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Last Active 12-13-17 5:18 pm
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Average Rating: 3.71
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5.0 classic
Aesop Rock Labor Days
Agalloch Marrow of the Spirit
After what was their most accessible album and a great record in its own right in Ashes Against The Grain, Agalloch had ran the gamut in terms of their known playing styles in their career. Where else to go? Regarding this, the band turned to the best of each of their previous styles and combined them into one captivating album, and in doing so made a career-defining and career-encompassing statement simultaneously with Marrow Of The Spirit. Though they do most certainly take pieces from their old styles, it would be misinforming to say that the record is a simple hodge-podge of the past. No, the album contains some of, if not the best songwriting in their discography, and no other album in their discography is as emotionally stunning and gratifying on a first listen. This isn't Agalloch fitting themselves into a niche; this is Agalloch being everything they are and were, with all the passion in their souls and some added experimental flair for good measure. Happy to say this was the album that brought me into the new year.
Amebix Arise!
American Football American Football
American Football, for all intents and purposes, is a "cult band", a band which is heavily influential to their respective genre despite only hanging around long enough to release one or two things. American Football undoubtedly had a huge influence on emo and math rock, and their self-titled proves why. From the unmistakeable classic opener known as "Never Meant", to the wonderfully written "Stay Home", American Football is an exercise in emotion and nostalgia. Even the two instrumental tracks, "You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon" and "The One With The Wurlitzer" are emotionally poignant, and that is without Mike Kinsella's angelical voice. The trademark twinkly guitar sound is likely the best we'll ever hear from any band, and the drumming is stellar as well as fun. For every time you have ever reminisced about your past, American Football has created the soundtrack, one that would serve to cement the legacy of the man (rather, the legend) himself, Mike Kinsella.
Atmosphere Overcast! EP
August Burns Red Messengers
August Burns Red Constellations
Here is where the Pennsylvania quintet really started to distance themselves from the rest of modern metalcore scene. While Messengers does have an extreme amount of sentimental value to me, Constellations is objectively a better album. The album does have the technical, fast-paced riffage that August Burns Red is known for with songs such as "Thirty and Seven", "The Escape Artist", and "Meddler", but where the album really shines is the experimentation. Songs like "White Washed" and "Marianas Trench" employ fantastic build-ups not usually seen in metalcore, while other songs have nice acoustic/ambient breaks that provide a rest from the hectic atmosphere. Where the experimentation really comes to a head is "Meridian", a chilling track bordering on post-metal. If there is a better mainstream modern metalcore album, I have yet to hear it.
Avenged Sevenfold Waking the Fallen
People throw the word "sell-out" around a lot these days, but most of that is bull. It's not selling out if the band makes some money and is played on the radio. Selling out is when a band changes their style to get more money and exposure. Before Avenged Sevenfold sold out (Which only worked on "City of Evil"), they made what has to be a metalcore classic. The atmosphere on it is so dark, sometimes in a depressing way ("I won't see you tonight Part 1"), or in an urgent and passionate way ("Second Heartbeat"). Jimmy Sullivan's drumming is fantastic, and the dueling guitars are excellent. Shadows' vocals are decent; singing clean is his strongest point. The songs seem to take on a life of their own in the bleak, black void that is the atmosphere. It's great, and looking at Avenged Sevenfold now, they needed this album.
Blessthefall His Last Walk
Bob Marley and The Wailers Exodus
Being politically active as a musician can be dangerous, as Bob Marley and his wife Rita would find out after being shot at in December of 1976. As a result of this attempt on his life, Bob was exiled to the U.K. under protection, and it was in London where he recorded Exodus, his most revered album. Though Natty Dread changed the way reggae was played, namely, from a bare-bones style to a style rich with instrumentation and backing vocals, Exodus is arguably the better album. Each song has its own clear identity while also being firmly rooted in the familiar aspects of the genre. It also helps that the instrumentation, lyrics, and especially the backing vocals are wonderful, as well as the stoned and peaceful atmosphere. As such, each song is phenomenal, but the closing trio of "Turn Your Lights Down Low", "Three Little Birds", and "One Love/People Get Ready" is absolutely legendary. Truly, then, Exodus is another masterwork of reggae from Marley, being the culmination of everything Natty Dread set into motion.
Bob Marley and The Wailers Natty Dread
It is fitting that this album opens with a song titled "Lively Up Yourself". Everything The Wailers have done, from the old ska gospel days up until Catch A Fire had consisted of a sparse but effective formula. The music was simple, there weren't very many instruments, and variety wasn't exactly the strongest card they played. On Natty Dread, though, improvements are made that take them to new heights. For one, there are more instruments, such as horns and harmonicas and they are used with frequency. This helps the music have a much needed variety that a lot of their previous work lacked. Female back-up singers accent Marley's unmistakable voice, and there just seems to be a whole lot more going on with this record than ever before in the discography. Therefore, some of the best songs The Wailers ever crafted appear here, such as "No Woman, No Cry", "Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)", "Talkin' Blues", and "Revolution". Truly a masterwork of reggae, Natty Dread cannot be missed by any fans of the genre, or fans of smooth, laid-back music altogether.
Botch American Nervoso
Botch We Are the Romans
Burial Untrue
Charles Mingus The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
Converge When Forever Comes Crashing
This really is Converge's forgotten masterpiece. It may be their most varied release, and while certain songs like "The Lowest Common Denominator" and "Ten Cents" initially seem very strange for a Converge album, they're actually some of the most unique pieces they've ever made. "Conduit", as it stands for me right now, is the greatest metalcore song ever written. Literally everything you could want in a metalcore song is found there and done to absolute, stunning perfection. And it may be a hardcore album, but make no mistake: this is as metal as hardcore gets. The record, through the atmosphere and lyrics, reeks of paranoid anxiety and unstableness, and the music, while incredible, reflects that notion by sounding as if it's ready to fall apart into unbridled chaos at any moment. I know Jane Doe is seen as an angry album, but there are some frighteningly angry moments on here, too, as opener "My Unsaid Everything" and the terrifying "The Lowest Common Denominator" will so gladly show you. And yet, their most beautiful sounding song in their discography is on this record too in the form of the acoustic "Ten Cents". I remember watching an interview with Kurt Ballou in which he said that Jane Doe was the first Converge album he was truly 100% proud of. That man is a extreme perfectionist if that is the case, and I don't think he gives himself enough credit for the songwriting he did on this record. Because, in all honesty, I'd be very proud if I was the creative force behind a masterwork of hardcore such as this.
Converge Jane Doe
Converge You Fail Me
I feel as if there is nothing left to say about Converge. Everything they've done has been documented, explained, reviewed, and loved to high heaven. So all I really have to say is this: I love Converge, and I love You Fail Me. When I listen to it I somehow feel any troubles I may have fade in to the background. And that, at least for me, is the purpose, the reason, the trophy, and the meaning.
Converge Axe to Fall
I know it's cliche to start a Converge soundoff mentioning Jane Doe, but bear with me. From a purely emotional standpoint, Jane Doe is far and away Converge's best album. But from a songwriting standpoint, I think that honor goes to Axe To Fall. This is because on it Converge mixes intense, technical hardcore with dirty sludge metal, soul-crushing post-metal, and even some thrash metal. The band manages to perform each of these styles as if they'd been doing them since they were born, and are helped along by the incredible production that gives a nice full feeling to the album. If I've ever had any criticisms of Converge albums, it's that sometimes they don't flow as well they could've, and that was an issue for every album of theirs (sans Jane Doe) before this one. Axe To Fall obliterates this problem, flowing so perfectly from one song to the next and ending on a wholly satisfying note rather than just abruptly stopping. They make up for these issues usually by virtue of their emotion on record, but here they don't even have to worry about that. Also, they added solos, all of which rule face. Put simply, Axe To Fall is Converge at their songwriting peak, and that obviously means it's can't miss material for any fan of hardcore.
D'Angelo Voodoo
It's not easy to come up with something to say about Voodoo. People have already covered basically everything there is to know about it; its influence, its flawless tracklist, its seamless combination of neo-soul and funk, D'Angelo's angelical vocals and sexy production, Questlove's smooth drumming, the distinct hip-hop flavor that comes in on several of the tracks, and the perfect bass throughout the record are all things that went into Voodoo being one of the greatest and most critically acclaimed neo-soul albums ever made. For me, an hour and fifteen minutes flys by like it's only twenty when I hear it. I guess I'm having too much fun, but can you really blame me?
Death Individual Thought Patterns
I'm not going to waste your time with this soundoff, because my brain is a bit scrambled by this album. It'll probably be better after a nap or something but I digress. All you really need to known is that this is Death's magnum opus, and that as such, it riffs. Maybe there's a solo or a slower-paced instrumental section every once and a while but it's mostly just riffs. And the bass is alive. It's a living breathing thing. If it could it'd reach out of my headphones and shake me around like I was made of paper. You feel that bass as much as you hear it, too, and you can hear it very clearly. And almost every moment of every song is top-tier Death too. The chorus to "Overactive Imagination"? Incredible. That riff and bass wank around a minute-twenty into "Trapped In A Corner"? Insane. "Destiny"? Seminal. How this has the lowest rating out of the final four, I'll never understand. In all seriousness, if you want Death at their finest, Individual Thought Patterns is the album for you.
Demilich Nespithe
And once again, there isn't anything I can say about Nespithe that ffs hasn't already said about it so with that said I'll just describe how it makes me feel: I don't even know how it makes me feel. I suppose unnerved, apprehensive maybe. I'm certainly impressed and having fun, but you read those lyrics along with it and let that thick whale blubber atmosphere coat you and it's just disturbing. What is any of that stuff supposed to mean? Seriously, read the lyrics to "The Cry" and tell me what it means. I suppose not knowing is the scariest part. Another thing: 1993 was one kickass year for death metal. Nespithe. The Erosion Of Sanity. Breeding The Spawn. Individual Thought Patterns. Transcendence Into The Peripheral. Heartwork. Focus (not quite as "death" as the others, but still death metal). And many, many others both more well known and in the underground. That this record may be the best of them all is truly a testament to how amazing and unbelievable it actually is. And obviously those riffs. Maybe two minutes of this album aren't spent with some of the greatest tech-death riffs of all time. Yeah buddy
Discordance Axis The Inalienable Dreamless
Yeah, that album cover sure is beautiful and quite misleading, but I'm sure plenty of beaches have looked just like that before a tsunami came crashing through and drowned everything in sight. The Inalienable Dreamless is everything Discordance Axis could be; a cacophonous whirlwind of realized potential. Of course it's enraged and powerful and blisteringly fast, but many, many grind records are. Amongst everything else, however, this album is haunting. I mean, Jon Chang sounds like a wailing banshee when he's not roaring like a man possessed, and the lyrics make many references to ghosts and to death in general. Even the name of the album more or less alludes to the dead or dying. For all the memorable riffs or insanely addictive drum fills, there's things about this album that stick into your head as something jarring and even unnerving. It's a work never to be duplicated, if simply for the notion that it's one of the scariest things ever put to wax by any band before or since. It's completely unexpected; just as its own album cover faked out those first listeners sixteen years ago, so too does it surprise listeners who go in expecting a grind record full of mindless fun. It's sure as hell not mindless, and although it is fun, it's fun in a way much more satisfying than you'd believe.
DJ Screw 3 'N The Mornin' (Part Two)
DJ Screw Bigtyme Recordz Vol. II: All Screwed Up
Besides the hip-hop essential Three 'N The Mornin' (Part 2), this is probably Screw's most famous record. And honestly, it has every right to be. Musically, this album is a chopped and screwed DJ mix, and it just oozes from your speakers. "Ethereal" is a word people (like me) throw around a lot as a description of sound, atmosphere, and aesthetic. This is the album that holds the standard to what "ethereal" really is, at least in my eyes. Besides one unfortunate misstep, this record is impeccable. All of the tracks with 20-2-Life and Point Blank are incredible, and everything from "After I Die" onwards is pretty much perfect. The atmosphere is constantly changing, with the first few songs after the intro actually being kind of terrifying. There also tracks that are pretty melancholy too, with "Inside Looking Out" and "My Mind Went Blank" comprising one of the greatest one-two punches in hip-hop. Mostly, though, the tracks are smooth, laid back, easy to listen to, and generally flowing with good vibes. If you love that type of hip-hop, or just want to know what "ethereal" actually is, listen to this record as soon as possible. Edit: I lied, there is no misstep. Album is perfecto.
Dragged Into Sunlight Hatred For Mankind
Usually, when one feels hatred, it's directed at someone or something. The times are rare when people feel an all-consuming hatred that would indiscriminately steamroll everything in its path if it could. How Dragged Into Sunlight got five guys who all felt this way together at the same time and made this is beyond me; this is one of those "lightning in a bottle" releases that sometimes simply can't be explained. A veritable Eden of extreme metal styles are explored here that include blackened death metal, death-doom metal, grindcore, and sludge metal, all filtered through an absolutely sickly production job. The vocal performance is an absolute monstrosity, and for what it's worth, is one of my favorites of all time. Also, I swear, the drummer must've gone through four kits when they recorded this because he is very audibly beating the daylights out of it at every juncture. The riffs are something to behold as well, most notably on the ferocious "Buried With Leeches", which doesn't have a riff on it that isn't gold, and the monolithic "I, Aurora". Truly, Hatred For Mankind is an all-out extreme metal assault, and surely one of the best metal albums of the 21st century.
Eminem The Slim Shady LP
I often ask myself, what tortures a man's soul so that he doesn't want to live? Whatever the reasons, in 1996, Marshall Mathers, an aspiring rapper from Detroit, attempted suicide. From the ashes of the failed attempt, another part of him was born, and he called it Slim Shady. Slim's sole reason for existing? To piss the world off and upset the order. We all know this now, but when this album came out, few had expected anything like it. The angry, tortured, frustrated, sad, and pretty funny songs that appear on this LP are nothing short than the raps of a man who, as one of the classics on the album states, "Just Don't Give A F***"
Explosions in the Sky Those Who Tell the Truth...
Since Godspeed was the first post rock band I ever listened to, I assumed other post rock bands would sound similar. They actually play a pretty strange style of post rock, now that I've listened to other bands. Explosions In The Sky, alternatively, are pretty straight-forward with what they do. Whereas Godspeed drops a bomb on you and burns the whole city down, Explosions In The Sky moves by like a forceful hurricane, and "Those Who Tell The Truth..." is a fantastic example of that.
Explosions in the Sky The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
Fleetwood Mac Rumours
Flying Lotus Until the Quiet Comes
Ever the underrated album in Flying Lotus' discography, Until The Quiet Comes isn't as haphazard or endlessly layered as past releases, but the truly enthralling atmosphere the album has is definitely the strongest of all of them. Dealing with themes of sleep, dreams, nightmares, and astral projection, the albums concept is strong. That said, it would be nothing without the music, and FlyLo definitely has that covered. It bears repeating that it doesn't have as many layers to the sound as in the past, but it's still quite layered regardless, with all sorts of melodies interweaving with each other as fluidly as dancers. It's sound is so easy to get lost into due to this constantly dreamy atmosphere and it never becomes boring or oppressive at any point. At many points throughout the album, it's easy to forget you're listening to electronic music at all, such is the organic and evocative feel to it all. It's an album that very easily invites you inside and takes you somewhere completely different than where you are, which is just about the highest praise one can give any album. It's FlyLo's masterpiece, and it's one of the most intimately beautiful and positively rewarding records out there.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
Everything that can be said about how incredible this album is has already be said, so anything from this point on is redundant. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor F♯ A♯ ∞
Sometimes we find something we cherish and appreciate during a time in which we are restlessly seeking an escape from. I was sick with the stomach flu, which isn't the worst thing in the world by a million miles, but still, vomiting in a pan for three weeks with nothing but ramen noodles and sports drinks to sustain myself isn't too fun. Anyways, I was aimlessly browsing YouTube while on a concoction of Vicodin, anti-nausea medication, antibiotics, and Gatorade, and I came across this album in its entire length on a single video. I remembered that this was the band and the album that had "East Hastings" to its name, and I'd heard that song while watching a movie called 28 Days Later. Now it was time to hear the whole album. It was thunderstorming outside when I wrapped myself in blankets, put my headphones on, and pressed play. The minute those first drones and the spoken word passage began, I knew I was going to be in for a ride. The strings soon accompanied the voice and the drone, and soon guitars and cellos and wailing violins joined in. When it all died down with the whistle of a train, I was left in shock. The album is hard to describe in words from thereon after. When it was over, I really honestly felt as if I had experienced something, rather than just having heard an album. I replayed it again with the browser light off and the covers up to my chin. The thunderstorm still raged on in the background as I drifted off into an induced sleep, with this album playing all throughout my dreams. TL;DR: Album is a trip, yo. Jam it when you can.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada
Hiatus Kaiyote Choose Your Weapon
Utilizing a gorgeous combination of neo-soul, electronic, funk, rhythm and blues, jazz, world music, and the occasional sprinkling of hip-hop, Hiatus Kaiyote has released one of the most ambitious and gratifying records of the year so far. Though extensively eclectic, each song from the album contains a style, an image, that never wavers. This is a good thing, because that style is something all their own, dubbed "future soul", and it never fails to impress. From Nai Palm's sublime and intimate vocals to Perrin Moss' smooth-as-butter drumming, everything here sounds so passionate and involved that is hard not to fall in love with it. The lyrics might be written about simple things, like old video games for instance ("Atari"), but they're backed by a musical ensemble that is as complex and carefully structured as the newest video games out there. All this being said, it would be a sin to miss this record, as you might just be missing the evolution of "future soul."
Iced Earth Burnt Offerings
Kendrick Lamar good kid, m.A.A.d city
Compton, U.S.A made him an angel on angel's dust.
Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly
I can't tell you how big of a fan I am of good kid, m.A.A.d city. Ever since the first listen in late 2013, I thought it was a classic record, and knew Kendrick Lamar was an excellent artist, what with that and Section.80 in his discography. To Pimp A Butterfly is much different. There is so much to digest, so much to catch on this thing, and so much that needs to set in that there is no way that one listen will suffice to call this a "classic". Some time needs to pass, many listens will be needed, and no amount of comparisons or hype will change that. However, the notion that this could potentially be a classic in the future is both a valid one and an incredible one. All three of his LP's, then, will have had the focus of the rap game firmly on them for a time. The interesting thing here is, his rhyming ability and flow are at a peak for him, the production is a beautiful blend of jazz and funk that FlyLo, Thundercat, and Sounwave are all in their zone on, and his lyrics have never been as relevant and hard-hitting as they are on this. With that said, the possibility this ends up as a classic record is very strong, and that is truly impressive.
Kraftwerk The Man-Machine
Some of the best things in life are pretty simple. I think that's something Kraftwerk knew very well. They also knew that simplicity and elegance can coexist in the most symbiotic of ways, and that's pretty much what is expressed musically on Die Mensch-Maschine. It's interesting; the overarching theme here is mechanization and robotics, and I suppose when it was released it may have sounded like a robot playing music which may have led to the trope of cold, robotic electronic albums having themes of technological takeover and subsequent emotionlessness. Yet, this album is in no way cold and robotic in theme only, as we have some of the catchiest, most charming electronic tunes ever penned here. And while it is true that at least sonically there's not a whole lot going on in any given song, that which is going on is maxed out in terms of enjoyment. How does one listen to "Neon Lights" without a smile on their face? Simply divine.
La Dispute Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair
La Dispute Wildlife
As I get older, one thing among others has become increasingly apparent: that the vast majority of people, maybe even everyone, has a story that when told to you by them in person can reduce you to tears. And Wildlife, among other things, is about figuring that out. Musically, the band's combination of post-hardcore, emo, post-rock, and spoken word sounds excellent as always, with their songwriting remaining at a high level from their last full-length. But, also as always with La Dispute, the concept and lyrics surrounding it are a huge part of the album as well. It's about a man figuring out how to cope with his pain, which in turn becomes a study of other people's pain, and in what different ways they react to it. Whether it be having their schizophrenic son try to murder them, witnessing a drive-by murder of a child and the subsequent police standoff, or losing their seven-year-old child to cancer, the people around the man's hometown in Michigan have felt a massive deal of pain. Thus, again among other things, the album is about healing, and how others who have felt or even shared pain with you can help you get better, you in turn helping them. It's definitely a ride, but in the end, it's well worth it.
Linkin Park Hybrid Theory
Lorde Pure Heroine
Massive Attack Mezzanine
You need not an introduction to Mezzanine from me, because you've probably already had it from several others. Mezzanine has been talked about, dissected, analyzed, praised, and loved for so long that it's hard to say anything new about it. My own personal feelings toward this record are strong, as during a week-long stay at a hospital, this was the record played at least once every day. The intimate nature of the album is readily apparent throughout, as the synths and guitars and the atmosphere seem to reach out of the speakers and cover and caress you like a blanket. It's remarkable how something so expansive and consuming comes from a place of relative minimalism and sparseness. The lyrics on every song have at least one immediately quotable line, and no song overstays it's welcome or does nothing in the way of progression. It's exterior is cold, but once some time is spent with it, it's warm and altogether hopeful. It's a classic, not only in the world of electronic music, but within the realm of music as a whole. It's immensely rewarding when attention is paid, and smooth and soothing even when none is given. To be short, it's Mezzanine, and it's truly an incredible album.
Nas Illmatic
You could say that this record is a template for everything east-coast hip-hop is all about. And you know what? You'd be right. Illmatic is undoubtedly one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever recorded, but I'm sure you knew that already. Personally, I can't get enough of it, especially from the first half. There are so many songs and lines on this thing that are etched into hip-hop history, as well, serving to illustrate how truly widespread and intense the acclaim and love of this record went and still goes. "N.Y State Of Mind", "The World Is Yours", "Memory Lane", and "One Love" alone make this record excellent, but everything else here is just as good. Simply put, absolutely essential, impeccable, and wonderful east-coast hip-hop.
Neil Young Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Neil Young After the Gold Rush
Neil Young Tonight's the Night
People often think that the man on the cover of this album is Neil Young himself. It's actually Danny Whitten, a longtime friend and rhythm guitarist for Crazy Horse, one of Neil's bands. He died of a drug overdose a few months before these songs were written. In order to capture exactly how he felt, Neil recorded all of these songs within one day in the studio, keeping a raw and passionate feel throughout the record. There really isn't a record quite like this one in Neil's discography, and the dark and gloomy atmosphere has a lot to do with that. Here, we see Neil at his most vulnerable, his most stripped-down, his most angry, and his most sad. You can tell just by his vocals that he's troubled, and at this point in his discography, they are the roughest by a nice margin. Bookended by part 1 and part 2 of the title-track, the album follows a clear concept of grief, introspection, loss, and hope. His fifth essential album in a row, Neil turns in a truly incredible performance in honor of his late friends.
New Order Substance
It's weird when a band can have as many full-length releases as New Order does and still have their most well-received album be a compilation. But that's exactly the kind of weirdness you deal with when it comes to Substance. It compiles all of the non-album singles the band had released up until 1987, and I don't know how or why these songs didn't end up on a full-length proper. Even the worst song here would be among the best on any of their full-lengths at the time, and the best song here (the illustrious "Blue Monday") blows everything else they've done away (that is, except for several of the tracks found on this very album). It's a flawless mixture of new wave, alternative dance, synthpop, and post-punk that sounds absolutely divine. The vibes of the songs can vary from melancholic to determined to apathetic to upbeat, and the lyrics are memorable as well. It's truly one of the best compilations of all time from any band, and truly a cornerstone of new wave and synthpop any way you look at it. And those basslines, holy hell those basslines
Night Birds Born To Die In Suburbia
This sophomore full-length from Jersey punk royalty Night Birds eclipses everything they had done up until this point, but not by doing things differently. The Night Birds you hear on Born To Die In Suburbia are still the same Night Birds from The Other Side Of Darkness. The only difference is, here they're just on steroids. The riffs are more killer, the pacing is smoother, the lyrics more clever, and the songs even better written than before. Even the instrumentals, which aren't usually all that fantastic if we're not talking about "Squad Car", are wonderful, opener "Escape From New York" being one of the best covers of that classic of all time. Of course, the raucous and self-conscious attitude with which the band plays every note with mixed with that undeniable blue-collar passion takes everything up a notch as well, and though it may not be their catchiest record, there's still plenty of memorable material to go along with the overall raise in songwriting and even production quality. Simply put, Born To Die In Suburbia is the quintessential Night Birds album, and that should be enough for a fan of hardcore surf punk to want to hear this. Also, damn you Trump!
Orchid Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow!
Chaos Is Me was the dynamite that exploded Orchid onto the forefront of the screamo genre, but Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow! was the raging, intense fire left in the wake. Of course, all the sonic insanity that made their debut what it was finds itself a welcome home here ("To Praise Prosthesis", "Black Hills"), but they're most certainly not the only thing the album has in store. The brooding and doomy "...And The Cat Turned To Smoke" and the eerie-yet-immaculate "I Am Nietzsche" are proof enough of that, as well as the bizarrely catchy moments like the noisy intro to "Destination: Blood!", the infectious, thick bass of "Lights Out", and the perfect breakdown at the end of "Victory Is Ours". It's a seamless marriage of eerie and tense passages with spastic bursts of aggression; a marraige of the dynamic range of the self-titled with the unbridled punk intensity of the debut. Fifteen minutes of some of the best screamo you'll ever have the pleasure to hear. Tu est adorable, and I wholeheartedly concur.
Radiohead OK Computer
I was hearing this for the first time when LeBron James decided he'd come back to Cleveland. This album now holds a special place in my heart, 5'd so hard for every reason.
Radiohead Kid A
I think that there isn't much left to say about Kid A. It's just amazing to me, even after hearing the greatness that is OK Computer, that Radiohead could make something equally as ambitious and interesting. Just those two albums alone contain 22 unforgettable songs. The 10 here are often seen as some of the bleakest written by the band, but underneath Kid A's cold exterior lies something truly hopeful and beautiful that never really gets to come out in full until "Motion Picture Soundtrack". I've heard a lot of people say that it grew on them, but this album clicked instantly for me. Kudos, Radiohead, for two unforgettable records.
Red Hot Chili Peppers By the Way
Sadistik Flowers For My Father
It might sound cliche, but I hate this record. I hate how perfectly it says all of the things that I can't say when I feel that crushing helplessness that every last minute of this album was born from. I hate how badly I wish I could say these wonderfully crafted words myself, but can't. I hate how the ethereal, melancholy production provides the backdrop for my own fears and mistakes. I hate how this record would just be made of these beautiful instrumentals if I was the rapper. I hate that I know others have problems much larger and more important than Sadistik's and I's, and yet we both treat them like they're the worst thing to ever happen. The truth is, it's the worst to happen to us, so I guess in our world, it is the worst thing to ever happen. It sounds selfish, and it totally is, but that's all part of the disease known as depression that we, and millions of others across the world, carry. And I can't speak for those millions, but to me, this album portrays depression down to the last inch. All pretentious, sad-time, sobby-weepy crap aside, all I really want anyone to get from this soundoff is that I find this album to be absolutely incredible, even if I hate it.
Suffocation Effigy of the Forgotten
Contrary to what I was anticipating, Effigy is not an immediately gratifying record. The production of the album and the speed at which the members play their instruments make the record sound truly suffocating. It's like the whole thing is played under dirt and debris. Once your ear is trained to the production style, though, you're able to appreciate the impeccable musicianship and songwriting skills from the band. Multiple metal subgenres were pioneered by this record, and while most have come to be reviled by many, Suffocation knew how to do everything tastefully, making the breakdowns and slams (two terms that would earn the metal community's scorn years after the fact) seem like natural progressions of the songs. It's immensely technical, but not in a flashy way, as there's very little showboating to be found here. Rather, it is the malevolent riffs, solos, and slams that do the talking, and when backed by a truly excellent drum performance and vocals straight from the garbage-filled mud, make this pioneer of a record one of death metal's finest.
Suffocation Breeding the Spawn
Wait a minute, I thought this was supposed to be worse than Effigy Of The Forgotten? One of the things often criticized about Breeding The Spawn is its production. And while it does lack Effigy's underwater guitar tones and smothering, claustrophobic atmosphere, I'd be hard pressed to call Breeding's production job "bad" or "amateur". Because aside from a few shoddy parts that probably only take thirty seconds out of the total runtime, Breeding's production is pretty good, though not as good as Effigy's, whose personality was lost on Breeding The Spawn. What does Suffocation do to make up for this lost personality? The only thing they can do: improve their songwriting. And that they do, implementing the malicious riffs, devouring slams, a dynamic-adding bass, the relentless workhorse drumming, and of course the vocal monster that is Frank Mullen. The songwriting is more efficient also, and clearly more is going on during these tracks than ever before, with all parts working towards the singular and ultimate goal of brutal tech-death metal annihilation. So, both Effigy and Breeding have the same endgame, but the difference is in how they got there. All this said, Breeding The Spawn is another masterpiece of brutal technical death metal from Suffocation.
Suis La Lune Riala
It's pretty hard to believe this was self-produced, because this has some of the best production of any screamo record out there. That guitar tone is absolutely magnificent and perfect in every way for Suis La Lune's style of screamo. Riala is the group's most melodic work, as well as being their most memorable and catchy. The band themselves claim these songs as "complex pop" masquerading as screamo, but it's a bit deeper than that. Riala is also the band's most evocative and passionate record, going a bit against the grain with the shift into less chaotic songwriting. Every song here is one-hundred percent top-tier Suis La Lune, being some of the best songs ever written in this post-rock-influenced style. The lyrics are somewhat primitive, but consider this: Swedish is their first language, and thus, any English they speak is quite simple. In a way, these words are just pure emotion; saying what needs to be said without any superfluousness or melodrama. All of this makes Riala the crown jewel of Suis La Lune's discography, and as such it's one of the best screamo albums ever put to wax.
Sunny Day Real Estate Sunny Day Real Estate
I'm not going to sugarcoat it: Sunny Day Real Estate is a depressing affair. And it might not even be readily apparent to the listener, because it's emotions are pretty thickly veiled and distant. The whole thing sounds almost like they didn't care enough about it or anything else while doing it. This is pretty slow-paced emo, and the circumstances surrounding the albums creation renders it almost unfinished. It sounds like they didn't want to go through the trouble of getting up, getting dressed, driving to the studio, and recording the songs. It sounds like they wanted to stay in bed all day with the covers up to their chin and sleep. And whether or not this was intentional is irrelevant. The point is, they've essentially made the soundtrack to feeling that way. It's not incredibly obvious on a first listen either, but some patient listens betray this overreaching vibe of saddened disinterest and disassociation that makes the record extremely intimate and cathartic, ironic considering how it initially sounds.
The Cure Disintegration
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die..."
The Dillinger Escape Plan Calculating Infinity
Good Lord... This album is twisted, unrelenting and punishingly heavy. Way ahead of it's time, a true classic.
The Pogues Rum Sodomy & the Lash
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra Born Into Trouble As the Sparks Fly Upward
I've always considered TSMZ to be GY!BE-lite, always sort of hanging in the shadows of a much larger project. While this is by no means a bad thing, it can cause struggles with a bands own identity. That is, if you don't make an ambitious, beautiful record such as this. The follow up to 2000's He Has Left Us Alone..., Born Into Trouble is exactly the type of record TSMZ needed to separate themselves from their parent band, and it is done expertly. This album can certainly get some tears out of the listener with songs like "Sisters! Brothers!..." and "Built Then Burnt", but it also has songs that display a sense of urgency, like "Take These Hands And Throw Them In The River" and "C'mon COME ON". The true highlight is "Could've Moved Mountains", which just may be one of greatest post-rock songs ever made. Though on the whole TSMZ tends to stay in the shadow of GY!BE, this album proves that they are most certainly their own band, and are capable of making fantastic records, too.
Thomas Newman Wall-E
Time of Orchids Melonwhisper
Many bands don't realize that just because there's experimentation doesn't mean the music is inherently cohesive or enjoyable. Melonwhispher is an album born from minds that know that point well, and thus are able to pull off what few bands are able to do: make experimental music in which all of the experiments turn out to be fruitful endeavors. Time Of Orchids structured this record to make the listener think to themselves, on an initial listen, "just what the hell is going on here?", and eventually invite the listener to find out. Many different genres are at play here; avant-prog, ambient, harsh noise, and some sort of strange mixture between alt-metal and proto-mathcore. It's a pretty unique sound, but it's one that remains molded together. If things get messy here, it's not the fault of the songwriting, but of sloppy, passionate playing and general intensity. The grandest experiment is the core of the record, known as "Laugh Track", an eighteen-minute behemoth that expresses gradual mental decay through little more than piano and progressively harsher noise. It's a truly unique album in which no moments are skippable, making it one of the finest and most overlooked experimental rock albums out there.
Trophy Scars Darkness, Oh Hell
I feel like Trophy Scars' style of music should not work. A mixture of blues, punk, jazz, and small bits of post-hardcore doesn't really seem like it would sound that good. Yet, it does. I don't really even know why it works, it just does. Every piano note, every guitar lick, every pained lyric, and every throaty croon. And each song flows seamlessly into the next, like we're listening to one twenty-eight minute play. The fact that everything they've done since releasing Bad Luck has been this well-received is really impressive. I mean, it's hard enough to make four straight releases that are acclaimed, but the fact that they've done it using a style all their own is simply astonishing. However, this album is perfect. While Bad Luck suffered from some cringe-worthy lyrics here and there, and Holy Vacants had a few melodramatic moments, everything on Darkness, Oh Hell is done perfectly, down to the last detail. One hell of a release, indeed.
Vektor Terminal Redux
The times are rare when an album hyped to hell and back actually delivers on its hype. This is one of those times. It's not just that the musicianship is phenomenal or that the emotional range explored here is large, or that it's an hour-and-fifteen minutes long concept album that actually works. No, it's how everything, down to the last detail, serves a purpose and ultimately connects together like the most delicate strands of DNA. The concept here actually has a story with actual depth. I mean, is it about a bunch of supernatural transcended beings that reap the stars and try to control time itself? An allegory of the world today and all the political power struggles? Or is it simply the insane ramblings of someone experimented on to test and study the effects of long-term isolation? At any rate, each of these theories hold weight. The songwriting makes sure to follow the lyrics and the storyline to make absolutely sure the desired emotion is evoked, which means the music tells the story as much as the lyrics do. And with a story with depth, the music follows suit, with riffs on top of riffs, a pronounced bass presence, an endlessly entertaining drum performance and vocals that are simply so unconventional for the genre that it's perfect for the job. Whatever you want to call them; blackened thrash, technical thrash, progressive thrash, or any combination thereof, Vektor has put together a mind-scrambling record that passes both the initial eye test and further examinations. And for a while, I presume, it will warrant even more.
Violent Femmes Violent Femmes
If there were ever a soundtrack to being a horny, angsty, pissed off, stoned teenager, this record would be it. Musically, it's full of addicting bass, sparse drumming and guitars, and an emotional vocal performance. It's generally in the style of folk punk, which works excellently as the band channels both the youthful passion of punk and the beautiful wisdom of folk. The lyrics are probably the best part about the whole record, and I say this as someone who doesn't put a massive amount of stock into lyrics. They are humorous, nostalgic, witty, and yet tantalizingly simple. "I'm high as a kite, and I just might, stop to check you out" or "Why can't I get just one screw? Believe me, I'd know what to do, but something won't let me make love to you." So many bands since 1983 that write about teenage angst and experiences secretly wish they could write lyrics that good. What they don't understand is that Violent Femmes caught lightning in a bottle with this record, one that influenced several genres en route to becoming an undeniable cult classic.
Weezer Weezer
Weezer Pinkerton

4.5 superb
Wow, did this thing sneak up on me. I don't know why I put off listening to this, but I'm glad I finally did. This is the debut record from A/T/O/S, which stands for "A Taste Of Struggle". The way the group mixes trip-hop and R&B is basically perfect, and though it may run slightly long, this is definitely one of this years chillest releases. The closer, "Variations", could possibly be my favorite song from this year. "What I Need", "Roses", and "No Heart" are also incredibly dope tracks. The chilly atmosphere on here is pretty great too, accompanied by soulful vocals and melancholy lyrics. With a debut like this, A/T/O/S makes me very optimistic for what the future holds for them, and they are certainly a group that people should keep their eyes on.
Ad Nauseam Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est
One of the things that appeals to me most about death metal is that it's not afraid to explore the darkest and most surreal areas of our minds, and isn't afraid to show us things we otherwise would be reluctant to see. It's this sentiment that permeates this record in bulk, sounding like a fierce case of dementia and sporadic rage that combines to create something quite unnerving. This is true even in the beginning seconds of the album. "My Buried Dream" starts with relatively calm, contained strings that quickly spiral downward into a chilling and atonal chasm. The band rushes forth from thereon out, and though they are influenced by the likes of Gorguts and Deathspell Omega, they keep these influences under wraps in favor of showing their own style and abilities. In general, what you'll hear is some of the most twisted, interesting, and really, really fun metal that this year has to offer. Quite a start for the Italian quartet, indeed.
Adamn Killa I Am Adamn
In the pantheon of Chicago hip-hop, nobody does it quite like Adamn Killa does it. He says as much on massively-produced single "Roseland Baby"; "Where I'm from, they don't make niggas how they made me". This uniqueness reflects in his music, as slurred, drunken flows meet half-quirky, half-oddly-sensual auto-tuned crooning and lyrics as blunt as they are humorous. His biggest asset, however, lies not only in his production choices, but in his ability to mold himself to fit the desired emotion or vibe given off by the production. Often, the production dabbles in atmospherics and cloud rap styles like on lead single "Spin", but things can take on a more melancholy feel, especially when pianos are introduced ("Guap"), or even a massive, imposing feel ("Roseland Baby", "Pay Your Rent"). The consistency of I Am Adamn is possibly its greatest virtue. The first half is really great, but once the second half starts, Adamn and Co. hit another gear and finish very strong. In the end, it's an album capturing a young man beginning to live the life he'd been working towards since day one. Whether he's enjoying it as much as he thought he would is up to debate, but he knows who he is at the very least. He is Adamn, nobody else, and no one can take that away.
Aesop Rock Music For Earthworms
Aesop Rock Daylight
Aesop Rock is undoubtedly one of the kings of underground hip-hop, and possibly the biggest reason for that is because his lyricism is second to none. On this EP, Aes reworks his most famous song ("Daylight") on a track called "Night Light", spits wonders over an El-P produced track on "Nickel Plated Pockets", and even shares the spotlight with fellow rapper Blueprint on "Alchemy". But perhaps the greatest moment on this EP is one that isn't even included on the tracklist. A hidden track called "One Of Four" that ends the silence after "Maintenance" is easily Aes' most confessional and heartfelt song. It is a self-produced track that is dedicated to four people that saved his life during a time of depression. It is surely not as lyrical as other Aesop Rock songs, in fact likely being his least lyrical, but nowhere else do we find such a straightforward, personal, and emotional Ian Bavitz. This EP is a must-have for all of Aes' fans, and a rewarding listen for underground hip-hop lovers.
Agalloch From Which of This Oak
This is the first official recording from famed folk metal band Agalloch, and it's as good as a demo can be. It's always cool to me when bands show immense skill and abilities on their initial projects, but also show a large amount of promise, too. That is definitely what happens here, to the nth degree. From my own standpoint, I'd consider it even better than their great debut LP, Pale Folklore. The best moments on this demo are just as good and sometimes better than the best ones on Pale Folklore, and that's apparent even through phenomenal opener "The Wilderness". The fact of the matter is that this is concise, wonderfully written folk-influenced, melodic, and introspective black metal that is brimming not only with emotion but with nuances that show the band was a special group of guys full of ideas even back nearly two decades ago.
Ampere All Our Tomorrows End Today
When Orchid broke up in 2002, it signified the end of one of screamo's greatest bands, but the beginning of another screamo staple in Ampere. Led by ex-Orchid guitarist Will Killingsworth, Ampere's attack of short, intense, and dynamic screamo was and is a winner. Nowhere is that more apparent than on their debut EP All Our Tomorrows End Today. The songwriting here, to put it simply, is unbelievable. Some of the most well-rounded and subtly technical screamo ever put to wax is found here, juxtaposing emotive blasts with moments of subdued melancholy seamlessly, and usually in under a minute. The passionate sound that so enveloped Orchid is still very much alive here, and this makes the music both imposing and emotive all the same. In only eleven minutes, Ampere prove that they have songwriting skills usually reserved for gods, and all of the furious passion one would need to pull it all of without a hitch. Fantastic.
Arca Mutant
Arca has been on the scene for a couple of years now, but this is his first true full realization of his sound. Everything on this LP is equal parts expansive, subdued, loud, experimental, and interesting. He combines IDM with industrial techno and glitch, and as a result it has a wonderfully layered and full feeling to it, but also a flexible one as well. The use of stop-time on several of these tracks is sleek, and in general there's a lot of dynamics to the music. The album flows very well, giving adequate breathing room when needed, but pouring on the progressively loud and explosive electronics after the downtime. There is nary a bad track to be found throughout the hour long runtime, and though it may seem daunting to get through, it is actually surprisingly smooth and seamless. You never feel like it's been an hour, essentially. In short, Arca creates one of the best electronic releases of the year, one that is as gratifying on a first listen as it is rewarding on several more.
Arca Entranas
With last year's project Mutant, on which Arca expanded his glitchy electronic take on post-industrial and simultaneously demonstrated that he could make a concept work. This new tape, known as Entraas (which is Spanish for entrails), is exercise in visceral, depraved post-industrial, almost reminiscent of the darkest days of acts like Skinny Puppy. It's twenty-five minutes long and flows like it's one whole song, and each moment of it is absolutely riveting. Through the booming beat work that is hard hitting, yet ostensibly fragile all the same, an atmosphere of unease is created. The samples thrown in are all excellent as well, as some are almost smooth and unchallenged by the surrounding music, while others are sonic representations of terror and pain that are constantly rattled by the bass and the noise. It offers commentary on the collective schadenfreude of humanity, whether it be focused on ideals, or each other. Truly, Arca has cemented his status as one of the most interesting artists in the industrial/electronic scene today with this truly harrowing project.
Arca Arca
It's weird; an album could be self-titled for any reason. Usually, it's the band's first record, and sometimes they couldn't come up with a good one in the first place. However, a lot of albums are self-titled because the artist is, in effect, saying: "This music is the truest representation of me and my thoughts and experiences". That's definitely why I feel Arca is self-titled. However alien and uncompromising his past efforts were, there's a sense of intimacy and humanity in this one, spurred on not only by his surprisingly lovely voice, but the themes of the album (struggling with being a gay man in an oppressive homophobic environment). It's less glitchy and less industrial, but more personal, and just as disturbing. Things take an art pop direction in several songs including the opening tandem of "Piel" and "Anoche", but it works, and awfully well to boot. To put it simply, though it's not as layered as Mutant nor as downright horrifying as Entranas, Arca is a winner, and possibly Arca's finest moment, because it has the one thing the others don't: an intimate, beautifully human sound.
Arctic Monkeys Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
It's hard to pin it down, but something about this album screams "nightlife" to me. Maybe it's the guy smoking on the album cover. Maybe it's the riff-driven fun packed in the tracks of this album, which seem as if they're being played inside a smoke-filled bar between drunken bouts. Either way, I'd love to listen to this thing on a night on the town.
Arctic Monkeys Favourite Worst Nightmare
Atmosphere Sad Clown Bad Dub II
August Burns Red Rescue & Restore
August Burns Red Thrill Seeker
Autechre EP7
EP7 isn't what you would call a conventional EP, considering it holds one hour of experimental techno, but Autechre isn't what you would call a conventional duo either. It's pretty insane as a listening experience, as these tracks are so wonderfully composed and articulated in that classic cold exterior the duo absolutely love. The only bad thing about it is that it doesn't flow all that well, feeling more like a collection of fantastic individual tracks than an album proper, something that has come to characterize Autechre's work. It strikes a wonderful balance between the atmospheric, synth-laden IDM of the past and the highly rhythmic, chittering insanity of the near future probably better than even LP5 did. In all honesty, I don't have the words to describe it in detail, so just read the review because it's really great and so is this EP and so is Autechre.
Autechre Confield
I have the utmost respect for anyone as a writer if they can write great reviews about albums like Confield, albums that can rend many a listener speechless due to their practically indescribable nature. Whereas albums like Amber sounded like a cold robot trying to emulate and process warm and comforting sounds, Confield throws it all to the wind and embraces the sound of that same cold robot, well... ...doing what hyperion said. The lauded rhythmic work here is absolutely astonishing, with every last blip or skitter being used with an uncanny precision. For what it's worth, especially on songs like "Pen Expers" and "Bine", songs held together by their huge density and eerie, sometimes almost hard to catch synths, this is actually one disturbing experience. Sure, there's semblances of better feelings on "Eidetic Casein", but on the whole it's shaded darkly though the colors are numerous. Not the record you want to start with if you're just getting into Autechre, but a fantastic reward if you're patient enough. Also, I'm not entirely sure if it actually is, but it does sound like there's someone snoring during "Uviol".
Between the Buried and Me Colors
Colors marks when BTBAM went from a more progressive style of metalcore to toeing the line between progressive death metal and technical death metal. The experimentation was still very much alive, but the sound was tighter, faster, and more expansive than ever before. Having the entire album connect together like one whole hour-long song helped the fluidity of the compositions, and transitions like the one from the mid-tempo ending to "Sun Of Nothing" to the frantic and epic beginning to "Ants Of The Sky" are more than exceptional. There isn't much left to say about Colors, though, being the loved album it is. In my opinion, Colors was BTBAM's first truly superb record, and though they'd top it later, it's still an excellent listen.
Between the Buried and Me The Great Misdirect
This is beyond the shadow of a doubt Between The Buried And Me's magnum opus. While Colors was certainly a fascinating record, The Great Misdirect is more focused, more concise, more efficient, and less bumpy than its predecessor. The band's downfall has always been that they've wasted some time noodling and wanking around aimlessly with their guitars. However, aside from a couple of minutes during closer "Swim To The Moon", the technical noodling has been tempered down to a tasteful and tactful amount, making it all the more easy to sit through. It helps that "Fossil Genera - A Feed From Cloud Mountain" is on par with the bands' best cuts, featuring flawless experimentation and progression. Even the acoustic songs, which seemed like afterthoughts on The Silent Circus and Colors, are done to excellence, with "Mirrors" easily being the best song they've done in that style and a phenomenal opener. In short, if you're going to choose any BTBAM album to hear, The Great Misdirect should garner heavy consideration.
Bladee Eversince
Eversince is unlike any album I've ever heard in the sense that it takes the whole "autotune-as-an-instrument" style of R&B to the furthest extent. The album is like some sort of crystalline sing-rapping monument to indifference; Bladee himself sounds so detached from everything it's like he's not even there. The lyrics switch back and forth between blunt expressions of suicidal intent/general apathy and purposefully empty lean-soaked brags, ultimately serving to further portray the atmosphere of cold indifference. The production here, handled almost exclusively by whitearmor, is the perfect backdrop for Bladee, providing a shivering, icy sound with sharp bass to accentuate the bitingly frigid and wintery aesthetic. All of this makes Eversince a unique entity that follows all of the way through on its mission statement, making it one of the must-hear records of 2016 so far.
bladee x ECCO2K x Thaiboy Digital D&G
Bob Marley and The Wailers The Wailing Wailers
Bob Marley and The Wailers Catch A Fire
Bob Marley and The Wailers Kaya
When it comes to music that is considered "easy-listening", reggae is one of the first genres that come to mind. Bob Marley & The Wailers are the undisputed kings of the genre, and Kaya is their most "easy-listening" album the group ever released, and that is definitely saying something. Some classic Wailers tunes are on this thing, most notably "Is This Love", "Sun Is Shining", and "Time Will Tell". The re-recordings of the title-track and "Satisfy My Soul" are great as well. These tracks were recorded when Marley was in the U.K., and were from the same sessions as the immortal Exodus, which speaks a lot about their high quality. It lacks the more militant ideology of earlier records, essentially being an album about getting high with the ones you love. Sounds like a good time any way you put that, right? In this sense, it ends up being the perfect counterpart to its predecessor, and one of the gems in Marley's discography.
Bob Marley and The Wailers Survival
Sometimes I forget how fortunate I am to live in a fully developed country. I don't have to worry about being oppressed by foreign governments or being treated like garbage in my own home. Survival is a message to the struggling from people that know what struggling is, and as such is an intimate and altogether inspiring affair. The music here is top-quality Wailers; roots reggae that is full to the brim with various instrumentation, backing vocals, catchy choruses, and beautiful voices all around. It's not quite anything that Exodus didn't do already, but it's still some of the most well-rounded and joyous reggae out there, and the overarching theme of survival through unity and like-mindedness is executed with tact and a strong empathy. There's not really anything bad to say about it, really. You simply can't go wrong with late-70's Marley and The Wailers.
Brian Eno Ambient 1: Music For Airports
Brian Eno Here Come the Warm Jets
Brian Eno, as we know him today, is one of the undisputed kings of electronic music. However, in 1974, it was a bit of a different story. Rather than making fantastic ambient electronic or art-pop, he was creating art-rock with glam rock sensibilities and a bit of an influence from synth-driven electronica. Almost every song on his debut album, Here Come The Warm Jets, is as catchy and as fun as they come. The lyrics on this record are very memorable, and Eno delivers them with an interesting inflection that makes the record sound very unique. The obvious highlight here is "Baby's On Fire", but "Cindy Tells Me", "Some Of Them Are Old", and the title track are also gems that can't be missed. Here Come The Warm Jets is unlike any other album Brian Eno has ever made, and in that regard, any fan of the man should listen to it without delay.
Brian Eno Another Green World
Another Green World marks a change in Brian Eno's style, namely from the Bowie-esque art rock with glam sensibilities to the ambient soundscapes people know him better for making. Although it's not purely ambient, some tracks on the album give insight into what he would eventually become widely known for, such as the addictive "The Big Ship" and the breathtaking "Becalmed". "Zawinul/Lava" even has piano similar to "1/1", the opener of Ambient 1: Music For Airports. Only a handful of tracks even have lyrics here, and those that do are pretty subdued in comparison to his previous work, as "Golden Hours" and "Everything Merges With The Night" while show you. He still hasn't lost his art rock ways, though, as opener "Sky Saw" and the lovely "I'll Come Running" are both catchy, upbeat, and unique. In all, a huge transition album for Brian Eno ends up becoming one of the crowning achievements of his storied career.
Burial Truant/Rough Sleeper
It speaks volumes about Burial that we expect nothing less than excellence from him every time we listen to one of his new cuts. Many believe that everything he's made is at worst very solid and at best otherworldly. On this EP, that sentiment does not change, and he delivers once again. "Truant" is a pretty sparse and atmospheric track, one that conjures up the feeling of the seedy London underground and its issues, something that Burial has always been able to provide with little trouble. It is messy without feeling completely disjointed, and it's clear a lot of ideas were explored in the creation of this track. "Rough Sleeper" is a bit of different territory for Burial, as there are certain segments during this track where the music is upbeat and hopeful. Overall, it carries a certain charm, with bells coming in that can remind one of a snowy, comfortable Christmas. It's actually pretty interesting to the see the contrast between these two styles put up against each other on a two-track EP. Surely, this is a record that you could show to anyone who wants to get into Burial, or atmospheric garage/dubstep in general.
Burial Kindred
This is the first in a line of EP's that have been album-quality from Burial, each of which adds a new twist to the established formula that he so professionally works with. In this case, it makes use of some ostensibly danceable rhythms, something that was explored, but never fully developed on previous efforts. The only one that isn't danceable is the last rhythm on closer "Ashtray Wasp", but this is made up for by some of the most gorgeous music in the discography, with the use of a xylophone making a ridiculously catchy jingle that the record itself ends on. Complete with the use of airy sampled vocals, the near-omnipresent atmosphere of bleakness, and the notion that not one minute is wasted throughout the entire EP makes Kindred a needed listen for any fan of atmospheric electronic music.
Candlemass Nightfall
When you think of Swedish metal, you probably think of melodic death metal a la At The Gates and Dark Tranquility. Yet, one of the best metal albums ever to come from Sweden is this, a doom metal album that takes what makes the sub-genre so great and amps it up. From the fantastic and memorable riffs, to the dreary yet wonderfully chimeric atmosphere, this is a top-tier doom metal record through and through. Some of Candlemass' best material is on this thing, not least of which are "The Well Souls", "Samarithan", and "Mourner's Lament". Despite having four instrumental tracks, which are all excellent at building atmosphere and suspense, the album is dominated by captivating frontman Messiah Marcolin, who is not only at the top of his game vocally, but lyrically as well, as each of the songs he's in tell interesting and entertaining tales. All in all, an absolute cornerstone of doom metal, recommended to metal fans everywhere.
Candlemass Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
Epicus Doomicus Metallicus is one of the most revered albums, not just in doom metal, but in metal as a whole. It's been discussed to high heaven, but it's worthy of its praise. In my opinion, "Solitude" makes its mark as one of the greatest metal songs ever written, and though every other song is great, they just miss the opener's prowess by mere inches. That said, this record is one every fan of doom metal (and metal in general) should hear.
Cannibal Ox The Cold Vein
How would you like to have been Def Jux in the early 2000's and have your first three full-lengths as a label be The Cold Vein, Labor Days, and Fantastic Damage, all wonderful records in their own right? Maybe things didn't shape up the way they expected, but that's a fantastic start. El-P really makes this album what it is; his beats are angular, strange, moody, and interesting, and are responsible for the rigid, frozen-heart atmosphere of the record. Vordul Mega and Vast Aire are a solid tandem, but they don't seem to have as much personality or presence as their contemporaries. That said, while Vast is slightly better lyrically, Vordul is most certainly the most talented, hitting some weird pockets in his flows and just generally sounding much better riding this innovative beats. One thing I don't quite get about this record is the Wu-Tang comparisons it garners, because Wu-Tang's members were all way more charismatic than these two. In all it's absolutely a statement from the underground, but one has to wonder how much of the album's success is due to El-Producto, a non-member, than the actual members of the group, with all due respect.
Caravan In the Land of Grey and Pink
Celtic Frost Morbid Tales
Chelsea Reject CMPLX
The first full-length record from female emcee Chelsea Reject is faithful to the roots of female-fronted hip-hop, blending jazzy production with R&B hooks and slick rap verses. The production here is rife with positive vibes and jazzy synths that really gives the album a laid-back and smooth feeling. The guest spots here are used to optimum proficiency, whether it's Kirk Knight's introspective rapping as seen on "47", or Atownomas' trap-influenced chanting on "So High". Chelsea herself is quite good, dropping some really tight verses on this thing, especially on a small, yet impressive track "Tree". The quality of this record is notable, as it starts at a high level and never wavers from that point throughout the whole thing. There may not be a track I'd classify as a standout, but there are definitely some wonderful songs to be heard from this record. If you're looking for some more great hip-hop this year, or just want a record with some good vibes, look no further than CMPLX.
Chief Keef Thot Breaker
Chthe'ilist Le Dernier Crépuscule
"but it just feels so empty" - The list of bands I have heard that truly evoke the spirit of Lovecraftian horrors is but of a precious few, but I believe I've found my newest entry. Simply put, other bands simply wrote about these terrifying mystic creatures, while these compositions seem to be written by terrifying mystic creatures. The production is thick and dirty, and the guitars and drums seem to swirl around in the muck with a strikingly perfect balance of angular dissonance and technical proficiency. The vocals are unholy and low, sometimes sounding froggish and very reminiscent of Antii Boman. As far as songwriting goes, a downright nefarious mix of unrelenting technical death metal, smothering doom metal, and eerily dark ambience makes the album sound very fresh and while it can be stylistically compared to albums by Profound Lore labelmates Portal, it's definitely its own, more accessible beast. In a nutshell, Le Dernier Crepuscle is an enthralling and immensely satisfying foray into the otherworldly and unspeakable. And, for what it's worth, it has taken an early lead as my MAOTY as a result.
City of Caterpillar Driving Spain Up A Wall
No band that combined the raw intensity of screamo, the beauty and melancholy of post-rock, and the explosiveness of both genres was ever as good or will ever be as good as City Of Caterpillar were. Driving Spain Up A Wall contains two songs made around the same time as the bands' self-title debut, with the title-track in particular being the first studio recording the band has done in fifteen years. "As The Curtains Dim; (Little White Lie)" was recorded in-studio fifteen years ago, and as immaculate as their self-titled debut is, this track could've fit on there seamlessly. Needless to say, it's absolutely incredible. The studio version of "Driving Spain Up A Wall" is also incredible, but it's noticeably a bit less urgent and passionate than the live recordings available before this. That's understandable given that the group is now a bunch of thirty-somethings who probably don't feel the same way they did a decade and a half ago, but still. That this music still holds weight even now is a testament to how amazing it really is, and why there likely won't be a band quite like City Of Caterpillar ever again.
Clarence Clarity No Now
Noisy, ambitious, and entirely unconventional, Clarence Clarity's debut full length is really something to behold. To call this album "alternative R&B" is not doing justice to how varied and eclectic these tracks are. The one-two punch of "Off My Grid" and "Those Who Can't, Cheat" is absolute can't-miss material, and the former easily stacks up as one of the best songs of 2015 so far. The amount of experimentation that works within these songs transforms something relatively simple into a cohesive piece made up of layers of instrumentation and vocal chops. Aside from a couple of unstructured and needlessly abrasive interludes, and some similar pointlessness that completely interrupts "With No Fear", the record is a fantastic representation of how well someone with an ear for experimentation, catchy melodies, and layered production can make music. If you are a fan of those formerly mentioned qualities, do yourself a favor and listen to this record.
Cocteau Twins Treasure
I don't think Cocteau Twins could've known just how influential Treasure would really be. It's reach extends into pop, rock, post-punk, and even electronic music. It's equal parts catchiness, atmospheric potency, and near-flawless songwriting ability. Elizabeth Fraser is many people here; she sings with such range and passion that any mood the band wishes to bring across can be matched by her vocals. Simon Raymonde is the underlying hero to this sound, as his infectious bass lines gives a lovely structure to everything while being dynamic pieces of the puzzle themselves. Robin Guthrie provides the guitars, which sound so cloudy in their neon haze that they might as well be synthesizers. The atmosphere is always a dreamy one, but the dreams are different depending on the song. Uplifting, melancholy, frustrated, loving, and beautiful all-around, there's really no denying the albums atmosphere. It's one of the Twins' best for these reasons, and is a pillar in ethereal wave and dream pop alike.
Converge Petitioning the Empty Sky
Converge No Heroes
Converge have always been one of the most forward-thinking bands in hardcore, never making the same album twice. Acting as the follow-up to the bleak You Fail Me, No Heroes is the band at their most uncomplicated and simplistic, but also their most primal and brutal. The album makes use of short bursts of intense, noisy hardcore with tons of guitar feedback and longer, more atmospheric numbers. It's easily their most sparse and stripped down, but therein lies its charm: it's their tribute to their roots of in-your-face hardcore, to the immense and sloppy punk-tinged metalcore from whence they were born. The standout tracks are the swift punch to the face "Hellbound", the post-metal influenced "Grim Heart/Black Rose", and the anthemic "Trophy Scars", but all of these tracks have at least something to take from them, no matter how short. With all that said, No Heroes may not be Converge's best work, but it is definitely not one to be overlooked.
Converge All We Love We Leave Behind
If you take everything Converge has done in their storied careers into consideration, there's really no other metalcore band that even compares. One of the things that made them and still makes them great is that for the vast majority of their career they never made the same album twice, and although All We Love We Leave Behind is more or less just a rawer, more-organic-but-less-dynamic Axe To Fall, it doesn't mean these compositions are anything to scoff at at all. If anything, it would just signify that they still had plenty of songwriting tricks up their sleeve for that style and weren't going to let them go to waste. It was a great decision, as several tracks here stack up with the bands' very best including the teary-eyed anger of "Aimless Arrow", the odd catchiness of "Sadness Comes Home", the evocative ending triage of "Precipice", the title-track, and "Predatory Glow". The emotions and intensity just comes flowing so naturally in every corner of the album; such is life for the Salem road dogs.
Covenant Skyshaper
In a lot of ways, Skyshaper may merely appear to be Northern Light part 2, but partly because that's not entirely true and partly because Northern Light is incredible, you'll hear no complaining on my end about this record. The songwriting, while not quite reaching the highs of its predecessor's work, is even more consistent, keeping that sense of wonder in the synth-driven futurepop of the beginning of the record going strong through the beat-driven second half and crafting what is perhaps the most complete listening experience Covenant ever blessed the world with. There's no low point to be found here, and really the only reason why it doesn't get a higher score than its predecessor is because it takes many of its cues from it. That is to say, Covenant have done this before, but never with this level of consistent quality and swagger. An absolutely lovely surprise of top-notch futurepop from one of the crowning members of the subgenre.
Covenant Northern Light
At their inception, Covenant was a group with definite talent, but also enriching character, which they then seemed to lose somewhat during the late 90's. By the turn of the century, however, it had come back, and Northern Light would end up as a hallmark for the futurepop style and the best work Covenant did working solely within the confines of the subgenre. Addicting melodies, danceable rhythms, beautiful vocals and lyrics, a variety of tones, and all of the charm in the world is what makes this sound work, and Northern Light may just be the perfect embodiment of it. It's songs like "Invisible & Silent" that can define careers in the eyes of the masses; anthemic, memorable, and uplifting. It's songs like "Scared", on which the sound turns tensely low-key and Eskil Simonsson sounds quite perturbed, that can define careers in the eyes of dedicated fans; nuanced, arresting, and central to the record. Basically, it's Covenant's magnum opus, and as such is a must-hear for futurepop/EBM listeners.
D'Angelo Black Messiah
Famed neo-soul and R&B artist D'Angelo was beginning to become a bit of an afterthought for a lot of people during his fourteen-year-long hiatus. But, to those who love soul music and R&B, D'Angelo would remain in their hearts for decades. Now, things are starting to change. D'Angelo is now back on the forefront of soul/R&B, titillating dedicated fans, making former fans refocus, and making many new fans in the process. The reason for this refocusing is simple: Black Messiah is one smooth, soulful, and (for some) nostalgic record. From the opening spaceship-like noises on "Ain't That Easy" to the final piano strokes of "Another Life", Black Messiah showcases everything D'Angelo's about. From smooth bass lines, soulful singing, and lyrics that have just as much relevance today as they did when they were written, Black Messiah is a fantastic comeback album. If you're going to listen to one more record in 2014, make it this one.
D'Angelo Brown Sugar
It's hard to believe that it's been two whole decades since the release of D'Angelo's debut album, Brown Sugar. It sounds like it could've been made days ago. That, I suppose, is a testament to how much influence D'Angelo had over the budding neo-soul movement, and how much of his influence is heard throughout the genre even today. So what, exactly, made him worthy of this? This album, for one, as it is an absolutely sublime slab of neo-soul and rhythm and blues that is addicting to listen to. From the opener, the title-track, we find what it's all about: smooth rhythms, soulful vocals, sexy lyrics, and that oh-so-important bass undertone. The only bad thing I could say about the album is that it does not stray far from the formula set by the opener at all. However, when you're putting out songs like "Jonz In My Bonz", "Me And Those Dreamin' Eyes Of Mine", and "Lady", who cares? All in all, a fantastic debut from one of the leading artists in neo-soul.
David Bowie Blackstar
Anyone who complains that this album is only getting high praise and acclaim because of his death is a tool and is merely stating the obvious. Of course that's why it's getting such lauding praise; it's literally his farewell album, and the new meanings brought to the lyrics after his death are inescapable. It would've been received well anyhow, but with this context, the album is brought to dizzying new heights. The jazz-influenced electronica makes this one of his most experimental works in some time, and his voice is simply heartbreaking to hear. It's one of those things that is hard to describe. When one listens to "Lazarus" or "I Can't Give Everything Away", it's like hearing his last messages to people, whether they be people he knew personally or his adoring fans. I didn't even listen to much of his previous work, even before his death, but it's safe to say that I must now, if this record is any indication of how wonderful his others must be. R.I.P., David Bowie.
Dead in the Manger Cessation
There's always been something mystifying about bands that can play to the extreme side of both spectrums. In the case of Dead In The Manger, a mysterious and anonymous band, they play a mix of black metal, grindcore, doom metal and a hint of sludge metal. The main draw of this, however, is not the styles they play, but how passionate and emotional their playing is. The riffs shift from sinister to heart-wrenching, and the pained and distressed vocals echo that sentiment in spades. There's a very deliberate and calculated feel that backs up the emotion too, especially in the case of the drumming. It's over quickly, though, as the album only clocks in at a half-hour. Still, there is tons of replay value to be found here, as there aren't many moments during its runtime that aren't engaging, both mentally and emotionally. There really isn't an image to these guys, or a discernible reason they have for being a band, other than just to play the furious and impassioned tunes they love to play.
Dead Moon In The Graveyard
You know how The White Stripes did the whole minimal garage rock/punk/blues thing and popularized it immensely despite only having one album anywhere above decent to their name? Dead Moon did the same thing, only a decade-plus earlier, twice as good, and comparatively unknown. With a bass. Raw production, sloppy playing, catchy hooks, infectious riffs, lovably average vocal ability that makes up for it in passion, and a delicious bass presence makes In The Graveyard quite the debut. The original material here is all excellent, but the covers are awesome as well, making the songs their own. And when those songs are "Can't Help Falling In Love" and "Hey Joe", that takes some real talent. The album happens to be one of the best infusions of rock and roll, punk, and blues because it takes the parts of those genres that go well with each other and combines them seamlessly, putting it through a garage filter that is authentic as it is a joy to hear, and churning out tune after tune as if it were child's play. This was only the first album of many of theirs to perfectly showcase this formula.
Dead Moon Defiance
You know those days when you're a little hammered and it's really cold outside and so you just kind of seclude yourself for a bit but you still have a good time regardless? I'm trying to find better music to jam during those situations than Defiance and so far my search has been fruitless save for a couple of records. Everything that made their first two records so enjoyably awesome makes a return here, and though not all that much separates it from its predecessors, there are some slight differences. For one, this album has "Dagger Moon" and "Walking On My Grave", which are both in the running for the best Dead Moon song. The album also has two of their best quieter, slower numbers here in "I'm Out Nine" and "Unknown Passage". Pound-for-pound, this may be the trio's finest release, the release where every last part of their songwriting, aesthetic, production, and lyricism were performed as well as they possibly could be, and in the context of the rest of their discography that's definitely saying a lot.
Deafheaven New Bermuda
There has always been a weird mystique surrounding the Bermuda triangle. Tales of aliens, supernatural forces, and just about anything the mind can conjure have been told all stemming from this particular place. This mystery and eeriness is how Deafheaven have decided to approach their new record, New Bermuda, through tightened black metal dirges, beautiful and melodic post-metal swoons, and introspective lyrics. Things are much darker than on their previous opus Sunbather, as opener "Brought To The Water" will immediately show you, but that doesn't mean there aren't any pleasant and hopeful moments. Take the endings to "Come Back" and "Gifts For The Earth". The former makes use of an evocative post-rock passage to get the feeling across, whereas the latter makes use of a loud crescendo of black metal that eventually just becomes piano and acoustic guitar. In all, the refusal to stagnate is a great sign for the band, and by utilizing this tweak of sound, they've added another dynamic record to their discography and certainly cement their status as the premier "blackgaze" band.
Death Leprosy
One of the most important death metal albums ever recorded, Leprosy is just one of the those fantastic albums that have been praised to the ends of the earth and back again, with little more to be said. In my opinion, the first six tracks and the closer are death metal perfection, with "Primitive Ways" being a good song, but not quite up to snuff with the others. With that said, "life ends so fast, so take your chance and make it last."
Death Human
One of the marks of a truly superb band is that they try, with each and every album, to give you a new spin on their established sound, or to shift sounds completely. Human is definitely one of those albums for famed metal band Death, who pioneered the death metal genre with their early death metal style. On Human, instead of playing old school death metal, they play a lethal mix of progressive death metal and technical death metal, with Chuck Schuldiner keeping his wonderful vocals from past records. Things are technical, but never overly so, as the guitars and bass strike a nice balance between breakneck riffing/soloing and melodic leads while the drums keep time perfectly as well as utilizing quick and enjoyable fills. Essentially every song is more than great, but "Secret Face" and "See Through Dreams" stand out in particular to me. In short, if you haven't heard Human, you need to, as you're missing out on one of Death's and death metal's finest.
Death Symbolic
Symbolic has made its mark as one of the most treasured death metal albums ever made by way of its progressive stylings and superb songwriting. As such, there isn't much I, a person born very soon after its creation, could say regarding its immediate impact or the waves it made that couldn't be said better by someone who experienced it first hand. For my part, I find Symbolic to be behind Individual Thought Patterns in Death's string of phenomenal records. The less pronounced bass presence hurts things a bit, and though the guitar production is amazing, it doesn't quite make up for it. That said, Symbolic is still an essential listen in the death metal realm, and another in a string of albums that cemented Death as one of the greatest bands to ever play metal in general. Of course, you didn't need me to tell you that.
Death The Sound of Perseverance
It's easily the most divisive record out of the famous "final four" of metal innovators Death, and that in and of itself should warrant it a listen, but one cannot deny the significant shift in songwriting heard on The Sound Of Perseverance, regardless of how one feels about the quality. What was once a technical death metal band with progressive leanings was now deeply entrenched in the progressive side of things, with the technicality on display only to bolster that. One need only hear "Spirit Crusher", considered by many to be Death's finest moment, to understand this songwriting prowess (though most every other song here displays this almost as well). The entire song is built from the addicting bass riff in the beginning, segueing into an onslaught of urgent riffs, unbelievable drumming, and chilling vocals. The only things holding the album from perfection are "Scavenger Of Human Sorrow" and "Flesh And The Power It Holds", two very good, but not great, tracks that simply pale in comparison to the rest of the record, including the cover of Judas Priest's "Painkiller". And so ended the output of one of the most important metal bands to ever record.
Death Grips The Powers That B - Part II: Jenny Death
I suppose it is fitting that Death Grips (presumably) end on their most rugged and abrasive set of tracks to date, and which is certainly their best work in years. MC Ride is up to his usual tricks, but he still sounds as angry and schizophrenic as he ever has. The production on the album is extremely heavy, making use of booming drums, thick basslines, dissonant guitar samples, and industrial noises. It's a bit of an acquired taste, like most of their records, but I wouldn't say it's fully inaccessible. Take the awkwardly catchy and memorable hook of "Pss Pss" for example. And of course, it wouldn't be a Death Grips album without some quotable one-liners scattered around, "The Powers That B" being an obvious example. If this is truly the end for Death Grips, at least they left with a massive and spectacular bang.
Death Grips Exmilitary
What can I say? Before the group began to deviate further and further from hip-hop, they had a truly incredible sound that refused to be pigeon-holed into the industrial glitch-hop they've been releasing lately. Before it seemed less like the MC Ride show and more like a project with equal footing in both rapping and producing. Exmilitary is a deranged, off-kilter hip-hop record, that enough is certain, but the best thing about it is that it's deranged and off-kilter because of necessity in the songwriting rather than just for the sake of it. It just wouldn't work if it didn't sound so messed up. The mixtape is worth hearing for the first three tracks alone, a three-headed hydra of abrasive, unique, and strangely catchy hip-hop. The rest of the record is only slightly beneath those three, but the ending one-two punch of "I Want It I Need It" and "Blood Creepin'" are able to match them. In all, Exmilitary is a whirlwind of spastic experimental hip-hop only bested in the band's discography by its successor.
Death Grips The Money Store
Genre-transcendent hip-hop or poorly-executed shock rap? Moreso the former than the latter if you ask yours truly, but that's part of what makes The Money Store a fascinating album: it does more than enough to be polarizing, isn't short on rewards, and has sparked plenty of discussion regarding what this strange beast could be. It has that type of love-it-or-hate-it quality to it that comes with many groundbreaking and thought-provoking records, and definitely acts as a poster child for the sound of experimental, glitchy hip-hop in the 2010's. Everything that was great about Exmilitary is here, but there is something a bit more complex about this one. Whereas before the group would relentlessly bludgeon the listener with an all-out barrage of sounds, this record sees the combination of genres through more clearly and refined, while still managing to retain some of the rawness and all of the one-liners. As such, it is unequivocally the best material Death Grips have to their name, and thus, it's definitely an album you should at least try out.
Deniro Farrar Rebirth
I'm always going to be a fan of storytelling in hip-hop. For some reason, a story told over metal riffs or smooth acoustic guitar just doesn't have the same emotional effect that hearing the story told through rapping and looped beats does. There are storytellers that are very cryptic with their lyrics and meanings, and then there are storytellers that don't mince words, get straight to the point, and let you know that every word that escapes their mouth is unabashedly real. The latter describes Deniro Farrar, who, instead of crafting a painting symbolic of his life, takes a picture of his life with a camera of the highest definition. No photoshop here. Mixing introspective questions and thoughts with immediate existential surroundings and flowing masterfully over excellent cloud rap/trap production, Farrar lays himself bare on this 25-minute EP. The guest spots are used to optimum proficiency here as well, showing that Farrar is smart with choosing artists that compliment his aesthetic and overall theme. An overlooked gem, Rebirth is a fantastic hip-hop EP that is dying to be heard.
Denzel Curry Imperial
Zel still has a ways to go before he reaches this status in the genre, but in a lot of ways he's comparable to another certain Curry that has taken his respective profession by storm with what he's been able to accomplish. Like Steph, Denzel has a game that is rapid, fluid, and wholly entertaining and captivating. His flow is impeccable, and lyrically his blunt, yet clever wordplay paints a vivid picture of all the events and feelings he relates. The hooks here are hard hitting and catchy as well. Also like Steph, Denzel has a marvelous supporting cast. Ronnie J, FNZ, Lino Martinez, and even $uicide Boy$ make excellent contributions to the project through their psychedelia-influenced trap production. Rick Ross and Joey Bada$$ show up and drop a couple of swell verses as well, backing Zel up wonderfully. If there's one misstep to be found, it's on "This Life", which isn't really up to par with the other tracks here. Ultimately, on Imperial, Denzel Curry shows why you should be listening to him if you're a fan of hard-hitting, energetic hip-hop.
Diamanda Galas The Litanies of Satan
In one (or, in this case, hundreds of) crazed breath, Diamada Galas showed that not only was she an unmatchable talent when it came to vocalization and a Capella, but that she was impressively adept at fleshing out a concept that was both understandable and interesting. In the case of The Litanies Of Satan, the concept is simple: life as we know it is hell, and the incorrigibly evil deity known as Satan lives within every human mind. Thus, the second track on the record follows the theme in the sense that it is about a human mind driven to madness by this hell. Musically, there is nothing other than Galas' simultaneously incredible, insane, impressive, and unnerving vocal acrobatics to be found, save for some industrial banging and slight ambient drone on the title-track, and it truly couldn't be any other way. Though it's not quite on the level as some of her later projects, it's definitely a unique and challenging record that firmly established Diamanda Galas as a force in experimental music.
diSEMBOWELMENT Transcendence into the Peripheral
DJ Screw Chapter 214: Old School
It's a general consensus that DJ Screw was best when chopping some stuff from the south, preferably stuff from his hometown of Houston. But, as this tape so effortlessly demonstrates, he was great at screwing pretty much anything with some bass and a beat. In this case, it just happened to be late 60's/early 70's funk music, which sounds amazing when under his influence. From a sonic standpoint, there isn't much in the way of chopping (besides Yarbrough & Peoples' "Don't Stop The Music") or really any other technique other than screwing, but that's not the point here. Honed ears will note the practically flawless mixing and transitioning that takes place throughout the entire runtime, showing that Screw knew what music to use when honing his skills at differing facets of DJ skill sets. Perhaps the best song here is James Mtume's "Juicy Fruit", which would, later that year, be the main sample of a timeless hip-hop classic in The Notorious B.I.G's "Juicy". The vibes coming off the tape are very positive and enjoyable, and it's overall a blast to listen to. In all, DJ Screw's foray into early funk music is a truly essential screw tape.
DJ Screw Chapter 49 - Codeine Fiend
If you've ever heard DJ Screw's two most famous projects, one being the essential 3 'N The Mornin' (Part 2) and the immortal Bigtyme Recordz Vol. II: All Screwed Up, you'll definitely recognize some of the material from Chapter 49 - Codeine Fiend, as plenty of things screwed here are heard in some form or other on those tapes and many more, oftentimes using part of the instrumental or a line from the song. As a tape, Codeine Fiend has some of Screw's most famous remixes, including the undeniable screw of "Swangin' And Bangin'" by E.S.G., and WC's "Ghetto Scranade". The mixing and chopping here are near-flawless, and the heavy and hazy feel of the tape is totally enveloping. And one need not forget the two freestyles here which Mike D rips up, especially the one to the tune of 2Pac's "So Many Tears" (that one, my god. Too damn smooth). All of this makes Codeine Fiend an essential Screw tape, and there need not be anything more said but that, honestly.
DjRum Mountains
Eluvium False Readings On
If this isn't the feel-good album of the year so far, then it's second only to Awo. Because this is some of the most downright gorgeous ambient that has graced this year with its presence, believe it or not. Eluvium has been at this modern classical/ambient/drone thing for a while now, but I don't know if it's ever sounded as beautiful and heart-warming as it does here. The melodies on the first two tracks alone are simply lovely, and "Movie Night Revisited" is like the ambient representation of ocean waves, constantly rolling in and back out to a calming effect. Closer "Posturing Through Metaphysical Collapse" is a seventeen-minute monolith of a song that constantly blankets you in warm drones and the lightest of fuzz, never once offering a sound that is uncomfortable to hear. That's one of the great things about False Readings On: it's sound is comfortable, but not in a "heard this before" type of way, if you catch my drift. Beautiful and uplifting without feeling cliched, Eluvium's eighth full-length might just be his finest hour.
Eminem The Marshall Mathers LP
Epidemic (Hip-Hop) 4 Dimensions On A Paper
In the year of 2016, this right here is everything about how to do an old-school boom-bap record right. The production, while certainly drawing a lot of inspiration not just from boom-bap, but from mid-90's east coast hip-hop in general, is modern in the sense that it sounds very clean and clear. Jazzy flavors fly across the beats, and provide an excellent backdrop for Hex One and Tek-Nition to spit some phenomenal stuff over. The lyrics here are fantastic throughout, constantly dropping gems of wit, knowledge, and personality. The amount of topics dealt with seems daunting at a glance: addiction, daily struggles, death, our place in the vast universe, labels abuse of signees, and more. Yet, it's all handled with tact and precision, with the type of dexterous storytelling that is foolish not to covet. This is the type of record that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that fresh and enjoyable boom-bap can still be made in this day and age without sounding dated. It's the type of record that will assuredly please old-school fans while still appealing to modern ones. With 4 Dimensions On A Paper, Epidemic have firmly established the sound of boom-bap in 2016. RAOTY? We shall see.r
Escape the Fate Dying Is Your Latest Fashion
Dying Is Your Latest Fashion, along with There's No Sympathy For The Dead, was and still is middle school to me. I acknowledge that it's not original in the slightest, the lyrics can get really dumb, and those growls in "The Guillotine" are cringe-inducing, but holy hell are these some of the catchiest songs in this entire style. Ronnie Radke is a certified douchecanoe, but the dude can really sing and my goodness can he write a catchy hook. There isn't one song on this record that doesn't have ear-worm potential, "My Apocalypse" and "Not Good Enough For Truth In Cliche" in particular. There's a nice variety of songs here too as a matter of fact, with some adopting a melodic metalcore approach, others being straight-up emo-pop, others still having some electronic flourishes, an acoustic ballad, and sometimes a combination of all of those. Objectively, it's a solid, catchy record that doesn't pretend to be anything else and there's definitely something to be said for that, but subjectively this album is one of the funnest around not only for the music, but for the memories associated with it. Nostalgia is a powerful thing my friends.
Explosions in the Sky All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone
I've always been a fan of how Explosions In The Sky do post-rock. While I do love the louder, dronier stuff like Godspeed, there's something to be said for the simple, yet effective way EITS play their music. Unfortunately, this also has garnered them some flak for having a been-there-done-that feel to their music on occasion. While that is true in the case of All Of A Sudden, I Miss Everyone, it never gets to the point where it will bother the listener. In fact, EITS add a different feeling to this record: darkness. This is evident even from the opening notes of "The Birth and Death of the Day". "It's Natural To Be Afraid" adds to this feeling, but it does have an uplifting crescendo the likes of which only EITS can create. "What Did You Go Home To?", with its melancholy piano, does a perfect job of setting up "Catastrophe and the Cure", which might just be the best song on the album, despite not being as dark as the rest of the album. A return to form from the disappointing The Rescue, EITS really deliver on this record, and no fan of post-rock should pass it up.
Fire! She Sleeps, She Sleeps
Fire!, the famed Swedish jazz trio central to the experimental big band ensemble Fire! Orchestra, turns in a delicate, dark, very tense, and occasionally dissonant performance of the avant-garde with She Sleeps, She Sleeps. It's definitely a slow burner, but it's remarkably nuanced and the constant feeling of anxiety felt throughout the album with only minimal breaks ("She Bid A Meaningless Farewell") means that the listener never feels disengaged or bored with it in the slightest. The dissonance is brought on heavily in the title-track, with Mats Gustafsson's saxophone seemingly flailing in the otherwise minute atmosphere set up by the easy bass and light drumming. It's a very patient album as well, as heard during the closing piece "She Penetrates The Distant Silence. Slowly", an extremely slow-moving and incredibly on-edge song that doesn't skimp on build-up or climax, resulting in one of darkest, most anxious jazz songs this year. Truly, Fire! is a trio to be reckoned with when they put together albums such as this.
Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac
Flying Lotus You're Dead!
Flying Lotus, also known as Flylo, has truly made a name for himself in the past eight years. His work, being of the experimental electronic and jazz fusion genres, have garnered a large amount of critical acclaim. In terms of the quality we all expect from him, he delivers once again on You're Dead! The production on this album is stunning, making use of so many different instruments and styles. For instance, on "Tesla", he makes use of very skilled bass, mixing it with xylophone and piano to create a great jazz fusion track. On "Cold Dead", the use of trumpet and electric guitar is seen along with piano. Elsewhere, we find very ethereal and euphoric tracks like "Coronus, The Terminator", "The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep", and "Obligatory Cadence" make this release as fun to listen to as it is ambitious. All I know is, if I'm really dead, at least I've got You're Dead!
Flying Lotus Los Angeles
It seems as if, no matter what style he employs, that Flying Lotus creates some of the most textured, intelligent, and engaging electronic music that always has layer upon layer of wonderful sounds to peel back every album. There are plenty of subgenres explored on Los Angeles, including trip-hop, wonky, IDM, instrumental hip-hop, and even glitch-hop. It's a very urban record, not unlike Burial's full-lengths, but the difference here is a rather relaxed, playful sentiment rather than a detached and paranoid one. Things are constantly swirling around in the space-like atmosphere, whether they be the kick drums you can feel in your bones on "Breathe Something/Stellar Star", the tribal drums of "Melt!", the simple and smooth guitar on "Riot", or the beautiful vocals on "Roberta Flack". In a nutshell, FlyLo's second full-length is a unique and refreshing take on trip-hop, as well as other aforementioned genres, that shouldn't be missed by fans of electronic music or fans of beat-driven music in general.
Flying Lotus Cosmogramma
Always a man with his head in space, Steven Ellison, through evolutions spanning whole albums, is a savant of many electronic subgenres. The minimal, wonky instrumental hip-hop and trip-hop that permeated Los Angeles was certainly pleasing and amazing in its own right, but Cosmogramma let it be known that Flying Lotus was evolving further, consuming more ideas and experimenting with an illustrious palette. Layers upon layers of nu-jazz, trip-hop, IDM, and the like enrich each track with all sorts of electronic sounds and subtle, short-lasting melodies. Though many tracks barely exceed two minutes, it's impossible to hear everything going on inside them on one listen. It definitely requires some patient listening, but ultimately the rewards waiting to be reaped by such listening make Cosmogramma an excellent listening experience and another notch in the ever-growing belt that Flying Lotus so proudly wears.
Frank Ocean channel ORANGE
G Herbo Welcome to Fazoland
The hip-hop scene in Chicago is one of the most captivating out there. Drill is inescapably interweaved with the gangs of the city; Lil Mouse said it best when he simply stated "that ain't something that we joke about. We lost homies over this shit." That's because everything described in the lyrics of the rappers in the scene are true. Murders, drug deals, robberies, and various other criminal misdeeds: it's all happened to these people. That's why Welcome To Fazoland is one of the best tapes to come out of the scene: Herb paints a vivid and stunning picture of his life in the city over a canvas of equal parts hard-hitting, imposing, and remorseful trap production. Things are bleak, dangerous, and stressful no doubt, but the hope that things will eventually turn around shines through often here, thus creating a distinctly moody sound. Herb is quite something on the microphone, adapting to the sound of the production perfectly with different deliveries and flows, always sounding like a young man with an old soul. Truly, this mixtape is one of drill's finest due to these aforementioned qualities.
George Clanton 100% Electronica
I suppose if "electronica" is a term applicable to a wide range of electronic genres, then this record pretty much has the perfect title. I say that because this release is a surprisingly eclectic collection of songs of all sorts of electronic genres, including synthpop, downtempo, vaporwave, chillwave, and ambient pop. In terms of relativity, it's eclecticism is somewhat similar to Pastel Ghost, just more subdued, with male vocals, and not swamped in reverb. The whole album, while certainly produced wonderfully, also has catchy hooks scattered throughout, with Clanton's voice being quite adept for the job. The album has a watery, fluid texture due to all of this, and it's quite relaxing, yet also very fun. It's a remarkably enjoyable listen, and though it can get slightly samey near the end, it's also a consistent effort. Needless to say, more albums from this man are a tantalizing thought.
Gnaw Their Tongues Abyss of Longing Throats
Godspeed You! Black Emperor Yanqui U.X.O.
Goldie Timeless
If being timeless is what Clifford Price was aiming for with his debut, then he just may have attained it. What is now seen as a groundbreaking drum and bass release, Timeless was one of the first records ever to mix the genres trademark hard-hitting breakbeats and deep bass lines with atmospheric strings and synths, along with a slew of angelical female vocals. The album gets off to an incredible start with the title track, which is one of the best electronic tracks I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. The entire first half of this record is absolute can't-miss material, the best of it being on another wonderful track in "Sea Of Tears", and on the lethal "Jah, The Seventh Seal". Though the second half of the record does stray a bit from the perfect path set by the first half, there are fantastic moments here as well with "A Sense Of Rage", "Still Life", and "You & Me". It's nearly two hours long, so there will be some time and patience needed to digest everything that appears on this album. However, I believe it is well worth it, and though I can't quite say it's a 5 for me, it's the closest it can possibly be without being one. If you call yourself a fan of drum and bass, jungle, or electronic music in general, make sure you give this beast of an album a well-deserved listen.
Gorillaz Demon Days
Have a Nice Life Deathconsciousness
It may have been said better many times before, but one of the rarest gifts in the music world is the ability to write an unconventional album and actually pull it off. Deathconsciousness, a sprawling, massive conglomerate of almost any "post" genre you can think of along with drone and shoegaze, proves that Have A Nice Life have that gift. Even when things become more conventional, such as "Deep, Deep", as straightforward of a post-punk song the album has, they perform it with absolutely no trouble, as if they're just effortlessly floating through it. The record has an atmosphere full of wonder, and though it can become melancholy in spots, hope usually ends up overtaking it. It's certainly a long endeavor, but there's so much to be found here that length shouldn't be a problem. It's all of this that make this record an endlessly rewarding listen for anyone who chooses to be enveloped in it.
Herbie Hancock Maiden Voyage
The thing that usually keeps me from giving certain jazz albums a 4.5 or a 5 is that they have little in the way of memorability. Ask me to whistle anything off of Soultrane and you'll get nothing. It's usually the atmospheres and the passion heard that do it for me, even in the face of songwriting that hits every nail on the head besides memorability. Maiden Voyage eschews this problem quite well while retaining a discernible atmosphere (in this case, it's quite nautical), seeing as how it's bookends have some immediately recognizable and memorable lines on them. Herbie Hancock composed this record to be smooth modal, but when the styles shift to hard bop, risks are taken that nearly reach the avant-garde, as "Survival Of The Fittest" while show you. Freddie Hubbard and George Coleman man the trumpet and tenor sax respectively and are both very strong yet soothing depending on the way they approach the song. The Carter-Williams bass/drum combo works like a charm as well, setting the pace well no matter what it is and providing a decisive melodic presence as well. It's an album made for the sea that rises above the waves, and manages to be a memorable and ultimately very enjoyable experience.
Herbie Hancock Empyrean Isles
This is the first work of Herbie Hancock's in which his inherently experimental writing style worked on every level. Seeing the limitations that the trumpet had in playing certain styles, he eschewed them by writing the trumpet's (or in this case, the cornet, played by the ineffable Freddie Hubbard) parts very fluidly; part written and part improvisation, similar to how he wrote for the piano on his last album. What follows is one of the most delicate, deliberate, and decidedly minimal mixtures of hard/post-bop, in certain spots having a lean towards the modal. The first two tracks here are passionate and strong hard bop numbers, though the end of "Oliloqui Valley" switches to post-bop. A famously funky number comes through with "Cantaloupe Island", one of Hancock's most revered songs, before the album closes with "The Egg", a lengthy-yet-minimal track that combines hard/post-bop/modal into a beautifully meticulous sound. Truly then, Empyrean Isles was the first fully realized work of jazz's next great genius.
Here Comes the Kraken Here Comes the Kraken
Hiatus Kaiyote Tawk Tomahawk
While it sometimes lacks the endless dynamics that its successor, Choose Your Weapon, has, Hiatus Kaiyote's debut is still a wonderful journey into a style of neo-soul and R&B that they deemed "future soul". Things are buttery smooth on this LP, with what might be their best track in album closer "Nakamarra" being the gold standard. Small instrumental interludes are still a common occurrence, and manage to be entertaining enough to warrant a spot on the record. Nai Palm is much more subdued than she would end up sounding later, but she's still got the vocal chops to take the music behind her to the next level. Needless to say, this isn't quite as good as their follow-up, but this project is most certainly worth checking out if you want a better look into what exactly went into creating Hiatus Kaiyote's incredible modern soul sound.
Horrendous Anareta
In astrology, the term "anareta" means "the killing planet" or "a planet capable of great destruction." When you pair that name with that album cover, you're expecting some pretty gnarly death metal to say the least. Yet, Horrendous doesn't go that route, rather opting to be merely ominous and, more often than not, beautiful. And it's really quite the ride. The production here is pretty much perfect. It's cleaner than a lot of death metal production jobs, but it still lets the sound ebb and flow and be organic. Don't be surprised to see more death metal bands in the future employ a similar production style to this one. The bass is audible, the drums sound lively, and the guitars are astounding, both in sound and in skill. The vocals are excellent, and the songwriting here improves from the stout OSDM-revival style to a better amalgamation of old school and new era influences. Needless to say, this results in a sound that is distinctly Horrendous, and the record is all the better for it. In short, it's a wondrous display of death metal, helped along by masterful production.
Horrorshow The Grey Space
Howls of Ebb Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows
Adopting the ethos and production style from the strange beast that was The Marrow Veil and placing it into slightly more accessible, yet still twisted songwriting, Cursus Impasse is another study in psychedelic, incensed misery, and the complete deconstruction of many of the laurels of death metal. It's hard to describe the sound in layman's terms, so I'll submit this image for your approval: imagine yourself stranded upon the volcanic plains of Venus, lava spewing forth from the underbelly of the planet. The massive, yellow mountains leer and the atmosphere burns with intensity. The fires begin to speak to you of the unholy secrets of the cosmos, and you for all your experience cannot even begin to comprehend what these things mean. That's basically what this album sounds like, more or less. It's ironic, though, that such a band that turns death metal on its head like this cannot escape one of the most important laurels of it: that it take us to places we cannot see, and probably were not meant to. All the more reason why Howls Of Ebb is one of the most interesting, fascinating, and endlessly entertaining that metal has to offer.
Iced Earth Night of the Stormrider
Interpol Turn on the Bright Lights
Inverloch Distance | Collapsed
I'm sure I'm not alone in the sentiment that Transcendence Into The Peripheral was quite possibly the greatest death-doom metal record ever made, and a pretty unique record from an atmospheric and production standpoint. Now, 23 years after the release of that record, one-half of diSEMBOWELMENT, bassist Matt Skarajew (who handles rhythm guitar here) and drummer Paul Mazziotta, have grouped together with a few upstanding gentlemen in guitarist Mark Cullen, bassist Chirs Jordan, and vocalist Ben James, and have released the spiritual successor to the 1993 classic. Musically and conceptually, the two records have the same mission statement. However, what separates Distance / Collapsed from its predecessor is the decidedly modern production job, which gives less of an ambient feel in favor of oppressive grimness. It is, in effect, a modern take on a classic sound, which ultimately works in every way. It's not quite up to the greatness of Transcendence, but Distance / Collapsed is a very engaging and, of all things, nostalgic death-doom metal record from the masters of the genre.
James Blake The Colour in Anything
For all intents and purposes, The Color In Anything is James Blake realizing his true potential, the album he's always had within his power to create. It's a brooding, vocal-heavy, wholly engaging producer/songwriter escapade with the most heavy-hitting and full-sounding production he's ever worked with. It's quality remains unwavering from the opener "Radio Silence", where melancholy piano and angelic vocals set the tone for the rest of the record, all the way until the autotune-drenched closer "Meet You In The Maze". Yet, with the quality being unmoving and the album being a nice seventy-six minutes, there is a slight issue with the songs bleeding into each other, which happens more towards the back end of the record. That being said, the individual songs are excellent, and this is true of each one. In all, The Color In Anything, in all its melancholic beauty, is James Blake's greatest achievement so far in his young career.
James Blake Enough Thunder
I don't know why, but Enough Thunder hits me right in the feels every single time. Objectively, his self-titled or The Colour In Anything is his best work, but there's just something about this one. It does what Klavierwerke did in its very minimal, autotune-as-an-instrument approach, but about ninety times better. The piano ballad tracks he does here are absolutely phenomenal as well. His cover of Joni Mitchell's "A Case Of You", which is definitely one of the better covers I've ever heard, makes me tear up almost every time I hear it. Every song here is fantastic in its own way, though, and though this is probably his most sparse work, it's also the most evocative and personal to this point in his career. I don't know if he'll ever release something like this again, but a man can dream.
Jethro Tull Aqualung
As if there's really anything new to say about Aqualung. It's the first true culmination of the band's musical vision, perfectly combining progressive rock with folk rock in a way few have done before or since. It's equal parts electric and acoustic, and both styles come with their fair share of pop sensibilities as well. I for one appreciate how subtly and wonderfully sarcastic the record is. One example of this was woven into its own creation; it's a record mostly about ambivalence to religion, specifically Christianity, but was recorded in a converted church hall. I'm also pretty sure that the song "My God" is named so because that's exactly what the listener says to themselves when that unbelievable flute solo happens. Whether or not you prefer this, Thick As A Brick, or any other Tull record, it should be known: Aqualung was the first true step into making Jethro Tull a household name.
Johann Sebastian Bach Harpsichord Concerto No. 1, BWV 1052
John Cage 4'33''
As far as experimental music goes, I suppose this would be the pinnacle, given that it is an experiment conducted through music, or through what one would perceive to be music. A lot of thoughtful discussion has been generated as a result, and that's pretty cool, even if it is just varying degrees of silence and background noise. As such, it's completely arbitrary to rate something like this, so since 4'33" converts to 4.33 in decimal form, and 4.33 rounds up nicely to 4.5 within this rating system, a 4.5 looks as good a rating as any.
John Coltrane Ascension
Dave Liebman, who was a great saxophonist in his own right, recalled Ascension as "the torch that lit the whole free jazz thing". And while men like Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and Pharaoh Sanders certainly got things rolling, John Coltrane set it firmly in motion. Ascension is a study of many things; the creative minds of some of jazz's greatest artists, the inner workings of dissonance and freedom as opposed to melody and structure, and just plain having a good time. And all of this was done pretty much at the drop of a hat, which is impressive if I do say so myself. I think, because it was done in such a way, that it's hard to say what Coltrane's purpose behind this record was. To make a statement regarding jazz, improvisation, and structure? Or to just create with some of his most trusted colleagues? Maybe that's why Ascension is so enticing; it doesn't really have an inherent meaning, so you create one for yourself if you so choose. Whatever the case may be, this is a truly beautiful, impressive, consuming listen, one that every fan of jazz owes themselves to hear.
John Coltrane Blue Train
Adhering to the hard bop of the era that molded his playing style in the 50's, John Coltrane put out an absolute staple of the genre and one of his best albums in Blue Train. Utilizing the already tried and tested rhythm section of Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, a pair of steady hands in pianist Kenny Drew, and a top-notch horn section in Coltrane, Lee Morgan, and Curt Fuller on the tenor sax, trumpet, and trombone respectively, the personnel on the album are excellent. The songwriting, done entirely by Coltrane save for the slower-paced "I'm Old Fashioned", is quite wonderful, with many great solos and incredible interplay between the horns. The title-track is one of those jazz songs that you've definitely heard before even if you're just only a little familiar with jazz, undoubtedly due to its unmistakable intro/outro. Altogether, if you're looking for a way to get into the hard bop style of jazz, Blue Train may be the best album for the job.
Johnny Cash American Recordings
Johnny Cash American II: Unchained
The man in black is often considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, country artists that ever lived. It's not hard to understand with records like this, his second stint with Rick Rubin and the second album in the American Recordings series. This album features a bit more than just Johnny and his guitar, making fantastic use of strings throughout, and containing more drumming than the original American recording. This album contains several of Cash's best songs, like "Rusty Cage", "Southern Accents", and "Meet Me In Heaven". However, the best song on the album (and in my opinion Cash's best song) is the riveting and tearjerkingly beautiful "Spiritual", which features some of the most emotional singing the cashman ever recorded. Truly, this album is not to be missed by fans of country music.
Johnny Cash American III: Solitary Man
I know that hearts were loving long before I was here, and I'm not the first to ever cry in their bed or in their beer. There were songs before there was radio about love that stays and love that goes, they were writing melancholy tunes and tearful words that rhyme. Before my time. There were songs in old dusty books of love that's always been, sweet lovers in their glory who are now gone with the wind. Old fashioned love-words spoken then keep coming back and around again, nothing's changed except the names, their love burns just like mine. Before my time. And in the dim of yesterday I can clearly see that flesh and blood cried out to someone as it does in me, and there was some old song that said "I'll love you 'til you die." Before my time. But what the old-time masters had is what I feel for you, love is love and doesn't change in a century or two. If someway they had seen and knew how it would be for me and you, they'd wish for love like yours and they'd wish for love like mine. Before my time
Johnny Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around
It's rare that anyone puts out enough music to have eighty-seven records, but it's even rarer that the eighty-seventh record is as good as anything ever put out by the artist. That's what Johnny Cash accomplished, though, with his last recording before death. Full of classic Cash songs and several truly incredible covers, Johnny delivers one of his most heartfelt and emotional performances he ever lived to do. It was this album that taught me that covers of already written songs can still be original if performed correctly, that the best covers are the ones that add the covering artists personal flair and context, and that sometimes they're so good they get mistaken for the original (I'd venture to say that more people know "Hurt" as a Cash tune rather than a Reznor one). Cash's voice is so potent on this record that not only do some lyrics have new meaning, but clearer images are conjured up when they're heard. Truly, in his eleventh hour, Johnny Cash forever reminded the world why he was one of the greatest, if not they greatest, country artist to ever live.
Joy Division Closer
Ian Curtis was too good for this world. One of his lines on "The Eternal" really speaks to me. He sings, "Try to cry out in the heat of the moment; Possessed by a fury than burns from inside". He makes a few references to burning on Closer, another being the hook of "Heart And Soul" in which he sings, "Heart and soul: one will burn". I can't help but be reminded of that famous Neil Young lyric, "It's better to burn out than to fade away." Perhaps Ian Curtis felt it too, or perhaps not, I cannot say. What I can say is that the impact he had on the music world, and the impact he had on the millions of fans of Joy Division, cannot be understated. For all the excellent contributions on this record, especially from bassist Peter Hook, Curtis steals the show with a vocal and lyrical performance for the ages, capturing the struggle of depression in every line. The record represents an end for Curtis, his parting gift to the world. A slight solace is found in that it also represents a new beginning for the remaining members, who went on to form New Order. Simply put, Closer is legendary for many reasons, which are all reasons why any fan of music should hear it.
Justin Timberlake The 20/20 Experience
It's hard to believe that Justin Timberlake took seven years to make this. He's a multi-faceted guy, and what with his acting career and his great sophomore LP Future Sex/Love Sounds, people have been taking much more seriously than just "that guy from N*Sync" for a while now. But, if this is the result of seven years of work, then by all means, J.T., take your sweet time. He sounds very confident, but doesn't come off as narcissistic. He sings with a soothing and oftentimes beautiful voice, but never lets it become overbearing. The production on this thing is top-notch, and though a few of the songs stay a little past their welcome, this album is excellent RnB/pop. The lyrics here follow a pretty common theme: women. Still, there are none that are bad, and he honestly sounds like he's putting emotion into them when he sings them, "That Girl" being a fantastic example. The highlight of all this, of course, is the ending duo of the insanely catchy "Mirrors" and the smooth "Blue Ocean Floor." So, yes, the praise for this album is most certainly justified.
Kamasi Washington The Epic
If nothing else, this record should win the "Most Aptly Titled Album Of The Year" award. You probably already know the deal with this album. Yes, it's three hours long, and yes, that is a bit of a daunting task if you want to grasp the entire thing. That being said, the album is surprisingly accessible, using a fusion of spiritual jazz, post-bop, and soul that grooves in and out of a wonderful ensemble. The compositions are immense, but they're pretty easy to listen to, especially when tracks are catchy, like "Cherokee". It's hard to choose a best song off the record because of its remarkable consistency, but if I had to choose it'd be "Clair De Lune". It's not the most original jazz album in the world, but it is so well done, down to the last detail, that it's hard to fault anyone involved for being "unoriginal". What stands up as the jazz album of the year (for me, and I'm sure a lot of others), The Epic is truly its namesake, establishing Kamasi Washington as a force to be reckoned with.
Kayo Dot Choirs of the Eye
It must have been incredible to hear Choirs Of The Eye when it first came out. For all of the amazing things that maudlin of the Well did, I don't think anyone expected that the guys who went on to form Kayo Dot had this up their sleeve. There's something so free and human about this album that it's hard to put into words. Everything just flows out so poignantly that the intricate and contrasting songs seem like some metaphysical expression of life and death. On paper it's a mixture of post-rock, chamber jazz, experimental metal, and avant-prog, but that alone falls woefully short of describing what actually transpires on these compositions. The only problem that can be heard is that sometimes the songs totally stop into silence and pick up in totally different places, but this is a minor problem and doesn't interrupt the flow of the album as much as it would seem. It's a truly mesmerizing and beautiful album that continues to get better after every listen, and would serve to spark the fire of one of the most interesting bands around.
Kendrick Lamar Section.80
Kendrick Lamar DAMN.
A lot of opinions about this album were already formed before the album even came out. Hype and anti-hype are both very real things and getting swept up in either of them is pretty embarrassing. It's hard to really say much about DAMN. right now, but it's going down a whole lot easier than To Pimp A Butterfly did, as it's arguably Kendrick's most accessible project so far. The emphasis here is much more on the atmosphere and vibes of the songs themselves rather than the stories or the lyrical escapades, although those are still good; the production shifts a lot here, with songs being connected not in style, but in theme, and in that sense, it's far from scatterbrained. Kendrick does what he wants in whatever DAMN. style he pleases here, and he's unsurprisingly excellent at all of them. "HUMBLE." is actually the worst song here, and though it's decent enough, it sticks out like a sore thumb amidst the otherwise very high quality tracklist. Could it be considered another classic? Impossible to say right now, although it's a bit too streamlined and general for one to imagine it would end up as such. Still, this is a fantastic record so far in the early listening stages, and is an album plenty of rappers would kill to have in their discography.
Kraftwerk Trans-Europe Express
One could say so many things about the influence and importance of Trans Europa Express that one measly soundoff would never be enough to suffice for Kraftwerk's genius. For my part, the album sounds a bit like this: You're riding on a train, one of those high-end ones that are only ridden by those rich enough and arrogant enough to have no societal perspective based in reality. All of their faces, voices, names, and clothes become indistinguishable from one another, and the same mundane phrases and conversations bleed into each other one day after the next. Meanwhile, the train races onward at thousands of miles per hour, passing the entire world by. Maybe that's a pretentious load of crap but you get my point: this album rules.
Krallice Ygg Huur
Avant-garde black metal band Krallice have received their fair share of praise and criticism over the years. Many praise their abilities with their respective instruments and appreciate the anti-traditionalist view they hold of black metal. Others dismiss them as self-indulgent, with no understanding of what black metal actually is or what it stands for. For my part, I've considered Krallice quite talented, but occasionally directionless. That being said, this new record of theirs is far from directionless, and offers a new take on the established Krallice sound. Yes, there are hyper-fast tremolo riffs and blast beats galore, but one of the coolest things about this record is how it constantly walks the line between black metal and death metal, never straying too far into one style. This means that slower, more atmospheric playing is incorporated, especially on the opener "Idols". The vocals, though sparse, sound wonderful, and the guitars are as absorbingly fun as ever. With this release, Krallice tighten their game, and the end result is quite enjoyable.
Lil Ugly Mane Oblivion Access
Right from the beginning track of Oblivion Access, you know this album is going to be different from his other projects. The album is noisy, uncompromising, and absolutely scathes lyrically. There are no inherently catchy songs, and things are even more unpredictable than before. The production is excellent, as usual, but we also see one of Ugly's most enraged moments both from a rapping standpoint and a producing one on the ending trio of songs. He sounds absolutely vicious on "Slugs", and his production is cacophonous on "Compliance". "Intent And Purulent Discharge" mixes those two qualities in addition to being quite unnerving. In the end, it's all about what or who's oblivion we are given access to. In this case, it's Ugly's, and it is truly an excellent album from all fronts and a perfect send-off for one of the best artists in the underground from this decade.
It's funny actually, from an objective standpoint Lil Ugly Mane's rapping on this record is kind of crappy. He has little technical skill and constantly falls off beat. Yet, when he spits lines like "bitch you heating up like a bagel in the microwave", you can't help but wonder if it's all completely on purpose. Thus, there are some people who believe that Lil Ugly Mane plays the whole Memphis rap scene and much of the south in general for laughs on MISTA THUG ISOLATION. He totally does, but make no mistake: the man clearly understands and enjoys the style he's satirizing. The production is made up of jazzy samples and ominous synths, while the hooks are usually just several samples from other southern artists spliced together. It's sounds simple enough, but it can't be understated how intricate the production actually is. It's also one of the funnier albums out there, given the ironic nature in which everything on this album is delivered in. It's satire by a guy so talented it's almost not.
Linkin Park Meteora
Little Simz A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons
Women can be kings. That is one of the predominant themes of Little Simz' sophomore LP, one that paints a masterful picture of her fascinating life and the place women are unfairly relegated to in hip-hop. With her distinct British voice and skilled lyricism, Little Simz herself is pretty easy to get into. The production, which is at some points hard-hitting and loud and at others subdued and melancholy, is an excellent backdrop for her to spit her wonders over. Though it might be sonically accessible, Little Simz' message spends time confronting what few people in hip-hop are willing to confront: the mistreatment and societal stereotypes against women. She also has an introspective point of view, as well as telling stories of the people around her. This sounds so much more convincing when coming from the mouth a woman who has experienced this first hand, which is part of what makes A Curious Tale so interesting and worthwhile. We might, and bear with me on this, might be witnessing one of the most important female emcees to ever pick up a microphone, and thus, it would be a sin to miss this record.
Loma Prieta Self Portrait
I know many of us, myself included, have either been through or are currently going through depression and anxiety. For all its wonder and intricacies, music cannot cure something like that. It can, though, in my experience at least, take the edge off a slight bit. That's why records like Self Portrait exist. The album is a cacophonous, angry, sad, hopeful, and at some times beautiful collection of screamo that ranges from pulsating, loud hardcore riffs with a sound like that of locusts and quieter, more melodic post-rock crescendos. Emotionally, it begins giving off a feeling of uneasiness, but this quickly tailspins into anger and finally into melancholy by "Nostalgia". Yet, "Never Remember" is surprisingly upbeat, and by the time closer "Satellite" begins to soar, the uplifting nature of the record is revealed. It manages to map out this range of emotions in only thirty-one minutes, but it feels quite a bit longer, and I say that in the best possible way. In all, Self Portrait will probably end up being the screamo album of the year for many people, myself included. It has its bevy of cathartic moments to thank.
Loma Prieta I.V.
This record is truly the culmination of everything Loma Prieta had been working up to their entire careers. They steadily improved their craft on each release, took everything that was great about those releases, shed the fat off of them, and made I.V. as a result. The explosive, almost dirty production of Life/Less makes a return here to excellent effect, giving the same sense of power to the compositions even when more subdued in tone, as closer "Diamond Teeth" will show you. The juxtaposition of intense discordance on songs like "Trilogy 4 "Momentary"" with melancholic melodies reminiscent of Last City on songs like "Biography" really shows how far the songwriting quality of the band has come. It's all wrapped up in a quick twenty-four minutes, but compared to the other material the band has released, this is a long record for them, and it's structure and intensity is such that it's pretty much the perfect length. It's the final product of phenomenal screamo sound, and the defining moment of their careers so far.
Lorde Melodrama
I'm probably not going to due to some potential releases, but I might as well call it a year for pop, because Melodrama has given me everything I could ask from the genre in 2017. Years have passed since Pure Heroine, which was a marvelously fun, atmospheric, and surprisingly mature record, and Melodrama sees an improvement on just about every front besides the choruses, which are still solid nonetheless. There's more variety in the songwriting, yet the youthful, nocturnal atmosphere stays intact the entire way. It has a maturity and a depth to it that is almost ridiculous to expect from a nineteen year old, but that's how high she's set the bar for herself. She's also gotten better vocally, as the heart-wrenching "Liability" and the strange "Writer In The Dark" will show. If Pure Heroine was about being young and not caring, then Melodrama is about pulling back the facade and realizing that you really do care about the things going on in your life, even if you still pretend you don't.
Manners Pale Blue Light
This album is one of the most depressing albums I've ever heard. The lyrics are heart-rending and the dissonant guitars are both haunting and sorrowful at the same time. The vocals sound as if the vocalist is pleading with every tormenter he's had to stop his torture. It's a true, soul-bearing melodic hardcore release, that succeeds in all it tries to accomplish. Listen here:
Maribou State Portraits
I don't think that Maribou State could've picked a better title for this record. Whether it be wafty, beautiful downtempo electronic with sublime vocalization in the background or piano-driven downtempo pop, each song paints an incredible picture with its textures and atmosphere. Sometimes they paint portraits of people, like an estranged lover ("The Clown"), or an addict struggling for a way out ("Steal"). Other times, they paint portraits of landscapes, or the simple daily pleasures we find in life. The quality of these songs never waver for a second, always remaining as professionally done as possible. The tracks with vocals often deal with melancholy subjects, but the instrumental tracks serve as a reminder of anything you find gorgeous, or any memory that brings a smile to your face. In all, Maribou State work wonders with their debut LP, one that shouldn't be passed up. Absolutely wonderful.
Marxman 33 Revolutions Per Minute
Massive Attack Blue Lines
Massive Attack is one of the most famous groups to ever come from the UK, and are considered to be the essential trip-hop outfit. Their excellent beginnings are seen here on Blue Lines, and album widely considered to be the first trip-hop record. Their work with sampling is the shining aspect of the album, as each and every song contains an array of expertly woven sounds, backing the vocals of Shara Nelson and Horace Andy beautifully. There is some rapping here by Tricky Kid, like on "Daydreaming", and it's actually not half bad. The highlights are many on this album, but the middle trio in "Be Thankful For What You've Got", "Five Man Army", and "Unfinished Sympathy" is absolutely astonishing. Big props to Neneh Cherry, who, as Daddy G said, "kicked our arses and got us into the studio." Who knew it would result in this?
Massive Attack Heligoland
After several years of downtime, the seminal trip-hop/downtempo duo known as Massive Attack returned with a sound unlike anything they had previously operated with. It's a sound much more organic and a bit less hip-hop based than its predecessors, but the endless subtleties that on their own are minimal but together create a swirling ether of gorgeous sound is definitely still there. Some of the most beautiful moments in their entire discography are found within Heligoland most notably the blissful melancholy of "Paradise Circus" and the tear-jerking "Saturday Come Slow", on which Damon Albarn sings in heartbreaking fashion. The consistency and synergy of these tracks cannot be understated either, nor can the hauntingly beautiful lyrics, especially on opener "Pray For Rain". The album is a grower as well, which is patented Massive Attack, as tracks like "Splitting The Atom" and "Atlas Air" reveal their greatness over several listens, due to how low-key and subtle they are. Really, it's Massive Attack (and friends) doing what they do best: make some of the most subtle, engaging, and beautiful downtempo/trip-hop there is.
maudlin of the Well Bath
I can only ever take baths when I'm already fully clean, purely as a relaxation technique, because otherwise I feel like I'm laying in my own filth. Just as rare are the times when I can listen to Bath and truly capture everything Maudlin Of The Well wanted me to hear. It's a dense record, seemingly one part of what appears to be a two-piece puzzle. In reality, this piece is made up several other smaller pieces, which are made up of even smaller pieces. Re-occurring melodies, vague and sometimes even nonsensical lyrics, watery ambience, and a battle against the soft and loud all contribute to this puzzle in ways as individually rewarding as they are as a whole. Yet it's meaning, if it has one to begin with, remains esoteric. Fifteen years have gone by and no one truly knows what Maudlin Of The Well was trying to say. Yet even still, there are times when I listen to the record in one sitting and feel as if I do know the answer. That's Bath for you: endlessly captivating and wholly rewarding, even when the reward doesn't appear to be there.
maudlin of the Well Leaving Your Body Map
Part two to the avant-garde metal/art rock masterpiece Bath, Leaving Your Body Map is a darker incarnation of an already immaculate style. While not as cohesive as its predecessor, it makes up for this by being the peak of maudlin of the Well's musicianship and songwriting talents. It retains a similar atmosphere to Bath, but once again under a much darker umbrella. The meaning behind this record is just as vague as the first, but after listening to both records over time, I've formed my own interpretation of it, which goes as follows: both albums are about the afterlife. Bath is about someone dying suddenly and unexpectedly and wanting to escape from the afterlife. Maybe they succeed, but it's just as likely they don't. Leaving Your Body Map is about someone who wants to die and commits suicide, and they let the afterlife envelope them and take them away. It's probably not correct, but that's how I see it regardless. Whatever it all means, Leaving Your Body Map is an exhilarating conclusion to a phenomenal duo of albums.
Maxo Kream The Persona Tape
Houston's very own Maxo Kream is back for the first time in over a year, and if you haven't peeped ol boy by now, you're doing yourself a disservice. That's because The Persona Tape is, among other things, his most consistent work by a mile, and several songs here match the greatness that were "Thirteen" and "1998" from his previous opus. He's always been a presence on the microphone, but here he's an absolute force, sounding more comfortable and confident than ever before. He employs some very good flows over the oft-chilling trap production, and his lyrical aptitude has never been higher. With visceral and intense stories of gunfights and gang life, it's hard not to notice where the mans hungriness blooms from. The production makes quite interesting use of horror-movie-esque strings and intimidating synths and bass, giving the whole tape a sense of dread and, ultimately, power. Simply put, purple city's in good hands.
Mello Music Group Self Sacrifice
I think that there's something to be said for albums that have several different artists contributing to the project and yet put out something cohesive and engaging. It's so difficult to have that many artists on the same page when it comes to ideas, sounds, and aesthetic that albums like this aren't always possible. Yet, Mello Music Group does it as if every artist is working within the same mind. That's not to say you don't know who's who on the record, but they generally work so seamlessly with each other that it all seems part of a collective effort. With simple, yet soulful boom-bap production, wonderful storytelling, buttery flows, and an insatiably confident mindset, Self Sacrifice harkens back to the golden era of hip-hop, and intends to show you that there are those who have remained loyal to the style while also adding a distinct modern flavor. If you know any of the guys on the label (which you should), or just enjoy some outstanding hip-hop, don't hesitate to try this one out.
Mello Music Group Persona
Mello Music Group is an independent hip-hop label that has been making waves recently in the underground scene. Featuring rappers and producers like Open Mike Eagle, Oddisee, Apollo Brown, yU, and L'Orange, the label certainly has some talented artists under their name. Understandably, when an album made of original material from the many members of the label dropped in March, people had reason to be excited. It all stacks up as a fantastic hip-hop release that, as described by the label itself, is "Boom-bap at its best: evolving and expanding the art form, capturing stories of the struggle, upholding the tradition, and keeping the crooked honest." The production on tracks like "Requiem", "Pnt", "Celebrity Reduction Prayer" and "No Future" is top-notch, and the rapping on this thing is solid at all times and more often than not brilliant. Fans of underground hip-hop, or just hip-hop in general, should not pass this one up.
mewithoutYou Brother, Sister
I'm not even really going to get into the semantics of Brother, Sister; it's all been discussed. Though I would like to say two things: 1.) "I'd never want someone so crass as to want someone like me" is a brilliant lyric and probably hits harder than any other in their discography. 2.) As great as this album is, I definitely prefer either of As Cities Burn's first two albums (I know they aren't the same style, but they're associated with each other under that Christian-inspired post-hardcore). The reason is that mewithoutYou doesn't necessarily talk about the doubts and struggles with faith that As Cities Burn does. They're more or less talking about their own shortcomings and why God is more or less blameless for any of it. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, as the lyrics on this record are undeniable and wonderful, but it just doesn't resonate as much as Son, I Loved You At Your Darkest does. Maybe I'm just missing something, but if I'm not, this excellent record is just a peg lower.
Michael Jackson Thriller
Microwave Much Love
One of the stereotypes of emo/pop-punk is that the vocalists aren't the best of singers. And as with most stereotypes, there are people that reinforce them. That said, Microwave thinks you can take your stereotype and shove it, because their vocalist Nathan Hardy can really, really sing. Not only that, but their backing vocals are lovely as well. Yet, the vocals are but one facet of the excellence of Much Love. It's got a nostalgic sound, with song after song of emo/pop-punk perfection coming through the speakers, the only knock being that it's not the most original stuff on the planet. But, when you can write songs like "Dull" and "Vomit", that really doesn't matter too much. It's like this: Much Love is every time you've locked yourself out of your house on a rainy day, smiled, shrugged, and thought "well, at least I have a house in the first place". It's every time you have one of those days where nothing seems to go quite right, where every little thing seems to screw up, until someone tells you how much they appreciate you and makes all of those things irrelevant. Gotta love it.
Miles Davis 'Round About Midnight
Miles Davis is one of, if not the, greatest jazz innovators of all time. Many albums of his have been christened as classics of the genre, and throughout his career he dabbled in the many sub genres jazz had to offer. Here, he plays hard bop, and with himself on the trumpet and John Coltrane on the tenor sax, some melancholy yet gorgeous music is made. Featuring songs arranged by jazz greats Thelonius Monk and Stan Getz, this record is a forty-minute excursion into smooth, sad, and altogether endearing jazz, with songs such as "'Round Midnight", "All Of You", "Bye-Bye Blackbird", and "Dear Old Stockholm" stealing the show. Though it was initially received rather lukewarmly, 'Round About Midnight has proved itself to be one of the essentials of hard bop, and an all-around great record for fans of jazz everywhere.
Miles Davis Cookin' With the Miles Davis Quintet
It may only be four tracks totaling thirty-three minutes, but don't let any of that fool you: this is a varied and engaging hard-bop listen. That should come as no surprise considering the likes of Davis, John Coltrane, and Paul Chambers play the trumpet, tenor sax, and bass respectively. With its smooth and memorable piano intro and outro played by Red Garland, "My Funny Valentine" starts things off excellently, segueing into "Blues By Five", a group jam featuring a wonderful bass solo by Chambers. "Airegin" speeds things up, with Davis and Coltrane each getting two minutes to show what they have over Philly Joe Jones' quick drumming. Everything culminates in the strangely catchy but wonderfully composed closer "Tune Up/When Lights Are Low", which shows a more subdued quintet similar to the second track, but with arguably the best playing on the entire record. This record is quite interesting and beautiful despite its short runtime, and is immediately accessible and enjoyable. Needless to say, fans of jazz should definitely listen to this one.
Ministry Filth Pig
On Filth Pig, Ministry goes sludge. Do I really need to say anything more than that? No, but anyways, the band up until this point had been known for their fast-paced, manic take on industrial metal, and were one of the sole most influential bands in the genre. Filth Pig is like if you took the music that made them influential, like Psalm 69's, slowed it down a decent lot and added a mucky, ugly production job. The bass has a thunderous presence here, and the riffs are effectively simple and full of sludge. Al Jourgensen turns in a wickedly pissed off vocal performance, and the drums feel as organic and powerful as ever. Slowing down what once was a blistering pace, seething with rage at every juncture, and sounding as murky and unwashed as the man on the cover, Filth Pig also served as a musical symbol of the height of Al Jourgensen's heroin addiction, and through every tortured snarl or yell, you can clearly hear this. It's truly a shame the album is as polarizing as it is, because the band would never again do something like this. It's definitely the oddball in Ministry's discography, and as such is a phenomenal record.
Moderator The World Within
An eclectic producer of Greek heritage, Moderator sets out on a soulful, chilled, and beautiful journey that is teeming with good vibes on his newest full-length. Using a wonderful array of trip-hop, jazz, and funk, Moderator uses a half-hour to put you under his spell. From the hazy "Harlem River", to the jazzy and caressing "It Wasn't For You", to the middle-eastern beauty in "Vasai-Virar", and finally to the ethereal boom-bap of "Space Vandals", there really isn't a moment here worth passing up. And though it is on the short side, there is certainly enough to appreciate here to warrant many listens, especially from those with an ear for the laid-back and chilled out.
Mr. Bungle California
"The best way to live in California is to be from somewhere else. Probably the best way is to be from Mars" - Cormac McCarthy. For all of Mr. Bungle's avant-garde intricacies on their first two releases, it would've been preposterous to call them an accessible band. California proved that they could be. It opens the floodgates for people turned away by the ceaseless experimentation of Disco Volante and the brashness of the self-titled. With songs like "Retrovertigo" and "Pink Cigarette", the two most conventional songs the band ever made, it's much easier to get into their sound. The band doesn't sacrifice their personality, though, as those songs both deal with some heavy topics through subtle lyricism. Elsewhere, the band morphs surf rock and doo-wop with some jazzy experimental rock, and it generally sounds as refined and focused as ever. Mike Patton, of course, is a force to be reckoned with vocally, especially on the one-two punch to end the record. Regardless of whether you've loved Mr. Bungle for a while or if you're just getting into them, California is a fantastic album, so have at it.
Mr. Bungle Disco Volante
One of the strangest and interesting bands of their time, Mr. Bungle created some puzzling, yet gratifying, music across three albums. This, their sophomore full-length album, is unequivocally their most experimental, but is also their most inaccessible as a result. In fact, the nature of the album makes it very hard to pigeonhole into one genre. There's all sort of genres touched on this record, including experimental rock, punk, jazz, world, and progressive rock. A lot of it is pretty risky, like not having charismatic vocalist Mike Patton present on every track, and the constant time signature/genre changes that seem to happen at the drop of a hat. It's not really an album you can just listen to once and catch everything there is to hear. It's a pretty dense album, but one that rewards patient listening with a plethora of experimental greatness. Truly, there was never really a band quite like Bungle, and there isn't really a record like Disco Volante.
Nas It Was Written
In retrospect, It Was Written was doomed from getting proper recognition before it was even conceived. That is to say that when in the shadow of a hip-hop masterpiece like Illmatic, it's obviously not going to look that great in comparison. Yet, in a lot of ways, It Was Written is like if Illmatic got fed through a mainstream filter, meaning that the sound of the record was even more accessible to the masses. That's not to say Illmatic isn't or wasn't accessible, but it wasn't exactly the greatest mainstream success when it was released. It Was Written, on the other hand, is ready to roll in that regard, but admirably doesn't sacrifice the gritty lyrical content or completely abandon the boom-bap roots of his previous outing. Some of Nas' greatest songs can be found here, like the bone-chilling "The Message" and the paranoid "Watch Dem Niggas". One thing that was transferred from Illmatic was the remarkable consistency with which Nas operated, with the quality remaining at a high level throughout the entirety of the record. As a sequel to Illmatic, it is more than worthy, and as a standalone project, it is excellent in and of itself.
Neil Young Harvest
Neil Young On the Beach
Despite having great financial success with his 1972 album Harvest, Neil Young found himself depressed. One of his best friends, named Danny Whitten, had overdosed on heroin in 1972 after being fired from Young's band, Crazy Horse. And so, in 1974, when On The Beach was released, audiences were met with dreary production and a pessimistic Neil, in stark contrast to Harvest. Lyrically, Neil is at the top of his game, with the hopeful "Walk On" and political "Vampire Blues" as obvious examples. However, it is side B of the album, containing three of his best songs, lyrically and instrumentally, in "On The Beach", "Motion Pictures", and "Ambulance Blues" that cement this record as one of Neil's best. For Neil, this is the fourth record in a row, chronologically speaking I might add, that has been hailed as a classic by critics around the world, something as challenging as it is impressive.
New Order Movement
New Order Blue Monday
There really isn't much left to say about "Blue Monday". It's just one of the greatest dance tracks ever made, no question. It's importance cannot be understated either, as it is often seen as one of the strongest links between the disco of the seventies and the dance/house music that permeated the late eighties. The B-side remix known as "The Beach" is really cool as well, but nothing can compare to the greatness of the original.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree
I read the soundoffs for this album and thought "there's no way it's that good." This is me admitting I'm wrong. Yes, maybe his voice does stray into more melodramatic territory sometimes but this is pretty much the only issue and given the context of the record it's an issue easily forgiven. Compositionally it's sparse and uncompromisingly bleak and melancholy. And yet, there's a strange, but totally incredible sense of catchiness as well. Opener "Jesus Alone" has a harrowing hook that's as wrought with fear and uncertainly as it is immediate and memorable. The backing vocalizations in "Rings Of Saturn" are forlorn and saddening but also catchy as they come. It's not every year you get what is essentially a singer-songwriter album with pop sensibilities that is truly as dark, frustrated, and hopeless as this one. Even if you haven't heard anything from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds before, you owe it to yourself to hear Skeleton Tree. You may feel drained and maybe a bit down afterward, but that's to be expected: nothing is for free.
Nickelus F and Shawn Kemp Trick Dice
It's funny to me that the NBA's Shawn Kemp is one of the most underrated dunkers to ever pick up a basketball, while this Shawn Kemp, better known as Lil Ugly Mane, is one of the most underrated artists in hip-hop, criminally so given his impact on the underground. His production here is, as expected, superb, using an array of samples and production styles throughout the record. The record is lifted to new heights by Nickelus F, who sounds absolutely furious and hungry on all of his verses. The wordplay and metaphors on display are definitely up to snuff, and the lyrics tend to focus on one thing: depravity. Whether it be drugs, violence, prostitution, poverty, or pain, you can trust Nick Fury has it covered. The record is split up into two sides acting as one song each, but both play out similarly, with several smaller songs within each. The second edges out the first in terms of my own personal enjoyment, but the quality is unwavering. Altogether, it's another gem from Ugly production-wise, and very entertaining, clever, and endearing lyrically thanks to Nickelus F's bars.
Night Birds Fresh Kills Vol. 1
It might be just a compilation of Night Birds' demos and EP's before their debut LP The Other Side Of Darkness, but it's just so great. One of the things that amazes me about it is that this comp dodges the very thing that kills most of them: it actually flows and feels like an album proper. Musically, it's some of the most strikingly consistent, absurdly fun, and wonderfully nostalgic surf punk you'll ever hear. Vocalist Brian Gorsegner is as charismatic as they come, and the endless surf-influenced riffs by Mike Hunchback are the perfect counterpart. It's a bit tough to call this comp mindless fun, though, as it's actually a very smart and nuanced affair as well. Everything from the music to the lyrics adhere to an aesthetic and an ethos that is decidedly for the working man, the pissed off, the people who long to be somewhere else other than their current place, the people who just want to have a good time. Put simply, it's punk as hell, and Night Birds embody it as well as any modern punk band out there.
Night Birds The Other Side Of Darkness
After a dearth of smaller, yet awesome releases, New Jersey hardcore punk quartet Night Birds unveiled their debut LP, and began to cement themselves as one of the active best and brightest in the genre. With short, immeasurably catchy, yet still impressively intense tracks, and with surf-influenced riffing and lyrics wonderfully inspired by B-movie horror lore, The Other Side Of Darkness is an excellent representation of what Night Birds are all about. They've got the songwriting chops, they've got the necessary emotion to pull it off, and perhaps most importantly, they've got the undeniable attitude. What attitude exactly? I think the quote from Brain Damage that ends "Paranoid Times" and begins "Oblivious" says it best: "The whole world's gonna come to an end. If it's gonna go, man, it's gonna go! And I'm gonna enjoy seein' this whole friggin' world blow up! And I'm gonna be smilin' having my beer! And I'm gonna see this last blast, baby! I'm gonna see it go!"
Nujabes Metaphorical Music
Oasis (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
Oathbreaker Rheia
Addiction can affect any human, whether they think so or not, and can come in a variety of ways. Rheia deals with an addiction, one that may seem harmless at first but can be as damaging as any other: addiction to someone else. Through the lyrics, and the relentless passion poured out through a masterful vocal performance, it seems apparent that even though this person is broken and tattered, they cannot keep themselves away from the very person that caused it. Oathbreaker take to a "blackgaze" style here, but the simple notion is that this is not a tired retread of the trail Alcest and Deafheaven blazed. This is a different beast entirely, fueled by a performance both ferocious and tender, both full of life and without the will to go on. The production is simply phenomenal, with a clarity given to each instrument and the vocals, none of which are ever at war with each other. Ultimately, Rheia is a stunning accomplishment for Oathbreaker, and makes itself known as an important album in the realm of "blackgaze".
Ondatropica Baile Buacanero
It's really interesting how, across all different cultures and countries and all of their respective musical endeavors, a love for a catchy tune is a common trait among them all. Maybe this love is stronger for some than for others, but more or less catchiness is adored worldwide. It's part of why someone like me, who has never stepped a single foot in South America (although I do hope to change that soon), can appreciate something like Baile Buacanero, which mixes several relatively esoteric Colombian folk styles with Afro-Cuban jazz, Latin jazz/hip-hop, and ska. Even if the music is clearly influenced by a culture I have a very limited knowledge of and the lyrics mostly in another language, I can still enjoy some catchy music. And this stuff is some very, very catchy music. Each of the fifteen tracks here has a horn line or a chorus or an infectious drum beat that is memorable as it is fun and ultimately beautiful. Add that with a lovely, island-living, relaxed atmosphere, and you have one of the best records of the young year and definitely a cumbia album to remember.
Opeth Morningrise
Ophidian Blackbox
Conrad Hoyer, better known as Ophidian, is a name easily recognized in certain underground techno circles and pretty much nowhere else. Likewise, Blackbox is an important and overlooked masterwork of techno that gets its due diligence in the underground, and little exposure elsewhere. It specializes in the "gabber" style of techno, a very energetic, fast-paced, even abrasive style, and mixes that with industrial tech and a penchant for eerie ambient backdrops. Thus, it happens to be aggressive and relentless while also being intricate and nuanced. While songs like "Asphyxia" and "Strychnine" bludgeon the listener with pulsing and scratching beats at 200+ bpm with little else, these are the minority. On most of the material here, while the jarring beats pulsate away, the background is filled with a discernible ambient soundscape, made either by synth work or sample work. The beats shift in their aggressiveness a couple times in-song to give the listener a break, and overall the work is varied well enough to neither bore or overload the listener. It's truly a landmark album in gabber, and one of the best hardcore techno albums ever put to wax.
Orchid Chaos is Me
Orchid were absolute masters of their craft and continue to have a legendary status in the screamo genre. They played with such passion and intensity, with a speed that made their music dangerously close to powerviolence. A very aptly-titled debut full-length, Chaos Is Me is chock full of just that. It's hard to put it layman's terms how chaotic and violent this album is, always writhing and flailing with rage. Just take "The Action Index" for example. The beginning seconds are a blast of frenetic noise, which is immediately killed when a singular, tense bassline comes through, only lasting about fifteen seconds before a guitar accompanies it. Then the pace builds rapidly until it reaches "Death Of A Modernist", when the pace matches the beginning seconds of the previous song. It's this vehement songwriting that made Orchid a massively influential band in screamo, and what makes Chaos Is Me an absolutely essential listen for all fans of the genre, and fans of heavily passionate and angry music in general.
Orchid Gatefold
Orchid, who are screamo royalty, and as such rule face, went through a lovely and pronounced evolution over their three full-lengths and numerous splits and demos in between. What was once a band operating on pure aggressiveness and raw emotion turned into a band as subtle and as carefully crafted as any band the genre has ever seen. Their final record, known to many as Gatefold and to others as the self-titled, is made up of the most nuanced music the band ever put to wax. You still have the fiendish anger of records past, but the revamped songwriting that made Dance Tonight! a screamo classic is only more pronounced here. Put simply, you're not going to hear songs like "We Love Prison" or "Tigers" on any other Orchid record. While it's certainly their least out-and-out explosive record, Orchid are at a songwriting peak here, and it would simply be a sin to miss out on that if you're a fan of the band or screamo as a whole.
Orchid Totality
In compiling all of their non-LP material, mostly stuff from splits, you can hear how much they've progressed throughout the years. Totality is broken up pretty cleanly into sections that are distinct from each other, but connect with each other as well, giving the compilation an excellent flow. For instance, the first four songs are all clearly from around the time they made Dance Tonight! Revolution Tomorrow!: bassy intros leading into massive bursts of screamo energy. The next set are from the Chaos Is Me period, and so on and so forth. Point is, even if you didn't know this material from the splits, you can clearly tell when it was made in the band's career. Not to mention that pretty much all this material is fantastic, whether it be the late-90's hardcore they played or the short, spastic explosions of chaotic screamo. It's actually quite impressive that even the most obscure material from Orchid is this good, because it lends credence to the notion that Orchid, pound-for-pound, may have been the greatest screamo band of all time.
Paramore Riot!
Paramore Brand New Eyes
Pg. 99 Document #8
Maybe Kurt Cobain wasn't the most well-spoken person on the face of the earth, but his quote about the nature of punk that opens this record is definitely something many bands live by. Perhaps one of the bands that best embodies that quote, pageninetynine bare it all on Document #8, a record short in length but unlimited in power, passion, catharsis, and emotion. There are so many emotions flying around so intensely that it's easy to forget just how impeccable the songwriting is here. Take "We Left As Skeletons" for instance; in only ninety seconds the band plays a sonic portrayal of burning out emotionally, from the rageful opening seconds to the frustrated melancholy of the middle, to the silent pain of the ending seconds. And the less said about "The Hollowed Out Chest Of A Dead Horse" the better, so as not to spoil the perfection. It's certainly a cornerstone of American screamo, an album that in only twenty minutes vindicates entire careers.
Pg. 99 Document #14: Singles
Who in their right mind hasn't enjoyed a pageninetynine record at some point? They're screamo legends for a reason, and that reason, as you may have already guessed, is their unbridledly passionate songwriting and performing. Document #14: Singles chronicles the band's many splits and a few normal singles, and it's very apparent on even a cursory listen that intensity, passion, and unleaded emotion was the name of the game throughout their entire careers. Every song here is dripping with the type of palpable emotion that so characterizes the band, and though some songs may be written better than others, they're all winners because of that. The compilation works backwards from Document #13 to Document #1, allowing the listener to notice the sort of backwards progression the band had made throughout their time, similar to Orchid's Totality. It's really a fantastic listen, cementing the notion that in their time pageninetynine was one of the most noteworthy and memorable bands in the entire American screamo scene.
Pig Destroyer Prowler in the Yard
There's so many things that can be said about Prowler In The Yard that one measly soundoff will never be able to cover. You could write an entire college essay about this and Terrifyer both. One of my questions is, at the end of the album when Jennifer knows the people on the rickety old roller coaster will die because the ride doesn't stop, how exactly is that meant? Does that mean the train of the ride will eventually crash into another train that's parked in the station? Or does it mean that the ride will go on forever and ever, just looping itself while the passengers are trapped on it and eventually succumb to thirst and starvation? Either way it's chilling and that's literally only one line from one song on this record. Even the album cover makes you guess: is it a representation of a serial killer gone even madder or is it the band just taking the piss out of like-minded album covers? Everything on here keeps you guessing from the imagery to the lyrics to the music itself and that's legitimately impressive. Bravo, you sick bastards. The fact that they made something arguably better a few years later in Terrifyer is probably the most impressive thing of all when it comes to this trio of demented geniuses. This is an album to be experienced rather than merely listened to, and in a way that's the highest praise one can give an album. So enjoy, but maybe not too much.
Pixies Doolittle
Pixies are a band that I had a hard time getting into at first. Surfer Rosa had some of the greatest material ever written in alternative rock, but felt a bit jumbled and messy to me. After getting used to them, I realized how much genius really went in to the Pixies music. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in their magnum opus Doolittle. They turn in their most coherent work here, but also their funnest and most memorable. Songs like "Here Comes Your Man", "Monkey Gone To Heaven", and "No. 13 Baby" are catchy and brilliantly written. Even the shorter songs, which for me were Surfer Rosa's weakness, are much improved this time around with songs like "Mr. Grieves", "There Goes My Gun", and "Crackity Jones". Altogether, Doolittle is a cornerstone of alternative rock that every fan of the genre must have.
Preoccupations Viet Cong
Formed from the ashes of experimental post-punk band Women, Viet Cong's self-titled album was one of the most anticipated records of 2015, and it was released in January. Does it meet expectations? I would say so. Granted, it is not Public Strain, but it is still a great listen and it is easy to tell the two bands apart. That is not say that there is no experimentation one here, quite the contrary in fact. The strange noises the guitars make while the bassline swirls inside of them is a highlight of "Pointless Experience". The odd, staticky buildup in "March Of Progress" gives way to oriental instruments and a thumping drum beat. It's a droney record, but it still manages to be very catchy, as opener "Newspaper Spoons" and "Continental Shelf" prove. The highlight of the record, though, is massive closer "Death", a fantastic amalgam of all that is great about the record. All in all, a superb listen, as if anyone expected anything different.
Pretend Tapestry'd Life
I never would have guessed that one of the best albums from this year would be a post-rock one considering the staleness of the genre as it stands today. Still, Tapestry'd Life isn't exactly a typical post-rock album, is it? Rather than focus on build-ups and crescendos, Pretend is unpredictable, sometimes exploding in a fury, and other times being as subdued and quiet as they come. There is a distinct emphasis on vocals and drumming here that you don't often get with other post-rock records, and the bass is audible and incredibly fun to hear. The crown jewel of the record are the guitars, which are as mathy and complex, neither of them functioning as a rhythm guitar, but both working with each other with the utmost precision and beauty. Just take the opening minutes to "Paternless Tide" for instance. The album is so easy to get lost into, what with the dreamy guitar work and the incredibly jazzy drumming, and the lovely vocals that permeate the songs. It's definitely an album that requires many patient listens, but the payoff for such patience is amazing. At least for me, this is the post-rock album of the year.
Pretend Bones In The Soil, Rust In The Oil
It's really no wonder Pretend take six years in between full-lengths when you take into account just how insanely complex and intricate their songwriting is. Complexity alone isn't going to make a band special, though, but Pretend knows that just as well as any other. Bones In The Soil, Rust In The Oil is a beautiful, diverse, and charming post-rock/math rock album. There are absolutely gorgeous guitars here, but the band place an emphasis on vocals and drumming that most post-rock bands simply don't do. The "twinkly" sound of the guitars isn't static either, as the band lends themselves to some heavier moments on tracks like "Holy Destination". It's wonderfully produced as well, as even though there's a lot going on instrumentally, each instrument is given space from the other so that the listener can fully appreciate everything they're doing. It's a huge album at nearly eighty minutes, but it's a downright exceptional listen if you're up to the task. It might take until 2021 for Pretend's next record, but considering the quality of this and its successor, it's worth the wait.
Pretend Circular Ræsoning
This was not an expected release, as Pretend usually wait a long time before releasing new material, but it sure is a welcome one. Circular Raesoning is the shortest thing in Pretend's discography by a country mile, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in it's amazing songwriting. Once again, Pretend's intricately beautiful guitars and creative drumming are on an equal footing, and the vocals are just as airy and encompassing as ever. They start out the record with "Some How", which is like their own little "Together Those Leave"; it's the most memorable song they've ever created even though initially it doesn't follow what they'd usually do. The crown jewel, of course, is "Longer Repose", with some insane drumming and wonderfully complex guitar lines that seem to go on forever and ever in a great way. It may possible be Pretend's heaviest song to date. Despite being only half the length of their usual output at thirty-six minutes, Pretend make sure each and every one of those minutes are used to the fullest potential. One of the best bands in post-rock today, period.
Primal Scream Screamadelica
One of the leaders in the alternative dance subgenre, Primal Scream bring both the enjoyable aesthetic of acid house records, Neo-psychedelia, and the lovely experimentation and songwriting variety that so characterized the group even from their inception on Screamadelica. It was an interesting and ultimately widely beneficial decision to depart from the indie rock and jangle pop that permeated the band's first couple of records, and although that influence is still apparent in songs like "Damaged", the predominant style here is that of psychedelic-influenced alternative dance, with driving songs such as "Don't Fight It, Feel It" and "Come Together" facing off against more contemplative but still danceable songs like "Higher Than The Sun" and "I'm Coming Down". Some moments may feel a little dated, but Screamadelica is pound-for-pound one of the best alt-dance records out there.
Primordial To the Nameless Dead
The word "epic", at least when used to describe music, is often said with a derisive, sarcastic tone. True, the meaning of the word has been downtrodden and oversaturated, but in the case of Primordial, I don't know if any word fits better. There's an old saying that still rings true today: "Only the dead see the end of war." It's with this bleak, solemn outlook that Primordial injects their record with, not only thematically and lyrically, but also in the tortured, powerful sound they've established. The riffs are swift and all-encompassing, and the tom-heavy drums accentuate a dark, monumental atmosphere very well. Nemtheanga is once again absolutely phenomenal vocally, sounding as if all of the dead of which he speaks are speaking in unison with him. It manages to be completely serious without ever going overboard or having even one morsel of cheese, an impressive feat considering the base sound is black metal-influenced folk metal. To The Nameless Dead is a wondrously captivating record, being both hopeless and fearless at the same time.
Protest the Hero Kezia
When I first heard this album, I thought it to be the work of geniuses that would be remembered for decades afterward. Though I don't necessarily same opinions two years later, I will say that a great amount of credit should be given to the then-18-year-olds from Protest The Hero for making this album. Guitar wankery and Rody Walkers' puberty vocals be damned, this album is a socially conscious shredfest that tells a gripping story from four different perspectives, and poses some pretty interesting questions that might cause cognitive dissonance in some listeners. But, the story and message would be diluted were it not for the music in front of it, and the band has that covered in spades. The guitars sometimes get a bit lost within their technical ability, but overall they do a great job of keeping things interesting, especially during the many tempo changes. The drums are ambitiously fun, but can become ferocious when needed, like on the one-two punch of "Turn Soonest To The Sea" and "The Divine Suicide Of K." The bass is audible in some parts, and it's great when it is. Walkers' vocals are raw, but he does well, even though he often goes from cringe-worthy to angelic in seconds. Overall, it is clear a lot of time, passion, thought, and skill went into the creation of this record, and while transcendal it isn't, it's still an awesome listen.
Radiohead The Bends
Raw Poetic and K-Def Cool Convos In Quantum Speech
I adore records that can make me feel nostalgic even though I hadn't heard them before then. Two albums this year have done that for me: Tenement's Predatory Headlights, and this album. Raw Poetic, the emcee of overlooked and underrated hip-hop duo Panacea, teams up with an esteemed producer in K-Def and makes some great things happen. In general, the production is minimal and jazzy, and holds a soulful charm. The rapping here is as smooth as can be, and the flows are excellent. The lyrics are generally just observations and musings about daily life and the questions they pose, but Raw Poetic goes about it very chilled and confidently. Add some surprisingly catchy hooks into the formula, and you've got thirty-six minutes of easy-listening and enjoyable hip-hop with tons of replay value. There isn't a bad track to be found on here either. I personally enjoy "Easy Way Out" and "No Difference" the most, but the quality remains pretty much the same throughout the entire record. If you're familiar with Panacea, or just love hip-hop with great vibes, give this record a listen.
Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Richmond Fontaine You Can't Go Back if There's Nothing to Go Back To
I'm certainly not the biggest country fan on the planet, but there are certain things about well done country records that you will rarely find elsewhere. Richmond Fontaine is a band well-versed in great country albums, and this, their swan song, is another in a great line. It pulls off this sad, drunken working man aesthetic perfectly, and it fits whether their talking about life in the rural plains or life in the bustling city. The music itself is tearjerkingly beautiful, with sparse acoustic guitars and drumming forming the perfect backdrop for vocalist Willy Vlautin to use his half-sung, half-spoken delivery. It's almost as if, rather than singing a folk tale, he's narrating real events that are most certainly brought to life by the lyrics. It's quite the somber album, too, with lovely pianos and heartbreaking stories around every corner. It's an appropriate and phenomenal end to one of the best bands in alt-country.
Robot Bachelor The Third House Boat Album
"I don't wanna die today (if I say it enough, I'll believe it)"; and so opens The Third House Boat Album, an album as fun as it is compelling and relatable as it is catchy. It's only nineteen minutes long, but Robot Bachelor makes sure each and every second is spent with that most endearing and infectious of pop punk, with some phenomenal production and some really awesome lyrics. The lyrics here really take things up a notch (and I say that as someone who isn't too huge on lyrics) just because of how funny ("Mary Lopez, Mary Mary Lopez, we'll never make out, and that's f*cking dumb") or relatable ("Everything fades away, everything sucks today, oh I'm not okay, and I don't know why") they are. It gives a very youthful feel to the music, and even though these guys are in their early thirties and clearly having a mid-life crisis, it sounds like a bunch of goofballs playing the tunes they wrote in high-school, only the tunes are incredible. Needless to say, if you're in need of a pop punk speedball that is both immediately gratifying and demanding of re-listens, this is the record for you.
Rush A Farewell to Kings
I think the title of this record is a bit ironic looking back on history. That's because this album cemented Rush as the kings they were, the kings of progressive rock. This album is everything great about Rush in a thirty-seven minute package: great riffs, inventive drumming, audible and wonderfully skilled bass work, enjoyable vocals, interesting song structures, and so much fun to be had. Pretty much every track is wonderful, the best of these being the immortal "Xanadu", and although "Madrigal" isn't exactly up to snuff with the rest of the tracks, it's still a pleasant listen. Alas, so much has been said about this record by others that it's redundant to state anything more after this: this record rules, and Rush rules. Just listen to it.
Rush Hemispheres
In what is recognized as the extent of Rush's progressive nature, Hemispheres is quite the prog-rock epic. Whether it be the two bookending beasts in "Cygnus X-1 Book II" and the quite self-aware and jokingly-named "La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise In Self-Indulgence)" (a song which they evidently spent more time recording than they did the entirety of Fly By Night), or the more conventional numbers in "Circumstances" and "The Trees", you simply can't go wrong. Apparently, the intense stress of writing and recording this album is what led the band to take a considerably more accessible approach in later albums. As such, this is Rush more stretched out and more markedly detailed than any other incarnation of the Canadian trio, which makes Hemispheres an unmissable record for any fan of rock.
Rush Permanent Waves
It was here that a distinct shift in sound occurred for everyone's favorite prog trio. While certainly staying within the ballpark of progressive rock, things took a hookier, more poppy route, reminiscent of their early days as hard rock up-and-comers. This is evident early on, as "Freewill" has one of the catchiest choruses they ever penned, but still contains plenty of prog trickery courtesy of the godly rhythm tandem of Peart & Lee. When things do become more clearly proggy, like on closer "Natural Science", it's clear they're still at a very high level in the songwriting department, going toe-to-toe with albums like A Farewell To Kings. Permanent Waves was the first of several albums for Rush in this so-called "pseudo-prog" style, and it laid an excellent blueprint for the eventual perfection of the style on Moving Pictures. In essence, it's Rush still very much in their prime, and thus, no fan of progressive rock should miss it.
Rush Moving Pictures
Of all of the albums they've released in their vaunted careers, there's really only four albums you choose from when someone asks what your favorite Rush album is. Obviously you know which four I'm talking about, and for my part the answer would have to be Moving Pictures. There's plenty of reasons why, pretty much all of which have been covered in one way or another on this and many other music-reviewing websites, so I won't bother reiterating them here. This album contains my very first driving song, which was funny because my driving instructor didn't even like Rush. He said Geddy Lee annoyed him so much he couldn't appreciate the musicianship, which is totally understandable. Yet, the first song that came on the radio when he turned it on was "Tom Sawyer", and he appreciated the coincidental humor enough to let it play. I did very well that day.
Saves the Day Sound the Alarm
I'm definitely very much in the minority here, but this is hands down my favorite Saves The Day album. I always kind of saw Saves The Day as the band that was really good at making 3.5 albums and would probably always be that way even now. Still, I can't keep that notion alive when Sound The Alarm exists. It's not only the most mature work the band has ever done musically and lyrically, it's also an album that describes the crushing weight of a facade to hide personal problems about as well as anything out there. The music is typically upbeat, sometimes even downright cheery, but the lyrics are a constant stream of nihilism, suicidal ideation, and pleas for people to remember who they were once they were finally gone. The dichotomy is pretty blunt in this regard, but it works well because neither the music nor the lyrics could be described as complex or intricate. The simplicity and the straightforwardness of it all is its greatest virtue. Basically, if you're just getting home from a stay at the ward or a mental hospital, this is one of the last albums you should be listening to. Amazing, but boy is it draining.
ScHoolboy Q Blank Face LP
WHen it comes to tHe Black Hippy collective, it's easy to tHink tHat Kendrick Lamar is Head and sHoulders above tHe rest of tHe group. THere's always been potential in tHe otHer members, but none of tHem Have realized it yet. Until, of course, ScHoolboy Q released tHis record. He's always been a pretty versatile rapper, Having tHe ability to sHift into wHatever style of Hip-Hop He pleases seamlessly. THe only issue was tHat he didn't do any of tHose styles particularly excellently. Again, until He released tHis record. Blank Face is one of tHe most well-rounded Hip-Hop albums of tHe year so far, witH a dominant west coast feel tHat gravitates between gangsta rap, trap, and even some pop rap witH R&B Hooks. WitH the cHarisma that Q operates witH on tHe mic, He's able to paint some pretty good pictures despite His lyrics often being blunt. THe features Here really tear it up as well, as Heard on "Ride Out" witH Vince Staples and "Dope Dealer" witH E-40. And last but not least is tHe pHenomenal production, wHich very fluidly adapts to wHatever style Q's going witH and providing top notch beatwork regardless of style. Truly, tHen, Blank Face is ScHoolboy Q's first record tHat one Has no qualms calling "excellent".
Self Defense Family Heaven Is Earth
When it was released as a seven inch earlier this year, "Talia" wrote a pretty big check for Self Defense Family's then-upcoming LP, Heaven Is Earth. I believe it's safe to say the check has been cashed, because it's quite a great record. From the one-two punch of post-punk that is "In My Defens Self Me Defend" and "Talia" to the subtle punk of "Ditko" and the title-track, to one of the tracks of the year in the sentimental "Basic Skills", the album is filled to the brim with wonderful moments. The trademark "gruff old man" vocals of Patrick Kindlon are still very much intact, the instruments are all soulfully played to a high degree, and the album is easily replayable at only thirty-one minutes. What stands out as a surprisingly subtle yet still beautifully emotional record, Heaven Is Earth is well on its way to being one of the most respected albums in the family's discography, and rightfully so.
Shamana outdamud
This is a peculiar specimen. On the Bandcamp page for outdamud, the album is half-jokingly tagged as "post-ASMR". I say half-jokingly because there's a substantial amount of time here that uses ASMR to an unexpected and very interesting advantage. Whereas many artists who rely on samples or atmospherics may have small details like the rustling of leaves or cars passing on the highway, Shamana has all of these in ASMR form, and though it would seem irritating, it's actually quite well-designed. The vast majority of it is swamped under heavy bass and watery synthesizers, a style incorporating plunderphonics to a trip-hop/experimental hip-hop, and most of it is only able to slightly tickle the ears. The placement of them is also very interesting, as it seems strategic and related to what the listener is hearing musically as well. The guy has definite skill in producing, and I'm not necessarily sure if this is a unique take on this type of stuff or not, but it is very entertaining and nicely varied and one joy of a listen. Great to see great talent coming through from Cleveland. Go Tribe! (18 straight at the time of writing).
Shape of Despair Monotony Fields
A comeback of monolithic proportions, Monotony Fields is exactly what you want from a funeral doom metal record: bleak guitars, thundering drums, pained vocals, and some great piano work with female vocals to boot. Though the album doesn't stray very far from the blueprint set by opener "Reaching The Innermost", every track here has something to appreciate, like the beautiful endings to "Descending Inner Night" and "Withdrawn", both utilizing evocative and airy vocals to create excellent dramatic effect. All of the tracks here are slow burners (the average track length according to the review is about nine minutes), but even with the albums immense length, this record is engaging enough not to bore the listener halfway through. A serious contender not only for the album of the year in metal, but also the comeback record of the year.
Simon and Garfunkel Sounds of Silence
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were a once-in-a-lifetime tandem, and together they put on wax some of the best albums in folk music. What is often seen as the beginning of their run of classics, Sounds Of Silence truly is a wonderful album. It may only be twenty-eight minutes long, but it evokes a lot of emotion and is pretty varied nonetheless. Just take the catchiness of songs like "Leaves That Are Green" and "I Am A Rock", the sparse beauty of tracks like "April Come She Will" and "Anji", the somber loveliness of classics like the title-track and "Kathy's Song", and the immense story telling genius in songs like "Richard Cory" and "A Most Peculiar Man". All of this and more is what makes Sounds Of Silence an album that should not and cannot be missed by anyone who considers themselves a fan of folk.
Simon and Garfunkel Bridge Over Troubled Water
I'll always remember how the tandem of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were able to do amazing things in the world of basketball despite not being on good terms. Similar is the story of Simon & Garfunkel, because they were able to release absolutely seminal folk albums without enjoying each other's company. Arguably their magnum opus, Bridge Over Troubled Water is a full realization of the eclectic stylings of records such as Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, And Thyme, taking in a variety of influences from folk pop, Andean blues, piano-driven folk ballads, blues rock, and even bossa nova. There are a bevy of classic tracks to be found here, not least of which are the heartfelt title-track and a masterpiece in "The Boxer". Horns and strings permeate the first half of the album, adding even more personality to the tracks. The second half is much more conventional, but the songwriting chops are still ever-present. It's a phenomenal swansong for one of the greatest duos folk ever saw.
Skinny Puppy Too Dark Park
Pound for pound, Too Dark Park may just be Skinny Puppy's finest hour. Sure, the sheer insanity is dialed back when compared to releases like Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse or Last Rights, and maybe there isn't a song on the level of "Testure" here (although one could argue "Nature's Revenge" to be right up there with it), but don't be misled: this record is everything awesome about Skinny Puppy rolled into one record. The strange rhythmic vocals that lend themselves to madness, the immaculate sampling, the oddly catchy synths, the driving and intense beats, the incendiary lyrics, the chaotic-yet-controlled compositions, and the drearily intense atmosphere are all here, complete with only the highest quality songwriting, quality which remains unaffected throughout the albums entire runtime. Put simply, Too Dark Park is perhaps the quintessential Skinny Puppy record, and one of the best albums the greater industrial genre ever brought to the table.
Social Distortion Social Distortion
Son Lux Bones
Somehow, trip-hop producer Ryan Lott, better known as Son Lux, was able to turn shimmering rays of light into sounds. That's really what I can gather from this record, it sounds like it's alive with beams of light. From the stellar and beautiful trip-hop production on the tracks, that all seem to have some sort of weird noise as the crux of their beat, to the pianos and strings that are always put to great use on Lott's records, we have a lot going on here. It's not overbearing, though, as the album paces itself pretty nicely by having some great stuff in the beginning ("Flight", "You Don't Know Me") and some absolutely masterful tracks at the end ("Undone", "Now I Want"). It all manages to be pretty catchy as well, as single "Change Is Everything" will so eloquently point out after the intro track. For me, this is probably Lott's best work yet, and I'm very interested in what he can do to push the envelope after this.
Soundtrack (Film) O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Suffocation Pierced from Within
Were it not for a couple of unnecessary re-hashes of songs, Pierced From Within might have been Suffocation's finest hour. The original material found on this LP contain some of brutal death and technical death metal's greatest moments, with each song being a carefully crafted, hateful explosion of downright nefarious riffs, spidery bass, obliterating slams, dastardly vocals, and one of the better drum performances in metal as a whole. The songwriting is on par with Breeding The Spawn, meaning that it's insatiably fun to listen to, and the production job is only a shade below Effigy Of The Forgotten, retaining some of the vileness while also adding a dash of clarity. It feels like being dragged through a volcanic wasteland by some abhorrent beast while lighting and thunder endlessly strike and boom on the bleak red horizon. Is it better than its predecessors? Again, without the remakes of previously released songs that unfortunately don't add anything to them, it would've not only been better than both of their previous LP's, but better than nearly all of the metal in this style.
Sunny Day Real Estate Diary
As far as Midwest Emo goes, this was the album that started it all. Everything is here: the twinkly guitars, strained vocals, melancholy lyrics, and a sense of youthfulness growing up into something more. It also has one of the greatest trio of songs to ever start an album in "Seven", "In Circles", and "Song About An Angel". As such, it has been discussed and lauded by fans of emo and post-hardcore everywhere, and ultimately launched a recognizable and beautiful style of emo music. I believe Dylan Matthesien of Tiny Moving Parts describes it better than I ever could: "I did not know what steps to take after graduating high school. I never knew much of anything. The Midwest has blessed me with great friends and unforgettable relationships, and still hits my head each and every day."
Svalbard Discography 2012-2014
I found out about Svalbard last year with their enthralling debut One Day All This Will End, a passionate and explosive display of melodic hardcore with some of the best songwriting in the genre today. Released in late October, Discography 2012-2014 does what it says on the tin and compiles all of their work before their full-length debut. It's a massive, evocative, beautiful work of some of the best written and produced melodic hardcore that this decade has to offer, due in no small part to the unbridled passion and charged emotion that drips from every pore of the compilation. Most songs are incredibly melodic, intense and uplifting, with a bevy of tremolos, seamless blast beats, and impassioned shouts peppering the songs. Other songs play hardcore a bit more conventionally and pack a humongous punch while doing so, while others still have some melancholic post-rock interludes and intros that give a break from the intensity while still remaining emotionally invested. All this said, if you're looking for some ace melodic hardcore, Svalbard is more than worth checking out and keeping your eye on.
System of a Down Toxicity
Aside from the nostalgic Linkin Park and the atmospheric Deftones, I've never really been a fan of nu-metal. That is, if I discount System Of A Down. Their style of nu-metal is my favorite of them, mainly because the band plays it with such a schizophrenic and punky attitude that caries the spirit of Los Angeles hardcore with the aesthetic of a delusion-suffering wearer of tinfoil hats. Just take the rebellious "Prison Song" for an example. Serj's frenzied yells, complete with a thick bassline, strange guitars, and a staunch message, set the tone perfectly. Essentials like "Chop Suey!" and the title-track are more of the same greatness, but the band can slow things down, like on "ATWA", and "Aerials", and make their sound more subdued, yet still forceful and excellent all the same. Altogether, Toxicity isn't an album to be missed by those who love fun, energetic, and sometimes just insane music.
Talking Heads Remain in Light
I've never been the biggest fan of Talking Heads, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't respect them. Remain In Light is the Heads' most treasured album, and for good reason, as it's head and shoulders above pretty much everything else they've ever done. The experimentation is wonderful, with sounds coming in from new wave, funk, post-punk, and even afrobeat. Opener "Born Into Punches (The Heat Goes On)" is an absolute triumph, with funky bass, danceable rhythms, and catchy hooks. David Byrne is at his best, but probably also at his most subdued, which effectively eliminates certain qualities about him that I found sort of obnoxious. Though the rest of the album doesn't quite reach those heights, it's still a great listen. It's compositionally tight, it's experimental, it's personal, it's engaging, it's funky, it's Remain In Light, which, for Talking Heads, is unequivocally their best work.
Tempel The Moon Lit Our Path
I love albums that can tell a story without using many, if any, words. I also love albums that sound like their covers. Tempel's sophomore effort is both of those things. The album tells a tale of a perilous journey with only hope and determination leading the way. At least, that's what I've gotten from it. That's part of what's so fascinating about this album and those like it: the music has no centralized, inherent meaning, and thus can be put to anyone's context if they so choose. Your imagination does a lot of the work here. In terms of sound, it's a tale of two halves. The first two songs and the first half of the third are in a more progressive metal style of post-metal, whereas the second half of the third song and the last two have much more of a folky black metal feel to them. The latter style is wrought with uplifting riffs and solos, while the former relies on aggression to make it work. In all, this is a pretty dynamic record, full of emotions and wonderful sounds just begging for someone's, anyone's, context.
Tenement Predatory Headlights
Tenement are not a pop-punk band. They're so much more, as a matter of fact. This notion is reinforced in spades on this, their second full length LP. It's an interesting affair, to say the least. It opens with a strange piano piece, but quickly transitions into six straight punk jams, "Feral Cat Tribe" being the highlight from this. It then throws a curveball with "Ants + Flies", a somber, yet hauntingly beautiful piano-driven track. The next three songs are all perfection, what with the incredible catchiness of "The Butcher" and the anthemic "Whispering Kids" being a part of the trio. Elsewhere on the album, we find more of these great songs, but some songs like "A Frightening Place For Normal People" come totally out of left field, and really surprise. Alas, an album with 23 songs on it has too much material for one soundoff, so really all that's left to say is: this album rules, so jam it as soon as possible.
Tenement The Blind Wink
I watched all of those others pass me by. Pretty faces and shallow minds. A frozen lock, a broken key, for reassurance I'd do anything. You're the most intriguing thing I've seen; so many colors and shapes in your eyes have long since left you be. But your kaleidoscope is pointed straight at me. Will this ever end? I need you here again. The shelter from the storm is the cage that keeps you in.
The Black Crowes Shake Your Money Maker
The Black Crowes The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
People often point to The Black Crowes' debut as their best record, but this is truly the definitive Black Crowes album. It's everything Shake Your Money Maker is and more, with small upgrades made in several places that take their southern blues rock sound to new heights. Female vocals sing beautiful harmonies, harmonicas and keyboards play wonderful lines, and pianos add soul to the whole concoction. The album ends with four straight classics in the gritty combo of "Black Moon Creeping" and "No Speak No Slave", which segue into the wondrous romp that is "My Morning Song", ending with the beautifully made cover of Bob Marley's "Time Will Tell". Sure, it's still the Robinson brothers' show, but this time around the music is not nearly as dependent on those two as before. That being said, they too arguably turn in their best performances here, making this record a collection of the best that The Black Crowes have to offer, and a cornerstone of 90's hard rock.
The Black Keys Rubber Factory
The Body No One Deserves Happiness
I believe that, among other things, No One Deserves Happiness is The Body's study of irony. Ironic how something as thick, bleak, and uncompromising as sludge/drone metal can yield moments of beauty and even catchiness. Ironic how a couple of nihilists are helping to ensure that their accomplishments won't die. Ironic how an album with the title it has actually makes me, and I'm sure a lot of other sludge fans out there, happy. Why so? Because, as usual, The Body's malleable and deconstructionist take on doom, drone, and sludge metal really packs a punch, as well having the perfect little subtleties that add so much personality and texture to their music. Take for instance the choir of beautiful vocals in "Prescience", or the jarring power electronics of "For You", or the tasteful use of 808's on "Two Snakes". It's moments like those that make No One Deserves Happiness such a captivating, interesting, and thoroughly entertaining experience. Oh, and Chip King's vocals still rule, in case anyone was wondering.
The Body I Shall Die Here
Aside from their self-titled debut, I Shall Die Here is probably the closest The Body will ever get to conventional drone-doom and sludge metal. Make no mistake however, their fourth full-length isn't your father's drone/doom/sludge, and while it is not quite as dynamic as records like All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To Blood or No One Deserves Happiness, it is the most atmospherically and perhaps the most thematically potent record the band has penned yet. At it's very core, the record is an absolutely hopeless, very oppressive, and often suicidal doom metal album. Everything sounds humongous, especially the thunderous drumming of Lee Buford, and Chip King's banshee-like wailing has never sounded more appropriate. In keeping some of the strange noisy elements and other weird electronics and adding deeper and harsher vocals as well putting some well-placed strings sporadically throughout the album, the album isn't bogged down by being too skeletal or predictable. The atmosphere is like a massive paperweight of lost hope and painful darkness continuously crashing down upon the listener, only letting up to raise the tension skyward. It's a marvelously done record from The Body, and by this point it's impossible to expect anything less.
The Crinn Shadow Breather
A mathcore/grind group from the twin cities, The Crinn has been making music since 2004, and take heavy influence from bands like SikTh and The Dillinger Escape Plan. Though they've been active for a decade plus, the band didn't really grab much attention until 2010's Dreaming Saturn. This album, the follow up, is decidedly better and more entertaining than its predecessor. The sound of this album is very reminiscent of early Dillinger, and while it's not exactly as good, it still packs a mean punch, as ferocious opener "Wanderman" will show you. What follows is a consistent, well thought out beast of a mathcore album with a couple of instances of melody and experimentation. The crown jewel of the record is "Deaf Effort", the penultimate track, which makes use of the best riffing on the album and a bassy build-up to craft an incredible song. Still waiting for new Dillinger? This should tide you over and then some.
The Cure Pornography
For as melancholy and brooding as records like Faith and Seventeen Seconds are, they don't come very close to Pornography in terms of bleak, hopeless compositions and lyrics. And yet, things are still catchy, though it'd be a stretch to call this pop. Utilizing what is a collection of the saddest and most drab melodies and atmospheric, cold production, The Cure used everything in their arsenal to conjure a depressed, borderline nihilistic feel. And that is exactly what happens here. From Robert Smith's tortured vocals and poetically dejecting lyrics, to the steady drumming hand of Lol Tolhurst, to the dispiriting and sometimes even unnerving bass guitar lines and synths from Simon Gallop, Pornography is a full realization of a dark sound, one that while depressing is also beautiful and endearing. In all, The Cure put to wax their first masterwork here, and any fan of gothic rock should immediately give it a spin.
The Dillinger Escape Plan Ire Works
The Dillinger Escape Plan Option Paralysis
Whereas TDEP peaked in intensity on their sonically insane debut Calculating Infinity, they have peaked in creativity on their fourth full-length album, Option Paralysis. Whereas the former of those two can be described as chaos, the latter can more accurately be described as organized chaos. For while their debut was certainly innovative, that innovation took a backseat to the sheer intensity of the record. Here, the intensity is still very much alive, but the spotlight is on the innovation this time around. And with such songs as "Farewell, Mona Lisa", "Gold Teeth On A Bum", and "Widower", it's very easy to see why. This album often feels like a more realized version of Miss Machine, which can only be a good thing in this case. With this release, The Dillinger Escape Plan has certainly cemented themselves as one of the most unique, creative, and interesting bands in the world today.
The Dillinger Escape Plan One of Us Is the Killer
An underrated beast in Dillinger's discography, One Of Us Is The Killer features the band at their most frenzied since Calculating Infinity, but also at their most subdued since Ire Works. Opening with "Prancer", the record gets off to a fierce start, a staple of Dillinger albums. The technical, blisteringly played songs are as good as they've been, but the album does very well in the experimental department to boot. Songs like "Hero Of The Soviet" with its weird backing vocals, and "The Threat Posed By Nuclear Weapons" with its immediate quiet-loud bursts show that the band still has a great edge to them. They just refuse to phone it in, which is all I hoped for this album and all I can hope for with the next.
The Dillinger Escape Plan Dissociation
It had to happen at some point, but I just didn't think it'd happen this soon. No matter what happens to them from here on out, The Dillinger Escape Plan will be remembered as a group that pushed the envelope. Disassociation cements that statement firmly as the band leaves on a massive, triumphantly powerful note that is unequivocally the best thing in their discography since Ire Works. All of the things the band is known for are here: the jazzy, relentless guitar work, the dizzying drumming, the experimentation with electronics and slow-burners, the ferocious vocals, and the intense passion that blazes through entire records. Yet, there's something about this one, with its songwriting near the best of their careers and Greg Puciato's best vocal performances to date, that makes hearing Disassociation feel special. If I had to guess, I'd say it's because what we're hearing is the end of one of metal's most intense and ambitious bands going out on top, with all 2,000 volts of their electric chair execution surging through it unabated. It's kind of hard to describe really, but one thing is for sure: the boys will be missed.
The Dirty Nil Minimum R&B
You have to love some hooky garage punk. You really can't not love it. And you have to love a compilation that sounds like it's an album proper. And you have to love an opener like "F*ckin' Up Young", which sounds like mid-90's Weezer for mid-10's college sophomores. You have to love somewhat off key, yet totally passionate and endearing singing, especially if there are vocal harmonies involved because "HATE IS A STOOOOOONNEEE, CHAAIINNED TO MEEEEEEEEEEE" and what not. You have to love weird-yet-tasteful vocal goofiness every once and a while. You have to love a band with attitude, especially if said attitude is infectious rather than obnoxious. You have to love Canada for giving us these guys among other notable musicians. You have to love singing along to songs you heard once before just because they're that catchy. You have to love Minimum R&B, but most of all, you have to love yourself. You also have to love ending sound offs with cliches.
The Faceless Planetary Duality
The Hotelier Home, Like NoPlace Is There
The Jimi Hendrix Experience Are You Experienced
The Jimi Hendrix Experience Electric Ladyland
The Microphones The Glow Pt. 2
Rarely do you find an album worthy of being a landmark in its genre so defined by its own imperfections than The Glow, Pt. 2. The singing is off-key, a good chunk of the guitar and drum playing seems to be off-time, and the relationship between most of the songs here is defined by a bass note that repeats itself ad infinitum at the end of the record. And there's really no other way it all could've panned out. It's one of the most intimately human albums ever recorded, the only issue with it being that it's a bit frontlogged. It's hard to live up to that opening trio, but most of the following material comes close. It's an album that says that while escaping society by enjoying nature in solitude for a time, even that does not come without its hardships. You're going to be at the mercy of the elements, you'll probably scrape yourself up, and being alone with your own thoughts may not be all it's cracked up to be. It's a special record, one that remains a cornerstone of lo-fi indie even today.
The Prodigy Experience
The Sisters of Mercy First and Last and Always
The Sisters of Mercy Floodland
The Sisters Of Mercy's first two albums are undeniable classics in the gothic rock/darkwave spectrum, and for good reason. Much is said of their debut First And Last And Always, but Floodland is arguably the better album. The ghostly, downtrodden feel of the debut has been replaced by a darker, more epic, more driven sound, and this is apparent from massive opener "Dominion / Mother Russia" alone. Choral vocals along with some heavier guitar make the song huge, but minimalism still works its way into the record with piano-driven "1959". The cornerstone of the record is "This Corrosion", a groovy, epic masterpiece that stacks up as possibly The Sisters' best song. Add to all of this a fantastically dark and distraught vocal performance by one Andrew Eldritch, and you have yourself a defining goth record. Oh, and almost every song here criminally catchy to boot.
The Strokes Is This It
The War on Drugs Lost in the Dream
My vote made this go from a 4 to a 4.1. Thank me later, Adam Granduciel.
The Weeknd House of Balloons
I think it's pretty ironic that while this tape was in constant rotation at parties all throughout 2011, it's actually an indictment of that lifestyle. And by lifestyle, I mean this one: "They say my brain meltin', and the only thing I'll tell 'em is I'm living for the present and the future don't exist. So baby take your clothes off..." The production is ethereal and expansive, and fits the drugged-out, ambivalent aesthetic perfectly. Abel is, of course, excellent here, with his airy voice wafting over the reverb and synths. It can get a slight but samey, but each individual song presents its own idea musically while staying the course topically. The lyrics are pretty subtle in that while they seem to be all about nameless women and undisclosed substances they're more of a cry for help, a way of expressing loneliness even when in a crowded room. It's the apathetic, almost completely transactional way of viewing these things that gives The Weeknd the ability to speak to those disillusioned by the scene. Thus, House Of Balloons is musically, aesthetically, and conceptually an excellent mission statement by The Weeknd.
The Weeknd Echoes of Silence
For all intents and purposes, this is The Weeknd's magnum opus so far. Abel Tesfaye puts together his best vocal performances here (the cover of Michael Jackson's "Dirty Diana" is unbelievably good), and the production, mostly handled by Illangelo, has never been so masterfully consistent (the production on "Initiation" is some of the darkest I've ever heard in R&B). The concepts explored on the first two mixtapes of this trilogy are still here, but they've never been handled in such a tactful way as on this tape. The references to women are still very plentiful, but whether or not Tesfaye is actually singing about women is up for debate. The representations are many; these "women" could be drugs ("D.D."), the music industry ("Next"), or even Tesfaye himself (the title-track). None of these concepts are particularly original, even for this project, but the execution is top-notch. In this way, Echoes Of Silence is an end befitting for this excellent trilogy of tapes that have helped make The Weeknd one of the most recognizable and loved R&B/pop acts of the decade.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra This Is Our Punk-Rock, Thee Rusted Satellites Gather and Sing
It's a testament to how eclectic Thee Silver Mt. Zion is that they decided to implement a new style on this record that neither they or their sister band GY!BE had previously explored: a choir. How much of a difference does that really make, though? As it turns out, it's an excellent and freshening addition to an already great band. This is shown in full on "Sow Some Lonesome Corner So Many Flowers Bloom", the opener, and easily one of their best songs. The use of these choir-backed harmonies, emotionally potent vocals from Efrim Muneck, and the classic somber-string/beautiful ambience combination that characterizes the band, permeates the record and makes a gripping experience. Since moving out of the shadow of Godspeed with the post-Rock essential Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward, they've made sure they stay out of it with this one, even if it is a slight step down from their previous effort.
Thomas Newman Finding Nemo
Thou/The Body You, Whom I Have Always Hated
Though it is only twenty-seven minutes long, this split full-length from Thou and The Body is chock-full of great moments. From the monstrous opener "Her Strongholds Unvanquishable", which features vocals reminiscent of a banshee, to the short but powerful "The Devils Of Trust Steal The Souls Of The Free", and even on to the eerie ambient track "He Returns To The Place Of His Iniquity", the album is ridden with pummeling drums and sloth-like riffs. The closer, "Lurking Fear", is truly something to behold, taking a punishing start and a subdued middle (complete with clean vocals) and smashing them together in the end, creating an unnerving yet strangely beautiful concoction. My only gripe with this album is that it could be a bit longer, but as stated before, there is still enough on this record to keep the listener satisfied. All in all, a superb release from two of the leaders in modern sludge metal.
Tiny Moving Parts Pleasant Living
One of the best emo/math rock combinations ever put to wax. How has no one 5'd this yet?

EDIT: Well, after repeated listens this has grown off a little bit, but it's still AOTY for me.
Tiny Moving Parts Celebrate
Tiny Moving Parts always seems to be there. I heard Pleasant Living, which is probably my favorite album from the Midwestern emo revival, at a pretty transitional period in my life. And while the last month has been turbulent, once again the band pop up right when I need them. It seems they've grown up as well. The songwriting is much more geared to a combination of equal parts standard emo, twinkly math rock, and emotive post-hardcore, and consist of some of the best songs the band has ever written. The stark improvement comes in the lyrics, which have become much more subtle and relatable (the latter of which seemed impossible), and almost every song here has a lyric that sticks in my head. The vocals have also improved tenfold, with the perfect combination of melody and passion that they are one of the driving forces behind the music. That's probably the best part of this album: all of the instruments, vocals, and lyrics are a driving force on their own, but make each other better when with each other. All I know is, if Tiny Moving Parts weren't seen as one of the best emo revival bands before Celebrate, they certainly will be now.
Toby Fox Undertale Soundtrack
Regardless of what you think of the game or its fanbase, you have to admit that Toby Fox made one kickass soundtrack to it all. Rarely do you find an album two hours plus that has only maybe ten or so minutes of filler, but that's exactly what the UNDERTALE Soundtrack provides. It's interesting how a decidedly minimal style such as bit music can sound so full and encompassing, but tracks like "Megalovania", "Your Best Nightmare", and "Waterfall" prove it can be done (with slight help from physical instruments). There's a treasure trove of memorable melodies to be found here as well, and the amount of tones and moods the album touches on is wide and impressive. It's quite the immersive experience, and as such is an adventure in itself just to listen to it. There's no secret as to why it's definitely made its mark as one of the best video game soundtracks in recent memory. So, with all of that said: IM SORRY THUNDERSNAIL
Touche Amore Stage Four
It may not be the most original thing musically but goddamn do those lyrics hit home. That alone raised this .5. The melodies here are quite easily the most beautiful melodies the band has written, surpassing even "Face Ghost" and "The Great Repetition". The unbridled energy that made their debut demo and full-length isn't present all that much here, but the embracing of melody and an emphasis on poetic lyricism has never been better. As such, the band have finally and fully made their transition, and it results it what just may be the band's best work. Perhaps this is best exemplified on closer "Skyscraper" in which Julien Baker makes a lovely appearance, when the songs explosive and memorable chorus acts as a culmination of everything the album is about both musically and lyrically. If you liked the direction Touche Amore has been going, or just want to hear some heartfelt and emotional post-hardcore, you can't go wrong with Stage Four.
Trophy Scars Never Born, Never Dead
At this point, if you haven't at least checked out a Trophy Scars record, you're doing something wrong. I'm not going to sit here and try to explain the appeal of the band, but in context, it's easy to explain the appeal of this EP. What I mean by that is, if you've heard the counterpart to this EP, 2010's Darkness, Oh Hell, it's obvious enough why you should listen to this record, which is a very evocative and effective sequel. Though it's not quite as good as its predecessor, it's got some great material on it, especially the wondrously engaging love song "Never Dead". The use of samples is very fitting and gives everything a timeless feel to it. All this being said, it works well standing alone, but within the context of its predecessor, it's just that much better, everything connecting very well throughout its runtime. It's probably their most bluesy album, and the use of strings has diminished a bit, but the horns are better this time around as well. In essence, this is just another great outing from one of the leading bands one experimental rock.
Trophy Scars Holy Vacants
Trophy Scars Bad Luck
Ukandanz Awo
Sometimes it's a bit harder for me to truly grasp the full meaning of translated lyrics from bands foreign to my native tongue. Some of it gets lost in translation. But, when the music is thoughtful and focused, and the vocalist says what they have to say in a passionate, heartfelt way, that doesn't matter that much. I think I end up making my own lyrics sometimes if that's the case. It's most certainly the case with Awo, an album that perfectly juxtaposes Ethiopian jazz with jamming post-punk. The use of saxophones and trumpets throughout the album take the already catchy and fun post-punk instrumentals to new heights, but what really sets this record high on the bar are the wonderful vocals. They're sung with so much soul, so much passion, that's it's impossible to ignore. Even though you may not understand what he's saying, you can tell he means it. The high, forceful vocals mix amazingly with the thick bass and smooth sax, and the complex and interesting drums are ever-present, providing the backbone of the record. In all, Awo, with its fun, impassioned, catchy ethio-jazz/post-punk combination, is quite an accomplishment for Ukandanz.
Ulcerate Shrines of Paralysis
It's kind of embarrassing to admit, but before Shrines Of Paralysis, I had never heard an Ulcerate album in full before. Seems like the kind of thing someone who very much enjoys this style of tech-death should've done ages ago, but what can you do? Anyways, this record sounds absolutely marvelous. It's got a full, but not overbearing production job and the songwriting is top-tier, tastefully mixing dizzying and speedy technicality with atmospheric and slow-burning moments. The vocals are an absolute force, doling out punishment almost as heavy as the riffs. What makes the album truly engrossing is its magnificent sense of pacing and atmosphere. It's an atmosphere hard to put into words, but here goes: basically, the album sounds like a war between amorphous creatures made of blood, ebbing and flowing, almost dancing as they battle, inside a never-ending maelstrom of fire and lightning. Or something like that, I don't know. More or less, though, Shrines Of Paralysis is definitely one of the best metal albums of the year, and may be the best tech-death in a year which has a stable of wonderful albums in the subgenre.
Uli K Goodbye + Goodnight
There's a decent lot that separates Uli K from his contemporaries stylistically. Take one of the well-known collaborators that appear on Goodbye + Goodnight in Yung Lean; his music is usually swamped in bass and though he does indulge in some auto-tuned vocal bliss, it's certainly not the focal point of his music vocally. The vast majority of Uli K's new tape doesn't have a lot of low end, with a much bigger emphasis on the beautiful and pained vocals. The production is almost entirely made up of atmospherics; synths and keys are used to set an ambience more often that to play melodies, although the melodies that do appear are quite great. The tape has a very listless and lost feel to it, but that's entirely by design; you're listening to someone that feels listless and lost in their own existence and everything on the tape reflects that experience. There's a dud or two later in the tracklist, but the first ten or so tracks are nothing short of immaculate. "Anyone But You" and "Dead It" are a clinic in how to do this stuff. Quite the arresting listen.
Van Morrison Astral Weeks
Van Morrison was one of the more creative and talented people in the contemporary popular spectrum, and the stuff he was making in the late 60's and early 70's were truly wonderful singer/songwriter and blue-eyed soul. Astral Weeks was a groundbreaker, a contender for the most important record of 1968, a year which featured The White Album, Odessey And Oracle, White Light / White Heat, and We're Only In It For The Money. The tactful blending of influences from folk, jazz, blues, rock, and classical combined with Morrison's irreplaceable vocals and expertly done stream-of-consciousness lyricism make the record great enough, but the sense of cohesiveness throughout the entire album makes it easier to listen to than one would assume. Basically, I don't know if anyone but the man himself knew he was capable of this when the only thing they had to go off was Blowin' Your Mind!. Amazing.
Vektor Black Future
It's a shame these guys broke up, considering they had three tech-thrash classics to their name. They ended on an extremely high note, but they also began on a note almost as high. Black Future is one hell of a mission statement, with insanely complex, yet cohesive, riffs flying everywhere, drumming that is out of this world in speed and fluidity, a bass with a mind of its own (in a good way), and vocals that one cannot even begin to describe. There's a bit of a lull in middle of the album, specifically "Deoxyribonucleic Acid" and "Asteroid"; while they're both very good songs, they simply aren't on the same level as the others, which keeps the album from garnering a perfect score. That said, "Oblivion" and closer "Accelerating Universe" are two songs that any tech-thrash band would kill to have in their discography, with the former's unbelievably fluid transitioning and the latter's incredible build-up and climax. It's truly a debut to remember from a band to remember, and if you're a fan of thrash in any way, this is definitely one you should hear without delay.
Vektor Outer Isolation
Is it really all that shocking that Vektor broke up when they did? I mean, they pushed the limits of their sound to its extremity and came away with three tech-thrash classics in the process, the second of which being Outer Isolation. Here we hear Vektor shortened up a bit, but no less breakneck, intense, or interesting, providing what is certainly the easiest starting point for someone willing to get into them. Bookended by two massively and masterfully written progressive thrash beasts, the meat of the album is made up of five-minute excursions of dizzying riffs and drumming, spidery bass, and amazingly forceful black metal-influenced vocals. There are occasional moments of tranquility and guitar-aided atmospherics, but it's mostly just fast and furious riffage. The title-track may be the best song in their entire catalog, serving as a prologue of sorts to the ineffable Terminal Redux. All that said, it was very, very fun while it lasted. Kudos and R.I.P.
Warm Brew Ghetto Beach Boyz
West coast hip-hop outfit Warm Brew may have released this record in January, but make no mistake: this is a summer album to the nth degree. Backed by some fantastically swirling and upbeat production, Ray Wright, Manu Li, and Serk Spliff spit stories of the good times they share in California, and prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that they deserve their new spot on Dom Kennedy's label, OPM. With a bevy of soulful anthemic hooks and that endless summer vibe, this record has a very high replay value, especially with songs like "Hold On To Her", "Whispers", "W$ Phonk", and "Live From Wimbley" on the tracklist. Ultimately, this is one of the most overlooked records from this year, criminally so. Warm Brew is definitely worth your time if you want some nice west coast hip-hop, or even if you just want an album to jam perpetually in the summer.
Winter Into Darkness
Wire Pink Flag
Wolves in the Throne Room Black Cascade
Diminishing their use of ambient, folky acoustic passages and female vocals and replacing them with a shoegaze influence and rawer, more furious playing, Black Cascade might just be the best record WITTR has released so far. Impassioned riffs are the bread and butter of the album ("The Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog"), but the notion that Nathan Weaver turns in his best vocal performance so far and his brother Aaron Weaver is an unstoppable, ferocious beast on the drums throughout the record make it so much more. Sure, this is the most bare-bones release the band had made in their discography so far, but therein lies its charm: it's relentless, windy, and altogether beautiful melodic black metal, even while being so simple and stripped-down from past releases. The album also does a nice job of keeping within the environmental and earth-centric lyrics and aesthetic that the band employs so well, which helps make this a fantastic release for the American trio.
Yndi Halda Enjoy Eternal Bliss
Whatever you believe about post-rock, it's hard not to say that the standalone genre (without any input from drone, field recordings, ambient, etc.) met its logical conclusion long ago, even before this album was released. And though the band wears their influences (GY!BE, Mogwai, Explosions) right on their collective sleeves, the music on Enjoy Eternal Bliss is nothing short of evocative. It's beautiful and tear-jerking for the majority of the album, with the first three tracks being some of the best post-rock in the 21st century, especially the stunningly beautiful "Song For Starlit Beaches". Yet, the final song takes a turn for the melancholic and frustrated, ending the album on a less-than-triumphant note and a crescendo for the ages. This makes sense in the context of the album, in ones opinion, because one believes the album to be about the days before dying, in which you spend your final hours on earth with those you love and hold dear before turning to face unknown and terrifying void of death. It's life according to Yndi Halda, and life is a beautiful thing.
Zealotry The Last Witness
Albums from Chthe'ilist and Howls Of Ebb have already taken the death metal world by storm this year through their untraditional, uncompromising, and unique takes on the genre. Zealotry's The Last Witness will be next to join them. Coming from a place more ostensibly alien, Zealotry's style conjures images of extraterrestrial beings and planets unlivable by humans. It's production backs this up very well, with the guitars sounding angular and strange, with an atmosphere that feels tense and otherworldly. The vocal performance is pretty good, and the lyrics are surprisingly one of the coolest things about the album, describing the complete and total eradication of Earth and its people through the will of a nefarious "Overmind". Nothing new, sure, but it's done expertly. And though the album is not as varied or quite as satisfying as the aforementioned bands' records, it's still very much in the same echelon, as exemplified by moments like the ending of "Mutagenesis" and the entirety of tracks "Progeny Omega" and closer "Silence". In all, it's an album that accomplished the goal of pushing death metal's boundaries even further, which is an impressive feat in and of itself.

4.0 excellent
21 Savage Savage Mode
Dark, minimal, almost zombified trap from the mecca. I don't know what it is about Atlanta and why it continues to birth some of the most prominent faces in trap, but I'm certainly not complaining. The beats Metro provides on Savage Mode are some of the darkest he's made, but also some of the most imposing and threatening as "No Heart" and "Mad High" will show you, providing the perfect backdrop for 21 Savage. The guy sounds so barred out and disillusioned that the impression he gives, one of a man so tired of and used to the dangerous and paranoid life he leads that he's grown emotionless and cold, comes across very smoothly and most importantly believable. It's really great to hear a rapper-producer collaboration like this that features both performers at a high level and both performers complementing themselves in ways that just wouldn't be there if one were to be replaced.
A Day To Remember For Those Who Have Heart
A Tribe Called Quest People's Instinctive Travels & The Paths of Rhythm
Abstracter Wound Empire
With a venomous combination of smoky sludge metal and blackened crust punk, the sophomore LP from Abstracter is yet another excellent addition to this years slate of slower, punishing metal music. Utilizing a formula of crafting sludgy build-ups around single, memorable guitar riffs and then exploding forth in a fury of punky energy, the way the band goes about this album is excellent in and of itself. Each song is incredibly solid, and while there isn't a truly standout moment on this record, the quality of the compositions stays at a high level throughout. The vocals have a black metal feel to them and are very well done even while remaining unchanged, except for the droning chorus vocals in "Glowing Wounds". In short, a really good concoction of sludgy crust here with a lot of replay value.
Abyssal Antikatastaseis
Hailing from the UK, the multi-instrumentalist known only as G.D.C. has been working at his atmospheric blackened death metal craft for four years now in the one man project called Abyssal, but several notable improvements have been made on this, his third LP. His use of melody in these tracks is impressive, with the eerie, ominous riff that dominates "Chrysalis" and the strangely uplifting end to "The Cornucopian". He also hired a studio drummer, Timo Hakkinen, to replace the drum machine implemented on his previous works, which turns out to a worthwhile investment, as the drumming seems much more natural and fluid this time around. Experimentation is also at work here, most notably on the track "Veil Of Transcendence", which features a music box-like piano which establishes itself just enough before being swallowed by massive riffs and low, unsettling vocals, but manages to survive the whole ordeal by the end. In short, this is a great release from Abyssal, who manages to shed some of the fat present on his previous releases to excellent results.
Aerosmith Toys in the Attic
Aerosmith Get Your Wings
Aesop Rock Appleseed
Why is this record not noticed? Aesop Rock is too dope!
Aesop Rock Float
Aesop Rock Bazooka Tooth
Aesop Rock has made quite the name for himself in the underground, due to his penchant for surreal lyricism, complex rhyme schemes, and obscure references. The follow up to the underground classic Labor Days, Bazooka Tooth sees Aes with his most ambitious production job (even if sometimes it sounds like El-P-lite), with some more lyrical acrobatics. The result is a remarkably consistent effort that doesn't lose quality throughout the runtime. Granted, the album is quite long at one hour and ten minutes, so there is quite a lot to digest here. Still, you can't go into an Aesop Rock record expecting everything to become readily apparent, and as always the record opens up much easier with patient listening. No one track is better than the others, but rest assured, the majority of them are high quality. In all, it's another dense, interesting record by Aesop Rock, and one that is surely worthy of a spot in his discography.
Aesop Rock The Impossible Kid
Aesop Rock is a pretty polarizing fellow, mostly stemming from his lyrics. While some praise them as interesting and fun to decipher, others lambast them as nonsensical or needlessly verbose. Whatever the case, The Impossible Kid is territory only barely charted for the San Fran wordsmith. With his most upfront and confessional lyrics yet, and a collection of instrumentals that harken back to early 2000's El-P while still keeping a personal edge to them, the record is much easier to digest than any album of his before it. Though easier to understand, I'd be lying if I said the songs were straightforward, as they're decidedly not, but the story-telling here is wondrously vivid and the wordplay is sharp. He takes the listener on a personal journey of his hometown, his important memories, and his makeshift home in a barn far away from the city, a place that he stayed for one year while composing this record. At the end of it all, the listener knows the man better than ever before, motives, feelings, and all.
Aesop Rock Skelethon
After Def Jux folded, it seemed like Aesop Rock was completely on his own, and though it was officially released on Rhymesayers, Skelethon reflects that very clearly. Almost everything on the record is done by Aes himself, from the lyricism to the production to the performances, and it is actually quite great. It's no great venture to say that the first half of the record is unequivocally the best non-Labor Days material he's ever done, with crisp abstract beats and artful stories about death and relationships between humans being woven effortlessly. There's even a couple of legitimately good hooks here, which have never been his forte. Aes' rapping and lyrical acrobatics are unsurprisingly excellent, but his own production, formerly a glaring weak point for him, is consistently well-done and occasionally steals the show. More or less, Skelethon charts the growth of Aesop Rock not only as an artist but as a person as well, making it an interesting and intimate abstract hip-hop record.
Agalloch Pale Folklore
I think that the reason folk and black metal work so well together is that they are both, at their core, relatively simple, and make fantastic use of atmosphere and aesthetic to help give the simplistic nature of the music texture and depth. Agalloch is one of the premier bands that use this combination, even mixing the folk elements with atmospheric metal in general to create soaringly beautiful folk metal. There isn't anything that technically impressive on the record, but what it lacks in technicality it makes up for in its pronounced sense of atmosphere and melody. Occasionally, the vocals can stray into cringeworthy territory, but on the whole they are solid and alternate between screamed and cleanly-sung depending on the style. Yes, Agalloch would eventually go on to do bigger and better things, but the blueprint for those achievements was laid very well by Pale Folklore.
Agalloch Of Stone, Wind and Pillor
It's kind of interesting when you compare Agalloch to the rest of the American black metal scene. Because besides Weakling and perhaps Wolves In The Throne Room, no band is even close to being as influential in that scene as Agalloch was. The interesting part is that black metal is but one piece to Agalloch's large puzzle, which this EP displays very well. The opener/title-track and the very well done cover of Sol Invictus' "Kneel To The Cross" are both examples of rich folk metal mixed with atmospheric and evocative black metal, not only instrumentally, but vocally as well, echoing their efforts on Pale Folklore. "Florium Voridium" and "Haunting Birds" are two dark folk songs that show that Agalloch doesn't need to be constrained to metal to write great songs, and closer "A Poem By Yeates" is an emotionally vibrant and brooding neoclassical piece. Overall, Of Stone, Wind & Pillor shows Agalloch's large range and songwriting capabilities that would only be expressed more later on in their careers.
Agalloch The Mantle
Going further towards the cleaner, yet still wholly windy and cold, side of folk-influenced black metal and neofolk that Of Stone, Wind, And Pillor established so well, The Mantle sees Agalloch transforming to a more folk dominated sound, while still retaining some of their black metal roots. The thing to recognize, I believe, about this record is that it's not some massive monolith of raspy folk metal epics. Rather, it's a quite delicate and nuanced album, with the moments of freezing ambience meaning just as much as the tranquil strumming of acoustic guitar or the drifting riffs. Thus, the songs are not at all difficult to digest, and while some might overstay their welcome, for the most part everything is tactfully written in a smart and almost progressive manner. Yet, for all the coldness it wishes to portray, I feel that the record brings the feeling of emptiness across well. I never thought I'd say something like this, but the album pretty much ends up exactly where it began, and that is a good thing.
Agalloch Ashes Against the Grain
Agalloch records, at least for me, have always been pretty immediately rewarding as well as rewarding after subsequent listens. Ashes Against The Grain breaks that mold, as on a first listen it seems to be less dynamic and nuanced than its predecessors, but it later reveals itself as quite possibly their strongest outing. While it is true that it is less atmospherically potent than records like The Mantle, the songwriting heard here is nothing short of stellar. Some of the melodies on this thing, like the several memorable ones heard on the tandem of "Fire Above, Ice Below" and "Not Unlike The Waves", are truly beautiful and tear-jerking. The folk sections are less frequent this time around, but when they show up, they're at their best (the section that intersects "Limbs" at the seven-minute mark is phenomenal, as is the entirety of "Our Fortress Is Burning...I"). The lyrics, as always, are very good, as is the vocal performance, but the surprise here is the drumming, which is not only a memorable performance but also much more dynamic and fun than the predecessors'. Truly, it is because of all these things that Ashes Against The Grain may just be Agalloch's finest work.
Al Cohn, John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, and Zoot Sims Tenor Conclave
Do you like the sound of the tenor sax, especially when in an upbeat hard bop style? Then man oh man do I have one swell record for you! All four of the men featured on the cover of this record play the tenor sax here, and the bulk of the forty-three minute runtime is made up of various lines, solos, and some truly excellent interplays from them. It features two original Hank Mobley numbers, but also a 1920's standard in "Just You, Just Me" and a 1930's standard in "How Deep Is The Ocean", which receives a marvelous rendition on this record. Tenor Conclave isn't all just tenor sax, though; there are a few piano and bass solos (most notably in "Bob's Boys") by Red Garland and Paul Chambers respectively, which adds a nice variety to it. The first three tracks are done in a very upbeat style that is hard not to move to, whereas aforementioned closer "How Deep Is The Ocean" is done in a slower, more bluesy style that brings some relaxed and chilled vibes with it. Really, it's some of the most well done tenor-heavy hard bop out there, as is most of John Coltrane's early material.
Algiers Algiers
Formed in Atlanta, Algiers is a trio that mixes industrial and post-punk instrumentals with soul vocals. Franklin James Fisher is the frontman on this record, and he possesses a wonderfully versatile voice. This is best exemplified in two of the last tracks on the record, "Games" and "In Parallax", the former of which features a soothing and subdued Fisher, and the latter of which features a wailing and heavy-voiced Fisher. The instrumentation is plodding and dark, but can speed up when called upon. The deep feedback from the guitars creates a great atmosphere, and overall the record is a pretty ambitious affair. Absolutely recommended for fans of experimental music, especially when based in the dark clutches of the industrial genre.
Aluk Todolo Voix
It's been four years since the band that made Occult Rock has seen daylight, but VOIX proves that they're still on their game. The universe VOIX takes place in is a strange one, one where spidery bass and liquid drumming swirl around in a mass of drones and noisy guitar riffs. The production on this thing makes the guitars really come to life, with a lovely barrage of noise coming in some places, and eerie, lingering tones coming in during others. There's even a few moments on this record where the guitars sound like a locust swarm. The rhythm section is the true backbone of this project, though, as without the steadying hand of the drums and the familiar, wonderfully repetitive bass, this would all sound directionless and without thought. It does get somewhat samey towards the end, but they switch it up enough throughout the runtime to keep that notion from ballooning into a problem. In all, VOIX is an album easy to get lost in with its eerie, yet sometimes beautiful, atmospherics.
Alvarius B. and Cerberus Shoal The Vim & Vigour Of Alvarius B. And Cerberus Shoal
This is one of the strangest yet one of the most beautiful things either of these distinguished avant-folk artists are on. The Vim And Vigour Of Cerberus Shoal And Alvarius B. take two songs by Alvarius B. in "Bloody Baby" and "Viking Christmas" and one song by Cerberus Shoal in "The Real Ding" and feed them through each other's filters. The final result is great, with Alvarius B. making the songs sound so intimate and personal in an avant-folk style, with Cerberus Shoal making the songs sound grandiose and rousing in a combination of post-rock and progressive folk. The best songs are the two "Ding"'s, with the vocal melodies, lyrics, and guitar work all juxtaposing melancholy with the just the right amount of hopefulness in two utterly fantastic works. The other songs are good, great even, but both "Ding"'s put them to shame and are worth the listen to the album by themselves.
Amebix Monolith
Amebix has been credited with creating the genre of crust punk, a lethal fusion of heavy metal and anarchist hardcore punk that few bands can pull off successfully. Thankfully, Amebix is one of them, and their sound is still great on their sophomore LP Monolith. The riffs here are pretty reminiscent of speed metal bands like Motorhead, but still retain the crusty edge they had on Arise. The songwriting has taken a bit of a hit here, though, as they don't usually stray away from the formula of melodic intros and speed metal riff passages. The production gives it a very murky feel, and though it pales in comparison to Arise's atmosphere, it is still good enough to hold its own. And with great songs like "Nobody's Driving", "Time Bomb", "I.C.B.M.", and "Coming Home", Monolith proves itself a worthy successor to the essential Arise, and is an excellent listen in and of itself.
American Football American Football EP
Ampere The First Five Years
If you're a fan of screamo, you undoubtedly know who Ampere are, and for good reason. The First Five Years compiles all of their material from their demos and splits, aside from their split LP with Sinaloa, and it's all expectedly great. All of the songs here are sub-two-minutes (save for one of the live tracks), while most are under one minute in duration; quick shots of violent riffing and spastic blast beats that give way to melancholic melodic leads and, on rare occasions, subdued moments. There are eighteen original songs here, although two are duplicates. The other ten tracks are five very well done covers, including the great "Money Stinks" by D.R.I., and five live performances. Nothing on here really comes close to the level of songwriting heard on All Our Tomorrows End Today or Like Shadows, but few things do. It's a very convenient and high-quality compilation from a very important and high-quality screamo band.
Ampere Like Shadows
Like Orchid before them, Ampere have the gift of writing very short songs that are both powerful and memorable. Whole albums blow fly past where three songs normally would, and the musicianship on display is nothing short of heart-stopping. Like Shadows is a fitting title for this explosion of screamo treading dangerously into powerviolence territory; shadows can represent darkness, and they can also represent fear. Stephen Pierce is a powerful vocalist, that enough is certain, and he may be at his most powerful when he sounds frightened (as he does many, many times here), as if he's being thrown around by all of the chaotic instrumentation around him. As for darkness, the lyrics here are at once depressing, raging, and slightly disturbing, giving an air of apprehensive frustration and deep melancholy. It's a very intense record, and in this sense, the thirteen minute length is a blessing. Who knows what they'll do next, if anything, but at least we have this to remind ourselves why we wait.
Anberlin Cities
Anberlin has always had a great reputation for being one of the more consistent alt-rock/pop-punk acts of this day and age. Their music is simple, but insanely fun and undeniably catchy. Nowhere is this more apparent than on their third record, Cities. The band gets off to a roaring start with "Godspeed", an absolute romp of a song that sets the tone of the record perfectly. The band tries their hand at some synths on this record, and they actually work very well, like on "Reclusion" and "Hello Alone". The vocalist, Stephen Christian, is at the top of his game here, both in the performance aspect and the lyrics department. The album is absolutely rife with infectious choruses, and they make the album as memorable as it is a good time. The highlight of the album are the two final tracks, "Dismantle. Repair.", and "(*Fin)", the latter of which is the best song Anberlin has ever written. Surely, if you love alternative rock with heavy pop sensibilities, you can never go wrong with Cities.
Anberlin Devotion
Imagine if later-day The Killers were ten times as catchy and, you know, good, and you generally have an idea of what this record sounds like most of the time. During the times it doesn't sound like that, it sounds like top-tier Anberlin, which can't be a bad thing. Devotion is a beefier, better version of Vital, and while the original eleven tracks are definitely highlights here, the added seven are pretty great as well, with the one slip-up coming early in "City Electric". The use of electronics is a nice change of pace from the bare-bones instrumentation of Dark Is The Way, and it helps to give the music an extra dynamic that really works on songs like "God, Drugs, And Sex". Of course, Stephen Christian puts on an expectedly excellent performance, and the pop-sensibilities of the band are as strong as ever as they continue to churn out catchy hook after catchy hook. The fast-paced songs are great, but the songwriting on the slower songs is where they've really shown an improvement, really balancing out everything on this record. Put simply, Devotion is a fun and sometimes even heartwarming effort on all fronts from Anberlin.
Anderson .Paak Malibu
Anderson .Paak, who generated some buzz after providing some of the better vocals on Dr. Dre's thoroughly-covered comeback record Compton, has two of the most important gifts as a vocalist, especially in neo-soul: it's immediately recognizable, and also immediately enjoyable. This, combined with the sunny and chilled production, make Malibu a great sophomore effort. Highlights include a wonderfully personal split track with "The Season/Carry Me", "Without You", which is essentially a reworking of Hiatus Kaiyote's "Molasses", and features an excellent verse from Rapsody to boot. The album does suffer a slight bit from longwindedness, but for the most part it is a nicely varied and rich neo-soul record,mwithnsome great influences coming in from west coast hip-hop. It seems like it will only be a matter of time before we see .Paak being associated with Frank Ocean and the like, as well as doing hooks on many more major hip-hop albums coming out of the west coast.
Andy Stott Too Many Voices
I don't know what these voices are saying to Andy Stott, but if they had anything to do with how this album turned out then he should listen to them more often. I've always understood techno as a more or less "clean" genre, just based on the way it sounds. It's repetitive, seamless, and very rarely has any dents or dings to speak of. Stott kind of subverts this notion on Too Many Voices in that it thrives on those dents and dings. Thus, what is usually very repetitive lends itself to some more variation, and the songs definitely do not suffer from lack of structure or pacing despite this. Everything is very meticulous in its development, and it all comes together so beautifully, especially when there's vocals involved. It takes some measure of U.K. bass along with it, but Stotts ambient tech/dub tech style is one not hard at all to appreciate, and is ultimately refreshing when you take in just how human these electronic sounds can be.
Anenzephalia Noehaem
Anenzephalia is one of the more recognizable names in the completely inaccessible genre of death industrial, and while they tend to mix this style with dark ambient, the end result is not only an interesting listen, but a worthwhile one as well. The track names are just sequential Roman numerals, further pushing the mechanical, yet subtlety of the record. "I" starts with an eerie drone which repeats seemingly ad infinitum. The next three songs are all impenetrable, with huge amount of static, background noise, and drones engulfing them. The music barely forms what can be heard as notes, but it all comes together quite nicely. By the time "VIII", which is a slightly more demented reprise of "I" comes around, you feel like you've been there a while, even if only thirty-six minutes have gone by. That shows how tense and unnerving this record can get, especially on tracks like "V" and "VII". A challenging yet rewarding listen, Noehaem should be checked out by anyone interested in death industrial/dark ambient.
Animal Collective Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished
What a couple of goons these two are. I mean really, who do they think they are, mixing folk pop and noise? Visionary? Or the result of a few acid tabs too many? I don't know, but whatever the case may be, Spirit They're Gone is quite the listen. With layers of delicate noise put over lovely folk pop compositions, the experimentation is definitely nice. The vocals don't seem to rise up from the level of the noise too often, but they don't have to, almost acting as another sheet over the acoustic guitar and twirling pianos. The drumming, as you probably already know, is excellent. No surprise there, but one still can't help but be taken aback at the skill displayed on closer "Alvin Row". And yet, for all of this, the best track on the album was one created years beforehand, known as "Penny Dreadfuls", which is a beautiful, affecting piece in all respects. Animal Collective would grow after this, both in persons and in scope, but their roots cannot be forgotten, especially when they're this unique and lovely.
Anonymuz Vice City
Though the storyline and themes presented here aren't the most original at all, they can still be effective tales depending on the way they're told. Fortunately enough, Anonymuz understands that well, and puts together a synth-heavy trudge through drug abuse and acts of violence. His skills as an emcee are quite honed, as he's got a picture-perfect flow throughout the entire record, can sound either charged up or barred out depending on the setting of the song, and on top of it all can really spit some great lines. The production of the record really ties things together, as it has a hazy, synth-drenched sound that permeates the entire album, really giving it a cohesiveness that is rare to see on a debut full-length. All of this makes Vice City a excellent debut from a guy that you should definitely keep your eye on if you're a fan of this kind of hip-hop.
Anouar Brahem Barzakh
The atmosphere of an album is particularly important when it comes to instrumental music, because oftentimes the only thing to focus on is the atmosphere itself. That's how it is throughout the vast majority of Barzakh, but rest assured: Anouar Brahem knows how to lay down a tangible and palatable atmosphere. Musically, it's very minimal African folk music with a nice influence from Arabic music. The first six tracks consist of only acoustic guitar and even after that tracks are made up entirely of percussion, though there are a couple of tracks that include acoustic guitar, percussion, and strings. The atmosphere is a calm one rather than tense, and due to the African/Arabic flavors that are so pungent here, it feels like relaxing on a hammock in the middle of a sandy middle-class African city. Needless to say, it's just as beautiful as it is immersive, and it's records like these that make Brahem one of the most well-renowned and recognizable names in African/Arabian folk.
Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works 85-92
Can't really say much about Selected Ambient Works 85-92 that hasn't been said already, but there's some very interesting things about it that don't quite get touched on as much. One thing is that this is one of the rare ambient electronic albums that can really only be heard in one way: with all of your attention on it. Similar albums work wonderfully as background music, but this one sounds almost boring without active listening. It makes up for that by being a marvelous active listening experience, with all sorts of beautifully nuanced details peppering each song (that triple feature of the opening tracks is considered some of the best ambient techno ever for a reason, you know), and having an atmosphere both warming and freezing, both intimate and robotic. It's problem lies in the notion that it loses steam near the end of record, with the last couple tracks in particular being somewhat forgettable, like the albums halves sit on polar opposites or something. It's a truly great an influential work, but whether it's Aphex Twin's best is certainly up for debate.
Apollo Brown and Skyzoo The Easy Truth
I'd be lying to you if I said that I hated a style of hip-hop. There's pretty much no style of the genre that I can say that I hate or even merely dislike. In terms of this kind of throwback boom-bap style, there are plenty of guys out there that aren't stuck firmly in '94 and do it with a very much appreciated modern flair to it. Apollo Brown and Skyzoo are two of those guys. Brown is an excellent producer and he's really on his game on The Easy Truth, effortlessly mixing soulful samples with lovely piano lines and strings, all the while operating with a clarity that makes the whole record sound beautiful. Not one to be outdone, Skyzoo drops some very nice verses left and right, and his hooks are easy-going and even sometimes memorable. Lyrically, a picture of life and lessons learned in the Bronx is wonderfully painted, and though nothing here is all that original, it's still a professionally written and produced east coast record. If you need some easy-listening hip-hop in your life, Skyzoo and Apollo Brown have you covered with this excellent collaboration.
Architects All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us
Architects, at least for me, makes some of the best angry music around. Not necessarily incredible, but enough breakneck speed, relentless aggression, and passionate vocals to satisfy vexation. All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us is similar, but is also loomed over by a cloud of uncertain melancholy. Some of the lyrics here betray a sense of unease about the future and begin to question thoughts that had up until this point remained unchallenged. Tom Searle, the guitarist who wrote these songs and lyrics, undoubtedly felt these feelings. He was battling cancer at the time of recording, and he eventually succumbed to the disease in August of 2016. The unfortunate passing of Searle gives an entirely new meaning to the record, echoing the weeks before and after the release David Bowie's Blackstar and Bowie's untimely death. The closer, "Momento Mori", is particularly moving in this regard. It's another on the unfortunately ever-growing list of albums marked by death.
Archy Marshall A New Place 2 Drown
Archy Marshall has certainly made a name for himself under the King Krule moniker, and it's easy to see why, as he creates a cloud of hazy trip-hop, indie pop, alternative R&B, and even sprinkles of post-punk here and there, doing everything himself. This record, released under his given name, is a bit different. That is to say, he got someone's help this time, that someone being his brother, Jack Marshall. Together, they make a subdued and detached trip-hop record, but one that is also subtly intelligent and personal. The vibes coming off of the record are relaxed, chilled, and almost disinterested (I mean that in a good way, of course). However, it's the lyrics that betray just how smart the record actually is. "We just smoke and let days roll by" from "Ammi Ammi" show that these vibes are wholly intentional, and the verse to "Sex With Nobody" touches on the issues with casual sex and those unwilling to face the consequences, whatever they may be. Many songs also relate personal experiences and anecdotes that give you insight into who Marshall is as a person. Though it suffers from sameyness a bit, A New Place 2 Drown is a great record from one of the freshest young minds in music.
Arctic Monkeys Humbug
Arsonists Get All the Girls Portals
Art Blakey Orgy in Rhythm, Volume 1
Art Blakey is one of the greatest drummers to come out of jazz music at large, and his work with his very own band The Jazz Messengers and stalwarts like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Cannonball Adderley proves that. The man was no slouch when it came to leading and to songwriting, so it's no surprise that he'd pen one of the very first percussion-based jazz albums in Orgy In Rhythm, Volume 1. Sure, some piano or bass or flute may pop up here and there, but mostly it's just very intense and heavily African-influenced drumming from Blakey and parter in crime Art Taylor, along with bongos and multiple timpani. The emphasis is nearly entirely rhythmic; very few melodies are heard anywhere, and harmony is almost nowhere to be found. It's the notion that the drumming is just so entertaining to hear, coupled with the sheer intensity of moments like the end of opener "Buhaina Chant", that makes this album a must-listen. Mesmerizing stuff, indeed.
Artificial Brain Infrared Horizon
It's a dually intriguing and disconcerting thought for a machine to gain sentience, for a huge number of reasons. It's fitting; Artificial Brain sound like a bunch of androids that gained the ability to express emotion through music, and as Infrared Horizon is an alien record, it is also an album dripping with creativity and passion. The combination of tech-death, brutal death, and a dose of blackened death is ridiculously complex and speedy, but there's an audible sense of urgency and vexation when they play, as if they are the troubled android described throughout the album's lyrical escapades. Vocalist Will Smith is phenomenal as well, utilizing a variety of deliveries from a low gurgling growl to black metal-esque screaming; plus, that shriek at the beginning of "Anchored To The Inlayed Arc" is absolutely unreal. It's an angular, oftentimes unsettling beast, but it's that type of uncompromising mindset that can help make a great metal record, which Artificial Brain have certainly done here with Infrared Horizon.
As Blood Runs Black Allegiance
Four-piece Los Angeles deathcore outfit As Blood Runs Black owes a lot to melodic death metal bands like The Black Dahlia Murder, as their sound on this record is essentially TBDM, just with ungodly fast double-bass, romping breakdowns, and Wu-Tang quotes. And if none of that sounds appealing to you, then I'm sorry. Beginning with the triple-headed medusa of "In Dying Days", "My Fears Have Become Phobias", and "Hester Prynne", the band make it known that they can write some good riffs, especially in the case of "Hester Prynne", and also have a fantastic drum performance. Essentially, the first six songs (including the intro) are perfect deathcore, sans "Pouring Reign", which is still incredible, but rather than deathcore it is a surprisingly beautiful acoustic interlude that provides a nice break from the relentless action. But, once "The Brighter Side Of Suffering" ends, things never get back to the quality they used to be at. The next four songs are unimaginative and unmemorable, and they do no justice to the first half of the album at all. Despite ending on this sour note, the albums' first six songs are basically perfect, and had they been released as an EP, it likely would've been the greatest deathcore EP ever released.
Atlas Losing Grip Currents
I'd imagine it's a tough life for sailors, rarely being able to see your family and constantly being out on the ocean or lakes. Of course, Atlas Losing Grip uses this as a metaphor for losing your way in life (lost at sea) and righting yourself again (finding your way home). Musically they sound like a faster, punkier, and darker Anberlin, and though they're excellent at making fast-paced songs with catchy choruses, they are really on their game with slower, sadder songs as well. Take for instance "Closure" and "Kings And Fools", back-to-back songs that are easily relatable and make great use of atmospheric guitars. The back end of the album is particularly good, though, with the impassioned "Through The Distance" paving way for the closer, "Ithaka", which ends the album on a hopeful and endearing note. Though the first couple of songs aren't as good as the rest of the album, this record is strikingly consistent throughout and is a pretty fun listen. I'd recommend this if you're a fan of melodic punk rock or just fast-paced, energetic rock in general.
Autechre Garbage
Autechre Anvil Vapre
Autechre have had their fair share of great EP's in their time, with the Anti EP and Garbage being two obvious examples. Here, the masters of IDM release the follow up to Garbage, using buzzsaw-like noises, static, and a lot of awkward synth passages. The whole thing sounds very spacey, and you can often feel the noises and static in the back of your head. Despite this, the songs are actually kind of catchy, especially "Second Scepe". "Second Scout" is probably the most sparse of the tracks, being very atmospheric in nature. The closer almost sounds industrial, with many of the aforementioned buzzsaw noises whirring in the background. The overall sound, though a bit subdued in relation to something like Tri Repetae, acts as somewhat of an entranceway into their more well known records, and is an important listen in Autechre's discography.
Autechre Amber
I'm really not sure what to make of Amber at this point. It's definitely Autechre at their most minimal and subtle, and I can appreciate that, but the way it expresses its subtlety is weird. By that I mean that Amber doesn't really try to suck you into it or grab you, as it's remarkably distant and smothered with cold and rigid textures. It seems like it's just "there", but for some reason it's perfectly aware of that notion and is completely content with it. It almost works better if you're not paying full attention to it. It works its way into your head, not with visceral melodies, but with an entirely synthetic repetition and sparseness. It's unstructured, undoubtedly on purpose, with the only thing really holding it together being repetitive synth lines and subtle rhythms. It honestly sounds alien, like it doesn't know how to communicate what it wishes to. That being said, it's likely that was the intent in the first place. It really does show that even in their most subdued and minimal days, Autechre made some pretty challenging and rewarding albums.
Autechre Tri Repetae
Tri Repetae is undoubtedly some of the strangest music out there. I say this for more reasons than one, too. First off, it's some of the least visceral music ever composed, as the entire thing sounds like a top-secret supercomputer calculating an answer to solve the most complicated mathematical problems imaginable. It sounds like it itself is a robotic entity and that it is trying to simulate music that can evoke emotions and feelings, but ultimately failing in its endeavor. Secondly, I've never heard something that can pull this cold, emotionless, robotic aesthetic off so thoroughly while also creating something that is at the very least slightly enjoyable to listen to, even if it has to be taken in doses. Lastly, depending on how you listen to it, this thing is either a breeze to get through (background listening, using for study music, etc.), or completely impenetrable (attentive, focused listening), which is actually fascinating. Maybe the album is more interesting than entirely loveable, but the concept here was executed to the utmost perfection. And even if I didn't like the music, I'd still have to give Autechre credit for that.
Autechre Chiastic Slide
I swear I can feel the roof of my mouth tingle during the ending minutes of "Nuane". It's a bit misleading to call Chiastic Slide a transitional album for Autechre, as if their sound all throughout their discography hasn't been a constantly-evolving beast of glitchy, textured IDM, but it's certainly the closest one they have. This does not, however, make it lesser in quality (for my part, it's slightly better than Amber but not quite as good as Tri Repetae). Rather, the album is an amorphous ocean, swelling and quelling with a balance of pulsing, layered IDM teetering on ambient techno and free-form electronic spasticness complete with explosive noise. The importance of this record in the Autechre catalog is that it is the first attempt at combining Autechre's two main styles, an idea that would later become perfected with LP5. Again, though, this is an unmissable album if you consider yourself an Autechre fan, and a very worthwhile listen if you're into heavily mechanized and glitchy IDM.
Autechre LP5
I believe the flagged review said it best: "Whether you prefer the ethereal warmth of Amber, the alien sound scapes of Tri Repetae or the quasi-formlessness ofConfield, Autechre?s music is invariably distinct." This statement is true any way you look at it, and it's the curious nature of LP5, that being it is like an amalgam of those mentioned records, that lends further credence to it. It's not quite moving into virtually inaccessible territory just yet, but it's not the easiest listening in the world either. As with all of their material, there's so much going on here that one listen, no matter how intently, can suffice for the entire thing. As such, LP5 and it's counterparts are albums that can be dissected in any number of ways, and makes them as interesting as they are pleasing. Of course, it's excellent as background music as well, with very few moments here being too jarring or too boring to listen to while doing whatever. It's some of their best material, really, and in many ways is a fantastic starting point for those wishing to be initiated into the mechanized worlds they've created.
Autechre Peel Session
The simply-named Peel Session is an EP that flies under the radar for a lot of casual listeners of Autechre, myself included. Having just gotten around to hearing this for the first time, though, it's apparent that this EP is much more important than it is given credit for. This is the fault of not only the excellent material here, but of the fact that the material was recorded almost four years prior to it even being released. This puts these tracks in 1995, and when that context is given, it becomes apparent just how forward-thinking the duo were even about their own musical direction. While opener "Milk DX" sounds like something from Tri Repetae, "Inhake 2" sounds like the glitch-hop of Chiastic Slide. "Drane" ends things on a note that reminds one of LP5, sort of running the gamut of Autchre's mid-90's styles. It says a lot about how respected John Peel was in the music world that the duo recorded these tracks for him and let him name them as well.
Avenged Sevenfold City of Evil
Baroness Purple
What some may call a return to form for Baroness is the first form I've heard them in, as this is the first of their color-coded albums I've listened to. As such, I know not if this is truly a return to form, but after listening, I can say that I definitely understand the hype for this band and why people like them. It's a mixture of psychedelic, stoner, and progressive rock that contains lovely dueling guitars, fun drumming, charismatic vocals, great underlying bass, and just the right amount of fuzz. The pop sensibilities are aplenty here as well, with three of the best songs in "Shock Me", "Chlorine And Wine", and "If I Had To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain?)" all containing very catchy choruses and uplifting passages within them. The record just feels triumphant, and with the band surviving an accident that almost killed them, it is kind of heartwarming that it's this good and this full of good vibes.
Baroness Red Album
Baroness is quickly becoming one of the few stoner metal acts that do anything for yours truly, and they are doing it in style. Because while Red Album lacks the massive, infectious choruses that they'd go on to do so well on Purple, it's still a great record for reasons less obvious. The songwriting here is a pretty smooth amalgam of post-metal, stoner metal, sludge metal, prog rock, and even some southern rock as well. None of these individual parts are particularly original on their own, but the combination and execution of it all lets the album have a unique take on these styles. Partly instrumental, the album doesn't have many dull moments in its runtime, utilizing a very dreamy and somewhat uncertain atmosphere to its full potential. The musicianship is excellent, and one need only hear the final minutes of "Aleph" to know this. All of this combines to create an interesting and fun take on sludge/post/stoner/whatever, and exemplifies Baroness' ambitious nature very well.
Baroness First & Second
This is definitely not the Baroness that made Purple. Hell, it's barely the Baroness that made The Red Album. The first impression one had of this compilation of their first two EP's was that they sounded like a psychedelic, lead-heavy Fall Of Efrafa from the Owsla days, with just as much punk infused into the music as metal. Even the vocalists sound similar. Thus, Baroness showcases their forward-thinking songwriting whilst firing away with bursts of strong emotion and energy, and it really doesn't sound quite like anything else in their discography. It's Baroness still in the process of evolution; definitely not an amoeba, but not quite a full-fledged macroorganism. As such, it's the rawest the band has ever sounded, both from a songwriting standpoint and a production one. That also makes it charming as hell, and definitely a great listen for any fans of energetic, psychedelic post-metal.
Baroness Yellow and Green
Baroness seemed to get some flack for the changes they made from the progressive sludge of Red Album and Blue Record to the psychedelic, hazy, and poppy stoner rock of Yellow & Green, and while that's understandable, if you'd been following them since their career began, it's not all that strange of an evolution. While the album does feel just a bit bloated, overall this double record is full of fantastic moments, whether it's the heartfelt tribute to a friend fallen to a heroin addiction in "March To The Sea", the acid-fueled "Sea Lungs", or the anthemic "Collapse". One of the best things about it, though, is that the instrumentals are very on point, and always have something to add to the records rather than just being there to take up space, especially in the case of the incredibly beautiful "Stretchmarker". The band would trim the length and make this sound more bombastic on the addictive Purple, but as it stands, Yellow & Green was an important step in the band's development and a gorgeous take on the more ambitious side of arena rock.
Bastien Keb 22.02.85
I suppose it would be remiss for me not to mention that Bastien Keb records his music by his lonesome in the Hackney borough of London, because being alone under the lights of a large city is the overarching theme of 22.02.85. It's thickly veiled by the psychedelic soul, jazz fusion, and alternative r&b style that Keb institutes (complete with a voice all too reminiscent of one Justin Vernon), but 22.02.85 is about the people that come out at night in the city, and all of the vices that consume them. Whatever issues Keb may have had with creating a cohesive record on his debut are completely eschewed here; there's enough variety to be exciting and interesting enough to hold the listener's attention, but it's centered around a rock solid core that stays connected despite its malleability. The man himself calls the work saddening, yet hopeful, and to that end I cannot disagree. Ultimately, it's a beautiful and intimate record, and we know how much those are worth (hint: a lot).
Baths Cerulean
Will Wiesenfeld has always had a soft spot for his home. Even his stage name is derived from his love of relaxing in his home bathtub. His debut was recorded over a period of two months in 2010 in the bedroom of his house. What came from this is an interesting take on electronic music that features influences from experimental electronic, downtempo, and even small doses of glitch. His chops with faster paced songs are seen on tracks like "Apologetic Shoulder Blades", "Indoorsy", and "Plea", but he is also crafty with the slower songs as seen on "Rain Smell" and "Departure". However, "Maximalist" is the true highlight of this album, combining great atmosphere and skippy samples to create a very fun song. Some of the samples may get a small bit irritating after a while, and a couple of the slower songs overstay their welcome, but this accounts for only a couple songs off the record. All in all, a debut that shouldn't be overlooked by electronic music fans.
Bedwetter Volume 1: Flick Your Tongue Against Your Teeth...
I don't think that any music out there can accurately portray depression and anxiety in a way that someone who's never experienced it can understand. A lot of music about depression is for those who have lived with it and no one else. There's no romanticizing it here either; maybe the lyrics here would be over-the-top in their hopeless self-depreciation if they didn't have the productions full backing in its despair and frustration. It's ugly and it's painful and it's self-hating and it's all those horrible things. It's also some damn captivating artistic expression.
Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack
I don't know if it's right to call this album the quintessential disco album, but it is certainly one of the most recognizable releases in the genre. It has some bonafide disco classics such as "Stayin' Alive", "A Fifth Of Beethoven", "You Should Be Dancing", "Boogie Shoes", and "Disco Inferno". It also has a few romantically tinged songs that are just as good, with the slower "How Deep Is Your Love", and the incredibly catchy duo of "More Than A Woman" and "If I Can't Have You". That being said, there are a couple of filler songs, as any seventeen-track album will likely have. Still, it's a pretty consistent release, and the first six songs alone could've made this album a great one. If you haven't heard this yet, you either missed the late seventies/eighties entirely or don't have parents that were around in the late seventies/eighties.
Bell Witch Four Phantoms
A doom duo of only smothering bass and thundering drums, Seattle born Bell Witch's sophomore full length is as dense and foggy as the city they hail from. The four tracks on this record deal with one thing: the elements, or, more specifically, death at the hands of merciless Mother Nature. The tracks are split up into two parts: the "Suffocation" tracks and the "Judgement" tracks. It is a tale of two halves here, as the two "Suffocation" tracks, especially "Suffocation, A Drowning.." are monolithic, evocative dirges that encapsulate the atmosphere and feeling of what the wonderfully descriptive lyrics portray. However, the two "Judgement" tracks are relatively lackluster, and just sound like the standard fare. They aren't bad, but they don't really do anything. That said, two thirds of the album are comprised of the "Suffocation" tracks, so you're hearing great stuff more often than not.
Beneficence Basement Chemistry
Beneficence is one of a stable of very underrated emcees that have released some really great projects in the past five years. On this, his follow up to 2012's wonderful Concrete Soul, he drops nineteen knowledge-laden east coast cuts that are firmly rooted in mid-90's boom-bap while also having a nice modern, urban tinge to it. Often, the sampled instrument on the beats is the electric guitar or a trumpet, giving a soulful vibe to the music, which when coupled with Beneficence's dexterous flow and introspective lyrics makes a wonderful tandem. The quality is steadfast and though there isn't necessarily a standout track on the record, there is most certainly not a bad one. The features on this thing are also at a high quality, with the best coming from Masta Ace on the track "When The Sun Comes". In a nutshell, Basement Chemistry is a really great east coast hip-hop record, with a filler-less nineteen tracks.
Between the Buried and Me Alaska
Alaska is seen a transition album for polarizing progressive metalcore band Between The Buried And Me. Albeit a bit more inconsistent than The Silent Circus, the album has better moments than its predecessor, the best moments they've had as a band pre-Colors. The album does take a minute to kick into gear, though, as opener "All Bodies" isn't that great until the final uplifting thirty seconds. Those seconds transition perfectly in to the title-track, which features a fantastic and memorable opening riff. Staples like "Selkies: The Endless Obsession" and "The Primer" make their impact known fairly quickly and confidently, though nothing quite touches the former in terms of songwriting ability on the record. Usually, I've found the heavier BTBAM tracks to be less enjoyable (such as "Roboturner"), but "Autodidact" is an outlier, being one of the finest tracks on the album due to its tactfully aggressive riffing and drumming. The record also features one of their best slower songs in "Medicine Wheel", with great ambience and spacey guitars. With all this said, this is the peak of BTBAM before Colors, so if you want to jam an early album of theirs, this is the one for you.
Between the Buried and Me The Silent Circus
BTBAM has always been a polarizing band among fans of metal in general. I've never really understood why that is. Sure, Tommy Rogers isn't exactly the most talented vocalist, and there certainly is some guitar wankery, but "faux prog"? Hardly. Taking what made their debut an interesting listen and expanding on it, The Silent Circus is a much more tight, focused, and fun BTBAM. "Camilla Rhodes" and "Mordecai" form a massive one-two punch of progressive metalcore, while the ambient "Reaction" is a nice break from the relentless action. "Ad A Dglgmut" fires the engines right back up from a relatively dull acoustic piece, and "Aesthetic" is quite possibly one of the funnest songs the band have ever made. The lyrics here are pretty interesting as well. Just to list a couple of examples, "Aesthetic" deals with the last moments of the RMS Titanic, and "Mordecai" tells the story of a desensitized man reconnecting with human emotion. Though they'd go on to do bigger and better things, The Silent Circus is an important album in BTBAM's history, and is a great listen even today.
Between the Buried and Me The Parallax II: Future Sequence
Acting as a sequel to The Hypersleep Dialogues, Future Sequence is a risky record. Having the average length of non-ambient and non-acoustic of songs be ten minutes, fitting an entire concept around these songs, all while playing the dexterous style of progressive death metal they play, didn't initially sound too promising, as BTBAM has always struggled when it comes to ten-minute-plus songs. That said, these songs, especially "Lay Your Ghosts To Rest", "Extremophile Elite", and "Telos" are among the most tight, well-structured, and fun pieces the band has ever written. The shorter songs, like "Bloom" and "Goodbye To Everything" are also two of the best shorter tracks BTBAM has made. Though it definitely does lose steam during the final three tracks, there's still enough solid moments during that time that keep the listeners attention to the end. Were it not for this unfortunate lull in quality this might've been their best record. But, while it's not their best, it is certainly a welcome addition to their ever-growing discography.
Birdy Beautiful Lies
Jasmine Van Den Bogaerde finally came into her own with her sophomore record Fire Within, as she began writing her own songs and singing her own melodies. Beautiful Lies shows how far she's come, as at only nineteen, she's released one of the more mature and enjoyable chamber pop albums so far this year. It really hits the ground running with the immeasurably catchy "Growing Pains", and from then on the tone is set. The instrumentation is nice and sparse, but not drenched in reverb or heavy bass. It's delicate and sweet, and Bogaerde's voice takes center stage as the defining aspect of the album. She does very well on most every song here, but it's penultimate track "Unbroken" where she really kicks it into a gear few singers her age can get to. In the end, Beautiful Lies is Birdy's first truly great record, and if it's any indication of what's to come in the future, that can only be a good thing.
Bladee and Thaiboy Digital AvP
To say Bladee's had a great year this year is an understatement. His debut Eversince is one of if not the most unique albums of the year, and he doesn't skip a beat on this collaborative EP with fellow Gravity Boys member Thaiboy Digital. With production handled by whitearmor, who once again turns in a practically flawless performance, the icy backdrop is set for both Bladee and Thaiboy, who trade autotune-drenched verses and hooks with a seamless synergy. The tracks here are very concise, and no songs overstay their welcome. There's no shortage of great hooks ("Painkillers", "Brokeboy", "Area 51"), or great beats (the whole EP), and there is a nice variety here as well, with tracks like "1Million" and "Winter" being slower-paced but ultimately quite beautiful, while something like "2X" is much more trap-flavored than the rest of the songs. Mostly, though, it's in the lane that "Still In Search Of Sunshine" lays down, and it's quite great. In short, AvP puts the finishing touches on what has been a phenomenal year for both GTBSG and SBE alike. Edit: "Finishing touches"... me and my big mouth
blank body Isolator
The mysterious producer known as blank body, and as bine, has made a name for himself producing for the likes of Bladee, Adamn Killa, Night Lovell, Syringe, and Killavesi, and his solo output reveals an artist astoundingly confident and calculated in his craft as a strange, colorful, and wholly interesting producer of wonky-influenced and even IDM-influenced instrumental trap. Isolater sees a more ambient shade come into the fray, but the fluid, sometimes bubbly, sometimes icy, sometimes alien feel of the atmosphere is the first thing apparent. The sounds he operates with seem watery almost, with the synths acting more like thin and delicate splashes of paint than anything else, constantly adding new colors and making new colors without ever mixing it all together in some sort of splotchy brown. The beats themselves can be delicate just as often as they bang, and it's clear through twenty minutes that this a man of multiple facets. Simply put, blank body is one of the most quality producers in hip-hop right now and Isolator is a friggin jam.
Blessthefall Awakening
Blood Incantation Starspawn
Sweet lord the production on this thing is delicious. And you best take a good hard look at the crater on the cover because that's exactly how you and anything within a five-mile radius is going to look after this thing is over. From the opening seconds of Starspawn, Blood Incantation race forth with a bevy of angular riffing, thick bass, drums with a sizable punch, and low, cavernous vocals. There are equal parts technical and progressive stylings to this death metal, and though comparisons are made to bands like Timeghoul, the band manages to sound like their own selves, with spacey atmospherics and haunting progressive passages trading off with hungry, organic technical assault. It's unfortunately a bit short, and ends somewhat abruptly after starting out with their best track in the monolithic opener, but the album nonetheless manages to be a satisfying listen. Needless to say, if you're a fan of death metal, this album definitely warrants a listen and this band definitely warrants an eye being kept on them.
Blood Orange Freetown Sound
If this is what Freetown really does sound like, I may have to call my travel agency pretty soon here. Blood Orange has really keened in on consistency on Freetown Sound, because throughout the hour-long runtime, there isn't one song that is a dud or doesn't serve a definitive purpose. The mellowed, laid-back alternative R&B sound is still very much at play here, but it sometimes strays into more artsy waters. For instance, "Augustine" sounds extremely influenced by synthpop, and there is no doubting the sophisti-pop that also comes through when mixing the warm synth lines with jazzier elements. Of course, one could make the argument that it's simply not variant enough to make a lasting impression, but one could also look at it this way: it's totally smooth, easy-going take on this style gives the record a really welcoming and wholly enjoyable atmosphere, and definitely gives off really nice vibes of positivity and hope. Really, Freetown Sound is an interesting and altogether easy listen, but it's also a very enjoyable experience.
Bob Marley and The Wailers Soul Revolution
Bob Marley and The Wailers Rastaman Vibration
Following in the footsteps of the reggae classic Natty Dread, Bob Marley & The Wailers continue expanding their sound past the raw, simple, bare-bones reggae of the early 70's, and turn in another wonderful record here. Classic tracks like "Johnny Was" and "Who The Cap Fit" feature the most instrumentation out of any song created by the band at this point in their discography, with pianos, various synthesizers, and female backing vocals all adding a fantastic texture to the songs. Though some of the tracks on the latter half, such as "Night Shift", are a bit lackluster, they are certainly not bad, and the whole album is generally well written and full of instrumentation that simply would not have been there if the album was made four years prior. Marley himself turns in an excellent vocal performance, per usual, and though the album doesn't quite stack up to its predecessor, there are plenty of classic moments and wonderful songs to warrant this record a spot in The Wailers' discography.
Bob Marley and The Wailers The Best Of The Wailers
This has got to be one of the most misleading album titles out there. This isn't a "Best Of" compilation. This isn't even a compilation to begin with. This is all original material unavailable anywhere else that the group recorded in late 1969 to early 1970. Thus, this record is a needed listen if one is to be familiar with everything the famous group have done. What's awesome about it is, more than anything, how perfectly simple it is. Ten really catchy, bouncy roots reggae tracks totaling about twenty-five minutes in length. It marks a transitioning period from the upbeat, often uptempo style of the gospel Wailers and the slower, rawer pre-Island Wailers. It's truly a shame that this material, which is all high in quality, is often completely overlooked due to people being led to believe it's just a comp by its own title. By all means, give this one a listen, as it's truly the pleasant surprise.
Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago
I'm sure you already know the backstory of this record, what with Justin Vernon stowing himself away for some time and writing songs in the wilderness. It shows in that the album is woodsy and charmingly moody. The songs are all at least some degree of melancholy, and although others can be happier than others ("Skinny Love"), there are some really heartbreaking tracks here ("The Wolves", "For Emma"). Justin Vernon himself brings a lot to the table, as his voice is truly wonderful, taking merely competent acoustic playing to new heights. It's not the most original music in the world, and it's been known to some as a boring experience, but For Emma, Forever Ago really shines in the sense that it has a lo-fi indie charm, poetic lyrics, beautiful vocals, and lovely ambience. It's a record tailor-made for connecting with; to what degree, of course, is up to the listener. In my case, most of the moments were beautiful, but a select few truly did speak to me on a different plane.
Boris / Joe Volk Cosmos
Boris has always been a force to be reckoned with when it comes to drone music, but to just call them a drone band sells them far too short. They're one of the most inventive, original, and eclectic drone bands out there, and their 2012 EP Cosmos illustrates this very well. One of the most accessible releases they've ever made, Cosmos is an exercise in ambience and atmosphere as much as it is in the classic, heavy droning we've come to know. "Cosmos Part 1" kicks things off with a shroud of ambient samples and ethereal cymbal work, and "Cosmos Part 3" ends things in a similar, but much more minimalistic way. The highlight of the album is "Cosmos Part 2", which works fantastically as a catchy pop song shrouded in noise, drone, and echoes, complete with weird electronic noises. All in all, a great EP by Boris that can serve as an easy entry point into the bands' lengthy discography.
Botch An Anthology of Dead Ends
Brian Eno Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
I think one of the strangest things about Here Come The Warm Jets was that the music was always upbeat and bouncy, but the lyrics were more often than not pretty dark. That being said, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) follows both sonically and lyrically after Brian Eno's debut earlier that same year, but does have a more melancholy and experimental side to it this time. Eno's goofy-yet-endearing vocals are backed this time by a full rock ensemble, and it shows, as the instrumentation here outdoes Warm Jets pretty handily. He loses some of his catchy hooks from his debut, though, but that doesn't mean the album is not memorable for other reasons. Enter the classic title-track, which would serve to show what was in store for the rest of Eno's career, as well as being one of the best songs he's ever written. All this said, Taking Tiger Mountain is an excellent follow up to his debut, and shouldn't be missed by fans of art rock.
Brian Eno Discreet Music
Many people often cite Music For Airports as the true beginning of Brian Eno's ambient escapades, but that's simply not true when this album exists. David Bowie himself said that Discreet Music was the album that made him want to work with Brian Eno, a collaboration which would eventually lead to the revered Berlin Trilogy. The dominant piece here, which is the title-track/opener, is a full realization of the ambient experimentation that Eno toyed with on albums like Another Green World, and plays out more akin to something off of his collaborations with Robert Fripp than his previous solo output. The other tracks are all classical variations of Johann Pachelbel's impeccable "Canon In D Major", and though most of their goodness comes from the merit of the original song, they're all quaint and lovely interpretations that fit the atmosphere of the album very well and almost act as practice for his own compositions in the future. A fine work of ambient classical, Discreet Music marked a glorious evolution for one one of the most forward-thinking minds in music.
Brian Eno Before and After Science
In a lot of ways, Before And After Science acts as the perfect counterpart to Another Green World, in the sense that while Another Green World showcased Brian Eno's prowess in crafting electronic art pop (with a limited art rock presence) songs as well as fantastic ambient tracks, Before And After Science illustrates Eno's ability to craft great art rock in addition to ineffable quasi-ambient songs. The first six songs here show Eno with a sharp rock edge, making use of infectious basslines and rhythms along with that quirkiness that so defined his earliest solo material. The final four, however, are the jewels of the record, all delivered in a beautiful ambient shell with sparse instrumentation and vocals, the best of these being "By This River", a song that yours truly considers to be one of the greatest songs of all time in any genre. Thus, while not quite his magnum opus, this record still manages to be a noted and influential achievement for Brian Eno.
Newly designated as the favorite up-and-coming hip-hop collective for so many, there's a lot of things to like about Brockhampton. Though ardently hyped and fawned over as a "refreshing" act, Brockhampton is less a totally original take on alternative hip-hop and more an amalgam of influences brought together and expressed in a way few are doing. While that doesn't necessarily mean the songwriting is fantastic, which it certainly is not on some tracks, more often than not Brockhampton seem to be in a nice groove throughout SATURATION. The moods and the production that shapes them change quite frequently (one could go so far as to say it's a bit "scatter-brained"), but the emcees here are all up to the challenge of grounding things with their presence. Inconsistency is a bit of a problem here, with some weak hooks, pointless skits, and songs that go nowhere (I.E. "WASTE") clogging things up a little. Still, from what I can tell, they seemed to have ironed this out in a few short months, so it's good to see they're capable of improving and quickly so. The highs on this thing are super high, though, and it's definitely one of the hip-hop albums you should hear this year among others.
Bruno Sanfilippo Inside Life
I'm sure it's hard to make different emotions come across through ambient minimalist classical piano music, but that's exactly what Bruno Sanfilippo, a man who has always been fascinated by the parameters of what music can do, has done here on Inside Life. Probably the best instance of how he weaves these emotions into the music is shown on "The Place Where Dying Crows" and the subsequent "Tea Leaves At The Bottom Of A Cup". On the former, an eerie, ominous, and uncertain atmosphere is created first by the cascading piano intro and then by wafting ambience. On the latter, an uplifting, calming, and reassuring atmosphere is expertly made by beautiful piano segments and an airy, wonderful ambience. Altogether, the album plays out a lot like this, and though it doesn't necessarily do new things, it is executed very well.
Burial Burial
Burial Street Halo
Burial Rival Dealer
"Don't be afraid to step into the unknown..." A woman's voice says around the four minute mark of "Come Down To Us", expressing the sentiment of Rival Dealer as a whole. Whereas in his past work Burial's sound always seemed to have this paranoid vibe to them, the tracks on here feel extremely comfortable and unabashedly natural. That's not to say these tracks have somehow lost personality; Burials staticky intros and beautifully woven samples of sublime female vocals still permeate the runtime length, but there's a distinct sense of contentness here, something that had only previously been explored by Burial in one or two songs, "Rough Sleeper" being the most obvious candidate. Altogether, the title track is a nice starting point, but "Hiders" and "Come Down To Us" is where things really get cooking. I don't feel uncomfortable saying that the latter is one of his shining moments as an artist, and a definitive turning point for him if he continues on this path. In short, Burial isn't afraid anymore. What that means for his music, we shall see, but if it's anything like this, it will be welcomed.
Burial South London Boroughs
The humble beginnings of Burial are quite enjoyable, unsurprisingly. The two middle songs, "Southern Comfort" and "Broken Home" are much more well known as being a part of the self-titled debut, but they are just as beautifully brooding on here. The title-track on this EP is a magnificent start for Burial, showing that he was able to bring a fresh sound to the table even if you can still hear traces of the artists that influenced him. The closer, "Nite Train" is decent enough, and continues from the sounds of the tracks preceding it very nicely. In all, a great start for a man who would go on to mystify the electronic world with future releases.
Burial Ghost Hardware
In the months before releasing a seminal garage/dubstep album in Untrue, Burial set about making sure the focus of the electronic world would be squarely on him by releasing Ghost Hardware, which is an excellent showcase of his skills as a producer. The title-track/opener, which is a Burial classic and would go on to be one of the best tracks off of Untrue, does just as well on this EP. "Shutta" is an extremely solid track, one that could've easily been phased into Untrue with little trouble. Closer "Exit Woundz" is in contrast to the other two tracks in that it is easily one of the most minimal and sparse tracks in his discography, which is certainly saying a lot. Thus, the variety and professional skill shown on Ghost Hardware set the stage wonderfully for Untrue, and is an excellent EP by its own merits.
Burning Kitchen Det Langtande Djuret
I am by no means an expert on the punk scene in Sweden. Quite the contrary, in fact, as what I know about it doesn't extend past an excerpt on Bandcamp for this very album. Even so, Burning Kitchen is a name that has come up before even to me, which speaks not only to the influence they've evidently had over their own countries' punk scene, but to the extensive reach they have even to countries across the Atlantic. Det Langtande Djuret shows exactly why this is. There's something to be said about the ability to write and play songs that are emotionally charged, energetic, and catchy at the same time. Burning Kitchen not only know how to do this, but they know how to do it quickly and efficiently, never letting any idea or moment overstay its welcome. The result is a very fun eighteen minutes, and any language barriers that may arise for listeners are lessened by the emotion and intensity behind their voices. Even thirteen years after their debut, Burning Kitchen seem to still have what it takes to make a fun and addicting punk album.
Cadaveric Fumes The Forsaken Triptych (2012-2016)
Cadaveric Fumes are one of the most intriguing metal bands in the French scene right now, and for good reason. The Forsaken Triptych compiles all of their material up until this point, and chronicles the progress the band has made over the course of four years. Initially playing considerably above-average, but unoriginal, death metal on their Macabre Exaltation demo in 2012, they evolved their sound into a much more well-rounded and devilishly psychedelic take on the genre by the time the released Dimensions Obscure during the middle of this year. You can definitely tell it's the same band throughout the comp, but their sound slowly becomes much more refined and recognizable as something more original. All of that said, there's plenty of great stuff here if you like cavernous death metal played straight, or more sci-fi-influenced, angular death metal, or both (I'm assuming you'd like both, as I do).
Cage The Elephant Melophobia
Candlemass Ancient Dreams
A third straight album of delicious old-school doom metal riffs and perfectly over-the-top vocals? So it shall be. Granted, the riffs may not have the undeniable personality they had on Nightfall, but they're still very good. The album is carried by Messiah Marcolon's wonderfully operatic and melodramatic vocals, which fit the lyrical themes and general aesthetic of the album perfectly. A great example of his abilities is heard on "Darkness In Paradise", where the verses are sans guitars, leaving him to carry the melody. It's pretty much a spiritual successor to Nightfall, as the song structures remain similar to it here. That said, there are no instrumental tracks, but each track still has a great personality to it. The lack of a standout track gives way to a bit of monotony, but when the compositions are this good and the music this fun, it's not a big problem at all. In all, Ancient Dreams is the third in a line of great releases from Candlemass.
Caravan If I Could Do It All Over Again...
I've heard that New York is simultaneously the best city in The United States and the worst. If you need a city to make you feel like a god amongst men, New York. If you need a city to make you feel as insignificant as possible, also New York. LUV IN THE RUINS is about two people from the city, at its university, who meet each other and fall in love under tough circumstances. What follows is learning to love themselves just as much as each other. This is one ambitious project all the way around. CARE is technically a one-man project, but plenty of collaborators came onto this project to make this vision come to light. Musically it's a combination of art rock, post-punk, dream pop, and synth-punk that works due to its constantly ebbing and flowing atmosphere. The vocals are phenomenal, showing a wide range and versatility that suits the music very well. The lyrics are the cherry-on-top, making the story easy to follow while having excellent imagery. It's a great way to start out 2017, that's for sure.
Cerberus Shoal Cerberus Shoal
If Cerberus Shoal has sold the rights to this album to Slint, and they released it marketed as some old demos, no one would be any the wiser. That's not to say that Cerberus Shoal rips off or copies Slint, but the influence is obvious. Seriously, this album sounds like if Slint had a rawer sound and also played emo/screamo. And it really is quite beautiful and, in some sections, heart-wrenching. Bands like La Dispute owe a lot to Cerberus Shoal, as the gorgeous mixture of spoken word and post-rock/emo is a huge, lovely part of the bands' sound, especially on songs like "Elena". Unfortunately, sometimes what Chriss Sutherland says is too quiet to hear over the guitars, and occasionally songs will overstay their welcome a bit. However, this record is an important listen, if only for the notion that it doesn't quite sound like much else in Cerberus Shoal's discography, which would experiment with countless genres as time went on.
Cerberus Shoal ...and Farewell to Hightide
There's always been something nautical about Cerberus Shoal, even in their early days. Whereas their self-titled debut gave off imagery of an overcast, windy beachfront, ...And Farewell To Hightide shows that same beachfront in a different time, perhaps during a sunrise. The Slint influences seen on the debut still make their way onto this, but they're much less prevalent than before. Now, especially on tracks like "J.B.O. Vs. Blin", the music is slightly more twinkly, and has more stuff, like horns and pianos, going on it. It's very much like a prototypical, jazzy Mogwai. The spoken word parts here have taken a dive from the self-titled, as the ones you can hear are almost hilariously nonsensical and melodramatic. Still, the improvement in the instrumentation and the change in atmosphere make up for that, and make the album a logical progression from the self-titled. It's these changes that would ensure Cerebus Shoal never made the same album twice in their vastly underrated careers.
Cerberus Shoal Elements of Structure/Permanence
On their first fully instrumental album, experimental rock/folk extraordinaires Cerberus Shoal turns in a subtle, nuanced, and expansive snapshot. Of what exactly? I've always seen each of their albums as representative of the same beachfront, which each album being a different period of time or weather. This time, the incensed atmosphere is indicative of looking out across the sea while the sun radiates in the sky and pounds the beach with sweltering heat. The bass and drums, rather than the guitars, are the driving force on the album, ebbing and flowing almost like waves, while the guitar wanders freely among the sand. The build-up is patient and just lengthy enough to be memorable, while the climaxes of both songs are appropriately beautiful. It would end up being a turning point for the band, which got even more and more creative and experimental afterwards.
Cerberus Shoal Homb
On Homb, Cerberus Shoal return to the beachfront that was the home for all of their records in the late 90's. This time, it's during the hours before a hurricane, where the air is one of uneasy anticipation and tension. The album sounds like a beefier, more delicately crafted version of their previous opus Elements Of Structure/Permanence, but with its own atmosphere. It really helps the album along to have "Omphalos" as its second track, as the song is rivaled in greatness only by the self-titled's "Elena" when it comes to 90's Shoal. The track is an intense ride even at its slower pace because of the urgency heard in every drum beat and the sudden, loud drones that pop in every now and again just to keep you on your feet. The rest of the album is similar, though it unravels itself much slower and more intricately than ever before. While personal affections bind me to self-titled more than this, it's hard to say, objectively speaking, that the definitive Cerberus Shoal record of the 90's is not Homb.
Cerberus Shoal Crash My Moon Yacht
If Homb saw Cerberus Shoal's beachfront in the hours before a hurricane, then Crash My Moon Yacht shows the beachfront in the days after it. The recurring melody on the "Changabang" tracks shows the glimmers of hope through the relatively tense and uneasy post-rock of "Breathing Machines" and "Elle Besh". This glimmer eventually manages to spread itself, and the music on "Yes Sir, No Sir" and truly beautiful closer "Asphodel" sound swollen with happiness with survival and hope for the future. As with most early Cerberus Shoal material, the songs ebb and flow as if they were all separate living beings, building up into crescendos or keeping the same pace while adding various instrumentation (like that wonderfully memorable flute line on "Long Winded"). Needless to say, the band remain at the top of their post-rock game here, and though they'd explore various other genres after this, the charm of records like these is like few others.
Chance the Rapper Coloring Book
Full to the brim with relaxed flows, gospel-influenced production, several excellent guest spots, and some pretty slick wordplay, Coloring Book is Chance's most consistent effort to date. It's a staple of Chance's tapes to be inconsistent, with the best tracks being phenomenal and the worst being merely listenable. This tape subverts that, as pretty much every track beyond the first two has something to offer. Whether it be the somber "Summer Friends", the smooth "Juke Jam", or the endearing "Finish Line/Drown", there's a nice, positive feel to the album, helped along by the sustained quality. There were moments on the tape that got me to crack a smile, and I suspect it's the same way for many listeners. In all, it's a really fun, enjoyable tape from Chance, who hopefully will keep his newfound consistency. Side note: As long as we're all clear in the understanding that there is no such thing as "gospel-rap" and that anybody who says this tape is such is a sensationalist numbskull, all will be well.
Chelsea Wolfe Abyss
It's kind of hard to pin down Chelsea Wolfe. I suppose you could call her experimental-gothic-industrial-doom-folk-darkwave, but that's a mouthful. Her experimentation is quite apparent on Abyss, being rife with dark, noisy synths and a quite ominous ambience. The one thing that seems to keep everything from cascading into chaos is her voice, which remains a constant, beautiful anchor, keeping some things familiar while the background music becomes increasingly restless. Perhaps the best example of this is closer "The Abyss", which contains a discordant piano line that becomes drowned in guitars and synths before being replaced by equally discordant strings, while Wolfe's voice is strangely comforting and reassuring. It's strange and amazing indeed, but Chelsea Wolfe never intended her music to be anything but.
Chelsea Wolfe The Grime And The Glow
After writing an album now known as Mistake In Parting, an unreleased record that Wolfe herself seems to despise, she released her debut proper, which seems to be truly what she was aiming for. What that is exactly is a really calming, yet sometimes strange mixture of lo-fi indie folk, drone, and ethereal wave. She displays excellent vocal prowess throughout the record, and her acoustic guitar playing is quite good as well. There's a nice variety that comes with this record too; from the acoustic, lo-fi stylings of "Cousins Of The Antichrist" and "Halfsleeper", to tracks swamped in drones like "Deep Talks" and "The Why's", to tracks that are set to a definitive beat like "Moses", there's a lot to appreciate here. The quality remains much the same throughout the album, and although I'm partial to "Halfsleeper" and "Benjamin", there's really no bad track to be found here. Truly, a promising and enthralling debut from a great musical mind in Chelsea Wolfe.
Chelsea Wolfe Apokalypsis
After what was a worthwhile ethereal wave-influenced dark folk record in The Grime And The Glow, Chelsea Wolfe evolved further into an even darker, more gothic sound on Apokalypsis and wrote some of her richest material in the process. The album has a very full sound to it in all aspects from the production to the songwriting. The echoes of the guitar and Wolfe's voice give the whole thing an otherworldly feel, while the general ambiance is one of cloudiness and uneasiness. Wolfe herself is typically wonderful, as she truly has the perfect voice for this kind of stuff, and she showcases this throughout. The stretch that begins at the re-recorded "Demons" and ends at the re-recorded "Moses" is undoubtedly the best stretch of material she had done up until this point, and is truly a perfection of her craft early on. Put simply, if you want to hear some dark folk influenced by darkwave and gothic rock with a lady that really sing, you're going to want to check this record quickly.
Chelsea Wolfe Pain Is Beauty
It would seem that, at this point in time, Pain Is Beauty is the full realization of Chelsea Wolfe's vision regarding her highly atmospheric mixture of ethereal wave, darkwave, gothic rock, and an almost doomy ethos and structure. Being able to tactfully blend all of this together along with subtly catchy choruses or refrains is an impressive skill, and nowhere is it more apparent on Wolfe's part than here. Opener "Feral Love" is a powerful and haunting track that sets the tone, not only atmospherically, but from a songwriting viewpoint as well, with hazy, ghostly instrumentation, tinkering with electronics whether they be conventional synth lines or dipping its feet in ambient noise, and of course Wolfe's stunning vocal work. The surprise of the album is "The Warden", which sounds upbeat and positive without ruining the overall gloomy mood. A pleasant melancholy, if you will. It's going to be interesting to see what she'll do in order to top this, as Abyss couldn't quite reach it, but I wouldn't put it past the woman to do so. It will be tough, though, as this is her most mature and developed work, and as such it's a jam.
Chelsea Wolfe Hiss Spun
It would appear that Chelsea Wolfe has now leaned completely into those delicious doom metal influences that gave Abyss a lot of character, and for what it's worth, Hiss Spun is pound-for-pound the heaviest album she's ever penned. It's an obvious change even from the plodding opener "Spun" and very apparent when those sick growls come through on "Vex". The songs have an undeniable ebb and flow to them, the bass swarming over what sparse guitar riff refrains the song like waves upon a beachfront. Wolfe's vocals are typically excellent, with the airy etherealness of her voice morphing with the already hazy atmosphere to create a very hypnotic feeling. In this regard, Hiss Spun does do a lot of the things albums past were able to accomplish, but the path taken to get to the point is very much a different one. This is the record many have been waiting for her to create, and it definitely does not disappoint.
Chevelle Point #1
Chevelle have always been known for their soft-loud dynamics, which has often garnered them comparisons to alternative metal giants Tool and Deftones in this regard. Their humble, yet very solid beginnings are seen here on the Steve Albini produced Point #1, coming on to the scene with a bang. The best work on this record is an exercise in soft-loud dynamics, with "Point #1", "Dos", and "Long" providing excellent examples. They even manage to get some catchy riffing in on "Mia" and "Peer". The louder songs on the record sometimes overstay their welcome, but they are still decent enough to warrant a listen. Though their debut wasn't a commercial success, it did well critically, and is a great starting point for anyone wishing to get into Chevelle's discography.
Chief Keef The W
Chinx Legends Never Die
If 2016 has taught me anything from a musical standpoint, it's that death, whether it is of the artist or of someone very close to the artist, is a context impossible to ignore when listening to the material they had last worked on. It's the same for Chinx. Right off of the bat, the first thing that strikes you about Legends Never Die is that it succeeds where so many posthumous releases fail; rather than being a compilation of unreleased or rare material of questionable quality that doesn't flow like an album at all, Legends Never Die sounds and flows like an album proper, with plenty of phenomenal tracks. Musically, it's melodically-inclined trap, which by virtue of its melodic stylings lends itself to a hybrid R&B sound as well. The production here is excellent, with banger after banger slamming effortlessly through the speakers. Chinx himself sounds wonderful, with his versatility on the microphone being chief of his many great qualities. It's bittersweet; while he's left behind this accomplishment, he's also left behind his family in his wife and children. It's a tough reminder of sobering nature of death. Shit ain't always all good.
Cigarettes After Sex Cigarettes After Sex
There are a lot of albums out there where each individual song on it has little to no variation with any of the other songs; as in, you could shuffle up the tracklist and the record would flow more or less the same. These types of albums can be truly great if each song is fantastic and the atmosphere derived from them is strong. Cigarettes After Sex certainly meets those criterion, as each and every song here is a mesmerizing dive into a hazy dreamworld of affectionate feelings and moments, and the atmosphere is as addictive as nicotine. It's hard to say the lack of variation harms things as it keeps the atmosphere rigidly consistent, but if they were able to find a way to keep the atmosphere strong while adding more variation to the ambient pop/slowcore formula they've dug into, it could be a modern classic. That said, this is still a wonderfully engrossing listen, and it's own nature renders it ready to be listened to at any point in its tracklisting.
City and Colour Sometimes
City and Colour Bring Me Your Love
City and Colour Little Hell
Clap! Clap! A Thousand Skies
One of the more unique producers out there today, Cristiano Crisci has made some very engaging and interesting electronic under the Clap! Clap! moniker, delivering a mixture of U.K. bass, tribal house, footwork, and an extremely young style known as Afro-house, a combination of African folk sounds with deep house. A Thousand Skies is as dense and fruitful a listen as you'd expect, beautifully intertwining a volley of sounds from various African countries with another volley of smooth electronic styles. No song overstays it's welcome here, quickly relaying the sonic ideas Crisci crafts without ever growing stale. Thus, there really isn't a bad track to be heard here, and when you have a couple of standouts like "Nguwe" and "Hope" on the board, you have yourself a very rich, full, and fulfilling record. Truly, Clap! Clap! really delivered with this sophomore effort, which is one of the best electronic records to come out in this early year.
Clint Mansell and Kronos Quartet Requiem for a Dream
When you think of the feelings strings are supposed to conjure, you'd probably think either warm, happy feelings or melancholy ones. Biting anxiety and fear are probably the last things on the list. I'm sure everyone remembers the famous "Shower Scene" from Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece of film Psycho, and those immeasurably shrill strings playing during it. That's a good example, but this score takes that up a notch. Sure, there are spots on this soundtrack that are dreamy and laid-back, and sometimes almost humorous, but the majority of the score is alienating, cold, tense, and sometimes even horrifying. Pieces of music do repeat themselves a lot here, but there's enough variety in the many themes to keep the listener interested. Put simply, it sets the mood for a movie like Requiem For A Dream, an intense, hopeless journey through the perils of addiction, with stunning perfection.
Cloakroom Further Out
Cloakroom Time Well
Cloakroom, noted purveyors of "stoner emo", are back and bigger than ever. Exactly an hour of shoegaze-influenced indie haze, gorgeous voices, and warm and fuzzy guitars awaits. There's something beautifully nautical about Time Well, a quality that was present on Further Out but not nearly as fleshed out as on this record. The drums aren't as booming and there's more contemplative and low-key moments here, but smartly enough the band makes it so these moments accentuate the louder, heavier, catchier moments to bring them to new heights. "Seedless Star" and closer "The Passenger" are two excellent examples of this, both having great build-ups and even better payoffs ("The Passenger" builds up directly into a comedown and it's absolutely beautiful), putting them in the same league as songs like "Lossed Over" and "Deep Sea Station". Put simply, Cloakroom are really locked in now, and hopefully this yields some records of the same or even better quality in the future.
Cloud Nothings Attack on Memory
Cocteau Twins Head Over Heels
Cocteau Twins is one of the most influential bands to have ever existed. They were part of a movement known as "ethereal wave", which musically sounded like a much more atmospheric take on The Cure records a la Seventeen Seconds and Faith. They would go on to have a heavy influence on dream pop and even post-rock, a wonderful example of the latter heard in the final minutes of "Musette And Drums". The atmosphere here works very well, and goes through moments of tension, like on "When Mama Was Moth", moments of smooth contentness as on "Glass Candle Grenades" and "Multifoiled", and moments of melancholy, as heard on "Musette And Drums". There isn't necessarily a standout track here, but most of the songs are very good and the album certainly sounds well rounded and complete. In summation, it's a great early release from one of the most influential and under-appreciated bands in the world.
Code Orange Cycles
Colleen Captain of None
For her entire music career, French multi-instrumentalist and experimental electronic producer liked her work to be completely instrumental. That is, of course, until Captain Of None, when she decided to write her own lyrics and sing them as well in addition to manning several instruments that include the cello, the spinet, and a classical guitar. All of this wafts in an ambient downtempo style, keeping the atmosphere free-spirited and engrossing. The album is pretty consistent, and as far as a standout track goes, that honor is held by "Lighthouse", a gorgeous piece that wouldn't be out of place while walking on a beach. As far as her voice goes, she's quite adept, choosing a style that fits the atmosphere very well. All in all, it's an enjoyable release, one that doesn't quite sound like anything she's done thanks to the addition of vocals.
Company Flow Funcrusher Plus
1997 was a pretty huge year for underground hip-hop. Rhymesayers Entertainment was just getting off the ground with the release of Atmosphere's Overcast! EP, (released only months prior to this) and a small group of upstarts known as Company Flow would set a watermark for the independent hip-hop sound and ethos with the release of Funcrusher Plus. El-P's forward-thinking and abstract production style was apparent even then, doing what Andrew Hultkrans described as "deconstructing hip-hop conventions and rebuilding them into a spare, murky, sputtering soundscape". The lyricism on display by both El and Big Juss is impressive as well, but one wonders where their metronome was during the recording sessions (for being called Company Flow, they sure do curve off-beat a lot). Aside from that, though, this was a massive statement for the underground, and to know the backstory behind what happened with El-P and the record label which originally signed him gives this record even more swagger and significance.
Company Flow Little Johnny From the Hospitul
It seems that the only Company Flow album anyone mentions is Funchrusher Plus. While that record is a landmark in the underground and a very influential piece of work, it remains peculiar that many don't even know Little Johnny From The Hospitul: Breaks And Instrumentals Vol. 1 exists. It's unfortunate, as this carefully crafted instrumental hip-hop record is almost as good as it's predecessor. El-P handles all of the production, save for some tinkering here or there by Mr. Len, and it's unsurprisingly creative and forward-thinking. The futuristic sounds present on Funcrusher Plus are heard in droves, with synth lines and drum patterns mixing in with organically sampled instrumentation to create something that must've sounded somewhat alien at the turn of the century. Take the one-two punch of "Shadows Drown" and "Worker Ant Uprise" as an example if you're not convinced. It's an underrated work, but if you're a fan of El-P's production skills, this should not and cannot be missed.
Converge I Can Tell You About Pain
It's weird to me that I'm just now hearing new music by Converge. I've been a fan since 2013, but it feels like I've been listening to them my entire life, and it didn't really dawn on my I'd yet to hear new Converge until after I Can Tell You About Pain was released. For what it's worth, this stuff is Converge in that most classic of ways; fast, unrelenting, and adrenaline-pumping when playing hardcore like the title-track, and crushingly heavy when playing sludge metal with noise rock tendencies like "Eve". Finally, the anticipation for a new Converge full-length is finally peaking, and I'm going to enjoy experiencing the build-up to that as well. Long live the Salem road dogs.
Corb Lund Things That Can't Be Undone
When most people say the words "country music", they generally mean the pop masquerading as country often heard nowadays. It's a shame, seeing as how guys like Corb Lund are full-on, no-frills, old-timey country and tend to be overlooked by many. Lyrically, the man is quite adept, telling stories of his life and times, best exemplified on the trio of "Sadr City", "Washed-Up Rock Star Factory Blues" ("I've done a lot of singing about sticking it to the man, today's the day he's gonna stick it right back if he can" is so subtlety perfect), and "S Lazy H". Musically, it's excellently executed, even if unambitious, country, with acoustic and electric guitars, occasional backing vocals, and Lund's wonderful voice keeping things authentic and enjoyable. You have your melancholy slower-paced acoustic songs, but you also have your more upbeat, faster-paced jams, and they both generally sound great. Altogether, it's a great country album, thanks to Lund's excellent vocal, lyrical, and instrumental work.
Couch Slut Contempt
There really couldn't be a better name for this record than this, because Contempt is absolutely dripping with its namesake. Couch Slut surprised plenty of people with their visceral debut My Life As A Woman, but everything that made that album a punishing, pissed, and perturbing listen is cranked up to eleven here. Megan Osztrosits is at once an impressively skilled and worryingly terrifying vocalist, and when you combine her wails and screams with the unflinching lyricism ("Summer Smiles", good lord), she's absolutely perfect for the job. The music behind her is murky, noisy, sludge-metal-influenced hardcore that packs a massive punch and can get pretty unsettling when paired with Osztrosits' vocals. It all comes together to make an impactful sophomore record, and if some more original songwriting is introduced to the fold, you could be looking at a modern classic for this style in the near future.
Covenant Dreams Of A Cryotank
One of the pioneers of a more accessible and club-ready style of EBM, Covenant initially started with some pretty straightforward, yet very well executed, EBM tracks on their debut, Dreams Of A Cryotank. Though the sound is a dated for 1994, the danceable and engrossing beats, rich synths, and lyrics more akin to a cyberpunk outfit make the music here very enjoyable. It's much more apocalyptic than Covenant would ever be again, especially on tracks like "Shelter". The crown jewel of the record lies with the absolutely massive closer "Cryotank Expansion", a twenty-six minute masterpiece of tense, spacey ambient, slow-burning industrial build-ups, and a final, chorus-lead trudge with a swampy and heavy beat. Though they'd go on to have a much cleaner and refined sound, Dreams Of A Cryotank is an important listen in Covenant's discography, acting as their darkest record.
Covenant United States Of Mind
United States Of Mind was the first true realization of Covenant's sound post-Dreams Of A Cryotank, coming in hard with EBM-influenced futurepop that encapsulated both driving club bangers and more atmospheric, subdued endeavors. Consistency is the main key here, with each song retaining catchiness and a subtle swagger regardless of which style they may belong to. The synth lines can be warm and the beats constantly thundering ahead, but both of them can just as easily be alienating and aloof, helping the record to have an appreciated variety. It's a definite improvement over the streamlined Europa, with upgrades heard not only in the songwriting department but in the atmospheric and vocal aspects as well. The record has a ton of noticeable and enjoyable charisma due to all of this, and it's undeniable that the duo were really feeling themselves at this point. They'd ride that confidence to even better things, but this record was certainly a huge step forward.
Cruciamentum Charnel Passages
I suppose I could start this soundoff with a rant about how a lot of OSDM revival is a bunch of surface-level trite, but when bands like Cruciamentum exist, why even bother? I mean, the riffs are there, the passion is there, the aesthetic is there, everything's there. These guys understand that slapping a really pointy band logo on a macabre album cover and then proceeding to rip off Morbid Angel or Obituary does not a death metal album make. You gotta breathe this stuff, you know? It starts out decently enough, but once "Tongues Of Nightshade" begins, things get serious. It's furious, full of riffs and blast beats, and above all, it's fun. That's what I think is so cool about this: here's a group of guys who obviously get the style and love what it's about, even if it's old. They take that and run with it, and manage to make something old sound fresh and entertaining.
Danny Brown Atrocity Exhibition
The link between Joy Division and Danny Brown is pretty thin, but I think making references to them and having production that sounds somewhat post-punky at times establishes the main theme Atrocity Exhibition: Danny Brown is one depressed dude. This was, of course, explored in both XXX and Old, but never as outright and upfront as here. His sense of irony and penchant for strange inflections are still alive and well, and thanks to this new backdrop, which is both fluid in its instrumental arrangement but crumbling with a tense, paranoid tone, he's never sounded more convincing; basically, the pictures he paints lyrically are accentuated by the production to give the concept a full and rich feel. The guest spots here do excellently as well, especially on "Really Doe", where the likes of Earl Sweatshirt and Kendrick Lamar drop some great verses. In a nutshell, if you were a fan of Brown's previous releases and enjoy some off-kilter production, this record deserves an immediate listen.
Dead Moon Unknown Passage
Dead Moon are one of the most underrated and overlooked punk bands out there, as their extremely lo-fi mix of garage punk, rock, and blues is one of the most charming and one of the most catchy around. On Unknown Passage, the sound the band established on In The Graveyard makes a return, and it's as memorable and intimate as ever. The singing is surprisingly somehow a strength, as though they are off-key the desired emotion, whether it be sadness, determination, or confidence, just drips of off Fred Cole's voice. Just listen to "I'm Wise", "I Tried", "Dead Moon Night", and "54/40 Or Fight" for some examples of that. The lo-fi production of the album gives the guitar, bass, and drums a gritty sound, matching the aesthetic of the album perfectly. It's really a great work of garage punk, as most of Dead Moon's discography is, so if you're into that type of stuff, one would recommend this in a heartbeat.
Dead Moon Thirteen Off My Hook
Though it may be about half redundant given that seven songs from Defiance end up here on a fifteen-song compilation, the other eight songs were previously unreleased and have the unwaveringly high quality that encapsulates Dead Moon and makes Thirteen Off My Hook a worthy listen. There's really only one thing that harms this compilation; the level of variety that the band usually works with on their records has been cut down to just catchy, beautifully raw garage punk jams. The drunken, late-night drive atmosphere is still very much alive, and the consistency is still in play, it's just not as potent. The previously unreleased material could've easily slid into any one of the albums before this one and fit perfectly, so there's no doubting their quality, especially the early combo of "D.O.A." and "War Baby". Just goes to show how marvelous of a trio Dead Moon really were; even their castaways are gold.
Deafheaven Sunbather
Many of the arguments regarding the illegitimacy of Sunbather in the canon of black metal start one of two ways: with references to non-existent hipsters or some sort of extension thereof, or with the words "Black metal isn't supposed to be...*description of album*". Putting black metal, or any genre for that matter, in a box like that would only result in the stagnation of the sound within it, eventually leading to its death. That's why bands like Deafheaven are important, whether you like them or not. They keep new ideas coming into the genre, and that's admirable whether or not those ideas actually pan out. In this case, they did, because the beautiful mixture of atmospheric black metal, shoegaze, and post-rock is an uplifting, gorgeous experience that completely nails what it was going for. It's atmosphere is inviting and warm, and although there's a lot of melancholy in the lyrics, there's a prevalent sense of hope that makes this album a joy to listen to. They'd fall back on genre conventions a bit after this, but the giant leap taken with this album allowed them to combine those conventions with the experimentation heard here, resulting in their best album to date. And that's just one of the reasons history will remember Sunbather fondly.
Death Spiritual Healing
One of the originators of old school, no frills death metal who changed into a seminal technical/progressive death metal band, Death is easily one of the most recognizable bands in metal. This, their third record, marks an interesting turning point for the band. Sure, they weren't quite playing their more technical, progressive style yet, but the signs were definitely there. The songs are longer, the riffs progress more slowly in certain songs like the title track, and can be decently technical on songs like "Low Life". The drumming is competent, but pretty lackluster compared to what's going on around them. Instead of the horrific tales of chaos and destruction detailed on Leprosy and Scream Bloody Gore, Chuck Schuldiner opts for a more serious and interesting lyrical approach, as well as adding some ghastly effects to his voice, that actually work, in certain passages. The solo work here is also very good, and we have James Murphy to thank for that. All this being said, Spiritual Healing is not quite Death's greatest record, but an important record in their discography nonetheless.
Death Grips Fashion Week
I mean yeah Runway E is pretty good, but Runway E is easily the best here. EDIT: After a few listens, it appears to me that this is Death Grips' most accessible release. That is majorly due to the absence of MC Ride, but a few of the beats on here seem a slight bit more accessible than the ones they've done in the past. Take the second "Runway H" and it's oddly upbeat guitar riff for instance. Also, a couple of rtracks on here have a bit of a vaporwave influence. It's not much, but it's noticeable. The rumors are that this is supposed to be the soundtrack to Zach Hill's movie. That movie is going to be an absolute trip if that is truly the case.
Death Grips The Powers That B - Part I: Niggas on the Moon
Death Grips Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix)
Steroids indeed. For what Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber) is worth it's easily the best EP Death Grips have ever released, putting their frenetic production and off-kilter rhythmic sensibilities to their peak while still providing quotables and a whole lot of energy vocally. The production and the rapping are getting back on an equal footing, and there's some really creative genre-splicing here that spans glitch-hop, electro-industrial, and yes, even doses of gabber along with their strange industrial/abstract hip-hop. I never thought that a twenty-two minute Death Grips song could be one of their best, but these guys have always been about surprises.
Deer Leap/The World Is A Beautiful Place... Are Here To Help You
There is something to be said for music that is able to make you feel nostalgic even if you'd never heard it before that point in time. That pretty much describes The World Is A Beautiful Place...'s post-rock/midwest emo sound to a T, but it also describes Deer Leap's, a band which does just as well on Are Here To Help You as the better known band they share this split with. Both sides are a lovely, very well-written mix of post-rock and midwest emo, and though TWIABP has the defining moment on the split with "Bread For Brett"'s climax, Deer Leap have a couple more evocative moments than their contemporary, most notably on "We Are Not Who We Are". Even though it's not the most original material in the genre, it sounds positively divine and both bands are at the top of their respective and similar games. Truly, one shouldn't have to look far past this to get a top-notch split of top-notch post-rock/midwest emo.
Deftones Gore
Whether you call it alt-metal or nu-metal or whatever, Deftones make some simple music. Sure, it's much more atmospheric and well-produced than most of their contemporaries, but at its core, Deftones' music has always been simplistic. It relies on emotion and atmosphere to get the job done, and in that sense, Gore is not unlike any other album of theirs. What makes it a winner is just how well-executed and smooth this album runs from end to end, with no bumps in the road when it comes to quality. It strikes an excellent balance between the subtle quietness of the verses, the emotionally charged (and very catchy) choruses, the airy ambience, and the expansive climaxes. It sounds both frail and powerful, juxtaposing these moments wonderfully throughout the record. "Hearts / Wires" and "Phantom Bride" are both perfect examples of this, stacking up as some of the best material the band has written since Chi Cheng's accident. In the end, Gore is just another instance of Deftones showing how masterful they are at bringing complex emotions and ideas out of inherently simple music.
Del tha Funkee Homosapien I Wish My Brother George Was Here
Del tha Funkee Homosapien Both Sides of the Brain
Possessing an unmistakable voice and a penchant for lyricism, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien is one of the more prominent figures in underground hip-hop. His work with Deltron 3030 is seen as classic, and his debut record established him as a very capable rapper. Both Sides Of The Brain is arguably his best work, featuring his most recognized song in "If You Must", some songs dealing with personal addictions in "BM's" and "Skull & Crossbones", and his affront to "fake rappers", something that has always characterized Del. The production on this record is much more varied than on his previous albums, and the guest appearances on here are excellent as well. Though it drags slightly in the middle, Del manages to put his best foot forward on these tracks, and shouldn't come as a surprise that it ends being a great success.
Dendritic Arbor Romantic Love
A twisted combination of experimental grindcore with a distinct black metal aesthetic, Romantic Love is an album that wastes no time in bludgeoning you over the head with a mallet, then dragging you into its decrepit, hollow dungeon. The atmosphere is quite chilling, given that bursts of extremely dissonant grind are interrupted by ambient passages, in which things such as unintelligible voices, far-off screams, and the low hum of machinery swirl around in it. There seems to be something new to catch through every listen of these tracks, and at thirty-two minutes, there's no problem re-listening. The vocals are quite atonal, and though sometimes a bit off putting, really contribute to the atmosphere. With that said, Dendritic Arbor may be on to something here, so if you're interested in the more experimental side of grind, I would definitely recommend listening to this.
Deniro Farrar Red Book, Vol. 1
Whether or not gentrification is a common and widespread issue or a rare and often misinterpreted one is still up for debate today. Whatever the case, the issues with it are grappled with on Deniro Farrar's Red Book, Vol. 1, an EP inspired by The Black Panthers and the trials of a man in the ghetto. The sound is a pretty interesting one: the production mixes the thundering bass and beats of trap with the jazzy instrumentation and vocalizations of jazz rap, bringing together two styles often seen as polar opposites. Farrar's lyricism definitely follows suit, and with his imposing presence and skilled flow on the microphone, it's hard not to be impressed with him. His passion seeps through this project as obviously as any he's done, and definitely has one wondering what the next installment in this ongoing series will be like.
Depeche Mode Some Great Reward
In the world of synthpop and electronic rock, Depeche Mode are one of the seminal bands. With this album as the starting point, they would up their game to essential-listening levels, and would be forever cemented as one of the top bands in the genre. Here, we have brooding, yet occasionally upbeat synthpop, and though a few songs are plagued by awful lyrics, it is for the most part a great album. The scathing closer, "Blasphemous Rumors", is one of the bands' crowning achievements, while other excellent tracks like "Lie To Me" and "Master And Servant" really make this record the first truly great one in Depeche Mode's discography. Basically, if you're looking for a great slab of catchy synthpop with slight industrial and electronic rock leanings, you should give this one a spin.
Depeche Mode Black Celebration
Maturation in just about every department is what led Depeche Mode to pen Some Great Reward, but as for that dark, melancholic synthpop sound that most casual listeners know, it all began on Black Celebration. Even from the title-track/opener, you can tell this a band going further down the rabbit hole in the exploration of darker sounds and themes. "A Question Of Lust" and "A Question Of Time" see the band firing on all cylinders, with a considerably veiled and frustrated feel complementing an uptempo and, of course, very catchy song. These were the first true breakthroughs the band had with this sound, and it carries over perfectly to the closing tandem of "Dressed In Black" and "New Dress", the latter of which deals with the juxtaposition of such trivial things as a stars' fashion choices and the deaths of children on daily news television channels and newspapers. It's not quite an all-around fantastic success, but this album was absolutely vital in shaping Depeche Mode's sound for the years to come.
Depeche Mode Spirit
A lot of people are pinning this down as Depeche Mode's political album and though a decent chunk of the album does deal with the state of world politics, a greater chunk is spent on interpersonal relationships whether they are platonic or romantic in nature. Spirit is a pretty minimal album by Depeche Mode's standards, with most of the bombast coming from the vocal performances. The production, while minimal, makes excellent use of this minimalism by making sure that which is there to be heard is beautiful or empowering or dark in tone, and more often than not it works to perfection. The lyrics, while painfully obvious on the more political songs, are quite good on songs like "Cover Me", where far more subtle references towards the sociopolitical landscape are made using metaphors and allegories. If you can withstand some obnoxiously obvious political commentary for about five minutes of the total runtime, by all means check this thing out. A bit strange to be listening to new Depeche Mode and finding it great.
Depeche Mode Music for the Masses
Here's where Depeche Mode began to turn into the skid somewhat when it came to their atmospherics and their production, and as such Music For The Masses would be the best-sounding and finely-tuned record the group had made at the time. Whereas the filler of records past was uneventful and meandering, any track that could be considered filler here is still ultimately gorgeous and doesn't detract from the overall experience much. Add to that some truly wonderful songs like opener "Never Let Me Down Again", the catchy "Strangelove", and the sprawling "Sacred" and you've got a recipe for a record that is through-and-through enjoyable to hear. Everything sounds fuller and more enveloping, which in turn allows the decidedly melancholy and even a bit angsty atmosphere to be appreciated that much more. They would go on to capture lightning in a bottle with their next release, but you need not forget to give Music For The Masses a spin or two.
Dethrone (SWE) Incinerate All
Hailing from Sweden, the quintet known as Dethrone is one exciting act, playing a very thrashy form of melodic death metal. And make no mistake, they don't play MELODIC death metal so much as they play melodic DEATH metal, if you get where I'm going with this. The end result is an album that, while not being entirely original, pretty much excels in all other aspects. The songwriting is fluid and organic, with thrashy riffs and drumming rhythms with the occasional melodic lead, tremolo riff and technical solo. The double-bass is blistering, and the bass guitar is audible and even sometimes gets a moment in the spotlight. The weak point would be the vocals, but even they are really solid, if a slight bit monotonous. The quality of the record remains very high throughout the runtime, and though there may be standout moments within tracks, no track really jumps out. This would normally be an issue, but with memorable moments within each track, it's pretty easy to follow. In short, a really great, energy-laden release from some still-young guys, who might still have their best up their sleeves.
Devouring Humanity Devouring Humanity
Artery Eruption has a longstanding reputation within the slam death metal scene as making some of dumbest (in a good way) and off-kilter slam out there. Brian and Grant Moehler, brothers in the band, are back with a new project, Devouring Humanity, and although it's in a similar vein as Artery Eruption, it's truly it's own beast. The production on this thing, simply put, is phenomenal. The slams and unintelligible riffing sounds almost like some sort of twisted ambient backdrop while the drums play some truly incorrigible and insane rhythms on top of it. The tones on all of the instruments are pitch perfect for the style, and the vocals are typically wonderful. There are a few surprise moments here as well that I'd be foolish to spoil, but they're pretty amazing when they happen. If this is the sound of slam in 2016, then it's in a good place. Also, it's delightfully tongue-in-cheek, because who names their songs "Slams To The Dome" and "Brutality Accomplished" and takes themselves seriously?
Devouring Humanity Eradication of Living Human Shit
I have no idea what in Valtiel's glorious name is going on during "Guilty Are Butchered And Burnt", but I love it. Devouring Humanity is just Brian Moehler on this one, but the project is still one of the most exciting in slam death, even if for totally different reasons than there were when the band dropped their self-titled debut. Eradication Of Living Human Shit, an album dedicated to the hunting down and slaughtering of child rapists (interesting inversion there, no?), is also someway an inversion of Devouring Humanity's (and by extension Artery Eruption's) style thus far. Notice that the production values, at least in relation to previous works, is actually quite good, and the songwriting, while still kind of dumb (especially when blasting furiously away), has been tightened up just a little bit; the differences might not be that huge to the untrained ear, but there's a significant difference between this and Driving My Fist Through Her Chest. They never really make the same album twice, and that's no light praise. That bass is wet. Also, pinch harmonics.
Diamanda Galas All the Way
Now here's a lady I wouldn't mind going all the way with. You can't tell me she wouldn't be freaky. All joking aside, though, there isn't all that much to say about All The Way. It's Diamanda Galas playing strange renditions of bluesy songs on a piano and singing (and screeching, and all other manner of vocal acrobatics) the way only she can. The fact that it gets this high of a rating speaks volumes not only about her talents as a vocalist, but her talents as a pianist as well. These songs may be standards in certain circles, but she spends her time here twisting them and forming them into something all her own. I nearly cried to "Pardon Me I've Got Someone To Kill" and I have literally no idea why. "O Death", an unnerving song in its own right, turns downright disturbing when Diamanda takes a crack at it. That she's still able to sound like this almost thirty years down the line from her first material is nothing short of incredible. All The Way is great, and Diamanda Galas will never not be.
Diphenylchloroarsine Post Apocalyptic Human Annihilation
I can smell the radioactive waste just barely listening to this monster. The production gives everything such a full, dirty punch to it (the last minute-thirty of "Asphyxiating On Hazardous Pollution", sweet lord) especially that deliciously pingy snare, that it's honestly some of the most easy slam to listen to, making fifty-five minutes fly right by. These guys have a noticeable and very tactfully-incorporated sludge influence here, mostly due to the production, but also because on any given song you can hear some discernible, albeit short, riffs peppered in throughout to accentuate the admirably powerful and even catchy slams. Basically, if you're going to use some riffs on a slam album, whether they be some quick tremolos or some slower, sludgier progression, this is how they should be used. Post-Apocalyptic Human Annihilation is awesome, basically. Also, pinch harmonics. (They also used the siren from the first Silent Hill on one of the samples. If you can't get down with Silent Hill, I can't get down with you.)
Discordance Axis Jouhou
In the pantheon of grindcore, the virtue of uniqueness and originality is paramount to creating a truly great record. Of course, originality on its own isn't going to get the job done. You need energy, passion, and a whole lot of explosive, palpable anger juxtaposed with the unique. Discordance Axis embodied this as well as any grind band ever did during their career, with Jouhou being the first of two records that pulled off spastic, riff-centric grind with absolutely unreal vocals from Jon Chang. One of the noticeable things about this record is how it doesn't sacrifice quality riffs for sheer intensity. Rather, it achieves them both with stunning efficiency, with some intense, yet clear, production that allows each instrument breathing room. Chang is an undeniable force to be reckoned with vocally, with a high, piercing scream as haunting as it is impressive. Add to the mix a furious drum performance from Dave Witte, and you have yourself an excellent grind record. It's amazing they were able to top this...
DJ Rashad Just A Taste
This is where DJ Rashad truly began coming into his own. While his work on 4 The Ghetto and Itz Not Rite was a definite precursor to Just A Taste, the material on this album are more fleshed out than ever. The juxtaposition of the driving footwork beats with the gorgeous soul/r&b samples was now stronger and more complete than ever, including the famous Gil Scott Heron sample in the closer "I'm Gone", a song which takes on a tragic meaning since Rashad's untimely death. The only drawback to the record is the notion that there isn't a whole lot of variety to it, but when the songs are this well-made, it doesn't detract from the overall experience that much. If anything, it gives things a nice continuity and atmosphere. With this record, Rashad's prime was now fully underway, and it wouldn't end until the man himself passed on in a tragic loss for ghettotech and Chicago music as a whole.
DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn 4 The Ghetto
One of the most fleshed out and deliberate ghettotech splits out there 4 The Ghetto focuses on the dichotomy between two styles of the subgenre that allow it to be appreciated in totally different ways. DJ Spinn's side opens things up, and it's dedicated to the mind-numbingly and trance-inducingly repetitive. Catchy though it may be, it's this intense repetition and speed that gives it an entrancing and ultimately filling quality. DJ Rashad's side explores the more expansive side of the genre, with synth-lines aplenty formed around speedy, yet not too repetitive, beat work. This style is catchy as well, and definitely stays rooted to the calling cards of the subgenre. Thus, both DJ Spinn and DJ Rashad give equally listenable and interesting takes on the subgenre they'd come to be poster boys for, taking their already solid reputation in Chicago and expanding it into the surrounding areas.
DJ Screw Chapter 51: 9 'Fo Shit
1994 was a momentous year for DJ Screw, as it saw his growth from a simple disc jockey with a great idea to one of the most renowned DJ's in the south, especially in his hometown of Houston. This tape, his final of the year, sees a retrospective Screw, with the tape essentially being a combination and upgrade of Hard Times and Da Funk Is On Your Mind. His skills in both chopping and transitioning are really in excellent form here, especially on one of his greatest screw's, "Ain't No Thang" by Outkast. The first half of the tape is definitely one of his greatest accomplishments, and while the second half is also good, there's a few repeats of tracks he did earlier, though done much better than before, evident in Lady Of Rage's "Afro Puffs" and "So Much Love" by Big Mello. His best years were certainly ahead of him, but his accomplishments during 1994 are summed up very well here, and are definitely nothing to scoff at.
DJ Screw Chapter 119: No Drank
"Drank been dry for about two weeks" says Fat Pat before a verse, and it's true: during this particular stretch of 1995, there was a shortage on the purple in the purple city. What's some guys to do? Simple: get together and bust out some freestyles over some smooth beats and let Screw work his magic on the turntables afterwards. Chapter 119: No Drank is essentially all freestyles bar a couple of joints at the end of the tape, and they're all pretty great. The sound, both smooth and lo-fi, is perfect for the likes of Fat Pat (who spits some of his best freestyles on this tape), 'Lil Keke, 'Lil Boo, and Big Dave to drop some bars over. What's great about it is how raw it all is from the sound to the recordings themselves. These were all done in one take, so it's not uncommon to hear some things you don't usually hear, like how after verses are done you can hear the other people in the room laugh or clap, or how at one point Pat keeps rapping though it's clear he's trying not to bust up laughing. It's awesome because it's all so genuine. It's a pretty classic screw tape because of this, and thus, if you're a fan of the south, it can't be missed.
DJ Screw Chapter 16 - Late Night Fuckin Yo Bitch
I think one of the coolest things about DJ Screw what that he had impeccable taste in music, and that was reflected very easily on his tapes. Chapter 16: Late Night Fuckin' Yo Bitch in one breath an ode to sexy, drug-induced lovemaking, and in another an ode to the funk-and-soul-influenced R&B that appeared in the 70's and in some circles hasn't stopped yet. This tape isn't about turntable wizardry or seamlessly mixed tracks (though there's plenty of the latter) as much as it is about those sexy, sexy vibes. Aww yeah. Seriously, if you don't think this mix of Teddy Pendergrass' "Love TKO" isn't smooth as all hell, I'll never understand you. Other fantastic mixes include R. Kelly's "Your Body's Callin'", Jodeci's "Feenin'", and Janet Jackson's "Anytime, Anyplace". If you got a couple of hours and just want to surrender yourself to that sweet, sweet love, I highly recommend this tape.
Dr. Dre The Chronic
The amount of hip-hop albums made under the shadow of The Chronic are a numerous bunch, and this alone gives it an important spot in the genre's history. It was at least partially responsible for the following things: popularizing G-funk as a style of gangsta rap, bringing a young man by the name of Calvin Broadus, A.K.A. Snoop Dogg, to near superstardom without an album of his own, launching the careers of several other rappers and producers, and establishing Death Row as a very major label in the 90's. Aside from a few hiccups in the tracklist (namely "The Roach", which is just a Parliament song with a skit over it), the album is G-funk perfection, producing such classics as "Let Me Ride", "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang", "Lil Ghetto Boy", "Stranded On Death Row", and "Bitches Ain't Shit". With its far-reaching influence and classic cuts that have stood the test of time, The Chronic is an excellent west coast hip-hop record and an essential G-funk record.
Dr. Dre 2001
It's hard to believe how many classic beats in the west coast vault are from solely this album. Needless to say, Dr. Dre's production on this is some of the most immaculate and consistently excellent in west coast hip-hop. This of course including, but not limited to, "The Watcher" with its sparse horns and thudding drums, "Still D.R.E." with its unmissable keyboard line, "What's The Difference" with its intimidating combination of horns and strings, "Forgot About Dre" with its biting string chords and unmistakable guitar line, and "The Next Episode", with its impeccably funky guitar line. Of course, the second half of the record does have some filler on it, bringing down the album from the incredible heights it had reached in the first, but it ends on a masterful note with "The Message", a heartfelt tribute to his late brother Tyree. The album also features wonderful guest verses and hooks from Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Hittman, and Kurupt, backing up Dre in spades and sounding like they belonged there. Seven years after The Chronic and the loud just as strong.
Dragged Into Sunlight / Gnaw Their Tongues N.V.
Though it's been a quiet three years for Dragged Into Sunlight, it's been a great year for Gnaw Their Tongues, which saw the release of a vicious album in Abyss Of Longing Throats. This collaboration is Dragged Into Sunlight's reemergence (a welcomed one at that), and something of a raising of a victorious glass for Gnaw Their Tongues. Like most collaborations, it seems better on paper than in practice, but here, it's not too far off. Gnaw Their Tongues' Maurice De Jong contributes an excellent vocal performance, while the guitars and drums are handled by Dragged Into Sunlight. The guitars sound forceful and imposing, and the drums, while not too well produced, are competently played. It creates an atmosphere similar to the one on Abyss Of Longing Throats, yet instead of a nihilistic sentiment there is often a murderous one. The samples are very hit or miss. The samples in "Visceral Repulsion" just seem forced, but the ones in "Absolver" are very well placed. In all, it's a great collaboration; maybe not as disgusting and venomous as was hoped, but still great nonetheless.
Drake If You're Reading This It's Too Late
I've never been too fond of Drake. I thought that Thank Me Later was good in spots, but very misguided. Take Care had some great singles and nice production, but I thought it was a bit inconsistent. NWTS was Drake with very little confidence in himself, and it reflected in his music despite the ethereal production. And now? He hits the mark in a totally unexpected release that just might be my favorite project of his. Drake has never been a lyrical rapper, but he drops some surprisingly good lines on this thing, most notably on closer "6 P.M. In New York". The production is similar to that of NWTS, and it's pretty sweet on its own. The biggest improvement here is that Drake approaches things with confidence in himself, while also recognizing he has flaws and turning them around on his detractors. His charismatic boasts don't sound so empty this time around, and his overall theme of getting used to being famous really works here. That is not to say the album doesn't have filler, but overall it is a consistent endeavor that has one thinking if this is just a preview of something bigger and better. We shall see.
Earl Sweatshirt EARL
Earl Sweatshirt I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside
I remember the first time I heard "Earl", back when Odd Future was really starting to blow up and everyone around my town was wearing Supreme hats and constantly quoting lyrics off of "Yonkers". Things were simpler then, for both me and for Earl. As the years go by, he has drifted further and further away from the Odd Future collective, and though he is still technically a member, he's really on the fringe. Gone are the violently entertaining raps of his eponymous debut, substituted now for more introspective and story-telling lyrical escapades. The lo-fi production that permeates Odd Future records is still very much alive, but utilized in a different way. Earl was quoted as saying that he wanted the beats on the record, made by himself under the persona RandomBlackDude, to sound like they're melting. That's exactly what happens here, and it fits rather well with his trademark monotone rapping style. Though the album is a bit samey, Earl openly invites you to explore more thoroughly the personal side of him that he expressed somewhat on Doris, and it makes for an interesting, yet strangely mesmerizing experience.
Earth Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version
Earth Extra-Capsular Extraction
Earth Primitive and Deadly
Earth is considered one of the premier drone metal bands in existence, and with releases like Earth 2, it's easy to see why. While their early work was mainly droning with little percussion and no vocals, on Primitive And Deadly they change this. Cleaner sounding production, airy vocals and slow, methodical drumming combine with the droning riffage that Earth is known for to fantastic effect here. "Torn By The Fox Of The Crescent Moon" and "Even Hell Has Its Heroes" are two instrumental tracks that show a nice psychedelic rock influence. "From The Zodiacal Light" and "Rooks Across The Gate" show the vocal styling of Earth to be an excellent fit with the instrumentals established, and are as ethereal as they are heavy. Altogether, Earth has another excellent release under their belt, and prove that they certainly still have it.
Earth Hibernaculum
Earth, one of the premier drone metal bands, is very well-respected in the community of noise music. With records such as this, it's easy to see why. Though three of the songs on this record are old songs they've played before, they changed the style of the song from their original fuzzy, heavy drones into the style more prominently explored on Hex: Or Printing In The Infernal Method, making them sound like different songs altogether. The one original song on the record, "A Plague Of Angels", is rife with psychedelic, yet mesmerizingly thin drones, plodding drums, and a distinct country influence. It's a bit long for an EP, but don't miss it if you are a fan of Earth, or just need some ethereal drone metal in your life.
Earth Pentastar: In The Style Of Demons
In the world of drone music, Earth are living legends. On their third LP, they drift further away from the hypnotic, smothering drone they employed on Earth 2 and decided on a more conservative style. This meant shorter songs, quieter drones, and even some vocals here or there. And in all, it is a very tasteful and enjoyable drone metal/stoner rock album that takes influences from psychedelic rock as well. As such, it is also Earth's most accessible record, but not necessarily their most conventional in terms of drone. Rather, this is relatively unconventional, as it constantly straddles the line between drone metal and stoner rock, never quite sounding completely like either of those genres. Someone once described it as "Aerosmith songs played really slowly", and I can't really argue against that statement. The tightened songwriting is s nice change of pace from the sloppy Earth 3, and rather than being a mixed bag it is very consistent overall. They'd never truly return to this style afterwards, but it was certainly great while it lasted, as a listen to this album will show you.
Earth Hex: Or Printing In the Infernal Method
Being one of the premier bands of drone music, Earth has a reputation for making some of the most influential and enjoyable drone albums out there. Hex is a much different beast from the likes of Earth 2 or Pentastar, as it leans more towards post-rock than drone. Still, there are still droning moments, and when combined with a huge influence from southwestern folk, you have what is essentially the soundtrack to riding through desert plains on horseback. It's like if Godspeed's "The Cowboy" was even more western and made to fit forty-six minutes. Truly, it's one of the virtues of Earth that they are able to change their style of writing and playing and still sound innovative and interesting. It sounds undeniably rural and gritty, and with ambient sections peppered throughout, it really puts you in that desert landscape. Hex is most certainly the culmination of their western-influenced style, and provides soundscapes with smooth and calming qualities.
Earth A Bureaucratic Desire for...
This compilation of early Earth material is exactly what one is looking for if they need repetitive, droning, and oddly catchy soundscapes. The songs contained within are less drone metal than just extremely minimalistic and loud grunge. Either that or the patented tactic of slowing Black Sabbath songs way down, I can't really remember. It works wonderfully as meditative, reflective music, as something to get completely lost inside for a short while. "Ouroboros Is Broken" is probably the best example of this, because not once during the entire eighteen-minute song does the riff or the drumming ever sound played out or long-winded. It is one of the gifts Earth had and a gift seen in only a handful of other bands and projects around: to make repetition into a mesmerizing and worthwhile experience rather than a snooze-fest. It's actually pretty magical.
Emery ...In Shallow Seas We Sail
For a band that had been getting softer and softer up until this point, Emery sure opens with a bang on ...In Shallow Seas We Sail in the form of "Cutthroat Collapse", which might just be the best song they've ever written. Though that may seem like a questionable choice for an opener, the quality of the songwriting stays pretty strong throughout the album, despite a minor hiccup early on. The vocal melodies and layering have never been stronger than here, and the screamed vocals are easily the best they've been too. The potent mix of these vocals combined with the excellent hooks and the seamless transitioning from post-hardcore riffing to alt-rock stylings makes this record the culmination of everything their early sound promised, and as such, is unequivocally their most dynamic and layered record to date. Even the inclusion of electronics that they toyed with on previous releases is used tactfully and adds yet another facet to the sound. It gets better after every listen thanks to these layers of instrumentation and vocals, and because of all of the things, it's in every way Emery's best record.
Eminem The Slim Shady EP
Eminem The Eminem Show
Endalok Ur Draumheimi Viourstyggor
Iceland continues to produce winners. This is some truly ghastly black metal on display here, and I mean that in the best way possible. The whole thing has an atmosphere like a cold, ghostly wasteland, sounding as if it were composed by particularly vengeful spirits. The vocalist sounds like a monstrous gale, and the drums have a freezing, echoing tone to them. The guitars sound almost like air raid sirens in some instances, and have the same kind of ghostly feel to them as everything else here does. Ur Draumheimi Viourstyggoar (I think I'm spelling that correctly) is also full of excellent songwriting, as on longer tracks the tension builds and releases with every riff and build-up. On shorter tracks, a bevy of biting riffs fly around, helped by those beautifully chilling leads, and the atmosphere doesn't suffer at all. In a nutshell, this is more engrossing metal from the cold landscape of Iceland, which is quickly becoming one of the most interesting scenes for the genre.
Enigma MCMXC a.D.
Esoteric Metamorphogenesis
Out of all of the material Esoteric released in the 90's, Metamorphogenesis is far and away their most accessible. This is due not only to the length of the album being half that of the others, but to the production being much more full and heavier than before. Even still, the psychedelic nature of the band is not lost here, nor are their capabilities of writing an immense song. The three tracks here follow a similar pattern; the opening minutes are malevolent and intense before buckling down to the mid-section, which builds into a violent climax. The closing minutes are ambient noise, the ashes after a fire in a way. The vocals are as great as ever, but aren't as annoyingly jarring this time around, sitting a bit lower in the mix. The atmosphere is like their others, like a bad psychedelic trip, but the smothering feel of it is enhanced, also thanks to the production. All of this makes this record the best starting point if one wishes to enter the funeral realms Esoteric rules over with an iron fist.
Esoteric Subconscious Dissolution Into the...
Esoteric are a lot of things, but aside from it's predecessor, Subconscious Disillusion Into The Continuum is the only incarnation of the band one could call "concise", and that's only in relativity to their other records. Still, all of the best things about the band and something they'd rarely done before are found here, all in about fifty minutes. The oppressive, psychedelic style of funeral doom they employ is still very much alive as opener "Morphia" will show you, but never before had the band sounded as out-and-out melancholy as they do on "The Blood Of The Eyes", which stands as one of the best tracks the band has made to date. Closer "Arcane Disillusion" is somewhat of a dud to end the Album on, but by itself it's a decent ambient track. Had they made the closer "Grey Day", an absolute behemoth of a track with an amazingly ghastly vocal performance to enhance the crushing atmosphere, and made "Arcane Disillusion" the penultimate track, it would've flowed better and ended better. Excellent record indeed, but tracklisting is important, my friends. Remember that.
Esoteric Paragon Of Dissonance
I always preferred the shorter works Esoteric released like Subconscious Dissolution Into The Continuum because things were always tighter without comprising the excellent songwriting the band uses so well. That being said, Paragon Of Dissonance is definitely my favorite of the longer releases, as though it clocks in at an hour and a half, it just may be the most varied Esoteric release, not only in songwriting but in tone as well. Sure, you have the trademark unsettling psychedelic bull-dozing, but you also have moments of contemplative sadness and melancholy here that were never divulged as much on previous efforts. Many of the sadder progressions have the dually wonderful quality of memorability as well, as "Non Being" and "Aberration" so beautifully demonstrate, making for an engaging second half, something the other long records often fell short on. If Esoteric were to call it quits this album would be quite the swan song, but hopefully they can wow the doom world once more and possibly top this bad boy.
Every Time I Die New Junk Aesthetic
In combining the short, spastic bursts of energy from Hot Damn! and the groovy, southern-influenced riffing of The Big Dirty, New Junk Aesthetic is in many ways a statement of the great things the band has done and its desired path from there onward. Keith Buckley is still phenomenal both vocally and lyrically, and the songwriting here is everything Every Time I Die should be about: really fun, really catchy, and dirty in its southern-tinged grooviness. They do, unfortunately, fall back into the habit of not having a true standout track on the album, which ultimately contributes towards the notion that the tracks bleed into each other somewhat. That said, the tracks here are all very solid, with several of them being top-tier compositions for the band. It's pretty accessible as well, with the production sounding organic and hard-hitting, lending a hand to some already pretty heavy material. It's quite a great metalcore record, and is pretty much on par with the bands' best as a mixture of their two distinct styles.
Every Time I Die Hot Damn!
Despite improving noticeably from their debut EP The Burial Plot Bidding War to their first LP Last Night In Town, Every Time I Die nonetheless seemed as if they were struggling for an identity, still having yet to find their niche. Hot Damn! put all of that to sleep. The lyrics, production, and playing ability of the band didn't change much at all from their first LP. The real upgrade was in the songwriting department. The music was tighter, faster, and more intense, as well as having a few standout tracks in "Off Broadway" and "In The Event Things Should Go Horribly Wrong". The guitars have that small southern tinge to them, and it gives them a lot of personality. The bands influences begin to appear less obvious as well, and though it's not all that original, the musicianship here is as good as the band has been. In all, with this release, Every Time I Die began to separate themselves from their influences and began running with their own sound to satisfying results.
Every Time I Die The Big Dirty
Subtle intelligence has always been a strong suit for Every Time I Die, as groovy riffs and mosh-worthy breakdowns collide with drunken shouting and scathing lyrics. Whereas Gutter Phenomenon is very subtle in a thematic sense, Hot Damn! is intelligent from a songwriting standpoint more than any other. The Big Dirty is a pretty seamless marriage of these two albums, not only in sound, but in theme and aesthetic as well. The songwriting is definitely less homogenous than last time around, but the strong thematic elements remain as well. One thing that does differ from all of their previous efforts is the presence of a standout track: "INRIhab", which has a more distressed and hopeful sound than anything they've done before. The production is excellent, and the instrumentation is charismatic and fun as always. Keith Buckley shines again both as a lyricist and a vocalist, and in all The Big Dirty is a rousing success for one of the funnest and most subtle bands in metalcore.
Every Time I Die Low Teens
I am of the party that thinks both Ex Lives and From Parts Unknown were pretty much Every Time I Die on auto-pilot. Not bad albums at all, but stagnant most certainly. It's safe to say that with Low Teens, they've caught a second wind. The songwriting, while certainly taken up a couple of notches from the past couple of releases, is still pretty classic Every Time I Die: groovy, southern-tinged metalcore with mosh-worthiness in spades. Here, though, the band members themselves sound rejuvenated. Keith Buckley, who turns in his best performance both vocally and lyrically since Hot Damn!, is a monster here, and his clean vocals have really improved. Newcomer Daniel Davison is a force on the kit, while Jordan Buckley and Andrew Williams spin some wild riffs. The production sounds really full and very powerful, allowing each instrument needed clarity but a nice punch as well. In addition to possibly being the band's best album in thirteen years, it's yet another album from this year that proves how death, even just the prospect of it, affects the music of the artist affected in unbelievable ways.
Explosions in the Sky How Strange, Innocence
Explosions in the Sky The Wilderness
Being perfecters of a very simple, yet beautiful post-rock style that has influenced countless bands in the scene, Explosions In The Sky, totally undeservedly, have become the staple stereotypical post-rock band. It's through no fault of their own, but history has chosen to see it that way. That said, this change they've exhibited on their newest record, The Wilderness, is definitely the most obvious of their career. Through shorter songs, experimentation with electronics, and a curious lack of crescendos, Explosions In The Sky has tweaked their sound in a nice way. It's still Explosions, as the twinkly and gorgeous guitars show, but there are moments here unlike any other in their discography. The playful electronic melody on "The Ecstatics", or the oddly catchy bass riff and drumming that almost sounds like an electronic song on "Disintegration Anxiety", and the unnerving ending to "Colors In Space" are a few fine examples. Yet, the immense beauty of closer "Landing Cliffs" reminds you who you're listening to, and shows that despite these changes, Explosions In The Sky are still masters at making simple moments evocative and wonderful to hear.
FatGyver Talk To Strangers
Boom Bap used to be one of the leading styles in mainstream hip-hop in the 90's. Nowadays, it has fallen out of the mainstream spotlight, but still retains a dedicated following in the underground. Enter Fatgyver, a producer from Helsinki, Finland, who holds a special appreciation for boom bap, so much so in fact that his debut album, Talk To Strangers, is chock-full of instrumental songs wonderfully crafted from the style. That said, there are a lot of different vibes coming off of this album. From the smooth "Monday Stroll" to the humorous yet jazzy "Ain't Got No Bacon", to the somber and introspective "Interror Design", the album never becomes dull due to its exploration of differing textures. The highlight for me is "Sharkitekt", with samples swirling in and out of its unnerving yet strangely smooth piano tones.
Fela Kuti Confusion
Finsterforst Mach Dich Frei
One of the current leaders in viking/folk metal, Finsterforst craft another journey through distant lands with the use of massive songwriting and several additions to the usual metal formula such as choirs, horns, accordions, fifes, and the like. Their music is loud and attention-grabbing, and there aren't many boring moments on the record. There are several soaringly uplifting sections in songs like "Zeit Fur Hass" and "Finsterforst", making great collective use of guitars, choirs, and horns to create a heroic atmosphere. Though in general this style of music has its cheesy moments (this album is no exception), a lot of the cheesiness usually present in the lyrics will be lost on anyone who doesn't speak fluent German, I presume. All in all, this is a pretty engaging folk/viking metal record, one that fans of the genre have come to expect from Finsterforst.
Fire! Orchestra Ritual
It's not quite a tale of two halves for Fire! Orchestra, but it is certainly an organized and nuanced effort by the ensemble that is pretty evenly split, right down the middle of the album. What I mean by that is, during the first half of the album, that is, the first two and a half tracks, the album flows much like a free jazz album should: all over. There's even some noisy experimentation with electronics on "Part 3". Of course, this is enriched and enjoyable free jazz as per usual from the group, but the second half really shows a different side of them. The last half of "Part 3" is heavily reminiscent of Fire!'s She Sleeps, She Sleeps, and the last two tracks are arguably the most conventional, structured pieces the group has ever penned, really taking less of a free jazz approach and more of an experimental big band approach. Needless to say, this goes over well enough, with the sound nonetheless being fraught with intricacies and beauty. In all, it's another worthwhile outing from the ensemble.
FKJ French Kiwi Juice
I have no idea what separates French kiwi juice from any other kiwi juice, but far be it from me to say there's not a clear difference. Guess that's another checkbox for the bucket list. FKJ has been bubbling under the surface for a couple of years now, with a couple of EP's showing his dexterity as a producer and a singer. French Kiwi Juice lays all of that out in grand fashion, with the album dabbling in such genres as neo-soul, nu jazz, downtempo, trip-hop, deep house, and alternative R&B. While the album maintains a relatively constant atmosphere of pleasant, summery vibes, the songwriting is actually quite varied; there's some R&B-style tracks mixed with downtempo and trip-hop, and there's some faster, sample-based material that manages to be just as engaging with the various instrumentation providing a lot of colors. FKJ is an impressive talent not only in vocalization and production but in songwriting as well, and his debut is one of the finest electronic albums of the year so far.
Flyboy Tarantino Nightmare On The Strip
Along with XXXTENTACION and $ki Mask THE SLUMP GOD, Flyboy Tarantino makes up the core of Members Only, a south Floridian hip-hop collective that is part of a scene quickly gaining traction. Nightmare On The Strip showcases what he's all about: making some of the most imposing and fun trap in the scene. Perhaps this is best exemplified by the track "STAIN", on which producer Willie G samples Clint Mansell's "Meltdown" (a terror-inducing piece if there ever was one) and Flyboy spits threatening and powerful lines over it. The man can really flow as well, not keeping to one singular speed throughout the tape and sounding excellent no matter how he lays it down. In a short twenty-two minutes, the ride is quick but intense and highly enjoyable, kind of like the Dragster at Cedar Point or something like that. Dope stuff.
Flying Lotus 1983
FlyLo's debut is an interesting piece of work, and showcases synth-heavy instrumentation and a very spacey atmosphere. The opener (also being the title-track) begins with some alien, spaceship-like sounds before catching fire on a strangely catchy synth line and thumping beat, making a fantastic start to the record. Though the album isn't as experimental as his later work, to say that it is without any experimentation is false. Take "Pet Monster Shotglass" for instance, with its weird basslines moving in amidst a constant swirl of glitchy synth work. And on the closer, "Unexpected Delight", we see FlyLo's affinity for jazz, as a middle-eastern sounding wind instruments and elegant piano lines accent Laura Darlington's voice excellently. Certainly a great debut, 1983 shows FlyLo's humble beginnings, but hints of what he would soon become as well.
Fogh Depot Fogh Depot
A trio of musicians from Mexico City, Fogh Depot is an interesting project that combines smooth dark jazz, ambient, and experimental electronic. It's an album that fits the aesthetic it wants to give (foggy and tranquil), but also manages to do more than that in the process. Opening with "Anticyclone", the foggy atmosphere is set well. From inside this atmosphere, great things are done. On "Nevalyashka", a beautiful piano line turns evocative when surrounded by whirling wind instruments. On "Saggitarius", a fantastic jam session from the members really stands out from the original ambience. And on "Tattoo", an awkwardly catchy, yet wonderfully subdued guitar line enriches the track very well. While ambitious, some songs can get a little too abrasive for the style, and that hurst the flow of the album a bit. Still, the album is an excellent listen for those with an ear for the experimental.
Fogh Depot Turmalinturm
The eccentric Russian experimental trio returns, turning in a performance just as good as their self-titled but for different reasons. They keep the base sound here; foggy dark jazz mixed with ambient and sprinkles of experimental electronic, but the mindset in which these songs were written is far more concerned with compositional dexterity and enveloping sounds rather than establishing a base atmosphere. The songs are certainly not as immediate or as catchy as the material on Fogh Depot, but the tracks on Turmalinturm are much more intricate and rewarding in the long run. Initially, the compositions may seem somewhat haphazard and jumpy, but after some time with them, the subtleties and tightly interwoven instrumental interplay of the songwriting become readily apparent. They're two-for-two on excellent albums in their short career so far, hopefully they'll hit the trifecta at some point.
Fort Minor The Rising Tied
Four Tet Rounds
For as much charming humanity and prettiness Four Tet's earliest full-lengths had, they could also get really boring. But for every minute spent bored on Dialogue and Pause, Four Tet pays back with the immense improvement on his sound that is Rounds. The vibes of its predecessor still flow strongly through it, giving it a naturalistic and outdoorsy feel. The stark improvement is found in the songwriting; no longer are tracks just kind of hovering aimlessly or overstaying their welcome. Each track has something, whether it be a guitar line, a synth pattern, or a drum tone, that sticks in your head, and the longer tracks can't overstay their welcome as their welcome to stay as long as they want if they sound that beautiful. The songs progress very well, constantly shifting from place to place but always remaining grounded to one or two ideas. And I'll admit: at first I really didn't see the hype behind the man, but I know now that Rounds is the Four Tet I'd kept hearing about. Very nice.
Frank Ocean Nostalgia, Ultra.
Frank Ocean Blonde
It's a cliche that is at once life-affirming and perplexing: "live every moment like it's your last." That phrase can be used many ways, many using it as their reason to love out their dreams and others using it as justification for reckless and self-destructive behavior. But no one seems to address the uncertainty that phrase implies. You don't know what might happen tomorrow. For all you know, the world could end. It could drive you crazy if you think about it too much. Blonde is an album that operates with this notion in mind. Frank Ocean, while certain of who he is, is not certain of where this will take him or who he may become later in life. It's an album that embraces that insecurity and turns it into a virtue. It's scary, sure, but life is about the journey, about the little things every day. The music is much more minimalistic this time around, reflecting the introspective mood and shifting between celebratory, melancholy, lustful, and dreamy tones. His voice, simply put, is phenomenal, as if it'd be anything different. It's an expression of individuality and the strange, strange thing that is life, and it only gets better and better upon repeated listens. It's becoming impossible to expect anything less from the man.
Freddie Gibbs Shadow of a Doubt
After the successful year Freddie Gibbs had last year, as well as adding "father" to his list of occupations, you'd think he'd take a step back for a bit. You'd be wrong, as Gangsta Gibbs comes out firing, sounding hungry and relentless, over excellent trap production from a wide array of producers. Gibbs is really in his element here, as he sounds comfortable but never lazy or stagnant, spitting harsh street truths, dismissing his copycats and enemies, and occasionally retiring to his place of perpetual indulgence. The guest spots here are done well, especially Black Thought of The Roots, who shifts into "Extradite" rather seamlessly to drop a couple of great verses. The hooks on this record are pretty good as well, as "Careless" and "Insecurities" will show you, and there really isn't a bad moment to be found throughout the fify-eight minute runtime. In all, Freddie Gibbs refuses to slow down, and makes a fun, yet sometimes dark, trap/gangsta rap record that fits perfectly into his ever-growing discography.
Freddie Gibbs You Only Live 2wice
For someone so prolific as Freddie Gibbs, you'd think four months in an Austrian prison would only marginally slow him down. But it's clear from the way he sounds speaking of it on You Only Live 2wice that it affected him more than he anticipated, despite being back on his feet with a suggested second coming of sorts. Prison didn't change him too much, as evident from his hungry and intense delivery on fantastic opener "20 Karat Jesus", which sets the tone both lyrically and in production, switching from a harder, dangerous vibe to a much more low-key, calmer one. The whole record is very consistent, but the bookends are the clear highlights, with "Homesick" divulging experiences about his time in overseas prison and his inability to be a father from inside the cell. The issue with it is that it's quite short, and feels like he may be holding back a bit, as if he plans to release bigger and better things soon. That said, it'll be great to hear that if that truly is the case, but You Only Live 2wice is still a wonderful sample of what's to come.
Friendship (JPN) I And II
Nothing quite like a sludgy, dirty powerviolence record, is there? Friendship, a band barely out of its own infancy from Japan, put out a couple of EP's that were shrouded in the underground. Yet, after becoming a part of the Sentient Ruin record label, this convenient compilation gathers them both and allows them to be heard on a larger scale. And it would be a shame if it wasn't that way, because this is some truly excellent stuff. It forms a marriage between totally unhinged powerviolence that riffs just as hard as it blasts, and murky sludge that pounds the parts of the listener that aren't already shredded into dust. The production is near-perfect, giving everything a massive punch but allowing the listener to clearly differentiate instruments during the chaos. It's remarkably well made for being so overlooked, and lord knows if the group releases a full-length of this stuff in the future it's going to be hard to deny them. For now, though, I&II absolutely rips.
Fripp and Eno No Pussyfooting
One of the precursors to what ambient music and drone music what eventually become, (No Pussyfooting) is an interesting and enjoyable album all the same. King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp and ambient God Brian Eno both make incredible and noteworthy use of looping techniques to create a swirling and entrancing atmosphere. Fripp's electric guitar makes up the entirety of opener "The Heavenly Music Corporation", being used in both conventional and unconventional ways. There's a lot going on on closer "Swastika Girls" as well, with acoustic guitars and synthesizers weaving within each other, looped endlessly, while an electric guitar drones and sometimes even solos over the backdrop. Looking back on it, it was highly experimental for its time, and was one of Eno's first forays into ambient music. In all, the album is not only an enjoyable, relaxing listen, but it is also an important landmark in ambient and drone music.
Fripp and Eno Evening Star
Brian Eno is rightfully credited as one of the main creative forces behind the ambient genre, due to well-known records in his Ambient series and other escapades. Credit is also due to Robert Fripp, however, as his collaborations with Eno are a huge part of ambient's early development. At this point, it was known one could make a dreamy atmosphere out of ambient, as seen in Fripp & Eno's first record, (No Pussyfooting). This is also what the first side of this record does to excellent effect. However, when the second side rolls around, warm calmness gives way to tension and fear. Evening Star is one of the first, if not the first, time when such contrasting atmospheres were set side by side on an ambient palette, which understandably makes it a landmark record in the genre. It may seem somewhat primitive by today's standards, but this was a totally necessary evolution for ambient, and still manages to be a captivating listen even today.
From A Second Story Window Not One Word Has Been Omitted
Full Blast Risc
The name of this European free jazz trio is a bit peculiar before you hear them, but even the most cursory of listens will clue you in onto why they're so aptly named. Peter Brotzmann is the man who brought this together, and he does his thing on the saxophone near-perfectly throughout the runtime, but the real star of the show is Michael Wertmuller. Not only does he handle the drumming on this LP, which is complete with intricate fills and blast beats, but he also puts into use various electroacoustic techniques. While these techniques are sometimes used to bring a further unstructured and haphazard feel to the music, the only times the album ever feels structured is under the spell of these techniques. This is most notable on the second half of the record, which takes an even stranger form than the dissonant free jazz of the first. Throw in some truly excellent and imposing bass work by Marino Pliakas, and you have yourself one of the best jazz records of the year so far.
Full of Hell Trumpeting Ecstasy
Existential nihilism is a bit of a tricky thing to express musically without coming off as an "edgelord" or a "tryhard" so to speak, and if you were to just read the lyrics to Trumpeting Ecstasy, you might assume that Full Of Hell fits that bill. But, music gives lyrics their power, and it's no different here. Right from the get-go, the unrelenting explosiveness of the record becomes apparent, and so too does the deathgrind influence with that marvelous riff twenty-five seconds in to opener "Deluminate". Things rarely slow down from there on out, but when they do, it's used to fantastic effect, like the booming ending to "Gnawed Flesh". Things do come out of left-field a bit later on during the record, with some well-incorporated female vocals dominating the slow-tempoed penultimate title-track. Ultimately, the general vibe of malevolence towards our own species in brought across very convincingly, and the band almost easily produces another winner. And, of course, ol' Kurt's production does the job.
Funkadelic Maggot Brain
If you and your folks love me and my folks like me and my folks love you and your folks if there ever was folks that ever ever was poor. If your and your thing dig me and my thing like me and my thing dig you and your thing. And we, oh, we got a thing, yeah, and it's a very good thing. But if in our fears we don't learn to trust each other and in our tears we don't learn to share with your brother, you know that hate is gonna keep on multiplying and you know that man is gonna keep right on dying. The rich got a big piece of this and that, the poor got a big piece of roaches and rats. Can you get to that? Tell me where it's at. You want peace, I want peace, they want peace, and the kids need peace. There won't be no peace.
Future DS2
It's a general consensus within a number of (wrong) people that the use of auto-tune is somehow entirely and solely indicative of ones lack of talent and ability with vocals. What these people fail to realize is that if used properly, auto-tune provides quite the enjoyable aesthetic. That's why Dirty Sprite 2 is a good record: it's bursting at the seams with an addicting and insatiably fun vibe, helped along well by the use of auto-tune. If you're listening to this for lyrical ability, you're doing it wrong (That's not to say that a huge chunk of this record isn't immediately quotable, though). The real draw is the production, though, with its trap-influenced beats giving a very druggy feel to the whole thing. There's no shortage of bangers here, but there's also a nice bevy of relaxed, leaned out tracks too. DS2 is definitely worth your time if you're a fan of fun and entertaining trap-influenced hip-hop.
Future True Story
While signs of something greater for Future were first heard on his breakthrough mixtape Dirty Sprite, he didn't start realizing that potential until True Story. The problems that bogged down his previous effort are more than ironed out here; the inconsistency that so defined it being replaced with an impressive and static high quality. The production, while not featuring a triumph the likes of "Racks" was, matches this quality by constantly providing a hard-hitting, sometimes celebratory backdrop, complete with top-notch synth work and massive underlying bass. Future himself sounds insatiably hungry here, especially on an earth-shatterer in "Show Money", and his various deliveries and flows on each track keep things fresh. The features here slay as well, with Scooter, Waka Flocka Flame, and Shawty Lo all putting down some great verses. It's all part of Future beginning to enter into his own, and that makes this tape unmissable for any fans of trap.
After a blisteringly fast start to 2016, in which, depending on who you ask, Future continued or ended his massive run of quality material dating back to 2014's Monster, Future finally seemed to slow down somewhat. With FUTURE, he's right back at it again, sounding involved and lively over some unsurprisingly excellent production. Lyrically this album is far more street-centric than anything he put out last year, with some genuine bangers like opener "Rent Money", early favorite "Mask Off", "Scrape", and closer "Feds Did A Sweep". It has a bit of a throwback vibe to it as well, bringing back memories of tapes like True Story at many points throughout the record. The production, handled by the likes of Southside, Metro Boomin', Zaytoven, TM88, and DY, suits Future perfectly and effortlessly provides imposing and hard-hitting vibes while occasionally switching to a more subdued, even smooth sound on tracks like "Mask Off". It's good to see Fewtch getting back into his game, and hopefully this will lead to more great projects in the (possibly) near future.
Future Astronaut Status
By this point in his career, the hype around Future had reached critical levels. Everyone was waiting for his first studio album Pluto, a project which is alluded to on Astronaut Status many times, and while this tape may seem like a prequel to Pluto thematically and aesthetically, it's still very strong stuff. Before the Future we know today had that illustrious run of dark, nihilistic, codeine-addled mixtapes and projects, Future's image was pretty straightforward: he was the world's (or in this case space's) coolest trapper. The production and the lyrics here follow suit, with DJ Esco, DJ Scream, and DJ X-Rated throwing down those classic celebratory trap/party anthems while Future, charismatically and entertainingly, spits about the life of a trapper-turned-superstar. There isn't really even one bad track here, and songs like "Deeper Than The Ocean" (which is as much guitar-driven as it is beat-driven) and "Spaz On Y'all" (a massive and anthemic closer) give the tape some clear highlights. Basically, it's early Future at, if not his best, then only a shade below it.
Future Pluto
Officially having reached astronaut status after some very successful singles to promote the album, Future finally released his debut full-length record in Pluto and affirmed his role as one of Atlanta's golden children. The highs on this thing are at worst very catchy and anthemic and at best ingrained into the popular music spectrum of the time. "Straight Up" is the first of these and shows Future's penchant for addicting hooks and undeniable mic presence. "Turn On The Lights" is one of, if not the, best pop Future songs he has to his name, with his noticeable lack of a strong singing voice becoming one of the songs greatest virtues. Future always had another side to his partying, work-selling persona, but Pluto showed it to the world at large and made people realize there was much more to him that what appeared on the surface. Backed up by some solid and occasionally brilliant production, Future became a bonafide superstar with Pluto, a title he hasn't given up even today.
G Herbo Ballin Like I'm Kobe
At first glance, you understandably might think the Kobe that Lil Herb is referring to is Kobe Bryant. Alas, it is not the NBA star, but his late friend Jacobi Herring, who was affectionately known as Kobe to his friends. It's this type of self-aware cleverness that sets G Herbo apart from many of the rappers from the drill scene in Chicago. Lyrically, he's one of the best to come from the scene, and while that isn't saying much, it's actually quite the virtue for him. He paints a more vivid and grimy picture than many of his contemporaries, and though there's no shortage of absolute bangers with chant-worthy hooks here, there's also no shortage of introspective and sometimes even self-deprecating lines. He also has a great, hungry flow that coexists very well with the beat selections, adding to his huge presence on the microphone and solidifying an already good lyrical performance. Even though much of the drill scene is scorned by many hip-hop listeners (undeservedly so), it's guys like G Herbo that are keeping Chiraq a place well worthy of keeping an eye on.
G Herbo Strictly 4 My Fans
The hip-hop scene in Chicago has been one of the most captivating in recent years, not only with the music coming out of it but with the harrowing knowledge that all of these men do in fact live exactly what they say. G Herbo, for his part, has been one of the most captivating members of the scene, due to his uncanny ability to paint a picture of the city and give introspection whilst maintaining a ravenous delivery and blunt street talk. Strictly 4 My Fans sees Herbo continuing a sound similar to his last project, with a production style that shifts from soul-influenced trap to threatening drill bangers providing the perfect canvas for him. The one slower, sparser joint here is "Control", and shows Herbo with his melodic side, which he's got working very well. And aside from one tight Lil Bibby feature, (any time Herbo and Bibby are on a track it's bound to be awesome) it's all Herbo on this tape, unabridged. Thus, this tape is an easy winner. The promise of a debut full-length is exciting as well, and no doubt it will be great.
G Herbo Humble Beast
It seems crazy that Humble Beast is G Herbo's first album. Welcome To Fazoland and Ballin' Like I'm Kobe were two album-quality mixtapes, but his newest project is his first official full-length, and in classic Herb fashion, it's a very consistent, streetwise work that develops images of a tortuous gang life in the ruthless ghettos of Chicago. There's something that feels a bit old-school about Humble Beast; while he's always been deft at conjuring images, I don't know if he's ever told a story as well as he told "Malcolm", and the production gives a feel akin to the classic gangsta/mafioso rap, albeit with a modern sheen. Herbo's always been more on the "conscious" side of the spectrum when it comes to drill, like his partner in crime Lil Bibby, but this record sets him a bit more apart from contemporaries like Lil Reese (though not necessarily better, a different style most certainly). It's definitely a great debut, continuing the sound and quality of the two aforementioned mixtapes, but he's going to need to add a bit of spice to the formula if he wants to remain in the upper echelon.
G.L.O.S.S. Demo
Chances are, if you're a fan of punk, you've heard the name G.L.O.S.S. pop up a few times this year. Even if you're not a fan of punk, you might've heard of the controversy that Whirr started over this band on social media. Truth is, G.L.O.S.S.'s members have had to put up with homophobic and transphobic slurs their entire lives. And they are pretty sick and tired off all that noise, if this record is anything to go off of. Relentless hardcore punk riffs and drumming mix with memorable lyrics and an excellent lead vocal performance by righteously pissed singer Sadie Switchblade on this eight-minute hardcore punk demo, which is right in your face and right to the point. The whole thing comes off rowdy and rebellious, and minds are definitely spoken, which is exactly what a good punk record needs. Point blank, it's punk down to its very core, making for a great demo through and through. Needless to say, this will leave the listeners eagerly awaiting a full length record.
G.L.O.S.S. Trans Day Of Revenge
It's only been a little more than a year and a half, and the wonderful ladies of G.L.O.S.S. have already blessed us with six more minutes of the most pissed-off, violence-endorsing hardcore punk you're going to hear all year. It's a meatier, more well-produced and polished version of their debut demo, but that doesn't mean they skimp on the rawness at all. They still have an attitude that rings out as one of the most undeniable in the current punk scene, and listeners can still hear every ounce of frustrated passion they put into it. Simply put, just please give us a full-length soon!
Genghis Tron Dead Mountain Mouth
Cybergrind darlings Genghis Tron somehow make intense grindcore with programmed drumming mix well with electronic stylings, and not just little flashes or brushes of it either; they take some broad strokes with the digitized side of their musical spectrum, choosing to have fully fleshed out beats rather than some slight flourishes. It's a similar story with the grind side of things, where the bands rageful emotions mask how meticulously mapped out these sections are and how perfectly they segue into the electronic segments. That's what makes Dead Mountain Mouth a special album; spastic, cathartic grind seamlessly intertwined with half-delicate-half-driving electronic beatwork, all in a package only slightly more than a half an hour with no shortage in immediate thrills or easy-to-miss subtleties. There's little music out there quite like the ten tracks here, so if you're looking for an original and enjoyable take on cybergrind, look no further than this record.
Get Bent Discography
Get Bent was another one of those short-lived-but-full-of-awesome punk bands that write some of the best music the genre has. In Get Bent's case, this is their discography compilation, which is a tandem of their practically flawless debut demo and their solid sophomore demo, along with their contribution to the split with Jean Claude Jam Band and a bonus track. Musically, it is full of catchy indie-punk with a pop-punk aesthetic. The half-shouted, half-sung vocal delivery is lovely, and the bass on this thing is too fun not to mention. Lyrically, the album focuses on life experiences and questions, and there's no shortage of sing-along choruses and quotable shouts here. Basically, if you need some great pop-punk in your year, Get Bent has you covered and then some.
Ghost of a Dead Hummingbird Sin Forma
I like getting calls from friends rather than texts. It's just something about hearing their voice that gives me a strange reassurance. I suppose I'm happy I know I'm talking to a real person and I know that they're okay. It's like that if you worry about your friends' safety, even if you know they're probably perfectly fine. That's a big part of the emotion that goes into this album. A few moments on the album recount simple phone calls from a best friend and a girlfriend, with much of the sentiment of the record revolving around the feelings for these people, whether they be love, uncertainty, worry, or happiness. Musically, it's melodic hardcore-inclined screamo for the first six songs, and post-rock influenced screamo for the last four. It's nothing all that original, but it's just so well done. There's some subtle things, like the horn on "If You Need A Place To Stay" and the startling burst of energy on "Lover Boy (Balbo And State)", that keeps things from falling into monotony, and it's great these guys understand the importance of those nuances so early in their careers. Great stuff.
Ghost of a Dead Hummingbird Under The Ultraviolet Light
Last year, Ghost Of A Dead Hummingbird came onto the scene with a solid, albeit unoriginal piece of screamo/post-rock in Sin Forma. Lack of originality seems to no longer be a problem for the four-piece, though, as Under The Ultraviolet Light is a fresh and highly enjoyable take on screamo. It combines a gothic rock approach with a screamo base and a new wave aesthetic, and the results are quite good. It's pretty seamless in its combination, and the mixture of the genres manages to be quite tactful, and it's remarkable given how easily it could sound hackneyed. Needless to say, Ghost Of A Dead Hummingbird might be on to something here, and it's going to be interesting to see if this translates well into a full-length record. For now though, awesome jams.
Give Sonic Bloom
Of all the things to choose as an aesthetic choice, Give decides to have an obsession with flowers. I suppose that it serves as contrast, because their music isn't flowery as much as it Self Defense Family-esque hardcore with a particularly groovy edge to it. Despite clearly being influenced by the likes of the family, Sonic Bloom is a wonderfully executed and very fun EP that can be played again and again with little trouble. The standout moments include "Learning To Die", which has a guitar tone that has a distinct groove on it, and "Eat The Rainbow", as the bass is absolutely infectious as well as the chorus. In all, this is a pretty awesome little post-hardcore EP. If you enjoy the family in any capacity, check these guys out.
Give Singles Going Confetti
Singles Going Confetti conveniently collects all of Give's singles together on one disk, and if you don't know who Give are, they're the type of band that plays riffy hardcore punk/post-hardcore with an undeniable in-your-face interface and punk swagger. They may not seem like much right off of the bat; it took me several listens before it really started clicking, as the deceptive simplicity of everything can fool one into believing that few things are going on, but eventually it becomes apparent that that which is going on (the awesome, drunken vocals, the raw yet tasty production, and the tight, albeit simple riffs) is totally kickass. It's really as easy as this: there's nothing like hardcore with attitude, and seeing as how that's exactly what Give brings to the table and compilation has some of their best material, this is a noted jam.
Give Give
If you haven't been informed already, Give is an awesome post-hardcore group who've really been blooming these past several years, giving a marvelous full-length debut in addition to a few EP's and a rock-solid comp to the flowerheads of the world. This EP, simply titled Give, was where they got their start. There's just something so intimately human about every song here that gives them an undeniable charm. The compositions themselves may be above-average, but it's this feeling that at some point in your life you shared a room with these guys and they were just as normal as everybody else that makes everything really come to life.
Give Electric Flower Circus
One of post-hardcore's most underrated groups going right now, Give have quietly, yet professionally, built up a very nice little discography. With their addictive self-titled EP and their powerful compilation Singles Going Confetti acting as precursors to their debut LP both musically and aesthetically, the stage was set for Electric Flower Circus to be a winner, and win it did. Packed to the brim with awesome, often groovy hardcore riffs and passionately gruff vocals, along with a few of the catchiest moments the band ever blossomed, the record is everything that is enjoyable and captivating about Give without any frills or loose ends. The lyrics are bluntly forceful and get straight to the point, but have some pretty memorable lines here and there whether they be empowering or humorous. This is their most immediate work as well, as there isn't much trouble picking out and digesting what's going on musically, lending more credence to the motion that it is unequivocally Give's best work.
Gnaw Their Tongues Reeking Pained And Shuddering
A few releases into 2007, Gnaw Their Tongues was an already promising project. Although none of what the project had released until this point could be considered great, there were songs and moments that held the promise of something greater, more sinister, and more experimental than ever before. Reeking, Pained, And Shuddering is the first fulfillment of that promise. Perhaps the best representation of Maurice De Jong's growth as an artist is on closer "Transition". The song plays out like a visceral tour of Ed Gein's house, and builds towards a massive climax that you just know is coming after the ominous description of the discovery of a hanging body, but never comes. The tension is absolutely toe-curling in those final minutes. There are spots where explosive rage reigns supreme over tension, however. On a sinister, strangely melodic black metal assault in "Nihilsm; Tied Up And Burning", De Jong wails over some truly monstrous and evil tremolo riffs, the atmosphere burning with fire-like intensity and misanthropy. The first of several excellent releases under the project, Gnaw Their Tongues' second full-length is an ugly sight to behold, but a riveting album to experience.
Gnaw Their Tongues An Epiphanic Vomiting Of Blood
In the project's very prolific year of 2007, a clear line of improvement can be seen in each release. Yet, in the waning hours of the year, there still wasn't an album that fully realized this stark improvement in songwriting. Even the hellish Reeking, Pained, And Shuddering felt a bit jumbled, as though Maurice De Jong didn't know what direction to take the album despite performing each direction very well. Then An Epiphanic Vomiting Of Blood was released, and it was by far the most complete Gnaw Their Tongues project at the time, capping of 2007 with the statement few thought he could make at the beginning of the year. The album is entirely sure of its own sound; it's noisy avant-doom complete with shrill strings and unholy choirs yielding to unsettling black ambient before rising up to destroy once again. The difference here is in the details; the way the songs progress is more fluid and sensible than ever before and everything is placed, including the the samples, in the exact spot they're most effective in. The album also ends surprisingly, with the end to "The Urge To Participate In Butchery" being entirely uplifting and, dare I say, beautiful. An equally surprising and captivating send-off into the new year, in which more uncharted waters would be mapped for the project.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Goldfrapp Black Cherry
Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory make up the duo of Goldfrapp, an interesting and well known project that goes through several clear progressions throughout their discography. The first one, seen here in between their debut Felt Mountain and sophomore effort Black Cherry, was one of ambient electronic and trip-hop turned glam rock-infused synthpop and electroclash. The atmosphere here is pretty wafty and dreamy, especially on songs like the title track, "Tiptoe", "Hairy Toes", and "Forever". Allison Goldfrapp's vocals accentuate this atmosphere perfectly, and though most of the songs generally stick to the same formula and aesthetic, the album is pleasant enough to keep the listener satisfied throughout its runtime. The whole album remains pretty consistent in terms of quality, and while there is a lack of a standout track, you can rest assured that you won't be wasting your time if you chose to listen to the whole thing.
Gorguts Pleiades' Dust
Hailed as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, technical death metal bands of all time, Gorguts have simply been unable to do much wrong in their history, with their long-awaited comeback album Colored Sands being a rousing success. Pleiades' Dust is essentially a compact version of the aforementioned record, but it's quite good nonetheless. Cascading riffs, slow-burning soundscapes, angular and dissonant guitar playing, and a distant, alien feeling all permeate this thirty-three minute long EP, which acts as one, beautifully flowing piece that never feels choppy or unfocused. Some sections might feel a bit long-winded, but the quality of the EP remains pretty high regardless of what is transpiring during it. Basically, Pleiades' Dust exists to remind us who exactly is in charge here when it comes to this style of tech-death. Because, even after all these years, Gorguts still have it.
Gorillaz Gorillaz
Gorillaz Plastic Beach
Green Day Dookie
Though it was awesome to hear Gucci fresh out of the pen on Everybody Looking, one couldn't help the feeling that it wasn't quite up to par with what he is capable of. Chalk it up to a post-prison hangover if you will, but on WOPTOBER it seem like he's got it right and cured. It may be as icy as its cover in terms of production, but Gucci Mane is absolutely on fire here, sounding as hungry and ravenous as he's ever sounded since being released. While it's got an endless supply of entertaining bravado raps and an imposing microphone presence, especially behind some sinister beats like on "Hi-Five", Gucci gives way to some introspection as well, most notably on closing tandem of "Out The Zoo" and "Addicted", where he relates his past struggles with criminal life and an addiction to anything pleasurable. Simply put, if it wasn't official before, it definitely is now: Guwop is home, only now he's beginning to sound like it, which bodes very well for (very near) future releases.
Gucci Mane DropTopWop
It's amazing that an artist as prolific as Gucci Mane can still be creating high-quality material even after eleven years and hundreds of projects. Basically, the dude's an extraterrestrial more or less. Drop Top Wop is probably the best project he's released since being released, and it's not because it's a particularly flashy or even inventive. Rather, this is Gucci in his zone, spitting bar after bar after bar of streetwise and subtly clever lyrics while laying down great hooks in the process. This isn't just his release, though, as Metro Boomin' produces it with the seemingly endless skill he's become known for over the past few years. The production is actually quite minimal, living within the low end and consisting of a couple of synth or piano lines per song, but the vibe of the song is still brought across thoroughly, and thus, the album has a noticeably threatening and colder feel to it. Simply put, it's La Flare doing what he does best while Young Metro does what he does best.
Have a Nice Life The Unnatural World
Heaven In Her Arms White Halo
If the old saying is to be believed and "music is reflection of self", then the dudes that made White Halo must be nothing but volatile lightning balls of frustration, depression, pain, and inner turmoil. Because while a reductionist point of view would see this record as Envy with a splash of Deafheaven, Heaven In Her Arms make sure that this music amounts to more than that. That's apparent even from the opening riff cascades of "Abyss Of The Moonbow"; the oftentimes empathetically painful experience of this tear-filled combination of screamo, post-rock, and blackgaze with a dash of powerful vocals is able to affect the listener in a way that merely summing the album up to be a marriage of two band influences just isn't enough. Some of this stuff sounds like funeral songs fed through a screamo laminator and it's downright beautiful, emotionally potent music. Basically, you can call White Halo Envy and Deafheaven's child, but you've got to concede this child is more than simply an amalgam of his parents. It's got a consciousness of its own and it's damn wonderful.
Herbie Hancock Takin' Off
One of the greatest jazz pianists to ever live, Herbie Hancock appropriately named his debut Takin' Off, as it is regarded as one of the better debuts for an esteemed jazz artist. Yet, compared to later records in his catalogue, Hancock's debut is a conservative and pretty safe affair; conventional hard-bop with some slight modal leanings, but this does not mean it's a dull record. In fact, quite the contrary, as the quality of this album remains high throughout, with Hancock taking the lead on piano, setting up improvisations for both Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon, who man the trumpet and tenor sax respectively. "Watermelon Man" even shows Herbie getting his feet wet with a bit of funk, as the inherently bluesy style the album operates with works wonders here to create a post-bop masterpiece. It was a humble, yet very good, beginning for the man, and it's definitely worth a listen just because of that.
Herbie Hancock Speak Like a Child
In a way, Speak Like A Child is brilliant. Hancock stated that the record is supposed to illicit a childlike feeling of innocence and freedom, and in the case of the penultimate track, the loss of said innocence and freedom. It's no wonder then, that this record takes its cues from the simplicity of Maiden Voyage while leaving plenty of room for free-forming and improvisation, as is usually the case with his records. The record is imaginative, but confined so that it doesn't go off of the rails; it's like childhood in a way: there's not a whole lot you can do, but your mind is always at work regardless. The restrictions of the playing style here may not allow for total freedom or independence, but it still manages to feel vibrant and alive despite this. Most of the songs are piano-driven hard bop/post-bop numbers with some slight modal leanings, and Hancock as usual is phenomenal. It may not have a ton of really eventful moments, but it's still some very well constructed and conceived jazz perfect for reminiscing on easier, happier times.
Hiatus Kaiyote By Fire
Hiatus Kaiyote is a neo-soul quartet that makes some sublime stuff. If you want to see for yourself what they're all about, then this EP is the perfect thing. The title track is absolutely rife with interesting vocal/synth harmonies, fun drumming, and Nai Palm's wonderful, soulful singing chops. The final track, "Molasses", is a bit slower than the title track, but it is the catchiest song on the record, Palm's vocals are at their best, and the bass makes a more pronounced appearance as well. The song ends with the drums kicking it into high gear, and Palm repeating "Might not get any better..." before a final refrain of the second verse. It's a great showcase of the skills Hiatus Kaiyote possess, and it would be a mistake not to hear it.
Hieroglyphic Being The Disco's of Imhotep
An Egyptian-themed acid techno record sounds pretty hit-or-miss on paper; it could either be great or sound totally hackneyed. Hieroglyphic Being, thankfully, make sure it's the former on The Disco's Of Imhotep. The first thing you notice about the record is how intoxicating it feels, as the warm, fluid textures flowing forth from each song gives a hypnotic and almost euphoric sense to the music. This is exacerbated by the constant thud of the beats, which remain as the strong backbone on which the synths and bass can stand straight with. It's Egyptian influences are tacitly used with professionalism, allowing a steady drip of the sound to seep in without overwhelming it. While it's a bit inconsistent with minute-long tracks that don't really do anything, it's longer songs are truly excellent, and make this record a must hear for techno in 2016.
Horrendous Ecdysis
One of the leaders of the OSDM-revival movement, Horrendous have the appearance of a typical band in the scene, but execute their material the way OSDM-revival should be done: sticking to the roots of death metal while also branching out and seeing what ideas can click while still retaining that undeniable OSDM aesthetic. Ecdysis is truly where Horrendous began coming in to their own, offering a modern twist on the classic Swedish melodic death metal scene as well as the American death metal of the late 80's and early 90's. The production here is absolutely pristine; you can hear everything (even the bass) very clearly, but everything still has an organic feel that supports Horrendous' style of ebbing and flowing rather than just simply bashing your head in. The songwriting improved from The Chills, incorporating tons of influences from just about every death metal style you can think of and mixing them together to create something that sounds both reminiscent and new. It's been said before, but it's still true: Horrendous and bands like them make the whole OSDM-revival thing worth defending.
Howls of Ebb The Marrow Veil
The Marrow Veil is a peculiar beast. On paper, it's a death/doom metal album with sections of black metal and the occasional drone. In reality, all of these things are done in ways that are as unique as they are interesting. Everything on this record is remarkably thin for a metal record The vocals, drums, and bass are present, but feel almost weightless in some spots. In a genre such as this, these things are almost always detrimental. Yet, Howls Of Ebb somehow makes it work to a stunning degree. The guitars, for much of the record, don't even sound like guitars. They sometimes sound like, among other things, horns, keys, screeching birds, and buzzsaws. And yet, in each instance, you can still vaguely tell they are guitars, which in my mind is incredible. The atmosphere is like fire. It's not a smokey, raging fire though, rather being a slow-burning, incensed fire that is beautiful rather than destructive. It's quite the interesting record, one that I sincerely hope will be built on in the future.
Howls of Ebb Vigils of the 3rd Eye
The limbonic hymnal death metal masters known as Howls Of Ebb have really taken the genre by the throat these last three years, releasing a fantastic project each year and improving each time. Vigils Of The 3rd Eye did more than just establish Howls Of Ebb's strange take on death metal; it reminded those who love the genre that originality and progression were still completely alive in it, and that bands like these would see to it that that would never change. It's a weird, indescribable mix of tech-death, death-doom, blackened death, and broad dashes of avant-garde meticulously wound in to the sound. It takes what would normally be as a detriment to the genre (thin-sounding guitars, dry drums, a noted lack of "heavy"-sounding moments) and flips them on their head, turning them into strengths within a wild and incensed atmosphere. It's a shame they're only slated to release one more album, but it makes sense; these guys are a bit too "out there" to stay around for long.
Hozier Hozier
It's nearly been a year, and "Take Me To Church" has been mauled to death by every radio station I can think of at the moment. Yes, Hozier might be the newest "indie" (read: indie for radio-only listeners) act that people who don't know any better gush over as being original and groundbreaking, but forgetting all of that, he does put together a really good album here. He has a nice formula for his songwriting: on the bluesy numbers, a good riff and some soulful backing vocals is the norm. On piano-driven tracks, he subdues his voice before turning it lose later in the song, rather impressively. And on tracks were he mans the acoustic guitar, other instruments are slowly added to the mix until the songs' climax. The one thing they all have in common? They're catchy as can be. While "Take Me To Church" is the song that introduces Hozier, "Jackie And Wilson", "Sedated", and "It Will Come Back" keeps the listener returning.
Iced Earth The Dark Saga
Iced Earth Something Wicked This Way Comes
About three years removed from their lethal thrash/power metal magnum opus Burnt Offerings, Iced Earth was at an impasse. The direction they went in on 1996's The Dark Saga was to ditch most of the thrash metal and focus on the power metal sound they would soon become known for. The move received mixed reactions, even though The Dark Saga was received decently. On 1998's Something Wicked This Way Comes, they harken back a bit to the older, thrashier days, and to great effect. The three-headed monster that ends the album; "Prophecy", "Born Of The Wicked", and "The Coming Curse" is an obvious highlight, but slower songs like the heartfelt "Watching Over Me" get the job done as well, showcasing that Iced Earth can play all of their styles with professional level skill.
Information Flash Ego Murda Sound
Well what have we here? Released five days into the new year, Ego Murda Sound may end up as the album that set the tone for electronic music in 2017. I say this because of the many things Information Flash does particularly well, especially for a project just starting out. The songwriting and atmosphere here are some of the most pleasant I've heard in outsider house, combining danceable rhythms and catchy samples with a dark, chilled vibe that permeates the entire album. It combines IDM, jungle, breakbeat, and acid techno to create a melting pot of beautifully expressed outsider house, and makes the hour-long album length fly by in what seems like twenty minutes. Needless to say, this is some very fun house, but what is immediately enjoyable about the album pales to the intricacies and layers uncovered by repeated listens. All this said, Information Flash should certainly be a name to remember for fans of electronic, as this debut album is one hell of an accomplishment.
Ingrid Laubrock Serpentines
Free jazz is one of the harder genres to get into, and it's no surprise why. Dissonance, a chaotic feel to the music, and many things happening at once are just some things that make it a challenge. Ingrid Laubrock knows the ins and outs of the genre as well as anyone, and understands perfectly what one can do to make a free jazz record that is not only memorable, but a bit easier to digest as well. The clash between soft and loud is the main theme on Serpentines musically, as moments of tense, quiet jazz complete with drones are smashed to bits by intense flurries of improvisation. However, because of this dynamic and the presence of some recurring melodies, the music feels far more put together and at least with a baseline structure to it. The record sounds great, with each of the instruments receiving clarity, and the playing is impressive in its shifts between tranquility and dissonance. It's another avant-garde jazz record for the books for 2016.
Into the Moat Means By Which The End Is Justified
Jachna / Mazurkiewicz / Buhl Dzwieki ukryte
This year has been a good one for avant-grade jazz trios as Fire!, Full Blast, and now this Polish trio have released some excellent records. Truth be told, the best out of them is this. Composed spontaneously at a synagogue in Poland, Dzwieki Ukryte has to be one of the most subtle, nuanced, and delicate pieces of free improv the last decade has seen. It sounds as if it was pre-written, due to the sharp and careful way everything is arranged. The songs seem to have a backbone for the improv to dance over, and bookends "Dawny Swiat" and "Stacja Fordon" show that this backbone comes in the form of quaint drones and light percussion. It never sounds too boxed in either, allowing for fluid transitions and letting the bass and trumpet work freely. The sound of this record is quite great, as each note sounds organic and full, complementing the dark, smoky vibe it gives off from the get. It's quite the album to get lost into due to all of this, and is one of the best jazz records of 2016 as a result.
James Blake James Blake
James Blake is one of the more interesting producer-songwriters out there, at least in my opinion. He always seems to be trying something new, and even if sometimes his experimentation doesn't always pan out, he hasn't made the same record twice. This, his debut LP, is one of his best projects. The production here is decidedly minimal, but sublime nonetheless. The real focus of the record is his angelic vocals, which combine with the production to produce some pretty mesmerizing stuff. Take "The Wilhelm Scream" for instance: the production is ambient and subdued, and the lyrics consist of the same line repeated with small variations occasionally, leaving his voice at the forefront. It wouldn't be better any other way. Many people prefer Overgrown, but in my opinion, this record encapsulates everything that is great about James Blake.
James Horner Avatar
Jamiroquai Emergency on Planet Earth
Jen Cloher Jen Cloher
This has "potential underrated indie cult classic" written all over it. It's nice to see that this style of indie made up of a girl, her guitar, and her thoughts still maintaining quality even today, with people like Jen Cloher and Julien Baker being great catalysts. Jen Cloher is beautifully uncomplicated in terms of musicality, with simple-yet-gorgeous vocals and guitar lines. The record doesn't hold a hazy or drugged feel that plenty of artists in the indie scene are going with, but one would struggle calling it "clean" or "high fidelity". There's a focus on lyrics here that hold weight within them, letting the listener know you're listening to one genuine and heartfelt person. Her backing band does the job well, giving her compositions a bit of oomph when needed and never letting things get monotonous. It's got heart, charm, and some memorable moments, and sometimes that's all you need for a great record.
Jethro Tull Songs from the Wood
Jethro Tull are a band that requires no introduction, being one of the most recognizable progressive rock band out there. This album marks an interesting change for the band, as they shifted from a progressive rock style to an electric folk sound mixed with elements of hard rock and progressive rock. It is initially weird, but once things settle in with "Cup Of Wonder", the album becomes pretty easy to get into. With the classic "Hunting Girl" and the strangely catchy "Ring Out Solstice Bells", the band carves a further niche into the album, providing a lot of variety through acoustic guitar, audible bass, flutes, piccolos, and effectively subtle drumming. Perhaps the best instance of these instruments working together is on the eight-minute track "Pibroch (Cap In Hand)". Surely, Jethro Tull showcased throughout their career that they can play a wide spectrum of rock music, and this record is easily one of the most important and strong pieces of evidence to substantiate that claim.
Jethro Tull Stand Up
What is often heralded as the peak of bluesy first years of Jethro Tull, Stand Up is a practically seamless combination of riffy, catchy blues and dexterous, enthralling progressive rock. Whereas songs like opener "A New Day Yesterday" and "Look Into The Sun" are perfect examples of the former qualities, tracks like "Back To The Family" and "Nothing Is Easy" encapsulate the latter features. There are also a couple of tracks utilizing ideas and progressive qualities that are pretty interesting for their time. For instance, the flute-driven cover of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Bouree" is quite lovely, and the use of a mandolin in "Fat Man" further exemplifies the band's penchant for using unorthodox instruments in rock. In retrospect, Stand Up was the last album on which Jethro Tull played from blues rock roots, but it remains one of the best pieces of work the band put its name to.
Jethro Tull Thick as a Brick
Perhaps I'm in the minority here, but I personally find Aqualung to be Jethro Tull's magnum opus. Not that Thick As A Brick isn't a great record; it totally is, but the songwriting seems just a bit too meandering here for it to reach the level of its predecessor. The production is still great if nearly unchanged from Aqualung and Ian Anderson does his thing as good as he'll ever do it here. Though some of the ideas here don't lead anywhere, there's so many ideas that do that it almost doesn't matter. There's undeniably great moments here, like the middle-to-end of the second part of the title-track (the climax to the whole thing is very strong), that rank up there with the best of this proggy, folky version of Jethro Tull that would end up being their greatest period, so needless to say this is still a must-hear for fans of progressive rock.
John Coltrane Coltrane (Prestige, 1957)
John Coltrane was at an impasse after The Miles Davis Quartet broke apart, due in no small part to his crippling heroin addiction. He was instrumental in creating some wonderful jazz records, not only with Davis, but with Thelonius Monk as well. Thus, he decided to go on as a leader, releasing his debut on Atlantic records. It was, in retrospect, an excellent choice, as Coltrane features some truly mesmerizing and encompassing hard bop, not unlike the works he helped accomplished on 'Round About Midnight. "Bakai" is lively and seriously catchy, while the mellow "Violets For Your Furs" is rich with subtleties. Mostly, though, it's just Coltrane playing the sax in a fluid and flowing way, occasionally doing wild, unmatchable solos, almost as if in celebration of his newfound leader status. Overall, a very swell hard bop record, and debut, from one of jazz's greatest men.
John Coltrane John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio
Late 50's Coltrane was a pretty great period for the man, as it seems everything he was involved in during this time was at the very least a markedly enjoyable listen. Even if it wasn't seminal as others, John Coltrane With The Red Garland Trio is as well done and fun as a hard bop album could be. The chemistry between Coltrane, Garland, Paul Chambers, and Art Taylor is obvious from the get-go, as opener "Traneing In" sees each of them with solid interplay before having their respective moments in the spotlight. Things slow down a bit too on "Slow Dance" and "You Leave Me Breathless", but closer "Soft Lights And Sweet Music" absolutely scorches through its runtime, with Coltrane providing some quite speedy sax solos. It's another well-rounded and vastly entertaining hard bop album from Coltrane, who by this point must've been doing this in his sleep.
John Coltrane Soultrane
In the liner notes for Soultrane, Ira Gitler coins the term "sheets of sound" to describe John Coltrane's playing here. While it was not the first instance he'd used that style, Soultrane is a fantastic record for hearing this style very clearly and without interruption. Trane is absolutely blazing on this record, taking five pieces not of his own hand and taking them to new heights with his breathtaking performance. The Red Garland Trio backs him up, with Garland laying down a few great solos and Paul Chambers and Art Taylor providing a solid, malleable backbone. It really shows how comfortable Coltrane had become as a leader, really taking all of these compositions by the neck and never letting go save for isolated moments here and there. The rendition of Tadd Dameron's "Good Bait" is quite amazing, and hearing it, it becomes apparent just how phenomenal John was at the hard bop style, seemingly doing this stuff in his sleep. That he'd go on to make another classic within it after Blue Train is incredible, but make no mistake, Soultrane is one hell of a warm-up.
John Murphy 28 Days Later Soundtrack
In 2002, 28 Days Later took the horror world by storm with its frenetic action, paranoid atmosphere, and scathing commentary on the state of the world and human nature. That said, it would be much less of an experience were it not for John Murphy's terrifying, beautiful, anxious, and all-around gripping score. From the ominously threatening "Rage" to the adrenaline pumping "Tower Block" to the all-encompassing thriller "In The House - In A Heartbeat", it is clear Murphy knows how to get the juices flowing in the audience. That said, he also knows how to get the listener on the edge of their seat with ambient works such as "And Then There Were Two" and "The Search For Jim". Elsewhere, we see other musical artists appear, with Godspeed You! Black Emperor's "East Hastings", Brian Eno's "An Ending (Descent)", and Grandaddy's "A.M. 180", making this soundtrack a great listen for fans of the film and the music alike.
John Powell & Harry Gregson-Williams Chicken Run
John Williams Saving Private Ryan
Joy Division Unknown Pleasures
What more can really be said about Unknown Pleasures? It helped spark a massive subgenre in post-punk, and though it's probably cliche at this point, being hopelessly depressed had never sounded so catchy ever before. The drumming sounds like it was done by a machine, but it's all organic and expertly done by Stephen Morris. Ian Curtis would perhaps be seen as an awful frontman in any other genre, but I don't know if there was a better man for the job in this case. Simply put, for fans of this music, the pleasures are certainly not unknown.
Joy Division Still
Still is obviously a must grab for any self-professed Joy Division fan, but the reasons why are both obvious and subtle. The obvious: the first nine tracks are previously unreleased rarities that see Joy Division at their most bare this side of An Ideal For Living and show that they had a lot of punk spirit and songwriting talents at writing punk rock in and of itself. Not to mention that the live material here was the last Joy Division concert ever, and they even play "Ceremony" which is often credited to New Order. The subtle: that concert at High Hall on Birmingham University's campus showcases songs from their two full-lengths that sound more organic and human than ever, with the guitars much more upfront and the drums more hard-hitting. And let's not forget Ian Curtis' legendary live performances, which receive a nearly perfect (you can't hear him in the first verse of "Ceremony", unfortunately) documentation here. This comp, along with their own Substance compilation, are two of the most necessary compilations in post-punk, furthering the legacy of a truly wonderful band.
Joyce Manor Never Hungover Again
Joyce Manor's new record is pretty much what you would expect from them, just better. They definitely change up their style more often on this record, and though the record is pretty short at 19 minutes long, it is still a satisfying listen. The first four songs on the album are some of the best tracks Joyce Manor has ever written, along with "In The Army Now". Not one song overstays its welcome on this album, and all the ideas presented run their course with smooth quickness. Along with the personal and relatable lyrics, this record is surely one that shouldn't be overlooked this year, and is certainly a worthy addition to Joyce Manor's discography.
Joyce Manor Joyce Manor
One of the more successful bands to come out of the modern pop-punk scene, Joyce Manor has a winning combination of sloppy, youthful punk instrumental work with poetic lyrics and catchy vocals from lead man Barry Johnson. Though the material on this LP isn't wholly original or diverse, it still delivers some great pop-punk tunes in its seventeen-minute runtime. Things are very good right from the word go as "Orange Julius" provides an excellent template for the band to follow. This template is followed well, as the next eight songs are all good in their own right. It is the closer "Constant Headache", however, that is the crown jewel of the record, and is simply one of the best pop-punk songs I've ever heard. In all, this album is short, fun, sloppy, punky, and simply great.
Junius Meyvant Floating Harmonies
Hailing from the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago of Iceland, Unnar Gisli Sigurmndsson, known more famously as Junius Meyvant, has released a rich, engaging mixture of indie folk and chamber pop with Floating Harmonies. Among the first things one notices about the album, next to Meyvant's wonderful voice, is just how alive with instrumentation it is. Nearly all of the songs have these really vibrant strings that give a distinct boost to the already well-written pop songs, and the pianos and bass provide a strong backbone for the strings to stand on. The hooks here (especially on "Hailslide", my goodness) are all excellent, and the backing vocals add a great pinch of personality. The drumming is also pretty intricate for this style of music, which is always refreshing to hear. All of this combines to make a well-rounded, highly enjoyable debut full-length from a guy that one should definitely keep their eyes on in the future.
Justin Timberlake FutureSex/LoveSounds
Kaskets Waves Of Ashes
Blue Sky Black Death, at one time, were one of the best at creating atmospheric, lush, down-tempo hip-hop production, producing for a wide berth of artists in the genre, such as Deniro Farrar, CunninLynguists, Nacho Picasso, and Sadistik. I only mention BSBD because Kaskets, and Waves Of Ashes is largely the brainchild of 88 Ultra, otherwise known as Kingston, otherwise known as Ryan Maguire, who made up half of BSBD. The album sounds largely like a BSBD project, but instead of Young God, Maguire teams with Qreepz, a producer signed to Maguire's label, Ultra Glacial. It's dense, layered, expansive trip-hop/downtempo, and while it does rely on synth and piano lines a lot like other records Maguire has produced, the use of hip-hop samples, horns, lovely-voiced guest vocalists, and an atmosphere full of gentle wonder and beautiful force helps it not to be monotonous or boring in any way. Needless to say, no fan of Blue Sky Black Death or trip-hop/downtempo in general should miss this one.
Kauan Sorni Nai
Telling the tale of the mysterious and captivating Djatlov Pass Incident that killed nine hikers in 1959, Kauan puts their talents to great use when creating this seamless record. It sounds sprawling, complete with soaring vocals, post-rock passages, doom metal dirges, and beautiful strings and horns. The record's seamless nature is helped by the fact that each song flows directly into the next, creating one fifty-two minute epic of a track. In its heart of hearts, it's a post-rock record, so emotions and atmosphere are paramount. Fortunately, the band has that covered with an atmosphere that fits the story and the cover perfectly, and a range of emotions explored including hopefulness, hopelessness, wonder, and suspense. Musically, it doesn't do anything all that new or original, but it is executed with near precision. The point is, Kauan has released yet another great album in their discography, one that will duly reward the attention given to it through its wondrous sounds and story.
Kayo Dot Plastic House on Base of Sky
Does this new record from avant-garde giants Kayo Dot see them with their most reduced sonic palette to date? Yes. Is this record a logical expansion from their previous opus, Coffins On Io? Certainly. Is this album in any way accessible, following the trend of its predecessor? Of course not. This is a truly encompassing spin on 80's synthwave and gothic rock that, while definitely hinted at and explored somewhat on Coffins On Io, has never been more fleshed out or full of rich textures than it is here. And it's truly consuming. You know the cover art to Tycho's Dive? This album sounds like you're standing on that beach, staring at that sun, and hearing the wind whistle around you. Make sense? Probably not, but my point is it's a record that swamps you with its atmosphere and it works extremely well. I'm guilty of holding the opinion that sometime, someday, Kayo Dot will screw up. But, that day is not today, as Plastic House On Base Of Sky is another excellent record from the group.
Kendrick Lamar untitled unmastered.
It's only a compilation of unreleased stuff he made around the time of To Pimp A Butterfly's recording, but it's very well done. Only a few of the songs here are up to the task of fitting in TPAB's tracklist seamlessly, namely "Untitled 3"(the song which he performed on "The Colbert Report" last year), "Untitled 5", and "Untitled 8", but that does not make the rest of the material here unworthy to be heard. Musically, it sounds similar to the endless jazz and funk dynamics that peppered TPAB, and there are several moments on this release that carry very similar ideas and themes to the topics that record dealt with. Of course, they were ultimately more fleshed out later, but it's interesting to hear those thoughts in an infant form. And though it's not quite a release that anyone expected, it's still a pleasant surprise and definitely something to tide over fans until a new album is released.
Kiasmos Swept
On this EP we see the Icelandic duo create more of their trademark ambient, minimal techno and microhouse with a firm aesthetic and sound compositions. The songs here are driven by minimal beats, yet have beautiful pianos and short, repetitive buzzing synths that accentuate the atmosphere very well as they move in the ambience. The record sounds cold, but not in a detached or robotic way. Rather, it sounds like going outside during the nighttime winter and gazing at the stars. In general, this is a great ambient techno EP from one of the best in the business, so give it a look if you've got some time.
Kiasmos Kiasmos
There are a lot of things that can go wrong with trying to set up a cold atmosphere. The number one thing is if it comes across cold in an emotionless or robotic way (unless, of course, that is your intention). Kiasmos are a duo that know just how to avoid that, and make their cold atmosphere one of enchantment and blanketing comfort. In the case of Kiasmos, their self-titled debut full-length, the delicate melodies and textures lead to a shimmering and ultimately gorgeous atmosphere and sound. It works dually as background music and for attentive listening, as the minimal nature of the record is easy to listen to as well as having very nice songwriting subtleties. There are some surprisingly explosive moments here too, like the ending of penultimate track "Bent" that keep things fresh. It's quite the beautiful and well-written debut, and because of this and several great EP's, Kiasmos is a duo that is putting themselves at the forefront of microhouse.
King Woman Created In The Image Of Suffering
When Doubt was released in early 2015, it came with the promise that King Woman would be a project to remember, and that their debut full-length would be a statement. Now it's 2017, and Created In The Image Of Suffering has delivered on the band's promise while still showing signs of something larger in waiting. It's very organic, almost ethereal post/doom metal, with some fantastic production that gives the guitars a beautiful fullness and tone and gives the drums a nice punch (that snare tone is pretty great). Kristina Esfandiari puts together a marvelous performance vocally, as if she'd do anything but, and gives the record a noticeable personality. The use of some catchy refrains here definitely helps in that department too, with "Hierophant" and "Worn" being of particular note. It's also a wonderfully condensed listen, being under forty minutes but never feeling like it's missing anything or that it's cut too short. It's quite the debut full-length, and if they manage to improve on it they'd be putting out a possible modern post/doom metal staple.
Kodak Black Painting Pictures
I don't know about you guys, but I really enjoyed this. Kodak Black keeps on getting better, putting together tighter, more mature performances at every turn. Painting Pictures is a more commercialized effort than any of his mixtapes due to some heavily melodic tracks like lead single "Tunnel Vision" and while it's not quite as good as Institution, it's only a mere shade below. The first eleven tracks is probably the best stretch of music Kodak has released to date, and though the next five aren't nearly as good due to some awkward hooks and verses, the album ends on a high note with the last two tracks, saving the record from being too frontlogged. The production here morphs itself around the subjects and vibe Kodak operates with on a particular track; for instance, note the solemn, downtrodden production on "Side Nigga", a song about being relegated to second-best by the woman of his affections, or the haunting, booming production on "Why They Call You Kodak", a song about how he gained his nickname by being known as a shooter. Clearly, Young Kodak has a lot going for him musically still, and it will be interesting to hear where he decides to go after this commendable effort.
Kornel Kovacs The Bells
One would assume that producing multi-dynamical music in a genre as inherently repetitive as house would be a hassle, but Kornel Kovacs makes it all sound so easy. So much of The Bells is multi-faceted, due in no small part to the various styles employed here. "BB" gets things going with energetic funk and soul samples, gifting an incredible danceability to it, whereas closer "Urszusz" is largely tranquil and warming, allowing for a period of rest from the driving rhythms. The vibes the record gives are many as well. Tracks like "Dollar Club" are wondering and even slightly ominous, whereas tracks like "Dance... While The Record Spins" are fun and welcoming. The highlight of all this is "Josey's Tune", which mixes heartwarming melodies and playful synth work with a watery feel, thus managing to be one of the most vivid and lovely electronic tracks of the year. In a nutshell, Kovacs' debut full-length is a masterful collection of outsider house that combines it's deep house roots with funky house to excellent effect.
Kraftwerk Autobahn
Kraftwerk Radio-Activity
It is a staple of Kraftwerk albums that all the songs follow a central theme and contribute what ideas they can to it. A year before this album, that theme was roads and cars, and seeing how Autobahn was an excellent record, it would make sense to follow in its footsteps. Here, the theme is radiation, radio waves, and all sorts of invisible transmissions. Yet, the songs are decidedly shorter and more to the point than the songs on Autobahn. That's not to say, however, that this album is any less enjoyable. The title track has one of the catchiest Kraftwerk hooks around, and they even sometimes stray into ambient territory on songs like "Radioland" and "Ohm Sweet Ohm". Needless to say, it doesn't quite sound like anything else they've done, which is something you can say about many of their records. Oftentimes forgotten about in favor of other records in their discography, Radio-Activity isn't an album that was meant to be missed, especially if you enjoy some good electronic music.
Kraftwerk Computer World
Interpol and Deutsche Bank, FBI and Scotland Yard. Business, numbers, money, people; computer world. I'm the operator with my pocket calculator. I'm adding and subtracting, I'm controlling and composing. By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody. Another lonely night, stare at the TV screen. I don't know what to do, I need a rendezvous; computer love. I call this number for a data date. I program my home computer, beam myself into the future. It's more fun to compute.
Kraftwerk Electric Cafe
Though it's seen as a step far below their best records and even a fair bit behind their second echelon records, Electric Cafe is still the Kraftwerk you know and love, just a bit dialed back from their more experimental outings. In terms of songwriting, these six songs are all wonderful, with that simple-yet-elegant quality that came to define the band, and many memorable moments within them. Take "Techno Pop" for example; it's endless charm is only accentuated further by a catchy chorus and addictive synth lines. The theme of technology and human love and lust becoming hopelessly intertwined with each other reemerges on both "Der Telefonanruf" and "Sex Objekt", echoing "Computer Liebe" off Computerwelt and much of Die Mensch-Maschine. I personally find the way those electronic voices say "Electric cafe" during the track of the same name to be quite funny in an endearing way. Simply put, Electric Cafe is perhaps Kraftwerk's most underrated work, standing up with some of the group's best albums even if a step below the best.
Krallice Diotima
After rolling onto the black metal scene with their original, deconstructionist, hyper-technical take on the genre with their self-titled record and furthered that sound with Dimensional Bleedthrough, Krallice truly achieved everything those two records set out to do better than ever before with Diotima. The base sound is kept largely the same, but with more variation in the riffs and especially the vocals, which bassist Nick McMaster dominates with his low, seething growl. The songwriting applies some needed catchiness, especially in "The Clearing" and the title-track, and works wonders with hypnotic riffs and production stylings, like the manic compression in "Litany Of Regrets". Excellent build-ups and explosions of riffs permeate the tracks, allowing for breathers despite their large length. The best example of this is the ending of "Telluric Rings", which lures the listener into a calm before rocketing out the most emotionally-charged moment of the record, where the riffs pile on and the drumming becomes even more ferocious. In all, Diotima is Krallice's first truly great record.
Krallice Years Past Matter
As far as their old style goes, Years Past Matter is the pinnacle of that sound for Krallice. Taking the songwriting improvements seen on Diotima and furthering them, this is not only their most diverse album of their old style, but is also their most mesmerizing and consuming. They truly perfected everything they possibly could about their trademark sound, and adding influences from ambient doesn't hurt either. Everything they've went for since their self-titled debut has come to full fruition here, basically. I suppose there are "riffs" on this thing, but they're all a means to an end, as is the drumming, bass, and vocals (the latter of which are the best they've ever sounded, bar none). The end is, of course, an atmosphere of chaos made entirely of these textures and absolutely incredible sustained energy. It is a good thing that Krallice decided to switch up their style a bit on their next record, because their original sound met its logical and exhilarating conclusion here.
Krallice Prelapsarian
Krallice was once upon a time a band whose sound was so ridiculously technical and speedy and ever-flowing that any one of their songs on their first several records could induce a trance (in a good way). Their current sound is much more condensed and showcases more variety from a songwriting perspective, but the foundation and personality of past records is still there. On Prelapsarian, the band take to using different speeds and even throw in some quieter, more subdued moments like in the closing moments of both "Transformation Chronicles" and "Conflagration", concepts that simply weren't there on earlier albums. The riffs by both Mick Barr and Colin Marston are phenomenal here, and Lev Weinstein's relentless drumming is still top-notch, but the unsung hero of the record is bassist Nick McMaster, whose bass seems to have a mind of its own the way it flails about, but still interweaves with the guitars seamlessly. It's not quite on the level of Ygg Huur, but make no mistake: this album sees Krallice progressing their creativity even further than before to great results. space kitteh is pleased
Kuedo Slow Knife
It's always interesting and ultimately fulfilling to hear an album that can express a wide array of emotions, no matter what the genre. Electronic covers such a wide spectrum of sounds that the potential for this is limitless, yet it isn't tapped into all that often, as the music usually sticks to a certain specific feel or identity, and that's fine. Yet, there's something about albums like Stimming's Alpe Lusia and now Kuedo's Slow Knife that is endlessly captivating. The album starts out as a mysterious, yet oddly inviting album, using cold (but completely alive) synth work and influences from U.K. bass and footwork to create a compelling atmosphere. Yet, the album turns very tense and ultimately equal parts thrilling and terrifying by the time "Approaching" and "Broken Fox - Black Hole" creep through the speakers. It makes for a very enthralling listen from top to bottom, so if you're looking for some electronic that is idiosyncratic as it is engrossing, you can't go wrong here. Awesome stuff.
La Dispute Vancouver
La Dispute's first record, a thirty minute EP, can be accurately described as Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River: The Prequel. Though their debut LP that would make them famous is somewhat more experimental and conceptually interesting, there is a lot to appreciate on this record. For one, the riffs here are pretty nice, and the bass has excellent moments all throughout here. The sound lays the blueprint for the post-hardcore songs on Somewhere At The Bottom, but it also has its own identity too, as this is probably the angriest we will ever hear La Dispute. Jordan Dreyer's vocals are still raw, but sound a bit more conventional than they do on Somewhere At The Bottom. It is conceptually similar to the aforementioned record, dealing with the hardships a relationship in turmoil brings, though being much more straightforward on this EP. The EP's second half is a bit lackluster, but the first half is some of the bands' best material. If you are looking to get into La Dispute, this EP is a great place to start.
La Dispute Untitled
Though it may only be two songs, this EP from the polarizing post-hardcore quintet known as La Dispute showcases some truly great things about the band in its nine-minute runtime. Both of the songs are very good, and contain the most technically proficient guitar playing they've ever done at this point in their discography. With plenty of riffs to have things moving, there are also plenty of subdued passages that the band implements so well. Dryer's vocals are still very much like they were on Somewhere At The Bottom...(whether that's good or bad is up to the listener), but his lyrics are typically fantastic, especially on "Shall Never Lose Its Power", which deals with the troubles associated with faith and religion. Point is, this EP is really great for what it is, and would most certainly act as the perfect sampler for someone new to La Dispute's music.
La Dispute Here, Hear. III
This is where the Here, Hear series went from simple, almost-novelty-like spoken word with sparse instrumentation to a serious endeavor. You can tell right away, as this time around instead of the very minimalistic songwriting being used as background noise for Jordan Dryer's speaking, the speaking is now formed around actual, fully developed songs. The last two tracks here don't even involve spoken word and "Ten" features some of Dryer's harrowing screams in the background, truly driving home the message of the song through the emotion. The lyrics are all excellent, and this time around many of them aren't taken from poems or books, which also lends credence to the maturation of the series. It's everything that the previous two entries in the series could've been, and as such, it's a quite beautiful, heartfelt, and wonderfully crafted EP.
La Dispute/Koji Never Come Undone
La Dispute should do splits more often, given that not only are the band usually good on them, but whoever they're splitting with always brings it. It's the same with Never Come Undone, as while La Dispute's side consists of great minimalistic emo like "Last Blues", Koji's side really steals the show. The man's vocals are really great, and the melodies he puts to use, especially on the heart-warming "Biomusicology", are quite beautiful. The split is definitely towards the softer side of emo, but it remains emotional and engaging all the same. All in fifteen minutes, La Dispute and Koji deliver an excellent, evocative split.
Lantlos Melting Sun
LCD Soundsystem Sound of Silver
James Murphy is a multi-instrumentalist kingpin of the dance-punk genre, and he gained a lot of respect in the music world under the name of LCD Soundsystem. This album is his biggest draw. While his debut was certainly fun in some places, it was equally boring in others. Here, he cuts off the fat of his debut and refines his sound for the better. With dancier tracks like "Time To Get Away", synth-driven pieces like "Someone Great", exceedingly fun and a bit experimental songs like "All My Friends", and the beautiful "New York, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down", there is a lot to appreciate here. There are a couple of songs that stay a bit beyond their welcome, but for the most part this is a great improvement, and there are no tracks that are bad at all. It's a perfect album for having a good time, and is a satisfying listen in any case.
Lean Left I Forgot To Breathe
I think I forgot how to breathe for a second while hearing this record, during "Groove For Sub Clavian Vein", because that ending is too tense for words. Tension is the main theme of I Forgot To Breathe, Lean Left's first studio effort, and it's clear this trio know how to make a sweat-inducing, air-thickening atmosphere. Everything here is related to tension in a masterful way; with genre tags like free jazz and jazz-rock you'd expect something somewhat wild, but here restraint and carefulness reign supreme. There are very few explosive moments here, and these usually come at the beginning of tracks rather than the end, with songs that wind down instead of build up. Any time they seem to be building towards something massive, the group quells it with an almost sensual restraint and tenderness that is just as emotional and just as powerful. They'd almost guaranteeably make fantastic lovers, and who doesn't want some fantastic lovers in their life?
Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin II
Next time one of your older family members or friends says something along the lines of "today's music is nothing but filth", just point them to "Whole Lotta Love" and be confident that that song is as dirty as it is awesome. After the success of their (admittedly not all original) self-titled debut, Led Zeppelin II showed that the group were very capable songwriters in bulk and, like its predecessor, influenced a whole mess of bands popping up around that time. The mesmerizingly psychedelic "What Is And What Should Never Be", backing up the aforementioned opener, flows seamlessly from one progression to the next, so much so that it had been described sonically as "an arrow being pulled back and released." Who could forget "Heartbreaker", either, with its immediately recognizable riff and chorus? They'd go on to top this record with some later works, but one need not forget what helped them get to that point.
Leon Vynehall Rojus
Rojus is everything a great deep house record should be: silky, soulful, danceable, and brimming with lovely synth and beat work. It sounds wholly organic and the rhythms are contagious to the body. Leon Vynehall has always been at the very least decent at this style, but Rojus showcases a focused producer who knows how to transition and progress things with almost mechanical efficiency, while also being able to inject humanity and emotion into the music as needed. It's intimate, personal deep house that progresses so impeccably that it's hard not to enjoy. Take closer "...There's You" for example. The song starts out pretty bare-bones, but as more synth lines and instruments come into the fray, the song almost crescendos like a traditional post-rock song would. It's an interesting concept that is done with the utmost professionalism multiple times throughout the record. Ultimately, this is an album that should put Vynehall towards the forefront of deep house, as he's certainly one of the best and brightest the subgenre has to offer.
Leonard Cohen You Want It Darker
Well, he gave us what we wanted. I don't really know what to say. Nothing can really do the man justice. Thank you for this wonderful and touching parting gift. R.I.P.
Lianne La Havas Blood
Serving as an adventurous departure from her acoustic folk debut, Lianne La Havas' new record is a sublime mix of neo-soul and R&B, but while also retaining much of what made her debut so enjoyable. From opener "Unstoppable", these changes are apparent, with production taking cues from jazz and soul providing an excellent backdrop for Havas' beautiful vocals. On the majority, though, the record isn't as bombastic. Just take "Wonderful" and closer "Good Goodbye" for example. The latter of those songs is undoubtedly one of the best things Havas has created, using acoustic guitar, strings, and her evocative voice and lyrics to carry the song to heavenly heights. For someone wanting to get in touch with her roots, Havas spent months in Jamaica creating the record, and does not skip a beat despite this change in sound.
Lil Bibby Free Crack
If you're a fan of the drill scene, you've undoubtedly heard of Lil Bibby, or at least his partner in crime, G Herbo. These two have had similar mission statements throughout their short, yet successful and quality careers. For Lil Bibby, it began here, on Free Crack, with his unmistakable very deep voice and penchant for crafting songs sounding as if they were plucked from the streets of Chicago themselves. It's an interesting note, though, that while this mixtape is undoubtedly brimming with street music, Bibby himself says that it's not only meant to be that way: "This is for all my fans waiting for me to drop this. Everybody 'gon relate to it, it ain't just some block shit." In a way, he's right. Take "Stressin'" for instance, which hook raps "Ain't enough smoke in the world that help me ease my stress. Ain't enough lean in the world that help me ease my stress." Surely, whoever you are, you've probably felt that way at one point or another for any number of reasons. It's a pretty intimate drill tape because of these moments, and with excellent, hard-hitting, and even appropriately melancholy production from the likes of DJ Scream, DJ L, Young Chop, and Hit-Boy, Free Crack is a debut you shouldn't pass up if you're a fan of drill or even just hard-hitting hip-hop in general.
Lil Bibby Free Crack 2
Lil Bibby was but only nineteen when he released this tape, but no one would blame you if you thought he was in his late 20's. And that's not just because of his distinctive voice either; he embodies that "young body, old soul" persona as well as any rapper in Chicago, and Free Crack II might just be his finest work. Bibby was never a stranger to variety, but this tape shows the versatility he's capable of extremely well. There's drill bangers, melancholy streetwise tracks driven by piano or beautiful samples, and the odd melodically-inclined sing-rapping offering. Each track here is produced by a different producer, but the tape manages to be very cohesive despite this. Bibby's wide array of flows and unflinching, borderline nihilistic lyricism about the dangers of Chicago and the pain that it inflicts on the people within it are at a high level here as well, and all around it is truly a showcase of his talent and his potential and a very high-quality drill tape.
Lil Ugly Mane Uneven Compromise
Whereas initially Lil Ugly Mane was less of a serious project as it was a good-natured parody with some next-level production, here's where it became apparent just how talented of an emcee Travis Miller actually was. He'd shown flashes on MISTA THUG ISOLATION that hinted that he was greatly underperforming his actually skill level, and on Uneven Compromise, those hints were confirmed. His flow improved tenfold (although, again, it seemed he was playing up how awkward his flow was before), and the storytelling here is also very good. The production, as usual, was phenomenal, but it hadn't been paired with rapping of this caliber before except on isolated occasions. It was one of the first glimpses, no matter how quickly, into who Travis Miller was and is as a person, which makes it an interesting track to boot. It's a very, very good EP by a man who would craft an underground legacy that is still very much in motion today.
Little Simz Age 101: Drop Everything
The series of EP's called the Drop series by its creator Little Simz is quite the string of records, showcasing the grime-influenced production from her team and consistently excellent flows and cadences from the woman herself. Drops 1-4 are now all together on this compilation, and the clear progression from one Drop to the next is more apparent here than ever before. Of course, the standouts here come from Drop 2 ("Starry Eyed", "Peace Of Mind") and Drop 4 ("Top Down", "Guess Who"), but each song is pretty swank in and of itself. These also act as natural precursors to her breakthrough record, A Curious Tale Of Trials + Persons, showing not only how Simbi has improved on all fronts (lyrical ability, flows), but how the production made a gradual shift from being spacey and a slight bit disconnected from Simz to becoming more conventional hip-hop without sacrificing the aesthetic or atmosphere that it originally worked with. Truly, this series of EP's was entirely necessary for Simz, and now they can be heard seamlessly one after the other with this release.
Loma Prieta Life/Less
Out of the first three (in three years) Loma Prieta records, I find Life/Less to be the most enjoyable. This is due to the notion that, while the songwriting is as concise and solid as ever, the production is heavier than hell and really makes these compositions explode. The bass churns beneath volatile drums and a pained vocal performance, and the guitars alternate between intense hardcore riffing and melancholy, saddened lines. The music borders on grindcore many times throughout the record, but it's not all just one-note either. The piano that comes in on "Closelessness" and the vocal crescendo of closer "Apparition" betray a subtlety in the songwriting that shows the band continuing to mature, coming closer and closer to that perfect marriage of careful, crafted songwriting and impassioned, youthful performances. Long story short, it's seventeen minutes of awesome screamo from a band that would only continue to improve, and if that sounds as enticing to you as it does to me, get on it.
Loss Horizonless
After six years in hibernation, the Tennessee beast known as Loss has reawakened to wreak havoc on the death-doom world once again. There's so much to appreciate about Horizonless, but perhaps the most noteworthy thing is how much more accessible and digestible it is compared to other bands of their ilk like Esoteric or labelmates Fuoco Fatuo. Sure, the slow-paced meteor shower of half-melancholic-half-eerie riffs, rumbling vocals, booming drums, and strangely clean and audible bass is present throughout much of the album, but a break in the form of almost ambient, tone-setting tracks really give the listener a moment to un-flatten themselves and prepare for the next round of doom. Thus, while the songwriting may be strong and the performances tight, the real virtue of the album lies in its pacing and its structure. Hopefully the people of the world won't have to wait as long for the next one, but if it's anywhere as good as this one it will be a wait well worth it.
Lost Salt Blood Purges Only the Youngest Grave
Ambition is always something to respect and hold dear when it comes to music. Without it, it wouldn't have the ability to progress as it does today. Yet, too much ambition can cause records to be crushed under their own weight. Ambition overload, pretty much. Good artists know that a steady diet of ambition is better than an overhaul of it, and for how young this project is, it is remarkable that that notion is understood so well. A mixture of noise, ambient, drone, neofolk, post-rock, ritual ambient, and even sprinkles of jazz seems like it'd be a lot to take in, especially over the course of one hour and forty minutes. Yet, the record is never overtaken by its own desire to experiment, and hits close to home just as much as it alienates. Sometimes the compositions meander about within themselves for longer than is needed, but overall the album doesn't suffer from trying to do too much or from being all that long-winded. As such, the album connects with the listener, comforting them in the first half, disturbing and alienating them in the second, and ultimately making them feel in touch with the sounds, both inviting and threatening all the same.
Mad Professor Dub Take the Voodoo Out of Reggae
This album is a collaboration between two of the most important figures in dub music, Mad Professor and Lee "Scratch" Perry. What you'll find on this album is an array of different textures and emotions all confined within the relative simplicity of dub. It's swirling, featuring some synths, as well as the classic island instrumentation that everyone knows and loves. It may be a bit samey, but songs such as "Cheerful Dub", "Bounce Boy Dub", "Mystic Powers Of Dub", and "Dub Connection" make this collaboration album one that deserves to be heard. If you like dub, or even just reggae, check this one out.
Mantronix Mantronix: The Album
Mantronix is a duo made up of rapper MC Tee and DJ Kurtis Mantronik, who despite their short seven year career managed to be a influencing factor in the budding genres of hip-hop and electro. The album is half old-school hip-hop rhyming and half driving electronic beats that were pretty ahead of the times in the mid-80's. With classic cuts such as "Bassline", "Needle To The Groove", and "Get Stupid Fresh", Mantronix created an early yet effective blueprint for both hip-hop and electro, and certainly the combination of those two genres. It's deceptively simple, in both style and execution, but don't let that fool you: there is a lot of interesting sounds to be taken in here, and really provides an immersive look into what hip-hop and electro were during the early-to-mid-80's. It's an essential listen for fans of both hip-hop and electronic music, especially if you're a fan of the old-school versions of each genre.
Martin Kuchen / Johan Berthling / Young Noble Threnody, At The Gates
There are a metric ton of free jazz albums out there that focus on dichotomies; loud against quiet, experimental against conventional, et al. Yet, a large lot of free jazz works are all about the relationships between the sounds being made, between the instruments and those who play them. In this sense, Threnody, At The Gates is a very interesting record. The songs are made up of little more than atonal saxophone lines that are decidedly restrained going up against double bass and wild drums that are both very audibly being played to the breaking point. Every time the drums or the bass threaten to take over the song, in comes more improvised sax. It's almost as if the drums and the bass are raucous children, and the sax is the tired mother reminding them to be quiet. Needless to say, this record is truly a class display of interplay, and as such is one of the best jazz records of the year so far.
Marvin Gaye What's Going On
Massive Attack Protection
When people talk about Massive Attack, usually only two albums tend to come up in conversation: Mezzanine, which is glorious perfection of craft, and Blue Lines, which was the enthralling beginning to trip-hop. People often forget about or overlook the link between those two records, which is Protection. Musically, it is a pretty tight affair. The first seven tracks are decidedly minimal, which establishes the link to Blue Lines, but the last three, including a live cover of The Doors' "Light My Fire" are all much more expansive and large in scope, foreshadowing Mezzanine quite nicely. As far as album highlights go, the opener/title track is an undeniable trip-hop masterpiece, and the mesmerizing and oddly catchy "Weather Storm" is another wonderful track. In all, it's an always good, sometimes brilliant, and fairly influential piece of trip-hop, one that unfortunately tends to be an afterthought.
maudlin of the Well My Fruit Psychobells... A Seed Combustible
My Fruit Psychobells... was my formal introduction to motW, and by the fiends this album is good. Compositionally, this album is a pretty avant-garde take on progressive metal, with influences coming in from death metal, doom metal, jazz, post-rock, and art rock. The songwriting is quite fantastic, as the music ebbs and flows organically and goes through many interesting and gratifying progressions. "Undine And Underwater Flowers" is perhaps the best example of this, using a nice, middle-eastern-sounding bass solo before segueing into one of the most beautiful sections of post-rock I've ever heard. More instruments and vocals are added into the mix as time goes on, and by the end of the song the feeling of content is undeniable. The album is hindered a bit by its shortly production job, but that's pretty much the only thing wrong with the album from a sonic standpoint. Overall, ...A Seed Combustible is quite the beginning for one of the most forward-thinking bands metal has ever seen.
Maxo Kream Maxo 187
The smiling man on this cover is Maxo Kream, a rapper that in sound is comparable to A$AP Mob, but with a distinct Houston style to him that solidifies his authenticity, is one of the leading faces of the present hip-hop scene in his beloved hometown. Rightfully so, as this record is full of menacing, high-energy, and admittedly very fun hip-hop with heavy trap influences. From the fantastic production heard on tracks like "Thirteen", "Paranoia", "Sold Out", "Murder", and "Endzone", it's evident Maxo has the perfect backdrop for his rhymes about his daily life as a gangbanger. He may not be the most lyrical rapper, but he does drop some gems on the record, as well as having a very confident charisma and flow. Overall, an excellent outing from one of Houston's best up-and-comers.
Maxo Kream Quiccstrikes
If you're a fan of the Houston hip-hop scene, you don't have a choice but to love Maxo Kream. He's been holding the torch for the scene since this tape, which established him as one of the most imposing men in trap and one of the best storytellers in the subgenre as well. QuiccStrikes sets up the sound which he would work with even now; sinister production setting up a backdrop for detailed stories of criminal misdeeds and related gang activity. It's somewhat rough around the edges compared to his later work, but the potential here is truly massive. The features do decently enough, but Maxo routinely outperforms them with his bag of various flows and devilish delivery. There's a marked chopped and screwed influence here as well, but it's used in a tasteful manner. The quality of the songs remains pretty static throughout, but the lack of a true standout track hurts things slightly. It's a wonderful tape, though, and Houston, as stated before, is in good hands with him.
Mayday Parade A Lesson In Romantics
Meshuggah The Violent Sleep of Reason
The Violent Sleep Of Reason is a deeply Meshuggah album with all of the polyrhythmic djent-y fun and intensity you would expect. Pushing the envelope? No. But it still goes to show you how no one does it like Meshuggah can do it, and they sound as lively and as groovy as they have in years. It essentially exists to remind everyone who top dog is in this little genre, and how far ahead they are of their peers. And even ignoring all of that, it's a pretty sweet album on its own merits. It sounds absolutely phenomenal, with each instrument given just enough clarity to be heard, but the rawness of the sound retained as well. The songwriting isn't necessarily anything new, but it remains at a very high quality despite this due to the fact that Meshuggah. Basically, it's Meshuggah doing Meshuggah in the most Meshuggah way, just better than they have in a bit. Meshuggah.
mewithoutYou A to B: Life
I'm sure at one point in each of our lives we've had our heart broken. It's just one of those things that happens more as a result of time and unforeseen occurrences than anything else, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with when it does happen. Eventually those wounds do heal, some more uneven than others, but at the initial point of fracture, you wonder if there's any hope of repair. [A-->B] Life is about that initial point and the days, months, and even years afterward. Musically, it's the culmination of what mewithoutYou had been working towards in the years beforehand, with a seamless mixture of post-hardcore, indie, and art rock with an emphasis on intimate vocals and lyricism but no shortage of memorable riffs or basslines. The production works in a strange way; the guitars sound kind of thin, especially for this style of music, but it's oddly fitting in the overall sound of the record. It's quite the full-length debut for the band, and they'd only get better from here.
mewithoutYou Catch For Us the Foxes
One of the most famous indie/post-hardcore bands around, and for good reason, mewithoutYou consistently puts out records right from their hearts. Catch For Us The Foxes, their sophomore full-length, may just be their most consistent record out there. It doesn't have something as breathtakingly incredible as "Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt", but all of the songs here are very high quality, featuring beautiful riffs and leads, a nice bass presence, fluid drumming, and of course Aaron Weiss' amazing vocal and lyrical performance. Struggles with God, love, depression, and suicide are all dealt with with the utmost tact, and the truly palpable emotion in every line is a marvel. The lack of a true standout track does hurt things slightly, but when the songs are all as good as these ones are, it lessens that blow quite a bit. A beautiful album from a beautiful band.
Mick Jenkins The Healing Component
Mick Jenkins likes his projects to form around a central theme. The Water[s] concept was easy enough to grasp, but what's dealt with on The Healing Component? The overarching theme here is love; love for yourself, love for one another, love for pleasures, and the dangers of love for money. While that's not exactly a topic rarely touched on, Mick's approach to it is stunningly well-done. With production that is smooth and clear, and yet intricate and shifting, Mick is able to tell his carefully-crafted stories of how he has come to embrace love and how it affects his and the people around him's lives with ease. Though the production may be mellow for the majority of the record, Mick prevents it from becoming a boring affair by switching up his delivery, sounding laid-back and almost stoned on one song and then incensed and frustrated on the next. The guest spots here all do wonderfully, and Mick even showcases some really good singing chops on a few tracks here. All of this and more is what makes The Healing Component a fantastic hip-hop album. Oh, and the kids name was "Rocket".
Migos Culture
After the return to form that was YRN 2, it seems Migos want to keep on their upward trend. And with several excellent singles preceding it's release, including the rousing success of "Bad And Boujee", the likeliness that Culture would continue this upswing was high. It's certainly made good on its promise, because this may be, pound-for-pound, Migos' best effort since 2014. They're a different group now than they were then, though. Tightened performances and a better ear for flows and melodies are the name of the game here, and though they may have lost some of their youthful rawness and energy, that doesn't mean this isn't an entertaining album. The production is pretty excellent for the most part, giving their sound that patented celebratory nature and dishing out some nice bangers along the way. The guest appearances are a bit hit and miss, but Gucci Mane and Lil Uzi Vert do an expectedly great job on their verses. Overall, it may not quite be up to the level of their earlier mixtapes, but it's definitely still a worthwhile project.
Mikey Erg Tentative Decisions
Mike Yannich, more famously known as Mikey Erg, is quite the busy man. From his haven in New Jersey, he's been able to create some of the best modern punk music around, even back from his time with The Ergs! and more recently with the immortal House Boat. His debut full-length, Tentative Decisions, is exactly the type of pop-punk (with heavy emphasis on the punk) we've come to know and love from him and the many great people around him. And even still, not a moment goes by on the album that is not high quality or very enjoyable, even though it doesn't throw a curveball. It's simply no-frills, catchy, relatable punk with the discernible blue-collar sound that makes this style so thrilling to listen to. Also, my mothers name is Julie, so "An Abundance Of Julies" is the perfect song for her. Thanks, Mikey. You make making playlists easier.
Miles Davis The New Miles Davis Quintet
It may not be the most noteworthy thing in Davis' catalog musically, but man is it smmoooottthhhh. However, Miles is one of the more noteworthy releases of this period of time because of who performs on it; yes, it was the first recording of The Miles Davis Quintet as we love them: Davis himself, John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Red Garland, and Philly Joe Jones. It was also the first time Coltrane was on record, and while he was light years behind what he'd eventually end up penning, he was still quite good, really sounding at home during the faster numbers. Everyone gets a chance to shine here, but two members here stand out: Davis and Chambers. Davis billows away in that classic mid-50's tone that made him famous, while Chambers keeps everything in line and even goes off on some small, tasteful tangents here and there to keep things fresh. It's a landmark record personnel-wise, and musically it's some of the smoothest hard bop of the era, so it's delicious.
Milo So The Flies Don't Come
If it's one thing I can appreciate about Milo, it's that he's been working tirelessly since his debut to perfect his craft, and for the most part he's been quite enjoyable. On his newest record, he lyrically sounds like a mix between Earl Sweatshirt's introspective raps and Aesop Rock's intelligent lines, with a voice reminiscent of the former. Yet, the sound is distinctly Milo's, as he coexists wonderfully with the abstract and jazzy production, and sounds ultimately pretty comfortable within it. The guest spots are decent, and the album manages to remain at pretty much the same quality throughout, "Souvenir" and "Going No Place" being the highlights, the former having some truly clever and rewind-worthy lyrics, and the latter being an evocative piece leaning on beautiful production. It's a short listen, but there's stuff to digest lyrically, while also being a pleasant listen production-wise. Ultimately, Milo continues his foray into abstract hip-hop, sounding better and better as he goes.
Milo Who Told You To Think?​?​!​!​?​!​?​!​?​!
The self-aware irony of saying "why's your favorite rapper always babbling about his brand again, like we asked him?" and then saying "ruby yacht forever and ever and ever" is delicious. If there's one thing Milo is good at, it's being self-aware. Who Told You To Think??!!?!?!?! is probably his best work, because while his rapping and flows are slightly better this time around, the production is more focused and fleshed out than So The Flies Don't Come, which was a well-produced record to begin with. Jazzy, cloudy, and occasionally even glitchy, this production is the best backdrop Milo's ever had for his witty lines and his contemplative, albeit stoic, delivery. He seems to have brought out the best in his features as well, with each of them fitting in with the sound perfectly and bringing some tight lines with them. All of this comes together to result in one of the best hip-hop albums in this style this year, and thus, should be on the listening list for many.
Ministry The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste
It's on this, their fourth album, where the Chicago-born band came into their own and started testing the waters of their vision of more guitar driven industrial music. Along with Godflesh's Streetcleaner, which was actually released in the same month, The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste provided the foundations for industrial metal. It's all here: a militant, forceful sound, oddly catchy choruses and riffs, lyrics dealing with all sorts of human depravity, and professionally placed samples. Officially, Ministry is a duo on this record, but they got help from and gave deserved credit to many more excellent musicians along the way. On another note, the song "Test", which features fully rapped verses and hooks, was pretty influential in the budding genre of rap metal, almost acting as a spiritual precursor to the famous Public Enemy and Anthrax collaboration "Bring Tha Noise". Truly then, with this record, Ministry became a band worth putting some stock into.
Ministry Psalm 69
The album known to most as "Psalm 69" is a ravishing accomplishment by Ministry, and as a result is some of the band's best work. With the route they took here, it would've been hard for it not to be. All the aggression that made records like The Land Of Rape And Honey so thrilling to listen to is harnessed in full, but instead of leaning on synth-driven EBM explosions, the music is instead driven by thrash metal riffs courtesy of one Mike Scaccia, furthering the evolution that The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste set into motion. The samples that permeated their works are used with tact here, and the vocal performance by Al Jourgensen is one of the best of his career. Of course, the focal point of all this is bassist Paul Barker, who not only handles the bass, but all of the delicious drum programming and sample work as well, giving the record it's cold and defiant atmosphere. Put simply, Ministry drilled home one of the best releases in the industrial metal scene with "Psalm 69".
Ministry Dark Side of the Spoon
It's of common belief that both Filth Pig and Dark Side Of Spoon signify a weak point in Ministry's discography, but one could say that they're seen as such because of critical reception around the time of release, when pundits were upset they weren't Psalm 69 part the second. This album is another heroin-addiction-fueled outing, but rather than blind rage and a murky sound, the album is full of indifference and passiveness. This extends to the music, but certainly not in a bad way, as the songs are wonderfully crafted. They pulled from nearly all of their previous albums sans With Sympathy, but the shining moments are the slower ones. Those songs are usually pretty minimal and repetitive in nature, but what they're repeating sticks in your head and is pretty enjoyable to listen to. All in all it's the second of Ministry's albums to be woefully underrated. How many bands have multiple albums that are woefully underrated?
Miss May I Apologies Are for the Weak
Moby Animal Rights
You may remember Animal Rights for being Moby's punk album, and while it's commercial and critical shortcomings led to Play, a smorgasbord of excellent music spanning the contemporary electronic spectrum, the album is still under-appreciated. It's punk, done a bit more synthetically when it comes to the drums and bass, but the guitar and Richard Hall's voice are both organic and lively. His vocal performance absolutely steals the show here, as it's so vested and authentic that's it's hard not to fall in love with it. The compositions are pretty standard fare for what genre they're in, but there's enough genres covered (punk rock, alternative rock, industrial rock, ambient) that nothing gets stale. It's also punk as hell in ethos; nobody but Moby even thought he could do this, and his record label sure didn't want him to, but went and did it anyway because that's what he wanted to create. Really awesome stuff, very underrated.
Moby Play
There's a sense of comforting familiarity that makes itself known almost immediately when Play begins. Sampling famous delta blues songs and fashioning them into breakbeat and downtempo is but one aspect of the greater formula Moby puts to use here; things that are not necessarily original on their own come together and are arranged in a way that make them seem fresh and familiar simultaneously. It's a landmark record for contemporary electronic music for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest is that it turned an underground sensation more based in acid techno than anything in his early days into a bonafide pop star, if only for a short time, which had rarely, if ever, happened beforehand. There are highlights spread across the map here, and while a couple of duds pop up here and there thanks to some shoddy sampling work, most of the sampling and songwriting is very good. It's not the most sophisticated work of electronic music out there, but it is a classic in the genre for a reason.
Mount Eerie Sauna
I've always been interested in people that are in touch with their surroundings as much as they are in touch with themselves. It's this sentiment that makes Sauna an engrossing listen, as the sparse, lo-fi eclecticism of the record is just flowing with these vibes. Even from the opener, "Sauna", in which a drone swirls around a recording of a crackling fire, the atmosphere is excellent. The album is an interesting mix of lo-fi indie folk, drone, and small hints of black metal and ambient. Therefore, though the atmosphere is sparse, it never becomes boring or a chore to listen to. There is plenty of experimentation here as well. The vocals here are soothing and comforting, and the use of female vocals in a few of the tracks is a nice touch. The lyrics are about relatively simple things, but they are put together in such a way that you get to appreciate the significance of each of them. Overall, a great album from Mount Eerie that should be heard by indie fans everywhere.
Mount Eerie No Flashlight
It's always been one of the things on my bucket list to spend a few days in the boreal forests and get to see the Aurora Borealis at least once. I've heard it's a pretty amazing experience. But until then, I'll have to settle for Phil Elvrum's music, because it's probably the closest thing to spending some nights in the woods with only your natural surroundings and yourself to reflect on without actually doing it. This, his first album under his Mount Eerie moniker, is a pretty ambitious experimental folk album. The backbone of everything is his almost stoic, beautiful voice and his woodsy guitar playing. Add some noise, pianos, backing vocals, intermittent electric guitar moments, and an outdoor ambience, and you've generally got what this record can sound like at any given moment. Things are always happening, even if the sturdy rock the album is formed on is cold and chilling. In all, an intimate and enjoyable record thats marks the beginning of Elvrum's chapter as Mount Eerie. Oh, and the lyrics are pretty great too.
Mr. Bungle Mr. Bungle
In 1991, Mike Patton, Trey Spurance, Trevor Dunn and co. were hell bent on giving you a tour of their carnival. You undoubtedly know a little bit about this carnival already; that it's flashy, loud, fun, and outlandish, even if a bit amateurish. Beneath the surface, however, lies something more sinister than they initially show you. I mean, just look at these lyrics. The topics covered include domestic violence, pornography addiction, various taboo fetishes, heavy drug use, animal cruelty, and even the meaninglessness of many aspects of life. Carnival doesn't sound too fun now, does it? They want us to know: life is like this carnival. It's this strong emphasis on thematics and concept that lets us know, while there was undoubtedly some immaturity in the songwriting and pacing of the record, that Mr. Bungle was a band ahead of their years. It would only be until they perfected their craft that the full realization of that notion would be made.
Municipal Waste The Art of Partying
Municipal Waste has always been one of the more well known bands in the crossover thrash genre, and for good reason. They have a tongue-in-cheek approach to their music that makes it known they're just here to thrash and have fun. And that is exactly what they do. This, their third full-length, is ridiculously fun, even if it is a bit predictable. There's nary a break from the furious pace on the record, but it's just short enough to not completely bury you in its aggression. The drumming is particularly good, and while the guitars might be pretty standard for the genre, they're still very solid. The bass is audible occasionally, and when it is, it's very fun to listen to. There's not a song on the record that isn't at least decent, and with a couple of standout moments like "A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Destroyer)" and "Sadistic Magician", you've got yourself a very fun and satisfying crossover thrash release.
My Bloody Valentine Isn't Anything
For those of you whose only dealing with My Bloody Valentine was their 1991 shoegaze/dream pop magnum opus Loveless, the groups debut LP, Isn't Anything, will be an entirely different beast. Here, we see the band experimenting with their sound and seeing what works. You'll hear glimpses of what they would eventually become, but you'll also hear the band as you've never heard them before. It's not too noisy, but the are still veils of texture around most of the songs that are pretty interesting to hear, and with the band's inherent catchy pop sensibilities, you essentially get a prototype of Loveless, only with so much more substance and value than that description would have you believe. Yes, there is a lot of experimentation, but it's not like the band is just throwing things against a wall to see what sticks. It's a varied and fun release that is definitely worth your time if you enjoy experimental rock.
My Bloody Valentine You Made Me Realise
You Made Me Realise is the undisputed pinnacle of 80's MBV, and as such, it rules face. Though not as noisy as their later material and not as out-and-out poppy as their earlier material, the EP finds itself in a nice equilibrium between the two styles, and sets into motion the style that the band would adopt and be remembered for on Loveless. The first side is absolutely perfect in every way, and though the second side pales in comparison, it's still some really well done noise pop. At the end of the day, there isn't a whole lot more to say that hasn't already been said about it, but make no mistake, if you're in to the more experimental side of both post-punk and pop, you need to hear this EP.
My Bloody Valentine Tremolo
The ending of "Honey Power" segueing into the beginning of "Moon Song" is nothing short of sublime songwriting. With Tremolo, My Bloody Valentine made sublime songwriting a mainstay for the rest of their days. Released about ten months before their illustrious shoegaze/dream pop classic Loveless, the writing was on the wall for the band to put a stunning full-length to the shelves with the template laid down by this EP, Glider, and You Made Me Realise. The dreamy, hazy, and heavenly walls of guitars and ethereal vocals swamp some really catchy material, coating legitimate pop songs in layers upon layers of instrumentation and simultaneously making a statement that pop could be just as challenging as any music out there. And even with this, I don't think many casual listeners could've predicted just how influential and important 1991 My Bloody Valentine would become.
Myriam Alter Cross/Ways
A jazz composer of Belgian descent, Myriam Alter has always been able to create quaint, relaxing chamber jazz that always has a distinctly Mediterranean sound to it. This new record of hers is probably her best work so far, with some truly lovely and beautiful jazz that not only succeeds as a work to actively listen to, but as perfect background music too. This is thanks in part to some of the wonderful musicians in this ensemble, including Italian accordion virtuoso Luciano Biondini and American clarinetist John Ruocco. Although the album does suffer from some sameyness, it's still quite a gorgeous listen, as tracks like "Inviting You" and "Above All" really have some beautiful moments. The album prides itself on subtlety and grace rather than being bombastic, and on the whole, the album is a great success for Alter. After working on this for six years, it would be a shame for her if it were anything but.
N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton
When it comes to hip-hop as an image, I don't know if there was ever a more influential album than this one. The style of hip-hop displayed here would come to be known as "gangsta rap", and that alone is enough to cement this record's impeccable status, but the true reach of the album goes much further than that. In one fell swoop, hip-hop became violent, unapologetic, uncensored, loud, and threatening. Add that to the already socially and politically conscious nature of the genre even then, and you have a recipe for the then-future of hip-hop to create some of the most amazing music around. It started here, though, with classic cuts like the title-track, "F*ck The Police", "Gangsta Gangsta", and "Express Yourself". And while in a vacuum the album might sound a bit dated and have a slip-up near the end of the record, it's impossible to deny the influence of it. Hip-hop simply wouldn't be the same without it.
Nap Eyes Thought Rock Fish Scale
At first glance, Nap Eyes might seem like one of those bands who's members are all glass-eyed hippies who just learned how to play their respective instruments three months ago and have no sense of songwriting, but upon closer inspection of this album, you'll find what might be one of the smartest, pleasant-sounding, catchy, and worthwhile records this style of indie/jangle pop has seen in a while. It's a very vocal-centric album, with much of the emphasis being placed on Nigel Chapman's sweet voice and introspective lyrics. The rest of the instruments, while used sparsely and a bit lower in the mix, are all played wonderfully, with a nice bass presence complimenting some very catchy and lovely guitars. The quality of the album dips a little bit after "Alaskan Shake", with "Roll It" and "Trust" merely being good songs. Still, fantastic numbers like "Mixer" and "Lion In Chains" are just too great to be denied. Overall, a half-hour of indie/jangle pop that is subtly intelligent and sonically relaxing and comforting.
Napalm Death Apex Predator - Easy Meat
It's ironic that one of the songs on the record is named "How The Years Condemn", because it seems the years have been very kind to seminal grindcore band Napalm Death. A more apt description would be "Timeless Flogging". The group of 40-somethings still manage to be unrelenting and intense with their fifteenth album, though the opener, which is also the title-track, is plodding and slow-paced. From thereon after, it's full speed ahead, with tracks like "Smash A Single Digit" and "Stunt Your Growth" being especially ferocious. There's moments of experimentation here, most notably on the title track, and there is some clean singing on "Hierarchies" that makes an appearance, but this is kept under wraps in favor of unbridled aggression. All in all, Napalm Death still have it after all these years, somehow.
Napalm Death Scum
In parallel congruence with Carcass and Repulsion, Napalm Death are seen as one of the founding bands of grindcore. The skeleton of the genre is definitely there: breakneck-fast drumming, very short songs, blistering riffs with a nice punk edge to them, and shouty, ravenous vocals. Many great musicians played on both sides of the record, which were recorded at different times with different people, and even included a couple of very influential men in the likes of Justin Broadrick and Bill Steer. The production is raw, as expected, but changes on the differing sides. Side one's kind of makes the band sound like a much faster version of bands like Amebix, especially with regard to the drum tones, while side two's production is more bassy and murky. Add the notion that vocalist Lee Dorrian is much more varied than Nik Bullen, and you definitely have a tale of two halves here. Still, the album does great things on both sides, and solidified Napalm Death as one of the godfathers of grind.
Napalm Death Hatred Surge
A deliciously raw demo from the godfathers of grind, Hatred Surge is a much different Napalm Death from the group that unleashed Scum to the people. Nicholas Bullen, Justin Broadrock, and Miles Ratledge put together what is unequivocally their crustiest work, with the music at hand being more relatable to Killing Joke than Repulsion or Carcass. In this sense, Napalm Death were always on the punkier side of grind, and with a few tracks like "Instinct Of Survival", "Control" and "Caught In A Dream" being heard in their earliest, grind-free forms, it's easy to see this evolution. While there isn't much in the way of recording quality, the emotion put forth by Bullen and Ratledge is palpable, and Broadrick's songwriting was good even then. It's an important listen for fans of Napalm Death, and also fans of crust punk and grind in general.
Napalm Death Fear, Emptiness, Despair
Napalm Death, at least up until this point, had been merely competent at their mixing of death metal and grindcore (though not straight-up deathgrind, as the mixture wasn't too fluid), with their last offering Utopia Banished even being a bit lukewarm. The change on Fear, Emptiness, Despair is not so much a stylistic one as it is a qualitative one, with improvements across the board not only in songwriting but in production as well. Everything sounds meatier, and with the uptick in speed and riff memorability, every song has something to offer, namely a haymaker directly to the skull. With this album also being the first of the bands' discography to feature the exact same members as its predecessor, the notion that the band just needed some time together longer than a year or so to do great things holds some weight even now. While it's nothing that hadn't been done before it, Napalm Death's fifth full-length is one of their most enjoyable and quality endeavors.
Nas STILLmatic
It's always nice to see an artist that had been reeling somewhat catch a second wind and release some great stuff, not only because it's awesome they're doing the stuff they had the potential to do, but because you know it feels good for them too. Nas righted a ship that was all but foundering with STILLmatic, which eschewed the days of 1999 and sounded like he recorded these tracks in the same period as It Was Written. With much better production, hooks that were actually good, and lyrics that painted more vivid pictures of Queensbridge, this "comeback" album reminded listeners that Nas still had greatness in him, as evidenced by two stone-cold classics in "Ether" and "One Mic". Of course, the entire first half of the album, ending on "Destroy & Rebuild", is practically flawless, so it's no surprise some unforgettable material came out of it. Though it does lose steam in its second half and doesn't really recover, it's hard not to look at STILLmatic as the statement it was: that Nasty Nas was finally back to form.
Nas The Lost Tapes
Album leaks suck and the people who leak them suck even harder (refer to one Lil Ugly Mane for more information on the morality of album leakers); this is an inscrutable fact. If that kind of stuff didn't happen, then the material from The Lost Tapes would've found their way onto I Am..., making it a much better album than it ended up being. However, at least this material did eventually end up seeing the light of day because it was far too good to rot in a storage facility somewhere. It's somewhat of a samey affair with regard to the production, with piano lines and boom-bap beats dominating the entire comp, however it's a pretty solid formula that works well for the style. The real draw is Nas himself, who effortlessly spins tales of street dealings, childhood stories, and some of the shadier aspects of fame and those who crave it. Every song has a great story, and there's a few halfway-decent hooks here to boot. It shows that Nas had so much better lined up than he was able to give, thus resulting in a stretch that he and many others would probably like to forget.
New Order Low-Life
Night Birds Mutiny At Muscle Beach
When it comes to hardcore surf punk quartet Night Birds, consistency is key. They way they've managed to remain at a high level of quality with only the slightest of deviations is nothing short of impressive. Mutiny On Muscle Beach, then, is no exception. The record is pretty much exactly as good as you'd think it would be: 24 minutes of fast-paced, high-energy, surf-tinged hardcore punk with enough quotable chants and endearingly goofy moments to satisfy the listener with ease. The album starts with six straight blasts of energy before slowing things down a slight bit with the title track. The rest of the album is ever-so slightly slower paced, but gains a fair amount of catchiness as a result, ending on a superb closer in "Left In The Middle". Sure, this record does not reinvent the wheel, but that's not the point. The point is: Night Birds are one of modern punk's finest bands, and they just want to play and have fun doing it, with Mutiny On Muscle Beach being the next excellent catalyst for that sentiment.
Norma Jean O' God The Aftermath
Norma Jean Wrongdoers
It took them four tries, but melodic hardcore/metalcore band Norma Jean were finally able to surpass the bar they set for themselves with 2003's O' God: The Aftermath. We hear them at their most concise, focused, and pissed all at once, which naturally leads to some of the best songs they've ever written, including "If You've Got It At Five, You've Got It At Fifty", "The Potter Has No Hands", "The Lash Whistled Like A Singing Wind", and "Funeral Singer". You have some nice variety here as well, with some slow-burners ("Hive Minds", "Sun Dies, Blood Moon"), some punches to the gut ("Neck In The Hemp", "Triffids"), and some more melodic tracks to boot ("Wrongdoers", "Sword In Mouth, Fire Eyes"). The production gives a thick sound to the guitars and bass, the drums hit very hard, and Cory Brandan is at his best here as well. In all, Norma Jean creates what is the defining record of their careers in Wrongdoers.
Oasis Definitely Maybe
Of Monsters and Men My Head is an Animal
Off Minor Problematic Courtship
(Just clarifying: this soundoff is for the Off Minor / I Am The Resurrection split LP which the entirety of Problematic Courtship is a part of. The rating reflects the entire split.) Off Minor have rightly been recognized as one of the most forward-thinking screamo acts of all time, and I Am The Resurrection has had their fair share of praise as well, even if the vast majority of that comes from their second band: Gospel. This split has some absolutely wonderful moments on it; the opener for Off Minor's side, "Problematic Courtship", attacks with a sense of urgency and a subtly addicting riff, and the last forty-five seconds of "My Recovery" is as beautiful as it is depressing. The closer for I Am The Resurrection, who take a route leaning more towards post-hardcore than screamo, is a longing and stirring instrumental that turns absolutely tear-jerking over the equally saddening confession interview of Kip Kinkel, one most cited examples of a known paranoid schizophrenic imprisoned in a high-security penitentiary rather than a mental hospital. It's a truly excellent start for the both of these bands, who'd go on to do even greater things.
Open Mike Eagle and Paul White Hella Personal Film Festival
One of the more intimate and personal rappers around today, as the title of the album betrays, is none other than Open Mike Eagle, a recent signee to Mello Music Group and creator of an endearingly self-deprecating nerdy persona that works very well in conjunction with his lyrical abilities and topics. Collaborating with UK producer/songwriter Paul White, who puts an excellent foot forward on the jazzy, soulful, laid-back production of this album, he brings out his love for all things film and disdain for all things crooked. While there are some irritating and/or cringeworthy lines or inflections here or there, this is mostly just Open Mike being Open Mike, an awkward-yet-intelligent guy with a knack for obscure references. The quality of the album starts out well, and though it has a mildly shoddy first half, the second half of the album from "Leave People Alone" to closer "Reprieve" is an exercise in how to perform this style of hip-hop correctly. It's another in a line of great projects from Open Mike Eagle, who doesn't seem to be slowing down at all.
Opeth My Arms, Your Hearse
Opeth Still Life
Opeth Blackwater Park
Opeth has a reputation as one of the most consistent and to many, brilliant, progressive death metal acts in the world. Blackwater Park is considered to be their magnum opus by the majority, and has been lauded and discussed ever since it was released. The first half of this album is pretty great, but the second half trails off a bit. The reason for this is the very clean production sometimes sounding too clean and, dare I say, emotionless. Therefore, those spots become unintentionally boring and tend to drag on. There's a lot to appreciate here, even if some moments aren't up to par with the rest, and though it's not Opeth's best, it is certainly a worthy addition to their discography.
Opeth Deliverance
Benefitting from a production job less sterile than their previous opus, Opeth's Deliverance is an engrossing and massive listen from start to finish. Boasting tightened songwriting in a style similar to Blackwater Park's, the record is made of fluid progressive death metal that neither runs out of ideas or loses itself in its ideas. There are plenty of memorable moments here, from the opening riff of "Wreath" to the lovely acoustic passage two minutes into the title-track, to the beautiful solo that segues into solemn piano in "A Fair Judgement", there isn't too much worth missing here. Unfortunately, the parts worth missing are found in the closer, "By The Pain I See In Others", which uses some questionable effects on Mikael Akerfeldt's vocals, which are otherwise excellent, and just generally meanders somewhat, ending the album on an anticlimactic note. Still, the band managed to create an album that, in my opinion, bested Blackwater Park, even if slightly so.
Opeth Ghost Reveries
I'm of the party that believes Morningrise to be the pinnacle of 90's Opeth, and I also believe it's their best album. And while Deliverance is certainly a great album, it's still a few shades below the 96 opus. Ghost Reveries is a worthy companion for it, though, because it's unequivocally the best 2000's Opeth album. It takes the best parts of both Deliverance and Damnation and adds some tactful and very enjoyable electronic and ambient influences. The production, while still pretty clean, isn't shimmeringly so, and things sound like they have weight behind them. The songwriting is classic Opeth: endless riffs flowing together one to the next, with some cleaner acoustic breaks interspersed. Nothing new for them, but flawlessly executed just as it should be. The electronic bits give some nice personality to the music, and while its atmosphere isn't as clearly defined as Damnation, it's still mysterious and mystic. A truly great album from Opeth, but one that they have not and probably will not be able to top.
Orquestra Afro-Brasileira Obaluaye!
The connections felt in the musical world between Africa and Brazil are quite strong, as it is with plenty of South American countries. In particular, it gave birth to candomble music, a part of many rituals in the region of Brazil by the same name. This, in turn, gave birth to afoxe, a style of candomble used for non-religious and often politically-charged purposes. It's jazzy, tribal, and full to the brim with emotion, which is precisely what makes Obaluaye! not only a fun and enjoyable listen, but an important one as well. Made by the Orquestra Afro-Brasileira, it's among the first recordings of afoxe, if not the first, cementing its musical importance; yet, its overarching sound of positivity and togetherness, furthered through chanting and group singing, is beautiful to hear. Led by Abigail Moura, every sound heard on this record is authentic and very intimate. The songs breeze by quickly, sometimes repeating motifs in earlier songs, and it all feels extremely connected and well-structured. It's definitely a lovely piece of Afro-Brazilian music, that's for certain.
Oxxo Xoox Namidae
I hate the term "Alien Metal". It writes a check that basically can't be cashed when bands like Rings Of Saturn call themselves that. It's worth mentioning, then, that they literally have no stake in that claim when bands like Oxxo Xoox are around. This is the closest thing to "Alien Metal" that I've ever heard. The band never makes such a statement, but the fact that they created their own language to sing with, and have such an avant-garde take on epic doom metal is all the proof I need. There really isn't a way that I can relay all of this to you without you actually hearing it, though. It's actually quite hard to describe in words how weird and yet so, so fun this music is. The length may seem daunting, but this is an album that is pretty easy to get lost into. It's a bit of a slow burner, though, as things start out pretty good, but don't get especially serious until "Da I Lun". The fact that it is in an esoteric tongue has its vice, though, as the lyrics basically mean nothing. Still, the music behind it sounds incredible, and the vocalists are pretty good regardless. As it stands, Namidae is one of the most interesting pieces of metal I've heard in a while, and certainly one of the coolest metal albums this year.
Pallbearer Heartless
I'm almost one-hundred percent positive that if you harshened the vocals and sped up the music by half, you'd have a halfway decent melodeath record on your hands. I might be wrong. But, Heartless works far better as a doom metal record, and though occasionally Pallbearer can end up sounding like a more upbeat Warning, everyone loves Warning, so it's not a problem really. In all seriousness though, this may not be their best outing, but it's only a tad bit below their best, which is to say that they still come through with addictive riffs, a solemn atmosphere, and at times wonderful vocals. Compositionally, they're still very strong, and though they can spend time goofing around in a range that doesn't befit them (the first few minutes of "Cruel Road"), they're near the top of their game most of the time here. That guitar tone is scrumptious, too. In all, it's another winner for Pallbearer, who are becoming one of the most consistently great doom metal bands out there.
Paramore After Laughter
It would seem that Paramore have completed their metamorphosis from a spunky alt-rock/pop-punk band to matured alt-pop hitmakers, and one can't help but feel good for them. After Laughter is a somewhat deceiving album in the sense that one can listen to it passively and get the idea that it's just a enjoyable pop album full of dumb fun, and then that same person could listen to it fully engaged and get the idea that it's actually kind of a downer and that the music and the lyrics together are nearly complete opposites in the best way possible. And it's not like this is simple 80's worship either; this is some ideas borrowed from those times and reworked and refined to match a more modern style, one which is laid on pretty strong, keeping a constant aesthetic to the album besides one hiccup in the all-acoustic "26" (still a good song, just doesn't fit in too well with the others). It's a very commendable and well-thought-out album, and one wonders where they'll go after this one.
Pastel Ghost Abyss
I love when old things clash with new things in music. Just seeing the contrast, and yet the undeniable similarities, between an old style and a new one is very interesting. It's that idea that leads to albums like these. Vivian Moon, known better as Pastel Ghost, decided that combining 80's synthpop with chillwave was the route she was going to take, and the result is a drugged-up, flowery, and gorgeous album. Her airy vocals are swamped by endless layers of atmospheric synths and driving beats, creating a hazy and wavy atmosphere. The lack of a standout track hurts the album a bit, but things are a pretty high quality overall, and there is enough syrupy synth melodies to keep you listening. In all, Pastel Ghost is definitely on to something here, so give this one a listen if you like 80's synthpop or chillwave.
Pg. 99 Document #5
The fine folks from pageninetynine might just be the greatest group of songwriters to ever grace the American screamo scene, not only due to their work in this band but countless others as well. Document #5, their debut full-length record, is an exercise in everything it takes to make a screamo album worth hearing: songwriting that juxtaposes moments of intense cacophony and melancholy clarity, vocals that rip at the throat whilst tugging at the heart, and all of the passion one can carry in their souls. This isn't the most original screamo record, but I'll be damned if it isn't one of the most well-performed. The band would go on to create records more original and diverse than this, but the raw emotion starts out the highest it can be. In a sense, Document #5 is the perfect introductory record for anyone wanting to get into the genre, and let the world know that pageninetynine could beat other bands at their own game before creating their own. The scary part is, this is probably the worst of their full-lengths.
Phantogram Nightlife
Pig Destroyer 38 Counts of Battery
When you really break it down, Pig Destroyer is a pretty simple grind band. The deal with them is, they have all the intangibles in the world at their disposal. 38 Counts Of Battery chronicles their first few years as a band, and while they'd still have a bit to go before they reached their peak, the blueprints were perfectly laid out. No bass? Doesn't matter when you riff this hard. J.R. Hayes is an absolute monstrosity as a vocalist (especially on those demo tracks and the tracks of the split with Orchid, whew), but he's just as good of a lyricist. When in the world are you actually convinced to pay attention to the lyrics on a grindcore record not named The Inalienable Dreamless? I'm sure there's more examples, but Pig Destroyer is definitely one that comes to mind first. The tracks from Explosions In Ward 6 are remastered here, and that's actually a good thing, as it helps ground the music somewhat and keeps it from flying off of the rails into baseless chaos by giving everything clarity. Basically, this comp is everything you ever wanted to know about the early days of one of grinds darling bands.
Pile You're Better Than This
An excellent blend of sparse indie and discordant noise rock, You're Better Than This is another excellent outing from Boston's own Pile. Rick Maguire's vocals are absolutely addicting, and the guitar work will turn from melodic and relatively quiet to loud and abrasive in moments. The album has a wonderful punk tinge to it that really permeates the drumming and many of the louder moments on here. Things get off to a roaring start with "The World Is Your Motel", but takes a more somber route on "Mr. Fish", with Maguire's storytelling lyrics about a solitary man in Daryl Fish taking the spotlight early in the song and giving way to an excellent, noisy buildup later. Other highlights include "Waking Up In The Morning" and "Appendicitis". Honestly, if they are better than this, I'd love to hear it.
Preoccupations Preoccupations
I'm indifferent towards the name change, but I can't really talk so... With their second album since forming from the remains of Women, the band formerly known as Viet Cong release a grower of an album. As such, Preoccupations is a much less immediate record than Viet Cong, choosing to take a more subtle route. The presence of melodic synths is the big change here, as they add a new dynamic and texture to the sound, which has been stripped a little bit since the debut. Things are decent on the first three tracks, but "Memory" is where the album really picks up. Tempo changes and a professionally done ambient soundscape to end the song show that the band's experimental nature is still alive. The songs gradually become more catchier as the album goes on, culminating in closer "Fever" which may be the catchiest song they've written short of "Continental Shelf". Putting it simply, you're in for a different experience with Preoccupations than you were with Viet Cong. If they can keep making consistently great music while changing their palette as they've done so far, they could be looked upon as one of the best post-punk bands of the decade.
Priests Nothing Feels Natural
I suppose since Cloud Nothings disappointed it's only fair that Priests came through with a winner with their debut full-length. Some truly catchy and surprisingly danceable post-punk from this quartet of lovelies, who tastefully phase in influences from jazz and funk. The lyrics have a highly anti-capitalist and thus very political edge to them, and Katie Greer's vocals reflect this by sounding impassioned and powerful. It's like last year's Pill full-length, just with tighter songwriting and better performances. Anthem-like opener "Appropriate" and the quick-and-catchy "JJ" set the tone for how Nothing Feels Natural sounds, and the songwriting stays at a high level throughout the album. Closer "Suck" definitely does not do its namesake, as it's a quite masterfully written song that flows so perfectly from its funky beginning to its climactic art punk ending it's a wonder it doesn't flow right out of the speakers. It's a stunning debut full-length for Priests, who are quickly becoming a name to remember when the topic is modern post-punk.
Primordial Storm Before Calm
Here we see Primordial at their bleakest, blackest, and most bare-bones since their inception. From the opening monologue of "The Heretic's Age", wrapped in blast beats and windy tremolo riffing, the band sets up the dark, stormy atmosphere that they have always done well. There isn't much of the folky acoustic guitar passages on this record as compared to the others so far in their discography, but they do show up here and there and are typically great, especially the inspiring "What Sleeps Within". Where the band truly shines, though, are their brooding, heavily emotional black metal epics, the best of which on this record is "Sons Of The Morrigan". With a great vocal performance and more excellent lyrics from frontman Nemtheanga, complete with a furiously passionate instrumental performance, this record marks the height of Primordial's early records, before they would start implementing more Celtic influences and instruments.
Primordial The Gathering Wilderness
Before 2005, Primordial played a style of black metal heavily influenced by Celtic folk music and tales of the Irish lore. Starting here, though, the Celtic folk would be on the forefront, with the guitars becoming cleaner and the atmospherics becoming even windier than before. Even Nemtheanga, an established and renowned vocalist, had to change his style from his ghastly screams to a cleaner, more epically styled way of singing. The results are quite great, as The Gathering Wilderness sees this transition almost seamlessly from their old style. There are definitely traces of the old style, like the openings riffs of "The Song Of The Tomb", but for the most part, this is windy, gripping folk metal with Celtic stylings, and it works very well. Alas, the record is a bit samey, but the melodies from the guitars and the heartfelt singing from Nemtheanga really overshadows that aspect. At the end of the day, this is a record exemplifying that a band can change their already established sound and make another sound that is just as good or even better than the old one.
Primordial Where Greater Men Have Fallen
After 2011's Redemption At The Puritan's Hand, there was speculation that, even though it was a good album, it signified the band slowing down and becoming stagnant. Where Greater Men Have Fallen put all that talk to rest, though, with the band sounding as forceful and as passionate as they've ever sounded. The first great thing about this record is the production, as it's truly excellent. The drums have a discernible punch to them, and the guitars sound wonderfully full alongside the nice bass presence. The songwriting, although ultimately nothing much different from past efforts, has been improved somewhat, with the quality in riffs bubbling up to the point which they are no longer simply just the stormy backbone upon which the albums stand. Rather, they are co-commanders with Nemtheanga, who puts in a phenomenal vocal performance as expected. The consistency which the band has operated their entire careers with shines through in spades here as well, making this one of the best records of their discography at a time when people wondered if they had another great one in them.
Primus Frizzle Fry
It's common knowledge that Les Claypool is one hell of a bassist, but can we talk about how awesome Tim Alexander is on the kit for a moment? I mean, this man carries the entirety of this record with him, and does so with flair, skill, and an undeniable penchant for polyrhythmic techniques. Claypool's bass skills only seem to feed off of and into Alexander's drumming, improving the sound of both instruments. There's a great fusion of funk and alternative metal going on, with some very catchy and sometimes even unnerving sections of music throughout. The cherry on top of this is the humor the album displays. It's pretty strange at first, and sometimes over the top, but this is all intentional. On "Harold Of The Rocks", one of the lyrics betrays this self-awareness: "Harold, he's a friendly guy, he rambles on and on. He'll talk the balls off a rhinoceros, fact is, he just doesn't make much sense." It's just another one of the things that makes Frizzle Fry a fun, interesting, and engaging listen.
Primus Tales from the Punchbowl
Every good band who's been blessed with longevity has an album that is extremely good, but is overlooked in the context of the rest of their discography. For Primus, that is definitely Tales From The Punchbowl. On it, the band write songs that are essentially progressive rock with a funky, southern sheen, and wouldn't you know it? They're actually pretty damn good at it. Very good, in fact. The first four tracks are an exercise in stellar musicianship, lyrical portraits of irony, and that always somewhat dirty production job that lines Primus records. While it doesn't reach these heights again until "Over The Electric Grapevine", the album remains at a high level of quality through its middle section, never delivering a drab or boring song and toeing the fine line between tasteful immaturity and obnoxiousness perfectly. In short, it's ace Primus, only with more prog than you'd ever thought you'd hear from them.
Primus Antipop
For an album called Antipop, there are more than a few catchy moments on this thing. Of course, Primus have never been a band to shy away from irony. This is another record that is seen as well below their better work, but, like Brown Album before it, it's misunderstood. It's an improvement on the more streamlined style of its predecessor, with plenty of the quirkiness that so defined Primus before, just with a songwriting style geared more towards groove and infectiousness than weird time signatures and angular riffing. The bass sounds fantastic as always, and the list of successful collaborations the band did with the likes of Tom Waits, Tom Morello, James Hatfield, and Jim Martin on this album is pretty swell. It's not quite as good as Frizzle Fry or Tales From The Punchbowl, but it's definitely an under-appreciated album from the three geeks.
Pusha T King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude
Pusha crafts a consistent and very enjoyable precursor to a currently unreleased album called King Push on this record, and though it is only thirty-three minutes long, it still has enough quality moments to make it a success. The first half of the album is better than the second, even though it's not by much, with Pusha putting together some tight verses, catchy hooks, and overall concise and to-the-point hip-hop. The production is pretty modern and is done very well, with "Untouchable" and "M.P.A." coming in as two highlights. The guest spots here include Kanye West, Beanie Sigel, A$AP Rocky, and The-Dream, and they all perform excellently as compliments not only to the production, but Pusha himself. In short, it's a great record from Pusha T, and even though it's not necessarily doing anything he hasn't done, the quality of the record is very respectable, and certainly sets the hype for King Push in motion.
Radiohead Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Radiohead Amnesiac
Radiohead's fifth studio album is often called "the B-sides of Kid A" or "Kid B" because of its similarities with the seminal turn of the century electronic rock album. While their might be similarities, there are big differences that separate the two. For instance, the electronics experimented with here are much weirder and unyielding than on Kid A, "Pulk/ Pull Revolving Doors" and "Like Spinning Plates" being great examples. There is also more straightforward, less experimental songs that harken back to The Bends, like "You And a Whose Army?" and "I Might Be Wrong", that are exceedingly well done. Though the album drags a bit in the second half with "Hunting Bears" being major filler and "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" being filler as well, the album ends on a wonderful song in "Life In A Glasshouse", which beautifully exemplifies the bands' penchant for jazz, and really ends the album with a bang. It might not be as good as its predecessor, but Amnesiac is so much more than "Kid B".
Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool
It's been quite some time since the famous British quintet of art-rockers known as Radiohead have released something as outright beautiful as this. And while it is certainly not their most experimental work, probably since OK Computer, the songwriting is still top-notch, as exemplified by the ethereal ambience of "Daydreaming", the subtle catchiness of "Decks Dark", the simple-yet-heartbreaking piano/string combo of "Glass Eyes", and of course the numerous and satisfying intricacies of the following four tracks. Closer "True Love Waits" is a little bare musically, but it's lyrics and the way they are sung are the saving graces. There's only a couple of tracks here that I'd venture to call uninteresting, those being opener "Burn The Witch" and "Desert Island Disk", both of which don't do anything with the little they have to begin with. It's not quite on the level of their classics, but I'd be lying if I said that A Moon Shaped Pool was not a wholly worthwhile affair.
Rae Sremmurd SremmLife 2
The low average for the first one and the low average this one will inevitably and undeservedly get are both criminal. I think that what is most appealing about Rae Sremmurd is that these two truly sound like they're having a great time on the microphone, with all the charisma and energy that two dudes barely old enough to drink should have. With production mainly handled by Mike WiLL Made-It, they certainly have the perfect backdrop for all of their mischievous deeds. The features here are pretty seamless as well, with Kodak Black seeming right at home on early highlight "Real Chill", and the always-entertaining Lil Jon providing the hook for "Set The Roof". The album even succeeds when things have more of an emphasis on singing, like the immaculately catchy "Take It Or Leave It", and they do a good job of juxtaposing these two styles so that they flow without any bumps in the road. Simply put, SremmLife 2 is another collection of party rap bangers from some of the best, if not the best, in the business at it.
Rafael Anton Irisarri A Fragile Geography
You know those rainy days where it almost feels uncomfortable not to be lying in bed doing nothing but relaxing, not caring, and possibly getting a little stoned? That's basically what A Fragile Geography sounds like. Rafael Anton Irisarri is a master at making this type of atmosphere, and on this new record of his, he does it just as well as he's ever done. Musically, it's an ambient record, but it blankets you in drones that, when coming from a good pair of headphones, almost massage your brain. Things can get pretty loud, like on "Reprisal", but more often than not, it's just beautifully subdued ambient drone. Some tracks may use conventional instruments, but they are used pretty minimally, like the strings on "Secretly Wishing For Rain". Although it's not necessarily all that new of a concept, especially for Irisarri, the record is still another great addition to his discography, and thus, shouldn't be overlooked.
Rasputina Oh Perilous World
Red Death Permanent Exile
A straight up relentless crossover thrash band from D.C., this is the debut record of Red Death, and it's sixteen minutes of rigorous, punky riffage. The album starts with six straight punches to the gut, "Palace Of Unending Pain" being the highlight of those. But when the bomb that is "Alleviate" is dropped from the skies to wreak havoc on the world below with a crushing build-up followed by more thrashy hardcore fit with solos, the album will never be the same. "Atomic Howl" scours the wreckage left in its predecessors wake, and finally "Perpetrator" ends everything with one last monstrous fist to the face, bringing the album full circle. Long story short, this album is crossover thrash in all its essence. Listen to it if you dig that kind of stuff.
Red Hot Chili Peppers Californication
Rites of Spring Rites of Spring
One of the most influential bands in hardcore, cult band Rites Of Spring is a group often credited with the creation of emo. That said, this is most surely not your Sunny Day Real Estate or American Football. Rather, this first incarnation of emo was short for "emotional hardcore", born from the DC hardcore scene where bands like Minor Threat and Void ran rampant. Guy Picciotto turns in an emotionally charged and passionate vocal performance here, especially on tracks like "Drink Deep" and "End On End", and Brendan Canty is fantastic on the kit from start to finish. Mike Fellows' bass work takes a wonderful prominence on the record, really providing a stable backbone for the group and being incredibly fun to listen to. Taking a cue from The Faith's Subject To Change, which guitarist Eddie Janney played on, the band moved further toward a melodic sound, complete with intensely personal and desperate lyrics, than any of their contemporaries at the time, despite still being rooted firmly to their beloved hardcore punk scene. Though they'd only be around a couple of years, Rites Of Spring did make some essential hardcore on this album.
Rites of Spring All Through A Life
Although it was released a year after the breakup of Rites Of Spring, All Through A Life is an important EP in the Washington D.C. hardcore scene. A direct continuation and progression of the prototypical emo sound explored on their highly influential self-titled LP, All Through A Life serves to connect the early D.C. hardcore sound, exemplified by bands like Minor Threat, and the later D.C. hardcore sound, as exemplified by bands like Embrace. This is evident clearly through the music here, as the passion of the early days blend seamlessly with the nuances of the later. Musically, it's just as good as the self-titled, and with only ten minutes, the EP is ripe for replaying. Though it'd be the last record of original material the band ever released, its impact is not to be disregarded.
Rogue Wave Out Of The Shadow
Rogue Wave Descended Like Vultures
Rogue Wave Asleep at Heaven's Gate
Rogue Wave Nightingale Floors
I think the thing I admire most about Rogue Wave is their consistency. Each one of their albums is worth a listen, and they have written some truly great songs throughout the years. Nightingale Floors is no different. Released three years after Permalight, which was a bit rough around the edges, Nightingale Floors is a testament to how consistently great Rogue Wave has been. Although the album gets off to a bit of a slow start, the middle of the record contains some of Rogue Wave's best tracks, and closes on a very strong note on "Everyone Wants To Be You", an excellent combination of indie and post-rock. The album has something for everyone, from acoustic tracks like "The Closer I Get" to the swirling indie-rock they've perfected on songs like "Siren's Song" and "S(a)tan". Altogether, another great release by Rogue Wave, and I certainly did not expect anything less.
Rogue Wave Delusions of Grand Fur
In the grand pantheon of indie rock, Rogue Wave has emerged as one of the most consistent bands of the 21st century, with their style of delicate, summery, acoustic-driven indie bringing them five successful records with a remarkable consistency seen between all of them. In this sense, Delusions Of Grand Fur is no different, as this new record is just as good as anything from Descended Like Vultures or Out Of The Shadow, and only a small shade under Asleep At Heaven's Gate, with a couple of variations on their style to be heard as well. For instance, "What Is Left To Solve" sounds like a modern twist on the earliest The Cure recordings, and the in spots the album has an almost anxious vibe to it. They make excellent use of sparse electronics, which is where Permalight was a bit rough, showing that they've definitely been improving their sound. In short, it's yet another consistent and lovely effort from Rogue Wave, as if it'd be anything other than that.
Rush 2112
Rush Signals
The late 70's and early 80's were Rush's heyday; regarding this, there is no doubt. Moving Pictures saw the trio mix their complex and ridiculously fun prog with pop sensibilities to enormous success. Signals marks another transition for the band, into what fans would call the "synthesizer era". The catchy, hard rock piece of Rush's pie is now larger than ever before, and with the addition of a marked synth presence, it's obvious the band knew how to adapt to the times. And when you can write songs like "Subdivisions" and "New World Man" in the face of that, you've got a talent for songwriting. The progressive side of the band is still very much alive as well, making use of strange time signatures and off-kilter bass lines, but definitely not with the frequency the band used to operate with. Ultimately, while it may be a step down from the band's previous four records, Signals is still very much quality Rush, and as such deserves a listen from anyone who enjoys pop-sensible and synth-enhanced prog rock.
Rush Grace Under Pressure
In a lot of ways the name Grace Under Pressure describes Rush themselves. The band had been so successful up until this point that the pressure to keep churning out hits for the charts and lasting albums for the fans must've been huge. Yet still, the trio released Grace Under Pressure, with a new wave style accentuating their established pop-prog, as if it were second nature. It contains some of Rush's catchiest moments, including "Afterimage" and "The Body Electric", but it also contains some of Geddy Lee's best bass moments as well as some memorable vocal moments. Lifeson and Peart are pitch-perfect, as was par for the course for them during the last decade, and though the album doesn't have a true highlight the likes of "Subdivisions", the quality stays high and static throughout. Pound-for-pound, I don't know if any band in the history of progressive rock had a run as brilliant as Rush did for the first decade-and-change of their careers.
Ryat Alt Mode
From a vocal standpoint, Christina McGeehan is pretty good, but ultimately nothing extremely noteworthy. Where she truly separates herself from her contemporaries is her latent ability to produce wonderfully encompassing beats and ambience, which is on full display on Alt Mode. The production is full of bass, glitchiness, and instruments like the piano and guitar. It sounds like IDM mixed with glitch pop, just brimming with personality and intimacy. This parlays well to her voice, which is taken to new heights thanks to the stellar production. From the blanketing ambience of "Root Connection", to the catchiness of tracks like "Drifting Hearts" and "Blade", to the absolutely gorgeous closer in "Heart In Need", Alt Mode is an engaging, lovely listening experience that should tantalize fans of electronic music and electronically-driven pop music alike.
Sadistik Ultraviolet
Sadistik and Kid Called Computer The Art of Dying
If this release flew over your head like it did me, you might be under the impression that Sadistik spent five years in between releases tightening his craft as tight as it possibly could go for his second LP. You'd be half-right, given that he underwent the significant portion of the adjustments in just two years before collaborating with little-known, yet highly skilled, Chicago producer A Kid Called Computer and releasing an EP known as The Art Of Dying. You can see much of what he was going for on Flowers For My Father on these tracks, and with some pretty great production behind it all (especially "Save Yourself"), the record works as a standalone project as well as a premonition of what was to come.
Self Defense Family Disappear Here
Before they were known as Self Defense Family, Kindlon & Co. were known as End Of A Year, and this, their first full-length record, showcases the raw beginnings of the band and their immense songwriting capabilities even then. It's take on post-hardcore and emo is sloppy despite being pretty intricately written, and manages to be engaging emotionally as well. The vocals are higher-pitched than later records, and aren't as gruff, sounding more pained and distressed than powerful. The lyrics are pretty great as well, with several very relatable and quotable lines popping up throughout the record. The production is pretty good as well, being raw, but not so much that it detracts from the listening. And, in twenty-five minutes, it allows plenty of room for re-listening, which definitely is a virtue considering just how full of nuances the record is. In all, the debut full-length from the family is quite great, and shows signs of the great things to come.
Self Defense Family Colicky
Self Defense Family really perfected their slow-tempoed, brooding take on post-hardcore on last year's gem Heaven Is Earth, and though they've already released a couple of solid EP's this year, Colicky is here to remind you just how good this band can be when they're firing on all cylinders. It bears mentioning that the closer, "Brittany Murphy In 8 Mile" is one of the tracks of the year and one of the best songs that the family has ever put to wax. Patrick Kindlon's vocals are positively heartbreaking, and the riffs and drumming dominate the song in the final minutes for a beautifully tragic sort of crescendo. The previous three tracks are also high quality, possessing a similar game plan to the material on Superior; that is, slow-paced, bassy post-hardcore bordering on post-punk, with a gruff edge to it. In case you forgot, the family is still punk's hardest-working band, and this EP is further proof.
Sensory Deprivation SNSRY DPRVTN
Sometimes when I listen to music, I forget to do the most crucial thing: connect, or at least try to connect, with what is being heard. If I can't connect with it even though I tried, that's not my fault. But when I forget that I listen to music for one thing and one thing only and that is to feel something, I do the artist, and myself, a disservice. Basically, it's one thing to not understand it, but another thing to not even try. SNSRY DPRVTN isn't meant for passive listening. It requires attention, because the sounds coming through from many subgenres of punk and rock are as intricately detailed as they are pleasing to hear. An eighty-minute-plus behemoth that paces itself incredibly well and flows almost just as good, with lyrics that I wish I could've wrote when I was in high school, just cannot be appreciated without attentive listening. It longs to connect with the listener, as youthful and intimate as it is, and it will. You just have to let it.
Sewer Election Wreck
Sometimes you can guess what an album is going to sound like based on its cover. One would think that Wreck would sound how it's cover looks: raw, grainy, bare, unflinching, dead. And yet, there's so much more to it than that. While many noise projects have the dubious quality of being one-note, Sewer Election evades this notion with startling professionalism and songwriting tact. What initially sounds haphazard and broken slowly unfolds and reveals itself as a carefully crafted juggernaut of harsh noise, constantly progressing in fluid motions while simultaneously sounding as if it's falling apart at the seams. The use of tape manipulation and the odd two seconds of sudden silence seem like natural occurrences in the muck rather than simple gimmicks, and serve to further illustrate the glorious nuances the project has in store. It's truly a piece to get lost into, and in the end that's a impressive achievement in and of itself.
Sheer Mag Compilation LP
It's not hard at all to see why Sheer Mag has garnered so much acclaim from the underground punk community; their style of power pop and garage rock/punk revival brings to mind bands like The Stooges and of course Thin Lizzy. This is heard in their sound and felt in their attitude, both of which are very infectious, and though most all of the material on Compilation LP, a comp of their three excellent EP's, follows relatively the same formula, it's a winning formula to say the least. In the wake of many well-written and nigh-irresistible riffs lie a dozen catchy choruses courtesy of Tina Halladay, who's responsible for a great chunk of the group's swagger both in and out of the studio. The lo-fi production is absolutely perfect for this style, and though you can tell slight differences between which songs are on which EP, there's still a solid continuity on this compilation that plenty just do not have. Needless to say, one is eagerly awaiting a full-length from this group of lovelies.
Sheer Mag Need to Feel Your Love
I really do love album covers that have airplanes on them. Sheer Mag really are an exciting band, not because what they do is that original, but because they bring the catchy hard rock/power pop/garage rock sound born in the 70's up to speed for the generations that missed those illustrious bands. They're basically Thin Lizzy for millennials from a purely musical standpoint, and if that doesn't sound awesome to you, you probably don't like either of those things. After their well-received trio of EP's totaling twelve tracks (released on a comp earlier this year), Sheer Mag have decided to double their output and bring twelve new songs to light on Need To Feel Your Love. Plainly speaking, these songs may just be a tiny bet below the first twelve in terms of quality, but the fact remains that they're still excellent, catchy as all get-out, and swagger-filled tunes that anyone with a inkling towards rock n' roll should be able to get with easily. Oh, and Tina Halladay puts on some of her best performances yet vocally, despite what some would have you believe.
Signals Midwest At This Age
Distance is a killer of relationships whether they are romantic or simply friendly. This is true of distance in terms of miles and in terms of time spent away. At This Age is an album that longs for those distances to be done with, whether they be the distance of another person from them, or the distance of the best times of their lives behind them. The entire album operates with a nostalgic feel, fluidly mixing indie punk and emo in both hopeful and melancholy concoctions. Signals Midwest also does very well lyrically, delivering heartfelt and relatable lines without sounding forced or hackneyed ("Well, you weren't the best, but you were the first, that's what made it special, what made it hurt..."). The catchiness of the songs also helps with the admittedly similar sound the band operates with, allowing them memorable qualities despite the prevalent familiarity. Truly, the band's third album is an enjoyable and refreshingly mature look back on the best, most memorable times. Keep representing Cleveland well, guys.
SikTh Death of a Dead Day
SikTh was always a band filled to the brim with ideas, and their gifted skill in instrumentation and vocalization gave them the ability to express those ideas with uncanny professionalism. Death Of A Dead Day is in every way their magnum opus. That the band eschews the inconsistency of their debut and hones every last bit of their songwriting talent is awesome enough, but there aren't any moments here one would call "annoying" either. Thus, the album is their debut stripped of all fat; it's shorter, tighter, more mature, and retains those quirky nuances that made it so unique to begin with. There isn't a song here that is skippable, and though there's not really a song that stands out from the crowd as being the best of the bunch, the album remains at a consistently high level of quality. The dizzying technicality and vocal acrobatics are better than ever, and the songs feel full without over-stuffing them. If there were any way for them to go out, this was the way. Guess when they finally do quit they'll have to release something even better (a man can dream).
Silent Cicada Filth
Silent Cicada was the alias of Nick Shutter during his earliest forays into harsh noise. A prolific artist, Shutter released many projects under the name, two of which, known respectively as Filth One and Filth Two are compiled together on this record, sewing them together like some twisted Siamese twin experiment. The first half of the record is a stirring mass of tense ambient and noise textures, patiently adding and taking away layers of sound until the end result is entirely different from what was started with. The second half is much more explosive, utilizing spastic, glitchy noise in a way that sounds chaotic and randomized, but soon reveals itself to be organized and deliberate. Fifty minutes of this seems to be a daunting task at a glance, and the music occasionally does give way to meandering, but it is constructed in such a way to keep the listener on edge and engaged until the final raucous shades of static fade away. Ultimately, Filth serves as a great initiation into the back catalog of Nick Shutter, and his escapades as Silent Cicada.
Simon and Garfunkel Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.
There isn't really a duo out there like Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Together, they made some of the greatest folk tunes the world has known, and remain easy listening and wonderful today. This, their debut record, wasn't exactly a roaring commercial success, but looking back, it is certainly a great album. The best songs here are written by Paul Simon, including "Bleecker Street", "Sparrow" and "The Sound Of Silence". Here, melancholy yet evocative folk is used at its best, with excellent lyricism all the way around. Other songs like "Benedictus" and "Go Tell It On The Mountain" are covers of traditional folk songs passed down through the years, as well as a cover of one of Bob Dylan's most famous songs, "The Times They Are-A-Changin'". Altogether, it is the excellent start of something fantastic in the folk world, and the start of one of the most recognizable duos in music.
Simon and Garfunkel Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
The night sets softly with the hush of falling leaves, casting shivering shadows on the houses through the trees. And the light from a street lamp paints a pattern on my wall, like the pieces of a puzzle, or a child's uneven scrawl. Up a narrow flight of stairs in a narrow little room, as I lay upon my bed in the early evening gloom. Impaled on my wall my eyes can dimly see, the pattern of my life and the puzzle that is me. From the moment of my birth to the instant of my death, there are patterns I must follow just like I must breathe each breath. Like a rat in a maze the pattern before me lies, and the pattern never alters until the rat dies. And the pattern still remains on the wall where darkness fell, and it's fitting that it should, for in darkness I must dwell. Like the color of my skin, or the day that I grow old, my life is made of patterns that can scarcely be controlled.
Simon and Garfunkel Bookends
After the unmistakable "The Sound Of Silence" made Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel a well-known tandem, "Mrs. Robinson" propelled them to superstardom. Simon even said that he felt he had entered the upper echelon of artist at the time. It's of interesting note, then, that Bookends is an album almost morbidly concerned with growing old and dying. Their music was starting to include more instruments, like the orchestra on "Old Friends", and the weird droning tones of "Save The Life Of My Child". It's cool that while they're music sounded more lively then ever, their subject matter was darker and kind of bleak in retrospect. The aforementioned "Old Friends" is the centerpiece of the album, being a retrospection on life and the venture into the so-called "golden years". This was certainly Simon & Garfunkel working focused and passionately, perhaps more so than they had up until that point in their careers. Needless to say, Bookends is an excellent record because of that.
Ski Mask The Slump God Drown in Designer
Part of the rapidly rising and wholly captivating south Florida rap scene, the man known as $ki Mask THE SLUMP GOD has played an invested role in the development of some of the most visceral, violent, unapologetic, and noisy hip-hop out there right now. Drown-In-Designer is a peek under the looking glass at the sounds transpiring in the scene, and it's explosive nature is summed up perfectly in under twenty minutes. $ki Mask himself has a strange flow and an undaunted delivery, and his lyricism fluctuates between blunt, boastful, and clever at a moments notice, with plenty of often genuinely humorous pop culture references. The production, as booming and imposing as it is, has a purposefully lo-fi feel to it that makes it seem all the more gritty. The features here don't go to waste either, especially XXXTENTACION's on closer "R.I.P. Roach" (seriously, that hook). It's some really loud and hard-hitting stuff, but if you have an affinity for this sort of thing you'll definitely be coming back to this one.
Skinny Puppy Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse
I don't think I've ever heard a record that devolves as good as this one. That's not to say that this devolution is a vice to this record, as that is what makes it so fascinating. From the opener, "One Time One Place", to "Three Blind Mice", the record acts as an electronically inclined industrial record complete with shrill and chilling vocals. But from "Love" until the closer, "Burnt With Water", the album seemingly falls in on itself as the established structure completely unravels and things get quite unnerving. The industrial sound surges to the forefront and the vocals turn to demented yells and hyperventilating. Samples can range from speeches to screams of terror, and by the end of the record you're left shocked at how quickly and sharply the album changes direction. In the end, it's a pretty interesting listen, and when you peel back some of the layers of weirdness, there's some great musicianship to be found as well.
Slum Village Yes!
Slum Village has been one of the most important hip-hop acts in the Midwest for a time now. A look through their past members include the likes of J Dilla, Elzhi, and Illa J, but T3 and producer Young RJ still can hold their own, as exemplified on this new record of theirs. Featuring nine out of twelve songs on the record with J Dilla production, the album sounds very much like their early days and is pretty nostalgic in that regard. Add in some excellent guest appearances from the likes of De La Soul, Phife Dawg, Black Milk, Bilal, and Illa J, and you've got yourself a recipe for success. The standout tracks on the record, at least for me, include "Tear It Down", "Push It Along", "Right Back", "We On The Go!!!", and "Where We Come From". That being said, no song on here is in any way bad, and it is incredibly easy to listen and re-listen to. In all, this album is a great throwback to the hip-hop of the late 90's, and yet another great hip-hop record this year has to offer.
Snarky Puppy Sylva
Snarky Puppy is one of the leading collectives in jazz fusion, their sound being a mixture of funk, jazz, and world music. The Netherlands' own Metropole Orkest lend their talents to the band for this album, recorded live, and makes them sound more grand and bombastic than usual. It's still Snarky Puppy running the show, though, and for the most part they sound wonderful. Meandering bass and smooth keyboards permeate the record, as does explosive sections of brass instrumentation. A variety of moods are explored here, including suspenseful, triumphant, content, and sensual. The closer, "The Clearing", is one of the best examples of this, going through a wide range of sounds and emotions in a nineteen minute monster of fusion jazz. In all, Snarky Puppy continue to impress, and with some added help from Metropole Orkest, add another dynamic to their sound.
Son Lux At War With Walls And Mazes
Son Lux is quickly becoming recognized as one of the up-and-comers of trip-hop, and his debut, At War With Walls And Mazes gives a perfect example of why. While the album does get off to a bit of a slow start, the middle has some great songs like "Betray", "Stay", and "Raise". "Wither" is without a doubt the catchiest song on the record, but "Stand" really steals the show. Though the song consists of one line being repeated, so many things happen around that line, such as soaring female vocals and whirling violins. The use of strings on this album gives a breath of fresh air to many of the songs, and give it an experimental feel to it on occasion. Though the album suffers on its slower, more subdued tracks, it is incredible everywhere else, and for that, Son Lux's debut surely deserves a listen from trip-hop fans and fans of electronic in general.
Son Lux We Are Rising
Ryan Lott has always been more than just a producer, both literally and figuratively. The way he has made such engaging and enjoyable electronic under the Son Lux is indicative enough of that notion, and his sophomore LP, We Are Rising, backs that up well. Sonically, it's a mixture of trip-hop, chamber pop, and art pop with Lott handling both the production and the vocals. This is a remarkably consistent work, as the quality never wavers from the high standard set by "Flickers", and each track flows quite effortlessly into the next one. As such, there really isn't a song on the album that is a "stand-out" (if I had to choose, I'd tentatively go with "Claws"), so to say, but in this case, that's not really a bad thing. It's accessible and catchy, but also holds a playful charm that has become a staple of Lott's work. In a nutshell, this is Lott at his most efficient, and though it might not be as good as its predecessor, it's still a great album in and of itself.
Sorority Noise It Kindly Stopped for Me
Losing someone you love is never easy, no matter how much time passes. For the members of Sorority Noise, the loss of more friends than they can count on one hand, all within the time after last year's sophomore LP was released, results in a grief-stricken, highly saddening EP that is also a stylistic change for the band. Rather than the emo-tinged pop-punk of records past, If Kindly Stopped For Me is a delicate acoustic guitar driven record. Vocalist Cameron Boucher is absolutely heartbreaking, with the melodies and songwriting all being heartfelt and uneasy. There was a line from a review of this EP that said "if Boucher wasn't drunk while recording this, he's an excellent actor", and I couldn't have said it better myself. Though the loss of energy from Joy, Departed to It Kindly Stopped For Me is apparent, it's also completely reasonable and entirely reflective of the turmoil the members have been through during the last months.
Steve Jablonsky Transformers - The Score
Steve Von Till A Life Unto Itself
As the lead vocalist for seminal post-metal band Neurosis, Steve Von Till has been a recognizable name in the metal scene for a while now. That being said, he has also made a name for himself in the folk scene, given that he already had a trio of well-received albums before this. With this album, it isn't all just bare-bones acoustic guitar and raspy singing, despite what the first two songs on the record show you. "A Language Of Blood" incorporates strings and chorus-like backing vocals that drone on behind Steve's voice. "Night Of The Moon" makes use of a haunting, yet oddly catchy synth line, and "Birch Bark Box" throws droney guitars into the mix, and "Chasing Ghosts" substitutes the acoustic guitar for a piano. All in all, it's a very solid outing, and there is something on this record for everyone who likes folk music.
Stimming Alpe Lusia
This really is one of the better electronic albums of the year, and at the very least the deep house album of the year so far. I say this because Stimming has managed to create an engrossing and endearing album that is rife with different tones and shades that gives the music a dynamic and detailed feel. Rarely do these tracks paint with broad strokes, rather opting for a much more meticulous and carefully-crafted approach. It's also of note that you're probably not going to find an album in deep house or tech house this year with the synergy of the ten tracks on Alpe Lusia. Each track, while excellent on its own (opener "Prepare" is of particular note), is made better in the context of the record as a whole. This is probably exemplified best in the opening trio, where the lush and catchy tones of "Prepare" segue into an unsettling and ultimately riveting track in "Pressing Plant" before bringing you back to daylight with "Trains Of Hope". All this said, if you're looking for some excellent deep house, you cannot go wrong with this record.
Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth
It's not an unused comparison: the sea is reflective of life. The constant motion, the secrets held within, and the vast unknown of the sea parallels the constant motion of life, the secrets people hold, and the vast unknown of what their future is. Sturgill Simpson knows this comparison all too well. Through a jazzy, insatiably fun take on country, Simpson shows his knowledge of the waters to those who may not know (namely, his son) and expresses desire to learn even more for himself. Opener "Welcome To Earth (Pollywog)" is a piano-driven, heartfelt track that makes excellent use of violin and a jazzy, bluesy transition near the middle. This sets the tone of the album both musically and topically, as the album is formatted like a letter to his young boy and wife. His experiences in the Navy are definitely drawn upon here as well, and this new, upbeat sound he incorporates is in stark contrast to the dark outlaw country of his first two records. That said, the transition is almost flawless, as Simpson sounds like he's in his element regardless. In all, it's another great album from one of the most forward-thinking men in country music today.
Suffocation Human Waste
The debut EP from highly influential death metal group Suffocation is a wonderful precursor to a seminal record in Effigy Of The Forgotten, and has a production style and playing style very similar to it. Three of the songs, "Infecting The Crypts", "Mass Obliteration", and "Jesus Wept" would all be re-recorded on that record and be phenomenal spots on it. "Synthetically Revived" would be re-recorded on another fantastic record in Pierced From Within, and "Catatonia" would be re-recorded on the great EP Despise The Sun. The title-track is exclusive to this record, and is a really good closer despite probably the weakest of the six present. Truly a great start for a great band.
Suffocation Pinnacle of Bedlam
After the mid-paced and somewhat boring Blood Oath, Suffocation hit their gear (not that gear, but the best gear post-reformation Suffocation has) and not only sped things up but beefed up their songwriting as well, crafting what stacks up as their best post-reformation record in Pinnacle Of Bedlam. Every song here has that malicious intensity and breakneck speed that Suffocation are their unequivocal best in, and though some of the violence of the record is toned down due to a cleaner production job, it's still abundantly clear that they are really hammering these tunes out. There's even some melancholy acoustic interludes during certain songs a-la Pierced From Within that help add to the experience by giving the album a little dynamism and giving the listener a break from the brutal death onslaught. It hurts that the album's closer is just a re-recording of "Beginning Of Sorrow", the illustrious opener of the all-time great Breeding The Spawn, and that there really isn't a stand out track here, but make no mistake: if you want the absolute best of what these legendary dudes have to offer post-1995, this album is a must-hear.
Suicide Silence The Cleansing
Suis La Lune Distance/Closure
In French, Suis La Lune means "am the moon". The moon is a desolate, lonely place, and it's from those feelings that the band draws from on this thirty minute EP. The emo/screamo combo is still intact, but the band also throws in a post-rock influence, as shown in the opener "Different Perspectives". In the grand scheme of things, the band doesn't really do anything all that new here, but it's the execution and palpable emotion that really suck the listener in. The record is probably their darkest to date, and vocalist/bassist Andreas Oleras makes quite sure of that with his pained and convincing vocal performance. There are some great moments to be found all throughout the record, from the clean singing in "Better Parts" to the heart-wrenching melodies in "Within", there isn't much of the record worth missing. Altogether, a beautiful screamo record courtesy of the Swedish trio.
Suis La Lune Quiet, Pull the Strings!
Swedish screamo outfit Suis La Lune are masters of two things: making emotive post-rock/screamo combinations, and making them with a consistently high quality. In this sense, Quiet, Pull The Strings! is no different, and is quite the satisfying debut. The band have always been at their best when making songs with an equal amount of screamo and post-rock, and this notion lends credence to the idea that "Utter Silence Is Fragile" is the quintessential song from the band. While it may be the best song on the record, it is challenged for that status by several others, including the short, yet extremely powerful "This Heart Easily Tears", the explosive title-track, and the melancholy, evocative closer "My Mind Is A Birdcage". The band falters somewhat in the lyrical department, but this is a misstep easy to forgive when you consider that Swedish is their first language. Really, if you liked anything from Suis La Lune, ever, then you'll like this.
Suis La Lune Heir
It's quite remarkable how renowned Suis La Lune has become in the world of screamo considering they haven't released all that much material in their eleven-year careers. This has been due to their absolutely top-notch songwriting ability that was apparent even on earlier demos, but never quite reaching the level it has here, on Heir. While its stylistically not much different from Quiet, Pull The Strings! at all! the songwriting has improved even from that album to create one of the most satisfyingly, heartbreakingly beautiful combinations of screamo and post-rock EP's ever put to wax. The passion is still as palpable as ever, but the interplay between the melancholic emo riffs and the intensity of the sudden screamo blasts has never been more noticeable. That's all going without mentioning the arrangements of the songs, flowing like a stream from one beautiful passage to another. It's truly some of the best screamo/post-rock you're going to hear, and I'm sure you can spare fifteen minutes to enjoy that.
Suis La Lune Demo 2010
It's hard not to consider Suis La Lune's style of passionate screamo mixed with evocative post-rock as one of the best around, given that every release of theirs has exemplified this with a consistency in songwriting quality to die for. Demo 2010 is no different, and though it may only be seven minutes, every second of those seven is spent with Suis La Lune in their prime (2008-2012 Suis La Lune > most things). Both tunes here are phenomenal, and would surely constitute as highlights on any of their larger releases. That one gets this type of quality from a mere demo is testament to how fantastic the band truly is.
Sunn O))) Black One
Black One is an interesting album in Sunn O)))'s discography, and it is so because it is, for all intents and purposes, the duo's tribute to icy, malevolent black metal. It's black metal by way of drone-doom, as evidenced by the appearances of two controversial-yet-successful USBM artists Malefic and Wrest, who man the one-man band's Xasthur and Leviathan respectively, the frigid and evil aesthetic, and of course the mention of one Elizabeth Bathory, because what influential black metal bands haven't spoken of The Blood Countess, right? The fact that the atmosphere here is so pungent and that there are actual well-written songs here put this record above just about everything they did before it, and really showed their musical maturation up until that point. The concept is executed very well, and one wouldn't be incorrect in saying that Black One was Sunn O)))'s first fully fleshed out and carefully carved record. Needless to say, it's some pretty enveloping stuff.
Sunn O))) Flight of the Behemoth
Sunn O))) is one of the loudest bands out there, and it makes at lot of sense, seeing as how they started as a tribute to drone metal kings Earth. On their second album, Flight Of The Behemoth, the band makes it known that they're their own band through five punishing drone/doom tracks. The first two tracks, "Mocking Solemnity" and "Death Becomes You", are solid, contemporary drone metal tracks that set the tone for the album right from the get go. The two "O))) Bow" tracks feature some wonky piano and invading static that come to the forefront of the drones quite easily. The last track, "F.W.T.B.T.", is the best one, featuring some nasty grooves as well as sparse drums and beastial, atmospheric growling noises that may or may not be vocals; I can't really tell. Overall, a record full of bleak soundscapes that began to establish Sunn O))) as a force in drone music.
Svalbard One Day All This Will End
Manners disbanded earlier this year (*tears up*), so I suppose Svalbard is the new melodic hardcore band to keep my eyes on. And so far, they've delivered. Vocalist and guitarist Serena Cherry is the one running the show here. Her shouts and yell have the bark, and her riffing has the bite. Everything from the vocals to the drums to the lyrics sound so passionate and intimate on this album, which is exactly what a record in this style needs. You feel like someone has confided in you after you hear it. And while there's definitely a few moments where what the band is doing has been done before, it never feels disingenuous or phoned in. In between the riffs and the blasts, there are moments of relative tranquility, with a post-rock-esque sound, that provide a welcome change of pace and feel like natural progressions of the songs. It's a really professionally done debut, and for a band only a few years into playing, that can only be a good thing.
Swans To Be Kind
Swans Filth
Swans Holy Money
Holy Money, on a first listen, may just seem like Greed part 2. While the album is a logical extension of the sound of its predecessor, it easily defeats it by being twice as good in the songwriting department. This is due to the experimentation Swans operated with, only this time around the risks definitely paid off. Take "A Screw" for instance, in its unshakable Skinny Puppy-esque industrial synth bulldozing, and the short but hauntingly beautiful "You Need Me". Of course, the heavy noise rock that the band was known for makes several imposing appearances, most notably on opener "A Hanging" and "Another You". Michael Gira is more subdued this time around, but that happens to be a virtue as he allows the music to speak for itself more often than not, focusing on atmosphere rather than visceral rage. All of this makes Holy Money one of Swans' most under-appreciated records, and an ace noise rock/no wave record.
Swans Public Castration Is a Good Idea
In a lot of ways, this ugly live album is early Swans in their purest form. The song titles may be familiar, but you can forget what you knew about the actual songs beforehand. Public Castration Is A Good Idea takes the best of both Greed and Holy Money, strips them down to nothing but the drum pattern and spots of minimal industrial "melodies", and stretches them out beyond their original length. Michael Gira sounds like a hateful, lustful monster throughout it all, showcasing in top form what makes him so vital to the sound of early Swans. I think this album is kind of funny in moments as well. I mean, after eight-plus minutes of something like "Coward", where primal rage and moral depravity reign supreme, I definitely wouldn't be in the mood to clap politely as if I were at a symphony like the people in the crowd do on this record. And yet, it's also something that adds to the experience, sort of like a reminder that humans made this and watched this rather than some hellspawns.
System of a Down System of a Down
The self-titled debut of famous nu-metal band System Of A Down holds a bit of a conundrum for me. What I mean by that is that I can't decide if this is their true sound, or if they found their true sound on later albums. There are times where I lean either way. It's not as thrashy or chillingly intense as their successive album, and it's not as technically proficient and melodic as their last couple of records. Simply put, this record is a singular, unique entity within the System Of A Down discography, and I just cannot tell whether this was the band experimenting with their sound, or if this was the sole representation of what their sound should be. I suppose it's a moot point, because regardless of all of that, songs like "Know", "Sugar", "Spiders", "Soil", "Mind", and "P.L.U.C.K." make this record a great one to listen to. One thing System Of A Down was never without were super fun, insta-quotable, romping cuts.
Teen Suicide It's the Big Joyous Celebration..
It's a bit hard to pin down what Teen Suicide's swan song actually is. You could say it's experimental, lo-fi indie, but that just doesn't cut it as a description of the sound here. It takes root in bedroom-style acoustic indie, but influences from Midwestern emo, indie pop, various electronic genres, art rock, and straightforward alt-rock. Sam Ray, a polarizing figure to begin with, is at his best (or worst, depending on your opinion of him) on this album, and the extensive variety of the tracks makes it easy to get sucked into it. The lyrics deal with life's perceived banalities, the people, places, and things we mistakenly take for granted, and view them in a much more profound light. Thus, they're pretty relatable, and in some cases heartbreaking to hear coming from Ray's evocative vocals. The songwriting is catchy, as most of the songs here have latent pop sensibilities along with a variety of nuances too numerous for one soundoff. It goes without saying that all those who collaborated along with Ray put their skills to good use as well, as It's The Big Joyous Celebration... is quite the remarkable send-off for this memorable project.
Tenement Bruised Music Volume 1
Legend has it that Bruised Music, Vol. 1 is the greatest pop-punk record ever created by Jesus. The validity of this claim is unknowable, but rest assured: the lord has good taste in music, so it's not much of a stretch. This release compiles all of Tenement's early material found on singles and splits, and it comes as no surprise that all of it is extremely well-written, charismatic, and totally infectious indie punk. It's loud, sloppy, full of awesome riffs and solos, and of course the ever-present catchy hook that the band has a gift for writing. That being said, the experimental side of the band explored on releases like The Blind Wink and Predatory Headlights is missing, showing that the band didn't quite develop this side of themselves in the early days. It doesn't detract from the release, but I'd be lying if I said this comp was the best representation of Tenement's sound. Still, the songwriting talent and undeniable attitude the band had in their early days and still has today is completely prevalent here, and that makes it a compilation not to be missed, especially by fans of indie punk.
Tenement Napalm Dream
At this point, if you call yourself a fan of pop-punk and haven't heard a Tenement record yet, you're doing it wrong. It's quite simple really. Just several lovely blue-collar folks from Appleton, Wisconsin who possess the unteachable and impeccable ability to make every single one of their hooks memorable. On Napalm Dream, their aesthetic brings nostalgic feelings into the fold by using a lot of imagery from the 50's, a time many people who weren't alive in are nostalgic for, and having relatable lyrics as well. It sort of compares the borderline propagandist picture of the 50's with how life in America is now: everybody's just pretending to be happy because they can't turn and face what's going horribly wrong. The production is pretty raw, and the songwriting is of course excellent as always. The best part of all of this is just how charmingly human everything is, from the sloppy playing to the somewhat off-key singing to the constant nostalgic and positive vibe, it's really a great time. So, pop-punk fans of the world (and especially of our beloved Sputnik), get on this!
Tenement Bruised Music Vol. 2
I'm sure everyone already understands this, but it definitely bears repeating: if you're going to donate your money to something on a GoFundMe or YouCaring page, make sure it's for something you believe in, someone you're moved by, or someone you care about. There was a comparison done between two pages started roughly the same time; one was for a kid with a traffic ticket he didn't want to pay off, the other was for a young woman battling cystic fibrosis. Their goals were vastly different, 500 to 8,000, and yet the kid raised nearly 1,200 dollars, more than double his goal, before the young woman even reached 100 dollars. She's since raised nearly 5,000, but she could be at 6,200 if people had thought "maybe this kid should just work to pay it off like the rest of society", but that's clearly too much to ask. Honestly, though, don't hand your money over to idiots and frauds; if you're going to hand over money at all, make sure it's for something you truly care about. And of course Bruised Music, Vol. 2 is great, it's Tenement, what do you expect?
The Black Crowes Amorica
The Black Crowes really hit it big with their first two albums, albums full of catchy riffs and choruses, a distinctly southern atmosphere, and some great backing vocals and extra instrumentation. Amorica plays things pretty safe during the first half of the album, but it's still that classic blues rock that they sound so at home in, so it doesn't really hit things too bad. That said, the final five songs are among the best the band have ever written, showcasing the vibrant and filling style of blues heard predominantly on The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion. All the bells and whistles; the various pianos, the strings, the huge solos, work completely synergetically with each other on these tracks and send the record off with an impressive bang. While it might not be on the same level as its predecessors, Amorica is still a very worthwhile outing from some of the best men in the business when it comes to '90's hard rock.
The Black Dahlia Murder Nocturnal
The Black Dahlia Murder What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse
Despite being The Black Dahlia Murder's most well recognized song, "What A Horrible Night To Have A Curse" does not appear on the Detroit quintets debut demo, which bears its name. What does, however, is the most varied and arguably the most entertaining collection of songs the band has made. It's very much unlike any other TBDM release. The production is very solid for a demo, and the drum tones' raw sound fits perfectly with Trevor Strnad's frenzied shrieks. There is a distinct metalcore influence heard here, but with an energetic punk edge to it that comes off as incredibly fun. There are also moments that you will not hear on any other record from the band, such as the subdued, acoustic guitar break in "The Middle Goes Down" and the clean vocals in "This Ain't No F*cking Love Song". Truly, a must listen for any fans of The Black Dahlia Murder, and a very enjoyable listen for fans of energetic melodeath.
The Black Dahlia Murder Everblack
With the consistency the Michigan band has always played with, Everblack is unsurprisingly a welcome fit to their discography. Yet, what separates it from the rest is simple: this is The Black Dahlia Murder's tribute to the death metal and even black metal that they grew up with and love even now. They still mix it with their At The Gates-inspired melodeath, but make no mistake: this is as close to pure death metal as they've ever been. It's a nice clash between modern death metal techniques and old death metal ethos. The track that exemplifies this best is "Into The Everblack", which makes use of complex syncopated rhythms and intense speed during the verses, but turns slow and heavy in the chorus. It's not as immediately catchy as their other records, as its catchiness is more subtle, as seen on "Phantom Limb Masturbation" and "Their Beloved Absentee". Add to that some a fantastic opener and closer combo ("In Hell Is Where She Waits For Me", "Map Of Scars"), and you have what may be The Black Dahlia Murder's best effort.
The Black Keys Thickfreakness
The Body Christs, Redeemers
The Body have always been one of the most forward-thinking sludge/doom acts or their time, putting out release after release of unnerving, depressing, hateful, and sometimes even the slightest bit hopeful droney doom. The use of choirs, strings, and operatic female vocals juxtaposed with nervous ambient drone, crushing sludge riffs, intensely plodding drums, and wailing vocals is in full effect on Christs, Redeemers. It may not be quite as dynamic as their last solo full-length, but what it lacks in that department it makes up for in palpable passion and a smothering atmosphere. In this regard, it is somewhat of a transitional album for the duo, who would strip down this formula even further on I Shall Die Here whilst cranking up the heaviness and the oppressive atmosphere. That said, this isn't some lukewarm mixture of the predecessor and successor, but rather an efficient and wonderfully well done concoction that stands on its own as an excellent release.
The Body All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To...
After six years of relative quiet, save for a singular EP, the duo known as The Body brought this strange beast of an album to the table, showing exactly what their take on sludge and doom metal could do. Even from the opening seconds of opener "A Body", you know this isn't your average sludge metal record. The use of choral vocals across the entire album, which could've easily sounded hackneyed but instead are a focal point of the album, is just one of the many nuances that make the album an enthralling listen. Chip King's vocals are banshee-like and wailing, and the drum performance from Lee Buford is excellent and even catchy on songs like "A Curse", where the use of syncopation makes for a memorable line. The riffs are all pretty good, with some like the one that dominates "Ruiner" being imposing and enjoyable all the same. Truly, All The Waters Of The Earth Turned To Blood is where The Body began to come into their own and make some fresh and ambitious sludge/drone metal.
The Body and Full Of Hell One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache
"I need my anger, it's all I've got right now." Purveyors of sonic destruction Full Of Hell and doom deconstructionists The Body make a wonderfully violent and subtly saddening collaboration record sound like child's play. Because, due to the relative malleability of both the bands' styles and sounds, they fit very well nicely within each other. The bookends of the album illustrate this point excellently. The opener/title-track features blast beats aplenty, adding to a wall of noise which is accentuated by both Dylan Walker's and Chip King's hellish wails. It turns into a very emotional and heart-wrenching doom section, which is a defining moment for the record. The closer, "The Little Death", is the opposite of heart-wrenching, rather being ferocious and relentless in nature, evolving structurally similar to the opener. Of course, the middle of the album has many great moments too, and overall this is a very enjoyable and resonant collaboration.
The Body/Braveyoung Nothing Passes
I don't know who the hell Braveyoung are but needless to say I need to check them out after hearing this. And I also don't know why The Body does these collaborations or splits with these relatively unknown bands (Thou and Full Of Hell notwithstanding), but every time they do something worthwhile comes out of it. Here, it's a mixture of eerie dark ambient, drone metal dirges, hauntingly beautiful choral vocals, and a strange, almost post-rock take on a gospel song. It's pretty strange in this regard, but the way things are divided up here is pretty perfect. The Body handles the heaviness and the choral vocals, where Braveyoung is tasked with setting the ambience and other subtle nuances. It's a collaboration where both bands stand on equal footing, with fingerprints from both bands peppering each of the songs. In this way, Nothing Passes is a wholly interesting and wholly enjoyable collaboration that showcases the best things about each band while creating something totally unique to each of their stylings.
The Contortionist Exoplanet
The Cure Faith
The Cure Japanese Whispers
It may just be a collection of EP singles and B-sides, but Japanese Whispers offer more insight into the evolution of the band that took place in the middle of Pornography and The Top, two albums having nearly polar opposite aesthetics and ideas. Thus, Japanese Whispers reflects this change very well, with the music sounding much more upbeat than Pornography, but still retaining its melancholy qualities through Smith's lyrical and vocal performances. The basslines throughout the record are excellent, especially on the bookends, and the synth work here is also very good. It flows very much like an album proper, which is a fantastic thing to say about any compilation, and it provides a beautiful snapshot of the tumultuous time during The Cure's career that was the early 80's. As such, it is definitely one of the most important releases in their discography, and a great standalone listen in and of itself. It goes to show how truly special The Cure were that these B-sides are such high quality, quality enough that they could've fit seamlessly into an LP.
The Cure Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
The 80's were a tumultuous and fascinating time for The Cure, who ran the gamut between all sorts of sounds and styles ranging from post-punk to gothic rock to new wave to just straight-up pop rock. There were albums that were more singular in sound, like Pornography, but also albums that encompassed all of their styles and influences together. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is the best of these, and for good reason. Combining the many subgenres the band worked with with their penchant for different tones and shades of emotions, and endless smorgasbord of sounds is found within the hour-and-fifteen minutes of music here. Basically any incarnation of The Cure up until this point can be heard here, and with outstanding quality to both songwriting and performances to boot. There's a bunch of highlights here, including the grand "The Kiss", the infectious "Just Like Heaven", the funky "Hot Hot Hot!!" and the brooding "One More Time". It's no wonder at all, then, why The Cure was one of the defining bands of the 80's with accomplishments like these.
The Dillinger Escape Plan Under the Running Board
Before their sonically insane debut full-length, The Dillinger Escape Plan had also released a self-titled EP, and although it was intense, it was nothing compared to Calculating Infinity. Their second EP, Under The Running Board, then, is the link. Tightening their songwriting from the self-titled, Under The Running Board sees the band's first truly successful attempts at experimentation, while also upping the ante as far as technicality and intensity were concerned. All three songs here are wonderfully written explosive bursts of mathcore riffing, hardcore breakdowns, venomous vocals, and intricate drumming. Put simply, this is the record where The Dillinger Escape Plan started to realize their potential, potential that would certainly become cashed in on later.
The Dillinger Escape Plan Irony Is a Dead Scene
After frenetic vocalist Dimitri Minakakis departed, The Dillinger Escape Plan were at an impasse. Replacing him would be no easy task, but the vocalist they got temporarily, for this EP only, is a man who needs no introduction. Mike Patton, simply one of the most charismatic, ranged, and talented frontmen in the business, lends his abilities to the band for four great tracks. It's much more melodic than Calculating Infinity, but still intense and complex, as the opening minutes to "Hollywood Squares" and the closing minutes to "When Good Dogs Do Bad Things" will show you. Patton, like on most of his releases, can be an acquired taste, but his endless arsenal of vocal weapons is on full display here. Not to be outdone, Chris Pennie is as fun and complex as ever on the kit, and the riffs by Ben Weinman are, as usual, the focal point of the music. They never really did anything like this in their discography ever again, and it is quite the enjoyable and interesting listen even at only eighteen minutes, which is definitely reason enough to try this one out.
The Faceless Akeldama
The Heliocentrics From the Deep
It's that type of jazz that you can imagine being recorded in a constant haze of smoke and dim lighting. The type that expresses so many things through a distinctly cinematic approach and a murky production job. The type that The Heliocentrics perform so wonderfully on From The Deep. It's kind of hard to pinpoint what is the best part of this album. It's all so incredibly consistent and coherently written and explores the chilled, the tense, the wandering, and the brisk elements of their jazz-funk sound thoroughly. It sounds positively stunning with its hazy production job, and the intricacies one can find on each song during each listen are numerous. While compositionally it may be the most original jazz-funk out there, it still manages to sound pretty fresh due to the atmosphere and the various tones of said atmosphere. Really, if you want to hear a phenomenal jazz-funk record, The Heliocentrics have you covered with another excellent performance.
The Hue Aurora
When you think of Houston hip-hop, you're gonna think about leaned up, chill hip-hop fraught with synths and smooth basslines a la DJ Screw, or you're going to think about menacing, hard-hitting hip-hop a la Point Blank. Lyrically though, the two styles are quite similar, usually dealing with gang violence, heavy drug use, and the problems of everyday life as a gangster. Which is why it's strange that The Hue, a collective made up of emcees from H.I.S.D. and producers from Radio Galaxy, made Aurora, which sounds more like a soulful west-coast hip-hop album than a record straight from the purple city. Yet, that's how it is, with knowledgeable, clever lines and addicting hooks being crafted over jazzy, neo-soul-influenced production. They attempt to give a spacey and wondrous aesthetic to the music, and it works very well through both the production by King Midas and DJ Cozmos and the wonderful vocal chops that Spacebunny Jefferson possesses. It's a pretty tantalizing record due to these factors, so if you enjoy chill, soulful hip-hop/neo-soul, The Hue has you covered.
The Internet Feel Good
The Jimi Hendrix Experience Axis: Bold as Love
The Microphones Little Bird Flies Into a Big Cloud
This may take the cake for the most minimal Microphones release out there, as it literally only consists of Phil Elverum, a pump organ, and a piano. And it's actually pretty amazing. For what The Glow Pt. 2 and It Was Hot, We Stayed In The Water did with their explosive, nuanced, and layered take on lo-fi indie, Little Bird Flies Into A Big Black Cloud does with its subtle, uncomplicated, and accessible take on singer/songwriter. A compilation though it may be, the record comes together like an album proper, mainly because there isn't a whole to bring together sonically. It strips everything down to its base level, leaving it devoid of anything but pure, unadulterated emotion, which you can hear sometimes dripping, sometimes pouring from the mouth of Elverum at any given moment here. The lyrics are as vivid and colorful as you'd expect them to be, and it's simplistic nature leaves plenty of room for re-listening. As full of purity and beauty as any other Microphones release.
The Number Twelve Looks Like You Put On Your Rosy Red Glasses
The Number Twelve Looks Like You Worse Than Alone
12 was always a band I considered to be on the progressive side of metalcore/mathcore, but never had they quite been "experimental". Worse Than Alone changes that, and it's quite interesting. Almost gone are the immensely technical mathcore riffs, replaced with tasteful and worthwhile progressive experimentation, seen in full on songs like "Given Life", "The Garden's All Nighters", and "Retort, Rebuild, Remind". Don't let that fool you into thinking they can't still make a great, intense metalcore song, though, as "To Catch A Tiger", "If They Holler, Don't Let Go", and "I'll Make My Own Hours" are all very mature and interesting songs. While there isn't necessarily a standout track here, they're all high quality, and sound different enough from each other to prevent bleeding into each other. With what is certainly their most ambitious project and easily their best since their debut, 12's swan-song is an album that shouldn't be missed by fans of metalcore, especially metalcore with experimental tendencies.
The Prodigy The Fat of the Land
The Prodigy Music for the Jilted Generation
The Prodigy Invaders Must Die
Liam Howlett, the mastermind behind British big beat group The Prodigy, had said that their fourth studio album would be a return to their roots, even receiving help from the likes of Dave Grohl and James Rushent on various instruments. That check was most certainly cashed with Invaders Must Die, which takes a big beat blueprint and adds slight bits of new rave to it as well. Some of the groups classics are here, like the title-track, "Omen", "Warriors Dance", and "World's On Fire". However, the albums best moment is actually its most subdued. Closer "Stand Up", a remix of jazz rock band Manfred Mann Chapter Three's "One Way Glass", is an entirely instrumental yet insatiably catchy song that mixes jazz and electronic breakbeat to perfection. In all, a pretty great album from one of the worlds biggest electronic acts.
The Range Potential
In the realm of what is colloquially known as "future garage", there's a few select artists that have earned the respect of electronic music lovers everywhere. I'm sure you can guess who they are, these major-leaguers, but taking a closer look at the scene, you can find some minor-league guys who might have what it takes to move up the ranks. The aptly named Potential is something of a tryout for The Range, who's always been at least competent, but never before reaching the heights he's found here. Aside from a couple of songs that contain some less-than-appealing vocals, the record is an excellent collection of hip-hop influenced UK garage and dubstep, bursting at the seams with personality and skill. Perhaps the best example of this is "Five Four", which ultimately mixes introspective hip-hop with atmospheric dubstep in a tactful and wholly pleasing manner. The other songs are too far down in terms of quality, though, as each song here has something to offer, whether it be catchy, skippy samples or smooth, minimalistic, wondering beat work. Could The Range reach the ranks of the greats of the scene? If he continues to improve like this, he very much could.
The Sisters of Mercy Vision Thing
I refuse to call a band a "sell-out". It implies that artistic integrity is inherently more important than monetary gain. There are two things wrong with this mindset: if you're going to be making a career out of writing and playing music, one of your primary goals should be to make money. That's what pays the bills and makes sure your potentially extravagant lifestyle can stay afloat. The other thing is just because you possess artistic integrity does not mean your music is inherently good, and just because you have a lack of artistic integrity does not mean your music is inherently bad. Vision Thing was The Sisters Of Mercy's "sell-out" album, on which they replaced that amazing sequencer-based misery with a hard rock attitude. And you know what? It's awesome. Vision Thing probably has less artistic integrity than something like Lateralus, but it still doesn't stop it from being a better album. Some "sell-outs" have the best of both worlds: awesome music and lots of money. Here comes the moneeeeeeeeeyyyyyyyy.
The Specials Specials
The Stone Roses The Stone Roses
The Strokes Room on Fire
The War on Drugs A Deeper Understanding
Hiding from an enemy, something inside me dies, hard to see clear these days with darkness on my mind. As I stare into the ocean floor and I wonder where I once was, was I falling through into the air that night and crumbling to your arms? Is this love? Are you sure? Is it something you can control? I'm tired, I'm in chains, I'm in love, I'm in pain. All these changes everywhere, just go ahead and take my hand, pull me close, don't let me go, try to understand. I believe in all the power in doing what we can do, we can try and learn to make it through. Come out the other side. I don't see it you at all coming in view, how do we decide what we can do? I don't read your mind, give me clues.
The Weeknd Thursday
The hazy, hedonistic, angsty sound that The Weeknd operated with on debut mixtape House Of Balloons very much makes its way onto Thursday, as does the projects ability to adhere to a concept and especially an aesthetic. Perhaps the most harrowing and unnerving moment in The Weeknd's discography is heard within the doomy guitars of "Life Of The Party", in which a nervous, uninitiated young woman is coerced into a gangbang, and a heavy insight is given into the way Abel Tesfaye views women and his various escapades with them. Which is to say, he views them simply as another plaything, on the same level as the pills he pops or the alcohol he drinks. The production is similar to the debut, yet more dark and violent, which adds a lot of personality to the record and accentuates the trip further down the rabbit hole Tesfaye seems intent on taking the listener. Needless to say, it's quite the trip.
The White Stripes Elephant
Of the vaunted first four albums from garage rock revivalist duo The White Stripes, there's only one that I can say I consistently enjoyed from start to finish. In case you haven't guessed, it's Elephant, and it completely does away with the nagging inconsistency that plagued their first three records and bulked up on the splendid qualities they did possess. The result is beyond the shadow of a doubt the duos best work, not only from a songwriting standpoint, but from a production standpoint as well. It says a lot when you can make a simple guitarist-drummer combo sound so full, and Jack White definitely has that magic touch here. In terms of songs, their best known and classic cut "Seven Nation Army", which has still garnered play at American football stadiums all across the country due to its anthemic nature, is a force to be reckoned with, as well as the acoustic "You've Got Her In Your Pocket" and the infectious "The Hardest Button To Button". In all, Elephant is the culmination of everything The White Stripes had strived to be.
The Who My Generation
The Who Who's Next
The Who, being one of the most recognizable hard rock bands out there, have had plenty of coverage from all around the world. This extends onto Sputnik, too, so going into too much detail here is pointless. The record spawned three unmistakable classic songs in "Baba O'Riley", "Behind Blue Eyes", and "Won't Get Fooled Again", and one very underrated classic in "The Song Is Over". The rest of the songs, while not on the level of the aforementioned four, are still all solid blues-influenced hard rock. Just listen to it, and you'll understand why it's one of The Who's most revered records.
The World Is a Beautiful Place... Death To New Years
I've always heard that TWIABP was one of the better bands to come out of the emo-revival scene, but I never actually checked them out until this came out. I wasn't disappointed in the slightest by what I've heard. Here we have a beautiful ten minute EP centered around quiet, evocative post-rock build-ups and heartfelt lyrics that gets better every listen. It's not necessarily anything groundbreaking, but it is very well executed and is pretty much everything I look for in post-rock/emo combinations. From start to finish, the EP is great, with small moments of brilliance interweaved. Needless to say, I'm interested in whatever they're doing for their next full length.
The World Is a Beautiful Place... Long Live Happy Birthday
Long Live Happy Birthday, in everything from the title to the album cover to (most importantly) how the record sounds, is the antithesis to Death To New Years. Whereas the 2015 EP was sentimental, nostalgic, and in some places even cheerful, this 2016 EP is downtrodden, anxious, and melancholy. Of course, this leads to some really cathartic moments, especially the build-up and explosion near the end of "Katamari Duquette", during which the refrain "away with God and away with love, our hands are tied and stepped on" is repeated, with more emotion being injected into each repeat. It shows that, though their base sound is the same instrumentally, TWIABP can evoke much more than just comforting, nostalgic moments, readily evolving the depth of their sound.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our
Thelonious Monk Monk
Those Who Walk Away The Infected Mass
Music affected by death is some of, if not the most, powerful forms of art out there. Just in the last sixteen months, albums like Blackstar, Skeleton Tree, Stage Four, All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, Legends Never Die, You Want It Darker, and A Crow Looked At Me deal directly with the death of someone close to the artist or the artist themselves. After his brother perished in a plane crash, Matthew Patton started making music under the moniker Those Who Walk Away to try and make sense of death and the everlasting effects it has on everyone. The Infected Mass is teary-eyed drone and ambient influenced my musique concrete, as well as centering around exchanges between pilots and air traffic controllers during inevitable plane crashes. You hear the last moments of a man and understand those are also the last moments of nearly a hundred others. It's a brother trying to come to grips with the death of one of his own, and in that sense, it's very heartfelt and quite beautiful.
Thou Tyrant
For the last decade or so, Thou has made a name for themselves as one of the most consistent and top-quality sludge/doom metal bands around. Their sound on their debut full-length, Tyrant is of slow, plodding doom metal that revels in its misanthropic nature for several minutes before relenting itself and letting moments of relative beauty and clarity shine through. This is obvious even on the opener/title-track, on which vocalist Bryan Funck turns in the first of five masterful performances, when halfway through the song some quiet clean vocals and mesmerizing guitar pierce through the armor of rock-solid sludge riffs. This is also seen in "I Was Ignored. And Judged. And Cast Down.", when the riffs at the end of the song are almost uplifting despite the grim vocals and lyrics. Things never get fast here, but tempos are changed enough, and the riffs are plentiful enough, to add a nice variety to the music that gives it an edge over many of their contemporaries. This isn't two-dimensional stuff we're talking about here. All of this and more goes into why Tyrant is a wonderful debut from one of dooms most well-rounded and talented bands.
Thou Peasant
Sonically, not all that much separates Peasant from Thou's debut full-length, Tyrant. What helps put this release on the same level as its predecessor is the tightened songwriting and even more memorable moments. There are a plethora of different tones the album works with, from nihilistic, to warlike, to melancholy, to hopelessly aimless (in vibe, definitely not in songwriting), to hopeful. It gives the music a nice depth that helps the album separate itself from similar projects. The one constant is Bryan Funck's eternal rasp, one that is surprisingly full of clarity without sacrificing its power. There's some pretty good lyricism to be found here too, and because of Funck's clarity, they can be heard easily. Some of the riffs here are legitimately saddening, too, like the opener "The Work Ethic Myth"'s dominating opening riff, and the majority of "Burning Black Coals And Dark Memories". It's a great continuation and polishing of a great sound, and you're a fan of sludge metal, you should be all over this.
Thou Oakland Singles
I think it's really cool that even though Thou is one of the more well-respected doom/sludge outfits in the scene today, they'll do a split with whoever. Unfortunately this makes it a bit harder than usual to hear all of their material, so it's also really cool that something like Oakland exists. This is all material released before the turn of the decade, so it makes sense that they bare resemblance to the material from Tyrant and Peasant. That being said, these songs are not just simple B-sides or throwaways relegated to EP's and splits; rather, most if not all of these tracks would've fit well on those full-lengths, as they are written as or almost as well (and in the case of "Their Hooves Carve Craters Into The Earth", even better than). Bryan Funck sounds as destructive as one would think in these early days, and the production manages to stay relatively similar throughout the whole comp, giving it a solidarity that many others don't have. It's a pretty sweet listen, so if you enjoy Thou's earlier full-lengths, this is a must listen.
Thou Summit
There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Thou albums being really, really good. Summit is their third full-length, and while it stays faithful to the roots of band dating back to Tyrant, the way in which these songs progress is quite different. Things are more fluid, more dedicated to the ebb and flow than ever before without sacrificing the heaviness and intensity that so characterized their early material. Bryan Funck once again puts on a vicious performance, but this time his shouts and screams are accentuated by backing choirs and strings. There's even an interlude with jazz instrumentation that ends the record in "Summit Reprise". Lyrically Thou are as potent as ever with their takes on prevailing social issues, and as venomous as Funck screams them, you can tell that they mean it with every atom in their bodies. It's another in Thou's line of top-tier modern sludge/doom, and if you're a fan of that kind of stuff, Summit must be heard.
Three 6 Mafia Live By Yo Rep (Bone Dis)
The beef between Cleveland rap group Bone Thugs 'N Harmony and seminal southern hip-hop/horrorcore group Three 6 Mafia was quite short lived. Still, some truly intense and sinister stuff was made by Three 6 Mafia in response to Bone Thugs insulting their beloved hometown of Memphis. The beats on this record are very reminiscent of a horror film soundtrack, giving the record a spooky and disturbing feel. The lyrics are quite violent and unnerving, and the presence the members give on the mic is a very menacing and intimidating one, going along wonderfully with the overall aesthetic of the record. A few songs off of the record are from Three 6 Mafia's influential Mystic Stylez, but a few new tracks ("Throw Yo Sets In Da Air", "Be A Witness") get their chance to shine, and in typical fashion, do not disappoint. Overall, a great EP from the Memphis group, who truly made it known in the hip-hop world that they were not to be taken lightly.
Tim Hecker Love Streams
I know I'm in the minority here, but this is the first album of Tim Hecker's I've ever heard. As such, I didn't quite know what to expect before hearing it. Now that I have heard it, I still don't know what to make of it. It has a certain mystique to it that is always calling out to the listener, but it's hard to put a finger on what exactly that is. The atmosphere is wonderfully accentuated, making use of both warm and cold soundscapes to give the ambience a fluid texture. The inclusion of the Icelandic Choir Ensemble is a nice touch, as it gives an intimacy to the music that would not be so pronounced without it. The use of slight, delicate drones and some glitchy electronics here and there give yet another color and texture to the sound, making the final product wonderfully nuanced and well-formed. Overarching all of this is that aforementioned sense of mystique and wonder, which is clearly noticeable when looking at the whole picture, but unidentifiable when searching for its origin. Needless to say, Love Streams is an encompassing and interesting album. Note to self: listen to more Tim Hecker.
Tiny Moving Parts This Couch Is Long & Full of Friendship
Though they're only a couple full-lengths and a raw EP into their career, Tiny Moving Parts have established themselves as one of the more worthwhile bands the "emo-revival" scene has to offer. This, their debut LP, shows exactly why. The guitars have the twinkly guitar sound down as good as any band has done it since American Football disbanded. The drums are fun, yet subtly intricate, which is very reminiscent of This Town Needs Guns in that regard. The vocals are a cathartic mix of singing and shouting that while on an initial listen may seem grating, but are emotional and well done. The lack of a standout track on this thing does impede it's progress a bit, but it is remarkably consistent and doesn't let up in quality. If you have twenty-six minutes and love the math rock/emo combo, then this should be right up your alley.
Tool Ænima
I've never been a fan of Tool. Even when I was first introduced to them some eight years ago, I never could get into it even after repeated listens. Despite this, nima clicked with me the other day. It was two years since I heard a Tool record, and for some reason I felt compelled to give this another listen, and it's really quite great. It never occurred to me how strong the influence of this album was on the alt-metal/progressive metal scene, and while that scene now is a homogenous, unoriginal pool save for a few bands, this album is homogenous and unoriginal in no way at all. The atmosphere is pretty dark, and there's some pretty palpable emotion flying around on songs like "Hooker With A Penis" and "Third Eye". For me, this album put into perspective how taste is slowly but constantly shifting, to the point where the taste you had a couple of years ago is a large bit different than what you have now. Pretty interesting.
Tool 10,000 Days
After hearing 10,000 Days, I'm a convert. Tool is a very good band. That's all I really have to say about it; everything else has already been said far more eloquently than I could conjure. But here's an interesting thought: this album is said to not be as thematically driven as the others, but I'm not so sure that's the case. Opening with "Vicarious", in which the idea that we as a species cannot avert our eyes from metaphorical train wrecks and even go as far as to take pleasure in other's suffering (Schadenfreude) is discussed, the album then proves the songs point: plenty of the material afterwards is about people suffering, especially the beautiful combo of "Wings For Marie" and the title-track. The listeners are drawn in not only by the music but what the music deals with and are left to imagine what it would be like for them to experience it (lest they had already experienced it beforehand). Maybe that idea is wrong and it's totally just random placement, but there was a time where I doubted their artistic vision before and now I hold the opposite view.
Touche Amore ...To the Beat of a Dead Horse
Touche Amore Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me
Touche Amore have the uncanny ability to condense the emotions they bring across. What might take several minutes to express for other bands usually only take a minute or so for Touche Amore. This formula was extremely calculated and focused on their debut, and for the most part this continues onto this record. While a bit samey in the middle, Touche Amore plays some of their best songs like "~", "The Great Repetition", "Method Act", and "Amends", utilizing their penchant for short, melodic emo breaks within their cathartic hardcore. The drumming is again excellent, and the vocals remain as emotion-infused as ever. While some consider this record to be a step down, I find it to be relatively on par with their debut, and a great album in its own respect.
Touche Amore Is Survived By
Here, the screamo-tinged hardcore band Touche Amore sacrifice rage-ridden bursts of emotion for a more structured, yet still cathartic, sound. "Just Exist" is a fantastic opener with some of the best lyrics the band has employed so far, and it truly sets the stage for the rest of the album to perform on. Adding a minute or two onto songs that would have originally been about a minute, the band does some great, subtle things that show a definite maturation. For instance, some of the tracks have thin little backing vocal harmonies that accentuate the passionate yells, and still others have a wonderful break in the action that lets a song regain its breath before starting up once again. However, the best thing about the record might just be that they repeat the moments with the most emotional impact, something they chose not to do before. Though their original formula was pretty great, this record shows a much more mature side of Touche Amore, which is just as good as their other works.
Touche Amore/La Dispute Searching for a Pulse/The Worth of the World
I've said it before and I'll say it again: what Touche Amore does best is condensing a whirlwind of emotions into a minute or two, making riveting songs in short blasts. What is less apparent is La Dispute's ability to condense their emotional turmoils, but that ability is shown in droves here. With an evocative split EP lasting eight minutes, these two bands that drove themselves to the forefront of the post-hardcore scene in the late 2000's give two of their best efforts each, complete with some truly awesome vocal trade-offs. Oh yeah, and the lyrics are fantastic.
True Love Heaven's Too Good For Us
Sometimes, all you want from a hardcore punk record is just a bunch of haymakers and little else. And sometimes, bands like True Love deliver. With a tracklist of thirteen songs lasting a grand total of sixteen minutes, Heaven's Too Good For Us is exactly the type of hardcore punk album I'm talking about. There's the drumming where you just know the guy whaling on the kit is red in the face and yelling the gang vocals as loud as he can. There's the guitars that intimidatingly riff along while the bass hums and growls beneath. And last ,but certainly not least, there's the royally pissed vocals that are admittedly kind of one note, but that doesn't matter when that note is the only one you need. No frills, no scratches, no dents, no dings. Just hardcore. Awesome.
Tyler, the Creator Bastard
This album is, without a doubt, Tyler's most consistent and overall best album he's put out so far. His lyrics are personal without sacrificing wordplay, and the sinister production on this thing is excellent. He lays it all out for you in the form of a therapy session, and is unapologetic about everything he has to say. Granted, it may get a little drawn out towards the end, and thus, loses a bit of steam, but the album is consistent in what it does, which is draw out Tyler's life as it is: Depressing, funny, strange, and eventful.
Tyler, the Creator Flower Boy
Tyler, The Creator used to be one of the most exciting figures in hip-hop. When he released Bastard in 2009, no one could've predicted than he and his crew would be cultural phenomenons for a few years. Since then, after a couple of lackluster outings and the near-disbandment of Odd Future, things got a little dicey, with many wondering if he would ever rise to prominence again. Now, he (as well as his crew) are creating better music than they ever have and are experiencing a creative resurgence. Flower Boy is pretty much the poster album for this, indirectly confirming that, yes, Odd Future is still around and may be becoming better than ever. Arguably, Tyler's greatest strength has always been his production, and this is ever apparent on this record, with lush neo-soul keys and synths, and smooth snares. His rapping is at an all-time high (just the way he ends a bar on the word "awkward" while simultaneously losing flow and making the song awkward for a split-second during "Pothole" is awesome enough), and the features here really tear it up whether rapping or singing. A lot of it sounds like The Internet, just with Tyler spitting over it, and that's pretty darn awesome. Needless to say, Flower Boy is Tyler's most mature and listenable record, and if it isn't his best project, it's only slightly below Bastard.
Ufomammut Ecate
Italian psychedelic drone metal project Ufommamut have been a very underrated and overlooked band, but manage to keep a strong, dedicated following through their fuzz-heavy albums. Opening with a staticky drone, and closing with an unnerving piano line, Ecate is an album that finds itself firmly rooted in the eerie, using an array of tactics to challenge the listener. From the fuzzy noises and synths that you can feel in the back of your head, to the shouted and murky vocals, to the smoldering and oftentimes groovy riffs, this album is layered with interesting sounds and textures. All of this retains a slightly bluesy edge, especially in songs like "Temple". Though a couple of songs drag a slight bit, this record should be picked up by people who appreciate drone music with experimental tendencies.
Once making some of the most influential folk-infused black metal, Norwegian band Ulver has always been different from their contemporaries in Norway, even from the get go. Since they've taken metal out of their musical equation entirely, they've made some highly ambitious and experimental records that are seen as just as good if not better than they're dealing with metal. ATGCLVLSSCAP is another one of those records, as it helps cement Ulver's legacy as being a band always in fluid motion, under constant change. It's a strange and entrancing mixture of post-rock, krautrock, ambient electronic, and all things psychedelic. Apparently, much of this music was recorded live with a fair amount of improvisation thrown into the mixing pot, which is pretty impressive. It has a wonderful, shifting atmosphere, and when there are vocals, they're pretty good. It definitely requires patience, but listeners will uncover some very good things from this record upon repeated listens.
Van Morrison Avalon Sunset
For as good of a blues rock/blue-eyed soul artist Van Morrison was in his early days, making the transition to full-on adult contemporary didn't seem too hard for him, not to mention that the quality of said material is still pretty high. Avalon Sunset is considered the first these forays, and though there might be too high a dose of J.C. for some, it ultimately remains as one of his most underrated records. Morrison sings in a bevy of wonderful tones that include apprehensive, loving, nostalgic, and melancholy, which helps buoy the already solid instrumentation and arrangements into something far more personal and intimate than it would have been were it not for him, and that's forgetting to mention the legitimate catchiness of several of the songs here. What it really shows, though, is that Morrison was a musician that could shift and adapt with the times, which is part made him a staple of multiple decades.
Vince Staples Big Fish Theory
It's crazy how much ambition Vince Staples has and still is working with. There's always an overarching concept to his projects, and this is usually also reflected in the sounds of the music as opposed to just the lyrics. Big Fish Theory has some production that is out of this world, with influences coming through from hip-house, U.K. garage, hyphy, and some established west coast and southern sounds. Though the particular influences on those sounds aren't necessarily esoteric, it'd be hard to call something like this "unoriginal". Staples himself seems to have found a home in a smooth, none-too-flashy flow and a relaxed delivery, and static though he may be for the most part, he's almost a foil to the production in that he's relatively simplistic, accessible, and easy to understand, almost like a voice of wisdom calling out from the chaotic atmosphere it's trapped in. Love or hate it, you have to respect the steps the man has taken to make his strange vision a reality.
Vomir / Train Cemetery Split
Seriously, what the hell? If you would have told me, even as little as one year ago, that I'd enjoy what basically amounts to a recording of thirty-seven simultaneously occurring earthquakes this much, I'd have called you nuts. The Vomir side, holy hell. So I listened to the whole thing, uninterrupted and without doing anything else, and I got the best sleep I've had in weeks afterwards. It drains you, man. Throughout the whole thing I couldn't tell whether it was one long continuous wall of noise or if it was on a loop. If it was looped, I had no clue where it started or ended. I'm also certain that 99.9999% of the stuff I heard in the background behind the noise was just stuff my brain out there to keep me from losing my mind. Train Cemetery's side is crazy too, although not quite as insane as the Vomir side. It sounds like if a truck full of wind chimes and triangles smashed into a building at full speed and the whole thing collapses. Then about a half-hour later the triangle sounds are replaced by what sounds like a dude trying to get the last bit of drink out the cup by sucking furiously through a straw for fifteen minutes. I think I'm gonna go for a run later.
Waifle The Music Stops, The Man Dies
In the preamble for this record, Waifle (a portmanteau of "waif" meaning "someone with no home" and "waffle") expresses the sentiment that the terms "emo" and "hardcore" had lost their true meanings and that they were a group dedicated to those meanings: passion, emotions, and heart. The Music Stops, The Man Dies is actually a pretty great statement musically, with the inherent sloppiness and somewhat amateurish nature of the songs giving them a ton of personality. Thinly-produced-yet-powerful screamo dirges switch back and forth between surprisingly beautiful acoustic passages that are all emotion with no cheese, and despite only being about twenty-seven minutes long, there's a lot of variety involved here that similar albums don't express as efficiently. Many know Waifle for the live album they did with the ineffable pageninetynine, but it's interesting: Waifle was doing this stuff even before them. Not as well, as thinks would eventually shake out, but you can't help but feel that the people of pageninetynine respected Waifle very much. Needless to say, it's for a good reason.
Warm Brew The Diagnosis
Currently, I don't know if there's a group out there that does west coast hip-hop as good as Warm Brew. Their major label debut was an amazing record, one that was unfortunately slept on, and this new EP sees the group refusing to slow down. Opening with "The Mission", which may end up being the hip-hop song of the year for yours truly, Diagnosis makes clear that the group is still some of the best in the business at making laid-back, reminiscent, and celebratory hip-hop. Sometimes things take a slightly darker or more somber tone, but for the most part it's incredibly chill stuff. If you haven't checked them out by now, you definitely should, and this EP is quality enough to make for a great sampler of their other work. I love my city and I love my dogs, tell me don't trip, nigga, I'ma pay it forward.
Washed Out Life of Leisure
Washed Out Mister Mellow
This is easily Washed Out's best full-length record. Mister Mellow eschews a lot of the problems albums like Within & Without had by being a very concise as well as memorable listen. No idea presented on this record overstays it's welcome for even a second, and the touches of dream pop, neo-psychedelia, and even balearic beat give the tested chillwave formula some nice flavor. The album flows near perfectly, with each song leading into the next and the interludes serving the great purpose of telling a story fitting the music. Though it is quite short for a style like this, as if it's one piece of toast short of the fabled "complete breakfast" cereal commercials always go on about, it's still a fulfilling listen that is very easy to replay and even easier to digest. Had he added one or two more three-to-four minute tracks and perhaps another interlude, this thing could've been a contender for electronic album of the year, but as it is it's a great listen. Nice to see him getting better as the years go on.
Weekend Nachos Apology
After deciding to retire after they finish their live sets for this year, Weekend Nachos released Apology, which is an appropriate end to their consistently excellent careers. This swansong is everything Weekend Nachos is about: explosive powerviolence riffs and drumming with heavy, churning sludge metal being interspersed between it, addictingly fun and menacing vocals, and doing it all with a defiant, rebellious attitude. From a songwriting standpoint, it isn't much different from what they've been doing all along, but it ultimately doesn't have to be, as the fierce aggression and seething vibe really carries the music itself, which is still as well-written as albums like Still. It's truly a shame to see them go, but they've definitely left their mark. In this case, it's a smoking crater.
White Reaper White Reaper Does it Again
The first LP from Louisville quartet White Reaper is an infectious medley of garage punk jams draped in psychedelic synths and catchy hooks. On a first listen, they sound like a rawer, synthier form of the punk tunes Arctic Monkeys used to put out in the mid-2000's. The album does suffer slightly from not having much variety, but all of the songs here are very solid and don't overstay their welcome. Some songs, like "Pills", "Sheila", and "B.T.K." are fantastic representations of how this style of garage punk should be done. The album is over quick at a mere thirty-three minutes, but due to its relentless catchiness, the replay value is very strong. Lastly, it's fitting that the album cover is just a first person view of someone driving at night, because this would be a great album to drive to.
White Reaper The World's Best American Band
White Reaper really should've named this record White Reaper Does It Again and name the following one White Reaper: The Gift That Keeps On Giving. The band gets some comparisons to Arctic Monkeys' more punkish sound, and as Arctic Monkeys moved on to more of a rock-oriented sound, so too does White Reaper, only twice as thought out and fun. They retain their sloppy and loud personality that they had on their debut, as well as their penchant for ridiculously catchy choruses. The punk spirit is certainly still there, but the sound has mostly been replaced by a surprisingly awesome mixture of glam and noise rock. There's a ton of energy here as well, and while the songs are a bit longer this time around, the songs are written and performed tighter than before. They're becoming one of the most consistently enjoyable bands in noisy pop rock/garage rock, so if that's you're thing, The World's Best American Band is a must hear.
Wieuca Guilt Complex
I was a bit skeptical heading into this, because as though the singles were pretty great, I don't usually take to this style of alt-rock. That said, Wieuca (pronounced "why-you-kuh") have produced a very mature and nuanced album in Guilt Complex. On a first listen, the little intricacies not only musically but lyrically don't exactly make themselves known, but after a few listens it becomes apparent how much careful thought went into this record. It dabbles in punk, psychedelia, electronic, and garage rock while simultaneously retaining that lovely atmospherics-laden alternative rock throughout it all. The lyrics are actually really good as well, adding another layer of depth to the music. Will Ingram's voice and guitar riffs/lines really drive the whole thing, the skeleton of which is always visible, but with some bells and whistles that occur as if they're naturally part of the song rather than something tacked on just for show. It's definitely one of the more pleasant surprises of the year so far.
Wolves in the Throne Room Celestite
Wolves in the Throne Room Diadem of 12 Stars
Something has always turned me off of black metal. I can't quite put my finger on it, it just doesn't sit very well with me. I guess it's just not my style. That being said, I do understand why people appreciate what the genre has to offer and I can't deny the importance of it as a whole. This album, though, as I understand it, is a bit different from traditional black metal in the sense that there are very folk-sounding pieces scattered throughout, as well as some clean vocals too. After one listen, I can safely say I appreciate this folkier style of black metal more than the traditional form. The production is foggy and the sound of it shifts a couple times during songs to accentuate the change from tremolo-picked riffs to acoustic music. There are some droney moments to be found on here as well, and the vocals are distant and full of emotion, focusing lyrically on mankind's lost appreciation of nature. The drumming is actually nicely varied, and the guitar tones fit the atmosphere very well. Wolves In The Throne Room has created quite the album in Diadem Of 12 Stars, and may very well be a stepping stone into faster, murkier, and harsher black metal for many people.
Wolves in the Throne Room Two Hunters
In terms of USBM, no band other than Weakling and Agalloch at their blackest have had as much of an impact on the scene as Wolves In The Throne Room did and still do. Two Hunters is the second in a trilogy of excellent USBM that keeps the Cascadian sound at its roots: windy tremolo riffs, ghostly and emotional vocals, drumming that juxtaposes plodding rhythms with mid-paced blast beats while remaining impassioned, and a woodsy, naturistic aesthetic and theme. Occasionally, clean vocals will shine through as scant moments of clarity in a largely dense fog of black metal before being consumed by the hypnotic ether once again. Just in this record alone, you can hear the style, the mindset, the ethos; influencers of plenty of bands playing music in the scene today. While it is the weakest out of the first three records in the opinion of yours truly, it's still a needed listen for any fan of USBM, as are the other two, needless to say.
Wumpscut Bunkertor 7
One of electro-industrial's hardest-working and high-quality producers, Rudy Ratzinger, better known as :wumpscut:, had been a pillar in the scene for quite some time before calling it quits this year. Even so, he's left several truly exceptional works in his wake, including Bunkertor 7. The album is based in electro-industrial, but it dabbles in aggrotech on the harder, faster tracks and even dark electro on some of the quieter songs. The samples are all well-placed and the vocals are as ugly the album cover. It's also got a strong relationship between power and finesse throughout, using restraint when needed and laying on the gas when appropriate. It's clear that it's influenced by the likes of early Skinny Puppy and Leaether Strip, and surely opting for a more conventional sound in-genre, but it's still some of the most consistently great and occasionally brilliant electro-industrial out there. Needless to say, this project and the man behind it definitely deserve more credit.
It's actually quite amazing how Xxxtentacion has blown up the past several months. At first a volatile and hungry artist based in hard-hitting trap with a small, but extremely devoted fanbase, his music spread into many other subgenres of hip-hop and genres outside of hip-hop altogether as his name spread all throughout the Internet, being lauded as one of the most versatile artists in the game today. "Look At Me!", his most well-known song and opener of Revenge, came into a sudden and vast popularity while he was in prison, immediately making him a controversial figure within hip-hop. Whether you love his authenticity and his passion or despise his abrasive and often scatterbrained nature, one thing is for sure: the dude has ambition. Revenge is a compilation of singles released over SoundCloud years before, but the songs chosen here encapsulate very well the many styles of music and the many ideas Xxxtentacion works with. They're not particularly cohesive as a whole, but one can only assume (or hope) this fault would be softened on an album proper. You may love it all or hate every last bit of it, but the fact remains the same: Xxxtentacion is a name people better get used to hearing, for better or for worse.
XXXTENTACION Willy Wonka Was A Child Murderer
XXXTENTACION is a unique artist in hip-hops fluid landscape, and for good reason. He can make some of the most visceral, violent trap around (plenty of it even leaning towards industrial hip-hop), but can also spit raw verses over relatively subdued production. Another facet of his talent is heavily delved into on Willy Wonka Was A Child Murderer, that being his singing ability. The tracks here, sans closer "Never", are all rock-infused, with X singing in a noticeably pained voice over everything and occasionally exploding into a yelling frustration as the song does the same. The production, purposely lo-fi as is the case with most of his material, gives off a depressing and ominous vibe, especially on the title-track. All of this is just another notch in his belt, proving that he's one of the most versatile and unique artists in the genre today. Now he just needs to drop a tape or a full-length...
Yautja Songs of Lament
The mixing of crust or hardcore punk and sludge metal is a combination that seems magnificent on paper, but many bands who have attempted said combination end up taking the most basic parts of each genre and running with that, usually making inconsequential, relatively boring music. Songs Of Lament (in addition to Wound Empire), is one of the best albums from this year played in this style. They're sure to add personality and even a bit of catchiness into their sludge, and are brief and intense with their crust. The length of the record makes it easier to digest, and each song, whether it's a swift gut-punch like "Disgust; Disguise", a slow-burning romp like "Crumbling", or an eerie, subdued piece like "Revel; Writhe", has its own singular identity. Altogether, this makes for a great EP, so listen to it if you've twenty-three minutes on your hands.
Yndi Halda Under Summer
It's kind of strange hearing a new Yndi Halda album in 2016, but here we are. The men of Enjoy Eternal Bliss fame have clearly been working on their craft, because while Under Summer may not be on the level of its predecessor, it's hard to call it a step down. More of a progression, really, as it relies on quainter, more lovely pieces than exploding crescendos. It may not exactly bring anything new to the table as far as post-rock is concerned, but small details that pepper the passionate execution of the record, like the heavenly vocals on opener "Together Those Leave" and the gorgeous plucking on "Golden Threads From The Sun" show that the band knows what works and performs them near flawlessly. They're going to rely on evocative moments and emotionally affecting passages rather than experimentation, and that is totally fine, especially when it's well done. And, aside from some slight meandering on "Helena", this is extremely well done. In short, Yndi Halda is back, and after a decade plus, Under Summer is a welcome and excellent listen.
Yohuna Patientness
Returning after four years of relative silence after 2012's Revery, Yohuna delivers an atmospheric, catchy, and hazy take on indie pop, taking influences from dream pop, ambient pop, shoegaze, indie rock, and even synthpop. It's not drowning in reverb or hindered by a soulless production job; in fact, plenty of the instruments used here are organic and flow seamlessly with the electronic segments of the music. An early example and highlight comes on "The Moon Hangs In The Sky Like Nothing Hangs In The Sky", and later on the rolling "Apart". Of course, Yohuna herself, really named Johanne Swanson, has a marvelous voice for the job, being airy so as to match the sound but without sacrificing intimacy. Patientness never becomes an exercise in the subject due to all of this, and at thirty-four minutes, manages to be one of the most well-written and enjoyable pop albums of the year.
Young Thug JEFFERY
A man who is at once a unique and charismatic artist in the ever-diverse and constantly shifting landscape of hip-hop and a scapegoat for those who believe the genre is dead or dying (read: idiots), Thugga is no stranger to controversy. An ear for great production, an endless bevy of flows, and a tongue-in-cheek attitude is what makes the man great, and it's because he's allowed to do all of these things as strange and constant as he pleases that JEFFERY is a winner. While it does stand to note that it's not entirely all that different from past projects, the unshakably high quality with which nearly all of these songs exhibit puts this tape up there near his best. He just sounds so comfortable doing what he does here, and not in a stagnant or lethargic way either. Say what you will about the ridiculousness of the lyrics, but if you're taking them seriously, you're doing it wrong. Point is, JEFFERY is Young Thug doing Young Thug completely unabashedly. Your mileage may vary on what that entails.
Yung Bambi NVRLND
The last time blank body produced an entire project for someone the world was blessed with Libra Season, which put Adamn Killa on the map. Now he's doing the same for Yung Bambi, who's sure to gain some traction after his admirable effort on NVRLND. Needless to say, blank body's beats here are excellent and undoubtedly meticulously crafted, exemplifying why he's currently one of the best producers in trap. Yet, Yung Bambi is not overshadowed in the slightest, showing a warbly, melodic drawl with the type of oddly soothing voice that fits so perfect with this style. His ear for melody and undeniably catchy hooks ("No Light") makes him a great fit, and the features around him (including Matt OX, who as many have said may very well be a XXL Freshman before he's even a freshman in high school) back him up wonderfully. Definitely one of the EP's of the year so far.
Yung Lean Warlord
Anyone who is complaining about his flow/delivery/cadence clearly has never seen or heard what a guy off some Xan's is like. Anyways, Leandoer has rebounded in a great way from the inconsistent Unknown Memory. The beats here are so druggy and dreamy, so spacious and atmospheric, that it sets up Yung Lean very well for his trademark barred out, slurry flow. The combination of these two aspects is what makes Warlord aesthetically gratifying. To illustrate how well the aesthetic is done, I actually fell asleep listening to this a few times. I mean that in the best way possible, of course, as the effects of both the production and Yung Lean's delivery are pretty relaxing, intoxicating even on the best tracks. And even though he sounds disinterested, this is actually his most focused effort so far in all aspects. Thus, this really is Yung Lean's best project so far, and an excellent, atmospheric cloud rap album.
Yung Lean Frost God
Yung Lean, for all his perceived faults, remains one of the most interesting and captivating figures in the international hip-hop world. The strange and always ethereal style that he started out with would give way to a darker sound that resulted in one of the best works of cloud rap to date. Yet, on this surprise mixtape, Lean sounds rejuvenated and lively, positive even, and really sounds like he's enjoying himself. The production is more crystalline rather than ethereal or cloudy this time around, but since the likes of whitearmor, Gud, Acea, and company are handling it, you know it's going to be top-notch regardless. The features are also worthwhile, especially in the case of Adamn Killa and Bladee, with "Hennessy & Sailer Moon", "Cashin", and "Head 2 Toe" all being highlights boosted by their presence. One can't help but notice and enjoy how Frost God contrasts with Warlord, but you never know what you're going to get with Lean. Depends on his mood.
Zhrine Unortheta
Initially, I was expecting this album to be similar to the Ad Nauseam record from last year, but what I got was something that leans much more towards the atmospheric and slow-burning. This Icelandic quartet is suffocating black metal mixed with eerie and tense post-metal in an instrumental sense, while vocally being influenced heavily from death metal. The songs sometimes pull a hardcore influence out in isolated places, like after the first minute of "The Syringe Dance", and the all around feel of the tracks is very organic. The songwriting is generally very good, and while their might not be a standout track on the record, all of the songs here are great and flow with each other excellently. The production is quite varied, having a briskness to the guitars and drums during the black metal sections while also adding a more clean, airy sound to the instruments and the background during the post-metal passages. It's one more excellent metal album that Reykjavik has to its name.

3.5 great
21 Savage Issa Album
21 Savage really made a statement last year with Savage Mode, a dark, Halloween-esque collaborative effort with the ineffable Metro Boomin' that showcased the type of haunting atmosphere and unsettling moments that many a trap rapper have tried to embody at one point or another. Issa harkens back to his earliest projects such as The Slaughter Tape when it comes to style, and though it's a bit more shiny and a little less imposing and gritty, 21 Savage does this kind of stuff as well as anyone right now. It's not really anything he hasn't covered before, but he's just so good at it it really doesn't matter much. That said, whenever he tries his hand at a more R&B-flavored track is where things get dodgy. It's nice he's trying to spice things up with something like that, but it's really not his lane. In all, Issa is a solid debut full-length, but one can't help but wonder what else he's got up his sleeve.
A Breath Before Surfacing Death Is Swallowed In Victory
A Tribe Called Quest We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
I don't know what it was like to have heard A Tribe Called Quest's first three albums when they were released, but I'm sure it must've been amazing. Thus, it's a little surreal hearing a new album from the group, especially after the untimely passing of Phife Dawg, may he rest in peace. It's a somewhat dated affair, and some songs have that "old man yells at cloud" type feel to them, but on the whole it's a solid and occasionally excellent record from the Tribe. Q-Tip does well, as expected, and the guest spots also do an excellent job (that Kendrick Lamar's verse is the least memorable of the bunch speaks a lot to the quality of the guest appearances). Ali's production is where the album either hits or misses. Some of the songs sound like tasteful forays into a classic sound with a bit of a modern twist, while others sound disjointed and dated. The hooks are also inconsistent, but when they're on, they're very much on. When it's all said and done, though, "We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service" is a memorable experience, which a group like Tribe is capable of nothing less than.
A.R. Rahman Slumdog Millionaire
It was good, don't get me wrong, but I still don't see how this won the Oscar for best film score over "Wall-E"
A/T/O/S Outboxed
rAfter a mesmerizing self-titled debut record, it seems a bit strange that A/T/O/S would release an album only nine tracks long and under a half of an hour. Still, that's what Outboxed is for better or worse, and from a sonic and songwriting standpoint, A/T/O/S are still very much themselves, operating with a moody, organic mixture of alternative R&B and trip-hop. The production is still the selling point here, with its ethereal nature being less wondering and whimsical and more down-to-earth, weaving darker webs that shine beautifully next to those lovely vocals. More styles are at play here than just that, with several songs venturing into a more conventional, straightforward downtempo sound, and the opener pretty much being ambient techno. It's pretty swell, but one cannot help but feel as if they're teasing something a bit grander in scale with this record. Either way, it's just good that the group put out some new music, especially if it's as solid and well-rounded as this.
Abnormality Mechanisms of Omniscience
We all know of the negative qualities that plague many brutal death and technical death metal bands in the scene today, as it is far too easy to fall into their respective traps. Abnormality plays a combo of both genres, and tactfully toe the thin lines of each of them, avoiding the pitfalls with a grace that is becoming increasingly rare as time moves forward. Their sophomore record, and first on new label Metal Blade, is a exercise in this tact that is one part brutality, one part technicality, and one part seething ambience. The production, while certainly on the cleaner side for this style, is clear, with the drums, guitars, and vocals all taking up massive spots on the record. Vocalist Mallika Sundaramurthy is a bit monotone, but is a beast regardless, and drummer Jay Blaisdell is thoroughly entertaining. Truly, Abnormality have some excellent years ahead of them if they stay on the path they've made for themselves, with Mechanisms Of Omniscience being a nice step.
Actuary / Gnaw Their Tongues Untitled
Made sparingly over several years but only just released, this short, yet quite good, LP features one of the most prominent faces in noise music in Gnaw Their Tongues, and a group of solid noise veterans in Actuary, and showcases their respective talents. With Actuary, the style of noise is constant and jarring, almost like a bad radio transmission with small, barely discernible bits of the horror on the other side actually coming to light. Thus, it's almost like you're listening to signals from alien worlds. Gnaw Their Tongues shows its lighter side, with the majority of the side's first track being dark ambient with strange chanting. The noisier side comes out on the later two tracks, which follow the first in a linear way. Disturbing moaning and words from different languages pepper the tracks, whereas Maurice De Jong's vicious vocals only show up for about a couple minutes total. The tiniest bits of black metal do pop up here and there, but this is mostly a noise project one both sides. It's a solid LP, showing both the interesting and the entertaining sides of noise music.
Aerosmith Aerosmith
Aerosmith Rocks
Aesop Rock Cat Food
This release by prominent underground hip-hop artist Aesop Rock may just be a two song EP, but it has some nice things to offer. The title track sounds like it would fit perfectly on his previous release, Skelethon, and shows a nice tightening of the ideas explored on it. The last song, "Bug Zapper", sees Aes rapping about paranoia over an awkward piano line that fits the subject very well. Overall, a solid EP, something that will hopefully be expanded upon on his next full-length.
Aesop Rock Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives
In a style unmistakably Def Jux, Aesop Rock approaches his third EP with a manner similar to his fourth LP, Bazooka Tooth. This means heavily veiled lyrics, self-produced beats similar in technique to collaborator El-P, and a nice repertoire of flows. As such, Fast Cars, Danger, Fire, And Knives feels more like an extension of Bazooka Tooth than its own singular entity. This is by no means a bad thing, as Bazooka Tooth was a great record, but it does mark a bit of a stagnant period for Aes, as he began to exhaust this facet of his creative hip-hop mind. It's good to note that this would go on signify a change for him, as he showed on his next record, None Shall Pass.
Agalloch Faustian Echoes
While it may be true that Faustian Echoes follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, it doesn't really hold a candle to it. Marrow Of The Spirit was Agalloch at their atmospheric, thematic, and songwriting best, a project that encapsulated their entire existence as a band up until that point, and while this EP is in no way a bad one, it sounds much less involved and interesting than its predecessor. It has its fair share of great moments, though, like the riff about four minutes into the song that is one of the most sinister the band has penned, or the climactic ending with fantastic usage of an interview sample. More or less, it's Agalloch doing what Agalloch does well, and thus it shouldn't come as a surprise that the EP is definitely worth a listen if folky atmo-black is your thing. That said, there's plenty of material in the discography that outdoes this and then some, so I'd recommend starting there first.
Agalloch The Serpent and the Sphere
After the release of the career-encompassing and career-best Marrow Of The Spirit, it seemed as if Agalloch didn't have anywhere else to go musically. That notion would prove true with The Serpent And The Sphere, and though it's not a bad album by any means, it's certainly more of a rehash than anything else they had done in their careers. It sounds like The Mantle; many acoustic sections surrounded by slower, doom-influenced post-rock and some faster-paced atmospheric black metal passages. The fact that it's so reminiscent of The Mantle means that the songwriting is pretty predictable, though there's several instances of lovely melodies and refrains that help give the album some needed personality. The acoustic interludes are actually pretty beautiful, and though they might not add all that much, they're still professionally done and help spruce things up a slight bit. It probably would've been better for their discography for this to have been the first Pillorian record, but things will go as they do.
Algiers The Underside of Power
The self-titled debut of Algiers did a lot of cool things. It mixed post-industrial with post-punk and gospel music, and was one of the most passionate records released that year. The Underside Of Power sees the quartet embrace the post-industrial side of themselves more than ever while still retaining Franklin Fisher's huge, gospel-influenced voice and some of the post-punk stylings as well ("Death March" in particular sounds very early-80's in this regard). Tracks can even rely on pianos here, like "Mme Rieux" and "Hymn For An Average Man" as well. The things that plagued the debut, however, that being somewhat listless songwriting and falling susceptible to melodramatic bombast, unfortunately do show up here, but just a little less frequently than before. In this sense the band is improving, however slightly that may be, and seeing as how there are some truly great moments here (just listen to the title-track for an example; it may be their best song to date), Algiers are still a band to keep an eye out for.
Amber Asylum Sin Eater
San Francisco's own Amber Asylum has a style hard to pin down. They use a pretty swell combination of neoclassical, dark ambient, doom metal, and darkwave. On Sin Eater, their first full length project in six years, the group melds slow-burning, gloomy cellos and violins with thick underlying bass and steady, methodical drumming. The vocals are airy and dreamy, and the productions add to the ethereal aesthetic. Yet, it sometimes can drag on a bit longer than it's welcomed to, and this can cause the experience to be diluted due to boredom. Still, it's pretty well done, with the first couple of songs and the excellent one-two punch of "Executioner" and the title-track/closer being of particular note. In all, Amber Asylum play to their strengths on their first project in some time, and manage to put out a good, solid album as a result.
Amebix Who's the Enemy
Here we witness the beginnings of Amebix, one of the most important names in punk, but also the further development of the crust punk genre. Their debut EP gives insight into what they would eventually become, but also has its own charm to it as well. It shows the riffier side of Amebix on tracks like "Carnage", while also showing their intense punk energy on songs like "Curfew". There's almost black metal-like production values here, with the drums remaining consistently low in the mix and the riffs all being pretty murky. The bass is audible and a great force, especially on "No Gods, No Masters". The vocals are shouted with varying degrees of gruffness, and are typically raw, but understandable and fun to hear. In all, the birth of Amebix helped flesh out crust punk as a genre, which makes this EP an important listen any way you slice it.
Amebix Winter
On Amebix's formative EP's, the blueprint to crust punk was created. On Winter, a two-track, nine minute EP, Rob Miller is the driving force behind it all. Due to the production value on this EP, the guitars and drums are pretty low in the mix, whereas the vocals and bass are at the forefront. However, this gives Miller a chance to shine, as he turns in a fantastic performance both vocally and on the bass, especially on the title-track. In short, it's a great EP, and crust punk fans should definitely hear it.
Amebix No Sanctuary
I assume this is what it would sound like if you took grindcore and slowed it way down. There is certainly much more of a post-punk feel than there is a crusty one, but you can definitely see what Amebix was working towards, especially on songs like "Sanctuary" and "Sunshine Ward". The production is more akin to their second EP, Winter, than anything else, which of course means that Rob Miller runs the show. That's not a bad thing, of course, as he's typically excellent both vocally and on the bass. This would mark the end of Amebix's stint at Spiderleg Records, and although they would release their best work on other labels, their work on Spiderleg is some important punk, not least of which is No Sanctuary.
Amine Good For You
Reminds me of a more party-oriented version of Chance The Rapper, if that makes sense. Also the dude name drops Fela Kuti, so he gets immediate cool points for that. Amine, as you probably know, landed on the XXL Freshman class for 2017, designating him as an up-and-comer to keep an eye on. While those lists aren't always the standard-bearers for the best new talent, Amine could definitely make a better case to be on there than several others. Good For You is not only a fun, upbeat listen, it's also one of the more positive hip-hop records of the year. Though oftentimes positivity falls prey to cliche and cheese, Amine's able to avoid both by keeping his flows smooth, his voice toned, and his lyrics low-key (despite a face-palming pop culture reference here and there). The production also follows suit, with some mellow, yet quite colorful beats coming together with more energetic and lively ones. It's not a sound entirely his own, but Amine is pretty good at this stuff, and hopefully he can use that skill to mold himself a style all his.
Ampere Demo
After his stint with seminal screamo band Orchid, Will Killingsworth helped form Ampere, which has turned out to be a pretty important screamo band in and of themselves. Their first recordings as a band are catalogued here, in their debut demo. It's screamo that definitely leans more towards hardcore punk than something with more melody in it, but some melodic moments do appear, like on "Up The Contrast" and "No Miracles Here". Mostly, though, it's just intense, hard-hitting screamo, which hits it's peak on "I Don't Need It Anyways". In retrospect, it was quite the promising debut for a band known now to be one of the best in the business.
Ampere / Sinaloa Split Recording
It's a shame. Sinaloa put out some pretty nice material here, but it is absolutely dwarfed by Ampere's. It just goes to show how far Ampere was (and is) ahead of their contemporaries. With that said, Ampere's side of Split Recording is ferocious and cathartic, mixing high amounts of intensity, the smallest of melodic breaks, and their top-notch technicality to create yet another batch of winners, the best of which being "In Antiquity". Sinaloa's side, as stated before, is good in its own right. It's more melodic, but less dynamic, and the thin production doesn't exactly help things either. Still, tracks like "Teeth To Tongue" really bring some evocative moments to the table. In all, this is a very good split LP and is definitely recommended to fans of screamo.
Ampere/Raein Split
It's pretty much exactly as good as you'd think it would be. Raein's songs are a slight bit longer and have a more melancholy vibe to them, whereas Ampere's songs are bursts of anger and frenetic energy. Four minutes of Raein, three and a half minutes of Ampere, seven and a half minutes of well done screamo. Sweet.
Anberlin Never Take Friendship Personal
Anberlin Dark Is the Way, Light Is a Place
Somewhere along the line, Anberlin realized that their best material is fast-paced, and with the uncanny ability to write massive hooks, some excellent material has been penned. Their problem with each album before this, besides Cities, was that they were wildly inconsistent. This is rectified on Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place, which strikes a great balance between their fast-paced songs and their slower, lengthier ones. The other thing that helps is that each of the songs here, no matter what style, has a really good hook. I mean, there's no "Paperthin Hymn" here, but the consistent quality at which these hooks are written is nothing short of stunning. Elsewhere, it's the typical Anberlin fare, just amped up a bit and with more thought and more beef put into each softer song. That's by no means a bad thing, and with their newfound consistency, they'd go on to write their second truly great album in Devotion.
Anberlin Lowborn
It doesn't seem like it matters what tweak Anberlin makes to their sound, whether it be the highly energetic pop-punk/alt-rock of earlier records like Never Take Friendship Personal, the electronic-influenced records like Cities, or the stripped down, bare-bones approach like on Dark Is The Way, Light Is The Place, one thing always remains the same: they write the hell out of their hooks. It's no different on Lowborn, which offers elements of synthpop in addition to their catchy brand of alt-rock. The songwriting is Anberlin to a T, and the lyrics and vocals remain constantly solid and occasionally brilliant. It's not anything all that different from their last record Devotion, but the notion that they still have the ability to make some very catchy and fun tunes seven albums into their career is very impressive. Long story short, if you like Anberlin, you'll undoubtedly enjoy their swansong in Lowborn.
Animal Collective Painting With
I'm not so sure I get the lukewarm reaction this record seems to be getting. Yes, it's certainly not as rich or textured as something like Merriweather Post Pavilion, but it's still an AnCo album through and through. There's still the playful little quirks that pepper any given record of theirs, whether it's the bubbly synths or the well done psychedelic production and aesthetic. There's still very catchy numbers here as well, such as infectiously fun opener "FloriDaDa" or the short-yet-sweet "Spilling Guts". It does become a bit samey during the middle stretch of the record, but the quality of songs on the beginning and ending stretches really make up for this unfortunate lull, especially tracks like "Vertical" and "Golden Gal", the latter of which is a bonafide Animal Collective classic. I can't help but feel as if Painting With is criticized for what it's not, rather than what it is, which is a cute, fun, and positively AnCo psychedelic pop record.
Animal Collective Campfire Songs
Back when Animal Collective was known simply as Campfire Songs, they released this strange, yet pretty unique and undeniably calming self-titled record. Much like Danse Manatee, there's very little emphasis on writing actual songs and more of an effort put into atmosphere. Whereas Danse Manatee felt very haphazard and jumbled, Campfire Songs feels cohesive, and with a clear goal in mind. True, all of the songs are two or three chords strummed over and over again over field recordings and chanting vocals, but it succeeds in being an immersive, atmospheric piece, about as calming and tranquil as it possibly can be. This is entirely different from the psychedelic electronic smorgasbords that are their later records, but that's what makes Campfire Songs a needed listen for AnCo fans: there simply isn't another record that they made quite like this. As such, it's an overlooked body of work, one which showed the guys behind the group to be wholly capable of forming an engrossing atmosphere.
Animal Collective Sung Tongs
It's right around now in the careers of Animal Collective where they began rediscovering their roots: making legitimate pop songs and shrouding them in all sorts of psychedelic folk weirdness, like they did on Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished. The difference on Sung Tongs is that the group now had a much larger musical palette to arrange their songs from, and though it doesn't always translate into gold, there are sections of the album that not only remind you how great they were at their conception, but how great they would eventually become as well. The first half of the album is pound-for-pound one of the best stretches of music Animal Collective ever penned, and though the album does take a bit of a nosedive after "Visiting Friends", the strength of the first half is enough to warrant it a listen. Their best would undoubtedly be yet to come, but it would be remiss of anyone professing to enjoy AC to skip this step on their journey.
Animal Collective Prospect Hummer
There's not a whole lot to Prospect Hummer, as it's more or less just material from Campfire Songs with some slight electronics interspersed within and Vashti Bunyan on vocals, but it's still a really pleasant EP. It continues the Animal Collective signature: making simple pop songs and then adorning them, sometimes a lot, sometimes not much, with bells and whistles. Really beautiful stuff, though it wouldn't exactly be an indication of what was to come for the band.
Animals As Leaders The Madness of Many
Animals As Leaders are one of maybe three bands in this particular style that do anything that interests me. They have their flaws, but I've come to appreciate their work as something more than just clueless "progressive" wankery. The Madness Of Many solidifies that feeling even further, and it does so with impressive consistency. The production, while not really my thing, fits the mechanical and robotic aesthetic of the album like a glove, helps the album sound more coherent, and the listener is able to tell what is going on more clearly. The songwriting is pretty solid, and while occasionally it can lose itself for a minute or so, it rights itself very well afterwards. The dizzying technicality and strange rhythms are strong, as always, but the softer moments here are also pretty nice as well, especially on the closing minutes of "Inner Assassins" and the entirety of "The Brain Dance". Once again, Animals As Leaders deliver another worthwhile outing of their instrumental progressive metal style.
Animals As Leaders Animals as Leaders
When it comes to this super-cleanly produced style of progressive metal, especially as far as djent is concerned, only a few bands really do anything for me. Animals As Leaders is definitely one of them, probably the cream of the crop, and that's because not only can they write an interesting song, they also have the ability to write a cohesive album. For all of the technical acrobatics they can do with their guitars, it's the spacey and wondering atmosphere that really get things done on Animals As Leaders. Some really wonderful material can be found here, like the insane riffing on opener "Tempting Time", or the beautiful guitar interlude of "Thoroughly At Home", or the entirety of "CAFO". The record does lend itself to moments of self-indulgence, and many of the songs here follow a very similar path, which doesn't help when things already sound mechanical. Still, there are moments of genuine beauty here, and who honestly can say they don't like beautiful music?
Ara Kra Ara Kra
With their first release in four years, Berlin quintet Ara Kra have shed some of what made them a unique listen on their debut EP, Ferne Tage, but add an extra dash of emotion in the vocals and the ferocity with which the instruments are played. The band has done away with all of their deathcore influences, instead opting for a post-rock influenced black metal sound that was explored in doses on their previous effort, but never truly fleshed out as it is here. The vocalist turns in a marvelous performance, and while the guitars and drums aren't exactly playing the most original stuff, they play it with an intensity that can't go unnoticed. In all, it's a very solid outing from Ara Kra, one that has me waiting for a full-length from the group.
Arctic Monkeys AM
Arctic Monkeys have always been a band I know to be consistent and, for a time during the beginning of their career, brilliant. With their last couple of albums they've lost some of that brilliance, but still manage to make some good tunes. AM follows suit in this sense, as the first half of this album has some great stuff, but the second tends to drag a bit. Songs like "Do I Wanna Know?", "R U Mine?", and "Arabella" work well as late-night rock jams, but many of the slower songs on the album don't really do anything. They could be played in the background at smoky pubs, as can most of Arctic Monkeys' music, but this time around it seems like that is the only discernible intention of the songs. Simply put, it just doesn't feel as genuine as before. Still, it has enough new things, like the sublime backing vocals, to keep it interesting, and to make it a respectable addition into the Arctic Monkeys' discography.
Arsonists Get All the Girls Motherland
Arsonists Get All the Girls The Game Of Life
Art Blakey At the Cafe Bohemia, Vol. 2
While it's not quite as good as At The Cafe Bohemia, Volume 1, Volume 2 has some moments on here well worthy of their own release. Still working with the same ineffable quintet as the last time around, The Jazz Messengers get things off to a hot start with "Sportin' Crowd", a song on which each of the members' soloing abilities are given a chance to shine. Groovy and bluesy are the two defining factors here; Art Blakey himself said as much before the group descended into a rendition of "Like Someone In Love": "And at this point, ladies and gentlemen, we'd like to play for you... ...anything groovy." While the last couple of songs aren't nearly as good as the opener, they're still very solid and the chemistry between the members is definitely noticeable. It's this same chemistry, even in its smaller stages in 1954, that would allow these men to pen some of the great jazz albums of the era and go down in history one of jazz's greatest collectives.
As Blood Runs Black Ground Zero
After their sophomore record Instinct, which was literally a worse version of their noteworthy debut Allegiance, As Blood Runs Black underwent a change. Their focus on melodic death metal riffs and speedy drum work stood pat, but the songwriting improved and they sounded more energized and passionate. Ground Zero documents this change, and shows that even a full eight years after their debut, the band was still one of the most solid Gothenburg-influenced deathcore bands around. The songwriting here is smoothed out and more fluid with added groove, while the vocals also have more range, even into clean singing, which doesn't hurt things at all. The production got much better, and as stated before the energy levels were raised to palpable levels. It's got a similar endgame as the two before it, but the personality is different enough to distinguish it from its predecessors. Who knows if they'll ever come out with another record; if they did I'm sure it would be just as solid as this.
Atmosphere Leak At Will
Au-Dessus End of Chapter
Sometimes subgenres can be really hit or miss and this whole "post-black" scene is definitely one of those for me. Still, stuff like End Of Chapter hits because they stick true to what one of the cornerstones of black metal are: forceful emotion. It's apparent hearing these guys hammer out these riffs that wouldn't sound out of place on a Blut Aus Nord record with intense pressure, hearing the drummer blast endlessly away on his kit reminiscent of how Lev Weinstein of Krallice does it, and hearing the vocalist not only howl like an animal in the darkness, but beautifully incorporate clean vocals really engraves just how emotional things are. Au-Dessus may not be playing anything completely original on this first full-length of theirs, but it's hard not to be engaged when there's that much emotion flying around. The production is a little clean for my tastes, but if you're a fan of atmo-black/post-metal you shouldn't ignore this one.
August Burns Red Leveler
After creating a modern metalcore masterpiece in Constellations, ABR decided to experiment further on their fourth LP. What follows is the bands most stagnant release, but there is still plenty here to appreciate. The album starts with a bang with "Empire", which quickly transitions into "Internal Cannon", which makes the use of salsa-tinged acoustic guitars that strangely fit well. "Cutting The Ties" stacks up as one of the best songs the band has made to date, with very memorable melodic riffs and uplifting lyrics. Things go downhill after "Pangea", though, as the songwriting loses its experimental edge and the songs slam into each other as a result. Getting through the middle is a chore, and though the closer (also being the title-track) is pretty good, the payoff doesn't quite cut it. Still, the beginning five songs are all excellent, and the band is still doing bigger and better things than the vast majority of their contemporaries.
Autechre Anti
Autechre Incunabula
Despite it being their debut LP, both Rob Brown and Sean Booth have said that Incunabula is merely a compilation of previously constructed material rather than an album proper. That said, it was released to great reception as part of Warp Records' Artificial Intelligence series. The way Warp Records described the series is as apt of a description as you'll ever get for Incunabula: "For long journeys, quiet nights, and club-drowsy dawns, listen with an open mind." Musically, this record is a collection of swirling ambient techno, but the IDM ideas are certainly there as well. The album is pretty long though, and with the repetition on display here, things can get pretty taxing on some of the longer tracks near the end. And because it is, evidently, just a compilation, the album doesn't flow as well as it could have. In general, though, this is some pretty dense and consuming ambient techno, as Autechre begin to come ever so more slightly into their own.
Autechre Envane
Among other things, Autechre is known for having a plethora of album-length and album-quality EP's in addition to their catalogue of impenetrable LP's. Envane is a peculiar one in the line, seeing the duo's trademark IDM robotics with a hip-hop flavor to them. Simply put, as you can hear most prominently on opener "Goz Quarter", this is Autechre's short-but-sweet foray into the realm of glitch-hop, showing that the duo were beginning to evolve their sound further and experiment with it to a noticeable degree. It is this mindset that they've worked with ever since, which is just one of the reasons why Envane is another important Autechre EP.
Autechre Cichlisuite
It's but one facet of Autechre's brilliance that they can remix an original song into something completely different from what it originally was, with maybe a vague connection to the original. One need not look further than Cichlisuite to find evidence of this; this entire EP is made up of remixes of "Cichli" from the excellent Chiastic Slide. While it was definitely a good song then, a couple of these remixes eclipse the original, namely the ending duo of "Krib" and "Tilapia", both of which are a bit more structured in relation to the tracks preceding them, especially the haphazard "Pencha". Even then, though, these songs seem less like remixes and more like re-imaginings, and the ability to execute that process evidently comes naturally for Autechre.
Autechre Peel Session 2
The second of the live sessions Autechre did with John Peel, Peel Session 2 is all original material, much like the first, and has some of the most overlooked material in the duo's catalog, also like the first. This particular session was recorded in the summer of 1999, a little while after their illustrious EP7 was released, and shows Autechre working with some beauty on opener "Gelk" before diving into the rigid on the other three tracks here. Though the flow between songs isn't that great, that's something one will come to expect from the duo, though the individual songs themselves have clear, nuanced, and tightly-woven progressions that flow marvelously. You should like this if you enjoyed the projects that preceded it, but "Gelk" is definitely something anyone remotely familiar with Autechre should hear.
Baalsebub The Sickness of the Holy Inquisition
The middle ages were some of the most brutal times around. Plagues, wars, and almost every form of torture imaginable (and some unimaginable) taint the annals of its history. Baalsebub, purveyors of ugly slamming brutal death, look no further to showcase horrific acts of human depravity. Amongst their weaponry are such diverse elements as: tremolos, a pingy snare, ruthless vocals, an almost fanatical devotion to the slam, and nice red uniforms. It isn't the most original stuff in the world as the songwriting sticks to the tried and true, and the production may be just a tad too clean, but it's nevertheless a well-executed record, pulling off the style with seamless proficiency. All this said, The Sickness Of The Holy Inquisition is an absurdly fun slam death metal album, and if that sounds as good to you as it does to yours truly, get on it. Needless to say, this was definitely the surprise. Why? Because NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!
On this interesting little EP, the jazz trio from Toronto put their own spin on songs made by Odd Future's own Tyler The Creator. Tyler has always had a love for jazz and incorporates jazzy influences in some of his music. Naturally, this is a match made in heaven for these artists. Some of the tracks feature Tyler himself rapping over a BBNG rendition of a song he wrote, but where the EP really shines are the two "Session" tracks. Here, it's just BBNG, playing a medley of tracks from Bastard and Goblin. Any fan of jazz will like this, and any Odd Future fan will fall in love with it.
Baroness Blue Record
Comparisons to Mastodon be damned, Blue Record is the most consistent pre-poppy Baroness full-length, and sports the songwriting and lovely subtleties that people came to love Red Album for with a newfound consistency. While it is true that the record both loses a bit of personality and lacks the highs of its predecessor, the inconsistencies of its predecessor are eschewed in favor of a wholly solid, front-to-back, approach. The instrumental interludes here hold weight because of their distinctly southern flavor, mixing in bluegrass and stoner rock with the band's trademark psychedelically-charged sludge metal. The vocals have a lot of power here, and are probably the best they've ever sounded, while the production packs a massive punch, especially in relation to the drumming. The album is full of those little idiosyncrasies that help retain the band's personal touch to the style, and overall is a very good effort from the quartet.
Basement Jaxx Remedy
One of the most commercially successful funky house projects of all time, Remedy was Basement Jaxx's first full-length record, and manages to provide a funk-filled spin on house music with thumping beats and flowing, warm bass and synth lines. Although the vocals marred by bad electronic effects and certain samples can be a bit obnoxious, most notably on the first couple of tracks, the vast majority of material here is very enjoyable, danceable house. Singles "Jump N' Shout", which is a very fun and funny song (the sound of Slarta John's voice is particularly amusing), and "Red Alert" are two shining examples of funky house, and give all the reason in the world why the style dominated clubs in the late 90's. Even the interludes are catchy ("The rhythm, the tracks, the basement, the Jaxx" is almost like a mini-hook, making a so-called interlude thirty seconds of fun). They'd expand on this style later, but Remedy is a needed listen for fans of house, especially of the funky variety.
Basement Jaxx Rooty
A duo renowned for bringing the funky house style to the mainstream, Basement Jaxx has created their fair share of awesome material in their careers. Rooty, while somewhat inconsistent, has several of these. The first three tracks alone are funky house royalty, and although it goes through a bit of a lull in the middle of the record, the ending combo of the insatiably catchy "Do Your Thing" and lush closer "All I Know" is more than enough to bring it out of the rut. With the staples of warm synths, fluid beats, and enjoyable vocal samples, the best of the material on this thing is truly some phenomenal stuff. It's a shame that a lot of the other tracks here are pretty lukewarm and even somewhat uninteresting, but the album was able to attain the status it has within house on the strength of its highlights alone. So, if you want to hear some of the best material funky house has to offer, you should give this a spin as soon as possible.
Basement Jaxx EP2
Per Atlantic Jaxx: "Another four house classics in the form of 'EP2', the imaginatively named second EP from Basement Jaxx, released in 1995 and still sounding fresh [today]." I would agree with the latter half of that statement very much, as it's some expertly-done deep house that isn't that far off from the funky house the duo would create in the early 2000's. Warm synths, a fluid feel to the music, and memorable vocals and samples make EP2 an early Basement Jaxx staple, and that alone makes it worth the listen.
Baths Ocean Death
Baths Obsidian
In stark contrast to the mellow, content, and fun debut album of his that was Cerulean, Will Wiesenfeld, or Baths, puts together a dark, nervous album that serves as the antithesis to his acclaimed debut. Even from the opener, "Worsening", you understand that things are much different, as the glitchy downtempo has been replaced with a more subdued, straightforward sound. That is not to say that he's lost his charm, though. You can still tell it's Baths producing the record, and though his work is more stripped back, he lets his voice take the spotlight this time around. The first half of the record is considerably better than the second, with songs like "Ironworks" and "Incompatible" stealing the show. "No Eyes" is, unfortunately, irritating, and a completely awkward and out of place piano line repeatedly interrupts "No Past Lives" constantly. Still, with "Earth Death" and "Inter" being the penultimate and closer respectively, the album ends on a high note. If you think this will be the same Baths you heard on Cerulean, think twice, as he crafts his darkest work here, and manages to do it very competently.
Between the Buried and Me The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues
Between the Buried and Me Between the Buried and Me
Between the Buried and Me Coma Ecliptic
Rarely ever do you see a band rooted in metalcore have the openness towards and will to do experimentation that Between The Buried And Me have. Though controversial, they've essentially been playing the music they want to play since their inception, and one would have to assume that remains the same with Coma Ecliptic. It's probably their softest offering, leaning heavily on progressive metal, but that's not to say there aren't good moments, despite the first trio of songs being pretty lackluster. "King Redeem/Queen Serene" really picks things up for the album, and the final trio of songs end on a triumphant note both in the context of the concept of the record and for the enjoyment of the record itself. Tommy Rogers has a hodge-podge of a performance, which sometimes can affect the songs pretty deeply, but the instrumentation behind it is solid and does well enough. It is the moments where everyone is on the same page that make moments on this record excellent, and while it's not even close to their best, it's still a decent record and is still distinctly BTBAM.
Binary Star Water World 3
There might be no shortage of lines that pander to the "real hip-hop" mouth-breathers, but WaterWorld III shows how to make a good throwback record to the classics, one of which Binary Star had created seventeen years before this. First and foremost, the production, which harkens back to Masters Of The Universe not only in style, but with use of samples and chopping from the record itself. It's got a nice, gritty, old-school boom bap feel, and the lyrics touch on many societal issues as relative to the world today, almost like and version of their most well known record, which was in itself and version of their debut. Don't take this as they're just re-hashing; rather, it's clear a lot of thought went into this one, not only from the oftentimes clever lyrics and encompassing production, but from the plethora of guest verses from some prominent and up-and-coming members of the underground from Detroit and the surrounding areas, all of which are pretty great. Never say GoodBinary.
Black Milk and Nat Turner The Rebellion Sessions
A small, streamlined, and pretty nice collaboration, Detroit rapper/producer Black Milk meets up with Nat Turner, a combo of AB, Malik Hunter, and Zeb Horton, to create some solid, if unadventurous nu-jazz and jazz-funk. Each song gets right to the point and let's the idea linger for exactly how long it should before moving on to the next track. Whether it be addictive little basslines or choral vocals that weave in and out of the track, these things all stay their welcome and not a second later. The production is generally very good, as the album sounds buttery smooth from start to finish. From a compositional standpoint, there's nothing overtly original or anything particularly excellent, but they're all brief and a good enough time to keep the listeners attention. And really, I'm sure that's the only thing this collab had in mind.
Blanck Mass World Eater
I can definitely say what I got out of this album is not what I initially thought I would. With a style like electro-industrial, a cover like that and a title like World Eater, you'd think there'd be much more "industrial" than "electro", in a venomous style more akin to Skinny Puppy's earlier days than sample-based progressive electronic. Blanck Mass manages to merge two worlds here, one of ugliness and roughness and the other of familiarity and comfort. The tracks here wax and wane endlessly, forever adding on and taking away melodies, samples, and assorted noise, like a spiderwort plant constantly blooming and withering it's own flowers. The tracks can take a bit longer to end than they should, as they usually expend their ideas by about five to six minutes into the song, but on the whole they're very listenable and interesting compositions. It could've used a small shave, but World Eater is still a wholly solid outing from Blanck Mass which just may be his best work yet.
Blessthefall Blessthefall
Bob Marley and The Wailers Soul Rebels
Bob Marley and The Wailers Burnin'
Before The Wailers became Bob Marley & The Wailers after founding members Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer took off for solo careers, they released a sort of last hurrah in the form of 1973's Burnin'. While previous releases focused mainly on laid-back themes, much of what is contained on Burnin' is a call to action. With songs like "Get Up, Stand Up", and the oft-covered "I Shot The Sheriff", the album has a more revolutionary feel than previous albums. Still, songs like "Pass It On" still show the peace-loving, dope-smoking side to The Wailers we all know and love. Some of the best songs they've ever written also appear on the album in the form of "Hallelujah Time" and "Burnin' And Lootin'". Don't pass it up if you're a fan of The Wailers and reggae in general.
Bob Marley and The Wailers Uprising
It's a bit of a shame that this would be the last thing Bob Marley and The Wailers released before Bob's untimely death, because it isn't even close to the level of the three records before Uprising. It's a very streamlined record, and it's much more bare than any of the previous five albums he and The Wailers released. The songs are typical roots reggae with that classic Marley charisma and beautiful backing vocals, but the songs run a little thin due to the absence of instruments that gave previous records so much flavor. That said, closer "Redemption Song" is an absolute triumph, with only an acoustic guitar and Bob's heartbreaking voice singing about his love for music and how he would be lost without it. It's a beautiful parting gift and it stands up as one of his best for sure, but it's a shame it couldn't have been on a more defining and refined release. It's a good album, to be sure, just not as good as one would expect from this group of amazing men and women.
Bon Iver Blood Bank
Aside from a few songs here or there, this is my first taste of Bon Iver. Justin Vernon, the angel-voiced lead singer, is mesmerizing here, especially on the title-track. As far as the sound of the record goes, it's beautiful, often starting out sparsely before building up the sound with more instruments and vocal layers. The use of piano in "Baby's" is a nice touch, and "Woods" is cool and funny in an ironic sense, because what would a guy like Vernon need auto-tune for? It kind of helps dispel the myth that using auto-tune in any way makes you a crappy singer. In short, Blood Blank is really nice indie folk, and it serves as the perfect sample for anyone willing to try out Bon Iver.
Bon Iver Bon Iver, Bon Iver
I was unafraid, I was a boy, I was a tender age. Melic in the naked, knew a lake and drew the lofts for page. Hurdle all the waitings up, knew it wasn't wedded love. Four long minutes and it was over, it'd all be back. And the frost took up the eyes. Pressed against the pane, could see the veins, and there was poison out. Resting in a raze, the inner claims I hadn't breath to shake. Searching for an inner clout, may not take another bout. Honey in the hale could fill the pales of loving less with vain. Hon, it wasn't yet the spring. Aiming and it sunk and we were drunk and we had fleshed it out. Nose up in the globes, you never know if you're passing out. No it wasn't maiden-up, the falling or the faded luck. Hung up in the ivory, both were climbing for a finer cause. Love can hardly leave the room with your heart.
Bonobo Migration
And Bonobo releases another winner, what a surprise. Simon Green has been at this type of thing for ages now, and while Migration doesn't have much in the way of originality or inventiveness, it does have some tantalizingly well done songwriting and a decent emotional range. The downtempo/nu jazz/future garage/trip-hop sound Green operates with sounds as smooth and crisp as ever, with an array of beautiful textures permeating the album. The songs with vocals on them are especially well done, and the album does contain a bit of a surprise in "Second Sun", a song both melancholy and gorgeous that comes dangerously close to bringing tears. It bears repeating that you're not going to hear much originality here, but what the album does, it does right, offering some of the most soothing and some of the most saddening downtempo electronic in the infancy of the new year.
Boosie Badazz In My Feelings. (Goin' Thru It)
Some months after he was released from prison in early 2014, Torrance Hatch decided to change his stage name from Lil Boosie to Boosie Badazz, the reasoning being that he felt there was no need for the "Lil" now, as he was a grown man and a father, who had also been through his share of troubles. These troubles compounded in late November 2015, when it was revealed that he had kidney cancer. This new album, released on New Years, is a snapshot of his mindset, of his emotions, and his life in general. And it's not pretty at all. There are no "bangers" here, and there is no semblance of happiness. What there is, though, is Boosie laying it all out there, for the world to see. He's at his most vulnerable, his most personal, and the saddened, frustrated way in which he delivers his lines and the melancholy production really bring home the genuineness of his feelings. It's obviously not as readily enjoyable as other records from him, but in his discography, this is something of a unique listen.
Boosie Badazz Out My Feelings (In My Past)
A mere five weeks after releasing the most emotionally affecting album in his discography, Boosie returns to his element. The production, of course, is made up of empowering trap bangers and some sentimental, melancholy beats, which are usually driven either by piano or guitar. Boosie himself turns in a great performance, just generally being an animal on the mic as well as dropping some reflective verses and clever lines. One of the things that Boosie has always had going for him that rings very loudly now is the stamp of authenticity that comes with his records. Everything he spits throughout this tracklist is from firsthand experience, and as such is unabashedly real and convincing. While many other rappers have their public persona and their private persona (which is not a bad thing), there is practically no difference between Boosie's. Thus, you're hearing both Boosie the rapper and Torrance Hatch the person at the same time, which is something I feel is both admirable and, in the end, entertaining.
Brian Eno Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks
Brian Eno Ambient 4: On Land
Bring Me The Horizon Count Your Blessings
Don't really get the vitriol for this one. It's basically just The Black Dahlia Murder with more breakdowns and more volatile emotion, but cruddier production. That said, if you're put off by the production and the misogyny running rampant in the lyrics, no one will blame you. Myself, I think Count Your Blessings is a solid work. Much like a TBDM album, the main tenants here are melodic, sometimes catchy riffs and a constantly high energy level, which the album is able to achieve in spite of the muddy production thanks to Oliver Syke's ferocious screeches and a blistering drum performance. The riffs are pretty solid, making good use of dissonance along with melody in several songs. The breakdowns could've been a lot better had the production been better, but they're catchy enough that they don't detract from the overall product. Solid if inconsequential outing.
Cage The Elephant Cage the Elephant
Candlemass Tales of Creation
It's at this point in the Candlemass discography, after three albums beforehand consisting of delicious doom metal riffing and wonderfully operatic vocals, that things begin to fall into a bit of redundancy in the songwriting department. That being said, small changes made to the production here gives the guitars and drums a sharper bite, and the inclusion of more guitar solos and short, but effective breaks in the action give a bit more personality to make up for the aforementioned issue. Therefore, Tales Of Creation is a worthy addition to the Candlemass canon, with everything one has come to love about the band being on display in spades. Moments like the incredible soloing of "Into The Unfathomed Tower" and one of the greatest pieces they've written in closer "A Tale Of Creation", stand up on their own feet, even if this record is the worst out of their legendary first four albums.
Candlemass From the 13th Sun
Most of the middle Candlemass records are just some very well-done Black Sabbath worship, but From The 13th Sun comes right out and admits that from the very beginning. The album was dedicated by the band to Sabbath, and though these are all original compositions, they may has well have been Sabbath songs to begin with. Still, like Dactylis Glomerata and to a lesser extent Chapter VI, the material here is really solid and quite fun in some spots, with Bjorn Flodkvist doing a particularly good job as main vocalist. The riffs are good, the drums are good, the bass is good, there's really not a whole lot to it other than that. That said, there's some nice atmospheric moments here that help keep the record engaging and easy to listen to as the interludes segue through tracks. Enjoyable if unoriginal, From The 13th Sun is good stuff for fans of Candlemass (and Sabbath).
Carcass Tools of the Trade
Carcinoma Carcinoma
Taking dissonant, loud black/death metal, mixing it with a much quieter form of sludge metal, and having an enjoyable punk edge to it makes Carcinoma's debut EP worth checking out. RYM has this listed under "War Metal" in addition to sludge, and while it's a bit too cleanly produced to be "War Metal", I can see where one may have heard the influence on several occasions during "Inner Tyrants Become External Parasites". Basically, this EP is short, sweet, fun, and has some intense moments during its runtime, as well as some eerie melodic moments too.
Centralstodet / The Myrrors Ljudkamrater
Psychedelic music can be pretty hit or miss for yours truly. It can be wholly engrossing and truly trippy, or it can be vapid and ultimately boring. One need not look further than this split for examples of both the former and the latter. Centralstodet's side opens well enough, with a ten-minute journey of instrumental psychedelic prog rock tuned to a peyote-induced trek through the desert. The other two tracks on their side don't go anywhere interesting, and almost seem to be over before they actually begin. The Myrrors' side is excellent, with their brand of whirling, constantly shifting style of heavy psych conjuring images of sweltering heat and oasis' of the clearest water. The music seems to be unstructured on a first listen, but it ultimately rests upon a strong backbone of both repetition and improvisation, making the music swell and quell seamlessly. It's quite the enjoyable experience, and they seem to be really perfecting their craft. If you're in to psychedelic music, especially that of the instrumental variety, Ljudkamrater is very much recommended.
Chelsea Grin Chelsea Grin
Chepang Lathi Charge
Named for the lowest social class of people in their native country of Nepali, Chepang has the spirit of a people long oppressed flowing through their veins, and it's evident in each and every second of this blistering and punishing EP. Their sound is based in grindcore, but pits and pieces fly in from powerviolence, sludge metal, noise rock, and even crust punk. Even the name of the EP is protest-related, as a Lathi Charge is a mob-controlling technique the military uses, dealing blows with riot batons indiscriminately. So if you've got ten minutes and want some fresh, angry grind, Chepang has you covered.
Chief Keef Two Zero One Seven
After a relatively quiet 2016, Keith Cozart, better known as Chief Keef, resolved to start 2017 out on the right foot, and totally does so with Two Zero One Seven. Leading up to it, speculation was rampant; what Keef would this tape sound like? An older version, most likely, or an incarnation the public had never heard? The answer is that both of them are correct, though much more obviously in the former with the latter's truthfulness hidden in tiny subtleties throughout the mixtape. He sounds like he's really happy to be back at it and thus focused, and the dominating sound of the tape sounds like something from his 13-14 days. Yet, things like his re-imagined auto-tuned warbling and drawling sounds like he's caught an influence from the Yung Lean's of the world, and hints at a mixture of drill and cloud rap. It's not quite Adamn Killa, but it seems he may be heading towards a sound like that. Whatever the case, it's certainly a worthwhile tape and it's exciting to think about where he's going to go next.
Child Actor A Perfect Cloud
Aside from a few features on projects from Sadistik, Blue Sky Black Death, Dark Time Sunshine, and Deniro Farrar, I hadn't heard anything from Child Actor before A Perfect Cloud, and those features were really just Natalie Plaza's voice. Here, on can clearly hear how important Max Heath's production is to their sound, taking hip-hop rhythms, mixing them influences from art pop, dream pop, and psychedelic pop, and tuning them down into a minimal, yet charming and engaging concoction. There are moments of relative bombast within this, as well as moments of melancholy. Natalie Plaza is a great vocalist, not just in that she can hold a tune, but that there's something genuinely mesmerizing about her voice that one cannot place their finger on. Overall, the album is a pretty solid affair with one clear standout in "Cold Water". There are a couple of duds in the middle of the tracklist, but these are counteracted by a strong second half. It's a pretty great indie pop record with a trove of intricacies, so if that sounds like it'll float your boat, enjoy.
Childish Gambino "Awaken, My Love!"
Donald Glover is a pretty polarizing figure. It makes sense, given that he's not only a fairly prominent actor but an outspoken and ambitious musician as well. One thing was clear after Because The Internet: at the very least, the man has ideas. Whether those ideas were put to good use or not is up to you, but he definitely has ideas. That's why "Awaken, My Love" is at once promising and frustrating. It worships at the altar of the greats of funk, almost obnoxiously so in some cases, but I'll be damned if it isn't some of the best classic-worship around. Still, for a man with so many ideas, it feels strange that he'd stick so close to the table. Having said that, the album does feel promising of something more, as if this is just Childish Gambino getting his feet wet in the genre and that his fully realized vision is yet to come. One definitely hopes so, as he's definitely got the talent to do it. Who knew he could sing like that? It's clear the man still has surprises up his sleeve.
Chris Stapleton From A Room: Volume 1
I work with someone who had went to a Chris Stapleton concert recently and she suggested I check him out, claiming he was that type of "no frills, no bullshit country that has an old-timey feel to it." I must say, I'm glad I decided to listen to her, because From A Room: Volume 1 is pretty much exactly how she described it, and as such is quite good. It's a bit short, and there's one eye-roller in "Them Stems", but on the whole this is some highly enjoyable, catchy, and sometimes gorgeous country. It's got some sublime backing vocals as well, courtesy of Chris' wife Morgane, although Chris' voice cannot stay without mention, as they are quite dynamic and pretty powerful at times ("Either Way" and "I Was Wrong", my goodness). However, the song that sets the stage is "Broken Halos", an opener that showcases everything there is to love about this record to their fullest extent. So, if you're into that type of "no frills, no bullshit country that has an old-timey feel to it", you can't go wrong here.
Christian Loeffler Mare
The dictionary defines the word "mare" as "a very unpleasant or frustrating experience". Ironic, then, considering Mare is pretty much the exact opposite of that definition. Christian Loeffler puts together a large work of ambient house, microhouse, tech house, and even small bits of IDM thrown in, all in a very warm and shimmering aesthetic that gives off some nice vibes. The knock on this record is that it doesn't differentiate much from track to track. It's got some really good melodies and subtle beat work, but when the overall sound changes very little over the course of an hour-twenty, things can bleed into each other pretty easily. It's not hard to listen to, and most all of the songs are pretty solid stuff with a couple of standouts (the stuff with Mohna on it is gold), but it definitely could be cut down somewhat. Overall, though, if you can get past the sameyness, Mare is a lovely and lush ambient house album that is perfect for studying or even sleeping, if you're the type to listen to music while you sleep.
Christian Loeffler Lost
German producer and co-founder of Ki Records Christian Loeffler is becoming a notable name in the world of microhouse, and for good reason. His style can be compared to the Icelandic duo Kiasmos in the notion that the music they make is cold, not in an emotionless way, but in an atmospheric way. His latest EP, Lost, backs that notion up in spades, as the freezing ambience lets minimal beats and synth work swirl around inside of it like snow flurries in the wind. The two original songs are the title track and "Unknown", and they're both great tracks. Both of them are remixed as well, and while those are decent enough, they seem a bit unnecessary. Regardless, this is still a nice microhouse EP from one of the most promising young artists in the subgenre.
Circus Mort Circus Mort
Surprised this doesn't have more ratings given how obsessed this site is with Michael Gira. Who would've thought that the first project he was ever involved in was, dare I say, melodic? It's not like it's brimming with them, but they're definitely there. Circus Mort has a lot of musicality for a post-punk/no wave EP from the seedy underground of New York, with the bass being of particular note. Not to mention the production being actually quite good as well, especially on the drums. The songwriting may be pretty standard, but the music has a lot of personality and fluidity to it that makes it very fun. Who knew that Swans, The World Of Skin, The Body Lovers/Haters, and Angels Of Light would eventually spawn from the vocalist of this EP?
City and Colour If I Should Go Before You
"the chances that this album is just a misstep on Green's part are high." - Me, on The Hurry And The Harm. Well, someone better pick up the phone, because I friggin called it! In all seriousness though, Dallas Green has definitely improved since his last album, adding a distinct blues influence and still possessing his unmistakable voice. The songwriting has improved, as evidenced by the catchiness of "Mizzy C", "Killing Time", and "Wasted Love", as well as the structure and atmosphere of tracks like "Woman" and "Blood". The album starts pretty melancholy, but picks up the mood as it goes along. That said, it is still one of Green's darkest projects, and definitely his darkest under the City And Colour moniker. Some longwindedness hurts songs, especially when the formula doesn't vary too much, but it's still a refreshing listen, and it's a good reminder that Green is back on track.
Cloud Nothings Here and Nowhere Else
Cluster and Eno Cluster & Eno
You undoubtedly know who Brian Eno is, given that he has attained a legendary status in the world of electronic and ambient music. Cluster, while certainly not as well known, were an important group in their day and are in the same boat as Eno insomuch as both of their earlier works act as a precursor ambient music, albeit even earlier in Cluster's case. This collaboration is a very nice piece of ambient electronic that lends itself to some progressive electronic leanings as well. The use of airy piano and slight drones mixed with repetition makes for a hypnotizing and altogether relaxing listen, especially with tracks such as the opener, "Wehrmut" and "Die Bunge". It's not especially dynamic, and things mostly keep a dreamy state of being, but somewhat tense moments do arrive now and again to help break up the sound when it begins to stale. Certainly, if you're looking for some great study music or just something to relax to, Cluster & Eno is a good choice.
Cocteau Twins Lullabies
With their second and last release of 1982, Cocteau Twins retain the best of the dark sound exhibited on Garlands, and managed to their production a very nice amount as well. The drums sound much better, and the guitars sound nice and atmospheric. Of course, this doesn't mean much if the songwriting doesn't improve, but Lullabies dodges that as well, with a very catchy number in opener "Feathers Oar-Blades" and a smoldering closer in "It's All But An Ark Lark". This improvement in almost every aspect of their music in such a short time makes this an impressive feat for Cocteau Twins, and a concise, solid post-punk/dream pop EP.
Cocteau Twins Sunburst and Snowblind
The second EP from the famous dream pop trio Cocteau Twins is another nice improvement on their style, one that had been steadily improving on every release from their inception at the time of this release. Obviously, opener "Sugar Hiccup", one of the greatest songs the band ever put to wax, is the highlight here with Liz Fraser's unforgettable vocals dominating the whole thing, but it's far from the only worthwhile song here. "From The Flagstones" is one of the best non-LP songs the band ever did, and the ending duo of "Hitherto" and "Because Of Whirl-Jack" is a great one. Really, this and their second LP, Head Over Heels, is when they began to come into their own, and thus, it really shouldn't be missed.
Cocteau Twins The Spangle Maker
Once the mid-80's rolled around for Cocteau Twins, things went from merely good to exceptionally wonderful as far as the quality of their material goes. The Spangle Maker was their first release of the mid-80's, and though it isn't nearly as good as the material afterward, it helped set in motion what listeners would love on Treasure and albums to follow. The title-track is evidence of this, as it's catchy chorus does wonders for the already dreamy atmosphere. "Pepper-Tree" is a little on the dark side as well, going for a more ominous melody than simply mysterious and wondering. It's a well-made EP, and it's definitely a must listen for fans of the band.
Code Orange Love Is Love // Return To Dust
Coldworld Autumn
It's certainly not as depressing or as engaging as the debut from this one-man project, but to say Autumn comes with a lack of great moments is not very accurate. While the album is stylized much more like a blackgaze album would be rather than the depressive black metal of the debut, it's got enough melancholy melodies and immersive atmospherics to bring across a genuine air of sadness. The clean vocals, while not exactly incredible, are adequate in that they don't take anything away from the music around them. The album flows pretty nicely, with an excellent use of the segueing of songs together, and with the almost perfect way the album paces itself, it's definitely a full listen. The issue is that while this is some well executed blackgaze, it isn't original at all, and really sounds like it could've been made three years ago. That doesn't mean Coldworld made an album not worth listening to in Autumn, though, quite the opposite. And for the record, Last Days Of Humanity rule face.
Combatwoundedveteran I Know A Girl Who Develops Crime Scene Photos
"In selecting it's battle plan, the highway division decided the carcass couldn't be buried because it might soon be uncovered, it couldn't be cut up and then buried because nobody wanted to cut it up, and it couldn't be burned. So dynamite it was, some twenty cases, or a half-ton, of it..." This quote ends the track "You'll Never Be Where I Am, Ever In Your Life" and holds with it not only Combatwoundedveteran's dark sense of humor, but I Know A Girl Who Develops Crime Scene Photos' mission statement: to blast you away like a dynamite detonation. Though one-dimensional in its approach, the album contains raw emotion and a demented vibe that is somewhat unnerving but also very intriguing as well. The endless barrages of short powerviolence and noisecore bursts do an amazing job bringing all of this across, and though it's not the most original thing in the scene, it's still a quite good record. No wonder why Orchid had no problem doing a split with these folks.
Converge Halo in a Haystack
Very few names in the hardcore world carry weight like that of "Converge." What would become one of the most important acts the genre has ever seen started here, on their sloppy yet promising debut album. Opening with "Shallow Breathing/I Abstain", the record gets off to a good start, and though this is much different than the Converge we know and love, you can still hear traces of what they'd eventually evolve into. Other album highlights include "Divinity" and "Antithesis", two longer, but subdued, Converge songs that end up doing the band justice. An interesting record for Converge fans and a decent listen for fans of hardcore, Halo In A Haystack marks the humble beginnings of a band that would become so much more.
Converge Unloved and Weeded Out
Good lord, that snare-china onslaught at the beginning of "Downpour" sounds like a whip is hitting the drums. Awesome. This comp from genre innovators and stalwarts Converge is a really good one, complete with six rare songs not on any of their LP's (which all could've slid easily into either Petitioning The Empty Sky or When Forever Comes Crashing), and seven assorted demos and live tracks, with the only other song being off of their debut, Halo In A Haystack. Needless to say, the six beginning tracks are phenomenal, especially ferocious opener "Downpour" and "Home Song" (which I believe was condensed into "Albatros" from Petitioning, as they both have the same riff). The demos are all pretty nice too, albeit inconsequential. It's a really good listen, though, and anyone who calls themselves a Converge fan should definitely have this under their belt.
Corelia Nostalgia
Crooks Are We All The Same Distance Apart
It's been a long time since I've even appreciated a modern post-hardcore album in this style. The style, of course, is catchy hooks, passionate-yet-simple instrumentation, and an almost alt-rock take on post-hardcore. The latter quality usually kills it for me, as many albums in the style are sterilized and bland. Yet, Crooks do things bigger and better, with an emphasis on Josh Rogers' excellent vocal performance and the simple-yet-effective playing of the guitars and the rhythm section. Songs like opener "Above Me", "A Few Peaceful Days", and closer "Harmony Falls" see the band firing on all cylinders, and the album really comes together in those respective spots. Though it's not that original at all and gets a bit samey towards the end of the record, Crooks have put a good foot forward on their full-length debut, which is honestly a very welcomed surprise.
Cryptopsy The Book of Suffering – Tome 1
Cryptopsy are somewhat of a legendary group within technical death metal, and with releases like No So Vile and Blasphemy Made Flesh, it's not hard to see why. Still, it's been some time since the band has created a superb album, and they're only seven years removed from a widely panned release. That's why it's so good to hear a record like this even in its brevity. It's tight, fast, relentless technical death metal that stands up as the best thing the band has done in nearly a decade. The opener, "Detritus", might even be their best song since 1998's immense Whisper Supremacy. Plenty of blistering tremolos, endless drum fills, and nifty bass work permeate the EP, and the vocals, while not incredible, are pretty solid in their own right. It's going to take a lot to recapture the magic of years past, but the band has made a good step in the right direction here.
Currensy The Carrollton Heist
Curren$y is definitely one of the more underrated emcees in the game, with a brand of subtle, weed-laced, smart hip-hop that fails to be outdone or even emulated by the sea of rappers today. Alchemist has a reputation as one of the better beatsmiths in hip-hop, frequently making use of flawless looped samples and working closely with groups such as Dilated Peoples and Mobb Deep. These two combine their talents on this tape, and though it's a little on the short side, there's some great material here. The production feels old-school and hazy, with frequent samples coming in from old movies, and Spitta does a standup job even in the small amount of time he's working with per track. The guest spots are all pretty good, with an especially satisfying verse coming in from Weezy. All of the tracks are pretty quick to set their ideas in motion, but some are over before they get rolling at a good pace. Fortunately, this doesn't hinder the tape that much, because it's got great replay value as a result. So, if you've got a half-hour on your hands and love chilled, reflective hip-hop, The Carrollton Heist is one you should pick up.
Daughter Music From Before the Storm
Video game music has come a very long way since the beginning. There can be masterpieces made from this stuff; the first two Silent Hill soundtracks come to mind as well the Undertale soundtrack. And while Music From Before The Storm isn't anywhere near those works, it's still an enjoyable and easy-listening experience. Daughter are quite good at this ambient/post-rock-influenced style of indie rock (a style which I usually can't get into very much), and they show their abilities in spades here. It's mostly instrumental, but the airy, melancholy, wondering atmosphere is set up wonderfully by it and remains cohesive throughout. When vocals do appear, like on lead single "Burn It Down" and closer "A Hole In The Earth", they fit perfectly with the music, as always. I've not yet played the game franchise this was made for, but I'm sure if I did I'd enjoy it, thanks in part to this soundtrack.
Daughter Not to Disappear
Musically, Daughter plays a quite pleasant, atmospheric, and often beautiful form of art pop combined with post-rock, but the album is definitely more than just that. What we have lying underneath the atmospherics is a subtly intelligent and sometimes moving collection of lyrics and vocal lines that really enriches the rest of the record. Just take the crown jewel of the album, "Doing The Right Thing", for example. It's a very affecting piece about forgetting your best experiences, your process of doing things, and even your loved ones due to Alzheimer's. In the grand scheme of things, nothing done on this record is very original, but it is done with a firm understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, especially in relation to the genres they play. In all, Not To Disappear is a pretty swell record, with a beautiful atmosphere and some really heartfelt lyrics to boot.
David Rawlings Poor David's Almanack
Nothing quite like a good, old-fashioned americana record. Because really, that's all Poor David's Almanac is, with maybe a bit of Appalachian folk thrown in, and though it's a bit by-the-numbers in terms of structuring and production, the solid and occasionally excellent songwriting through the record make it very enjoyable. Dave Rawlings has a great voice and uses it to great effect on songs like "Lindsey Burton", "Guitar Man" and "Yup". His backing band also performs well, especially on the urgent lead single "Cumberland Gap". There's not anything very original on the record, but it's just so professionally done that it's a moot point. There's a nice mix of upbeat, downtrodden, contemplative, nostalgic, and urgent moods here that help give the compositions some flavor as well. The storytelling here is also pretty good, and although some narratives feel cut short, it still manages to be engaging. Highly enjoyable americana/country/Appalachian folk from ol' Dave.
Day Wave The Days We Had
There's a lot of things that make The Days We Had work well for Day Wave despite the notion that there's nothing here that can be considered original. There is a noticeable youthful exuberance to things here, not necessarily in the pace or the record, but in the atmosphere, which gives the album some needed personality. There's a bunch of synth lines here that are pretty gorgeous if not outright memorable, and the airy, almost watery texture that remains constant throughout the record gives it a delectable atmosphere. The aforementioned lack of originality with regards to the songwriting does hurt things somewhat, and keeps the record from truly reaching the heights it could. Still, there's a lot to like about this, and for a debut, it certainly lays the groundwork for better projects by setting up a sound easy to lose yourself in. Needless to say, yours truly will be paying attention in the near future, as improvements on this sound would lead to a possibly excellent album.
Dead in the Manger Transience
After the mysterious black metal collective known as Dead In The Manger released their debut LP, Cessation, it has become clear as to what their EP, Transience, is meant to be. Whereas Cessation featured tightened songwriting and an all-around better sound, Transience shows the bare bones idea of what music the band wanted to craft. Although at this point it seems like a bit of an afterthought, Transience laid the foundation for what Cessation would eventually be: fun melodic tremolos, passionately raw vocals, a bit of sludgy/doomy goodness, and the violent, all-encompassing grind-influenced drumming. And do not be misled, Transience isn't a watered-down Cessation as much as Cessation is a beefed-up Transience, if that makes any sense.
Dead Leaves Vultures
Despite the band who made this record being named Dead Leaves, Vulture is most certainly a grower. Terrible puns aside, this album, done in a decidedly conservative Midwest emo style, is quite subtle in that the melodies and arrangements don't necessarily seem like much at first, but betray their goodness in subsequent listens. For instance, songs like "Talk Me Down" or "Die Young" have really nice guitar refrains that you don't really catch on the first listen because you're more or less entirely focused on the vocalist and what he's saying. Once you do hear these solid and even heartwarming melodies, they fit the sentimental and nostalgic lyrical content like a glove. What hurts things is the production is somewhat flat, and doesn't give any more life to the compositions or vocals than they already have. That said, they have a good enough amount to last a half-hour, so things remain in good quality throughout. Cleveland is the reason I'm leanin.
Deafheaven 2010 Demo
The beginnings of Deafheaven were certainly much different than albums like Sunbather and New Bermuda, as a rawer, less nuanced sound is on display. That being said, the emotion put into the performances here, particularly the drums and vocals, make their 2010 demo a winner. The punk-influenced black metal mixes with slight post-rock leanings on opener "Libertine Dissolves", and the acoustic "Bedrooms" is a beautiful touch. Closer "Exit: Denied" is the piece most indicative of what was to come, with an impassioned black metal beginning segueing into a droning, slow-burning ending. The evocativeness of the compositions here really help further the emotion on display here as well. Thus, this demo is an important listen in Deafheaven's discography, if only because it sounds like nothing else they've written.
Deafheaven Roads to Judah
Though often decried as a bastardization of black metal fit only for imaginary hipsters (as if rejection of societal norms isn't one of the defining aesthetical factors of black metal and metal as a whole), Deafheaven is much more than that. Roads To Judah makes that abundantly apparent, as while the songwriting skill would take a bit to catch up, the sheer ferocity and frustrated energy the band perform with carries the music miles, especially when juxtaposed with evocative and even beautiful post-rock passages. Though there is nothing structurally original about these songs, there are praiseworthy moments aplenty, an example being the excellent shoegazey post-rock build-up and black metal explosion to open the record on "Violet". As stated, the emotion on display here is what truly makes this record good, and while the guitar riffs are decent enough in this regard, it's the vocals from George Clarke and the drumming from Trevor Deschcryver that embody this in full. Thus, Roads To Judah is a very good debut full-length from Deafheaven, who would go on to eclipse this record as their songwriting talents improved.
Death Scream Bloody Gore
Death Grips Government Plates
In Death Grips' short career, they were known as one of the loudest, most abrasive bands in years. An outlier, at least by their standards, is Government Plates, which is an electronically-driven album that subdues MC Ride and lets Zach Hill work his magic. Of course, you wouldn't be able to tell this from the first four songs, as they're all classic Death Grips, with MC Ride yelling obscenity-laden verses and hooks over explosive production from Hill. Yet, when "Birds" starts, things become a bit more subtle than usual. Over the next six tracks, the focus of the album is Hill, and he puts together some interesting stuff like "Feels Like A Wheel" and the title-track, but also has a couple of unfortunate duds as well. The closer is uncharacteristically obnoxious; the band has always been good at being aggressive and loud without being annoying, but the closer crosses that line, especially vocally. That being said, this record is unlike anything Death Grips has made, and thus is an important listen in their discography.
Death Grips No Love Deep Web
"Bass Rattle Stars Out The Sky" is an appropriate description of a lot of Death Grips' work, but somehow I find that it's not as good of a description of this album compared to the others. The sound is a bit more electronically driven than previous efforts, which would foreshadow Government Plates, but MC Ride is still very much at the forefront of things, especially early on with a career highlight in "Lil Boy". After that point, the quality dips ever so slightly, but remains consistent throughout. The production can range from loud and abrasive ("World Of Dogs"), to relatively subdued ("Artificial Death In The West"). And of course there are the insta-quotable one-liners peppered throughout the album that you can always count on Death Grips for providing ("Lock Your Doors", "Stockton"). In all, a good release from the band, a release which would be built on for their next record.
Death Grips Death Grips
http://youtube/8JVILrFjemQ heres yer fiddy characters
Death Grips Bottomless Pit
At what point does a band renowned for being an experimental, boundary-pushing, genre-blending behemoth lose their unpredictability? In other words, when does this experimental sound become stale? It thankfully hasn't happened quite yet for Death Grips, but one fears that trap is closer than it seems. On its own, Bottomless Pit is Death Grips showcasing what they do well: frenetic, haphazard production and instrumentation, and highly energetic, sometimes hooky rapped vocals. The only problem here is, it feels like it's been done before by the same group, only it was better the first time around. It really just sounds like an extension of Jenny Death at many points throughout the record, and while that is by no means a bad thing, it's a bit disconcerting for a band so focused on experimentation and expansion of their sound. One wonders if their image is beginning to overtake them, and their reputation beginning to precede them.
Deer In The Headlights Mental Health
I'm gonna go ahead and say that the vocalist for this band is probably in pain after shows or trips to the studio, though they do a great job. The band hails from Bosnia-Herzegovina, which suffered a massive war in 1992 through 1995 that propagated acts of ethnic cleansing. The country hasn't fully recovered from that time, even now, and that's a huge part of what Mental Health is about. Musically it's a really well done, albeit somewhat unoriginal, mixture of screamo, crust punk, and post-rock that gives the record a commendable variety. It is full of passion and energy along with moments of frustrated sadness, and the intensity behind all of it is quite understandable given the issues explored here. The production is full of bass, and although it's raw, the instruments still have clarity and the songs remain cohesive. It's some very, very solid screamo, and you can never go wrong with that.
Defeated Sanity Disposal Of The Dead // Dharmata
If it weren't for the similar production, it would be hard to tell that these two records were made by the same band in Defeated Sanity. The first side, called Disposal Of The Dead, is in a brutal death metal style, making use of swampy vocals, crushing riffs, and blisteringly fast drumming. The atmosphere is constantly oppressive, and it's some of the most well made brutal death that has come out this year. The second side, called Dharmata, is some of the best Floridian death metal worship in circulation currently, and though the influences are worn clearly and proudly on their sleeves, it's still some pretty decent material. That said, the first side beats out the second by a pretty wide margin, and while the second side is some sweet stuff, it's simply too unoriginal to be as effective as the first. All this said, Defeated Sanity show both sides of their spectrum on this dual-record, and manage to put some fresh brutal death to the table in the process.
Demen Nektyr
There's a palpable air of mystery that shrouds Demen and the dark ambient/ethereal wave that makes up the entirety of Nektyr. What initially sounds like a decently atmospheric dream pop record eventually evolves into a highly atmospheric, minimal, and beautiful ethereal wave album by the end of a half an hour. Demen's voice is quite angelic, but she can also go a bit lower and sound like a ghost just awakening from slumber in the tomb. The album does feel like it's missing something that prevents it from being a truly excellent outing, but as of today yours truly cannot put my finger on it. It doesn't feel unfinished or half-baked, that enough is beyond dispute, but there's just something it's lacking that keeps it from hitting that next level. Still, Nektyr is a really solid and interesting debut that will definitely make listeners interested in what Demen will do next.
Demilich The Four Instructive Tales... of Decomposition
Legendary Finnish death metal group Demilich made some of the most angular and strange death metal out there in the early 90's. While the material on The Four Instructive Tales... ...Of Decomposition is not quite as out there from the spidery masterpiece Nespithe, there are still a couple of moments here and there that establish a connection as well as standing on its own as some really solid and enjoyable death metal. Antti Boman's vocals are the most outlandish thing about this release, as while the musicianship and songwriting here are really good, they're not anything wholly original quite yet. All this said, if you want a little bit of context as to what the band was before their illustrious debut full-length, or just want some old school death metal done correctly, you can't go wrong with this demo.
Deniro Farrar Mind Of A Gemini
This is a direction that I didn't foresee Deniro Farrar going towards. His style has always been relaying stories of the hardships of the streets, and introspections about himself henceforth, over slightly cloudy trap production, but here it's different. The production has changed to be much more mellow, less hard-hitting, and much smoother. It fits that his lyrical content, while still containing much of what he rode with before, has a distinct sense of nostalgia and longing for the better days. Looking at the album cover, there are two Deniro Farrar's, and it seems as if the Deniro Farrar we're hearing here is the one seated, whereas the one crouching is the Deniro Farrar heard on Rebirth and The Cliff Of Death. It's an interesting dynamic to say the least, and if this idea and his two styles were ever put to war on each other during a full-length project, it'd undoubtedly be a phenomenal listen.
Deniro Farrar Mind Of A Gemini II
Ever since his memorable and impressive collaboration with Blue Sky Black Death known as Cliff Of Death, Deniro Farrar has garnered a lot of attention is was officially one to watch in the hip-hop underground. He's delivered some excellent projects since then with 2014's Rebirth and earlier this year with Guilty Until Proven Innocent, and he's back once again with Mind Of A Gemini II. While lyrically it divulges from the topics of the original Mind Of A Gemini, stylistically things still hold a noticeably conscious and somewhat nostalgic edge. The production is less heavy and booming than his project earlier in the year, but it's beautifully smooth and accessible to make up for the loss in low-end. Add Deniro's deep-voiced microphone presence and gangster musings and you've got yourself another solid EP. Will be interesting to see a full-length or a mixtape from him soon.
Denzel Curry 13
Denzel Curry has all but established himself as one of Florida's most exciting hip-hop artists and one of the most naturally talented rappers in the game today. It's because of stuff like 13; great flows, killer hooks, banging production, vivid lyrics, and clever wordplay are all on display when Denzel takes the microphone. The production here is more abrasive than anything else in his discography, though it does get let up somewhat on closer "Zeltron 6 Billion", which has of all things a Lil Ugly Mane feature, which naturally means it's great. Opener "Bloodshed" is perhaps the true highlight here, with all of the aforementioned qualities firing on all cylinders to make an anthem for the ultimate. If the rumors are to be believed and he releases Taboo later this year, it could possibly be his finest work yet, if 13 is anything to go off of.
Departures Death Touches Us, From The Moment We Begin To Love
Though it loses some of the dynamics their first couple of full-lengths possessed, Death Touches Us, From The Moment We Begin To Love is a wholly solid and occasionally evocative work of melodic hardcore. The lack of variety in the songwriting is the drawback here; nearly all of the songs are mid-paced, highly melodic, and possess a high emphasis on the vocals and lyricism. That said, this is a good formula for what the band was going for, and the albums saving graces outdo its pitfalls. The vocal performance is excellent, and the lyrical performance is even better, detailing the hardships dealt with when loved ones are lost and death is on the mind. Two songs in particular, "Death Of Youth" and closer "Memorial", which have both the best guitar work and lyrics on the record, make for a emotionally resonant mix. It could've been better, but it could easily have been worse as well, and Departures made very sure it was not the latter of those two.
Discordance Axis Ulterior
If I'm listening to grindcore, I'm expecting it to sound one of two ways (though to clarify, not every fantastic grind record follows these templates). 1: Relatively one-dimensional in sound, but packing enough raw emotion and brutality that it simply doesn't matter, or 2: much more dynamic in sound and scope and not sacrificing energy and power, though to a lesser degree than others. Discordance Axis covered both of these styles in their time, but Ulterior definitely falls under the former style. It's seventeen minutes of pretty much non-stop aggression and rage, through the ferocious drumming, a bevy of solid riffs, and a phenomenal (as if it'd be anything less) vocal performance. Though it's not all that original, it's still some extremely solid and fun grind, and though the band would move on to bigger and better things, there's no reason not to hear this if you're a fan of the band or just grindcore in general.
Disma The Lost Vault of Chaos
Disma is some of the best Incantation worship you can find out there, and I mean that in the best possible way. Their only full-length record, Towards The Megalith, was as if Incantation morphed with Funebrarum and was given the aesthetic of a Finnish death metal band. In other words, it was one hell of an album. This collection of, singles, splits, and demos that the band did before and after their debut full-length is much like that, though of lesser quality. The best of this compilation is found early on, with "Lost In The Burial Fog" and "The Vault Of Membros" forming a great one-two punch (both were from the 2009 demo The Vault Of Membros). Another highlight is a track called "And The Dawn Of Life Arises", a track that appeared on a bonus "7 only available with certain copies of Megalith on vinyl. It's a pretty swell compilation, one that lines up nicely next to Megalith as two albums you should hear if you're a fan of Incantation-inspired death metal.
DJ Rashad Itz Not Rite
It most certainly is rite. If I ever learn to dance with any sort of skill whatsoever, I'd dance to this in a heartbeat. God bless Rashad.
DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn Girl Bust Down
In his time, DJ Rashad was a pioneer of a style of juke (which in and of itself is a style of ghetto house) known as footwork, which makes extensive and expansive use of drums and sub-bass to create an astounding low-end. DJ Spinn, Rashad's high-school friend, began making juke tracks early in their career, which would eventually evolve into footwork. On this EP, some of the best material the two ever did together would be released, and though it's got one dud of a song, it's pretty high quality juke elsewhere, especially the booming "Halloween" and the aggressive, driving "Like It's Hot". It's a nice piece of history for both artists, though their better years were definitely still to come.
DJ Screw Chapter 245 - Waitin' on Slant
According to everything I can find, Waitin' On Slant is Screw's first official tape. I'm sure it's not the first tape he's ever made, but here is as good of a place to start as any. The bare-bones blueprint of chopped and screwed is definitely here, as the songs are slowed down and occasionally chopped up, though certainly not as professionally done as later tapes would be. An hour and forty-five minutes is a lot to digest, though, and there is some filler on this. Still, there are great moments here. An early highlight is N.W.A.'s "F*ck The Police" screwed to the instrumental of Dr. Dre's "Ain't Nuthin' But A G Thang". Near the end, a masterful screw of Public Enemy's "By The Time I Get To Arizona" leaks from the speakers even more smoothly than the original. The recording quality here is pretty lo-fi, which is understandable, but it also gives off that gritty feeling that is lessened a bit on later, more clearly-produced screw tapes. Altogether, this marks a great beginning for one of hip-hops most important artists.
DJ Screw Chapter 134: Hard Times
In keeping with the same lo-fi aesthetic as his first tape, DJ Screw also more readily frequents and improves on his signature chopping technique, as demonstrated early on a great screw of Outkast's "Player's Ball". This also may be the first time a female emcee has appeared on a screw tape, as Da Brat makes several appearances on the tape. This tape marks another first for Screw that would become a staple on many of his tapes: the freestyle. This one isn't that great, as the verse by Spice 1 is merely decent and the recording quality very poor, but it's still cool to hear the first one in action. The best track off of the tape might just have to be a screw of Above The Law's "Gangsta Madness", which is an affecting track on its own, and achieves a similar, if not better, effect here. A tape of firsts for DJ Screw means that it is certainly one of his most important, and as such should not be passes over.
DJ Screw Chapter 136: Da Funk Is On Your Mind
On this tape, Screw sees through a small transition from the G-funk stylings of Chapter 134: Hard Times to the full-on 70's funk of Chapter 214: Old School. At times, the transitioning isn't that great, but a totally awesome freestyle from 'Lil Keke, Fat Pat, and Duke more than makes up for it. Seriously, that's probably one of the better freestyles on any screw tape, with that sinister beat permeating over twenty-five minutes of off-the-top verses. Also, anything on here with another member of the S.U.C. that passed too early, Big Mello, is wonderful. On a related note, if anyone would like more background info on DJ Screw and the culture he helped create, check out this article, as it's an excellent piece:
DJ Screw Chapter 106: On A Pint
1995 was a momentous year for DJ Screw. Two of his greatest tapes, the all-time classic Bigtyme Recordz Vol. II: All Screwed Up and the unforgettable 3 'N The Mornin': Part 2, were released to acclaim from the southern hip-hop community and Screw began to make himself known outside of Texas more widely than ever before. On A Pint is an early '95 tape, and it's easy to tell given the abundance of 70's funk, west coast gangsta rap, and some hometown brew in both song selection and freestyles. In fact, the tape opens with two freestyles in a row, both of which are pretty good, before sliding into the combination of g-funk and early funk classics that permeated his '94 catalogue. It's extremely solid and very well made, and it gives the impression that it was all becoming too easy for Screw. It's true, because at that point in time he could make stuff like this in his sleep. Knowing this, the expansion of his sound was wholly welcomed later on in his career.
DJ Screw Chapter 120: 10 Deep
This tape is like a lesser No Drank, but it's still got an interesting setup. On the first side there are well-done screws of west coast gangsta rap like 2Pac, MC Eiht, and C-Bo, and though there is little chopping to found here, the mixing is excellent, truly showing how much he had improved since he began. You have to love any screw tape on which one of the sides is nothing but freestyles, and Chapter 120: 10 Deep provides that on its second side. The opening freestyle to a screw of K-Dee's "Freshest MC In The World" is the best, as Fat Pat and Lil Keke trade off verse after verse with their unmissable smooth, relaxed flows. Each freestyle flows perfectly into the next one, with the mixing here being impeccable as well. Big Steve drops a couple of nice verses as well, though when Pat is on the tape it's really hard to top him. In all, if you're gonna jam this one, the second side is fantastic as expected, though the first side has its perks too.
Domo Genesis Rolling Papers
I suppose if the term ?Stoner Rap? is acceptable, then Domo Genesis is probably one of the more famous artists within it, and his debut shows why. Domo's ganja-obessed, smooth lyrics combine effortlessly with some cloudy production by fellow Odd Future members Tyler, The Creator, Left Brain, and Syd Tha Kyd. Tyler drops a couple of nice verses as well, best exemplified with Domo in the jab-trading song,?Super Market?. The subject matter is a bit samey, but overall this is a decent release, one that would only be built upon by Domo Genesis.
Domo Genesis Under The Influence
Domo Genesis No Idols
Domo Genesis Genesis
In keeping with the trend of maturing ex-OFWGKTA members, Domo Genesis, the token stoner of the collective, releases easily his most mature and nuanced album. Rather than the rather juvenile-yet-endearing stoner lyrics Domo rocked with early in his career, he opts for a much more introspective standpoint. The production reflects this change excellently, as instead of the lo-fi grittiness of Tyler, The Creator's production, you have a more clean-sounding, spacey sound that accentuates Domo very well. Of course, some of his youthful candor is lost in favor of a more serious approach, and while that may be a turn off for some, he does quite well in lieu of it. The sound is distinctly west coast, and though it's maybe not as fun as some of his other material, it's certainly the first step in a new chapter for Domo Gensis.
Dragged Into Sunlight WidowMaker
After a truly phenomenal and chillingly venomous debut full-length album that touched many styles of metal in its onslaught in Hatred For Mankind, the anonymous five-piece of Dragged Into Sunlight turned towards a more subtle and less vicious sound. It's interesting, though Widowmaker is seen as the oddball in their discography, it has much more in common with their debut EP with Kas Mana Terminal Aggressor than Hatred For Mankind ever did. What we have is a slow-burning, tense, death-metal-influenced take on post-metal, with some great moments interspersed. That said, the almost ambient "Part I" is almost tiring, being as drawn out as it is. It, like the other two tracks here, is inconsistent in that it has some great moments on it that are sandwiched in between otherwise merely decent and sometimes even boring moments. Some great riffs pop up in "Part 2" and "Part 3" and the vocals and drumming are still excellent, but it's nowhere near their illustrious debut in terms of quality. That said, there are great things to be heard here, and it's overall a pretty good listen, and it's always nice to see bands trying to expand their sound, especially when they know their previous sound was one they probably couldn't recreate.
Drake and Future What a Time to Be Alive
With all the work and time both Drake and Future have put in and are still putting in on their main projects, it seems a little pointless to have a collaboration in only six days. Yet, with all their respective success, why not? The production has a bit of a stronger leaning towards Future's style than Drake's, so naturally he sounds a bit more comfortable on this record. That said, Drake spits some pretty nice verses, and does especially well on his solo song, "30 For 30 Freestyle". At times, the record feels like the B-sides to Dirty Sprite 2 with sprinkles of Drizzy, but a few songs here have both artists equally contributing great stuff, including "Big Rings", "Live From The Gutter", "Diamonds Dancing", and "I'm The Plug". Overall, the Drake and Future collaboration works, and although it may seem a bit unnecessary, it's still a good time, and only really tries to be just that as the two stars celebrate their huge years.
Earl Sweatshirt Doris
Earth The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull
With the release of 2005's Hex: Or Printing In The Infernal Method, the drone gods known as Earth changed their sound from blues-influenced drone and stoner rock to an atmospherically potent post-rock one, losing the heaviness of the early days, but expanding on a textured and beautiful blueprint. The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull is a continuation of that sound, albeit a bit more straightforward and streamlined, and though it's not as good as its predecessor, there are certainly a bevy of gorgeous moments to be found here. Take the piano on penultimate track "Hung From The Moon" for instance, as its simple, yet evocative melody plays to the strengths of the western-tinged guitars and methodical drumming perfectly. The album is another in a line that illustrates what Earth can do with decidedly minimal and elongated music, of what feelings they can conjure despite not being musically complex in practice. It's an Earth album through and through, and that, of course, makes it good.
Earth Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I
Although it's ultimately somewhat standard fare for Earth since the days of Hex, Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light I sees the band continuing to minimize their sound, becoming even more streamlined than its predecessor. This, however, manages to be a virtue because, in true Earth fashion, the album turns hypnotic and engrossing, able to play the same progressions and notes for ten minutes and never turn boring or long-winded. In this sense, it's game plan is almost like Earth 2, just done in Hex's musical template. It's atmosphere is laid back and inviting, having a nice western tinge to everything. The length may seem a bit daunting for an album this repetitive, but as mentioned before things don't ever become a chore. It's really an easy, enjoyable, and even calming listen, and though by this point the band could do stuff like this in their sleep, it's good that they didn't phone it in, which is all you can ask for sometimes.
Earth Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II
The second installment in the Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light series see Earth coming to the logical conclusion of the tandem with their sound. This is one of the slowest Earth albums, maybe the slowest outright, and definitely one of the more minimal in their discography. Their western-American take on psychedelic post-rock is brought to its most simplified and yet, still very dreamy and atmospheric, conclusion. There's really not much more to it, but it's still a head above its contemporaries because Earth know better than most others how to turn simple, repetitive music into mesmerizing and trance-inducing numbers. It's just another facet of the band's overall excellence that they could take an already simple sound down a notch or two and still make an engaging, lovely record, which Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II certainly is.
Eglise Église
It sounds like these guys went to the Axe To Fall school of sludge-influenced, chaotic hardcore, which I did not know had a chapter in Copenhagen. From the get-go, this twenty-four minute record pummels you with intensity, found in every massive drum beat, frenzied riff, rageful shout, and nihilistic lyric. They do play their influences pretty close to their sleeve, which is why it's not as thrilling of a listen as it would've been otherwise, but the attention to detail and focus on display here convinces me that they'll eventually work their way around to playing with their own flair of fiery hardcore. Plus, it's a pretty nicely varied listen for only being so long, with short bursts of energy on "The Clouds" and "Blood Vessels" trading off for slower, more sludgy numbers like "Have I Become Hell". Needless to say, this promising debut should be listened to by any fans of Converge or Botch, and definitely will have listeners anticipating their next release.
Ego Ella May Zero
Using a combination of beautiful electronic production and sublime vocals, Ego Ella May crafts a wonderful little EP rooted in soul, R&B, and some splashes of funk. The album completes everything it sets out to accomplish in its eleven minute runtime, making it incredibly easy to listen to and to re-listen. What does it set out to accomplish? Giving us a sample of what we can expect from a future full-length project, and making us excited for that. Needless to say, I'm eagerly awaiting some more material, because if it sounds anything like this ("Tea & Sympathy" especially), it will be divine.
El-Ahrairah El-Ahrairah
It's interesting that a genre such as black metal that is usually focused on the cold, the evil, and the hateful can be turned into something warmer and more depressed than enraged whilst still keeping the raw emotion unfiltered. El-Ahrairah has that sound, but with an interesting twist on it. Whereas many bands in this style tend to make riffs that are windy and atmospheric, El-Ahrairah's riffs are constantly up-front and personal, being very powerful and immediate. The production sounds fantastic for the style as well, giving the album a nice earthy atmosphere. The songwriting is a bit strange for this style, as many of the songs are below four minutes and don't really build into anything more than what they started with. It's good that the songs end when the ideas do, but it constantly hints at something bigger and better that isn't delivered on. It's an interesting sound, but it feels like the band has plenty of untapped potential that hopefully gets mined for on their next project. For now, though, pretty good stuff.
Emery The Weak's End
For a band as multi-faceted in the vocal department as to have three separate, yet all somewhat talented, vocalists, it's a bit easier to be lax from a songwriting standpoint, as it's often a choice to just have the voices of the vocalists carry entire songs. Fortunately, that doesn't happen very much here, as Emery manages to bring in very good performances from the guitars and drums, and have clearly audible and enjoyable bass work. And while Josh Head's screamed vocals are an acquired taste, his use of keyboards is tasteful and fun, especially on opener "Walls". The interweaving and lovely singing from both lead vocalist Toby Morrell and rhythm guitarist Devin Shelton are always a highlight on any song here, and the alternating between somber, relaxed emo and more fiery, but no less passionate, post-hardcore gives some nice variety. In a nutshell, it's a good debut from Emery, showing their potential even early on.
Emery You Were Never Alone
To be honest, this is my first full stint with Emery, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't heard a few songs off of their polarizing 2009 LP In Shallow Seas We Sail. Everything from "post-hardcore's finest" to "the death of post-hardcore" was said about that record. I've never heard it fully, so I can't say. But if what was said echoes any sentiment as to how Emery is as a band, I'd be more inclined to agree with the former statement. Granted, there are a few moments on You Were Never Alone that are cringeworthy, but for the most part, this is some solid and occasionally wonderful post-hardcore/emo, staying within the modern sound of those respective genres. There's a decent lot of experimentation, and while sometimes it isn't exactly great ("Go Wrong Young Man"), other times it can be very tasteful and enjoyable ("Thrash"). The end result of Emery's first independent LP is quite nice, and the high points definitely outweigh the lows.
Emery While Broken Hearts Prevail
This is where Emery really started upping their songwriting game to heights they hadn't reached yet. This would come to a culmination on In Shallow Seas We Sail, but While Broken Hearts Prevail is an excellent precursor to that record, not only in theme, but in songwriting as well. The band could always write a hook, but here they take that to another level, especially on "Say The Things (You Want)", which has one of the catchiest they've ever written. The marriage between softer alternative rock and post-hardcore also reaches new heights here, with the trademark vocal layering adding some well done harsh vocals to the mix and the guitarists writing some of the best riffs of their careers. The variations in songwriting and dynamics between soft/loud and melancholy/angry definitely add a lot of depth to this EP, and if you're a fan of Emery, or even just of their 2009 breakthrough album, you'd definitely like this as well.
Eminem Straight from the Lab
While not an official EP, this release by Eminem was meant to tide over rabid fans who were eagerly anticipating his fifth album, Encore. What they got was a collection of decent songs, along with some very clever diss responses. A response to Murder Inc. rapper Ja Rule called "Bully" is the best of these, as it not only shows Em's cleverness on the microphone, but also his ability to keep a tune going, as his delivery is half-sung. Another standout is the track "We As Americans", which features likely his most controversial line in his discography. While not a release for someone looking in to Eminem's discography for the first time, it is a great EP for the hardcore fans of the Detroit rapper, one that shouldn't be passed over if you fall into that category.
Eminem Infinite
Infinite is, quite simply, Eminem before he was Eminem. Long before the Slim Shady persona was ever conceived, and long before he was performing his own style. And yet, Infinite is still a success. Though Em does sound very much like AZ in both cadence and flow, his lyrical abilities were still excellent, as evidenced on the title-track, "It's O.K.", and "313". The closest he ever came to his Shady days were on the track "Backstabber", as most of this album sees Eminem in a chilled, relaxed state of mind. It may be his least emotionally vibrant album, but the talent on display was apparent. Elsewhere, the production on the record is very good, giving a gritty feel to it that fit the cold streets of Detroit with ease. Though it only sold around one-thousand copies and flew heavily under the radar, Infinite is seen today as a great achievement for an aspiring artist that would take over the mainstream hip-hop world in the years to follow.
Eminem 8 Mile Soundtrack
For a movie soundtrack, which are infamously lukewarm, 8 Mile's is a actually pretty good. It's got a couple of bonafide Eminem classics in "Lose Yourself" and "8 Mile", a phenomenal R&B song in Macy Gray's "Time Of My Life", and a great one-two punch to close out the record in Young Zee's "That's My Nigga 'Fo Real" and Eminem's "Rabbit Run". The thing that really makes it an above-average soundtrack is that the dreaded filler tracks that most soundtracks inevitably fall victim to are kept to a minimum, with most of the songs being at the very least decent. Obie Trice turns in some really good performances, Jay-Z drops a sweet verse, even 50 Cent has some lovable moments too. Point is, they didn't just phone in their contributions, making the songs much more lively in front of the often sinister production. It's got a few eye-rolling moments here and there, with some of the hooks being pretty bad and some of the production sounding somewhat dated, but for what it's worth, the 8 Mile Soundtrack is a good one, containing a few truly great songs and many good ones.
Emmure Look at Yourself
For all the flak Emmure receive for be uncreative or unoriginal, they're a whole lot of fun if you don't take them seriously. They have an undeniable penchant for writing some of the catchiest and bounciest breakdowns out there, and are one of the few bands that can make entire songs out of said breakdowns and nothing else and still be entertaining. I believe it has to do with the placement of the kick drums during the measure; I could be wrong, but whatever the band does, it makes their breakdowns entirely infectious. That the band has been able to come up with as many different rhythms and patterns using basically only this is actually kind of impressive. They take deathcore to its logical extreme and focus on only that most ignorant and that most catchy of it's aspects and it's good fun. Look At Yourself is really no different. Sure there might be more groove involved, but it's more or less just Emmure doing what they and few others do best. And by the way, Frankie Palmeri is still a monster of a harsh vocalist and if you're taking any of the lyrics seriously or even paying attention to them at all you're missing the point entirely.
Encyclopedia of American Traitors Discography
Not a whole lot is known about these guys, but they did a split with Orchid so how bad could they be? Their Discography is made up almost entirely of riffy screamo that can get pretty speedy at times, as well as some nice vocal layering and insane screams, all with an anti-capitalist edge. It can get a little monotonous sometimes, but the general intensity and passionate ferocity of the record, helped along by some solid riff work, keeps things from becoming boring. The inclusion of samples are usually well-placed, and the production gives things a solid punch. There's one track near the end of the comp called "Untitled" and it's really the only one that's a bit out of left-field, being much more restrained and slow-burning than relentlessly aggressive. Put simply, Encyclopedia Of American Traitors had a solid body of work, and although they've been a bit lost to time, they definitely shouldn't be ignored.
Entropia (PL) Ufonaut
Dimitri's a guy that's a friend to a lot of people, not least of which are these five progressive black metallers from Olesnica. DMT is the subject matter, and the band does their best to try and emulate the psychedelic properties of said drug. Through spacey and trippy synth work, echoed and affected vocals, and melodic guitar sections, some really great passages of music are showcased here, for instance in the final minutes of "Mandala" or the opening minutes of the title-track. Sometimes the music does fall into the genre's tropes and cliches, though, with numerous instances of redundant tremolo riffing and blast beats occurring throughout the tracklist. This causes the album to clash with itself: on one hand, some really magical metal is on display, and on the other, typical and even boring movements are on hand. Luckily, though, the former outweighs the latter, and while the band could use some fat cut off for later releases, Ufonaut is a good album that fits well into Entropia's discography.
Enya Watermark
Escape the Fate There's No Sympathy for the Dead
Before the ridiculously overblown melodrama concerning Ronnie Radke of Escape The Fate and Craig Mabbit of BlessTheFall, the two bands lived in relative peace. BlessTheFall was the better band, and would soon become the template for this style of post-hardcore with the "scene-core" classic, His Last Walk. Still, that doesn't mean Escape The Fate wasn't playing some good music of their own. Opening with the incredibly catchy "Dragging Dead Bodies In Blue Bags Up Really Long Hills", this EP was a surprisingly good release that served as a preview of their fun and catchy debut full length. Though the screams and growls on the record are rough and grating, Ronnie Radke's singing voice is very good, especially on "The Ransom", as song as easy to sing along with as it is to listen to in general. Overall, there's some really catchy and fun post-hardcore to hear on this EP, and if you're a fan of that, then jam away.
Eskelin Weber Griener Sensations Of Tone
Oftentimes in free jazz there is a dichotomy at play, with contrast being the main concept. Loud versus quiet, melody versus dissonance, structure versus freedom; there's a free jazz album for them all. Sensations Of Tone is a look at the latter of those three and it's played pretty straight. The odd numbered songs on the tracklist are all free improvisation composed on the spot by Ellery Eskelin on the tenor sax, Christian Weber on the bass, and Michael Griener on the drums, which are often more hushed in tone and composition than usual. The even numbered songs on the tracklist are all reworkings of classic bebop songs, full of melody and groovy rhythm. The contrast here is very clear, and as such the album accomplishes what it's going for quite easily. It's a pretty nice slab of avant-garde jazz, so if that's your thing, you can't go wrong here.
Esoteric Epistemological Despondency
Epistemological Despondency is essentially a souped-up version of Esoteric's debut demo, The Death Of Ignorance. What that basically entails is more variety and better songwriting, but similar production and vocal styles (unfortunately, the same grating effects are still around as well). It's a bit long-winded in the first half of this hour-and-a-half album, but songs in the second half, especially closer "Awaiting My Death", definitely justify their length, in this case due to the inclusion of an oddly catchy, hypnotic riff. The diversity is seen in a few tracks that are pretty much death metal played straight, like "Only Hate (Baresark)", and more shifts in the earthmoving riffs on the longer and more monolithic tracks. This improvement in songwriting seen on Epistemological Despondency would really spark Esoteric to create some timeless funeral doom in their best days, as the production improved along with them.
Esoteric The Pernicious Enigma
Funeral doom, at least on paper, is a pretty simple concept. Take doom metal, which in and of itself is basically just slowed down traditional heavy metal, and slow it down even further. Yet, some of the most popular bands in the genre have strange and ultimately really engrossing takes on it. Esoteric is one of these bands, and the misanthropic, psychedelic, and even downright evil sound heard on The Pernicious Enigma is not your average funeral doom. At two hours long, there are undoubtedly places on this record where things get somewhat tedious and long-winded. Yet, the moments that aren't are simply astonishing. The opening tandem of "Creation (Through Destruction)" and "Dominion Of Slaves" is one of the most unsettling slabs of funeral doom out there, and "A Worthless Dream" practically drips with seething rage. It's certainly an enigmatic album, and it definitely has grower potential as well, so this rating may change in the future.
Esoteric The Maniacal Vale
I'm quite certain that it takes less time to climb the mountains of the Vale than it does to listen to The Maniacal Vale. It's classic Esoteric: massive, eerie, and just a bit long-winded. Though it's not quite as good as the band's last two records, which were more condensed and easily digestible, the album does do a remarkable job improving on the blueprint that albums like Epistemological Despondency laid down. The songs have more variety to them, as does the overall atmosphere, but where the album really shines is its production. It's like a wall of slow-moving, destructive lava, constantly pushing forth and burying everything in its path, leaving fires and intense heat in its wake, yet also cooling and building new earth, as is necessary. It's a little long, but there's enough great moments to keep the listeners attention, and definitely earns itself a spot among Esoteric's best albums.
Every Time I Die Gutter Phenomenon
On the surface, Every Time I Die seemed to dumb it down from their breakout record Hot Damn! to Gutter Phenomenon. The songwriting became more samey, and less complex as before. Yet, upon further examination, this all seems to be an expression of intent. Taking a look a Keith Buckley's lyrics for this record gives appropriate context for the music. The lyrics very cleverly deal with drunken revelries and reckless behavior that the catchy breakdowns and pronounced southern tone of the guitars echo, all while remaining tongue-in-cheek and slyly critical of said behavior throughout. This sense of irony is what makes Gutter Phenomenon a subtly intelligent metalcore/hardcore record, and though musically it doesn't really stand up to their previous opus, lyrically and conceptually it's one of the best, if not the best, albums the band has to their name.
Explosions in the Sky Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Explosions In The Sky has become the stereotypical post-rock band. Many feel that they embody everything that is wrong with post-rock i.e. stagnant songwriting, long-windedness, and an air of irritating pretentiousness. Make no mistake, that is often true of many post-rock bands, but when it comes to EITS, it is different. Different, of course, because they do this formula better than anyone else. Is anything new explored on this album? Not really. Is that a bad thing? Not when it is this well done. Take the subtle ambience of "Human Qualities", or the strange catchiness of the main riff of "Postcard From 1952", or the somber, happy-under-stress emotion of "Let Me Back In". These moments are anything but derivative. True, the overall musicianship, style, and formula remains very similar, but the things are easy to overlook if the music is well done and passionate, something this record definitely accomplishes.
Fela Kuti The '69 Los Angeles Sessions
It's not a secret; Fela Kuti is considered one of the most brilliant men in not only African music at large, but music as a whole, and for good reason. His work within the afrobeat, jazz-funk, and highlife genres are immaculate, he was a vested voice in the human rights movement within Nigeria and Africa in general, and his messages of unity and love that he weaved into his work really pissed off the oppressive governments of the continent. In a nutshell, his music was very powerful, and though Fela Fela Fela pales in comparison to plenty of his works, it's still a fun, heartwarming piece of highlife. The sound is lively and very positive to an infectious degree, and though it's compositions aren't that amazing, it's the passion of the performances that bring everything up a notch. It's a very accessible and easy to listen to record as well, so even if you're not already familiar with Kuti, it's an easy listen. (This album was remastered as The '69 Los Angeles Sessions for an easier search.)
Flyboy Tarantino Snap Out Of It
The man himself says that this is just something to tide you over until his next album comes out, and while I'm certainly eagerly awaiting that, Snap Out Of It does its job and reminds me why I'm waiting. Three tracks of street-born, hard-hitting trap that is as imposing as it is promising. Nightmare On The Strip was one of last year's surprise tapes because of stuff just like this, and at this rate Flyboy Tarantino could hopefully begin rising from the depths of the underground to be as recognized as his other Broward county associates.
Flyboy Tarantino Hope You Understand
STEVEN! Thank you so much... Edit: WHAT IS THIS BLASPHEMY
Flying Lotus Reset
As we know, Steven Ellison's production style has gone through an evolution from his spacey 1983 days to the whirling jazz fusion of You're Dead! On each album, his sound progresses further. So, as far as the often overlooked Reset goes, it acts as a midway point between Ellison's debut and the critically acclaimed Los Angeles. Here, there are elements of trip-hop, glitch-hop, experimental electronic, and even doses of wonk at work. Two songs stand out in particular: the sensual opener "Tea Leaf Dancers", and the chilled and relaxed "Massage Situation", which was often used in Adult Swim commercials after it was released. In all, it's a pretty slick collection of stuff that could be used as an easy entry point into Flying Lotus' discography.
Flying Lotus Pattern+Grid World
If nothing else, Pattern + Grid World is Flying Lotus' noisiest, most jittery affair. The glitch hop he works with is in full effect here, and the addition of a chiptune influence into the mix, it's quite unlike anything he's done. There's no clear-cut best track on the record, but they're all a pretty solid mixture of noisy, skippy, and ultimately pretty layered IDM. The tracks don't really bleed into each other too much due to the variations seen within the songs, but it's not an incoherent mess either. It's really just FlyLo tinkering and exploring with his sound a bit, and the result is pretty nice.
Flying Lotus & Declaime Whole Wide World/Lit Up/Keep It Moving
There's no question regarding FlyLo's music that it is extremely influenced by hip-hop. Though it may be more electronically-inclined and experimental, his production has always been rooted in hip-hop more so than any other genre. That's why it seems strange that it took a few years for an emcee to come forward for a collaboration, but after Los Angeles dropped, west coast hip-hop rapper Declaime did just that. It works pretty much exactly how you'd think it'd work, both in execution and quality. The opener/title-track might be one of FlyLo's best productions, while Declaime spits some pretty nice bars over the beat. I'm honestly surprised more people haven't heard this, because it is a quality release from the two, and definitely shouldn't be overlooked, especially if you want to dive deeper into FlyLo's roots as a producer.
Four Tet Everything Ecstatic
Four Tet, at least for me, is starting to become a guy that sort of defies description. He's got this unwavering, intimate quality about him that permeates his music, and though on paper Everything Ecstatic seems like a bit of a wreck, it all comes together so perfectly because of this humanly, intimate feel. The problem with some of his early works was that while it contained this feeling, oftentimes the music was a bit too uneventful or boring to salvage completely. That's definitely not the case for this record, as it becomes apparent even from the opening minutes that this is going to be something a bit weirder and wilder than the standard folktronica fare. Sounds from nu jazz, glitch, and IDM are very much a part of things, as well as the sample work that gives Four Tet's outings so much character. It's not an album that would've worked were it anyone else making it, only Four Tet.
Frameworks Smother
Frameworks is a pretty uncomplicated group. All you really need to know is that they play an exceptionally solid mixture of screamo and post-hardcore, throwing shades of melancholy emo in every once and a while. Smother is no different, and though this isn't anything terribly original, it's infused with enough energy and emotion to get it over the hump. There are some pretty infectious little melodies scattered throughout this thing too, as opener "Fear Of Missing Out" riffs along with remarkable confidence and "Tangled" lets vocalist Luke Pate loose with some great clean vocals. The explosiveness of the band is felt in spades as well, particularly on closer "The New Narcissistic American Dream", which swells with somber melodies and electronic noise in its climax. In all, if you're looking for some really good screamo, Frameworks has your fix.
Funkadelic Funkadelic
At this point, to call George Clinton anything other than a music legend is simply not giving credit where credit is due. One of the innovators of funk, Clinton's sister groups of Parliament and Funkadelic made their funk smooth, full of sensuality, danceable, rhythm and blues-influenced, jazzy, often led by guitars, and of course very, very fun. Funkadelic's self-titled debut is a nice precursor to all of this, using a funk rock approach more often than not. The work with different tempos on this record illustrates the different feels funk has to offer. For instance, on tracks like "I Got A Thing, You Got A Thing, Everybody's Got A Thing", the speed is high-tempo and very danceable, whereas on tracks like "Qualify And Satisfy" and "What Is Soul?", the tempo is slow-paced, but still flowing with great vibes and great musicianship. Influences from psychedelic rock bands such as The Jimi Hendrix Experience can be clearly discerned here, as well as some influence from funk great James Brown, but on the whole the album sounds fresh, and is a pretty good listen because of it.
Funkadelic America Eats Its Young
What is somewhat of transitional album in their discography, America Eats Its Young was both the longest and most experimental of Funkadelic's albums at the time it was released. While it has its problems with filler and incoherency, as most double albums do, the highs here are absolutely wonderful. "Loose Booty" is a stone-cold funk classic, and the sad, sexual feel of the title-track makes it an easy winner, especially with that gorgeous guitar. "Philmore" is for all intents and purposes the intro to Bootsy Collins, and "That Was My Girl" is one of the catchiest songs the group ever performed. Still, there's a bit of filler on here, with songs that don't really go anywhere with their ideas or are bereft of ideas to begin with. It's runtime exacerbates this, as the album could easily be cut down to forty minutes and be even better. It's definitely a worthwhile listen, though, as the highs outnumber the lows and funky pleasures can be uncovered.
Funkadelic Cosmic Slop
There are very few cosmic certainties, but one of them is that 70's Parliament-Funkadelic always delivers. Cosmic Slop isn't any different, providing that lovely P-funk sound that everyone knows and loves very solidly and thoroughly through nine tracks. Strangely enough, this was a commercial failure when it was released, only garnering the praise it has after the fact. The standout track here is the title-track, which I'm sure anyone even slightly familiar with the group has heard, but a couple of others are worth noting as well, like "March To The Witches Castle", which was the first of their songs about the Vietnam War, and "This Broken Heart", a truly beautiful cover of the 1950's The Sonics (not those Sonics) classic. It's a solid and fun endeavor, and though they've done better, you really can't go wrong with Cosmic Slop if you're a fan of P-funk.
Fuoco Fatuo Backwater
Gotta love Profound Lore. Fuoco Fatuo, which means "will-o'-the-wisp" in Italian, is a pretty aptly named band. Of course, "will-o'-the-wisp" refers to a ghostly light known to lead travelers off of safe paths and into a place of eventual death. Backwater sounds like one of those places; in this case, it would be the great unknown of the cosmos. Strangely psychedelic and perhaps predictably spacey, the album is a peek through the looking glass at the unexplainable horrors that await humans should they venture from this rock, with suffocating production over very solid funeral doom compositions conjuring a constant sense of dread and despair. It may become slightly long-winded and repetitive at certain spots, but it's a very well done record through and through. It stands to mention that though the compositions are par for the course in this style, the production and the atmosphere (along with an excellent vocal performance) really take things up a notch and provide Backwater with the strength it needs to pull off its concept.
Future Purple Reign
It seems like Future meant the title to this tape means a couple of things: that he is currently reigning as the king of trap, and that the purple reigns over him. Because while the tape initially sounds very braggadocios and celebratory of his status, it quickly spirals into a more personal and, to be frank, hopeless sound. The ending trio of songs is enough to evidence this, with "Run Up" stating that he will not feel complete without billions of dollars. "Perky's Calling" is unequivocally the most personal track, with the struggles of a painful drug addiction and gang violence being related. The title track then laments, "I just need my girlfriend, I just need my girl", which betrays the loneliness felt throughout the process. It's worth noting that the tape is somewhat inconsistent, as there are plenty of great tracks that are followed by mediocre ones, like how "Bye Bye" follows "Salute". Still, if anything, this tape is another in a line of very good and even excellent releases by Future, which is something you come to expect by now.
Future EVOL
I think what I like most about EVOL is that with it, Future stares right at his naysayers and essentially laughs in their face, completely confident and absolutely unwavering in his formula that has worked wonders for him so far. He has all the reason to. It's yet another concise, consistent, fun, and sometimes dark trap album, with the same seemingly unsustainable quality he's been working with for about a year and a half now. At this point, he's pretty much defying the law of averages, especially given that the overall sound and aesthetic haven't changed since this incredible run began. It's interesting that so many great tracks have come from this man in the last couple of years, and yet he's still able to make bangers like "In Her Mouth", "Seven Rings" and "Fly Shit Only" at the drop of a hat. You could say it's a bit redundant, and you'd be correct, but when the music is of this quality, that doesn't really matter.
Future Project E.T.: Esco Terrestrial
Though much of the credit for this tape is placed into Future's lap, it's really Esco's project. Future himself betrays as much on the album with the way he chooses to go about it. He still sounds drugged up and leaned out, but he sounds much more passive than usual, despite working on some different flows. This is done so that more of the focus could be on Esco's production, and there's good reasoning in that. In every way, Esco has this spacey trap production style down pat, and he shows excellent consistency throughout the whole tape. Some of the guest spots here are kind of shoddy (looking at you, Drake), but Future's steady hand helps counteract those that don't work and complement those that do (looking at you, Rich Homie Quan). On a closing note, Future said that it was Esco who inspired him to go on the run that he's on through late 2014 until now, and looking at Esco's work on this tape, it's clear Fewtch has a great partner helping him maintain.
Future Streetz Calling
For as hungry as Future sounded on True Story, he may as well be ripping the world apart with how he sounds on Streetz Calling. It's a shame this doesn't have quite as good of production job to it than the last couple of his tapes, because if it did, I'd wager that this would've been the most essential of his pre-Pluto mixtapes. Future mostly goes at it alone here, with the odd feature from Gucci Mane or Trouble here and there, and he does absolutely marvelous, having a truly imposing and charismatic presence on the microphone, helping to buoy the decent, yet somewhat middling production. Of course, it helps to have a few songs as thoroughly bonafide as "Same Damn Time", "Name Hold Weight", and "Word To My Muva" on the tracklist, and although it's a slight hit more inconsistent than his last tape, it's not what I would call an inconsistent affair at all. Still, it would only be after this that Future truly entered the stratosphere as one of the games most important trappers, though it would be a shame for any fans of the man to pass this one up.
G Herbo Pistol P Project
G Herbo, he of the best XXL cypher verse of 2016, has a reputation for being late with mixtapes. Though at first Pistol P Project seemed like a stopgap for fans clamoring for the as-of-then-unfinished Ballin' Like I'm Kobe, over time it has definitely earned its place in Herbo's discography, if only for being a short, powerful, and consistent shot of adrenaline and not much else. There may be a laid back track here or there, but mostly it's stuff like "Where I Reside", where Herbo sounds like he's tearing the roof off of a building and the beats reside in an all-banger territory. DJ L, possessing a seemingly never-ending array of intense, but frustrated or even slightly morose beats, certainly does his part here. The features aren't all that great, though Jace drops a heartwarmingly positive and endearing verse on "Play It Smart" that got yours truly to smile. All props due to Herb, definitely keeping an eye out for that debut album.
Gnaw Their Tongues Deathdrone 3
2007 would go down as one of, if not the most, prolific years Gnaw Their Tongues saw as a project. This, the first release of that timespan, set the tone very well. The first three tracks, most notably "Nihilism; Tied Up And Burning", would end up on a release called Reeking, Pained, And Shuddering later that year as part of one of the most depraved albums the project released. The final three are not on any other release, and do an excellent job with the precedent set by the first three. There's instances of black metal melody on "The Planets Align And Nothing Happens", and even some tranquil piano at the end of "[Untitled]", a rare sound for this project indeed. Thus, from a musical standpoint, Deathdrone 3 really laid the groundwork for future Gnaw Their Tongues projects, not only in 2007, but in early 2008 too, before another stylistic change would take place.
Gnaw Their Tongues ...Spasming And Howling...
Though it's merely a compilation of previous work, this 2007 collection of songs is a pretty decent representation of his output up until that point. Though the best material of the record appear on other albums ("Nihilism; Tied Up And Burning", "Horse Drawn Hearse"), there is some good material that isn't available anywhere else. For instance, opener "Totentanz Kindergrab" is a slow-burning, thunderous noise track with hollow, ghostly vocals and a strange sense of melody in the guitars later in the track. "Sound The Alarm, The Water Is Poisoned" makes use of some weird synth work, and of course the patented samples that pepper many tracks of the project as a whole. What it illustrates best, though, is that even back in 2004, the time of the oldest track, Gnaw Their Tongues was destined to become one of the of the most misanthropic and depraved acts in experimental music.
Gnaw Their Tongues Bubonic Burial Rites
By this point in 2007, it was clear that Gnaw Their Tongues had found its sound, as the visceral Reeking, Pained, And Shuddering showcased so violently. Bubonic Burial Rites is a slight deviation, focusing much more on tense, torturous black ambient soundscapes than hellish noise and black/doom metal. The title-track takes an excellent stab at this, and does a great job of setting up an oppressive atmosphere without Mories' vocals. "Vademecum Mutilis" is a more conventional Gnaw Their Tongues song for this era, and features a great doom riff near the end of the track. "Tarred Coffins" starts out as a bit of a clunker, but it improves over time as the ambience sets it better in the song. It's a pretty sweet (and free) EP from Gnaw Their Tongues, during the time where the projects sound was now becoming very well established.
Gnaw Their Tongues / Sick To The Back Teeth Constructing Enochian Temples / Mary Magdalene
(For clarifications sake, this soundoff is only about Gnaw Their Tongues' side as Sick To The Back Teeth's side, Mary Magdalene, is very hard to get through means that will not give my computer AIDS. (Though if anyone has a stream or a download I'd be all ears.) The rating reflects this.) One of the more streamlined efforts in Gnaw Their Tongues' catalog, Constructing Enochian Temples isn't quite as challenging as other works from the alias, even just in 2008 alone, but it succeeds in creating a solid, massive atmosphere as well a showing that the sound can work on a more minimal scale in terms of instrumentation and composition. The lack of vocals or samples for all but one of these tracks is a direction Gnaw Their Tongues doesn't usually take, but it manages to work because of the potent mix of drone metal and dark ambient present, which makes use of more cacophonous rhythmic structures that were heard on An Epiphanic Vomiting Of Blood. Good work, as was par for the course back then.
God Is an Astronaut A Moment of Stillness
Godspeed You! Black Emperor Luciferian Towers
At one point in time, Godspeed was my favorite band of all time. Everything they'd released from 1995-2002 was nothing short of post-rock perfection, even if Yanqui U.X.O. was just a shade below the others. As it stands, I'm lukewarm on their two records released before this one, as it seems they'd just simply lost the songwriting magic they posed before. "Luciferian Towers" isn't nearly as good as their pre-hiatus records, but it is their best post-hiatus record, if only because it is the work of a band who understands they'll never be on the level they once were, but still stick to their guns and write the music they want. Like all Godspeed records, it's a grower, containing subtleties not noticeable much on merely one listen, and like all Godspeed records, the true essence of the record isn't it's build-ups or it's crescendos; it's in the atmosphere. This record sounds like awakening on a somewhat sunny morning and accepting that though things may not be how you want, you're still going to power through it. Perhaps it's a cliche, but it's an extremely well done cliche. And if that's all they can do now, so be it.
Gold Panda Good Luck And Do Your Best
I don't think it's anything I haven't heard before from the likes of the man himself, but his playful style of glitch-hop and downtempo is still riding high on this new record. It goes without saying that "In My Car" is the correct answer to the question "where is this song best played?", and that "Song For A Dead Friend" is strange in its initially indifferent but subtly melancholy sound. Always interested in Japanese culture, the album also shows the fruits of his time spent in Japan over the past year, using many East Asian instruments in his melodies and sample work. This of course juxtaposes well with the catchiness and danceability of the majority of the album. And, as stated before, though it's not really anything new, it's still charming enough to get by on its own merits, especially when songs like "Pink And Green" and "Time Eater" pepper it.
Gorillaz Humanz
Now more than ever does the "various artist compilation" joke ring true when made about Gorillaz. That doesn't mean Humanz is a bad album though, far from it in fact. Really it just means that Albarn needed a little help getting this thing off of the ground, and there's nothing wrong with that. The production and the thematic elements of the album hold it together decently enough despite the bevy of featured artists, and though a few of these said artists don't really add much to the songs they're on, more often than not they're pretty good. Strangely enough, the best moment on the record rests on the shoulders of a song with no feature at all, called "Busted And Blue", which stands up as one of the best Gorillaz songs in their discography. The problems with the album mainly stem from the slightly scatterbrained nature of the songwriting, with plenty of different styles that are great on their own but hold little cohesiveness when together. All in all, though, a pretty spirited and enjoyable comeback.
Haste the Day That They May Know You
Haste the Day Coward
This marks the second straight year a band I used to jam in middle school has returned from hiatus. Needless to say, this album was a wave of nostalgia for me, but for a new listener, it won't be. That being said, this album does have some great melodies and riffs, with the two vocalists trading off well done harsh vocals song after song. The drumming is as good as it's ever been, and some great songs are made here, closer "Gnaw" being of particular note. So, if you need a solid slab of modern metalcore, Haste The Day has you covered.
Head Wound City A New Wave of Violence
A band that played fast and died equally as fast, Head Wound City was a strange supergroup made up of members of The Locust, The Blood Brothers, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Now they've returned, with their first full-length album and first release in eleven years. It's a loud, explosive, and occasionally obnoxious affair, with twenty-four minutes of hardcore punk bordering on grind in some spots, complete with a bouncy drum performance and some very distinct (and yet, unfortunately, this is where the "obnoxious" comes in) vocals. The shorter, catchy, and spastic numbers like "I Wanna Be Your Original Sin" are the best ones, but a couple of the longer ones like lead single "Scraper" can pack a punch in a catchy way as well. It's a debut faithful to its roots, but with a crisper, modern production job, which adds some nice punch to the already forceful music on display.
Heavy Drag Sabana Ghost
A bit new to the psychedelic rock scene, Heavy Drag has released a solid collection of stoner-influenced psychedelic rock in Sabana Ghost that has to be some of the most well-rounded and consistent rock of this style released this year. The atmosphere is pleasing and calming, though some tense moments do arise once in a blue moon, and the slow, brooding nature of the music gives the album a very relaxed feel. There are a lot of nuances that show the maturity of the project even in its early age: the wonderful backing vocals that accentuate some catchy choruses, the production that gives the music a light feel, and the use of slowly building, waxing and waning songwriting that ensures that while the album may be slow-paced, it never becomes dull. Truly, understanding and executing all of this is quite impressive considering this is the first release from the band, and in the future one can expect nothing but improvement to that end.
Herbie Hancock Fat Albert Rotunda
For being one of the greatest innovators and forward thinking minds in jazz, I feel that Herbie Hancock's importance is understated. He was instrumental in the development of jazz fusion, and this was one of his earliest forays into said development. What we have here are seven extremely well rounded and solid jazz-funk tracks. It's not as funky as, say, Head Hunters, but the sound is undeniable. Thus, most of these tracks, especially "Oh! Oh! Here He Comes" are very catchy, and some even danceable. From a songwriting standpoint, each of the compositions generally work in the same way, with infectious rhythms and refrains dominating the record. That is, except for "Jessica", which is a much slower and more traditional jazz number, famously used as the main sample for Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones, Part II". Hancock himself puts in a very nice performance on the keyboard, as was the usual, and though he'd easily top this record a number of times in his career, it really helped get him going when it came to fusion jazz.
Hester Prynne The Goswell Divorce
Underground deathcore band Hester Prynne hails from Kansas City and does deathcore right: fun, fast-paced, some decent breakdowns, and a death metal-like energy. The album, though not exactly a story, is kind of a concept album, dealing with a divorce due to infidelity, and the lovers revenge in murder. And it's actually not half bad. True, it would be nothing without the music behind it, and the band takes care of that well. With excellent drumming fronted by guitars with menacing tones, the instrumental work is very good. The vocals are generally easy to understand, and though they can get grating, are pretty well done. The album isn't all breakneck speed and breakdowns, though. Take for instance a few synthy breaks placed in the middle of "That Night, A Forest Grew", and "Bad For Business", and the ambient intro to "Seventeen Is My Favorite Number." The best moment on the record is "Leann Legore", in which a very atmospheric build-up interrupts a monstrous romp. This explodes into a wonderfully crafted guitar solo, which leads into an intricate breakdown. Overall, a solid release from a little-known band.
Hodgy Untitled
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions Until The Hunter
I'm not quite sure what you call this sort of dreamy alt-country/psychedelic folk style, but it sure is candy to the ears. Hope Sandoval has been at this thing for a while now even back with Mazzy Star, and Until The Hunter is another in a series of very well-executed albums in her catalog. The atmosphere and overall sound of the record is extremely cohesive and enveloping, and thus is not only an enjoyable album to hear, but an easy one to get through as well, despite its hour-long length. It's flaws are found in the sameyness of the compositions throughout the album, as they never really deviate from the slow-paced, dreamy alt-country the record does so well. Still, certain tracks like "Let Me Get There", on which Sandoval sings duet with Kurt Vile, are a shade above the others in terms of some quality, though the songs are usually of good quality regardless. Simply put, it's a brooding, slow-moving, and lovely alt-country album, with a caressing atmosphere that is all too eager to blanket the listener.
Horrendous Sweet Blasphemies
Horrendous, never their namesake and always quality, have always had the appearance of a typical OSDM-revival band, but have proven time and again that there's more to them than that. Even eight years ago on their debut EP Sweet Blasphemies this was apparent. The production here is pitch perfect, something that has come to define the band just as much as their impeccable songwriting, and even though there's nothing all that original here, it doesn't deter the notion that this is some of the most well-written OSDM-revival out there. The band runs the gamut of styles here; there's thrashy opener "The Mystic" which absolutely blazes, and there's the slower-tempoed, yet intense "Reanimated". Other songs have a more simplistic structure to them, while others still are more technical and complex. Basically, the band kicks ass in whatever style they damn well please, and thus, Sweet Blasphemies is a jam of an EP.
Horrendous The Chills
The Chills is more or less just a louder and slightly broader extension of the Sweet Blasphemies EP, which was some of the most well done OSDM-revival at the time, so you know what you're going to get here: chunky riffs, tight bass, intense drumming, and wonderfully evil vocals that all went to Autopsy, Entombed, and Dismember's School of Death Metal. It wouldn't be until their next album when it would become readily apparent that the band had some exciting ambition up their sleeve, but even here the band had a couple of songwriting ticks that you didn't normally see from an OSDM-revival band. Just take closer "The Eye Of Madness" for instance: the song goes through a couple of cycles of building up and winding down that are as much based in ambient as they are death metal. Gotta love that progressive thinking in an ostensibly regressive movement.
Horsepower Productions In Fine Style
I Killed The Prom Queen Beloved
So many breakdowns... So much nostalgia... This brings me back!
Iced Earth Iced Earth
Iced Earth's debut has much more of a thrash metal sound than the power metal sound they are now famous for, but that doesn't make it any less good. The licks by Randall Shawver and Jon Schaffer are really nice, and the album is excellent lyrically despite having two instrumental tracks, which are both good. Gene Adams' vocals are the main detractor, though (They're really bad), and Mike McGill's drumming is nothing to write home about either. Despite that, the album is still able to hold its own pretty well.
Iced Earth Horror Show
Iced Earth has always been one of the better known acts in power metal, and for good reason. Their style of thrash-influenced power metal has worked wonders with great, perfectly over-the-top vocals and lyrics from guys like Matt Barlow and Tim Owens. Here it's more of the same loveliness, with a horror monster theme and probably the best vocal performance by Matt Barlow under the band. Tracks like "Damien" and "The Ghost Of Freedom" blend the power metal riffing with lovely acoustic passages, while tracks like the instrumental "Frankenstein" have an almost punk-like exuberance to them in their relentless energy. The record in no way does anything groundbreaking, but it sure is a fast-paced, fun album that is just so perfectly Iced Earth.
Iced Earth Enter the Realm
This is Iced Earth's first release, a demo, which has the best songs on their self-titled sans "When The Night Falls", along with a couple of songs that don't appear on any of their studio albums. It essentially has the same strengths and weaknesses that their self-titled had, but some fat is cut off here. "Enter The Realm" is a nice intro, and serves as a part 1 to "Colors". Then we have "Nightmares", which is a very solid song that has a nice mix of thrash metal riffs and power metal solos, showing the link between the two genres that the band would become famous for combining on albums like Burnt Offerings and Night Of The Stormrider.
Iced Earth Dystopia
It seemed like Iced Earth was going into a tailspin following the very underwhelming Something Wicked parts 1 and 2, but somehow they were able to bring themselves up out of the gutter and make something that resembled their best days. Gone are the obnoxious, overblown choral sections, as well the ridiculous need to be as "epic" as humanly possible. Everything's faster, with far more energy and explosiveness to it (some moments are borderline thrash metal), as well as incorporating more melody into the riffs rather than mid-tempoed chugging. Even the slower songs are done better, with at least a smidgen of personality and catchiness in each of them. Stu Block does a typically great job vocally, and while the songwriting isn't necessarily anything new, it's very well done, especially given how past releases had sounded. The shorter length helps things too, with songs finishing just when the ideas run out of steam. Dystopia is a very solid effort, and just may be the band's best since the original Something Wicked This Way Comes.
If These Trees Could Talk The Bones of a Dying World
In the year 2016, post-rock as a standalone genre is pretty hard to work with if you want to make a great album solely within its confines. That didn't stop Yndi Halda, though, and it doesn't stop If These Trees Could Talk either, albeit to a quality lesser in scale. The Bones Of A Dying World is rife with a chilly, airy atmosphere that the clean sounds of the guitars and drums sound totally at home inside. The compositions themselves are pretty standard, but the songs don't follow the same structure over and over again throughout, which adds spice to the record. Opener "Solstice" sets the tone wonderfully with its catchy rhythms and even catchier melodies striking open the gates for soaring guitars and explosive drums. While not very original, the rest of the record is performed with precision and tact, and acts well as active listening music and as background music to boot. Also, Rubber City all damn day.
Incendiary Thousand Mile Stare
Don't ask me why, but any album cover with a gargantuan eye on it freaks me out a bit. It helps if the album is actually good, though, so it's not completely unbearable to look at Thousand Mile Stare. It's based in hardcore, specifically from New York, but dabbles in metalcore and beatdown somewhat as well. It's cleanly-produced, but it's unrelenting in its style and attitude, constantly barraging the listener with hardcore shouts and breakdowns as well as some decent riffage here and there. One thing to note is that the basic sound of the songs are all very similar as well as the styles therein, but compositionally it's not as one-note as you'd think. This gives a bit of freshness to the music which helps the album keep up the pace and not lose steam by the home stretch, which plenty of albums in this style fall victim to. When it's all said and done, though, Incendiary keeps on making hardcore as solid and well-rounded as they come, and that's definitely worth a listen or two.
Interpol Antics
Intervals A Voice Within
Intervals In Time
Intervals The Shape of Colour
I've never really been a big fan of this djent/progressive metal combination. It has its select albums, but no band has really done it on a consistent level for me. Intervals is the one exception to that statement. Their take on the subgenre is more jazzy and mathy, similar to Animals As Leaders, but they not only do the style better, but the production is better as well, not sounding as sterile and lifeless as some of their contemporaries. The Shape Of Colour is a faithful continuation of this sound, only in a much more concise and crisp way than ever before. Sometimes in can get lost in itself, but the sheer volume of the compositions and the proficiency with which the compositions are played is quite impressive. It can get samey as well, but it's rarely a bore. There are no vocals this time around, harkening back to their early days, but the songs are more complete and the instruments are all clearly audible. In all, another good outing from Intervals, who continue to be the best at what they do.
Iron Reagan Crossover Ministry
Relentless, full of youthful vigor, and complete with a tongue-in-cheek approach, Crossover Ministry is an entertaining album of crossover thrash from some solid purveyors in Iron Reagan. It's not the most original affair and is somewhat homogenous, but the aggression and above-average songwriting make up for that. The production gives the drums a wonderful punch, and gives the guitars a full and powerful sound.