New Music Monday: Our Most Anticipated NEW MUSIC of 2018

Oh, hi there! Welcome to the first NEW MUSIC MONDAY post of 2018.

As the beginning of January is an utter wasteland for new music, we’ll take this moment to highlight some releases that we are looking forward to in the new year. This list will be in no way a complete picture of music in 2018, as many things will drop unexpectedly and many things may take us (and the world) by surprise. Probably, I’m just going to write about a lot of punk and metal that I’m excited about and Josh will write about a long list of stuff that you’ve actually heard of.

Enjoy!

Mark’s Picks!

Porches – The House
Mid-January sees the release of a new album by Porches, Aaron Maine’s beguiling indie pop project. Having achieved a new level of attention and success with 2016’s Pool, it would appear that Maine has decided to stay the course with that album’s icy electronic vibe. His sense of melody seems undiminished in spite of the synthetic nature of the arrangements, however, and the preview track “Country” is particularly lovely. Colour me interested!

Lucy Dacus – Historian
Lucy Dacus released a really great album in 2016. In fact, No Burden may have been the only album of that year to win Jay Hosking‘s unabashed approval. Judging by the preview track, Dacus is back with more wry and literate compositions about life and love. I like it easily as much as the tracks on her previous release, and the way that the arrangement bobs and weaves unexpectedly is both clever and endearing. This is great, and I’m really looking forward to the album dropping in March.

David Duchovny – Every Third Though
Ha ha! Not really! But apparently this comes out in February and is his second album?! Can you believe that this is a thing?

Courtney Barnett – TBD
Her last proper release was a revelation and I’m very excited for an announcement from this one.

The Armed – TBD
Their sparse social media presence has alluded to the fact that they’ve been recording and working on something over the last year. 2018 is the perfect time for the return of THE WORLD’S GREATEST BAND.

ALBUMS THAT I’M NOT SURE ABOUT

Tool – TBD
Am I excited about a new Tool album? I’m not sure that I’d say that I’m excited, but after their super-long hiatus, I’m at least curious.

A Perfect Circle – TBD
See above, but with less interest.

MY MUSIC RESOLUTION FOR THE YEAR

I need to keep tabs on and explore more music from outside of my comfort zone. This may mean paying more attention to Josh and the breadth of music that he seems to take in, or getting together with my old friend Mike for a little hip hop and R&B 101. My tastes seem to run in the realm of angry white dudes and sad white women, and that’s a little bit too narrow to just be satisfied with in this day and age!

 

Jay’s picks!

Lucy Dacus — Historian

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Mark’s right: that was probably my favourite record of that year. I saw Dacus live last year and was really impressed with all of the new tracks. In fact, I enjoyed the ending refrain from “Night Shift” so much that I wrote it down to remember for later. I’ve got high hopes for Historian, maybe even more than the excellent No Burden.

Porches — The House

On the other hand, I’m not expecting as much from Porches’ next record.  Don’t get me wrong; Maine had a string of releases that I absolutely loved (Summer of TenScrap and Love Songs RevisitedSlow Dance in the Cosmos) and still listen to all the time. But his last record, Pool, was a disappointment in its early-90’s-themed production and diminished passion, even if the songwriting and vocals remained lovely. Here’s hoping we get more songs like “Country” and fewer like “Find Me”. It’s not terrible, but I can’t seem to get past the cold production and terrible sound palette.

Nine Inch Nails — EP TBD

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Terry Razor decided to try something different this time around and released a couple of interesting EPs over the last year or so. The third is expected this year. While the first EP, Not the Actual Events, was an anxious mess perfectly appropriate for our newly anxious era, it was also not very nice to listen to, mainly because of a muddy, imbalanced mix. The second EP, Add Violence, was much more successful overall. It has me excited for ol’ Troy Raisin to finish up his sequence. Until then, I’m happy to read my illustrious colleagues visit to nin’s back catalogue, even if I don’t always agree with him (Year Zero is way better than With Teeth!).

Jay’s music resolution for the year

I am extraordinarily busy these days and, as such, every minute I have is precious. I would be kidding myself if I thought most pop music is going to do it for me. There are occasionally radio songs that I find surprisingly good, but mostly it’s a waste of my time and effort to explore what’s going on in the remnants of the “mainstream”. I like listening to bands, or music that approximates an actual band with actual drums. I like ambient electronic music and am listening to it more and more, since I can work to it; this is the best new record I’ve heard this year. So my resolution is to spend more of my energy on liking things and less on disliking them. Onwards and upwards.

Josh’s picks!

Glen Hansard — Between Two Shores (Jan 19)

If there’s one thing I love more than the pleasing sounds of the Irish singer-songwriter behind the musical Once and one of my top ten records of 2012, Rhythm & Repose, it’s anything nautical-themed. Look at that dashing man of the sea! Between Two Shores is inspired by Hansard’s love of the ocean and sailing, and takes its title from the midpoint between a departure and a destination, and the anxiety over whether to turn back or go forward. This one will probably end up one of my year-end favourites.

Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet — Landfall (Feb 16)

I don’t understand much about the convoluted concept behind this collaboration—something about words, technology, and Hurricane Sandy—, but two musical acts of this magnitude, working together for the first time, are sure to create something interesting.

Cardi B — TBA (TBA)

After two top 20 singles last year including the massive chart-topper “Bodak Yellow,” Instagram rapper Cardi B is expected to release her hotly-anticipated proper debut album sometime this year. It’s gonna be huge, and Mark and Jay will surely hate it.

Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot I’m over the moon excited for this year. Rumours of new albums from Arctic Monkeys, Courntey Barnett, Kanye West, and my perennial favourites, Thrice, would round out this list if there was more information about them. Needless to say, 2018 will probably be defined more by surprises than by excitement.

Josh’s music resolution for the year

Fresh off my top 50 list from the exhausting roster of over 300 albums last year it’s hard to even think about 2018. But I discovered some fun records through Mark’s recommendations last year, so this year I resolve to check out everything Mark and Jay mentioned above, much of which I’m unfamiliar with.

Josh’s Top 50 Albums of 2017

What a year.

2017 was a garbage fire in so many ways, so it’s fortunate that musically this past year gave us so many solid opportunities to reduce the world to the space between our headphones. To some artists, the year felt political; their records were infused with righteous anger and renewed determination. Donald Trump’s name must have appeared in more songs this year than ever before—but don’t tell him that. For others, it was a year for cutting loose, for creating music to lose yourself in—sorry, Eminem, but your bland, overcooked Revival didn’t make the cut.

I found myself wishing I could include more titles in the list below. I thought about extending it to a top 100 list, but a guy’s gotta have standards, right? I listened to well over 300 eligible* albums this year. Here were my favourite.

*full length, new or unreleased recordings, no live records, compilations or soundtracks

My Top 50 Albums of 2017

50 – 41

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50. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
49. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
48. Björk – Utopia
47. Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy
46. Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun
45. Majid Jordan – The Space Between
44. Laura Marling – Semper Femina
43. Metz – Strange Peace
42. Jenn Grant – Paradise
41. Gorillaz – Humanz

40 – 31

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40. Spoon – Hot Thoughts
39. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
38. Dvsn – Morning After
37. Jean-Michel Blais & CFCF – Cascades
36. The Weather Station – The Weather Station
35. Daniel Caesar – Freudian
34. GoldLink – At What Cost
33. Sabrina Claudio – About Time
32. Circa Survive – The Amulet
31. Future Islands – The Far Field

30 – 21

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30. Kacy Hill – Like a Woman
29. Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
28. Less Art – Strangled Light
27. Mac Demarco – This Old Dog
26. Lana Del Rey – Lust for Life
25. Foxygen – Hang
24. Jens Lekman – Life Will See You Now
23. Tennis – Yours Conditionally
22. Bonobo – Migration
21. Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life

20 – 11

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20. Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile to the Surface
19. Lorde – Melodrama
18. Drake – More Life
17. Paramore – After Laughter
16. Tove Lo – BLUE LIPS (Lady Wood Phase 2)
15. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
14. Sampha – Process
13. The Wooden Sky – Swimming in Strange Waters
12. Converge – The Dusk in Us
11. Joey Bada$$ – ALL-AMERIKKAN BADA$$

The Top Ten

10. Feist – Pleasure

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“We know enough to admit / It’s my pleasure / And your pleasure”

Hazy, unadorned guitar marks the opening strains of Feist’s Pleasure, her first record in six years. It’s an astounding work and by far her most challenging, without a “1234” or “Mushaboom” in sight. This is Feist at her most intimate and stripped down, often only her voice backed by a single guitar. The minimalism works well to mirror an album that thematically explores isolation and loneliness. Feist punctuates her arrangements with sudden, often unexpected bursts of distortion, drums, and other musical surprises, not the least of which is the Mastodon sample that closes “A Man Is Not His Song.”

In the wake of 2011’s great Metals, Pleasure marks Feist as consistently and fully being in her element. If it takes another six years between records, we can only hope the next one is this good.

9. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

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“Ain’t no gentrifying us, we finna buy the whole town / Tell the one percent to suck a dick, because we on now”

Heavily relying on elements from Detroit techno and house music, Big Fish Theory layers Staples’ smooth flow over pulsing drum & bass in a way that resembles a less aggro and less effortful version of Kanye’s Yeezus, without sacrificing any of the dark forcefulness. When he suggests listeners should “just drown in the sound” it’s a double-edged sword—music as escapism but never without being a suffocating reminder of uncertain times. Staples captures the fishbowl-like experience of what it’s like to feel trapped on one side by the reality of being Black in America and on the other side by the excesses of hip hop hegemony, unable to grow beyond the limits imposed by this tank but unwilling to stop bringing attention to it.

Big Fish Theory is a deliriously dense record for its tight 36-minute run time, and one of the most exciting rap albums of the year.

8. SZA – Ctrl

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“I could be your supermodel if you believe / If you see it in me / I don’t see myself”

2017’s most confessional album, SZA’s Ctrl is a frank unpacking of the complexities of love and desire in the modern age. As tender as it is fierce, Ctrl pulses with sleepy bass and warms with SZA’s unassumingly powerful voice. The gatekeepers of sexual propriety have traditionally shut out women from telling their stories of desire, power, and insecurity. But SZA joins artists like Tove Lo and Nicki Minaj in driving through the gate while giving no fucks, cornering the territory previously occupied by dudes like The Weeknd and Drake—on “Normal Girl”, which appropriates Drake’s “Controlla,” SZA is both rejecting and envying the cool girl archetype. Throughout, she is freely expressing a full spectrum of complex emotions, including self-doubt and weakness as well as the desire to be in control and the fear of losing it. Musically, it’s a beautiful package, but there’s a lot more here than initially meets the ear.

7. Allan Rayman – Roadhouse 01

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“Say I’m not what you wanted / No, what you wanna do / And I love what we started, oh / What I could put you through”

Here are my thoughts over the 3:52 of Roadhouse 01’s opening track, “Wolf”: (1) The gentle intro sounds a lot like Thrice’s “The Lion and the Wolf;” (2) What an incredible and incredibly distinct voice Allan Rayman has; (3) Oh, this is a nice beat that came out of nowhere; (4) The lyrics are delightfully cryptic (“This is brotherhood, 512 / We all lost a brother, we won’t lose two”); (5) The violin in this bridge section reminds me of the score to The Leftovers; (6) Wow, that was a great song!

And that’s only the album’s first four minutes. It stays bewildering, though. From there it swerves into the sultry pop sheen of “December,” a track that shoots for (and deserves) radio play. Rayman’s aesthetic involves laying something resembling rock and soul vocals over sleepy hip hop beats, creating a wholly unique sound anchored by that singular voice. He drops cryptic references without context, shifts between soothing soul and ominous noise, and croons conflicted about the destructive and alluring nature of love.

It’s Rayman’s voice and songwriting that compel, but it’s what he surrounds them with that really surprise and captivate you. Like the way the sparse “Hollywood/My Way” is suddenly and briefly assaulted by electric guitar, and later breaks down into trap/hip hop. It’s all very cinematic. He blends pop and rock in the tradition of Prince and Michael Jackson, and it’s exciting as hell.

6. Brutus – Burst

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“You do anything but lie / I do anything for you / We could make it if we try / I’ll do anything for you”

Burst is an apt title for the debut album from this Belgian rock band that hits you out the gate with a sound that’s somewhere between punk, metal, and rock and all of the above. The first thing you notice about Brutus’ sound is the way the relentless energy of it feels urgent. It’s not polished, and is all the better for it, like how vocalist/drummer Stefanie Mannaert wails and cracks in reach of notes just out of her grasp, or how the trio’s genre sandbox play finds them making surprising shifts from moment to moment as though they’re still searching for the final version of these songs, and doing it by feeling. It’s as exhilarating as it is confounding, and an absolute must-listen.

5. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

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“And how’s this for irony: / Their idea of being free / is a prison of beliefs / that they never ever have to leave”

You know that old saying, “we laugh to keep from crying?” Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy is that idea writ into a feature-length apocalyptic odyssey. The opening title track is a six-and-a-half minute trip through human history from the absurdity of evolution to the greater absurdity of religion, culminating across a vast sonic spectrum of piano and horns in a plea for community. Even at his most cynical—on the next song he calls us “a race of demented monkeys”—Father John Misty can’t help but begrudgingly bless this mess.

Over thirteen tracks Josh Tillman invites and laments our hastening demise, from self-pacification through entertainment—a theme that works way better here than on Arcade Fire’s “Infinite Content”—to our maddening addiction to the 24-hour news cycle. He’s a hysterical jeremiad for sure, but a self-flagellating one. The choir-backed finale of “The Ballad of a Dying Man” injects a sly grandiosity to a song about self-importance; we are a race of people who cluelessly hold our own opinions as sacred. And Tillman is one of us. Irony is dead, but that won’t stop Tillman from indulging in it, and hating himself for doing so. (“Oh, great, that’s just what they all need / Another white guy in 2017 / Who takes himself so goddamn seriously”)

The way he calls the blue planet a “godless rock that refuses to die” almost sounds impressed, as does the existential realisation in the album’s closing moments that “It’s a miracle to be alive”—that’s as earnest as it gets, but it’s significant in the way it lends Pure Comedy something of a twist ending. We are nothing if not persistent. Shitty, but persistent. And that’s something to admire.

4. Jidenna – The Chief

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“N*ggas fighting over rings / N*ggas wanna be the King, but / Long Live the Chief”

Jidenna burst onto the scene in 2015 with the single “Classic Man,” but his proper full-length debut with this year’s commanding The Chief establishes him as one of rap’s most exciting new voices. The record is an accomplished debut, full and exploratory in its sound and ambition. Like his mentor and label-head Janelle Monae, he isn’t easily pigeonholed.

Jidenna raps about a range of topics such as growing up poor, visiting his ancestral homeland of Nigeria, lineage and legacy, romantic affection, and racial politics—all with swaggering confidence. The infectious sex-positive empowerment anthem “Trampoline” finds him extolling women who “just be knowing what she wanting.” Its sonic spectrum is all over the place, but it feels oddly consistent. Distorted bass and horns are commonplace on the album alongside more experimental forays into Afrobeat (“Bambi”), neo-R&B (“Safari”), dancehall (“Little Bit More”) and the Latin crooning of “Adaora.” The standout track, “White N*ggas” finds Jidenna rapping a racial thought experiment over a simple drum & bass line and a backing vocal section that sounds like My Morning Jacket.

With Jidenna’s undeniable skill and the swooning production, The Chief is easy to get lost in.

3. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

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“Because it’s in your eyes, most of y’all tell lies / Most of y’all don’t fade, most of y’all been advised / Last LP I tried to lift the black artists / But it’s a difference between black artists and wack artists”

Kendrick’s follow up to my number one album of 2015, To Pimp a Butterfly, originally sat much lower on this list. DAMN.’s comparative smallness and seemingly smaller ambition wasn’t immediately wowing me like its dense and aggressive masterpiece of a predecessor. But DAMN. was infectious, perhaps the record that got the most replay throughout the year, as it slowly inched its way further towards the top of the list.
DAMN. has an almost schizophrenic aesthetic, dancing between breathless rap flows—try not to be wowed by “DNA.”—and washed-out, bass-infected grooves. The record couldn’t be more different from the jazz/funk-tinged cacophonous epic of To Pimp a Butterfly. These lean 14 tracks represent hip hop at its most pure, and at its best. It’s tight, spare, and crowd-pleasing. That it works so well as a musical palindrome—Kendrick released a “Deluxe Edition” with the track listing reversed—only proves the versatility of these fourteen songs.

2. Buffy Sainte-Marie – Medicine Songs

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“Whether you’re woman or whether you’re man / sometimes you got to take a stand / Just because you think you can / Oh, you got to run, you got to run”

It might seem unfair to put a record that is mostly a compilation of older tracks this high on a best of the year list, but this is more than a simple greatest hits album. Medicine Songs is a collection of new recordings of songs from Buffy Sainte-Marie’s half-century career, updated with new lyrics and energetic, often bombastic new arrangements. Specifically, the folk legend has gathered twenty of her best and most vital pieces of musical activism, songs like “The War Racket,” “Universal Soldier,” and “Starwalker.”
The brilliance of the record isn’t just in the song selection and how relevant these songs feel in 2017, but in the re-recordings themselves, which lend a vital contemporary energy, even joy, to songs intended to sustain and celebrate Indigenous resistance in the 21st century. The songs feel renewed, rebuilt to ring with the tenor of a new generation’s passion. Sainte-Marie shouts out Standing Rock on the opening duet with Tanya Tagaq, and updates the lyrics of “My Country ‘Tis of They People You’re Dying” to reflect the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

In many cases, this kind of revisiting of old songs can feel like a sign of an artist who has run out of ideas. In Buffy Sainte-Marie’s case, it’s not a sign of being stuck, or even of slowing down. Is there any other 76-year-old who sounds this full of life? Medicine Songs is not just welcome, it’s necessary. It’s not just songs of protest, it’s songs to uplift like “Carry It On” and “You Got to Run (Spirit of the Wind).” Because for Indigenous people in opposition to colonialism, continued existence is an act of resistance. After all, what is medicine if not that intended to return us to wholeness?

1. Haim – Something to Tell You

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“And I say goodbye to love again / In loneliness, my only friend / In loneliness, my only fear / The night’s here”

The sophomore record from sister trio Haim seems to have gotten less credit than it deserves this year, scoring a mere 69 critics score on Metacritic and failing to generate the buzz of their debut, Days are Gone. In 2013 it must have been a novelty, these three women so unabashedly taking up the rock/pop mantle of artists like Wilson Phillips and Stevie Nicks. In 2017, perhaps Haim’s follow-up is being dubbed more of the same, a label that fails to account for near-perfect consistency as an act of accomplishment in itself. Maybe Haim’s music sounds familiar because it’s tapping into a kind of pop that’s timeless. The kind that wouldn’t sound out of place among the vulnerable crooning and folksy guitars of the 70s, the swaying synths and bass of the 80s, or the melodic swooning of contemporary R&B acts like The Weeknd.

It opens with “Want You Back,” song that layers interlocking vocal melodies with handclap percussion and bass slaps, a Russian nesting doll of a song so effortless and catchy it takes a while to even notice the slight Lindsey Buckingham-esque guitar riff that seems to wander in from “Never Going Back Again” midway through. It closes with “Night So Long,” a ballad that slows down the bass riff from Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” to a funeral dirge, and then lays over it a cavernous, mournful Neko Case-like vocal track. It’s a sad, downtempo track, and a surprising one to end an album with. But the two are great examples of how Haim’s music encompasses the spectrum of relational emotions, musically and lyrically. The trio know when to fill the space to capacity, and when to let it breathe.

It’s the kind of music that, if you let it, can seep into your memories and soundtrack those moments in your life both joyous and painful—and those are the moments Haim seems best at capturing lyrically, relationships in an ambivalent state of collapse. The production by Ariel Rechtshaid feels purposeful yet unobtrusive. Like a conducted orchestra, each piece is perfectly calibrated to produce a glorious, organic whole. It’s not innovative, but it is precise. It’s way too purposeful to be mere pastiche or homage. My colleague said of Haim that “I feel like I’ve known this song my entire life.” I don’t know whether he meant that derisively or in praise, but it does perfectly encapsulate why I love this record. It’s a reminder of why you fall in love with music in the first place, for the way it bursts with emotion, layers of sound that continue to reward you over time.

Reevaluating NINE INCH NAILS – Part 7: Year Zero

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Nine Inch Nails’ fifth album, Year Zero, was released on April 17, 2007. It reached number two on the Billboard 200 chart, and sold over 187,000 copies on its week of release.

Hyperpower!
Trunt decides to open the album with a fuzzed-out one-note groove on the instrumental “Hyperpower!” While it builds to a reasonable crescendo of chaos, I can’t help but feel as though this track was intended to get people pumped up, and it leaves me feeling underwhelmed. It sounds more like an improvised warm-up jam than a carefully composed introduction to an album. Even the squalling “lead guitar” and nightmare sonics seem a little half-baked.

The Beginning of the End
I suppose that this song is fine. It’s a fairly straight-ahead rock n’ roll song, even more so than the previous album’s primary single, “The Hand That Feeds”. A hook certainly exists in here, but a rather dull hook. The noisy “solo” section is far and away the most invigorating section of the track, but is not enough to shake the underwhelming feeling that I’m getting.

I will concede that it does land near the beginning of the album, and therefore it is an appropriate song title.

Survivalism
This song sounds like a pale and goofy shadow of the menacing glory that Nine Inch Nails reached with “Wish” on the Broken EP. It features the same kind of “sing a thing, then a riff, sing a thing, then a riff” shtick as that song, but none of the intensity. It’s kind of dorky, to be honest. Good fuzz effects featured in the atmospheric audio, but kind of a derivative stinker in my book.

The Good Soldier
“The Good Soldier” manages to be a more successful attempt at a playful, hooky vibe that the previous tracks, and sports a vintage Nine Inch Nails-ian outro that works very well. Great sounds. I don’t think that this is anything stellar, but it is more to my taste than anything I’ve heard so far.

Vessal
There are some fairly embarrassing vocal work on this album, and the “Oh. Mah. Gawd.” chorus of “Vessal” exemplifies it. That being said, this track has a lurching quality that reaches out to me, and the squalling outro is actually quite inspired. This album is at its best when it sounds like a smart cross between tropes that would later become dubstep and… a dial-up modem.

Me, I’m Not
Yet another track based around the rhythmic repetition of one note. This can be brilliantly effective, but when it doesn’t work, the song feels hopelessly without melody. This track drags and relies on an underwhelming vocal performance to generate interest. I’m getting the impression that there’s a story being woven by this album, but I’m not feeling drawn in at all. This is the fourth song that has only seemed interesting when some glitchy sound enters and sputters around for a period of time as the track winds down.

Oh, yeesh. This is a long album, too. This isn’t good.

Capital G
Holy fuck, what does he think he’s achieving with this vocal approach? It is cringe-inducing.

Pretty solid hook in the chorus, and fun synth noodles abound. I feel as though I would like this song well enough if the verses didn’t make me want to light a couple of Q-tips ablaze and shove them into my ear-holes.

Nothing on this album rages, and it is bumming me out.

My Violent Heart
Classic terrible Troy Raisin spoken word poetry is featured on this track, which is a real damn shame given that the chorus is actually fairly spirited and fun. The back half of the song holds some pretty brilliant instrumental work and atmospherics, bouncing between some classic Nine Inch Nails synth stabs and something akin to… jazz?

Honestly, does anyone even enjoy the spoken word Nine Inch Nails tracks? Why does he keep on doing this? Does everyone enjoy them but me? Is it me? It’s me, isn’t it?

The Warning
Warning: Your album might be bad.

Actually, I enjoyed this one. The daffy bass line, chunky kick drum and vaguely hilarious storytelling are all kind of fun. Tell us another story about the sky-people, Papa Trent!

God Given
A rapping Trent Ruzzles is a bad Trent Ruzzles. This song sucks.

Meet Your Master
Terrific chip-tune synths and distorted bass guitar open up this track, and the chorus has more piss and vinegar than anything featured on the album thus far. It doesn’t reach the heights of the best Nine Inch Nails tracks, but there’s a solid enough chug here to make it a winner for me. The introduction of shimmering strings beneath the instrumental bridge was both unexpected and pleasing.

A good one!

The Greater Good
Fantastic sounding bass synth had my hoping that Trent wouldn’t come in with a vocal part that totally ruined the whole thing. Luckily, the vocals work primarily as atmospherics and lead to the most beguiling and compelling track on the album. “The Greater Good” is a winding hallway of a song, and would hold its own with some of the best tracks off of The Fragile.

I like it.

The Great Destroyer
For much of this song, it hews close to a style of alternative guitar rock that seems distinctly un-Trentlike. The strummed chords and melody seem conventional in a way that this act simply is not. As the song reaches its climax and Trent exclaims “I AM THE GREAT DESTROYEEEEEEERRRR” and is silenced by two minutes of farty glitch-drums, I decide that this may be the funniest Nine Inch Nails song of all time. Great punchline!

Another Version of the Truth
Thematically, this album is totally on point. America (and the world at large) has basically traveled down the nightmare rabbit hole laid out here by Trentstrodamus, albeit without any space aliens. That we know about.

The latter day NIN trend of instrumental tracks that manage to deliver a multi-layered impact beyond that of their lyrical cousins holds true here. “Another Version of the Truth” is a stunner, and is certainly one of the best tracks on this album. Terrific.

In This Twilight
Year Zero gets stronger as it goes, and “In This Twilight” reaches the moody, atmospheric heights only hinted at by the album’s early tracks, while managing an interesting and atypical melody. It is suitably haunting stuff to work, and it works well with the album’s rough narrative. Good stuff that I could see myself returning to.

Zero Sum
There are some interesting musical ideas at play here, and the spoken word segments are slightly less embarrassing than other entries in Trent’s Poetry Slam. The faux-gospel chorus may be a little much, but serves it’s function of bringing a fairly audacious concept album to its conclusion. Most concept albums avoid subtlety as a rule. Year Zero is no exception.

The piano noodles are very nice.

Trent Reznor 2007 Fashion Round-up


Here is a well-groomed Trent, sporting a very sharp leather jacket/fashion scarf combo. Very nice. It says “I read a book, but also GRRRRRRR!”


Here is an ensemble that screams “restraining order”.

The Verdict

I enjoyed this album much more by its end than I did off of the top, and perhaps I would enjoy it more were I to give it multiple listens. I do not feel compelled to do so, however, as that sounds like a lot of work and I would rather just listen to one of the other Nine Inch Nails albums that I consider to be much better.

Some terrific instrumental work peppers this album, but I’m left feeling baffled and put-off by the way that many of the vocals were approached. As someone rapidly blossoming into an “old guy”, it is difficult to listen to what sounds like an old guy trying to figure out what sounds cool without feeling deeply ashamed for them and with them.

Stick to what you know, ol’ Trendly. Stick to what you know.

This is a very shaggy album, overlong and lacking the immediacy of the best work off of With Teeth. That said, this is a concept album and works of this sort are often overstuffed just due to enthusiasm and ambition. Year Zero wraps up with a decent pile of interesting tunes, and while it won’t wind up near the top in a list of Nine Inch Nails’ output, it has its merits.

 

New Music Monday – November 27, 2017

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It’s that time of year where our skin gets dry and itchy. The trees are withering and it starts getting dark the second we get up in the morning. What could possibly carry us through this season of torment more effectively than some new tunes from wealthy pop stars?

Alcohol, for one.

But this is a new music post! Let’s take a look at what’s been happening in the world of music this month.

Taylor Swift – Reputation
Mark: Taylor Swift is arguably the biggest pop star working today. While this album has had an underwhelming critical reception, it has been selling ludicrously well. A good thing, too, as it appears that the video for “…Ready For It?” cost the equivalent of a small nation’s GDP to produce. Judging by this video and the previous oneReputation seems intent on delivering Swift’s interpretation of “edgy”. It also appears that she saw the recent American remake of Ghost In The Shell and decided that it was mega-cooooooool.

Like Ghost In The Shell, Swift is attempting to make serious bank by unapologetically cribbing from source material of a higher quality and producing a product that feels empty, inauthentic and boring. Couple this with her baffling persecution complex and production-over-song-craft sound, and you’ve got the recipe for one eye-rolling slog of an album.

Gone are the dorky but tuneful ear worm pleasures of “Shake It Off”. Instead, we’re expected to sit through movements of aggroSwift faux-rap peppered over squalling bass-pads that should have died with dubstep, waiting for the inevitable sprinkling of classic Swiftian melody that will be included out of some cowardly self-awareness that they shouldn’t go all the way with their terrible ideas.

As this is going to be successful no matter how essentially miscalculated it is, there isn’t much more to be said. Unless you read this really fun article comparing Swift to Donald Trump, in which case there is a whole lot more to be said.

Josh: I was sick to death of Taylor Swift “takes” long before this record was actually released. There’s no denying Swift is a legitimate cultural phenomenon, though I was unable to figure out exactly what she was bringing to the culture even before the calculated, winking victimhood of Reputation‘s first singles. If she’s working out her feelings about falling from grace in the public eye (as in the much discussed first single “Look What You Made Me Do”), it feels like she’s inflating the degree to which anyone cares about her seemingly endless beef with Kanye West. If she’s playing at the impossibility of feminine existence in a patriarchal system, it’s rich to assert herself, the richest white woman, as in any way representative of what it’s like to walk through the world with limited privilege. But there I go with a “take.”

Metanarratives aside, Reputation is kind of just not good. From the casual diversions into rapping and squelching digital beats to the inexplicably incompatible collaboration with Ed Sheeran and Future on “End Game,” the record is a series of bizarre creative choices increasingly distancing Swift from the sound she made a name with. Several songs feel incomplete or cobbled together, despite what was almost surely a project scrutinized at every juncture. I was pretty mixed on 1989in contrast to most critics. I’m similarly mixed on Reputation. There are a couple tracks I genuinely enjoy (like “So It Goes”), but too often the pop hooks feel buried, this time under a haphazard digital mess that is all tonally wrong. If this is Swift’s 808s & Heartbreak, I’m dreading her Yeezus. 

Morrissey – Low In High School
Mark: In a world where white male vegetarians are all right about everything, Moz is king. The 80s mope-master is back to let us all know that he advocates staying in bed rather than trying to stay engaged with or informed about the modern world, which is just out to scare and emasculate you/him.

As a white male coming from the degree of privilege necessary to have heard The Smiths in my youth and thought “He sad like ME sad so this = profound”, I’m happy to have had the time and space necessary to reevaluate the legacy of this ding ding blowhard. I’ve come to the conclusion that bratty, moody musical gems from young people can crystalize into timeless classics, but if they’re still copping this kind of attitude into their 30s or later, they’re actually better suited doing commentary on cable news or something.

The featured track, “Spent the Day In Bed”, features Morrissey still sounding very much like Morrissey, but instead of crooning over the typically pleasing guitar work of Johnny Marr, he frogs-it-up over top of some low-key embarrassing synth licks and string pads. Ouch!

Josh: Low in High School is frequently musically-adventurous, occasionally quite brilliantly so. But noted dick Steve Morrissey can’t stop getting in the way and reminding you how annoying he is, like that friend you kind of hate hanging out with but do anyway and then feel angry with yourself for doing it. When he’s not sharing his obsessive fixation on oral sex, he’s railing against the media and the police. I mean, to be fair, who wouldn’t rail against a media industry that amplifies to the public every idiotic thing you do and say.

But while Low in High School plays on like a screed, it’s a mean, incoherent, and inconsistent one, virulently anti-war (and anti-soldier) yet borderline propagandistic as it trips over itself to defend Israel (“I can’t answer for what armies do / They’re not you”).  Compare hilarious lines like “Gimme an order / I’ll blow up your daughter!” to something equally as angry but vastly more attuned to the comic absurdity of tragedy and violence like ANONHI’s “Drone Bomb Me.” It’s a shame, because musically, “I Bury the Living” is a hell of a rager.

“You need me just like I need you,” Moz says early on the record. Let’s be real, though, he needs us way more than we need him.

Tim McGraw & Faith Hill – The Rest of Our Life
Mark: I question what the fuck these two are doing putting on hideous formal wear and boarding a limousine in the middle of a deserted corn field. I must also wonder if this song was penned not as a genuine expression of marital commitment, but as a reminder to each other that you’re not supposed to cheat on your spouse when they get grey and fat. Most of all, I have to wonder how you smooch a guy wearing such a hat, and how you don’t just divorce him because of said hat. They hug at the end of the video instead of kissing, because she would totally hit her forehead on his dumb hat.

All of this being said, this song is a completely competent stab at the “song designed to be played at a white person’s wedding” genre. It is predictable and boring, just like a good marriage probably should be. It is amazing that these two are still together and I will give them credit for that above and beyond any feelings that I may have about their chosen form of expression.

No bow ties w/ cowboy hats, though. Good Christ.

Josh: I listened to a few songs from this album accidentally when I added it to my Spotify queue thinking it was a single. It was fine, if not particularly memorable. Gimme that Paul Brandt track from earlier this year. I have to disagree with Mark, though. I think he’s just jealous he can’t pull off the bow tie w/ cowboy hat look.

Sia – Everyday is Christmas
Mark: If every day were truly Christmas, we’d all be dead within a month. Pair this album title with this song title, and hopes were high for a Christmas-themed horror album. Instead, it is only horrible if you hate goofy pop music.

Sia’s voice is a tad nasally for my taste, but the production work is totally daffy and hooky, and the video is a high-spirited romp. It falls on the right side of Paul McCartney’s “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime”, but only just. The world stopped needing new Christmas songs as soon as Tom Petty penned “Christmas All Over Again”, but kids seem to enjoy them. Let’s get real – the only reason Christmas should continue to exist at all is the fact that it brings a little magic into the lives of some of the world’s kids.

So, if some kids have some fun with this goof-ball Sia record, who am I to argue?

The Body & Full of Hell – Ascending a Mountain of Heavy Light
Mark: I’m trying to write a thoughtful review about this new collaboration, but the blood spraying out of my nose onto my keyboard is making it difficult.

This is one bonkers slab of dread-crusted noise, and almost nobody I’ve met in my life will enjoy it. As with most of what The Body releases, this sounds utterly of itself, and the clattering hellscape that emerges is completely invigorating and terrifying if you’re game to give it a try.

Keep an open mind. Little robots with whirling saw blades for feet will dance around in your exposed brains.

Godflesh – Post Self
Mark: Godflesh has been around the block. There’s a comfortably well-worn feel to Post Self‘s industrial stomp. The title track roils with a cartoonishly ominous angst that would have felt right at home in my 1990s teenage bedroom. This may sound like a complaint, but I’m actually quite pleased about it. It evokes the sort of dreadful evil that my brain used to cook up while listening to any of the more nefarious industrial metal acts of my youth.

It’s a good thing that this came along. I think I may have been starting to understand my parents in the last year, and this has handily undone all of that progress.

Barenaked Ladies – Fake Nudes
Mark: Barenaked Ladies were an occasionally entertaining novelty act that at one time evoked the very feeling of being Canadian. They were kitchy and goofy, competent and harmless. It was embarrassing to like them, but it was a shared and knowing embarrassment that seemed innocuous. Like the songs that your drunk family will pull out and sing as gatherings near their conclusion (some of which may be BNL songs). We know that these things are kind of stupid, but they’re fun and they’re ours.

Then Barenaked Ladies kicked out their good singer and kept the bad one that raps really badly in every song, and they went from being an amiable embarrassment to an abject embarrassment. “Bringing It Home” continues this trend of the terrible, holding a reason to cringe approximately every three seconds. It’s all wrapped up in a brand of pop-rock so utterly without wit or edge, you’ll be pining for the days that these guys were writing problematic songs about Yoko Ono and doing mountains of blow.

Okay, only one guy was doing mountains of blow, but he was the fun one, from what I can tell.

Björk – Utopia
Josh: 
Björk’s greatest gift as an artist is being able to create singularly otherworldly soundscapes that are nevertheless inhabited by deeply personal concerns. Utopia is cyborgian in its design, a being born of tangible choir and woodwinds and baptised in a digital sea. It’s dreamlike and unpredictable in a way that feels unconcerned with anyone’s expectations, least of all the listener. But if you’re a fan of Björk, you already know what to expect (or, not expect, as the case is).

If 2015’s Vulnicura—number 33 on my top 50 albums of 2015 was the sound of mourning a dissolving relationship, then Utopia is the sound of being free. She imagines a feminist utopia so alien it feels as impossible as it does warm and inviting. I’d say I want to inhabit this created world of Björk’s, but a utopia is by nature uninhabitable without fundamentally altering its purity (especially one with gendered aspects such as this). Instead, we’ll settle for the glorious fortress of Utopia, where violence is rejected, pain is turned into strength, and love is so abundant that trying to contain it is “like threading an ocean through a needle.” Love can be found in the smallest details if you’re looking. These 14 tracks are a good place to start.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built the Moon?
I’ve never had much use for the Brit-pop juggernaut Oasis, but I’ve progressed from being irritated by the Gallagher brothers and their snotty drama to truly enjoying the vitriolic things that they spout off about each and every time they make news. I’m not sure if they’ve changed at all or if the world has changed around them just enough to make them seem like very hilarious plain-speaking media critics. Whatever the circumstance, give me a clip of Liam Gallagher complaining about making his own tea ever three or four months, and I’ll happily sanction whatever musical project he or his brother have got on the go that allows them both to remain just enough in the public eye that people ask then their opinion on things.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds do not break any new ground on Who Built the Moon?, nor does it sound like they are trying to. “Holy Mountain” bops confidently enough through rock n’ roll tropes and provides a sunny little diversion. “Fort Knox” takes a run at propulsive, spaced-out psychedelia that fails a little more than it succeeds.

What really matters here is that Noel will have to do a press tour, and we’ll probably get a lot of really hilarious soundbites out of it. I hope he says “wanker” a lot.

Reevaluating PHIL COLLINS – Part 6: Dance Into The Light

67a7c79214907be30cf1478fd489545f-800x800x1Phil Collins’ sixth studio album was released in October 1996. It was Collins’ worst-received and worst-selling album to date. As of this writing, the album is certified Gold in the United Kingdom and United States.

I have to be honest. I’m perfectly aware that at this point I have progressed beyond the period in Phil Collins’ career where I expect to find anything even remotely worth listening to. Both Sides was mostly a bummer, and from what I can tell, Dance Into The Light was a critical and commercial dud upon its release.

Judging by its title, I’m actually hoping that this is a forgotten gem, a brilliant concept album about a cheerful Doctor Kevorkian-esque figure. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, though, because if Phil Collins had actually released a rock opera focusing on euthanasia, I feel as though I would have already heard about it.

Dance Into The Light
This music video opens with Phil Collins literally dancing up a shadowy staircase into scary red light. He continues to dance while he begins to encourage everyone listening to “dance into the light” and “brush off the cobwebs of freedom”. By the time he starts crooning about the “train coming to carry you home” and the fact that “now we’re here, there’s no turning back”, the whole thing starts to feel a little less Kevorkian and a little more Jonestown. Are the colours at play in the video the same colours as the different flavours of Kool Aid that Reverend Phil has on offer? Perhaps.

“Dance into the Light” has a cheesy, goofy rhythm and is objectively a very bad song.

That’s What You Said
The title is unfortunately not the set up for a great series of sexual innuendo jokes. It’s just a boring love/heartbreak song. Sonically, “That’s What You Said” marks a bit of a departure for Collins, perhaps owing to the time period. This song sounds like a conscious attempt to ape REM, albeit very poorly. I can just imagine Phil Collins sitting around furious about the alternative music explosion, deciding that he wants to write some material that sounds young, and then picking the one alternative group full of people as old as him as the one he’ll emulate.

Anyway, this is bland and limp, but not completely unlistenable.

Lorenzo
Embarrassing white person stabs at “world music” peaked in the 1980s and should have died there. “Lorenzo” is a fairly egregious example of this phenomenon, with Phil singing from the perspective of someone growing up in East Africa. I should concede that these lyrics were not penned by Collins himself, but I’m not sure that makes the song any less problematic. The song itself is a torpid slop pile of tribal drums and faux-uplifting choral vocals. Just awful.

A man who looks like Powder’s drunk uncle should not be singing “I’m going back to East Africa”, unless he is singing it in the context of “I’m going back to East Africa to face legal and financial repercussions for the big game trophy hunting that I’ve done there with my rich buddies”.

This song is not about Lorenzo Lamas. Strike three.

Just Another Story
Phil could have called this song “Just Another Story In Paradise”, as the verses bear a resemblance to that classic tune that is difficult to ignore. And, as with “…Paradise”, this is a “story-song” about sad people and the sad things that they do and oh my what is wrong with our world?!

It is impressive that in the mid-90s, Collins was still pedaling music that sounds so buried in the 1980s. This must have sounded dated as hell in 1996. In 2017, it just sounds like boring horseshit.

Love Police
For those of you hoping that this song is a caper about a police squad that spends its days enforcing love laws, you’ll be sorely disappointed to learn that this song seems to just be about Phil Collins being sad about love things that have happened to him in his life. It would be better if it were about Phil Collins going to Love Jail for crimes against Sussudio.

This tune goes back to the REM-meets-urinal puck sound palate of “That’s What You Said”. I have to admit that – while terrible – this vibe is the best that this album seems to have on offer so far.

Wear My Hat
As a balding man, I’ve been waiting anxiously for Phil to write a song about coping with hair loss. We could all use a little bit of advice about our insecurities, and I must begrudgingly admit that Phil Collins is a very successful bald man.

This song is not about hair loss, though. It seems to be about wooing a girl, set to a tune that I would have titled “Shitty Labamba”. Peppiest song on the album so far, though.

It’s In Your Eyes
While I wouldn’t call “It’s In Your Eyes” captivating or even good, it is nonetheless a competent stab at middle-of-the-road guitar pop. Like a cheesier Goo Goo Dolls, if they were fronted by your embarrassing drunk uncle and playing on the back of a flatbed truck in the parking lot of the local guitar store that only sells Gibson knock-offs.

That’ll probably be the most positive thing I write in this post. This really isn’t going so well.

Oughta Know By Now
This sounds much more in line with the Phil Collins that we know and … know. Super-gated drums prop up a slinky groove that sounds like what the executives at K-mart would have marketed as “sexy”. When Phil takes it to the chorus and groans “All I’m tryna do is I’m tryna get next to you! Let me in! Let me in! Let me in!”, I can’t help but think “Now this is some Phil Collins and wow, I feel gross and scared!”

Pretty tasty guitar solo about mid-way through, and I’ve gotta admit that this might be both the best song and the most disturbing song on this album. 1996: The year that Phil Collins became a Marilyn Manson-caliber shock rocker.

Wait, he finally said that he’s wanting to be let into a girl’s heart. Okay, I misread this whole thing. Still gross.

Take Me Down
The opening of this track sounds has a “come on down” game show shuffle to it. That’s kind of ironic, because game shows hold the possibility of winning something, and nobody wins while listening to a mid-90s Phil Collins record.

I barely remember what this song sounds like and I’m still listening to it.

The Same Moon
Phil is singing about girls a lot, it seems. This was maybe still cute in the 1980s, but we’re deep into what must be his 40s at this point and he’s still writing like a lovesick little bald puppy.

Decent chord progression with actual minor chords about halfway through leads to some mild interest, but this still sounds like someone singing over the demo song on the world’s blandest Casio keyboard.

Fun fact: You can start to sing Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply” over top of this song, and it makes this song much better!

River So Wide
Rather than rail against the fact that this is another failed attempt to graft “world music” influences to the side of a rickety AOR pop-rock boat, I’d like to take this opportunity to say that Phil Collins is a terrible lyricist. This is written like an 8th grader’s prize-winning poem about how fighting with each other is bad.

No Matter Who
Well, this just sounds like a parody of a sitcom theme song. Fuck this record.

The Times They Are A Changin’
I guarantee you that Phil Collins decided to record this cover as he sat trembling in his easy chair following his first viewing Alanis Morissette’s video for “You Oughta Know”.

“Blimey,” he thought. “This bird is so angry, even though I’ve been peddling my tunes of positivity and human connection for fifteen years. Why haven’t I reached her?”

Determined not to be left behind in this strange new world, Collins decided to voice his support for progress by being an old white man recording a cover of a song written by an even older white man. To make it extra cool, he put some bagpipe in it. The Scots are typically on the bleeding edge.

This is despicable.

The Verdict


This is easily the worst Phil Collins album that I have heard thus far. The closest that this album gets to having a good song on it is a very bad cover of an already existing pretty good song. From what I understand, this album was his first solo outing after having finally left Genesis, which he had been fronting since the departure of Peter Gabriel. All of that extra time off… really didn’t pay off here.

All of the “African” music on the album plays terribly, and makes it seem as though Phil witnessed Elton John’s involvement in The Lion King‘s soundtrack and got very jealous. The craziest thing is that his gambit seemed to pay off, as he was tapped to do the Tarzan soundtrack later on in the decade. I’m sure that Tarzan is chock full of really stellar “white dude showing the jungle how to music” material, but I’m not going to cover that soundtrack because I care about my personal well being.

The bottom line on Dance Into The Light: Boring, dated and limp, this album utterly ignores the compelling Collinsverse developments of earlier Phil Collins releases and squanders the dark potential of a Phil Collins euthanasia concept album.

Zero stars.

New Music Monday — 6 November, 2017

Happy Fall from the Fraudsters! It’s been a while. Another Monday brings another batch of new releases. Here’s a rundown of some of the hot new drops from the last two weeks. Some of them are hot like fire, and others are hot like fresh dog shit. I’m here to sort the wheat from the chaff like a good harvest metaphor.

The Used – The Canyon
What the fuck is this album cover? That’s a mountain, not a canyon. It appears The Used’s knowledge of canyons is about as deep as their knowledge of good music. This atrocious 79-minute monstrosity is like that friend who keeps pulling the same bad prank and you keep falling for it. I’ve come to understand that Bert McCracken, who sounded appropriately tortured on the band’s 2002 debut in the way that only a rebellious white suburban kid can (which is to say, insufferably unless you’re also a tortured rebellious white suburban kid), is actually just a terrible singer. 15 years later he is 35 years old with nothing to say, despite being consistently propped up with a platform like someone who has never been told no in his life. Making a 17-song record is always a presumptuous gamble. Making one that has not a single interesting or memorable song on it is downright criminal. By the time McCracken starts rapping on “The Quiet War,” I quietly wished for death. Take a shower, you fucking turd.

Yo Gotti – I Still Am
It’s bad when Gotti sings, which he does on the very first track of I Still Am. Fortunately, this Cartesian philosopher fares better elsewhere, as most of the tracks here are marked by great beats and perfect flows. Trap music often suffers from a general sense of being languid; this record, despite being occasionally lyrically dumb, sounds lively. Plus “Rake It Up” has a great guest verse from Nicki Minaj in which she uses the phrase “thick vagina.”

Kelly Clarkson – Meaning of Life
Kelly Clarkson has always kind of justified the existence of American Idol, even if the show never produced anyone half as talented over the next fourteen seasons (Ruben Studdard? More like Ruben’s career sputtered, amirite?). This eight album showcases Clarkson as the vocal powerhouse she is, and the songs are generally pretty good, but mostly Meaning of Life works because Clarkson feels so simultaneously effortless and comfortable. It’s a record that sustains its energy with a calibrated roster of potential hit after potential hit. “Move You” is as good as a power ballad gets. “Meaning of Life” is a kind of glorious soul pop anthem that keeps on upping itself over four minutes with horns and a gospel choir. “Whole Lotta Woman” is a fun as hell feminist country-funk jam with a killer bass/horn section, even though it’s basically just “Lady Marmalade.” And “Cruel” is a down-tempo track with a little doo wop flair. With Beyoncé completely doing her own thing and Ariana still coming into her own, Kelly Clarkson might be the best pure pop diva we have right now.

Majid Jordan – The Space Between
Toronto R&B duo Majid Jordan got their break on Drake’s 2013 hit “Hold on I’m Coming Home,” before they had even released their own record. Now on The Space Between, their second full-length, they bring more of that “Toronto sound” beats-driven R&B that is great for night listening. With this record, they’ve taken that sound and refined it into something of their own. It’s a sound that, apropos of the album’s title, finds a sweet spot between comforting warmth and cold alienation, loneliness and romance, down-tempo groove and up-tempo dance-worthy beats. As The Weeknd becomes more of a pop star—albeit a great one—, it’s nice to see Majid taking up the neo-R&B mantle he’s leaving behind, and doing it so well.

Gord Downie – Introduce Yerself
Even in death, Gord Downie is a trickster, titling his goodbye album with a nod to introductions. Introduce Yerself isn’t quite Bowie’s Blackstar or Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, in that it kind of feels like just a solid Gord Downie record more than a grand meditation on death. I’m quick to rail against long albums for being self-indulgent, but in this case the 23 tracks and 73 minutes feel justified just by the fact that they’re the last output we’ll get from Downie. It’s less cryptic and more direct—and personal—than we’ve been used to seeing him. Downie was a performer who spent his life giving, but Introduce Yerself feels like a way to thank significant people in his life for everything they gave to him. And while not every song here is a classic, some are, and they’re all good. And production by Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew rounds out the sound of the songs just the right amount without backgrounding Downie’s vocals. Standout tracks include the piano-driven “Bedtime,” the sparse “Coco Chanel No. 5,” the BSS-inflected “Ricky Please,” and the album’s closer, “The Road,” a dedication to the Indigenous peoples who became so much the focus of Downie’s final months. This record is a quiet treasure.

Weezer – Pacific Daydream
Rivers Cuomo is way too old to be writing these kinds of songs, and it’s frankly embarrassing to watch him continue to try to live in his early 20s when he’s almost 50, like he’s a non-ironic living embodiment of that Steve Buscemi “how do you do, fellow kids?” GIF. Just the other day, he tweeted:
https://twitter.com/RiversCuomo/status/925439181127643137?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet
. . . and I can’t tell if he’s trolling us or if he’s just an asshole. On Pacific Daydream, an album that is clearly summer-themed but inexplicably is being released in October, he rhymes “Beach Boys” with “get moist” and that’s only like the fifth-worst lyric on this record. I actually thought track 4, “Happy Hour” was sweet and groovy in a fun way until he sings “I need happy hour on sad days” as the chorus. No. Like 90% of Weezer’s post-[Green Album] output, this is bad.

Converge – The Dusk in Us
Is a Converge record ever disappointing? This one definitely isn’t. Amid squealing math rock and metal, The Dusk In Us emerges a kinetic and purposeful work. It’s accessible—and fun as hell—but breathless, slowing down only for the 7+ minute title track that feels like a moody blend of near-whispered Deftones vocals and Godspeed-esque post-rock. It’s an ironic request to “rise above the noise” in an album full of it, but just what’s needed 15 minutes in as a breather to set up the record’s last seven bangers.

Grace VanderWaal – Just the Beginning
Grace VanderWall sounds like Sia tried to clone herself, got scared by the result and locked her in a dungeon where she survived on a diet of Jack Johnson records and bad poetry—”you don’t play with fire but you’re already burned.” Anyone playing a ukulele who isn’t Hawaiian is probably an asshole, and these are bad songs. But VanderWaal is also apparently like 13 years old, so I’m not sure what else one should expect. She’s definitely a talented singer, I’m just old enough to be a parent of her target audience so this sounds like dreck to me.

Sam Smith – The Thrill of It All 
There’s a certain degree to which I think Sam Smith is only music for people who hate themselves, because it’s so goddamn sad. Smith leans into heartbreak to the point that it becomes tiring. But then there’s an inherent joyousness in touches like the use of a choir on the album opener “Too Good at Goodbyes” and elsewhere. The opener and closer—the Timbaland-produced “Pray” with its epic gospel fervour—are particularly strong tracks. In between there is a solid slate of songs that occasionally feel like Smith is coasting. The Thrill of It All doesn’t reinvent Smith’s sound over his debut record, but it does feel more polished, with slick production that doesn’t distract from Smith’s powerhouse voice.

Maroon 5 – Red Pill Blues
Assuming Maroon 5 aren’t trying to low-key tell us they’re MRAs, this record is fine, I guess. I enjoyed it while it was playing, and it has some solid guest spots from SZA and A$AP Rocky. I have also completely forgotten about it the moment it ended, which is maybe not a great sign for a pop record. There’s no “Sugar” here. For some weird reason they go full experimental Latin jazz on the album’s 11-minute closing track, “Closure.” I want to say that’s fun, but it’s more likely it’s just ridiculous.

 

 

 

 

 

In Rotation: Friday 29 September, 2017

Josh: Green Day once said: Wake me up when September ends. But I would prefer if we could go to sleep when September ends and wake up at the end of March, because there’s nothing good in between*.  Christmas is an inevitable disappointment and there are six months of varying degrees of shit weather. I don’t acknowledge the existence of Fall, because it’s just a worse, less committed version of Winter.

Alas, friends, we are not bears, and are not biologically or socially gifted with hibernation. We are anxious meat sacks who must fill our winters with some manner of distraction to ward off the creeping tentacles of cabin fever and seasonal depression.

What’s been distracting you this week?

Jay: While I’ve been leaning on a little distraction this week, I’m going to note that I am a) a sadist, because I love the colder half of the year as much or more than the warmer half, and b) a masochist, because I moved somewhere famous for its lack of snow and cold. (That said, it was a beautiful, blustery winter in Vancouver last year, and I hope it happens again this year.)

After the happy revelation during New Music Monday this week, I’ve been digging into the new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album. Luciferian Towers is replete with fun song titles like “Bosses Hang”, and the music affirms what I said on Monday: Godspeed’s post-hiatus output has been superb. I’ve also taken that Circa Survive record for a spin, and it’s fine.

A reader also kindly pointed out that a new Chelsea Wolfe record dropped this week, and it’s been fun to hear Kurt Ballou’s production styles—famous on fast, relentless post-hardcore/metal/whatever—being applied to Wolfe’s moody gothy song sketches.

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In my spare time, I’ve played a couple of hours of this season’s first big video game release, Destiny 2. It’s… fine? It’s probably not for me. In Destiny 2, you and your video-game-playing friends organize virtual hangouts and shoot nondescript sci-fi aliens as you try to reclaim Earth and a weird, benevolent ping pong ball that floats above our celestial home and gives superpowers to humans. The world, while potential interesting, is so sidelined behind an awful story with stupid characters and terribly half-baked plot points. But the shooting feels good, and it generates new and better gear when you kill bad guys, and those two things are enough to get my friends addicted to the “shoot and loot” grind of the game. If I had buddies who played at the same time as me, it might be interesting, but as it stands, I am as thoroughly out of this pop culture phenomenon as I am with Macklemore and Kesha.

How about you, illustrious colleague? Finding time and space to do fun things before you venture off into the unknown?

Mark: Well, I finally managed to catch Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, after having missed it at last year’s TIFF and snoozed on it during its initial release. This movie fucking bangs (pun intended). You wouldn’t think that a move comprised entirely of one unbroken gunfight could sustain an audience’s interest, but the flick is so charming and funny and the choreography full of such relentless ingenuity that it’s an absolute joy. Easily one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen this year, and I’m considering giving it a second spin.

While I’m on the topic of things that bang, I missed chiming in on the new Metz release on this week’s New Music Monday. To be honest, I read Josh’s review before I had heard the album and I was a bit skeptical. I had heard a few tracks off of the album and didn’t think that it was anything too special. Upon getting my hands on the record and giving it a proper listen, I’m inclined to agree with Josh’s assessment. It really may be their best record yet, expanding on their bag of tricks without losing the trusty tricks that have paid off so well for two albums. It’s their most varied release, the production is great. And it baaaaaangs.

So, hats off to you, Josh. Now what have you been up to?

Josh: I’ve been playing Strangled Light, the debut record from post-hardcore supergroup Less Art, a lot this week. It came out back in July but it didn’t really wow me until I picked it up again a few days ago. The outfit features members of Curl Up and Die, Thrice, and Kowloon Walled City—Less Art is an extension of the baseball-themed joke grindcore band Puig Destroyer, who have songs with titles like “Batflip,” “Mike Trout,” and “No One Cares about Your Fantasy Team.”

But Less Art isn’t joking around.  They’re loud, it’s angry, and deeply introspective. I dig heavy music that matches its musical aspirations with lyrical ones. The 9-song album tackles topics like fearing one’s own mental lineage with the vivid imagery of cleaning blood off the walls after a suicide. It’s dark and often hopeless stuff, but only inasmuch as it acknowledges that the world can feel dark and hopeless sometimes. Especially lately.

Less art are in the vein of MewithoutYou, Jawbox, and Fugazi. With yelled vocals, melodic guitars, and Riley Breckenridge’s reliably great drumming, Less Art are putting the best of their members’ respective genres to explosive and cohesive use. This is good shit.

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I would like to issue a retraction to my last week’s endorsement of the show Outlander, which I had only watched a few episodes of at that point. What starts with an interesting concept that is executed well takes a sharp turn in the latter half of season 1, in which it becomes apparent the writer of this novel is, herself, a time-traveler from the 1940s. Even by the standards of 1991—when the Outlander novel was published—the characterization of a sadistic queer boogeyman is uncomfortably retrograde. By 2015 standards it’s unconscionable, and I can’t believe it made it into the show. The villain in Outlander makes a half-century of notoriously-cartoonish Bond villains suddenly feel more realistic. It’s like someone watched Game of Thrones and thought, “how can I make Ramsay Bolton but an offensive caricature?” And it makes the last half of this show’s first season borderline terrible.

I’m going to keep hate-watching and hope it gets better, but I don’t recommend you do the same.

 

Finally, join me in saying so long to Mark for a couple weeks. He’s off to travel the world, so expect a massive (and massively exciting!) travelogue post coming sometime in the back half of October. We’ll miss you, Mark!

 

 

 

 

* Fine. I’ll grant you Halloween is pretty rad, but mostly as an excuse to watch scary movies.

New Music Monday – September 25, 2017

Josh: Holy hot damn, Internet. Like most of you, the Fraudsters were under the impression that summer, and our collective lives, had crawled to a close. But with us all still here Monday morning, it turns out this weekend’s apocalyptic promises weren’t about our demise, but merely unseasonable 40 degree temperatures (which, lets be real, are probably going to be what kills us all in the end). You know, all of these unfulfilled doomsday prophecies are starting to feel like when you’re a kid and your parents say “maybe” you can go to McDonald’s—eventually you figure out “maybe” just means “no.”

If summer can hold on for one last gasp, we too can hold out hope for one more week of

Hot

Summer

Jams*

There’s a lot of new releases this week, so let’s cut the chitchat and get to the music.

Mastodon – Cold Dark Place (EP)
Josh:
 For a collection of songs that were extras from previous recording sessions, Cold Dark Place is pretty cohesive. Fans who have gotten colder on some of Mastodon’s more recent rock-forward releases might find solace in this four-track EP, which finds them working more with the shifting time signatures, vocal melodies, and complex guitars that made them one of metal’s most exciting bands. For those who have stuck around the whole time, it’s a solid bonus to this year’s Empire of Sand

Jay: I don’t know very much about Mastodon, aside from their general sound and that friends have been disappointed in their trajectory over the last few years. Hearing this track, maybe I know nothing about the band. Aren’t they more aggressive than this? Aren’t they more of a twenty-first century rock band? This just sounds like the late 1990s. It’s fine, if uninspired, guitar rock. I’m not sure why, but my first thought was, “I’d rather be listening to Soundgarden’s Superunknown.”

Counterparts – You’re Not You Anymore
Josh: 
I don’t listen to much hardcore punk anymore, and when I do it’s with a pretty short attention span for it. Thankfully, these albums usually clock in around 30 minutes, which is a perfectly digestible length. This new record from Hamilton’s Counterparts, is 27 minutes of relentless guitars and growling. That this band doesn’t try for the whiny clean vocals so common among their peers probably helps them. Short, punchy songs make for a pretty satisfying listen, with a propulsive energy that only slows down to diverge into chugging metal breakdowns.  This is fun!

Jay: This sounds like the better version of every local band I grew enormously bored of seeing live. Very nicely recorded and mixed, but super dull in its monotony. But hey, there’s kind of a cool breakdown at the bridge, I guess.

Megan Nash – Seeker
Josh: 
Saskatchewan’s folk queen Megan Nash has created a triumphant new record that deserves all the praise and attention I hope she’ll get for it. Not only are these great, catchy songs that showcase Nash’s talent as a songwriter and a vocalist, but they prove she belongs in the mainstream conversation with artists like Serena Ryder and Neko Case. On Seeker, she enlists Regina indie rockers Bears in Hazenmore to accompany her, to great effect. The brass addition especially works, punching up high-energy songs like “Bad Poetry” and acting as a sort of mournful touch on slower tracks like “Vampire.” This album is great.

Jay: I’ll have to take your word on it, illustrious colleague. There’s something performative (and, to my ears, disingenuous) about the vocals that I can’t get past on a first listen. I tend to enjoy this sort of music more when it’s a little disarmed, or less bombastic, or something (e.g. Lucy Dacus). But maybe hearing more than a single song would help. I’ll agree that the horns are a great touch to the band sound, though.

METZ – Strange Peace 
Josh: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find METZ pretty samey in their sound. It’s not a bad sameness, but it’s one that would start to grate if they continued to release albums with no discernible deviations. Thankfully, Strange Peace has enough deviations to their formula of chaotic, amped-up noise that it feels like METZ isn’t content with sameness. There’s breathing room and, dare I say it, actual hooks on some songs! “Where do we go from here?” Alex Edkins [airquotes]sings[airquotes] on “Cellophane” (which has one of the raddest music videos I’ve seen in years). Good question, but I’m sticking around to find out. Strange Peace might be METZ’s best record.

Jay: Beautiful recording. The drums have that Steve Albini sound that I love, and it suits the music well. This is enough of a departure from the last two albums that I’ll probably give Strange Peace a shot (I had expected more of the same). Lots of neat drum and guitar ideas, and I like the vocals more than previous records.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
Josh: 
For a band so driven radical leftist politics, GY!BE don’t sound angry enough on their latest record. But what they lack in a forceful expression of collective rage they make up for in promises of a future after the fall. There’s a lot of frustrated noodling around with prog jazz elements the 7+ minute opener, but it’s across the three part “Bosses Hang” that the record starts to have an emotional tenor. “Anthem for No State” feels climactic as hell. With its rolling drumbeat and Morricone-esque guitars it culminates in the tiniest bit of hope. In a present as dark as this one, that’s enough of a future to hold on to.

Jay: Holy hell, it’s a good day if there’s a new Godspeed record. I’m just going to say it: GY!BE’s post-hiatus output (AllelujahAsunder, and this record) has been superior than even their brilliant early run. They were my introduction to the world of instrumental post-rock, and they still continue to make it better than virtually everybody else (RIP Jason Noble and his Rachel’s). More often than I used to, I wake up and think it’s the beginning of the end of the world. Bands like Godspeed remind me that there is hope to be found in these times, too. Lift your skinny fists like antennas to heaven and rejoice for this record.

The Bronx – Bronx (V)
Josh: The Bronx are a pretty solid punk band, when they want to be. On their fifth record, though, the digressions into jock rock and arena metal (see the abysmal “Two Birds” above) are too frequent to really make this album catch. It’s that inconsistency that really taints Bronx (V), when a track as loud and breakneck as “Sore Throat” is followed by something as dull and pedestrian as “Past Away.” It’s half a good album, if nothing else. But in a week with so many good releases on the heavier side, this one is the most disposable.

Jay: This is abysmal pastiche.

Cold Specks – Fool’s Paradise
Josh: Ladan Hussein sounds as good as ever on Fool’s Paradise, crooning soulfully over electronic rhythms. But the arrangements here lack most of the forcefulness of her last two records. Gone are the layered instrumentations and density of sound that practically forced Hussein to match them in intensity with her vocals. Here, the songs are pleasant, and sometimes beautiful, but rarely challenging or surprising. The exception is the closer, “Exile,” which creates a striking distinction between the layered vocals and the electronic drum and bass loops that feels like a genuine exercise in tension.

Jay: To my idiotic ears, this sounds like a demo. All of the elements are fine, but the instruments, mix, vocal performance, all of it, has an unfinished and slapdash quality to it. Doesn’t do much for me, but I’d much rather listen to this than its pop culture opposite, the maximalist, hyper-produced dreck that is currently clogging the radio. I could at least see this growing on me.

Circa Survive – The Amulet
Josh: 
Call Circa Survive what you want—post-hardcore, emo, experimental rock—, but one thing they’ve always been is consistent. Marked by a density of guitars and drums and Anthony Green’s dynamic and distinctive voice, The Amulet finds the band honing that consistent sound for urgency and purpose. They’re a band that simultaneously sounds sonically playful and lyrically defiant, railing against hiding behind beliefs that justify turning fear into extremism.

Jay: Lots of good stuff from the rhythm section. I like the guitars. I could probably listen to more of this. Maybe I’ll download the record… hoo boy, that’s some terrible album artwork!

The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful
Josh: The Killers have a tendency to be at their best when they lean into the grandiosity of their influences. To be sure, they’re always over-the-top, but they’re always sincere while being so. Wonderful Wonderful touches on topics like mental health and masculine empathy. Yeah, it does this while pulling from the recognizable sounds of U2, Bowie, and Fleetwood Mac, but Brandon Flowers is precise in the way he uses these influences to his own effect. It doesn’t reach the heights of their first couple records, but Wonderful Wonderful tops anything The Killers have released in a decade.

Jay: Just terrible. Like if David Bowie had waited 40 years to write “Golden Years” or “Fame”, while ripping off “Uptown Funk” (itself a corny ripoff) for good measure. Didn’t this used to be a band? About as emotionally genuine as the Fabricland theme song.

Fergie – Double Dutchess
Josh: Nicki Minaj makes a welcome appearance on a record that’s otherwise a confused mishmash of balladry, second-rate raps, and lazy beats. “A Little Work” sounds like an Enya-cribbing, less interesting take on Kesha’s “Praying.” “Tension” sounds like a Madonna track. It’s not particularly that any of it is terrible—with the exception of “M.I.L.F $”, which is in fact terrible—it’s just that Double Dutchess sounds like a pop star without an identity, at the whims of whatever producers and writers she’s working with. At the end of the day, it feels like a lesser version of so many others who are doing better versions of the same thing.

Jay: Great, this starts with a faux-interview. Wait, what? This video is eleven minutes long? When does the goddam song start? [Fast-forwards to song.] Oh god, this song is terrible. Wait, what? Now we’re back to the interview? What is this horseshit? And what is this imagery? It feels exploitative of genuine mental health issues. I hate this. I hate all of this. Pop culture is doomed.

Jhené Aiko – Trip
Josh: By any measure, this surprise 85-minute album about drugs and grief, is an ambitious release. But it may not be a particularly ambitious project. Over 22 songs, it’s consistently listenable while rarely that engrossing. Aiko’s voice is a pleasant touch that, over piano-heavy and aquatic synth tracks with digital beats, creates a formula that works. The propulsive new wave-tinged “Only Lovers Left Alive” is great. The rest of Trip makes good background music.

Jay: Maybe I’m just sensitive from that eleven-minute hellscape I just endured, but making me sit through a minute of a reimagined Adam Sandler / Drew Barrymore movie before the song starts is not a good way to get me to like this music. I found this song unremarkable, which again I’d take over remarkable in the bad way.

Lights – Skin&Earth
Josh: 
Lights’ latest record starts off feeling familiar for the electropop songstress, who sounds more polished than ever here. But by the time “Savage” rolls around, she’s trying new things. The rock track has a little Nashville magic that we haven’t heard from Lights before. It’s a potent level of rage in a sonically-concise package that Taylor Swift wishes she’d made. “New Fears” has a bit of a Weeknd vibe, and “Morphine” finds Lights’ vocals more frail and mature-sounding than ever. It actually wouldn’t be out of place on that Jhené Aiko record. It doesn’t all work: there’s some lag in the middle that could have been excised for a tighter album, but it’s still worth checking out.

Jay: Very much not my thing, not the hyper-EQ’d vocals, not the slow-mo vocal samples, not the goofy guitar, not the hammy songwriting. I guess I heard a synthesizer in here I didn’t hate. Hah. This is bad.

Macklemore – GEMINI
Josh: 
At this point, Macklemore must know he’s kind of ridiculous. You hope he’s in on the joke, but, as with most corny white dudes, it can be hard to tell. GEMINI parts with producer Ryan Lewis, but adds a host of guest stars. For better or worse—that depends on your feelings about the man—, Macklemore himself gets lost in the crowd. He can be fun when he’s having fun—”Thrift Shop” and “Downtown” are still bangers—, but he’s more interesting when wrestling sincerely with his own social and personal identity, like on the Kesha collab “Good Old Days” and the Chance-sounding “Church.” I wish he was doing that more on GEMINI. 

Jay: Josh, you sneaky bastard. You saved most of the stinkers for the second half of this post. For a moment I thought I didn’t hate most music, but you did that just to twist the knife deeper. This is abysmal. Do people really enjoy this music?

 

 

* Summer jams should only be consumed with crunchy peanut butter, regardless of what Mark says.

Reevaluating NINE INCH NAILS – Part 6: WITH TEETH

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After a six-year hiatus, Nine Inch Nails released With Teeth on May 3th, 2005. It debuted at #1 on the US Billboard 200 chart and has been certified Gold in both the United States and United Kingdom.

Ahhh, 2005.

The year of “Gold Digger”. The year Tom Cruise jumped on Oprah’s couch. The year that Nine Inch Nails released With Teeth, an album that I openly made fun of at the time.

I’m not sure if you’ll be able to imagine this, but back in 2005, I was very opinionated and pretentious about the kinds of music that I would admit to liking. I know, right? Crazy. But it’s true! Nine Inch Nails had officially landed in the “uncool” pile, with most of the other alt-rock offerings of the 1990s, so I neglected to give With Teeth any attention upon its release, beyond hearing one single and hating it.

Was I, the infallible Mark Meeks, in the wrong on this one? There’s only one way to find out!

All The Love In The World
Trenny’s sounding vulnerable and jealous on With Teeth‘s opener. The track simmers in an underwhelming sort of way, until it shifts gears for its outro and becomes… kind of fun? By the time a bunch of multi-layered “Reznor Soul Singers” are belting it out alongside a snarly over-driven bass guitar riff, I’m finding myself having a much better time than it sounds like the lyricist is.

Lighten up, brah! It’s 2005!

You Know What You Are?
The noisy, speedy drums that serve as this song’s backbone are great fun, and bring me back to earlier highlights of the NIN catalogue such as “Gave Up“. While the vocal approach on the verse sections seems like it could be a parody of “intense Trent” vocals, the chorus delivers the demented goods, as TrenTren howls like an absolute maniac and the song threatens to melt all around him.

This song is actually pretty fun, in a pure teenage aggression sort of way. I mean… the guy was 40 at this point. So… maybe he shouldn’t be this mad anymore. But still pretty fun to listen to.

The Collector
The drum and bass figure that opens this song is very pleasing. It has an aggressive woof to it that manages to feel off-kilter and purposeful at the same time. The songwriting paired with it is half-baked in comparison, particularly the very limp chorus. It’s a familiar sounding format for a refrain, and it has been done to much greater success in earlier songs (“Wish“, for example).

Luckily, this tune does not overstay its welcome, clocking in at a brisk three minutes. Good call, Trunt.

The Hands That Feeds
A four-on-the-floor beat never hurt anybody. This song is catchy as hell. I think that you could actually sing Republica’s “Ready To Go” to along with it. This is not a complaint.

The bass instruments and synths sound terrific here, and while I don’t necessarily think that this is the smartest tune that NIN have released, it certainly might be one of the most stupidly fun.

Fun Trent Reznor is weird, though. I don’t know how I feel about it.

Love Is Not Enough
We’re in full-on drunken rant mode on “Love Is Not Enough”, and while I don’t feel that it holds up very well in terms of songwriting, there are some pretty interesting sounds happening here. The cavernous, growling bass guitar and overbearing fuzz-saw guitar work are just fine to listen to, and the song is another short one. Not much to really complain about here.

Everyday Is Exactly The Same
Hooray! It’s the return of the warbly, sad piano from The Downward Spiral. I missed you, buddy.

This song sounds great, and not just because I can sing “Blow Up The Outside World” overtop of most of it. The chorus is kind of repetitive, but… that kind of works thematically, huh? I feel as though this is the most classic-sounding NIN song on the album so far, in a mostly good way. Some of the vocal work is a little shaky, but that seems to be what Terrance was going for on this album.

Pretty good!

With Teeth
I remember when this album was originally released, I heard this song and immediately wrote off the whole album because I hated the way that the words “with teeth” were sung so much. I still do! He sings it like “WITH TEE-THUH”. It is ridiculous and detestable! That is a James Hetfield maneuver and it is the worst!

The rest of the song is only so-so. The piano-based bridge is vintage NIN, as is the outro freakout. It is not nearly enough to save the tune from its terrible chorus. This is the album’s first true loser!

Only
I had some certainty that Tweety Rezbird was going to hop in onto the beat that “Only” establishes with some of his patented white guy bee-boppin’ spoken word “rappin'”. The backbeat and instrumentals are blandly competent on this track, but the vocals are truly embarrassing. He sort of sounds like he’s having fun, though, so bonus points for that.

Because we all deserve to be happy.

Getting Smaller
Although the verses in “Getting Smaller” skate uncomfortably in a dad rock direction, the chorus is huge and fun. I suppose if NIN is going to do big, dumb rock songs that manage to be this fun to listen to, I can deal with the fact that it’s kind of like… the “Takin’ Care of Business” of NIN tunes.

Great guitar line in the chorus. Just a monster.

Sunspots
Oh, great. He’s writing songs about forgetting his sunglasses at home.

I haven’t found much to like about this song, and the falsetto-driven chorus borders on intolerable. So… another strike.

The Line Begins To Blur
Although the slamming bass and terrifically squelchy static effects in “The Line Begins To Blur”, the song is so by-the-numbers Nine Inch Nails, I can’t find much of a reason to recommend it. There are other songs to recommend. This feels like filler to me.

Beside You In Time
You can kind of sing “Ready To Go” to this one, too.

This is a Nine Inch Nails sketch song in the grand tradition of “The Day The World Went Away“. It sounds pretty great and builds to an effective climax. Some of the sonic elements actually made me feel dizzy, which is a great accomplishment.

For not really being much of a “song”, this song is pretty good!

Right Where It Belongs
This is the most singer-songwriter Nine Inch Nails have sounded since “Hurt”. While this song doesn’t quite reach the heights of that classic tune, “Right Where It Belongs” is still very nice. The production is just wonky enough to offset the somewhat sentimental vibe of the song and its performance.

…it is not the best ending to a Nine Inch Nails record, but it is perhaps the most pleasant? I honestly wasn’t expecting it. It’s nice.

Trent Reznor Early-2000s Fashion Round-up

This does not look like real hair, but that looks like a really comfortable and functional jacket.


A Bono may be the world’s worst fashion accessory, Trent.


Hahahahahahaha…
All joking aside, Trent’s clothing in this era seems decidedly normal, and – aside from his dramatically floppy hair – it seems as though his appearance has become a non-statement.

The Verdict

I’m going to come right out and admit that I’ve been living with an incorrect opinion about this album. It is totally fine and parts of it are actually great.

With Teeth sands down many of the abrasive edges of the Nine Inch Nails formula, and seems to attempt to inject a greater sense of fun into many of its tracks. It isn’t universally successful, but it is far more successful than I had anticipated.

The album does fall short in a number of ways. It feels frivolous in a way that Nine Inch Nails albums, successful or not, have never felt to me. There’s something lacking in terms of depth that goes beyond lyrics (which are touch-and-go, even on the best NIN albums). The album is fun in many spots and shines in other ways, but it feels somehow insubstantial.

Additionally, I think that some of the vocal work on the album could have been more polished and I’m slightly disappointed that there aren’t any great instrumental tracks to speak of (especially following an album as instrumentally strong as The Fragile). That being said, there are tracks on With Teeth that I will return to.

Because they are fun and I can sing “Ready To Go” while listening to them.

 

Reevaluating PHIL COLLINS – Part 5: Both Sides

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Phil Collins’ fifth solo album, Both Sides, was released in November of 1993. Although it was Collins’ least successful solo effort to date, it was nevertheless certified Platinum in the UK and United States.

I had really been hoping that my series of reviews reevaluating the work of Phil Collins would be a cheap & easy way to crank out piles of witty insults a couple times a month. It has turned out to be more than that. Phil Collins’ oeuvre has revealed itself to be an ever-expanding cry for help. Each Phil Collins record punches a new hole in the fabric of reason and reality, and through this hole we are invited to gawk at the burning wreckage of a prog drummer run amok.

At first glance, I don’t recognize any of the tracks listed on Both Sides, but the album’s title has me wondering what the “sides” are that Phil is talking about. Is this a “hear both sides” kind of thing in which he’s still hung up on the way things have shaken out with his ex-wife and is trying to insist that the world get it straight? Or are we…. are we talking about a full-on psychotic break/personality fracture here?

Honestly, I hope that it’s both.

Note: In the spirit of this album and to truly present “both sides”, I will be including opinions for each song from the YouTube comments. I know that I can be a little harsh, and I figure that this will be an effective way to achieve a balanced perspective!

Both Sides of the Story
Phil must have enjoyed the success that came on his last album when he and David Crosby tried to get serious about society’s ills, because this tune digs in on that vibe hard. Phil tells sad story after sad story, admonishing the listener to hear both side of a story, all over top of a three-chord splash-anthem that sounds about 90% synthetic.

The Wikipedia entry for this album points to the fact that Phil recorded this album at his home studio, without collaborating with anyone else. This could explain the bland sonic wash that I’m hearing here, and makes me think that I’m probably in for a lot more synth-everything.

Not a great song. Great over-sized ugly blazer in the video, though.

Rebuttal From YouTube
both sides 1

 

Can’t Turn Back The Years
This is a sensual jam!

You absolutely have to check out Phil in this video. He sits there on what appears to be the set from Rent, and shakes a little shaker while wearing a little vest and looking pained. It is the best.

This song is easy to relate to, as it is about aging and regrets. Phil is clearly seeing his part in the destruction of his marriage while simultaneously admitting that you can’t change the past. It seems remarkably healthy until you realize that it’s all being crooned over what sounds like the soundtrack to the most melancholy early-90s fuck session of all time.

You have something new to regret, Phil. This song.

Rebuttal from YouTube
both sides 2

Everyday
This video seems to point to the fact that Phil Collins can afford an apartment that looks like a sunnier and nicer version of the set from TV’s Frasier, but he’s really bummed out about it and he just mopes around. This is irritating to me. I want a nice sunny apartment! I wouldn’t mope at all! I would dance around with glee!

This song is the audio equivalent of a hang over. What a limp bummer. There’s a synth-horn solo that absolutely just sounds like someone fucking around between takes. What the hell his going on here, Phil?

Rebuttal from YouTube
both sides 3

I’ve Forgotten Everything
One of the things that Phil has forgotten appears to be the way that a real brass instrument sounds, because the synth-trumpet intro to this song is absolutely hilarious. The rest of the tune is a really slow-burning AOR-pitched drag. Again, it seems like some of these little keyboard lead lines were plucked out on the fly and made the final cut somehow. Say what you will about Phil’s other work, it was nothing if not fairly meticulous.

It really seems like Phil recorded this at his home studio (in the sunny Frasier apartment, I guess) and instead of buckling down and getting to the work of writing some crowd-pleasing fuckin’ pop bangers, he allowed his feelings of regret about his former marriage to just infect everything. Phil Collins being mad about his ex-wife was way more fun than whatever stage of grief he’s at for Both Sides.

Rebuttal from YouTube
both sides 4

We’re Sons of Our Fathers
Holy fuck, Phil. Synth-TUBA now?

This is a dude that must have spent a fortune on investing in synthesizer companies. He truly must have thought that synths were the future and that in the future you wouldn’t need a band with a huge-bearded bass player in order to make great albums. He wasn’t wrong, but I feel as though he’s jumped the gun here, because this tuba shit is laughable.

…Imagine Phil Collins. Sitting in his giant sunny apartment where all of the furniture is still covered by white sheets. He’s staring at the phone, waiting for the call to come in that’ll inform him that there’s been a breakthrough and now he can finally get synth-wife. Hahaha. Pretty sad, Phil.

This song is bad.

Rebuttal from YouTube
both sides 5

I Can’t Find My Way
Is this a synth guitar? Phil, you can get a fucking guitar. This is getting a little out of hand.

This song is a bummer, but it is at least a little bit more distinctive in the choruses than some of the other bummers on this album. There is a hilarious synth-lead guitar squeal screaming around in the background at some points that is just terrific, and also sounds totally improvised in the same way that so many things on this record do. Like someone with a shitty Casio keyboard is sitting beside a CD player and playing along with this song.

Phil sounds really depressed throughout this album, so maybe the part about it having two sides was actually sarcasm? Yikes, this record.

Rebuttal from YouTube
both sides 6

Survivors
I was hoping that this song would be about the TV show Survivor, but then I realized that this album came out about five years before that show started. Can you imagine a Phil Collins album with songs about that Rudy guy? It would be great!

If nothing else, this song has a propulsive rhythm on a record full of songs that have no discernible rhythm. So it has that going for it. The chorus is reasonably tuneful and the rhythmic “beeps” that are all over the song kind of work for me. It is far, far too long, though.

I hope he’s singing about some person he’s working things out with that isn’t his ex-wife. It probably isn’t Sussudio. But I hope it’s at least the dog that took a shit in his studio on the last album. It’d be good if those two buried the hatchet.

Rebuttal from YouTube
both sides 7

We Fly So Close
…wait, does this song have synth-RAIN on it?

This album should have been titled “My Name is Phil Collins, The Computer”.

This song is about pretending to be a fun jet plane that gets to fall in love with other jet planes. Phil took a quick break from moping around his apartment and stretched his arms out, running around and making “Whooooooosh” noises. It was more fun than this song, which sounds like a really bad re-hash of “In The Air Tonight”, a song that already wasn’t that great.

Rebuttal from YouTube
both sides 8
(ouch, Jeff!)

There’s A Place For Us
Given the rest of the tracks on this album, the return of lounge-lizard Phil is actually kind of welcome. This song is slinky in a way that probably felt super-outdated when it was released in 1993, but it’s been 25 or 30 years now since this kind of stuff was everywhere, so it’s all equally outdated to us now.

It is still unforgivably long and monotonous, though. This is the third of four songs in a row that are over 6 minutes long. And yet another song that sticks with the album’s theme of incorporating “fuck around” instrumentation that just sounds like a cat wandering back and forth on a keyboard.

It sounds like Phil likes a new girl, though! This is healthy! But Phil, if you’re having a hard time finding a place for the two of you, why don’t you take her to your big sunny, empty apartment? It is super big and empty!

Rebuttal from YouTube
both sides 9

We Wait And We Wonder
Don’t let this video fool you. Phil totally recorded this song all by himself. The video does make the song seem more lively, though. That tambourine player is going nuts!

“We Wait And We Wonder” is another “Phil Collins looks at the state of the world and tries to seem wise while really answering nothing and only asking more questions” song. I’m tired of this shtick. His new bass player looks great in a muscle shirt, though. Phil looks strangely bored, but this song has a little more oomph than most of the album.

Hilarious synth-bagpipes. It’s like he bought himself a very expensive synthesizer and decided that it would be a waste of money not to use every single one of the sounds on this album.

Rebuttal from YouTube
both sides 10

Please Come Out Tonight
This song makes it seem like things didn’t work out with the new girl and now he’s sent his ex-wife an invitation to go out. Which is super sad and a total step backward. Aw, Phil.

This is one of the best songs on this album, but that’s a lot like being the best ice fisherman in the desert or something. I don’t really have much to say about it. I’m super tired of percussion that sounds like little raindrops and washy synthetic strings. I desperately need to listen to someone hit a real drum and hit it hard, or somebody rip through a bunch of power chords on a real guitar.

I’ve been hanging in there, Phil, but this one has been rough.

Rebuttal from YouTube
both sides 11

The Verdict

Both Sides fails to deliver on any great pop hooks or memorable melodies, and it fails to provide any new bonkers developments in the Phil Collins over-share lyrics department. The only real new development is Phil’s complete over-reliance on synth instruments of questionable quality. While this resulted in a number of pretty insane moments on this LP, it’s all sound and no substance.

While I had initially pegged Face Value as the worst Phil Collins record, Both Sides is easily worse. It basically has no good songs on it, and even the mediocre songs are enough of a bummer to listen to that I’ll actively avoid ever hearing them again.

I’ve gone ahead and looked at the cover art for the next album that I have to review in this series, and I’ve gotta admit… I don’t feel good about this. I pine for those heady days (a month or two ago) when I was excitedly wondering what trouble Phil would get into next, and when we’d see another appearance by the often stellar supporting cast.

I would kill even just to see Beardy Bassplayer again at this point.

More like Phail Collins.

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