July 24, 2020

Gaerea – Limbo (Season of Mist)

Gaerea is not a band. They are a “Vortex community”, “bestow[ing] their Undying Sigil to the masses”. 

For an act that has been around less than 5 years, this black metal quintet from Portugal is certainly making an impact on the global scene. The theatrics create a mystery about the group. Only 3 members of the outfit have been named, the remaining 2 shrouded under a hood bearing the Undying Sigil. 

Limbo takes us to Dante’s first circle, the hopeless wasteland where human chattel await their eternal damnation. This imagery is potent throughout the record, starting with the vivid depiction on the cover and continuing seamlessly through the music. 

Calling this “black metal” is a bit of a mislead, though. The theatrics and themes aside, the music actually feels more like doom metal, with plenty of sludgy breakdowns, atmospheric bridges, and a sense of guitar melody that you just don’t get with black metal. 

Whatever you want to call it, Limbo is relentless. It opens with a powerful overture of a song, “To Ain”, an 11-minute opus that sets the tone, theme, and sound that will occupy your earspace for 52 minutes over 6 tracks. The structure of the album is classical in nature, using movements to walk us through the “new” stages of grief: sadness, denial, anger, madness, and despair. The album closes with “Mare”, a 13-minute monolith that bookends Limbo with that same feeling of being held captive, but with chaos lurking overhead. 

I found myself listening with rapt attention. Limbo is an absolute masterpiece and Gaerea has created the perfect soundtrack to 2020. It really feels like we’re in the First Circle, awaiting damnation. I hope they don’t make us wait too long to experience the Second Circle, where we will be blown about in a violent storm without hope of rest.

Bring it on.

FFO: …And Oceans, Enthroned, Carach Angren

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Top Hit Songs of July 2020

12. Luke Bryan – One Margarita

The Brofather is back to sing the praises of a new drink. Beer alone is no good, we need tequila. Actually, we need a rewrite of Tracy Byrd’s “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo” with a little Kenny Chesney spin on it and… oh, he name checks Chesney in a verse. Well, at least he knows. It’s a song that is technically fine. His band is more than capable. A few extra points for trying to make a party song in the middle of a summer where we could all use a pick me up. But there’s still quite a hole to dig out of here. 

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The Podcast: July 2020 in Review

This week, we take a look at another pretty good month in music. Jeremy and Zack give us their favorite albums of the month, Dan looks at the best and worst top 40 hits and the guys play their first round of the Looks Like game.

Jeremy’s Top 3 Albums of July:
3. Mannequin Online – I Feel It
2. Gaerea – Limbo
1. Ellie Goulding – Brightest Blue

Zack’s Top 3 Albums of July:
3. Gucci Mane – Gucci Mane Presents: So Icy Summer
2. Taylor Swift – folklore
1. Juice WRLD – Legends Never Die

Dan’s Top 2 Top 40 Tracks of July:
2. Megan Thee Stallion – Girls in the Hood
1. Lil’ Baby – The Bigger Picture

July 17th, 2020

Meghan Trainor – Treat Myself (Epic)

I sat down with this record expecting, even hoping, for something to tear apart. I was not ready to actually enjoy (most of) a Meghan Trainor album. The lead single, “No Excuses”, is such a trainwreck of a song I was ready to launch into a tirade about faux-sincerity, narcissism, and banal pop tropes that are all embodied by a mush-mouthed blonde commercial puppet. 

Sure, she switches between personalities from song to song, decrying the horrors of a relationship, then wanting him back. Sure, when she sings the phrase, “Love Yourself”, it somehow sounds like she’s saying “Out dog yourself”. Sure, every song is a repetitive, four-chord, easily-digestible melody.


Goddammit if it doesn’t work this time. Ignore the Nicki Minaj part of “Nice To Meet You” and the melody and beat are quite pleasing. Close your eyes and listen to “Funk” and you can almost hear Janet. “Working On It” might be the most honest a pop star has been recently about personal failings. Throw a Spanish verse into “Lie To Me” and it could be Shakira.  And the best part is, she finally has a producer that nearly eliminated the overuse of handclaps and ‘60s pop basslines. 

My favorite track on the album has to be “Here To Stay”, in which she basically says, “Yeah, I’m a piece of shit, but apparently you’re into that, so let’s do this.”

The problematic tendencies definitely still exist (“Babygirl”, “Genetics”, and the aforementioned “No Excuses”), but by and large, this is a huge step in the right direction. 

FFO: Janet Jackson, Sabrina Carpenter

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July 3rd and July 10th, 2020

We owe you a bit of an apology. A lot of good music happened in July, but due to some personal things that happened during that time (not going to bore you with details), we struggled to get things written. Rest assured, we were listening and intend to remedy the lapse in posts…

Right now.

Cuddle Magic – Bath (Northern Spy)

Bath is the sixth album from Brooklyn-based sextet, Cuddle Magic, and it is a damned shame that it took me six album to hear of them. As of this writing, I have not traveled back through to their origins, but if Bath is at all indicative of their body of work, they have a fan for life.

Folk-pop is a genre that doesn’t get a ton of radio play or heated discussion outside of your local bookstore or coffee shop. It’s also rare to find a folk-pop outfit that challenges the dynamics of the genre. Bath is acoustic. It is also orchestrated to be extraordinarily intoxicating. Voices float in and out at precisely the right moments. The instrumentation is consistent by changing to suit each individual song, whether that’s a harmonica (“Gracefully”), a pump organ (“This Way”, “Eleanor”), or the simple pluck of an acoustic guitar (“Hurt a Little”, “Still In Touch”), it is the perfect accompaniment to the softly sung vocals of Benjamin and Kristin

Yeah, I learned their names. So what?

From the first moments of “What If I”, you can feel the love. Love for the music. Love for each other. Love for the listener. 

Oh, and the fun part…

The whole album was recorded live in a bathroom. That’s right! Six people, no headphones or electronic tricks. Just microphones, instruments, and pure, unadulterated talent. 

FFO: The Shins, Bon Iver, Iron and Wine

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The Best Hit Songs of 1984

Yesterday, I brought out the bottom of the barrel for the year of my birth, so it’s only right to spotlight the best songs that 1984 had to offer. As a quick refresher for this series, I’m listening to the year-end Billboard Hot 100, giving every song a score, tallying those up and writing about the best and the worst. No one set the office on fire over the worst, so I’m back to do the best.

Honorable Mention: Michael Jackson – Thriller – Year-End: #78, Peak: #4
When I’ve got a tie around the #10 spot, I’ll add in an honorable mention or two so here’s this year’s. I don’t know if this song gets the respect it deserves because of the album it came from and the other chartbusting hits that preceded it. Plus, I think more people think of the music video for the track than the actual track itself. I don’t think that’s fair as the song itself is a great piece of sound theater, telling a story through lyrics and sound effects. And c’mon, Vincent friggin’ Price.

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The Worst Hit Songs of 1984

Since I’ve been tasked to be the site’s judge of new pop music, I thought it would be interesting to look to the past in-between weeks when I’m looking at the present. With that in mind, I foolishly gave myself the project of covering the years that we’ve collectively been alive (1982-2019) and today we start with the landmark year 1984. The world gathered in Sarajevo for the Winter Olympics, Ghostbusters hit theaters, Reagan was gonna start the bombing in five minutes and I was born. Big year.

This is briefly the nuts and bolts of how this series will go. I’ll take the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 chart, listen to each song, give them arbitrary scores and then write about the top and bottom ten on my list. There’s almost certain to be a song in the worst list that’s one of your favorites. I can guarantee you’ll question my sanity with one of the entries on the best list and that’s the point of all of this. I’m certain Jeremy and Zack will throw verbal rocks at me on the next podcast.

One of the hardest parts of looking back at songs this old is the nostalgia factor, which is probably where most disagreements will start. Looking up and down this year’s list I see a ton of songs I heard all the time growing up. We were a pop household and I’m pretty sure early Chicago was the “most rock and roll” my parents record collection got at the time. It was tough to look at many of these songs with a critical eye, but here’s the best go that I could give. Without further ado, I give you the ten worst hit songs of 1984.

10. Lionel Richie – “All Night Long (All Night)” – Year-End: #12, Peak: #1
The first single from Can’t Slow Down, this “party” track was released in October 1983, but peaked on the charts later that winter and hung around until the spring of ’84. Centered around a light yet infection rhythm and a breakdown full of nonsense lyrics that were intended to be another language (Richie admitted he didn’t have time to hire a translator like he wanted), it’s been hailed as a fun party song. I was confused that this mid-tempo meh track passed for a party anthem in the early 80’s, but then I remembered cocaine and it all made sense. There just doesn’t seem to be enough of all of the traits that this song is hailed for to justify it’s position in the 80’s music pantheon.

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June 26, 2020

HAIM – Women In Music Pt. III (Haim Productions)

First and foremost: there is not a “Women In Music Pt. I” or “Pt. II”.  There is a lot of significance to the number “three” here, however, given the three sisters that make up HAIM (Este Haim, Danielle Haim, and Alana Haim), this being their third album, and likely other references that I’m not smart enough to get.  Regardless of nomenclature, though, this is a powerhouse of a pop album.

Women In Music Pt. III shines for all of the different areas that it touches and excels in.  From a funky beat on “Los Angeles” that would be at home in an early 90s hip-hop track, to something closer to a Fleetwood Mac track (“Up From A Dream”), HAIM hits all the literal and figurative notes.

I refuse to call HAIM a “girl group”, because that would insinuate that “boy groups” are on the same level, which the vast majority are not.  The sisters have not only matured their sound, but have truly expanded upon it here.  I will be doing them the justice that I should’ve done them years ago, and going back to check out their previous two albums.  I know they won’t be as good as Women In Music Pt. III, but they will still be a treat.

FFO: The Aces, MUNA

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The Podcast: June 2020 in Review

The last 30 days in music were very meh, if you couldn’t tell from our album reviews.

Zack’s Top 5 Albums of the Month:
5. CeeLo Green – CeeLo Green is Thomas Callaway
4. Gone West – Canyons
3. Protest the Hero – Palimpsest
2. Run The Jewels – RTJ4
1. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Worst – Baauer – Planet’s Mad

Jeremy’s Top 5 Albums of the Month:
5. CeeLo Green – CeeLo Green is Thomas Callaway
4. We Were Promised Jetpacks – Out of Interest
3. Unfit – The Unfit
2. Lamb of God – Lamb of God
1. Used Cassettes – Used Cassettes
Worst – Jason Mraz – Look For The Good

Dan’s Top 5 New Top 40 Entries:
5. Jonas Brothers ft. KAROL G. – X
4. Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande – Rain On Me
3. Jackson Wang – 100 Ways
2. Bazzi – Young and Alive
Worst – JP Saxe ft. Julia Michaels – If The World Was Ending