500 Word Review: Kendrick Lamar “DAMN.”

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“DAMN.” was not made for the layman. There aren’t as many straight jams compared to “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” and the tracks that do qualify as such aren’t as instantly memorable as “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and its kind. However, this does not lessen the greatness of this album; it just takes time to appreciate. Unlike most popular music, this record focuses on its role as art first, and entertainment second. Unfortunately, its artistic themes take work to understand. Kendrick should not expect the average listener to do a close reading analysis of his lyrics to fully enjoy his music, but “DAMN.’s” popularity shows he can do just that.

Kendrick is still a superb lyricist unrivaled in skill, and so his album’s concepts are explored seamlessly. It discusses the apparent discrimination, or even damnation, towards Black Americans, and a list of emotions and their relationship to the traits of wickedness and weakness. He relates the symbolic curse towards African Americans to the biblical smiting of the Israelites for betraying God. The blindness of white people and the inability of blacks to return from wickedness to weakness are his proposed explanations of the continued plight of Black Americans’ treatment and prejudice by other Americans of different racial backgrounds. In “BLOOD.” he calls attention to the failure of whites to recognize the challenges African Americans face, sampling a shameful FOX news report, and symbolizes this ignorance with a blind woman in his narrative. “DNA.” illuminates the difficulty of abandoning wickedness by simply being being born black, born into what he describes as a “sinful culture”. The power of vicious cycles is further explored in “LUST.”. Specifically, Kendrick argues that people resent change and lust for routine. Even in the face of sudden external changes like the election of Trump, lives on an individual level hardly change, hence the tragedy of the African American struggle. Kendrick stays away from the high levels of braggadocio, common in rap, apart from its satirical use in songs like “HUMBLE.” He balances the volume of such songs depicting wickedness with an equal number dissecting his own weaknesses. The album closes out with “DUCKWORTH.”, which completely illuminates Kendrick’s brilliant ideas. His rapping skill is just as impressive as his detailed concepts. Simply put, he may be the best rapper alive and the album reflects that; there isn’t need to deliberate further.

“DAMN.” has a different style than Kendrick’s previous work. The production is simpler, cleaner, and easier to appreciate than the volume of activity in TPAB. There are trap and pop influences, like the beat in “DNA.”, and multiple featured singers, but they are in good taste. One of my few complaints about the album is regarding its sampling. All the samples are very cool, but are misused in a few places. In “DUCKWORTH.”, the first syllable of the word “darling” is sampled and loudly repeated on the upbeat, competing with Kendrick’s rapping. It is jarring and confusing as to why it was included. Apart from this flaw, and a couple of repetitive hooks like the one in “HUMBLE.”, this album is difficult to criticize. Overall it is an exceptional and original work of art with significant ideas.

 

Score: 8.5/10

 

Album Review by Zachary Norton, May 2017

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Breaking News: A Lot Like Birds Release Third Single Off “DIVISI”

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Words cannot describe the shock and pure excitement I had today when I opened up Youtube to see that A Lot Like Birds finally released the track “Trace the Lines”.  If you have been following my coverage of A Lot Like Birds’ upcoming fourth full length album, “DIVISI”, you would know that not only am I extremely excited for this album to be released, but I also was most anticipating hearing the track “Trace the Lines”, as the teaser for it was simply blissful.  Now, the single has officially been released, along with a music video to accompany it, continuing the theme of having every single released so far represented with a music video.

Harmonizing vocals and a slowly plucked, reverb-filled electric guitar gracefully start this track and instantly I find myself having goosebumps from the magnificent sounding first few measures.  Out of nowhere, string sections emerge and I can instantly tell this track will surpass already high expectations in a remarkable way.  Matt Coate and Cory Lockwood effortlessly trade back and forth as the first verse slowly fleshes out further and further as “Trace the Lines” builds up to the chorus heard in the teaser released months ago.  Next, intricate drumming and a slight but noticeable emphasis of suspense is heard as the first verse is about to come to a close.  The moment I heard the lines “I know it tore you up, it wasn’t by design” I uncontrollably starting singing along (at least attempting to) as I was overcome with complete and udder joy at how phenomenal this song sounds.  From hear on out, the song itself is nothing but masterfully written.  An earth-shattering, powerful chorus, slight but noticeable string section harmonies, and heartbreakingly honest lyrics like “I made you sick where I had meant to make you mine”, “Do you care that it’s over”, and “I said I loved you as a way to change the subject” help make “Trace the Lines” easily the most beautiful song I’ve heard this year.

The music video for “Trace the Lines” seems to be a sequel to the video of “The Sound of Us”, as it uses the same characters and themes from “The Sound of Us” video and the main character appears to wake up after experiencing the party and performance that he takes part in in the previous video.  Also, I found it interesting that in the first video, the band is seen wearing white button up shirts, compared to the all black attire and the decorated masks seen in “Trace the Lines”.  This could be symbolic of the relationship Cory and Matt are singing about coming to and end, or how the main character’s emotions went from joyous and happy in the first video to sober and depressive in the second.  Regardless, after watching the first 3 music videos I have decided that “DIVISI” needs a video album to accompany it.  Each music video so far has been rich with symbolism, solid acting, meaning, and an overall heightened representation of the tracks they accompany, and it would only make sense to now have a music video paired with every track heard on “DIVISI”.

At this point, I would do questionable things to hear the entire full length record tomorrow.  I will of course be playing “Trace the Lines” non-stop until May 5th, but the fact that every song released so far is stellar leaves me dying to hear the entire project, as this will definitely be a strong contender for the best album released in 2017.  If you don’t like the “DIVISI” singles, especially “Trace the Lines”, I simply do not understand your apparent odd taste in music.  Check out “Trace the Lines” below and stay tuned for more updates, as we are less than 2 weeks away from its release date!

My last two posts about A Lot Like Birds:

“For Shelley (Unheard)”:

https://eriksalbumreviews.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/breaking-news-a-lot-like-birds-release-first-single-of-upcoming-fourth-full-length-album-divisi/

“The Sound of Us”:
https://eriksalbumreviews.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/breaking-news-a-lot-like-birds-release-music-video-for-new-single-the-sound-of-us/

 

“Trace the Lines”:

500 Word Review: Primal Rite “Sensory Link To Pain”

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Recently I’ve gotten back into thrash metal by listening to both classic bands like Metallica and Slayer and newer bands like Skeletonwitch and Eternal Champion.  However, through listening to the new era of thrash metal, I was able to discover a recently formed band, Primal Rite, who combine influences from hardcore punk and thrash metal to embody a hard-hitting, completely abrasive thrash metal sound that is simply addicting.  Last month, the San Francisco based metal band released their latest EP, “Sensory Link To Pain”, which showcases the group’s stellar, most recent sound.

The EP begins with a sinister, ominous sound of guitar feedback slowly fading in, leaving the listener anxious and at the edge of their seat as to what is coming next. Suddenly, the whole band enters and a wailing, distorted guitar, pummeling drums, rattling bass, and of course aggressive, hatred filled vocals create the title track, “Sensory Link To Pain”. Sporadic section changes with heavy, yet intriguingly groovy riffs encompass the entire EP with only a few moments of chugging riffs at a slower tempo to give the listener some kind of breathing room in between the chaos filled parts heard throughout each track.

These slower tempo sections can easily become highlights of tracks, however, as the near breakdown heard on “Is It Me?” becomes the most memorable part of the entire track and is easily the catchiest riff you will hear in Primal Rite’s latest project. This hardcore influenced breakdown perfectly exemplifies Primal Rite’s raw, bone-snapping sound of hardcore influenced thrash metal. The project itself, which comes in at just under 8 minutes, leaves its audience feeling like they got hit by a train of pure hardcore and thrash metal, as the project ends just as abruptly as it began with the fast tempo, mosh pit inducing riffs on “Primal Discipline” transitioning directly into the same eerie guitar tone heard at the beginning of “Sensory Link To Pain” slowly fading out. This Primal Rite EP is in your face hardcore thrash metal done right and is full with non-stop, unrelenting heaviness from start to finish.

In summation, this is metal, simply put. Everything from the harsh vocals, to the phenomenal guitar riffing to the upbeat, old school thrash metal inspired drum beats purely encompasses what the new era of thrash metal is all about. The only gripe I have with this project is that it sounds a little too much like Power Trip, who happen to be the most prominent modern hardcore influenced thrash metal band, and my personal favorite thrash metal band as well. I’m sure over time Primal Rite will find their signature style and sound in this crossover subgenre of punk and thrash metal, but their latest material still resembles, and is inspired by, the Texas based act in a very prominent way. However, if you listen to older Counterparts material, you can hear how it is directly influenced by Misery Signals, so it’s not a huge concern to seem Primal Rite paying tribute to the sound of the act they most likely look up to, especially since sounding like Power Trip is far from being an insult. I give “Sensory Link To Pain” an 8.6/10 and highly suggest that you check this EP out by the soon to be household name, Primal Rite.

 

“Sensory Link To Pain”:

Breaking News: Hail the Sun Releases Music Video For “Doing the Same Thing and Expecting Different Results”

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One of the most underrated post hardcore bands in the scene today, Hail the Sun, has released another music video for their third full length record, “Culture Scars”.  The third music video in support of their first release through Equal Vision Records is for the track titled “Doing the Same Thing and Expecting Different Results”, which is Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity.  The track itself is very interesting and intricate, as it starts off with a smooth intro that even features melodies from a clavichord and also contains other riffs in the song that are more intense or even jazz influenced at some moments.  That being said, I was very interested to see how Hail the Sun would portray this complexity in the shape of a music video.

After watching the video I can assure you that the music video is equally as impressive as the audio track itself, if not more.  the massive collection of different shots and camera angles seen, fantastic symbolism that help connect the viewer to the meaning of the song itself, and the use of a setting that appears to be based off the room pictured in the album artwork make this a fantastic visual addition to “Culture Scars”.  Personally, I would have loved it if the three shots of the room in the cabin depicted in the album’s artwork were shown in this video or even a scene where Donovan and the other main character are walking through the snow covered woods to the cabin shown in the overheard shot at the beginning of the music video, but even without either one of these ideas the video is still extremely captivating.

I must say that even though the music video is phenomenal for “Doing the Same Thing and Expecting Different Results”, “Burn Nice and Slow (The Formative Years)” is still the best track on the 2016 album.  Although, after a few more listens my opinion on what is the best track on “Culture Scars” could easily change.  Check out the video for “Doing the Same Thing and Expecting Different Results” and let us know what track you think is the strongest song heard on this third full length album from Nor. Cal post hardcore leaders, Hail the Sun!

 

“Doing the Same Thing and Expecting Different Results”:

Breaking News: A Lot Like Birds Release Music Video For New Single “The Sound of Us”

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Shortly after releasing the first single for their upcoming album, “DIVISI”, A Lot Like Birds have another new single and music video to further build anticipation for the fourth full length studio album by the Sacramento based post hardcore band.  This latest single, titled “The Sound of Us”, showcases a better understanding of how diverse this album will be in composition while also giving ALLB fans a general idea of this new sound and song structure that A Lot Like Birds will encompass for years to come.

In my opinion, this track significantly resembles A Lot Like Birds’ older sound through certain aspects heard throughout “The Sound of Us”.  For starters, the sporadic and complex song structure is very similar to what is heard on “DIVISI’s” predecessor, “No Place”.  Even the use of various odd time signatures and artfully crafted instrumental performances easily sound like tracks heard on ALLB’s last two full length releases.  What differs “The Sound of Us” from these two records, however, is the absence of aggressive, even quirky sections that used to be prominent features in A Lot Like Birds tracks.  I for one think this is a reflection of positive improvement in songwriting, as the substitute of melodic, harsh vocal excluding influences replaces this hardcore/metalcore inspired aggressiveness that was both odd and, in my opinion, the sole aspect of ALLB’s material that held them back for the last few years.  Even though diehard fans might disagree with me and claim that this aggressive song structure is what brought ALLB to prominence, I believe this new sound heard in “For Shelley (Unheard)” and “The Sound of Us” is one that better fits the band itself and will have even more successful results than their sophomore and third full length albums.

Even though I still enjoy “For Shelley (Unheard)” a little more than “The Sound of Us”, due to it’s passionate and well thought out lyricism and overall anthemic structure that the song exemplifies, “The Sound of Us” is still a fantastic song.  Coming out of the gates with a fast paced tempo and technical yet melodic composition, “The Sound of Us” instantly grabs your attention and keeps you dialed in from start to finish.  This is also the first track released off “DIVISI” that features sections where Matt Coate is singing on his own.  This contrast and back-and-forth tag-team like approach to vocal tracking is something I instantly love and think will become one of the most memorable parts of “DIVISI”.  However, even though these two songs have been phenomenal singles, I still believe that “Trace the Lines” will completely steal the show once it is finally released!

The music video for “The Sound of Us” is attached below.  One thing I have noticed so far is that the “DIVISI” music videos appear to be well thought out and directed masterfully, with each one full of symbolism, fantastic actors, and even visual features that help enhance their respective tracks greatly.  I’m not sure how many music videos are left to be released for “DIVISI”, but if they follow this pattern step up by “For Shelley (Unheard)” and “The Sound of Us” then there’s no reason why they won’t be phenomenal.  Personally, I would love to see a video album to go alongside “DIVISI”, however the budget needed to accomplish this would be insanely high and is pretty much not feasible.  Regardless, this album is destined to be one of the best releases of 2017, even if you’re still reluctant to admit this, and A Lot Like Birds will benefit from this evolved sound more so than if they continued on the same path as “Conversation Piece” or “No Place”.  Essentially, A Lot Like Birds was very successful and accomplished before Kurt Travis joined and they adopted the more aggressive sound, and they will continue to find success without either one of these features.  Let us know what you think of “The Sound of Us” and stay tuned for more updates about A Lot Like Birds and their upcoming album, “DIVISI”.

 

“The Sound of Us”:

500 Word Review: Childish Gambino “Awaken, My Love!”

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“Awaken, My Love!” is completely unexpected and original, but where did the rap go? This is Glover’s first attempt at a purely R&B album and somehow “Awaken” makes it sound like he’s had plenty of practice making them. How he satisfactorily produced this ambitious album after devoting his musical career to rapping is impressive. It is impossible to deny his multiple talents. I call this album ambitious because it is uncharted territory for Gambino. Yes, he tests out his singing voice a bit on “Kauai”, but he pushes his vocals to their limit on “Awaken” making frequent use of his falsetto. Even so, Glover demonstrates his versatility and while I was constantly anticipating his rapping, his singing did not take away from the album. Straying even further from his comfort zone, this album is full of funk, soul, and psychedelia creating a new and unfamiliar sound.

When “Me and Your Momma” kicks in, I was instantly reminded of the lazy yet precise drumming and stoned guitar of King Crimson so much that it sounded like a tribute to the band. Evidence of this influence shows up in other songs like “Boogieman” and “Zombies”. The vast, trippy production works well with this style, but the ceaseless reverb definitely gets old. Themes of love, loads of clapping, chanting, and church choir style background vocals give the album a Cristian tone that is out of place in an increasingly atheist world and rap scene. The chorus of “Have Some Love” sounds like a hymn sung around the fire at a summer Jesus camp. Peace culture and drugs certainly have a history together, but I’m not so sure the album’s psychedelia goes hand in hand with its soulful characteristics.

The album is an appropriate length, but there are still a couple of songs that it could do without. “California” is clunky and breaks up the album. Its distorted vocals are too much to comfortably listen to. “The Night Me and Your Momma Met” is just unneeded dead space wedged between two already mellow songs. This album may represent uncertainty of where to focus his talents for Glover, or his understanding that he is successful enough to artistically experiment wherever he wants. The absence of even a single rap verse on “Awaken” and his experimentation on “Kauai” raise the question of whether Gambino plans on changing genres permanently. Strangely enough he doesn’t seem to be any better or worse at the R&B trade than rapping, he’ll probably have a dedicated following either way he goes as long as he doesn’t decide to take a sharp turn again.

 

Score: 7/10

 

Album Review by Zachary Norton, March 2017

“Awaken, My Love!”:

Breaking News: Hans Zimmer Set to Play 2017 Coachella

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Recently, one of the largest music festivals in the world, Coachella, released their full 2017 lineup.  The list of artists confirmed for the festival is extremely impressive, like usual, but one name stood out over the rest.  That name happened to be Hans Zimmer.  For those of you who might not be familiar with him, Hans Zimmer is probably the greatest composer of the 21st century.  Composing the scores to successful films like “The Lion King”, “Batman Begins”, “The Da Vinci Code”, “12 Years A Slave”, and my all time favorite movie and Original Soundtrack, “Inception”, Hans Zimmer’s legacy and discography is immensely impressive.  That being said I was both shocked and pleasantly surprised to see that he would be performing at Coachella this year.  Zimmer will often perform at concert halls and other venues appropriate for the scores he has written, but I was unaware that he also performed at festivals, especially those like Coachella that usually host pop and electronic artists, like for example Beyonce, who will be headlining the Saturday lineup.

Personally, I would attend Coachella this year just to see Hans Zimmer.  Being able to watch a legendary composer perform fantastic scores in a peculiar environment is probably the only way I could justify paying the ridiculous price for a single Coachella ticket.  Don’t get me wrong, there are other phenomenal artists featured on the lineup this year as well, but nothing compares to the fact that Hans Zimmer will actually have a set time at one of the world’s biggest festivals. If you are going, or planning on attending I highly suggest seeing Zimmer’s performance!  Hopefully some recorded version of his set will be released online afterwards, as I am extremely interested in seeing what songs he will perform, how he will perform them at the festival, and most importantly, how this will all fit into the unique atmosphere at Coachella!

The full lineup and dates for the festival are attached below!  We’ve had an extremely slow start to 2017, but I promise we have a lot more in store for this year, including a seamlessly never-ending list of album reviews, and of course, our Album of the Year list!  Thank you for your patience and continued support and we hope you enjoy all of the content we plan on sharing with you very soon!

 

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