Marilyn Manson – We Are Chaos (Loma Vista/Marilyn Manson)
As most of 2020 has felt and looked like a sideshow to the Manson circus, it’s no surprise that We Are Chaos is his best work since Antichrist Superstar. On the title track, he bawls in his iconic warble, “We are sick, fucked up, and complicated. We are Chaos, We can’t be cured.” This is a sentiment that ties the tumultuous universe of the last 7 months to the angsty youth paradigm that gave the Dope Show its first staging.
After spending the last few years steeping himself in various pop and folk subgenres, covering Johnny Cash, and generally getting away from what he does best, We Are Chaos displays the musical maturity that comes from all that travelling. But DAMN! it’s good to be home.
“RED, BLACK AND BLUE” is a psycho-glam masterpiece that opens with a creepy monologue, then launches into a full-on angry gothic takeover. “PAINT YOU” starts as a guitar and piano homage to Bowie and McCartney before ascending into noise. Classic Manson.
Through his career, he has spent a lot of energy and lyrically punches on the falsity of celebrity and the foolishness of hero-worship, and that is just as true here. Some examples: “Just ‘cuz you’re famous doesn’t mean you’re worth anything / In this world or the next one or the one before” (“INFINITE DARKNESS”). “I’m not special, I’m just broken. And I don’t want to be fixed” (“SOLVE COAGULA”). “Am I a man or a show or a moment” (“WE ARE CHAOS”).
While it’s not as chaotic as the title seems to indicate, it is as Manson as it gets. His self-torment and cultural flagellation are front and center. The album closer, “BROKEN NEEDLE”, sees him playing the part of a turntable stylus, broken by the grooves that mistreat it, scratching up the instigator, putting it away, and promising to “Never ever play you again”. That kind of lyric sticks with you.
Mastodon – Medium Rarities (Reprise)
These paleozoic monstrosities are the eminent stoner metal band of the last 2 decades, and the only one to be nominated for a Grammy. For some purists, that simple truth renders the band a “sellout” to be discarded. While they have had a few stinkers, I never totally dismissed them while they experimented with trends, styles, and themes.
This latest release is a collection of b-sides, covers, soundtrack singles, live tracks, and 1 unreleased studio single. To quip: some of it works, some of it doesn’t.
The single and opening track, “Fallen Torches”, features Neurosis vocalist Scott Kelly, a frequent collaborator. It’s not their best work, but is a solid lead-off with its fast-but-still-sludgy grind. The other wins in the collection include anything instrumental (“Asleep in the Deep”, “Toe to Toes”, “Jaguar God”, “Halloween”, and their cover of Metallica’s “Orion”). The live tracks are as you might expect of a live track for a well-established act: an unpolished version of the record track of the same name. The best of these is “Capillarian Crest”, which displays an energy that was somewhat missing from the album cut.
The other two covers didn’t work at all for me. Feist’s “A Commotion” is not translatable to Mastodon’s language, and the ill-advised cover of “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton” by The Flaming Lips is the single most uncomfortable track in the set. It sounds like a troll joined The Shins.
The best track of the compilation is the collaboration with Gibby Haynes of The Butthole Surfers, “Atlanta”. The song is bizarre in all the right ways. It’s slightly more melodic than would be typical of Mastodon and loaded with phasing electronics, maybe a theremin, and distorted spoken parts that made me nostalgic for “Jesus Built My Hotrod”.
I dig it.
FFO: Neurosis, Melvins, Fog
The Flaming Lips – American Head (Warner/The Flaming Lips)
On the heels of the strangely exhilarating collab/super-group Deap Lips, comes another installment of the Wayne Coyne show. This one just feels different, though. For one thing, the subject matter is noticeably grounded in reality. No killer robots and not a lot of space travel. In fact, aside from a few references to space, the closest he gets to a departure from the mundane is on “Dinosaur on the Mountain”, when he croons, “I wish dinosaurs were still here now” in a melodramatic desire for something fantastic.
It would be easy to dismiss the lyrics to the rest of the album as melodramatic as well. Many of the songs discuss things that are personal for Wayne, if slightly twisted for the sake of songcraft. The songs take you on a less-than-magical storyride through Middle-America, with a cast of characters that go into the army or to prison. Characters that get hooked on recreational substances and go to the psych ward. Crash motorcycles. Die.
The most autobiographical track, and the most poignant song on the disc, is “Mother I’ve Taken LSD”. In it, he laments Kim robbing a drug store and being taken “to the ward”. He talks about Tommy crashing his motorcycle while riding too fast, and how he’s probably not going to make it. The chorus is a simple admission of obliviousness, “Now I see the sadness in the world / I’m sorry I didn’t see it before.” A hard hitting sentiment in the midst of such a trying year.
Musically, American Head harkens back to the early years of the Lips’ career, back when there was more Floyd and Bowie and less experimental post-rock space operas.
“Brother Eye” sees the most casual balance of electronics and acoustics, with piano and guitar laying the groundwork for the sequencer and vocal effects. It is a beautifully performed track on a beautifully performed album.
I can hear Oklahoma on the album. I hear a longing for us to do better. Call me melodramatic, but I connected with THIS Flaming Lips more than I ever have before. In an already extraordinary catalog, this is a Head above.
Everything Everything – RE-ANIMATOR (Infinity Industries)
Once again, I’m put in that awkward position of trying not to reference Radiohead in a description. I try not to do that because it isn’t as descriptive as some people think. Does it mean mellow, moody, clever, sleepy, flowing, electronic, acoustic, falsetto-voiced, quirky, pretentious, and unassailably brilliant?
Well, that’s what it means here. For their 5th album, the quartet from Manchester has opted to become geniuses. I don’t mean the misunderstood genius that hides under the stairs with a typewriter. I mean the mad, Thom Yorke-on-absinthe genius who flaunts it using keyboards and an unhinged jaw.
On some of the songs, you could swear you were listening to an unreleased track from Kid A or Amnesiac (“It Was A Monstering”, “Moonlight”, “In Birdsong”). But on other tunes, it becomes obvious that these cats actually know how to have a little fun (“Arch Enemy”, “Black Hyena”), which is something that Yorke and his crew have never appeared capable of. The best track though, is the second track, “Big Climb”. It stands out like a Guiness in a bucket of Bud Light, with influential nods to Muse and Peter Gabriel, it’s the quirkiest song by far, displaying the depth of talent and character that dwells at the heart of everything Everything Everything has to offer.
FFO: Radiohead, Muse, Peter Gabriel
Doves – The Universal Want (Heavenly Recordings)
Dear Readers: I’ve never been in a band before. (Not a revelation, I know.) Even though I can’t speak for those musicians who have been in bands, I can assume that, after so long, you need a break. Much like anything, I suppose. Manchester three-piece outfit Doves is just coming off of theirs with The Universal Want, and from what I can tell, it was well worth the wait.
Originally formed in 1991 as a dance/house act named Sub Sub, Doves recreated themselves as alt-rockers after a fire burned down their original studio. The band went on hiatus in 2010, shortly after the release of fourth album Kingdom of Rust, and The Universal Want marks their return after a decade away.
I tend to gravitate toward artists with unique voices, and Doves’ frontman Jimi Goodwin certainly fits that bill: equal parts gravelly, soulful, and subtle. The tracks are a bit space-y (“Cathedrals of the Mind”), a bit classic rock-y (“I Will Not Hide”), and a bit Coldplay-y (“For Tomorrow”), but all are very cohesive. You can hear some of the 90s-ness in the tracks as well, which marries well with the more modern aspects of the tracks; this is evident in several tracks, perhaps most so in “Broken Eyes”. To me, the prevailing theme is “balance”, and that balance is done very well.
The Universal Want is one of those releases that makes me want to go back and listen to the rest of the discography. I’ve already rocked a bit of the previous material from the Sub Sub days, and will be doing the same for the previous four Doves albums. It will be fun to hear how their sound has changed (if at all) in the ten years since the last album.
FFO: Coldplay, Badly Drawn Boy, Counting Crows
Kelsea Ballerini – ballerini (Black River Entertainment)
Content is king these days, boys and girls. I’m talking volume. Quantity over quality. Pump it out, and chop and screw it as much as you can to get mileage out of it. I ain’t mad at it at all! I’d do the same thing as country artist Kelsea Ballerini did if I were in her shoes.
See, Dear Readers, Kelsea released an album called kelsea back in March of this year. 13 tracks, some pop (“the other girl”) mixed in with some modern country (“hole in the bottle”) and some more traditional country (“homecoming queen?”). It’s fine! It’s fine. But why are we talking about March?
Fast-forward to now, with the release of ballerini. 13 tracks, some pop (“the other girl”), mixed in with… wait. It’s the same thing!
IT’S THE SAME. THING.
But different, I guess.
The tracks on ballerini are identical to the ones on kelsea, but stripped. Which is fine for tracks with a lot going on, like “bragger”. But most of the tracks are pretty soft already (“half of my hometown”), or stripped altogether (the aforementioned “homecoming queen?”). She made a covers album of her own album, which itself is only about six months old. In movie and TV terms, this is a bad shot-for-shot remake of a not-great album.
We’ll briefly talk about the album, because there’s honestly not much to say. The pop is bad pop, the country is bad country… there are many better examples of each. “bragger” on kelsea is a decent bop, and “love and hate” on ballerini is an okay jam that channels images of old-school Taylor Swift. But overall, I can’t recommend either of Kelsea Ballerini’s namesake albums.
FFO: RaeLynn, Maddie & Tae, old-school Taylor Swift
Riley Green – If It Wasn’t For Trucks (Big Machine Label Group)
This is everything that is wrong with country music: pseudo-Christian agenda, obsession with vehicles, beer, and “getting the girl”. The only positive thing I can say about it is that this guy can actually sing. The music is derivative, trite and done, and the lyrics are pandering stupidity, but at least his face and voice are perty.
Two of the lyrical atrocities stand out to me on this EP. The first is “I’ll be ready when Jesus and Wranglers make a comeback” (“Jesus and Wranglers”), because what true Christian doesn’t love comparing the Second Coming to retro-fad culture. The other one is, “Where hell would a small town girl climb up if it wasn’t for trucks?” That’s right, the title track is, at the same time, a country life stereotype, a passive aggressive put-down of women, and one of the dumbest tropes in all of music.
FFO: Luke Bryan, Randy Owen, truck nuts
Eskimo Callboy – MMXX EP (Century Media)
What do you call it when it’s like metalcore, but a party? Partycore? Is that a thing? Can it be? SHOULD it be?
Usually we can keep things objective, to some extent… but with the German “partycore” band Eskimo Callboy, there’s really no comparison. There’s no denying that the lyrics are fun and largely meaningless, in a good way. There’s also no denying that the guttural growl delivery of the vocals is a strong juxtaposition to the majority of the lyrics – also, oddly, in a good way. Both previous lead Sebastian Biesler and current lead Nico Sallach bring fierceness to match the guitars.
Will it wow you? Of course not… but it’s not meant to be that kind of music. Will it make you get up and dance, and possibly scream with the metal vocals? Quite possibly. If you’re in the right mood, this will scratch the itch. No matter what, the lead single “Hypa Hypa” was one of the most fun tracks I heard all year, and will probably end up in my year-end list of favorites.
FFO: 3OH!3, LMFAO (if fronted by Matt Tuck of Bullet for My Valentine)
FLETCHER – THE S(EX) TAPES (Snapback Entertainment)
In an interview with Nylon magazine, FLETCHER said “I’m still going through shit, but I want to bop to it. We can still be emo and want to twerk at the same time.”
I could end the review right there. I really could.
FLETCHER’s EP THE S(EX) TAPES may come off as bitter, at first – as evidenced by the You Oughta Know-esque track, “Bitter” (“I know she thinking that she found herself a winner/I know you fucked her on the counter right before you cooked her dinner”). But this isn’t just your common, tropey “lover scorned” sort of release. It’s more raw than that, and very present. You can tell that these stories aren’t being told secondhand, or from past events. Rather, the could have recorded these tracks the day before releasing the EP. Subtle-but-solid beats complement the pop songstress perfectly. The final track “Sex (With My Ex)” puts an ambiguous question mark on the whole thing. It’s complicated, much like relationships, much like life.
Equal parts sexy, sad, and optimistic, FLETCHER’s THE S(EX) TAPES is well worth the short 21:32 runtime.
FFO: Banks, King Princess
B.o.B. – Somnia (Bobby Ray Music)
Ready to feel old? Remember B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray – the joint with “Nothin’ on You”, “Airplanes” and “Magic” on it? You may not remember it, actually, since it’s over ten years old.
The thing is, the tracks on B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray were a bit cheese… but dammit they were catchy! I’m hearing “Airplanes” in my head right now. However, Somnia is a pretty substantial departure, composed more as a traditional rap album. Problem is, at least in my opinion, Somnia is very… plain. He has all the modern flows down – “Neon Demon”, “After Hourzzz” and “Purpose” will give you the rundown in that department – but they don’t really amount to much.
The album is just kind of… there. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, and it’s not unique. From “DIRT”: “Drop it to the dirt, drop it to the dirt (Dirt)/Put it in the dirt (Dirt), put it in the dirt (Dirt)/Dig it in the dirt (Dirt), drop it to the dirt (Dirt)/Let me see you twerk (Twerk), let me see you twerk (Twerk), twerk”. On second thought, maybe it IS bad after all.
FFO: the worst Migos or Kendrick Lamar tracks that you can think of
Brothertiger – Paradise Lost (self-published)
Brothertiger’s Paradise Lost is a lovely electronic ambient album. The sound is very atmospheric, not quite to the level of a space sound… let’s call it “stratospheric” instead. The vocals slot in well as yet another instrument to add to the layers. “Livin’” could easily be one of the better tracks in the Chainsmokers’ catalog, if they were to perform it. And I’m fairly certain that “My Canopy” samples “Opus No. 1”, the legendary Cisco hold music. Every track sounds like it simultaneously belongs in 1985 and 2365. Paradise Lost is an absolute treat.
FFO: CFCF, Teen Daze