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.

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 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

Great Albums Made by Women in 2019

Last year, in an attempt to make myself a little more woke, I challenged myself to create a list of albums that highlighted great music made by women in addition to my normal list of favorite albums from the year. My decision to do it again was reinforced by the fact that I listened to over 1000 albums this year and less than 15% were by women or groups fronted by women. That number might be different for you, but on average I believe women make up a severe minority of the music that gets consumed. There’s a lot of great music being made by women that deserves to be highlighted, so take a look at what I’ve put together here and maybe add one or two into your rotation.

Republic

ARIANA GRANDE – THANK U, NEXT–This album was released only about 6 months after Grande’s previous album, Sweetener. And it was a pretty tumultuous 6 months. Ex-boyfriend Mac Miller had passed away and her engagement to Pete Davidson was called off. Much of thank u, next appears to be inspired by these events with direct references to her exes, ending relationships, and the ways that she coped with them, both healthy and unhealthy. Lyrically this is Grande’s most personal and vulnerable album, an aspect that is reinforced by the fact that there are no featured artists. This is easily the best album that she’s released so far.

Dead Oceans

BETTER OBLIVION COMMUNITY CENTER – self-titled–This group is a collaboration between singer-songwriters Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst. The former being one of the most promising and exciting songwriters to come up in the past few years and the latter being indie folk and emo royalty. The album claims to follow a concept, but it must follow it very loosely. The important thing is this is one of the best collections of folk rock tunes released this year. Bridgers has yet to really disappoint me in anything she’s involved in, and Oberst sounds like he’s genuinely having fun. It’s certainly one of the most interesting things he’s been involved in for awhile.

Scofflaw

DIALITH – EXTINCTION SIX–Symphonic metal is a difficult genre to pull off. There’s a balance you have to strike between the orchestration and the badass metal riffs. Dialith strikes the balance right where I like it with a bit more emphasis on the metal. Their orchestration doesn’t sound like it’s played on a cheap keyboard (an especially impressive accomplishment when you remember that this is an unsigned band). Finally, but certainly not least, vocalist Krista Sion has a beautiful, near-operatic voice that complements the music without over-singing. The songs are never overblown or over-done. No one element tries to steal the spotlight from the others. Overall it’s a very impressive debut.

Polydor/Interscope

LANA DEL REY – NORMAN FUCKING ROCKWELL–I used to be a pretty outspoken critic of Lana Del Rey when she first came onto the scene and accusations of her being inauthentic flowed freely. Over the years though, my opinion has softened as she’s turned herself into something of a real deal. Her songwriting and stylistic choices have only gotten better over time and Norman Fucking Rockwell is where they really go to the next level. Cries of insincerity go right out the window track after track, bolstered by the quieter instrumentals on this album. There are a couple missteps, but it does have just about the best Sublime cover I’ve ever heard.

Nice Life/Atlantic

LIZZO – CUZ I LOVE YOU–I know it’s kind of “the thing” to like Lizzo right now but truth be told, if you’re going to do pop rap, this is the way to do it. Lizzo is an incredibly solid songwriter and you can quickly tell that there’s some decent substance here. Her lyrics are full of feminist and positive messages delivered without a patronizing tone. The instrumentals are inspired by funk, soul, and disco of the ’70s and ’80s with a couple clear nods to Prince. These aren’t songs that exist to just be hits, deliberate care was put into them. Like I said, this is pop rap done right.

Compass

MOLLY TUTTLE – WHEN YOU’RE READY–I mentioned Molly Tuttle’s album earlier this year, and it’s managed to remain one of the most impressive country and Americana albums of the year. Like I mentioned in that video, Tuttle is a very talented guitarist and songwriter. She’s not only the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year award, but she’s one it two years in a row. Her playing is on display on a couple tracks, but it’s also there in many others for those who listen for it. Her songwriting is impressive as well, so even casual listeners will enjoy this.

Rhyme & Reason

PRONOUN – I’LL SHOW YOU STRONGER–Pronoun is a bit of a one-woman indie-pop band project by singer and songwriter Alyse Vellturo, and it’s some of the best damn guitar pop I’ve heard this year. I’m not quite sure exactly what genres and decades intersect on this album or where, but I think I hear some ’80s thrown in there with some early 2000s indie pop and a couple others. The real draw on this album for me though are the hooks. Some of the guitar hooks on here are just so strong that I have to stop what I’m doing to listen, and sometimes I’ll even play the song again. I’ll definitely be looking for Vellturo’s future releases.

Kanine

TALLIES – self-titled–Speaking of solid indie pop, we have Tallies with their self-titled debut. This is like a modern take on new wave with some surf tendencies. Reverb and jangly guitars abound with single-note leads played throughout the tracks. I’d compare them with Real Estate or maybe DIIV with some more modern surf like Best Coast thrown in. The new wave influences come in with some clear nods to bands like The Cure, especially their more pop leaning tunes. It’s great music for a summer cruise with the top down.

Prosthetic

VENOM PRISON – SAMSARA–I wasn’t going to let you go without mentioning at least one more metal album on this list. Venom Prison mix death metal with elements of hardcore without going full deathcore, and it’s some truly brutal stuff. A true highlight of the band is vocalist Larissa Stupar. The female voice always brings a unique quality to harsh metal vocals, and Stupar’s is especially powerful. Her lyrics take the traditionally dark and disturbing themes of death metal and use them to bring the horrors of misogyny and rape culture to light (that is, when you can understand her). They also tackle subjects of fascism and mental health, making this not only a brutal album, but a socially aware one.

Sub Pop

WEYES BLOOD – TITANIC RISING–I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t get this one at first. This album was getting so much hype and I just wasn’t seeing why. After a few listens it finally hit me what an accomplishment this album is. The production here is just absolutely spot on. Weyes Blood just nails that Carpenters-esque ’70s soft rock and makes it sound timeless rather than retro or dated. Natalie Mering’s sentimental and somehow hopeful lyrics guide you through the struggles of life in the modern world. This is easily one of the prettiest albums of the year, and I can’t believe I almost missed it.

Awful Albums of 2019

A lot of things in this world depend on opposites. Light and dark, comedy and tragedy, war and peace; the existence of one is amplified by the existence of the other. This principle applies to the world of music as well. For all the good albums that come out in a year, there are often more bad ones. I’ve put together a list of some of the worst I heard this year for you to angrily disagree with me about. They are listed below in alphabetical order.

BMG

AVRIL LAVIGNE – HEAD ABOVE WATER–This is the Canadian singer’s first album in 6 years and it follows a bout with Lyme disease that inspired some of the songs on it. The lead single and title track gained some traction on Christian radio, but I’m sure many listeners who were hoping Lavigne had turned over a new leaf were disappointed when they saw the racy album cover. Their disappointment probably got worse when they found that literally all the other tracks on the album were unfit for Christian radio in one way or another. Ironically I liken this album to Contemporary Christian Music in general in terms of quality. It’s full of a lot of weak attempts to sound relevant years after the wave has passed.

Eclipse

BLACKLIST 9 – MENTALLY ILL, LEGALLY SANE–This is a rare example of an album where every piece of the puzzle is bad. The writing is bad, the vocals are bad, the guitar tone is bad, the recording is bad, the mix is bad. The performances leave a lot to be desired. The riffs sound like a high school band in 2003 learned just enough to play basic nu-metal riffs, and the drummer flubs his fills sometimes. There are moments where the band isn’t even completely in sync. In some instances a combination of elements this bad can still come together as something charmingly rough like a punk record. But part of what makes this so awful is the band is taking themselves so seriously. I guess if I could say one good thing it’s that the album is short.

We The Best/Epic

DJ KHALED – FATHER OF ASAHD–DJ Khaled believes he is an authority on good music, a curator of fine hip-hop beats and talent, a hit-maker supreme, and he’s quite humble about it too. I mean, he did name is label We The Best Music after all. Jokes aside, there might have been a time when that was true, but this album feels more like Khaled is co-opting the work of other people and putting his name on it, hoping that it will become a hit and he will get rich and famous by association. Even the best featured vocalists and rappers feel like they’re not giving it their all. All 15 tracks start with shouts of “DJ Khaled!” and “We The Best Music!” as if those are indicators of quality. But it ends up being more like a signal to hit skip.

Big Machine

FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE – CAN’T SAY I AIN’T COUNTRY–If I was ever asked what exactly I didn’t like about bro country, I would immediately point to this album. You can find an example of just about everything wrong with the genre on it. Toxic masculinity, formulaic country mad-lib lyrics, appropriated elements from hip-hop and R&B, tonal and moral inconsistency; it’s got it all! There’s seriously very little of value here. Watch my full review here.

Bad Dreams/Empire

IGGY AZALEA – IN MY DEFENSE–An artist who welcomes controversy with arms wide open returns with an album full of unapologetic appropriation and lyrics. She’s not sorry about anything that’s happened and she reminds you of that on every single song. She takes a page out of Logic’s book and fixates on her critics and haters, but doesn’t have Logic’s talent to make it at least tolerable. It might not be so bad if the beats were any good, but I really have a hard time remembering anything from this album at all.

Frontiers

JETBOY – BORN TO FLY–Jetboy are a glam band that enjoyed some very, very mild success in the ’80s and very early ’90s. Even though their songs were used in a couple movies, it still only earns them little more than half a dozen paragraphs of bio on their Wikipedia page. This is their first album in nine years and it’s pretty much 45 minutes of forgettable, vaguely ’80s hard rock that isn’t even all that hard. I don’t really know who they’re making this for because I can’t imagine there are a lot of Jetboy fans out there and this certainly isn’t going to win them any new ones.

Mascot/Music Theories

JORDAN RUDESS – WIRED FOR MADNESS–This album is the musical equivalent of that coworker that eavesdrops on all your conversations and then tries to insert themselves into it, offering some vaguely related anecdote to turn the focus onto them. Jordan Rudess (of Dream Theater) is a really good keyboardist, and he won’t let you forget it for a second. This album has become my new definitive example of prog wankery, meaning music that is technically impressive, but ultimately devoid of any personality or soul. It’s just a wall of notes and scales that screams “hey, look how much theory I know and how it makes me better than you!”

Interscope

MADONNA – MADAME X–This album was promoted as containing wide reaching musical influences. Madonna said Madame X is like a secret agent who can become whoever she wants to be. But let’s just say that if Madame X really were a spy, she wouldn’t be fooling anyone. This album is full of weak and watered down Latin pop and that’s about the only exotic flavor you get. Madonna employs weird vocal processing on a lot of tracks, makes unpredictably weird stylistic shifts, and tries to convince the world that she cares with a couple shallow political tracks. This album fails to deliver on its promises and it’s especially disappointing because we all know Madonna can do better. Watch my full review here.

Big Machine

MIDLAND – LET IT ROLL–The internet likes to joke about how country songs are all about the same things like dogs dying, wives cheating, and trucks breaking down. Midland sees these jokes and uses them as the blueprints for their songs. I have never in my life heard a collection of country songs so bland, formulaic, and unoriginal than on this album. It’s like they plotted all of the biggest Nashville hits on a graph, drew a line through the middle and set a goal to never exceed that standard. If I had to say one good thing about this album, it would be that this band is extremely dedicated to the mediocrity of it all.

Pavement Entertainment

SNAKE BITE WHISKY – THIS SIDE OF HELL–This is the self-proclaimed number one sleaze rock band of Australia, a genre I’m not entirely sure they didn’t make up. This is music for people who think rock peaked with Appetite for Destruction. The attitude, the swagger, the clothes, even the hair is all here. And that includes some of the problematic stuff too. It’s called sleaze rock for a reason. Unlike other bands like Steel Panther where you can clearly tell everything is tongue-in-cheek, I can’t tell if these guys are joking or not.

Good Albums I Didn’t Review in November 2019

It’s already been about a month since my last post like this, and yet again there was a lot of good music that I didn’t get to write a full review for. I was hoping to get one more out before this, but life got in the way like it does. So once again, here are some albums that I think might be worth your time. Like I said last time, as these are all “good,” their score would be 3.5 or higher if I gave them a full review. On to the musics.

Nuclear Blast

BLIND GUARDIAN TWILIGHT ORCHESTRA – LEGACY OF THE DARK LANDS–They’ve been hinting at it for years and now Blind Guardian have finally delivered on the promise of an orchestral album. Never ones to half-ass anything, this album is massive, sounds massive, has interludes with dialogue, and a second disc with instrumental versions of everything. It can be a slog and it’s hard to keep up with the story, but the companion novel (The Dark Lands by Markus Heitz) is available in English now, so I’ll probably be revisiting this one.

Dark Descent

BLOOD INCANTATION – HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE–Death metal is a pretty saturated genre right now, and a lot of it is competent but a bit bland as far as death metal goes. Blood Incantation are not bland. They actively push their sound and songs in interesting directions. I do personally wish the last track was broken up into two or more tracks, but this is a great example of what the genre is capable of.

aural music

BOTANIST – ECOSYSTEM–Like I said in my Liturgy review, black metal doesn’t really appeal to me unless there’s something that differentiates it from the “traditions” of the genre. Botanist plays black metal on hammered dulcimers. It doesn’t get much more non-traditional than that. More seriously, as the name implies, Botanist sounds organic and they have the talent to make this more than just a novelty.

Mass Appeal

DJ SHADOW – OUR PATHETIC AGE–This album is split into two halves with instrumentals on the first half and all-star guest rappers on the second. The first half is fine, but the second half is what you really want to hear. It has strong guest verses by people like Nas, Pharoahe Monch, Run The Jewels, and a mini Wu-Tang reunion. Shadow drops some sweet beats and brings out the best in his guests.

Young Turks Recordings

FKA TWIGS – MAGDALENE–I’m not convinced that this album deserves all the hype that it’s getting, but it’s still very good. Twigs is one of the artists on the leading edge of pop music, pushing it further into the future and exciting new places. It’s her first full length in 5 years, the production is great, and she sounds great.

Island

R.LUM.R – SURFACING–I normally don’t go for a lot of modern R&B music, but for some reason I’m just drawn to this guy. I don’t know if it’s his melodies, his falsetto, his unabashed love of indie and prog rock, or the fact that the songs aren’t exclusively about fucking. Either way, if I like an R&B record, there’s something special about it that makes it stand out. And this one does stand out to me.

Omnivore

HARRY NILSSON – LOSST AND FOUNND–Nilsson was working on a new album around the time that he died in 1994. Now, almost 40 years after his last studio album, we finally have a release from those sessions. The result is a time capsule of what singer-songwriter music was like in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s definitely a product of its time, but it shows that Nilsson still had his writing chops towards the end of his life.

I Built The Sky

I BUILT THE SKY – THE ZENITH RISE–One of the biggest challenges with instrumental guitar music is to keep it from sounding like self-indulgent wankery. It happens a lot with the shreddy metal stuff especially. Rohan Stevenson avoids this with his strong melodies. His songs are technically impressive, but they still have melodic soul that keeps you from tuning out.

20 Buck Spin

OBSEQUIAE – THE PALMS OF SORROWED KINGS–A little heavy on the metal this month, aren’t we? Anyway, Obsequiae plays black-ish medieval folk tinged metal and utilizes actual medieval instruments like harps, hammered dulcimers, hurdy gurdies, psalteries, and more. There are even instrumental tracks played exclusively on these instruments. It sounds like it could come across as a little pretentious, and in some ways it does. But overall, the band provides an interesting listening experience.

Warp/LuckyMe

TNGHT – II–Last, but certainly not least, Hudson Mohawke and Lunice finally give us a proper follow-up to the amazing trap EDM EP that was their 2012 debut as TNGHT. This one isn’t strictly trap music, but the relentless energy of the first release is still here. It’s loud, it’s a little strange sometimes, but it gets you moving, which is all I really ask from TNGHT.

JEFF GOLDBLUM – I SHOULDN’T BE TELLING YOU THIS album review

JEFF GOLDBLUM & THE MILDRED SNITZER ORCHESTRA – I SHOULDN’T BE TELLING YOU THIS

Decca, 2019

Jazz/Pop

For the past few years actor and living meme Jeff Goldblum has been trying to add another line to his resume, that of jazz pianist and bandleader. Goldblum has actually been studying and playing jazz piano for many years, and the world got its first taste when he and his band, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, started playing live shows earlier this decade. This all led to a record deal with Decca and last year’s Capitol Studios Sessions live album, which featured guests like Sarah Silverman and Haley Reinhart.

I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This is the follow-up, and unlike the Capitol Studios Sessions, is a proper studio album in a possible move to further prove the legitimacy of this venture. But if we’re all honest, part of the charm of the Capitol album was the snippets of Jeff’s interactions with his guests and the audience. Even if some of the humor in the moment was lost in translation, they did elevate the experience. On Shouldn’t, a casual listener wouldn’t know they were listening to Jeff Goldblum until the final track.

As on Capitol, those hoping to be serenaded by the dulcet tones of Goldblum’s voice will be disappointed. Instead, he defers vocal duties to an impressive list of guests that includes Sharon Van Etten, Fiona Apple, and Miley Cyrus among others. The guests perform well for the most part, but at times it’s very obvious that these are rock and pop vocalists and not jazz singers.

It’s worth noting that the guests aren’t just singing straight jazz standards. A few get to sing clever mashups, like Inara George singing Sonny & Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” over Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder,” or Anna Calvi singing Marianne Faithfull’s “Broken English” over Wes Montgomery’s “Four on Six.” This shows Jeff’s cleverness as a bandleader and curator of their repertoire.

Musically, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra once again proves to be competent but not too flashy in their presentation. The solos are not so wild that the tracks would be unwelcome on a restaurant playlist, but close listening uncovers skillful musicianship. Similarly, Goldblum’s piano doesn’t slow the band down in the slightest. He’s competent to say the least, but he still chooses to let others shine.

Goldblum does offer his vocal talents on the final track, the lullaby “Little Man You’ve Had A Busy Day.” While the performance certainly isn’t the strongest on the album, there’s something strangely comforting in having everyone’s internet dad sing you to sleep.

Overall, I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This is an enjoyable but safe listen. Jeff Goldblum has more than enough star power to phone it in on a lazy celebrity holiday album, but instead he has decided to shoot for a musical career based on real talent, which he has. While I lament the exclusion of his on-stage banter, he’s produced a celebrity jazz album that will probably be loved by boomers and millennials alike. However, it’s hard to ignore that the success of the album will largely be based on whose name is on the cover.

3.5/5.0