Tag Archives: Review

Review: Dr. Dre – Compton

If only this really was the LA skyline...

If only this really was the LA skyline…

16 years we’ve waited and all the blogs and publications are asking: “Was it worth it?”

Debatable.

The Chronic changed my music-life, as it changed many other lives.  When N.W.A. first came out, it was still a little out of my range; I was still hanging out with MC Hammer and about to devote a couple years to Bell Biv Devoe and the post-New Edition crew.  Public Enemy were the most extreme I got, but they weren’t as crass, dangerous or debaucherous as N.W.A.  What does an 8-year old half-white kid know about fucking the police?  It wasn’t until Dre released The Chronic — and then Snoop’s Doggystyle — that the combination of pre-pubescence and the need for danger really collided.  Unwittingly, it also served as the bridge between my hitherto love of hip-hop and the impending conversion to alternative rock and industrial metal.

Compton is not The Chronic.  It’s not even 2001.  There are glimpses of each predecessor, but don’t expect Compton to be The Chronic 3/III/2015 of your dreams.  The Chronic was damn-near perfect.  The singles alone warrant classic status.  Deeper cuts like “The Day The Niggaz Took Over” and “Rat-tat-tat-tat” cement that designation.  2001 gave us a couple more classic singles, but was not as funky, visceral or exhilarating as Dre’s debut.  Almost a decade had passed, Dre was loaded, Snoop was R&B, and Eminem was in his prime.  There was no need to change the game.

Jump forward almost two decades (!!!): Snoop is Bob Marley, Eminem is super into running, and Dre is even richer.  Compton serves primarily as a vehicle for two things: promoting the upcoming N.W.A. biopic and “debuting” a new batch of proteges.  Dre doesn’t even sound like Dre anymore.  I’m listening to The Chronic right now and his voice is so deep, so commanding.  Now I’ve switched over to Compton and his flow is off, his voice sounds a wee bit higher.  I can’t complain, but it honestly took me a few double-takes to realize that it was Dre on the track and not one of the 3-4 other “guests.”

One thing that remains — thank God — is Dre’s masterful production.  The soundscapes and atmosphere remind me of Dre’s one-time collaborator and my all-time favorite: Trent Reznor.  Like Trent, Dre can craft an amazing beat, weave a lusciously flowing earworm, and connect tracks in a way that remind older folks like me the value of a cohesive album, even if their current lyrical output is pretty laughable and they are happy/rich shadows of their former selves…  Compton is a press-play, sit-back, listen-through experience.  The guests pop in and out, the melodies shine through moments of grit and ugliness, and Dre remains the mad puppeteer.  I need way more listens to fully appreciate this, but at the moment, I’m convinced it’ll only truly unfold after repeat (all-the-way-through) listens.  The latter half of the album is stacked.  This is not a perfect singles collection like The Chronic.  It’s a journey, a soundtrack not only for a *hopefully* glorious movie, but for an experience with a scarily-talented crew and its masterful doctor.  For that, I think this trip is totally worth it.

Rating: 4/5 marijuana leaves

YAASSSS:

  1. Hearing Ice Cube rap “it was a good day.”
  2. Having Xzibit, Snoop and Eminem on the same album… is it 2000 again?!
  3. Anderson .Paak, half-Korean blasian, repping on 6 of 16 tracks on Compton.  TIYL: Frank Ocean.
  4. Jon Connor: next big thing.

OH DEAR…

  1. That questionable skit at the end of “Loose Cannons” where they inexplicably kill a woman… No thanks!
  2. Eminem’s soon-to-be infamous line about rape on “Medicine Man”… Necessary at this point in your career, Em?
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Review: The Strokes – Comedown Machine

Oh March… what a month.

New Trent, new JT and now new Strokes.  Tis a good month.

The Strokes - Comedown Machine

 

Let me get this out of the way: I love the Strokes.  Their last two albums have been clunkers (Angles was shit and First Impressions had a couple amazing tracks… mired in shit).  Is This It is on my Desert Island Discs (do we change this to Desert Island MP3s now?) list, one of my Top 10 of ALL TIME (take that!), and Room On Fire will always occupy a soft spot in my heart.

How does this album stack up?  It’s pretty fucking good.  It’s no Is This It.  It’s no Room On Fire.  And it’s not just good because it’s not First Impressions or Angles.  It’s a solid little thing, a nice meld of the first two albums and Julian’s solo effort, Phrazes for the Young, which I also loved.

And now follows my quick jumping-of-the-gun review.  We shall see how this ends up on the year-end ranking…

1. Tap-Out: “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”?  Sunny pop blast to open the album.  Me like.

2. All The Time: sounds most like Is This It.  Jangly and jumpy, Julian raspy as ever, it’s a hard-charger.  Me like.

3. One Way Trigger: if this song becomes one of the “Age Old” divisive arguments among Strokes fans, put me squarely and forever on the side of “THIS SONG IS AWESOME.”  It took forever to grow on me, but that falsetto and “find a girl, find a job, find a dream, shut it down” shit really connect with me.  Me love.

4. Welcome To Japan: this is early front-runner for favorite track on the album. This is groovin’ shit, like No Doubt “Hella Good”-type nasty funk-pop.  Me love.

5. 80s Comedown Machine: zzzzzzzzzz… Melody and instrumentation are fine, but Julian’s putting me to sleep on this one.  Me sleepy.

6. 50 50: YEAAARRRRRGH!  With more balls and heavier riffs, this would make a badASS QOTSA song.  Sure wakes you up from the “80s Comedown Machine” funk.  Julian’s screaming like a man on this.  Me love.

7. Slow Animals: get into the groove again.  Julian sounds like he’s floating in space, but damn if the other guys are working their fingers off.  The “chorus” comes out of nowhere and it’s guaranteed to get stuck in your head, even if I have no clue what Julian is sputtering.  Me like.

8. Partners In Crime: wooooo, guitars go home, you’re drunk!  Before the wacky chorus kicks in, I got some tastes of Phil Collins’ “Another Day In Paradise” (haha, no joke).  This is fun and upbeat, but the most praise I can give it is for creativity and to say it wasn’t on Angles (burn).  Me like.

9. Chances: WHO IS THIS?!?!???  It sounds like someone but I can’t put my finger on it.  Someone NOT Julian Casablancas.  Mid-tempo, relaxing little number.  But what the fuck is that insane girl-singing in the beginning?  This sounds 80s soft rock.  Me sleepy again.

10. Happy Ending: tee hee.  It’s not quite happy, nor is it the end of the album.  Meh?  Me kinda like.

11. Call It Karma Call It Fate: the drugs have finally taken full control of the brain.  I thought this was an old Motown song at first (“Heard It Through the Grapevine”?) that morphs into some dreamy Beach Boys pop tune.  Definitely the most surprising track of the album, and quite possibly their swan song.  Me like.

So there we have it, folks.  3 killers, 5 great ones that’ll likely grow on me and a few snoozers.  Hey, I can’t complain; nothing is as bad as this cover art (or Angles).  If this is really their last album, as it’s feared/rumored, I’d say it’s a good way to go out.  They’ll remain one of my all-time favorite bands, even despite Angles.  Good job, boys.  (B+/A-)

The Strokes, Comedown Machine, out 3/26 on RCA.  Stream it on Pitchfork before the album drops.

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Review: Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man

ImageIt’s time for another installment of Jumping the Gun, wherein I give my snap judgment of a new album whilst listening to it for the first time.  Today we pay a visit to my favorite loopy chanteuse, Natasha Khan, aka Bat for Lashes.  In a post-Tori, post-Bjork world — where artists are no longer influenced by Kate Bush, but rather by her own aforementioned musical offspring — Bat for Lashes is my #1 candidate for throne-succession in the empty void left by Tori Amos, who I’m sad to say has really just fallen off in recent years, and Bjork, who now values ingenuity over actual melody and songwriting.

Aesthetically, Bat for Lashes has always reminded me of Bjork and Tori, plus a lot of Eurythmics-era Annie Lennox.  Quirky lyrics, a gift for beat craft and a whole lot of soul.  Her first album, Fur & Gold, was an immediate ear-catching addiction for me.  I seldom get goosebumps upon first listen to any song, but “Horse and I” blew me away.  The rest of the album is a grand spookshow, the work of some dark woodland shamaness.  Her musical M.O. is apparent: half of the album consists of delicate balladry that suffocates in its beauty; the other half pops with tribal electro-pop beats.  The perfect compliment to kindred freak-spirit, Florence Welch, Bat for Lashes delivered a flawless debut.

Her follow-up, Two Suns, blew the roof off.  Majestic and sweeping, with louder beats, deeper layers and catchier melodies, it was a Super Sized version of Fur & Gold.  Pop gems like “Daniel,” “Pearl’s Dream,” and “Sleep Alone” provide ample dance-party grooves, while the crushing “The Big Sleep” and “Moon and Moon” highlight her gorgeous vocals.  Things were full of promise.  So full of promise.

On cover of her third LP, The Haunted Man, Khan stands naked with a scrawny hipster (also naked) strategically wrapped around her like a shawl (or the Monopoly Man in Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls).  It makes a NSFW moment just kinda-sorta-still-pretty NSFW.  You even get some pube action.  Stirring stuff, surely.  But what I can gather from this display is that we’re in for an album where she lays herself bare, shedding all the crazy, witchy electro-prog for some serious soul-searching introversion.  Maybe the Vespertine/Homogenic part of her overall oeuvre?  Let’s find out…

1. Lillies – starts off slow…sparse… and then a phat beat.  A repetitive phat beat.  That continues…until we get some strings (that woke me up a bit).  It’s not bad…but it’s not grabbing me either.  Oh wait, horns!  Harps!  Swelling orchestration!  End.

2. All Your Gold – bass strum vaguely reminiscent of Gotye, but let’s try to was that from our mind grapes.  Can’t ruin this song before it starts, can we?  This is a LOT more Bat for Lashes-y than that opening snoozer.  Once the heavy beat kicks in, you’ll be dancing in your car (or at your computer… or walking down the street… wherever you kids listen to your music these days).

3. Horses of the Sun – combining two familiar theme-words from her previous works, we have another tune of signature Bat for Lashes tribal beats and foreboding dread.  I appreciate this.  Very much.  Dark and sensual, just how I like it.  But self, do you just like this song because it’s better than the two songs that preceded it, or because it’s actually “good”?  Jury’s out.

4. Oh Yeah – a fitting title.  This song is pretty fucking great.  I’d put it on a playlist.  Or skip the previous three songs just to hear it again.  My Eurythmics vibe is in full swing here.

5. Laura – joining the ranks of previous songfolk Prescilla, Sarah and Daniel, we have Laura, a swelling ballad bolstered by horns and drama.  This would fit perfectly on Two Suns.

6. Winter Fields – what. an. opening.  Sweeping strings and big banging drums.  But then the song really doesn’t go anywhere…

7. The Haunted Man – honestly I thought this was still “Winter Fields”…  seven songs in and I’m still not feeling this album.  Nothing grabbed me. Nothing gave me goosebumps.  Nothing really begs me to go back and re-listen.  Hark!  There’s some weird man-chanting in the middle.  Could be ancient Druids…could be ancient natives.  I think I don’t even care anymore.  *sad face* 

8. Marilyn – she’s joining the party that I describe up in #5…  is this party fun?  Are we having a good time?  Prescilla, Sarah and Daniel are having a grand old time, but Laura and Marilyn are being boring wallflowers.  We get some nice 8-bit NES melody and skittering beats that remind fans of her older, better songs… but this is too little too late.  Still, I think it’s gorgeous, fitting right into Two Suns (again!).  Maybe these were castoffs from that era?  Who knows.  I’m talking to myself.

9. A Wall – Lol, how fitting.  Yes, we’ve certainly hit one.  The album is almost done and I’m almost bored to death.  The problem is that these songs aren’t terrible, they just aren’t great.  They can’t compare to her previous efforts.  And I just can’t help skipping ahead to the next track.

10. Rest Your Head – I’m just frustrated as hell.  I give up.

11. Deep Sea Diver – oh hey, the album is done.  Now I can resume life.

 

Verdict: Yes, you’ve never seen me this harsh before.  Yes, I seem to really hate this album.  Yes, you’re partially right.  I’m harsh because I expect more.  Unfair perhaps, but with two near-flawless albums under her belt, Bat for Lashes really gets those hopes high.  This isn’t a terrible record; it’s just boring as fuck.  If she was aiming for introspective simplicity, she certainly attained something along those lines.  I’ll give it more chances — maybe more than it deserves — but for now, I find myself revisiting Fur & Gold and Two Suns, wishing The Haunted Man was something more.  Maybe that guy on the cover died of boredom and she’s just disposing of his cold, flaccid corpse.

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