort of ouroboros, Charlie Kaufmann-esque approach that can get a little exhausting to the audience.

So to lay some groundwork, Alex Cameron got his start in the electronic group Seekae but in the 2010s began developing his solo act, and the 'persona' that he initially adopted was that of a failed performer... but not exactly one that was fully self-aware that he had failed, and infused with some 80s-inspired alpha machismo and 'cool' to boot. Much of his debut Jumping The Shark was infused with this character, balancing wonky electronics with slick touches of 80s synthpop, actively taking the piss out of any sense of cool this character might have... but also playing it just straight enough to reclaim a little of it to a cult audience. From there he developed relationships with indie bands with a flair for retro grandiosity like Foxygen, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and even Brandon Flowers of The Killers, which got him a record deal with Secretly Canadian and a few writing credits behind their last album. And yet with this persona it also led to a collaboration with fellow Australian musician Kirin J. Callinan on a little song called 'Big Enough' on his record Bravado this year... which took his cult status and fused with a meme and his popularity got considerably bigger. And considering on his new album he was looking to explore similar themes of masculinity that Callinan had touched and had roped in both Brandon Flowers and Angel Olsen of all people for support, this was a record I had to hear... even despite, again, getting to this entirely too late. But hey, was it worth it?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

video review: 'sketches of brunswick east' by king gizzard & the lizard wizard + mild high club

Man alive, I really wish I could have covered other King Gizzard records than this... eh, I finally got it, we'll see what happens for the rest of the year.

Beyond that, I think Taylor Swift is up next, so stay tuned!

album review: 'sketches of brunswick east' by king gizzard & the lizard wizard + mild high club

So before we get into this in earnest, we need to start with a certain Facebook meme I've seen spreading around - no, before you click away, there's a point to this, I swear. Basically it was one of those twin pictures with bottom text that shows what you think you're doing versus what you're actually doing, one with a guy sensitively explaining at length something... and the other a picture from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia with Charlie losing his mind next to his conspiracy board from the episode 'Sweet Dee Has A Heart Attack in Season 4. The tagline was guys talking about music, and the band referenced in a speech bubble for such a sensitive explanation... was King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.

Now one could argue it's a meme that is targeted at how music nerds will try to explain at length music nobody knows to the indifference of male or female company alike - which yes, of course I've been there - but to offer a counterpoint, I'm not sure there's an easy way to explain King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard to anyone without sounding insane. They're a seven piece Australian psychedelic rock act that has put out eleven full-length records since 2012 that have careened from garage punk to progressive rock and all manner of high concept wildness - the sort of band that almost demands the sort of nerd-heavy cult following and at some point will disappear directly up their own asses if they don't burn out. And since over the past few days I've marathoned through their discography, what do I think? Well, as I've said in the past, I'm a sucker for great psychedelic rock and tacking on elements of blues, country and desert rock will only hook me more, and while I might hold a pretty big soft spot for the spaghetti western-inspired concept album Eyes Like The Sky, the essentials here are the heavier grooves I'm In Your Mind Fuzz, the remarkably charming folk weirdness of Paper Mache Dream Balloon, and of course the pretty damn terrific and ridiculously catchy psych-metal powerhouse of Nonagon Infinity, which probably would have had a shot to make my year-end list last year if I had taken the time to actually review it. But King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard was aiming even higher for 2017, aiming to release five records this year - and look, I get nervous whenever an artist threatens to release two albums a year, and as much as I like this band, I was not remotely convinced they could churn out that much consistent quality that couldn't be crafted into one stellar record. And here's the weird thing: early this year in February they put out Flying Microtonal Banana and I actually really liked it - maybe a shade away from true greatness, but the usage of microtones gave the record really fascinating melodies and for a band that has such a strength for hooks as they do, it opened a wealth of potential going forward. But then Murder Of The Universe happened and was a lot less structured or interesting, and when I heard that they were collaborating with Mild High Club and it was trending towards 70s AM rock... look, that's a genre I tend to appreciate more than I probably should but that's not really what I want to hear from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard! But who knows, it could be another Paper Mache Dream Balloon, so what did this translate to on Sketches of Brunswick East?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

video review: 'flicker' by niall horan

I honestly have no idea why so many people are surprised I find this so damn satisfying, but my god, it just works for me. I can see this growing on a lot of people, especially if he releases more of the Fleetwood-esque songs.

But now, for something far worse...

Monday, October 23, 2017

album review: 'flicker' by niall horan

I think I've been looking forward to this record more than... well, pretty much everyone else. And that's not entirely surprising - if you've followed One Direction's career arc, Niall Horan didn't really seem to stand out. Liam and Louis had more writing credits, Zayn and Harry seemed to have more personality and wanted to make bigger statements, with admittedly mixed results. Hell, even when I covered his debut single 'This Town', I expressed some surprise that he was out of the gate ahead of Harry and Liam, who would both go on to having more success throughout this year.

And yet there was an odd part of me that actually kind of liked this guy. I didn't think his writing was stellar but he seemed to have good instincts and a decent sense of maturity. And I liked many of his collaborators - I've always thought Tobias Jesso Jr. is better behind the scenes than on his own work, there's a credit from Dan Wilson formerly of Semisonic, somehow he managed to get a guest appearance from Maren Morris, and for as much as Greg Kurstin has frustrated me over 2017, for this sort of understated acoustic project I hoped he would be a good fit. On top of that, it was just over a half hour - it didn't seem to have the ambition to go huge that Harry and Zayn did, and if the writing was good, maybe smaller stakes could serve him well. So okay, did we get anything worthwhile out of Flicker?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

video review: 'something to tell you' by haim

Believe me, folks, I wanted to like this as much as anyone. Not precisely bad, but I'm going to forget this exists in a week, I'd put money on it.

Now to cover something I should have covered a few weeks ago... stay tuned!

album review: 'something to tell you' by haim

I'll be the first to admit I was really hard on HAIM the first time I covered them. Again, I can make the excuse that I was very early in my reviewing career on YouTube, and that I probably could have afforded to be a little more deft in my commentary - but I'm also not going to deny that for all of the hype thrown behind this group, I've consistently been underwhelmed by the actual music and songwriting on display.

Which of course is awkward for me to say because on some level, HAIM is the modern mainstream music critic's dream project to review: independent and underground enough to earn hipster points, but not too weird or unconventional to lose the mainstream public - hell they're friends of Taylor Swift, which is an easy namedrop for clicks! They're indebted to folk and indie acts of the past but with a very modern style of songwriting that would win over the poptimist. They had an image that seemed a little more weighty than your average girl group, they all played their own instruments, they were quirky, it's very easy to see why a lot of critics were taken in... and I wasn't one of them. And I'm not saying that to brag, I wish I could have found more to like in the songwriting behind HAIM to really appreciate and get onboard the bandwagon, but outside of specific songs like 'The Wire' - which is awesome and made my year-end lists of the best songs of 2013 - I was just underwhelmed and a little unsettled by some of the implications in that writing.

But again, your average music critic's dream band, so with all the acclaim you'd expect them to have a follow-up ready fairly quickly... and now it's four years later. I'll give them points for two years of touring, but apparently initial studio sessions were unfruitful and it took a lot longer for the band to pull things together - which struck me as odd, given that I never found their arrangements or writing to be incredibly complex or challenging to assemble. But hey, there's an art in blending styles and nailing the formula well, so now that we finally have Something To Tell You, what did we get?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

video review: 'harry styles' by harry styles

So yeah, this happened. Actually pretty good all things considered, which kind of caught me off-guard, but hey, might as well enjoy it!

Next up, Paramore - stay tuned!