Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sheezus- Lily Allen


Lily Allen's return to the world of music has been a long awaited one for me. I was a huge fan of her ska pop debut Alright, Still. The wit and personality she brought to that album was amazing, and the characters and situations she conveyed were entirely real and relate-able. It's Not Me, It's You distanced itself from the ska sound that was part of her first album, and delved more into the pop vein, but still retained Lily's razor sharp wit and unfiltered personality. Her personality and willingness to say whatever she feels needs to be said is really what separates her from her peers (What am I saying? In the world of female pop singers, she has no peers). Where others might be concerned with offending someone, Lily Allen is frank and honest; I may not always agree with her, but I can respect that she is not willing to sit back and agree and not disagree for fear of offending someone. For example, one thing I can't agree with is that Sheezus is "rubbish".

The self titled opening track is an amazing album opener, as well as one of the album's strongest songs. She portrays a power hungry pop diva bent on destroying her competition, with an amazingly creepy beat and atmosphere surrounding it all (that video is pure nightmare fuel in some spots). Clearly tongue in cheek, a technique Lily Allen has mastered on this album. After the opener, L8 CMMR expands Lily's story, and is an ode to her husband. After that, I have to admit, the album starts to slow down a little bit. This is more a fault of the sequencing of the album more than anything. The album starts to drift a little too far into the pop direction near the middle of the album, and I feel that breaking up these songs could have easily fixed this. However, the songs here are brilliant, especially 'Close Your Eyes', and the weird carnival sound/ New Orleans feel of 'As Long As I Got You'. I feel like the only weak song in this section is 'Air Balloon'. It may have been just too poppy for me.

After this section of the album, 'URL Badman' puts things back into high gear. This brostep infused attack on the internet culture of tearing other people down may be my favorite song on the album. And yes, the irony of me commenting on a song with this subject matter while reviewing her album is not lost on me. From here on out, the album is gold. Lily Allen really gets back to what she's great at here: social commentary and character assassination. The album ends with the beautiful closer 'Somewhere Only We Know'.

All in all, this is a triumphant return to music for Lilly Allen. The album may be a little uneven, but mainly due to the album's sequencing. The songs on it are, for the most part, what we've come to expect from Lily: great, witty pop songs that make you think.

Out of a total of five stars, I give this:



Check back in a few days when I look at Santana's newest effort, Coraz√≥n.



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Close (Enough To Kiss)- Kigo



As someone who was born at the height of the shoegaze movement, it's perfectly understandable that I was completely unaware of it for a long time. Shoegaze was only in the popular consciousness for a brief time, but when I discovered it years after its heyday, it had my attention. Its aesthetic of walls of guitar distortion, unintelligible vocal melodies, and strangely relaxing mood instantly drew me in, with My Bloody Valentine and Lush quickly becoming my favorites in the genre. What does this have to do with Kigo, you might ask? Well, Kigo, project of Brsibaine musician Dwanye Pearce, is one of a handful of bands looking to bring back the shoegaze sound, and definitely makes a great case for it.

Kigo had an ultra productive 2013, with multiple EPs culminating in the shoegaze epic So Lost Now. Pearce looks to further this string of releases with Close (Enough To Kiss), a new 4 song EP, which, along with his other releases, is name your price on Bandcamp. From the first note, waves of melodic distortion engulf every sense. Shoegaze for me is definitely a headphone only musical experience. The rich sounds and the contours of the vocal melodies have the tendency to put one in a meditative state bordering on trance-like. The vocal effects on Pearce's voice on 'No, Not Ever' add to the vibe. At first, I thought I was hearing things that weren't there, but after a few listens I was right. You hear new things every time you listen. Every little melodic snippet pulled from the sea of distortion is well worth it. This is as much a record to turn off your mind and drift along with as it is a record to listen to intently, delve deep into the mix, and figure out what makes these songs tick. Kigo is definitely in the vintage shoegaze genre, but maybe a little too much. While I love the record and every other Pearce has released, I can't help but feel that he has been treading the same ground Kevin Shields did over 20 years ago. In spite of my feelings on its originality, Close (Enough To Kiss) is a great effort and a must listen for any shoegaze fan looking for some new music.



Out of a total of five stars, I give this:



In the coming days, I'll take a look at Lily Allen's return to music, Sheezus.



"Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Death III- Death


Death is a band with an interesting story. A Detroit group, they were denied record deals left and right due to their name, an attempt to inject some positivity into the word death. Probably wasn't going to happen, but their music was great enough to deserve a record deal, as their now resurfacing demos show. For The Whole World To See was my first glimpse into the world of Death, along with their excellent documentary, A Band Called Death. Though often labeled protopunk, and being in the right time period, and the right name, Death had its harder elements and a frenetic pace to their music, but also knew when to slow things up.

Death III is the third archival release of the band's demos, but delves into the lighter side of Death to a greater degree than For The Whole World To See. Their lighter side is definitely fully realized on their songs 'We Are Only People' and 'We're Gonna Make It', among others. That is not to say that some songs still don't rock. The Hackney Brothers were also very talented musicians, as their demos continue to show.

This album is not without a few low points. The sound does tend to sag a bit, mainly because of the album sequencing. I feel like if the slower songs were broken up with more frequency by the faster ones, it might vary the mood a bit. Also, the song 'Open Road', though an interesting attempt at some odd time signature and rhythm changes, comes off a little awkardly.

All in all, this is a solid document that gives the listener a better portrait of Death. It's hard to be too hard on it, mainly because they were demos after all, and the material here is of much more quality than the uneven Spiritual Mental Physical. It's worth a listen, and is further exploration into a much overlooked group, but For The Whole World To See is still their crowning achievement in my opinion.

Out of a total of five stars, I give this:



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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Honest- Future















To be perfectly honest, I don't even know where to begin with this album. I hope I'm not shattering anybody's world view here, but Future is terrible. He talks (I can't really say raps or sings) about the same old cliches, and yet manages to do it with little to no skill. His flow, if you can call it that, is most of the time some prepubescent yelping, and the subject matter somehow is even offensive by rap standards (or do I need to remind everyone of the 'Karate Chop' incident last year? Granted Lil Wayne said the line in question, but when it's on your album, you can accept some responsibility. Obviously, you thought the line was genius). To top it all off, he filters his repugnant non-rhymes through the worst sort of Auto-Tune I have ever heard. I might actually have to agree with T-Payne of all people that Future doesn't know how to use Auto-Tune. That warbling, constantly off key, malfunctioning robot sound does not give Future a personality. In fact, if another talentless hack like 2 Chainz got filtered through Auto-Tune, you couldn't tell the difference. The fact that you've never heard his voice unfiltered speaks to the probability that Future himself has nothing to offer.

That is not to say T-Payne is an example of voice effects done right. Look to the Bon Iver track 'Woods' for that. I honestly have no idea why Future angers me so much. It's probably that people, even paid critics, think this lazy, annoyingly bad sound is good. Seeing praise for this album makes the bile rise in my throat. And I haven't even got to the individual songs on this sorry excuse for an album. I already said all that needs to be said on 'Karate Chop', which is included here as a bonus track. His terrible yelping flow, along with bragging about paying a quarter of a million dollars for a hand job is fully displayed on the aptly named "Sh!T". Sums up the whole album, really. The fact that you're a famous rapper who needs to pay some one 250k to touch you is not something to brag about. It means you're pathetic.

His attempts at R&B fall flat, mainly because he can't carry a note, even with Auto-Tune. I'd rather hear Ol' Dirty Bastard sing. And the plethora of guest verses only reinforce how bad Future is by comparison. When Wiz Khalifa is rapping circles around you, it's time to hang it up. While we're on 'My Momma', since when is screaming one sentence repeatedly acceptable as a chorus? Did I miss that memo? It may even be possible that Future is actively sapping the likeability of other artists too. Pusha T's nose pun was cringe worthy, and Pharrell here was terrible. You don't have to rhyme racial slurs with themselves multiple times. We get it. You're black. You're just looking for something to fill up space because you ran out of things to say in the first two bars.

Maybe I'm being too hard on this. But honestly, I can't seem to find a redeemable quality in this mess. I'm not going to pull a Pitchfork and try to extract some meaning that clearly doesn't exist. That would involve giving Future some credit, and assuming he didn't just slam his hand in a door, yelp obscenities, Auto-Tune it, and release it as an album.

I can't even be bothered to rate this. Though, honestly, you need to hear this. Know your enemy.

Check back later when I review the much better Death III. Haven't heard a note of it yet, but there's nowhere to go but up from here.



"Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Homo Erraticus- Ian Anderson



You know what's been missing in music recently? A concept. A few days ago, as I often do, I was hit by a craving for the intellectual lyricism, technical complexity, and just straight up pretension of progressive rock. This genre, along with a few others, just resonates with me the way other music doesn't. In my listening, I got into a Jethro Tull kick. For the uninitiated, Jethro Tull's music is a little difficult to classify. Celtic folk meets flute infused progressive hard rock meets chamber music? It's not right, but close. Either way, there is no other band like Jethro Tull, except for the solo career of their front man and main song smith, Ian Anderson.

Gerald-Bostock-TAAB-742x1024
The fictional Gerald Bostock
My favorite album by Jethro Tull is most likely their 1972 magnum opus, Thick as a Brick. I discovered it among my dad's old records, and spent countless hours soaking it in, reading the album's liner notes/ fictional newspaper, and wishing I could play a flute solo that bad ass. Thick as a Brick, a critique of the concept album, is actually one of the best iterations of the format; the lyrics supposedly came from a little boy named Gerald Bostock, whose poem, Thick as a Brick, won a local literary award, but was quickly rescinded due to public outrage about its objectionable content and Bostock's mental instability. In actuality, Ian Anderson wrote every word, but the fictional story made for an amazing concept.

You're probably asking, "what does this have to do with the new album?' Well, this album is actually a loose sequel to Thick as a Brick. Actually, it is a second sequel, with Thick as a Brick 2 being released in 2012, which chronicled the many possible trajectories of Bostock's life. This sequel has a much more complex, but incredibly more interesting premise. After retiring from his career as a politician, the now grown Gerald Bostock wishes to return to writing. After he discovers an unpublished manuscript from a historian from the '20s, he decides to adapt his strange work into lyrics for an album.
The work of this historian was brought on by a malarial fever dream, in which he remembered his past lives, and caught glimpses of the future. He then recorded the experience of his delirium into the manuscript that Bostock discovered years later. Now that's a concept. I haven't even gotten to the music.

Ian Anderson

From the first notes of the intro to the album, 'Doggerland', I knew this album was going to be amazing. Anderson's unique blend of traditional chamber music and folk with his flute virtuosity and progressive rock leanings make for a refreshingly unique and amazing experience. Fans of Jethro Tull will rejoice. The sound of this album is a little more simple compared to some of Tull's more complex pieces, but I feel that this puts more focus on the lyrics, which is definitely to this alum's benefit, as the lyrics are a masterful blend of depth, historical commentary, and witty humor (was that a Walking Dead reference on 'Enter the Uninvited'?) This album traces the course of human history and also warns the listener of the problems the future may hold, such as the rapid urbanization depicted in 'The Browning of the Green'.

This album just did it for me. It is a worthy successor to Thick as a Brick, probably to a greater degree than the previous sequel. Its lofty concept, instrumentation, and powerfully crafted lyrics are so refreshing in the days where you have to dig pretty deep to find some quality music. I'll definitely be listening to this one for a long time. Well done, Little Milton. Your return to writing did not disappoint.

Out of a possible 5 stars, I give this:



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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My Top 5 Most Anticipated Albums for Later in 2014

I'm pretty excited about some releases coming out later in the year, and I thought I might share some of my excitement, so I just put a list together of my top 5 most anticipated albums for this year, or the remainder of it.

Check back later in the week for my opinion on Ian Anderson's Homo Erraticus, as well as the new effort by Future, Honest.


Honorable Mentions

Fleet Foxes (TBA)
I would have felt bad putting this on the list, simply because I have no idea if anything is happening with this record. I only have two Facebook pictures to go on from almost a year ago, but I can hope. If anything concrete comes to light, this would shoot straight to number 1.






Beck (TBA)
Also a bit tentative at this point, but a guy can hope. Beck had stated earlier that he may be releasing two albums this year, one acoustic and one a proper follow up to Modern Guilt. There has also been talk of a recording of Song Reader. Anything Beck releases will be sure to have my ears.




5) Death- Death III (4/22)
The third installment by this '70s Detroit proto-punk band is to be released, and with the stuff I've already heard, as well as their great film, I'm surprised it took so long for this material to see a release. The fact that they could not hold onto a contract because of their name simply continues to baffle me, especially because in the mean time, we've gotten so many bands with much more offensive band names.






4) Lily Allen- Sheezus (5/5)
It's been a while since we've heard from Lily Allen. Following her extended hiatus, Allen is set to release her third full length LP. For me, I hope she can bring back some of that ska sound that was on her debut, but I know the witty sarcasm will be there regardless.








3) Spanish Gold- South of Nowhere (5/27)
I'm pretty excited for the side project of My Morning Jacket drummer, Patrick Hallahan. I hope for some sick jams, and some powerful drums. I'm pretty sure they will be able to deliver on both counts. I hope this album will be something to tide me over until My Morning Jacket gets back in the studio. 




2) Jack White- Lazaretto (6/10)

Following the success of Blunderbuss, Jack White is set to make his return soon. I'm hoping for some blues rock with plenty of weirdness. I doubt I'll be disappointed. I'm also excited for some new face melting Jack White guitar freak outs.





1) Various Artists- The New Basement Tapes (Fall)
My most anticipated album by far. This project is a collaboration between the likes of Elvis Costello, Jim James, Marcus Mumford and others, with the lyrics being provided by Bob Dylan's stay at Big Pink. Bob Dylan is one of my all time favorite lyricists, and the music that came of the original Basement Tapes sessions was amazing, and was powerful enough to launch the Band. Only with Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan are tons of musicians willing to record the scraps they left on the cutting room floor.













"Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."