Good Albums I Didn’t Review in February 2020

I am getting into a bad habit of putting these monthly list articles off. I won’t be making the same mistake in March for reasons that you’ll soon see. But anyway, we all know the drill here. I can’t review everything, so here are some other releases from the month of February that I think are worth your time. As always any of these albums would be scored 3.5 or higher if formally reviewed.

Other People

AGAINST ALL LOGIC – 2017-2019–Nicolas Jaar returns once again with his house-centric Against All Logic side project. This time around the tracks are a little dirtier and less polished, but they’re actually better for it. I personally feel like the start of this album is a little weak, but it really picks up a few tracks in and stays good through to the end. If you’re into house music, don’t sleep on A.A.L.

Mom+Pop

BEACH BUNNY – HONEYMOON–While the band’s name and sound might suggest California, this band is actually from Chicago. Despite their Midwestern origins, they inject some much needed life into the world of west coast power pop. The album short, coming in at only 25 minutes, but it uses that short time to deliver some solid guitar driven indie pop.

Suicide

BLACK ROYAL – FIREBRIDE–Apologies in advance for the album art. Last month I expressed my hope that 2020 would be a better year for slow metal than 2019. February has only strengthened my hope, and Black Royal played no small part in that. This is a sludgy death/doom band from Finland that bring the heavy with some pummeling and yet catchy riffs. They haven’t forgotten that death/doom can be a fun genre as well as a dark one.

PH/Loma Vista

DENZEL CURRY/KENNY BEATS – UNLOCKED–Denzel Curry continues to prove himself to be a perennially consistent rapper with his third great project in as many years. Kenny Beats does the same, continuing his trend of short, but potent albums starting with Vince Staples’ FM! and Rico Nasty’s Anger Management. Beats throws out some of his wildest and inventive beats and Curry rises to the challenge of complementing them with great lines and flows.

Lucky Number Music

HMLTD – WEST OF EDEN–This debut album from experimental art-punk band HMLTD is a wild ride. Over the course of its 50 minutes you get elements of industrial, spaghetti western, surf, blues, cabaret, and electro-pop. Song structures range from bizarre to accessible. I feel like it tends to drag on in places and some of the decisions don’t fit well with others, but it’s a very promising debut otherwise.

Fantasy

JAMES TAYLOR – AMERICAN STANDARD–JT has brought us his 12th studio album and his first in five years. As the title indicates, this album consists of Taylor performing a selection of American standards in his familiar, laid-back, acoustic style. There are songs on here from Rogers and Hammerstein, Billie Holiday, and Henry Mancini among others. It’s slightly unfortunate that there are no originals, but familiar songs in a welcoming and familiar style is kind of nice to have in times like these.

Blues Funeral

LOWRIDER – REFRACTIONS–Yet another release that’s convinced me that 2020 will be a year for slow metal. Sweden’s Lowrider took their time with this one, releasing it 20 years after their debut, despite a semi-regular performing schedule. But good things come to those who wait. There’s some fine stoner rock to be heard here, and it’s probably the best of that specific vein of hard rock and metal I’ve heard so far this year.

Nuclear Blast

SEPULTURA – QUADRA–Speeding things up in the metal department, we have the 15th album from the Brazilian thrash veterans. Well over 30 years into their career, Sepultura are still producing quality work. A big part of that is that Andreas Kisser is a thrash riffing machine! It kicks off strong and stays strong. The riffs hit hard and even the more groove metal tracks are tight.

Modular

TAME IMPALA – THE SLOW RUSH–Yes, yes, Tame Impala is a trendy thing right now, but you should believe the hype! Kevin Parker has crafted meticulous psychedelic sounds over the course of his discography, and while The Slow Rush pushes further into the realm of synthesized sounds, it’s no exception. I don’t know if it’ll be my favorite Tame Impala release, but it is an excellent one.

BRANDY CLARK – YOUR LIFE IS A RECORD album review

BRANDY CLARK – YOUR LIFE IS A RECORD

Warner, 2020

Country

Given that we just observed International Women’s Day this past weekend, I figured I would feature one of the many albums made by women that were just released. I landed on this new record from country singer and songwriter Brandy Clark. Normally, I wouldn’t give a release like this too much attention, but then I learned that she co-wrote “Mama’s Broken Heart” with Kacey Musgraves and has songwriting credits on a few of Musgraves’ releases. If you know me, you know this is more than enough to get my attention, and I will say that I’m glad I decided to dig a little deeper into this one.

Since Brandy Clark is known as a songwriter, let’s start off by looking at the songwriting. And perhaps what impressed me most about this album is that there really isn’t a single lyrical dud on it. Modern country music can often reek of cliches and tropes, and while the female artists tend to fall prey to them less often than the men, they do have their own. Clark manages to practically avoid all of them. Even when songs get dangerously close like on “Long Walk” and “Bigger Boat,” both songs manage to end with their dignity intact.

The songs are really at their best when they’re telling relatable stories about real people. Take “Pawn Shop” with its recent divorcee and failed musician going into the titular store and selling things that ended up costing more than they bargained for. Or “Bad Car” with its narrator sad to see an old car go away despite how unreliable it was because of the memories it holds. About half of the tracks are about love and heartbreak with the final three tracks forming a kind of trilogy of various stages of the aftermath of a falling out. But even these topics are covered in a way that never induces eye roll or cringe.

Musically, the album is a little less exciting for me. I personally tend to prefer the more folksy, vintage, or rock-tinged sounds of outlaw country, but this album falls on the more tolerable side of big pop country productions. Much like the nearly-cliche lyrics, the instrumentals sometimes knock on the door of being over produced, but never quite cross that line. Sometimes the string arrangements can feel like a bit much, but what’s really surprising is the inclusion of horns, flute, and organ in a few tracks. These instruments in particular give the tracks hints of ’70s soul, which is pleasantly surprising.

One real outlier instrumentally is “Bigger Boat,” which features Randy Newman. It’s lilting rhythm and almost honky-tonk flavor feels like Newman could have written it himself, and it pulls off the difficult feat of being silly without being corny. It doesn’t feel out of place among the rest of the songs on the record. Unfortunately, except for maybe one or two exceptions, there’s no instrumental here that really stands out as unique or particularly captivating. There’s nothing here that will really stand out from the crowd musically on country radio. But again, this is a songwriter’s album, not a bro country release looking to land a huge hit. The content is what’s important.

Overall, I ended up enjoying Your Life Is a Record more than I expected when I gave it the time it deserved. In some ways it plays like a songwriter’s resume or portfolio. I could hear just about any country artist singing many of these songs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few showed up on some future release from one of Nashville’s superstars. There’s even songs on here that I wouldn’t be ashamed to be caught singing myself. The touches of soul music are nice, but I do wish the instrumentals were a bit more memorable. Even so, there’s no denying that this album has some of the realest songwriting that you’ll hear this side of mainstream country music.

4.0/5.0

TYCHO – SIMULCAST album review

TYCHO – SIMULCAST

Mom+Pop/Ninja Tune

Electronic/Downtempo/Ambient

Okay, you’re getting a bonus review this week because I can’t compress my thoughts on this one down to a single paragraph for the end-of-the-month post. Simulcast is a companion album to Weather, Tycho’s release from last year. As such, I will be referring back to that album quite a bit in this review, so I highly recommend that you watch my review of it here. But the bottom line with Weather is that I liked it quite a bit because I happen to enjoy Tycho’s brand of laid-back electronic music and it’s inclusion of vocals from Saint Sinner gave it that little extra something.

Like I said, Simulcast is intended to be a companion album to Weather, but this time around it’s all instrumental. I actually hesitate to call this a new release because 3 of the 8 tracks on it are the 3 instrumental tracks from Weather with no changes (“Weather,” “Into The Woods,” and “Easy”). And the remaining 5 are just instrumental reworkings of everything else. So I guess you could call this a remix album? But only like, 5/8 of a remix album? I don’t know, the electronic music world can be weird sometimes.

It’s important to point out that while this is an instrumental companion to the previous album, the reworked tracks are not just the vocal-less backing tracks. They truly have been reworked. They have key defining characteristics that tie them to their lyrical counterpart and maintain the same spirit, but Tycho has given them new embellishments to fill in the gaps left by the vocals. These tracks also have new titles and most have longer running times. Interestingly, the only new title that gives you any hint to the original is “Stress,” a heavy rework of “No Stress” from Weather.

So the real question here is whether Tycho managed to sufficiently replace Saint Sinner’s vocals. The answer is… mostly. Some tracks like “Cypress” (companion to “Japan”), are still pretty basic and sound like backing tracks despite being stretched out to almost twice the length. Others like “Outer Sunset” (companion to “Skate”) have clearly recognizable parts but benefit from additional percussion and synths. And then there’s songs like “Alright” which I think is the companion to “For How Long,” but it honestly sounds like an entirely different song.

The second question is if the tracks are any good. And I personally think they are. People like to give Tycho a hard time because his music is so inoffensive. It’s background music for the kitchen or office, only slightly more creative than lo-fi hip hop beats to study to. And I won’t deny it’s good music for that, but I also think it’s impressive that an artist has set out to make music like this and still make it distinctly their own. Despite being electronic music, Tycho finds ways to make it feel organic with electric guitars and vocal improvisations (still provided by Saint Sinner, by the way). And these little touches make the songs unquestionably his, and very rewarding when listening actively with headphones.

At first, I wondered if this album was really necessary. Weather was already so good. Tycho took his music to new places when he incorporated lyrics. Did we really need an instrumental companion? At the end of the day, maybe we didn’t, but I’m not upset that it exists. The vocal-less tracks from Weather represented some of Tycho’s best instrumental work up to that point, and the reworks on Simulcast are just as good, if not better. And if there are people out there who wished that Weather didn’t have vocals, well now you have your wish. I do still think Weather is the stronger release here, but Simulcast is still a strong entry in Tycho’s catalog.

3.5/5.0

FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH – F8 album review

FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH – F8

Better Noise Music, 2020

Alternative Metal/Groove Metal/Hard Rock

Normally, I don’t review metal albums so close together, but sometimes the universe throws something your way that you just have to comment on. Five Finger Death Punch have bestowed their eighth album upon the world and it’s…. well it’s something. The album is called F8, pronounced “fate,” and that should tell you everything you need to know about it. FFDP is the kind of band that thinks naming an album F8 is clever and a good idea. And they make music for the kind of people who believe the same thing.

If you can’t already tell, I didn’t really like this at all. And I know it’s the popular thing to hate on Five Finger Death Punch. But before you write me off as just another hater, please allow me to at least try to explain why I don’t like it. And yes, I’ll go beyond the fact that I think FFDP is the favorite band of the guy whose favorite movie is any of the Fast & Furious movies after Tokyo Drift and now thinks that F8 of the Furious would have been a better title.

As usual with my negative reviews, I will try to start with something that I like about the album. On F8, FFDP move away from the groove metal of their previous albums and lean even harder into alternative metal. Whether you love it or hate it, you have to admit that alt metal can produce some seriously badass riffs, and a few show up on this album. “Full Circle,” “Bottom of The Top,” and “This Is War” in particular have some riffs that just absolutely rip. There’s no denying that the members of FFDP are talented, Jason Hook and Zoltan Bathory especially. It’s just a shame that their talents are often undercut by other things.

The most glaring of those things, as is typical with a Five Finger Death Punch album, are the lyrics. And even more frustrating is the fact that the songs with the worst lyrics, are the ones with the best riffs! Yes, yes, people hate on FFDP because of the “tough guy” lyrics and image, but it’s getting to a point where they’re almost a parody of themselves. The first verse of “Living The Dream” clumsily name drops comic book heroes and has a robotic vocal effect when Moody sings the name Iron Man. “Bottom of the Top” hints at self-awareness with lines asking if the song is metal enough, heavy enough, and destructive enough, but then turns right back around to the same defensive, tough guy rhetoric.

Even the slower moments on the album, when they’re not just fading into the background, put the blame on other people and never on the narrator. This is music for the guy who drives a lifted pickup to the gym and tries to start a fight when he’s confronted about dropping weights and grunting too loud. I’m not saying music can’t be cathartic, but if your response to any kind of hardship is to throw up defenses and shout “This is war!” you should probably consider getting professional help. Even the angriest emo songs have some kind of self-reflection in them. And I don’t care who you are, no metal band that wants to be taken seriously should use the word Google in their lyrics, let alone sing it with harsh vocals!

Good grief, I could write another paragraph on the lyrics, but I need to move on to other things. A slightly smaller issue I have with the album that probably wouldn’t bother most listeners is how inconsistent the mixing is. I think this album has some of the lowest guitar tunings the band has ever used, but the production doesn’t do it any favors. Things are compressed to hell and sap any definition from the guitar tone. Yeah, it sounds heavy, but there’s no texture. Along with that, the drum mixing seems to change from song to song, and where certain instruments sit in the mix changes too.

Overall, this album… just… it isn’t good. There are some cool riffs, but even the tracks with them are hamstrung by bad mixing and cringe worthy lyrics. The quieter songs are forgettable and I remember the louder ones for the wrong reasons. With this new stylistic direction, I keep finding similarities with Demon Hunter. Depending on your opinion of that band, this is either like Demon Hunter but bad and with awful lyrics and they say fuck a lot, or it’s like a worse version of Demon Hunter with awful lyrics and they say fuck a lot. When I imagine a FFDP fan, I see a guy who wears a Realtree hoodie all year, spits tobacco out the window of a rusty Camaro IROC-Z, and tries to race people at every red light. I guess as long as those people exist, we’re going to keep getting FFDP albums like this.

1.0/5.0