This is week 16 of the year, where I’m reviewing new music through the Tidal streaming service. Up until week 15, I had been reviewing just five albums per week but moving forward, I’m going to review as many as I find interesting. What I’m still going to do is download albums from artists I recognize by name and also records with albums covers that catch my eye. The fun part of this for me is that for many of these records, I’m going in blindly – and I love discovering new music (or at least music that’s new to me).
- Album: The Cranberries – In the End
- Previous knowledge: All their albums
- Review: There’s a list in my mind that contains bands that I detest. Over the course of my lifetime (or I guess, since I put the list together), very few bands have been on it and the only ones that make it are respected ones that I end up hating, otherwise it would be filled with bad artists. Currently, there’s only one on it: Ed Sheeran. But at one point, The Cranberries were there as well. I do realize that the vast majority of people disagree with me but they were put on there because I simply hate Dolores O’Riordan’s vocals on “Zombie.” I know those are what put the band on the map but they pierce through my brain like a thousand swords being pushed in at once. At some point I removed the band though.
I don’t remember how long ago it was that I changed my opinion on the band or at this point, even what album in particular made me change my mind. But there was one. I have a feeling it was 1999’s Bury the Hatchet but again, I’m not 100% sure. I listened to their whole catalog at one point and at least one of the albums was pretty rockin’ (I guess not rockin’ enough for me to remember which one though). That means, I came into this with a much more open mind than I had with previous releases.
On this, their final album, comprised of demo vocals that O’Riordan completed before her death at the start of 2018, the band brings in producer Stephan Street, who produced their early records. So the album kind of harkens back to the early alt-rock and dream pop days, that I really didn’t enjoy. But I do actually like this record. I guess age has helped me hear the beauty in her voice more so than I did when they got played every four minutes on the radio. None of the songs feel like demos at all here and from start to finish these are well crafted songs that are a nice send off for a band that helped define the 90s.
- Rating: 9/10
- Album: Rob Thomas – Chip Tooth Smile
- Previous knowledge: All his music
- Review: Here’s where I have to tell you that I did not come into this one with open arms. I 100% expected to hate this record and it be cheesy adult pop radio bullshit but at least one of those things isn’t true at all. So I guess I’ve become that dude that likes cheesy adult pop radio bullshit.
I’m being a slight bit harsh there on Thomas. Chip Tooth Smile really isn’t filled with total bullshit songs, it’s actually pretty catchy overall. Can it be shipped right to adult radio and be a success? Sure can. But that’s alright. Thomas knows his market. And unfortunately, last time I checked, at 43, I’m kind of in that adult demographic now. I have to kind of face the music here. When I was growing up, the local adult station, B101, played soft rock from the 70s and 80s. Now, within 20 minutes of turning on the station, you can hear Uncle fucking Kracker. Every. Time. The fact that Uncle Kracker is adult rock plants Rob Thomas squarely in the senior circuit at this point. So instead of fighting age, maybe I need to celebrate it instead.
The weird thing here is that I’m pretty sure that I’m not actually liking a Rob Thomas record here. I’m liking a Butch Walker album. Thomas picked Walker as his producer and pound-for-pound, Walker might be the best pop producer in the business. Butch really understands how to take a pop song and make every bit of it infectious and have it pop right out of your stereo. And he does that here. Yes, it’s every bit a Rob Thomas record – no new concepts here, folks. In fact, you hear a lot of 80s influence – heck, “Early in the Morning” starts off sounding very much like Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” So in fact, there might be a lot of old concepts here that Walker takes and makes them fresh again. I think what I’m trying to say here is that on the surface, it seems like Butch Walker has defined the sound of this record way more than Rob Thomas has. And that’s okay, because Walker is an adult as well. Just like me, just like Rob Thomas and likely just like you. Because shit, if you’re 20, there’s virtually no way you’ve gotten far enough into this review to actually read this line.
- Rating: 8.5/10
- Album: The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons
- Previous knowledge: A few of their 17 studio albums
- Review: The Mountain Goats have certainly changed since their beginnings as a lo-fi indie band. The first six records were essentially a solo venture for leader, John Darnielle. 2002’s Tallahassee album marked the first time the Mountain Goats were really a full band and thus there was a natural fuller sound and they went in more of a folk rock direction. Around 2008 so, they added some indie rock into their sound to blend with the folk rock. But In League with Dragons has more of an straight indie rock feel than any other record in their catalog.
They’ve had a lot of themed records over the years, with one of their coolest being a few years ago with an album about wrestling. The concept for this album is Dungeons & Dragons as a song title like “Clemency for the Wizard King” might indicate. But I’ve never played D&D, so some of the lyrical content is a bit foreign to me. That said, I’m not sure how titles like “Doc Gooden,” “Waylon Jennings Live!” or “Cadaver Sniffing Dog” really fit into the theme so maybe it’s more of a loose concept. But however these tie in together, overall it’s a really solid set of indie pop/rock tunes that flow nicely from beginning to end.
- Rating: 8.5/10
- Album: Olivia O’Brien – Was It Even Real?
- Previous knowledge: None
- Review: I chose this one based on the cover alone. Mannequin version of herself standing by a pool, car inside of it, outside world burning in chaos behind her. My assumption was that this would be kind of Ariana Grande-ish in nature and I wasn’t terribly off-base here. Her Wikipedia page calls her trip hop but that’s really just a lazy attempt to label her slow pop tunes as something. There’s no trip hop here, just a pop album where many of the tunes have very dark, slow, minimal beats. I have nothing against that style at all but this album is downright boring. There’s no energy on the record and nothing unique about her to make her stand out. None of the beats are out of the ordinary, nor is her vocal range, making this just another 19-year old trying to cash in.
- Rating: 4/10
- Album: Enforcer – Zenith
- Previous knowledge: Their previous four LPs
- Review: Wow!!! Sometimes you say “Wow!” because something is excellent and other times because it’s so ungodly um…not excellent. This is the latter, for damn sure. Enforcer are a Swedish Speed Metal band, formed in 2004 – and while not exactly prolific, they’ve released four albums since that point of kick ass throwback speed metal, with riffs that’ll catch your hair on fire if you don’t duck out of the way quick enough. But for some unknown reason, they took almost every bit of speed out of this record (there’s a couple speedy ones) and basically made a full-on glam metal album. I truly don’t get why. I’m not against change and again, I actually like glam/hair metal but holy hell my friends. This was not a group that was creating mediocre music that needed to change to sell a few records. Stay the course! But they didn’t do that at all, choosing to throw us all overboard with whatever this bullshit is. One listen to the video/song (“Regrets”) below should give you a perfect example of this crap – and there’s an official video for this song, which means some tone deaf motherfucker at Nuclear Blast actually thought this was worth releasing as a single. Enforcer, if you stumble across this review before you make your next record, fire everyone around you that told you this was a good idea. If it was you, fire yourself. Don’t do this again.
- Rating: 1/10
- Album: Fredo Disco – very cool music for very cool people
- Previous knowledge: None
- Review: There’s a couple things I love about this right up front – both Fredo’s explanation on how he came up with the name (From bandcamp: “my real name is fredo fosco but my phone always autocorrects it to fredo disco so here we are,” and the tag on said page, “edgy shit dude.”) Things amuse me easily these days and I pay attention to too many details sometimes. i’m not amused by fredo’s lack of use of proper case but i’m no english major.
Fredo is 18 and he’s touring the country right now opening up for some group called Hot Mulligan and him and his band sound very much like what you’d expect a young indie rock opening act to sound like. Acoustic guitars, yelling into the mic a slight bit more than necessary to make up for the indie production values, sarcastic emo lyrics and an overall let’s be serious and kind of humerous at the same time vibe. Many other bands have tried this but that’s okay. You have to start somewhere, right? And the album is actually pretty solid in the end. The whole thing reminds me of a group that would have opened up for the early version of Jimmy Eat World on a small stage in an old church basement. That’s to say, they are likely good enough that they could have done this and yet in 2019, also sound like they released outtakes from 1998. I have this weird ping-ponging going on in my head as to whether I should like this or feel it’s completely dated. But since it’s good enough to listen to again, I’m leaning to the higher side of the rating scale. And shit, I wish I could have been half as talented at 18.
- Rating: 7.5/10
- Album: Rick Springfield – Orchestrating My Life
- Previous knowledge: One of my favorite artists of all time!
- Review: I always love seeing a new Rick Springfield record even if doesn’t necessarily contain new music, like this. Orchestrating My Life is Rick re-recording his greatest hits with an orchestra. Since I love his greatest hits more than almost any dude on this planet, it’s hard to not start from a great place here. What’s really interesting is that he keeps a lot of the original arrangements and has the orchestra play them in a rock style rather that adjust his original tunes down to a more subdued version that might traditionally fit nicer in an orchestral setting. That’s not to say he doesn’t change any of them up – like “Human Touch” which sounds like the original but recorded with a rockin’ acoustic guitar and a heavy orchestral arrangement. My only real gripe is that he could have went even further with a few of these tracks as the orchestra feels a bit like an afterthought on some tracks. But simply listening to the great version of the “lost” hit “Celebrate Youth” is worth the money alone. (this is one of the rare albums not on Youtube yet, which means sadly, no one cares. Care, damn it!)
- Rating: 8/10
Albums ranked 10/10 so far in 2019 (in order of release date):
- Terror Jr. – Unfortunately, Terror Jr
- Emily King – Scenery
- Good Fuck – Good Fuck
- The Claypool Lennon Delirium – South of Reality
- UB40 – For the Many
- Griz – Ride Waves
- Pup – Morbid Stuff
- Lizzo – Cuz I Love You