Sunday, December 10, 2017

the Top 10 Pop /Electronic Albums of 2017

And so it begins the roll out of the end of the year lists. Here is the first of many. This year I defaulted to ranking by them in according to how much I actually listened to them as the scores in reviews are my initial impressions and as I often write in the reviews I have to see how they grow on me. So I used my Lastfm page to look at the actual numbers...Yes, I synched it with my iPod every morning to gather the data through out the year. There were a few occasions with rankings on this list when I am making an executive decision to let one album trump another , but typically speaking I am letting LastFm make these decisions for me to spare me the obsessive head aches. If these are albums I reviewed the click on the review link in order to check out the actual music.

10- Gucci Mane -"Mr. Davis

Yes, I did not review this album. But it's more mature than most of his previous releases and feels like he has perfected his songwriting process. Take that and combine it with the fact this might be the best produced hip-hop album of the year and it deserves it place here.

9- Tricky : "Ununiform"

 Despite the fact that Jay-Z helped produce this album taking away the dark edge, it still managed to grow on me. This is more radio friendly , but the songs are pretty strong. The last song embraces his classic sound perhaps the most as it features Martina Topley-Bird, but when you put it on shuffle mode the songs stand on their own perhaps better than they did upon my initial listen.

 Why it beat out Gucci...more dynamic range, fits a broader scope of emotions outside of ego stroking.

8- Nine Inch Nails - "Add Violence"

This album is not on the goth/ industrial list because even though Reznor has more of an edge here, it's more atmospheric than it is dark or aggressive. It might not be "Broken" but it is solid and I am glad he has gotten his edge back . It will sit nicely against the rest of their catalog and is better than everything since "the Fragile" . So if you are a long time fan , you should be pleased that you are getting what we have wanted.

 Why it beat out Tricky? ... is this even a fair fight? more sonic depth is the short answer.

7-Fever Ray- "Plunge"

 Things got weird for this Swedish singer. I was not wowed by the first single from this album and though it was going to become another case of her riding a wave of hype from her previous work. This album took some warming up to, but after repeat listens I can hear how all the elements that worked before are in play just coming from a different angle.

 Why did it beat out Nine Inch Nails? On paper N.i.N was better this album was not as dense and just made for easier listening. 


6-Zola Jesus- "Okovi"

 After her last album I really needed her to get back to darker places. That is what happens after a weird atmospheric introduction. She combines sweeping strings with tracks that sound like they came from one of Bjork's is a welcome addition to her legacy and finds her voice continuing to live up to it's potential. I think it's a good compromise in terms of darker electronic music and pop. I don't see this propelling her into Katy Perry or even Sia status in terms of radio play, but that is not what she is going for or she would be there. Why it beat out Fever Ray? ...Darker and more powerful, yet still catchy enough to demand repeat listens. 

5-Lydia Ainsworth- "Darling of the Afterglow"

 This came out of nowhere and it was the leather dress in one of her promo pictures that made me more curious.  The vocals are beautifully layered against slick piano driven pop beat that focuses on being steamier than it does trying to make you dance along. This Toronto native's back is  classical music and film scoring. I can hear the cinematic quality, but it's not rigid like classical music can be. Her harmonies are pretty amazing.This earned heavy rotation through out the year. 

 Why ist beat out Zola Jesus?... Better vocal production and the vocals took me more places.


4-the Haxans- "Party Time" 

 Ash Costello from New Years Day is embracing her inner Mortica Addams . I fully support this is a good look for her, but as a sound it has interesting results that works in varying degrees. This album is fun in many of the same ways the more disco moments or My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult can be. It gets stuck in your head and thus this heavy rotation is what put it in the top 5.

 Why it beat out Lydia Ainsworth? ... More fun, after all it is party time


3-Taylor Swift- Reputation-

What I wanted Taylor to do was give me something bigger and better than "1989", instead she went into a more streamlined version of pop. I have grown to accept this. This album has grown on me in fact according to Last Fm I listened to it more than Halsey, but I feel Halsey's album is better. Now I would round this up to a 9ish.

 Why did it trump the Haxans? Better songwriting when Taylor is on point with songs like "Are You Ready For It?"

2- Halsey-Hopeless Fountain Kingdom

Another album like Gucci that I did not review for the blog, but got a ton of play on the ole iPod. I did write up something for it on Treblezine, in their top 50 songs of the year  for the song "Eyes Closed" and I did reference the fact when I reviewed Taylor Swift. So that answers why this out ranked Taylor Swift, it has more going on and Taylor went to minimal. I think the grooves on this album are more on point and she has some interesting perspectives lyrically.

1- Young Thug - Beautiful Thugger Girls

I never actually reviewed this album for this blog. It's not only a lot of fun with great declarations like how he is Bill Gates step-son or that he is the black Christian Gray and has 50 shades of Bae, but it is musical. There is real guitar on this. Does he mumble? yes. He also sings.Not the greatest voice ever and it's aided by auto tune, but he makes an effort to write songs that stand out from his peers. He made fools of Future, Gucci and 2Chainz who re-heated the same old same old.

Why did it beat out Halsey? The songs were catchier. Isn't that the point of pop?


Fever Ray : "Plunge"

It opens in a manner not unlike her other work. She is sticking to what she does as a singer. Which is along the lines of Cyndi Lauper being remixed as she is in the process of singing. The electronic backing tracks do not seem to have as much depth as her previous work. "Musn't Hurry" is not bad , but it sounds like she is running in place rather than moving forward as an artist. Their is an oriental feel to the intervals of the synths bubbling around "A Part of Us" . There is some more experimental ambiance around the corners of "Falling" . The song just throbs off of the one groove without going anywhere. "IDK About You" is more upbeat . Her vocals take on more of a sing song cadence. The backing track just seems like it's there and not really giving her much support even when it builds up.

On "This Country" the synths continue with their journey into the Orient. The vocals have a more desperate sexuality to them. There is not really a chorus to speak of so nothing really hooks you in . I do like the lyrics to this song the most of what I have heard six songs in despite their extreme leftist slant. Her primary sentiment is this country makes it hard to fuck. Oddly the title track  is an unneeded instrumental that sounds like video game music for kids. "To the Moon and Back" is the odd single I first heard from this album that left me under whelmed. The vocal shows more of her Bjork influence. Listening to the song in the context of the album it sits a little better with me, but is far from being her most compelling work.

She goes back to a more familiar sound on "Red Trails". With lines like "waiting on your love to happen/ is like waiting for a drug that never kicks in" this might be the album's strongest song. It also has strings on it so the first song with some kind of organic instrumentation. "An Itch" also falls more along the lines of what we expect here. The vocal draws you into the otherwise sparse instrumentation.This album took time for it to grow on me. Eventually it connected with me like her previous work, but it took some warming up to. I'll give it a 9.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Catching up with 2017- Sunlights Bane : "the Blackest Volume"

Dark dense and blown out metallic hard core. Their name made them sound like they are depressive black metal, but if it comes to metal they have more in common with grind core and death metal. I just reviewed the God Mother album, and these guys are much more pissed. The second song works better even with its incoherently screamed vocals as it has more of a groove. They get into that more punk beat I dislike going into "From Heaven Wept". Some times it takes the double bass to tell these songs apart. They once again prove what I repeatedly say that slower is more powerful than blazing fast any day of the week. They use the guitar to create some of the album's moodier moments. When the slow down their sound feels more like sludge. But I am not sure slowing down is even enough for something so straight forward as the drone on " Dance of Thorns" .

They have a more empowered chug on "the Blessed Ivory Tongue". Sure the death metal part of this so is heavy as fuck. I guess it depends on if heavy as fuck is all your need from your music or not. Here the sheer weight that they hit you with is almost enough to make you submit. "No Taste More Bitter" brings back a more in your face hard core that wrestles with it's desire to be metal. This song goes to a darker place than most of the album, which is already darker than our average cross-breed of hard-core and metal. It's songs like "With Fear, This Love is Given" where they get to a place of sonic heaviness. The more black metal higher scream on this one is also a needed change for the vocals.

From the beginning of "Came No Dawn" I know it is going to be the type of heaviness I do not like with a punk beat and vocals that just sound like a dog is barking at you. At a minute and a half fortunately the bottom drops out and it goes into a more melodic section. They follow a similar formula here as the previous song when it comes to building it back up. The album closes with "To Whom I Await". Similar to "Dance of Thorns" on the way it opens with just guitar and vocals. When the band rallies behind it there is more of a black metal feel in the drone it creates. It is smart for that guitar melody to come in when it slows down, even if they blast back into everything. Midway into the song it stomps back into hardcore, before tremolo picked guitar clashes against it. Ill round this one up to an 8, because it is more dynamic than I thought it would going into this. That is not to say some fat could not be trimmed in places and they might not be better off cutting back on some of the more punk beats, but this has a lot of feeling in it's poisoned heart.

Glaare : "To Deaf and Day"

Sometimes when I am sorting through the mass of music either in my in-box or I am hunting down I often think "Somewhere out there this is someone's favorite band". This can be odd ,though there is certainly no accounting for taste. This was claimed to be the favorite band of a fellow Cvlt Nation writer. If you took some shoe gazing guitar and married to female fronted dark-wave it would result in something similar to the California band Glaare. I can appreciate the Siouxsie influence is there but it doesn't define the totality of their existence. The second song is not as urgent as the first and just kind of feels like filler in comparison.It's not a weak song, the first song was just much more emotionally powerful so the dynamic drop was more noted. "First Rain" has a more captivating beat and pulls me in where the previous song did not, though if we are using the opener as the measure for the rest of the album then this song is a little more post-punk, but not as hypnotic.

The guitars give enough of an organic element to smooth out the more electronic instrumentation On "Desiree" I think having more organic instruments in the mix might have given the song more impact. At this point calling the album goth might be a little bit of an exaggeration. "Ruins" takes us closer to the point as it's the darkest song on the album so far. While the more Cure like guitar melody is welcomed "Isky" breezes by until it locks in more midway into the song. The song also feels like it begins to run out of gas in the last minute. Synths play a much larger role in "Suffer". The guitar comes in at almost a minute before the subdued vocals that are mixed behind a filtered haze of effects. The come forward on the mix when it gets to the chorus. Not the strongest song on the album, but still pretty decent.

"Surrender/ Control" has a more pounding rock feel , that actually brings in a heavier dynamic. This is certainly what the album needed to switch things up as it was beginning to lose me by floating away in ambiance. I'll give this album an 8.5 . It works in many ways. Why did it not score higher you ask ? It could have used a little more meat on it's bones and would have benefited from a more organic base of instruments being plugged in. Overall it has many strengths, the vocals are excellent, they have their own identity and this is not simply a tribute to their 80s fore fathers. They are not my favorite band at the moment, but a band I will keep my ears open for .

God Mother : "Vilseledd"

This Swedish Hard core band is yet another modern extreme band that blends a little bit of every heavy sub-genre into their attack. It's song like "Tar Mirror" where they do this most effectively. The problems this album returns into are balanced out by the moments that work. "No Return" shows how effective they are when in a deliberate chug while "Acrid Teeth" shows how speed makes for sloppy and things that played in their favor on the previous song are turned on their heads. The songs are very compact with the five minute close to serve as the albums longest, the is twice the length as most of the songs sometimes almost three times as long. There are in a similar vein as bands like Converge and Nails, though  less metal than Nails. Some of the more grind-core moments sound like rowdy temper tantrums, which might be the point, but it's not the band at their most musical and since this is an album then that is the point.

The death metal touches are sparse and it's a fine line trying to hear where the death metal begins and the hardcore ends. The songs begin to become a bit of a blur and while the angular riffing is pretty cool, the rule here is cool riffs alone do not make a good song. It is the fact that a dynamic flatness begins to set in that hampers me from wanting to really give this one repeat listens. It's not until "Caved In" that this is broken up enough to produce a strong song. That is what we are listening for here , strong songs. They have a pretty killer guitar sound and this album is well produced , but at the end of the day it' songs that stand the test of time. "Charlatan" could be one of any thousand of hard-core songs. The blast beats give it a little more color but otherwise it's faceless and those alone can't make or break a song . It's the Slayer like drumming on the breakdown that goes further.

The heavy blandness carries over into "Carve Them". The closing song benefits from a burly bass line and a darker stomp.The main groove of the song is the slower more powerful riff, with the faster more blasting sections booking marking these. These guys a good metallic hardcore, nothing new, yet it's a solid album I'll give it a 7.

Charli XCX : "Number 1 Angel"

So this British chick is hot as hell, and makes music that is better than just decent. Her last ep was really fucking good.This album is a mix-tape, which means nothing, other than it's a collaboration, so I am not sure what separates that from this being one of her albums, so for all partial purposes at this blog this goes down as being an album.The first song features Starrah and RAVE. It's a shade darker in terms of the beat than most of her other work. There is a slightly off of center from mainstream pop feel to "3am" . This has MO on it. As far as pop goes its smarter than what we found on Katy Perry's last album, though more up-beat and radio minded than the first song. "Blame It On" has almost a dub beat to it and her vocals have a similar off beat accent. The very rhythmic accents than give it a more hip-hop feel are pretty cool. I am not so sure about the 90s techno feel of some of the backing tracks that feel like watered down house. When the square synth line bounces in it does give the song more heft.

"Roll With Me"  has us back on the more house like beats, it's very Euro sounding. Lyrically it's beginning to get a little redundant. It is an interesting cultural side note than pop songs are going from love songs to be obsessive day dreams about what amounts to little more than a superficial crush, since thanks to Tinder culture that about the depth most pop listeners have. This is neither negative or positive to me as the traditional relationship model is outdated and needed to die. "Emotional" feels like there is less of an emotional connection and more business as usual until we get to the chorus and then it's merits are the interaction of the vocals against the beat. The almost new wave sheen of "ILY2" works much better than what was going on with the previous song. There is actually guitar on it. While that is not something I expect from pop music when it occurs it is appreciated.

"White Roses" has a more somber pulse, though she sings it more like a ballad. She has more of the auto-tuned styled effects on this album. It's more minimal in the arrangement not unlike the new Taylor Swift in this regard. Uffie joins in on "Baby Girl. The beat sounds like it's 80s New Edition. The lyrics are stale bubble gum, with the underlying sexuality the only thing that makes it worthwhile. I can see where this might bring comparisons to Madonna's "Lucky Star". With a song called "Drugs" I can only hope for something more interesting than the previous song. The vocals are hooky yet understated. The backing track to "Cupcake" sounds like it should be on an anime soundtrack. With rapper CupcaKKe busting out a verse that sounds like it's from a 90s No Limit album, in other words Mia X. I'll round this up to an 8.5 , it might grow on me. Far from reinventing the pop wheel, but good for what it is.

Diablo Swing Orchestra : "Pacifisticuffs"

Not the first time I have heard this band but it's the first time I have reviewed them or actually sat down and listened to one of their albums all the way through. So far my only real issue with them is they are a too happy. The horns contribute to this. They are not ska, more like big band rockabilly with metallic guitars. I would not call them a metal band though.The get a little closer to ska with the skip in the step of "the Age of Vulture Culture". I like it better when the girl sings, she has a slightly darker sultry edge to her voice. They shift styles mid song, with more of a blended quality than say Mr. Bungle, as the jump from ska to bossa nova is not wide. By the end of the song they give me something to nod my head to.

They even used a slightly growled vocal on the more western infused gallop of  "Superhero Jagganath". I can imagine these guys are fun live. The vocals are much better when they are in more of an Elvis croon. Not as much of a fan of the multi layered choral vocals. Sometimes the songs are more focused than others, they seem to work best when locked into some brand of a groove, but that could be said of almost any band. Occasionally there are some almost Nightwish moments, though with out the pirate outfits. "Jigsaw Hustle" goes in a disco direction, and we know how I feel about disco Kiss so this one is a hit with me. My favorite song on here so far.

"Ode to the Innocent" is a torch song ballad, that shows off the female singers voice, which goes for a more Kate Bush like quirk on "Interruption" that follows. When the vocal melody rises above and beyond it causes the rest of the song to follow. The are back to a more jazz infused frolic on "Karma Bonfire". The vocals have more of a swing to them not unlike a more dynamic version of say Cherry Poppin Daddies. There is more of soulful blues feeling that borders on gospel when we get to "Climbing the Eye Wall". I'll round this one up to an 8.5. Its a fun album with dynamic vocals that has a little too much of a skip in it's step for me at times. But they really should play Dragon-con .