New Music 5/24/19

It’s week 20 of ’19 and as we hit the summer months, we’re hitting prime time for new releases. I’m downloading records on Tidal based on name recognition or album covers that intrigue me, only. Some artists I have a history with and some I’ve never heard of. This is how I discover as I trek through the new music landscape.

Song of the Week: Mavis Staples, “Never Needed Anyone”
  • Album: The Lonely Island – The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience
  • Previous knowledge: All their records
  • Review: Well, I’ve always been a fan of Andy Samberg and though I don’t think I’ve ever actually laughed at loud at any Lonely Island song, I’ve pretty much enjoyed them all. And with this, you have a concept that really, I would have never expected to see on disc or in a comedy special. To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Oakland A’s 1989 championship season, the Lonely Island created a Netflix special and an album written from the point of view of the Bash Brothers – Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire! Sounds really fucking stupid but the tracks are really funny. There’s a track on the creation of the arm bash, there’s many verses about taking the steroid needles out of their ass, tons of ‘roid rage, evading taxes and a track about using bikini babes as weights. Oh, and being focused as fuck. I’m comfortable saying there’s no other record out there like this one. Really, really comfortable.
  • Rating: 8.5/10
The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience, “Let’s Bash”
  • Album: Rocketman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  • Previous knowledge: N/A
  • Review: I think I should have waited until the movie came out in the US and I watched it before listening to the soundtrack. Now, I did the reverse for Bohemian Rhapsody and it got me more interested in the movie. After listening to Rocketman, I don’t know that I want to see the movie at all now. I know Elton hand picked this Taron Egerton guy to portray him but me thinkin’ Reggie is going deaf. I guess it’s all going to come down to how you feel about Egerton’s singing voice. Personally, I hate it. It does work with some tracks, like “Rock and Roll Madonna” or “Crocodile Rock” but those are few and far between. Egerton simply can’t pull off a track like, “I’m Still Standing” “Your Song” or “Honky Cat” with any level of respectability. Frankly, this album sounds like a Middle Jipip High-School Theater production rather than the soundtrack to a major motion picture and one that’s not making me want to endure it again through the movie.
  • Rating: 4/10
Taron Egerton, “I’m Still Standing”
  • Album: Mavis Staples – We Get By
  • Previous knowledge: Only her output on Paisley Park
  • Review: Mavis Staples is a name I’ve been familiar with all my life as one of the greatest R&B and gospel singers of all time. Having never listened to gospel before though, the only taste of her music that I’ve had previously are her works on Paisley Park and with Prince back in the late 80s and early 90s. With that, my tastes have expanded quite a bit in recent years so I figured this would be a great time to give one of her albums a shot. And I’m glad I did. She’s worked with some great artists in recent years, doing a lot with Jeff Tweedy. But We Get By was completely written and produced by Ben Harper. This is an album about needing change to make the world better and Harper wrote some great tunes for her like the title track and “Sometime,” the latter of which is a pretty fun, upbeat tune. But it’s a track like “Never Needed Anyone” – a soulful ballad – that really shows off her tremendous voice which somehow at 79 years of age, seems to have actually gotten stronger over time. This is a truly gorgeous record, full of positivity and strong messages. Kudos to her and Harper for something so engaging.
  • Rating: 10/10
Mavis Staples, “Sometime”
  • Album: Sting – My Songs
  • Previous knowledge: Most of his work
  • Review: For those that have followed my Tidal catalog treks, I tried doing Sting’s catalog a long time ago and aborted it at some point in the mid 90s when I just couldn’t stand to think of what was coming up. But, I loved the Police and I loved his 80s solo material, Ten Summoner’s Tales and even last year’s collaboration with Shaggy, so it’s not like a new Sting record is really going to turn me off unless it’s another lute based record. But, this still is likely the type of record that would intrigue me this late in his career. He’s taken his hits and rerecorded them to have a more modern feel. Looking at the track list for the 14 re-workings, I liked every one of the original tracks, so even though the concept of the album angers me a bit (your history is your history, don’t try changing it…), I’m still intrigued. It starts off a bit weird though, with “Brand New Day” and “Desert Rose” which really aren’t that old at this point, which I think is evidenced by the fact that they aren’t that different from the originals. But it becomes less of a greatest hits record when you reach “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” as the third track – which is re-recorded to be a dance tune, though keeping the same keyboard sound from the 80s.

The thing about this record, is that I just don’t understand a lot of his choices here. His remake of “Every Breathe You Take” is significantly worse than the original version. “Can’t Stand Losing You” sounds close enough to the original that the remix could have from ’78 or ’79, very easily. And this is supposed to be an album that remakes old tunes to sound more modern – which doesn’t happen here at all. C’mon Sting, if you’re going to do it, do it. Really remake the songs. This album doesn’t go far enough with these re-makes at all, to the point where I would bet the casual Police/Sting fan might be able to pop this on and not even realize it’s not a greatest hits disc. A good enough album overall because it contains many of his best songs but a weak implementation of what he set out to accomplish.

  • Rating: 4/10
Sting, “Desert Rose”
  • Album: Flying Lotus – Flamagra
  • Previous knowledge: None
  • Review: As I like to do for these artists that I have no history with, I do a little research after I pick the album to listen to but before I actually listen to it. I was surprised to see some critically acclaimed records in this guy’s catalog and the notation that he wrote a lot of the bumper material for the Adult Swim channel. That said, about 2/3 of this record is alternative hip-hop or jazz-funk instrumentals – in the 1-2 minute range, kind of like the aforementioned bumper music. There are actually ten tracks with vocals, which makes the most to date on one of his albums, though when you have 27-tracks, you have that opportunity. It’s a bit too scattered for me to give it critical acclaim, alternating between jazz-hop and rap but overall, it’s a pretty easy listen despite the length.
  • Rating: 7/10
Flying Lotus, “Spontaneous”
  • Album: YG – 4REAL 4REAL
  • Previous knowledge: All his albums
  • Review: YG regularly raps about a few things – Bitches, snitches and broke ass dudes. Sometimes all of those are the same person. That doesn’t change on 4REAL 4REAL. YG’s rap is pretty refreshing in this trap world, almost a full blown throw back to west coast g-funk and gangsta rap. Tracks produced by some dude named 1-O.A.K. generally feature this side of YG. But his best tracks are always the ones produced by DJ Mustard who creates minimal throwbacks to the 90s which allows YG’s stories to shine through. YG was also tight with Nipsey Hustle and this record has multiple tracks about him, including “My Last Words” which is part of the eulogy YG gave at Nipsey’s funeral.
  • Rating: 8.5/10
YG, “In the Dark”
  • Album: Billy Ray Cyrus – The Snakedoctor Circus
  • Previous knowledge: “Don’t tell my heart, my achy breaky heart…”
  • Review: I feel the need to start out with the fact that this album is Billy Ray Cyrus’ 16th(!) album. Sixteenth! ! If you just said to yourself, “of course it is, Dave” – then I call bullshit. If you are reading this right now, at most, you thought he had two records. That one with “Achy Breaky Heart” and at best a follow up record that didn’t have “Achy Breaky Heart” on it. The only thing I really know about Billy Ray’s music career past that point is the review on Popdose that I did for his rock album under the moniker of Brother Clyde. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect for this though. The dude turned a silly song into an entire career, then has had some more name recognition thanks to Miley and more recently did that damn remix of that “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X (and now I know why.) So what to say about this record – well, to start, it’s good. Like, real good. Yes, I’m as shocked as you likely are now as well. While this is surely country at heart, this has the same general vibe as a Wrecking Ball or High Hopes from Springsteen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to compare the two of them as that would be silly but that’s the immediate vibe I got when listening to the record. The other interesting thing is I saw “featuring Don Von Tress” on a couple tracks. That might not mean anything to you on the surface but Von Tress was an amateur songwriter back in the early 90s and happened to write…. yep, “Achy Breaky Heart.” Cyrus recorded a few more of his songs in the years to come but it’s a long time since he’s worked with him but it’s kind of neat to see them reconnect after so many years. And Von Tress clearly likes to write some silly shit as well as one of his tunes is “Take It Easy Greazy” which is as goofy as his original hit song.
  • Rating: 9/10
Billy Ray Cyrus, “Goddess of Democracy”
  • Album: Black Mountain – Destroyer
  • Previous knowledge: None
  • Review: I just loved the album cover on this one – waves against a Stonehenge-like rock structure, with a ginormous speaker blasting tunes out! Very Spinal tap and very obvious that this was going to be some kind of vintage rock album. On Destroyer, Black Mountain combines that late 70s proto metal vibe with 80s sounding keyboards and a vocoder or two, to create this really rockin’ decade hoppin’ headbanger. Think Budgie meets Alan Parsons Project and you might get close to this. There are simply riffs for days on this album and the psychedelic keys add a nice touch to bring decades of rock music together into one.
  • Rating: 9/10
Black Mountain, “Horns Arising”
  • Album: Stray Cats – 40
  • Previous knowledge: Their 80s albums
  • Review: The album title refers to the fact that the Stray Cats formed in 1979, so this is their 40th anniversary. Now they’ve had a few break ups since that point but the core of Brian Setzer, Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker have always remained a part of the band no matter how many times they’ve reformed. And with 40 you get, well… what do you think? I mean, the Stray Cats play 50s style rockabilly and if you don’t know that by now, you can likely just move on to the next review. I’ve never liked rockabilly in any form, so take my review in stride here but even I find this pretty damn solid, which likely means it’s either their best or worst album. Haha. There are a few deviations from the norm here, like “Cry Danger” which is more like 60s garage rock instead and “I’ll Be Looking Out For You” which has a bit of a drunk punk vibe to it but the rest is more of what you know and maybe love from these guys.
  • Rating: 9/10
Stray Cats, “Cry Danger”
  • Album: Katie – LOG
  • Previous knowledge: None
  • Review: Well, Katie Kim took a wildly interesting path to get to this record. She was born in Korea but raised in wait for it… New Jersey. Not Florida, New York or Hollywood but “Dirty Jersey.” Then she studied jazz at Berklee, dropped out, moved back to Korea, won the 2015 edition of K-Pop Star (think any American Idol type show) and has taken four years to get this six-song CD out. That’s a hell of a path to take to get to pop stardom and while she’s not their yet, she’s on the right path. Don’t call this K-Pop though just because she’s Korean. This is U.S. clean, radio ready, subdued pop. I feel like I’ve been comparing so many artists to Ariana Grande lately but that’s because so many artists are on her jock. I really don’t see a way you can like Ariana and not like LOG. It’s pretty much the same thing in my mind.
  • Rating: 8/10
Katie, “Remember”
  • Album: Diamond Head – The Coffin Train
  • Previous knowledge: All their LPs
  • Review: Well, screw me. The old dog has new tricks after all. Diamond Head are a classic group thanks their their debut album, Lightning to the Nations, back in 1980. That spawned numerous songs you might know if you like metal or at least tunes that were covered by metal and rock artists later, like “Am I Evil?” “It’s Electric” and “The Prince.” Okay, I should just say, covered by Metallica later. The band never lived up to the promise of the debut album though, derailing with the mind blowingly bad Canterbury in 1983 and a comeback record in 1993 that sounded like bullshit alt rock of that generation. But, wow! Diamond Head rebooted their career three years ago, bringing in a new vocalist named Rasmus Bom Andersen, which seems to have been his first gig. And this young guy must have injected some life into the group as while the self-titled album from three years ago wasn’t bad, The Coffin Train really brings Diamond Head back in a fierce way. The album is both heavy and melodic – something that Diamond Head couldn’t get back to for decades after the debut. But here you get doom metal and hard rock, mixed wonderfully. Not groundbreaking by any means but better than it has any right being nearly 40 years later. Now the big question is, can they keep the creativity going after this one?
  • Rating: 9/10
Diamond Head, “The Coffin Train”

Albums ranked 10/10 so far in 2019 (ordered by release date)

  1. Terror Jr. – Unfortunately, Terror Jr
  2. Emily King – Scenery
  3. Good Fuck – Good Fuck
  4. The Claypool Lennon Delirium – South of Reality
  5. UB40 – For the Many
  6. Griz – Ride Waves
  7. Pup – Morbid Stuff
  8. Howard Jones – Transform
  9. Mavis Staples – We Get By

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