The West Coast Revival Continues with DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar

TL; DR Haiku Review:

The West Coast is back, the LA-T-L-ien, the best rapper alive?

It isn’t every day that a hip-hop artist can follow up a near universally praised album like “To Pimp a Butterfly” with an album as good as DAMN.  I don’t buy the sophomore slump idea, but it is almost impossible to satisfy the hype and expectations that come with following an instant classic.  (I’m not counting the Untitled/Unmastered EP because it wasn’t a full-blown follow-up album)

Sit Down:

DAMN. finds Kendrick rapping furiously over understated beats and with choruses lacking hooks.  Like Nas, Kendrick doesn’t need a catchy chorus to get on the charts.  The more I think about it, the more I think people can classify Kendrick’s music as “thinking man’s hip hop” because it is introspective, honest, raw, and doesn’t feel produced or ghost written.  This is a major label release that sounds like something your favorite underground rapper put out.

Beyond that, I really appreciate all of the influences that make up DAMN.  The tracks bound with creativity and I hear Andre 3000 and mid-career Outkast, amongst other influences (for example see: Feel, Lust, XXX, Fear).  To be clear, I’m not saying that Kendrick is ripping anyone else off, I just love hearing the mix of influences that have been made into something fresh and new.

No doubt this is a must buy, download, or stream.

About that other thing:

In my opinion, forget about the comparisons or competition with Drake.  Forget about feuds, battles, cameos, singles, downloads, and sales figures.  I could care less about which artist said what about whom, but there really is no comparison between the two artists.  Drake might be more commercially marketable and palatable, but his music just isn’t as good.  Note: I don’t hate Drake, I just find most of his music to be catchy-yet-forgettable.

Drake had a moment when he released an introspective mixtape in his very early 20’s.  Since that time, he has achieved quite a bit commercially, but that doesn’t mean anything about his music itself.  Drake has a schtick, and he’s good at it.  Kendrick is more like Lil’ Wayne in that he is riding a wave of creativity that also leads to commercial success.  And just like Weezy could do no wrong in the mid-to-late 2000’s,  Kendrick can wear the ever-shifting “best rapper alive” title…for now.  Who knows?  Maybe Jay Electronica will finally drop his long awaited album and shake things up?

Better Late Than Never: 22, A Million by Bon Iver

TL;DR Haiku Review:

“Kanye influenced, it might be the best last year, it’s in the layers”

It might be over soon“:

Released late last year (2016), Bon Iver’s latest album 22, A Million deserves more than a passing listen.  Apparently, the tracks were recorded over a five-year period, which makes the achievement of putting together a combination of songs together that feel like they could have been written during a single moment impressive.

What strikes me about this album is that after a few listens (it is only 34 minutes from end-to-end) is the emotional force the songs have.  Yes, this album has been described as “stripped down” but I would caution against conflating sparse instrumentation with stripping down a song because it gives short shrift to the detailed layers in this album.

Bon Iver AKA Justin Vernon, with clear influence from his work with the great Kanye West, creates grandiose song arrangements by layering vocals, using auto-tune, and other sounds to create emotionally complex results.  (Note: There is a good way to use Auto-Tune despite all of the awful evidence to the contrary.  Kanye’s 808’s and Heartbreak and Bon Iver’s “Lost in the Woods” are prime examples).  Look no further than “22 (OVER SooN),” “8(circle),” or “666” for evidence of the Yeezus influence.  As much as I know some people hate Kanye, I don’t.  I can’t comment on what it’s like to hang out with him, but there is no doubt that he is supremely gifted at creating music.  Kanye’s influence only adds to the growth of Vernon’s music on this album.  If I am being honest, s

And here, Kanye’s influence only adds to the growth of Vernon’s music.  If I am being honest, some of the songs on Bon Iver’s previous albums had to be skipped because they were boring.  That isn’t a problem with 22, A Million.  If anything, this album leaves the listener wanting more.

What I have and haven’t held“:

One of the stand-out tracks on this album deserves its own separate discussion. In my opinion, you will be hard-pressed to find a better song than “8(circle).”  The horn arrangements complement the vocal layers and the simple beat until about three minutes into the song.  As the song progresses, it amplifies and jumps into a fantastic vocal layer bridge before reaching a climax at the end.  It’s a perfect example of how a song should be arranged and how to use vocals as more than just part of a song.  I can’t lie, I am envious and jealous because I could not do this myself.

No that’s not how that’s supposed to feel

I cannot imagine my feelings on this album have been left unclear.  Yes, this is one of the best albums of 2016 (might be my personal favorite) and everyone should try it.  This is no genre-record, so you don’t have to be any kind of specific fan to enjoy this music.  That’s what makes it great, it is unique in sound, but creates a universally relatable emotional appeal.  I’m upset at myself for missing Bon Iver in Northern California recently.

 

 

Thundercat Ho: Drunk

Drunk by Thundercat:

TL;DR Haiku Review:

Stream of consciousness; Michael McDonald, Kendrick? full of surprises

Make sure you have the right Jordans on:

First of all, we need to dispense with preconceived notions when an album features the great Kendrick Lamar along with Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald without a hint of irony.

Yes, that Michael McDonald croons like only he can on “Show you the Way” with Kenny Loggins like something you might remember from your mom’s minivan in the late 80’s or early 90’s.

This album is not really R&B, soul, funk, experimental or indie dance-pop, it is all of those things.  I think it is important not to limit ourselves with facile comparisons just because Thundercat has worked with hip-hop artists and features unique beats (like “Uh Uh” for example).   This album is not musically akin to artists like Kid Cudi or 88 Keys but more like if Andre 3000 recorded an indie album.  Actually, a lot of tracks of this album (see “Bus in These Streets” or “A Fan’s Mail”) would not sound out of place on a Phoenix or Of Montreal album for that matter.

Almost forgot:  “Walk on By” is a throwback styled slow jam that features Kendrick Lamar.  And like almost everything he touches these days, it is terrific.

Bittersweet Memories Cloud My Faded Mind:

For me, there is only one drawback to this album.  I like to imagine that a lot of these tracks started with Thundercat going stream-of-consciousness with a keyboard.  That approach really works for most of the songs on this album, but on others, I get the feeling that the lyrical content is not always as strong as the music and even the lyrical delivery.  I hate to knock creativity and I really do like this album, but with 23 tracks on one album, there are bound to be hits and misses.  (looking at you Wiz Khalifa)

Download it? Stream it?

I’d say download it, drunk or otherwise.  Sure you might hear a lot of it on Adult Swim (just a guess) but I think you can’t really go wrong with Thundercat.

 

 

Indie Review: R.I.P. by Threatpoint

TL;DR Haiku Review:

“Not a metal fan, but I got into this band, you should download it”

The first submission I have received is: RIP by Threatpoint.

Disclaimer: This is not a PR puff piece.  I agreed to review Threatpoint but I was not  compensated in any way for doing so.

First a Little Background Directly From the Band:

Threatpoint is a groove metal band based out of Scranton Pennsylvania. Formed in early 2012 from the demise of other bands that shared the stage many times over. Fast forward 2016, with two full length albums and hundreds of shows across the United States, founding members Chris James (vocals) CJ Krukowski (drums) and Alex Olivetti (guitar) have kept the fire burning alive and well.

Rounding out the bands current lineup is Matthew Van Fleet (bass). Together now stronger than ever, the five have recorded their third full length album and a bonus 8 song acoustic album as well.

Tastefully drawing from a diverse spectrum of influences, all five of the members have strong writing skills and creative input. You will hear remnants of Classic Rock, Power Metal, Thrash Metal and straight up driving Hard Rock. On an occasion you can find a sprinkle of Death Metal and European influence within their musical smorgasbord.

Still searching for a label to extend their helping hand Threatpoint drives on full speed ahead on their own strength and dollar flooding the underground music scene.”

Review:

No sense in sugar coating it, I have a serious blind spot when it comes to metal.  I have a hard time taking it seriously because a lot of bands sound like what a low budget horror movie looks like.  Not to say that there aren’t things to like about the many -metal genres, but I am usually turned off by the campiness of the whole thing.

That being said, I took time to review this album to get beyond whatever inate bias I might have against this “groove metal” band.  I am glad I listened through and took a few days off before trying again because Threatpoint really grew on me.

What I liked:

I assumed that the “groove” in groove-metal meant that this band has a lot of musical meat on its bones, and that assumption proved true.  What I like about this album is that you can hear elements of hard-core punk, metal, and other aggressive/loud/fast genres but that those things never become distracting.  The contrasts in “Bury the Wicked” are certainly a highlight on this album.  The music is well done and also, I have to say that I appreciate the band’s use of introspective lyrics.

What I didn’t like:

I don’t really have much to complain about with this album.  I don’t think I will ever be really into the metal growl vocals.  To Threatpoint’s credit, it is a subdued part of their sound and didn’t bother me.

Should you Download it?

After several listen throughs, I would defintely recommend adding Threatpoint to your music library.  RIP is a very solid independent release and, you don’t have to be really into metal to appreciate it.

Show Threatpoint some love.

 

Via Bandcamp: the Menzingers “After the Party”

TL;DR Haiku:

“New Jersey emo, they don’t sound like Bruce Springsteen, a solid album”

Look what has come around again:

The Menzingers just released a new album and it will probably sound somewhat familiar to you, not that there is anything wrong with that.  The Menzingers give me an aural-recall to early-Aughts emo bands like Further Seems Forever (with the original line-up) and countless others from the late 90’s through 2000-something.

Personally, in the choruses especially, I also hear some early Jimmy Eat World.  I don’t get the Bruce Springsteen comps that I have seen thrown around, but I imagine that comp is pushed on every band from New Jersey at least once.ersonally, in the choruses especially, I also hear some early Jimmy Eat World.  I don’t get the Bruce Springsteen comps that I have seen thrown around, but I imagine that comp is pushed on every band from New Jersey at least once.

While the Menzingers don’t do anything to change your life, most bands don’t either, so don’t be such a music-snob for once, Straw Man.  The songs on this album are upbeat (at least musically), well produced, and catchy.  I dare you not to like these songs almost immediately.  It’s a well put together album and I can see why this band is getting some recent buzz with this release.   I’ll be interested to see what kind of staying power they have in my personal rotation after several listens.

For $8 for a digital copy of “After the Party” on Bandcamp:https://themenzingers.bandcamp.com/album/after-the-party, I’d say do it.

https://themenzingers.bandcamp.com/album/after-the-party, I’d say do it.

 

 

 

Focus Grouping with AFI

TL;DR Summary Haiku:

“AFI album, it’s boring and uninspired, I would not buy it”

The first review up is AFI’s “Blood Album” which is great because I am nothing if not an AFI apologist.  And let me say, they have made it almost impossible to defend this album with my usual: “it’s just different” refrain.  I don’t like to be negative and I would rather be constructive…but, it is really hard with this album.  I don’t expect bands to stay the same forever and I don’t mind when they change their sound.  This is different.

This album feels like AFI’s record label put a cross-section of their fans in a room with a one-way mirror and asked them to describe what they would want in a new AFI album.  This album sounds like a band that is trying to check off every box to please the different “generations” of fans but accomplishes nothing because they put every piece of fruit they have into the blender and produced a tasteless mess.

You hear classic AFI in some tracks with the chanting, the choruses, and the background vocals.  The difference here is that it sounds like a cover band without the intensity, without the fire inside (see what I did there?).  You also hear some pop, synth-pop,  pop-punk and, whatever other genres you can throw at me.  And, whatever, I’m fine with that in theory.  They don’t have to remake Black Sails just to be great again.

Honestly, there is probably a good EP in here somewhere because the music is not as bad as the execution.  The problem for me is, the tracks aren’t universally bad, they are just boring.  Oh, and it is time to talk about the Davey Havok in the room.

It’s not the music, it’s the songs.  I don’t usually get caught up in what the lyrics mean but it is another thing to be constantly distracted by bad poetry.  How many times can you repeat “strange” or “stranger” in a song without annoying the listener?  How many times can you sing “white offerings” before it gets old?  How can a band mature in reverse with the content?  Davey annoys with aplomb on this album, and this is coming from an avid AFI fan.  (I still have my limited edition turn of the century AFI vans).

So would I buy this album? Stream it? Avoid it at all costs?  Check them out on tour first?

I would stream it a few times more.  Maybe it will grow on me (says the apologist).