Black Pistol Fire – Don’t Wake the Riot

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Confession: few things get to me more than a gritty, blues-rock guitar. It may be in the top five on my “Favorite Sounds” list. The Black Keys, The White Stripes, J Roddy Walston & The Business, BRMC, Kings of Leon; these are the bands that brought me into this world, and the latest entry on that list is Black Pistol Fire. This Canadian duo, based out of Austin, TX, bring the goodness from chord one, and it never lets up on Don’t Wake the Riot.

You can literally feel the soul pouring out of this album. The music is all about the rhythm and if it doesn’t keep your toe tapping and your head bobbing, something is wrong with your music listening abilities. The chords leap and rip off of the guitar. The vocals scratch and claw their way into your spirit. The drums are spot on. It’s raw and has just enough of that “un-produced” quality about it to feel completely real on an emotional level.

To be perfectly honest, there isn’t much else that I can say about this album. You NEED to listen to Don’t Wake the Riot if you consider yourself a music fan. It hits every sweet spot. It’s difficult to even call out one track as being better than any of the others. The quality is pretty evenly distributed. Some of the songs definitely have more of a catchy hook than others. Namely Morning Star and Fleet Foot, the latter of which is just begging to be plastered over a sexy ass car commercial.

Just….man, I don’t know what you’re even doing still reading this. Turn on this album and let the BS of life fade away for thirty-seven minutes.

Overall Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Favorite Track: Cry Hell

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Against the Current – In Our Bones

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I know all of the cliches and problems that some sectors of the music consuming public take with pop-rock bands. Their music is clearly designed to create radio hits. They all sound the same, they aren’t real musicians, yada yada yada. Look, I get it. And usually, I pretty much agree with those sentiments. I’m certainly not a huge fan of most songs or artists that get regular rotation on the radio. Having said all of that, In Our Bones is one hell of an album for what it is. Yeah, it’s pop-rock, but Against the Current and their production team have done a fabulous job of hammering out an incredibly catchy and fun album to listen to.

Listening through the twelve track offering is anything but a labor. To be honest, I would guess that about half of the songs are pretty much radio ready, which is pretty impressive for a band that is releasing their debut album. Even the songs that aren’t quite ready aren’t far off. There’s a pretty decent blend of fast paced rocking tunes like Running With The Wild Things and Forget Me Now. There are more ballad like songs like Chasing Ghosts. Most of the other tracks pretty much fall somewhere in the middle, and the weaker stuff, as usually, is stacked up at the end.

My favorite thing about Against the Current is definitely Chrissy Costanza, the vocal talent of the trio. Her voice is sweet and soft at times, but has the edge it needs to pull off the heavier tracks on the album. There is absolutely no way to deny her talent, and she certainly carries this band on her shoulders. In a lot of ways, this band parallels Paramore. Actually, in just about every way. If you’re a fan of them, you’re going to dig Against the Current, too, I’m sure of it.

Is this album, or this band, breaking new ground? No way, this is tried and true territory to build an act that has the appeal needed to hit the radio waves. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that their record label assembled them as a vehicle for Chrissy Costanza, but I don’t know that and it really doesn’t matter in the end. It feels packaged, but it’s packaged pretty perfectly. The songs suit the talent, the hooks are super catchy, and it has a familiarity that should endear it to the masses. It’s incredibly era appropriate music. The song of Summer 2016 could very well be resting somewhere on In Our Bones.

Overall Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Favorite Track: Brighter

Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost

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Pop-punk has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. I came of age during it’s heyday, when bands like Blink-182, Sum 41, The Ataris, The Vandals, and Bowling For Soup dominated MTV and the radio. When Millencolin, Lagwagon, Pennywise and NOFX were popular to the hardcore fans of the genre. It reminds me of a time when I was young and the world was still sitting at my feet, out there and waiting for me to conquer it. I even played in a pop-punk band in high school. The simple compositions, the immature and comical lyrics about growing up and defying authority. For a teenager, it was perfect in that moment.

So it’s this baggage that I bring forward to today, when I still find myself listening to this music every now and then along with it’s more modern contemporaries in My Chemical Romance, Fallout Boy and the like. Modern Baseball, I thought, would carry on this tradition into modern music. It is, after all, labelled as pop-punk music. It’s a logical conclusion to draw, I would think. So imagine my complete disappointment when this album, Holy Ghost, failed to deliver on one single song that was listenable. From opening to close, this whole thing went wrong. The best it could ever muster was drifting into Dashboard Confessional territory, but not even the popular Dashboard stuff. I mean the unenjoyable Dashboard. The stuff you only hear if you buy the album and listen to it all the way through.

I will say that some of the music itself found catchy riffs and hooked on to something that came close to being listenable, but one thing just kept killing this album. The singing. And when I say singing, I mean singing in the loosest of possible definitions. It’s really more like rhythmic talking and it hurts me to hear it. Don’t get me wrong, this genre has never been known for it’s refined or complex vocals, but Modern Baseball drags it into the world of just being boring to hear.

I hate to say it, but this was the first album that I just out right regretted taking on to review. I barely got through the first listen through, then completely bailed on it halfway through the second time around. There really isn’t much more to say about it. This album did to pop-punk, for me, what Michael Bay’s Ninja Turtles did for that franchise. Took something I remember loving as a younger version of myself and running it into the ground.

Overall Rating: 1 of 5 Stars (because zero isn’t a number)

Favorite Track: N/A (that isn’t a song name, I didn’t like any of this)

Kygo – Cloud Nine

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Cloud Nine is the debut album for Kygo, the culmination of his rise to stardom that began with his song Firestone in 2014 with vocals from Conrad Sewell, a track that is actually included in the fifteen song offering. Kygo himself is a Norwegian DJ and producer who primary relies on the vocals of others on his tracks, which means this is another album with a bevy of guest artists, giving every piece it’s own unique sound while maintaining the quality musical styling of the primary artist.

Kygo is recognized as being part of the Tropical House sub-genre of house music, and I bet to most of you that doesn’t tell you anything at all about what to expect. It didn’t mean anything to me until I spent some time looking into and listened through this album a few times. Basically, this is upbeat, low tempo electronic music. The best thing I can really compare it to is the type of music that would play at the end of a Jason Bourne movie or in the car headed home after a night of heavy clubbing. It’s chill music, and I get the sense that to truly appreciate it fully, you have to have just gone through something with some tension it. This album is a great cool down selection, I guess is what I’m saying. From my experience, don’t listen to it anytime you need to be productive, because it will definitely stand in the way of that.

As with any album like this, the strength of each track is going to partially fall to whoever was brought in for the accompanying vocals, and as with any album like this, you are going to get a mixed bag. Some of the songs are really good, some of them are just okay, some are completely forgettable. But one thing I can say is that none of these tracks fall apart. Even the worst of them are still decent enough songs, they just aren’t anything special. Raging featuring Kodaline and Fiction featuring Tom Odell are examples of this album at its best. Happy Birthday featuring John Legend is probably the worst of the bunch.

Overall, I enjoyed Cloud Nine, but it isn’t something I’m going to find myself revisiting very often. I feel like it really needs to be applied to the right types of environments, and I don’t think I find myself in those types of environments all that often. Maybe the next time my job pisses me off and I need a cool down during my lunch break to prevent an explosion of anger I’ll call on Kygo to sooth that savage, murderous beast.

Overall Rating: 3 of 5 Stars

Favorite Track: Raging (feat. Kodaline)

New Releases 5/13/2016

Meghan Trainor – Thank You

Look, I’ll confess to liking All About That Bass. I’ll even confess to finding Lips Are Moving to be a listenable song. What I won’t confess to is liking anything about the song No that has already been released off of this album. It sounds like a song that was written for a Disney Channel original movie, and nothing about that is meant to be complimentary. Pop music in and of itself isn’t bad. It wouldn’t be popular music if it had no merit, but in this case the only merit I can find is that it has a positive message and isn’t offensive. That doesn’t mean the music sounds good. So to this album, I say “No thank you.”

DevilDriver – Trust No One

DevilDriver is one of those bands that embodies everything that not metal music listeners think all metal bands are. Driving guitars with lots of power chords, scream-growling lyrics, and frantic drumming. And to their credit, DevilDriver pounds that point home with the first few releases off of this album, Daybreak and My Night Sky. It’s basically the equivalent of radio rock, but just dialed way way up on the heavy scale. None of that is to say that DevilDriver should be dismissed, because they do what they do really well, and Trust No One is a continuation of that. Metal fans, check it out. If you like Meghan Trainor, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Hatebreed – The Concrete Confessional

Hatebreed is all about fast paced, heavy, in your face music. It’s like a sonic, brass-knuckle punch in the teeth. It kicks your other music’s ass, hand it to you on a silver platter, then demands more. I’ve been in my fair share of mosh pits, and I can honestly say, without any question in my mind, that Hatebreed’s pits are the most violent and chaotic pits you can imagine. It’s the only time I have seen a concert come to a grinding halt so that an ambulance could pull into the venue and drag someone out. And this all happened around noon at a festival, they weren’t even the headliner for that show. In any case, The Concrete Confessional is Hatebreed doing what they do. It is just as brutal as what they’ve been offering since day one.

Kygo – Cloud Nine

Cloud Nine is the debut album for Kygo. It’s electronic music, something in the vein of MGMT but not nearly as consistent since most of the vocals seem to be provided by guest singers. Most of what I’ve heard of this album has been pretty low tempo and pop-ish. I like it and I think fans of MGMT or Foxes will probably enjoy it, too. Foxes even makes an appearance on this album.

Also released:

3OH!3 – Night Sports (rap, hip-hop)

Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers (R&B)

Jessy Lanza – Oh No! (synthpop, dance)

Kvelertak – Nattesferd (heavy metal)

Pierce the Veil – Misadventures (punk, hardcore)

Featured Artist – Dave Matthews Band

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There are few bands that draw a more diverse set of feelings out of me than Dave Matthews Band. And I’m not talking about what emotions a particular song evokes or how their music impacts me. No, what I’m talking about is completely based on taste. DMB is one of those acts that I both love and hate. Above all else, I have a deep respect for the incredible amount of talent that this band possesses. Carter Beauford is one of the most talented drummers of his generation, Tim Reynolds is an amazing guitarist, and Boyd Tensley is dynamite on the violin. No one with any kind of cultured taste in music could ever deny this band’s mastery of their craft. That isn’t to say that it is to everyone’s taste, because it most certainly isn’t, but dammit are they good at what they do. It’s ultimately that respect for their talent that draws me into their music at all.

Make no mistake, jam bands are rarely my flavor. O.A.R., Counting Crows, and Rusted Root have some decent songs, but I wouldn’t call any one of them a great band. And I certainly wouldn’t call myself a fan of their music. The same can also be said of Dave Matthews Band. I don’t consider myself a fan. They have songs that I like, and believe me when I say that the songs that I like I actually kind of love. I can sing the words, tap along to the beat, and rock out behind my steering wheel with the best of them. Just ask my wife (a self professed fan of DMB). On the flip side of that coin, the songs that I don’t know or haven’t latched on to as being favorites, I honestly don’t really care about. They’re just okay. Still very talent rich, but they don’t do anything for me.

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So what’s the point of all this? Well, this Saturday I’ll be seeing Dave Matthews Band perform live for the fifth time. As I said, my wife is a fan, as are my sister and brother in law. So every year we get tickets and every year we attend. At this point, I’ve seen DMB live more times than any other musical act, including bands and artists that I consider some of my favorites. Partly this is because of my wife, yes, but there is more to it than that. Like what? Well, I’m glad you asked…

  • This Band Is Amazing Live

I can’t really overstate this point. There is absolutely no other way to experience Dave Matthews Band than live. Currently they boast a catalog of over sixty live albums that they’ve released, and those are all pretty great. Live at Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado is my personal favorite, but it is pretty old at this point and is missing a large portion of their catalog. Still, the live albums don’t compare to the experience of seeing them in person.

Being a jam band lends itself extremely well to live performances. They will routinely turn what was a seven minute recording into a twenty or thirty minute live song. I’ve witnessed, with my own two eyes, a duel between a guitar and a saxophone that blew my mind. Playing sharply and accurately off of the pickups of the guitar type of amazing. Timing changes that are abrupt but still fluid. It is quite a musical spectacle to behold. Despite the epic length of these songs, it never feels burdensome or stretched. They have a magical way of drawing you into what they are doing and taking you along for the ride.

  • They Have a Massive Catalog

DMB has been making music together for twenty-five years, and in that time they have released eight full length albums. Which means they have a ton of songs to pull from, and they aren’t afraid to make some deep cuts when they put together their live sets. Unlike most bands, DMB doesn’t ever fall back on the classic hits that everyone knows. They’ve cultivated a following that mostly knows every song, or at least most of the songs. Of all the times I’ve seen them live, I’ve yet to see two set lists that shared that much in common. In fact, last year when I saw them, they played two sets over the course of three hours and only played one song that I knew that well; Ants Marching. Everyone else seemed to know every song, but as a non-fan among superfans, I couldn’t follow along.

That’s okay, because as disappointing as it can be to go to a show and not hear much that you are familiar with (despite spending days trying to expand your DMB listening base), at least I haven’t seen them live five times and heard the exact same set of songs five times. That would be incredibly boring. It’s too bad I couldn’t keep that frame of mind during the show last year, but copious amounts of alcohol kind of knocked me off my game. It was a bad experience best left in the past.

  • The Experience

Most concerts aren’t events. You show up a little early to stand in line after the doors open up. Maybe you shuffle to the merch table or tent, grab a drink and maybe some food, then find your seats and settle in for the show. Not at a Dave Matthews Concert. No, people show up to a DMB show hours in advance. People tailgate these things. There are grills, games, drinks, you name it. We’ve even adopted the practice of bringing our own portable toilet with us that basically consists of a tent with a bucket in it.

In a lot of ways, I look forward to the tailgating as much, if not more, as I do the concert itself. Partially because once you go in the drinks quadruple in price, but also because of the atmosphere. Being in that parking lot makes you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself, and that’s a feeling you can’t get by listening to a CD or streaming them on Google Music or Spotify (or insert your music service of choice). This is one of those bands that have a community more than they have a fan-base, and while there are plenty of dude-bro douche bags littering the pack, most of them are pretty chill and just out for a good time. Those are the ones to surround yourself with in all cases.

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I would encourage anyone who has written off Dave Matthews Band for whatever reason to at least check them out. They certainly aren’t playing within a genre that everyone loves, especially the younger crowd. I know a lot of my fellow millennials absolutely hate jam bands. Which is too bad, because they only music genre that is acceptable to hate is country, so they should be saving their energy for that. Anyway, below is a list of songs that are worth giving a listen. They’ve hooked me, a non-fan, so maybe they’ll hook you too. Oh, and as always, find the live versions. Never the studio versions. Now, GO FORTH!

Ants Marching; Two Step; Don’t Drink the Water; The Stone; You and Me; Bartender; Grace Is Gone; Jimi Thing; Tripping Billies; What You Are; Warehouse; You Might Die Trying; Everyday; Big Eyed Fish; I Did It; So Right; Stay (Wasting Time); So Much To Say

Mike Posner – At Night, Alone

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It’s been six years since Mike Posner released his debut album in 2010. In the time since, there have been singles and EPs, cancelled albums, and a period in which he took a break from music after coping with his sudden fame didn’t go all that well. At Night, Alone marks his second full length studio album, and in a lot of ways this album was worth the wait. In several of the tracks, you can definitely tell that Posner is spilling his guts into this music, and when he does, he’s at his best.

The album begins with a quick message to inform you, the listener, that it is best listened to while alone at night (thus the album name), but that wasn’t something I was able to do with my listening format. Regardless, there are tracks on this album that feel very emotionally raw. Very self realized. It is obvious, often painfully so, that he is working through the last six years of his life through these songs. It kicks off with I Took A Pill In Ibiza, the original version that, for my money, is significantly more powerful than the SeeB remix, and stretches all the way through to the Iris, the seventh track. That stretch of six songs is fantastic, especially the first half. Posner’s voice revels in it’s unique sound, the music is catchy but poignant, and the instrumentation is pretty much spot on. It lays off when it needs to, hits you when it needs to, and nothing feels stretched or out of place.

After that, however, things start to slip. It begins with God Only Knows, which almost sounds like an Irish folk/drinking song. It isn’t a bad track, but it marks the turning point, because what follows are a handful of relatively pedestrian songs that just didn’t work, especially in comparison to how the album started. The lyrical phrasing is uninspired, the lyrics themselves start to dip into the shallow end of the pool. It honestly feels like he had to write two or three more songs to fill the track list because he didn’t have enough material in the bag.

Essentially, this is two thirds of a great album that just closes with a whimper. It happens, and the last few tracks take nothing away from the quality of the other songs. There are countless albums out there that this happens to, so at least At Night, Alone lumped them all at the end so you can just stop the album after the seventh track.

Overall Rating: 3 of 5 Stars

Favorite Track: Not That Simple

JMSN – It Is.

JMSN-It Is

JMSN (pronounced “Jameson.” You’re welcome) is a Michigan based indie musician. Beyond being labeled as indie, it’s hard to define JMSN’s sound. It’s a rather eclectic blend of jazz, hip-hop, gospel, and R&B. That sounds a little all over the place, but to JMSN’s credit, he pulls these elements together rather coherently in this album, It Is. That isn’t to say there aren’t issues with what is presented in these thirteen tracks, because It Is ends up leaving a lot to be desired.

The most glaring problem I kept facing with this album was the length of most of the songs. Several tracks are consistent and coherent up to the last minute or so, then they just kind of linger. They linger just long enough to overstay their welcome, in fact. The album as a whole would benefit from half of these songs being a minute to thirty seconds shorter than they are.

Then there’s the lyrics. Make no mistake, JMSN is a very, very talented vocalist. His voice is dynamic, he has a great range, and he’s smooth. It’s too bad that you don’t get to dive into those vocals more than you do. Too often vocal tracks are laid down over vocal tracks, muddying up what would otherwise be beautiful stretches of singing. Plus, at certain points in the album, JMSN falls into what is almost like a caterwauling, wailing range that pulls you out of the music. The lyrics themselves come as somewhat of a mixed bag, too. In some instances, the lyrics are poignant and sharp. In others, they are somewhat juvenile and vulgar for what seems like just the sake of it. To be fair, it’s a double edged sword. F*ck U, the third track on the album, takes what is usually a derisive comment and turns it on it’s head, making it into a call to action to better yourself and your situation. It’s smart and well done. That isn’t always the case, though. I always understood what point he was going for, but a lot of times it was a little too on the nose.

Basically this is an acceptable album that I wish had been better. Like I said, JMSN is obviously a really talented singer, I just feel like he is trying to do too much sometimes. The tracks lose their form and he kind of goes off on tangents that detract from what he’s trying to accomplish or whatever message he’s trying to delivery. It’s almost like he’s trying to redefine something when, at least in my opinion, he would be better served to simplify a little and really lean into his strengths. A more concise combination of his lyrics over this type of music could blow minds. This effort didn’t quite get there.

Overall Rating: 2 of 5 Stars

Favorite Track: Cruel Intentions

Vektor – Terminal Redux

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To say I went into this particular album with high expectations would be somewhat of an understatement. Here we have Vektor, labeled as a progressive thrash metal band releasing their third studio album, Terminal Redux. Not only that, they have been releasing demos since 2003. What I’m saying is, the music should be shredding and smart, and these guys should be able to capitalize on over a decade of experience creating music. Unfortunately, Terminal Redux under delivered on its potential.

To be fair, the most glaring issue I have with this album isn’t with the music, per se, but with the sound mixing. If there has ever been an album fall victim to the “loudness war,” Terminal Redux certainly has. I made it through two tracks on my first listen through, a near twenty minute time span, trying to figure out why everything felt so gutless. Yes, the guitars were shredding and the vocals were coming through, but the bass and kicks had no punch. In fact, I spent two minutes of the second track, Cygnus Terminal, trying to decide if there even was a bass guitar in the mix. Finally it occurred to me what was happening, and I dialed the volume up. Way up, in fact, before there was really anything from the low range coming through. Things picked up from there, but only a little. Beyond the sound, the entire album felt over produced. It just didn’t have any kind of resonance with me. No connection. Technically these musicians appear to be incredibly talented, but if there was any heart in the creation of this album, I never felt it.

What I ended up experiencing was essentially a shredding guitar wall of sound. The album hits it’s stride for a few tracks through the middle, beginning with LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease) and going through Pteropticon, but then goes off the rails again, especially once the vocalist decides to try and sing instead of his usual screeching. There was too much going on, but too much of it felt exactly the same, so you end up getting lost in the sound. But not in the good way.

Much to my surprise, this ended up being the first album I’ve selected for this process that I regretted. It was a struggle to listen to multiple times, and the required loudness was no small part of that. I also never got a sense of what has earned Vektor the tag of being a progressive metal band. If anything, they are retro. From their musical style to their very 80’s inspired hairdos. The only trapping of a progressive act that Vektor possesses is having unusually long songs, which in this case just feel meandering and bloated. Well, that and the try hard track names.

Overall Rating: 1 of 5 Stars

Favorite Track: LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease)

Single Sunday

The new Justin Timberlake single, Can’t Stop the Feeling, dropped on Friday and it is sure to blow up the charts. Pretty much everything JT does in heralded as magnificent. This one is off the soundtrack to the upcoming “Trolls” movie. The video released for the track is chocked full of celebrities, including Anna Kendrick and Gwen Stefani.

Fifth Harmony, a quintet formed out of contestants on the second season of the X Factor, released Write On Me this week. It’s off their upcoming album 7/27. It’s your typical bubblegum pop fare. It’s radio and family friendly, so I guess it has that going for it, but there isn’t much of substance to it.

A second song off of the newest Radiohead album, Moon Shaped Pool, released on Friday just two days ahead of the album’s release. It’s called Daydreaming. If you are a Radiohead fan then I bet you’ll really like this. I’ve never been a Radiohead fan, and this song is just another in the notch of my anti-Radiohead belt. Which means I don’t care for the song, which in no way comes as a surprise to me.

Grass Ain’t Greener, the lead single from Chris Brown’s upcoming Heartbreak on a Full Moon released on Thursday. For all of his personal flaws, Chris Brown can still crank out catchy tunes. Well, assuming you’re an R&B fan. I could take or leave most of the genre, but this song isn’t bad. I’m sure it will hit the radio waves on a regular basis for a while.