Showing posts with label world. Show all posts
Showing posts with label world. 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?

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?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

video review: 'oltreluna' by progenie terrestre pura

Well, I'm glad I got this off my plate - weird record, and I put in a lot of work trying to track down how it all came together. Hell, for all of that work I wish I liked it a lot more, but whatever.

Anyway, we've got some hip-hop next, so stay tuned!

album review: 'oltreluna' by progenie terrestre pura

So if you've been following along for the past couple of reviews, you've probably noticed that I've been more forgiving towards certain tones and textures that call to mind sci-fi or space - chilly, brighter synths, slightly alien effects, if you saw my Starset review a few months back, you know I'm fond of this sound but also pretty damn critical when the acts don't stick the landing. But considering I like this sound and I also tend to like black metal with a more atmospheric or ambient touch, surely there'd be something in this vein that came out in 2017 that might catch my interest, right?

Enter Progenie Terrestre Pura, which loosely translates from Italian as 'Pure Sons of the Earth'. They made a splash in 2013 with their debut U.M.A. by blending in elements of ambient space rock with black metal, and while I wouldn't quite say it's among the best black metal I've ever heard - some of the song structures don't quite hit the same dramatic climaxes as I'd personally prefer - what I could translate in the lyrical content was indeed intriguing, exploring dichotomies between man and machines and where a soul might fit in between. And while I wasn't exactly wild about the more ambient electronic experiments of their 2015 EP Asteroidi, I wanted to check out their newest album, described as a prequel to U.M.A. showing humanity at a more primal state and their search for the divine among the stars, leading to a test of that humanity... or at least I hoped so, given that I was having a devil of a time finding any sort of lyrics, in English or otherwise! But hey, it's black metal, I can work around this, so what did I find on OltreLuna?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

video review: 'the navigator' by hurray for the riff raff

Yes, I'm way too late to talk about this, but still, I'm happy it got up the schedule because it was most certainly worth it.

And yet, in something more timely... well, I'm excited. Stay tuned!

album review: 'the navigator' by hurray for the riff raff

I always feel a little at a loss when talking about Hurray For The Riff Raff. The main project of Puerto Rican-American Alynda Segarra, I was first asked to cover her way back in 2014, and after an extended delay I finally got to dig into the back catalog and their debut on ATO Small Town Heroes, which I may have miscategorized as a major label instead of just being one of the larger indie labels. But to some extent it wasn't an unfair categorization - before Small Town Heroes there was a much more ragged and disheveled character to the production that I found powerfully organic and really charming, the sort of rougher tones that felt potent and authentic in the best possible way, something that the smoother, cleaner pickups didn't quite flatter. And what got frustrating is that it wasn't the ballads that suffered, but the more upbeat songs with greater rollick - which of course wasn't a terrible thing, as the restraint allowed the really strong songwriting to shine through, but it also meant that many of my fonder memories of Small Town Heroes are slower and more melancholic rather than of the real edge Segarra could bring.

And yet that looked to be changing in a big way on The Navigator, an album that has won Hurray For The Riff Raff real critical acclaim for venturing back to the roots - and when I say that I mean Segarra's Puerto Rican roots on a full-fledged two part concept album, both in the sound and writing. Which yes, is a bold step for a record barely over forty minutes, but that could reflect a level of rough tightness that I missed from before she signed with ATO. And when I heard this record was digging more deeply into the social themes that colored 'The Body Electric' and 'Small Town Heroes', I was all the more intrigued... but just like last time, I'm late to the punch with this one. But given that I'm the only person who has ever reviewed this group on YouTube, what did we find on The Navigator?

Monday, September 19, 2016

video review: 'AIM' by m.i.a.

I can imagine this review will probably pull some controversy. Granted, it's M.I.A., wouldn't that be in the spirit of everything, but given the subscriber numbers... eh, it happens.

Next up... well, I should do Jason Aldean next, but that Usher album... we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'AIM' by m.i.a

So let me put forward something with the benefit of some hindsight: could it be that M.I.A. was never that great of an artist?

Harsh charge to make, especially coming from someone who has never been all that fond of M.I.A., but let me make my case. Even when she burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s with her eclectic blend of choppy Afrobeat, hip hop, and raw provocation, I wasn't much of a fan, but I got the punk appeal. Jagged, explosive, not especially nuanced in her politics but loaded with enough potent sloganeering that she was hard to ignore, both Arular and KALA weren't really my thing but I could appreciate that she had her audience. Then MAYA happened... And here's the thing, I've heard a lot of people say that if it were released nowadays where noise rap is more prevalent, it'd get a better reception... but having gotten onboard with that genre in recent years and revisited that record, it really is as messy, shallow, and migraine-inducing as you'd remember - just because you're the first to the sound doesn't mean you did it best. She followed it in 2013 with Matangi, which I actually reviewed in full, and upon retrospect, I may have actually been too kind to it. I didn't like MAYA, but it at least felt like it was trying - when Matangi wasn't irritating the piss out of me with its sloppy misunderstandings of technology and politics and some painfully trite writing, it was just tedious, not helped by a laconic delivery which did nothing for any populism or melody the record half-heartedly tried to create.

But going into this reportedly final record, where even self-professed M.I.A fans were a little reticent, I started to wonder what it was M.I.A will have left behind. Of her five records, I'd only say two were close to good, and while I appreciate the embrace of rougher, noisier African-inspired textures in hip hop, M.I.A wasn't the only one to introduce those sounds. And fifty percent is not a winning or even passing record, so is AIM the album to tilt the scales in her favour?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

video review: 'the expanding flower planet' by deradoorian

So this finally happened. Many thanks to Anthony for giving me a shot on a pretty fascinating record, definitely enjoyed doing this.

Next up... it's Miley, folks. Strap in, this'll get crazy.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

video review: 'surf' by donnie trumpet & the social experiment

Oh, I can predict this review will piss off a lot of people... eh, it happens.

Next up, not quite sure yet, either Sun Kil Moon or Algiers. Stay tuned!

album review: 'surf' by donnie trumpet & the social experiment

Oh, I've been getting a lot of requests for this one.

And I'm not surprised either, because if we're looking for rappers who many have asked that I cover in some way, shape or form, Chance The Rapper would be near the top of that list. With an off-kilter, free-flowing style and wordplay that seemed to skitter across rhymes and concepts with effortless ease, Chance built a ton of buzz with his breakthrough mixtape Acid Rap in 2013, and while I didn't love that tape, I did appreciate his boundless personality and off-kilter brand of wordplay. The odd thing is that Chance The Rapper tends to get in the way of his best material - either it would come from his production being a little overmixed or his actual content not always adding up to as much as I had hoped.

But then again, when I heard he was teaming up with Donnie Trumpet and several of the producers he had worked with on Acid Rap to create the collective The Social Experiment and they were going to be dropping a record called Surf, I figured it might be a interesting experiment, especially considering this is really Chance The Rapper's first official "album". Something lightweight, fun, and with a frankly stupefying list of guest stars that spanned from Big Sean and Jeremih to Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu, I knew I had to give this record my due consideration. So how did it turn out?

Friday, October 24, 2014

video review: 'black star elephant' by nico & vinz

Forgot to post this last night, but still a solid album that's worth your consideration. Check it out!

Next up... Christ, next week is bonkers. Taylor Swift, Run The Jewels, and Lil Wayne (provided he doesn't delay his album again). Either way, it's going to be nuts - stay tuned!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

album review: 'black star elephant' by nico & vinz

So here's a fun challenge: name an African musical act. (Die Antwoord) Okay, now name one that actually has charted or has a hope in hell of charting in America. If you start looking through the Billboard charts, you'll find that that list is pretty damn small. Music from around the world already has limited representation on the American charts outside of Canada and the UK, and from Africa you can change the qualifier from 'limited' to 'barely any'.

And yet this year that changed with an act that burst onto the scene with eclectic instrumentation, a decidedly unique textured sound that was unlike anything else on the charts, and an uncanny knack for lodging itself in our subconscious. And of course, the act I'm talking about is KONGOS, a South African-based act that dropped their debut album in 2012 and it took well over a year and a half for their biggest hit 'Come With Me Now' to crash onto our charts, particularly in Canada where it broke the Top 10.

But I can bet that was not the act the majority of you were thinking about, was it? No, if you asked what music landed on the charts that had a decidedly 'African' vibe, you would have said Nico & Vinz and their song 'Am I Wrong'... and really, you'd have been half-right. Nico Sereba is Norwegian-Ivorian and Vincent Dery is Norwegian-Ghanaian, and it's clear that they draw much of their influences from African worldbeat music, but the song has more than a few hallmarks of their Norwegian synthpop background as well, which gives it a decidedly odd vibe from a production standpoint and a song that I've been trying to make sense of for months now. In other words, I had to know more, so I made it a priority to check out their first credited album as Nico & Vinz, Black Star Elephant. What did I find?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

video review: 'sparks' by imogen heap

Wow, this took way too long to get out, but I'm happy to get it out all the same. Damn great album, too.

Okay, Brad Paisley next, time to get back on schedule. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

album review: 'sparks' by imogen heap

The more you think about it, the more you realize how much indie pop in the modern era owes to Imogen Heap.

And believe me, you wouldn't have thought that, especially when you look at the odd arc of her career. Starting in the late 90s with i-Megaphone, Imogen Heap stepped into the indie scene with an album blending fuzz-saturated alt-rock with gorgeously, surprisingly intricate keyboard melodies and a breathy voice that proved incredibly versatile and emotionally compelling. And while on reflection that record is so 90s it's painful, Imogen Heap's talent does shine through and would be a sign that her opulent, genre-bending sophomore release in 2005 would be worth the wait.

And oh dear god it was. Let me make this clear: i-Megaphone is a decent album. Speak For Yourself is a goddamn masterpiece that's one of the best albums of the 2000s, hands down. Raw, uncomfortably intimate, overloaded with memorable melodies and genre bending with production that Imogen Heap all did herself without a record label and nearly went bankrupt for the trouble, it's the sort of desperately small-scale conceptual record that sounds so much bigger and and more meaningful than it should be... and then goes and earns that drama. The fact that it managed to be cohesive, emotional, and incredibly catchy along the way won Imogen Heap critical acclaim, but popularity would come when the ghostly autotuned and absolutely gorgeous song 'Hide & Seek' used on The OC and then sampled by Jason Derulo for one of the worst hit songs of 2009 and possibly the decade in 'Whatcha Say'.

But by that point Imogen Heap was moving onto her newest project Ellipse, which also came out in 2009... to mostly middling reviews. Critics and fans were baffled - it wasn't like Ellipse was a bad record, overstuffed with the same rich plethora of musical ideas that formed Speak For Yourself, so why wasn't it as good? Well, after a few relistens, an answer was easily apparent: the drama and emotional intensity that defined Speak For Yourself was downplayed on Ellipse, and it made the instrumental flourishes and flowery lyrics appear a lot less gripping and much more indulgent. And the more I heard about the development of Imogen Heap's newest record Sparks, the more I was concerned that same indulgence might come up again. Sure, the music would undoubtedly be pretty, but would there be the emotional intensity that drove that sophomore masterpiece, especially after a recording process that took much longer and featured instruments Imogen Heap helped design and all manner of art campaigns accompanying the many, many singles released over the past three years. But Imogen Heap has earned a ton of good will with me, so I dove deep into Sparks: do we have another masterpiece?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

video review: 'nikki nack' by tUnE-yArDs

Well, this was an interesting experience. Can't say I'll be revisiting the album, but it was definitely worth exploring.

Next up, either Epica or Hunter Hayes, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

album review: 'nikki nack' by tUnE-yArDs

Let's talk about cultural appropriation.

Now before everyone jumps down my throat, I think defining this in terms of music would be helpful, so here it goes: cultural appropriation means the usage of specific musical elements that can be directly linked to another culture without proper knowledge of their execution or reasoned intent. In other words, if you're going to borrow from other cultures, know what the hell you're doing and do it well. Because believe it or not, I'm not inherently against the embrace of the material from other cultures, as to strictly confine oneself to their own narrowly defined culture can limit musical expression and shuts down the conversation about integrating and blending artistic ideals and expressions.

That said, what people tend not like with cultural appropriation is when the artist uses it to add connotations of exoticism or tribalism or in the worst cases denigrating or incorrect stereotypes associated in the collective western unconscious with that sound. It's one of the issues I've had with Vampire Weekend's usage of African elements: sure, it fits the modern multicultural atmosphere the band has always striven to create, but the underlying defensiveness regarding privilege in their work has always made their usage of these elements a little uncomfortable - which is really frustrating for me because otherwise, I really like their music! This also became an issue with Arcade Fire's most recent album Reflektor, an album that utilized Haitian elements to enhance their inspiration from Black Orpheus, but then overloaded their stage show and revealed in their songwriting a serious misunderstanding of those elements.

And yet when I took a look at tUnE-yArDs' 2011 album whokill, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my fears of cultural appropriation were mostly unfounded, as lead performer Merrill Garbus seemed to be aware of the roots of her material and was trying her best to recreate that brand of pop - and was, for the most part, thanks to her soulful and bold delivery, succeeding. She reminded me on a deeper listen a lot of M.I.A., especially in her patchy lo-fi production, colourful sound collage approach, and complete lack of subtlety. But say what you will about M.I.A., at least her first two albums approached the subject matter with a cohesive tone. By contrast, whokill was perhaps the most placid and buoyant album exploring violent subject matter I've ever heard, and despite some harsh-leaning lyrics and a rich organic sound, it lacked organic depth and deeper insight to me, and it wasn't nearly raw enough to connect on a visceral level either. In other words, as much as I liked the bass melodies and the textured percussion, I felt the album lacked the punch to bely its subject matter.

So honestly, I was curious what was in store for the next album, Nikki Nack, which looked to be heading in a different direction, at least instrumentally. How did it turn out?