Daughters is Back After Eight Years With the Best Metal Album of the Year

 You Won’t Get What You Want is an advanced piece of noise metal that is quite nearly perfect, and easily the best metal album of the year, if you’re up for the challenge.

     Daughters is an experimental, industrial metal act from Rhode Island. They’re well known for an absolutely hellish style, disjointed rhythms, wide array of influences, and, until recently, jarringly short tracks. Their 2003 debut LP, Canada Songs, had a runtime of just 11 minutes, with very few songs clearing a minute, which was complimented by the thrashing instrumentals of their early work. This continued on the slightly longer, Hell Songs, in 2007 which also hits hard and fast with a bit more character.

   This all changed, however, with what was meant to be their farewell project, which was self-titled and released in 2010. The record mixed elements of thrash, noise, and experimental metal with a heavy dose of post-punk to create a gothic cacophony of a farewell with a runtime that neared 30 minutes. Having bid the band farewell, their cult following was quite excited to hear news of an upcoming fourth album, and though listeners were quite surprised, they certainly weren’t let down.

   From the opening track, “City Song,” it’s very clear that we are in for something very different. The track feels like being lost in a dark ocean, with a driving bass, jarring snare-shots, and a panicked but hopeless vocal performance by Alexis Marshall. It’s sets a bleak tone, which the rest of the near 50 minute is all too happy to follow relentlessly.

   Energy is high on tracks like “The Reason They Hate Me,” or my personal favorite, “Long Road, No Turns.” Here, the drum work is explosive and the grating electronic leads make a listeners heart race. Daughters is able to use this manic noise rock to build tension in a unique way, not unlike a horror movie. It’s a style that, I would imagine, the vast majority of music listeners simply haven’t heard anywhere else.

   Tracks like “The Flammable Man,” and “The Lords Song,” call back to the earlier days of the group as the only songs to come in under three minutes. Here, we’re treated to a much heavier bleed in from the group’s more traditional punk influences along with the thrash style of released like Canada Songs. The bass guitar is especially brutal here, well mixed, and following a blistering tempo.

   On the other hand, “Satan in the Wait,” and “Ocean Song,” each top seven minutes, and make the most of every second. The former carries a horrific narrative over rhythmic drum and a howling guitar which almost mimics a siren, ending with a hellish chaos of shouting, squealing, and crashing cymbals. The latter is a true post-punk tune, telling what is essentially a horror story  over of the best instrumentals I’ve ever heard. These tracks are so fantastic and the slow burning style of Marshall’s story telling is so listenable that even longtime fans will find themselves wishing that Daughters had always been in the business of long-form, post-punk epics.

   The real shining point of the album, however, is the extremely unique instrumentation. The closer, “Guest House,” features a screeching synth that over scores the howling vocals well. “Less Sex,” is highlighted by a melodic choir part in the chorus, giving the track a distinct blues sound, and “Daughter,” opens with a gloomy piano riff which, though a bit gimmicky, is an interesting hook around which the rest of the tune is built.

   My complaints are slight, leading me to seriously contemplate my second ever perfect score, but, unfortunately, my complaints are present nonetheless. “Daughter,” is easily the weakest piece of the tracklist, held down by an odd organ section in the bridge. In addition, a few of the rhythm changes can be a bit underdeveloped, and the electric guitar, while used well for effect, could do with even a short turn in the spotlight. Aside from this, I must admit that the album lacks severely in replay value, with a tone so bleak and overbearing that, if you don’t find yourself in the mood, the project can simply come off as irritating, although, in fairness, it doesn’t seem that replay value and accessibility were ever goals held by Daughters.

   You Won’t Get What You Want is exactly the kind of album that music critics love. It tests the bounds of what music is and, in doing so, challenges even the most experienced music listener to make heads or tails of such a difficult piece of art. This album uses it’s smothering, gothic tone to tell interesting stories and create something that just doesn’t exist elsewhere in the music world, carrying all the lushness of a big budget rock album, but trading in the sweetness for horrific electronic tones and constant dissonance.

   You Won’t Get What You Want is an advanced piece of noise metal that is quite nearly perfect, and easily the best metal album of the year, if you’re up for the challenge.

9/10

HEAR YOU WON’T GET WHAT YOU WANThttps://open.spotify.com/album/7w7ZTlk8YLc0OxviTp97qA

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Lukas Graham Disappoints With Major Label Debut

The Purple Album is rarely unbearable, and often somewhat listenable, but it is, first and foremost, a disappointment.

     Lukas Graham is a pop/soul vocalist from Copenhagen. He catapulted into the American music scene in 2015 with the release of his breakout single, “7 Years.” This track hit number two on the US Billboard and currently sits at five times platinum according to the RIAA. Lukas rode this success to the relatively successful release of of his second LP, The Blue Album, which peaked at number three on the US charts and gained a gold certification.

   Graham’s sound, particularly as it was showcased on “7 Years,” was both unique and refreshing. His soulful performance, thoughtful lyrics, and minimal instrumentation broke virtually every rule for writing a summer pop hit, and yet succeeded massively. His large and seemingly effortless range, coupled with his clear hip-hop and R&B influences made him one of the most intriguing artists in the indy/pop scene, a status which didn’t fade with his LP. Unfortunately, The Purple Album sees Graham teaming with Warner Bros. record and flushing much of his unique sound down the drain.

   The vocal performances on this record are fairly impressive. Tracks like the opener, “Not a Damn Thing,” or “Promise,” find Lukas dancing around the upper reaches of his range with control and an excellent control. Even his lower register sounds fairly impressive on tracks like “Stick Around.” This album, as a whole, is a beast for any vocalist, featuring virtually no instrumental leads, and counting on Graham to carry every track, which he is, for the most part, able to do.

   Lyrically, this album is a mixed bag, though not without it’s highlights. “Everything That Isn’t Me,” is an interesting look at Graham’s shortcomings throughout his life, told in a series of apologies to those in life that he’s let down. “Say Yes,” my favorite track on the album, tells the tale of a man watching his wife walk down the aisle in the same church which held his father’s funeral. This juxtaposition provides a well written commentary on moving forward and finding happiness after loss.

   It’s in this same department, however, where I find my first major complaint. Virtually every track aside from the two I mentioned, are dripping in platitudes, repetitive topics, and few meaningless statements about love for good measure. “Love Someone,” for example, could’ve been written by a computer, and “You’re Not the Only One,” has an interesting message on the need for new artists like Bob Marley and other great, feel-good artists from the past, but it’s delivered with tactless, boring lyrics that rarely match the song’s original premise in creativity.

   The instrumentation is another quality of this record which varies across the relatively short run-time. There are tracks like “Unhappy,” which builds from a minimalistic, drum-heavy track effectively, or “Hold My Hand,” which benefits from the a more nocturnal beat and an organ with a lot of character. However, they are balanced on the other end by tracks like “Stick Around,” which is the musical equivalent of vanilla ice cream, and “Lullaby,” which features one of Graham’s best performances, vocally and lyrically, butchered by strange instrumental choices, decorating the chorus with a boring piano and the choruses with a terribly mixed string section which never appears again on the project.

   All of these issues are magnified tenfold by poor production. For some artists, signing to a major label deal improves the quality of their work and feels like a talented, indy voice finally being given the support they deserve. For others, it sucks the life and uniqueness from them, leaving a radio-ready but uninteresting final project. Lukas Graham falls firmly in the latter category. Overused trap drums, strange and random instrumentation, thin mixing, and a multitude of other problems plague this already flawed project, dealing quite a bit of damage to the final release.

   Lukas Graham showed a lot of promise with his breakout single in 2015, but three years and a Warner Bros. signing later, we’re given a bland pop record. The signs of life aren’t gone from the young artist, but they’re buried under weak lyricism, poor production, and boring instrumentation.

   The Purple Album is rarely unbearable, and often somewhat listenable, but it is, first and foremost, a disappointment.

4/10

HEAR THE PURPLE ALBUM: https://open.spotify.com/album/02gV87QEIFp2T9q7OqVBjj

Elvis Costello Drops Yet Another Excellent LP

Look Now is a fun listen, and yet another project from one of the greatest musicians of all time.

     Elvis Costello is a new wave/pub-rock artist from the UK. He is nothing short of an icon of popular music and one of the most respected writers of all time, despite having only one platinum certification and not a single number one album over his four decade career. While he hasn’t had the kind of commercial success one would expect from legend, you’ll be hard pressed to find an influential artist, post-1970 who isn’t a fan.

   His sound is hard to nail down as, over his long career, Costello tried his hand and multiple writing and instrumental styles. However, there is a general punk slant to much of what he’s done, as well as an affinity for the orchestral composition of new wave. He’s also flirted with jazz influences, recently working with The Roots on his 2013 release, Wise Up Ghost. Most of all, his lyricism is unique, poetic, and above all, powerful. Most fans agree that his massive discography is simply devoid of weakness. Because of this, I was over the moon to hear of Look Now’s release, and for good reason.

   Costello’s vocal, though aging, is quite effective on this album. Slower selections like my personal favorite, “Don’t Look Now,” are obvious examples of this, but he also keeps up well on tracks with beefier instrumentals, such as “Burnt Sugar is So Bitter,” or “Unwanted Number.”

   In addition, his lyricism hasn’t lost a beat. “Under Lime” tells a unique story dealing in sexuality and relationships, while “Photographs Can Lie,” is a beautifully written tale of love gone bad. On this LP, Elvis writes about life with the voice of a man who’s lived it, seeing new angles to old stories, and showing a wonderful understanding of love, change, and time.

   All of this, however, pales in comparison to the real highlight of Look Now, the excellent instrumentation. Elvis’ most recognizable musical partners, The Imposters, join him on this project to incredible effect. The bass guitar is active on tracks like “Mr. & Mrs. Hush,” or “I Let the Sun Go Down,” pushing the tracks along while providing a playful depth to each of them.

   The drums set a danceable groove on track after track. The rimshots on “Why Won’t Heaven Help Me,” are the highlight of the verses, while the open high-hat on “Under Lime,” moves the song to a perfect tempo. The rest of the album sees the drums take a more laid back, but equally important back seat, with an especially impressive ear for cymbal accents.

   Beyond the basic band instrumentation, this album’s palette is quite broad. The choirs on “Suspect My Tears,” and “Under Lime,” are fantastic, while the keys on intimate pieces like the beautiful “Stripping Paper,” or the closer, “He’s Given Me Things,” are simple and perfect. This record also features some excellent horn and string parts that build an orchestral sound and leave listeners wondering excitedly what they might hear next.

   There are very few complaints to make here. There are a few pacing issues, with most every track landing somewhere between three and four minutes and following a similar form. Costello’s voice can be a bit much at times, showing age by wavering on longer notes and in the higher reaches of his range.

   Aside from these small issues, Look Now is an exciting addition to Costello’s massive catalog. The mastery of form and helming of such a broad palette is the kind of skill which only comes from the kind of long, storied career this man has under his belt.

   Look Now is a fun listen, and yet another project from one of the greatest musicians of all time.

8/10

HEAR LOOK NOW: https://open.spotify.com/album/7dvbHsQbTs5RqE9iRgXHCC

Open Mike Eagle Mixes Chaos and Psychedelia on Newest EP

While What Happens When I Try to Relax lacks the focus and conceptuality of previous Open Mike Eagle Projects, his ability to spread this chaotic thought over smooth, psychedelic instrumentals makes for a fun listen that you’ll leave on repeat for a few days.

     Open Mike Eagle is a rapper and comedian from Chicago, Il. He is an absolute rockstar of the underground hip hop world with a unique flow and breakneck work ethic. He’s released nine LP’s in ten years, his latest project, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, finding it’s way onto nearly every end of year album lists in 2017. In addition, he’s released seven EP’s over this time and What Happens When I Try to Relax is the latest on this list. Having missed my chance to review his last record, I was determined to catch his next release, and luckily I didn’t have to wait long.

   The EP opens with “Relatable,” which sets the tone quite well, striking an almost epic feel in the opening verse despite the minimal beat. Mike’s flow is fairly simple but effective, and lyrically, he dances well between punchlines and serious diagnoses of his mind state and inability to cope with stress. He forgoes a chorus in favor of an excellent trumpet solo from Jordan Katz which acts as a kind of bridge between the track’s two verses. Overall, and excellent opener.

   “Every Single Thing,” follows with one of the funniest intros I’ve heard in a very long time which quickly dissolves into a much harder hitting track than it’s predecessor. Jumping from video game references to commentary on racism, Mike builds himself as a character in a very interesting way. His racial comments are particularly brutal, rapping “How it’s both sides, we both ain’t dyin’.” The instrumental is again, this time building mainly on slowly developing synth leads.

   The best track on the record falls square in the middle with “Microfiche.” Over the nondescript, psychedelic beat, Mike’s flow is unstoppable, mixed perfectly between lyrically heavy-hitting and melodically soft. The rapped hook is fun and singable and topics range from drug use to, again, video games, through politics, and a dash of mental health. His ability to filter his hectic lack of focus through a soft, listenable aesthetic is a microcosm of what makes What Happens When I Try to Relax such an enjoyable project.

   The follow up, “Single Ghosts,” is far more nocturnal as Mike tells a very October-appropriate tale of falling in love with a ghost. This track blurs the lines between comedy and horror rap in a unique way. I have the utmost appreciation for his replication of the Ghost Busters hook, and I enjoy the switch up, however, this will likely be the track I find myself revisiting the least.

   “Southside Eagle,” is up next with an excellent, dreamy chorus as the opening. While the flow is a bit boring, Mike’s lyrics about seeing fellow rappers around him but feeling out of place, as well as his lines examining the effects of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” on the lives of bullied youth, are especially thoughtful and a perfect example of what makes him such a beloved feature of the underground hip-hop scene.

   “Maybe Gang” closes the project very well. Much of Mike’s flow is comedically inept, though the several of the rhyme schemes are quite elite. The hook is an ear worm, one the only of it’s kind on the record, and the trap cymbals that adorn the entire track set the tone in an interesting way. It’s a respectable closer for a more than respectable project.

   This EP is fun, it’s comical at times, and more than anything, it’s supremely listenable. As Open Mike Eagle bounces from topic to topic with flow and conviction, there’s nothing to do but bob your head and try to keep up.

   While What Happens When I Try to Relax lacks the focus and conceptuality of previous Open Mike Eagle Projects, his ability to spread this chaotic thought over smooth, psychedelic instrumentals makes for a fun listen that you’ll leave on repeat for a few days.

4/10

HEAR WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I TRY TO RELAXhttps://open.spotify.com/album/7qTEGu0Gvikwk1n8SwjmEL

Greta Van Fleet Releases Explosive First LP, Despite Production Issues

Greta Van Fleet still has a lot of room to grow, but this album leaves me excited to take that journey with them.

     Greta Van Fleet is neo-classic rock group based in Frankenmuth, Michigan. The group has achieved massive success since the release of their debut EP, Black Smoke Rising in the summer of 2017 and the follow up, From the Fires a few months later. The latter was certified gold and peaked in the top 40 on billboard, reaching number one in their hard rock classification.

   Their sound is often compared to that of Led Zeppelin, an observation which gains the bulk of its credibility from from frontman, Josh Kiszka’s high pitched vocal with which he wails over virtually every track. Beyond this, the instrumental work, particularly Jake Kiszka’s guitar, is evocative of the indulgent style of rock’s golden age in the early to mid-1970’s. Greta Van Fleet have continually dispelled the direct comparisons to Zeppelin in many interviews, and it’s become something of a hot topic in online circles. Personally, the similarities are far to obvious to be missed, but it’s never bothered me or effected my enjoyment of the band’s work, which I’ve found to be some of the best in modern rock music over the past few years. That being said, this LP had it’s work cut out, as it was tasked with exploring new sonic landscapes without losing the group’s classic style. It’s a difficult juggling act, but I must say, Anthem of the Peaceful Army performs it quite well.

   The Greta we know and love is hear in full force, particularly on tracks like “The Cold Wind,” or the lead single, “When the Curtains Fall.” Here, we’re treated to well toned guitar work, rock beats, and pure rock vocals. It’s fun, it’s powerful, and in every way it’s classic, which is everything we’ve come to love and expect from the group.

   There are also consistent improvements, however. Sam Kiszka’s bass work, which has been lacking up to this point, is excellent on “The New Day,” and “You’re the One.” In addition, Danny Wagner’s drums on tracks like “Mountain of the Sun,” are vastly better on this project, retaining the basic rock beats of From the Fires, but adorning them with well placed fills and crashes.

   And, of course, Josh and Jake Kiszka’s contributions on vocals and guitar respectively are fantastic, as expected. A tracks like “Lover, Leaver,” and “Brave New World,” just couldn’t be accomplished by many bands in the current rock scene, but Josh and Jake muscle them to excellence through catchy hooks and soaring vocals, both of which can be found on nearly every second of the forty minute runtime.

   The best addition to Greta’s arsenal, overall, are the dark and atmospheric tracks like “Watching Over,” and the opener, “Age of Man.” The latter works in a bit of orchestration and the latter uses an almost minimalist approach and an excellent guitar solo, but each achieve a more nocturnal feel than was ever possible on the band’s earlier hits. The best example of this comes in the closer, “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer),” the longest track on the record and my personal favorite, which dances between droning guitars, minimal interludes, and explosive screams to carry all of its six minutes. This is an obvious moment of growth for Greta, and as such a young band thrown into such a bright spotlight, the willingness to branch out is commendable, as well as sonically enjoyable.

   On the other hand, there was a surprising amount of acoustic guitar on this record, which doesn’t always work to the band’s favor. “The New Day” utilizes this quite well, but tracks like “Anthem” and my least favorite entry, “You’re the One,” which also suffers from poor lyricism and, my biggest complaint with this record as a whole, boring production.

   The production team at Republic records seems to have missed a large portion of what makes Greta Van Fleet the group they are, and because of this, this album suffers from multiple missed opportunities. This band has the opportunity to build a lush, maximalist sound, and instead, it sounds like for, albeit talented, musicians performing together. One of the best elements of the indulgent, stadium rock of the 70’s was hearing lead riffs, drum fills, and vocal hooks seem to peak above a powerful wave of sound for only a moment. This is a missed opportunity which I hope will be corrected in later projects.

   Anthem of the Peaceful Army is a blast to listen to. Its made to be played very loud and harken to a much earlier, prouder time in rock’s history, and yet it delivers substance along with its aesthetic. Every aspect of the band’s sound has improved and, despite a few lyrical and production missteps along the way, they’ve crafted an extremely enjoyable LP.

   Greta Van Fleet still has a lot of room to grow, but this album leaves me excited to take that journey with them.

7/10

HEAR ANTHEM OF THE PEACEFUL ARMYhttps://open.spotify.com/album/7zeCZY6rQRufc8IHGKyXGX

Coheed and Cambria Drop Epic Album, Keeping the Fire Alive on Ninth Release

The Unheavenly Creatures is a blast to listen to, and a must hear for fans of Coheed and Cambria or fans of good rock music in general.

     Coheed and Cambria is a progressive/emo rock group from Nyack, New York. They’ve been working fairly steadily since 2002, though they’ve achieved little commercial success save two gold records in 2003 and 2005. Regardless, they’ve begun to amass a substantial fanbase over the long run, many of whom are willing to follow the group down the conceptual rabbit hole that is the Coheed and Cambria discography.

   On top of the intricate, longwinded concepts that are riddled throughout their work, the band has built quite a unique sound. They blend elements of progressive and arena rock with a heavy dose of 1970’s rock influence. The guitars are screaching, the drums groove, and most importantly, Claudio Sanchez’ lead vocals and frontman presence is powerful and commanding. Today, the sound comes off as a bit indulgent, especially for listeners like myself who grew up enjoying the massive wave of loud, metal influenced, emo-rock of the mid 2000’s. Thankfully, The Unheavenly Creatures is more of the same.

   The key to this record is tightness. Coheed and Cambria move across this 70-minute runtime as one perfectly cohesive unit, swelling and falling together, in a way that’s rarely seen in rock today. Even on the less listenable tracks like “Love Protocol,” or “Old Flames,” listeners have little trouble following them because the instrumentals are so well crafted and each member plays off of each other so well.

   Tugging the band apart for a bit, Travis Stever’s guitar is the closest to a lead instrumental voice. His leads on “True Ugly,” or “All on Fire,” color the tracks well and make them some of the best cuts on the album, but his best contribution is in the rhythm department. His hooks on “The Dark Sentencer,” or “Pavilion,” for example, are thick and driving, mixing a great tone with excellent play.

   Zach Cooper and Josh Eppard helm the bass and drums respectively and their parts are hard to separate because of an interesting technique they use. Cooper’s bass is, among other things, used primarily to color the kick drums and tom grooves throughout the album. This is perhaps most apparent on a tracks like “Black Sunday,” and “Queen of the Dark,” where a prominent bass part follows the lower pitched drums, giving another layer to Eppard’s work.

   None of this, however, is as meaningful to this album as Claudio Sanchez’ vocals. He sings with an epic power but an expert touch, never overpowering a track but finding perfect ear worm hooks and blasting them to the forefront. This applies to nearly every second of the record but to name a few, the title track, “Toys,” “It Walks Among Us,” and especially “Night-Time Walkers,” benefit from this in a massive way. There is just no way around saying that Sanchez is the best part of The Unheavenly. Creatures by a mile.

   The best track on this album is so good, I thought it would deserve its own paragraph. “The Gutter,” is one of the funnest, most indulgent rock songs I’ve heard since the days of My Chemical Romance. It’s a sugar rush of power chords, grooving drums, and an undeniable performance from Claudio Sanchez. The production is excellent here as well, maybe the only time it’s really noticeable, as the the vocal harmonies are well placed in the mix and pushing the stereo image is especially rich near the end.

   My complaints with this record are far from substantial, but they are nagging. Several of the intros feature odd pianos or synth instrumentation which rarely works at all and often only serves to kill any momentum gained by the soaring moments of the previous tracks. In addition, the two worst tracks on the album, and the only ones I genuinely can’t imagine myself ever revisiting, are the opener “Prologue,” and the closer “Lucky Stars.” The former runs far too long with little to offer and is the only track to focus so heavily on the concept, a storyline which has run across nearly every release of the band’s decade and a half career, to be enjoyable for the uninitiated. The latter does feature some solid acoustic guitar work and a fun guitar solo from Stever, but it just doesn’t mesh with the overall sound of the record, and so doesn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion to such an epic project.

   If I could choose one word to describe The Unheavenly Creatures, It would be indulgent. For fans of the epic, emo-rock of the mid 2000s, this album hits the spot in a major way. There are some issues, but those flaws, for the most part, are small and forgettable, quickly blasted from our ears by the next soaring chorus or powerful guitar riff.

   The Unheavenly Creatures is a blast to listen to, and a must hear for fans of Coheed and Cambria or fans of good rock music in general.

8/10

HEAR THE UNHEAVENLY CREATUREShttps://open.spotify.com/album/42S0lDJT9wHKCVaMGgqKdm

Eric Church Turns in Imperfect but Listenable LP

Put simply, Desperate Man gives something to enjoy on every track, and yet leaves much to be desired just as often.

     Eric Church is a country/americana artist from Nashville, TN. He debuted in the late 2000’s with two modestly successful releases on Capitol Records before signing with EMI and dropping 2011’s Chief. The album rode the success of its lead single, “Drink In My Hand,” and went triple platinum, establishing Church as a major player in Nashville’s radio country scene. He followed up with two more LP’s in 2014 and 2015, each of which went platinum and rode singles like “Springsteen,” “Give Me Back My Hometown,” and most recently, “Record Year.”

   Church, especially the version of him presented by EMI, is known for a certain outlaw flare, a more traditional country twang in his vocal, and heavily rock inspired instrumentation. While he is, by no means, a member of the growing outsider movement in country music, he is certainly a more radio friendly form of what people like Stapleton, Isbell, and Simpson are doing. He has tended to position himself against the grain in a few safe ways, but for the most part he is one of the higher quality members of the modern Nashville stable. His recent comment in criticism of the NRA, inspired by his being present at the deadly massacre in Las Vegas in 2017, was easily the most controversy he’s faced in the industry thus far, and they left me curious as to what we’d hear from him next. Well, Desperate Man is here, and it is a mixed bag in just about every way imaginable. We’ll start with the good.

   Church’s vocals on this album are very good. His twang fits very well in most of these tracks and he walks the line between county and blues in an interesting way. Tracks like “Higher Wire,,” and the closer, “Drowning Man,” benefit from this quite a bit and his upper register is surprisingly well executed.

   The instrumentation is also excellent here, perhaps the record’s best quality. The acoustic guitar on “Some Of It,” and the extremely creative opening to “Heart Like a Wheel,” stand out as a few especially exciting moments, and the title track even features a latin percussion section, but Drowning Man is really adorned with excellent instrumental work throughout.

   Eric Church’s ability to write earworm hooks is also here in spades, as it has been on previous projects. The chorus for “Jukebox and a Bar,” is perfectly hummable and the prechorus to the album’s best track, “Hangin’ Around,” is absolutely one of the best hooks of the year. Additionally, “Hippie Radio,” has a fun way of incorporating classic rock phrases into its chorus and will leave you singing along for days to come.

   Even the lyricism is well done here, mainly coming from the mind of Church himself as well as a few friends and collaborators. “The Snake,” for example, opens the record with an enigmatic story over the atmospheric, blue guitar and “Monsters,” is genuinely interesting, playing with the ideas of “killing a monster,” by turning on the light or checking under the bed. These are very nice touches which aren’t expected on a mainstream country album these days.

   For all of these reasons, Desperate Man can hardly be called unenjoyable. However, there are a few deep seeded issues which run through the heart of this album, many of them owing to unfinished ideas.

   There are some horrendous production decisions, most notably the vocal effect on “Solid,” which butchers an otherwise fun cut. The worst offensive, though, is this albums constant tendency to open tracks with the seeds for sprawling, interesting instrumentals before cutting them short in favor of traditional, 16 bar structure. “The Snake,” opens with a long, contemplative guitar riff before being tossed into a rhythmic cage for the song’s duration, “Heart Like A Wheel” features a unique, minor progression which resolves to a more traditional key before Church starts singing, and this happens far more than it should across the entire rest of this project. Plenty of modern country artists, Sturgill Simpson being perhaps the best known, toy with creative and even orchestral introductions, but when this is done, it needs to be further developed throughout the song. Instead, Church teases with a fun idea and expects credit for four bars of it.

   Eric Church isn’t the best artist in country today by any means, but he’s certainly one of the better voices receiving mainstream radio play. On top this, he’s still showing clear signs of growth, now seven releases into his career. Desperate Man is a huge improvement on its predecessor, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, which I worry may hindered by his need to keep his work accessible to larger crowds.

   Put simply, Desperate Man gives something to enjoy on every track, and yet leaves much to be desired just as often.

5/10

HEAR DROWNING MAN: https://open.spotify.com/album/5TjDN2hfsgNWVtP8Ew56Xx