Thunder Buddies (Broken Social Scene, Hug of Thunder review)

Every once and a while, we all need a hug. Especially when it gets weird and dark.

 

Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder

released July 7, 2017
********* 9/10

Broken Social Scene are a Canadian indie rock band (yay for Canadian content!) formed by Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning. Sometimes they have six members, and sometimes they have nineteen band members, because above all, Broken Social Scene are a musical super group of popular Canadian indie rock acts and solo artists…

Metric (Emily Haines, James Shaw), Feist (Leslie Feist), Stars (Amy Millan, Torquil Campbell, Evan Cranley), Apostle of Hustle (Andrew Whiteman), Do Make Say Think (Ohad Benchetrit, Julie Penner, Charles Spearin), KC Accidental (Kevin Drew), Valley of the Giants (Brendan Canning), Land of Talk (Elizabeth Powell), Raising the Fawn (John Crossingham), Reverie Sound Revue (Lisa Lobsinger), Treble Charger (Bill Priddle), Jason Tait, Justin Peroff, Jason Collett, Ariel Engle and a few other people have all featured at one time or another.

Altogether, they have released a whopping five studio length albums since their inception in 2001, which I think is pretty admirable given that all of these artists are in at least one other full-time band.

Despite misgivings that no band can be this big and still sound like the individual artists within, BSS manages to do just that. Sometimes they are chaotic and experimental, other times they are orchestral, sometimes they are sad and introspective, and still other times they are celebratory, but they are never timid in their presentation. Hug of Thunder is no weak sauce either.

This isn’t your Spider-Man album, no pulled punches people, please.

BSS spend most of the album letting us know that they are counter-culture, and by that, I mean that they refuse to share dream pop tracks and emotionally abuse people on the internet. This is a community of people shouting the importance of community, when most of us are screaming about politics into our phones. It resonates with the hipster nihilism we started to experience in the early 2000s, the stuff that took root in popular culture and grew into a field of bullshit weeds.

Ideas of love, community, sexuality, and honest to goodness rock and roll seem to have been completely forgotten about in recent years, but BSS refuse to give up on us ingrates. They’ll elevate us up, despite the incredible effort it takes to produce tracks like Gonna Get Better, tittle track Hug of Thunder, and Vanity Pail Kids.

I’m not gonna lie, this album deserved better than the world it’s been brought up in. Our celebrations of libertarianism are so common now that it’s tough to stomach the idea of pulling together and getting along, but Please Take Me With You and Skyline insist, almost plainly that we do. Though never quietly.

But here’s the catch, while you can consume this album in parts and pieces, it’s actually best viewed as a whole. Recognizing that a stable of musicians reunited after a seven year hiatus in order to combat against global indifference is a far stronger statement than Protest Song can deliver all on it’s own. Broken Social Scene have come together to release a pragmatic optimism, and that is probably the best antidote we could receive. Unabashed positivity isn’t realistic in 2017, but stating that the world is ending is foolish too.

We need to keep up the fight and keep working, vigilant without naivety. A challenge to be sure, but I wouldn’t have the message delivered any other way.

Pros: Halfway Home, Gonna Get Better and Protest Song are all excellent demonstrations of the gentle-hearted politics of this album, Hug of Thunder being a personal favourite.

Cons: At certain intersections the lack of a frontwoman or frontman is difficult to digest, and leaves the album feeling disjointed, like a compilation or a soundtrack, rather than an album. But this rare.

Runtime: 52 minutes

Points of Interest: In March of 2017, Broken Social Scene made an appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, featuring past members Emily Haines, James Shaw, Amy Millan, and Evan Cranley, indicating we would see the a return to form. Ariel Engle is a new member of the band, and she has worked with Andrew Whiteman on AroarA previously, which is how she was introduced to the rest of the troupe.

The best and worst parts of Broken Social Scene come from their ability to work together as a group, and in taking it a bit safer with this record, those aspects become more apparent. This is still an excellent record, but not perfect because the exploration isn’t quite where it has been previously. Their message is amazing though, which makes up for a lot of that safety net.

theories Summarized

To put it in brief, this is an anthem for a new generation of apathy. The WIIFM (what’s in it for me) drone need not apply themselves in this case, because Broken Social Scene are all about that open concept of love, empathy and pulling together as a greater community. I’ve not much else to say, except that you really should listen to this album. And those are all of my theories on the matter.

Tim!

And He Kept On Preaching In The Synagogues (JAY-Z, 4:44 review)

If I owned a sports bar, clothing line, sports agency, and multi-millions in real estate and art investments, people would probably come running to hear me too.

 

JAY-Z – 4:44

released Jun 30, 2017
********** 10/10

Sean Corey Carter, bettter known by his stage name JAY-Z, which has also been written as Jay-Z, Jay Z, Jay:Z and Jaÿ-ZJay-Z, Jay Z, Jay:Z and Jaÿ-Z, is an American rapper and businessman. Or should I say, business, man? As it says directly on the album cover, this is his thirteenth studio album, and it’s probably one of this most mature efforts yet.

I mean yeah, Reasonable Doubt was groundbreaking, and The Blueprint a masterpiece, while The Black Album made us miss him, but 4:44 is his apologetic letter for being an asshole, and man does it sing with sincerity and truth. It’s personal, poetic, and poised to take the place of top hip hop record of the year, ironic given that his wife had a top charting album last year. JAY-Z is a legend, and 4:44 is his opportunity to put together an album for him. This is not a cool album, trying to keep up with current day hip hop, there are no singles here. If anything, it sounds like it was put together quickly and abruptly.

So yeah, this is and isn’t a response to Lemonade. It’s more about us getting to see JAY-Z as a fallible human. He raps about being black and racial inequalities, infidelity, his daughter, politics, his personal wealth, and a total dismissal of his ego. It’s fucking brilliant.

But it’s not for your average fan, it’s for those who appreciate his legacy and understand who he is and what he has done for the game.

Kill Jay-Z is a direct reference to the time that Solange Knowles attacked him in an elevator, and it brings up the degradation of his friendship with Kanye West. Also he apologizes for the first time officially to Beyonce, confirming that Lemonade is a true account. He later does that and more on title track 4:44, especially apologizing to all of the women in his life that he has played.

One of my favourites songs is The Stoy of O.J. and it features my favourite line of the album too. This comes when Hova raps “I’m not black, I’m OJ….OK” that sarcasm is a beautiful aftertaste to the cutting wine it was served with. But it’s not like Jay hasn’t rapped about his financial freedom before, nor the fact that black people won’t have security until they understand how Jewish people get rich off of credit. A bold statement within a real album.

Smile is another essential track about his mother Gloria Carter, who outs herself as a lesbian, but JAY-Z lovers her all the more, and encourages all of us to love who we love because life is ever-changing.

We get to see the classic dissing raps of older Jay on Caught Their Eyes and  Marcy Me, going after Prince’s Estate on the first of these two tracks, respectively. Or should I say disrespectively?

Of course the middle of the record also features Family Feud which is a gold mine of lyrics and beats from the heart. It addresses the old schools and new of hip hop, with Jay-Z proving that he has still got it, after all, on track closer, Legacy, he proves family extends to all black people. He wants to leave something meaningful behind in his business work.

Pros: Absolutely essential tracks to this record are The Story of O.J., Smile, and Family Feud. But every song has an element of sincerity to it, making this the most intimate JAY-Z album to-date.

Cons: It’s somewhat awkward to listen to Bam and Caught Their Eyes, they aren’t the most flow friendly tracks. Also that awkward hook on Moonlight about the La La Land fiasco. Seriously?

Runtime: 36 minutes

Points of Interest: Featuring appearances from his daughter Blue Ivy, his mother Gloria Carter, Frank Ocean, The-Dream, and wife Beyonce, this stripped down album has a certain vulnerability to it which we’ve never seen before.

As I mentioned before, this is not your latest and greatest clubbing hip hop record. It is chock full of thoughtful and revealing songs, and deserves the attention of an alumni of JAY-Z’s work. To say that he is the greatest rapper of all time isn’t that big of a boast – the confessional nature of this record solidifies his reputation.

theories Summarized

If it hasn’t been made clear for you just yet, JAY-Z is a business, man. Him and Diddy are almost tied for the most financial successful rappers of all time . But that’s not what this album is about. It’s a testimonial to his screwups, him owning his coldness, and settling into middle age. Hova has worked with so many different arists over the years, but I find it fitting to mention his 2004 collaboration with Linkin Park before I close this post off. RIP Chester Bennington. Jazzy will hold it down for you from here on out.

Tim!

Intensive Care, With Pure Cocoa Butter (Calvin Harris, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 review)

Every summer features an album that perfectly establishes what that feeling should sound like, but the challenge for me is that I eventually tire of summer and want to cool off with fall weather. This summer we’ve found our winner.

 

Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1

released Jun 30, 2017
******** 8/10

Adam Richard Wiles, better known as Calvin Harris, is a Scottish producer, disc jockey, singer, songwriter, and musician – though he’s mostly a DJ producer. He first charted with 2007’s I Created Disco, apt given that his music is often given modern pop treatments, with a hint of disco years past.

But that was ten years ago, and four more records have been released since then. Funk Wave Bounces Vol. 1 is the fifth studio album from Harris and it’s easily his best one yet.

Featuring only a couple of real misses, which I’ll outline below, the collaborations on this one are on point, and should be welcomed with open arms. Of particular note are Frank Ocean, Migos, Future, Khalid, Pharell Williams, Katy Perry and Big Sean. But by far, the diamond in the rough of this record is the appearance of new comer Jessie Reyez.

Hard To Love is just such a great closing track, and Reyez vocals really compliment Harris’ use of guitar and simple drum tracks. Reyez reminds me of a combination of Macy Gray, Alessia Cara, Corinne Bailey Rae, and Billy Holiday. It’s just an amazingly satisfying track to listen to. And that’s the power of Harris, he just seems to know intuitively when to pair sounds together with artists and make beautiful music.

He is better at sticking with production and leaving the lyrics to his contemporaries. A great example of this is combining the talents of Future with Khalid, and man does it ever work to our benefit on Rollin.

Of course I would be remiss not to at least write a couple of sentences about the standout song of this record. It’s mindless fun, but man is the song Feels enjoyable to listen to, and I’ll never be afraid to catch feels again thanks to the message being drummed into my head over and over. This is feel-good music, featuring the appropriate amount of trilling and hip hoping.

It might not be an album laden with singles, but Funk Wav Bounce Vol. 1 does a great job of promoting the range of sounds Harris is more than capable of exploring, and I think it assures us we’ll have another decade or two with the DJ producer.

Pros: When it comes to sunsoaked sounds, the essential tracks of Feels, Slide, and Rollin will do more then enough to please your ears, evoke the tropics, summer driving, and disco boogies.

Cons: Maybe it’s just Nicki Minaj that gets on my nerves, but Skrt On Me is super boring and barely there, making it even worse then the lounge sounds of Prayers Up

Runtime: 38 minutes

Points of Interest: Calvin Harris promises ten new singles for 2017, and four of the ten tracks have fulfilled that role. The album debuted at number two on both US and UK album charts upon release.

Ditching techno and EDM may have alienated some of his fans, but featuring Snoop Dogg on this record for Holiday is a very welcome experience and like LCD Soundsystem did way back in the early 2000s, I’m glad Harris traded in synthesizers for guitars. He’s one of the hardest working musicians in the business.

theories Summarized

I think we can expect even greater things from Calvin Harris in the decade to come, and while he didn’t share too much of his personality or feelings in the past, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 definitely feels like more of a passion project then other works of years past. So don’t be afraid to catch feels Calvin.

Tim!

Arm Chair Philosophy (Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory review)

Philosophy is a wonderful thing. Rich, compelling, and full of room to experiment, because there isn’t one world view per se.

 

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

released Jun 23, 2017
******* 7/10

Vincent Jamal Staples, better known by his stage name, Vince Staples, is an American rapper and member of the hip hop group Cutthroat Boyz. He has also been associated with Odd Future and gained attention by making appearances on their albums as well from a mixtape he worked on with Mac Miller, Stolen Youth.

Staples debut album, Summertime ’06, was already released two years ago, which is why his sophomore effort, Big Fish Theory, has a lot to say for itself and about this new renaissance of hip hop, EDM and pop. Much like his contemporaries, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Childish Gambino (who is supposedly leaving music behind), Staples is perfectly comfortable with living in the weirdness of our generation. That means producing a record which could be ethereal and amelodic or one that combines sounds of the past to propel us into the future. Big Fish Theory is the later.

And I have to wonder if calling upon his previous skills as a documentarian, celebrating a self-proclaimed posthumous guardianship of Amy Winehouse, who features on Alyssa Interlude, and his hyperawareness of his own mortality/celebrity are the driving factors of Staples’ successes here or merely a perk when listening to the record.

The weirdness shows throughout the whole album, and might be best demonstrated in one of the later songs, Party People. Staples raps about how you can either move to the music if it hits you right OR you can sit there in your depression swimming with thoughts and a heavy heart, after all, the world is dark for some of us. This is not your baby sisters hip hop, nor is it aunties or grandpas. These beats are different then pretty much anything I’ve ever heard, and it works well, most of the time.

Not only that, but Vince Staples is happy to push his collaborators into the backdrop and have them as part of the song rather then front and centre, in fact he even pushes himself into a minor role on one of the songs. Kendrick Lamar fits nicely inside Yeah Right, an attack on the chest-puffing of most rap tracks. And there are definitely blink and you might miss it appearances from Juicy J, ASAP Rocky, Kilo Kish, Ray J, Ty Dolla Sign, and Damon Albarn.

The challenges with this album come in on the structure and organization of the songs, which can be heard best when you listen to tracks like Crabs In A Bucket, Love Can Be…, and Ramona Park Is Yankee Stadium. The questions I have immediately are around the experimentation. Exploration is awesome, but do these really compliment Staples cadence and content? It’s interesting for sure to have the bird calls, sirens, and whistling winds, but where is this going? Crabs In A Bucket sets the stage for a complex album, but it doesn’t feel like his strongest work, for sure.

That said, there are some really surprisingly fun tracks like 745 and Rain Come Down that intrigue despite shortcomings. Tonally these suit Staples well and the melodic choices sync up well with the speed at which he lays down his lyrics, but the best parts come from the verses and his rapping.

It is an experimentation of electronic music and hip hop, the kind of thing which metal-hip hop hybrid groups of the 1990s tried to accomplish but never really pulled off. And maybe that’s because those artists were metal first and hip hop second. Vince Staples confidence is so much more convincing.

Pros: Big Fish, the aforementioned Yeah Right and Party People are absolutely necessary on this album. An exploration of suicidal thoughts, the nature of hip hop, and what needs to happen next, Big Fish Theory is conscious hip hop, even if it isn’t labelled as such.

Cons: Rain Come Down is a little off in its warbling and takes the album into weird territory just as Big Fish Theory ends, much like how Crabs In A Bucket has a shaky start, it’s the middle of this record that does best.

Runtime: 36 minutes

Points of Interest: Influenced by house music and Detroit techno, Big Fish Theory calls up avant-garde electronica, funk, industrial music and a host of other sounds to afford Vince Staples with the creative expression he needs to transcend his environment. That Def Jam supports this sort of experimentation is fantastic, despite how discomfiting it is for most hip hop fans.

When music separates itself from it’s environment for even a second, acknowledges the world around it, and then zooms back in, it’s often a pleasing experience, and luckily for us world weary philosopher Vince Staples shared his Big Fish Theory with us.

theories Summarized

Keeping an open mind and heart is a wonderful philosophy and I hope Staples inspires other musicians to continue this trend. Yes, there will be blips in the road along the way, but how wonderful it is that we can have some good hip hop and EDM combined together for once, rather then remixes and overdubs. And that’s my personal big fish theory.

Tim!

Two Piece Band (Royal Blood, How Did We Get So Dark? review)

It’s important to make music that you care about dear readers. And it’s essential to listen to music that fires you up inside. And man does this music ever do that for me.

 

Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

released Jun 16, 2017
******** 8/10

Royal Blood are an English rock and roll duo, comprised of vocalist and bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher. They have been making music since 2013 – they hit the ground running when they released their first single, Out of the Black later that year. But they first truly got my attention in 2014 when the fourth single Figure It Out debuted.

Holy Moses was that a good experience.

Most definitely my favourite song of that summer. It had the raw quality needed to start a personal process of healing for me. And that release was almost three years ago, so it says a lot about their rock and roll power, because a great deal has happened for these blokes in the time past. Royal Blood saw a huge spike in popularity in a short time, winning several awards including Best British Group for 2015.

When it comes to describing their sound, Kerr has stated that one of his biggest influencers is Steven Hamblin from Graces Collide, which is all well and good, but if you’re new to Royal Blood, then you’re probably wondering what these guys sound like comparatively and I’m happy to oblige. The White Stripes, Black Keys, Death From Above 1979, and Japandroids are probably the best ones I can think of straight away, so take the time and look ’em up.

This is one of those albums that faces the ever-popular challenge of the sophomore follow-up. Tread the course or swim out into deeper waters and hope you don’t drown. Luckily for us, Royal Blood are strong enough swimmers fully capable of doing both; sometimes we hear songs like Where Are You Now? and Look Like You Know which stick to the sounds that what we know, but then we get excellence in the form of album closer Sleep, allowing everything that happens in between songs one to ten to vibrate at level far more grand then on the first album.

Yes. There is a big block of cheese to go with the album’s third single and eighth track, Hook, Line & Sinker, but it’s definitely still a fun song, and considering the tempo of the rest of this record, that’s a far better excuse to be forgiven of then some of my previous album reviews. Also She’s Creeping is kinda bland, angular, and annoys me, but I read another review on Ultimate Guitar which specifically stated a resemblance to Nirvana on this song (who some might say I inexplicably hate), so I’ll just leave it alone.

For my final thoughts… The use of extra vocals and overdubs on the second and third tracks Lights Out and I Only Lie When I Love You make them incredibly catchy, with all of the rawness that made Royal Blood popular to begin with, but making better use of Kerr’s voice and layering in more instrumentation to boot.

Pros: If you’re willing to listen to this a few times over, you might be surprised to learn that one of the best tracks is the title one – How Did We Get So Dark mixes in the new and old sounds quite well. And it deserves to be a single. Also Lights Out and Sleep. It’s a short album with a lot of buzz and well paced.

Cons: Sometimes the production runs a little slick and I think that’s where we end up with songs like She’s Creeping and Hook, Line & Sinker, which unfortunately feel a little phoned in for me. Also, I wish that some the themes were either more epic or more intimate, less middling, please and thank you.

Runtime: 35 minutes

Points of Interest: Royal Blood share the same management as Arctic Monkeys. And months before they released their debut album back in 2013, Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders sported a Royal Blood t-shirt in support of them.

If you haven’t been convinced to check this album out just yet, then I’m a sad theorist, but I think you should check out these tracks (1) (2) (3) and make up your mind for yourself.

theories Summarized

Royal Blood may or may not be a great band of our generation, but either way they rock out with the best of them. I have high hopes for future years and sincerely someone figures out how to turn the lights on, if not, I’ll just jam along in the dark with them.

Tim!