Blackstar: David Bowie’s Under Appreciated Final Masterpiece

David Bowie has been gone for three years now, and as he said so beautifully so many years ago, “the stars look very different today.”

The year was 2015 and David Bowie, at the age of 68. was dying. Few outside of his family and close friends knew this, but he’d been diagnosed with cancer of the liver and the future wasn’t looking bright.

Bowie was as close to God-like status as one can be without being either a Beatle or Elvis. From his time has The Thin White Duke, to iconic tracks like “Space Oddity,” to his many concept albums and rock operas, most of which were written and performed in an array of strange characters, David had pushed the boundaries of rock music and music and general for his entire life and with 25 studio albums, five of them platinum in the US and nine platinum in the UK, he’s one of the most successful artists that ever lived.

On his 69th birthday, just two days before his death, Bowie released what is likely his darkest and most haunting artistic statement of his or any other career, his 25th LP, Blackstar. On it, Bowie deals in topics of death, mysticism, mortality, and the afterlife. The true artist he was, David Bowie had spent his final days writing and recording one last project, which he lived just long enough to see brought into the world. While the main thrust of this piece is to show you why you absolute must hear the record, it’s worth discussing why it hasn’t been as widely discussed as it should be.

The most obvious reason is that the record is far from accessible. Most of the instrumentation is made up a very dense and crushing form of Jazz and Bowie’s vocal melodies and lyrics are experimental to say the least. However, I’d say that there was another cause which weighed much heavier. Namely, Bowie’s death itself.

When a star of that magnitude passes away, fans often go back to classic releases to relive the golden days, and that caused many fans to ignore Blackstar. On top of that, the record itself is so dark and deals so heavily in death and mortality that it doesn’t allow listeners to escape to a time when Bowie was on top of the world again, but instead refuses to turn away from his death. All this being said, it’s long past time that Blackstar gets the respect it deserves.

Firstly, the record is instrumentally fascinating. Partnering with a litany of accomplished jazz artists with a flare for the experimental, Bowie created a project which is equal parts dense and dark. From the circling drums and staccato saxophones to the cacophonous backing vocals and the tasteful but jarring electronic elements, Blackstar rarely touches down on earth. Instead, it’s a orbits about, vaguely recognizable but never predictable.

This is, of course, before we touch on David’s performance itself which is simply breathtaking. His voice finds the perfect mix between power and sincerity and it’s generally our only tether to the real world, sonically. There are more than a few moments which could easily move a longtime fan to tears, even after multiple listens, either in his ability to honestly portray his own frailty or in the moments when everything comes together and just for one short moment, he’s back to his full glory.

The record’s best asset, without a doubt, is Bowie’s lyrics. There is just something indescribable about hearing one of the greatest artists that ever lived so unflinching facing his own demise. On Lazarus, Bowie details his own visualization of his walk into the afterlife beginning with the line, “look up here, I’m in heaven! I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.” And, of course, on the opening, nine minute epic of a title track, he essentially writes a soundtrack to his own funeral.

Beyond all of this, the visuals involved with the record are stunning as well. The video for the title track is a psychedelic funeral for Bowie’s iconic Major Tom character from “Space Oddity” while the bizarre and at times frightening video for “Lazarus,” was packed with clues to his approaching demise long before his disease was known to the public.

Ultimately, the question is this: why should you listen to Blackstar? Why not remember Bowie as the almighty Ziggy Stardust and move on?  There are a few answers to this. The first is that Bowie intended this record to be his swan song and it should be treated as such. He spent his final moments creating this work of art and it should be respected by fans for what it’s meant to be.

That being said, there’s an even more important reason to visit this album which stands beyond just David Bowie himself. The fact is, there’s never been an album like Blackstar and there may never be again. To hear one of our greatest, an icon, and a truly brilliant artist confront death in its most real and inescapable form and he could think only of one thing, his music.

Blackstar is brave not only for the superficial reasons of it’s wide pallet and bizarre structures, but it is brave in the truest sense of staring death itself in the eyes, staring it down, and using your final breath to sing about what you see.

David Bowie has been gone for three years now, and as he said so beautifully so many years ago, “the stars look very different today.”

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

Advertisements

Every System of a Down Album Ranked!!

Here’s my ranking of every album from one of my favorite hard rock bands!

5. System of a Down (1998)

This is most likely not a very controversial opinion as System’s debut record is largely considered their least impressive outing. It’s certainly not without it’s bright points, including some of the group’s most daring cuts to date, but many of the risks don’t pan out in the slightest and we’re left with a record that varies wildly in quality from track to track.

The most recognizable track on this album is, of course, “Spiders,” which is one of SOAD’s earliest hits and still a favorite for longtime fans. The album’s other lead single, “Sugar,” is one of the band’s heaviest works to date and contains some fascinating Eastern influences. The record’s best quality is the heavier, more chaotic style on tracks like “Soil,” and “Suite-Pee,” which make this a necessary listen for any true System fan.

4. Hypnotize (2005)

The last official studio release from SOAD, Hypnotize will always suffer from comparisons to it’s sister album, Mezmerize. In fairness, it’s quite enjoyable. Much of the guitar work is fantastic and Serj’s vocal is as manic and unpredictable as ever. Much of the songwriting is quite strong, but unfortunately, the album just lacks the replay value of other records on the list.

That being said, there’s quite a few fantastic cuts to be found. The title track is incredible and captures Serj’s appreciation for cinematic music well. “Lonely Day,” is one of the group’s best known songs and a surprisingly accessible track for a band with such a bizarre catalog. The folksy guitars on “Dreaming,” are a nice touch and the track as a whole is a nice call back earlier, heavier sound. Overall, it’s an enjoyable listen, but lacks the hits and deep cuts to stand up to earlier releases.

3. Steal This Album! (2002)

Coming quickly on the heals of their 2001 smash hit, Toxicity, System went, in many ways, back to their roots. Steal This Album is equal parts heavy and bizarre and is fairly reminiscent of the debut. However, the experience gained and additional voices allow the bands to make the most of risks which they just couldn’t pull off on the debut. There is a lack of true hits on this record, and it’s not for everyone, but if you want to hear SOAD at their most insane, this is the place.

There are a few tracks that I definitely find myself coming back to regularly. “Mr. Jack,” is a brutal refutation of the police which features some of the best guitar riffs of the entire catalog. The spoken word sections of “Boom!” Are extremely enjoyable, as is the eerie harmony on the chorus. Perhaps my favorite is the pure insanity of “F**k the System,” which is purely bizarre and a testament to the strangest edges of SOAD’s sound.

2. Mezmerize (2005)

One of the more chaotic entries to this list, Mezmerize has quite a bit to love. The riffs and general songwriting are absolutely fantastic and the variety of vocalists, while a bit of a mixed bag here, allows SOAD to reach entirely new places, particularly when it came to rhythmic and style changes, which happen constantly on this album. Unfortunately, Mezmerize suffers from a problem that plagues much of the band’s catalog, that being inconsistency.

That being said, there are more than a few bright spots on this tracklist. “B.Y.O.B.” is yet another incredible piece of protest music with a remarkably dynamic performance from Serj. “Radio/Video,” and “Sad Statue,” are some of the most melodic tracks SOAD has ever recorded. Perhaps the most consistent highlight is the almost comical tone on cuts like “This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I’m On This Song,” and “Violent Pornography.” It may not be their strongest effort, but it has some of the brightest points of their career.

1. Toxicity (2001)

The cherry at the very top of a fantastic catalog, Toxicity is one of the best metal/hard rock albums of all time. Rick Rubin’s influence is felt much more on this album, and though I have generally mixed opinions on Rubin’s work, he’s able to strike the perfect balance between brutal chaos and melodic breakdowns. The additional vocals make a big difference and the larger instrumental pallet makes the album feel entirely unpredictable at every moment.

Of course, this album contains “Chop Suey,” which is the band’s biggest hit to date, but “Aerials,” is nearly as well known and, for my money, a much better cut. The heavier pieces on this album include the fantastic, “X,” and the brutal but hilarious “Bounce.” The band also dives headlong into outspoken leftist politics on songs like “Prison Song,” and “Deer Dance.” It’s an absolutely iconic record and one of the few memorable and respectable efforts from the early 2000’s nu-metal boom.

East of the Wall Returns After Five Years With a Strong Prog Rock LP

NP-Complete is a fun listen for fans of progressive rock and metal, though it may turn off some outsiders to the genre.

East of the Wall is a progressive metal outfit from Keyport, New Jersey. They debuted with a self-titled EP in 2006, which kicked off a fairly impressive career and expansive catalog. However, after their fourth full length LP in 2013, they seemed to fall off the map a bit, only releasing one EP in 2015 under Epistemic Records instead of their usual partners, Translation Loss Records. After a long hiatus and more than a few notable lineup changes, they’ve finally returned with their first full scale release in almost six years, NP-Complete.

Much of what works so well about this album is what one would expect from a prog metal band of this caliber, but there are a few surprises, namely in the production. The stereo imaging on this album is absolutely wonderful, and really demands a nice set of headphones. Take a track like the opener, “Tell Them I’m Sorry,” for example. The production work doesn’t quite jump out, but closer examination shows that not only is every instrument, especially the drums, extremely well mixed, but every sound has a direction allowing this album to really surround a listener. 

Another strength which is all too often ignored in the metal world is the excellent bass guitar work. From cuts like the hilariously named “Fast-Bang Pooper Doop,” to the later “Somn 6,” the bass is not only extremely well played, leaving the guitars side for some inspired melodic lines, but it’s also able to cut through the rather chaotic mixes and shine quite effectively. It’s often missing from even the best metal records, and so a strong bass presence is a welcome feeling on NP-Complete.

Of course, the staples of great progressive rock are still here. A multitude of electric guitars form the melodic front to nearly every track, even verging on some shoe-gaze inspirations at a few points. “Leinholder,” is an excellent example of the pure proficiency with which these guitars are played by nearly every member of the band and the track dances through strange signatures and quick riffs with ease. The closer and best track, “Non-Functional Harmony,” on the other hand, is more sparsely populated with a driving and well written riff.

However, while the guitars may be the muscles of this project, Seth Rheam on drums is definitely the backbone. Nearly every song incorporates complex rhythms, strange signatures, and remarkably fast fills, all of which Rheam does with relative ease. “Clapping on the Ones and Threes,” is a nice shining moment for the drums as Seth strikes a great balance between tight, sharp fills and explosive cymbal shots. “N of 1,” on the other hand kicks off with a fantastic drum solo which carries over into one of the best, most rhythmic cuts on the album.

All this being said, I do have a few loud gripes with the album. First and foremost, the vocals leave quite a bit to be desired. While there are a few nice moments like the brutal screams on “Somn 6,” but the majority of the album is packed full of incredible instrumental work and sub par vocals.

Additionally, the instrumental and overall sound pallet are a bit clean and safe for my taste. Nearly every guitar sounds almost pristine, and the majority of vocals are clean as well. When they do attempt to add other instruments, be they synths or a saxophone on the closer, it feels mostly out of step with the direction of the track. I can’t help but wish for a more daring, and perhaps more abrasive pallet.

Worst of all, though, the pacing varies widely, but leans on the side of slow and dense. This, of course, may not be an issue for the hardline prog-metal fan, and I myself can forgive some of it, but a track like “The Almost People,” illustrates this quite well as it just becomes lost in itself over the near eight minute runtime, with no discernible sectioning or direction.

Overall, I enjoyed NP-Complete. It can be a bit of a slog at times, and the lack of risks does catch up with the band at times, but for fans of long-form, jazz-influenced, technically challenging music, this is a treat.

NP-Complete is a fun listen for fans of progressive rock and metal, though it may turn off some outsiders to the genre.

6/10

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

American Football’s Third Album is a Blizzard of Complex Emo Rock

LP3 is a luscious piece of math rock that deserves to be heard in one long sitting, and a worthy third entry to the American Football catalog.

American Football is an emo/math rock four piece from Urbana, Illinois. They debuted with a self-titled EP in 1998 which gained them quite a bit of underground buzz for their unique sound, impressive instrumental abilities, and garage-based aesthetic. Just a year later, they dropped their self-titled LP which is something of a landmark for the emo genre. The album is universally praised, and saw the band sore to new heights of popularity, even years after their abrupt split. Without any new material to follow up, the self-titled release achieved near mythic status. Finally, in 2016, 17 years after their debut, they released the much celebrated LP2. Thankfully, there was no near 20 year wait for the third entry, and LP3 has just arrived.

The record is immediately notable for a unique and broad instrumental pallet. The bells on the opener, “Silhouettes,” are fascinating, dancing across the stereo image and carrying a well written melody. On a cut like “I Can’t Feel You,” on the other hand, there are choruses of humming and marimbas being used perfectly in tandem the more traditional instruments for an almost other worldly feel. Most importantly, each of these strange and surprising instruments is perfectly integrated into the mix so as to avoid feeling like a gimmick.

Beyond this, though, the core instruments are fantastic! The rhythms and bass line on a cut like “Heir Apparent,” inject just the right amount of energy and variety into the song. Of course, they take a back seat to the lead guitar work which is the strongest driving force behind every track, never overpowering but always leading. This is achieved to perhaps the best effect on the closer, “Life Support.” American Football has always been respected, primarily, for their instrumental abilities, and LP3 leans into this heavily.

This all leads to a chilling and at times haunting tone. On “Every Wave to Every Rise,” for example, the band utilizes repetition and minimalism in a way that feels almost clinical, leaving a listener searching for any sense of warmth or melody. The thick layers of complex guitar lines add to this general disorientation, with the quiet but present harmonies and rare moments of conjunction bringing a sense of relief.

I also found myself quite blown away by the band’s ability to flesh out every idea they present. Take a song like “Doom In Full Bloom,” which runs just shy of eight minutes, which can often feel like a life time, particularly with soft rock acts like American Football. Instead, this cut is able to be at once luscious and completely frigid. The many interesting instruments hidden in the mix make repeat listens a treat, and the perfectly toned drums and virtuosic guitar refrains make it infinitely entertaining. Overall, it’s the best track on the album, and a testament to American Football’s abilities as songwriters.

This brings us to the album’s strongest point without a doubt, that being the production. It’s already an obvious achievement to helm such a wide variety of instruments, as is unmistakable on a song like “Mine to Miss.” The way bells and horns gently dance in and out of nearly every track is wonderful, and takes an experienced hand. However, even on relatively simple tracks like the lead single, “Uncomfortably Numb,” the stereo image swirls around a listener gently, almost hypnotizing. Haley Williams’ voice sounds excellent on her feature and the guitars seem to ring forever, only to be split in half by the sharpness of the snares. From the big and obvious to the small and subtle, virtually every aspect of LP3’s production is nothing short of perfect.

All said, this is a great album. While it doesn’t jump out to blow you away from the first moments, the subtle touches, wide pallet, and despondent tone make for a moving and cohesive listening experience. It’s not perfect as the vocals are only passible, save a few great features, and the pacing can seem unbearable to non-fans. It’s not for everyone, but if you love this brand of soft but complex emo rock, it’s a must listen.

LP3 is a luscious piece of math rock that deserves to be heard in one long sitting, and a worthy third entry to the American Football catalog.

8/10

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

Andrew Bird’s 12th LP is a Listenable Piece of Folk Rock

My Finest Work Yet is a moderately enjoyable album that could’ve benefitted from having a few more cooks in the kitchen.

Andrew Bird is an indie-rock vocalist and multi-instrumentalist from Lake Forest, Illinois. He debuted as a solo artist with 2003’s Weather Systems, after leaving the band Bowl of Fire, with whom he’d spent most of the mid to late 90’s. His early work found some following, particularly with fans of the band, but after signing with Fat Possum Records, he dropped 2007’s Armchair Apochrypha, his first solo effort to chart on the Billboard 200.  He went on top the US Folk charts twice, first with 2012’s Break It Yourself, and again with 2016’s Are You Serious. With a long career which winds through a multitude of styles, labels, and albums, Bird has become a favorite of folk-rock fans thanks to a consistent output and creative style. This week, he’s released his 12th album, ambitiously titled My Finest Work Yet.

Immediately, Bird’s experience as a songwriter is obvious in the many unique chord progressions he uses. Tracks like the opener, “Sisyphus,” and the album’s strongest cut, “Proxy War,” are fairly unpredictable and the inventive progressions allow for a few unique vocal melodies as well. It’s easily the strongest point of Bird’s songwriting on this album.

Vocally, he’s quite strong as well. On “Olympians,” he seamlessly transitions from driving, simple verses to large howling choruses, executing each with quite a bit of power and support. With “Archipelago,” on the other hand, he sells a relatively run-of-the-mill track with a dynamic mix of sweet falsettos a riveting strength. Andrew has never been renowned as a particularly remarkable vocalist, but for the majority of this albums he gives quite strong performances that elevate even the less impressive songs.

Maybe the strongest piece of this puzzle, however, is his skill as an instrumentalist. He is best known as a strong violinist, and he exhibits this many times on the record, including an excellent solo on “Don the Struggle,” which leaves me wishing each track had contained such a solo. He’s also noted, in the album’s credits, for his whistling, which is admittedly fantastic! On “Manifest,” for example, he whistles an excellent melody which adds quite a bit to the track.

On the subject of lyrics, unfortunately, My Finest Work Yet stands on shaky ground. There are wonderful moments like early cut, “Bloodless,” which draws much inspiration from the Spanish Civil War in 1936. On the other hand, there’s a handful of pretentious and overall meaningless lyrics all over the album. “Cracking Codes,” and the closer, “Bellevue Bridge Club,” are the worst offenders on this front, packed full of words which say very little.

Another complaint which has dogged this LP since the release of its first singles is just how far out on his sleeve Andrew wears his influences. “Sisyphus,” though enjoyable, could sneak perfectly into any Father John Misty album, which “Olympians,” pulls heavily from early Springsteen efforts. Additionally, “Archipelago,” and “Proxy War,” bare striking resemblance to the work of the Beatles. It isn’t so egregious as to make these tracks unlistenable, and if Andrew were a younger songwriter, I could easily forgive this, but at this stage in his career, it’s frustrating to hear such lack of originality.

The worst offense, without a doubt, is the production, which Bird did himself. Nearly every one of the 10 songs is muddy, lifeless, and flat. Additionally, he seems to have no care for the different tones needed for each track. “Bloodless,” for example, is billed as some mysterious jazz piece, but the instruments are so brightly mixed that all intrigue is gone. The album’s worst track, “Fallorun,” is a jumbled mess which is made infinitely worse by the way each instrument bleeds into one another. This record would have benefitted from a more expert touch behind the board.

Ultimately, My Finest Work Yet is certainly enjoyable. For fans of the growing folk-rock movement, this is a fine listen to hold you over until the next Father John Misty or Fleet Foxes release, but it could’ve been much more. Andrew’s songwriting and instrumental abilities set this album up with a ton of potential, but poor production, a lack of originality, and a very mixed bag of lyrics hold it back.

My Finest Work Yet is a moderately enjoyable album that could’ve benefitted from having a few more cooks in the kitchen.

5/10

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

Mystifier Is Back With a Brutal Fourth Album

Primal Black Magic Dynasty has plenty to complain about, but it’s a fun listen for fans of the more brutal side of the music world.

Mystifier is a black/heavy metal band from Salvador, Brazil. They debuted in 1992 with Wicca was a large part of the often overlooked Brazilian metal scene. With a handful of EPs and demos, they began to find some success worldwide and released their second LP, Goetia the following year. This was followed by a large scale tour and quite a bit of critical acclaim before the group split for a long hiatus. They returned in 2008 with their career defining third album The World is So Good That Who Made It Doesn’t Live Here which kicked off yet another large tour followed by yet another long silence as they’ve only sparsely appeared since the release. Sonically, Mystifier is, in many ways, a poster child for the kind of stereotypical, satanic black metal that newer bands only see fit to elude to. Now, after more than a decade off, Mystifier finally returns with Primal Black Magic Dynasty.

One of the album’s most interesting touches are the haunting and well placed atmospheric sounds that begin a few of the tracks. Perhaps the best example of this comes in the horrifying opening to “Witching Lycanthropic Moon,” which melds a wide array of nocturnal animal noises with a gritty, growling vocal to set a listener immediately into the hellscape that Mystifier is trying to create.

Yet another strength unique to Primal Black Magic Dynasty is the very well mixed and played bass guitar. In a genre which consistently struggles with allowing the bass to cut through the fog, Mystifier makes it sound easy. There are fantastic solos on tracks like “Heart Weighing Ceremony,” and “Demolish the Towers of the Sky,” but throughout nearly every song, the bass is not only loud and clear, but active and creative, adding to the dark scenery of the project.

Those scenes are quickly ripped to shreds, however, by the gut-wrenching guitar riffs that populate the album. From the last single and highlight of the entire record, “Six Towers of Belial’s Path,” to the later cut, “Soultrap Sorcery of Vengeance,” the guitars are extremely thick and driving, owing in part to excellent performances and in part to strong production choices. Most importantly, the tone and melody isn’t lost in the growl, but instead a near perfect balance is struck.

Vocally, the leads are about as horrific as one would expect from the gothic horror on the album cover. There’s a pair of vocalists trading lines between each other, one much thinner and piercing, the other lower and cacophonous. Tracks like “Thanatopraxy,” and “Al Nakba,” stand as strong showings for the pair, and while they aren’t perfect at every turn, there’s a power and passion that comes through on each effort.

Instrumentally, though, the most technically demanding parts are left for the drumming. From the opening title track to the later and darker “Church of the Molested Children,” the drumming is lightning fast and explosive. This isn’t uncommon for music in this genre, but it’s especially noticeable on this record.

Their best quality comes when they are all working together. Namely, the dynamic shift from brutal, high speed thrashing to melodic breakdowns and back again on cuts like “Akhenaton,” is exhilarating. Mixing in elements of more traditional heavy metal allows them to create moments that even a casual hard rock fan can enjoy before diving headlong again into the crushing blasts that characterize most black and death metal.

On the other hand, I do have my complaints, which mainly fall into three categories. The first of these is the lead guitar  which almost never seems to fit as none of the solos are particularly impressive and it constantly fails to make its way to the front of the mix. The second is is the instrumental pallet which, though somewhat wide, feels almost like a gimmick outside of the core instrumentation. All of this is made infinitely worse by my third and main complaint, which is extremely poor mixing, particularly in instrumental passages as the drums never quite fit and the rhythm guitar seems to drown out all else.

All this being said, I enjoyed this LP quite a bit. It’s good to hear such an early member of the black metal movement return to the scene with a strong effort.

Primal Black Magic Dynasty has plenty to complain about, but it’s a fun listen for fans of the more brutal side of the music world.

6/10

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

Hozier Is Back With a Perfect Sophomore Album

Wasteland, Baby! Is an infectious passion project from one of the brightest minds in music today which slowly sucks you in further and further in with each listen.

Hozier is an indie/blues rock artist from Bray, Ireland. He debuted in 2013 with the Take Me to Church EP, the title track of which is still his most successful song to date, certified eight times platinum in the US alone. After the massive success, he went on to drop the From Eden EP, which was equally well received and left expectations sky high for an upcoming LP. His 2014 self-titled album debut certainly didn’t disappoint, featuring represses of much of the previous two releases while adding a few fantastic new cuts. The album went double platinum in the US and six times platinum in his home country of Ireland, spawning a large tour and and netting multiple awards. Fans were left clamoring for more but were largely met with silence until the release of the Nina Cried Power EP in late 2018. Now, just a few months later, we finally have a sophomore effort from the indie rock troubadour and it absolutely does not disappoint.

Wasteland, Baby! May be a bit jarring to fans of the debut, as was the preceding EP, as Hozier has returned with a wide array of new styles and effects, and a renewed focus on the instrumental side of his music which just didn’t exist before. This is made obvious in the baselines of the very opening track, “Nina Cried Power,” in addition to “No Plan,” a few cuts later. The bass guitar works extremely hard across this record, constantly moving with purpose and played with skill.

This is also extremely noticeable in the massive instrumental pallet of this album. The violins on “As It Was” lend a gravitas to an already fantastic, folk-inspired song, while the organ  work on “Be,” and across the majority of the latter half of the record is a wonderful touch. While the first album seemed a bit more consistent in terms of tone, I much prefer the expansive pallet and exciting nature of Wasteland, Baby!

Without a doubt, however, the most noticeable change is a massive focus on percussion on nearly every track. While a song like “Movement,” or “Sunlight,” is perhaps a bit more noticeable, it’s clear that Hozier put serious time and effort into each piece of the percussion on this album and it absolutely pays off. Never once do we hear a nondescript rock beat but in stead a minimalistic but effective collections of dynamic sounds keeping the rhythm.

All this being said, the best qualities of the album are still, by far, the elements we’ve come to expect and appreciate from Hozier’s work. The guitar work is wonderful. From the rolling, picked acoustic of “To Noise Making,” to the earworm riffs of tracks like “Talk,” and “Dinner & Diatribes.” His guitar is at the center of nearly every track and that’s never a bad thing.

The lyrics on this album are nothing short of poetry. “Almost,” is a wonderfully fun tribute to love and music using several lyrics from timeless the jazz standards of acts like Sinatra and Jelly Roll Morton. “Shrike,” on the other hand is breathtaking ode to a love lost using nature as a perfect metaphor. It’s also the best track on the album and one of the best tracks I’ve heard in a very long time. The closer and title track uses powerful apocalyptic imagery to describe the act of falling in love in yet another stroke of brilliance. Genuinely every track on this album stems from a wonderful lyrical idea and executed nearly perfectly.

The absolute, undeniable highlight on this album, however, comes in Hozier’s vocals. Whether it’s the Motown and soul inspired sound of a track like “Nobody,” or the booming, blues rock of “Would That I,” or any of the other 12 cuts on this album, Hozier’s voice is a constant presence. It’s soft and contemplative when it needs to be, and smoothly powerful at the perfect moments, and it is, overall, an absolute Iron Man effort from an incredible talent.

As this album wraps up, I’m struck by what a fantastic experience it was. The pacing is near perfect, never leaving me bored over a nearly hour long runtime, every song feels essential and unique, and every risk taken on the album pays off in full. Even the singles I didn’t love in the lead up have found a comfortable home on this record and have become some of my favorite cuts. The massive accomplishment that is this LP becomes even more incredible when you realize that each and every track is written, largely performed, and produced by Hozier himself.

Wasteland, Baby! Is an infectious passion project from one of the brightest minds in music today which slowly sucks you in further and further in with each listen. It’s an instant classic and it’s the second album in Brendon’s Beats history to receive a perfect score.

10/10

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