Sun Kil Moon Returns With Much Stronger LP

I Also Want to Die in New Orleans is neither the most accessible, nor the most daring project thus far in 2019, but it certainly a welcome addition to the Sun Kil Moon catalogue.

Sun Kil Moon is a folk rock artist from San Francisco, California. Originating as a continuation of the defunct indie rock band, Red House Painters and sporting a long list of past members, Sun Kil Moon is now the primary moniker of Mark Kozelek, the group’s original lead singer. He’s amassed quite a discography over the past fifteen years, never reaching meaningful commercial success, but becoming a certified critical darling thanks to multiple excellent reviews. His latest record, This is My Dinner, held a few interesting ideas, but was ultimately bloated and often boring.

The album opens with “Coyote,” and immediately we have a strong improvement from the previous record. The instrumentation is sparse and only loosely conforms to any type of rhythm, and it’s aided by a reedy, humming woodwind that brings the moody undertones to a head. Kozelek’s vocals are also fairly impressive, especially the doubled harmonies on what could vaguely be called a chorus. Lyrically, this isn’t the most impressive cut on the record, but there’s quite a bit of solid comedy and it’s certainly a step up from the at times unbearably boring writing on This is My Dinner.

“A Day in America,” follows, the second longest and easily one of the strongest tracks on the record. While the instrumental and production are relatively simple, the lyrics bring this song to a new level. Using his trademark, stream of consciousness style, Mark rambles descriptively through his experiences on the day he learned of the recent Parkland Massacre in Florida. True to form, he rarely stays on topic, devoting large amounts of time to a petty argument with his band, but this works to his advantage here as he says more by rambling off topic acting as a commentary on the tendency of American’s to brush these events aside. It’s a simply brilliant piece of storytelling.

“L-48,” is the third and shortest track, an yet, in many ways, it’s the least focussed. The lyrics seem to have very little to say, and while they may perk the ears of long time Sun Kil Moon fans, they leave a casual listener like myself a bit bored. The instrumental on the other hand, is quite fascinating. Extremely simplistic in presentation, the track presents a multitude of concise melodies with strong focus. The drumming peaks in and out, and the track often feels just one beat from completely falling apart, teetering on the edge of incoherence, and yet consistently intriguing. It doesn’t make up for the weaker lyrics, but it’s an enjoyable piece nonetheless.

“Cows,” on the other hand, returns the record to a fuller sound, largely to its detriment. The melody is much less clear on this track and the drumming is somewhat boring. Lyrically, however, “Cows,” proves impressively capable of holding a listeners attention for the substantial runtime. Using cows as an anchor point for both his rural youth and his philosophical readings, Mark gives us an interesting peak into his psyche and even smuggles in a few profound ideas.

“I’m Not Laughing at You,” kicks off the hefty second half of the LP. It benefits, musically, from the addition of a strong horn section and some excellently spacey production. This is also one of the more interesting storylines as Mark uses a tale of misunderstandings and embarrassing moments while on travels in foreign countries to examine America’s status among the rest of the world, mocking our excess and ignorance, while lauding the many great contributions the US has made, particularly in the realm of songwriting.

“Couch Potato,” is yet another strong entry and maybe the most fun cut on the tracklist. The looping guitar and energetic rock beat is reminiscent of a classic 1970’s pop-rock, but lyrically, it’s quite biting. In it, Sun Kil Moon lambasts the left leaning majority in the US for their silence and lack of concern for immigrants under previous presidents. He goes on to predict a reelection of Donald Trump, should the majority of voters continue to accept the status quo as it is.

“Bay of Kotor,” closes the album with a daunting 20 minutes all to itself, and it uses its time well. Easily the strongest track on the album, Sun Kil Moon tells a sprawling story of a rather tame but interesting night in San Francisco. He touches on his love for animals, his inability to connect with women who hit on him, and a series of unique interactions with a hotel waitress from the area. 

All said, this is a large step up for Sun Kil Moon. The instrumentation has quite a bit of character and the lyrics, though at times meandering, are often fascinating and creative.

I Also Want to Die in New Orleans is neither the most accessible, nor the most daring project thus far in 2019, but it certainly a welcome addition to the Sun Kil Moon catalogue.

6/10

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

Takeoff’s Solo Debut is Competent, but Uninventive

The Last Rocket does what it sets out to do quite competently, but the finished product is hardly distinguishable from the piles of trap music on the radio today.

     Takeoff is a rap/hip-hop artist from Atlanta Georgia. He is best known as a member of the massively successful trap trio, Migos, who’s 2017 LP Culture, and it’s lead single, “Bad and Boujee,” turned the hip-hop community on it’s head and ensured several more years for trap music at the top of the rap world. The group has continued their massive success with Culture II and the upcoming Culture III, scheduled for release in early 2019.

   Takeoff’s flow doesn’t particularly stand out from his fellow Migos members, but the group’s style as a whole has been something of a revolution in the rap world. Their bass-heavy, maximalist instrumentals, and triplet-centric flow has become the standard sound for the new wave of trap music. After the success of his group mate, Quavo, Takeoff has decided to branch out with his own LP, The Last Rocket, and it’s exactly what we expected.

   Oddly enough, one highlight of the record is found in the soundbites. The opener, “Martian” begins with an extended clip of an official sounding man counting down to liftoff, and “None To Me,” opens with an older man talking about “the fame, the money, the cars.” In most cases, this is a small point, but adds to the general production quality of the project, which is excellent.

   This production quality really rears its head in a few of the dreamier tracks. “She Gon Wink,” features chimes and an active flute part which are almost as effective as the heavily. Processed vocal line on “Last Memory.” None of these tracks, however, compare the spacious vibes on “Infatuation,” the best track on the LP, which calls back to the 90’s era of R&B with a driving beat, a pulsing synth, and an almost comically smooth, high-pitched lead vocal.

   In many ways, Takeoff even surpassed expectations, particularly with his flow. Starting this record for the first time, I was expecting a constant barrage of triplets with little variety, but I was given a pleasant supply. Particularly on cuts like “Vacation,” and “Insomnia,” Takeoff delivers a hard hitting and dynamic performance, which I wasn’t prepared for. Even on a track like “Bruce Wayne,” his groggy, mumbled flow fits the instrumental quite well. However, he did slip into old habits more than a few times.

   “Lead the Wave,” and “Casper,” are perhaps the most glaring instances of this as they are back to back and feature nearly identical, triplet-heavy flows for the majority of their runtimes. Here I found myself quite disappointed, as I’ve heard this flow of this type of instrumental far too many times, as is. And it’s this very complaint which leads me to my main critique of The Last Rocket.

   Trap music has sat atop the rap zeitgeist for quite sometime at this point, and thus, trap albums begin to face an entirely new round of troubles. Namely, what purpose does your album have for existing? Listen to a track like “Soul Plane,” or “I Remember,” and you’ll see what I mean. This record adds nothing to trap cannon that hasn’t been done better in the past. While Takeoff’s work, as with that of any Migos member, is of a higher quality than the bulk of this scene, but it remains mostly unremarkable in it’s cannon.

   The Last Rocket is a fun listen and it even has a few exciting moments on the first half of the forty minute runtime, but the majority is unnecessary and unmemorable. For a debut LP, the record feels remarkably tired and overdone, leaving little room for a musical future.

   The Last Rocket does what it sets out to do quite competently, but the finished product is hardly distinguishable from the piles of trap music on the radio today.

4/10

HEAR THE LAST ROCKET: https://open.spotify.com/album/5XRCcUfwtLNQflDd9cfz4U

Logic, Slash, Behemoth, and More! October Lightning Round

Believe it or not, I missed a few this month! Here’s the first of what will become a new series on the last day of every month. Lightning round!

Luca Brasi 3Kevin Gates

     Luca Brasi 3 is one of the most bland projects of the year. A few of the beats are fun, the lyrics range from inoffensive to cringeworthy, and Gates’ flow often struggles to find the beat. This album is nothing but basic trap and autocrooning with average execution which likely will not age well.

3/10

TracesSteve Perry

   If this album did anything for me, it made me appreciate the role played by the rest of the members of Journey. Perry’s voice has scarcely lost a beat, but the instrumentals behind him are often boring and at times unlistenable. The production is over polished, the lyricism is unimpressive, and the pacing is awful. True Journey fans may find something to enjoy here, but it’s a shell of Perry’s former glory.

4/10

Young Sinatra IVLogic

   To enjoy this record, you’ll need a love of two things: boom-bap and Logic. For me, I had the former in spades and the latter grew on me a bit. The beats are fun throughout, Logic’s flow is hard hitting, and the Wu-Tang feature is impressive. However, much of the lyricism can be a bit corny, a few of the hooks run a little long, and the second half sees a severe drop in quality.

5/10

Elephants on AcidCypress Hill

   One of the more unique experiment rap albums I’ve heard in a very long time. The combination of rock, boom-bap, and international, particularly Indian, influences make for a set of constantly surprising instrumentals. A few of the flows aren’t as hard as I’d like them to be, and there are far too many repetitive, instrumental only tracks, but much of the experimentation works very well and it’s an interesting listen for fans of progressive trip-hop.

6/10

I Loved You at Your DarkestBehemoth

   Unsurprisingly for fans of the Polish death metal outfit, their 12th LP is a brutal slog. The Zbigniew Prominski’s drums are fantastic, and the lead vocal screams are guttural and powerful. At times, the group gets bogged down in their own virtuosic abilities, and some of the production leaves a bit to be desired. However, for fans of extreme black and death metal, this is worth a try.

6/10

Living the DreamSlash feat. Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators

   I was shocked by how much I enjoyed this record. Avoiding the possible pitfalls of sounding out of touch, two of the best rockers of the 80’s and 90’s craft a brazen celebration of that period, complete with roaring guitars and powerful vocals. The lyrics are a bit lacking and the production isn’t perfect, but the tempo rarely drops and the instrumentation will keep heads banging throughout the 50 minute runtime.

6/10

Hurry Up & Hang AroundBlues Traveller

   Nearly 30 years after Blues Traveler’s debut, we find them in 2018 with a creative, singable, and above all, fun album. Joh Popper’s vocals and harmonica are excellent, as always, the lyricism is thoughtful and unique, and none of it overstays it’s welcome. While a few of the tracks are certainly misses, there are far more hits. Overall, it’s an enjoyable entry to a classic catalog.

7/10