Herb Albert, Korn, DaBaby, and More! September 2019 Lightning Round!!

DaBabyKIRK

This album would’ve slid completely under my radar had it not found its way to the trending section of Twitter upon its release, partly due to fans celebrating their favorite tracks and partly from casual rap fans mocking DaBaby’s flow. While the rapper made his major label debut earlier this year, his catalog includes a long list of self-released mixtapes. His career has recently been heating up as he was featured in the 2019 XXL Freshman Class and dropped guest verses with the likes of Post Malone and Lil Nas X. Because of this, he’s trying to cash in on the growing success, and this album really feels like it.

Baby’s flow is often mocked for his tendency to fill every available second with a bar, and that is certainly frustrating on this LP as none of the tracks have a chance to breath. However, there’s a much larger problem in that there’s just no breathing to be done by these instrumentals. Nearly beat on this album is clunky, poorly produced, and entirely uninspired. There are bizarre choices like using church bells and other strange instruments, and these certainly drag the tracks down, as does DaBaby’s weak lyricism and repetitive flow, but the fact of the matter is that the melodies and rhythms on these tracks are thoughtless and lazy, and there’s just no salvaging that.

3/10

OpethIn Cauda Venenum

A staple of the mid-90’s metal scene, Opeth was often lumped in with prog-metal acts like Tool and Nine Inch Nails. Unlike like these contemporaries, however, the Swedish four piece pulled in heavy influences from death metal as well as folk, jazz, and classical music later in their career. This wide array of influence, along with their excellent technical ability has gained the band a cult following among prog metal fans who are more than happy to dive into every longwinded, conceptual LP they drop. In Cauda Venenum is no different.

Coming in at over an hour long, this LP really carries that time quite well. Every track feels well fleshed out and nothing seems to drag. Even tracks I didn’t care for didn’t seem to overstay their welcome. The album employs of a wide instrumental pallet spanning from the traditional electric guitars to orchestral strings, folksy guitars, and a full choir which appears several times. There are plenty of experiments that just don’t quite pan out and the overly long opening feels a bit pretentious, but the power of cuts like “Continuum,” make this well worth a listen. I would’ve liked to hear a heavier album, as much of the instrumentation is either acoustic or orchestral, but what we get is certainly listenable.

5/10

Herb AlbertOver the Rainbow

Herb Albert debuted all the way back in 1962 with his unique blend of swing jazz and latin percussion and instrumentation. Albums like Going Places and the infamous Whipped Cream & Other Delights brought Albert’s danceable sound to the forefront of a jazz boom in the mid to late 60’s. Long after the crash of that jazz wave, however, Herb Albert continues to make thoroughly enjoyable records thanks to his tasteful latin flare and genuine skill on the trumpet. Now, at the age of 84, he drops this collection of cover tracks.

The album itself is much more subdued than the 60’s albums that put him on the map. Herb works his way through a collection of covers with one original thrown into the mix, each performed with soul and very creative instrumentation. He also utilizes newer technologies like electronic drums and sound effects remarkably well. There are a few pacing problems and some of the tracks come off a bit corny, but to hear new music from a national treasure like Herb Albert is nothing short of a treat.

5/10

KornThe Nothing

The turn of the century was an odd time for rock music. On the one hand, metal was at, perhaps the most commercially successful period in its history. On the other, the nu-metal wave was fairly controversial for hardcore metal fans and certainly hasn’t aged as well as it’s predecessors in the 80’s and 90’s. Nevertheless, staples of the short-lived genre like Korn and Slipknot are fairly well respected within the community. Korn’s particularly thrashy form of nu-metal and solid ear for melody has led them to a long career, even after the metal boom of the era. Their newest album, The Nothing, is surprisingly lively for a band in their 25th year.

This yet another singable, hook-heavy metal record from the California five-piece. Brian Welch and James Shaffer’s guitars are especially fantastic, adding excellent melody writing to an absolutely brutal tone. Jonathan Davis’ vocals do fall short quite often, particularly in the softer moments, but most importantly, the band is still more than capable of bringing the pain. Tracks like “Cold,” chug along with the same power that brought Korn to the forefront during their heyday. Unfortunately, they do get bogged down far too often in quieter moments that just don’t quite work and the experimental opener and closer are frustrating and unnecessary. Overall, though, this is a solid release that should excite nu-metal fans the world over.

6/10

MudhoneyMorning in America

One of the most under-appreciated bands in music history, Mudhoney was an early pioneer of the grunge rock sound that would launch the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam to superstardom. Their popularity, on the other hand, remained largely underground and still does now, 30 years and ten albums after their 1989 self-titled debut. Over this time, they’ve been quietly plugging away on Sub-Pop records and they returned this year with a quasi-LP followup to last year’s Digital Garbage.

The project is a blast to listen to. Many of the punk influences which have defined Mudhoney’s sound for the past three decades return in a big way with fast, thrashing guitars and a sardonic lyrical and vocal style that brings quite a few laughs and memorable one-liners. That being said, there’s also some significant growth on the LP as the band dives into some of the psychedelic, garage rock elements which have had a recent reemergence thanks to acts like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Overall, it’s yet another fun, raucous release from a hardworking group of rock legends.

7/10

King Gizzard, Amigo the Devil, Slipknot and More! Summer 2019 LIGHTNING ROUND!!

I’m back!! Here’s some of the music I loved over this summer!

Amigo the DevilBridge City Sessions

If you’ve never heard of “murder-folk” as a genre, you’re not alone, but you are missing out! Amigo the Devil is certainly the most palatable artist of the movement and has found perhaps the most crossover success thus far. Last year saw him release two fantastic full length albums, but this four track, live EP captures his sound incredibly well. The sheer power of his vocals on the opener, “Cocaine and Able,” is enough to convert any new listener, while the dark comedy of later cuts like “Husband,” and “One Kind of People,” should keep them coming back for more. The project is simple, moving, and a nice encapsulation of an exciting new movement.

5/5

Killswitch EngageAtonement

20 years after their game changing, self-titled debut, Killswitch Engage are certifiable legends of the metalcore genre. 2019 saw the band leave longtime label, Roadrunner and sign with Metal Blade for the release of their 8th Studio release, Atonement. The record is a serious tour de force and a return to form of sorts as Jesse Leach’s vocals and Adam Dutkiewicz’ guitar switch seamlessly between brutal breakdowns and soaring choruses. The albums is, unfortunately, packed with cheesy lyrics which hold back several solid cuts from being truly great, but it’s a fun listen, nonetheless.

6/10

Bon IverI, I

Bon Iver is a unique artist if for no other reason than the shear range of styles he’s experimented with and the wide divide between fans as to his best sound. This newest release has far more in common with his more daring recent work, but it certainly doesn’t abandoned the cold simplicity of his iconic debut, For Emma, Forever Ago. The spacey instrumentation of tracks like “Hey, Ma,” and “iMi” make perfect backdrops to some of Bon Iver’s most powerful and unique vocal lines to date. Much of the mix lacks a sense of depth and a few tracks certainly run long, but the warm, catchy writing on a song like “U,” is simply addictive.

7/10

King Gizzard & the Lizard WizardInfest the Rats’ Nest

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard is one of the most popular acts in the world of underground rock music. With 15 albums in less than a decade and five LP’s in 2017 alone, they are also one of the most prolific acts in all of music. Each record varies wildly from the one before, and Infest the Rats’ Nest sees King Gizzard taking a dive, headlong into thrash and garage metal with excellent results. Instrumentally, the group is every bit as technically impressive as ever, but it’s Stu Mackenzie’s vocals which really put the project over the top and allow the band to successfully recreate the psychedelic brutality of era and sound which inspired them. Tracks like “Organ Farmer,” and “Venusian 2,” stand out as highlights, but the entire LP is a well paced, heavy metal extravaganza.

8/10

SlipknotWe Are Not Your Kind

One of the best known and most successful bands of the 2000’s Nu-Metal boom, Slipknot had been silent for nearly five years before returning with this year’s We Are Not Your Kind. With so much hype surrounding the long awaited return, the group delivered quite well. While a handful of tracks suffer from the softened, overproduced tendencies of their later work, the majority of the music harkens back to the brutality of the band’s early days in the best way possible. Tracks like “Unsainted,” and “Critical Darling,” are just a few memorable highlights, but the majority of the album’s 60 minute runtime features excellent breakdowns, dynamic drumming, and a show stopping performances from frontman, Corey Taylor.

7/10

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

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

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