Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Post Traumatic (Single) - Mike Shinoda

This release marks the first studio music from one of the members of Linkin Park since the passing of Chester last July. It was a bit of a surprise - Mike announced the release the night before he posted the songs (which you can see his homemade videos for here, and I highly recommend you do). There's three songs, so it's a fairly short release, but these songs pack a suitcase full of emotions in the time they've got.

The music itself is really interesting, and I would have been impressed with the release just for that. Mike discussed that he did everything on these songs himself, and it shows his incredible skill and talents besides just being "that guy that raps in Linkin Park". The production value and variety of sounds and vibes he introduces in just three songs is more than I've heard from some artists in their entire discography.

"Place to Start" has a more pop feeling, with a bit of hip-hop influence in the beat. It's the softest of the three tracks, with Mike showing his ability to create really pretty and vulnerable melodies; however, he also manages to show how he can switch from flowing to short and urgent vocals and create a big contrast within a minute and thirty seconds of music. The track ends with some voicemails, which it would seem that Mike received shortly after Chester passed from friends. It ties in the lyrical content (which I'll discuss in a bit) to his real experiences and allows the listener a closer look into his personal life.

"Over Again" starts with a synth line that's interrupted by a car alarm going off in the background and Mike saying "Come on!" (on Twitter, he discussed that the alarm went off while he was trying to record and he decided to use it on the track). This song is a mix of pop and hip-hop sounds, with the chorus leaning more towards the former and the verses showing some of Mike's rap skills. There's a lot of layers to the instrumental for this song, slight synth lines that build and bounce off each other with a beat that sounds a bit retro and compressed. It definitely sounds like something you would hear on the radio (and I really hope that ends up being the case).

"Watching As I Fall" is the most gritty and dark, sonically, of the three tracks. The synths and beats are almost harsh in their tone, which (again) fits with the lyrical content of the track. The intro features a moment where the wobble/swelling synth line meets scratching reminiscent of Mr. Hahn in Linkin Park's beginning days. It's the fastest of the songs, the most in-your-face sounding of the three, and also balances the pop and hip-hop influences.

Now, while those aspects are cool to talk about, what's really the most interesting and moving part of these songs is the lyrical content. As the release is called Post Traumatic, its very personal and raw, revealing some of the different ways in which Mike has been processing Chester being gone. "Place to Start" shows Mike's fear of what's supposed to happen next, how he's supposed to move on and find a way to pick up the pieces from the loss he's experienced. "I don't wanna know the end, all I want is a place to start" sums up that notion pretty well. "Over Again" utilizes a seemingly simple hook:

"Sometimes, sometimes you don't say goodbye once
You say goodbye over and over and over again
Over and over and over again"

and while normally I'm not a fan of repeating a single phrase for a hook, this one works in that the notion of having to say goodbye to someone repeatedly is physically shown in the repetition of the line. The verses for this song, as Mike mentioned on Twitter, were written the day of and the day after the memorial show Linkin Park played at the Hollywood Bowl back in October. It reveals the struggle that he was dealing with, between feelings of grief at unexpected times:

"Can't remember if I've cancelled any show
But I think about what I'm supposed to do and I don't know
Cause I think about not doing it the same way as before
And it makes me wanna puke my fucking guts out on the floor"

or moments of dealing with insensitive people who ask questions without really thinking about it:

"And everybody that I talk to is like, “wow
Must be really hard to figure what to do now”
Well thank you genius, you think it'll be a challenge
Only my life's work hanging in the fucking balance".

Mike wasn't afraid to hold back and let all his emotions loose in these songs, including anger, which wasn't really something we saw a lot of through social media. Speaking of social media, that brings us to the lyrical content of "Watching As I Fall". This song discusses having to deal with all these emotions that come with the lose of a loved one while being in the public eye:

"Thinking I'm okay, but they're saying otherwise
Tell me how I look but can't look me in the eyes
Watching as I say this and then I do that"

or part of the hook:

"They're watching as I fall, they're staring as I go
I gave until my soul hurt, and never told them so".

This EP was a hard listen for some people. I know the first couple times I played it through, I began feeling the sense of lose I felt six months ago, and it was difficult to make it through. But, it was incredibly healing to hear these songs, to hear from someone who was much, much closer to Chester than I or most people ever were, and know that it's okay that the grief hasn't left yet. That it's okay to still grapple with his lose. However, Mike also showed us that it's also about looking forward; about learning to live with the emotions and to not let yourself get lost in them and stuck in a dark place. During the Twitter Q&A Mike did, he mentioned that Linkin Park was not done, and that him and the other band members were working towards what the group will be without Chester. He also mentioned there might be more songs from him; he released these ones because they were finished and he wanted to share them as they came, not waiting for one big release. Either way, I'm very grateful for the release; Mike has been and is one of my favorite songwriters, and it makes me happy to know he is able to come back to what he loves, music, and is able to use it to move towards healing and closure. Chester would be so incredibly proud, and honored of the way his friend and brother continues to celebrate him.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended: The Whole Thing

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Nearsighted - Speak Low If You Speak Love

I discovered Speak Low If You Speak Love at the 8123 Fest last year that The Maine put on to celebrate their 10 year anniversary as a band. It was started by Ryan Scott Graham, the bassist/backing-vocalist of State Champs, as a side project, and Nearsighted is the group's second album. The first album, Everything But What You Need, was released in 2013 (rereleased in 2015) and was much more acoustic oriented.

I remember listening to the first single, "Enough" and finding myself much more intrigued than I had previously been. Gone was the raw, acoustic vibe, and here was a dark, pulsing tune that almost made me double check it was the same group. Different instruments attack at different points, highlighting themselves without drowning the others out, all laying the groundwork for Graham's vocals. He shows his ability to front a band as opposed to the more singular sound of the band's debut. It's much more layered, much more electronically influenced, than the previous releases before (as well as a groovin bass line).

The other singles, "Contrasting Colors" and "Safety Net", revealed the way in which this album was going to be diverse. "Contrasting Colors" feels more like what the group has done before, acoustic guitar and vocals, with a bit more polished production and sound quality than previously. The other big difference is the sense of layering, subtle at times, that the group works into the song, and the way the instrumental unfolds about halfway through and picks up the urgency of the track. The drums, electric guitar, and xylophone/piano lines all add more depth to the track without drowning out the vocals, which are much more at the forefront than those of "Enough".

"Safety Net", on the other hand, delves further into the electronic realm while still retaining the signature vulnerability that Graham and Co. have cultivated in their music. The switch from the intro of piano and vocals to the adding of synths, electronic drums, and a ever-so-slight drop create a very different sound without altering the emotional center of the song - and that is very, very impressive. The small female vocal part is also very different for the group, and helps add more of an emphasis and uniqueness to the song.

When the rest of the album dropped, I'll confess it took me some time to properly listen to it. There was a couple other albums and songs from different artists that released at the same time, and since then, and it's made taking the time for this album more difficult than I expected. I think part of that stems from the softness and vulnerability of the album, as compared with the other music I'm currently listening to. When I finally did take that critical time to sit and listen and really delve into the sound Speak Low If You Speak Love creates, I did not feel as if any time had been wasted. It's definitely an album that you want to be intentional about listening to, because it has very subtle aspects and moments that demand your attention.

The album seems to waver between two main sounds - a lighter vulnerability, usually something that's still kind of romantic or just generally contemplative, or a darker vulnerability, which encompasses pent up anger or bitterness or sorrow for a person or relationship.

The starting track, "Have I Changed", serves as more of an introduction than a full song and utilizes the new electronic elements from the beginning. It falls very much in the vein of The 1975; atmospheric electronics and a syrupy motion slowly give way to an almost southern-sounding guitar line and a more earthy, rooted tone that differentiates the band from a lot of the The 1975 knock off groups that have sprung up. The harmonies on this song are also a highlight - a preview of something to be repeated throughout the record.

"Ever Yours", while being bittersweet when you listen to the lyrics, still falls more into the upbeat category just because of the way the instrumental carries the pace. The guitar and drums trade off providing the necessary background for the vocals, which are very much the focus of this track. Especially during the chorus, the instrumental backs off even more and the vocals solo in their simple melody that feels so memorable.

"Your Love It Runs" pulls back a little bit more than "Ever Yours", but still has a sense of urgency, even before the full band comes in. The intro of just vocals, acoustic picking, and a little synth is so beautiful in its vulnerability, and this is multiplied by the rest of the band entering the track. I absolutely love the horns (which come up again on my favorite song from the record); they add to the depth and soft sorrow the song already contains, and feels very much like they belong. The song does a good job of switching back and forth between the vocals and the instruments having the spotlight, giving it a sense of ebb and flow.

The further into the album, the more the songs feel like they grow softer and more intimate. It's similar to getting to know a person; the longer you listen, the deeper you delve into who they are. The more upbeat songs hang out near the front, and the mood and loudness dim as it plays out. Considering all the singles were pulled from the front end of the album, this makes sense; it's easier to draw people in with brighter songs than with something heavy, in terms of sound or content.

The second half of the album begins with "Hatsuyume", a slow building piece that brings to mind soft falling snow on a quiet forest scene. The synths and pads used for the background feel so distant, yet the acoustic guitar and vocals feel very close and personal, creating contrast and physical depth within the song. Even when the rest of the instruments come in, that sense of delicacy never leaves, and that's an impressive feat to be able to accomplish. I also really like the synth line used on the bridge - it's vastly different from what you might expect for the song but still works by providing contrast. The song feels a bit short, but I think that was an excellent choice. It leaves the listener wanting more and coming back for listen after listen.

"Circle Spinning" is the one oddity on the second half, being a bit more upbeat and driving in the instrumental. The sound reminds me a bit of This Wild Life, although a little more cheery than their last release was. The song is pretty straightforward - it's a good song, but lacks a special quality to really make it stand out among the other heavy hitters on the record.

"Cannot Have It All" switches back to the acoustic vibe, and actually sounds a lot like something you'd hear on their first album, Everything But What You Need. It does have a full instrumentation, but still has that raw, vulnerable sound that is what I associate with Speak Low the most. The horns also show up on this song, doing their magic yet again and creating a very different feeling than most acoustic music you might hear right now. The vocals are the best part of the song, with Graham showing vulnerability while denying the subject full access to his heart, soul, whatever it may be. The contrast and contradiction make each listen more and more intriguing.

"Mystery's Gone" is another song that feels a bit lackluster to me. I didn't quite identify with the lyrics, and the instrumental didn't captivate me in the same way as the other songs. I really enjoy certain parts of the song; the intro utilizes an unique drum rhythm with a sampled vocal line to create a cool sound, and the outro builds into a really powerful ending. Some of the most intense/impressive vocals come at the end of the song, but it's not enough to make the song something I want to come back to.

"Hold Me Now" is, without a doubt, my favorite song on the album. It is beautiful, a dreamy symphony of echoing vocals, subtle synths, a very clean guitar line, and those wonderful horns. The song never feels like its rushing; always being sure to spend just the right time on each note. The echoing effects on instruments and the vocal harmonies all help to make the song feel like the soundtrack for a dream. This song is the type of song to listen to late at night, when the world has fallen asleep and you are enjoying the peace and quiet that comes with the rest the world is experiencing.

"Swell" finishes out the album in a perfect way, highlighting the strengths of the band and the record. The intro of a beautifully played acoustic guitar line with Graham's vocals, the strength of the band and their ability to literally make the song swell and fall back to match the lyrics and concept of the track, the build and full realization of the power of the song. All of it is wonderful, and it was the best possible track to end the journey that this record. The climax is incredible in how it feels almost like it's going to spill over the edge and the parts might drown each other or the vocals out, yet they don't.

This album wasn't something that I could rush through a review. With most reviews, I can usually do it in one sitting, maybe two if I don't have enough time. This one took 4 or 5, between writing out notes about the album and then creating the review, which also ended up being a bit longer than I expected (thank you for sticking all the way through). I recommend this album highly, but I recommend you listen to it with intentionality; don't just put it on as background music. This is a record that demands your attention, demands you sit and focus on the words, the melodies, the feelings inspired by the tracks.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended: "Hold Me Now", "Swell", "Enough", "Hatsuyume"

Related: This Wild Life, A Will Away, State Champs

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Supplies (Single) - Justin Timberlake

Even though the release of Man of the Woods is less than two weeks away, we have been graced with another single (and accompanying music video) from Justin Timberlake - "Supplies". Still seeking to defy my initial idea of what the album was going to sound like, "Supplies" feels more in line with songs that JT has released before; pop-leaning vocals, a hip-hop beat, and plenty of a cappella sounds, with JT and Timberland ( and possibly Pharrell, seeing that he helped write on the song),  beatboxing and singing to add layers to the track. The song has some trap influence - it's hard not to find that just about anywhere in music right now - but I think it's just enough to give the song an edge without going to far into the trend. It still has JT's signature feel, which is especially helped by the a cappella elements. The bridge switches the song into a more pop, lighter vibe that Justin describes as "the feeling when an airplane takes off". It soars for a moment, feeding into a more intimate sound that contrasts vocals that focus on one person with a sound that expands into something bigger than itself. All of this spirals up for just a few seconds, and then it suddenly drops back into the hip-hop groove and the swagger and darkness is back (and more pronounced after the lightness the bridge inspired).

At first, I was a little underwhelmed by the song. It's definitely catchy and fun to listen to (especially in the car, very loudly), but I felt it lacked the same depth and innovation that I felt when listening to "Filthy". After many listens (I'm currently on #14 since Friday), I found it grew on me more - the string part in the background gives it a bit of an exotic feel, and adds contrast to the large booming beats and swagger-filled vocals. I also found I appreciated the song more after watching a short clip that Justin released about the making of the song (which you can watch here). During one segment, he talks about how the melody is actually very country, and proceeds to sing it a cappella while clapping and stomping his feet. It gives the song a very different feeling, listening to it with the notion that Justin took a country melody and put it over a trap beat. I found I enjoyed the intricacies of the song more after watching some of the work behind it.

While this song isn't as great as "Filthy", it definitely is a jam, and it makes me excited for how the rest of the album will sound and the "americana" influence that will be sure to rear its head.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, January 22, 2018

M A N I A - Fall Out Boy

If I had made a list of "Most Anticipated Albums for 2017", this album originally would have been very near the top. I was somewhat disappointed when the band announced that the album was being pushed back from a September release in 2017 to January of this year, but also understood and was proud of the band for admitting that the product they had at the time wasn't up to their standards. It takes a lot of courage to push something back and admit it's not the quality you want. Leading up to the album, we saw half of the songs released as singles/a bit early, starting in last May with "Young & Menace" and the album announcement and last week with the final pre-release song, "Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)". There were some very strong points with these releases, with "Young & Menace" becoming my second favorite song from 2017 (see my initial review here) and "Champions" being a solid anthem, pump-up song that balanced grit with pop-appeal. Others fell a little short, with "Hold Me Tight Or Don't" coming off as a a subpar pop song attempt that felt flat and lacked depth (I'll admit it's catchy and has grown a bit more on me as I've listened to the album in full, as it's place in the picture makes more sense). "Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)" and "The Last of the Real Ones" both came somewhere in-between the other releases. "Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)" managed to take the pop song vibe and add a bit of Fall Out Boy's past "emo" feel in terms of the lyrics (the line "I'll stop wearing black when they make a darker color" is going to be the new anthem of those who consider themselves emo and one of my favorite lyrics from the release). "The Last of the Real Ones" brings more of the alternative sound back with a fast pace and more prominent electric guitars and drum-set grooves. The result is a sense of urgency that fuels this arena-ready track where Patrick Stump utilizes vocal effects while still showing he has some of his pop-punk grittiness left.

I was a bit apprehensive going into the release; with the amount of time between the inital album announcement and the actual release, I wasn't sure how consistent the sound would be. Some of the tracks were kept from the first tracklist ("Young & Menace" and "Champions"), but almost everything else seemed to have been scrapped and rewritten/recorded in a short time span. How would the album be good quality with the multitude of changes in an even amount of time than the initial recording of the album?

I decided to listen to the album all the way through, instead of just the new songs I hadn't heard yet; it seemed to make the most sense given how I was feeling about the album.

I quickly determined two things; one, that was a good choice, and two, that my worry about the consistency of the album was unnecessary.

The album explores a lot of ground in terms of different influences and genres. Electronic, trap, reggae, pop, and alternative all come together at various points throughout the record.

The first new song (listening in order) that I came across is "Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea", which quickly established itself as one of my favorites from the album , if not my favorite. It opens with an explosive guitar/bass/drum riff that's gritty and pulsing. It's heavy, heavier than most of what FOB has done recently, yet still utilizes the new electronic elements that the band has been playing around with on their past few releases. The vocals are aggressive, with Stump showing he still has some punk power left in him. They also do one line in French, which at first seemed like an odd choice but soon felt right at place. The line is both smooth and rough, a contradiction that is exemplified in the song itself - the raw, rock elements mixing with the synthesized electronic aspects to create a wild ride of a song. It feels like it would work very well next to "American Beauty / American Psycho" from their last album; both are what I hope to see more of in the future of rock - a blending of the traditional instrumental elements with new electronic experimentation.

There's a block of songs after "Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea" that were pre-release singles, and then the second half of the album brings us all new songs. "Church" kicks off this section, combining the electronic and alternative-rock elements with a church choir part in the background. It fits the theme of the song and lyrics, as well as giving the track an additional layer of depth. The song lets Stump showcase some of his vocal range, with soaring lines and some gospel influence.

"Heaven's Gate" continues the gospel vibe, bringing the intensity and pace down a bit to create a much more soulful experience. The instrumental simply serves as a frame for which Stump really lets go and belts out some beautiful melodies. The beginning of the song reveals this quickly, with Stump soloing with a vocal line that sets the tone for the track. They also layer a lot of his other vocals on top of each other, creating a wall of harmonies that give the song depth, like the choir on "Church", yet with a different vibe than before. There is also a lack of more prominent electronic elements, with almost all of the instrumental being led by the guitar and drums, with some nice accents by the bass guitar and piano. My favorite part of the song is the bridge, where Stump builds harmonies with himself to the point where a choir of Patrick Stumps are repeating the line "you're the one habit I just can't kick" in a moving and emotionally powerful moment.

"Sunshine Riptides (feat. Burna Boy)" is much brighter and electronically influenced than the previously two tracks, as well as a slight reggae/tropical vibe that surprisingly blends well with the song. Stump utilizes some vocal effects on his voice that fit with the more pop vibe of the song as he shows off his ability to get low and high all on the same track. The verses feel a bit influenced by the current trap sound that's popular in rap, which is where Stump is low and somewhat soft as his autotuned voice slides across the instrumental. The chorus opens up more and Stump lets his vocals soar high to match the brightness of the "sunshine riptides" he is stuck in. The only complaint I have with the song is the feature - Burna Boy comes in for one verse and hardly leaves an impression. His vocals are also hardly intelligible, sounding more like mumbling than singing half the time. It brings down the song a little bit, but luckily not enough to ruin the enjoyability of the track.

The album closes out with "Bishops Knife Trick", a much more somber song that brings together the elements that have been weaving throughout the record - the electronic future and the alternative-rock past & present. The pace of the song is more slowed down, but the intensity cranks itself up on the chorus as Stump and the instrumentals create a booming, soaring experience. The way that Stump belts out "the last" over and over extremely high is incredible, and creates a very memorable moment. It's a fitting way to end the album; an epic, otherworldly sound that showcases their newfound direction and energy as a band.

I went into this album with hesitation; I was not sure what it was going to turn out like, given the way it came to be. I can confidently say that the band greatly surpassed my expectations, producing a record that shows the ways in which Fall Out Boy can grow and experiment while still retaining their spirit and sound. The year is just beginning, but I'm confident this album will be high up on my list of top albums at the end of the year, and one of my favorite albums from the group.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended: "Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea", "Young & Menace”, "Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)", "Bishops Knife Trick".

Sunday, January 14, 2018

To Imagine - EP - The Neighbourhood

To Imagine is the second EP from The Neighbourhood in the past few months, with Hard releasing back at the end of September 2017 (check out my thoughts on that release here). While I haven't found an interview or blurb from the band to confirm this, I believe that the EPs are two halves of a whole. One of the posts leading up to the release of To Imagine that listed the song titles numbered them 6-10 instead of 1-5, leading me to believe that they are connected in some way. Based on the sounds, they definitely are similarly themed; however, it's clear that there's a bit of a difference it terms of the tracks and sounds showcased with each release (which may be why the released them separately  instead of together.

Electronics are key throughout the whole EP - if Hard was indie-alternative with a hint of electronics, then To Imagine is electro-focused-indie. Very few guitar/bass/drum parts have prominence in this collection of tracks.

The EP opens with "Dust", which starts with a low, brooding bass line that immediately sets a very different tone than Hard had. "Dust" alternates between moments of being stripped down and ominous and moments of swirling electronic noises that climb high into the atmosphere. The song has a sense of urgency to it, mostly built by the fast pace and the constant pushing and pulsing of the drum machine and the bass synth; a very visceral sound. There are some great moments of contrast created during the pre-chorus when almost everything cuts out except for Jesse Rutherford's vocals; the song then spins a complete 180 as the chorus breaks in with a huge wall of sound. The song has moments where it feels "heavy", which I don't mean in the metal sense. If the same sounds and largeness of sound had been created with conventional instruments, guitars, basses, drums, the song might have been too much for the band and wouldn't have fit with their vibe. However, by making it mostly electronic, it takes away some of the intensity while still providing a sound that gets your pulse going.

"Scary Love" is the most radio friendly song of the release (which is probably why they released it as the first single), and for that reason it feels like the least interesting track of the release for me. It goes in a direction and sound-scape that I can anticipate and am familiar with, instead of exploring ideas like the other tracks do. That being said, I still do enjoy the song, especially when the lyrics are taken into account. Instrumentally, its a little darker sounding (like "Dust" and "Heaven"), but a bit more light-hearted. Lyrically, the song talks about a relationship that is growing and how the subject has found someone who cares for him so deeply that it's somewhat frightening. It ends up being more of a focus on love than on something scary.

"Heaven" follows in similar footsteps as "Dust", except it pulls the throttle back a bit and opts for a more "Stranger Things" eerie vibe in terms of the electronic elements. The song also leans more towards a trap sound instead of electro, which is definitely unique in this EP but not unexpected. Hip-Hop/Rap has always been an influence on The Neighbourhood and shows up frequently in their music. The influence is especially prominent in the dissonant synth line that is in the background throughout the song and the Rutherford's vocals during the second verse; it sounds similar to what you'd hear on a lot of popular trap songs right now. The song ends up being haunting, especially when the lyrics are taken into account:

"You've got a heart from heaven but you're burning like hell."

It's one of my favorites from the release, with the way it mixes modern with nostalgia and the dark tone it maintains throughout the song.

"Compass" brings the tempo and vibe down quite a few notches, featuring one of the few prominent guitar parts on the release and letting the vocals take more of the spotlight than previously. It's a very different shift in gears, and probably the most mellow song of the release. Far more stripped down than the others, the song relies a bit more on simplicity and lower intensity sounds to create a more intimate mood and the most relateable song of the record. The lyrics for this song are my favorite of the release, with lines like:

"Baby, like a magnet
Can't help that I'm attracted to you, I am
Could you keep on guiding me?"

The image of the significant other being a compass, always pointing them in a certain direction and constantly being drawn to them is a very powerful and moving concept, one I've explored in my own writings and appreciated a lot.

"Stuck With Me" finishes the EP out in a more calm, relaxed mood than the way it began. The focus is again more on the vocals and lyrics while an 80's influenced instrumental guides the way for Rutherford to muse about some thoughts floating around his head. There's some pretty great lines from the song, such as this moment of clarify and understanding from the first verse:

"Realised I'm less important
Than I thought I'd be"

and the entire second verse:

"Our lives keep on gettin' shorter
Losin' opportunity
There might be some other ways of looking at it but
That's just what I see
I been gettin' over myself
Thinkin' about what you need
Then I realised that neither of us matter
What's reality, yeah?"

It's a fitting way to wrap up this EP that takes the listener on a wild ride through soundscapes, vibes,  and genres to create what feels like a more cohesive and fluid piece of work that's an improvement on Hard. This release is a more solid release from the band, showing the growth and potential they could yet explore even more. Like I said in the last release, whether this is building up to an album or two stand along releases, I'm along for the ride.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended: "Heaven",  "Compass", "Stuck With Me"

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Filthy (Single) - Justin Timberlake

Funky. Futuristic. Fascinating.

Those were the words that I keep using when I talk about Justin Timberlake's new single, "Filthy". Earlier this week, he released a teaser trailer for his upcoming album, MAN OF THE WOODS, which featured some snippets of the songs that we'll all be hearing soon. They gave off a very earthy, folky feel, which felt intriguing as it would be considerably different than what he's done before.

Queue my surprise when I watched the video and heard "Filthy" for the first time.

It starts off with electric guitar and drums blaring in a theatrical manner, an entrance to the show. Justin asks repeatedly "if you know what's good", echoing as the drums crash and build and guitar cries out until it all cuts in a single moment. Justin says that "Haters gonna say it's fake."

That's when the synthesizer comes in, wobbling and low and gritty.

The song spins right on its head and goes from something you might hear in an arena to feeling at home in a dark club. But then the bass guitar comes in, grooving like nobody's business, and you find your senses conflicted as to where you should be looking - the electronic future, or the funk and jam of the past. That's the best part about this song. It takes your expectations and spins them again and again and all together. It acknowledges the past but doesn't imitate it - it innovates. The futuristic aspect continues even further with electronic distortion that takes the place of the wobble before the song slows into a eerie yet intriguing outro of forest noises and a female voice asking the listener questions.

Justin Timberlake's last release was nearly five years ago, when he returned to the music scene with The 20/20 Experience in two parts, which I reviewed here and here in the very beginnings of this blog. Justin has definitely taken his time with releasing new music, but I have absolutely no complaints. If him taking his time results in music like this, then let take all the time he needs. I would much rather have less music with a higher quality than more music with subpar quality. I read a comment online where someone talked about the similarities to Prince; I definitely can agree with that. He's going a direction thats very different and new for him, reinventing himself in the way that Prince or even David Bowie might.

While we still have to see what the rest of the album is like, I already have a feeling this is an album that will be making my best of the year list.

Rating: 5/5

Related: Prince, David Bowie

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Top Albums of 2017

This is my list of my favorite albums from 2017. I've given a brief reasoning for why each one is on the list, and links to each review (if I reviewed the album). 2017 was a really great year for music, and I'm excited for what 2018 holds in store!

  1.  Lovely Little Lonely - The Maine 
    1. Last year, The 1975 had me captivated with their album - this year it was The Maine. Everything about this album was incredible; from the flowing nature to the mixing of the good and the bad of life, this album is going to stick with me for a while.
  2. How Did We Get So Dark? - Royal Blood 
    1. A solid ride of rock n' roll from start to finish, Royal Blood showed that they are not going anywhere but up as they continue their musical career. Gritty, loud, driving - all aspects of this album that made me come back to it for more and more.
  3. After Laughter - Paramore
    1. This album grew on me more than I expected. I liked it from the beginning, but it took some time to adjust to the new sound and direction Paramore went with. It was definitely well received, however, as this album has made most of the year end lists that I've read so far, and it is worthy of the praise it has received. Full of energy yet thought provoking lyrics that mean something - something I find hard to see elsewhere. 
  4. Melancholia Hymns - Arcane Roots
    1. A band I knew nothing of before September, and now one that I will very much keep my eyes out for their next release. This album goes the distance, mixing pop, rock, electronic, and screaming all in one place. Each track feels unique, yet right at home in this album.
  5. hopeless fountain kingdom - Halsey
    1. A sophomore success with bigger songs, bigger anthems, and the same underground tone that people came to love from Halsey's debut, Badlands. This album covers more ground in terms of personal growth, lyrics, styles, and guests. 
  6. I Decided. - Big Sean
    1. An album that I didn't think I would really be too interested in, this one surprised me in the story it told and concept it tackled. Big Sean showed that he has a very creative mind and wants to do more than some people might assume. Full of bravado and insight, this record will give you tracks for the good times and some to provoke your thoughts.
  7. One More Light - Linkin Park
    1. This album didn't make it as high on this list as I would have hoped - however, it was still full of some of my favorite songs of the year and revealed yet another side of this wonderful band that I will cherish and enjoy. Whether this is the final album they release or not, I will definitely continue listening and enjoying each moment of it.
  8. All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell - Pvris
    1. This album showed Pvris' ability to explore new territory while retaining their fierce, edgy sound that I fell in love with on their debut, White Noise. A lot of new sounds and ideas appear on this record, and while some of them don't work quite as well as others, it is by no means a sophomore slump from this excellent group of individuals.
  9. Melodrama - Lorde 
    1. Not an artist whose album I expected to make my list this year, Lorde's second release caught me by surprise and swept me away with it's lyrical intricacy, emotional depth, and pop perfection.
  10. Last Young Renegade - All Time Low
    1. All Time Low grabs my attention from time to time, and this album really showed them spreading their wings and trying out new territory. A thrilling, wild ride from start to finish of polished pop-punk gold. 

Honorable Mentions:
  • GEMINI - Macklemore
    • In his first album without Ryan Lewis, Macklemore took a route very different than his last release and had more fun with his songs. The result is an album full of worthy jams and tracks to listen to in the car, very loudly (it helps with the enjoyment, I promise). 
  • Science Fiction - Brand New
    • This album was a really fitting way for Brand New to close out their career. Full of angsty, moody moments and times of reflection through calm, yet haunting tunes. The opening track, "Lit Me Up", will definitely be one of my favorite songs from the band, along with many of the other explosive tracks from this farewell piece. (Note: I do not endorse any of Jesse Lacey's actions, alleged or true; I am simply commenting on the music of Brand New as a band).