This year see's the release of the second studio album by South African based group St. Lucia, entitled "Matter." This record is a very good example in how to make a 80's tinged synth-pop album. Though not every track sells me (especially as you get to the back half of the album,) the album is still overall highly enjoyable and fun. Tracks like the huge sounding opener "Do You Remember," the very Duran Duran sounding "Home," and the dance anthem "Winds of Change" really show the massive amounts of talent that St. Lucia have. St. Lucia's leader, Jean-Phillip Grobler delivers some strong, engaging vocal performances and does a great job at singing over the normally big sounding, synth heavy instrumentals. Speaking of the instrumentals, they are also strong throughout the album's 50 or so minutes. Their sound is often layered, fun, and overall creative. I really dig some of the bass work that is sprinkled on a lot of these songs. When the bass is there, it really helps to give the track a nice groove and feel. The synths are also really well executed and are the album's main instrument. There also is the addition of some loud and boomy sounding drums, which gives the album a huge feel overall. The songwriting is solid, with some really good, catchy melodies on a good chunk of the songs, especially during the album's front-half. Sadly, the back-half of "Matter" fails to keep up the momentum of the first 5 or so tracks and ends up making a front heavy album. That being said, the songs on the back-half are still well written and even enjoyable songs, but they just do not have the energy and endearing quality as some of the songs I mentioned earlier. The song "Help Me Run Away" is a solid, fun song that appears at the back half.
Overall, "Matter" is a enjoyable, 80's tinged synth-pop that will please anybody who is either a fan of the genre or who is looking a for a good, mainly fun album to listen to. I give it my rating of an 8.4/10
Favorite Tracks: Do You Remember, Home, and Winds of Change
This April will see the release of the eighth studio album by California based rock band Deftones, entitled "GORE." The band has dropped the first single from this album, called "Prayers/Triangles." "Prayers/Triangles" is a strong song that has that signature Defotnes sound. It has some solid guitar work, with a mixture of both heavy parts and more spacious and atmospheric parts. The drum work is solid and dynamic. The drums really help to give the track some power. Chino's vocals are very good, though they seem less forceful than they usual are. I think it has a lot to do with his age. That being said, Chino still does deliver some very nicely sung cleans and solid screams. The song also has a strong chorus that is heavily spacious. The guitar work I mentioned earlier really adds a nice atmospheric touch. There is also a nice dynamic between the heavier parts and the melodic parts, which is what Deftones are masters at doing.
"Prayers/Triangles." Is is a strong song that I think will please any fan of Deftones. I give it a 4.5/5
This year see's the release of the thirteenth studio album by modern prog legends Dream Theater, entitled "The Astonishing," and this album is pretty astonishing indeed. "The Astonishing" is an over 2 hour concept record, which is something that is rarely done nowadays. This album see's the band tuning back their extensive instrumentals for more of a balled heavy sound with much shorter track lengths. This change in pace is well done, though it may come off cheesy and a little corny to some. It also might displease fans looking for 20 minute long epics. This 2 hour record does still have the trademark progressive feel that Dream Theater is loved for, with tracks like the opener "Dystopian Overture, "A New Beginning," and "The Path That Divides," which provide the heavier more instrumentally focused moments to a otherwise mainly balled and conceptual heavy album. The ballads are overall very well done and feel like there was a lot of time taken to develop them. The melodies and the playing really do sell them and keep the songs from feeling boring and stale. I do think this album could have benefited from having more heavier songs though.
The instrumentals are strong throughout the album, like they should be coming from four amazing musicians. The guitar work by John Petrucci is incredibly well played, with both his acoustic and electric parts doing the job right. His solo work is great without detracting from any of the songs. John's solos are well written, emotive, and also deliver on giving the album a much bigger feeling. Jordan Rudess' piano and keyboard playing is fantastic throughout this entire album. The melodies that he plays are emotional and interesting and the overall musicianship of his playing is quite amazing as well. The strings that appear on a good portion of this album are well composed and really add to the album's bigger feel. The vocal work on this album is very strong, with James Labrie giving some varied and well sung performances. "The Astonishing's" overall songwriting is well executed and his quite impressive at parts. Track to track this album is solid and well paced. This is defiantly a album you want to listen to all the way through, ideally in one sitting. Most of these tracks would not work outside the context of the whole album, which may turn off a lot of people. The album's concept is strongly kept throughout and with repeated listens starts to reveal more and more. "The Astonishing" is not a record that you'll fully appreciate in one sitting, but is a album that requires multiple listens. The biggest problem I found on this record is that it does start to ware out its welcome by the last five or so songs, but the songs are still well written. There are no complete flubs on this album that I can think off. That being said, some of these tracks do feel like padding, which makes it hard for me to find both good standouts and bad standouts.
Overall, "The Astonishing" is a really well done concept album that will reward anybody who is willing to tackle its over 2 hour long length. I give "The Astonishing" a 8.6/10.
Favorite Tracks: Dystopian Overture, Lord Nafaryus, A Life Left Behind, A New Beginning, and The Path that Divides
Least Favorite: When Your Time as Come and Hymn of a Thousand Voices
This year see's the release of the seventh studio album by Australian singer/songwriter Sia, entitled "This Is Acting." This new album is the follow-up to her massively successful 2014 record "1000 Forms of Fear," which had some of the biggest hits of that year "Chandelier" and "Elastic Heart." Now, "This Is Acting" unlike the previous album is 95% composed of songs that she wrote for other big artists. With that in mind, "This Is Acting" showcases Sia doing what the titles says, acting. Sia is on most of these songs (minus the only song allegedly written specifically for this album"One Million Bullets") is acting the part of whomever she originally wrote the song for. This may create a sense of fakeness to the album, but Sia does a really good job at selling her performances. The songwriting is overall very solid track to track, with the powerful anthem "Alive, the Kanye West produced "Reaper," and the well written and criminally-short "Footprints" being the album's highlights. "This Is Acting" does have its non memorable and unrewarding songs like "Cheap Thrills," which has some tacky children's voices on the chorus and the underwhelming closer "Space Between." The album is mainly filled with good but not incredibly memorable tracks. There also some songs like the incomplete sounding "Sweet Design" and the repetitive "Broken Glass"that are very good, well written songs that are held back by sloppy songwriting. "Sweet Design" for whatever reason ends abruptly, which leaves a awkward transition into "Broken Glass." The album's musical production is nothing to write home about either, but it does get the job done. The beautifully melodic strings on "Footprints" add a much bigger scope and power to the track that it would not have been as strong without it. The gospel organs on "Reaper" also add a nice touch to the song. The production is mainly electronic, which may get a little tiring after awhile especially because the album is 99% written with the pop song-structure. "This Is Acting" does not have the best album feel either. It really just feels like a collection of pop songs plopped unto one disc, which to be honest, is not that big of a deal, but it may bother others.
Overall, "This Is Acting" is a solid pop-album with a few great tracks and a lot of just good ones. I give it my rating of a 7.6/10
This year see's the release of the fifth studio album be four-piece Bloc Party, entitled "Hymns." This is the first album to feature the band's new line up and a much different sound. Now, this new change of sound may be a brave thing for the band to do, but the execution of said new sound is in a lot of places done very poorly. Lead singer Keke Okereke is out of his range on most of this album, with a lot of his vocal performance missing the mark. His vocal range just can not sustain a majority of the songs on "Hymns," which is a shame because of some of his solid performances on the band's older albums. The older records, especially their classic debut "Silent Alarm" really complemented Keke's vocals and he wasn't trying to sing to far out of his range. Keke and the band also had more energy and passion on their earlier stuff, The departing of drummer Matt Tong is really felt on this album, with his drumming adding a lot of energy and great musicianship to the band's best stuff. The instrumentals range from being okay to just not interesting. The guitar work by long-time member Russel Lissack is pretty good when his playing is actually heard on a song. The album goes for more of a dance feel and less of a post-punk/indie-rock feel, which is what the band is most well remembered for. There're very few moments where it feels like I'm listening to a four-piece rock band and not just a solo album from Keke. The songwriting on this album is pretty mediocre overall. Songs like the slow, balled "Fortress" and the very underwhelming closer "Living Lux" are some of the worst tracks I've heard this year and some of the worst songs I've ever heard by Bloc Party. "Fortress" has some poorly performed vocals and some cringe worthy lyrics that make it hard for me to take the track completely seriously. Other tracks like "Different Drugs" and "My True Name" just do not do anything for me and are just boring. Sadly, this album's higher moments are only just okay. The songs like the lead single "The Love Within" "Only He Can Heal Me," and the only rockier song "Into the Earth" are the album's most interesting and enjoyable listens, but they're no where close to being as good as some of the band's best stuff. "Hymns" is just not a album I want to go back and listen to. It's a record that I want to stop listening to so I can listen to more energetic and more enjoyable music. I do respect the change of sound, but it really doesn't do much for me.
Overall, "Hymns" is a disappointing album and one I don't recommend anybody listen to if they want to get into Bloc Party. Just listen to the band's great debut "Silent Alarm"and enjoy it. I give "Hymns" my rating of a 5.8/10
Favorite Tracks: The Love Within, Only He Can Heal Me, and Into the Earth
This will be the first of a four-part review that will go through the first four albums by Genesis featuring legend Phil Collins. Hope you enjoy!
In 1976, Prog legends Genesis dropped one of their most important albums "A Trick of the Tail." This was the first record with Phil Collins as both drummer and lead vocalist and would eventually lead into the most successful phase of Genesis' career with album like 1983's "Genesis (Mama)" and 1986's (Invisible Touch,) which contained songs like "Invisible Touch," "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight," and the all-time classic "Land of Confusion." Today, I want to take a look at the album that started it all and see if it still stacks up to this day.
"A Trick of the Tail" showcases Genesis in their period of being Prog-rock masterminds. Tracks like the opener "Dance on a Volcano," the acoustic "Entangled," the more rocked-out "Sqounk," the album's most remembered song "A Trick of the Tail" and the softer, balled-like "Ripples" are to this day fan favorites and tracks that showoff not just Genesis' instrumental chops but their songwriting ones as well. The acoustic song "Entangled," which was written by both lead guitarist Steve Hackett and Keyboardist Tony Banks, is one of the best written and composed tracks Genesis ever composed. Phil Collins sounds great over the beautifully melodic strummed guitar and the song's main acoustic riff is one of my personal favorite contributions Steve Hackett ever made with the band. I'm also digging the more high energy opener "Dance on a Volcano." The track starts out with a little guitar riff and just crashes in with Phil Collins' great drum work. The title track "A Trick of the Tail" has a great mood and is the album's most easily accessible song, with it only reaching the four-and-a-half minute mark. It's a really good song to listen to if you want to get into early Genesis. The album as a whole showcases a lot of instrumental ability from all the members involved. Phil Collins, (though not sounding the same as he would later on) sounds very good on a majority of the tracks. Sadly, his lack of experience as a lead vocalist does show on some of these tracks. That being said, he does a fine job at holding the fort and his softer voice complements the music very well. He just didn't have the same command as he would on albums like "Duke." The album as a whole is very solid and defiantly takes a little to grow on you. Weaker moments do include the fourth track "Mad Man Moon" and "Ripples." "Ripples" as this point in time doesn't really capture me, though it is a favorite by member Tony Banks and I'm sure fans alike. The album as a good feel throughout even with some of the more less interesting tracks,
Overall, "A Tick of the Tail" is a solid record and showed that even without Peter Gabriel Genesis could still go and be successful and make a good album that would be loved/remembered by both critics and fans. I give "A Trick of the Tail" a rating of a 8.6/10.
Favorite Tracks: Dance on a Volcano, Entangled and A Trick of the Tail
This year see's the release of the third studio album by the Brooklyn, based duo Chairlift, entitled "Moth." I heard of their 2012 release "Something" whenever it came out, but never checked it out for whatever reason. I wish I did because "Moth" is so far one of the most inventive and endearing records of the year. This album displays a lot of creativity, layered instrumentals, and impressive vocals by lead front-women Caroline Polachek. Each song is distinctive and inventive in its own right, with the record having a very cohesive feel to it. The album ranges from the poppy "Romeo" to the slower, larger sounding "Unfinished Business." "Moth" showcases a great amount of interesting melodies and even some more progressive songwriting. The songwriting is solid, with there being the right balance of weirdness and pop appeal. The instrumentals are mainly electronic, with a lot of them having a choppy sound to them. There's also some elements of, Jazz, R&B, and many other genres. I really love the use of all these genres and it creates a great mood that makes me want to come back and listen to the record again. You can tell that Chairlift put a lot of time and effort to make this album, which really comes off with just how well put together all of these songs are. Tracks like the first full-length song "Polymorphing," the slower, love-song "Crying In Public," and the catchy "Moth to the Flame" really help to illustrate that point. All of these tracks are graced with the creative and well performed vocals by Caroline Polachek. Her very controlled and tasteful performances help to drive these songs home. Caroline's wide vocal range is not wasted on any of these tracks with her reaching some pretty high octaves with the great "Show U Off" "Unfinished Business," and the very dance heavy "Moth to the Flame." She also does a great job at giving more subtle and subdue performances, with "Crying in Public" being my favorite example of this. "Moth" as a whole is filled with well made and creative songs one after the other, with the last track "No Such Thing as Illusion" being the only weaker song on the album, though, it is still very good.
Overall, "Moth" is a creative and endearing record that I recommend to anyone looking for something good to listen to. I give it my rating of a 9.4/10
Favorite Tracks: Polymorphing, Romeo, Crying In Public, and Show U Off
Later this year will see the release of the first solo album by former One Direction member Zayn Malik, entitled "Mind of Mine." Today he dropped the first single off of this debut record, entitled "PILLOWTALK." I can't say that I've ever been a big fan of One Direction, but I've grown to appreciate them for what they are. I think they get too much of a bad wrap because of some of the more fanatical fans, so I'm pretty interested in hearing each of the member's solo stuff when it most likely will come out. Zayn being the one who left leaves him with the duty of being the first one to go solo. "PILLOWTALK" is if anything just a serviceable song. The beat is good, though maybe a little bland. The guitar sprinkled throughout the track is a nice touch, especially during the song's bridge. Zayn sounds good as well. He performs the song with enough passion to not come off disinterested or to chill for his own good, like some of Justin Bieber's new stuff. The lyrics aren't really anything to comment on extensively. There's no cringe worthy lines or anything like that. Though, I wish the song was about Zayn's love for his pillow. That would've made the track a little more interesting. The song is overall a little bland. That being said, it is good enough to make it listenable and is better than a lot of stuff I've heard on the radio lately. It sounds like a One Direction song, but slightly darker sounding.
This year has seen the release of the fifteenth studio album by thrash-metal legends Megadeth, called "Dystopia." I consider myself a pretty big fan of Megadeth. Their 1992 record "Countdown to Extinction" is a album that was listened to quite a lot when I was younger. I only later came to appreciate their sound even more with listening to their seminal album "Rust In Piece," so I was looking forward to listen to this album, mainly after listening to the album's first single "Fatal Illusion." This track teased a more heavier record than their more recent efforts and showcased some great playing. Thankfully, this album wasn't a case of the single being the heaviest and the most similar to the band's old sound, while the other tracks sounded like something completely different. ""Dystopia" contains a heavier and more solo filled Megadeth, similar to how they were in the beginning of their career with albums like "Piece Sells" and of course "Rust In Piece". This creates some great moments with the opener "The Threat is Real, the title track "Dystopia," and "Bullet to the Brain." Their are also a few forgettable tracks, like "Death from Within" and the six minute long "Poisonous Shadows," which does start off well enough, but just ends up being dull by its end. One of the main things that holds all these tracks together is the inclusion of some great instrumental work by everyone involved. Chris Adler from Lamb of God and Kiko Loureiro from Angra do a great job at replacing the past two members of the band and compliment each track very well. The solos are fantastic, with Kiko playing some complicated and overall fun solos to listen to. The riffs are solid as well and are heavier than usual because of the lowered guitar tuning. Sadly, though not surprising, Dave Mustaine sounds pretty rough, with the production really helping to give the album a sense of voacl competence that really isn't there a lot of the time. That being said, the instrumentals do help to compliment Mustaine's smaller vocal range. Dave really doesn't strain himself on this album, which is defiantly a good thing! The album's lyrics may be a huge turning off point for a lot of people, with Dave in full conspiracy, N.W.O. mode. For me personally, it really doesn't bother me, but I do understand if it bothers others. The album overall is fairly well put together. The album doesn't feel too thrown together like other albums, but it also doesn't have the cohesion that all albums should have.
Overall, "Dystopia" is a solid effort by Megadeth and one that will please long time fans, while the lyrics and maybe the tried and true instrumentals might turn off others. I give "Dystopia" my rating of a 7.8/10.
Favorite Tracks: The Threat is Real, Dystopia, Fatal Illusion, Bullet to the Brain, and The Emperor
Least Favorite: Death From Within and Poisonous Shadows
Today, I'm gonna do something that hasn't been done by most men/women in the album reviewing community and review a country album! Now, I have a novice experience with country music as a whole, with my excursions being mainly with the Zac Brown Band, which I really like. With that in mind, I want to take a look at the new album by country group Randy Rogers Band, entitled "Nothing Shines Like Neon."
This album kicks off very well with the slower more acoustic track "San Antone." This song as a nice mood with some well written lyrics. Randy Roger's performance is well sung and sincere. Sincerity is a quality that this album does with much skill. Even if you don't like the sound of these songs I think that the genuine performances will at least gain your respect. This isn't your typical over produced, manufactured country music. Though it is cleanly and nicely produced. Going back to the sound, it isn't anything new, but I think the performances by the band and Randy are done with the right amount of skill and focus. Nothing is needlessly played on this album, with the guitar and fiddle solos aiding the song rather than detracting from it. The albums is filled with some great more slower, balled like tracks like the Allison Krauss featured "Look Out Yonder," the really well written and lyrically great "Tequila Eyes, and probably my personal favorite track "Old Moon New," which is just a great song with a really good melody and sincere lyrics. The only song that detracts from the album's quality is the track "Takin' It as It Comes." The song is just kinda bland and doesn't fit where it was placed on the album. The album is just a solid listen throughout, though it isn't anything that will blow your socks off. Sometimes you just need a solid album to listen to and this album does that very well.
Overall, "Nothing Shines Like Neon" is a solid effort that I recommend to anyone who's looking for a new county album to just sit back and chill out to. I give it my rating of an 8.2/10
Favorite Songs: San Antone, Look out Yonder, Tequila Eyes, and Old Moon New