Black Stone Cherry – The Human Condition (Mascot)
Let me start with a few questions. Do you enjoy guitar-heavy blues music? Do you enjoy radio-ready rock music? Do you enjoy grungy, southern-tinged vocals with an ear for a catchy melody?
The four members of Black Stone Cherry sure do. As the world was pushing toward total lockdown, they were isolated in a Kentucky woods, finishing their 7th studio album. And let me tell you, they did everything I asked about above…
… in the shittiest way possible.
The guitar work is bluesy in the same way that pressboard is wood. His voice is great, and sufficiently throaty, but the lyrics are about as poignant as you’d expect from someone who looks like they worship Fall Out Boy and drink nothing but Genesee.
No joke at all though, I absolutely love these guys. Their songs are loud, catchy, quasi-nonsensical, and harmless. They sort of equate to AC/DC in the ‘70s, showing a talent that garage acts would kill for, but giving no kind of a shit about it.
This is not art.
This is not poetry.
It’s rock ‘n roll at its basest level, puerile and fun.
Okay, so “If My Heart Had Wings” is a particularly egregious country/rock hybrid, a la “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing”, and actually contains the words, “If my heart had lips, it’d tell you all the things I miss.” Ugh. But “Again” is a riff-heavy banger about not giving up. At least, that’s my interpretation. The lyrics leave a lot between the lines. And “Ride” could have been a Deep Purple track left on the cutting room floor.
The biggest surprise is the subdued cover of “Don’t Bring Me Down,” displaying the band’s ability to show respect for the classics. A trait not represented on their laughably terrible series of blues cover releases.
To recap: This record jams, and as long as you’re not searching for enlightenment, you’ll be happy you gave it a spin.
FFO: Shaman’s Harvest, Alter Bridge, Seether
K/DA – All Out (Riot Games)
More than anything, this release confuses me. This is the debut EP from virtual girl group, K/DA, featuring three female characters from the hit PVP game, League of Legends. They released a single a couple years back to tremendous fanfare and acclaim. Further material was inevitable.
On the surface, this sounds like a ridiculous idea. But remember, it is also the world got The Monkees, Miley Cyrus, Sex Bob-omb, and The Partridge Family. The win/loss card is better than balanced. In this case though, the characters are not only fictional, but animated, requiring the voices of real-life individuals to give them life.
That is where Riot Games did EVERYTHING RIGHT. This is fire. Fueled by an explosive accelerant. Providing the voices of Ahri and Akali are Miyeon and Soyeon (respectively) of K-pop girl group (G)I-dle. The voices of Evelynn and Kai’Sa are on a rotation of sorts, consisting of Madison Beer, Jaira Burns, and Wolftyla (whom I have never heard of).
Together, they are a startling and beautiful combination of K-pop, ‘90s dance, American hip-hop, Kidz Bop.
“The Baddest” is the lead single, giving influence nods to Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. “I’ll Show You” has more of a Disco/Dance flare, a la Ava Max. “More” sounds like a Blackpink release. And “Drum Go Dum” is an absolute masterpiece of multi-national dance-pop styles and pure skill.
It’s not often that an artist instantly makes a fan out of me and my 12 year old son simultaneously. It’s uplifting, fun, and so well put together that you’ll forget it’s produced by a gaming company.
FFO: Ava Max, CXLOE, Blackpink
Nothing More – The Few Not Fleeting (10 Year Anniversary Edition) (Speratus)
Bursting onto the loud rock scene in 2013-2014 with their self-titled 4th record, the San Antonio quartet has talent to spare, showmanship for days, and plenty to say.
On the 10-year anniversary remaster of The Few Not Fleeting, that outspoken bravado is best summed up on “The Cleansing,” which could easily be the new theme song for the Boondock Saints. “Father, You know I’m seeking honor / wanting life for my brothers / I will fight, the ones who stole the sun and left us night / They’re cyanide. / Father guide my hands / and I will cleanse this land / end the enemy / the innocent be freed.”
In their earlier work, the music was raw and created tension by using varied song structure and negative space (especially notable on “Jenny”). By focusing more on trying to display technical skill, this album feels less emotionally invested. But that’s like saying “this glass-blowing furnace is less hot than the sun.” Very few albums touch the intensity of Nothing More’s self-titled record, including their other material. It’s still some of the best high-octane melodic loud rock you can find.
Drummer-turned-vocalist, Jonny Hawkins, does things with his throat that high-rollers normally pay extra for. Dan, Mark, and Ben have joined him in developing complex rhythmic dynamics, knowing when to hold back and when to lay everything on the table. And both sides of that coin are ear-candy.
Start with: “The Cleansing”, “Salem (Burn The Witch)”, “Bullets and Blue Eyes”
FFO: Sevendust, Bring Me The Horizon
Kylie Minogue – DISCO (Darenote Limited)
Did anyone on here know that she was still making music? It was a shock to me. I can remember not hating her in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but after Rhythm of Love, I don’t recall anything.
Well, the erstwhile Australian Princess of Pop is definitely still here and attempting to bring back a dead genre back to life. There is a reason disco was relegated to Time-Life collections and filler tracks at EDM clubs. It sucks. It’s repetitive and uninspired.
I can’t even make a crack about comeback records from aging pop divas, because she has apparently been really busy for the last 2 decades, releasing 9 albums since 2000. Also, as disco goes, it’s not terrible. While she is no Donna Summer, she’s also not Madonna. Nothing on DISCO is offensively irritating, but you will probably tire of the incessant handclaps and lack of tonal variety.
Shout out to “Miss A Thing” for vaguely sounding like “Lovefool” by the Cardigans.
Start with: “Monday Blues”, “Magic”
FFO: Lipps, Inc, Olivia Newton-John
Dizzee Rascal – E3 AF (Dirtee Stank Recording)
For us Americans, we tend to struggle with strong accents outside of our typical wheelhouse. Hell, we have trouble with accents within our own damn country. (Louisiana and Massachusetts, I’m looking at you!) So when there comes along a hip-hop album that’s so strong, so clean, so chock-full of lyrical delicacies so as to not be missed, then you do what you need to do to partake.
Both Jeremy and I have been fans of one of London’s finest grime legends, Dizzee Rascal, for quite a while now. My main exposure comes from his debut album, Boy in da Corner, and his third album, Maths + English (shout-out Def Jux). The two of us already knew what to expect, and E3 AF doesn’t disappoint at all. This bad boy comes complete with ten fire tracks, with some standing above the heap. Specifically, “That’s Too Much”, “L.L.L.L. (Love Life Live Large)”, “Energies + Powers”, and the closing track, “Be Incredible” are all a cut above the rest. The rest is not to be slept on, though.
But back to the accent: it’s tough to decipher some of it, but damn is it worth decipherin’. Enter what used to be RapGenius, and is now simply Genius, with the complete lyrics transcription. I’d recommend taking a peek, just to appreciate the volume here. We’re talking a similar level of output to noted mental giant Tech N9ne, or ex-Def Jux labelmate Aesop Rock, with a whip-fast delivery. The nice thing is that you don’t have to understand a word they say to enjoy it. I say “they” to make sure to give love to the featured artists too, especially Frisco, Chip, and Kano.
Do yourself a favor, get away from the easy listens (in every sense of the word) for a bit, throw on your finest cans, and lose yourself in the top-notch grime that Dizzee Rascal has on offer via E3 AF. And then go take a shower afterward, because it’s not called “grime” for nothing.
FFO: Kano, D Double E, Chip
Tunng – Tunng Presents…DEAD CLUB (Full Time Hobby)
We go from one difficult listen to another. Tunng Presents…DEAD CLUB is easy to understand, sure. But what the English folk/electronica was able to achieve was nothing short of amazing: taking the topic of loss, and normalizing it. Not making it taboo, not glorifying it, not sensationalizing it in the least. In presenting death as something that we all go through – nothing more, nothing less – the topic becomes more approachable. Not easier, mind you, but this is something that would never be easy, no matter what music we listened to.
The effort began with a podcast series, Tunng Presents The Dead Club Podcast. The eight-episode podcast covers interviews with folks of many different kinds of expertise: authors, philosophers, a palliative care physician, and even a mentalist, approaching death from all angles – both personal and professional. The episodes with Dame Professor Sue Black and Alain De Botton are especially intriguing. Alas, this is not a podcast review.
The album itself is a beautiful, sad, funny, amazing journey. There’s the humorous and lighthearted “Death is the New Sex” (“Death is the new sex/Everybody’s talking about it/Death is the new sex/Coming soon to fuck us all”). There’s the vivid description of the art of Swedish death cleaning, or getting rid of stuff that you don’t care about so your family won’t have to deal with it once you’re gone, in “SDC”. (See? I told you this album doesn’t make a damn thing taboo.)
“A Million Colors” is, dare I say, a jaunty tune – at least, as much as a song about not being able to fathom the world going on without a certain person in it can be considered “jaunty”. If the water works hadn’t started by the time “Carry You” hits, then they won’t be far away – and they’ll come right back for some of the strongest lyrics of the album, on spoken-word track “Man”:
“We were all dead. He was alive. Triumphantly emptying his corridors and organs of dirty, useless air. What an odd, blindfold performance family is. We live in such strange ways… it’s like a pact. We act surprised – and, by and by, we are.”
The very real “Scared to Death” speaks for itself, and is perhaps the most readily-accessible and relatable track on the album. The final track, “Woman”, is just as poignant as the rest, discussing the circle of life via the deaths of a couple hundreds of years ago, and how parts of them still remain etched in this world to this day: in their resting places, in the rain that falls, in the places they once stood.
And that’s when it all comes back around, because this is just as much of a comfort for the deaths of those we love, as it is a comfort for our own deaths. Because one day, we will be the rain, and people will stand where we once did, and do the things that we used to do. And that’s all okay. Because there’s no other way for it to be.
Bravo, Tunng. Tunng Presents…DEAD CLUB, and the corresponding Tunng Presents The Dead Club Podcast, together make up an overall masterpiece. I am truly thankful that I got a chance to experience this, and – if you are okay with the sadness and the realness of it all – I would strongly implore all of you to experience it as well.
October Drift – Naked EP (Physical Education Recordings)
Fresh off the heels of their debut album Forever Whatever in January 2020, emo-adjacent modern rockers October Drift dial back the sound a bit for their Naked EP. Featuring acoustic versions of two tracks on Forever Whatever (“Naked” and “Cinnamon Girl”), as well as two new tracks (the acoustic “Still” and the not-completely-acoustic “Like the Snow We Fall”), Naked EP is a bite-sized, solid listen.
The vocals are admittedly rougher on “Naked” than the other tracks, but it doesn’t detract from the overall listen. “Still” is the standout – a very well-written and well-performed track. Not too shabby for under 15 minutes out the door.
FFO: 10 Years (for the full band tracks), Bush’s “Glycerine” (for the acoustic tracks)
Garmana – Förbundet (Season of Mist)
And here you thought Dizzee Rascal was tough to decipher.
Yep, long-time mainstay Garmana (first EP released in 1993!) is a Swedish group, and the songs on Förbundet are in Swedish. Do you speak Swedish already, or do you have Duolingo and a few months to spare? If the answer to both questions is “no”, then don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it at all! Instead, just lose yourself in the trappings of traditional Scandinavian folk, delivered with a perfect mixture of soft and firm, light and dark. For me, Förbundet was a nice departure from the harder metal sound that I usually gravitate toward from Northern Europe.
FFO: Valravn, Shireen
Art Contest – Fit Pitcher
The opening track on Art Contest’s Fit Pitcher, “A Large White Vase”, has something for everyone: out-of-place synth, weird time signatures, time signature changes, and odd lyrics (“Pale skin, teeth into the bone, the hand retracts/He picked up a large, white vase, and he pitched it”), and brief, seemingly-random periods of silence peppered throughout. If you like any or all of those features, then you’ll be happy to know that they persist throughout the album! “Small Fortune” is especially jarring, which is probably why I enjoyed it the most.
A fun listen for fans of chaos and general tumult.
FFO: King Crimson, Foster Parents