Dream Theater, Avril Lavigne, and More! February Lightning Round!

Here’s my thoughts on a few albums I missed this month!

Lil PumpHarverd Dropout

I hate to say that I had at least moderate expectations for this record. Pump’s debut was goofy and shallow, but it was a ton of fun and it captured a certain careless style. Harverd Dropout does none of this. Every instrumental is about four bars on loop, the flows are extremely repetitive, and production is remarkably shallow to the point of being unlistenable. Worst of all, the lyrics on this record are mind numbingly awful. Mostly centering around the album’s theme of success despite ignorance, not one line seems to have taken more than 30 seconds to write and some have no meaning at all. The album as the whole is a passionless train-wreck.

2/10

Avril LavigneHead Above Water

I had somewhat high hopes for this one as Avril Lavigne is responsible for at least one of my favorite guilty pleasure songs of all time in her 2002 smash hit, “Sk8er Boi.” Unfortunately, whatever remained of that version of Lavigne is long gone and replaced with a heartless, radio pop version of herself. There are, admittedly, a few impressive vocal performances, but the production is atrocious, the instrumentation is completely lifeless, the lyrics are vapid, and the “Dumb Blonde” track featuring Nicki Minaj is one of the worst things I’ve heard in many years. This may be slightly enjoyable for whatever hardcore Avril Lavigne fans do exist, but it’s all bu unlistenable to the rest.

3/10

Wiz Khalifa & Curren$y2009

Wiz Khalifa isn’t often mentioned among the best rappers of the day, but he’s had a fairly consistent output for close to a decade now, and the same is true for Curren$y. 2009 certainly doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, but it’s a solid collection of beats with relatively strong production and some great lyricism from both MC’s. The record can certainly come off as repetitive to many listeners, but if you’re a fan of Khalifa, this record hits many of the points you’ve come to expect. One can only hope that this isn’t the last collaborative album between these two artists.

6/10

Dream TheaterDistance Over Time

Dream Theater is one of the most infamous prog metal bands of all time with more than a few iconic records to their name. Here, they’ve come through with their 14th studio record and it’s everything you’d expect. Extended guitar solos, complex drum work, tight and constant rhythm changes, and several long tracks with the nearly hour long runtime spread over just nine tracks. The vocals are a bit lacking in areas, and for non fans of the genre, the pacing may verge on unbearable, but the cuts are difficult and well performed with a few solid melodies to keep less technically minded listeners pulled in.

7/10

Small HousesI Don’t Know What’s Safe

Houston based singer/songwriter, Small Houses is one of the most underrated acts in folk music after debuting with the wonderfully intimate, Still Talk; Second City in 2015. Finally, he’s returned to the studio and dropped I Don’t Know What’s Safe in the early half of the month. He returns with the same melodic guitar playing and painfully gruff vocal that stole our hearts in the first place. This time, however, the lyricism is a bit better and the production is much more present, sacrificing the simplistic closeness of his debut for a more mature and dynamic sound. Overall, an extremely listenable LP’s with few missteps.

7/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

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My Top Five Singles of February!!

From Todd Snider to Juice WRLD and everything in between, here’s a few of my favorite tracks from this month!

Field NegroRoyce Da 5’9”

After an excellent LP last year, Royce is showing quite a bit of life considering his career is nearly 20 years old. “Field Negro,” dropped early in the month and it’s one of the most politically charged tracks in his catalog. Royce jumps from specific topics like Colin Kaepernick, Kanye West, and the Super Bowl Halftime Show, to the broader ideas of race relations and the importance of standing up for one’s own race, regardless of the consequences. It’s a bold statement and a must hear for fans of lyrical hip-hop.

Like a Force of NatureTodd Snider feat. Jason Isbell

A true folk troubadour like we haven’t seen in many years, Todd Snider is one of the best live performers in all of the music industry, but has had a few struggles when it comes to capturing that magic in studio. With a new LP slated for a March release, however, he’s released two fantastic singles in preparation. The better of the two has made its way onto this list, not the least of which because of the inclusion of close friend and fellow master songwriter, Jason Isbell. While Isbell’s input seems to have been more on the writing side, the pair delivers a heartfelt and well performed cut that has me excited for the upcoming record.

PortlandEmily Hebert

Nashville based singer/songwriter, Emily Hebert released her debut single near the end of last year and has an EP in development for 2019, with her second single, “Portland,” dropping at the beginning of the month. The track has some strong pop-folk sensibilities, but the highlights of the cut and its predecessor come especially from Hebert’s fantastic ear for melody. With well written verses, an earworm chorus, and extremely intimate production, “Portland,” is sure to find it’s way into your heavy rotation and leave listeners anxiously waiting for more. 

JuiceLizzo

Lizzo is an up and coming soul/hip-hop artist with some impressive underground credentials. She has two very impressive LP’s under her belt and with a rising amount of mainstream recognition, she’s hoping that her third album, slated for April of 2019, may just be her breakout. From the sound of her latest release, she may just get her wish. “Juice,” blends elements of dream pop and funk in an excellent instrumental which accompanies a show stopping vocal performance from the powerhouse herself. The track is soaked in attitude and shows Lizzo to be one of the most exciting artists in soul music.

RobberyJuice WRLD

Following an extremely successful 2018 full of high profile features and a relatively successful album, Juice WRLD is kicking off 2019 strong with a pair of strong singles. The best of the two, “Robbery,” is highlighted by quirky piano instrumentation and an excellent vocal performance from the man himself. The track takes a few cues from the emotional, Soundcloud rap popularized by contemporaries like the late XXXTentacion, but Juice injects the sound with a lighthearted energy and a listenable melody. If this is what we can expect on upcoming projects, we’re in for a treat.

HEAR THE TRACKS: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/45yfYobxluDOlZfjVYSgtD

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UcjS3Y

Backstreet Boys, Papa Roach, and More! January Lightning Round

Here’s my thoughts on a few albums I missed in January, 2019!!

Bring Me The HorizonAmo

Bring Me The Horizon is one of the fastest changing acts in rock n’ roll, evolving from a simple and heavy death core act in the mid 2000’s to a pop-rock/emo-punk act just over a decade later. Amo is the band’s foray into the worlds of industrial and electronic rock and, while there are a few bright points, most of the album falls flat and lifeless. The lyrics are weak, the instrumentation is uninspired, and the band’s pop sensibilities make reaching the interesting side of industrial rock virtually impossible. Worst of all, the bland production sucks all life from record, leaving only a shell of whatever potential was there.

4/10

Backstreet BoysDNA

This record is a lot of fun. One of the most successful boybands of the late 90’s and the minds behind one of the most successful albums of all time in 1999’s Millennium, Backstreet Boys are still hard at work dropping their 9th LP. DNA is every bit as cheesy and indulgent as one would expect, sporting some fairly well made instrumentals, some nice vocal melodies, and a few very tight harmonies. On the other hand, we get some of the worst lyrics I’ve heard in several years and the production doesn’t seem to have changed since their debut. Ultimately, it’s a relatively enjoyable project that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.

5/10

Papa RoachWho Do You Trust?

The first half of this album is slightly better than you might expect, and the latter half is even worse. Papa Roach was one of the best selling bands of the Nu-Metal movement, but today, they’re largely viewed as an embarrassing phase for rock music. Who Do You Trust does little to dispel that idea as it ranges from completely forgettable to totally unlistenable. The lyrics are cringe-worthy, the production is horrible, and it is virtually devoid of an interesting or listenable melody across the thankfully modest runtime. A very weak showing for the nu-metal veterans.

2/10

Sharron Van EttenRemind Me Tomorrow

I regret missing this album more than any other on this list. Sharron Van Etten is a prolific, indie rocker from New Jersey and Remind Me Tomorrow is her 14th LP since debuting in 2005. The album shows every sign of an experienced writer in its solid pacing, thematic cohesion, and tight, 40 minute runtime. The influences of 80’s and 90’s synth-pop are strong and with the aide of great lyricism and vocal performances, Remind Me Tomorrow is an enjoyable record for a wide audience, despite a few meandering moments. It also features the best album cover of year thus far.

6/10

Logic, Slash, Behemoth, and More! October Lightning Round

Believe it or not, I missed a few this month! Here’s the first of what will become a new series on the last day of every month. Lightning round!

Luca Brasi 3Kevin Gates

     Luca Brasi 3 is one of the most bland projects of the year. A few of the beats are fun, the lyrics range from inoffensive to cringeworthy, and Gates’ flow often struggles to find the beat. This album is nothing but basic trap and autocrooning with average execution which likely will not age well.

3/10

TracesSteve Perry

   If this album did anything for me, it made me appreciate the role played by the rest of the members of Journey. Perry’s voice has scarcely lost a beat, but the instrumentals behind him are often boring and at times unlistenable. The production is over polished, the lyricism is unimpressive, and the pacing is awful. True Journey fans may find something to enjoy here, but it’s a shell of Perry’s former glory.

4/10

Young Sinatra IVLogic

   To enjoy this record, you’ll need a love of two things: boom-bap and Logic. For me, I had the former in spades and the latter grew on me a bit. The beats are fun throughout, Logic’s flow is hard hitting, and the Wu-Tang feature is impressive. However, much of the lyricism can be a bit corny, a few of the hooks run a little long, and the second half sees a severe drop in quality.

5/10

Elephants on AcidCypress Hill

   One of the more unique experiment rap albums I’ve heard in a very long time. The combination of rock, boom-bap, and international, particularly Indian, influences make for a set of constantly surprising instrumentals. A few of the flows aren’t as hard as I’d like them to be, and there are far too many repetitive, instrumental only tracks, but much of the experimentation works very well and it’s an interesting listen for fans of progressive trip-hop.

6/10

I Loved You at Your DarkestBehemoth

   Unsurprisingly for fans of the Polish death metal outfit, their 12th LP is a brutal slog. The Zbigniew Prominski’s drums are fantastic, and the lead vocal screams are guttural and powerful. At times, the group gets bogged down in their own virtuosic abilities, and some of the production leaves a bit to be desired. However, for fans of extreme black and death metal, this is worth a try.

6/10

Living the DreamSlash feat. Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators

   I was shocked by how much I enjoyed this record. Avoiding the possible pitfalls of sounding out of touch, two of the best rockers of the 80’s and 90’s craft a brazen celebration of that period, complete with roaring guitars and powerful vocals. The lyrics are a bit lacking and the production isn’t perfect, but the tempo rarely drops and the instrumentation will keep heads banging throughout the 50 minute runtime.

6/10

Hurry Up & Hang AroundBlues Traveller

   Nearly 30 years after Blues Traveler’s debut, we find them in 2018 with a creative, singable, and above all, fun album. Joh Popper’s vocals and harmonica are excellent, as always, the lyricism is thoughtful and unique, and none of it overstays it’s welcome. While a few of the tracks are certainly misses, there are far more hits. Overall, it’s an enjoyable entry to a classic catalog.

7/10