The worst kind of pop record: one that spends its entire runtime insisting on its greatness instead of actually proving it. Yeah, FOB can still write a killer hook, but it’s buried under Top 40 production with an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink mentality. (That they included the album’s title and one song title in all caps suggests partial self-awareness.) Sure, guitars make an occasional appearance, but their function is less songwriting tool than reminder of their existence. At one point Stump asks, “Are you smelling that shit?” Great question, but you should be looking in the mirror when you pose it.
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.
It’s fitting RTJ’s website crashed upon RTJ3’s release, considering that’s basically what happened to the country after the election. RTJ2 was the sound of fury incarnate; RTJ3 is the sound of paranoid, what-the-fuck-happens-now chaos. El’s production casts a seasick spectre over the proceedings with an eerie haze coating pulsing, twitching, and seething molotov cocktails whose gravity might pull them apart at any moment. That said, RTJ3 is also further proof El and Mike are the best (and funniest) shit-talkers in the game: “Physical fitness/ Bitch, we run this/ Paraplegics, you don’t run shit”. No record is more essential in 2016.
Since Thief, Radiohead’s decision-making has dared fans to stop caring about their music: Surprise releases, pay-what-you-want, using 20-year-old songs, pretentiously “mysterious” announcements, etc. They went from band to brand, and in the process made the release of music more important than the music itself. Whether “Burn the Witch” is among the coolest songs they’ve ever written, or “Identikit” forcefully argues the return of guitar in modern music, or that this record has some of the band’s strongest melodies in a long time is all beside the point. The question isn’t about the quality of Pool, but instead whether it matters.
In which Aesop finds something that’s eluded him for 20 years: a record without bloat. Much like Skelethon, TIK is a one-man show with the paranoid synth self-production and no guest verses. It’s also Rock’s most personal offering to date, and his least obtuse. Kid lacks anything as visceral as “Zero Dark Thirty” or as hypnotic as “None Shall Pass”, and better for it. No one song stands above the rest, allowing the songs to hang together as a cohesive whole. Aesop turns 40 in a month, and somehow made a career-high album while showing no signs of rust.
A mix of White Pony and Deftones, Gore is surprisingly great from the veteran alt-metal act. While it never veers too far from their signature floating seasick paranoia, the album offers some of Deftones’ most aggressive (“Doomed User”) and most beautiful (“Hearts/Wires”) music to date. Chino’s thoughts are as esoteric as ever, but patience unearths gems: “Now I’ve become this core of rotted will/ My heart is black and I will never feel”. Few bands have the consistency of Deftones (especially in metal), and even fewer can legitimately argue they’ve made their best record in their third decade.
Weezer’s fourth self-titled record is their also their most uninteresting since Make Believe. With the exception of “California Girls” and “Jacked Up”, Weezer is largely unmemorable and sounds more like a Weezer impression than the band itself. Rivers’ ability to write peerless powerpop melodies is mostly absent, perhaps due to a lack of Ric Ocasek. Lyrically, awkward references and bizarre allusions replace quaint details and self-deprecation, making the face-palming even more painful. Creating pop music that sounds effortless is difficult; listening to pop music where the effort (and resulting failure) is patently obvious is even moreso.
Few metal bands are as consistent(ly great) as Amon Amarth, and they’re in fine form here. Vikings aren’t known for sprinting, but over the last few records that’s what AA’s music has largely been doing – and for the better. As usual, the misses occur when AA stray beyond five minutes, the added length hindered by a lack of commitment. Additionally, a few questionable choices mar an otherwise solid effort: an appearance by Doro is awkwardly out-of-place, and the melody of “Raise Your Horns” is nursery rhyme-esque. A bit of editing and you’ve got one of the year’s best metal releases.
Painkillers finds Fallon trading the punk stylings of his main band for an attempt at a singer-songwriter record (read: an acoustic-based affair). Fallon does a little experimenting, too: “Long Drives” sports some country-rock flavor and “Mojo Hand” is a solid bar band impression. The anthemic nature of his writings remain, too – “Smoke” and “Nobody Wins” match the highs of his best sing-alongs. Lyrically, it’s not as heavy as TGA’s Get Hurt; however, Fallon still sings about the pain of lost love and past mistakes. Painkillers is gravelly-voiced jangle-pop that’s polite, inoffensive, and without risk. On those terms, it’s a success.
Kendrick Lamar’s glorified B-sides collection from the TPAB sessions. As a window into his creative process, it’s infinitely fascinating. As anything else, not so much. The wonderfully broken jazz of Butterfly is on full-display here, allowing Lamar room to explore every possible mental alleyway. His trust in his listeners to follow him regardless of how weird he gets is his greatest strength and weakenss. The brevity here (34 minutes) is welcome, despite an aimless, eight-minute stitch-job. As both rapper and writer, he’s the best alive. Still, as with TPAB, this demonstrates the difference between being an artist and making art.