Reviews

“Over It” – Bullet For My Valentine

Image result for Bullet for My Valentine

Release Year: 2018

Rating: 5.5/10

Bullet For My Valentine have been one of my favorite metal bands since The Poison. I love the way they mix intense, technical riffs with melodic moments yet keep the aggressive mood. So when they announced a new song, I was ecstatic. Venom was a great follow up to the disappointment that was Temper Temper. I couldn’t wait to hear the next blistering track the band had in store. Sadly, it’s one of their weakest songs.

“Over It” is such a disappointment. It’s not terrible, but it’s a forgettable track. All the excitement, anger, aggression, and thrills that make up a Bullet song are missing. The opening isn’t bad; the intro riff and slower pace is something a bit different for a lead single, but I kept waiting for the moment when the song kicked into high gear and came alive; it never happened.

The music is dull and bland. It sounds like it could by any rock band on the radio. There’s very little about it that commands your attention and pulls you in. After hearing it a few times I thought “Eh, it’s okay I guess.” The lack of screaming vocals makes it worse. I’m not saying they need to take over the whole song; you just want more of them.  The brief moment they appear, you realize how much they’re missing. The song also lacks their signature riffs and solos.

The thing that gets me excited for a Bullet song are the insane riffs and solos. Michael Paget is a beast on the guitar and always shows off his skill with fiery, dizzying solos. And the riffs themselves are memorable. Think back to songs like “Room 409” or “Waking the Demon.” Those riffs instantly grab you and suck you in. All of this is missing on this song. The guitar isn’t bad, but it sounds pretty average. It doesn’t have that Padge stamp and is lacking the excitement, fire, and aggression. It’s another generic riff we’ve heard on other rock songs.

Everything about the track is weak, especially the lyrics. Bullet aren’t amazing songwriters, but they’ve made more compelling tracks than this. The lyrics are cliché and sound more fitting coming from an angsty teen. And some of them are baffling, particularly the bridge: “Breathe in/breathe out/don’t wanna ride your carousel.” The song also follows this formula Bullet has fallen into over the years: intro riff, quiet music while Matt sings “angry lyrics,” exploding, distorted hook, return to verse, breakdown, repeat.

“Over It” is Bullet at their weakest. Even Temper Temper sounds better than this. It’s a bland, generic song that has none of their signature riffs, solos, or aggression. It’s tolerable on its own, but it doesn’t get you excited for their upcoming album. There’s nothing memorable about this song. You’ll struggle to remember the hook after hearing it a few times. Hopefully, this isn’t representative of the entire record. I’m still looking forward to hearing more from them, but for now, my expectations for Gravity are low.

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Man of the Woods – Justin Timberlake

Image result for justin timberlake man of the woods

Release Year: 2018

Rating: 6/10

When I first saw Justin Timberlake’s rugged, I’m-an-outdoors-man promo for Man of the Woods, I was not happy. I didn’t want down to Earth Justin. I wanted Sexyback Justin. Luckily, the album isn’t stepped in folksy roots as the promos made it out to be. Unfortunately, the album isn’t that good. The main problem is there are no songs that stand out, grab your attention, and make you want to crank it up whenever you hear it. The closest we get is lead single “Filthy,” which is just weird and takes a while to grow on you before you start singing it.

Songs like “Man of the Woods,” “Midnight Summer Jam,” “Wave,” and “Higher Higher” are fine but pretty generic. Once the album ends you don’t remember them until you play the LP again. They have decent music and some pretty good hooks, but there’s nothing exciting about them. “Say Something” featuring Chris Stapleton is an unexpected highlight. It’s got just the right amount of a country vibe to please country fans and non-fans alike. Plus, Stapleton and Timberlake sound great together.

Most of the songs are inoffensive and not bad to listen to, but they’re just there. “Montana” may have a 70s inspired groove, but it sounds too similar to the rest of the songs on the record. “Morning Light” featuring Alicia Keys is nice but gets boring pretty quickly. The rest of the tracks like “Breeze Off the Pound,” “The Hard Stuff,” and “Livin’ Off the Land” are hard to discern from one another since they sound so similar. And seeing as they’re the closest thing to Timberlake’s newfound persona, they don’t really do much for the record.

Other songs are just cringy. “Sauce” features the unfortunate line of “I like your pink/you like my purple,” which is wrong on so many levels. It also features him doing a shoddy Prince imitation, which is hard to sit through. “Supplies” is even worse. Timberlake attempts a trap song filled with generic hip-hop music and an annoying hook. It’s so out of left field, it doesn’t fit on the album. And it’s hard to take “Flannel,” an ode to a fucking shirt, seriously. He actually sings the line “But if I’m bein’ selfish, that gave me a reason to be there/With my flannel on.” The preceding interlude featuring his wife Jessica Biel is even worse. She talks about wearing his shirt and how makes her feel like a woman. It will make you roll your eyes.

Man of the Woods is a definite miss for Timberlake. While there are a handful of decent songs, the album severely lacks the fun, must-listen-to dance hits he’s become known for. Most of the songs are generic or just plain dull. After hearing the album a few times, I couldn’t care about it anymore. It’s not the weird, earthly vibe we thought it would be. Even worse, it’s a boring, generic safe record for Timberlake.

Worst Album of 2016

This is What the Truth Feels Like – Gwen Stefani

I was never a huge No Doubt fan growing, but I’ve come to like them more over time along with Gwen Stefani. There was a point when she was the epitome of cool in alt rock. Her solo music is vastly different from what she did with No Doubt, but it’s still catchy, enjoyable, and fun. When she dropped two singles in 2015, I was pretty excited to hear what her next album was going to sound like. I actually dug Love.Angel.Music.Baby, but didn’t care for The Sweet Escape. Turns out, I hated  even more.

It feels kind of harsh calling this the worst of the year, but out of everything I sought out and listened to, this is the album I hated the most. I’ll admit, most of the songs are unoffending. Some are even pretty good, like the hypnotic “You’re My Favorite,” but once I got to songs like “Naughty” and “Red Flag” I couldn’t take anymore. I thought she was joking. The horrible rap segments, the sad attempt at trying to keep up with the trends, and the ridiculous lyrics made the rest of the record laughable. She tries to hang with Fetty Wop on “Asking 4 It” and comes off awkward while her other attempts at rapping are just sad.

What’s most annoying is her pretending she’s still this rebellious, bad ass we came to love in the 90s. It’s fine if Stefani has grown up and is more comfortable following the herd now. But it feels like she’s pretending she’s still alternative like she was back in the day. With tracks like “Asking 4 It” and “Rare” it seems like she’s trying to hold on to her edgy title, when that’s not who she is anymore. And that’s fine.

When the album isn’t delving into horrible rap, it’s just bland and dull making you think “meh” as you listen to it. Very few of the songs are interesting. The rest follow the same pop music trends as everyone else. There’s even a few songs you’d think were outtakes from Madonna’s Rebel Heart. This is What the Truth Feels Like was hardly worth the 10 year wait. Hopefully, her next effort will be interesting and bring back some weirdness to pop music. But considering her last few releases, it doesn’t look too promising.

Love Gloom – Night Riots

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8/10

Night Riots stole my heart when I saw them live with Blaqk Audio earlier this year. Their fusion of synth pop, rock, and electronic made their music irresistible. I picked up their 2015 EP Howl right away and impatiently waited for their debut album, Love Gloom. I was a bit surprised when I finally got my hands on it; it has a different vibe, mood, and feel than their previous release. It’s not drastically different, but there are some changes.

For one thing, Howl is upbeat, fun, and danceable the whole way through. But Love Gloom allows the band to explore other sounds and avenues. There are still insanely catchy jams like the popular “Contagious” and “Work It.” The latter isn’t Travis Hawley’s best singing effort, he sounds a bit too stained, but the song is still bouncy and fun. “Nothing Personal” is another catchy track blistering with lust and desire. Hawley has a vampiric presence and this comes out best on this song when he sings lines like “Numb yourself and think of me” or “I’ll be the king, you’ll be the filth/I’ll wash away.” It sounds like he’s trying to hypnotize us. It’s one of the most gripping and catchy songs on the album.

Aside from this, the rest of the album is kind of slow and melancholic. Previously, the band described their music as “pop gloom” and that’s exactly what it is. “Fangs” is pretty upbeat, but steeped in darkness and the macabre. The hook pleads “So stick your fangs, fangs, fangs/into me” bringing up images of vampires, albeit sexy ones. Similar to their other songs, this one also drips with lust and desire – it’s something Night Riots effortlessly convey in a good chunk of their songs. It’s a sort of dark romanticism they explore on this track.

The excellent “Don’t Kill the Messenger” might as well be their love letter to Depeche Mode. The shuddering bass, booming drums, and somber guitars makes it sound like it was written for the iconic band. It also has a brooding nature that plays into their melancholic side. The track stands out for its more aggressive tone and heavy hitting nature. Everything gets more intense as the track continues. It has a big sound making it one of the most satisfying songs on the record. Plus, it’s pretty catchy. After one listen, the song will burrow itself in your head.

Breaking Free” is where we start to hear the band’s softer side on the album. It’s another stellar track filled with lush tones and atmospheric music that makes it feel like you’re under water. The rolling drums that occasionally pop up give it some extra flair. It’s another brooding track talking about breaking out of a relationship. Something about it is warm and relaxing even though the lyrics aren’t exactly the most uplifting: It’s beautiful, yet haunting quality makes it one of the highlights of the album.

As previous songs have shown, Night Riots take great inspiration from 80s music. It was all over their EP and it’s all over this album, but they use the New Wave influences in a subtle way. The ballad “All for You” has this big, 80s anthem vibe to it. The dreamy guitars, far away sound, and relaxing melody makes you think of Tears for Fears, who they’ve covered in concert. To keep the song from getting too dull, the bridge comes alive, bursting with guitar and drums. It’s a soft, sweet song about being there for one another. “Tear Me Apart” starts with a weird, stuttering synth that instantly grabs your attention. This song feels directly tied to the title: the mood is somber and gloomy as Hawley laments the end of a relationship. Some of it is cliché, like the lyric “Where does it start/where does it end/I’m losing my best friend/tear me apart,” but it’s pretty forgivable. The track also has this ghostly vibe to it with ethereal singing, other world music, and a cold vibe infiltrating the entire song.

This slow, doom-laden mood continues on tracks “Pull Me Down,” which has a Gothic quality to the lyrics and “Everything Will be Alright,” which is haunting and a little eerie as Hawley sings “lately I feel undone.” Though the songs are slower, the 80s synth elements aren’t abandoned. Rather they play smaller roles in the music popping in the background or playing softly to make the song come alive. Instead of being the focal point, they’re used to add to the song’s flavor and sound. Listeners get a break from the constant wave of gloom with the upbeat “End of the World,” which starts with more attention-grabbing synth that’ll get stuck in your head.

The closing track, “As You Are,” has elements that are likable along with some questionable bits. The opening is too slow and sappy for my tastes. Lines like “Don’t change for me/you got nothing to fix/you’re not broken” end up sounding a bit corny. But what saves the song is the beautiful, symphonic quality to it. As Hawley sings, strings swell up around him making the song pretty and heartbreaking. This paired with the way he croons “Meet me as you are” is enough to give you chills. It’s a somber song; Hawley sounds like he’s at the end of his rope, which makes the final line “I let you down/ betrayed you” hit even harder. It’s not the best track on the album, but it’s a fitting close.

Love Gloom wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. There weren’t as many upbeat, catchy, danceable songs as on their previous release. Yet, it remains a strong, thoughtful debut. The upbeat songs are still there, showing Night Riots know how to make you dance. But the slower tracks laden with darkness and of course, gloom, show another side of the band. The album is a melancholic affair; something you put on when the sky is grey and leaves start to fall. Some of it is brooding, some of it is fun, but the whole thing is honest. That’s part of what makes it so appealing. Many of the songs may not grip you right away, but if you give it a chance, you’ll find a great debut that’s not afraid of the darkness, which we all need to embrace from time to time.

Paradise – Con Brio

 

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8.5/10

I learned about this funky band when I went to Lollapalooza this year and caught their set. I’ve been singing their praises ever since. Based out of California, Con Brio, which means “with spirit” in Spanish, is a funk/R&B/soul band that are all about loving life and having a good time. They channel this feeling into their funky debut album Paradise. From start to finish the album keeps you going and leaves you with a big smile on your face. After hearing the record, you’ll be convinced Con Brio is the next great band in music.

The album is a funky jam from start to finish. Each song is filled with brassy horns, groovy bass, and hot guitar licks. “Paradise” kicks things off on a slow note. The guitar riff rips into the track inviting listeners on this musical journey. The horns come in one by one to beef up the sound completing the bluesy vibe. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any hotter, Ziek McCarter’s passionate vocals hit you. After one verse you’re ready to fly with him to what he calls paradise. From there, everything is a party. “Liftoff” is the epitome of funky. As soon as the opening note plays, it gets you grooving. It’s so upbeat and energetic, you’re ready to party like it’s a Friday night. And you can’t help but smile as McCarter here sings “Because nothing here can hold our spirits down.”

Even though most of the songs are funky, “You Think This is a Game?” is a bit different. It still has that funky groove and bluesy mood, but McCarter has a spoken word style. The way he raps over the music makes it seem like he’s at a slam poetry contest. It’s a bit jarring, especially when all the music clashes at the end, but it’s an interesting sonic experiment. Aside from getting down and grooving to the beat, Con Brio’s music is uplifting. Many of their songs spout positive messages about loving yourself and loving each other, something that’s easy to forget during these times.

Free & Brave” offers a comment on society and the Black Lives Matter movement. The opening verse references the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Martin Luther King, making you think it’s going to be a negative outlook on the world. Instead, Con Brio uses the song to say people have to keep going despite these tragic events. The message of the entire song is though the world gets shitty, we’re still free and in control of our destiny. We still have to believe that things will get better. The band gets harder and heavier on “Hard Times.” This fusion of rock and funk has a message of sticking together and reaching out to one another to get through hard times. It’s a great reminder that we still need each other even when everything looks bleak. It’s a reminder that we don’t have to go through this alone.

Another song with an optimistic message and my personal favorite is “Money.” Not only is it upbeat, funky, and made for dancing, it’s about not letting money rule you. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in work and focusing on making money to live. With this song McCarter reminds us it’s not all about work; we need play time too. He also sings “When you’re stretched out, all stressed out/Knowin somethin ain’t right, and you’re left out/Can’t let that 9-5, put a seatbelt on my mind.” It’s a great message to those who aren’t satisfied with working any old job and want to follow their dreams for the career they really want. Money is necessary, but we don’t have to let it take us over as Con Brio reminds us.

When they’re not grooving or spouting good life messages, Con Brio are romancing listeners with their sexy slow jams. “My Love” is a soulful gem made for romantic nights. Though it’s a little too slow for my tastes, it’s a good song and doesn’t hold back on the funky music. The same goes for the mid-tempo “No Limits,” which is slinky and slick. Both songs do a great job showing off McCarter’s vocals. There’s no doubt he’ll bring up comparisons to Michael Jackson, but his voice is still powerful enough to give you chills. And when he busts out the falsetto, it’s enough to make you swoon. He has one of those voices where when he’s feeling a song, he goes all the way making you screaming “Sing it, baby!” “Honey” is another soft, mid-tempo jam where McCarter spreads the love. The acoustic guitar and McCarter’s gentles vocals make the song relaxing and soothing. Some lyrics like “You can be such a busy bee, but save a little honey for me/I can be such a busy bee, but I’ll save my honey for thee/We can both be the busy bee and save a lil honey while we,” are kind of cheesy, but they’re forgivable. It’s still a sweet, sentimental track.

If you need an album to kick up your feet and unwind to, then this is it. Every one of Con Brio’s songs are filled with positive messages about loving life, yourself, and not letting the small stuff get you down. The entire album is full of optimistic messages, which we all need every now and then. The music is fun, upbeat, and will keep you dancing. Something about their music is so infectious even if you’re not the biggest fan of funk and soul. With their passionate playing and Ziek McCarter’s seductive, soaring vocals the band stand out as one of a kind. Put on Paradise when you need a pick me up or just want to dance. Let the music wash over you and let Con Brio’s songs take you to your own version of paradise.