Best Fit album review, vol 9

Soundgarden are set to reissue their recently-remixed debut LP, Ultramega OK, next Friday. I wrote a few words about it and the bonus material that comes with.

The TL;DR version of my review is: Ultramega is simply, well, ok when judged on its own merits. It is best viewed through the prism of being a hint at what would emerge in the ’90s. Oh, and the new mix is fantastic.

Singles Round-up, February 24

Lana Del Rey | “Love”
Her comeback single is about as LDR as you can get: a sweeping, cinematic arrangment; left-of-center, yet relatable, thoughts on life (“Look at you kids with your vintage music/ Comin’ through satellites while cruisin'”); dreamily hushed singing; and a me-against-the-world urgency. Basically, you’ll know before you hear this if you’re gonna like it. And you should, as it might be the best thing she’s ever done. Hell, that bridge alone is worth the price of admisson.

Spoon | “Can I Sit Next To You”
Given the title track and this new one, Hot Thoughts looks to be Spoon’s funkiest album to date. It’s an interesting shift, as their last record had some of the most beautiful music of their career. But as I’ve said before, no songwriter can do more with less than Britt Daniel so it all works out. Spoon have few weak songs in their catalogue – every great band does – but this ain’t one of ’em. I once called Spoon “maddeningly consistent”, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

At The Drive-In | “Incurably Innocent”
17 years later, they haven’t lost the ability to write and play arena-ready post-hardcore. Similarly, Cedric Bixler-Zavala is still using technology-as-metapor as a jumping-off point; thankfully, it isn’t impenetrable here: “A blank tape that couldn’t remember/ But you can never erase the hurt”. Much like previous single “Governed By Contagions,” “Innocent” is closer to Relationship of Command than Acrobatic Tenement in sound and structure, so don’t expect anything too wild or too raw from the forthcoming in•ter a•li•a LP.

The Chainsmokers & Coldplay | “Something Just Like This”
Kudos to this pairing for creating what might be 2017’s most numbingly milquetoast EDM pop single. The Chainsmokers continue to cynically mine the Top 40 for ideas (even recycling their own), and Chris Martin continues to draw from his seemingly inexhaustible well of lyrical vapidity. None of this, however, will stop its preordained success. Ugh.

Arca | “Piel”
You know going in that this is gonna be weird. “Piel” (Spanish for ‘skin’) is eerie as fuck, especially that vocal melody. No one makes music quite as mood-perfect as Arca, and no one can soundtrack a nightmare quite as effectively, either. How many producers can make a song that’s fascinating during the day and terrifying at night?

Seether | “Let You Down”
The lead single from the post-grunge stalwarts’ seventh* album sticks with Isolate and Medicate‘s return to their heavy side of the 2000’s (especially the bridge). The seasick swaying riff is memorable enough and the melody works, but the title alone indicates they have no desire to swim in uncharted waters for any meaningful amount of time, musically or lyrically. Call it a wash, I guess.

Art of Anarchy | “No Surrender”
Fact: any guitar-based music Scott Stapp sings over will never not have at least a passing resemblance to Creed. So, here we are with Stapp replacing the late Scott Weiland for AoA’s (likely heavier) sophomore LP. On the one hand, he seems more interested in the project than Weiland did. On the other, it’s Scott Stapp fronting a WJJO-approved rock band. Meh.

Gucci Mane & Nicki Minaj | “Make Love”
Oh, what a joy this song is. You got classic battle rap Nicki trading bars with singsong Gucci over a sub-zero Casio trap beat. It’s hard to pick a favorite line, but here are two of the best: “She ain’t eatin’ but I swear she got some bum-ass taste/ Text her man like, ‘Dawg, how that bum ass taste?’/ Pay your rent! And stay in your bum-ass place” (Nicki), and “Damn, who colder than me?/ You think he colder than me?/ You more bipolar than me” (Gucci). More of this, please.

 

*It’s actually their sixth album, but Disclaimer II is counted as it own thing for some reason.

Singles Round-up, February 17

Animal Collective | “Kinda Bonkers”
They have to be fucking with us at this point. Seriously, who opens a song with, “Life is so French toast to me/ If you wait too long, it gets black and weak”? And just so we’re clear, the meta self-awareness of the title (or the “What the fuck is happening?” line) doesn’t improve the track’s quality. This song (and The Painters EP it’s on) was written during the Painting With sessions, meaning if you liked that record you’ll enjoy this.

Thundercat | “Friend Zone”
Thundercat continues his winning streak with this space-y gem, which name-checks videogames and references Kendrick Lamar. The bubbly vibe from Mono/Poly’s production is fittingly remniscentof FF7’s Forgotten City theme, while ‘Cat’s basslines pogostick around the track. Keep it up, dude.

Maroon 5 | “Cold”
A breakup song released on Valentine’s Day, because why the fuck not? The hook and dancehall-infused production (thanks, Rihanna) aren’t as sugary as previous M5 outings, so take that how you will. They had Kendrick phone in a verse on their last single, so it only makes sense to have Future do the same here; he’s cringeworthy throughout, but the worst line is probably this: “I just spent a half a mil on a chandelier/ Now you tryna cut me off like a light switch”. Can we have the Maroon 5 that made “This Love” back now?

New Found Glory | “Happy Being Miserable”
High school nostalgia is in full effect with candy-coated 2000’s pop-punk complete with whiny lyrics like, “When you throw me under the bus/ Back it up and run me over”. In other words, NFG haven’t changed at all. But their songwriting has been (and still is) better than most of their peers, so it’s probably for the best. If nothing else they still use power chords, so I’ll take it.

Papa Roach | “Help”
Kudos to Papa Roach for sticking with their own brand of inoffensive radio rock. This new arena ballad has a surprisingly strong melody, but suffers from their typically banal lyricism: “‘Cause I’m cut deep, my heart won’t beat/ Deep down low it’s killing me”. Despite that, it’s a success because it’s easy to drunkenly sing along to.

Immolation | “Fostering The Divide”
They’ve gotten better as they’ve progressed both as musicians and songwriters, the latter of which is quite rare in death metal. Ross Dolan’s gutteral bark hasn’t lost any of its potency after 30 years, either. Majesty and Decay is still their finest effort, but the stutter-stomp of “Fostering” and the bulldozing fury of previous single “Destructive Currents,” both from their upcoming LP Atonement, suggest it could be just as good. As with their best material, this is smart and heavy.

Body Count | “No Lives Matter”
Yeah, that Body Count, the one with Ice-T. Rap metal in 2017 is a fascinating anachronism, but he doesn’t give a shit. Add to that such insightful observations as, “And racism is real as fuck/ Ain’t no way to play that off,” and you’ve got…well, you’ve got a Body Count song.

Hundred Word Reviews: Japandroids | Near To The Wild Heart Of Life

record review japandroids near

Japandroids couldn’t rock out more than Celebration, so why try? Within that painted-into-corner view comes the freedom to do whatever they wanted, so they made a fantastic, if slightly over-produced, pop record. Life is also expansive, containing both the band’s longest and shortest songs on an LP to date. Yet it still offers their anthemic nature and sticky melodies. The difference here is the sober analysis in the aftermath Rock’s drunken antics, both musically and lyrically. Both records are fun in their own way: Rock was Friday night with the guys; Life is Sunday on the couch watching football.

 

Singles Round-up, February 10

Power Trip | “Nightmare Logic”
The third single, and title track, from the crossover thrashers’ forthcoming record is the best yet. Vocalist Riley Gale has always borrowed Chuck Schuldiner’s tortured snarl, but here he sounds utterly terrified. It’s difficult to sound scared over catchy metal, but somehow PT pull it off. Without the needless reverb of their debut, their new material demonstrates the true potential of the band. Better songwriting and clearer production? Yes, please.

Katy Perry | “Chained To The Rhythm”
We’ve finally hit peak ’70s music nostalgia worship with Perry’s bouncing ball synth-laden disco comeback single, and since Max Martin is involved you know it’s catchy and immaculately-constructed. Meanwile, Skip Marley is featured seemingly to give the song’s reggae flavor some back door legitmacy. It’ll likely hit number one, so let’s deal with being sick of hearing it now.

Desiigner | “Outlet”
I still don’t get his appeal. He’s this bizarre amalgamation of Future, Young Thug, and Fetty Wap, but his music just makes me wanna listen to those artists instead. On the plus side it’s (slightly) less repetitive than his previous single, and, of course, the hook will burrow into your head with shocking immediacy. As with most of his songs, though, the production is the best part. Here, he rides an arena-trap beat with lyrical brilliance such as, “That’s that guy snake/ Watch out for that guy snake/ Big bullets with the U-Haul truck/ So we move his ass ’round my place”. Can he go away now?

Fetty Wap | “Flip Phone”
It’s not as hook-tastic as his previous offerings, but as pedestrian pop-trap it’ll do. As trap music continues its total domination over radio hip-hop, guys like Fetty will have careers. Perhaps “Flip Phone” is most notable for its unusual song structure: hook, verse, bridge, outro. It’s unclear where this song gets its title from, and that seems oddly fitting for him.

Bush | “Mad Love”
What happened to the guy who wrote “Glycerine”? Sadly, this is further proof that Gavin Rossdale is a shell of his former songwriting self.  “Mad Love” continues where Man on the Run left off, which is to say: milquetoast radio rock. Lyrically, it’s tempting to read this song (especially the chorus) as Rossdale addressing his former wife. But with such a lifeless melody, who cares what he’s singing about?

Best Fit album review, vol 6

Somehow I forgot to add this entry to the series. Oh well.

Anyhow, back in October I wrote about the then-new (and likely final) Dillinger Escape Plan record, Dissociation. It’s fucking fantastic.

The review also has one of my favorite paragraphs I’ve written in a while:

If Dissociation truly is DEP’s final record, they’re at least going out in peak form. Whether this is their best record is a matter of personal taste more than any kind of qualitative argument. This album doesn’t feel so much like the work of a band trying to make a career-high album as much as a band using a great record to remind us why they’ve made so many in the first place. Most bands would love to end on a high note; DEP actually did it.

Extreme music is gonna miss these guys.

Singles Round-up, February 3

Lotta polically-tinged singles released this week, which shouldn’t be a surprise.

Depeche Mode | “Where’s The Revolution”
Because of course they wrote this song. Not that we didn’t need it (or need the question asked), but c’mon. That’s maybe a little too on-the-nose for you guys. And this is all despite the fact that it’s a great song. Their best offerings haunt you to the core, and the ghostly vocals and paranoid, itchy production here do not disappoint. Martin Gore’s lyrics are eerily descriptive, too: “They manipulate and threaten/ With terror as a weapon/ Scare you till you’re stupefied/ Wear you down until you’re on their side”.

Havok | “Ingsoc”
Not only is this a seven-minute single, it’s the band’s longest song to date. It’s also better than anything on their last record. David Sanchez’s snarl gives the 1984-inspired lyrics some serious venom. Previous single “Hang ‘Em High” was a rousing cry for action, but here Sanchez sound like a cornered animal. 2017 will likely gonna produce a lot of angry music, and (literal) thrashers like Havok will lead the way.

Vince Staples | “BagBak”
What a run: Hell Can Wait EP, Summertime ’06, Prima Donna EP, and now this – a three-minute banger with no fat. Over a pulsing beat from Ray Brady, Staples bluntly avoids his civic duty on some reasonable grounds (Prison system broken, racial war commotion/ Until the president get ashy, Vincent won’t be votin'”), and opines for a companion with his undercutting humor (“This is for my future baby mama/ Hope your skin is black as midnight”). Vince Staples is on a goddamn roll, and I can’t wait to hear what’s next.

Mastodon | “Show Yourself”
So yeah, the band that made Remission and Leviathan isn’t coming back. The second single released from the upcoming Emperor of Sand LP is further proof that metal just isn’t what Mastodon does anymore. They’re still great songwriters, they can still write a killer melody when they feel like it, and Brann Dailor is still rock’s best drummer. But that doesn’t lessen the pain of losing the band that was once capable of knocking down a fucking brick wall.

Nickelback | “Feed The Machine”
I was surprised they were still a thing, too. The chugga-chugga riff is heavier than I expected, given that rock music of the ’10s isn’t exactly loud. It’s a welcome change of pace, if only for that reason. Lyrically, the song can be read as a comment on current events with somewhat sharp lines like, “Baiting every hook with filthy lies/ Another charlatan to idolize”. But this is a Nickelback song, so it’s also got this: “But now it’s your turn/ The ashes will burn/ And wither away”. Basically it’s big, dumb, arena rock ear candy requiring no thought, and no one does that better than these guys.