The New Classics

May 14, 2009

Album Review Catch-Up, Part 1

05.14.09

There has been so much music coming out over the past few months that I’ve been neglecting a lot of album reviews for the simple fact that I don’t have a whole lot of time. By the time I finally sit down to do an album writeup, there’s 4 or 5 other albums that have my interest. It’s a blessing and a curse to live in this digital age, as we have so much great music right at our fingertips, but not enough time to digest and enjoy it before something new comes along. This especially a problem for someone like me, who loves collecting EVERYTHING. So for the sake of catching up with myself and saving myself time in the future (although a few of these reviews I have half-done already, but am scrapping in favor of this format), here is part one of all of the albums fit for coverage – now in bite size:

March 10, 2009

Album: The Truth is Here EP
Artist: Brother Ali
Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Featured Artists: Slug of Atmosphere
Featured Producers: ANT
Analysis: Another nice release from Brother Ali, with sole production from Atmosphere’s ANT.  At nine songs long, you forget that this is only an EP, and that a full LP is coming in the 4th quarter of the year. It’s long for an EP, but still short enough to stay juicy without many lulls in the action. The Truth is Here is worth the attention of real hip hop fans, and definitely worth the attention of those who’ve never heard his stuff before.
Highlights: ‘Phillistine David’, Talkin My Shit’, ‘The Believers’
Rating: 8.0

March 17, 2009

Album: All in a Day’s Work
Artist: Saigon & Statik Selektah
Label: Amalgam Digital
Featured Artists: none
Featured Producers: Statik Selektah
Analysis: Most rap music already feels too rushed and lackadaisical as it is. I’m talking about the guys who write their verses within five minutes (and some who don’t write anything at all), just to rely on the production and use their own words as filler. I’m not saying that Saigon is that type of artist, but to be able to put an entire album together in one day doesn’t do much to fight the “rap is easy” argument. Sai actually is a talented artist though, just not all too interesting of one. Thankfully he has the excellent production of Statik Selektah to fall back on here. At the end of the day though, the album really does feel hurried and All in a Day’s Work is a classic example of just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.
Highlights: ‘So Cruel’, ‘The Rules’
Rating: 5.5

March 24, 2009

Album: The Hazards of Love
Artist: The Decemberists
Label: Capitol Records
Analysis: Concept albums only work when all of the music is good. You can’t ask me to sit through a 60 minute musical story and actually follow what is happening unless you are making music that is keeping my attention. This is the problem on The Hazards of Love, for me. For perspective, I loved The Crane Wife. But on their latest, I found myself wanting to doze off on nearly half the songs. Not to mention the guest vocals by Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond (any female-led bands without “diamond” in the name?), who both have nice voices and all, but I don’t want to listen to them. Do we really need to hear multi-voiced characters? Lead singer Colin Meloy would have been better off taking on the role of everyone, and I think it would have made a much better, more concise album.
Highlights: ‘A Bower Scene’, ‘Won’t Want for Love (Margaret In the Taiga)’, ‘The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)’, ‘Annan Water’
Rating: 6.0

Album: Born Like This
Artist: DOOM
Label: Lex Records
Featured Artists: Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Slug, Bumpy Knuckles, Kurious, Mobonix, Empress Stahr
Featured Producers: DOOM, J Dilla, Jake One, Madlib
Analysis: DOOM is known for his free-association rhymes, super villian obsession, and sinister unconventional beats. He’s one of the strangest, but most fascinating artists in hip hop today and Born Like This translates similarly. DOOM is like the Wu-Tang member who never was, rattling off gruff rhymes over damp, dark & sludgy music. None of the lyrics feel like they have any sort of purpose, but if you can hand-shovel through the muck, it’s a raw listen that is unlike anything else out right now.
Highlights: ‘Gazzillion Ear’, ‘Yessir!’, ‘Absolutely’, ‘Angelz’, ‘That’s That’
Rating: 7.5

Album: Technicolor Health
Artist: Harlem Shakes
Label: Gigantic Records
Analysis: Harlem Shakes have only recently come under my radar, and I’m glad that they came across my plate. Technicolor Health is a shiny, jangly indie pop/rock record with breezy melodies and catchy tracks that actually stand out from the large number of groups making similar music. Tracks like ‘Strictly Game’ and ‘Sunlight’ would be crazy hits if there were anything right in this industry, but there isn’t, so for now they’re just to be enjoyed by those of us ahead of the mainstream curve.
Highlights: ‘Strictly Game’, ‘TFO’, ‘Niagra Falls’, ‘Sunlight’, ‘Technicolor Health’
Rating: 7.5

Album: Crack the Skye
Artist: Mastodon
Label: Reprise Records
Analysis: I don’t think I’ll be pissing off any metal fans out there by saying that Mastodon is the best metal band in the country today. Dueling singers Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds’ vocals can hang with the best, and that includes Ozzy, Dio & Wylde. The guitars are maniacal; sweeping and spiralling all over the record, most especially on standout single ‘Divinations‘ which feels like a windstorm of amazing. Crack the Skye is heavy enough to be considered “brutal”, but melodic enough to be enjoyed and understood. At only six tracks, it still clocks in at just over 50 minutes, so you should already know that there is some epic, out-of-this-world shit going down here. It’s a highly recommended album for anyone struggling to find some good progressive metal these days, as I was.
Highlights: ‘Divinations’
Rating: 8.5

Part 2 coming soon. I have a lot to catch up on.

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