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.

WHITE DENIM – WORLD AS A WAITING ROOM album review

WHITE DENIM – WORLD AS A WAITING ROOM

Radio Milk Records, 2020

Psychedelic rock/Garage rock

The COVID-19 outbreak has pretty much turned our world upside down. One area of the world that has been affected in more ways than some people might expect is the music industry. Look no further for proof of how the machinations of things we take for granted go far beyond what we might imagine. The most obvious impact is the broad cancellation of the majority of tours and festivals. This not only impacts the ticket holders, but the venues and the people who work behind the scenes. Many major artists have delayed the release of their new albums because they won’t be able to support the release with a tour. Others have delayed them because the actual means of production of physical units has been impacted. However some artists are using this as an opportunity to give us new music. Trivium didn’t delay the release of their latest album so people would have something to listen to. Charli XCX announced that she would write, record, and release an album in 5 weeks from isolation. And another artist that made a similar promise was White Denim.

On March 14th, White Denim announced that they would write, record, and release an album by April 17th. For those keeping score, that’s another entire album completed in about 5 weeks. The band met their goal and the album was made available to download from their label’s website on April 17th. For the rest of us, it was added to all major streaming services on May 8th. For those who don’t know, White Denim are a psychedelic garage rock band who often incorporate elements of progressive and math rock by way of dizzying guitar riffs. This unique brand of rock music has created songs that range from amazing to needlessly complicated to unremarkable. So where do the tracks on World As A Waiting Room fall?

First off, it’s worth mentioning that the fact that this album even exists after such a short writing and recording period is impressive. I know internet personalities have recorded stuff in shorter time as a bit of a gimmick (like Rob Scallon and Andrew Huang’s First of October project where they write and record an entire album in a single day). But the fact that this is a group of four people and that they had the additional challenge of doing this during quarantine makes this quite an accomplishment, regardless of the quality of what’s in the album. And the fact that it’s actually decent is even more impressive.

Yes, while it’s not a spectacular standout in White Denim’s discography, World As A Waiting Room is pretty good. Plenty of garage rock grooves and catchy hooks can be found in its nine tracks. A few standout track in particular are “Matter of Matter,” “DVD,” and “Eagle Wings” where some of the frantic energy of the band’s earlier material can be found. White Denim’s signature fuzzy guitars are all over the album as you’d expect with organs and synths adding extra color on several tracks like “I Don’t Understand Rock and Roll” and “Slow Death.” I guess a good way to describe the album is that it’s on-brand with the style that White Denim have established for themselves.

There are a couple glaring weaknesses of the album, however. The track “Work” is pretty light on lyrical content and is also the longest song on the album at over 6 minutes. This means the few lyrics it has are repeated quite a few times. The song does have a pretty solid groove that makes it mostly tolerable, but once you get past the 4-minute mark, it starts to wear on you. Then there’s “Queen of the Quarantine” and yes, they went there. I know it’s pretty much expected that they would write a song about the quarantine when the entire album was written in quarantine, but this one just comes across as little more than corny. There are a couple other instances of repetitive lyrics like in “Go Numb,” but the rest of the tracks are short enough to keep them from getting too annoying.

Overall, the best way to sum up the album is the way I did earlier. It’s very on-brand for White Denim, and it’s ultimately a pretty engaging listen. Their more recent output hasn’t been the most memorable to me, so I’m glad to say this one was to a degree. It does have it’s weak points, but when you consider the short amount of time that this entire album was made in, they’re pretty easily forgiven.

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

GREEN DAY – FATHER OF ALL… album review

GREEN DAY – FATHER OF ALL…

Reprise, 2020

Alternative rock/Some approximation of garage rock

Did… didn’t Green Day already do this? Didn’t they already attempt to do some kind of garage rock revival album back in 2008 with the Foxboro Hot Tubs? Did they forget they made that entire album? Actually, sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who remembers it, so maybe they did forget. Anyway, Father of All… is Green Day’s thirteenth studio album and the driving idea is that the band is tired of making thematically heavy and political music. They just wanted to make a pretty straight forward rock album. And I get that, especially in today’s political climate. The expectation to make the American Idiot of Trump’s America can weigh heavy on you and be exhausting. But I feel like maybe they went a little too far.

There’s no easy way around it, this isn’t very good. Now, Green Day hasn’t released a great album in quite some time, so the bar is already low, but this just stomps it into the dirt. Like I mentioned before, the sound they’re going for is reminiscent of the garage rock revival of the early ’00s. There’s hints of glam, rock ‘n’ roll, and Motown, and it’s fun for the first listen. But this album sounds like the worst parts of a Jet album, but lacks the charm that makes you sing along when “Cold Hard Bitch” comes on the radio; like what little soul was there has been sucked out.

There is one vaguely bright spot in “Sugar Youth” that sounds the closest to an actual pop-punk song. But it’s one of the shortest songs on the album and it’s still not immune to hand claps and garage band riffs. Another that comes close is “Stab You in the Heart” that approaches horror punk with a ’60s rock feel. But then you realize that it would have been better if it was done by an actual horror punk band like The Cramps. The title track sounds like it’s ripping off Eagles of Death Metal, “I Was a Teenage Teenager” sounds like it’s ripping off a bad Weezer song, and “Junkies on a High” sounds like they’re badly ripping off themselves.

The lyrics aren’t very good either, but that’s to be expected when they’re trying to get away from being political. There are some hint’s a current events, but overall this is just the dumb album that they wanted it to be. “I Was a Teenage Teenager” is particularly light on the lyrics despite being the longest song on the album. And I normally don’t criticize album covers, but this one is just awful. We get it, you’re trying to make the opposite of American Idiot. Why don’t you beat it into our heads a little harder?

Overall, Father of All Motherfuckers (it’s the end of the review, I don’t have to censor it anymore) is probably the biggest misstep of Green Day’s career. I can understand wanting to free yourself from certain expectations, but I feel like pushing the “Fuck, go back!” button from that one meme. They’re trying so hard to not do something that they forgot to make the songs actually good. You end up with a slog of an album that’s less than 30 minutes long. And I’m going to remind everyone again that they already did this better with the Foxboro Hot Tubs album, Stop Drop And Roll!!! in 2008, in the midst of their most political era. I guess a good thing about this is they can only go up from here, right?

1.0/5.0

Top Favorite Albums of 2019

Alright, we made it. The final list of the year, my ten favorite albums from 2019. Unlike other sites, I do not rank my top ten. These are just the ten albums that stood out to me for one reason or another and have endured through the year as my favorites. Since half of these were not officially scored by me, score isn’t really the most important factor, but you can safely assume that everything on this list would be scored a 4.0/5.0 or higher. I also try to represent as many genres as I can. But enough explaining, on to the musics!

AM Taxi

AM TAXI – SHIVER BY ME–I came across this album because another band I listen to were being good bros and gave it a shout out. I did not expect to find one of the best albums I’d hear all year. I previously described this album as punk attitude with a bit of heartland rock and that combination just really works for me. There is zero filler, and when you think you can predict the direction a song is going to go, they take a left turn and make you believe that’s the way you should have expected it to go all along. I wish I could go into more detail, but the bottom line is that this is just some great rock music done very well.

Zappo Productions/Thirty Tigers

BRUCE HORNSBY – ABSOLUTE ZERO–After over 30 years and ten albums, veteran soft rock and Americana singer-songwriter Bruce Hornsby takes a surprisingly experimental turn on his latest album. You might expect an artist like Hornsby to just release a collection of piano ballads that old fans will buy but otherwise won’t make too many waves. Instead, he’s teamed up with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, yMusic, and others to actually challenge himself and put out something really unique in his catalog. Even though this leans experimental, Hornsby’s strong skills in songwriting and melody still come through, making this album still very listenable. This was a surprising release, and easily one of my favorites. Watch my full review here.

Triple B

FUMING MOUTH – THE GRAND DESCENT–Now for one of my favorite extreme metal releases of the year. Fuming Mouth play a combination of death metal and hardcore, but like Venom Prison, they never go full deathcore. It’s more like death metal with the raw energy and breakdown riffs of hardcore. This album just comes right out of the gate with the brutality and lets up only a few times over its 33 minute run time. Some say the band is a little one-note, but I personally think they manage to vary the dynamics from song to song enough to keep it interesting. But if we’re honest, sometimes we just want to listen to metal for some intense brutality. And Fuming Mouth brought it this year.

Elektra

THE HIGHWOMEN – self-titled–I’m not entirely sure why, but I often find that in the world of modern country music, a lot of the best albums are made by women. That trend continues this year with The Highwomen. This is a collaboration between Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires, and Natalie Hemby and is a loose tribute to the Highwaymen collaborations of the ’80s and ’90s. The songs on here are inspired by folk and the sounds of previous generations of country music, but have lyrics with very modern sentiments, including what I imagine is one of very few lesbian country love songs. The songs are great, the harmonies are sweet, and every member brings something to the table that makes this album rise above other country releases this year.

Dirty Hit

THE JAPANESE HOUSE – GOOD AT FALLING–First off, shout out to Josh Scott of JHS Pedals for turning me on to this artist on his YouTube channel. Second, if I picked an album of the year, this would easily be a front-runner. Good at Falling is The Japanese House’s debut album following a quartet of fantastic EPs and it is indie pop brilliance. At times the sound reminds me of “Hide And Seek” era Imogen Heap, but it doesn’t sound dated. The songs sound fun but the lyrics cover dark, personal, and emotional topics at times. The production is spot on for every track and even when it doesn’t sound fantastic, you know that it was intentional. You don’t want to miss this one. Watch my full review here.

AGE 101

LITTLE SIMZ – GREY AREA–This is not only the best British rap album of the year, but the best rap album of the year in general. The first thing that grabbed my attention was Inflo’s production, pulling obvious influence from jazz rap of the ’90s but with enough forward thinking to keep it from just being a throwback sound. Then there are the lyrics. Simz delivers smart and conscious lyrics in fantastic flows. The features are all great too. Every guest delivers something that adds to the song instead of feeling tacked on. This is the rap album where everything fell into place; the beats, the flows, and the features all work together and every gamble payed off.

Ghosteen Ltd

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – GHOSTEEN–Nick Cave and company continue the themes of 2016’s Skeleton Tree and conclude the trilogy started by 2013’s Push the Sky Away. This album finds Cave still processing the grief of losing his son, and while the lyrics are still dark and poetic, the music has taken on a more hopeful feel. Vintage synths and strings and the occasional piano dominate the soundscapes created by long-time Bad Seed Warren Ellis. This album isn’t exactly easy to listen to, and it takes a few spins to really dig in. But once you do, the beauty of the work as a whole becomes apparent. Read my full review here.

Century Media

THE OFFERING – HOME–Here is a band whose sound is so hard to nail down that they misleadingly get categorized as power metal on some websites. A more accurate description, and I’m not joking, is a combination of death metal, deathcore, groove metal, hard rock, heavy metal, metalcore, nu-metal, power metal, prog, and thrash. I know that sounds like a metal version of that game kids play where they mix every kind of soda at the fountain, but believe me when I say that the end result tastes way way way better. I don’t know how these guys do it, but they make it work. The songs are the right amount of catchy and brutal, and, oh yeah, they pull it off in a fucking epic 14 minute album closer! My words will never do it justice. You’ll just have to hear it for yourself.

Prosthetic

PALADIN – ASCENSION–Rounding out my metal picks for the year, and speaking of clever blending of sub-genres, we have this album by Paladin. Now, they don’t go quite as crazy as The Offering, but what they accomplish is almost as impressive. Ascension flawlessly blends the styles of power and thrash metal. Within each song, they jump from thrash to power metal bits multiple times, vocally and instrumentally. But the transitions are never jarring in an awkward way. If it’s jarring at all, it’s more in a pleasantly surprising way. And the jumps change from track to track. One will have thrash verses and power choruses, where another will have thrash choruses and power solos. It continues to impress me every time I listen to it. Watch my full review here.

Wilsun

SHEER MAG – A DISTANT CALL–Sheer Mag is a band that is rather unapologetically inspired by ’80s power pop. But they’re more than just an ’80s cover band or an uninspired throwback. They take the things that make you love ’80s music and turn them into solid rock songs. You get hints of glam, Cheap Trick, a dash of punk, and a pinch of Judas Priest. Top it of with Christina Halladay’s awesome voice, and you’ve got one fun rock album. The songs are catchy and they remind you of the best tracks from the past without sounding like cheap ripoffs. It’s like the first time you heard The Darkness back in 2003.

Honorable Mentions of 2019

Before we get into my top favorites of the year, I’d like to mention some albums that are good in their own ways but didn’t quite make the cut. These are albums that represent some kind of special achievement, a better-than-expected comeback, or albums that impressed me in one way but weren’t really exceptional for one reason or another. Not much else to say beyond that, so on to the musics!

Equal Vision

AS CITIES BURN – SCREAM THROUGH THE WALLS–As Cities Burn finally give their fans the album they’ve been waiting 14 years for! No, I didn’t count wrong. Not only is this their first release in 10 years, but it’s the first since their 2005 debut to feature original vocalist TJ Bonnette. This reunion also brings harsh vocals back into the mix, but this isn’t just an attempt to recreate Son, I Loved You at Your Darkest. This album pulls inspiration from their entire catalog. The frantic, mathy hardcore of 2005 is traded for competent post-hardcore with mature, but distinctly As Cities Burn songwriting. Watch my full review here.

RCA

BACKSTREET BOYS – DNA–On their first album in six years, the Backstreet Boys actually try to bring their sound up to current trends. The result is better than you’d probably expect. I’m not saying it’s great, because there are some tracks here that sound incredibly dated and others that just plain aren’t that good. But a Backstreet Boys album in 2019 could have been a lot worse than this. Part of the reason I think it went this well is the group is talented enough vocally to apply themselves in a lot of different situations. It’s one of the reasons they’re one of the few bands from their era still releasing music as a group.

Darkroom/Interscope

BILLIE EILISH – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?–Billie Eilish has been getting a ton of hype this year and it will probably upset some people that this album is an honorable mention and not on my final year-end list. And look, I pretty much agree that she is a very exciting and promising voice for the future of pop music, especially considering she’s only 17. I think she has the potential to put out some really fantastic albums, but this just isn’t doing it for me like it is for other people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic debut for a young artist, but I think the best is yet to come from Billie Eilish. Watch my full review here.

Real World

THE GLOAMING – 3–The award for the prettiest album I’ve heard this year should probably go to this one. The Gloaming is an Irish folk band that tries to modernize the music by incorporating elements of contemporary classical, post-rock, and minimalism. The results aren’t necessarily ambient, but very beautiful and pensive tracks with sparse arrangements. Another carryover from post-rock is long songs with many on this album being over seven minutes, but none of them overstay their welcome. It’s an excellent album for both active listening and just playing in the background.

Decca

JEFF GOLDBLUM & THE MILDRED SNITZER ORCHESTRA – I SHOULDN’T BE TELLING YOU THIS–Jeff Goldblum continues his venture into the realm of jazz musicians with his second album, this one being a proper studio album. His backing band returns and the album features several guest vocalists, including Miley Cyrus, Sharon Van Etten, and Fiona Apple. Goldblum only offers his own voice to one track, deferring to his talented guests for most others. In a similar fashion, his piano playing is beyond competent, but he’s content to sit back in the mix and let other members of his band take the solos. There are a few clever mashups of pop lyrics with jazz instrumentals. The only thing missing is the banter with the audience and the guests like we got on The Capitol Studios Sessions. Read my full review here.

Thrill Jockey

MATMOS – PLASTIC ANNIVERSARY–Matmos, a group famous for building their songs from samples of everyday objects, turns their focus to plastic. Creating an entire album from plastic items is not only a creative challenge but an environmental message. At first, that might make this sound like a novelty record with a heavy-handed agenda, but the result is some truly impressive electronic music. Matmos effectively try their hand at various musical styles including IDM, industrial, and even Samba, all using items like vinyl records, silicone implants, billiard balls, and a riot shield. It’s very impressive for a group to continue challenging themselves like this so deep into their career and still turn out really compelling music. Watch my full review here.

Nuclear Blast

POSSESSED – REVELATIONS OF OBLIVION–And the winner of the band that waited the longest time between releases goes to the OG death metal band Possessed who put out Revelations of Oblivion thirty-two years after their last release of new material. Now, the only original member is vocalist Jeff Becerra (I know, I’m disappointed Larry LaLonde didn’t come back too), but he really does keep the original spirit of Possessed (hehe, spirit) alive in this new iteration. Usually, when a band comes back after an extended break the results leave a bit to be desired, but Revelations doesn’t suck, which is quite the accomplishment.

NPG/Warner Bros.

PRINCE – ORIGINALS–This is a collection of demos of songs that Prince wrote for other artists. If I’m perfectly honest, I wasn’t too familiar with many of these songs. And some of the ones I was familiar with, I didn’t know Prince wrote them (Manic Monday? Really?!!?). Even though these are demos, they are fully fleshed out performances of these songs, sometimes rivaling proper studio releases. Truly a testament to Prince’s perfectionism. I know you’re wondering, and yes, “Nothing Compares 2 U” is on here, and it’s just as amazing as you’re imagining. It’s just so interesting to hear how these songs were originally envisioned by their writer.

Starbomb

STARBOMB – THE TRYFORCE–Starbomb is a collaboration between comedy band Ninja Sex Party and YouTube gamer/artist Arin Hanson (a.k.a. Egoraptor). The collaboration is really not too surprising given that Danny from NSP is Arin’s co-host on the YouTube gaming channel Game Grumps. Starbomb’s sound takes the ’80s synth inspired sound of NSP and puts rapped lyrics about video games over it. The Tryforce is the group’s third (and possibly final) album and their best so far. The production has gotten better and so has their songwriting, which has transitioned from fitting as many dirty jokes as possible into a song to clever lyrics and wordplay. Comedy music is pretty niche already, making it all about video games narrows the demographic even more. But if you’re into either of those, you don’t want to miss this.

Spring Snow/Columbia

VAMPIRE WEEKEND – FATHER OF THE BRIDE–Six years after capping off a fantastic trilogy of albums with Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend return with their fourth album. Representing a bit of a stylistic shift for the band, the album pulls inspiration from genres like Americana and jam bands like Phish, but it still has a sound that is very distinctly Vampire Weekend. With only a couple exceptions, the compositions on this album are a bit more relaxed, but their lyrics are still just as dense as they’ve ever been. The album is a bit long and as such, there is some filler, but there are some real gems on here. “Harmony Hall” in particular is one of my favorite singles of the year. Watch my full review here.

COLDPLAY – EVERYDAY LIFE album review

COLDPLAY – EVERYDAY LIFE

Parlophone, 2019

Pop rock

Coldplay doesn’t really need an introduction. For a brief moment they were a cool band for hipsters, but almost overnight they were simultaneously global superstars and the butt of jokes. Even after the the bulk of the hype has died down, a new release from Coldplay is still a pretty big event in the music world. Every one of their albums so far has sold millions of copies worldwide. But in recent years the quality of their output has decreased a bit. And their last album was the first in 10 years to not reach #1 on the US charts (though it still reached a more than respectable #2).

Everyday Life is the band’s eighth album and their first double album, split into the halves Sunrise and Sunset. Despite being a double album, it’s not the band’s longest, coming in a few minutes short of A Rush of Blood to the Head and a full 10 minutes short of X&Y. While Everyday Life‘s 16 tracks could technically fit on one album, there is allegedly a line drawn between the themes of the two halves, but I’m not so sure that line is as bold as they think it is.

To use a cliche music journalism term, the production on Everyday Life is much more organic than Coldplay’s recent releases. There is considerably less electronic and disco influence on this album and some moments sound closer to their “classic” albums than they’ve been in years. But that doesn’t mean there’s no growth or experimentation. There are songs with influences from gospel, Middle Eastern, African, and even bluegrass music. Even songs without a clear musical influence have passages sung or recited in Arabic, French, Spanish, and the Igbo language of Nigeria. And just because the production is “organic” it doesn’t mean there aren’t big moments. A few songs have orchestration, but they aren’t as squeaky clean as songs on an album like Viva la Vida.

Lyrically the overall theme of the album is the shared struggles of all humanity and how love is the thing that can help us all endure. This is clearest on the track “Bani Adam” (which is printed in Arabic in the track listing and translates to “Children of Adam”) that takes its title from a poem by Saadi Shirazi. The track is essentially an instrumental interlude or extended intro for “Champion of the World,” but it has a recitation of the title poem, a sample of The Sun by John and Alice Coltrane, and a sample of a Nigerian gospel song. The theme of all three samples is that we are all God’s creation and of equal value.

Other issues that are specifically mentioned are the way black Americans are treated by law enforcement (“Trouble in Town”), absent parents (“Daddy”), America’s unhealthy obsession with guns (“Guns,” duh), and political unrest in the Middle East (“Orphans”). It’s also worth noting that this is the first album from Coldplay to contain explicit lyrics, dropping the fuck-bomb on “Arabesque” and “Guns” to emphasize the point of each song.

My main criticism with this album is a common one with most double albums, and it’s that there’s some stuff on here that doesn’t really need to be included. Namely the opening instrumental and “WOTW/POTP,” the latter of which is literally an unfinished sketch of a song. The lyric booklet actually reads “I haven’t finished this one yet.” There’s clearly an emotion being conveyed, and while that comes through in the demo, I’d rather have the finished product. Also, while it’s nice to see that a band as big as Coldplay is still willing to experiment, I do wish some of that experimentation went a little farther. Similarly, other people might wish they dug a little deeper with the political lyrics, but I personally think this is about as deep as we can expect a band on this level of international stardom to get.

Overall, Everyday Life brings some welcome changes for a fan of Coldplay’s “original trilogy.” Super clean production and collaborations with Beyonce and Rihanna are traded for a more organic sound and more cohesive lyrical themes. Experimentation with other sounds is welcome but could have gone further. The flow of the album is a little uneven, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. The biggest problem is that there really aren’t any tracks that stick with you quite like some of the classics.

3.5/5.0

Is JESUS IS KING Kanye’s SLOW TRAIN COMING?

This past weekend, Kanye West finally deemed his latest album fit for the ears of the general public. The not-so-subtly titled JESUS IS KING is Kanye’s first album after he professed a radical conversion to Christianity, features heavy gospel music influences, contains no foul language, and is even categorized as a Christian hip-hop album. Kanye isn’t the first musical artist to pivot so suddenly and completely to religious music, but he’s certainly one of the most prominent figures in American music to do so in recent years. And I can’t help but compare it to a similar conversion that happened 40 years ago.

In August of 1979 Bob Dylan released Slow Train Coming, the first album of what would come to be known as Dylan’s “Christian Era.” 17 years and 18 albums into his recording career, Dylan had established and re-established himself as one of the greatest songwriters in American history and indisputably as a key figure in American music. Slow Train Coming came after contact with the Vineyard Movement and a conversion to evangelical Christianity. The lyrics featured strong references to Dylan’s newfound faith and Christian philosophy. Obviously these sudden changes were polarizing and while the reception was mixed, reviews of the album were generally positive, citing Dylan’s conviction on the subject and its cohesiveness. Robert Christgau even said at the time that it was his best release since Blood on the Tracks.

At the start of this era Dylan stopped performing his previous secular material in favor of his new Christian songs. He would evangelize from the stage, especially when heckled, and there are even accounts of Dylan attempting to evangelize to producer Jerry Wexler during the recording of Slow Train Coming. This era brought another Christian album in 1980’s Saved, which was met with less critical acclaim. The final Christian release was 1981’s Shot of Love that contained a mixture of Christian and secular songs. This and the reintroduction of songs from the ’60s in live performances signaled Dylan’s movement away from a strictly religious approach to his music. 1983’s Infidels marked the official end of this period as it contained all secular material. In the years that followed, there have been hints here and there that Dylan hasn’t completely abandoned religion or at least a belief in God, but he hasn’t released any strictly Christian music.

Over the past 15 years Kanye West has proven to be one of the most talented, if not controversial figures in hip-hop music. Not only has he released genre-defining albums, but he’s proven that he’s not content to sit back on a formula that works and is willing to challenge himself and his fans. This has led to a variety of albums with varying quality, but there’s always been a sense that it was the album that Kanye wanted to make at that time. That sense is still present with JESUS IS KING. In fact, Kanye was so convicted about this album, that the previously announced Yandhi album was shelved or scrapped so JESUS IS KING could be made instead. So now I ask the question, is JESUS IS KING Kanye’s Slow Train Coming? Does this album mark the beginning of Kanye’s “Christian Era?”

The similarities between the two actually go beyond just the sudden pivot to more religious content. Kanye has spent the majority of 2019 holding “Sunday Services” where he performs covers of gospel songs and modified, gospel themed versions of his own material. He said in an interview that he almost quit making rap music because it’s “the devil’s music.” And there’s even claims that he requested that people involved in the production of JESUS IS KING who were not married abstain from sex during the course of the production. So here again we have a radical devotion to a newfound faith.

But when you bring the final product into the comparison, similarities begin to come fewer and farther between. The critical reception of JESUS IS KING has been mixed at best. It currently sits at a 48 on Metacritic (at the time of writing), which puts it in the lowest five scores for the year so far. The production is uneven with evidence of Kanye’s constant meddling throughout. And where Dylan was convicted in his new faith and shared the Gospel as he understood it, Kanye is more using his Christianity as a vehicle to call out his naysayers. One can only hope that if we get more albums out of this Christian era, that they increase in quality and content rather than decrease like they did with Dylan.

Kanye also has a history of being incredibly impulsive. That coupled with the uncertainty of the future makes the longevity of this Christian period a big, fat question mark. We have no way of knowing if Kanye is in this for the long haul or if this will just be a short detour like Dylan’s. And if I’m honest, I don’t think Kanye really knows either. What I do know is that, regardless of your opinions of it, religion can be a very helpful thing for some people. Kanye West is clearly a man with a lot of personal demons. I think we can endure some disappointing music if that’s the price we have to pay for someone to become a happier and healthier person. Personally, I’d like to see another attempt at a gospel rap album, one that’s more focused and thought out. I believe that Kanye certainly has the ability to create a great album in that style. But we won’t know until his next album gets announced and then delayed… and delayed again.

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – GHOSTEEN album review

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – GHOSTEEN

Ghosteen Ltd./Bad Seed Ltd., 2019

Alternative rock/Ambient

I really could not have asked for a better year to start reviewing music. Several artists have put out their best work so far, others have released comeback albums (some good, some bad), others still have released very impressive debuts, I’ve even had the delightful pleasure of ripping a few albums to shreds. And now, in addition to all that, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds release a new album. What a time to be alive.

Nick Cave is an Australian singer and songwriter who has been active for over 40 years. He started in a noisy garage rock band that eventually became the post-punk band The Birthday Party. After this band broke up in the mid-’80s, he formed the Bad Seeds, a band whose approach to Gothic rock is more Flannery O’Connor than Siouxsie Sioux. He has a penchant for writing 7 minute songs with graphic lyrics about love, death, and God, and he’s one of the most revered lyricists in rock music. Cave is an artist for fans who value songwriting. He’s almost universally loved by music nerds, similar to other songwriters like Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits.

Ghosteen is the seventeenth studio album released by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, and I’m honestly a little nervous to be reviewing it. I’ve joked on social media that I feel like my reputation as a music nerd and reviewer is on the line. Cave’s music is often met with critical acclaim, and before I ever had a chance to listen to Ghosteen, five publications had given it a perfect score. If I’m perfectly honest, I wasn’t very familiar with Cave’s music going into this. I always had a respect for it and knew a handful of songs, but never did a deep dive into the discography or any single album. So this review has a bit more research behind it than others.

Cave says that Ghosteen completes a trilogy started with 2013’s Push the Sky Away and 2016’s Skeleton Tree, but it pairs better stylistically with the latter. Cave’s teenage son tragically died while Skeleton Tree was being recorded, and many view the album’s stark, ambient, and experimental backing and its more abstract and poetic lyrics as reactionary and a catharsis for Cave in the wake of the tragedy. Ghosteen has similarly sparse and ambient instrumentals and poetic lyrics, but dissonance and the raw pain of loss are replaced with hope and beauty.

Long-time Bad Seed Warren Ellis works with Cave to craft ambient soundscapes with analog synthesizers at their foundation. These are frequently more inviting than those on Skeleton Tree, but no less somber. At times they even sound spacey, like the soundtrack to a sci-fi film from the ’70s. Little more makes up the instrumentals of this album; piano appears on several tracks and there’s an occasional flourish of strings.

Lyrically, Ghosteen again continues in a similar vein to Skeleton Tree. Where the majority of Cave’s lyrics in the past were more narrative, focusing on characters and the dark situations that develop them, his recent output has been comparatively more abstract, striking at an emotion rather than a story. The theme of Ghosteen again is grief, but instead of the raw and visceral reaction in the moment of tragedy as heard on Skeleton Tree, these are the songs of someone who has had a few years to process that grief. Many of the lyrics have to do with coming to terms with the reality of what has happened (“Sun Forest,” “Ghosteen,” and “Hollywood”) or the support one seeks and needs from loved ones in these moments (“Waiting for You” and “Leviathan”). There’s even a track where it appears the spirit of Cave’s son is speaking with him, reminding him that he is still with him in some way (“Ghosteen Speaks”).

Truly, one of the great triumphs of Ghosteen is the title track that opens the second part of the double album. It’s a 12 minute epic that effortlessly moves between synth-laden ambiance, piano balladry, and occasional hints of prog. Cave’s allegorical lyrics take you on a journey through the pain and grief and eventual acceptance in the aftermath of a great loss. It’s a great distillation of the emotions and themes of the tracks that came before.

My only criticism is that in the first couple spins of this album, the tracks “Ghosteen Speaks” and “Leviathan,” the closing moments of the first part, seemed weak in comparison to the rest of the album with the former’s ghostly wails and the latter’s repetitive refrain. However, further listening and analysis revealed the purpose for these decisions and the songs began to make more sense in the context of the album as a whole.

Scoring this album has been exceedingly difficult. On one hand, understanding the context and doing a proper deep dive into the album and its lyrics is very rewarding. It offers a beautiful and poignant expression of loss and grief in a way that only Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds can provide, and the experience is enhanced when it’s paired with Skeleton Tree. However not every listener is going to do the work required to see that. Despite all its beauty and craftsmanship, Ghosteen is not necessarily accessible or a joyful listen, and that might put some listeners off. There’s also no denying that, while it makes sense in the context of the album, “Leviathan” is the weakest track. None of this changes my opinion that Ghosteen is probably the closest thing to a perfect album that I’ve heard this year.

4.5/5.0