Top 10 Albums of 2018, So Far…

Here it is! Top 10 Albums of 2018, So Far! It’s crazy to think I’ve been running this blog for more than a year now, and last year, this list was only five albums! I’ve bumped it up to ten because I’ve done so many more reviews this year, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it! Thank you guys all so much for following what I write, and for giving me even a few minutes of your day to share my opinion! I hope I’ve introduced you all to something new that you love, and I know you you’ve introduced me to plenty of new stuff that I love! We got a huge second half of the year coming up for music, and I can’t wait to see how different this list looks in six months. Let me know in the comments what I got right and wrong, and like and share if you enjoy my reviews!

10. Come TomorrowDave Mathews Band

220px-Come-tomorrow-cover-art     Yet another icon in music returning with an excellent outing this year, DMB’s latest record is certainly one for the fans, and considering I count myself proudly among those ranks, I absolutely loved it. A few of the tracks come off as cheesy, even by Mathews’ standards, but there is such a heart to this album that all shortcomings are quickly forgiven.

   The instrument pallet is wide, but familiar, sporting excellent horn sections, and solid string work. Carter Beauford returns to remind all of us why he’s one of the best drummers in soft-rock history, gracing every track with his unorthodox style and wonderful ear for accents and cymbal shots. Dave’s vocal has held up well over the years, and his songwriting is every bit as heartfelt as it was on classics like Under the Table and Dreaming. This record is just a feel good effort, which is desperately needed in today’s world.

9. Golden HoursKacey Musgraves

   A relative newcomer on the country scene, Musgraves’ third studio release was certainly one to be proud of. Up until now, she’d made her name with a sweet lyrical style and youthful writing. After being recognized quite famously by a country legend who will find his way into a later entry on this list, she began to write more maturely and break a few of the rules of radio country music. Enter, Golden Hours.

Album_Golden_Hour_cover  With this record, Kacey gives listeners a brand new sound that, while still smacking of that classic country twang, incorporates progressive and spacey elements, a la Sturgill Simpson. Her vocal performance is one of the best of this year’s country scene, which remains wide open due to a dearth of activity from the genre’s biggest name. The album, at its roots, is a fairly uneventful, singer/songwriter project, but its Musgraves’ ability to branch out so widely within the relatively restrictive confines of radio friendly country, her reverence for the classics yet irreverence for the rules, that makes it so exciting and new.

8. Eat the ElephantA Perfect Circle

   It’s been fourteen years since APC gave us their last fully original LP. In 2000 and 2003  with the release of Meir De Noms and The Thirteenth Step, APC established themselves as an outlet for Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of Tool, and Billy Howerdell of Ashes Divide to create simpler, more stadium friendly rock n’ roll, which contrasted against their usually progressive, long-form metal. Tracks like “Judith” and “Pet” brought the group massive success but with Eat the Elephant, A Perfect Circle took a bold turn.

eat the elephant   The record brings in a softer sound, depending on several interesting piano leads and less heavy guitars. Maynard’s vocal performance is, as one would expect, masterful. He creates constantly unique vocal melodies, each of which he executes efficiently and with style. The sound is far less layered, and instead draws attention directly to whichever instrument or vocal is leading. Maynard has often said that he is “comfortable fading into obscurity,” but it looks like the world isn’t quite finished with him yet.

7. The Tree of ForgivenessJohn Prine

John Prine   It’s been 47 years since Prine debuted on the country scene, and it can’t be exaggerated how much he’s still got it. As one of the biggest names in the Nashville scene, Prine has continued songwriting and remains prolific well into the twilight of his career.

   This record is lighthearted, often comical, and performed well by all those involved. Tracks like “Summer Friends,” and “Lonesome Friends of Science,” remind listeners of the most charming side of Country’s rebellious years, while the heartfelt “When I Get To Heaven,” will bring any longtime fan to the border of laughing and crying. This record stands as a shining example of one legend of the business reminding the world just what makes him so great.

6. Beerbongs & BentleysPost Malone

Beerbongs Masterfully toeing the line between artist and internet meme, Post Malone was able, on previous efforts, to develop an interesting mix of atmospheric, trap beats and almost folksy vocal performances. Unfortunately, his short discography up to this point had suffered from an inability to make these two styles mesh, as well as an apparent laziness and reliance on heavy bass to paint over flaws.

   On Beerbongs & Bentleys, however, everything finally clicks. Eighteen tracks, a record-breaking ten of which found their way onto the Billboard Hot 100, rattle off without anything resembling a weak link along the way. Most features, even including Nicki Minaj on “Ball for Me,” find a way to feel fresh and interesting, and Post himself is in top form throughout. B&B is a rare example of popular music which unquestionably deserves its popularity.

5. POST-Jeff Rosenstock

   This was an album that landed on several end of year lists in 2017, but it actually released early this year. The fourth installation in a relatively young career, POST- finds a way to solidify Rosenstock’s classic punk sound while still feeling relevant and youthful. In a genre which has all but drowned in a flood of hipsters and pop influences, POST- pushes back.download

   The album is most notable for its energy. Starting with the first true track after the intro, listeners are treated to Jeff’s loud and unapologetic vocal. It’s often out of key, rarely well supported, but its loud and proud, as any great punk frontman should be. Sonically, Rosenstock is able to capture the vibrant, genuine style of punk’s roots, while still acutely aware and reminiscent of the goofy attitude of bands like Weezer and Blink-182. Punk Rock is seeing something of a resurgence recently, and while the bulk of the attention has gone to the heavier, angrier side, Rosenstock provides a much more accessible and fun alternative without losing any of the bite.

4. VerdugoRichard Edwards

verdugo   Yet another entry from an artist with an already well established career, Edwards found his footing in the industry as the frontman for the Indiana folk-rock band, Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s. When the band called it quits after a seven album run, Edwards disappeared for a few years before returning in early 2017 with Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset, and again this year with its sister album, Verdugo.

   Coming off of the heartfelt sweetness of LCCS,Verdugo strikes a darker tone. Heavily emotional lyrics focus on loss and change, all while being wonderfully enhanced by Edwards’ amazing vocal performances. The true highlight of the album, however, is the adoption of the very unique orchestral, guitar rock sound, and Edwards’ ability to finally master that style. With a discography well in the double digits, its great to hear Richard Edwards still pushing himself in brave new directions.

3. Heaven and Earth Kamasi Washington

   After bringing long form jazz to the mainstream for the first time in decades as the instrumentalist and composer for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Kamasi went on to release his massive jazz opus of a debut, The Epic. The album received a wash of critical praise and commercial success, and established him as the most recognizable name in modern jazz. This public favor was far from squandered with Washington’s sophomore release, Heaven and Earth.heaven

   On this album, we hear Kamasi’s growth as a composer. His instrumental pallet expands tenfold, incorporating large choirs, solo vocals, electric guitars, synthesizers, and even a harpsichord. All of this and more is wielded with purpose and discipline by Washington as he swings from style to style, often allowing quick bursts of chaos which resolve wonderfully into catchy melodies. The motif’s are fun, the solos are exciting, and every song seems to have a clear direction and goal. Jazz is making a strong resurgence right now, and Kamasi Washington is their unquestionable leader.

2. Tranquility Base Hotel & CasinoArctic Monkeys

trank   Arctic Monkeys is one of the most respected rock bands in the modern scene. They’re one of the few groups from the rock explosion of the mid-2000’s to carry their fame and sound on. Coming off the most successful record in their discography and one of the most successful rock records of the decade, AM, the group seems to have decided that there was no where to go but radically sideways.

   By that I mean that Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a jarring departure from the garage rock sound we’d come to expect. Instead, Monkeys drew heavily from inspirations like David Bowie and The Doors to give us a deeply atmospheric project. The harsh guitar tones were replaced with strong reverb, the instrumental pallet was expanded to include synthesizers and harpsichords, and the lyricism took a turn for the conceptual. All at once, Arctic Monkeys seemed to recognize that they’d reached a dead end, and boldly embark on a brand new, and exciting path.

********************************Honorable Mentions********************************

  • Invasion of Privacy Cardi B
  • KOD J Cole
  • Last Man Standing Willie Nelson
  • The Year of the SnitchDeath Grips
  • Stranger FruitZeal and Ardor
  • soilserpentwithfeet

********************************Honorable Mentions********************************

1. God’s Favorite CustomerFather John Misty

gods   In 2017, Josh Tillman, now working under the moniker of Father John Misty, dropped Pure Comedy. It was a sprawling, piano-rock slog that dealt with the terrifying state of the world with boundless whit and rare insight. Met with endless praise and catapulting him to the very top of songwriting world, Comedy was the fourteenth entry in Tillman’s long and critically acclaimed discography, and it would take him just over a year to add his fifteenth.

   God’s Favorite Customer focusses much more on introspection and replaces the more John Lennon-esque piano rock sound with a spacey folk vibe. Lyrically, the album is nothing if not a masterclass in storytelling. He plays with point of view on “Mr. Tillman,” uses wonderfully accurate metaphors on “Hangout at the Gallows,” and brilliantly dances on topics of God and religion in the title track. If Pure Comedy perfectly captured the anger and confusion  we all felt in 2017, this companion piece represents the dark, self-examining hangover we all seem to feel in 2018. We really are witnessing an incredible songwriter in his prime, and it’s a pleasure to call this album the best thing I’ve heard this year, so far…

Drake Tops Charts, but Struggles Creatively With 8th Studio Release.

Here’s my review of the new Drake album! It’s a long record, and it was a fun one to tackle! Let me know what else I should review!

     Audrey Drake Graham, AKA, Drake is the most successful modern rap artist in the genre by a mile. As such, he needs little introduction, but it may be worth the time to take a short look at his very long and impressive career.

   Drake’s first release was So Far Gone in 2009, but he was already being heralded as an important up and comer in the community before this. Working directly under Lil Wayne, who was the most recent predecessor to Drake’s current throne, he continued the Wayne’s philosophy of hit-making and style over substance. In many ways, Drake was radio ready before he’d even released a single project.

   In 2011, he released Take Care, an emotional record which mixed rap and R&B elements and solidified his softer, singing-heavy style as the standard in rap. From here, he kept up with the times, working his way through trap influences on What a Time To Be Alive, the only record in his discography which I thoroughly enjoyed, and tapped into the trend of overly long albums with 2016’s Views.

   In the past few years, Drake has also had several highly publicized feuds, and has become something of a target for the bulk of the rap community, amid allegations of his using ghostwriters for most of his tracks. Most notably, he feuded with Meek Mill in 2015, with the pair trading a few diss tracks over the span of about a week, and Drake unanimously considered to have come out on top. Then, just about a month ago, he was the recipient of Pusha T’s absolutely brutal diss track, “The Story of Adidon,” for which Drake had no response. And this brings us to his latest release, Scorpion.

   The album is divided into halves, the first of which focuses on Drake’s rapping and the latter carrying more R&B styles. The former of these is the far superior.

   “Survival” is a solid opener, with Drake’s trademark, confident delivery and Wayne-esque wordplay highlighting the track. The instrumental is somewhat repetitive, but enjoyable.

   Tracks like “Emotionless,” and “8 out of 10” are far more introspective than one may have expected on this project, with the latter being my favorite song on the entire album. Lyrically, Drake is far more honest on this album than much of his previous work, and it leads one to wonder if this may have been a more recent adjustment in light of the amount of dirty laundry which was aired by Pusha T.

   The albums lead singles, “God’s Plan” and “I’m Upset,” come back to back and provide the highest point on the record as a whole. The latter of these, in particular, is one of the best tracks Drake has released in quite a long time.

   The instrumentals are especially creative. Tracks like “Mob Ties” and “Can’t Take a Joke” lean heavily into the trap influences which pervade the modern rap scene, while “Elevate,” and “Sandra’s Rose,” are almost orchestral, and very reminiscent of Kanye’s recent work.

   The rap portion of this album ends with “Is There More,” which attempts to explore big questions, mainly asking whether there may be more to life than what Drake has experienced thus far. The lyrics, however, come off as especially vapid and shallow. The opening half of this album, as a whole, is actually quite pleasing but this goes severely downhill in the second half.

   Drake’s return to singing and the softer R&B sound which he came up on is thoroughly disappointing. His style of of bass heavy, simplistic beats faded into the background of his emotional vocals is, to put it bluntly, still stuck in the late 2000’s.

   This may have been impressive and important when he was coming up, but since his transition to rap, R&B has gone through quite the renascence. Artists like Frank Ocean and serpentwithfeet have taken this genre to far more experimental and emotive lengths. Even a mainstream artist like The Weeknd makes Drake’s croons over these particularly forgettable beats sound woefully out of touch.

   Tracks like “Nice for What,” and the odd Michael Jackson and Nicki Minaj features on “Don’t Matter To Me,” and “That’s how you feel,” respectively, are short lived bright spots, but they’re so choked by the meaningless repetitiveness around them that they can hardly shine.

   “Ratchet Happy Birthday,” is perhaps the worst track on this project, in which Drake just genuinely doesn’t seem to care, and likely assumes that most listeners have shut the album off by this time.

   Overall, Scorpion, like much of Drake’s work, is relatively inoffensive, but also unimportant, like a particularly bland wallpaper. The record is clearly made to create as many hits as possible, instead of crafting an album with actual focus and direction. As such, the pacing is terrible, leaving one constantly curious as to how much of it is left, and the decision to split the album is senseless. A much more compelling tracklist could’ve been made by simply mixing the two halves together, and giving listeners some variety along the unjustifiable 90 minute runtime.

   Instead, Drake delivers an album which is fantastically competent and well-produced, but ultimately vapid and heartless.

4/10

HEAR THE ALBUM: https://open.spotify.com/album/2o9McLtDM7mbODV7yZF2mc

Death Grips Are Back, and They Pack a Punch!

Death Grips is an underground, experimental hip-hop trio based in Sacramento, California. They rose to popularity in 2011 with the release of their self-titled and Exmilitary EP’s. These two projects circulated quickly through internet communities and eventually landed them a deal with Epic Records, and there, they released their first two full length LP’s, The Money Store and No Love Deep Web.

The latter record’s, now infamous, cover featured a photo an erect penis, on which the title of the album was written. This was one of the first of many indicators that Death Grips refused to play by the rules and modern conventions of the music industry.

Musically, the trio tends to reinvent themselves from album to album, while keeping hold of their violent, punk-inspired style. MC Ride has consistently served as a forceful frontman, while Zach Hill’s drumming and Andy Morin’s production shift all around him. This album is no different. Year of the Snitch aims to incorporate a multitude of brand new elements and genres into an already stacked deck, and succeeds for the most part.

As per usual, the latest Death Grips album is less like a movie, and more like a jigsaw puzzle. Slowly unpacking this project is a large part of what makes Death Grips’ music so enjoyable. The heavily layered sound leaves much to be found.

“Death Grips is Online” is a raucous, EDM jam which combine with the unique, high speed drumming to create a genuine sense of panic and confusion. This trend is repeated, with a few dreamy choir samples and oddly uplifting guitar on “Hahaha.”

Tracks like “Flies” and “Streaky,” on the other hand, manage to recreate this EDM-inspired sound with slower tempos and far less maximalist textures. These seem to be far more accessible to outsiders than much of Death Grips’ body of work, simply by virtue of their calmness and more mainstream influences.

This mass appeal is almost Immediately squandered, however, by tracks like “Black Paint,” and “The Fear.” Here, the groups captures more of their roots, however shifty those may be, than anywhere else on the project. The vocals on “Black Paint,” in particular, harken back to the No Love; Deep Web days of a Death Grips, and its a fun sound to hear again.

The album also transitions well from song to song, featuring bazar futuristic instrumentals from Morin, drummed over wonderfully by Zach Hill. “The Horn Section,” is one noticeable transition that features magnificent drum work.

Year of the Snitch is at its best, however, on tracks like “Shitshow,” and “Disappointed.” On these songs, the punk and noise rock elements which are so new and unique to this album are out in full force, and to wonderful effect.

This is an album that takes a few listens and quite a bit of concentration. Death Grips have never been known for dulling their creativities to cater to their growing audience and this is yet another example.

There are a few clear faults, not the least of these being the complete lack of direction. There are a few clear intentions, mainly that they would like to include a few of the new styles they’ve picked up, but the project as a whole tends to sprint chaotically from idea to idea. This also has repercussions on the pacing which often feels far too fast and as if the new sounds are being presented for far too short a time to showcase them.

In many ways, though, its this chaos which drives the project. The group almost feel like gatekeepers, holding back insanity, and wielding it masterfully.

After many confused listens, I’ve chosen to settle on an absurdist interpretation of this record. Death Grips seem to be grabbing at very popular styles such as hard rock on “Shitshow,” or pop rap on “Streaky,” (hence the Lil’ Wayne-esque lighter noises) but running them through the very powerful absurdity filter.

Having found what I could, however, I see this album as an interesting step that ultimately lacked direction. Its enjoyable enough throughout the vast majority, especially thanks to Hill’s amazing drumming skills, but Ride is far less prominent piece here, and Morin’s futuristic production tends to be the only predictable bit, save his sampling, which is awesome!. Regardless, Death Grips is one of the most important and creative hip-hop acts of all time, and they deserve all the respect they get and more.

This album can be intensely off-putting and daunting at first, but seeing it within the confines of conceptualized absurdity does seem to give a listener even the tiniest foothold into the bands intentions and accomplishments.

7/10

Kamasi Washington’s Fantastic Sophomore Effort

This one took awhile to get through, but it is well worth it! Can’t recommend this album enough!

     Kamasi Washington is, inarguably, the biggest mainstream star in modern Jazz music. After finding breakout success on Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 masterpiece, To Pimp A Butterfly as an instrumentalist and band leader, Washington would go on to drop his own debut, The Epic just two months later to a wash of critical acclaim and fanfare.

   The record itself clocked in at just shy of three hours, printed as a triple LP on vinyl, and  seamlessly danced from genre to genre, instrument to instrument, without ever once dragging or feeling bloated. It truly was a groundbreaking album that presented many mainstream fans with a a powerful exposure to just what is possible within the Jazz confines. This was followed by the Harmony of Difference EP, which I reviewed positively, though it was clearly a few short and ultimately unimportant buildups to one excellent track at the end. With such an impressive early discography, and a hungry cult following, Kamasi Washington had a lot to live up to. Luckily, he did that and more.

   Clocking in at around 150 minutes, Heaven and Earth is a triumphant sophomore release.  Unlike its predecessor, this album finds the time to strike and fully develop several different tones and ideas. Tracks like “Street Fighter Mas,” and my personal favorite, “The Space Travelers Lullaby” use a powerful brass section and fascinating chord progressions to give off quite the ominous feel, while songs like “Hub-Tones” are almost playful, piano-driven melodies.

   The latin-esque drumming which I criticized on the EP is back in full force, but this time much better utilized. The opener, “Fists of Fury,” as well as “Vi Lua Vi Sol,” benefit from this addition, and draw a fun danceability from the latin influence.

   Kamasi has also, now fully integrated the choir into his tool box, as it makes an appearance on almost every song. Beyond that, tracks like “Testify,” and “Journey” even feature prominent solo vocal performances which add yet another layer to such a deep record.

   Of course, no Kamasi album can be reviewed without mention of two key aspects. The first of these is Washington’s unparalleled abilities on the saxophone, which are highlighted on “Song for the Fallen” and on an unbacked solo at the end of “The Space Travelers Lullaby,” which is perhaps the highlight of the entire project.

   The second of these, is the bass guitar work of modern jazz staple, Thundercat. He turns in an especially inspired performance on “The Psalmist,” but his signature sound can be heard throughout every track.

   In addition, the drum and piano work on this album are fantastic. The drums seem to never stop, and though much less cymbal heavy than on previous Washington projects, they are no less pronounced. The final two tracks, “Show Us the Way,” and “Will You Sing” are structured around piano motifs, and the latter in particular is simply gorgeous.

   The group is at their best, however, on tracks like “Tiffakonkae” and “The Invincible Youth.” Here, Kamasi returns to his hectic roots. The tracks function like unbridled lunacy, and at first may seem quite unlistenable. But instead, the group wields the chaos, often letting it slip to silence, before building it back to an explosive resolution. The fast tempos and often clashing melodies and rhythms ultimately serve their purpose, but at first are simply overwhelming. These moments are the highlights of this album.

   There is very little to complain about here, but I must address what there is. The very few appearances made by the electric guitar are very poorly integrated. “Connections” stands out as a particularly egregious example. The lyricism is often week as well, and while this is hardly a common complaint for an album like this, it is noticeable on a few vocal parts.

   There is no question that Kamasi has done it again. Very rarely does someone begin their career with three bonafide masterpieces as he now has, and it is even more rare for such excellent and experimental Jazz to be brought so far into the mainstream. At two and a half hours, Heaven and Earth is quite a slog, but it’s an enjoyable one at that, and I can’t wait to hear what this man does next.

9/10

HEAR THE ALBUM: https://open.spotify.com/album/2aBgwU4zIm1tekGzphKYp8

Panic! Returns With an Average Sixth Record

Took me a bit longer than I would’ve liked, but here’s my review of Panic! At The Disco album, Pray for the Wicked.

     Panic! at the Disco is an emo-pop/punk band who rose to massive popularity with fans and critics in 2005 with their debut, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. It was an album dripping in attitude and urgency, featuring excellent lyricism and instrumentation, and highlighted by the incomparable vocal talents of frontman, Brendon Urie.

   The band would go on to an excellent career which is especially notable for their putting the “Fueled by Ramen” label on the map, their many tours with fellow emo-punk band Fall Out Boy, and above all, their penchant for delivering vastly different sounds from album to album.

   As the years went on, however, members came and went between records until, finally in 2016, Urie released Death of a Bachelor under the P!ATD monicker as the sole remaining member. It was an album with a lot of potential, but wholly lacking in direction as there was no balancing force to Brendon’s manic creativity. Just two years later, Urie returns with the sixth installment in the Panic!’s storied discography.

   In many ways, Pray for the Wicked feels like a continuation of ideas which its predecessor started. Tracks like “Say Amen” and “Silver Lining” could very easily have fallen on either album, and the synth-heavy instrumentation does leave much of the track listing feeling stale.

   The most obvious take away for even the most casual of listeners is Brendon Urie’s excellent vocal performance. Throughout the album, and especially on tracks like “Roaring 20’s” and “Hey Look Ma, I Made It,” Urie puts on an absolute clinic. His range is particularly impressive, and his recent stint on Broadway in Kinky Boots has brought a brand new dimension to his already very full tool box.

   The strides which are made by the great vocal work are heavily undercut, though, by the dreadfully cheesy lyricism which plagues every track. While Death of a Bachelor was criticized for overusing themes of unrepentant party lifestyles and wild nights, Pray for the Wicked gleefully digs up that dead horse and beats it eleven more times. Tracks like “High Hopes,” and “Dancing’s Not a Crime” are simply unforgivable, while “The Overpass” and “One of the Drunks” would be enjoyable if there was any joy left to be found in this writing style.

   The album, as a whole, is paced quite well. Clocking in at just under forty minutes, most of the runtime flies by, and much of the repetitiveness can be forgiven for this reason. That being said, several tracks feel completely pointless. “King of the Clouds,” and “Old Fashioned” are completely forgettable, and only “Dying in LA,” is able to rescue the latter half of the project.

   Ultimately, Pray for the Wicked is very enjoyable, and works as a musical wallpaper. However, it utterly fails to hold up to any in depth exploration, and leaves much to be desired by way of story telling in instrumentation. P!ATD is certainly standing shoulders above the recent work of their pop/punk contemporaries, but even still, this album is a mere shadow of the urgency and potential which can still be heard in the groups debut.

4/10

HEAR THE ALBUM: https://open.spotify.com/album/6ApYSpXF8GxZAgBTHDzYge

Death of a Bachelor Review

As I work on my review of the new Panic! Album, I realize I reviewed their last album a few years ago when was still writing with Vernois News & has just started reviewing! Here’s my review of Death of a Bachelor!

And then there was one. It’s been ten years since four young, yet incredibly talented Las Vegan’s blew the world away and put their label, Fueled By Ramen, on the map with their first studio album: A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. On this album, Panic! At the Disco introduced us to the blend of Broadway level theatricality and somewhat Blink-182-esque post-punk rock and roll that the world had never seen. Drummer, Spencer Smith, strung together one refreshingly simple, aggressively fast rhythm after another. Guitarist, Ryan Ross, and Bassist, Jon Walker, had a palpable chemistry that flowed well to create an undeniably remarkable instrumental score. The score flees to the background, however, as Brendon Urie’s soaring vocals rush a listener back to the last time they were young and defiant. His voice is one that captures you from the first sound he makes, theatrical and enticing.

As the Band followed up with their second studio creation, Pretty. Odd., they completely redefined their sound, which would prove to be Panic!’s standard procedure. Each album stretched their styles to new and uncharted lands, but listeners always followed happily, enjoying the common thread of Urie’s emotionally charged vocals.

The Year 2011 saw the departure of Ross and Walker from the band. With half of Panic! gone, the world could only thank the young rockers for the two albums they’d given us and move on. But the Urie and Smith weren’t done yet. With their third release: Vices & Virtues, they charged on with only half of the original crew and gave us a truly inventive album. So when 2015 began with Spencer Smith’s announcement that he would be leaving the band as well, fewer people were surprised to see the year end with the release of another single from the band, this time with all writing, instrumentation and, of course, vocals, done by Brendon Urie. The singer went on to begin 2016 with the release of Panic!’s fifth project, entitled Death Of A Bachelor.

According to Urie, DOAB is somewhat of a tribute to the man he used to be, before his 2015 marriage. The album itself, however, plays less like a tribute and more like a funeral.

He opens with “Victorious,” a fast-paced pre game of sorts, declaring, with intentional naivety, the age old “tonight’s the night message” but this time with the interesting spin of a man looking back. Though Urie writes in the present tense, you can feel his reminiscence.

“Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time”, the last single before the album’s release, and “Hallelujah”, the album’s first official single, follow this opener, using lines like “If you go on, you might pass out in a drain pipe. Don’t threaten me with a good time!” and “My life started the day I got caught, under the covers with second hand lovers” to display the tone of the majority of this album to be that of reviling in one’s bad decisions. Urie uses the bulk of his time being entertained by his poor decision-making with the childlike glee of a baby smearing his first birthday cake all over his face or a young boy who jumps in a mud puddle in his new shoes. This enjoyment is a bit of a throwback to the delightfully immature defiance of Fever.

“Emperor’s New Clothes” steer’s heavily into the skid of theatricality and is the first to even vaguely hint at the recent departure of Smith, who was the original creator of P!ATD, with the line “Dynasty decapitated, you just might see a ghost tonight.” From here, Urie allows himself a slight venture into the true nature of his feelings toward growing up.

His descent into his real feelings begins with what is, in my own opinion, by far the best track on the album, after which the album is named. During an interview, the singer/songwriter said that he was aiming to blend the sounds of legendary artists like Queen and Sinatra when he created this track. Urie has always been an outspoken fan of Freddy Mercury (the band did a very popular cover of Bohemian Rhapsody) but his mention of Ole Blue Eyes is a bit out of character. However, the accomplished writer blends the two styles masterfully, while putting his own twist on it. All told, this album delights in keeping you on your toes. Around every corner, Urie packs a delightful punch to the gut. Just when you think you know what to expect, along comes a song like Crazy=Genius or Hallelujah to turn you upside down. However, for all the positive points featured on the LP, there are a few negatives.

My main criticism of the album is based on it’s lyrical substance, or lack there of. A good portion of my teen years, like many of my peers, has been sound tracked by P!ATD, so when Brendon Urie announced the concept of this album, a eulogy to his younger “bachelor” self, I was excited. One of the most skilled songwriters of my generation was poised to release his newest work and tackle the issue that I, and many Panic! Fans were finding to be heavy on their minds: growing up. Not to mention that with Urie’s recent marriage and the departure of the final original piece of his high school band, he had plenty of growing up to comment on. Sadly, aside from a few savored moments, Urie cops out. He spends his first three songs enjoying his poor lifestyle choices with similar lyrics in “Victorious”, “Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time”, and “Hallelujah”. He later revisits this topic again on “LA Devotee” and “The Good, The Bad, and The Dirty.” Though each of these songs are well written, they essentially repeat themselves and cover a fairly shallow topic that could be efficiently explained with one song (preferably “Hallelujah”). “House of Memories” is the singer/songwriter’s cheesiest attempt at tackling the big issue of entering adulthood. Lines like “Baby, we built this house on memories” and “Promise me a place in your house of memories” offer the same insights that could be found on the Twitter accounts of any high school age girl. When Brendon says “Those thoughts of past lovers, they’ll always haunt me” in the bridge, the listener is left to wonder why he would randomly add in an old love story, a solid two thirds into the piece. Reading the lyrics aloud, one may wonder if Urie realizes that you can miss something other than an ex. “Crazy=Genius” and “Emperor’s New Clothes” also deal with similar issues of Brendon proclaiming his ability to effectively lead P!ATD in the right direction on his own, though Crazy speaks more to an old lover who doubted his abilities, saying “You’re just like Mike, love, but you’ll never be Brian Wilson!” while Clothes aims more to tell the fans that he is attempting to reclaim Panic!’s old prowess, wailing “I’m taking back the crown!”

Overall, the album is good. It’s not the best of Panic!’s work (which I believe is still their debut: A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out) or the worst (2013’s Too Weird to Live! Too Rare To Die!) It falls somewhere in the middle. Songs like “Hallelujah”, “Death of A Bachelor”, “Crazy=Genius”, and “Impossible Year”, are inarguable masterpieces, and should be respected as such. The chaotic and unpredictable nature of the project perfectly conveys how it feels to be inside an intensely creative mind with nothing limiting it. For the first time, Urie is let completely out of his cage and unleashed on the world and what he gave us was beautiful, though just a bit too tame. This piece may be a eulogy to the younger versions of us, but it seldom succeeds in making you cry for your loss, as it isn’t raw enough. However, Urie succeeds in solidifying the unspoken motto that has been at the heart of Panic!’s music for years: “All you sinners stand up and sing ‘Hallelujah!’”

Five Artists On The Cusp of Career Defining Albums

5. Kacey Musgraves

     Rising to popularity in 2013 with her debut record, Musgraves has drawn critical acclaim as well as mainstream success with a sound that modernizes country music, while paying due diligence to her predecessors, particularly in the outlaw movement. While some early concerns arose that Kacey may play to a base of young girls, a la Taylor Swift, and work herself out of the country scene, her often drug-laced lyricism, and insistence on organic instrumentation  and vocal work proved those worries to be unfounded. Instead, she has been hailed as a fresh new voice in the Nashville scene, and stands poised and ready for a huge run.

   This year’s Golden Hour, her third studio album, not only reached number one on the Country charts, but number four overall. She clearly has the support of the general public behind her, and the critics have always been all in. While this record was plagued by poor production and somewhat repetitive choruses, it was dripping in potential. If Kasey can fill out her songs just a bit more, and be more daring than ever in her production, while hanging on to the young charm and biting lyricism she’s built her name on, her next album could very well be a defining moment in this era of Country.

4. Harry Styles

     I know, I’m as shocked as you are! However, its time to come to terms with the facts: Harry Styles is a bonafide artist and performer, who’s debut was one of the best in 2017. The self titled LP was a breath of fresh air for music fans, and saw the pop star take on a more piano rock sound and toy with several well-executed psychedelic elements. His voice was flat out impressive, and the instrumentation was consistently entertaining. The lyrics left a bit to be desired, but the themes were solid and ambitious, leading one to expect an even better showing with the next release.

   Harry Styles debuted at number one in the US and even broke a few sales records in The UK, while critics seemed relatively impressed by the project as well. If Styles can take serious time to fill out his lyrics, especially by including a few more verses and less repetition, while hanging on to the youthful spirit and impressive vocal work which he’s already shown, his sales and critical appeal could easily place him at the forefront of a rebirth in rock music.

3. IDLES

     IDLES dropped their debut LP in 2017. It was titled, Brutalism, a name which it lived up to, as the sonic embodiment of anger, fear, and the punk spirit. The guitar work was brutal, the drums were driving, and Joe Talbot’s vocals are punk, perfected. Many could argue that Brutalism is already a career defining project, and they would be right, but I genuinely think that they could do better.

   There hasn’t been a band that is this purely punk in a very long time, and thus, IDLES will likely be given the unique license to speak on and sing about whatever they want angrily. With a new album already announced for august, I’d like to hear Talbot take deadly aim at the political discourse in the modern world. Fire wildly at organized religion, at Republicans, at inequality, and even at the apathy of the music industry. Musically, the group seems to be experimenting with brand new sounds and keeping themselves fresh. August 2018 could mark the return of punk to the mainstream.

2. Post Malone

     Again, many would say that Malone has already achieved this feat, and while Beerbongs & Bentley’s is a true masterpiece of soft, vibe-centric hip-hop, I have one simple reason to say that Post has just one or two more tricks up his sleeves. This reason can be heard near the end of the album, in the form of the song, “Stay.” Here, Malone breaks from his format, which he has, admittedly, perfected, to present listeners with an entirely unique sound. The combination of the “coffee-house” folk and hip-hop styles could very easily be the last push necessary to land Post on a very short list of great artists.

   A new album should hang on to the lighter tone of B&B, as well as the long runtime and excellent production. However, cut the bass-heavy vibe tracks with a heavy dose of heartfelt lyricism, acoustic guitar, and Malone’s unique vocal. He’s such a multifaceted writer and vocalists, pulling inspiration from so many sources, that even something as diverse as his recent project seems to waste his full range. Put that full range into one singular album, and we will have something truly special.

1. Chris Stapleton

     A man who needs little introduction, Stapleton is a fantastically accomplished singer/songwriter, and a nationally beloved member of Country’s outlaw revolution. However, a quick look at Outlaw Country’s big three-Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Stapleton- reveals a slight problem. Isbell has Southeastern, Simpson has A Sailors Guide to Earth, and what is Stapleton’s crowing achievement? Countless incredible song, and yet no “perfect,” album.

   To get himself over the final hump, he first must hang on to a few things. Namely, his powerful and jaw-dropping voice, his wife’s excellent contributions, and his penchant for staying the truest to the Country form must stay. But what is he missing? For a perfect, decade defining record, Stapleton first needs to poor his heart into his already incredible lyricism, a la Southeastern. Toss in a bit more variety in his instrumentation, a few minor tweaks in production, and beef up his runtime a bit, and Stapleton will evolve from a force to be reckoned with to a real life, living legend in every sense of the term.

HEAR KACEY MUSGRAVES: https://open.spotify.com/artist/70kkdajctXSbqSMJbQO424

HEAR HARRY STYLES: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6KImCVD70vtIoJWnq6nGn3

HEAR IDLES: https://open.spotify.com/artist/75mafsNqNE1WSEVxIKuY5C

HEAR POST MALONE: https://open.spotify.com/artist/246dkjvS1zLTtiykXe5h60

HEAR CHRIS STAPLETON: https://open.spotify.com/artist/4YLtscXsxbVgi031ovDDdh