Review

Review: Lori McKenna – The Tree

If it takes more than 10 minutes for Lori McKenna’s The Tree to break your heart, you might not have one.

McKenna has always excelled at crafting tearjerkers. In addition to eight previous albums full of (mostly) sad songs, she also wrote or co-wrote songs like Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” (happy sad) and Brandy Clark’s “Three Kids, No Husband” (sad sad). Her latest co-write to move the needle is a Carrie Underwood song called “Cry Pretty” (badass sad). Suffice to say that McKenna is familiar with tears and exquisite, aching pain.

Even by McKenna’s standards, though, the first 10 minutes of The Tree are a doozy. In those 10 minutes, she manages three songs—“A Mother Never Rests,” “The Fixer,” and “People Get Old”—that are bound to put a lump in your throat. The first is a tribute to great moms and all the hard work they do to raise their kids. The second is about a family patriarch who tries to cope with his wife’s ailing health by tinkering with tools and projects. And the third is about McKenna’s father and the slow and steady march of time.

Review: Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

Deafheaven - Ordinary Corrupt Human Love

After a storm comes the calm. Yes, the violent winds and heavy rains of a ghastly disaster will disrupt the life surrounding it, but the calm always follows and prevails. Deafheaven’s fourth full-length album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, is that reprieve following the pulverizing storm of 2015’s New Bermuda. Unforgiving in its scope, New Bermuda was a devastating album that encapsulated all of the darkness surrounding the band after breaking through with 2013’s Sunbather. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love sets out to find the humanity within that devastation. So then maybe it’s not incredibly surprising that OCHL opener “You Without End” begins not only with striking grand piano flourishes but also with actress Nadia Kury sober reading of a short story about Oakland. In fact, George Clarke’s simmering vocals don’t enter until three minutes in, taking a backseat to Kerry McCoy’s arena-ready Queen-sized soaring guitar riffs. It’s a proper reintroduction to Deafheaven in 2018, a band that’s wiser, kinder, and more grateful than ever.

Review: Twenty One Pilots – Jumpsuit/Nico and the Niners

Twenty One Pilots - Trench

After months of teasing brief, unexplainable, clues about when new music would be coming from the ultra-popular group, Twenty One Pilots just casually dropped two great songs in “Jumpsuit” and “Nico and the Niners.” These two blazing tracks come from the upcoming album, entitled Trench, due out on October 5th.

Starting with the lead single, “Jumpsuit,” this dynamic duo have evolved their sound a bit from the multi-platinum certified Blurryface LP, while still keeping the core elements of what makes them who they are on this song. The song starts off with a faint alarm sound, and the trademark drumming of Josh Dun, signaling a call to arms as Tyler Joseph sings, “I can’t believe how much I hate/Pressures of a new place for my weight/Jumpsuit, jumpsuit cover me.” It’s almost as if the two artists know just how much pressure is on them to produce a significant work of art for the rabid fan-base that has been clamoring for a taste of what they had cooked up in the studio.

Review: Gorillaz – The Now Now

Gorillaz - The Now Now

On Gorillaz latest album, The Now Now, Damon Albarn and company tone down the guest artist slots and take a more serious approach to their songwriting craft. This LP, the sixth total for the group, was recorded in February 2018 and has now hit our eardrums a mere 14 months after the release of Humanz. The results of this strategy are well-rewarded as the Gorillaz have crafted an album sure to please their core audience, while still impressing casual fans of the group.

Every aspect of this album showcases the brilliance of Albarn as a songwriter, and they have re-branded themselves as true “artists” right down to the cover art of the familiar ape playing a guitar as if he just sat down to showcase a few tunes for a coffee shop audience. The first track, which features a guest contributor in George Benson, titled “Humility,” showcases some cool jazzy guitar elements and finds Albarn singing, “Reset myself and get back on track,” which could very well be the overall disclaimer for this album. The Gorillaz have found themselves in a new state of mind for this LP and have come back re-focused on a record worthy of your attention and multiple appearances in your new music rotation.

Review: Culture Abuse – Bay Dream

Culture Abuse - Bay Dream

“Be kind to the bees, be kind to the bugs, be conscious of others, be careful with drugs,” recommends Culture Abuse’s vocalist David Kelling on “Bee Kind To The Bugs” before offering up this important reminder: “Be kind to yourself, even though it gets hard, don’t let the distractions stack up to the stars.” It’s that kind of mindset that flows throughout the band’s second full-length (and first on Epitaph) Bay Dream. While the band’s 2016 debut, Peach, garnered a passionate fan base, the actual events surrounding the recording were less than ideal for the band. But the continuous touring on Peach opened Kelling’s mind to how cathartic and positive and that he would be loved just by being himself.

Review: Billy Raffoul – 1975 (EP)

Billy Raffoul - 1975

On Billy Raffoul’s debut EP for Interscope Records, entitled 1975, Raffoul capitalizes on his strengths: powerful, soulful lyrics and precise musicianship. At just 23 years old, Billy Raffoul mesmerizes on this EP with his bluesy vocals and pain-felt delivery of every lyric. On top of that, he’s an incredibly talented and underrated guitarist.

On the first single released from the EP, called “I’m Not a Saint,” Raffoul belts out that “I’m not a saint/But I could be if I tried.” With the earnest and heartfelt delivery found on this track, you would be hard pressed to not be a believer in what he sings about. With an almost everyman-type approach to his songwriting, much like DIY-ers Brian Fallon and Butch Walker, Raffoul makes you really feel what he was going through when he wrote this songs that are easily relatable, while simultaneously brilliant.

Review: Marshmello – Joytime II

Marshmello - Joytime

Marshmello, the anonymous producer and DJ, has been taking the music industry by storm since his remix of Jack U and Justin Bieber’s global hit “Where Are U Now.” With hits like “Moving On,” “Wolves,” and “Silence,” he has become one of the fastest rising dance producers in the industry. As the layers of mystery continue to surround the man behind the mask, there is no doubt in Marshmello’s ability to make electronic music that pops. Joytime IIis his 9-track sophomore album.

Review: Courtship. – Denial in Paradise

Courtship. - Denial in Paradise

I stumbled upon this new band, Courtship., while attending a concert in Washington, DC where they opened for Night Riots, and I immediately gravitated towards a sound that reminded me of synth-pop veterans such as Smallpools, Foster the People, and Great Good Fine Ok. On Courtship’s debut album, Denial in Paradise, I’m extremely grateful I found this LA-based artist, as they have encapsulated all of their high-energy showmanship directly into their debut album.

Review: Panic! At The Disco – Pray for the Wicked

Panic at the Disco - Pray for the Wicked

“Are you ready for the sequel?” sings Brendon Urie confidently on the third track, “Hey Look Ma, I Made It,” and if Panic’s rabid fan-base is any indication, they are more than ready for whatever Urie has in store for them. On Panic! At the Disco’s sixth album, Pray for the Wicked, Brendon Urie is clearly having a blast and is 100% comfortable with who he is as not only an artist, but as a person as well.

Produced by Jake Sinclair (Fall Out Boy, Weezer), the sheen and textures found on this LP are polished, but not over-produced. Coming off the successful and Grammy-nominated Death of a Bachelor album, Panic! is well equipped for the demands being put forth by their eager audience. If Death of a Bachelor was the self-reflective album of Urie’s career, then Pray for the Wicked is the full-blown party album.

Review: Dawes – Passwords

Passwords

Passwords is Dawes’ fifth record of the 2010s—and their fifth great one. It’s also the first time that they haven’t taken a substantial leap forward in terms of sound or approach. Ever since their 2011 breakthrough, Nothing Is Wrong, Dawes have been switching producers with every record, always searching for that new groove. Nothing Is Wrong was a wash of gorgeous 70s-influenced Laurel Canyon folk, earning the band almost as many comparisons to Jackson Browne as Brian Fallon got to Bruce Springsteen. 2013’s Stories Don’t End had flickers of a 90s folk rock record, modernizing and streamlining the band’s songs with a more studio-driven approach. 2015’s All Your Favorite Bands went in the opposite direction, embracing the band’s live, jam-oriented roots for a record full of loose guitar solos and spontaneous energy. And 2016’s We’re All Gonna Die brought in mad scientist producer Blake Mills (Alabama Shakes, Perfume Genius, John Legend) for a bold, expectation-shattering disc—a career left-turn that prompted at least a few comparisons to U2’s Achtung Baby.

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Review: Mike Shinoda – Post Traumatic

Mike Shinoda

The circumstances behind Mike Shinoda’s debut solo album, Fort Minor not included, could have been more desirable. Shinoda’s longtime bandmate, and best friend, Chester Bennington lost his battle with depression and you can feel each and every emotion that goes along with the loss on the Post Traumatic LP. Previously, Shinoda had released the Post Traumatic EP, which has the opening three tracks from this album, only to later announce he was going to release a full-length album to help gain closure on Bennington’s untimely death.

Many of these intensely personal tracks are very hard to listen to, as they sound like pages ripped directly out of a private journal of someone who is devastated by the loss of a close friend. Shinoda does an excellent job of encompassing the wide spectrum of thoughts that go along with a sudden loss, and the depth that he goes into on this album on describing exactly what he is going through are simultaneously heartbreaking and remarkable at the same time.

Review: Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer

Father John Misty - God's Favorite Customer

People often (mistakenly) interpret the Father John Misty persona as being cover for Josh Tillman to be some sort of “holier-than-thou” troll, thus missing the bigger picture on his third album, the 76-minute opus Pure Comedy. The follow-up to Comedy, however, is the polar opposite – God’s Favorite Customer is a concise ten track effort that clocks in under 40 minutes and peels back the Misty avatar to reveal a wounded, introspective Tillman. It takes courage to be this vulnerable – especially when Tillman has spent the last three albums examining and critiquing the world and culture around him. But on his fourth album under the Misty moniker, Tillman takes a step back from that macro view of everything around him and turned his gaze insular, resulting in the most heartbreaking record of 2018.

Review: Steve Moakler – Born Ready

Born Ready

Steve Moakler loves to sing for the everyman.

That’s what drove much of his last LP, last year’s stellar Steel Town. It was all over 2014’s almost-as-good Wide Open, especially songs like “Humble Operations” and “Rather Make a Living.” It was certainly there in “Riser,” the song that he and Travis Meadows wrote for Dierks Bentley back in 2014—and the song Bentley loved so much that he built an entire album around it. Like Bruce Springsteen, someone who has become an increasingly evident influence on Moakler’s music over the course of his last three albums, Moakler has a talent for finding beauty in unexpected, unglamorous places.

“Finding beauty in unexpected and unglamorous places” is more or less the mission statement of Born Ready, Moaker’s second album in 15 months. The title track and leadoff single is about long-haul truckers, while early highlight “Breaking New Ground” turns hard labor into a metaphor for perseverance and resilience. Even the album’s big love story song gets the title “One of the Boys,” underlining the everyman theme further.

Review: The 1975 – Give Yourself A Try

Give Yourself a Try

On June 1st, 2018, The 1975 finally announced that the name of their new album would be A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships and released the brilliant single, “Give Yourself a Try.”

The first and most recognizable part of the song is the looped Adam Hann guitar riff that sounds almost abrasive, however the lyrics and Matt Healy’s vocals quickly bring the listener in with his trademark croon. The drum beat from George Daniel is precise and consistent, with very little variation. This beat is likely intentionally simplistic to bring the attention back to the lyrical content and soaring choruses. The bass line from Ross MacDonald complements the drum beat, however it’s not in the forefront as much as it was on the band’s previous two full lengths. The guitar and vocals are clearly what propel this song.

Review: Coheed and Cambria – The Dark Sentencer

Coheed and Cambria

Coheed and Cambria have returned with the expansive, space epic-inspired song “The Dark Sentencer.” The track itself has been broken into two unique parts: a short prologue and the aforementioned track itself. The prologue sets the stage for where this story takes place in the universe that Coheed has created through a multiple album series.

The prologue begins with a gentle piano playing, and then eventually the silences breaks for the narrator to say:

Know now there is no time, space between the Well & Unknowing. Our story starts there. Well into our future, yet far beyond our past. In a romance between a pair of Unheavenly Creatures. The Five Houses of the Star Supremacy have privatized the detention zones of the galaxy. These planetary prison pits reassembled from the cracked worlds of the Great Crash. Which brings us to our stage. Where the light must learn to love the black. The Dark Sentencer. It begins with them, but ends with me. Their son, Vaxus.

Still with Coheed on this one?

Review: Ben Howard – Noonday Dream

Ben Howard - Noonday Dream

On Ben Howard’s third solo album, entitled Noonday Dream, he continues to experiment with massive audio landscapes, precise musicianship, and his trademark low vocal delivery. The album was written and produced by Howard, with a few key production collaborations with band-mate Mickey Smith. On Howard’s first two albums, he established a rapport with his listeners that he has fine-tuned here on this third LP on Republic Records.

The album itself starts off with the intricate “Nica Libres at Dusk,” that sets the table nicely for the rest of the content found on this effort. Guiding the listener down this dark landscape on the first sprawling track showcases the talent that Howard has as not only an incredibly talented musician, but also a captivating storyteller. This opening track features textured arrangements and “every-man” gruff vocals from Howard.

Review: Kanye West – ye

Kanye West - Ye

When Kanye West reactivated his Twitter account, that was a sign something was coming. Without keeping fans in suspense, he tweeted about the new projects from G.O.O.D. Music. This list included his own album — this album — which was only given the title ye the night before its release. However, his tweets about his album aren’t all that built up the anticipation for this project. Rather, his culturally disturbing posts on Twitter, which he later topped with his outrageous words during an interview on TMZ, created a negative hype and suspense prior to release. Certainly, every listener would pay attention to his lyrics before any other ingredient on ye. Right now, his lyrics act as the thin thread between him and the audience.

Review: Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town

Born to Run was the album that sparked my appreciation for Bruce Springsteen’s music, but Darkness on the Edge of Town was the album that made me a fan.

In 2015, when Born to Run turned 40, I wrote about the day I fell in love with it. A chance discussion about Springsteen at a family reunion sent me reaching for the Bruce albums on my iPod the next day, as my family traversed an epic snowstorm to drive back home. I had five Bruce records on my mp3 player, but I’d never really given full attention to any of them. They were all records from my parents’ CD collection, and at the time, I still stupidly believed (perhaps self-consciously) that older music couldn’t be my music in the same way as something released in my lifetime.

On that snowy drive home, I cycled through the Bruce albums on my iPod: the bombastic, optimistic dream of Born to Run; the scrappy underdog symphony of Greetings from Asbury Park; the deeply ‘80s-sounding Born in the U.S.A.; the resilient recovery rock of The Rising; and the sparse storytelling of Devils and Dust. I loved Born to Run immediately. I liked The Rising a lot, too. I had trouble getting over how dated Greetings and Born in the U.S.A. sounded to my ears at the time, but I liked the songs. And Devils was fine, but mostly didn’t move me.

Review: Pusha T – DAYTONA

Pusha T

With three albums in his discography, Pusha T isn’t a consistent artist, but when he releases an album, it feels like a ceremony. He always makes an impact with each project. His last album was in 2015, since then, fans have been anticipating, hoping, and dreaming of the day Push will drop a project. That was before Kanye brought the G.O.O.D. news to the world. In a series of tweets, he announced upcoming releases from Pusha T, Teyana Taylor, Nas, Kid Cudi and himself. Although initially titled King Pusha, Pusha T had to change the title because he felt “it didn’t represent the overall message” of the album. In another tweet, he said, “DAYTONA represents the fact that “I have the luxury of time. That luxury only comes when u have a skill set that you’re confident in.” As for what’s to be expected on DAYTONA, Push said the album was created especially for his “family, high taste level, luxury, and drug raps fans.”

Review: Chvrches – Love Is Dead

Chvrches

For Chvrches’ third album, Love is Dead, they turned to veteran producer Greg Kurstin (Tegan & Sara, Foo Fighters) to help them craft their most memorable effort to date. Since forming in 2011, the synth-pop group has taken over the indie music scene with multiple prominent festival appearances and two well-received albums. Their fanbase was incredibly eager to hear what Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty had cooked up for the next chapter in their story.

On Love is Dead, Chvrches have accomplished the rare feat of staying true to their original sound, while still adding even more nuance and creativity into this final product. In an era where artists get blamed for either not changing enough from album to album, or for changing too much, Chvrches have found the perfect balance of experimenting with new sounds and song structures, while still staying honest to who they are as a band.