FKA Album Review: Quinn XCII – Change of Scenery II

Pop used to be so easy, y’know? It was so one-dimensional, so formulaic. Sure, the formula changed over the years, but most artists would stay in their lanes. Crossovers were rare, as were artists who spanned multiple genres throughout different albums.

Nowadays, I wonder if the term “Pop” is itself a step away from obsolescence. If indeed Pop has one foot in the grave, then that can be partially thanks to the artists who decided that they weren’t going to worry about the neat, tidy boxes that the industry prepared for them. The young artists today are making music, plain and simple. It’s taking a bit for this ol’ codger to get used to, but slow and steady is winning the race – and some new, rad music is awaiting just over the finish line.

For example: Mikael Temrowski, better known by his stage name of Quinn XCII (or Quinn 92, if you’re also allergic to Roman numerals like I apparently am), and his latest release, Change of Scenery II.

(Before I continue, I wanted to say that I have been viewing a TON of Twitch streams over the last year or so, put on by a TON of talented people. None are more talented than the amazing DJKaterTot, who mentioned this artist – and several others! – to me in the first place. Do yourselves a favor and go check out her Twitch streams at You’ll get your fill of great conversation, rampant shenanigans, and super-positive vibes, both from her and her fantastic community.)

Quinn XCII is the perfect archetype of a young, successful artist in today’s musical landscape. Quinn started writing and recording in college, and cut his teeth uploading videos of him rapping on YouTube. The beats sampled from other artists eventually evolved into his own, and before long he was blowing up. His first release, the EP Old Fashioned, dropped in 2012; three more EPs followed, leading to inking a deal with Columbia and putting out four full-lengths, culminating with March 2021’s Change of Scenery II.

It’s a much different vehicle than it used to be, in the sense that an artist putting out their “debut” album could have several releases already available on Spotify. There’s a lot to respect with the DIY-ness of today’s artists making their own luck, instead of hoping that a label exec happens to pick them out of the sea of artists to fast-track to the top. Whether you love or hate the music, the hustle is undeniable.

For Quinn XCII, that hustle has led to a refinement of his distinct sound. Change of Scenery II puts forth a mature, polished sound, more than his previous releases. It’s almost as if he took the best parts of 2019’s From Michigan With Love, married that up with the best parts of 2020’s A Letter to My Younger Self, and called it a day. Childhood friend and longtime producer Alex O’Neill, AKA Ayokay, is a large part of the success of the album; the production is crisp and tight, without crossing the line into sameness and boredom.

The lyrics center mainly around love and relationships. I feel that there’s typically such a skew toward the negative parts of relationships in music, but there is a definite highlight of both the sad (“Hey, Goodbye”) and the happy (“My Wife & 2 Dogs) on this album. There are also a few social and political references peppered in, adding an interesting accent to some of the tracks. For instance, in the closing track “Look How Far We Come”:

Watch the stars in Cambridge / ‘Cause you’re way too smart for Boston College

You’re alumni / And my dad wants to know about his gun rights

That’s a conversation never done right / That’s enough conversation for this one night”

Besides “My Wife & 2 Dogs”, which might have the catchiest beat on the whole album, another great track is “SOS”, which gives off vibes of The Chainsmokers and Halsey’s “Closer” – albeit an upgrade. There’s enough variety to keep these tracks fresh, and Quinn’s solid vocal delivery help to tie it all together on every track. There were a few featured artists, including the aforementioned producer, Ayokey, as well as Chelsea Cutler, but I personally didn’t think they added much. This is the Quinn XCII show, through and through.

I admit that I have usually given a pass to the newer crop of artists over the past couple of years, with few exceptions. But I’m definitely gonna try to broaden my musical horizons, with Quinn XCII’s Change of Scenery II being a perfect jumping-off point. Maybe I’ll be completely on-board by time Change of Scenery III drops, whenever that might be.

  • Z.

FKA Album Review: Zayn – Nobody is Listening

EDITOR’S NOTE: We got another fire review here, from one of the gross-ass mixed drink legends in the flesh, Jeremy. He makes a hop across the pond to Bradford, in West Yorkshire, to bring you the third album from the Lost Direction, Zayn Malik. Zayn notched a #1 release in the charts of a number of countries (including his native UK) with his first post-One Direction soiree, Mind of Mine, in 2016. The shine wore off pretty quickly though, as he couldn’t even crack the top-75 in his homeland with 2018’s sophomore effort, Icarus Falls.

Zayn’s third album claims that Nobody Is Listening, which is patently false: at the very least, ONE person was listening. Keep reading to find out whether Jeremy found One Thing wrong with the release, or a bunch of Little Things. Maybe it was actually Perfect? My puns are depleted now so just go read the thing already thx.

  • Z.

Zayn – Nobody is Listening (RCA Records)

Starting your career as a project of Simon Cowell has the potential to go in a few different directions, ranging from Instant Success to Crash-And-Burn. For Zayn Malik, the former is absolutely true. One Direction is known the world over as a part of this generation’s “boy band” phase, alongside The Jonas Brothers. 

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FKA Album Review: Morgan Wallen – Dangerous: The Double Album

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re baaaaaaack!

It’s our first post of 2021, and we’re gonna switch things up a bit for y’all. First off, we’re putting the longer album reviews in their own posts, so you won’t have to dig through several other reviews to get that nougaty center. (Fun fact: my autocorrect just informed me that “nougaty” is a word. Life is good, y’all.) We’ll be posting these as we write them, so you’ll get to enjoy more content more often from ya bois.

Second, we’ll still be placing the Quickie reviews in their own post; those will likely still come out every two weeks like before. That way, you’ll get a little taste of more albums – an appetizer to tide you over between the longer main courses. I’m quite hungry, if it wasn’t obvious.

Third… well, I can’t tell you what third is. Just now that we have a couple surprises planned, and we’ll be putting more information out into the ether for those as we solidify things. New content on Fairly KickAss podcast, plus new content on the Fairly KickAss blog?!? You could be so (un)lucky.

That’s all for me: now for the good stuff that you came here to read. Enjoy our first album review of the new year!

  • Z.
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Bonus Review! Taylor Swift – evermore

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Here at Fairly KickAss, we like to go out with a bang – and what better way to cap off 2020 than with one more fire review? It’s our Senior Weizen Correspondent, Jada, hitting you with that good-good just under the bell. Taylor Swift’s first 2020 release, folklore, was a winner… but will evermore leave the same impression? Keep reading to find out!

Also watch out for more bonus content from Jada in our final post of the year, coming next week.


Taylor Swift – evermore (Republic Records)

I think she did it but I just…can’t…prove it…By she I mean Taylor Swift, and by “it” I mean drop the two best albums of 2020 less than 5 months apart. Yes, this is a quote from “no body, no crime”; but evermore is just so damn quotable! 

Since I defined the term folklore in my review for Taylor Swift’s last surprise album just 5 months ago, it’s only fair that I define evermore now. It means always, forever, or for a very long time. Well, that is exactly how long I will be listening to this album.

Jack Antonoff (Bleachers) and Aaron Dessner (The National) both return to write the songs on evermore (along with Swift), and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) co-wrote and duets w T. on the title track, which also happens to be my favorite song on the album. Back in July you couldn’t have told me that another album would give folklore a run for its money for my album of the year, let alone that it would be from the same artist. This album is haunting, painful, personal, yet somehow feels like it was written for me and about me. Take “‘tis the damn season” for example. Who doesn’t have that first love from their hometown? It doesn’t matter how far away you get or how long you’ve been gone. That person always seems to be right there waiting when you get back. 

“marjorie” is an absolutely beautiful ode to Swift’s grandmother (who was aptly named Marjorie), opera singer and inspiration for Taylor’s pursuit of a music career. evermore (f. Bon Iver) feels like a sequel to folklore’s exile. In exile, Swift and Vernon are just figuring out how to coexist, while in evermore they are trying to figure out how to live with the loss…forever. “willow” is another one of the notorious who is this about? songs. “The more that you say, the less I know. Wherever you stray, I follow. Begging for you to take my hand, wreck my plans, that’s my man”. You know who you are, Sir. The last song I will mention (since by now you should all know that every song on this album is my favorite song on the album) is “coney island” (f. The National). I would never have thought to pair these two up, but now I want every song forever to have the two of them singing them! 

Other songs to note: “tolerate it”, “long story short”, “dorothea”

FFO: Bon Iver, The National, Phoebe Bridges

  • Jada

Podcast the Sixteenth: November 2020 In Review

A bit of a rewind here, but we stay true-to-form. Get you some!

Zack’s Top 3 Albums of the Month:

3. Chris Stapleton – Starting Over
2. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – K.G.
1. Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide

Jeremy’s Top 3 Albums of the Month:

3. Yukon Blonde – Vindicator
2. Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide (not a typo)
1. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – K.G. (also not a typo, Jeremy and Zack are the Borg)

Dan’s Top 3 Hit Songs of the Month:

3. Billie Eilish – Therefore I Am
2. Harry Styles – Golden
1. Chris Stapleton – Starting Over

December 4, 2020

Soilwork – A Whisp of the Atlantic (Nuclear Blast)

While Sweden has an incredibly active metal scene, Soilwork stands out (at least to me) because of their unique take on melody. They typically have just as much in common with American groove metal, like Pantera, as they do with Scandinavian death metal. 

Metalcore synth elements are more prevalent on this EP, as well as deep thought and reflective moments, brought out by piano interludes. There is even a trumpet solo at the 8 minute(ish) mark of the title track, as well as the outro starting at the 15 minute mark. 

Oh, right! I forgot to mention that the opening song and album namesake, “A Whisp of the Atlantic”, is a 16 minute opus that fully encapsulates what this band is capable of. Almost an homage to Dream Theater, it moves through a range of emotions and styles. It tells a story of ending the “lies of sanity” to “feel eternity’s breath” and leave the world behind. Soaring, operatic vocals punctuated with guttural growls dominate the track and usher in musical shifts from death metal to metalcore, but all with a progressive metal flare. 

The rest of the EP follows closely the example set at the start, but dotted with the elements that were used to seeing from Soilwork. “Feverish” in particular represents the best of what they offer here, packaged in a bite-sized 6 minutes and filled with blast beats, catchy chorus melodies, and progressive guitar work. “Desperado” is equally satisfying, and is the only track that doesn’t end with a pensive instrumental outro. The closing track, “Death Diviner”, has my favorite guitar riff on the release, repeated throughout its verses. 

I found this album to be their most impressive and listenable recording since Figure Number Five in 2002. 

FFO: Dream Theater, In Flames, Nevermore


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November 20, 2020

(EDITOR’S NOTE: We only got quickies for you this week, due to dat bird with the fixins… you know the one.  Regular biweekly reviews pick up again on December 4!)

Dark Psychosis – The Edge of Nowhere (Moribund)

Psychedelic black metal from Lansing, Michigan. This is a one man operation, and sounds like it. 

Honestly, aside from some creepy-cool ambient effects, there’s not a lot to grab hold of. I am in favor of lo-fi recordings and underproduction in general, but this album treads that murky area in between. He tried really hard to have quality sound production, but has no idea how to put it all together. The result is sterile feeling and awkward, which might work for garage-indie, but black metal needs to feel visceral or it doesn’t work. 

Sean. Buddy. Stop going by Xaphan because no one is actually going to call you that and stick to working with Cavalcade. Their input would most likely have helped this record quite a bit. 

The best track on the album is the Digital Only cut, “Drink Fight and Fuck”. What makes it good is the raw, live feel to it. No production whatsoever. Sounds like shit and is better for it. 

Start with: “Born to Lose”, “Dark Call…”, “Drink Fight and Fuck”

FFO: Satanarchy, Ghoul Cult


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November 13, 2020

Yukon Blonde – Vindicator (Dine Alone Music)

It’s a little “on the nose” that a Canadian indie-pop outfit would go by the same name as a Territory of the Great White North, but I can’t really fault them for the homage to home turf. And at least one of them is actually mostly blonde. So there’s that. 

This is their 7th studio album under the name Yukon Blonde (they actually had 2 EPs as Alphababy beforehand…what do you think of the name change?), and I have to say, they absolutely nailed it. I can find no fault in anything on the record. Vindicator focuses a lot of attention on being smooth as melty ice cream and as funky as the weekly sock laundry. 

Wait…I mean…You know what I’m saying?

There is a flare for creativity that doesn’t often get heard outside of a Beck album. Take “You Were Mine”, for example. It starts out sounding like a Michael Jackson tune, played through a box fan, then breaks down as a slow jam love-child of George Clinton and Teddy Pendergrass, before going full-on funkadelic. And that only covers 5 minutes of the release. 

Wonky, warped synth sounds are the dominant trait of the album, perfectly orchestrated atop beautiful R&B vocals. This is all backed by a rhythm section that should be heralded: bass for days and some of the tightest drumming in pop music. 

The stand-out tracks on Vindicator are the aforementioned “You Are Mine” as well as a few mid-album cuts. “Good Times” is a sad, wallflower anthem set to a slow club beat, and “Fuck It” is a Flaming Lips-esque jam about doing your own thing. 

Honestly, the whole thing is a romp. 

FFO: Jamie Lidell, MGMT, Portugal. The Man


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November 6, 2020

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


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