Deftones – Ohms (Reprise)
On their 9th studio album, Chino, Abe, Frank, Sergio, and Stephen have decided to maintain the persona they carefully crafted in 1995 with Adrenaline. I’m not sure how much I’m going to be able to say about them at this point, but it’s worth a shot.
Here’s the biggest thing: you know what you’re going to get when you buy a new Deftones record. The tone is set before songwriting even begins, piling on the anger, angst, and disgust in equal measure. Stephen’s signature style of riffing with no flourish and crushing drops is going to give you new meanings to the word juxtaposition. The drums are going to plod along until the moments where the oddball fill jolts him awake and makes a 45 degree turn on the downbeat. Chino’s voice is going to be filtered through as many effects as they can find before finally settling on “tin can at the end of a garden hose” as the desired output.
Oh, did I forget to point out that it’s amazing? I did? Dammit, I buried the lead again. Let’s start fresh.
There’s a good reason Deftones has outlived the majority of Nu-metal. They never fail to deliver. The angst on Ohms is in the nature of calling for resistance (get it? Ohms = resistance?) Whether that’s fighting against internal demons (most of the record) or struggling against unnamed forces (“Urantia”, “Radiant City”), they connect with the emotions of battle.
It’s also super-rare that the bassist, any bassist, gets to provide more melodic movement than any other member of the band, including the vocalist. So, if for no other reason, check it out.
Oh, look! I found things to say.
FFO: Glassjaw, Chevelle, Chore
Jimmy Chamberlin Complex – Honor EP (MAKE)
In the long gaps between Smashing Pumpkins albums, drummer and jazz aficionado Jimmy Chamberlin loves him some side projects. His experimental fusion efforts are easily digestible for jazz listeners as well as those with a less developed palate, like me. Saxophone freakouts are enveloped by more formulaic rock formats, and wow, does he display what he’s capable of with those sticks.
The five tracks on Honor are arbitrarily named for desirable virtues: Integrity, Humility, Service, Grace, and Commitment. None of these titles seem to have anything resembling a connection to the music, but that doesn’t diminish the flavor in any way. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I frequently question why an instrumental track is titled what it is. “Service” is the most graceful track of the EP, with its smooth sax lines. “Grace” is the most humble with its strong ties to 90s rock structure. “Commitment” has more integrity, in my humble opinion, because it does more to showcase the talent and craft of the musicians.
Despite the fact that I feel like they got the titles mixed up, and that the cover art looks like the logo at the opening sequence of an after-school special, this record is a great listen. I was glued to every bit of it.
Jimmy has assembled a fine body of rock-minded jazz fusion players, and together they make something spectacular.
FFO: Skysaw, Hum, Mr. Bungle
Machine Gun Kelly – Tickets To My Downfall (Bad Boy/Interscope)
As evidenced by the few singles that preceded the album drop, this record is quite a departure from what MGK fans are used to. And although I’m too lazy to do the research, I’d wager that it’s the first time Bad Boy and Interscope had the slightest thing in common. The fifth full-length album from the Cleveland native was produced by Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker, so even if you missed the singles, “Bloody Valentine” and “Concert for Aliens”, you have a pretty good idea what the record sounds like.
Oddly, the rapper seems to have been born for pop-emo. The hard-edged timbre of his voice makes the songs hit so much harder than ANYTHING Blink did. Songs like “WWIII” even resemble something Pennywise or Bad Religion might have done, and even the poppier “Concert for Aliens” is more aggressive and less whiny than everything that happened at the height of mall punk.”All I Know” and “my ex’s best friend” play with a blend of Canadian hip-hop beats with pop-emo guitar and melody.
Guest features on Downfall include blackbear, Halsey, iann dior, and Trippie Redd. Maybe it’s no surprise, but Halsey’s presence on “forget me too” gives it the feel of a Paramore track with a feature from Sum 41.
Honestly, it probably won’t do him any good in the long-term to have shifted gears so drastically. It did however make him the only individual to chart on Billboard with a punk rock song AND a diss track aimed at Eminem.
And no one can take that away from him.
FFO: Sum 41, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, New Found Glory, American Hi-Fi
Blitzen Trapper – Holy Smokes Future Jokes
Blitzen Trapper’s songs seem woven out of thick, shadowy threads from an attic spinning wheel that refuses to spin gold, with alternately wistful and darkly nonsensical lyrics that sound like they’re being broadcast from a strange world of isolated thoughts and dreamlike powerlessness. The endless and unchanging scenery of their song “Magical Thinking,” rolling by on dark stone wheels that seem ready to crack at any moment, brings to mind Sisyphus’s never-ending journey to the top of the hill. The song begins with an ascending sequence of chords like weary footsteps up the fabled hill, sounding somehow cheerful despite the bottomless task at hand. The myth continues to echo throughout the song, with slow, burdensome steps up and down, wavering between major and minor as the singer hums a tale of climbing to the top of a tower only to climb “back down to the ground.”
“Hazy Morning” sounds like a country song, but not quite: more of an imitation of today’s music, created by scholars from a different dimension where people stand silently in gray translucent boxes, nostalgic for the color and joy of the world. “If you’re ready, won’t you roll with us?” it repeats toward the end, like the melancholy whistle of a run-down train rolling quietly through the countryside in search of a better place. The old men inside tip their worn brown hats at you through the windows, and then they’re gone.
The rest of the album follows in lockstep. The songs are impressive and infectious, with all the gravitas and emotion that we have come to expect from them since the Black River Killer days. They tell imaginative stories of American life using whimsical characters and lyrics. This album contains one of my favorite lines, though, with “Let’s do the world a favor, yeah, let’s all go extinct” repeated multiple times on “Masonic Temple Microdose #1”. The styles are varied throughout the effort, but every single one of them is a gem.
Tim Heidecker – Fear of Death (Spacebomb Records)
Time to eat my words!
I’ve never been a Tim Heidecker fan. I couldn’t stand Tom Goes to the Mayor, I disliked Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! (with the exception of Spagett, who can do no wrong in my eyes), and I wasn’t a fan of his character in the Ant-Man flicks. He also starred in something called Beef House, which I hate based on name alone.
Certainly this means that his music would be ass, right?
Book, meet cover, because Fear of Death is a damn fine album.
I’d describe it as lite, bluesy rock, with a strong piano presence. Tim’s voice is fine on its own – smooth, steady, nothing flashy. But it’s paired nicely with the vocals of one Natalie Mering, AKA Weyes Blood, who happens to be one of the 29(!!) musicians involved in this album. The members of duets Foxygen and The Lemon Twigs lend their expertise to great effect as well. You would think that would create a huge, overproduced sound – at least, that’s what I thought! But I was wrong. The sound was still subtle and nuanced, and every note – played and sung – fit perfectly. “Someone Who Can Handle You” brought all these aspects together the best.
That’s twice now in the last few months that I have underestimated the music of a known quantity. So let me extend my apologies to both Tim, and Maya Hawke, and thank them for proving me wrong. And go listen to Fear of Death.
Carrie Underwood – My Gift (UMG Recordings)
I wouldn’t call myself a “miser” per se, but I am not a member of the Christmas fan club. The commercials, the festive bullshit, the gifts (except for the one that I accidentally opened from my wife yesterday, which was super-dope). The fact that there’s not a defined “Christmas meal”. The lack of snow in Nashville, which is utter horseshit.
But I do like much of the music.
Granted, I can’t do the “lite rock, less talk” stations that switch to 24/7 Christmas tunes from November on. I quickly grow tired of it, like most of you do. But when I hear especially unique – or just really good! – renditions, I’m all over them. And that’s where Carrie Underwood enters the conversation.
My lawyers are instructing me to mention that, as a Nashvillian, I am legally obligated to fawn over Carrie. Her husband, Mike Fisher, was the captain of our hockey team, for goodness sake. She’s royalty here! I do feel like she gets written off pretty quickly in some circles for her country ties, but she remains one of the best vocalists on Earth, and My Gift is not a departure to that fact in the least.
It’s tough to really showcase vocal talent with most Christmas jams, but Carrie has a chance to show off her overall range on “O Holy Night” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. The covers are warm and inviting, much like I’m told the holiday is itself.
It won’t knock your socks off, but you would be hard-pressed to find better traditional renditions of Christmas songs than what Carrie Underwood showcases on My Gift.
FFO: Easter, Thanksgiving
The Band of Heathens – Stranger (BOH)
Americana-inspired folk-rock with more swagger than you could shake a cat at. Stylistically, there are so many influences it’s hard to narrow it down. Joe Walsh, Paul McCartney, and John Denver have a hand in the origins of the music and melodies here. The storyteller vibe and back porch approachability of the vocals and lyrics make Stranger something that any music fan can get into.
By the way, it’s no surprise that they come from Austin, TX, but their blend of pop, rock, folk, and country would be just as much at home in Nashville or Portland.
FFO: The Hollies, The Band, Blitzen Trapper
Start with: “Black Cat”, “Call Me Gilded”, “Today Is Our Last Tomorrow”
Joji – Nectar (88rising Records)
Joji strikes gold here with Nectar, a delightful journey through the current state of modern R&B. The beats are great, moving from mostly-traditional (“Upgrade”, “High Hopes”) to unique (“Tick Tock”, “Pretty Boy”), to minimalist (“Ew”). All beat variants benefit from Joji’s smooth delivery, with a solid falsetto to round out his range.
88rising is one to watch out for. Rich Brian and NIKI are up-and-coming artists in their own rights, and battle rap legend Dumbfoundead gives the label a ton of cred. I’m excited to check out more of the 88rising artists, but in the meantime, Nectar will give plenty of great listening material.
FFO: Frank Ocean, James Blake
Sufjan Stevens – The Ascencion (Asthmatic Kitty Records)
The Ascension is a great, if different Sufjan Stevens album, and a nice way to forget about the… thing… that was Aporia. It’s a great electronica offering, with Sufjan’s signature vocals dotting the tracks perfectly. The production is not over-the-top at all, and the resulting sound is chill – without being TOO chill. You’ll want to get up and dance, but very slowly.
“Run Away With Me” and the title track are the standouts, and there are some duds (“Die Happy” comes to mind), but this is a pretty well-balanced listen overall. It will mark a departure for those who came to know Sufjan in the mid-to-late aughts, but it’s a great departure overall.
FFO: Zero 7, Air