Friday, March 1, 2019

a modern tragedy, vol. 2 - grandson

When grandson dropped the lead single, "Apologize" for this release, I was a bit unsure of how the EP was going to turn out. While "Apologize" isn't bad, it just didn't have the same fire that I had come to expect from grandson, the raw and visceral energy of songs like "Stick Up" and "6:00" from a modern tragedy, vol. 1 . But I tried to be patient and keep an open mind about what songs would sound like that were soon to come out.

I'm quite glad that I did.

From the first notes of "Stigmata", I knew that I was in for a wild ride. This EP takes the gritty, aggressive political and social fury that grandson reinvented and spits it back out with a new life. The drops are harder, the instrumentals rock more, and Jordan Edward Benjamin displays his lyrical prowess at full capacity throughout. But there's a broader spectrum explored here in the lyrical content, different subjects that mesh with the political anger and create even stronger moments. The struggle with addiction, depression, and apathy all interweave with the fight against abuse of power, against corruption, and against oppression that grandson wages so well. 

The strongest tracks, to me, are "Stigmata" and "Is This What You Wanted", both for different reasons. The former showcases the aggressive and energetic nature that grandson has perfected, while the later gives the most intense and impactful performance of the release. Not only that, but each contains the two coolest moments of the release - the drop/bridge of each song. The drops in each chorus of "Stigmata" are earth shattering, and you cannot help but move to the rhythm of the moment. The heaviness of the bridge for "Is This What You Wanted", specifically the guitars that roar, offer a different sort of contrast for grandson that has been explored more through hip-hop and dance/EDM sounds previously. I feel as though "Is This What You Wanted" has an ever so slight edge over "Stigmata", due mainly to the lyrical content. The chorus is such an agonizingly perfect depiction of the ways in which apathy has spread through and infects many:

"Is this what you wanted?
We get drunk, we get high
We pop pills until the morning
We don't care, we don't mind
Pretend everything is awesome
While the world burns outside".

It's a spot on mark of the ways in which we can sink into distraction, let ourselves be pulled away from that which rages in the world outside and "forget" the horrors this world holds. 

"Fallin (Temptation)" feels like the most interesting of the songs, in the more abnormal structuring and composing qualities. The vocals are almost not even rapped as opposed to being spoken, a monotone quality that adds to the nature of the lyrical content, the slow loss of power and control that comes with an addiction. It definitely stands out from the rest of the songs, which is a pretty incredible feat considering how strong the entirety of the release is. There's a more personal tone to this song, a drawing from experiences that gives it more weight and punch. 

"Darkside" feels most similar to the sound of Vol. 1, but is significantly different in the story it tells and the darkness it holds - probably the darkest song of the release. Jordan displays his truly incredible storytelling skills by laying out the tale of a kid who, after being bullied, ignored, and abused, lets this all build within until he lashes out at those around him in the way of violence and murder. It taps into a narrative that we are quite familiar with at this point - school shootings - in a way that is terrifying and quite relevant for our day and age. This song especially reveals the ability of Jordan to create music and message that people, specifically younger people, can relate to, sympathize with, and feel empowered by to spark conversation and fight for change. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I believe grandson is on an ever climbing trajectory, and it's only going to keep getting more and more intense. What a powerful and extremely necessary voice in a time of tribulation and polarization. And what fantastic music. 

Rating: 4/5

Monday, February 25, 2019

My Best Habit (Single) - The Maine

As I anticipated, The Maine released another single in the lead up to their seventh album, You Are OK, coming March 29th. "My Best Habit" continues to reveal the new direction and sound of the forthcoming album, although it paints a different picture than "Numb Without You" did.

This single has a very catchy feel to it - as I discovered from Genius, the working name for this song throughout the recording process was "Bop", and the band members have been referring to the song (in a fairly joking manner) as such.  For those who aren't familiar, a bop is a term for a song that is fantastic, that's repeatable and that you can't get out of your head - a bit similar to banger, but slightly different context. When listening, you can hear how the band would think of it as such - it's got a brighter, more tapping-your-feet-along feel to it than "Numb Without You" did. There isn't this huge wall of sound that pushes it towards epic territory, but it's a more fun tune - at least, without taking the lyrics into account.

The lyrical content feels like what we've come to expect from The Maine - full of relatability, depth, and vulnerability. Some of the best lines are not limited to, but include:

"If you're not you, you're everyone else",

"And if you're searching for a sure thing, nice dream
Something like a machine
Then my best habit's letting you down",

and

"One part anxiety using two parts naivety
Just to keep sane".

The song talks of the struggle to meet the expectations of others, and how that's not something that should be wasted, especially when those expectations are unrealistic or unhealthy ("something like a machine"). It's empowering in the message it conveys, the pursuit of being oneself and not caving to the pressures of fitting in or appeasing someone's expectations ("if you're not you, you're everyone else").

Musically, this song is really cool - it highlights all the members of the bands at different points, showing off their strengths both apart and together. The gang vocal aspect is also really intriguing, as something that is not often explored in The Maine's previous work. It all has a rhythm, a groove to it that really does make it feel like a bop. It's a song you can cruise in your car with, jam out to through your headphones, and enjoy with others or by yourself.

Now, there is one thing I will highlight that I feel comes out more strongly in this song that any recorded music that The Maine has put out recently - John's voice. My fiance (I got engaged last month!!!) and I have had a few conversations over the years, especially after seeing The Maine in concert, about John's voice and the condition it's in. This song shows something that we've both hear in the live performances (and especially in the acoustic version of "Numb Without You" here) - the raspy quality that's become more and more prominent. It feels as if his voice is slowly going, which I sincerely hope is not the case, but I worry about nonetheless. I love this band, this group, and the songs that John has defined with his vocals. I want to be able to keep hearing them, and keep hearing that voice lead the charge. I mean this all with only love - no disrespect in the slightest.

Besides that last point, I really enjoy this song - while it didn't captivate me with the same intensity that "Numb Without You" did, it definitely continues to pump me up for what is going to be a truly incredible album.

Rating: 4/5

Saturday, February 23, 2019

I Guess I Just Feel Like (Single) - John Mayer

I've felt myself slowly shift from a casual John Mayer fan to a more avid one.

My roommate from freshman year of college, Josh, was really into him, and shared almost all of his music with me. I really enjoyed it, especially "Slow Dancing In A Burning Room", but didn't follow his career very closely - only listening to new songs if I happened upon them.

It was when I started following him on social media that I really began to develop my interest in him - not only as a musician, but as a person. It's hard to gauge a person through social media, especially a celebrity figure, but throughout my time watching Mayer from afar, I feel a deep sense of honesty and vulnerability from his posts (along with a fantastic sense of humor). The point where it really hit me was when Mac Miller passed - even though Mayer didn't know him that well, he shared some of their time together and the sense of loss he felt within about his passing. This was something I very much related to - not that I knew Mac Miller, but that I felt like I was just starting to get to know him as a musician, as an artist, and then he was gone. 

Right before he released "I Guess I Just Feel Like", Mayer posted a picture of himself with a guitar/in the process of recording, and a bit of an explanation about the process behind the song. That was the moment where I knew this song was going to be something special. He talked about how he had been struggling with writing new songs in August & September of last year, and how after trying and failing to write songs in a specific way, he took it back to the basics in October and stopped trying to make something that wasn't going to happen - and "I Guess I Just Feels Like" was born.

The song itself is a very stripped down, almost country-sounding tune, primarily featuring vocals and acoustic guitar with later additions of drums and a fitting solo from Mayer himself. The vulnerability is heavy from the start, especially in the lyrics, and that's what has captured me with each and every listen. There's a definite sense of losing innocence, of this struggling between the desired, idealized world, and the one that we currently live in. Of having hope, yet struggling with loss and depression and negativity. It's hard to pinpoint these ideas to specific lines, so I copied all the lyrics below. I've said a little about them, but they truly speak for themselves:

(Verse 1)
"I guess I just feel like
I guess I just feel like
Nobody's honest, nobody's true
Everyone's lyin' to make it on through
I guess I just feel like I'm the same way too
(Verse 2)
I guess I just feel like good things are gone
And the weight of my worries is too much to take on
I think I remember the dream that I had
That love's gonna save us from a world that's gone mad
I guess I just feel like
What happened to that?
(Verse 3)
I guess I just feel like the joke's gettin' old
And the future is fading and the past is on hold
But I know that I'm open and I know that I'm free
And I'll always let hope in wherever I'll be
And if I go blind, I'd still find my way
I guess I just felt like givin' up today"

This doesn't feel like a song that's written to make money. It's purpose isn't to be this smash hit, to have a ton of airtime on the radio or be an internet sensation. It was made to convey the way that Mayer felt, which was not long after Mac Miller passed, and I'm sure was a reason/influence for this song coming to be. By being open and sharing his insides, sharing his feelings, Mayer has created a piece of art; one that is relatable, beautiful, and heart-wrenching to listen to. This is Mayer at his best - just him, his guitar, and his talent as a wordsmith and poet. Easily my favorite song by him in a long time. So much respect for him, as both a musician, and as a human being.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

amo - Bring Me The Horizon

amo is the album that Bring Me The Horizon needed to make. It reflects who they currently are as a band, and the ways in which they want to expand their sound and scope.

For some fans of the band, this album will be the nail in the coffin - this is so far removed from their beginning days (first three albums or so). Those who were unhappy with That's The Spirit will most likely be displeased with amo, for similar and more amplified reasons. The pop leanings, the current trend dabbling, all will lead some fans to be disheartened and disappointed.

While I can understand them, I feel bad for them.

This is a common and reoccurring theme I've seen with some of the bands who are getting to be a bit farther along in their careers - an original, defining sound, and an eventual breaking with and evolving towards new directions. On Linkin Park's polarizing album A Thousand Suns, Mike Shinoda delivers a few very applicable lines in "When They Come For Me":

"'Cause even a blueprint is a gift and a curse
'Cause once you got a theory of how the thing works
Everybody wants the next thing to be just like the first"

The notion of bands being led by expectations of their sound and the kind of music they make is a difficult one to grapple with. The way in which Bring Me The Horizon has addressed this is fitting, and the resulting album should really be of no surprise to followers of the band. Those who cannot seem to grasp this and continue to rail against and whine and complain online will always exist. It's true for many bands who have gone down different paths and moved away from their roots, and while it is a difficult thing to do, I believe it is a sign that a band is doing something right. If they are pursuing the path they desire, making music and exploring sounds that they want to create, then they are doing what is right for them. While fans are the ones who make their careers and dreams possible, they are not required to put out things just for the sake of pleasing the fans. In fact, I believe they shouldn't. Making that which is true, that which is honest, is the most important to bands and artist as creators of music, of art.

Now, this album is a solid piece of work. It explores such a variety of sounds and influences - pop, trap, edm, hip-hop, and beatboxing all make their appearances and show their influence. These new spaces allow the band to express new sentiments and ideas, showing a vulnerability that they hadn't really been able to express before. They collaborated with different artists (Grimes, Dani Filth, and Rahzel), which also allows for outside influence and new ideas mixing in.

With this expansion, this delving down different paths, there does come a certain sense of inconsistency. The ebb and flow is not quite as smooth as that of Sempiternal or That's The Spirit; there isn't the same cohesiveness. However, the diversity of the sound is the strength of the album - showing the band in new and quite different lights than we've previously been allowed to see. "nihilist blues (feat. Grimes)", really takes the band into a space that is both similar and foreign to them - as vocalist Oli Sykes described it, there's something "primitive" about the sound of this song, this darker, dance track. This notion of a sound that taps into the primitive nature is especially evident in some of their older work, the raw screaming, thundering, roaring nature of heavy metal. The trap influence on "why you gotta kick me when I'm down?" allows for a bit of a swagger, a retaliatory nature against those who say one thing (that they care for you) and do another (talk down to you), which is fitting with the sort of bravado commonly found in rap but also very much fits with the gritty guitars and heavier influence.

Their last album, That's The Spirit, was a powerhouse in terms of lyrical strength. That album ended up being a very meaningful and relatable album for me a few years ago, so I realize that my view is somewhat skewed. I knew it was going to be a high standard I had for their next release, and that it probably wouldn't reach it. I was correct, but that doesn't mean that there aren't some very meaningful lyrical moments on this album. "medicine" is one of the more intriguing songs lyrically, going into depth about the ways in which people can be toxic and how those relationships are hard to leave -  my favorite line is the opening one:

"Some people are a lot like clouds, you know
'Cause life's so much brighter when they go".

"heavy metal (feat. Rahzel)" is also different in that it directly addresses the band's change in sound and the reactions of certain fans. This is always difficult territory to tread into, as it can be seen as very aggressive or immature, but I feel as though BMTH does a great job of sort of making light of the whole situation. The chorus says it all:

"And I keep picking petals
I'm afraid you don't love me anymore
'Cause a kid on the 'gram in a Black Dahlia tank
Says it ain't heavy metal
(And that's alright, that's alright)".

While speaking with Apple Music, Sykes said that while they are proud and confident in the music they are currently making, they still struggle with that desire to please people. This song is supposed to address that, both seriously and in jest.

Overall, I think this album was an excellent step for the band. They made intentional music that addresses their own lives and where they stand, as well as looking towards the future. It's a really vulnerable piece of art, a bearing of their hearts and minds, and I respect and appreciate that immensely. While I still personally have more attachment and favor for That's The Spirit, I know this is an album that will continue to provide moments of discover and excitement in the music.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended: "nihilist blues (feat. Grimes)", "medicine", "wonderful life (feat. Dani Filth)", & "i don't know what to say"

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Numb Without You (Single) - The Maine

On the 8123 Podcast, run by Garrett and Pat of The Maine, they recently spent an episode talking about their new album. At one point, they mentioned that this new album is going to be a very bold one for the band - including ideas and elements outside their normal comfort zone. It made me excited when I heard that, but it's hard to anticipate what that'll look like in terms of an actual sound.

Good thing we didn't have to wait too long.

The Maine released the first single, "Numb Without You", from their forthcoming 7th studio album You Are OK. Luckily my girlfriend and I had the chance to listen to the song together for the first time, driving around in the rain late Tuesday night, which is usually my preferred way for listening to new music. What a pleasure it was to have and share that experience with someone I care for so dearly.

The song is a bold one; there's no doubt about that. Right from the start, the strings are a huge step into new territory for the group - and it's a step in the right direction. Even when the rest of the band comes in, there's a fiery energy to it all, while still having a sense of familiarity. This is The Maine, but perhaps not in the form you've known them these last 10 years. This is a band who is constantly looking forward, moving towards the next big step and what they can continue to accomplish. There has never been any sort of stagnation in this group - listen to their albums over the years, and you will see a band continuing to discover itself and what potential they hold.

I absolutely love this song. In the less than 48 hours it's been out, I've listened to it 20+ times. It's got this darker, grittier tone from the band that I have yet to see, but with such an expansive sound - there's an epic feeling to it, especially the drop in the chorus as the band comes crashing in. The bridge is some pure rock and roll bliss, feeling reminiscent of the band's energy on songs from Pioneer - an album, interestingly enough, where the band really pushed for their own sound and creative control over their music.

I'm very, very excited for You Are OK to arrive March 29th. I'm sure we will get more singles before then, so I know I won't be waiting too long before I get another taste of the new sound from The Maine. Until then, I'll be trying not to think about how I won't be in Phoenix this weekend at the second edition of the 8123 Fest, rocking out with the boys as they begin their new era. Congrats - this is going to be a wild ride.

Rating: 5/5

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Anticipated Albums of 2019

I have thought about and talked about this subject before, but never before did it cross my mind to do it as a post on here. So here it goes - this is my list of anticipated albums for 2019, which will be categorized by those that are confirmed/highly likely and those that are rumored/unlikely/my wishlist. I've included the release dates for those that do have them & reasonable ranges for those without.

Confirmed & Highly Likely:

  • Bring Me The Horizon - AMO (1/25/19)
    • The one that has a set date and will be one of the first albums of the year that I have my eye on, AMO will be something many other fans of the band are paying close attention to as well. Though some were disappointed with their last release, That's The Spirit, but I found it to be one of their strongest and most diverse. It showed a desire to push in new directions, and had some truly raw and vulnerable moments, musically and lyrically. That album meant a lot to me, and I know that if the band continues on that route, then this release will be great. Since we've had some singles already, it seems as though the band will be a bit of a middle ground between the newer experimental elements and the gritty, hardcore sound of some of their older albums. 
  • The Maine - Untitled (Spring/Summer 2019)
    • Lovely Little Lonely was my favorite album of 2017 and one of my favorite albums ever, so naturally I'm going to include the follow up on this list. The album has been recorded and is in the mixing/post-production phase, so it's highly likely we'll see it drop in the first half of the year. On The 8123 Podcast, band members and hosts Pat Kirch and Garrett Nickelsen have discussed some of the process and their feelings regarding the album. From what they've said, this album will be a bold and exciting endeavor from the group. 
  • The 1975 - Notes On A Conditional Form (May 2019)
    • Yes, you're reading that correctly. The band's latest release, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, came out not quite two months ago, and the band has been hard at work to put out another, separate album less than six months later. It's hard to speculate what the sound will be like - but knowing the band, it'll be worth listening to. 
  • grandson - Untitled (Spring 2019)
    • While this release will most likely be another EP in the Modern Tragedy series, it's still a release that should be given as much attention as possible. 2018 was a nonstop, action-packed year for grandson, and his fire is nowhere near being burned out. Given the continuing political climate, the relevancy of his music is only going to grow bigger and more powerfully speak as a voice for those who are dissatisfied with the status quo. 
  • Walk The Moon - Untitled (Spring 2019)
    • This was a surprise addition to this list - just barely 24 before I sat down to write this, the band dropped a surprise single, "Timebomb". It's surprising that the band would be amping up for a release so soon after their last (November 2017), but given the energy and direction of the new single, I'd say it's an album to be excited about (so hopefully this isn't a one-off single). 
  • From Indian Lakes - Untitled (Spring/Summer 2019)
    • A band that I have so much love and enthusiasm for, it's been a solid two years since their last release - and with a tour supporting Copeland coming up this spring (and the official confirmation via Twitter), the time seems ripe for a new album from the California group. 

Unconfirmed/RumoredWishlist:
  • Mike Shinoda
    • While his album just released last summer, I would be very surprised to see no new music from Mike Shinoda. The sprawling 16-track Post Traumatic covered a lot of ground, but I know the man has more in the works. If there isn't a full length album (since he's gonna be touring in Europe in March and most likely elsewhere in the summer), then perhaps at least an EP of fresh material will drop this year.
  • Linkin Park
    • This one is a delicate matter. It's not necessarily that I want to/expect to see an album this year, or even in the next few years, but I find it hard to imagine a world where the remaining members of Linkin Park don't come together for another album. I'm sure they're all still working through and will be forever healing from the loss they experienced with Chester's passing in 2017, but I think that once the band has had time to process and come together naturally, they will return to the world together. What that will look like or sound like, I won't speculate - it's not my place and it does no good. But I think this will happen
  • Blink-182
    • It's been about 2 &1/2 years since the return of Blink-182 in their current iteration, and the timing feels just right for a release from the pop-punk veterans. The carrying power of their last release was pretty incredible, and I know the chemistry with the three current members would carry on in their next release. 
  • Paramore
    • The band's transformation/refocusing with After Laughter showed a maturity and vulnerability that was related to and gobbled up by fans and critics alike. While that seems like a lot to follow up with, I know that the band felt very organic, fresh, and revitalized in their last album. I have no doubt that a follow up will continue that same energy. 
I'm going to revisit this post halfway through the year - see what ideas I had that were correct, which I was off on, and what surprise albums drop between now and then. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Top Songs of 2018

There have been two reasons for the delay in this post.

One, the holiday season is always super busy for me, and then I went and left my laptop with my parents at Christmas - so I haven’t had as much time or proper resources as I would like.

Two, it’s been difficult to finalize my list and so I’ve been putting it off a bit. There were a lot of great, great songs this year. And picking one to reign supreme has been quite a back and forth process. But, I finally got my act together and decided, so here’s my list (I decided to do from #10 to #1 for the suspense factor).

10. ATM - J. Cole
  • This song, on my initial listen, felt too similar to a lot of the current radio fare. The more I listened, however, the more I realized the depth the song contains, lyrically. I’ve enjoyed watching Cole’s star rise over these last few years, and this song is a testament to that.
9. Filthy - Justin Timberlake
  • While the album that this single was supposed to build hype for didn’t sit as well with me, this song is still an absolute blast. The funk and the future came together to create one of JT’s best hits in years.
8. Small Worlds - Mac Miller
  • It was hard to pick a favorite from this album, but Small Worlds was the track I kept coming back to most often. As my girlfriend pointed out, the end almost ends up being a spoken word piece, with Miller showing his most thoughtful album yet (and unfortunately his last).
7. If I Say - Mumford & Sons
  • I knew from my first listen that this song was going to be in my top favorites for the year. The way it builds, slow and gentle at first, but sweeping you away in an experience that’s truly remarkable. A beautiful, wonderful piece.
6. Star Treatment - Arctic Monkeys
  • The introduction to the masterpiece that is Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino really sets the mood and tone, so well that I keep coming back to this song more than the rest. It was very much an odd experience the first time round, but I’ve grown to really love and appreciate this song and the album it begins.
5. Levitate - twenty one pilots
  • Short but sweet - that's a perfect summary of this song. The brevity is what makes it so great, always leaving me wanting more of the sick instrumental and Tyler Joseph's smooth and slick flow. Not to mention the lyrical depth of this song - lots of layers to unravel. 
4.Running From My Shadow (feat. grandson) - Mike Shinoda
  • It was hard to pick which of Shinoda's songs were gonna end up on here; "Nothing Makes Sense Anymore" and "Promises I Can't Keep" were both heavy contenders, but this song consistently rose to the top in my mind. It showcases the incredible talent of Shinoda - the musicality, the lyrics, and the songwriting collaboration with grandson lead to an absolute blast of a song. 
3. Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea - Fall Out Boy
  • One of the few times I've called a song a "banger", I knew early on this was gonna be in my top. The intensity, the catchy-ness captures the spirit of Fall Out Boy and the direction they've gone as a band. This one felt like such a great blend of electronics and a throwback to their pop-punk roots, and one that was easy to play on repeat this year. 
2. Stoned, Alone - Teenage Wrist
  • I absolutely love the whole album, but this song really felt like it showed off what Teenage Wrist is about. The gritty meets shoegaze sound was one I wasn’t expected to embrace so well, but this song is full of so much fun and energy, you can't help but bob along and rock out. 
1. Love It If We Made It - The 1975
  • The surprise song of the year. My initial couple of listens to this song were not ones of pure enjoyment. This song took its time to grow on me, but boy did it. A song for the times, a song of raw emotions and thought provoking statements. Angsty and cool and sorrowful all at once, this was the song that encapsulated much of 2018.