Music

Notable Releases of 2018

Disappointing Album of 2018:

Gravity – Bullet For My Valentine

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After hearing lead single “Over It,” my expectations for Gravity were pretty low.  Unfortunately, I was right to not get excited. This is radio friendly Bullet for My Valentine and it’s so bland. The fire and fury that normally drives their music are practically snuffed out. Songs like “Not Dead Yet” and “Under Again” all sound like every other rock band on the radio. The music is decent at best, but it never gives you that rush of adrenaline or burst of excitement. Bullet For My Valentine always pumps me up and gets my fist in the air. These songs just didn’t do that for me. The radio friendly vibe isn’t this album’s problem. It’s the uninspired songs.

The album is just so underwhelming. A few of the songs are pretty good, but the rest is tolerable at best. While I did enjoy some tracks like “Leap of Faith” and “Letting You Go” it wasn’t enough to save the album. The songs are lackluster. There’s nothing about them that sounds distinctly like Bullet For My Valentine.  And it’s such a letdown. The band has never been shy about tweaking their sound. After being in a band for over 10 years, you want to shake things up a bit. That’s fine. But they went in such a generic direction. Even the lyrics are subpar and fail to leave a lasting impression. In an attempt to find a larger audience, the band may have alienated longtime fans with this unremarkable album.

Surprising Comeback Album:

Kamikaze – Eminem

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Looking back, it’s clear that Eminem’s Revival should’ve been my pick for 2017’s Worst Album. I already talked about it, but let’s just say I wasn’t impressed. Luckily, Eminem’s surprise LP Kamikaze more than made up for it. It’s telling that the rapper is at his best when he’s seething with anger – just listen to his “Chloraseptic” remix released in response to Revival’s bad reviews. The fire that many thought was snuffed out was lit and burning once again. Here, he’s on the loose and no one is safe. He channels the days of Slim Shady when calling out rappers like Tyler, the Creator, Drake, and Joe Budden. And let’s not forget the whole probably fake Machine Gun Kelly beef.

Songs like “Lucky You” and “Stepping Stone” are filled with Eminem’s sick lyrical flow reminiscent of that found on The Eminem Show. Yet, the album isn’t perfect. Some songs don’t hold up like “Nice Guy” and “Good Guy.” They’re okay but are pretty weak entries. Still, Kamikaze was an album we didn’t see coming and it’s far better than the misguided Revival. Though I wouldn’t say it’s his best release. Let’s hope he stays on point for his next release.

Most Impressive Debut:

Tū – Alien Weaponry

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Alien Weaponry is one of metal’s most talked about bands and for good reason: they’re fucking good. Listening to their hard driving, yet catchy debut album it’s hard to believe these guys are only in their teens. Part of what makes the album standout is half of the songs are written in the te reo Māori language. The band have Māori ancestry and grew up listening to stories of the tribe, how they had to fight for their people and their land. The language is in danger of dying and in an effort to save it, the band uses Māori in their songs and even writes about the native tribes.

The album is filled with crushing songs like “Urutaa” and “Kai Tangata.” The songs are so good, I find myself singing along even though I don’t speak or understand Māori. Everything from the searing riffs to the throbbing percussion and the fierce sound riles you up and makes you go wild. Though Alien Weaponry are clearly influenced by thrash forefathers like Anthrax and Metallica, they bring something new the genre. They sound fresh, exciting, and ready to tackle the world with the spirit of Māori behind them. Do yourself a favor and check them out if you haven’t already.

Album I Couldn’t Get Into:

My Mind Makes Noises – Pale Waves

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Pale Waves is a phenomenon I still don’t understand. They grew a fan base of millions based on three singles. Many praised them as the best new band even though they didn’t even have an EP to their name. I’ll admit, their melancholic, 80s vibe can be catchy, but it’s nothing mind blowing. I thought their EP, All the Things I Never Said, was decent and had some bouncy songs, but it didn’t wow me. I hoped their highly anticipated full-length album would change my mind. It didn’t.

The album is fine, but it just didn’t do anything for me. Aside from a few of their singles, nothing stuck. All the songs had that same upbeat yet sad vibe to them. The music, mood, and sound of the songs are remarkably similar to one another. And it doesn’t help their case that they bare striking similarities to The 1975.  Even though I liked a few of the songs, like “The Tide” and “Television Romance” there was nothing about the album that made me want to revisit it. If you listen to The Cure or The 1975 then you’ve already heard what this band has to offer.

Underrated Album:

Criminal – The Soft Moon

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When The Soft Moon announced they would be touring with Nine Inch Nails, I decided to check them out. While their first few albums didn’t captivate me, I really enjoyed their fourth release, Criminal. I found myself listening to it repeatedly. Their mix of darkwave, post-punk, and industrial is hypnotizing. Listening to songs like “Young, “ILL”, and “Burn” felt like I was under a trance and hitting rock bottom with Luis Vasquez. Though songs like “It Kills” and “Choke” are oddly catchy, the album is bleak as hell. You don’t even need to hear the lyrics to know there’s some heavy shit going on. Vasquez addresses issues like his abusive childhood and his absent father.

All that frustration, pain, anger, and sadness is channeled here. This isn’t just an album you listen to; it’s an album you feel. Vasquez’s feelings are felt in every drum loop, every synth beat, every echoing bass line. Vaquez’s production really drew me in. There are so many layers and elements to the music you’ll hear something different each time. At times the music is menacing and violent, with notes clashing and screeching riffs. Other times, it’s melodic, yet fragile; the music is so gentle it’s eerie and leaves you with chills. Everything from the compelling music to the lyrics makes Criminal standout. If you’re a fan of Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, and Cabaret Voltaire, then this is an album you should pick it up.

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Best Album of 2018

Time & Space – Turnstile

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While searching for new music, one band I kept running into was Turnstile. I gave their second album Time & Space, a listen and holy shit did it blow my mind. Listening to songs like “Real Thing” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Blind” felt like I was being blindsided by their ferocity, intensity, and unapologetic nature. The album is 25 minutes of contained chaos on the brink of explosion.

Aside from Turnstile just being fucking awesome, they also don’t play by the rules. They don’t give a shit about hardcore’s strict boundaries. Rather, they blend their hard driving sound with elements of metal, groove, and psychedelic creating an album that never gets stale. “Bomb” is a weird fusion of lounge jazz and Muzak while “Generator” incorporates elements of grunge. A lot of what they include in their music is unexpected, like the soulful crooning on “Moon” and the easy listening vibe of their interludes.

Songs like “I Don’t Wanna Be Blind,” “Generator,” and “(Lost Another) Piece of My World” feature melodic hooks making the tracks oddly catchy despite how heavy they are. There’s also an undeniable groove to them thanks to the heavy bass that gets you moving beyond moshing. Their willingness to play with their sound not only makes them stand out, but it also shows how talented they are. It’s easy to be loud and aggressive, but it takes more than noise to successfully turn a genre on its head successfully.

Listening to Time & Space feels like you’re constantly being assaulted, yet you keep asking for more. Turnstile is a force of nature from how they attack their instruments to Brendan Yates’ screeching vocals bearing a slight resemblance to Rage Against the Machine’s Zach De La Rocha. This is a band that genuinely makes me excited for what they’re gonna do next. They’re not only great, but they inject new life into the hardcore scene with an album that hits like a cyclone.

Runner Up:

Knowing What You Now Know – Marmozets

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Marmozets’ second album, Knowing What You Know Now, is one of the most thrilling records I listened to this year. As soon as I heard the hard driving guitars and Becca McIntyre’s howling vocals on “Play” I was hooked. The album is full of high energy, catchy songs like “Major System Error” and “Lost in Translation” that gets your adrenaline pumping and make it impossible to sit still. They attack every song with ferocity, fire, and passion making them an irresistible listen.

What captivated me was how fun the album is. Songs like “Habits,” “Lost in Translation,” and “Suffocated” make you want to get up and jump around. You can picture being at a raucous show while listening to their songs. And after hearing the songs only a few times, they were stuck in my head for days. Clearly, the band is just having a good time being loud and rocking out.

Aside from their crunching guitar driving sound, McIntyre’s vocals left me impressed the most. Her voice is powerful, and, on this album, she shows off her impressive range. She not only screams with enough intensity to rip her vocal cords, she also has the ability to croon and hold a note as heard on tracks like “Run with the Rhythm.” She even sounds eerie like on “Insomnia” where she sings in a gentle, haunting voice. It left me with chills. And after listening to their past releases, it’s easy to hear how McIntyre has grown as a singer. She’s on her way to becoming one of the best singer’s in rock music.

Knowing What You Now Know is just a lot of fun to listen to. It’s full of blood pumping anthems that make you want to jump around and dance uncontrollably. Marmozets keep things from getting stale with ballads that still have the same drive, power, and energy as when they’re rocking out. The album is an unforgettable experience that proves rock music is alive and well.

Revisiting Blink-182’s ‘Neighborhoods’

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The disintegration of Blink-182 was a mess. Tom DeLonge was suddenly out of the band, but he never quit, yet he wasn’t coming back. It can be hard for a band to bounce back after such a public fallout, but Blink survived. No matter how you feel about their current output, you can’t say California isn’t a success. It earned them their first Grammy nod and debuted at number one in the states and in other countries. But the album isn’t anywhere near as ambitious, exciting, or progressive in sound as their comeback record Neighborhoods.

What’s most notable about the album is the continuation of the dark, mature sound found on Untitled. Lyrics tackle heavy topics like death, isolation, and personal demons. Even the upbeat opener, “Ghost on the Dance Floor” is depressing. It’s based on Travis Barker hearing a song that reminded him of the late DJ AM. “Wishing Well” sounds like something to dance to, yet the lyrics paint a bleak picture: “I went to a wishing well, and sank to the ocean floor/Cut on the sharpened rocks, and washed up along the shore/I reached for a shooting star, it burned a hole through my hand/It made its way through my heart, have fun in the promise land.”

They also experiment with their sound, with each member bringing in their own influences. DeLonge’s influence is the strongest with songs like “Ghost on the Dancefloor,” The Cure-esque “This is Home,” and the lackluster “Love is Dangerous.” Each has elements you can trace back to Angels & Airwaves. Whereas the intense “Hearts All Gone” sounds like a b-side from +44. For the most part, these different influences work together well and result in songs that ultimately sound like Blink-182. Though the lackluster “Love is Dangerous” is DeLonge all the way. It’s so bogged down in synth and New Wave sounds it doesn’t fit on the album.

But the record isn’t without its flaws. The band recorded most it separately and it shows. It feels disjointed and clunky in places. It just doesn’t recapture the spark they were aiming for. It’s more of a growing pains record. It seemed they still had some things to work out before heading back in the studio. But considering the record we got, it could’ve been worse. Also, some songs are forgettable like the terribly named “MH 4.18.2011.” It has the same high energy and quick pace of “Here’s Your Letter,” but otherwise it doesn’t manage to be that memorable. The song is okay, but it’s not as strong as the others.

Fortunately, the album is solid. The excellent “Natives” has a frenetic guitar riff and pounding drums that grabs your attention since it has more of a punk rock vibe. It sounds the most like a classic Blink-182 song and feels like something from their self-titled record. “Up All Night” is another satisfying track reminiscent of their older stuff. The music is hard-hitting and punches you in the gut. It’s an intense ride that gets into their dark side with the mention of demons and dying alone. “Snake Charmer” is another highlight with its slinky rhythm and pummeling riff. It has a hypnotic vibe that’s hard to resist. And the catchy “Kaleidoscope” blends dirty riffs with an upbeat, bright riff.

Similar to their previous output, the album divided fans. While some championed the mature sound, others balked at the lack of catchy pop-punk jams that made them famous. Rather than revisiting the past, Blink looked to the future and continued the mature sound they explored on their 2003 output. Did it work? Sort of. While there are several standout songs, it sounds disjointed and lacks some of the fun that made their other albums great.  Still, the experimentation and their continued mature sound showed they were at least trying to progress whereas California feels like a step backward. It’s generic and bland. At least Neighborhoods sounds like a band trying to make things work. It showed promise for a new chapter of Blink-182 that, sadly, we never got around to seeing.  We have a subpar version of them instead.

Mixed Up Deluxe – The Cure

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Release Year: 2018

Rating: 7.5/10

In 1990, The Cure wanted to take a break from the bleak nature of Disintegration. To shake off the melancholy, Robert Smith launched a new project: a remix album. Mixed Up not only featured club mixes of Cure songs, it was also a way for fans to get their hands extended mixes without hunting down pricy singles. This year, Smith finally relaunched The Cure’s remaster series and compiled a deluxe edition of this remix album. Surprisingly, I was excited to get my hands on the release despite not being a fan of the original. I wasn’t expecting much, but I actually enjoyed the release more than I expected, but it’s not perfect.

The first disc is a remaster of the 1990 original featuring extended singles and remixes of the band’s biggest hits. There are some solid mixes here like the airy and mellow version of “The Caterpillar” and the jazzy version of “Close To Me,” but most of the songs don’t hold your attention for long. It’s made with a specific audience in mind. If you’re not a fan of lengthy club mixes, like me, the album won’t do much for you. I found songs like “The Walk,” “Lovesong,” and “A Forest” to be too long. They got repetitive after the first four minutes. The drawn out songs make sense in a club setting, but they don’t really translate outside of that if remixes aren’t your thing. Most of the mixes are decent, aside from the generic “In Between Days (Shiver Mix),” but little about them leaves a lasting impact. I found myself getting bored with them and started tuning them out. The updated versions of “Lullaby” and “Fascination Street” are highlights, but the rest of the album is decent at best.

I was looking forward to the second disc featuring rare remixes from 1982- 1990, but these tracks are forgettable. Some of the mixes are random, disjointed, or all over the place. The vocal on “Let’s Go To Bed (Extended Mix 1982)” sounds like it was chopped up and sprinkled randomly throughout the song. It’s annoying to hear Smith’s vocals start and stop abruptly. “Why Can’t I Be You” feels endless with bits of the song stretched out and played on a loop, while Primary (Red Mix 1990)” attempts to turn it into a high energy rock song with bits of weird buzzing noises, but it just doesn’t work. Mixes of “Pictures of You,” “Just One Kiss” and “Just Like Heaven” do nothing interesting expect make the intro and outro longer. Even though I’m not a fan of the original, the mixes on that album are at least decent and has its great moments. Here, all the remixes are uninteresting. They just don’t hit you the way some of the mixes on the previous and the last disc do.

The third disc, Torn Down, is full of new mixes by Smith and is the highlight of this collection. He takes a song from every Cure album and tweaks it just enough to give it a different flavor. “The Drowning Man” is bleaker and darker, “A Strange Day” is more intense with its tribal beats, “A Night Like This” is jazzy and upbeat, and “Three Imaginary Boys” is downright eerie. These mixes feel more focused and concise. They don’t keep going well after you’re bored. And in most cases not much changes. Smith admits he didn’t mess with the songs too much and kept the general feeling of the song. “Shake Dog Shake” sounds more aggressive and angry and “Never Enough” sounds like a clean mix, but otherwise they don’t stray far from the originals. Others may balk at the lack of change, but I found them to be perfect. It puts a different spin on the song and doesn’t feel needlessly long. Smith also goes beyond the singles and mixes tracks like “Cut Here,” “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea,” and “The Last Day of Summer” for a more diverse listening experience. It’s great to hear new versions of tracks like “Want” and “Like Cockatoos.” It’s a chance to highlight The Cure’s material outside of their singles. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much out of this disc, yet it’s my favorite out of the three.

Mixed Up Deluxe isn’t for everyone. It’s for a niche crowd that can appreciate a good club mix or for those into the club scene. If you don’t care for remixes or don’t like dance music, then you won’t find most of the collection appealing. Still, it’s a solid release. You have all of The Cure’s once rare mixes on one disc with extras and a disc full of new remixes. It’s worth it for the third disc alone. It doesn’t feel like it was put together to make a quick buck. Rather, you can tell it was crafted with some thought and it invigorated Smith to try some new versions. Also, there’s so much material to listen to, there’s bound to be one or two tracks you find yourself nodding along to. It’s not for all Cure fans, but it’s still a great addition to your collection. 

Best Album of 2017

Eternity In Your Arms – Creeper

There was only one album this year that I couldn’t stop listening to or gushing about; Creeper’s Eternity In Your Arms. I played this record the entire year. I never got tired of it. It’s a fun, wild, and dramatic romp through the world of Creeper. Full of songs that get your adrenaline running, the album is nothing but a good time. It’s not just loud, brash guitars and screaming gang vocals. With this album, Creeper creates an entire world that listeners are invited to discover. We hear about the mystery of James Scythe and the stranger. And while the band gives us plenty of clues, they ask us to put the rest together ourselves.

Part of what makes the album so much fun is how grandiose it is. Everything about Creeper feels larger than life and melodramatic. The way the music swells, Will Gould’s Meatloaf-esque vocals, and the macabre stories held in each song makes it feel like you’re witnessing a play unravel before you. They excel at bringing camp and punk together for an unforgettable experience.

Songs like “Black Rain,” “Poison Pens,” and “Room 309” scratches that itch for in your face, unapologetic punk rock. But the songs that really impressed me were tracks like “Misery” and “Crickets.” Just when you think you have the band figured out, they throw you for a loop with these ballads. The former is heartbreaking, yet there’s something beautiful about it. The latter trails dangerously close to country, but they make it work. It shows they don’t only know how to make loud songs. They can work with other genres comfortably and it helps them stand out. Elsewhere, the band mixes punk with elements of gothic, emo, glam, and pop that keeps the album fresh and exciting.

Creeper managed to make a punk rock album that’s engaging, fun, fresh, and memorable. No matter how many times you listen to it, you want more. And I can’t wait to hear what Creeper does next.