Follow by Email

Thursday, July 3, 2014

NEW BLOG LOCATION- Wordpress Site

Dear anyone who reads this site,

Thank you for listening and I'm eternally grateful. If you enjoy what you see on this site, kindly consider venturing over to my newly updated blog address on Wordpress where I am continuing to talk about new albums and new music. http://thoughtsofamusicalcynic.wordpress.com/

As of the latest post, I discussed my favorite albums at the midway point of the year and in order they were the following:

10. Jack White- Lazaretto
9. The Roots- ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin
8. Cloud Nothings- Here and Nowhere Else
7. Schoolboy Q- Oxymoron
6. Damon Albarn- Everyday Robots
5. Beck- Morning Phase
4. Badbadnotgood- III
3. CLipping- CLPPNG
2. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib- Pinata
1. St. Vincent- St. Vincent

Thank you very much and once again the blog address is http://thoughtsofamusicalcynic.wordpress.com/

Ronak Nair

Monday, March 24, 2014

St. Vincent - St. Vincent - ALBUM REVIEW

























GENRES: Indie/Electronic Pop, Singer/Songwriter, Lo-Fi Electronic Pop

 

TOP TRACKS: Rattlesnake, Birth in Reverse, Prince Johnny, Digital Witness, I Prefer Your Love, Psychopath

 

In what has been a rather low-profile career of unfortunately obscure indie records, St. Vincent might just obtain the attention she deserves with her fourth, self-titled LP. As a singer/songwriter with a very broad scope of sounds, St. Vincent has garnered the attention of a rather specific group of underground fans. Her sound has ranged from quite ethereal music all the way to high energy electronic/indie rock with distorted guitars and very dirty pop music all around.

The inverted sound of rock music is enjoyable on this record especially on the opening track "Rattlesnake" that has so many different elements involved from synths to extremely heavy guitar solo effects. "Birth in Reverse" also had a great contrast in the mood and overall sound of the verse and the chorus. The drawn out dangly nature of St. Vincent's voice in the verse is met with a very high-energy and creative melody.

The range of tones and fee on St. Vincent's self-titled is by far the most impressive part of this surprisingly complete 2014 album. "Prince Johnny" is majestically put together with incredible bass synths and vocals. "I Prefer Your Love" had a certain reclusive indie charm to it that really transcends any sort of description that I could possible place upon it.

Originality and creativity proved to be St. Vincent's strongest asset in the mode of production especially on "Digital Witness." The trumpets and fanfare throughout the verse give this particular track a very quirky and "out there" feel to it. I did love the progression to the chorus which proved to be very driving and colossal in it's mix of sounds.

This was a beautiful album at its peak which stretched out throughout many songs, but there were a few boring moments throughout the song that just left me wanting something a little bit more intriguing. The beat on "Huey Newton" as well as the vocals for that matter were a bit redundant and didn't really feel all that interesting to me. The ending with a harsher guitar tone that resembled shoegaze music also did not really do anything for me. This song was just poorly done which was surprising considering how well put together the majority of this album was.

Aside from these few nitpicky agenda items, St. Vincent's latest release was a successful venture. I really loved it for the most part and could definitely see myself coming back to it at anytime in the foreseeable future. St. Vincent as an artist just has a very interesting voice and I was happy to see her continuing to put out such great music.

FINAL SCORE: 8 /10

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Schoolboy Q - Oxymoron - ALBUM REVIEW




















 

 

 

 

 

 GENRES: Hip-Hop, Commercial Hip-hop, Trap Hip-Hop

 

TOP TRACKS: Los Awesome, Collard Greens, Hoover Street, The Purge, Blind Threa


Schoolboy Q is just the next in line to release his major-label debut from TDE. First came Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar with Control System and GOOD Kid m.A.A.d City and here is the heavily hyped Oxymoron. Schoolboy Q in my mind is the least interesting member of 'Black Hippy' as Kendrick is clearly the top player from the group, followed by the unpredictably wild Ab-Soul and the very classic style of hip-hop Jay Rock. Q has always been a rapper who is slightly better than average. There are times where his outlandish portraits celebrating a lifestyle of gang-banging and partying can be sort of overplayed but for the most part he can deliver good verses at the right moment.

The first exposure I had to this album was the single 'Collard Greens' featuring Kendrick Lamar and I loved and still love this track. The beat is so minimal but the rapping is really the main attraction on this stripped down, synth-light track. It's safe to say Oxymoron is one of the most hyped hip-hop projects of 2014 so far but considering how much I love Control System and GKMC, I grew worried that Q's new album would not be able to live up to the hype of his TDE teammates. After a few listens, this album wasn't really anything more than I expected but it wasn't disappointing either. In fact, I think this album is definitely another hit for TDE as they continue their domination over the modern field of young rappers.

The track 'Los Awesome' with Jay Rock was a strong beginning to this record to say the least. I loved the beat and overall vibe of the track and Jay Rock absolutely bodied his verse on this song with some angry rapping over the synth beat that walks the line between epic and corny daringly and succeeds. I also thought this interesting beat really fit Schoolboy Q's straightforward style of rapping and still managed to keep the song interesting throughout.

But then I was reminded why I was never the biggest Q supporter through 'What They Want' a mindless piece of music with a lullingly boring instrumental and a lackluster appearance from 2 Chainz. The slow trap style is cliched and Schoolboy Q is not an interesting enough rapper to hold his own through such a boring beat.

I did however enjoy the creativity and variation on the beat and verses on 'Hoover Street'. The intro beat is very interesting with the drum and bass sample as Schoolboy Q raps pretty well but the beat changes into a really simple yet dark mood with a bit of a half-time feel and it really takes the track into an unexpected but interesting direction that makes Schoolboy Q's accompanying rap sound kind of menacing and angry.

'The Purge' was another favorite of mine because of the contributions of Tyler, the Creator and Kurupt. Tyler's voice is always a unique addition to any track he is on for better or worse and I'm glad they decided to throw him on the hook rather than give him a verse on an already rap-heavy track. Schoolboy Q's flow and wordplay is really high-level on this track and of course the west coast legend Kurupt ushers in the new of West Coast hip-hop once again on Oxymoron with a signature verse.

Also, I was particularly excited to see one of my personal favorite MC's, Raekwon on this track listing and I wasn't disappointed by 'Blind Threats' as a rather mellow beat with a really cool Xylophone sample in the background was thrown Raekwon's way and he delivered a very classic verse reminding everyone that he should not be overlooked as one of the best (if not the best) Wu-Tang members.

It felt like for every extraordinary or well done moment on this record, there were 1 or 2 lackluster or exceedingly average showings from Schoolboy Q. Granted, he is not an amazing lyricist but he can hold his own, his rapping was overshadowed a good amount by guests or stellar production. For crying out loud, the record has his name and face on the cover, I think he should have proved himself a little more as a rapper on the album. Although there's nothing wrong with being careful and playing it safe I guess, especially on a major label debut. However, this could have been more of a risk in terms of the rapping on this record.

Nonetheless, Schoolboy Q's project did not disappoint everyone. There will be people who love this album and keep it playing throughout the year, and while I won't be one of those people, I can say I will definitely keep listening to 'Los Awesome', 'Collard Greens' and 'Hoover Street' for the foreseeable future. Q definitely needs the crutch of TDE at this point of his career, but who knows. Maybe one day he'll be his own rapper and find his own defined style, until then this will do.

FINAL SCORE: 7 / 10

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Beck- Morning Phase- ALBUM REVIEW

















 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 GENRES: Indie/Acoustic, Folk, Alternative

 

TOP TRACKS: Morning, Heart is a Drum, Say Goodbye, Blue Moon, Wave, Don't Let it Go, Blackbird Chain, Waking Light

Famed singer/songwriter, Beck has returned with his first album in 6 years entitled Morning Phase. There have been rumors and even some commenting from Beck himself about this album being a follow up piece to Beck's critically acclaimed Sea Change record from 2002. Sea Change was a melancholy but beautiful folk/alternative record in which I personally felt Beck found his sound. Since that very poignant and pivotal album, Beck's musical voice has been as wonderful to listen to as ever. Beck then released another great record in my opinion in 2008 entitled, Modern Guilt

So with somewhat of a lack of fanfare surrounding this album's release and hype, I was still rather excited to hear this new album from a man that I perceive to be an excellent musician and a very intelligent and insightful individual. Upon first listen, the striking similarities between this record and Sea Change are incredible. Beck must have done this intentionally but "The Golden Age" from Sea Change sounded very much like "Morning" the opener on this new record. The slow and steady pace of the song, the winding piano piece, the beautiful acoustic piece and Beck's delicate work overall vocally were the first things that made these similarities apparent.

But the more times I listen to Morning Phase, the more I am able to appreciate it solely as the work of art that it is. I think the main difference between these two albums which I know everyone is feeling the need to compare is the mood. Morning Phase has a more atmospheric, optimistic and happy feeling to it compared to the despairing images conjured up on Sea Change at times. There are times where this can be incredibly soothing. Beck's music has so many different layers and dimensions to it. Whether it is the opening piece with vibrant orchestral and string arrangements or the track "Say Goodbye" that has a certain twang to it almost like country music. On this specific track, Beck's vocals are incredible but the lyrics really add to the song if you take the time to listen to them. Beck's got a great voice conceptually and aesthetically and it's us who are lucky enough to be able to witness the inner mechanisms of his mind.

The sadness, psychedelia and simply unexplainable magnificence of "Wave" was one of the highlights of this record in my eyes. I really loved how the song needed very few elements but still managed to be incredibly meaningful and powerful. But on the other hand I also like more jovial and light-hearted tracks like "Don't Let it Go." While it was more upbeat, this song was equally beautiful as some of Beck's other tracks as well. 

"Blue Moon" has some amazing melody arrangements showing me that Beck that has not only managed to maintain the genius of Sea Change but he is evolving and growing as a person just as all true artists strive to do. This very album features influences and different styles of music spanning from the Velvet Underground to Pink Floyd to the Grateful Dead to even Hip/Hop and Electronic music with some of synths and drum machines that are present occasionally on this record. Beck is a very versatile songwriter and musician and this album, although it may be subtle is an excellent indication of just how beautiful and affecting his music can be.

The final track "Waking Light" was an excellent closer to this very beautiful record serving as the light at the end of the tunnel to this piece and thus in my opinion drawing the original message of Sea Change to a full circle. Whenever there is darkness, it must be cancelled out by light and all bad things will one day turn to good. Beck's music is introspective but universal at the same time which is something I think is impressive to say the least.

Morning Phase definitely plays well in the background. It cannot be appreciated fully in one listen but if you just sit with it long enough and let it take you away, you can truly find a beautiful place. Although I do enjoy Sea Change just a little more than this album because it seemed to come from a very honest and dark place that I think simply could never be replicated by anyone (including Beck) I feel like he was able to grow and show that he could dabble in the same type of music styles but also add a completely new twist to it once again. Beck is an artist, nothing more you can say about him and as long as he is making music, I will continue to listen. This album is simply another addition to a career of instant classics.

FINAL SCORE: 8.5 / 10

Friday, February 21, 2014

Lionize - Jetpack Soundtrack - ALBUM REVIEW




















 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GENRES: Rock and Roll, Jam Band Rock and Roll, Groove Reggae Rock


 

TOP TRACKS: Breather, Evolve, Jetpack Soundtrack, Sea of Tranquility




 Here's a smaller band with less fame and recognition that all rock and roll purists should definitely check out. If you long for the days that the Who and Led Zeppelin dominated the arena of popular rock music in thr 1970's, prepare to live through the golden era once more in the form of Lionize. This Maryland based rock and roll band sport the truest and purest roots of rock music in my humble opinion out of any band I can really think of. The style of this band encompasses that of a 1970's jam band. There is variation to the song styles and structures, for example many Lionize songs sport reggae influences direct and indirect, but for the most part it's just groove based rock and roll. Very straight shooting. After hearing the new Lionize record, Jetpack Soundtrack, I found a lot to be impressed with but at the same time just a bit to disregard as dated rock music.

That's not to say that I don't particularly enjoy a good amount of the music here. The production on this album is very crisp and gritty. The drums sound really crunchy and the guitars really drive through the mix of just about every track. I really love the ingenuity of 'Breather' which was one of my instant favorites off of this record. While the song has a basic groovethis track is a bit more aggressive and confrontational in its overall attitude. It's just great rock music at its finest quality. The parts on just about every instrument seem to veer off on jam band territory.

We even get a taste of prog rock on the track 'Evolve' as an organ is thrown into the mix. Lionize simply show their wide range of sounds on this record through just about each track. I heard influences from reggae, rock, hard rock, classic metal, punk, reggae and even some jazz on the intro song. However, possibility my favorite track on this record is 'Sea of Tranquility', the closing track. With a very interesting reggae intro, this track just expands and unravels throughout the entirety of its six minute duration with a new part at each turn. There are ambient, psychadelic guitars, smoother reggae jams and of course big payoff rock and roll choruses throughout this song. It seems to describe everything this band aspires to be throughout the album.

However, I say this with a little bit of hesitation because while Lionize is definitely refreshing in the somewhat decaying scope of true rock and roll music, I find it strange and a bit boring at times to listen to music that is trying to mimic or even stay true to the roots of bands that came thirty or forty years ago. Simply no point. For example songs like 'Reality Check' just have a really generic sound to them. On this particular track, while the energy is high, the originality is not. The groove is there but the riff and overall structure of the song mixed with the harmonies in the chorus sound like a Journey song. These are the parts of 70's rock that we try to forget and move past and Lionize is still writing songs in this dated structure.

It's important to understand why music evolves and why new styles replace old. This has been the way of the industry in EVERY genre for over a century now. So to me, I really don't see the sense in staying attached to one way of doing things. The fact of the matter is, to the public eye, Lionize is creating dated music. Maybe some people won't really mind it, but I think it's a lot less ambitious than trying to forge your own style in modern world of the industry. Sure, they rock out very well and are great songwriters but I really don't feel as interested in their music knowing that bands have made even more revolutionary music decades before them.

This album is a good listen but substance wise, there is nothing new with the exception of a few very creative tracks especially the closer. I don't really see much ambition in this music and although the basic elements of rock and roll are nearly perfected to the truest form of the old ways, Lionize seem to be stuck in the past in a lot of ways.

FINAL SCORE: 6.5 / 10


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Young The Giant - Mind Over Matter - ALBUM REVIEW





















GENRES: Indie Rock, Alternative

 

TOP TRACKS: Anagram

Indie Rock band Young the Giant, backed by Fueled By Ramen record label have just released their second full length LP entitled Mind Over Matter. After their rather boring and uneventful eponymous debut release in 2010, I really didn't see anything special with this band. It was more of the same. Indie Rock music with that is just to well-polished and completely unoriginal in just about every department.

On Mind Over Matter, real ambition and true creativity (which are traits typically not pushed or displayed by the Fueled By Ramen artists) is nothing you'll see from Young the Giant. They stick to their guns, they've just gotten a little bit better at being mediocre.

The band stacked a lot of the faster pace, radio-friendly, sugary tracks on the top half of this album and a lot of them have some decent instrumentation and melody. For example the track "Anagram" and the two singles "It's About Time" and "Crystallized" all seem like something that will be played by white hipster girls for months to come. I could even see some of these tracks hitting the indie rock radio stations (few they remain) across the country.

Basic components of these songs usually include a mix of rock elements like guitars, bass and drums all used in rather tame and dulled down ways, mixed together with elements of electronic/pop music like keyboards and synthesizers. Of course, these are all topped off by Sameer Gadhia's decent vocals. Overall, this band just strikes me as the essence of mediocre. After I listen to this record I can't help but go "meh" in utter disinterest.

I don't really care for bands trying to be the same as everyone else. And unless Young the Giant can prove that to me and other music fans who are writing them off, they really won't seem to have my support since they aren't making any strides for the genre of indie rock and radio friendly alternative music. This is nothing that Imagine Dragons and AWOLNATION haven't been using to pass off as equally mediocre music for years now.

If you want something interesting, new and worthwhile, avoid this record and explore the catalog of bands like The Strokes, Cage the Elephant or even Neutral Milk Hotel. BUT if you want an easy to digest, slightly dumbed down translation of integrity in music with a few good hooks here and there, check this album out.

FINAL SCORE: 5 / 10

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues - ALBUM REVIEW





















GENRES: Punk, Pop-Punk, Alternative

 

TOP TRACKS: True Trans Soul Rebel, FuckMyLife666, Black Me Out


 The current position that Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! are in currently may be one of the most unorthodox situations in the entire music industry. After dealing with transgender dysphoria for the majority of her life, Grace (formerly known as Tom Gabel) officially came out as transgendered in 2012 and changed her name. The band's lead singer's decision did not exactly go over smoothly as drummer Jay Weinberg and bassist Andrew Seward both quit the band this past year. Although they were replaced by drummer Atom Willard from Angels and Airwaves, Social Distortion and The Offspring and touring bassist Inge Johansson, many people started to forget about the music in Against Me's case and instead focus on Laura Jane Grace's situation.

I thought that this was quite a shame, and so I was excited to hear about the release of this new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues so that people could focus on Against Me's music once again. Originally hailing from Gainesville, Florida as a hardcore/90's punk style band, Against Me! released some very raw and emotional albums, my favorite being Reinventing Axl Rose. Naturally, the band's talents and songwriting skills landed them a sizable underground following as well as a good deal of credibility across the national punk scene. 

However it seemed that with the release of 2007's A New Wave, there was a communal sense of agreement within the punk community that Against Me! had sold out. They had signed with a big label to make a more accessible album that began to veer from their original punk roots and of course the production value was far superior to any of their previous releases.  Personally I really loved the wider range of styles that Against Me! displayed on A New Wave. It was a bit more ambitious and so what if they started to experiment with new sounds rather than just punk music? That's the best way to escape the label of "just a punk band". But if A New Wave turned a lot of old fans off, then White Crosses was the finishing blow. Even I felt that this album was bit more uninteresting than anything this band had ever put out, but with this new record I was hopeful that the change in the band's personnel and overall mindset would lead to new creative brilliance. But unfortunately I didn't find what I was looking for.

Let me first disclose that I did in fact see Against Me! live in concert about a week or two before I had even heard the album. They played a few new songs from the record like "True Trans Soul Rebel" and "Black Me Out" which I really liked, but for the most part they filled their set with older songs to appease the loyal crowd at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ.

So before I even heard the album, I was expecting it to be raw and punk again based on the songs from the album that I heard before. What I really found out was that Against Me! are in a sort kind of departing even further from their punk rock roots on Transgender Dysphoria Blues which might be very disappointing again too many fans.

I immediately got this sense on the title track which opens the record off. The feel of the song, the mild tempo, and the admittedly dull guitar sounds didn't strike me as punk. Laura Jane Grace's voice may be the only remaining element of true grit and punk left on this album. Her voice sounds exactly the same as on previous records which is a relief because I always enjoyed her passionate vocals on each Against Me! record. 

The production value on just about each and every track on this album is very tame. The guitars seem a bit less driving and brutal than on previous records which really detracts a certain intensity and swagger from this band's sound. Also, I really hated what they did with the drum sound. Atom Willard is an excellent drummer with a very unique style and the snare drum was muffled terribly and really ruined the overall sound of the album for me.

But like I said before, there were some songs on this record that I really enjoyed. My favorite is definitely "True Trans Soul Rebel". While this song does have a bit of a pop-punk flavor to me, the writing seems honest, the transitions are smooth and creative and of course the content of the song is so much more interesting and thought-provoking for anyone who has never been exposed to the discrimination that trans people are subjected to.

Apparently, this album is supposed to be a concept album of some sort but it kind of seems abandoned to me around midway through. Some of the tracks in the middle of the album are kind of pointless and really nothing special at all musically or contextually. Examples include "Drinking with the Jocks", the very boring "Unconditional Love" and even "Two Coffins." 

I had in fact previously heard an acoustic version of "FuckMyLife666" on the acoustic EP that the band released in 2013 and I was a fan of it. The complete version of the song was really well written as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the chord progressions and the energy of this track. It had something that I felt a lot of this album lacked, and that was depth. Musical depth, emotional depth, you name it.

Another saving grace of this album and certain strong point was the closing track "Black Me Out". The change in dynamics and the raw quality of the opening with just Laura Jane Grace and the guitar was haunting and comforting to me at the same time. I especially loved this track when they played it live. I remember it distinctly and it definitely makes it a better experience actually listening to it on the record.

While I was glad that the album closed strong, I was left very disappointed by this Against ME! release. Once again as usually is the case with albums that I am disappointed with on this blog, it's not that this was a bad album, it's that I know Against Me! is capable of better things. I saw it before on previous albums, hell I just saw it two weeks ago live. I do appreciate what they stand for, I admire Laura Jane Grace's integrity to herself and to the craft of music but I can't side with this album and honestly say that I will continue listening to it, with the exception of two or three strong tracks.

FINAL SCORE: 5.5 / 10