Album Review: J. Cole – KOD

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Artist: J. Cole

Album: KOD

Genre: Hip Hop

Rating: 5/10

 Hip Hop is at a point now where the golden era of the 80’s and 90’s is often labeled “Dad Rap.” It’s been this way for awhile, but this recent crop of Trap rappers whom dominate the airwaves have made this even more apparent. The tattooed from head to toe rappers with colored dreads who put more emphasis on pounding bass and Trap high hats to make up for lack of technical skill have set the bar pretty low, but their success is at an all time high, but there are those rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, and Big K.R.I.T. who deliver thought provoking lyrical content all while pushing the genre forward by incorporating new and innovative elements, but there is a rapper who has all the qualities Hip Hop traditionalists love, but still manages to slip through the cracks when it comes to the “G.O.A.T.” talks, and that man is J. Cole. We’ve all heard the “platinum with no features,” “boring,” and “folding laundry” jokes, but all memes aside, the guy is a respectable MC. So what is it about his music that is so divisive? Well, everything he has released thus far has showcased his skills as an MC and a lyricist yes, but his songwriting abilities are very average, and his “old head” mentality is more of a curse than a gift. His decision to rap over dated “Boom Bap” production and his lack of interest in pushing the envelope deems much of his work inessential, and when you make Hip Hop in the 2010’s that’s indistinguishable from Hip Hop of the 90’s it raises the question “Why should we care about Cole?” His new album KOD suffers from the same issues, but the thing is, this album sounds like it was supposed to be his masterpiece. It feels as if Cole was shooting for a revolutionary album. This album is rich in thought provoking and quite intriguing subject matter, and it features recurring themes of mainstream Hip Hop’s glamorization of drugs and the influence it’s having on the youth, as well as humanity’s immersion in the evils of money, and the complex subject of love, which according to this album is “The strongest drug of them all.” Ugh, I don’t think I’ve eaten nachos as cheesy as that, and I don’t think that joke I just made is as cheesy as that line on the album. Anyway, yes these are topical and important subjects on paper, but the delivery is so lackluster that it unfortunately makes this album uninteresting, and I’m not talking about Cole’s rapping, I’m talking about how he focuses more on his flow and lyrical content and not enough on the production and anything else in the bigger picture that truly makes an album good. Yes lyrical content is a beautiful thing, and it is a very important part of music, but it’s not the only important element. If that were the case than books would be more popular than music. His lyrics and flow are not enough to save the album from the very plain and bland instrumentals, the generic “Trap” whether it’s done ironically or not, and the repetitive and uninspired hooks, and believe me, these hooks are terrible. Just listen to “The Cut Off” and you’ll know what I mean. Under the guise “kiLL edward,” Cole delivers a God awful annoying as Hell hook that anyone in their right mind would find grating, and unfortunately this uninteresting alter ego appears once again on the track “FRIENDS.” The tracks “ATM” and “KOD” are the strongest moments on the album, but they only sound a lot better than what they actually are because the rest of the album is so forgettable. Now I’m not trying to just rip this album to shreds. I actually have respect for J. Cole and I think he is a very talented MC, but he needs to realize that just because you talk about “real shit,” doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to be placed amongst the greats. It doesn’t automatically make an album good. If he’s too stubborn to realize that then he will most likely continue to release inessential and divisive music.

Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 04/23/18

Death Grips Unveil “Year of the Snitch” Album Cover

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Death Grips have unveiled the cover for their upcoming album Year of the Snitch, and in true Death Grips fashion it is uncomfortable, repulsive, and damn captivating. Year of the Snitch still has no release date, but the album is “Coming soon” according to the band.

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Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 04/06/18

Album Roundup

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With so much music being released constantly, it’s hard sometimes for an aspiring music critic with a day job to cover every single new album with a full length and in depth review (Trust me i’m trying!) Especially since this year has already been an incredible year for new music, so here is a roundup of new releases that I enjoyed but didn’t have a chance to review.

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Artist: The Voidz

Album: Virtue

Genre: Experimental Rock/Lo-Fi/Indie Rock/Post-Punk/Synth-Pop

Rating: 9/10

Julian Casablancas is mostly known for being the lead singer of “The Strokes,” the band that was often regarded as the leading force in the “Garage Rock Revival” movement in the early 2000’s, but in recent years Casablancas’ eccentricity and wide array of musical influences have transcended the “Pop Rock” category “The Strokes” have fallen into. This is all thanks to his new band “The Voidz (F.K.A. Julian Casablancas + The Voidz.)” Following the band’s 2014 debut Tyranny, their new album Virtue features even more diversity and unpredictability as the band charges through various genres with oddball antics, lyrical content rich in existentialism and politics, and beautiful melodies, and even though it’s easy to spot which genres the band pulls from on each track, the band by no means emulates anyone, instead this vast mixture of genres results in “The Voidz” fully developing their own hybrid of sound. It’s the sound of “The Voidz,” and it is glorious.

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Artist: Halfway Good

Song: Letter To A Friend

Genre: Alternative Rock/Indie Rock

Visalia, CA based “Halfway Good” have been working hard on new music and on their unpredictable and often hilarious podcast. Our first taste of new music following the band’s debut full-length album Arts and Crafts is the acoustic driven “Letter To A Friend,” and it’s an uplifting number with a catchy as Hell and sing-a-long-able chorus. It’s a reminder that no matter how much of a struggle you’re going through with whatever roadblocks or curveballs that are obstructing your progress, it’s important to remain optimistic, because that optimism can drive you to better the situation. Whether or not this track is about a specific person is unknown, but this song is delivered in a way that sounds like the band is talking to all of us, and in a world now where even some of the best music delves into melancholia or cynicism, it’s nice to hear something truly uplifting.

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Artist: Jack White

Album: Boarding House Reach

Genre: Blues Rock/Garage Rock/Funk/Spoken Word/Hip Hop

Rating: 8/10

Despite the ramblings of Jack White in recent interviews that can make anyone who despises pretentiousness cringe, Mr. White’s immense talent and genius still shows greatly in his music. His new album Boarding House Reach features the most interesting and innovative music in his solo catalog. This album finally reflects the eccentric persona White projects to the public with it’s experiments with genres one would normally deem unlikely when it comes to White’s music, and following his “Dad Rock” dominated music he’s been creating for years and years, it’s about damn time he lets his bizarre side shine.

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Artist: Johanna Warren

Album: Gemini II

Genre: Folk/Indie Folk/Acoustic

Rating: 7/10

Johanna Warren definitely does not write the kind of “Jimmy Crack Corn” Folk music you can sit around the campfire and sing along to, but the beautifully melodic and heartfelt music she has created on her new album Gemini II with it’s infectious guitar picking and atmospheric sound textures offers a gorgeous backdrop to the angsty and at times dark lyrical content. It is evident that singing her sorrows is very therapeutic for her, and hearing her sing with such sincerity and passion is a great experience.

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Artist: Car Seat Headrest

Album: Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

Genre: Indie Rock/Alternative Rock

Rating: 7.5/10

Following an incredible debut record for a major label like “Matador” and much critical acclaim, going back and re-recording an older “Bandcamp” album may seem like a bold move. Especially since the older version with it’s Lo-Fi sound and DIY aesthetic is what garnered much of the band’s fans and attention in the first place, but now that lead songwriter Will Toledo is backed by a full band, and now that he revealed that he finally knew how to finish the record 7 years after it’s release, it was clear that Toledo knew what he was doing, and the result of this re-recorded version of the beloved “Twin Fantasy” is proof that re-recording it was very necessary. This new version is cleaner, it’s tighter, it’s punchier, and improves on the many interesting ideas the original version had, and somehow Toledo sounds even more passionate when singing these songs 7 years later. Many of us are dying for new material, but this re-recorded version of “Twin Fantasy” is a real treat for old and new fans alike.

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Artist: Preoccupations 

Album: New Material

Genre: Post-Punk/Indie Rock/Gothic Rock

Rating: 8/10

“Preoccupations” don’t really break new ground with their new album New Material, but the band’s ambition to create uncompromising “Post-Punk” with a gloomy flavor that reflects some of the best “Gothic Rock” of the 80’s drives this record to success. With it’s minimal but hard hitting instrumentation, reverbed walls of sound, and poetically nihilistic lyrics, this album contains all of the best elements of “Post-Punk,” and it solidifies this new scene of “Post-Punk” bands keeping that spirit alive.

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Artist: Harm’s Way

Album: Posthuman

Genre: Metalcore/Hardcore

Rating: 7/10

With a band like “Code Orange” changing the landscape of “Metal” with their incorporation of outsider genres into the very one-dimensional genre of “Metalcore,” it’s nice to go back to the sound that inspired the band in the first place, and Chicago’s own “Harm’s Way” definitely know how to deliver that sound. The band is fine with what many people label a “corner,” and they run with it creating the most aggressive and violent sounding “Metal” today.

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Artist: Yamantaka // Sonic Titan

Album: Dirt

Genre: Experimental Rock/Progressive Rock

Rating: 7/10

Canadian collective “Yamantaka // Sonic Titan” are known for their theatrical and almost cult-like live shows, and their studio albums carry that same weight. Their new album Dirt is back to business as usual with their rollercoaster of emotions jumping from atmospheric and dreamy to heavy and sinister, and it’s an artistic experience that has no limits.

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Artist: Anna von Hausswolff

Album: Dead Magic

Genre: Experimental/Drone/Post-Metal

Rating: 7/10

Swedish musician Anna von Hausswolff has never had an interest in writing traditionally structured and straight-forward music, but her new album Dead Magic is easily her most accessible release, but don’t let that fool you, this is still a drony and highly experimental album, but it’s a lot brighter this time around, and when those unexpected sinister moments appear with her screeching vocals and almost “Doom” like guitars, it adds a lot to the intensity as opposed to some of her previous material which features a consistent dark tone all throughout.

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Artist: A.A.L (Against All Logic)

Album: 2012 – 2017

Genre: Deep House/IDM

Rating: 7.5/10

Producer Nicolas Jaar never fails to express the artistic and innovative merit “Electronic” music has with his compositions that are more headier than they are danceable, and with his new album under the moniker “A.A.L (Against All Logic)” he also proves that danceable four to the floor music can be experimental. He does this by providing music with numerous samples, clever production techniques, and soulful and at times Jazzy backdrops. This is an “Electronic” album for a thinker.

 

Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 04/03/18

 

Tyler, the Creator Shares New Track “OKRA”

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Tyler, the Creator has had much success as of late. He dropped an incredible album last year and he even received a few Grammy nominations. Now, he has dropped a new track titled “OKRA” which Tyler explained in a tweet that he made it “on some rap shit before tour just talking,” and that he decided to “just put it out for fun and move on with his life.” You can listen to the track below:

 

-Steven Sandoval-

Death Grips Announce New Album “Year of the Snitch”

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Death Grips have announced on their website and all over social media that their new album titled Year of the Snitch will be dropping soon. Just recently pics of the band in the studio with unlikely collaborators have surfaced online. Collaborators from the likes of Shrek director Andrew Adamson and “Tool’s” bassist Justin Chancellor. This release will follow last year’s Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix) and it will be their first full-length album since 2016’s Bottomless Pit. This new album can drop anytime now, because judging from the band’s past, they will release it whenever they damn well please. Maybe even tonight perhaps? You never know.

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Album Review: of Montreal – White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood

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Artist: of Montreal

Album: White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood

Genre: Electronic/Synthpop/Experimental Pop

Rating: 6/10

The very prolific Kevin Barnes and his extensive discography under his “of Montreal” project is a lot to digest. This body of work is rich in eclecticism and it draws from numerous genres, but the most prominent influence has always been “Psychedelic Pop” very reminiscent of the 60’s. There’s even a bit of Syd Barrett worship at times, and though this may be a bit of a distraction, the intrigue of where Barnes will go next has never waned. Once again on the band’s 15th studio album White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood, their sound has shifted into another unexpected direction. Inspired by 1980’s-style extended dance mixes this album goes in a very synth-heavy and danceable direction with four to the floor beats, groovy funk-filled basslines, and layers on top of layers of confusing and at times discombobulating sound textures. Oh yeah, there’s a lot going on, and Barnes and co. truly sound like they’re having fun. Especially Barnes who sounds a bit too happy to be singing about themes such as misanthropy, body dysmorphia, and being a loyal pervert, but nonetheless the band is having fun. The thing is, more often than not these songs feel too cluttered and a bit too reliant on production techniques, which takes a lot away from the enjoyability of this album. There’s enough proof that the band can succeed at the sound they’re going for but the damaging factors that make themselves front and center such as the clutter and Barnes’ goofy vocal delivery make this album insufferable for the most part, but when this album works, it’s a whole lot of fun. “Paranoiac Intervals/Body Dysmorphia” is a fun “House” dominated track with a catchy as Hell chorus with plenty of sing-a-long-able “Fuck fuck fucks!” The track “Writing the Circles/Orgone Tropics” is drony and hypnotic but with infectious percussion that will have you moving while you trip, and one of the main reasons why this track works so well is that the vocals aren’t as obnoxious as they are on the rest of the album, and that is another damaging factor. Yes there is a lot of great music that is obnoxious, but this album obnoxiously flaunts it’s massive amounts of cringe, and the majority of this cringe lies in the lyrics. With words like “Every person is a pussy, every pussy is a star,” or “Fucked in your driveway, in your driveway,” one can’t help but want to turn the shit off. An album from a band this inspired shouldn’t have those moments, but unfortunately it does, but this album isn’t a complete failure. The band knows how to make “Electronic” music quite well, and if they continue to go down this path but improve on this album’s misfires then we could witness a successful reinvention of “of Montreal.” One thing is for sure, that intrigue still hasn’t died.

Written By: Steven Sandoval

Date: 03/11/18

Album Review: Logic – Bobby Tarantino II

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Artist: Logic

Album: Bobby Tarantino II

Genre: Hip Hop

Rating: 7/10

There’s no denying the fact that Logic can flow his ass off, but his unfortunate inconsistency has been frustrating for those who know the guy is capable of achieving so much more when it comes to making music that is essential. Despite his recent success (Grammy nominations, hit singles, etc.) his latest album Everybody was very divisive. This album that was overblown to the point where leading up to this album many of us believed that it was going to be Logic’s “masterpiece,” was a safe exercise in the positive mindset of unity and peace, and though this is a very good message to have, the outcome of this album was just a collection of forgettable tracks that featured Logic urging us to come together all while trying to make these tracks catchy enough for radio play. Logic is well aware of this reception, and with his new mixtape Bobby Tarantino II, a sequel to his surprise 2016 mixtape, he reminds us that he still is a rapper that deserves our attention. This is by far the most boastful and confident Logic we’ve heard. This is “mixtape Logic” as described by Rick from “Rick and Morty” on the intro track “Grandpa’s Space Ship.” The bulk of this mixtape features Logic serving up Hip Hop purists that classic Hip Hop flow and ego over “Trap” dominated production mainly handled by “6ix.” There are some solid guest verses from Wiz Khalifa on the vibey stoner track “Indica Badu” that clocks in at exactly 4:20, and 2 Chainz who has been quite impressive with his features lately on the track “State Of Emergency.” Though Logic has yet to come into his own stylistically without the obvious borrowing from some of his contemporaries, and though the production on this mixtape gets a bit redundant and stale after awhile, this is a solid set of tracks and definitely worth a listen. Just skip that God awful track with “Marshmello.”

Written By: Steven Sandoval