Thursday, 19 July 2018

Ultimate Tracklist: Ranking Radiohead's 100 Album Tracks

In anticipation of Radiohead's return to Toronto this weekend, I've been on a bit of a bender with their music.  For my amusement and maybe somebody else's, here is my ranking of all 100 main album tracks.  

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Concert Review: The Vans Warped Tour @ Echo Beach (17 July)

The weather could not have been better for this, the final time that the Vans Warped Tour would travel to Canada, with the sun sliding out from behind thick clouds to warm the thousands of fans congregating at Echo Beach. The sun, mixed with the breeze coming off Lake Ontario and the instantly palpable feel of community created by the event organizers made for an almost idyllic environment for a day-long festival. Food trucks, band tents, six stages, swag bags, and copious merchandise was on offer to a community that seemed to embrace every possibility of human expression – mohawks, black jeans, and tattoos mingled with the shirtless and the barely-covered in a truly inspiring example of a music scene not just welcoming but promoting acceptance...

Sunday, 15 July 2018

July Album Review ... Bodega, 'Endless Scroll'

Is there a punk revival, a renaissance afoot? Given the tumultuous social and geo-political climate, it would make sense that the two genres with the most active history of lyrically cataloguing upheaval, hip hop and punk, would take their place in the sun. Hip hop is already the unquestionable top dog (dawg?) in popular music, but is punk, the most chameleon-like of the genres and thus most adaptive to change, on the rise? If it is, then Brooklyn’s Bodega may be one of that revival’s early leaders.

June Album Review ... Florence + the Machine, 'High as Hope'

There are few, if any, voices more distinctive or powerful than that of Florence Welch. Famed for her ability to channel emotion through her shiver-inducing vocals, Florence’s vocal prowess has been paired with the impressive production and instrumentation of “the Machine” Isabella Summers since their debut in 2007. 'High as Hope', their fourth album together, is as vocally impressive as ever, but where power was the distinguishing characteristic in the past, here it is the other end of the spectrum, with the most notable moments being those grounded in vocal discretion and story-telling.

Monday, 2 July 2018

June Album Review ... Black Thought, Snail Mail, and NIN

Okay, disclaimer here: I have been a bit slow to get to some of these but please don't think for a second, constant reader, that I haven't been moved by them. More than anything, it is a case of looking at the June scheduled releases and being so uninspired that a malaise crept into my blog activities. And yes, I know that it make a lot more sense to post each of these separately because how many other listeners are likely to be fans of ALL of these albums, but expediency wins here.  Without further adieu then, here are three reviews of three releases in chronological order...

Black Thought: 'Streams of Thought, Volume 1' (1 June, 2018)

If you drop Black Thought’s name (born Tariq Trotter) anywhere within most musical circles, the most common descriptor that follows is “under-rated”. The most important thing that you’ll learn from Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 is that there is no adjective more inapt in describing the legendary MC because he is just that, a legend. The intention may be to celebrate a true pioneer of the genre, but to call him under-rated only serves to under-appreciate the incredible lyrical talent the man has; Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 is, as has always been the way, a reminder of the raw and ferocious talent the founding member of The Roots and fearless MC has been fine-tuning for almost 40 years.

Though there are some powerful moments in the form of collaborations on Streams of Thought, Vol. 1, most notably that of Rapsody on Dostoyevsky, it is Black Thought himself who is the standout on every single one of the five tracks on this EP, which clearly is part of an upcoming set of releases. Just as it was Black Thought who almost single-handedly broke the Internet with his ten-minute freestyle (yes, you read that correctly) on Funk Flex’s radio show on Hot 97 earlier this year. There is a peerlessness to his delivery, a determined passion, and an absolute relentlessness to his ability to spit lyrics that show both his quick mind and his authenticity in equal amounts. Always humble but never afraid to challenge, Black Thought has clearly set out to remind listeners with Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 that he is as important and talented now as he ever has been; the EP also feels something like a snapshot of his career, from his early beginnings in Philadelphia, the city that he has always stayed true to, to the present day. In all, it is a must-listen for any fan of lyrical rap, or for any of you young mumble-rap fans who can’t possibly understand what you’re missing out on. Under-rated the man is not…’cause you can’t be under-rated when you’ve never been anywhere but top of the pile.

Overall Rating: 80%
Best Song: "Twofifteen"
Release Date: 1 June, 2018
Label: Human Re Sources

Snail Mail: 'Lush' (8 June, 2018)

Maryland-born Lindsey Jordan, the lead-singer and creative engine behind Snail Mail, must have had cool parents. Maybe an older sibling that was into grunge. Having only been born in 1999 herself, she has clearly been influenced by the heyday of alt-rock that was the 1990s as much of this album oozes grunge aesthetic from the guitar tuning to the laissez-faire vocals. One listen brings to mind Kim Gordon, Liz Phair, The Breeders, L7 and a host of other great female-led rock acts from the decade that Jordan must have spent a great amount of time immersed in.

Unfortunately, and regardless of the many accolades thrown her way, being true to a now passez genre does not make a great album (just ask Gorillaz) on its own. There is a lot to like here and to have seemingly captured her sound at such an age is impressive but by the halfway point of the album, it’s clear that variety is not a priority for Jordan. Many songs drone onwards, supported by same-ish sounding instrumentation and though the lyrics sometimes belie Jordan’s tender age, eventually the most present emotion for this listener at least is boredom.

As stated, there is a lot to like about this album, not least that it is so cohesive and polished a debut, but with such a small range of emotive moments, it was hard to really get taken anywhere or feel impressed. What perhaps is most interesting is where this debut will allow Snail Mail to go next; there is a solid base upon which to build a future and I’d have to hope, some inspiration to find new sources of motivation and inspiration such that the music is allowed to grow alongside the lead-singer and her creative vision.

Overall Rating: 65%
Best Song: "Heat Wave"
Release Date: 8 June, 2018
Label: Matador Records

Nine Inch Nails: 'Bad Witch' (22 June, 2018)

There is little that I could say about Trent Reznor or Nine Inch Nails that has not already been said; the man is a musical omnivore with an incredible ear for both emotion and atmosphere, who finds himself still making relevant music thirty years after his band’s formation in 1988. It is exactly this relevance that makes this album such a success.

Before analyzing the album with any depth, the term ‘album’ itself may need some more analysis. At first glance, it’s easy to feel a bit annoyed by Bad Witch in that it is listed as an album but contains only 6 tracks and has a running time of barely thirty minutes. That knee-jerk reaction though is perhaps a poor filter through which to view the album and I say that for three reasons – first, it was announced by the band some time ago that they would be releasing several shorter releases beginning in 2016 with Not the Actual Events before continuing in 2017 with Add Violence. Second, these three releases are the first to feature now permanent member and longtime soundtrack collaborator Atticus Ross and so it makes sense that the band (or perhaps ‘duo’ is more accurate) would have to experiment with just how this new dynamic will work within the already impressively aggressive framework of past NIN work. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, it is obvious that streaming services have totally altered the musical landscape and as such, there seem to be very few rules nowadays about what constitutes and album vs. an EP. New music? Check. Album cover? Check. Available on all major streaming services? Check. Then maybe it’s an album after all.

The album itself, if we can finally get back to the music, begins in relentless and fiery fashion with two songs so full of vitriol and unveiled cynicism that it feels almost like we are back in the early 1990s when NIN were just making a name for themselves as purveyors of exquisitely angry music. Both Shit Mirror and Ahead of Ourselves”, the latter of which is a damning indictment of humanity’s hubris, are Reznor at his very best. Perhaps it shouldn’t be much of a surprise, especially given the success of the Ross-Reznor partnership, that instrumental tracks would make up part of the album, but if there is a point at which the attention is really grabbed it is on fourth track God Break Down the Door, during which Reznor trades in his usual delivery for an almost crooner’s vocals, which is jarring given both expectation and the content of the song.

Through Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor has been and will seemingly continue to be one of the most influential and consistent innovators in modern music. If there is anything to be learned from this new partnership with Ross as a permanent member of the band, it is that there are still doors to kick in and sounds to explore in the relentless pursuit for honesty in a seriously flawed world.

Overall Rating: 80%
Best Song: "Ahead of Ourselves"
Release Date: 22 June, 2018
Label: Null Corporation