ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2020 | 2020-12-21

BRIAN FALLONLOCAL HONEY (LESSER KNOWN RECORDS)

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THE STROKES — THE NEW ABNORMAL (RCA RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

FAKE NAMES — FAKE NAMES (EPITAPH)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

FREDDIE GIBBS & THE ALCHEMISTALFREDO (ESGN / EMPIRE)

BUY IT HERE.

GEORGE CLANTON & NICK HEXUM — GEORGE CLANTON & NICK HEXUM (100% ELECTRONICA)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

DOMINIC FIKEWHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG (COLUMBIA RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

THE KILLERS — IMPLODING THE MIRAGE (ISLAND RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

TOUCHÉ AMORÉ — LAMENT (EPITAPH)

BUY IT HERE.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEENLETTER TO YOU (COLUMBIA RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

SMASHING PUMPKINS — CYR (SUMERIAN RECORDS)

BUY IT HERE. READ THE ARM REVIEW HERE.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And happy holidays this time around.

AV

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): RYAN ADAMS – WEDNESDAYS | 2020-12-12

Nearly four full calendar years after issuing his sublime sixteenth studio LP Prisoner and an extended hibernation causing him to shy away from the public eye, North Carolina-native singer/songwriter, record producer, Pax Am Recording label owner, and poet Ryan Adams saw fit to surprise-release his new album Wednesdays in digital format on Friday 11th December (a fuller CD + LP physical release including an extra 7” with two bonus tracks is scheduled for March 2021). Originally slated to be the second in an ambitious trilogy of records to be unveiled throughout 2019, the 11-track, 42-minute long collection of songs that just hit the digital streaming shelves is a re-tooled and re-doctored redux of the initial 17-track opus announced as part of last year’s triple threat. In an interesting twist of fate—perhaps fittingly on account of 2020’s warped MO—Wednesdays’ official opening (“I’m Sorry and I Love You“) and closing (“Dreaming You Backwards“) numbers are in fact recycled residuals from what was poised to be the final tracklist for the first project to drop as part of the triptyque before getting indefinitely shelved last year, Big Colors.

By and large an unplugged and acoustic affair, save for a couple denser jams with richer arrangements (see “Birmingham” sequenced at number seven on the tracklist, a compelling alt-folk hybrid between Big Colors’ lead promo single “F*** the Rain” and Adams’ legendary “New York, New York” smash hit, or even the aforementioned tender piano-led curtain closer), this record sees the American songcraft extraordinaire lay his spirit and soul as bare as they come, while resorting to a direct, earnest, and matter-of-factly delivery that lends all the more momentum and urgency to every verse and refrain he endearingly wears on his sleeve. Unsurprisingly, thematically the project forays into heavily chartered territory for the 46-year-old alt-country rocker, touching on topics such as unrequited love (“Who’s Going to Love Me Now, If Not You“), scorching family loss (“When You Cross Over“), motherly odes (“Mamma“), and just loads and loads of heartbreak—all with the distillation and poignancy of someone who’s been through thick and thin while experiencing all of the above first hand. Suffocated by a surreal promotional quiet, a troubled past, and little to no fanfare, these are the words Ryan chose to accompany the release with:

Limbo. That’s what a Wednesday is sometimes. Maybe a portal. Maybe a bridge across. It can hang there like a forever unless maybe you’re out to sea and everything is just another token of the blue.

This record hasn’t been doing any good gathering dust over there in the stacks of blue with the other records I’ve crafted out of these broken parts of myself. It felt to me like it wanted to, no, maybe it ‘needed to’ get out for some air. Its meaning changed as it was written and, even now, I’m not so sure what it might be. But it’s time to let it go.

I know for me, music is the tunnel through. It’s the passage to connect dreams and reality. It heals as it draws the map to our souls in these tracks of memory and meaning. Of love and loss.

Pain can be the teacher to only those with the strength to listen. In these songs, I know my eyes were open to the color of the sounds, in every shade of blue and every drop of rain.

Wednesdays is that to me. It’s a map to days now gone. Like a wish, it’s here for anyone who needs it and it answers to its own creation. A narrow path across these waters it describes.

As my pen sits here on the page writing new chapters of my story, I know these songs can do some good in these weary times.

I release it to anyone who needs it, with love and humility, in hopes everyone is finding some shelter in these stormy times.

For as self-explanatory and evident this might sound describing a largely unplugged and intimate album, the record’s A-side is perhaps its more subdued and unassuming, with most of its five tracks simply sporting Adams’ heartfelt solo accounts accompanied by a de-amplified acoustic guitar. Case in point, the stern and dejected “Walk in the Dark” at number four, which also aptly captures the search for forgiveness and redemption that underpins most of the songs on the album (“I call out your name / It echoes in the room / I sleep on the couch / A bed will not do / And I don’t wanna let go / Take me back to the start / I will love you while we are learning / To walk in the dark“), whereas the outstanding folk lullaby-esque “Poison & Pain“—rounding up side A—masterfully espouses a dark confessional weight with a sweet refrain that rings catchier than it should (“And my demons / That got so bored of dreamin’ / My demons / Alcohol and freedom / A King without a Queen / A King without a kingdom“).

Turning Wednesdays upside down reveals a more instrumentally profuse B-side, tracked with an ever so slightly larger sound design and a more electric recording line-up. However, this does not seem to hold true for Adams’ seventeenth solo LP’s title track coming through at number six, furnished in the guise of yet another acoustic guitar apex, soundtracked by distant intermittent pedal steel licks and flavourful organ textures. Meanwhile, Bruce Springsteen‘s Nebraska-worshipper “So, Anyways” (triangulate this data point with the original cover art for the album announced in 2019, reported below) is another standout. A dour and spine-chilling moment that sticks out not just on this thing’s B-side, but as far as the whole project is concerned too—soaked and humidified as it is in watery reverb and ornamented by plucked fingerpicking, journeying through a striking labyrinthine allegory for love (“And where you lay your head / Is anybody’s guess these days / Our love is a maze / Only one of us was meant to escape / And I was lost until I felt your love / So, anyways“).

Notwithstanding its powerful and devastatingly cathartic tenet (“It’s not the fall from grace that breaks you down / It’s someone’s face you miss so much / You hit the ground, you hit the brakes / And you crash in the same place / Till the impact tears apart the parts of her you lost / You cannot replace“), penultimate cut “Lost in Time” might be the only real snoozer on here. Most of its characteristic elements—from sound-bedding pedal steel guitars lamenting in the background to the violent and intrusive intimacy of the performance unchaining even the softest pick thud hitting the instrument’s body—can all be found and embraced more successfully elsewhere. Admittedly, its thankless tracklist placement might or might not also go influence the exposure burden for listeners, after nearly forty minutes of pretty much the same raw and minimalistic one-dimensional formula. Yet the retrospective impression here is that it’s the tune at the core of this record that could not have been redeemed anyway. Luckily, said intense playback leitmotif gets cathartically interrupted by the lush closing statement of “Dreaming You Backwards”, a triumphant and brightening Lennon-esque ballad that gratifies and bids farewell to the existential pressure accumulated hitherto both by Adams and the listeners, mostly conveyed through silence. A silence that has never rang louder before.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

RYAN ADAMS

WEDNESDAYS

2020, PaxAm Recording Company

https://ryanadamsofficial.com

LETTER TO BRUCE | 2020-10-31

The below text was originally submitted as part of Bruce Springsteen‘s Letter to Bruce online fan engagement campaign. This is the full published excerpt with no edits or alterations:

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2019 | 2019-12-18

KA_AB KEVIN ABSTRACT – ARIZONA BABY (RCA RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

tyler-the-creator-igor-1250x1200 TYLER, THE CREATOR – IGOR (COLUMBIA RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

BruceSpringsteen_WS BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – WESTERN STARS (COLUMBIA RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

Freddie-Gibbs-and-Madlib-Bandana-1561475407-640x640 FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB – BANDANA (RCA RECORDS)

Buy it here.

BH_Ginger BROCKHAMPTON – GINGER (RCA RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

SamFender_HypersonicMissiles SAM FENDER – HYPERSONIC MISSILES (POLYDOR RECORDS)

Buy it here.

Sandy Alex G_House (SANDY) ALEX G – HOUSE OF SUGAR (DOMINO RECORDING CO)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

blink-182_NINE BLINK-182 – NINE (COLUMBIA RECORDS)

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third-eye-blind-screamer THIRD EYE BLIND – SCREAMER (MEGA COLLIDER RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

JEW_Surviving JIMMY EAT WORLD – SURVIVING (RCA RECORDS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And happy holidays this time around.

AV

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – WESTERN STARS | 2019-06-15

How often can one stand the utmost tasty chance to review a fresh collection of original music by The Boss himself? Certainly not too frequently during the course of this past decade, within which — for better or worse — Springsteen fans have been forced to confine their new found comfort and abundance to a mere three studio LPs following 2009’s lukewarm Working on a Dream. Also, strictly speaking, for how beautiful, generous, and fulfilling his 2014 album High Hopes was, it ought perhaps not be truly considered as one, given that it encompassed twelve miscellaneous numbers based upon cover songs, out-takes, and re-imagined versions of tracks from previous projects, EPs and tours. So, needless to say, the arrival of his nineteenth (!) studio record, including nothing but brand new material for the first time in almost five years, kind of sent arousal shivers down yours truly’s musical spine. Bruce Springsteen‘s new project is titled Western Stars and came out worldwide yesterday Friday 14th June on Columbia Records, proudly sporting thirteen new cuts clocking it at just over fifty minutes and change of runtime.

Somehow, a part of me is tickled by a form of redemptive urge to begging your pardon, esteemed readers, as we jointly wonder how on earth could one be possibly in a position to critically appraise and dissect a body of work that came out 24 hours prior to said critique, let alone by an artist as mystical, deep, and timeless as Springsteen? Yet, the album really is that good, ladies and gentlemen, that I am left with no other choice but throttling away at full speed aiming at shepherding your present, past, and future listening experiences of magnetic Western Stars. Mind you, this thing is predominantly a melodic unplugged affair, borrowing compositionally as much from Nebraska (1982) as from Tunnel of Love (1987), throwing in Bruce’s evergreen and universal reliability plus, evidently, more than a few residuals from his recent years spent looking back at his youth in memoir-mode as well as holding Broadway residencies with plenty of acoustic guitars.

Right off the bat with album opener “Hitch Hikin‘” — a stranded, heartfelt, and liberating lullaby led and wrapped by guitars and strings only — we get a clear no-frills sense of where Bruce is headed with this, fully delivering on his pre-announced promise to explore stories and topics that “encompass a sweeping range of American themes, of highways and desert spaces, of isolation and community and the permanence of home and hope.” The unique blend of hopeless melancholy mixed with unconcerned limitlessness conveyed by this tune is straight up lifted from his bona fide Springsteen playbook material: “I’m hitch hikin’ all day long / Got what I can carry and my song / I’m a rolling stone just rolling on / Catch me now ’cause tomorrow, I’ll be gone“. Once again, I’m the definition of a broken record here but I’m just so pleased and gratified anytime I stumble across albums that waste no time fumbling around and hit up listeners with their highest moments right from the top, even better so if directly with the opening track. Western Stars is in my opinion one such record. So, if you are to only listen to one song off this LP, please I implore you make it this one. It comes in handy as it’s the first thing you hear by pressing play on the record.

Now, I’m not insinuating that “Hitch Hikin'” is hands down and indisputably the best cut on here, as one could confidently say that Bruce has spoilt us by choice with this new outing. That accolade should probably be bestowed upon the album’s title track at number four, which alongside the groovy and deliciously lush “The Wayfarer”, and the LP’s third single “Tucson Train” (dropped on May 30th), make for one of the most solid, coherent, and convincing first album acts of 2019. “Western Stars” actually moonlights as the official fourth single for the eponymous full-length (out on release date) and is attached to a stupendously shot and intricate music video; with that being said, the creative and business rationale behind it not being the actual first lead track for its is beyond my comprehension. The tune is a tormented, deep, yet hopeful exploration of what it feels like to be entangled and checkmate-d by Southern California fame, while at the same time running on an extremely relatable mundane mantel made of blessings and curses each one of us goes through in life. Bruce here needs nothing more than his inspired pen, a warm acoustic guitar, and a gelling rhythm section to remind everyone who the real American storyteller for the people is.

Fifth on the tracklist “Sleepy Joe’s Café” brings a fun and welcome change of pace to the overall introspective and mainly somber aesthetic that kicked off the album, leveraging typical country and Western sonic elements to make for an uplifting break. The track is followed by another highlight in the shape of the haunted “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)“, showcasing a beguiling sobbing piano and a gentle guitar that would’ve perfectly fit on any of his 80s records, while the main character is presented the check for the carefreeness and rebellion of his juvenile days: “At nineteen, I was the king of the dirt down at the Remington draw / I liked the pedal and I didn’t mind the wall / ‘Midst the roar of the metal I never heard a sound / I was looking for anything, any kind of drug to lift me up off this ground“. In a similar vein, banjo-led “Chasin’ Wild Horses” navigates through past acceptance and regret, as it spearheads what is perhaps the weakest section on the record, additionally comprising the somewhat dull and sanitised ‘full-band rock song’ “Sundown” and the unplugged filler “Somewhere North of Nashville”.

The stunning orchestral “Stones” at number ten reprises the glorious and spotless songwriting leitmotiv found in Western Stars’ first portion, making way for a compelling and terrific duo of tracks where each doubled as promotional single in anticipation to the full album release. “There Goes My Miracle” successfully displays a best-of of some of Springsteen’s more modern sounds, very much at show on his noughties records The Rising (2002) and Magic (2007), while also providing for one of the catchiest — albeit lyrically bittersweet — hooks on the whole project. Meanwhile, the sweet and enchanting stripped down marching ballad “Hello Sunshine” is a country-folk gem sounding instantly like a Bruce classic, including his unique authorship trademark, blending universal sadness with the elevating power that comes with its embodiment: “You know I always loved a lonely town / Those empty streets, no one around / You fall in love with lonely, you end up that way / Hello sunshine, won’t you stay?“.

I don’t think anybody would’ve argued against having the latter track as the album’s epilogue, although the gorgeous cradling fairytale “Moonlight Motel“, aided by its unassuming embracing backdrop section and the inherent sunsetting nod included in its name, probably make for an even better curtain closer. All things considered, this thing is a near flawless depiction of enduring modern American songwriting, one where Bruce decidedly pulled out all the stops for the first time in a few decades — ironically by reverting back to just his acoustic six-strings. At a time when contemporary mainstream music — regardless of genre, but especially so for rock and roll — is being exposed as having a fundamental identity crisis, resorting more often than not to “everything but the kitchen sink”-formulas and algorithmic co-signs, embellished by branded deals, it’s so stupendously reassuring and refreshing to come across simplistic yet effective works of art such as Western Stars, utilising so little instrumentation but so much heart and emotion. If the price to pay for these types of flags in the desert sand, guiding us musically by way of spiritual reference points, is another five years of waiting, we’ll happily take it.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

WESTERN STARS

2019, Columbia Records

https://brucespringsteen.net

BruceSpringsteen_WS