Miley Cyrus Drops Yet Another Directionless, Hot Mess

SHE IS COMING is a half-baked, hot mess that is fluctuates between boringly safe and confoundingly awful.

Miley Cyrus is country/pop singer from Nashville, Tennessee. She rose to massive fame as the most prominent figure in Disney’s mid-2000’s class of musical stars. Under the Hannah Montana moniker, she released five LPs full of relatively inoffensive pop music alongside three fairly similar releases under the Miley Cyrus name. Having released five albums by the age of 18, Miley seemed to feel a bit boxed in as the character she’d played on Disney Channel. She quite admirably broke this box with her 2013, triple platinum album, Bangerz, which was vulgar and daring, if a bit meandering. This was followed by the horrendously bloated Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz which received a limited release and her much tamer, full scale follow up, Younger Now in 2017. While Miley’s recent work has been commendable in its effort to push boundaries and change her public image, it’s largely felt aimless and thoughtless and virtually never takes advantage of her genuinely impressive vocal abilities. SHE IS COMING is no exception.

The EP opens with “Mother’s Daughter,” which is perhaps the only listenable cut on the tracklist. The trap drums play quite well against the spacey, piano-driven instrumental and Miley’s vocal performance is actually quite strong. The vocal tuning is entirely over the top and the lyrics are atrocious, but the hook is somewhat singable and Miley seems closer to a middle ground between her pop sensibilities and edgy desires than she has in the past.

“Unholy,” follows and a few of the issues with this project start to become apparent fairly quickly. The change in producers from track to track robs it of any possible coherence and Miley’s breathy, hissing vocal is extremely overproduced. The trap drums entirely overpower every melodic element, though none of them are interesting enough to warrant being pushed to the front of the mix. Worst of all, the lyrics on this cut are just awful, and the entire song sounds completely half baked, as does much of the EP.

“D.R.E.A.M.,” falls in the middle of the project and is one of the most disjointed messes of a song I’ve ever heard. While the chorus is admittedly catchy, Miley’s voice is once again breathy and overproduced as she sings over a hokey piano line which could fit comfortably on a High School Musical soundtrack. The only possible saving grace for the track would seem to be the feature from Wu-Tang alum, Ghostface Killah, but instead he phones in a short, unrelated verse on a completely different instrumental which only takes up that 20 or so seconds.

“Cattitude,” is the forth track on the EP and an absolute dumpster fire in musical form. Every single element, from the bizarre and endless RuPaul feature, to Miley’s embarrassing attempt at rapping on the verses, to the horribly vulgar lyrics is simply unlistenable. I can’t fathom how anyone let this song leave the studio’s doors but luckily for the listeners, it seams to be the rock bottom for the record.

“Party Up The Street,” sees Mike Will Made-It taking over production duties for the only well produced song on the tracklist. Swae Lee’s feature is flat throughout the entire track and the instrumentation is boring and uninventive, but a few of the melodies are genuinely well-written and it seems to be the only cut that anyone actually cared about. It serves as a welcome switch up from the aggressively terrible tracks that precede it.

The project closes with “The Most,” which is fairly inoffensive, though it offers little by way of intriguing ideas. The chorus is fairly well-written and features some of the only passible lyrics on the EP and Miley finally gives an impressive vocal performance, which has been lacking from every song thus far. That being said, its still quite overproduced and uninventive and features an irritatingly nondescript synth lead covering the majority of the melody.

Ultimately, this EP is a mess. It somehow finds a way to feel lazy and half-baked yet overproduced and soulless at the same time. Miley’s recent career has been full of spinning wheels without a track, but SHE IS COMING is the worst in this regard. I don’t see any audience for this or even a reason for it to exist.

SHE IS COMING is a half-baked, hot mess that is fluctuates between boringly safe and confoundingly awful.

1/5

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Denzel Curry Brings Short and Bombastic New Album

ZUU sees Denzel return to his raw roots for a love letter to his home and one of his most listenable LP’s to date.

Denzel Curry is a Florida based rapper who rose to popularity with his 2015 single “Ultimate.” It was loud, hard-hitting, and extremely lyrical and, although the song stood well on its own merits, it got most of its exposure by becoming a part of popular meme. Regardless, Denzel found his way on to the much maligned 2016 XXL Freshman Class and gave the only impressive performance in a terrible freshman cypher. Later that year, he released his major label debut, Imperial, which was violent, vulgar, and filled its 40 minute runtime with a breakneck pace. It’s jazz influences balanced well against Curry’s rapping style, which can best be described as “lyrical trap.” Curry followed the album’s impressive success with 2018’s TA13OO, finding even more critical acclaim and commercial success by drastically changing his song. Now, less than a year later, we once again find a very raw form of Denzel on this third LP, ZUU.

The albums is quite impressive thanks to a handful of elements, not the least of which being the unique instrumental approach which Curry takes. Tracks like “BIRDZ,” or the very short “BUSHY B INTERLUDE,” showcase this quite well as they bring the melody to the forefront with abrasive yet listenable tones. While the record focuses very heavily on percussion, it still makes more than a few impressive efforts to bring a melody forward.

On top of this, the bass lines are simply fantastic. The opener and title track may be the most obvious example of this but it plays quite a role in middling songs like “SPEEDBOAT.” The bass brings so much power and controls so much real estate within the mix that it refuses to be ignored, instead carrying a handful of tracks to even more impressive final products.

Additionally, we’re given quite an impressive cast of guest star lyricists on the features list. Tay Keith’s work on “AUTOMATIC,” brings a excellent energy which very nearly matches that of Curry himself. Similarly, Sam Sneak brings a commanding level of bombast to every second of his verse on “SHAKE 88.” While the features list is populated with a handful of relative unknowns, each of them bring their best efforts and prove their place on the album.

Thanks to the short style of writing, the pacing is also quite strong. While ZUU does seem to drag just a bit near the end, it’s quickly saved by the unstoppable, manic energy of a song like “CAROLMART” or the closer, “P.A.T.” Denzel seems to care so much about these tracks that he can give an impressive performance throughout every second, improving great cuts and saving bad ones.

That brings us to the top reason why ZUU is such a strong album, namely Denzel Curry’s explosive flow on nearly every track. Tracks like “RICKY,” and “WISH,” feature some of the best flows I’ve heard all year. Curry’s ability to write one brutal flow after another just doesn’t exist elsewhere in mainstream rap, and yet it’s the very thing that has brought him to such a spotlight so early. His flow clearly draws from elements of drill, bling, Florida rap, which is very refreshing, but he brings along his own spin which makes Denzel Curry one of the best artists on the market today.

I do, admittedly, have a few complaints. Worst of all, the album features three interludes, two of which, “YOO,” and “BLACKLAND 66.6” are fairly meaningless and unnecessary. In addition, I imagine the record could feel a bit draining for a listener who is unfamiliar with Denzel’s relentless flow and lyrical style.

However, the good far outweighs the bad. ZUU certainly isn’t the expansive concept piece its predecessor claimed to be, but instead, it feels like a purging of unused ideas from previous sessions. Despite this, the record feels entirely cohesive and makes for a fantastic listening experience.

ZUU sees Denzel return to his raw roots for a love letter to his home and one of his most listenable LP’s to date.

6/10

Tyler, The Creator Drops Daring Sixth LP

IGOR is a bold and well executed entry into one of the most excited discographies in modern hip-hop.

Tyler, The Creator is a rapper and producer from Ladera Heights, California. He debuted in 2009 with the Bastard mixtape which found impressive success, followed by 2011’s Goblin, which made Tyler a household name and landed in the top five on Billboard. During this early portion of his career, Tyler founded the Odd Future rap collective which spawned the careers of multiple stars in today’s alternative hip-hop scene. He went on to drop Wolf and Cherry Bomb, both of which sold quite well. However, after four successful LP’s, his brash, bass-heavy style was beginning to fatigue many listeners. This changed with 2017’s Flower Boy which brought an entirely new sound to Tyler’s discography along with genuinely heartfelt lyrics which dealt with lover, maturity, and coming to terms with his sexuality. Now, two years later, his much anticipated sixth album, IGOR has arrived.

From the first moments of the opener, “IGOR’S THEME,” the daring and unique production style of this record is immediately apparent. Throughout the song, virtually every mixing decision is surprising and unpredictable, particularly the contrast between the organic drums and the very industrial melodies. This is even more noticeable on a cut like “NEW MAGIC WAND,” which boosts a rattling bass and distorted sound effects to all but bury the soft, genuine vocals which cary the lead from behind. Consistently, Tyler chooses to bury excellent melodies as gems to be found on repeat listens while blasting some of the most commanding elements to the forefront.

In addition to the production, the instrumental pallet itself is shockingly broad and creative. “I THINK,” and the closer, “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” uses a wide range of interesting synths and percussion instruments to bring an almost mind-bending sound to life. On the other hand, a later cut like “GONE, GONE/THANK YOU,” utilizes everything from wispy acoustic guitars and guttural basses to bizarre vocal effects and oddly bright shakers and snares. Nearly every track is an adventure as we’re never quite given the boundaries for where Tyler is willing to go. Instead, each song feels like a perpetual experiment.

Beyond this, the album’s strongest quality is its tendency to drop into some of the most danceable grooves of the year. Tracks like the massive hit, “EARFQUAKE,” or the equally fantastic, “A BOY IS A GUN,” feature excellent, ear worm choruses which blend perfectly between the modern sensibilities of hip-hop music and a sort of synthetic, industrial Motown style which seems entirely unique to this album.

While this is certainly not the measured, balanced, and well-developed style one would generally associate with good pacing, IGOR instead aims to incapsulate Tyler’s manic energy and does so perfectly. Songs like “RUNNING OUT OF TIME,” and “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE” are perhaps the best examples of this, though it’s apparent throughout. Each track seems to bounce endlessly from one creative idea to another, expecting the listener to fill in the blanks to connect them. Through this, the project keeps you inthralled for its full runtime.

Another trick which helps the pacing as well as the songwriting to punch above its weight is Tyler’s tendency to write in parts instead of traditional choruses and verses. Take tracks like “PUPPET,” and “WHAT’S GOOD,” for example, where the entire makeup of the song seems to come unglued and reform every few moments, shifting wildly from heavy hitting bars to flowing grooves and everything in between. Again, the manic energy of the album’s writer bleeds through every note, making every cut a loosely tethered amalgamation of contrary ideas.

Ultimately, I’m left with very few complaints. The album’s loose concept is a bit difficult to follow, but its largely irrelevant and overshadowed by more than a few incredible songs. Mostly, I feel admiration for Tyler, himself. With his early work facing quite a bit of criticism for its abrasive and at times sparse tone, he could easily have retreated into a safer form of mainstream hip-hop. Instead, he stuck to his guns and now comes out the other side having crafted a truly unique sound which is a clear advancement of the sound on the earlier records.

IGOR is a bold and well executed entry into one of the most excited discographies in modern hip-hop.

8/10

My Top 5 Shows From Sonic Temple 2019!!

Here’s the highlights from a fantastic week of rock n’ roll!!

5. Badflower

After a tiring drive to Ohio and a long wait in line on day one, we found our seats just in time to kick off our weekend with Badflower. The group was one of many up and coming artists on the lineup and easily one of the best. Josh Katz is a fantastic frontman, bringing an infectious energy and powerful vocals to every track. The setlist was predictably packed with cuts from their latest LP, OK, I’M SICK, and when they closed with their recent mega-hit, “Heroin,” after announcing that it had just reached number one on the US rock charts, they felt like a headliner in the making. This was an excellent way to kick off the weekend and a strong showing for a promising young band.

4. Ghost

Leading up to Ghost’s performance, I was admittedly uninformed on the group’s discography, but I was quite familiar with their reputation for theatrical performances. After an extended intermission during which an elaborate stage was assembled, the band of nameless, masked instrumentalists appeared to roaring applause followed by front man, Tobias Forge clad in his newest character, Cardinal Copia. Though I didn’t know the songs nearly as well as other acts from the festival, the energy was simply undeniable. Their music is heavily inspired by golden age acts like Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath and by combining that sound with a dramatic flair and fantastically talented musicians, Ghost has crafted a truly unique experience.

3. Halestorm

Kicking off the top-billed lineup for day one was Halestorm, perhaps best known for their near constant touring over their very long career. That experience pays dividends in massive shows like this as they absolutely brought the house down. The set kicked off with a long drum solo from Arejay Hale and continued at a breakneck pace for its entirety. The setlist was nicely mixed between older classics like “I Miss the Misery,” and newer hits like “Uncomfortable,” which sounded much better in their live settings than on the record. Lizzy Hale’s show-stopping vocals were captivating and, combined with excellent performances from the rest of the band, allowed Halestorm to stand comfortably, toe to toe with the other legends on the bill with them.

2. System of a Down

Heading into this festival, no band had me quite as excited as did System of a Down and they certainly did not disappoint. While the show was somewhat held back by noticeable technical issues, I found myself in awe of the talent before me. One simply cannot overstate the vocal abilities of Serj Tankian who brought a manic energy and breathtaking vocal range which stretched from thunderous growls to screeching highs and was razor sharp everywhere in between. Song selection leaned heavily into Toxicity but touched on hits from every record including their debut. The true star of the set was lead guitarist Daron Malakian who brought intensity and style to every track. It was an excellent performance from a legendary band.

******** HONORABLE MENTIONS ********

  • Movements
  • Amigo the Devil
  • Parkway Drive
  • Killswitch Engage
  • The Struts
  • Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
  • Gojira
  • Lamb of God

******** HONORABLE MENTIONS ********

1. Foo Fighters

There is perhaps no band in modern rock music quite as renowned for their live performances as the Foo Fighters, and this was further solidified with their set which closed the festival. After extensive rain delays which closed down the stadium for a few hours, Dave Grohl took the stage shouting “You didn’t think we were gonna play, did you?” Which set off a deafening roar from the crowd. The set lasted for two hours, twice as long as any other band on the lineup, and every bit of it was fantastic. From powerful performances of the group’s endless collection of hits to Grohl taking over on drums so that drummer Taylor Hawkins and Luke Spiller of The Struts could cover Queen’s “Under Pressure,” this show was a blast from start to finish. In many ways, a Foo Fighters show feels like a celebration of rock and roll itself, and so naturally, they were the perfect closers for a star-studded weekend which brought some of the best rock music has to offer.

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Defeater’s Self Titled Return is Brutal Yet Heartbreaking

Defeater is a riveting story of struggle which packs a punch of brutal instrumentation and heartfelt lyricism.

Defeater is a melodic hardcore band from Boston. They debuted in 2008 with Travels which tells the story of a young man born in New Jersey near the end of the second world war. This family and the circumstances surrounding them would go on to be the focus of the entirety of Defeater’s discography with each album expanding the world and introducing a litany of new characters, some acting as sequels and others as prequels. In addition to the sprawling narrative, the band’s unique ability to mix hardcore instrumentation with a keen sense of melody makes them one of the most interesting bands in the modern metal scene. They officially parted ways after the 2015 release of Abandoned, but announced in early March that they would return with a self-titled fifth LP.

From the opening track, “The Worst of Fates,” the most prevalent highlight of the band’s sound is clear, that being Derek Archambault’s vocal performance. Throughout the album, especially on cuts like the aforementioned opener or the more subtle “Desperate,” Archambault brings an intensity that can’t be ignored. Under that roughness, however, there’s a genuine vulnerability through which he imbues every story and character with a gruff sort of humanity. It’s a brutal scream, but heartfelt all the same.

Beyond this, Archambault’s lyrics are once again enthralling. Of course, the story telling and conceptualism of the album is every bit as excellent as expected. On tracks like “List & Heel,” or “All Roads,” though, he goes above and beyond in painting vivid imagery and writing with a truly cinematic eye. Along with its many other functions, this album is the fifth installment to a long series which deals with the same family and, in that department, it succeeds wildly.

Instrumentally, the record is a masterwork. Perhaps the most noticeable piece of the puzzle is Joe Longobardi’s drum work. On cuts like “Mother’s Sons,” or “No Guilt,” Joe transitions between complex rhythms and lightning quick fills and does each incredibly well. He has an excellent ear for timing and despite rather predictable time signatures and somewhat weak production, his work shines through as a definitive key to the band’s impressive sound.

Another great element is Jake Woodruff’s grinding lead guitar. While a few of choices are a bit questionable, his contributions to tracks like “Stale Smoke,” and my favorite song on the album, “Debt/Debtor,” can’t be ignored. His drowning style provides a more solid counterpoint against some of the album’s most driving, fast paced beats and he has a talent for writing hooks. On a few cuts, his leads provide the catchiest moments on the album in addition to laying a more layered atmosphere.

My favorite aspect of the band’s sound, though it may not be as immediately noticeable, is founding member Mike Poulin on bass guitar. He grants a heaviness to songs like “Atheists in Foxholes,” and “Hourglass,” and he’s to thank for much of Defeater’s fantastic sound. The chugging, rhythmic bass stands as the foundation of nearly every melody and it is, in many ways, the glue that holds the album together.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Defeater combines all of this for an epic, creative finish in “No Man Born Evil.” This track embodies much of what makes this album so good with a ringing lead guitar, thundering bass, and explosive drums underscoring an unbelievable performance from Derek Archambault which brings to life a harrowing storyline. It’s the perfect ending to a nearly perfect album.

Defeater’s self-titled come back is almost everything fans could’ve hoped for. We get to return to the dark, gritty world which they’ve created over the past decade, guiding by great writing and wonderful performances from the entire band.

Defeater is a riveting story of struggle which packs a punch of brutal instrumentation and heartfelt lyricism.

8/10

Tool Sells Out the Enterprise Center For An Incredible Performance

Tool is still one of the best rock bands in the world, without a doubt, and this tour has only further codified their place in rock history.

Tool is an alt-rock/prog-metal four piece who rose to popularity in the early 1990’s thanks to their unique sound, bizarre live performances, and a fantastic debut EP called Opiate which came out in 1992. At this time, their sound was heavy, often droning, and far more melodic than the majority of the underground metal in the early nineties. As they progressed, and thanks to the additions of Peach bassist Justin Chancellor and King Crimson producer David Bottrill, Tool took on a more experimental and cutting edge tone which led to massive success and critical acclaim which has continued to this day.

I’ve seen Tool three times, and this was by far the best of the bunch. My first experience came in 2016 at the Chaifetz arena in Saint Louis. It was a smaller tour and Chaifetz is a smaller arena, but the show was fantastic and seeing one of my favorite bands for the first time was a blast. The second came as the headliner and final performance at 2018’s Rock on the Range festival where Tool, though not on tour at the time, brought the house down musically but didn’t quite have the stage set up one would expect from the group. Last night, I saw them for the first time in their peak form, in front of a sold out crowd of about 18,000 roaring fans at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.

Of course, a giant question looms over any review of a Tool concert in 2019, and so I’ll answer it immediately. Yes, they played new music and it was fantastic. Coming into the show, I’d heard a few shoddy cellphone videos of new tracks like “Descending,” and “Invincible,” but I found myself shocked at the extent to which those videos don’t do these songs justice. The former was brutally heavy, featuring a few of the thickest breakdowns in Tool’s catalog and the latter has an interestingly bright tone and some of the best drum work of Danny Carey’s career. As the intermission before the encore came to an end, the screen went blank and lit back up the word’s “August 30th” written in white, referring to the release date for Tool’s first new LP in 13 years, and having heard these new songs in person, I found myself filled with a brand new excitement like I’ve never felt for an album before.

Beyond new music, all four members of the band gave simply incredible performances on a litany of Tool’s best hits over their long career. They opened with “Aenima,” which was a perfectly heavy way to kick off the show. Maynard’s cleaner vocal sounded excellent on tracks like “The Pot,” and his screams were gravelly and powerful. Adam Jones’ guitar work on songs like “Jambi,” was thick and impressively fast-handed.

The stars of the night, however, were certainly the drums and bass. Justin Chancellor’s bass line on “Schism,” was as excellent as ever, and throughout the show, he was an absolute ball of energy, swinging his hips like an ape and playing with a deep, rich tone that seemed to shake the walls of the entire arena.

Just behind him, Danny Carey helmed a massive drum kit and proved once again that he is one of the best drummers of all time. From his complex rhythms on “Forty Six & 2” to his explosive playing on “Vicarious,” and “Intolerance,” his playing commanded respect and attention for the entirety of the show. The encore began with an extended drum and synth solo from Danny, alone on stage, which was an extremely welcome break in the action to appreciate one of the most talented musicians to ever pick up a set of sticks.

Highlights of the show included a sprawling, expansive performance of “Parabol/Parabola,” early in the set and the ferocious performance of “Stinkfist,” to close the show. These were made that much better by an awe-inspiring light show which included an array of lasers, a lighted, colorful pentagram which moved about in the background, and a multitude of entrancing videos on cranes behind the band, most of which consisted of Tool’s infamously strange music videos.

All in all, this was one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. Nearly 30 years after their debut, to see Tool returning to form in front of a sold out arena is an exhilarating experience. It’s hard to believe that we’re only about three months away from finally hearing the new album and this show left me more excited than ever.

Tool is still one of the best rock bands in the world, without a doubt, and this tour has only further codified their place in rock history.

Clinic Returns to Form With Entrancing Eighth LP

Wheeltappers and Shunters is a perfectly crafted piece of psychedelic punk with a surprise waiting around every corner.

Clinic is a psychedelic post-punk band from Liverpool, England. They began under the moniker of Pure Morning, releasing Two Inch Helium Buddah in 1996 before debuting as Clinic with 2000’s Internal Wrangler. The record found some underground success and netted the band a spot as an opener on tour with Radiohead. They remained prolific throughout the 2000’s with seven full albums and two EPs in 12 years which led to a multitude of festival performances as well as another supporting tour, this time alongside indie darlings, Arcade Fire. After 2012’s Free Reign however, the band announced a sabbatical which wouldn’t end until they returned to the stage four years later with John Cale at a tribute show for The Velvet Underground. Now, seven years after their last release, Clinic is finally back with Wheeltappers and Shunters.

Instrumentally, the album is just as impressive as ever. Brian Campbell’s bass guitar sounds fantastic holding down the rhythms of cuts like the opener, “Laughing Cavalier,” or the closer, “New Equations.” His tone is thick and the melodic lines which he discovers function perfectly as the foundation for the unique and head-spinning sound which Clinic is able to achieve.

On top of this, Ade Blackburn does great work as a frontman, bringing each song to life with a set of spellbinding performances which vary greatly from track to track. On “Ferryboat of the Mind,” he’s cold, distant, and almost omnipresent. In “D.I.S.C.I.P.L.E,” on the other hand, Blackburn brings an unnerving energy and excitement which feels almost alien when filtered through his strange sound. He’s incredibly dynamic, and his work is a large part of the album’s success.

Of course, the performance is made all the better by the jarring, poetic lyricism on nearly every cut. “Mirage,” uses repetition and leans heavily into the band’s more punk roots while “Flying Fish,” takes advantage of a relatively simple rhyme scheme to achieve a more singable feel. Different still, “Congratulations,” strings together a multitude of evocative but borderline meaningless phrases to inspire an attitude more so than tell a story. The lyrics, while often difficult to grasp in a literal sense, go a long way toward crafting the alienated aesthetic that makes this record stand out.

All of this is helmed by near perfect production. All of the producing work was done by the band themselves and that entangling of the creating and polishing process bleeds through every second. From the swirling whispers of “Complex,” to the raucous cacophony of “Rubber Bullets,” this LP consistently builds bewildering waves of sound which are then split in half by striking melodies.

The clear highlight of the album, however, is the absolutely engulfing atmosphere which is created by a combination of all these elements. The most obvious example of this is certainly the bizarre and unpredictable interlude, “Tigers,” but it’s also present in tracks like “Rejoice,” and my favorite cut on the album, “Be Yourself/Year of the Sadist.” The music creates a visual almost instantly, and it makes the album as a whole into a unique experience.

All in all, this record is fantastic. Nearly every aspect, from the songwriting to the performances and through the production, is perfectly executed, resulting in a record that warrants multiple listens. Beyond this, a wide instrumental pallet, strong lead guitar work, and perfect pacing makes the LP just that much more listenable.

Wheeltappers and Shunters is a perfectly crafted piece of psychedelic punk with a surprise waiting around every corner.

8/10

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