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

Mudhoney’s Tenth Studio Release is a Brash Punk Jam, Hectic but Brave

While Digital Garbage isn’t perfect, it is yet another strong showing for the most important band you’ve never heard of.

     Mudhoney is an American grunge/punk band based in Seattle, WA. Often called “the most important band you’ve never heard of,” the group’s early work following their formation in 1988 was released on Sub-Pop Records and was massively influential in the early grunge scene which eventually gave birth to the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and fellow Sub-Pop group, Nirvana. Unlike their label mates, however, Mudhoney has remained with Sub-Pop for the duration of their career with ten albums over three decades, each critically well received, but none finding commercial success.

   The group is lauded for their heavy guitars, blues and punk influence, and brutally honest lyricism. Their sound is far less accessible than the bulk of grunge music thanks to their jarring sound and frontman Mark Arm’s unique singing voice. Nevertheless, Mudhoney has built quite a loyal following over the years, including a long list of very famous and influential fans, while continuing to work day jobs in their hometown. Now, 30 years after the band’s groundbreaking debut, Mudhoney is back with Digital Garbage, and it seems that they still have quite a bit to say.

   The punk influences are worn directly on the sleeve in this album. Tracks like “Paranoid Core,” or “21st Century Pharisees” are pure punk rock jams complete with distorted guitars and metronomic high-hats. “Night and Fog,” even pulls a few post-punk inspirations, easily the most modern style featured on the record.

   Steve Turner turns in the best performance of the group on guitars. “Hey Neanderf**k” leans entirely on his bluesy riffs and fuzzy distortion while his active play on the closer, “Oh Yeah,” makes the short, 90 second song more than worthy of wrapping up the project. He’s constantly moving, often toying with dissonance and rarely settling for simple chords and rhythm, giving Digital Garbage a constant forward motion throughout it’s 35-minute runtime.

   The rest of the band works well with each other, showing off the kind of tightness that comes from three decades with only one substantial lineup change. The drums are fantastic on “Next Mass Extinction,” complementing the open blues tone set by the harmonica melodies, while the bass intro on the opener “Nerve Attack,” is the highlight of the admittedly tame track.

   Lyrically, Digital Garbage is nothing short of pure, distilled punk of the political variety. Mark Arm’s criticism of modern culture is especially sharp when his gaze is fixed on the current state of organized religion on “Prosperity Gospel,” or my favorite cut, “Messiah’s Lament.” Here, he turns the scalpel of whit to the conjoined nature of American Christianity to the Republican Party and right wing ideology. This is nearly as sharp in “Kill Yourself Live,” as Arm lambasts today’s youth for their obsessions with social media and glorification of self-harm in addition to providing the albums title on an anthemic bridge.

   My first and strongest criticism, however, comes on this same topic, namely in the lyrics to “Please Mr. Gunman,” which, I believe to be in quite bad taste. Of course, there are no topics off limits to artists, especially in punk rock, but the song sets out to tackle issues like mass shootings, religious hypocrisy, and national apathy, doing so with the grace of thirteen year old arguing with their teacher. I won’t use the term “offensive,” because, as I said, no topic is off the table to good writing, but issues like these need tact and nuance, which they are not afforded on this, the worst track on the album.

   Arm’s voice, though unique, can be a bit much at a few moments. At times, he is a dynamic leader, and at times, he sounds like Weird Al Yankovic trying his hand at punk rock. In addition, the album has a tendency to be a bit one-note, with many songs sounding very similar, though the short runtime and energetic spirit helps smooth this over.

   Digital Garbage is a fun listen and in many respects, it’s one of the bravest punk records of the last decade. The political statements on this album are the kind of brash, boldfaced lyrics that are rarely heard outside of the underground. A hugely influential rock band with a catalog full of classics, it’s good to hear Mudhoney still working and putting out such high quality work.

   While Digital Garbage isn’t perfect, it is yet another strong showing for the most important band you’ve never heard of.

6/10

HEAR DIGITAL GARBAGE: https://open.spotify.com/album/3VlqKyu14rAorKhWFStRMY