April 3, 2020

Purity Ring – WOMB (4AD)

Listening to WOMB is an exercise in stark dichotomy. The Canadian duo produces a brand of magically magnetic trip-hop that is as powerful as it is understated. Honey-sweet vocals issue complex poetry about curses, devils and terror angels that live in the mirror, longing and heaving bodies, scars and entropy. 

There is a sci-fi soundtrack, music box quality to the tracks that sucks you in like a good mystery story. The tempo of everything stays slow, but somehow conveys a potent energy that pulls like a riptide. WOMB is heart-rending, life-affirming, and otherworldly. An absolute gem.

FFO: Ruelle, Grimes, Sneaker Pimps

Black Atlass – Dream Awake (XO)

Of course The Weeknd signs him, it’s a sort of homage to himself. Black Atlass is the stage name of Alex Fleming, Canadian singer-songwriter and Weeknd doppelganger. Seriously, most of the time it’s very hard to tell the difference between them. 

The vibrato-laced mostly-falsetto vocals are backed by slow, dark, anthemic beats that create a palpable tension in the songs. The songs are almost entirely about romantic relationships and getting wasted. 

Basically, this is the companion album for After Hours, which not so coincidentally, was released on the same day. 

…so let’s talk about that one, too.

The Weeknd – After Hours (XO)

Well, what do you know about The Weeknd’s sound and style, and what can you expect from After Hours? You can expect….The Weeknd. It’s actually very difficult to come up with what to say, given the high profile of the artist in question. He has a formula that works really well for him. Album consists of a bunch of tracks that are downbeat, shadowy tunes about failed romantic endeavors, leading us to believe that our man is not great at managing relationships. Something most of us can relate to. 

The part where the world can’t seem to get enough of the interestingly-quaffed mega-star has something to do with the couple of songs that are different. In the past, that would most notably be a love song to cocaine and another about only being honest when he’s hammered, although that one is still pretty downbeat. 

Those standout tracks for After Hours are a sarcastic take on the life of a womanizing playboi (“Heartless”), and a pair of uncharacteristically upbeat tunes about pining for love (“In Your Eyes” and the lead single, “Blinding Light”).

In all honesty, most of what The Weeknd releases feels like filler. The tracks are pretty alright, but they’re not going to light the world afire. When a track is a hit, though, there’s not a lot that top it. 

tetema – Necroscape (Ipecac)

Surrounding us on all sides are parallel realities, forward, backward, juxta-terrestrial and divergent from all the understood rules of time and space. Making contact with those “other” places requires patience and a willingness to experiment with elements that are unknowable, and therefore quite dangerous. 

Mike Patton, the mad genius that gave us Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, Tomahawk and myriad other audible science experiments, is back for a second round with tetema. Necroscape is a noisy, psycho-dystopian fever-dream tied together with hallucinatory themes of isolation and the all-seeing eye of a nebulous panopticon. The songs are intense and heavy, but laden with off-kilter melodies and cleverly constructed arrangements. Necroscape is playful and challenging, visceral and incredibly self-aware. 

This record is not for everyone, but in an alternate universe filled with cyber-punks, wasteland bandits, and widespread Thunderdome mentality, where gothic-industrial-EDM is considered “pop” music…

tetema is Miles Davis. 

Born Ruffians – JUICE (Yep Roc)

I like rock n roll. When I started getting into music it was for ‘80s rock, pop, and hair. When people my age (wow, that sounded harsh) say things like, “I don’t understand music these days,” what they are really saying is that they are missing something from the music they grew up with. 

As I listen to JUICE, I understand what has been missing from much of the music that is tearing up the charts right now: fun. 

What is the obsession with heartbreak, booze and minimalist beats? OK, I get that too, but aside from a few tunes, there is a dearth of energy and light-hearted banter in our popular music. 

Born Ruffians’ 6th studio album is an infectious sort of smile. A breath of fresh air. No gimmicks, just good old-fashioned pop-rock songs about girls, enjoying time with friends, and being really bad with words. It is clear that they love what they do and they want to pull you along with them, like a joyous Pied Piper. I follow willingly.

FFO: The Cars, Jet, Of Montreal, Hot Hot Heat 

August Burns Red – Guardians (Fearless)

When a prog-metalcore act has multiple Grammy nods, sold-out shows around the world, and a reputation within the community as a technical powerhouse, there is a level of expectation surrounding new releases and performances. It’s a lot to live up to and the pressure on these guys has to be significant.

Holy balls! Once again, the 5-piece outfit from Pennsylvania delivers. 

Guardians is, to this listener, their most ambitious attempt to date. It’s heavier than they have been since going mainstream, technically precise, and intense. The songs are also about as uplifting as metalcore can be, expressing the need for and capability to find the light in dark places. The signature whispery, throaty bellow of frontman, Jake Luhrs, is accompanied by blistering riffage, almost djent-like pulsation, and periodic blast-beats. The album is arranged for maximum engagement as well, placing more Octane-friendly jams (“Bones”, “Defender”) alongside brawlers (“Dismembered Memory”, “Paramount”). Unprecedented CLEAN vocals even make an appearance (“Lighthouse”), just to ensure that this is a record for the masses. 

FFO: Of Mice And Men, Miss May I, As I Lay Dying

All Time Low – Wake Up, Sunshine (Fueled By Ramen)

Is it 2003 again already? I was nearly certain that pretty, perfectly packaged mall punk died with Kelly Osbourne’s career. I know there is a cycle to trends, but I didn’t realize we had come back to this yet. So, when I learned that not only was the new All Time Low was out, but they hadn’t bothered to sound like any time at all had passed. I suppose there is something comforting about that, but also a little bit depressing. 

I will temporarily suspend my reverie to give this record the listen it deserves.


It isn’t bad. In fact, there are moments where the record is quite inspiring, lyrically. The title track in particular is heavy-handed with the bright and cheery, and “Glitter & Crimson” is a testament to personal fortitude. My issue with this style of music is, and has always been, that I have difficulty distinguishing one track from the next. Or one album from the next. Or one band from the next. 

But far be it from me to question your musical tastes. You like what you like, and if you never got over Yellowcard, Plain White T’s, or Motion City Soundtrack, this is your jam. 

Note: there is some disagreement here at Fairly KickAss about this record. While this reviewer clearly has no strong feelings whatsoever about it, the phrase “dumpster fire” has been liberally sprinkled into the conversation. 

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