Archive for the ‘Releases’ Category
Kanye West is the king of hype, rap’s most self-indulgent self-promoter; we all know this to be an unassailable truth, right?
How else can you explain Yeezus, his sixth album, which he recorded in Paris to keep meddling press and tabloids away, which didn’t have an executive producer (Rick Rubin) until two weeks out from its release date, which didn’t drop with an accompanying lead single, and which for fuck’s sake doesn’t even have an album cover or liner notes!
Yeezus is one giant, bold “fuck you” to the supposed industry standards of releasing music and to anyone who thought to place any expectations or presumptions on Kanye West. But just because he went all rogue with the album release, doesn’t mean he’s given up his narcissistic streak. After all, he titled this album Yeezus and included a track called “I Am A God” (which online track lists ostentatiously tell us features God himself) because he has a giant, outsized ego that needs stroking and that he doesn’t shrink away from. People hate him for that, but it’s what drives his genius. And yes, as far as rap is concerned, Kanye West is a genius. Yeezus is just the latest, controversial example of it.
I get antsy when a favorite band of mine hasn’t released a new album in three or four years, and when a band like Tool could conceivably take a decade off between records, I’m straight up depressed. What then is the appropriate reaction to an historic group of musicians releasing new music after a thirty five year (!!) hiatus?!
That’s exactly the case study we have with Black Sabbath’s new album, 13, which marks the first new Black Sabbath music featuring Ozzy Osbourne on vocals since 1978′s Never Say Die! Granted, Black Sabbath trudged onward after that record, having fired Osbourne. But the years of Ronnie James Dio, while producing some respectable albums, always felt like a different band entirely (like, say, Heaven & Hell); and that’s not even speaking of the largely forgettable Tony Martin era. The straight truth is that Black Sabbath–the legendary band that birthed the genre of heavy metal and laid down an imprint so monolithic and inescapable that every heavy band today can trace some DNA strand back to these boys from Birmingham–is defined by its Ozzy-era output, particularly its first four albums.
The decision to regroup (admittedly without the participation of drummer Bill Ward; he’s replaced on 13 by Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk), is remarkable enough. This band has so much sour history and bad blood between them that the very idea of new music at this point in their lives (all three original members are in their mid-60s now) seemed like a lost possibility. Nevertheless, whether it was the desire for one last shot at glory or a rekindling of friendship in the face of guitarist Tony Iommi’s lymphoma diagnosis, Osbourne, Iommi, and bassist Geezer Butler managed to cobble together a fresh new record. The unavoidable questions facing Sabbath fans then became, 1) What is the Black Sabbath sound in 2013, and 2) Will it be an embarrassment to the name Black Sabbath?
Instrumental rock music comes in a variety of flavors.
At one end, you’ve got the melancholy, aching, aspirational post-rock beauty of a band like Explosions in the Sky. On the other end of the spectrum, you have stomping behemoths of sublime guitar fury like Animals as Leaders. Lingering in between the two, you’ll also find electronic-based instrumental groups like Titan or straight-up guitar technicians such as John 5.
Houston’s Scale The Summit don’t neatly fit in with any of the above groups. On their fourth album, The Migration, they make a style of instru-metal that is similar in many ways to their Prosthetic label mates Animals as Leaders, but Scale The Summit is rarely ever as dark or heavy. And while the dual seven-string guitar attack of Chris Letchford and Travis Levrier is a hallmark of pristine dexterity, they tend not to engage in the kinds of exhibitionist skills competitions that can drag down solo guitar albums.
The Migration is at times hypnotically propulsive (“Oracle”), and at times introspectively chill (“Atlas Novus”). Whereas past Scale The Summit records have seemed more like indistinguishable chunks of music, this album does a fantastic job of bestowing each track with its own identity while still tying everything together cohesively. Letchford and Levrier aren’t afraid to light your hair on fire with their pyrotechnic skills from time to time, but the songs don’t drown in excessive lead work. There’s a perfect blend of exploratory leads and swooping riffs backed up by strong bass and percussion work.
Whereas a band like Explosions in the Sky is all about creating emotions or pinpointing its listener to a very specific time and place, The Migration is all about the journey. It’s an album of movement and carefree discovery, at times evoking the feeling of soaring high above a video game landscape. It’s an adventure you’ll want to be a part of.
Let me get this out of the way right up front, since I’m reviewing a “fake rap” comedy album–yes, I understand that comedy is, by its very nature, subjective, and senses of humor are wildly divergent; but really, the same thing can be said about music in general, and yet there are still widely assumed standards of quality (ex. Adele is good; Jessica Simpson is not). I’m not sure it works quite the same way for mainstream musical comedy, but the charismatic, sidesplitting force of The Lonely Island is indisputable (or should be, at least).
That being said, I don’t expect everyone to get a kick out of The Lonely Island’s third record, The Wack Album. But for anyone who turns their nose up at it with disdain definitely has a faulty sense of humor. That’s just a fact.
Call it immature. Call it a puerile collection of dick jokes and sex jokes. You’re absolutely right. In fact, by my count, exactly half of this album’s twenty tracks include a dick joke or penis reference in some form or another (there’s some testicle joking as well, simply to make sure the entirety of the male’s sexual anatomy was covered, one would assume). A fifty percent concentration of dick jokes actually seems tame in retrospect. But the larger point here is that there’s nothing wrong with sophomoric sex gags if they make you laugh. And despite how it may seem, I think people underestimate the comedic skill it takes to properly pull off such crude, adolescent jokes, particularly in a musical format. That’s the real genius of The Lonely Island–they’ve elegantly melded slick, modern hip-hop beats with unsophisticated and raunchy lyrics.
Following last year’s retrospective collection, From the Vaults, Vol. 1 (review here), Georgia metal crew Kylesa has returned its sights to the future on its sixth studio album, Ultraviolet.
This record is a natural progression from its predecessor, Spiral Shadow (review here), which saw the band temper some of its more muddy and sludgy hardcore outbursts in favor of more psychedelic experimentation and proggy deviations. The main difference on Ultraviolet is that Kylesa has really figured out how to cohesively incorporate these psych and prog influences without them feeling tangential. This is perhaps the tightest album Kylesa has ever written, with all of its various styles coalescing into laser-focused bursts of energy and emotion.
Another trend that has continued between records is the torch-passing that has been taking place in the vocal department between Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants. For most of the band’s career, Cope had assumed the primary vocal duties. That began to change a bit on Spiral Shadow, and on Ultraviolet, it’s safe to say that Pleasants has taken over as the lead vocalist. Which is a fantastic development, by the way. One need look no further than her performance on “We’re Taking This,” with her gradually intensifying threefold delivery of the line, “What goes around comes back around,” to see what a weapon she is. Pleasants can tackle gloriously brutal deliveries just as well as hazy, trance-like passages. In comparison, Cope can sound downright impotent.
I don’t go to clubs, so to me, all dance/house/EDM music sounds the same (I’m willing to bet that holds true for many people who do go to clubs); and all DJs come off more as hyped-up playlist commanders rather than actual artists. That’s why I never thought I’d be so into a Daft Punk album.
I’d gotten into one or two Daft Punk tracks in the past, like the inescapable “One More Time” or “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” which got the deluxe Kanye West sampling treatment six years after its release. But it never seemed to me–again, as a dance music outsider–that Daft Punk differed from any of the other star acts on the scene.
Everything has changed on Random Access Memories, the French duo’s fourth studio album, and it’s largely because Daft Punk have become tired of the scene they themselves helped create. In an enlightening Rolling Stone cover story on the group, Thomas Bangalter, one half of DP, summed up the philosophical genesis that ultimately brought about Random Access Memories; he said, “Electronic music right now is in its comfort zone, and it’s not moving one inch. That’s not what artists are supposed to do.”
Driven by this new self-enlightenment, Daft Punk have rebuilt their sound from the ground up, redefining what electronic music can achieve. The first track might as well be a mission statement: “Give Life Back to Music.”
I probably never would have paid any attention to The Airborne Toxic Event if it hadn’t been for “Sometime Around Midnight,” their 2008 hit off their debut album. That song–a bleeding heart, combustible tale of what it’s like to come into contact with an ex while your passion for that person still smolders deep inside you, and how that contact can leave you in a confused and enraged puddle on the floor–is the epitome of what The Airborne Toxic Event can be.
Unfortunately, I’ve found that over its first two albums, and now with the release of its third, Such Hot Blood, the band struggles to consistently hit that lofty mark they set for themselves. “Sometime Around Midnight” lured me in, but now that they’ve got my interest, TATE just seems to mildly disappoint in its failure to create anything quite so dramatic.
The band clearly still has that sense of urgency as its goal, but failed attempts at soaring dramatic moments can be rather cringeworthy, especially when they begin to accumulate in this manner. It’s like chasing the dragon with this band; you know exactly what you want them to deliver and you keep giving them a chance to make good on that promise, but the pursuit almost invariably results in something of a letdown.
Zooey Deschanel has always been an indie darling, but she really took the mainstream by storm and broadened her fanbase with the production of her star vehicle television sitcom, New Girl, which premiered in 2011. Anyone introduced to Deschanel through that show may not be aware that she pulls double duty as a singer in the group She & Him, alongside fellow singer-songwriter M. Ward, especially since She & Him’s last record hit shelves a year before the show aired.
Well, now those fans still in the dark on this musical duo may be getting their first delicious taste of her musical chops with the release of Volume 3. And lucky for them, it’s as seamless and gentle an entry point as either of the first two volumes.
As a band that has firmly established itself as a retro outfit, effortlessly combining the golden hue of 60s and 70s radio pop with the sheen of that era’s girl groups, She & Him long ago drew up their own stylistic boundaries. Rather than try to meld their nostalgic leanings with a more contemporary sound, Deschanel and Ward are content to play around with a style that saw its heyday many decades in the rear view mirror. While that means that Volume 3 ultimately is not all that different from its predecessors, it also means that She & Him is staying squarely in its sweet spot.
Given that The Ocean has shown a willingness to write complex, thought-provoking conceptual and philosophical albums, it’s somewhat surprising that it had not yet tackled its namesake subject matter. After all, there is no greater physical entity on this earth that remains as vastly unexplored and mysterious to human perception and imagination than the ocean. Marrying the subject matter of the ocean to The Ocean’s keen and sharp brand of progressive metal is a sublime match that has finally come to fruition on the group’s sixth album, Pelagial.
After tackling the concept of earth’s geologic formation on Precambrian and then incisively critiquing Christianity, creationism, and fundamentalism on Heliocentric and Anthropocentric (see reviews here and here), it would have been understandable had The Ocean decided to simply churn out a more straight forward record this time out. But that really isn’t how this band operates, and so Pelagial offers us a visceral, haunting journey of the different oceanic zones as the track list moves from the upper, light-infused Epipelagic zone all the way down to the blackened depths of the Benthic zone.
This is an unmistakably ambitious project, but by no means does it ever even hint at pretension.
I’ve been salivating over the prospect of Rhode Island sludge metal band Howl’s sophomore effort ever since their debut album, Full of Hell, swept me off my feet three years ago (see review here). Howl went through several lineup changes to get to this point, but they’ve finally released the followup, entitled Bloodlines.
As far as personnel goes, here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know: guitarist Andrea Black is out and Josh Durocher-Jones is in her place; Vincent Hausman laid down guitar tracks on this record, but has become solely the band’s singer on stage, with a fifth member, Jonathan Hall, added on guitar; bassist Robert Icaza recorded this album, but he’s since been replaced by Jesse Riley. Timmy St. Amour is still manning the drum kit, which makes him and Hausman the only two remaining original members of the band.
With such an unrelenting flurry of lineup changes, it’s hard to believe just how consistent Bloodlines is with its predecessor. Though it easily could have been, this record is not dramatically different than Full of Hell, which was definitely a pleasant surprise. In fact, the most influential change that occurred between the debut record and Bloodlines is the addition of producer Zeuss, who has manned the controls for a ton of major metal bands, such as Hatebreed and Shadows Fall. The decision to bring Zeuss on board is readily apparent in the much tighter and cleaner sound on this record.