The Contractually-Obligated-by-Blog-Law Lists of Shit I Enjoyed in 2018: Music

One down, three to go, everybody.

Next up on the yearly review is music, and all the releases I kept up with despite, in a Spotify-estimated 35,000+ minutes this year, mostly listening to old Frank Zappa albums, the first four records from The Mars Volta I’ve memorized since the age of 13, and Run the Jewels 1-3 on repeat. It’s been a banner year for a lot of different artists, and this is what liked, not necessarily what was culturally relevant enough to be the Album of the Year. I’m not going to jerk off the (excellent) Black Panther soundtrack, rank dead or imprisoned Soundcloud rappers, pontificate on the artistic and social importance of Janelle Monae’s brilliant ongoing oeuvre, express my complicated, conflicted feelings about Greta Van Fleet, or argue about Turnstile (it’s good).

Also, as a guy not (often) paid for criticism or reviews, there’s probably tons I’ve missed or overlooked. Just like I haven’t seen Widows or The Favorite because nobody pays me to go to the theater, or sat my ass down to watch The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Sorry to Bother You yet (all films very much on my radar), I simply haven’t had enough time or energy to devote to pouring over every release that’s piqued my interest or came out from an artist I like. I’m also getting old, and so a lot of what The Kids™ are into or whatever is probably irritating to me (Cardi B holds absolutely zero sway over my life) and I’d rather listen to Cursive’s Domestica for the six-hundredth time. This is also in no particular order, lightly segregated by a loose sense of genre, and if I had to guess, it’s probably going to come out to like ten with maybe a few honorable mentions. If you have Spotify, there’s links for everything! Continue reading →

MUSIC BRIEFS: La Dispute “ROSE QUARTZ/FULTON STREET I” & Forewarned “Unforgiving Years”

The first album from Grand Rapids, Michigan’s hyper-literate post-hardcore luminaries La Dispute in four years is due out in March. Last week, the band premiered an ethereal introduction track “ROSE QUARTZ” followed by a trademark, instant-classic song for longtime fans. Characterized by a quiet-loud dynamic familiar to any veteran of the genre, replete with the lyrical themes (interstates, water) that make up much of La Dispute’s catalog, the music was debuted with an animated music video:

It’s going to be a long wait to March 22nd. The album, Panorama, evidently focuses on the drive vocalist Jordan Dreyer and his partner used to make from Grand Rapids to Lowell, MA, where the latter grew up. Right off the bat, it sounds a little more aggressive and a lot closer to earlier albums than 2014 release Rooms of the House which would come to a relief to those of us enjoying the spate of emo revival and new post-hardcore acts but a little dismayed when by the third album they soften up and stop the throat-destroying, primal scream therapy that got us in the game in the first place (cough… Pianos Become the Teeth).

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Photos: Veronica Reinert

In regards to throat-destroying, I could not be more amped up about Orange County, California’s Forewarned. Their four-track debut release Unforgiving Years is without a doubt some of the most loudly aggressive but elegantly dynamic, layered hardcore I’ve heard in years. There’s real, passionate musicianship here, carefully highlighted by some great mixing and production work, but the lyricism is what helps underscore a lot of the intensity.

Despite adhering to what could be charitably described as a “toxic death wish” lifestyle, vegan straight-edge hardcore is one of my absolute first loves and what initiated me into punk rock as a whole when I was young. The righteous principles, the gang vocals, and above all the “play violence” of the raucous live performances is something I grew up with in Orange County and Denver, and something that helped shape my politics. To hear something this vital come out of the area I’ve been removed from, nearly fifteen years later, is such a blast both sonically and personally. Continue reading →

First Reaction: Eminem – Kamikaze

Just a few hours ago, basically with zero promotion or fan knowledge that he was working in-studio on anything other than possibly a track for the upcoming Venom film, renowned Rap God Eminem dropped an album called Kamikaze out of absolutely nowhere. Available in the usual places you can listen to stuff, I’m going to give it a spin and give a first reaction after just a little background.

His last effort, the Rick Rubin-produced Revival, was largely underwhelming to critics and fans alike. This is chalked up in some part to Eminem wanting to sort of please everyone in a comeback phase of his career, as well as Rick Rubin being an expert producer capable of being a mainstream hit factory. That’s not a dig against Rubin, although he’s had hits and misses in his career, my favorite album of all time is his work with The Mars Volta’s first record De-Loused in the Comatorium, on which both founding members claimed some of their wilder ideas were reigned in to make it more palatable. Someone as aggressive as Eminem who is probably at his best in a rawer form might not come out as interesting or appealing after being refined through Rubin’s major-label sensibilities.

Despite being in the right age demographic, Eminem has never clicked for me beyond the bigger hits and heyday stuff. I’ll own that much-maligned “backpack rap” label, socially-conscious “hip-hop” like Talib Kwali or anyone that’s ever appeared at an Adult Swim-affiliated live event, that’s probably closer to my bread and butter on this end of the musical spectrum. Eminem is undeniable, however, and any release shouldn’t be ignored. On a technical level, he’s easily within the pinnacle of his genre in terms of skill and creative risk. In a scene that relies so much on promotion and hype for releases, it’s pretty gutsy on his part to drop this without any warning, especially when right off the bat most people are talking about it being a return to form. Reunited with mentor Dr. Dre as a producer, it immediately sounds angrier and harder than Revival. Continue reading →

Emo Revival Loves Babies

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Nope. Absolutely not.

Without delving into what I’d consider a boilerplate introduction to the history of the genre (involving a confusing, simultaneous defense and condemnation of Chris Carrabba), the much-maligned and misunderstood punk subgenre of “emo” is probably not what you think it is. If the term brings up images of fourteen year old kids fucking around on an escalator after adding to their Tim Burton-goth wardrobe at Hot Topic and listening to what sounds like the Backstreet Boys collaborating with Lil Jon, that’s not your fault either, the label was both invented and hijacked by record companies and over-the-hill music journalists in 2005. Those kids don’t really fit the “sad crowd” demographic that the “real emo” inherited from the original runs of goth and shoegaze. The “real” heyday, actually the genre’s second wave after spinning off from hardcore punk in the mid-80s, was in the mid-to-late 90s with bands like Mineral, Hot Water Music, The Get Up Kids, Sunny Day Real Estate, At the Drive-In, and Cursive with an aesthetic better described as “muted thrift store bus commuter chic.” Fans were probably more into “The Omaha Sound” than the repackaged, corporate-pushed fuck-you-dad goth-by-way-of-Natural Born Killers of My Chemical Romance or Blood on the Dance Floor, the latter of whom were in it to molest preteens with asymmetrical haircuts.

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Average early Jimmy Eat World fan

 

Notable for the genre, most of the bands enjoyed moderate underground success before disbanding and being far more appreciated down the line primarily by white kids born between 1987 and 1995 who really identified with Kevin Arnold when they were growing up and weren’t old enough to ever see any of the mostly obscure bands characterizing their tastes in arguably their most formative years. This has brought a sort of revival in the genre in recent years, characterized by a flurry of reunion tours from the original progenitors of that late 90’s sound as well as new acts that have finely tuned the sound and tropes, including a noticable tuning down from the “fuck that stupid bitch” teenage misogyny characterized by some of the earlier, lesser known acts. It’s like emo made in a lab now, after 15 years of obsessive study, designed specifically to just make you both regrettably sad or nostalgic in a manner that’s so effective you shouldn’t be allowed to listen to it on public transit.

 

One of my favorite characteristics of many of the revival bands, the membership of which I share an age range with, is a reoccurring graphic design motif of using childhood photos from the early 90s as album covers. They almost all do it at some point, and I’ve been really curious as to whether or not this is some kind of planned meme from bands that have toured together. I’ve collected several of my favorites, as well as give a quick rundown review of the band, just in case you too have entered your late twenties still not quite able to get out of the sad crowd.

Continue reading →