Friday, March 30, 2018

One Track Mind [feat. A$AP Rocky] (Single) - 30 Seconds To Mars

30 Seconds To Mars has been known to take their time with their albums; their last album, Love Lust Faith + Dreams, came out back in 2013 (see my review of it here). With Jared Leto's acting career picking up traction, it's no surprise that the band had to take their time in putting out new music. We've already seen two singles for their upcoming album, AMERICA; "Walk On Water" and "Dangerous Night". Both have already revealed the more pop direction of the group, with lots of more prominent electronic elements and hardly any of the alt-rock elements that the band started with.

"One Track Mind (feat. A$AP Rocky)", takes this direction and cements it as being the new direction for the album from the band. It utilizes electronic drums (with the ever persistent trap influence), synths, and echoing piano chords to build the majority of the instrumental, serving as a brooding background for Leto's vocals that feature a heavy amount of effects on them as well. This territory that the band hasn't really delved into much before, having hints of electronics on their music but not as the primary focus. The result, with this song in particular, is something that both feels very different for the group, yet still in line with what the band's sound and vibe has been. It has a theatrical feel to it (my girlfriend pointed out it would work very well for a Sci-Fi movie), which is something that the band has always gravitated towards (see their last album as an example of that). The song still contains elements that remind the listener of the band's past - there are live drumset elements that help amplify the electronic beats, Leto lets out a gritty yell around the 1:50 mark that immediately intensifies the moment, and there's a guitar solo after A$AP Rocky's verse that brings to mind the sound from the band's early days. All these elements are highlighted by their scarcity, briefly appearing to bring contrast to the synthetic elements while still managing to blend into the sound created.

The other element that makes the song unique from what the band has done before is the featured verse from A$AP Rocky. The band previously had featured Kanye West on a different version of "Hurricane" from their album This Is War, but that was a bonus track and not on the official release (so we'll say this is the first time). It was quite a surprise to see A$AP Rocky listed as a featured artist, especially since his music is very, very different from 30 Seconds To Mars. However, after hearing the song and listening to the other singles back to back, it became evident that this was a fitting choice for the new sound the band is trying. Rocky utilizes a mixture of rapping and singing, which fits the mood of the song well.

This new sound from the band has taken a bit of getting used to, but is also not too surprising. Their last album showed a lot of more pop influences, and so it makes logical sense for the band to explore the sounds even more. While I wasn't as big on the first two singles, the darkness and somber nature of "One Track Mind", mixed with the pop/EDM/trap elements, caught my attention far more than the others. It also helped paint the picture of the album itself a bit better and allow the other singles to make more sense. I think this single is really catchy and an intriguing exploration of new sounds for the group, and makes me more excited for what the rest of the album holds, which will be out in a week.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, March 26, 2018

"(F*ck a) Silver Lining" & "Say Amen (Saturday Night)" - Panic! At the Disco

This past week graced us with not one, but two new songs off the upcoming album from Panic! At the Disco, Pray For The Wicked. The announcement and release of the songs felt a bit surprising, as well as the fact that two songs were released instead of simply one (as it usually is for album announcements and singles). Considering the album has only 11 songs on it and it doesn't release till June, I'd be surprised if we didn't see at least two or three more songs from the band before the album; nearly half the album will be out before it releases. An odd move, but not necessarily a bad thing.

Now, in terms of the songs themselves, both of them mix a combination of electronic elements and live band sounds, big band sounds. Both songs contain horns, a different feeling for Panic but not surprising. There has always been a theatrical sense to the band, and these songs are no exception. Each song manages to showcase different sides of this aspect of the band; "(F*ck a) Silver Lining" is the more upbeat and bright of the two, both in the tone of the song and the horns themselves. Blaring, almost squeaking notes puncture the song from the horn section, hitting incredibly high notes. The drums vie with the horns as the highlight of the instrumental, precision and tight rhythms keeping the pulse of the song grooving along at a pace that's quite difficult to resist dancing to. Brendon Urie, the only actual member of the band left (I'll get back to that subject further on), continues to show off his vocal abilities with mostly high vocals and lyrics that show he's not done shooting for the stars - or farther. This song works best when looked at together; the individual parts are all so well woven together to create an organic, pulsing jam that is easy to have ringing around your head long after you listen.

"Say Amen (Saturday Night)", while sharing certain similarities to the first song, takes a different direction. Feeling more like it's borrowing from rap and jazz than pop or rock, "Say Amen" lets swagger lead the way, mostly through Brendon Urie's vocals and, again, the drums. Mixing live drumset and 808's, the beat shows the rap influence while Urie switches between low, growling vocal lines and soaring up into the clouds on the chorus (and even higher to jaw dropping notes on the outro). This song feels as though it was meant to be the lead single; it's evident just in the way that it's constructed and the way it sounds. The horns take on a more jazzy feeling this time, with big swings and a mixing of lows and highs that give the song depth and a hint of sensuality. This fits, given the lyrical content of trying to reconcile traditions of old with modernity and the way Urie feels about the world now.

While both of these songs are great, and I can tell that the album will be equally well constructed and presented, it pains me to see the way that the "band" has evolved to this point. While it was big news when half of the band split back in 2009, the shifting of the band from being a band to what it is now has been a slow but steady process over the last decade. Currently, Brendon Urie is listed as the only current member of the band, with all the other instrumentalists being "touring" members. While I am not a member of the industry or in a band myself, I find it a bit hard to call Panic! At the Disco a band if it's simply just Urie. Not that I have anything against him; I think it's clear that he is a very talented individual who has a clear vision for the music he wishes to make. However, it feels wrong for just him to work under the current moniker and not have anyone else get that same credit.

That being said, I still very much enjoy the music, and I look forward to the release of the album this summer.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Chrome Neon Jesus - Teenage Wrist

There were two ways in which I discovered this band, and both were because of The Maine. I first heard of the band when I saw that Lupe, The Maine's primary photographer, posted some shots of Teenage Wrist's release show that they did at Chain Reaction in Anaheim, CA. A few days later, I saw that the latest episode of the 8123 Podcast (run by Garret and Pat from The Maine) was featuring Kamtin Mohager, formerly of The Chain Gang of 1974 and now of Teenage Wrist.

I decided that I ought to check the band out, considering I kept hearing about them. I found their debut album, Chrome Neon Jesus, and listened through from start to finish, not sure exactly what to expect. I knew very little of The Chain Gang of 1974, and what I did know was very electronic and synthesized. To say I was surprised with what I heard from Teenage Wrist would be an understatement.

Their sound is an intriguing mix of 90's rock and 00's emo music, a bringing together of two eras and scenes that were both present in my childhood (at different points). What makes the album unique, as I've discovered from listening to the album, is the sense of nostalgia it inspires. It's both a throwback to the music of the past and a look forward to the future, creating this weird sensation of having nostalgia for something that didn't necessarily happen. It's more of remembering a feeling, instead of a specific event, and it makes for an interesting listening experience of being familiar, yet not.

There's specific artists I hear in certain songs, the influences of the past manifesting themselves in melodies or instrumentation. "Rollerblades" has a bit of the bright alternative rock of Jimmy Eat World on their Bleed American album, which is one of my all time favorites (listen to "A Praise Chorus" for similarities to this song). "Swallow" reminds me a bit of a band Cold that I listened to a lot growing up (see "No One" for reference), and "Black Flamingo" feels like a more mellowed out version of something the Deftones might do (listen to "Be Quiet and Drive [Far Away]" for reference). You can hear both the Smashing Pumpkins and The Cure on a lot of the tracks, the same kind of alternating between heavier and lighter moments that the former does so well, a wall of noise and the absence of it, and the emotionality of the later.

The cool thing about all these musical references is that it doesn't in any way diminish the band. They're building off of the ground work all these bands and more laid down over the last 20, 25 years, and giving it their own twist. It's a bringing together of a wide variety of sounds and influences, which I think will lead to a varied audience and a bringing together of fans from different generations.

Another thing I've found I really enjoy about the album is the ability for you to listen to each song and find the aspects that are unique and notable about them, yet also listen to the album as a whole and find yourself getting lost in it. There's a relaxing, calming nature to the chill-out quality of the vocals, all over a more gritty instrumental that never gets too dark. The music isn't cheery, yet it never feels too sorrowful or emo, riding a fine line that leaves it in a space of it's own. "Stoned, Alone" is probably the biggest stand out song, alternating between quieter yet grooving verses and an upbeat, atmospheric chorus, and an outro that gives you the slightest hint of a breakdown. "Supermachine", the very next song, utilizes acoustic guitar for the verses and then again alternating to a bigger, wall-of-sound chorus that's similar yet quite different at the same time. That familiar, yet not feeling once again. The title track starts off soft with hanging clean chords and vocals but almost instantly switches gears into a drum crashing, guitar roaring, almost head-banging session. The album ends with the big, slightly melancholy "Waitress", a song that utilizes the wall of sound along with carefully inserted moments of quiet and echoing vocals to finish the album out with an epic feeling.

This is an album that you get more out of it the more you listen to it; I know in the week since I've discovered it, I've listened to it at least once a day, if not twice or three times through. I discover different layers and different parts that remind me of different artists and the web of influence grows larger and larger. It's got some grit, it's got some emotions, and it mixes of them together so well. Truly a job well done, and an exciting debut from a band that clearly has a lot of potential and (hopefully) more to come.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended: "Stoned, Alone", "Black Flamingo", "Waitress"

Friday, March 16, 2018

Bobby Tarantino II - Logic

Despite having a new album out last year, Everything, which included the radio hit/suicide awareness song "1-800-273-8255 (feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid)", Logic is already back with a sequel to his 2016 mixtape, Bobby Tarantino II. I remember hearing that first mixtape, specifically "44 Bars",  one of the many examples of Logic's flow and rapping talent, seeing him spit about the crazy way's his life has turned out and how he's still trying to remember who he is and where he comes from. Other songs like "Flexicution", "Slave II", and "Super Mario World" all caught my attention (the latter of which samples Mario music and combines it with rap; how can you go wrong?) and I soon found myself exploring more of his music and past work.

The thing I've found about mixtapes is that they seem to capture the nature of rap better than most albums do; they feel more natural, off the cuff, less layered and bogged down by production. So when I saw that there was a sequel for Logic's first mixtape coming, I was very excited. I enjoyed certain parts of Everything, especially the way in which he is able to tackle real life issues and bring a positivity that is rarely found in the rap game. However, I found myself more drawn to the swaggering, fire-spitting Logic of Bobby Tarantino and wanted to hear more of that sound and persona.

The mixtape kicks off with an intro from Rick and Morty from the animated TV show, which at first feels surprising, but also fits in line with the feel of the mixtape and the album. The album kicks in from there, and it's evident that we're dealing with a different mixtape than before. Everything feels bigger, louder, even more swagger and even more opportunities for Logic to flaunt his speedy word-smithing. The first single, "44 More", is a reference to the song from his first mixtape that I mentioned earlier and sees him ripping through 44 bars again, referencing people like Harry Styles, Katy Perry, David Blaine, and Starlord among others. The "Sign of the Times" reference (which is a song by Harry Styles) was my favorite:

"Sold more albums my first week than Harry Styles and Katy Perry
If that ain't a sign of the times
Then I don't know what is, man this shit is scary".

His ability to take words and put them together and send them flying out at warp speed has always impressed me, and this song definitely shows that off.

As I began hearing the rest of the album, I realized, with some disappointment, that this mixtape wasn't going to have the same charm that the last one did. While there was a balance between the humility that Logic was known for and the swagger (which sounds contradictory, but worked on the first mixtape), that balance felt tilted much farther in one direction than the other. While there are some songs that show both his humble beginnings and his new success and the perks that have followed, it feels a lot like most other rap songs I hear (and then don't listen to again). I know that the whole Bobby Tarantino is supposed to be his other "persona", similar the Eminem and Slim Shady, but it doesn't feel like there's anything worth bringing to the table with a lot of the songs, apart from giving Logic a platform to brag. He does talk a lot about how he's worked hard for what he's gotten, and that is definitely evident - considering he's been putting out mixtapes and albums for almost ten years. This comes off as a bit repetitive, however, especially on the song "Everyday", which feels a lot different from the rest of the album in that the instrumental was done by Marshmello. Both the instrumental and the raps feel a bit flat, lacking a special quality to make the song worth listening to again and again.

There are certain songs stand out a bit for different reasons. "Midnight" slows things down a bit and has a bit of a melancholy tone with the more stripped down instrumental and piano chords (although the lyrical content doesn't quite match). Halfway through, the song completely switches gears, maintaining a slower pace but upping the intensity and energy to create a new vibe all within the same track. "Indica Badu (feat. Wiz Khalifa)" also slows things down a bit with a more R&B/Jazz vibe; the bass line is simple and repetitive, but grooves along really nicely with the simple drum-set beat. The song is, not surprisingly, all about smoking weed, so the lyrical content (again) isn't that noteworthy (especially the very imature sounding line "I smoke weed!"), but it's definitely a chill song to listen to (hmm, wonder if that was intentional). "Warm It Up (feat. Young Sinatra)" is an intriguing song as "Young Sinatra" is one of Logic's other names, meaning it's featuring his alter ego (Bobby Tarantino) and his other alter ego (Young Sinatra). It gives the lyrics additional layers as he's rapping through two different personalities and neither one is necessarily him. The instrumental also stands out from the other songs as it has a bit of a throwback, underground vibe to it when Young Sinatra is rapping, moving away from the trap sound until Bobby Tarantino comes back in.

I think I wanted to like this album more than I did. I definitely enjoy some of the tracks, and I know there's certain ones that I'll listen to in my car quite loudly and it'll be a great experience. However, in terms of something that was noteworthy or that's going to leave a lasting impression, I don't think this release is going to do that.

Rating: 2.5/5

Recommended: "Contra", "Warm It Up (feat. Young Sinatra)", "44 More"

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Neighbourhood - The Neighbourhood

This album had an interesting build up to it; while most bands usually release a couple singles and then the album, The Neighbourhood put out two full EPs, Hard and To Imagine, in September of 2017 and January of this year respectively. Along with the two singles they released leading up to the album release, exactly half (6) of the songs from the album were already out and available, some for many months at this point. It made for an unusual listening experience; the first couple of times I played through the album, it felt a bit disjointed, as I knew certain songs very well and others were brand new. After I've gone through it a few times now, I've begun to move past that point and can see the album a bit more as a cohesive unit.

I will say that I was somewhat disappointed to see which of the songs ended up on the album from the EP's; "24/7" from Hard was one of my favorite songs of last year, yet was left out of the album, as well as "Heaven" from To Imagine. Both were catchy and intriguing songs for the band, utilizing different soundscapes while retaining the essence of the band. But the choices that they made did seem to fit the overall mood and flow of the album, so I'll be content to still have the other songs even if they didn't make the album cut.

If we're looking at The Neighbourhood in comparison to Wiped Out!, their last album release, the most obvious difference to me was the scope and emotions that are presented by the band. Wiped Out! showed us a band that was riding off the wave created by the very successful single "Sweater Weather"; lots of pop and hip-hop influences combining with their signature cool alternative-electronic sound. There were songs with large, huge sound waves that were contrasted by very drawn in and low energy tunes. The Neighbourhood, however, shows a band that's seen a bit more of the world, a bit more settled into reality and ways that life can change how things are perceived. The band has always been good about being vulnerable, but their latest album seemed to bring an even wider exposure to the inner feelings and thoughts of the band (or lead singer, Jesse Rutherford). Songs like "Nervous", "Void" (see my review here), "Too Serious", and "Stuck With Me" reveal the different struggles and insecurities faced in the band's position, whether it pertains to relationships or fame. "Too Serious" feels like the most revealing, with lyrics in the chorus being a prime example:

"Now I feel like I'm broken
Now I feel like I'm choking
How I wish I was joking with you"

It's a very honest set of lyrics, one that reveals a lot about the band and where specific members might stand in this point of their life.

There's definitely songs on the other side of this, songs that are more upbeat and less sorrowful. "You Get Me High", "Scary Love", and "Flowers" are all more upbeat, although they each have very different meanings and vibes. "You Get Me High" deals a bit with the band's success, but in a way that doesn't leave you feeling down. "Scary Love" talks about handling someone loving them so much that it feels frightening in its intensity. Again, I don't think it's in a bad way; it's just about how to deal with such a powerful set of emotions directed at you intimately from another person. "Flowers" is the most upbeat and poppy of the three songs, which is a bit ironic due to the lyrical content of dealing with having to put on a fake persona all for someone else's sake.

Instrumental-wise, this album saw the band moving further into the electronic space and experimenting more with new sounds while still retaining their sense of moody, cloudy-weather music. There was also a fair amount of trap influence, subtly in the instrumental but more obviously in the vocals. "Blue", "Reflections", and "Nervous" have the most obvious examples during various points in the verses, which if you're familiar with trap music, you'll know which points I'm speaking of. While I'm not really that big on trap, and think that it has reached it's tipping point, I think that the moments where it appears on this record are just enough to accent the influence of rap on The Neighbourhood and how they have represented the genre in their previous work (such as their lesser known mixtape, #000000 & #FFFFFF, from 2014 featuring a number of rappers such as G-Eazy and others).

I think the beauty of this band is that they haven't locked themselves into a specific sound. Their incorporation of multiple genres leaves them a lot of room to play around with different influences and sonic ideas. Their three albums and mixtape they've released have all shown very different sides of the band, and it reveals the potential they still have, despite the struggles they may have been dealing with as a band and as individuals. Music can be a healing, transformative process, and I would imagine that despite the pain and difficulties they have been facing, making this record and sharing it has been one that has helped them, as well as helping their fans who can relate. It might not be my favorite record from the group; I think the release set up and some of the songs themselves weren't as well executed. But, I know the band will be back with something different, as they always are, and I look forward to hearing what's next (and enjoying the songs I did like from this album/the EP's).

Rating: 3.5/5

Recommended: "Void", "Softcore", "Too Serious"