R&R:// Outrage! is Now by Death From Above 1979

TL;DR: Haiku Review:

“when i hear that sound, some high energy thrashing, I’m all out of rage.”

The Band:

For the uninitiated, DFA 1979 is just another great band hailing from Toronto, Canada.  (Canadian musicians are killing it right now.  Forget all of the Canadian jokes you’ve heard, they are our betters.  Get over it.)

Review:

Its not everyday that I get to dive into new music from one of my favorite bands doing it right now.  If you can catch these guys live, you really should.  With that obvious bias out-of-the-way, let’s get to Outrage! is Now.

Aside from the title itself, this album is not overtly political or preachy.  There are discernible themes, but importantly they are addressed subtly in the title track, and”Holy Books” to name a few.  There are hints of a particular (and let’s face it the right point of view) in “All I C Is U & Me” with references to undercover racists in the streets and other terrible things.  This is 2017 after all.

The first single “Freeze Me” has made the rounds on mainstream radio and you have probably heard it already.  It is catchy, but don’t let that one song define the album for you.  Most of the rest of the tracks are standouts in their own right.

DFA 1979 starts out with some hi-hat and a rhythmic bass riff on “Nomad.”  If a lot of post-punk bands use angular or staccato riffs to get crowds moving, DFA 1979 gives you pounding drums and da-da-da-dadada style looping bass lines.  It sounds simple, but the noise created is compelling and powerful.  “Caught Up” starts out slowly but eventually reaches a crescendo that is full of noise and fury, and it is another highlight

The title track’s chorus hits you hard and might be my favorite song on this album.  “Statutes” comes at you with distorted vocals and the familiar looping bass riffs with a much more experimental sound quality.  I also like the last track “Holy Books” because at times you can re-imagine it as a punk-rock anthem and then all of a sudden it drops into a short piano-aided bridge that sounds like it came straight out of Ok Computer.

I come around, when I hear that sound:

Yes, you should definitely stream/buy/borrow this album if you are into DFA 1979 or just good music in general.

 

 

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Indie Review: “Mechanics of Life” by Plastic Barricades

TL;DR Haiku Review:

“90’s influenced, but really in a good way, go out and get it”

The Band:

Today we have a review of the new album “Mechanics of Life” from the Plastic Barricades hailing from Europe (London via Estonia).  On their website, PB describes themselves as:

Romantic and honest, gloomy and curious, melodic and melancholic … Plastic Barricades chronicle life in the troubled yet fascinating XXI century with painstaking sincerity, asking questions and trying to find the answers.

 

Plastic Barricades
Pictured being romantic, honest, gloomy, curious, and melancholic (probably)

 

Well, I don’t know the band like all that, so I will just stick with what I know from listening through their new album that was released this week.

The Review:

At first blush, PB sounds familiar, but not consistently familiar.  What I mean is: you can hear  influences of different bands in different songs but it does not come off as trite or tired.  There will always be room in this world for more indie-rock and/or power-pop and PB mixes things up across the 11-track LP to keep the listener engaged.

The band specifically points to: “Radiohead, Oasis, Coldplay, Muse, Razorlight, Nirvana…” amongst other bands, as their list of influences.  To me, I don’t really hear much Nirvana, but I do hear hints of Phoenix and other danceable indie bands in tracks like “How Goldfish Grow.”

In other tracks, PB sounds like they would be at home in the late 90’s/early 2000’s indie-rock or emo scenes (see “Singularity 2045,” “Be the Change,” or “Needles in Haystacks”).  Still other times, I hear  mid-career Red Hot Chili Peppers (when they de-emphasized the funk), Blur, Bends-era Radiohead and maybe Oasis.

One of the standout tracks for me was “Our Favourite Delusions” because in my opinion it best captures the Plastic Barricade’s sound and gives subtle shout outs to their neo-90’s style.  (Also: honestly, I’m glad they don’t really sound like Coldplay because too many bands have tried to do that and it usually sounds inoffensive and bland.)

Outside of the obvious British comparisons because the vocalist sings with a U.K. accent, PB sounds more like a North American band like Fountains of Wayne (but not corny).   The tracks on “Mechanics of Life” themselves are well constructed and don’t sound overly produced.  “This album works for me because, the band ties their varied influences together to create a sound of their own.

Also, despite the band’s self-description on their website, PB doesn’t try to be too earnest or sincere.  The lyrics are also hazy enough to let the listener decide (which is what good art is supposed to do right?).  Overall, Plastic Barricades is a good listen if you are into power-pop or indie-rock or whatever other label you want to stick on them.

Would I Recommend this album?

I would definitely recommend downloading, streaming, or buying “Mechanics of Life.”  You can stream the new album: here.

Music video here.

P.S.

I only saw U.K. tour dates on their website, but I would be down to see these guys when they come stateside.

 

JAY-Z Goes Kanye

TL;DR Haiku Review:

“Hova airs issues, introspective at Kanye, that’d be so Kanye”

It isn’t worth going deep on what everybody has already said about Jay-Z’s new album: it’s personal, it’s arresting, and a revelation.  It’s not that I would disagree with those assessments.  Jay-Z, like many hip-hop artists of a certain vintage, have struggled with being honest and genuinely introspective.

Yes, Jay-Z already released introspective tracks with personal lyrics.  (See: the Blueprint I for a few examples).  Those tracks, while they cannot be discounted, were often undercut by the very next song.  That has been a consistent crticisim of mainstream hip-hop artists.

However, 4:44 is (ironically) more about Yeezy than Jay-Z.  If we are being honest, Jay’s later-career albums have been more about protecting a legacy, how great it is to be him specifically, being rich, and would these lesser rappers stop taking shots at the King.  This approach worked for radio play and for generating singles about how great Jay-Z is.

It took a true iconoclast like Kanye West to pull mainstream hip-hop out of the well-worn tropes that have characterized (and plagued) the genre (again focusing on the mainstream only) since the late 1990’s.  You know the tropes: (1) I’m rich, (2) I’m real (haven’t forgotten where I’ve come from), (3) I’m great (WAY better than the rappers that I passively aggressively reference), (4) “M.O.B.” etc.  And who else, besides Jay-Z, is a bigger symbol of mainstream hip-hop post 1997?

4:44 is leaner and  devoid of hooks or gimics.  I believe Jay’s relationship with Kanye has slowly changed his music for the better because it pushed him creatively.  (You can hear the beginnings of this with “Watch the Throne.” Jay-Z was outshined by Kanye, hands down, even if he did creep outside of his MC comfort zone more.) This slow evolution brings us to 2017 where Jay-Z is comfortable enough to move beyond his need to assure everyone that Jay-Z was beyond reproach.

Jay-Z may or may not admit it, but “4:44” probably wouldn’t be but for his relationship with Kanye.  Sure, they obviously have experienced a personal fall out.  Sure, a lot of that fall out can probably be attributed to Yeezy’s tortured genius.  Nevertheless, could anyone see “Kill Jay-Z” coming without Kanye?  Forget about the creative dissing of other rappers and Eric Benet, its Jay-Z’s metaphorical self-immolation on 4:44 that stands out.  Now, magazines and the internet are praising Jay for being real, for being honest, for being raw, for being self-aware.  If those writers were being honest, they are praising Jay for putting out a Kanye record.

What would I recommend?  I would defintely buy and/or stream this album.  Unlike some of Jay-Z’s more recent solo work, this album will stick to your ribs.

 

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.