June Quick Takes, Part 3: My Picks

And we’ve made it to the third installment of my June Quick Takes. Here we have the releases that aren’t necessarily the biggest name artists that I wanted to make sure I shared my thoughts on them. This will wrap up my scored coverage of the month of June. This will be followed by another round of quick takes for the month of July to get us all caught up to the current month, and I will hopefully be back to full album reviews in a couple weeks. But for now, check out my picks below from the month of June.

LuckyMe

BAAUER – PLANET’S MAD–Yes, this is the “Harlem Shake” guy, and while that song came out all the way back in 2013, this is only the EDM producer’s second full length album. And I would encourage you to not let “Harlem Shake” sour your opinion towards his music. I’m not really sure how to categorize the music that’s on this album. While he has moved on from the trap EDM of his earlier singles, there is still elements of it present. Specifically, some of the production here is beat-centric with minimal sounds outside of the percussion and bass, to the point of some songs having drops that are basically drums only. And these are mixed in such a way that they hit incredibly hard. There’s also a lot of world influence on some of these beats, giving them rhythms that almost compel the body to move. There’s even a track that dabbles in drum ‘n’ bass and the mandatory synthpop song. They’re not all winners, but it’s a very good album nonetheless. 4.0/5.0

Columbia

HAIM – WOMEN IN MUSIC PT. III–For their third album, the Haim sisters enlist the songwriting and production assistance of former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij. This isn’t all that surprising because he worked on a few songs on their second album. But on Women in Music, he worked on the vast majority of the tracks. And his fingerprints are everywhere, to the point that several tracks sound like they could be Modern Vampires of the City era Vampire Weekend songs. But that’s not a bad thing! If you look back at my favorites from 2013, I hold up that VW album as one of the best of the decade, and the Haims obviously bring enough of their own influence to make this clearly one of their albums. In the end, this is a great pop rock album that is loaded with memorable hooks and enough left-of-center production to help it really stand out. 4.0/5.0

Earth Analog

HUM – INLET–I’ll admit that this is the first time I had heard anything from Hum. This album was surprise released back in June and I noticed a lot of people were really hyped on it. I gave it a try and I honestly liked what I heard. Their brand of alternative rock with thick, metallic guitar riffs was pretty cool. I was inspired to go back and listen to their ’90s albums and come back to view Inlet through a more contextual lens. And… my opinion of it decreased a bit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty good, but when you compare it to the albums from Hum’s peak, it comes across a little one-note and not quite as dynamic, even when compared to Downward Is Heavenward, the album closest to it stylistically. Again, this is still pretty good, but it could be better. Maybe, if this reunion lasts, a really great Hum album is in the future. 3.0/5.0

Dead Oceans/Night Time Stories

KHRUANGBIN – MORDECHAI–This is the third album from psychedelic funk trio Khruangbin. And as might be expected, the band does a good job of pulling off the sound of vintage soul and funk production with their songs. There are a couple tracks that have some really solid grooves and they even dabble in one or two world genres, like on the Latin influenced “Pelota.” But, the bottom line is that the majority of the album is just boring. Save for a few tracks, most of the songs are pretty slow burning tracks that don’t go much of anywhere over the course of four minutes or more. They just end up fading into the background and, before you know it, you’re one or two songs further down the track list. 2.0/5.0

Hospital

METRIK – EX MACHINA–I’m generally not much of a drum ‘n’ bass guy, but I do like a good EDM banger from time to time. And boy, does this new album from Metrik have some bangers. Metrik is an English producer who has been active for over 10 years. What impresses me about this album is that this is DnB music filtered through more modern EDM genres like dubstep and even synthwave. But there’s also an influence of rock music, like the driving verses on “Parallel” that recall down-stroked guitar rhythms, and the literal electric guitar on “Closer” and “Thunderblade.” The best tracks sound like a modern refresh of the kind of songs you’d find on the soundtrack of a ’90s Need For Speed video game. Unfortunately, the album is a little front-loaded with all the best tracks taking up the first half. That’s not to say the back half isn’t good, it’s just not as exciting as the first. 3.5/5.0

Dead Oceans

PHOEBE BRIDGERS – PUNISHER–In 2017, Phoebe Bridgers released her debut album, Stranger in the Alps. Almost immediately, other people wanted to work with her in some regard. Between then and now, she has collaborated in some way with Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, Conor Oberst, Christian Lee Hutson, and The 1975. It’s like all these people recognized her potential and wanted to get on the Bridgers train before anyone else realized it. The thing is, it also appears that Bridgers realized the value of surrounding yourself with supportive and talented people. Nearly all of the people I mentioned contribute to this album in some way, and it’s that much better for it. Everything that made her debut great is improved and all the flaws have been fixed. The songs are personal and emotional and hit you just the right way, and they’re backed up with fantastic instrumentals. This is a real highlight of the year so far. 4.5/5.0

Night School/Thrilling Living

SPECIAL INTEREST – THE PASSION OF–Fair warning, this isn’t going to be for everybody, but if you’re into noisy industrial post-punk that leans more on the punk than the post, then you’re going to love this. I often say that some artists have a punk energy, but this band absolutely has one. They are always loud with lyrics that aren’t sung so much as shouted. Pulsing, unsettling electronic beats drive just about every song on the album, and they’re not afraid to let their drum machines distort or to throw in a little static to accompany their dissonant guitars. And the loudness and anger isn’t just an act. They come from the New Orleans DIY scene, and you sense that this is the product of a genuine, righteous anger. 4.0/5.0

Velvet Blue

STARFLYER 59 – MIAMI EP–Starflyer 59 is the indie rock project of songwriter Jason Martin, has been consistently active for over 25 years, and was one of the original bands on Tooth and Nail records. That translates to 15 albums and 9 EPs. Miami is the latest EP and the first in over 10 years, coming only a year after his last full-length album, Young in My Head. The track list has 3 new songs and 2 reworked tracks from the last album. Sonically, this is pretty much your standard Starflyer fare: guitar driven indie rock with influences from ’80s post-punk and alternative with the tiniest hint of Martin’s shoegaze roots. The only real deviation is a little flirtation with ’60s rock and roll on “Once More” filtered through the Starflyer sound. Martin’s consistency can end up being a bit of a curse rather than a blessing on longer albums, so this EP’s 19 minute run time keeps things from getting stale. If you’re not familiar with Starflyer 59, this is a good way to get introduced to their current style. 3.5/5.0

June Quick Takes, Part 2: Heavy Stuff

Okay, just like last time, round 2 of quick takes will focus on heavy releases from the month. I’ve said it before, but heavy stuff makes up a hefty chunk of the music I listen to over the course of the year, and it feels unfair to limit myself to only general posts and try to squeeze as much heavy stuff as I can in while still giving the other genres their fair shake. Way too much stuff wouldn’t get the time it deserves. So, below are my thoughts, good and bad, on some metal releases from the month of June.

Profound Lore

BELL WITCH/AERIAL RUIN – STYGIAN BOUGH: VOLUME I–Fantastic funeral doomers (and so far, the only funeral doom band I really dig) Bell Witch have returned with a collaboration with dark acoustic artist Erik Moggridge, also known as Aerial Ruin. I’m starting to notice a bit of a trend towards more collaborative songs and albums in the metal world, and I’m here for it, personally. Especially if the pairings make as much sense as this one here. Bell Witch are masters of dark and moody atmospheres, and sometimes you wish you could get a break from all the oppressiveness. Stygian Bough provides just that with Aerial Ruin’s passages and clean vocals, giving you welcome respite before Bell Witch come back and plunge your head into the dark depths again. My only wish is that the mix was better and a little more dynamic. Things got a bit muddy here and the drums especially feel way too far away to make any meaningful impact. I hope the “Volume I” in the title hints at more from this collaboration in the future, and that they solve the production problems on any subsequent releases. 3.5/5.0

Mission Two Entertainment

CRO-MAGS – IN THE BEGINNING–Cro-Mags teased this release with a couple EPs last year, and now we have the first new full-length from them in 20 years! And… it sounds like Cro-Mags. They were one of the earliest crossover thrash bands, and there’s no real reason to reinvent the wheel (haha, early human joke). Much like the prehistoric men whose name they bear, this album stands tall and strong with blistering riffs and thundering drums. The band even recruited Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell to play lead on “From the Grave” to give them even more thrash cred. The real weakness of the album, however, is that there isn’t much variation, and when it does show up, it’s in the form of the overlong and not very impressive instrumental, “Between Wars.” Fortunately, the album isn’t terribly long, coming in just under 40 minutes. But with the current state of crossover thrash with bands like Power Trip and High Command, I’m not sure this is going to make a huge splash beyond name recognition. 3.0/5.0

BC Music

EMERY – WHITE LINE FEVER–I like to keep tabs on bands from my teenage years because they were so important to my development as a music fan. Emery is especially important to me as their second album was the first I ever purchased with harsh vocals. Their brand of post-hardcore and screamo that emphasized emotional storytelling and melody was a great gateway into heavier music. They’ve continued to consistently release new music, but their recent output hasn’t really measured up to albums from their early, or even middle career. White Line Fever is probably their best album in nearly a decade, but it still falls short. There are moments that are reminiscent of their earlier work, but it quickly loses momentum. I don’t dislike it when Emery makes lighter music, but these particular tracks don’t do much to excite me. The mix feels iffy to me as well, a lot of this album feels muddy and like it lacks definition. 2.5/5.0

Solid State

LIGHTWORKER – FURY BY FAILURE–Along with bands from my youth, I also like to keep tabs on some record labels. One in particular is Tooth and Nail records and its imprint, Solid State. The artists on these labels made up the majority of the soundtrack of my teenage years. Output from both of these labels has slowed down (though, they both appear to be picking back up this year) and their output hasn’t really done much for me with the occasional exception. Lightworker are one of the newest additions to the Solid State roster, and Fury by Failure is their debut album. And… it’s okay. Lightworker play a blend of alternative metal and metalcore with a pinch of djent sprinkled in the breakdowns. And yeah, it’s competent, some of the riffs hit pretty hard, and the choruses are catchy, but it ultimately comes across as pretty generic. Some of the riffs sound like they could have come from an As I Lay Dying album or some other band contemporary to them. I feel like there’s potential here, but Lightworker will have to work harder to stand out. 2.5/5.0

Napalm

MUSHROOMHEAD – A WONDERFUL LIFE–Yes, I know it’s the cool thing to hate on Mushroomhead, but I’m coming from a perspective of actually, kind of liking them. However, even to my more forgiving ears, this albums isn’t very good. A Wonderful Life is the band’s 8th studio album and the first without founding vocalist Jeffrey Nothing. This leaves only two founding members and one other long-time member in the band. Nothing’s vocals were such a key part of Mushroomhead’s sound, that they had to replace him with two new clean vocalists, male and female. The guy sounds like a rough facsimile of Nothing, and the mix usually has him somewhat buried, hoping you don’t notice. The female vocals are a nice change of pace, but the album overall just sounds like generic alternative metal. They also made the odd choice of including nearly 15 minutes of bonus tracks on the standard edition that have their own separate intro and outro tracks. They really play more like an EP that should have been released separately. And weirdly, they’re some of the most dynamic tracks on the album. 1.5/5.0

Heavy Psych Sounds

ORGÖNE – MOS/FET–When an album boasts an 80-minute run time, I go in cautiously, and usually come out the other side with my expectations of drawn-out and boring prog wankery met. ORGÖNE, on the other hand, have brought forth a rare album that is long and interesting. ORGÖNE are a French band that combine elements of proto-punk, krautrock, psych-rock, arabic folk music, and more. It sounds like a messy combination, but these avant-garde jammers find a way to mix it all in a way that keeps things compelling, even over the course of not one, but two 20-minute tracks. Their tracks also cover themes from the Soviet space program, to conspiracy theories about ancient Egypt, to ancient aliens. And their sound is sufficiently spacey to accompany such lyrics. There are a couple passages where things get a little boring, but they are minor in the scope of the whole album. 4.0/5.0

Protest The Hero

PROTEST THE HERO – PALIMPSEST–Yes, Protest The Hero. You either love it or you hate it. I, for one, happen to like them, and Palimpsest is a fine addition to their catalog. It’s also a very timely release given our current political climate and the lyrical content of this album. The band wanted to make an album about American history, but they wanted to present the stories truthfully, rather than through the distorted lens of American exceptionalism. This includes subject that range from the migrant mother in the iconic dust bowl photo to the Hindenburg disaster, Amelia Earhart to the Great Molasses Flood in Boston, and the creation of Mount Rushmore to the suicide of Hollywood actress Peg Entwistle. These stories are all delivered in Rody Walker’s signature soaring vocals, backed by proggy, yet undeniably catchy riffs. The instrumentals aren’t as frantic as previous Protest The Hero albums, but it’s still them through and through. 4.0/5.0

Willowtip

PYRRHON – ABSCESS TIME–So, this was the first time that I had ever listened to anything that Pyrrhon has released, and I didn’t really know what to expect going in. Tech death can take so many forms. What I didn’t expect was something more along the lines of noise-core with elements of death metal. And honestly, it was pretty refreshing. I often find brutal and tech death to be on the oppressive and claustrophobic side, and this noisier, more hardcore approach seemed to give the music (and the listener) a little room to breathe. I also felt like I was listening to something like The Chariot, but death metal. The chaotic, yet intricate collision of sounds is very reminiscent of that band, and if you’re familiar with The Chariot, you realize that that is high praise. The only real weakness is the album’s length. Even with a little breathing room, noise-core can be a bit exhausting. The Chariot knew to keep their albums in the neighborhood of half an hour. Abscess Time is nearly double that, and you feel it by the end. 3.5/5.0

June Quick Takes, Part 1: Big Names

And we’re back! I’ve finally decided to break my hiatus, and to get back into things I figured I’d do something similar to the Quarantine Quick Takes I did for March. I’ll probably end up doing a set of these for July as well to get fully caught up. But these will follow the same format as the ones before, there will be 3 installments and the first will cover releases from big name artists. These will be longer than my typical monthly review lists and they will actually have a score attached to them as well. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on some major releases from the month of June.

Columbia

BOB DYLAN – ROUGH AND ROWDY WAYS–After 3 consecutive albums of cover songs, one of which was a triple album of American standards, Bob Dylan has given us his first album of original material in 8 years. It’s been met with a lot of critical acclaim, but sometimes I wonder if that’s just because he’s Bob Dylan and you’re supposed to like his stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I love Dylan and his songwriting, but I’m not so sure this album deserves all the glowing reviews it’s getting. First off, the album’s title is only really indicative of two tracks in terms of sound. Second, Dylan has become a bit indulgent in his later years. This album is 70 minutes long and no song is less than 4 minutes, and more than half of them are over 6, including the 17-minute epic, “Murder Most Foul.” Of course, there are lyrical highlights because it’s Dylan, but sometimes I feel like I need a Master’s in music history to understand what’s going on. Overall, the album is still good, it’s likely his best work since 2006’s Modern Times, but this isn’t going to appeal to many people who aren’t already fans. 3.5/5.0

will.i.am/Epic

BLACK EYED PEAS – TRANSLATION–2 years after their comeback album, the now Fergie-less Black Eyed Peas have decided to hop on the reggaeton train and release an album with a very heavy Latin influence. It goes about as well as you’d expect an American group trying to capitalize on a foreign genre would go. Though it’s not like they didn’t try their darndest to do it well. The Peas recruit big names in Latin music like J Balvin, Maluma, and Shakira to feature on this album, and there are a couple tracks that pull off some pretty serviceable reggaeton. But the majority of the tracks here just play like generic Latin beats with nothing to make them stand out apart from the Latin artists who built their careers in the genre. The lyrics can be pretty bad too. I don’t know if that’s a product of translating typical Spanish reggaeton lyrics to English or what, but some of them are just laughable. There’s also a pretty corny interpolation of “Super Freak” on one track, and the album’s closer is just an awful attempt at being relevant to current events. I’m not going to say that American artists can’t adapt Latin music, but if we’re going to, we’ll have to do better than this. 1.5/5.0

Easy Eye Sound

CEELO GREEN – CEELO GREEN IS THOMAS CALLAWAY–On his 6th album, CeeLo Green has gone for a bit of a stylistic shift from the super slick, modern pop and R&B with hints of funk and soul to straight-up, old school soul. Honestly, this change is pretty welcome considering Green’s last really good and successful album was 2010’s The Lady Killer, and album whose popularity was undoubtedly bolstered by its smash hit single, “Fuck You.” Since then, Green has released a Christmas album and one other studio album, and you’d be forgiven for not knowing that because I didn’t either. Both were critical disappointments, so Green was in a position for a little reinvention. To do that, he enlisted the help of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and released it on his Easy Eye Sound label. If you want to record an old-school record, Dan’s the man, but his devotion to vintage sound and recording techniques can be a blessing and a curse. There are definitely highlights here, and Green’s voice is great for the old-school sound. But the album is sometimes vintage to a fault, which is becoming a calling card for Easy Eye Sound. Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come as CeeLo works on this new direction. 2.5/5.0

Interrabang

JASON MRAZ – LOOK FOR THE GOOD–If you follow me on Instagram, I already wrote a pretty scathing mini-review of this in the midst of my hiatus. And no, my opinion of it hasn’t improved over time. I know most people haven’t paid too close attention to Jason Mraz for 12 years or so, but this really has to be the lowest he’s gone. This is a reggae album. Not his typical reggae inspired, ukulele bitch blue eyed soul, but actual reggae. Or at least some ultra polished, major label version of reggae. Not only does this music have no soul, but the lyrics are among Mraz’s worst. There are empty, feel-good platitudes (seriously, there’s a song with the lyrics “make love, not war”), awkward mentions of puberty and masturbation, and even a track where every word is repeated one after another. Add to all that the optics of a white guy from Virginia releasing an album in an inseparably black genre at this particular point in our country’s history. And no, having an older black reggae artist feature on a song doesn’t make it okay. We can hope that things can only get better from here, and maybe this is what will inspire Mraz to make more music like his first two albums again. 0.0/5.0

Epic/Nuclear Blast

LAMB OF GOD – self titled–After the longest break between albums in their entire career (5 years), Lamb of God have returned with their 8th album, and the first without founding drummer Chris Adler. And after over 20 years and 7 albums, they’ve finally decided to put out a self-titled album. (Either that, or they finally ran out of ideas for titles.) Anyway, despite the long break and the new drummer, Lamb of God have picked things right back up as if nothing has changed. They deliver their brand of groovy thrash and metalcore without sounding stale or repetitive. Basically, it sounds like Lamb of God. That might be disappointing to some people, but these guys have a style that works really well for them. Sometimes you’re hungry for a specific type of heavy music, and that happens to be Lamb of God, and they’re good at consistently serving it up. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Even the album cover just screams Lamb of God. An added bonus are the features of Jamey Jasta and Chuck Billy who bring some nice variety. This album isn’t anything new, but it’s really good at being what it is. 4.0/5.0

Reprise

NEIL YOUNG – HOMEGROWN–This is the latest release from Neil Young’s Archives series. Homegrown is made up of songs that were recorded between 1974 and 1975, between the albums On the Beach and Zuma. It was intended to be released in 1975, but Tonight’s the Night was put out instead, despite being recorded almost 2 years prior. Homegrown sat unreleased that entire time until now. The sound of this album leans a bit more towards the folk and country influence of Harvest rather than the psychedelic tone of Beach or the leanings toward hard rock found on Zuma. Some of the songs almost sound like they could have been recorded in the same sessions as the Harvest record. And that should give you a sense of which version of Neil Young you’re getting. These are earthy tracks with personal lyrics inspired by Young’s relationship at the time. These are the sessions where the original version of “Love Is a Rose” was recorded. It’s nice to have these songs from one of the best eras of Young’s career see the light of day and fill in some of the gaps. 4.0/5.0

Hopeless

NEW FOUND GLORY – FOREVER + EVER x INFINITY–New Found Glory have officially hit double digits with their studio albums, an impressive feat for any band. But what’s especially impressive for this one is that not only is this the 10th album of a pop-punk band from the early 2000s, but it’s good! Usually bands of this genre and vintage are broken up, doing reunion shows, or making bland pop rock that only the most die hard fans will hear. That’s not to say NFG haven’t flirted with the more mature pop rock that these bands tend to evolve towards. They have on a few previous albums with mixed results. However, this album is bona-fide early 2000s pop-punk, right down to the lyrics. And the lyrics are written in a way that they don’t sound corny, which is important when you have a band of guys pushing 40 singing songs about feelings and girls. They also reap the benefits of modern production. I know super clean production isn’t exactly in vogue in the pop-punk world these days, but there’s nothing quite like those polished hooks when they hit. In short, this is exactly the album that old pop-punk heads have been waiting for. A legacy band making music like they did 20 years ago but a little more mature. 3.5/5.0

Jewel Runners/BMG

RUN THE JEWELS – RTJ4–El-P and Killer Mike, Yankee and the Brave, not the heroes we need, but the heroes we deserve, have returned when their country needed them most. This dynamic duo of hardcore hip-hop have given us another collection of incredibly solid tracks. They even released the album a few days early in the midst of the protests happening across the country. The beats hit hard and the lyrics hit even harder with their social consciousness, political commentary, and humor. Tracks like “walking in the snow” and “JU$T” hit especially hard, with Killer Mike delivering a harrowing verse on the former where he outlines plight of African Americans and almost prophetically quotes Eric Garner and retroactively, George Floyd. The feature list on the album is impressive too, with contributions from DJ Premier, Pharrell Williams, Zach de la Rocha, Mavis Staples, and Josh Homme. All serving their respective tracks well. Run The Jewels are among the best in the hip-hop game right now, and RTJ4 further proves it. 4.5/5.0

Sean’s Favorites: 2012

Wow, I am just doing so bad with these right now. But I’ve committed to writing a few of these out before publishing so you should be seeing them a little more often and hopefully we’ll be able to get through them all before the end of the year. So let’s see, 2012 is when I finished my little college detour of part time classes and enrolled full time in the third and final school of my college career. This was also the year that the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II was celebrated, the Higgs boson particle was discovered, and the Curiosity rover landed on Mars. It was also a big year for film with movies like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, and the first Hobbit being released. This was also one of the last years where I could dedicate some significant time to discovering and listening to new music, so the next few lists will be a bit shorter. With that being said, below are some albums from 2012 that were important to me at the time. I’ll also throw in a reminder that this retrospective is by no means me ranking or holding up these albums as the best of the past decade. This is a strictly personal series, but I think it offers a look into the foundations of my musical interests and tastes.

Universal Republic

ANBERLIN – VITALS–In 2012, I hadn’t paid much attention to Anberlin for 5 years or more. Never Take Friendship Personal was a landmark album for my teenage years, and I did like Cities, but it didn’t make the same impact. After that, they signed to a major label and while New Surrender and Dark Is the Way.. are fine, nothing was quite creating that same excitement as their earlier releases. But then Vitals came out. I heard the singles, and while they didn’t necessarily sound like Friendship, there was something that reminded me of it. This album has a…. vitality (sorry) that made me feel like I was listening to the Anberlin that excited me all those years ago. Especially in songs like “Little Tyrants” and “Someone Anyone.” I still think this is a highlight of their catalog.

Virgin/I.R.S./Regal

CHIDDY BANG – BREAKFAST–This was an important album for my growing appreciation of hip-hop music at the time. I had first heard of Chiddy Bang with their single “Opposite of Adults” that sampled “Kids” by MGMT. Then there was their subsequent EP that had other songs that sampled indie music, like “All Things Go” that sampled Sufjan Stevens. So basically, this rap duo liked the same music that I did, and that common ground was a good place for me to start. While I was already digging into older rap music and even enjoyed recent releases from legendary groups like the Beastie Boys, Chiddy Bang was the first contemporary artist that I actually bought an album from. Unfortunately the album hasn’t aged all that well, but it still holds a special place for me for nostalgic reasons if nothing else.

Paper + Plastick

FLATFOOT 56 – TOIL–I imagine Celtic punk is a difficult genre to keep interesting for the long term. Of course, as I say this, there are bands like Dropkick Murphys that have 9 albums out. But what I mean is keeping things interesting from album to album. However, when Toil came out I was very impressed with the way Flatfoot 56 managed to still sound fresh 4 albums in. They’ve also always been the one Celtic punk band that I was more drawn to and I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s the very American focus that they have, using the working class of Chicago as their inspiration. And maybe some of that heartland rock bleeds into their sound. They’re also one of the few bands (that I’m aware of) that actually incorporates bagpipes. Toil has some of my favorite songs from Flatfoot 56, including “Strong Man” and their version of the hymn “I’ll Fly Away.”

Polyvinyl

JAPANDROIDS – CELEBRATION ROCK–I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the very album that this blog takes its name from. Japandroids really refined their unique blend of post-punk, garage, and heartland rock on this album. The tracks on Celebration Rock almost glow with a positive and triumphant attitude. No doubt, Brian King’s guitar playing plays a key role in that, the fuzzy tone that lingers around the notes gives them almost a droning quality. But it’s all clear enough for the powerful hooks to punch through with the urgency of a punk basement show. And if you look at the final track, you will find the very song that inspired the name of this blog.

TDE/Aftermath/Interscope

KENDRICK LAMAR – GOOD KID, M.A.A.D CITY–Okay, full disclosure, I didn’t listen to this album until a few years after it already came out. I had read an article about how faith was starting to pop up in prominent hip-hop releases from artists like Kanye West and Chance the Rapper. Kendrick was also mentioned and this album specifically, because of it’s overarching theme of family and faith being the strong foundation that supported Lamar in his youth in Compton. The album immediately impressed me when I gave it a spin. I knew conscious hip-hop existed, but this was like something different. Gangsta and west coast beats and flows but with more conscious lyrics. And Kendrick’s lyricism is absolutely fantastic all over this, giving a very honest, semi-autobiographical account of what it’s like to grow up black in southern California.

Dualtone/Decca/Dine Alone

THE LUMINEERS – self titled–If you judge this album solely on the single “Ho Hey,” then you are truly missing out. Yes, they lean a little hard into the gimmicks and yes, the songs are pretty simple. But I believe that simplicity matches the indeterminate era between the 1920s and 1940s that the Lumineers occupy in the narratives of their songs. And even though the songs mostly just tell stories, there’s still some sincerity there. Especially when they slow things down on tracks like “Slow It Down” and “Morning Song,” both easily among the best tracks on the whole album. Yes, this album is mostly popular because of “Ho Hey” and the fact that it came out in the middle of the indie folk craze, but it’s genuinely one of my favorites from that time. I feel like it’s unfairly overlooked because of it’s association with its hit single.

Interscope

MICHAEL KIWANUKA – HOME AGAIN–I mentioned before in my review of Kiwanuka’s most recent release that I don’t really remember where or how I heard of his name, but somehow I heard the singles “Tell Me A Tale” and “I’ll Get Along” from this album and I was very intrigued. The incredibly convincing vintage soul sound was cool, but it was also still compelling rather than just being vintage for the sake of being vintage. I eventually bought the album and was surprised to find that the majority of the songs were much quieter and mostly acoustic. Some even had clear influence from songwriters like Nick Drake. But this wasn’t a bad thing. The album is nice, welcoming, and relaxing listen from start to finish.

Warp

TNGHT – self titled EP–Around the time that trap started getting big in the hip-hop world, it was also infiltrating the world of EDM. The resulting sounds were hard hitting beats with earth shaking bass. Electronic musicians Hudson Mohawke and Lunice came together to make some trap EDM and called themselves TNGHT. They put out this 5 song, 15 minute EP in 2012 and it’s some of the hardest (and sometimes weirdest) stuff to come out of the subgenre. The duo would release a standalone single in 2013, but then they’d disappear until reappearing again in 2019. So for the longest time, this is all we had. But it’s very good and I was happy to at least have it.

Good Albums I Didn’t Review in May 2020

It’s that time again! Another month has come and gone. As always, I can’t get to everything, so there’s quite a bit of good music that I don’t get to review, especially this month since there were 5 Fridays. You’ll probably notice something a little different about this month’s list. In light of recent and ongoing events, I’ve decided to highlight artists of color. Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to fill up the list as May was also an excellent month for black artists. So, collected below are releases I think you should check out.

Grimalkin

BACKXWASH – GOD HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS LEAVE HIM OUT OF IT–Backxwash is a Canadian hip-hop artist who’s style contains elements of industrial hip-hop and horrorcore. These styles pair very well with her lyrics that often deal with evil, magic, and the occult. A lot of the darkness in her lyrics come from her personal experiences, not only as a person of color, but also as a black trans woman. If you like your hip-hop dark, heavy, and noisy, check this out.

ByStorm/RCA

DEANTE’ HITCHCOCK – BETTER–This album is actually the first I’ve heard of Deante’ Hitchcock, but apparently this has been a long time coming. Better was preceded by several mixtapes and EPs since 2012. In that time he’s attracted the attention of other big rappers like Wale and J. Cole, even being invited to appear on the latest Revenge of the Dreamers project from J. Cole’s Dreamville. This album very good, showcasing Hitchcock’s skill as a rapper, lyricist, and even a singer, and it has features from JID, 6LACK, and more.

ESGN/ALC/EMPIRE

FREDDIE GIBBS/THE ALCHEMIST – ALFREDO–May was just a fantastic month for hip hop. I’ve heard some of the best rap albums so far this year since maybe February. Alfredo is probably the best yet. I’m more familiar with Freddie Gibbs’ work with Madlib, and while Madlib is one of my favorite producers in general, The Alchemist is probably a better match for Gibbs. Something about these beats just brings out the best in Freddie’s flows and attitude. They play off each other so well, matching tones and moods perfectly. Even the features are good with guest verses from rappers like Rick Ross and Tyler, The Creator. It’s really just a total package album, good front to back.

Iron Works

KA – DESCENDANTS OF CAIN–Ka is a Brooklyn based rapper who has a unique style all his own. His raps come across almost conversational, like a poet reciting in a coffee shop rather than a rapper. His lyrics use Biblical imagery and the metaphor of the cursed lineage of Cain, the first murderer, to tell stories of his life growing up on the city blocks of New York. Ka produces the majority of the tracks on this album and the instrumentals have an almost stark feel to them, but they’re not minimalist. You really have to hear it for yourself to understand it.

Fltbys

KOTA THE FRIEND – EVERYTHING–I don’t really know how to categorize this one because there’s clear trap influence on this album, but instead hard hitting beats, the instrumentals feel bright and airy with jazz guitar samples. This is almost… summer rap. Like a trap version of something like Shwayze. These are songs for driving along the beach in a convertible or riding your bike in the middle of the day when school’s out or you’re on vacation. It’s a nice, feel-good kind of album.

TBHG

MEDHANE – COLD WATER–Something interesting is happening in Brooklyn. Medhane is another rapper from that area that is doing something different in a good way. His raps are abstract and thoughtful, but still somehow direct and forward thinking. He looks forward without forgetting the scars of his past. And the instrumentals on this album use jazz and soul samples in ways I’ve never heard before. Like the Ka album above, you really have to experience this one for yourself.

Jagjaguwar

MOSES SUMNEY – GRÆ–This one isn’t hip hop, and I really don’t know how to categorize it. Sumney is often called a singer-songwriter, but that doesn’t really narrow things down. There are clear soul influences on this album, but this is not a traditional soul album by any stretch. Sumney’s emotional lyrics are only made more powerful by his impassioned vocals, featuring a frequent and distinctive falsetto. The album also features bass playing from Thundercat on a few tracks and production from James Blake on another. It’s a little uneven, but when it’s good, it’s really good.

Columbia

POLO G – THE GOAT–There’s still a lot I don’t understand about trap rap. I’m trying my darndest, but there’s still some stuff about it that just escapes me. That being said, Polo G is one of the few artists that helps me somewhat understand the appeal, and the praise from other reviewers and critics tells me I’m barking up the right tree. His flows have variety, he doesn’t rely on auto-tune, and his lyrics have considerably more substance than some other artists in the scene.

M.A Music/3D

YOUNG M.A – RED FLU–Yet another rapper from Brooklyn! Seriously, what’s going on over there? Young M.A is another talented rapper from the borough who raps from a particularly unique perspective. Not only is she a woman, but she’s a lesbian. She’s clear in interviews that she doesn’t want her orientation to define her, and it doesn’t have to. Her rapping could easily stand on its own, but her experience still comes through in her lyrics. Female empowerment is a big theme in hip hop these days coming from artists like Megan Thee Stallion and Rico Nasty. Young M.A adds yet another female perspective to the expanding landscape of rap music.

Good Albums I Didn’t Review in April 2020

You know the drill! Another month has come and gone and that means that I’ve listened to a lot of good music that I couldn’t dedicate an entire review to. I really don’t want good things to go unnoticed, so here are some albums I thoroughly enjoyed from the month of April. As always, these albums would have received a score of 3.5 or higher if given a full review.

Warner Music Nashville

ASHLEY MCBRYDE – NEVER WILL–I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll keep saying it. A lot of the best country music these days is being made by women. This new album from Ashley McBryde is the latest bit of evidence helping to prove my case. Not every song on it might be a winner, but the good songs on it more than make up for the weak ones. Sounds range from old-time bluegrass to modern, rock-tinged outlaw country and everything in between. Just another album proving to me that modern country isn’t a lost cause.

Freeways

FREEWAYS – TRUE BEARINGS–These guys are almost occupying the same realm as the Gygax album from last year. This is some old-school, Thin Lizzy-esque hard rock with riffs and dual guitar leads aplenty. The songwriting is really solid here and there’s really no filler on the album. If ’70s hard rock does it for you, you don’t want to miss this album. Maybe add it to your list for the next Bandcamp day.

Chrysalis/Partisan

LAURA MARLING – SONG FOR OUR DAUGHTER–Laura Marling’s music in recent years hasn’t done much to grab or hold my attention. This new album has changed that. Song For Our Daughter is some of Marling’s best work in years. The arrangements are more stripped back like her earlier albums, and her songwriting is incredibly strong and compelling. I wasn’t bored once in any of my listens through this one.

Horror Pain Gore Death

MOONS – GO OUT SWINGING–Okay, I’m more than a little biased with this one because I happen to personally know this band. But I wouldn’t be sharing it if I didn’t really think it was good. This is their first full-length album and they bring some truly heavy sludge metal riffs to the party. It’s not very long, but they make their time count. They’re also the type of band to use feedback as its own instrument. If you’re in the Philly area and you see these guys on a show bill, go check them out. Good time will be had.

4AD

PURITY RING – WOMB–Five years after their last album, Purity Ring have finally delivered their third full-length. I was beginning to get worried that we wouldn’t hear from one of the most unique synth-pop groups ever again. Womb doesn’t quite have the same hard-hitting trap EDM sound that their first albums had, but the ethereal atmosphere and creepy lyrics are still there. It’s nice to have new music from them, and I hope we don’t have to wait so long for more.

Dirty Hit

RINA SAWAYAMA – SAWAYAMA–This is one of the more interesting pop albums I’ve heard this year. Rina brings so many various styles together like dance pop, J-pop, and even nu-metal. She also pulls inspiration from some of the best pop acts of the ’90s and early ’00s. But none of these styles and influences clash with each other. Rina manages to mix and meld it all together in an ultimately impressive album.

Gates of Hell

SÖLICITÖR – SPECTRAL DEVASTATION–This is some old-school speed metal with badass female vocals, and it’s some of the best traditional metal I’ve heard this year. They manage to sound classic without sounding derivative and their songwriting is so good that they never sound samey over the course of their 40 minute album. This is definitely another one to keep in mind for the next Bandcamp day.

Brainfeeder

THUNDERCAT – IT IS WHAT IT IS–Funk fusion bassist extraordinaire Thundercat returns with a project that’s a bit leaner than 2017’s Drunk, but still packed with sub-2-minute jams. And that’s really one of the album’s weaknesses. A decent chunk of it feels like it was built around sketches and jams that weren’t fully realized. But when a fully formed track comes along, it’s great. The shorter tracks are still fun, just not as good as they could be.

Fat Possum

X – ALPHABETLAND–The legendary west-coast punks have come together and delivered their first studio album in 27 years and the first with the original line-up in 35! The formula really hasn’t changed for the band either. Along with classic punk, this album has their raw takes on classic rock and roll and rockabilly, much like their albums from the ’80s. The album ends with an observant spoken word piece recited by Exene Cervenka, giving a perspective of a punk who was there from the beginning.

Sean’s Favorites: 2011

Well, I certainly took my time getting to this one. Before you get too far, you might want to go back and refresh your memory of my 2010 list. But anyway, in 2011 I finished my second year of college and left that school for a couple reasons (let’s just say I didn’t transition well to the college lifestyle). The Marvel Cinematic Universe began to truly take root with the release of the first Thor and Captain America movies, NASA flew the last Space Shuttle mission, and Osama bin Laden was found and killed. The role music played in my life was pretty similar to 2010. I was still listening and reading as much as I could. I continued to discover new things and dig deeper into genres I previously hadn’t explored. Here are some albums that have endured for me from that time.

Capitol

BEASTIE BOYS – HOT SAUCE COMMITTEE PART TWO–4 years since their last album, 7 years since their last album with lyrics, and 13 years after their last great album (sorry to fans of To the 5 Boroughs), the Beastie Boys came back in the best possible way. They came back loud, funky, and ready to party. Hot Sauce fits nicely in the sound that the Beasties established through the ’90s with obscure samples, live instruments, synths, and punk rock attitude. Other Beastie Boy staples like instrumental funk tracks and the odd punk song are here too. This really was a return to form for the Beasties and it would become a fitting end to their discography. MCA sadly passed away from cancer in 2012 and Mike D and Ad-Rock announced that they would not make new music as the Beastie Boys a couple years later.

Nonesuch

THE BLACK KEYS – EL CAMINO–2010’s Brothers broke The Black Keys into the mainstream, then El Camino blasted them off the charts. The fuzzy guitars in the opening seconds of “Lonely Boy” tell you immediately that you’re not getting the slow-jamming R&B rock of Brothers. This is going to be a raucous, badass garage rock record, and you better buckle up. But the Keys haven’t forgotten their blues roots. “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Little Black Submarines” still have hints of their beloved delta blues. And later tracks like “Hell of a Season” and “Stop Stop” still pull from R&B. El Camino really is the total package and the crown jewel of the later half of The Black Keys catalog. They haven’t quite captured the same magic since.

Jagjaguwar

BON IVER – self titled–My ass was planted firmly on the indie folk bandwagon in the early 2010s. I had heard of Bon Iver, but my knowledge was limited to the song “Skinny Love,” I hadn’t heard the rest of the first album. When I saw that he had come out with a new album and it was getting very good reviews, I gave it a chance. I pressed play and was met with… not indie folk. I don’t really know how to categorize what I heard but it was beautiful and incredibly compelling. I put this album in my car stereo and it stayed there for months, despite not really being “driving music.” There are so many layers to uncover on this album. Even as I revisit it for this list, I’m hearing new things along with what made me love it in the first place.

Sensibility/Columbia

THE CIVIL WARS – BARTON HOLLOW–Sticking with the indie folk theme, The Civil Wars were one of many groups to emerge during the genre’s boom at the time. A collaboration between contemporary Christian singer Joy Williams and Americana singer-songwriter John Paul White, the band quickly proved they were not just another Mumford clone trying to capitalize on a trend. Their sound was much quieter (mostly), and their lyrics embodied feelings of longing and loss in ways that other songwriters only dream of. Barton Hollow itself plays almost like a timeline of a relationship with lighter songs leading to the explosive and raucous title track. The tone then turns to darker minor key songs and then ends with bittersweet goodbyes. Unfortunately we only got one other album from The Civil Wars before they called it quits, but they will be remembered as one of the better parts of the indie folk boom of the 2010s.

Samples & Seconds/Republic

GOTYE – MAKING MIRRORS–Yes, this is the “Somebody That I Used to Know” album, and that song is fantastic, but I think we can all agree that it was overplayed at the time. However, this album is so much more than that song. It’s track list has just one indie pop gem after another, some with hints of old school soul and R&B and even hints of Paul Simon. There is some art-pop weirdness here and there, but it’s way more accessible than it isn’t. I also feel like the fact that “Somebody…” became such a meme distracted from the strength of Gotye’s songwriting and his voice. You really should do yourself a favor and check out the rest of this album, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you find. The only downside is this is the last thing that Gotye has really released. But I keep my fingers crossed in hopes of someday getting another album.

Universal

OWL CITY – ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL–I feel like I’m going to lose a lot of music fan cred by admitting that I like Owl City. Say all you want about how he’s a more sanitized, ultra twee version of The Postal Service, but if you follow Adam Young, you find out that he has a serious DIY attitude and he just does what he wants, and I respect that. All Things Bright and Beautiful was his second major label release and, to me, the best example of the Owl City brand of synth pop. The instrumentals are super clean and precise with intricate percussion tracks. These back catchy melodies and lyrics that are full of metaphor and beautiful language (that is, admittedly a little cheesy, but way less than some found on Ocean Eyes). I could go on for awhile on this one. Maybe I’ll do a full write-up for it someday.

Pure Noise

THE STORY SO FAR – UNDER SOIL AND DIRT–By 2011, the emo and pop-punk bands of the late ’90s and ’00s had either disbanded or were making radio rock and bland power pop. It was enough to keep the fans happy, but the world needed a new class of pop-punk to bring the energy back. The new decade brought that with bands like Fireworks, Man Overboard, Real Friends, The Wonder Years, and Handguns. One that quickly rose to the top was The Story So Far who kept the catchy pop hooks but brought back the harder edge of punk with more raw vocals and energy that would permeate through the entire scene over the next few years. 2011 was a good year for pop-punk, and Under Soil and Dirt was one of its best releases.

Hassle

TURBOWOLF – self titled–In the last entry of this series, I mentioned that The Sword left me hungry for more riff-heavy hard rock and metal, but I had a hard time finding it. However, I was lucky enough to find Turbowolf while I was stumbling about in the dark. But Turbowolf is not your typical stoner or doom metal band. They do have sludgy guitars, an occult aesthetic, and riffs for days, but they also have the attitude and occasional speed of punk, the atmosphere of psychedelic, and the weird synths of horror punk. Mix this all together and you get the tasty, hard rocking riff smoothie of their self titled debut.

Vulf

VULFPECK – MIT PECK–Somewhere in Michigan, a few friends decided that they were going to start a band that tried to capture the vibe and sound of old live rhythm sections like The Wrecking Crew or the Muscle Shoals band. Little did they know that they were about to create the minimalist funk powerhouse of the modern era known as Vulfpeck. Mit Peck was the first collection of tracks they released into the world, containing songs like “Beastly” and the band’s signature track, “It Gets Funkier.” With this EP, Vulfpeck introduced us to their brand of retro-styled funk and soul, but more importantly it introduced us to the bass playing of Joe Dart. (We’re not worthy!)

Quarantine Quick Takes, Part 3: My Picks

Alright, this should be the last one before we get back to our regularly scheduled programming. Who am I kidding? This thing has never been regularly scheduled. But you know what I mean, we’ll get back to single album reviews. Anyway, in this last entry, we have some albums that I wanted to make sure I got to share my thoughts on. A lot came out in March, so I have a lot of thoughts.

Lesser Known

BRIAN FALLON – LOCAL HONEY–There are a few specific genres of music that I’m just a huge sucker for and heartland rock is definitely one of them. Brian Fallon, lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem, is one of the modern artists scratching that itch. His second album, Sleepwalkers, was one of my favorite albums of 2018. Local Honey is his follow-up and it’s a much quieter, more personal album. Despite this, the spirit of heartland rock is still very much present. With the exception of the murder ballad “Vincent,” all the songs are very personal, with half of them being love songs and one being words of hope and encouragement for Fallon’s daughter. There are a couple moments where I wish the song would go big and loud but that would defeat the purpose of the album. 4.0/5.0

Prolifica

CIRCA WAVES – SAD HAPPY–Earlier this year, I praised the first half of tracks released for this album back in January. The upbeat and catchy dance rock hooks were working a lot better for me than the band’s last album. I was hoping that they would continue the momentum when the full album was released. Now we have the whole thing and it’s a somewhat confusingly packaged double album with only 14 total tracks and a run time of 47 minutes. Unfortunately, as with most double albums, there are tracks that don’t need to be here and it runs out of steam by the end. This is a little concerning when you consider this album isn’t that much longer than your average rock album. It’s still better and more enjoyable than last year’s What’s It Like Over There? but cutting this down to a single album with 10 tracks might have been a better course of action. 3.5/5.0

Vortexan

ERIC JOHNSON – EJ, VOL. II–For 2020, guitar virtuoso and songwriter Eric Johnson has given us a sequel to 2016’s acoustic album, EJ. Much like that album and a lot of Johnson’s recent work, he is showcasing his songwriting and vocal abilities. This isn’t new, even Ah Via Musicom–famous for his signature song, “Cliffs of Dover”–has songs with lyrics. But anyone but his most die-hard fans will find the lack of electric guitar on this album a little disappointing. Is Johnson an accomplished musician across multiple instruments? Absolutely. Are his songwriting skills and vocal performances competent? Sure. Is anything on this album noteworthy? Not really. 2.0/5.0

Republic

PHANTOGRAM – CEREMONY–I’ve had an interesting relationship with Phantogram’s music. I fell in love with the trip-hop-meets-indie-rock sound on their debut. But they apparently decided that they did’t want to make that kind of music soon after releasing it. I’ve been unable to connect with the music on the following albums in the same way. Ceremony is the closest I’ve come and I’m sure that’s due to the fact that some of their trip-hop origins are popping back up on a few tracks. I’m sure it’s always been there, but it’s really front and center here. There are still tracks that just don’t grab my interest and some other just general weirdness. But this is the first time I’ve really enjoyed some Phantogram tunes in about 10 years. 3.0/5.0

Ruby Yacht

R.A.P. FERREIRA – PURPLE MOONLIGHT PAGES–Another one of those genres that I’m a sucker for is jazz rap. I am all about groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets. Every year, I find at least one album that scratches my jazz rap itch. So far this year, that honor falls to Purple Moonlight Pages from R.A.P. Ferreira (formerly known as milo). As the “Rhythm and Poetry” on the cover implies, there is a bit more of a spoken word element to this than just rapping. But Ferreira delivers dense and conscious lyrics with clever rhyming and structures that call to mind the best lyricists of hip-hop’s golden age. And the jazz instrumentals just make them that much better. The album’s one major weakness is it’s length, clocking in at a stout 52 minutes. When your music is this dense, length is not your friend. Otherwise, this is a very enjoyable album. 3.5/5.0

UNFD

SILVERSTEIN – A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DROWN–Honestly, I had no idea that Silverstein has been consistently releasing new material this whole time. As such, this is probably the first time I consciously listened to new music from them in over 10 years. Which is a funny coincidence because a lot of the album sounds like music that was coming out 10 or so years ago. Given the gap in my listening history, I don’t know if this comes from a conscious effort to recreate the sound or the fact that their sound has changed so little over the course of 15 years. Either way, A Beautiful Place… brings the bad along with the good from the time. About half of the tracks sound like the more produced emo and pop-punk songs of the late 2000s instrumentally and lyrically. And some of the melodies sound like they came right out of an All-American Rejects song. But the other half is full of the things we fondly remember from post-hardcore and screamo from the same era. It’s not bad, but it could have been better. 3.0/5.0

Asthmatic Kitty

SUFJAN STEVENS/LOWELL BRAMS – APORIA–This latest release from celebrated songwriter Sufjan Stevens is a collaboration with is step-father, the Lowell from the title of his 2015 album Carrie & Lowell. The track list consists of mostly instrumental electronic compositions that came out of a jam session that occurred when Lowell visited Sufjan in New York. And it mostly sounds like just that: a bunch of electronic improvisations cut down into digestible tracks. It’s not unpleasant and there are a few moments of brilliance, but the overall impression I get is that it’s all just pretty “meh.” I know it’s not really fair to expect an artist as seemingly restless as Sufjan Stevens to stick to a particular sound or formula, but when you compare this to his previous work, it is a little disappointing. 2.5/5.0

Merge

WAXAHATCHEE – SAINT CLOUD–On this album, singer and songwriter Katie Crutchfield taps into the worlds and sounds of indie folk and alt-country. For me personally, the result is ultimately only okay. There are bright spots both instrumentally and lyrically, and sometimes it’s even on the same song. But one of the pitfalls of the peak of indie folk was forgettable songs for the sake of a sound or aesthetic. Saint Cloud unfortunately falls into that trap on more than a couple songs. That’s not to say it’s bad, the brightest moments shine especially bright. In the end it’s still a good album, just not a great one. 3.0/5.0

Quarantine Quick Takes, Part 2: Heavy Stuff

As is typical for me, the majority of what I end up listening to falls into the category of heavy music. So far this year, the ratios seem to be a bit more balanced, but heavy stuff is still the clear leader. As such, we can’t leave them out to dry so here are some quick reviews of heavy albums that came out in the month of March.

Century Media

BODY COUNT – CARNIVORE–Ice-T took a little break from the SVU and got his metal band back together to record an album. That’s right, Detective Tutuola fronts a thrash metal band, and has since the early ’90s. Early in his career, Ice-T noticed the similarities between the attitudes of gangsta rap and thrash metal and started his own band. And they’re not too bad, honestly. Some of the tracks on this album go straight back to old school thrash. There are features from Riley Gale of Power Trip, Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed, and Amy Lee of Evanescence. There’s also a pretty spot-on cover of “Ace of Spades.” It’s not perfect, some tracks fall into the tropes of modern alternative metal, and I could do without the spoken intros on a couple tracks. But the good stuff is pretty good. 3.5/5.0

Roadrunner

CODE ORANGE – UNDERNEATH–I’m just going to say it, these guys are the future of metalcore. There are very few bands out there being as creative and forward-thinking with the genre as Code Orange. Underneath takes what they started with their last album and takes it even further. They incorporate elements of industrial metal, alternative metal, glitch, and even a touch of harsh noise into these tracks. The result is a wild ride from start to finish. The textures and riffs and movements in these songs are so varied that they come and go before you realize it. Seriously, I never had a moment where I felt like a song spent too much time on a particular thing. This album is the fastest way to pass 47 minutes. It’s not perfect, there are some instances where the glitch elements are a little too jarring and sound more like a genuine flaw in the audio file rather than a musical glitch. But otherwise this thing is great. 4.0/5.0

Century Media

HEAVEN SHALL BURN – OF TRUTH AND SACRIFICE–I went into this one without any prior knowledge of Heaven Shall Burn, but I listened to quite a bit of metalcore back in my day. When I saw this was a double album that ran 97 minutes, I had my suspicions that it was going to be an overall “meh” experience. Turns out, I was right but that doesn’t mean there aren’t bright spots. After the intro track, the first part of the first disc is made up of some of the best things about metalcore. They also manage to have a track over 8 minutes that isn’t a slog (however there is one on the second disc that is). And on the second disc the experiments with industrial metal are interesting and the Nuclear Assault cover is decent. Otherwise, the second half of the first disc falls into metalcore tropes and the second one feels like it’s full of B-sides. If they kept it to one disc, it might have been a lot better. 2.5/5.0

Season of Mist

HYBORIAN – VOLUME II–This! This is what I look for in my stoner and sludge metal! Just riffs, riffs, riffs, riffs, and more riffs that are dirty, sludgy, and greasy. Tempos that range from ponderous swagger to blistering thrash, and lyrics that tell stories of sci-fi and fantasy. (Seriously, the band’s lyricist wrote a companion novel telling the story of this album… I want it.) Another thing that makes this album great is that Hyborian avoids the pitfall of being over indulgent. The album is only 40 minutes long and the longest track is 8 minutes and change, and even then, the last 2 minutes are taken up with a weird, reversed dialogue and Morse code. The only thing keeping it from being exceptional is that the dynamics are pretty flat and if you’re not paying attention, a couple tracks kind of blend into each other. Otherwise, I like this one a lot. 4.0/5.0

Metal Blade

IGORRR – SPIRITUALITY AND DISTORTION–Where do I even start with this one? This is probably the most fun and wildest ride I’ve had all year with a metal album. Igorrr is primarily the project of French musician Gautier Serre. With this project he combines a couple different metal subgenres with breakcore, trip hop, classical baroque, and Romani folk music. This ain’t your dad’s industrial or symphonic metal; this is a different beast altogether, and boy is it fun. What’s really impressive is Serre doesn’t try to cram every one of his influences into every track. Some lean on certain influences more than others, and he knows how to spread these variations out over the course of a 55 minute album. And the juxtaposition of accordion and double bass and black metal on a couple tracks alone is worth the price of admission. This is easily one of the most interesting and best albums I’ve heard all year. 4.5/5.0

Atlantic

IN THIS MOMENT – MOTHER–Heavy bands with female singers usually go two ways. They’re either a fantastic example of their subgenre and they don’t have to use the singer as a selling point, or they play average symphonic or power metal and have to lean on their singer’s exceptional voice and affinity for costumes or gowns. This album from In This Moment feels like it’s trying to do the second and failing. Maria Brink’s vocals feel lazy and over-indulgent throughout this, and with the exception of one or two tracks, the instrumentals are pretty boring. Then it also has three covers that just don’t land at all, and the “Fly Like An Eagle” cover feels like it was just tacked onto the front of the album with it’s own intro track because it’s followed by another intro track for the first original song. I’m sorry, I just wasn’t feeling this one at all. 1.0/5.0

Century Media

LUCIFER – LUCIFER III–There’s something about old school hard rock and doom metal that the female voice just complements so well. If you don’t know what I mean, this album from Lucifer is a great example. This band got on my radar with a strong single from their last album, but the rest of it left a bit to be desired. Nothing else really stood out on it. This third album fixes those problems. It feels like the band got into a groove with each other this time and the songwriting improved greatly. Old school riffs abound on this album, and there’s at least one moment in each song that grabs your ear. Vocalist Johanna Sadonis has exactly the effortless kind of voice that you want with these kind of tunes, too. 3.5/5.0

Shadow Kingdom

TEMPLE OF VOID – THE WORLD THAT WAS–I suppose getting into death-doom metal is a logical move considering my obsession with stoner and doom. I’m still new to it and there have already been a couple good releases in the genre this year. This is one of them. Temple of Void bring a balanced mix of fast(ish) and slow riffs and make interesting use of atmospheric synths. They very effectively evoke the right mood for this kind of album. Some moments can be drawn out a little too much, but I’ve heard worse. Also, there appears to be two versions of this album out there. If you’re listening on Spotify, make sure it’s the one that says Shadow Kingdom Records at the bottom, the mix is way better. 3.5/5.0

Quarantine Quick Takes, Part 1: Big Names

I have been a bad blogger and I haven’t published anything for a few weeks. Even when I was told to work from home, I didn’t take advantage of the time to keep up with new releases. Instead I didn’t listen to anything for an entire week. Now I have a huge backlog and I’m working hard to get through it and to get some more content out. To make up for the lack of posts, I thought I’d put together some quick reviews of stuff that’s come out in March, similar to my monthly reviews but a tiny bit more in-depth and with actual scores. To kick things off, here are my thoughts on some of the releases by big-name artists that dropped this month.

RCA

CHILDISH GAMBINO – 3.15.20–I promise there’s album art there, it just happens to be a white square. Anyway, on March 15th, Donald Glover started streaming his latest Childish Gambino album in a continuous loop on a website, hence the title of the album. It was only up for a short time and then properly released to streaming services on March 22nd. People were wondering if a new album was coming after the singles “This Is America” and “Feels Like Summer” (the latter being on this album, as “42.26”). While most people seem to be into this thing, there are some who have expressed some disappointed, or at least mixed feelings about it. And I’m one of them. I’m sorry, but this just feels directionless and forgettable at times. I do like some of the beats and the occasional industrial feel, but overall this is pretty disappointing. 2.5/5.0

Warner

DUA LIPA – FUTURE NOSTALGIA–Here we have another pleasantly surprising album for this year. I went into this with no previous knowledge of who Dua Lipa is or her music up to this point. All I knew is that her name is freaking everywhere right now. What I didn’t expect was to be hit with nu disco banger after banger. Falling right in line with the title, most of the tracks draw heavy influence from the disco revival of the past decade, and they’re pretty damn good. The instrumentals are the real stars here with at least one instance of all of your favorite disco throwbacks, including talkbox, strings, and a properly French disco vocoder! With only a couple exceptions, the lyrics aren’t anything special. Most are about dancing, sex, or both. But then again, so was a lot of old school disco. You can tell that Dua Lipa had fun with this one. And you know what, so did I. 4.0/5.0

1501 Certified/300

MEGAN THEE STALLION – SUGA–Megan Thee Stallion came up with a surprisingly strong debut mixtape with last year’s Fever. She quickly took her place beside Nicki Minaj and Cardi B as one of the top female rappers and gained some viral traction with her “Hot Girl Summer” last year. This year started with reports that Megan was having trouble with her record label. The result of these troubles is a restraining order and this EP to hold us over until she can release a proper debut album. Like Minaj and Cardi, Megan isn’t shy about her sexuality, and honestly I’m still getting used to that being a subject in hip-hop, but the fact that it makes me uncomfortable means it’s working. Megan’s skills as a rapper are on full display on this EP, but it does suffer a bit when she dips her toes in the realm of pop R&B in a couple later tracks. These attempts come across pretty generic and forgettable. Hopefully her eventual debut album can make up for it. 3.0/5.0

Neon Haze/Capitol

NIALL HORAN – HEARTBREAK WEATHER–With his debut solo album Flicker, this former member of One Direction proved himself to be one of the more capable performers without the support of the group. Which has been a challenge for most of the members. With his second album, Horan continues to prove that he has more to offer than his association with the group. A handful of songs have nice nods to ’80s pop and solid hooks. The album opener and title track is particularly fun, as is the dance pop “Nice To Meet Ya.” Other tracks fit comfortably in the realm of modern pop but they’re mostly tolerable. Nothing particularly special, but nothing outright awful either. Lyrically, it’s pretty safe. A common theme seems to be small talk with a romantic interest. It’s not amazing, but it could be a lot worse. 3.0/5.0

The Null Corporation
The Null Corporation

NINE INCH NAILS – GHOSTS V: TOGETHER/GHOSTS VI: LOCUSTS–On March 26, Trent Reznor and company surprise released two sequels to the dark ambient Ghosts I-IV released back in 2008. Full disclosure, my familiarity with the previous Ghosts is limited to the sample used in “Old Town Road” and any instance of it being used in the real world and I heard it unknowingly. I’m also not a very active fan of ambient music. However I am familiar with Reznor’s soundtrack work with Atticus Ross. Starting with Together, I found it to be ultimately disappointing. The first half of the album has aimless synth and string drones with piano bits that are just kind of there and not really generating any interest. Things pick up a good bit on the second half with more interesting uses of the space and more intriguing synths. Reznor said that Together was meant for when you feel hopeful, but there’s still an atmosphere of tension and uneasiness. I guess it’s about as hopeful as a NIN release can get, though.

Locusts, on the other hand, I found to be far more interesting and successful at creating atmosphere and mood as ambient music. Reznor and Ross make much better use of the space to induce anxiety and create tension. It plays like the unsettling ambient soundtrack to a psychological thriller or atmospheric survival horror game. While it’s longer than Together, it’s packaged better over shorter tracks. However, it’s not really a game changer when it comes to ambient music or NIN in general. And they both are quite long, each one clocking in over 70 minutes. 2.5/5.0 (Together), 3.5/5.0 (Locusts)

Monkeywrench/Republic

PEARL JAM – GIGATON–Full disclosure, I’m not too familiar with Pearl Jam’s work post-Vitalogy except maybe the odd single here and there from the early 2000s. That being said, this album is pretty disappointing. When I think of Pearl Jam, I think of memorable guitar riffs and catchy chorus hooks. A few of their songs had some of the most impressive guitar work coming out of the biggest Seattle bands of the early ’90s. Gigaton just feels like it has no idea what it wants to be. Most of the tracks just feel like generic guitar rock, others go on longer than they need to, and “Dance of the Clairvoyants” sounds like they’re trying to be the Talking Heads. This is another one getting a lot of praise I just don’t understand. It’s average at best and nothing special at all really. 2.0/5.0

XO/Republic

THE WEEKND – AFTER HOURS–The Weeknd has come a long way from his trilogy of mixtapes in 2011. I never really listened or got into R&B music, but I always kept one eye on The Weeknd because I felt like, of all the alternative R&B artists getting big, he had the potential to really impress me. There have been a few bright spots, but overall he hasn’t really accomplished that. When I saw the promotional material for After Hours, I got a little excited about the new vintage aesthetic. Maybe this could be the one. Well, it’s still not quite there. After a weak start, the album picks up a little, but there’s still a bit of bland, generic sounding R&B here that just fails to excite me. Later we get the more new wave and even synthwave inspired tracks like “Blinding Lights,” and that’s where the album really shines. The Weeknd still hasn’t quite blown me away, but this is the closest he’s gotten yet. 3.0/5.0