Post Malone Enlists SZA, Ozzy, and More for Third LP

Hollywood’s Bleeding is a fun listen that doesn’t quite meet it’s full potential.

Post Malone’s rise to the higher tiers of the hip-hop world has been relatively quick. From his 2015 breakout single, “White Iverson,” to his subsequent major label debut, Stoney in 2016, Malone quickly made a name for himself as a reliable producer of atmospheric, beat-centric tracks which make a perfect soundtrack for late night driving, or late night drinking, depending on your preference. Some have criticized his approach as being quantity over quality, and his music as “sonic wallpaper,” that isn’t meant to be listened to as much as played in the background. This reputation was crushed by 2018’s Beerbong’s & Bentley’s, one of the best rap albums of the year, which put Post on the map as serious hitmaker and a reliable producer of fun, danceable bangers. Now, with just a year for turnaround, we have yet another nearly hour long project in Hollywood’s Bleeding which, for the most part, lives up to its predecessor. 

Definitely the most significant improvement on this LP comes in the form of the strong and varied instrumentals. From the unpredictable switches on the opening title track to the genuine rock and pop influences on cuts like “Allergic,” and my favorite track, “Circles.” Post has often discussed his wide base of influences and has incorporated them into his music with a mixture of success, but his blend of pop rock and hip-hop is genuinely brilliant and provides an excellent variety over the long album.

Speaking of rock influences, the feature list on this LP has a few surprising names, to say the least. Future and Halsey turn in solid verses on “Die for Me,” and SZA is impeccable as usual on “Staring At The Sun,” but it’s Ozzy Osbourne’s appearance on “Take What You Want,” which has captivated listeners in the days since the album’s release, and for good reason: It works far better than anyone would’ve imagined. Ozzy sounds fantastic and his hook, though short, is commanding and powerful. This is all not to mention the roaring guitar solo that closes the track.

Beyond his features, Malone proves once again on this album that he’s one of the better vocalists in all of hip-hop. His warbling vibrato is here in spades on tracks like “I’m Gonna Be,” but I found myself far more impressed by the powerful belts on tracks like “Enemies,” and “On The Road.” Again, those rock influences rear their heads as he digs into his vocal cords a bit more to achieve a gritty, dynamic tone.

As one would expect, however, this album hinges quite a bit on Post’s status as one of the best hook writers in the business and, thankfully, this record is packed with singable ear-worms. “Saint-Tropez,” and “A Thousand Times,” feature some of the catchiest choruses of the year and virtually every second of the closer, “Wow,” is nothing short of addictive.

Sadly, this album really dives off of a cliff in the latter half. Easily the worst issue comes in the lyrics. The writing on tracks like “Internet,” and “I Know,” just feels lazy and uninventive, while the lyrics on “Myself,” are just bizarre and relatively meaningless, which doesn’t help a track which is already on shaky ground, sonically.

Additionally, there are some terrible features. I’ve never personally been a fan of Swae Lee’s work on “Sunflower,” despite it’s success as a single, as his voice is as bland and uninteresting as ever. This doesn’t compare, however, to Young Thug dropping yet another unlistenable verse on  “Goodbyes.” I don’t know that I’ve ever enjoyed a verse from Young Thug, and his unnerving howl is completely out of place on the otherwise inoffensive effort.

Ultimately, this album is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, Post has developed several elements which peaked out on the last release. He’s taking his wide-ranging influences more seriously, successfully incorporating rock and folk in a brilliant way. He also has lost a step in his talent for writing excellent hooks and working with strong features, for the most part.

Unfortunately, he’s still failed to learn from the mistake which has plagued every single release in his catalog: his insistence on including seemingly every idea that comes to his mind on the final album line-up. Because of this, the record is far too long with poor pacing, and the entire last third, with the exception of the closer, feels entirely half baked and underdeveloped.

Despite this, the album is a blast. Its shining moments are blinding and its weak points can easily be ignored. It’s just a shame that poor pacing and a few annoying features keep the LP from living up to its predecessors.

Hollywood’s Bleeding is a fun listen that doesn’t quite meet it’s full potential.

6/10

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AURORA Drops Starkly Gorgeous and Well Executed LP

A Different Kind Of Human is breathtaking take on pop music with a colder, more alienating tone which contrasts well with the undeniably catchy songwriting and mainstream sensibilities.

AURORA is an indie/electropop artist from Stavanger, Norway. She debuted with her 2015 EP, Running with the Wolves which slipped almost entirely under the radar but built something of an underground fan base. It was her full length follow up, All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend, which put her on the radar of the indie pop world, topping the charts in her native Norway and even breaking onto the US charts for a moment after she performed on a few American late night programs. This success kicked off a massive tour which ended with the release of her second EP, Infections of a Different Kind, which landed her a spot in festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella, as well as serving as the first part or “step,” as she called it, in a longterm series of releases. The second “step,” A Different Kind of Human released earlier this week and on it, Aurora is as entrancing as ever.

The album opens with one of AURORA’s fantastic songwriting on full display in the form of irresistible hooks. Tracks like “The River,” and “The Seed,” feature choruses which will catch the ear of even the most casual music listener and stick in their heads for quite awhile. She ties in clear inspirations from artists like David Bowie, for whom she’s expressed much admiration in the past, in putting together some truly fantastic hooks.

Beyond this, her lyricism is even more impressive. On cuts like “Daydreamer,” and “Hunger,” AURORA simultaneously uses a few interesting techniques. On the one hand, she consistently goes against the thematic grain of modern pop music, criticizing our tendencies to live only in the moment and speaking to the importance of living for the future as well. Additionally, she writes with haunting and almost alien imagery that makes for a fascinating experience when trying to dissect her storytelling.

Vocally, AURORA is also quite strong. While she doesn’t quite have the power of an average pop star, she makes up for this in spades with impressive control and an excellent range. Tracks like “Animal,” and “Soulless Creatures,” benefit tremendously from her excellent work as the front woman, her gentle tone providing an intimacy which acts as a strong counterpoint to the bewildering instrumentals.

All this being said, A Different Kind Of Human, as with most great pop music, leans heavily on its production and instrumentation. Most of the instrumentals feature heavy synths and quite a few unique tones but this is nothing compared to the extremely inventive percussion, most of which was performed by AURORA herself. Songs like “In Bottles,” and “Apple Tree,” while already listenable and interesting in their own right, are elevated to entirely new heights by the quirky and unpredictable percussion that drives their rhythms.

The album as a whole, however, just wouldn’t be what it is without some of the most genuinely impressive production of the year. From the intoxicating simplicity of “Dance On The Moon,” to the otherworldly experimentation of the title track, and even the gorgeous but criminally short closer, “Mothership,” the production team gets it right in every way possible on this one. Technically, their mixing and vocal tuning is spot on and creatively, nearly every second of the album is daring and unique, yet still listenable and accessible for all listeners.

Ultimately, A Different Kind Of Human is yet another breathtaking accomplishment for the Norwegian pop superstar. She’s somehow able to blend fearless experimentation with wonderfully accessible elements to create something truly special. The record is cold and distant, yet starkly beautiful in almost every way. If you’re a fan of great, well executed pop music, this is a must listen.

A Different Kind Of Human is breathtaking take on pop music with a colder, more alienating tone which contrasts well with the undeniably catchy songwriting and mainstream sensibilities.

8/10

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Dinosaur Pile-Up Signs With a New Label and Drops Enjoyable Fourth LP

Celebrity Mansions is an enjoyable project, but falls short of being anything more.

Dinosaur Pile-Up is an alt-rock band from Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. They debuted with three well received EPs in the late 2000’s before dropping their first full length album, Growing Pains, in 2010 with charted in the UK. They quickly signed with SO Records and releasing the follow up, Nature Nurture just three years later and supporting it with a tour that brought them to the United States for the first time. Eleven Eleven dropped in 2015, their third full length studio effort and final partnering with SO before landing a massive signing with Parlophone Records. With the much larger label, Dinosaur Pile-Up has access to the highest budget they’ve ever had for an album, a massive growth from their debut which was recorded in at home. With this budget, they’ve recently dropped their fourth studio LP and, for the most part, it’s a blast.

Like any good rock album, one strong feature of the record comes in the form of its lead guitar. Matt Bigland brings a handful of creative ideas to tracks like “Back Foot,” and “Black Limousine,” meshing noticeable, smooth melodies with chaotic, garage rock tendencies to make for quite a few impressive moments. For many listeners, this detail may fall by the wayside because of louder, more commanding elements, but no rock record is complete without strong guitar work.

That being said, Bigland is far more impressive in his duties as the band’s lead vocalist. His range and energy make cuts like the opener, “Thrash Metal Cassette,” and the title track infinitely listenable. He’s so clearly having a great time and it comes through in virtually every second of music. Not to mention, his screams are quite impressive, especially for the genre.

Even more addictive than Matt’s work as the frontman are Mike Shells’ fantastic drums. Virtually every track is impressive, but a few of my favorites include “Stupid Heavy Metal Broken Hearted Loser Punk,” and “Black Limousine.” Throughout the LP, Mike is exactly the kind of drummer this genre demands as none of his rhythms are particularly eye-popping but all of them bring an explosive style that takes each track to a whole new level. The drum kit is also particularly well mixed, which brings me to the true highlight of the album.

The production on this album is excellent. The new label’s money is well spent hear as the album carries a perfect balance between the sharp, tight mix and the messy, ringing instrumentation. The sharp cut off on “Pouring Gasoline,” is a fantastic example of this. On the other hand, there are a few creative moments like the surprising use of radio effects on “Round The Bend.” It’s this strong production throughout which elevates every track and even saves a few poor ones.

However, unfortunately, I do have quite a few complaints with this LP. Perhaps the worst quality comes in a few cringe-worthy lyrics on later cuts like “K West,” and “Professional Freak.” This is especially disappointing as lyrics on earlier tracks are quite strong. Additionally, several tracks on the latter half of the album just don’t carry their weight and seem to drag a bit. 

All in all, Celebrity Mansions is a fun listen. It brings back much of the alt-rock and pop punk styles of the early 2000’s with a bit more precision and maturity as well as some very strong production. However, several lyrical and melodic moments don’t quite live up, causing the album with a runtime of only just over half an hour to feel bloated.

Celebrity Mansions is an enjoyable project, but falls short of being anything more.

4/10

The Jonas Brothers’ Comeback is a Decade in the Making

Happiness Begins is simply frustrating because of a strong start and a heap of potential, but lazy writing and terrible production and instrumentation drag the album down every step of the way.

The Jonas Brothers are a power pop trio from Wyckoff, New Jersey. While their debut was fairly nondescript and unimpressive, their self-titled sophomore release in 2007 went double platinum and netted them a Grammy nomination for best new artist. They landed roles in the 2008 Disney Channel smash hit Camp Rock, becoming Disney Royalty. They dropped another double platinum record that year and another platinum album in 2009. Their last two records peaked at number one on Billboard charts and they’d had a multitude of massively successful EPs, tours, movies, and music videos. In 2012, however, after several delays plagued work on a new project, the brothers announced that they were leaving Hollywood Records, their tie to Disney, and began a messy, drawn out process of splitting up. Nick Jonas found considerable success as a solo act with a handful of platinum singles while Joe Jonas fronted the group DNCE, honing his power pop chops and dropping a few hits himself. Now, a decade after their last release, the brothers have returned with Happiness Begins which is, unfortunately, disappointing.

The opener and lead single, “Sucker,” raised my hopes quite a bit even before the record has released. Unfortunately, aside from a handful moments on songs like “Trust,” these hooks just don’t appear as much as they need to. While a few choruses here and there are strong, singable earworms, just as many are poorly written and half baked. This is, to be sure, the strongest quality of the album and could make it sound better than it really is when played as wallpaper music. However, the singable sections of these tracks often don’t hold up to closer listening.

Beyond this, the Brothers do show some fairly impressive chops in the harmony department. Songs like “Used to Be,” and “Strangers,” feature tight, three part harmonies which, though they aren’t nearly as prevalent as they should be, are very welcome additions to the sound. Sadly, this is pretty well the end of the line in terms of positive comments on the album.

One bizarrely poor choice comes early in the record with nearly unlistenable, “Only Human,” and reappears only a few tracks later with “Every Single Time.” Here, the Jonas Brothers take their best swing at a reggae style and whiff entirely. Virtually every aspect of these tracks-the poorly mixed horns, the strange inclusion of synthesized steel drums, the awkward vocal performances-is hamfisted and irredeemable.

Lyrically speaking, the entire LP is essentially filler. Songs like “Love Her,” and the closer, “Comeback,” are especially egregious, but I don’t know that I heard one single memorable lyric in the more than 40 minute runtime. Nothing is noticeably bad, but it all feels somewhat lazy and cliche’d.

The instrumentals also leave quite a bit to be desired. The main reasoning for this stems from terrible choices of tone for the synths that drench every track. There’s certainly nothing wrong with using synths for the majority of the record, and in fact I was expecting this in keeping with their more power pop roots, but the tones range from abrasive and odd to just thoughtless and ignorable on a song like “I Believe. On the other hand, later songs like “Rollercoaster,” use terribly outdated acoustic guitars that seem ripped from a Philip Philips album.

Perhaps the first hint that I was headed for a disappointment came with the very poorly mixed drums on the second single, “Cool,” as well as later cuts like “Happy When I’m Sad.” The percussion generally uses boring, nondescript trap drums which simply don’t fit with the tracks what soever, though when a more organic kit is present, it’s devoid of any body or thickness.

This brings me to the most overarching and inescapable critique of this project which comes down to simply awful production. “Don’t Throw It Away,” is unbearably mixed while “Hesitate,” uses a multitude of irritating effects and poorly tuned vocals. I save this issue for last because it is certainly the cause of the majority of the album’s weakness. There does seem to be at least a passable album hidden in here somewhere, but it’s just buried by one awful decision after another and what’s left is unlistenable. I genuinely wanted to enjoy this record, but there just isn’t much there to enjoy.

Happiness Begins is simply frustrating because of a strong start and a heap of potential, but lazy writing and terrible production and instrumentation drag the album down every step of the way.

3/10

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

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