ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): BROCKHAMPTON – ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE | 2021-04-10

We ain’t taking new BROCKHAMPTON projects lightly around here. After losing a whole year like the rest of us in 2020—causing them to fail to maintain their once-per-year LP issuing cadence for the first time since their 2016 All American Trash mixtape—the famed and celebrated pop-rap collective saw fit to unveil the first teaser to their alleged penultimate album ever as a boy band ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE toward the end of March, before unleashing the full body of work shortly thereafter on 9th April. Previewed by the manic and ferocious synthetic thrust of the rad Danny Brown-assisted “BUZZCUT“, the thirteen-chaptered sixth studio effort from the Texas-formed hip-hop group came into existence not without a certain degree of friction, huffing and panting as the culmination of a deranged and straining juncture for most of its members. Some of them spiralled into ravaging existentialism, some took time off to decompress and regroup, others lost family members to suicide, and most simply tried to do the right thing and combated an era-defining public health crisis.

Just to get some of the housekeeping and formalities out of the way here—this thing clocks in at about 45 minutes and change, is out as part of the band’s ongoing multi-year contractual obligation to Sony Music’s RCA Records, and comes co-signed, if not endorsed, by pretty much a who’s who of the hip-hop Mount Rushmore, starting with Wu-Tang Clan’s own RZA and super producer Rick Rubin. It’s sprawling and brimming with eclectic featured guests too, something of a first for BROCKHAMPTON, at least to the extent found here on a proper full length outside of sandboxing focus grouped contexts (such as last years’ pirated livestreamed Technical Difficulties mixtapes). On the newest project, a string of external vocal duties are provided by both A-list mainstream prima donnas (A$AP Rocky, Shawn Mendes, Charlie Wilson), as well as underground up-and-coming acts which one can only assume were pretty much A&R’d by Kevin Abstract and co. themselves (SoGone SoFlexy, Baird, Ryan Beatty). When considering both official tracklisted spots as well as uncredited contributions, no single record amongst the thirteen here is entirely devoid of fingerprints external to the core boy band collective’s.

The piercing and cutthroat aforementioned lead single finds Abstract in rare wordsmithing form, spitting fuming bars like his life depended on them, whilst enveloping prohibitive pockets other MCs would rather keep at arms’ length from: “Truth prevails, this is real, miss my brother / I love my mother, drove all the way to Cali’ just to check up on me / Made her go home, felt the virus / Web of life is my weave, false dreams stripped by silence“. Affording an expensive but ever so trustworthy Danny Brown feature, ornate with eccentric experimentalism coupled with exquisite velvet glove production, allows the Los Angeles-based posse to translate this joint into easily one of the standouts on the whole album right out of the gate. Moreover, its expansive and anti-climactic outro seamlessly fades into JPEGMAFIA’s low-key fly stanzas on the following G-funk “CHAIN ON“, not before alighting at a soft, glossy, and chanty refrain courtesy again of group leader Abstract.

Sequenced at number three on the tracklist one finds the carefree and summery alt-pop inklings of “COUNT ON ME“, doubling as the LP’s second single and—regrettably—tripling as one of the more lukewarm lulls on the whole project. Rocky’s lifeless uncredited intro and verse might just be uncredited for a reason, and while the Ryan Beatty and Shawn Mendes combo pairing crooning the “It’ll be okay, no matter what thеy say about us / It’ll be okay, no matter what they say about us / I know that it’ll bе okay / You ain’t even need no money, you can count on me” chorus is a certainly catchy formula, it’s also pretty much the only redeeming quality this tired radio edit has got going for itself. Counterintuitively, the following “BANKROLL“, with its intricate and busy textured beat and (properly credited) A$AP Mob indulgence does not seem to be able to invert the one-dimensional leitmotif kicked off by “COUNT ON ME”, falling short on nearly all accounts, sounding like a hodgepodge of lacklustre cutting room floor material from the group’s GINGER and iridescence studio sessions.

Fortunately, ROADRUNNER picks up quality steam and lifts off again on its (vinyl’d) B-side with one of its title tracks. “THE LIGHT” at number five is a revelatory, stark, and bare portray spat by both JOBA and Kevin Abstract set to distorted guitars and zany organ samples, interplayed by a singular foreboding and swift chorus, acting as central statement of intent for the whole entire record’s concept underpinning: “For the record, I can fly / Around the world, absorbing light / Something’s missin’ deep inside / The light“. Speaking of table centrepieces, the following six-minute epic “WINDOWS” might just stand as the boy band’s best and most grandiose roll call-meets-victory lap display by virtually all key members to date, sporting gnarly and captivating verses, bridges, and refrains one after another from, in chronological order, Video Store (Abstract and lead producer Romil Hemnani’s media company) signee and fellow Corpus Christi MC SoGoneSoFlexy, Merlyn Wood, Matt Champion, Jabari Manwa, Dom McLennon, JOBA, Kevin Abstract, and bearface.

Believe it or not, some of the most memorable moments on this thing are yet to be dissected though: “OLD NEWS” opening a hypothetical vinyl’s side C at number eight is lifted from true blue classic BROCKHAMPTON playbook MO, showcasing everything from saccharine R&B knacks, sing-along-y refrains, heartfelt and uncompromising bars from Champion, Wood, JOBA, as well as obscure talent Baird, all the way to bona fide clever producer tags worked in for prosperity (“BLEACH“, anyone?). The glamorous and sensual Charlie Wilson-assisted ballad “I’LL TAKE YOU ON“, together with bearface’s modern hymn solo gospel “DEAR LORD“, ensure some proper and much needed soulful respite is spruced atop of the otherwise musically eventful thirteen-cut tracklist, whilst the JOBA-Champion duet atop of an irresistible “WHAT’S THE OCCASION?” alternative indie beat comes across like one of the band’s most off-kilter and compelling songwriting in a while, completed by a sure fan favourite melancholic refrain (“A million little pieces all add up to nothin’ lately / Swim within my bedsheets, it’s somethin’ like a celebration / What’s the occasion? / What’s the occasion?“) as well as gorgeous Beatles-esque arrangement. Yes, you read that right.

Similarly, one could not sing enough praise about the two superlative back-to-back cuts “WHEN I BALL” and “DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY” on the record’s back end for switching up gears yet again—their inventive, refined, and catchy demeanour is pure sonic feast to behold. What’s even more remarkable about these two numbers is that they both manage to miraculously still leave a decisive creative impact after having undergone the evident enduring legacy from the wealth of quality material preceding them on ROADRUNNER. Yet, the award for absolute and utmost show-stopping, scene-stealing, heads-turning apex undoubtedly goes to curtain closer “THE LIGHT, PT II“. This stripped down, deconstructed, and larger-than-life helping houses what has got to be one of the most candid, bare, and brutally honest heart-on-sleeve set of verses any BROCKHAMPTON member ever put down to wax in the group’s discography. The following album closing account from JOBA, aside from being impeccably executed, acts as ultimate exhibit to life’s herculean and stoic defiance, particularly when guided by the light machine. It’s reported here in closing and in its bowing out entirety:

When that hammer pulled back, did you think of me?

You were the one that taught me how to be

Look at me now in all my glory

Overcame a lot, that’s a different story

Abandoned by the life-giver, lookin’ back at my life different

Deep cuts in the dusk of the final gasp, before your life flashed

What happens when you die? Does it fade black?

I sense you in my skin and the trucker cap

Missed it when we laughed

Didn’t trust my intuition when I saw the cracks

I’m sorry, all I ever want to do is make you proud

Fleetin’ moments, always found a way around the frown

Set aside the pain to celebrate the now

Couldn’t kick me out the house, I was fucked up

Nothing to prove without doubt, if I’m man enough

What’s the use? I could use you, ’cause I’m scared as fuck

Tuck me in, always young enough to feel loved

And share some, are you lookin’ down?

And a child reachin’ out, brittle bone, crying now

The past does not define you

The past does not define you

The burden was too much

Couldn’t save you from yourself when you’d self-destruct

Couldn’t save me from myself when I pushed my luck

To tell the truth, I am just like you

Left it all in the pistol that you used

Always be a little man, following your footsteps

Even though I’m mad, even though you’re gone

You live on, and the day I have kids

And tell ’em ’bout Grandpa and how great he is

And the grandkids’ grandkids

You’ll never meet if it weren’t for you

I wouldn’t be, neither would they

It’s safe to say I’ll find a way out the darkness

The way you left ‘Ma hits me the hardest

What a shame, things change in the blink of an eye

Fade away, fast break to the depths in the sky

Impermanence turned permanent with a nine

That’s life, that’s life

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

BROCKHAMPTON

ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE

2021, RCA Records

https://www.brckhmptn.com

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): KINGS OF LEON – WHEN YOU SEE YOURSELF | 2021-03-06

Nashville, TN-natives Kings of Leon are the type of modern day alt/arena rock band that one would figure receives abundant questionable coverage from dime-a-dozen mainstream rock music blogs, and then some. Be it their envied stratospheric popularity, their early-to-mid noughties universal critical acclaim, or the clickbait-y inside family job they’ve got going for themselves—there is no such thing as scarcity of press icebreakers as far as the 1999-formed quartet. It’s therefore all the more surprising how this here unfolding before your very eyes gets filed as the first official album review by this site of anything lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Caleb, bassist Jared, lead guitarist Matthew, and stickman and BV-journeyer Nathan Followill have put out over more than two decades. Yet, as another reviewing taboo was demystified last summer, the time has come to entertain a virtual watercooler-blabbering conversation about Kings of Leon’s eight studio full length When You See Yourself, out worldwide just this past 5th of March Friday on the mighty RCA Records.

Whether one likes to admit it or not, Kings of Leon are one of only a handful residual overhyped, gentrified, and focus grouped bands to have come out alive the other side of the early 00s garage-rock revival mania. While it can be argued that at least some of their MO employed to withstand such ruthless and repellant industry plant cycle can attributed to, well, selling out, as well as shamelessly embracing the role of poster-children record business mercenaries (whatever that means in the current post-selfie, TikTok-era), there is quite a lot in the way of originality, refinement, and quality as part of their Southern rock-informed familial affair. One does certainly not need to be reminded of the radio-friendly and commercially-appealing ubiquity of their multi-platinum selling 2008 project Only By the Night, or the fact that the three brothers and one cousin stand hitherto nominated for as many as twelve Grammy Awards in their career—snatching four of them including Record of the Year and Best Rock Song for “Use Somebody” in 2010—to realise how warranted, highly-anticipated, and of ‘public interest matter’ any coverage of the issue of their first LP in five years oughta be.

This latest release of the collection of eleven new records on When You See Yourself represents the culmination of the longest gap in-between studio projects to date for the rock band, who chose once more to enlist British producer Markus Dravs after his work on the their preceding full length WALLS in 2016. What’s more, said limbo was reportedly slated to be less significant than the full five years it turned out to be, for main songwriter and lyricist Caleb allegedly began to mess around with first rough draft ideas of songs that would eventually land on KoL’s latest album as early as January from two years back. Unsurprisingly, had it not been for the largest public health cataclysm in a century, the record would have most likely seen the light of day at some point last year. Evidently though, that did not materialise, translating into an unsolicited epiphany affording the four Followill relatives a long and enduring de-briefing phase that helped them digest, marinate, and perfect the final batch of tracks that ended up being sequenced on this thing, making up for a robust 51 minutes of runtime by the way—almost a length colossus in the streaming age.

It is not just an unusual and business-allergic, if not externally-imposed, self-reflection that envelops some type of idiosyncrasy to this record, but perhaps even more un-analogue and old-school is the group’s unorthodox and avant-garde decision to employ distributed ledger technologies—also known as blockchain—to beef up the promotional cycle surrounding When You See Yourself. Partnering with US technology company YellowHeart, through a promo campaign wittily dubbed NFT YOURSELF Kings of Leon became the first band to offer an album as a so-called non-fungible token (NFT), a cryptocurrency-like artefact set to unlock unique perks for its holders such as limited-edition vinyl, multimedia artwork pieces, and front row seats coupled with premiere concierge treatment to all future concerts. So the band’s creative director Casey McGrath on the futuristic stunt: “We approached the release […] in such an analog way, from the band’s approach in the studio to shooting everything on film and went as far as literally pulling out the scotch tape and glue sticks, and dry transfer lettering. To approach NFT YOURSELF with a digital art mindset sent electricity through the work. For those in the space that understand, they’ll appreciate the techniques of audio-generated imaging, pose detection, and pixel morphing that we used to create this collectible art. For those that don’t, we hope they’ll appreciate the undeniable power and emotion that results from the collision of analog and digital.”

Now how does one follow that one up? Arguably only by delving head-first into the music lied to wax on this album. It was first premiered earlier in January this year by two lead singles “The Bandit“—a gritty and rough-around-the-edges trip down sonic KoL memory lane with Far West saloon-ish lyricism such as “Chiseled their names in stone / Heavy the load you tow / And the red horse is always close / And the fire don’t burn below“—as well as “100,000 People“, a clearer and more linear successor to some of the most subdued and contemplative work off WALLS, stretching over almost six minutes of dejected and defeated romantic balladry, with an appeal perhaps stronger for motion picture synchronisation than radio spins. Speaking of which during an informative and riveting chat with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, airplay potential and easy rotation were endgoals the four American purposefully tried to deliberately not chase during the studio and writing sessions for their latest outing. It is not hard to believe them in hindsight, with a finished body of work sporting just two cuts under four minutes of playtime, and as many as three fiercely running for longer than five minutes without ever overstaying their welcome. The latter crop of tracks include the nocturnal, hypnotic, and emotionally draining opener “When You See Yourself, Are You Far Away” as well as the tastefully dour “A Wave“, which according to KoL’s frontman Caleb “has to stand out as one of the proudest moments in our career”.

Truth be told, the four Tennesseeans packed in reasons to be proud in spades on their latest studio effort. Look no further than the groovy, gorgeously self-aware and blue-eyed funk rock swagger of “Stormy Weather” at number four, or even the pernickety and luscious layered six-string work of the Come Around Sundown-sounding “Golden Restless Age” opening the LP’s C side. Having said that, the record’s back-end does suffer from a mild case of complacency and phoning-it-in-ness, found particularly severely on the symptomatically tired and underwhelming authoring underpinning the core of “Supermarket” as well as the bland, second-hand, overheated riff soup of the otherwise lyrically inspired “Echoing” sequenced on the album’s penultimate slot. Luckily for fans and the Leon royals themselves though, Caleb and bros. appear to outdo themselves compositionally on the extraordinarily exquisite curtain closing ballad “Fairytale“. The four minute arrangement comes in the form of a boneless and skeleton-free experimental number that sounds as if an algorithm synthetised the utmost worthy elements of their Only By the Night standout “Closer” and soaked them in the energy, vibes, and instrumental configuration of their most hardcore WALLS-era imprint. It thus becomes clear that whether in form of PR antics, or just bona fide songwriting, creative hybridity seems to be the only way Kings of Leon appear to push forward nowadays, particularly when they see themselves.

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

KINGS OF LEON

WHEN YOU SEE YOURSELF

2021, RCA Records

https://kingsofleon.com

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): FOO FIGHTERS – MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT | 2021-02-06

It’s Foos season all over again—after skipping a whole year and seeing their original roll out plans affected by the public health crisis bought upon by COVID-19 alongside the rest of the entertainment industries, the beloved, accomplished, and marquee alternative rock group saw fit to pick February’s first eligible new music Friday to unveil their tenth studio LP Medicine at Midnight. Following up on 2017’s slept-on and widely ignored Concrete & Gold, the post-grunge sextet currently composed of frontman and principal songwriter Dave Grohl, drummer and background vocalist Taylor Hawkins, bassist Nate Mendel, lead and rhythm guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear, as well as keys wizard Rami Jaffee reportedly chose to go into a fully groovy, dancey, and rhythmic power pop direction on their latest offering. Premiered in early November last year by something fairly faithful to said instruction coming in (the colour and) the shape of “Shame, Shame“, the record is out on RCA Records and sees the renewed inclusion of mainstream hit pop producer Greg Kurstin on production duties, after his work on Concrete & Gold four years ago.

With the exception made of 2014’s ambitious and only ever so slightly pretentious HBO-earmarked Sonic Highways project, which from a tracklist-length perspective sports a mere eight tracks on its sequencing, Medicine’s similarly scant nine cuts make for the Foo Fighters’ shortest studio album to date, with just 35 minutes and change of runtime. For as weird and zany as it sounds, Dave Grohl and band attribute the concise and efficient recording sessions, as well as their meagre output, to spooky ghosts and paranormal activity experienced in the Californian house-turned-studio they recorded the album in. The former Nirvana stickman is widely known as the earnest nicest man in rock n roll, so there should be no reason for one to doubt this—but one’s gotta hand it to them, if that is not entirely true, at least it’s a pretty darn good promo stunt. The aforementioned first lead single “Shame, Shame” had enough percussive intricacies and instrumental experimentation to have listeners both attentive and salivating over more teasers. Too bad these would be misguided shortly thereafter by second single “No Son of Mine“, a subsequent abrasive red herring dropped on New Year’s Day 2021, packing a by-the-numbers Lemmy and Motörhead worship, going as far as retooling and reverse-engineering his iconic and seminal hit “Ace of Spades“.

Whilst “No Son of Mine” is this album’s “White Limo“—therefore a trademark and formulaic MO project inclusion for the outfit at this point—third and final single in anticipation to the full length “Waiting on a War“, released in mid January just weeks prior to the official street date, is instead a true blue encapsulation of Dave Grohl’s elemental songbook down to a T: relatable universality in its lyrics, lush and climactic six-string arrangements culminating in fan-favourite, stadiums-ready sing-along choruses topped with epic outros, as well as that old familiar dash of conscientious je ne sais quoi typical of Dave’s best work hitherto. It’s predictive, run-of-the-mill, and terribly safe territory for Foo Fighters, but it’s amongst the best tunes on this thing: “Every day waiting for the sky to fall / Big crash on a world that’s so small / Just a boy with nowhere left to go / Fell in love with a voice on the radio“. Furthermore, the song is indicative of a counterintuitive pattern emerging inherent to Medicine at Midnight, where its most tasteful and effective moments might just be found in slower ballads and their acoustic compositional manifestation. Take penultimate cut “Chasing Birds” for instance, a gorgeously orchestrated Bowie-esque chanson with unplugged guitar ornaments to die for. A record that somehow manages to transcend this album’s dance floor flair and rise to a whole other life of its own above the clouds of rock and roll pantheon.

Incidentally, the latter would have made for a much more memorable and compelling closing chapter than the manic and jovial “Love Dies Young” sequenced at number nine, which despite its glossy reverb and chorus-soaked guitars set against the greasy palm muted distortion sounds just like “No Son of Mine”s illegitimate sister song, as if it were gestated from the same writing session, but after two more drinks and a puff of marijuana for all intents and purposes (the BVs on the refrain are irresistibly angelic and ethereal though). It is not a bad song and there is nothing inherently wrong in ending a consciously sought after dance rock record with the uplifting and cinematic sound design of “Love Dies Young”s back-end, though perhaps morphing this tune with its ancillary Lemmy-obituary hymn could have made for less lukewarm fillers overall. Speaking of fillers—a word that should ideally not come up in a nine-track album review—”Holding Poison” at number seven on the tracklist has got to be amongst the most underwhelming, subpar, and one-dimensional material the Seattle group has issued in years. What was probably intended to be a premiere arena rock fist-bumper and foot-stomper joint in Dave’s mind and intent, actually comes off sounding like the 101 of a hard rock tune one would teach a group of pimple-adorned pre-teens as they’re learning their analogue instruments coalesced in a world tainted by DJs and TikTok (and it’s the longest tune on the album, no less).

Need not worry too much dear readers, as there are musical reasons to rejoice aplenty to be found on the Foo Fighters’ tenth body of work. Start by hitting play on album opener “Making a Fire“; if one can make it past the cringeworthy and gentrified “na na na nas” cheaply leading up to each of the verses, the tune goes on to reveal both enthralling compositional prowess and topical meritocracy: “But if this is our last time / Make up your mind / I’ve waited a lifetime to live / It’s time to ignite, I’m making a fire“. Track number three “Cloudspotter“, with its greasy and fat guitar riffs shredding, rhythmic swagger, and catchiness in spades, is potentially the best representation of what the band set out to do from the jump when it affirmed that it went into production aiming to capture its “love of rock bands that make these upbeat, up-tempo, almost danceable records”. A similar flavoursome balance is to be experienced on the title track here, where sampled drum machines effortlessly complement slick basses and lush choral arrangements, all the while being enveloped in sticky refrains and bouncy grooves. Truth be told, such a somewhat successful creative heist at this point in the band’s career should at least be getting an ‘A for effort’. However, whether Dave Grohl likes it or not, the songs we’ll be remembering most fondly from Medicine at Midnight years down the line will still be those pulled from his diamond-in-the-rough punk rock lore—something that no matter how hard he tries to tame or shoehorn away into a focus group-ed thematic north star, still tips the scale in his favour.

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

FOO FIGHTERS

MEDICINE AT MIDNIGHT

2021, RCA Records

https://www.foofighters.com

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS TIER LIST | 2021-02-02

30stc-tier-list

Support Thirty Seconds to Mars:

https://thirtysecondstomars.com
https://music.apple.com/us/artist/thirty-seconds-to-mars/2307416
https://www.instagram.com/30secondstomars
https://twitter.com/30SECONDSTOMARS

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): EVERY TIME I DIE – A COLOSSAL WRECK/DESPERATE PLEASURES | 2021-01-10

New York state-natives and Epitaph-signees Every Time I Die made sure we did not usher too comfortably into a hopeful and redemption-filled 2021 without first getting uppercutted by a slaying miasma of savagery refinement. The acclaimed metalcore quartet saw fit to unveil a double A-side lead single before last disgraced year’s countdown, almost exactly a month ago on the 8th December (AOTY list season and other publishing commitments caused the curatorial delay). Dropped in anticipation to their still unnamed ninth studio LP, slated for release later in the year and their first in over a lustrum—this serving as their longest gap between albums since their formation in the late Nineties—both pitiless and manic teasers accompanied a larger announcement of an exclusive Online Telethon Extravaganza livestream, dubbed TIDathon. The event took place on 19th December and replaced the group’s traditional annual TID the Season holidays show in a virtual fashion. AWOL, a third instant-gratification cut which will also presumably be featured on the untitled Low Teens follow-up, was furnished to ticket-purchasers via download link.

The two symbiotic furious hardcore ragers making up the bundle are titled “A Colossal Wreck” and “Desperate Pleasures” and hint at a revolving artistic dialectic between them. That is, both numbers’ sonic, thematic, and sequencing demeanour suggests a direct back-to-back relationship on the forthcoming project’s tracklist, a sentiment that further appears to be solidified by the following statement issued by Every Time I Die’s frontman and lyricist Keith Buckley upon the single’s release in early December:

[The songs are] two sides of the same reactionary coin. While Colossal Wreck looks around at the current state of the world and says , ​‘life is a punishment and only the worst of us thrive,’ Desperate Pleasures takes a more optimistic approach and renounces the nihilistic/accelerationist attitude of the voice that came before.

It says that without hope, even in the face of such universal anguish, only death is certain and to give up now when those around us need it most is a treacherous act of pure cowardice. That said, I’m not sure which is worse, being a coward or being a cynic. Probably a coward. At least cynics have a sense of humor.

Coming to the music, “A Colossal Wreck” pierces through its two blazing minutes and a half of blistering perniciousness by way of an absolutely ravaging and relentless destructive rhythmic flow, flashing by in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it apex, before cathartically culminating into a larger-than-life breakdown-turned-outro: “I should have been baptized / Death’s perfect shine is in my eyes / Now I’m just killing time / Until time decides I’ve had enough / We must have not / I should have been baptized / Death’s perfect shine is in my eyes / Now I’m just killing time / Until time decides I’ve had enough“. This record flexes most of the veteran metallers’ trademark harsh muscles, purveying abundant beefy six-string distortion atop of annihilating percussive drills bordering mathcore. As per the Buffalo’s finests’ indulging sinfulness, the whole effort is driven by Buckley’s inhumane high-octane screams that seem to pull listeners by their dried out necks, only to scour layers of venomous graters down their blood-curdling agonised jugular pipings instead of quenching their vitriolic thirst.

On the promo single’s rear side one finds “Desperate Pleasures”, undoubtedly a groovier and more dejected exploit than its madder sister song, although by no means less compositionally dense or forgiving. In a way, this track’s impact could be seen as even more brutal and plaguing than “Colossal Wreck”. At first, Every Time I Die seem to bestow some respite upon listeners, as the tune flat out thoughtlessly swings through its initial bells-tolling cadence and chant-y-meets-jammy fifty seconds of runtime. However, this swiftly transforms into a giant take-no-prisoners sonic red herring, as Buckley and his violent gents company pick up steam to arise full pedal-to-the-metal with the cut’s second stanza: “Fight for their lives / Fight for their lives / The hopeless are useless in desperate times / You got it bad? Try having passion / Try still believing that some good will happen / Though nothing ever has / And nothing ever will / ‘Cause nothing ever can / It’s almost unbearable / Honestly? Terrible“.

“Desperate Pleasures”‘s rest from that point on is a who’s-who of the influential hardcore group’s most cherished and accomplished songwriting components, all worked into a topical poignancy that only a nihilist 2020 record can sport: angular sludge metal guitar riffs, murderous blast beats, a rhythm section that could rival any of R&B’s grooviest assemblies, as well as a verbose and intricate lyrical section earmarked by ETID’s 41-year-old singer’s internationally-renowned authorship and wordsmithing. With still no fixed release date or album roll out in sight, it’s (quite literally) terrifyingly reassuring to know that Keith on the mic, alongside his brother Jordan and professional wrestler Andy “The Butcher” Williams on guitars, Stephen Micciche on bass and touring stickman Clayton Holyoak, appear to have not skipped a blastbeat even after their longest break in-between studio full lengths hitherto. Similarly gnarly is the reckoning of a meat-and-potatoes outfit that can still milk its winning compositional chemistry more than twenty years since its debut, yet as candidly illustrated by this recent double A-side single, at the same time manages to deliver their conventional rabidness without ever running the risk of painting themselves into a musical corner.

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

EVERY TIME I DIE

A COLOSSAL WRECK/DESPERATE PLEASURES

2020, Epitaph

http://everytimeidie.net

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

BRIAN FALLONLOCAL HONEY (LESSER KNOWN RECORDS)

Buy it here.

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

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): THE WAR ON DRUGS – OCEAN OF DARKNESS | 2020-12-01

Holy smokes I just can’t get over how breathtakingly perfect, laudably defiant, and effortlessly delivered this sound recording is. To every new song I am reviewing, either you get to Adam Granduciel-level or get the f*** out.

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

THE WAR ON DRUGS

LIVE DRUGS

2020, Super High Quality

https://www.thewarondrugs.net/home

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): SMASHING PUMPKINS – CYR | 2020-11-19

What’s interesting about undergoing a premature album review as it pertains to the creative output of alternative rock legends Smashing Pumpkins is that one year one could be serviced with a complete album spanning eight cuts and clocking in at just over half an hour of runtime, whereas another (zany) year one could be serviced with just as many preview teasers for its follow up—which combined clock in at just over half an hour of runtime—and not even reach half of the pre-announced tracklist length for said very album. Just to make head and tails here, in 2018 Billy Corgan and co. unveiled their tenth official studio album Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun., comprising eight songs and recorded alongside producer royalty Rick Rubin at his swanky Shangri La studio in Malibu, California. Fast forward to two years and a global pandemic later and we find the American alt rockers announcing their follow-up LP CYR in form of a gnarly and improbable 20-track double album, slated for release on 27th November by Washington D.C. and Los Angeles-based indie imprint Sumerian Records.

Intended both in music and spirit to act as a successor to their previous aforementioned project, serving as the second instalment for the group’s ongoing Shiny and Oh So Bright series, CYR began to be teased during this past summer through a raft of mysterious SP countdown timers across the Interweb, which eventually led to the unboxing of synth-pop Ava Adore-ing lead single/title track “Cyr” (“Tangents vex the whorl / The void arrives then leaves / Returning, returning a kiss / For lovers built the dream“) as well as its attached garage/indie B-side “The Colour of Love“—the latter incidentally doubling as the grand record opener. Predictably, both numbers came with luscious accompanying music videos, which quickly grew to reveal a larger five-part cyber-psych animated series outing dubbed In Ashes, written and created by Billy Corgan himself and set to coincide with the ambitious album roll out. Speaking of which, at the time of writing this amounts to eight individual singles parsed out across four separate release slots, giving lucky and thirsty fans more than the average conventional taster amount ahead of the CYR’s complete unveiling. This brings us full circle to the notion of the present ‘perhaps-not-so-much’ premature evaluation of the full piece de resistance dropping at the end of the month.

Subsequently to the initial solid and convincing two-track combo unleashed at the end of August, SP saw fit to start dropping another double single at the end of September, this time in the guise of the sticky, kooky, and eccentric art-pop of “Confessions of a Dopamine Addict” on its A-side (“I’m down for bewitching trains / And cursed tower / The masts blackened / As windswept / Horizons ever sour / If it takes more to find you / Than setting out a fading sun“), as well as the nocturnal indie-synth sensibilities of the soft and tender “Wrath” on its back. Not content with the existing load, just a few weeks later throughout the month of October the Grammy Awards-winning goths chose to issue an additional two double-single bundles within the span of a couple weeks. Leading the streak was the raspy and gritty guitar-lead of “Anno Satana“—sporting arguably the most gratifying songwriting amongst the ongoing promotional eight-pack—counter-mirroring the more subdued and dejected yet adorable B-side “Birch Grove“. Lastly, and fittingly just in time for Halloween, the angelic and compositionally gelid flairs of alt-ballad “Ramona” graced the world’s airwaves with necessary respite vis-a-vis flip-side “Wyttch“‘s gruesome, abrasive, and bewildering spookiness (with a frightful official music video out on Friday 13th, no less)—marking the last and easily heaviest cut unveiled by the quartet in anticipation to CYR.

Any partial artistic inference made to the full LP on account of not even half of its total track count can’t forego the crucial monition of how—unlike for Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. where Mr Rubin was given creative control of the production steering wheel—this record sees Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan looking after any and all production duties. Nonetheless, and rightfully so considering the ongoing gelling conceptual album series, tracks such as the aforementioned “The Colour of Love”, “Anno Satana”, and “Wyttch” immediately seal a robust sonic continuum with its 2018 predecessor, both in terms of thematic focus and sound delivery. Whether completely intentional or not, one can only assume that at least a portion of that analogue, guitar-led, and driving percussive predicament entrenched in said cuts goes to distill some degree of the band’s true current musical ethos—not a bad thing in and of itself for it’s sounding rad. However, the crispier, cleaner, and glossier new wave synth processing found in flagship singles here, such as the title track, “Wrath”, and “Birch Grove”, hint at a possible return to more lavish late 90s aesthetics, albeit sans the compositional depth seen on Machina/The Machines of God.

While on the subject of studio arrangements and recorded instrumentation inklings, it’s probably worth reiterating that in 2020, aside from the aforementioned singer-honcho Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins is Jimmy Chamberlin on drums, James Iha on lead guitar, and Jeff Schroeder on rhythm guitar—the former two doubling as reverting staples from the legendary original line-up that thrusted the group into international stardom and critical acclaim, back then completed by controversial absentee bassist D’arcy Wretzky. As expected, taping sessions for CYR saw existing members record stems on their respective instruments, whilst aside from synthesizers, additional guitars, vocals, and production duties, Mr Corgan also lied bass guitars to wax for the occasion (additional background vocals, significantly presents on a chunk of the eight promotional singles described above, come courtesy of Sierra Swan and existing Australian touring member Katie Cole). Judging by the hors d’oeuvre SP has served us hitherto, the suite of styles and sounds one is to expect from the full length appears fairly versatile on the ear, ranging from the foreboding distortion of “Wyttch” through to “Birch Grove”‘s culling and sparse caresses, emanating tenderness and endearment from its every musical pore.

With a whole other album’s worth of twelve records off CYR still to be released, and more than half of the projected 72 minutes of runtime left to nothing more than the listeners’ imagination, any definitive appraisal of this album at this point would be reductive at best. Add Mr Corgan’s inherent unpredictability and—for a sincere lack of a better term—creative weirdness on top of the equation, and one soon realises that any judgement bestowed one week away from the album’s street date is as reliable as the next person’s. Truly and honestly though, based off this sample of tracks, CYR does not seem to sport the same oomph, pizazz, compression, and dare I say it even catchiness found throughout Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be stood corrected here once all twenty songs hit the digital streaming shelves and each and every one of these promotional cuts can be savoured within the context of the full conceptual journey, but for as slept-on and underrated the inaugural instalment of the Shiny and Oh So Bright trilogy still is, it’s also proven to have aged robustly well despite—or perhaps precisely because of—being devoid of much promotional bells and whistles fanfare.

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

SMASHING PUMPKINS

CYR

2020, Sumerian Records

https://smashingpumpkins.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