Nikki Lane – Denim & Diamonds: Review

As it is with many, when the subject of Country music gets brought up, we can immediately become dismissive since its gen-pop style has us express slight disdain from the more honky-tonk country akin to early Kenny Chesney. But, when you remind yourself that ignorance isn’t bliss, it extends to music as a whole. Country’s extensive history, and nature, have given us fantastic stories with whimsical subtexts, stylistic ingenuity bridging blues and roots music, and a plethora of incredible artists not named Dolly Parton or Kenny Rogers, or gen-pop hoe-down tonk. Nikki Lane is another one you can add to that list, especially now, with the dynamic Denim & Diamonds. Her writing has had a resounding presence, getting elevated by keying into characteristics of the Roots Rock and Outlaw Country genres. In her own way, Lane is an outlaw in Country, as she stays true to herself and makes her music that kind you can actually rock out to feverishly without overbearing notes.

See, there is something about Country music that gives me some momentary bliss from the overly glitzy and produced instrumentals that start to tire you out because you can’t always be in synthesized trance. The genre has its own within its mass ecosphere, but the nuanced, melodic styles of the past have kept my inner, old soul afloat. Some great, some mediocre, and some bad, digging further into this world has given my ears new dimensions. Nikki Lane is that but with rugged rockadelic sounds that will have your eyes reflecting those diamonds in the rough. With Denim & Diamonds, we get music with clever songwriting that keeps you on your toes, buoyed by wildly creative and fun harmonies and melodies that some weaker instrumentations become ingrained into the final product. But there are a few times where it might be more difficult as the well-intentioned fail to capitalize on better deliveries. “Try Harder” fails to have as significant an impact as the opening “First High.” “Try Harder” is monotonous instrumentally like “Faded,” lacking a spark until the end when we get a wicked guitar semi-solo; fortunately, the album sparks brightly.

“First High” makes a distinguished impact, like the many tracks on Denim & Diamonds. Nikki Lane begins with a reflection on her roots, particularly the first time she fell in love with rock-n-roll and played her first note; however, we’ve heard her grow. Her first album was more rock, and the follow-ups brought in more country, and this one finds perfect synergy between the two. So when “First High” shifts from the melancholic strings (resonant with blues) into this more audaciously deep rock layers, which incorporates pedals, transfixing you into her musical world. Produced by Josh Homme, founder of Queens of the Stone Age, the two create an elegant hybrid that tiptoes around centralized genres expressing her unique identity. We hear it contextually within the production, further building the instrumentations with nuance, especially within the string sections; some of its rhythmic patterns, subtle or unsubtle riffs, or solos beneath a rich orchestration. 

“Good Enough” evokes an old Country soul, incorporating the fiddle as a contrast to its plucky guitar, all underneath the atmospheric coating that oozes the feeling one can describe as home is where the heart is,” vaguely. It’s grounded in reality as it never gets the urge to overdevelop, especially in the strings arrangements. Nikki Lane is tender, focusing on lessons learned through a relationship, which elevated her mental help finding solace in understanding she’s good enough.  “Black Widow” contrasts the style of “Good Enough,” as we hear Lane expressing her true badass self in a thrift store leather jacket and jeans over rustic and anthem-like instrumentations driving through the lyrical connotation given to us in “First High.” It’s a third-person extension of “Born Tough,” a potent country rock anthem that delivers with oomph and a sense of empowerment that gets boasted by its colorful instrumentations. We hear both sides of her–the personable like “Pass It Down” and the more impactfully driven bravado of the others mentioned.

Denim & Diamonds is an amalgamation of Nikki Lane’s musical personality. She gives us temperate Americana and Blues/Roots music that reflects her more personal (diamond) side; the denim is that rough-trade, pick-up-your-bootstraps Country, finding the perfect synergy, despite the ups and downs. Sometimes she finds ways to blend the two into a beautiful blend that tames the senses, especially as you get the chance to feel and hear remarkable storytelling through different contextual moods. You get this naturalistic feeling in most instrumentations–more importantly, in her melodies and songwriting as she finds unique avenues to express the platitude of layers within. Lane inflects sheer individualist bravado, letting herself feel one with the elevated country undertones as it blends with other styles and, at times, becomes the central force driving you home.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Starcrawler – She Said: Review

Starcrawler have a raucous appeal where they sing to varying topics in fascinating ways, like making a love-rock anthem about giving and getting head or sending a message to a patriarchy enforcing this dangly appeal without reinforcing your distinct personality. That track, “Toy Teenager,” criticizes the plastic [Mean Girls] society in High Schools, focusing on visual appearance instead of understanding how the real world works. Mostly lyrically profound, Starcrawler has been able to get past few rock conventions, continuing to deliver headbanging music that will have you lifted with that rebellious spirit. Though it’s no surprise seeing their growth from the hard rock-focused Starcrawler to their third album, She Said, an album that would also mesh in the 80s with pivoting, apparent genre influences in the productions like new wave and post-punk. It builds from the known, shifting between tempos and instrumental effects to establish an almost radiant listen that sometimes falters due to slight ineffective production and limited scope with its approach to its themes.

Opening with hard-hitting bravado, Arrow de Wilde, frontwoman of Starcrawler, starts with a destructive and empowering anthem about leaving your bum of significant other and mowing them over, leaving them, like the song’s title, roadkill–metaphorically. It sets the overall sonic theme creating unique contrasts with its central themes–a reflection on relationships with others and oneself, giving us darkness and hope–it starts shifting based on the quality of the production. Between steel pedals and guitarists, they elevate the less driven drums coasting in inoffensive rhythms. Yet, they kept it interesting by incorporating radical instrumental changes, whether as a closer or in song transitions that shift the apropos mundaneness of “Stranded” in contrast to the new wave-influenced “Broken Angels.” Despite both having great songwriting, the former falter because there isn’t anything interesting done in the production. 

It isn’t so often the genre influences shine through a few layers of sounds. At times, Starcrawler brings forth characteristics we’ve seen evolve through the years–closing on guitar-centric instrumental, no vocals, that plays with ferocious electricity, for one. Additionally, they levy their post-punk/hard rock aurora to set a foundation and grow–with their sardonic and saddening lyricism shedding various emotional perspectives–not all have that oomph to keep me interested. Arrow De Wilde is angry, longing, and contemplative about the effects of change. These emotions strengthen certain songs and downplay others like “Runaway.” 

Depending on its sonic tone, Arrow De Wilde flows with enough consistency that you’re headbanging along. It’s almost as if she didn’t need to take that extra step to stop it from diverting from being stylistically nuanced with 80s rock, even if the songs aren’t consistently hitting. We get Arrow performing fiercely or with broken barriers and softening near-ballad-esque melodies, and it works well. But there is something to them that keeps these ears enthralled, and that’s their synergy. It gets heard like the melodic coating of “Midnight” or the continued new wave stylings of “Jetblack.” It’s a remarkable contrast to the drab sounds of “Thursday.”

There are elements on She Said that work great, but it’s thematically mundane, leaning too much into motifs instead of exploring more like past albums. It’s more prevalent with tracks focusing on aspects of longing; the interest levels wane, like with “Thursday,” which doesn’t do much to extend beyond a standard rock instrumental. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay as consistent as their last album, Devour You, which consistently transitions between topics. We aren’t getting a more jovial-like song like “I Love LA” or artful and kinetic like “Chicken Woman.” However, it’s fun to hear this unique direction, especially as they give us songs that work and keep us headbanging for a while longer.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

The Weekly Coos: Top 15 Albums of The Year So Far

15. Wet Leg – Wet Leg

“Wet Leg captures you with melodic mysticism and lush instrumentations morphing beyond surface layer cohesion between drum patterns and electric guitar riffs, especially when the band steers toward pop-rock instead of post-punk overtures.”LINK TO REVIEW

14. 070 Shake – You Can’t Kill Me

“You Can’t Kill Me isn’t like 070 Shake’s previous album, specifically in the construct of the production. It isn’t devoid of complex layering with the sounds, but it doesn’t deter you by taking a distinct direction that never lands, though some tracks fly past the radar because of uninteresting production. There is a frequency to it, and 070 Shake comes at it with full force and develops a sense of emotional gravitas.”LINK TO REVIEW

13. Avril Lavigne – Love Sux

“…I haven’t always been absent from her music – some highlights here and there – and it’s a good thing I wasn’t as Avril Lavigne has come with her best work since 2005’s Under My Skin. Love Sux is a dynamic shift from blending nuances of the past with oblique pop. Love Sux knows what it is: lyrically poignant, blending commercialized lingo with riotous rock or rounded pop-punk ballads.”LINK TO REVIEW

12. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers

“It’s a complex text that wants you to decipher beyond the surface layer verbiage, and Kendrick doesn’t make it pleasant. It’s provocative, but that’s a given for him. With complex text, there is complex production, but here, he is building toward growth and showing us a reenergized side of him.”LINK TO REVIEW

11. Conway the Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes

“When attempting to bring bangers, he doesn’t stray far from his identity, lyricism; it continues to be a staple of his craft. There’s constant activity on God Don’t Make Mistakes, his major-label debut. There is crisp production from a range of producers, who provide tonal consistency, and there is Conway’s lyricism that never falters.”LINK TO REVIEW

10. Hurray for The Riff Raff – Life On Earth

“LIFE ON EARTH lands on impact with moments of catching wind as their sound evolves through each track. Alynda Segarra is trying new things, and as she weaves these complex layers in her writing, the production builds till we don’t have one flavor; we have many.”LINK TO REVIEW

09. Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever

“From the more personal and soul-filled High as Hope to the radiant baroque-pop on Ceremonials, Florence & The Machine have delivered consistently remarkable work, especially with Florence Welch’s ability to meld within any style taken with immense bravado. It’s what has her shining through on their fifth album, Dance Fever.”LINK TO REVIEW

08. Daddy Yankee – Legendaddy

“Daddy Yankee made reggaeton what it is today, allowing for a free flow of ingenuity to become universally accepted as new artists create their foundation. LEGENDADDY takes various eras of reggaeton and weaves them into a musically transcendent timeline of music history, with Daddy Yankee surprising us at almost every turn.” – LINK TO REVIEW

07. Black Country New Road – Ants Up There

“On Ants from Up There, the band isn’t as altruistic musically; they immerse themselves into balancing the external with the internal. Because of this, Ants from Up There shines, spotlighting itself as one of the best rock albums over the last few years.”LINK TO REVIEW

06. Kilo Kish – American Girl

“Building a foundation on Experimental and Alternative R&B/Hip-Hop, Kilo Kish branched out and used the basis of what works, adding elements that see her evoking elements of Pop; however, it can become forgettable, especially with her 2016 album, Reflections In Real Time. As a follow-up, America Gurl improves on some of the off-electronic overtones and transitions, with Kilo Kish growing more into who she is as an artist.”LINK TO REVIEW

05. The Weeknd – Dawn FM

“In a proposed trilogy, After Hours is now the appetizer, as we hear his progression in maturity – musically. However, The Weeknd gives us an afterthought – after the fun and thrills, what was it all for when you’re still left gutted with past regrets. He takes note of late-night radio and creates a similar atmosphere to parallel the sentiments of the average listener – it also maintains a proper balance of genre influence and his intricate ear for music with his producers.”LINK TO REVIEW

04. Rosalía – Motomami

“Motomami takes experimental directions, allowing Rosalía to explore beyond her comfort zone while retaining a sense of authenticity along the way. It breathes fresh air as she detaches from flamenco-pop past – there are minor blemishes, but it circulates into one cohesive romp that’s constantly catching you by surprise.”LINK TO REVIEW

03. Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart

“The first sounds we hear are waves slowly crashing along the sands of Long Beach, California. We immediately fade into Vince Staples rapping as the faint sounds of the waves blend in the background, and we get reintroduced to inside his head. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a shifting paradigm of lies and heartbreak, cornering any sense of hope to succeed. Vince Staples’ mind has hypotheticals, realizations, and growing pains that reflect how he views his career after many years under a label–sometimes, of his personality; other times, reflective of his career. But there is more to the project than the parallels in his potent lyricism, which is a constant on Ramona Park Broke My Heart. He is showing us behind the broken walls that surround him. Vince is giving us a lot to break down, from the emotionally-lyrical side and the production, which brings a continuation of greatness heard on his self-titled release last year.”LINK TO REVIEW

02. Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Tí

“Though I wasn’t the craziest on El Último Tour Del Mundo, what he did with a futuristic concept lyrically, was awe-inspiring, especially as he continued to grow artistically. Similarly, the album prior, Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana, did as the title suggested. Bad Bunny came at it with something new and different, blending various notes from diverse genres and showing us a free-spirited approach to the music. That continues on Un Verano Sin Tí. It’s an album resonant on the vibes, particularly in its construction, which plays in a nearly perfect crescendo from start to finish. He brings fresh features and unique directions we’ve heard a sampling of before; however, here it’s refined, coming at you with various sounds fit its beach/summery aesthetic, despite some lesser tracks, comparatively. It all culminates in excelling the idea Bad Bunny had when creating Un Verano Sin Tí.”LINK TO REVIEW

01. Angel Olsen – Big Time

“After reinventing herself with different aspects of pop–All Mirrors–and past stark and flaky atmospheres in folk and rock, Angel Olsen continues to shape her art, making music resonant with her identity on her new album, Big Time. In an interview with Pitchfork for the album, Angel Olsen said, “I have learned to let go of the labels and embrace what I’m feeling in the moment. And I ended up making a country record, or something like a country record.” Big Time is emotionally potent and sonically harmonious, bringing new dimensions to her artistry. It skews from modern country conventions, rooting itself in more traditional country, giving her vocal performance depth, reeling you with captivating emotional performances and a sense of whimsy.”LINK TO REVIEW

Avril Lavigne – Love Sux: Review

We’ve all had phases in our adolescence where the music we grew to love mirrors the angst inside, and in the early to mid-2000s, pop-punk was that. Avril Lavigne is one of many artists to have made a name within the genre – until 2007 when the infamously juvenile “Girlfriend” made splashes, only for Avril to double-down with “Hello Kitty,” years later; however, I haven’t always been absent from her music – some highlights here and there – and it’s a good thing I wasn’t as Avril Lavigne has come with her best work since 2005’s Under My Skin. Love Sux is a dynamic shift from blending nuances of the past with oblique pop. Love Sux knows what it is: lyrically poignant, blending commercialized lingo with riotous rock or rounded pop-punk ballads.

Love Sux doesn’t disassociate sonic complexions as tracks transition, like 2019’s Head Above Water. The album saw Avril Lavigne transition from the soulful and mediocre “Tell Me It’s Over” to a weird Power-Pop/Hip-Hop hybrid with Nicki Minaj on “Dumb Blonde.” It was only ever-so-often that her inner punk seeped out – here, she is hitting strides by delivering upon her strengths. But Avril is a rockstar, and she makes it known with her emotionally rugged vocal performances and righteous production. It’s on bombastic and hypnotic tracks like “Cannonball” and “F.U,” and driven love tracks like “Kiss Me Like The World Is Ending.” “Cannonball” ignites the fire for Avril’s return to Pop-Punk. It parallels her debut’s, Let Go, opening track “Losing Grip.” Both tracks mirror similar sentiments of being better off without an ex, except “Cannonball” does not lament, and instead, she is ready to turn it on, except for a few tracks. 

Avril Lavigne keeps the energy flowing with veracity, especially when we hear her blending tempos and speed. Unfortunately, these balanced transitions don’t mirror with two of her duets: “Bois Lie” featuring Machine Gun Kelly and “Love It When You Hate Me” with Blackbear. MGK’s turn to pop-punk has turned out basic melodies and instrumentations, which reflects in both effort and chemistry with Avril; it can be said about Blackbear, as well. There is little effort, which is sometimes the case with Avril, like with “Bois Lie,” which perpetuates an argument in a relationship. There is little that stands out, and most times, it’s waning on pop and relevancy, considering it is done better with Mark Hoppus on “All I Wanted.” “Bois Lie” has minimal depth, and the emotional delivery is lackluster; fortunately, these tracks could get pushed aside, and you’ll receive an incredible pop-punk album.

When you displace those two duets, a lot of what Love Sux gives us is a rocking head-banging time – whether she is destroying property on “Bite Me” or “Love Sux” or creating parallel pop-punk ballads (in tempo). Like most pop/rock ballads, we hear elevated piano riffs or slow tempo string arrangements; however, Avril Lavigne keeps you on that steady path before triggering the withheld angst. “Dare To Love Me” takes the former approach while retaining a rock aesthetic to keep the momentum flowing. Avril told us on “Cannonball” that the hunger is there, and without giving us a real taste of varied like “Complicated,” she has enough to keep you going, like mirroring the energy and cadence of “Sk8er boi,” especially with “Love Sux.”

Playing Love Sux without those duets offers a lot of breathing room for the monstrous head-banging to never stops, even when Avril Lavigne slows it down. It adds definition, sonically and lyrically, as we hear Avril singing about varying topics like keeping yourself up during the bad days on “Avalanche” or that emotional bridge that comes within starting a new relationship after being broken-hearted from a past one. Avril is opening the doors to her heart, more so than before, because it comes naturally to her. She isn’t widening her horizons with these different styles, and instead, she keeps it 100. It translates to a benefactor – if you – 86 the other duets: “All I Wanted,” her duet with Mark Hoppus of Blink-182. Mark Hoppus adds that 00s nuanced, with a modern twist – this allows the track to feel fresh amongst a modern wave of the genre we hear today while taking you back to the end of summer moshing at Warped Tour. The production helps; it continues to build energy from both singers over shreds of riotous electric guitar and drums, and that’s a predominant feeling throughout most tracks.

Avril Lavigne is at her best on Love Sux, and it shows. She is hungry, energetic, and thriving as she finds home with a genre she left in the past – it shows as she demolishes every production in her wake. Though the same can’t be said about two of the three duets, putting them into a flow with the other tracks stipends the smooth progression. But I’m a man of simple taste, and it’s easy to push those tracks aside so I can bathe in pure pop punk bliss.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Fur – When You Walk Away

Ever since falling into a typical YouTube rabbit-hole, the transfixing quality that exhumed from “If You Know That I’m Lonely” delivered a band with inherent promise, mainly because of lead singer William Murray’s beautiful vocal textures. His voice is like a blend between the crooning baritone-esque structure of traditional folk and amplificated underground rock bravado; it interplays with the contrasting rock-and-roll nature of the production, giving us different plates to expand our palettes. Fur has had an identity formed since their first foray in music like the previously mentioned single – a few singles and EPs later – on their new album When You Walk Away, they continue to eclipse past a few conventional ticks like an off-brand moment of solidarity where the guitar consistently shreds, even though it isn’t egregiously apparent. 

Sometimes bands can get carried away, mentally, and any minimalist-elongated lick or riff can hinder a song a bit, as it does on “The Fine Line of The Quiet Life.” It isn’t to dissuade the value of the song, but William Murray’s unique vocals barely scratch the audible surface as they let that elongated focus at the end become more of a focal point. It’s never detrimental toward Murray’s performance, except for the brash loudness that pushes Murray’s voice aside – occurring more frequently in the first half, it’s harder to pick apart the lyrics, which is a heavy component of Fur’s music. 

When You Walk Away is expressive in the first half, as William Murray’s drowned-out voice is overlooked by near elegance within the differentiating chord progressions and sonic transitions – like shifting from somber overtones with the bass to rock-n-roll with the percussion and guitar. Fur doesn’t allow you to walk in blindly, as they open and end, When You Walk Away, with namesake songs that also have the split duality. The album has a noticeable pivot that comes at the end of “She’s the Warmest Colour In My Mind.” It doesn’t have abrasive undertones in the strings and has an elegant balance between rock and melancholy. 

They’re in tune with their musical influences, and it’s audibly heard with tracks like “She’s the Warmest Colour In My Mind” – it’s reminiscent of older 80s rock – with subdued production during the chorus, instead of elevated percussion and strings in the verses. When You Walk Away is focused on reflection and what it means to have this perspective imparted onto you – where you become entangled in these thoughts that cause constant doubt.

When You Walk Away split is divided at the seams – you hear a consistent sonic theme keeping you in tangent with the reflections written in the lyrics for Fur. Part 1’s reflection point comes from captivating your ears with a sequence of instrumentations that fits the angst coming from young adults. The band lets their contained chaos fixated on being methodically placed, with quirky sidesteps from the lead guitar, like at the beginning of “Anybody Else But Me.” Similarly, in Part 2, Fur brings a consistent atmosphere – there is a cadence between pensive singing and broken down singled out instrumentations like on “Holding Up The Sun.” The acoustic guitar leads the rest as it progresses, intertwining a final mix of hope as it speaks on addiction and one’s lack of faith. 

When You Walk Away is intimate and vast in its approach to storytelling, giving us one cohesive journey from start to finish. It’s a reflection of life and music, as William Murray integrates ideas about love and existentialism. Whether the band is reeling in the differentiating atmospheric tones between the heavier rock elements with esoteric ballads that sometimes hit, except in here, where Murray’s intricate and direct like on “What I Am” – a thematic extension to “Anybody Else But Me” – the underlying difference coming from the levels of the vocal layers. Fortunately, it’s a happenstance that a lot of the songs elevate everyone’s strength. 
There is never a moment where When You Walk Away starts to shift you away – Fur is in tune with their sound, never relying on being like someone else with more pop. It’s heard throughout, especially within the plethora of songs in the middle, like “The Fine Line of The Quiet Life” and “No Good For You,” where it immediately shoots you to the peak. There are a few questionable moments within, but the tracklisting gives it a perfect transition between the two sides of the coin. Though they may not be the best songs because of minor problems, there is no denying When You Walk Away opens on an extremely high note.

When You Walk Away is a solid debut for Fur, delivering fans a blend of sounds that hit both spectrums. Unfortunately, I wish the first half was a little better mixed, but the infectious array of instrumental layers makes up for it. It’s a definite recommendation for fans, especially the curious semi-fan that knows a few of their 2017/2018 singles. They are relatable and bring a triad of marvelously plated components that make one of the better rock albums of the year.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Prince – Welcome 2 America: Review

When word spread of a non-collection of demos and records from Prince’s vault, the world felt a sigh of relief to receive new music without fearing for a producer’s intervention. We heard that this album, Welcome 2 America, was one that Prince had shelved after its recording. And after some rough years with tragic releases that undercut artists’ legacies, like Michael Jackson and Pop Smoke, there were worries that this new album could potentially deliver something similar. However, that isn’t the case. Welcome 2 America is this groovy-funkadelic soul journey that takes through histrionics of culture’s control in society.

Most of Welcome 2 America reminds us of what we’ve been missing over the last half-decade. Prince has had a presence everywhere, despite minimal hiccups within some of the instrumentations. There isn’t a moment where the music feels fully dated. He speaks on the influence social media and the internet have on creating biased opinions. But it isn’t like Prince is equating to the meme – The Simpsons Predicting Things. Instead, Prince has a keen eye on the stimulation consistent backslaps from the judicial system, and more can create amongst a crowd. 2020 was a testament to that momentous uproar amongst the community.

Before the start of Prince’s Welcome 2 America tour, his band accompanied him in the studio to record some music, particularly about the social-political climate in America and more. He distinguishes the rights of one and the view imparted on them based on blind societal construction. In the opening song, Prince delivers in spoken-word / singing hybrid delivers this wide range of ideas that flowed through his head as he saw the world progress. It continues to elevate throughout the album, taking away aspects of the dance movements for electrifying emphasis on the songwriting.

This is effervescent on the songs “Same Page, Different Book” and “Running Game (Son Of A Slave Master),” which breaths onto life’s recurring redundancies. It speaks on the changes needed as these redundancies become a more glaring issue. It finds ways to fix a community presence to keep the attention of the listener through the instrumentations.

Prince has had a consistent procession with rockabilly sensibilities behind his various eras, from disco to funkadelic power-rock and others. It isn’t missing here as Prince takes us back to a moment where this sound rang supreme for him. So there will be an urge to groove to the rhythm, despite the deep meaning in the songwriting. For example, In the song “Born 2 Die,” Prince creates a parallel to living-free as he speaks about the dangers that could kill a character, like external temptations. Prince approaches these subjects carefully to create the right atmosphere amongst the collection of tracks. It makes the transition between songs that bring out a two-step and ones that bring out your inner beret-wearing-coffee-drinker sensibilities (musically). 

The songs that follow a similar path to “Born 2 Die” come across with beautiful bravado. “Yes” and “Hot Summer,” in particular, are these breaths of fresh air with commanding gospels that create unison from those who dance around with glee. It stems from a looser sensibility that comes from an elongated sunset and calming weather of the summer. “Yes” gets you up on two feet as you rejoice with the band in this unified mix of glee and happiness that stem from trying and seeing new pastures.

Unlike “Yes,” “Hot Summer” is a delicate summer fling that doesn’t boast the tracks around it. Others feel part of a bigger collective, while this feels too focused on being a summer anthem. From the infectious percussion and harmonies by Prince and his band, this small stoppage gap delivers behind Prince’s strengths. It’s a highlight from the album that isn’t fully there. To its merit, one could easily find themselves grooving to this on any given day or whenever your focus isn’t to play this from start to finish.

These transfer over to other songs like “1000 Light Years From Here.” This song contrasts themes with the instrumentations. It blends lively sounds with serious songwriting that speak about the prototypical American Dream. For some, it is a true dream that becomes a reach, while others create their own far from the gravitational center of society. 

The songs that fluctuate instrumentally around similar sentiments are usually the best. One of my favorites songs on the album, “Stand Up And B Strong,” delivers on all cylinders. It builds momentum by fueling the internal desire to feel heard and capitalize on unified strengths. Like on “Yes,” there is an overwhelming sense of wanting happiness and determination that brings us closer together. 

There aren’t many songs that feel minimally off. But there is a reason Welcome 2 America got shelved in 2011. It isn’t perfect, and the humility it adds to Prince as a musician leaves you feeling comfortable and warm about its perception later down the road. Welcome 2 America takes itself seriously and is vibrant enough that most will enjoy the many songs on this, while others may feel lukewarm – understandably so. This album is fun and a nice relic of the past; however, it would have been understandable if it remained shelved.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Woodstock ’99: Peace, Love, and Rage: Film Review

The beauty and whimsy of 1970’s Woodstock is something the few to many have experienced once in their lifetime. It captured the calm and effervescent unity amongst the festival-goers. 30 years later, we would see the reverse happen at Woodstock ‘99. The festival defined a cultural shift in society that didn’t parallel the 1994 festival. They direct partial blame toward pop music, which didn’t fit the mold of the 90s counterculture. Garret Price’s new film Woodstock ‘99: Peace, Love, and Rage delivers dueling cases for the horrors and beauty of the festival.

Garret Price delivers an informative horror flick and concert documentary full of ideas that have a thin veil, like most true crime documentary series trending today. What they bring into the fold are these ideas about the raging toxic masculinity that has allowed many acts of sexual assault to go undermined in the aftermath, the auditory response from the audience, and the lengths to which a performer knew what they were brewing. 

As the documentary stacks idea after idea, there are moments where the film starts to tread between pieces of information undercut by stunningly restored footage of the concert from the various archives  – MTV/Pay-Per-View/Print media. However, it cuts corners to keep intact the most glaring issues, one of which culminated from an underlying motto of the original festival: FREE LOVE

Free love wasn’t necessarily free in 1999 unless you were one of many aggressors who chose to redefine the term free. 1999 had people violating females, ages as young as 14, and the idea of free love on both ends was an expression of love of one’s body with the amount boobs present and the toxic-rape culture with the amount of sexual assault reported. In the documentary, Moby mentions that within the nu-metal and rap, the understanding was absent and picking apart what they like: misogyny and homophobia, which fueled frat boy rape culture.

Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine, and Metallica weren’t on a tight leash. The underlying issue stemmed from a callous nature when performing. It was a matter of trying to find equilibrium between an image and the safety of the attendees. It shifts the perception of the concert as this wild rage-fueled event, and it undermines performance highlights and any positive discourse throughout the past 22 years. These discussions spread from the infrastructure to the pre-established sentiment created by MTV in the fight between the uproarious and bombastic rap-rock/nu-metal and the new age of fun and hyperactive teen-pop, amongst others.

Garret Price creates juxtaposition by breaking nostalgia glasses and forcing us to see glaring differences between the three festivals. Unfortunately, despite the number of beautiful highlights, there isn’t much to digest outside of nu-metal and Limp Bizkit made white boys extra harsh and rapey.

Piece-by-Piece, more issues get passed over in simple mentions by the interviewed artists, attendees, and music critics. It makes the marketing of the film slightly manipulative as it breezes through topics swiftly. There are moments the film shows you the all-night party for fans of electronic music and Moby, which gets tossed aside like a salad on pizza night.

The film takes the time to show the chaos, but it lacks proper cohesion in the editing shifting around these topics like a commercial right before the climax. There have been exposés and articles revisiting and detailing the events of the festival. At a point in the film, you hear Rolling Stone Magazine’s music editor, Rob Sheffield, remember having to sleep on white pizza boxes for its linear comfortability and piss visibility. The amount of trash and debauchery preceding the peak of the chaos, with grace and debilitating nausea, became an afterthought. The many attendees had a mindset that mirrored those from the 94 festival: one last hurrah before adulthood. 

Garret Price does a solid job telling you this horrific and chaotic story that formed the wrong kind of unity and demonized an ideal that held for years. It’s filled with beautiful restorations of performance and unique interviews from critics and festival-goers. I recommend this to whoever enjoys a solid music documentary that shies away from an individualized artist.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Favorite Albums – Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

Superlatives are as meaningful as they are to you and that is why on occasion I love to talk about an album when it hits a low mark like five years. And frankly this album is older than my age, but Pet Sounds has always been a part of my life and has been one of the defining pieces of musical influence I had growing up. What started with a love for “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” grew into learning and understanding the complex sounds and layering Brian Wilson incorporated as the Beach Boys started to transcend past the fun surf rock of yester and into some more awe inspiring music, which had partial motivation from The Beatles dominance internationally. And as we all know, a lot of their later work incorporated a lot of psychedelic sounds into their brand of pop rock. Similarly, Pet Sounds implemented these melodic overtones onto their brand of surf rock, as well shifting the compositions and delivering some impactful music.

Pet Sounds turned 55 years old on May 16, 2021. The tardiness in any piece about it comes from a lack of words to describe how much a single person can love an album from an era where there is no experience and just history. Growing up in the 90s and 00s, surf rock was never part of my overall musical rotation until later in life when I decided to delve deep into the past. You have to understand surf rock was a trend that lasted half a decade (at best) on the charts before being replaced by psychedelia and folk, and eventually disco. My generation was mostly into hip-hop, pop, emo/punk rock, and spring break where you can get loose, stupid and forget your woes for one week, especially if you were in college. It wasn’t in my purview, and having a family that listened to predominantly Spanish language music and genres, didn’t give me something to grow into. Eventually I started to consume a lot and learn how to dissect songs from a non-theorist perspective. 

My full admiration and love for Pet Sounds came when I was in college. I played my hand with some psychedelics and it made certain things clear, but most importantly it made a lot of the performances of Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and Brian and Carl Wilson more weight as you break apart the emotional grip. I first heard Pet Sounds in full when I was 11, but I was privy to what I knew and that was elevated jangle-pop-like fun and so “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” I was never privy to understanding that “God Only Knows,” was used in misappropriate ways in the media, as it romanticized the idea of suicide due to a break up; or how “I Know There’s An Answer” had to be re-edited as it correlated too much to drug use, which it was and at the time drugs were also a touchy subject as it became a cornerstone of the counterculture of 1960s. 

“I Know There Is An Answer” had to have the title and verbiage in the chorus changed in order to take away from direct LSD reference when Brian Wilson’s haunting vocals sing “Hang On To Your Ego.” It was influenced by LSD and the effect it has on people like Brian where, once, he proclaimed he saw god after a full dose. Because of this, he engaged in more and has expressed a lot of Pet Sounds production and writing from them as it would bring out his insecurities, which correlates with the unusual timbres and harmonies that embolden the music’s broken down tones, like “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulders).”

But as you listen to it more, you start to understand that Pet Sounds can fill you with a modest roller coaster ride of emotions, slowly filling your mind with songs evoking hope. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” gives us a song that expresses this fantasy we have of never growing old. As Brian and Carl sing in the in the bridge, “Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray, it might come true / Oh, baby, then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do / Oh, we could be married (Oh, we could be married) / And then we’d be happy (And then we’d be happy) / Oh, wouldn’t it be nice?” It brought the melancholy to the slightly depressive “God Only Knows,” which was the B Side to the single record released prior. 

These songs were always present in my youth, whether in film or in the media I consumed. “God Only Knows” was a prominent component of the popular holiday film, Love Actually, and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” was prominent in 50 First Dates, amongst other tracks. At the time Adam Sandler was a major component of my youth and it distinguishes me from my other film friends. Adam Sandler is my favorite comedic actor and going to see 50 First Dates was a beautiful memory. It was my first major I’m not old for this film with my father in theaters and a lot about it has always resonated with me, especially “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” which opened the floodgates for discovering more. And from there my love for Pet Sounds grew more and more.

The height these songs reached would amass a lot of hype and it delivers, despite the experimental nature within some of the production. It elevates the themes that come from the lyrics like how “That’s Not Me” is about maturity through the eyes of a man who tries to prove his worth to people from his past, keeping it simple and having more depth than a Twenty One Pilots record. 

The themes and stories from Pet Sounds are direct and broad in the way you can find ways to correlate it into your own life, like “Caroline, No,” which is a ballad about losing trust in someone, particularly the significant other in your love affair due to an unexpected change where both POVs differ. Or the conflicting “Here Today,” where Mike Love leads the cynical song about love through the eyes of an older man as he talks to the younger man about love. He brings notes about how he’s been with her prior, meaning someone similar, and to be careful about falling head over heels in swift motion because she could leave you at any moment. 

One can go about and speak about the visceral brilliance of Pet Sounds. Like the way it shifts from surf pop to an elevated form of chamber pop, and the depth of the themes from beautifully simple lyricism is on another level. But that would be another retread of what others have talked about in previous writings, which you can find anywhere. Especially something extremely intricate about how the title song was supposedly for a James Bond flick and if so that song would have had some weird animal sounds. There is a nuance to it because it doesn’t make it a focal point. It is added in the distance to implement this idea that the song is being recorded and played to an audience of animals at a farm. 

However, despite some of the intricacies I mentioned, I’m writing this because I love Pet Sounds more than anything I’ve ever heard in my life. Not because I want you to think on a deep level about the meaning of these songs or so forth, even though it’s brought up. This is just me talking about my favorite album and key parts that make it so. And hopefully influencing you to seek it out on all major streaming platforms. 

I then ask myself what does Pet Sounds mean to me? It means a lot. They were introduced to me by my favorite comedic actor in Adam Sandler and it was one of the first albums I heard front to back. That feeling was like eating a beignet for the first time at a New Orleans joint and first bite of soft dough with that sugary kick from powder sugar exploding and melting in your mouth with immense flavors or like when the concert you attend brings out a plethora of special guests. Either way, if you haven’t listened to it do yourself, and I, a favor and go enjoy its greatness and brilliance.

Weezer – Van Weezer: Review

Weezer was supposed to release Van Weezer back in May of last year, but due to COVID-19 it got shifted a whole year and it may have been for the better. In January, they released OK Human, which was an amalgamation of baroque pop rock and thematic for a time where isolation was easing and normal habits started recurring like commutes and the easing of restrictions at food and beverage locations. However Van Weezer comes in as the complete opposite, in sound and tone, from OK Human. Rivers Cuomo writes these songs in the lyrical and thematic style of glam metal/hair metal from the 80s, taking cues from Van Halen, Whitesnake, and Night Ranger to name a few. It’s youthfully energetic and complete joy to listen to, even when it starts teetering at the end with songs that feel empty and forgettable. 

We’ve had the opening track, ”The End of The Game,” available since 2019 and it proved to be an indication of what is to expect from Van Weezer. The band, and especially Rivers Cuomo, brings a youthful energy that was lacking from their cover album, The Teal Album. The electrifying guitar strings embolden the monstrous percussion and vocal performance from Rivers, who is just having a great time along with the rest of the band. And this is something that felt absent from their covers album.

Unlike their cover album, Van Weezer takes the plunge into being focused on the sonic textures and small details that separates the genre of glam metal from the others. It comes primarily from the instrumentation and vocal deliveries, which are embossed by the echoed melodic reverbs in the choruses. They keep this in the forefront, while in the background they deliver another standard Weezer album, lyrically. But thematically there are some similarities, the content of the storied lyrics are approached with relevance to the kind of music they have been delivering recently, so it’s refreshing to hear this new sonic approach.

This is slightly new territory for Weezer as they don’t always elevate their sound to mirror the power of metal and specifically glam metal/stadium rock. But they have been able to prove otherwise when they delivered an excellent piano rock album earlier this year. Though, Weezer’s slight backdrop in power pop initially took away some doubt before clicking play, but they really understand the undertow sounds of glam metal by properly incorporating the unique guitar riffs and powerful solos. The music is elevated to exponential levels that you’ll find yourself at odds with as you head bang to Weezer songs, but that is what they do here.

The sonic elevation is audacious throughout, with many high points like the unique interpolation of “Crazy Train” on “Blue Dream.” But Van Weezer reaches its peak too early and as we bend the corner to the last third, we start to see a decline in the quality. It starts to feel more of the same as the beginning, with similar and repetitive instrumental patterns that have you feeling like hitting skip till it starts at track one. However, throughout the first eight tracks there is so much visceral power that you forget Rivers Cuomo is singing some geeky fun and introspective lyrics.

The simple beauty behind the geeky and nerdy charm comes naturally inside the powerful rock anthems, as Rivers Cuomo brings it with his vocal performances, which try to come off as part of the era. As the year progressed he has been able to adapt to the content of the music, like how January’s OK Human was mostly filled with songs about what they would do in quarantine and sometimes in life. It was simpler than some of their more try hard projects, like The Black Album, which tried to replicate some of the sonic success of The White Album. And on Van Weezer Rivers channels that charm to elevate the music to amplify a stadium. A lot of the melodies and lyrics are fun and infectious that hardcore fans will find the enjoyment in listening to every word; however the balance in solos/instrumentations to vocal performances makes it an album that can bring crowds who want post-modern nostalgia.

The first two thirds of the album have their own beautiful execution of originality with smooth transitions, like the one between “Blue Dream” and “1 More Hit.” But the last two tracks deescalate the whole rock show vibe, which some shows do in elegant fashion, but the slower melodies of the piano rock “Precious Metal Girl,” and the retreading “She Needs Me,” don’t hit the landing. And even though these tracks don’t carry the weight all the way through to keep you attention for all the 33 minutes, Weezer at least brings their strongest component, the charm. 

Van Weezer is a pure delight that will have you mirroring the fun Weezer has performing it. It isn’t their most profound work, lyrically, and brings enough to keep you engaged and yearning for stadiums to fill up like before. This is the kind of music that will make more of an impact live, but if not, your audio system will be enough to head bang and play it loud.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: A Case For The Go Go’s

Who are The Go Go’s?

The Go Go’s were energetic female youths trying to make their way in the punk scene, an aspiration beyond belief, and fortunately they came at the right time when some of the post-punk era was transitioning into the synth heavy – punk influenced new wave. Their debut, Beauty and the Beat is heralded as one a cornerstone in American new wave, that included artists like Devo, The B52’s, and Talking Heads. The band consisted of singer Belinda Carlisle, guitarist Charlotte Caffey, bassist Kathy Valentine, rhythm guitarist Jane Wieldlin, and drummer Gina Schock.

The Go Go’s immediate rise with their two big singles off their debut, Beauty and The Beat, opened eyes and ears to other american acts who have been doing it, like the bands Berlin and Oingo Bongo. But what initially brought the many eyes and ears to befall onto them was the notion that they were  one of the first female bands who wrote their own songs and played their own instruments. There was never a shadow lurking behind the scenes with a room full of writers. New Wave was a prominent component behind the cultural shift in music and that social dynamic throughout many regions.

With many artists coming and growing from the trenches have been more affluent in the sounds of disco and pop, letting foreign nations regain dominance in rock and roll. There were some bands that tried to bridge their direction with these popular sounds and eventually make it their own, but The Go Go’s were the ones who dominated, but opened more doors. As well, they did something American artists rarely did, and that is compete and win on the charts during a domination of new wave music from across the Atlantic, especially in one of the biggest eras of music in the United Kingdom known by some as the Second British Invasion.


The Music

The Go Go’s debut, Beauty and the Beat, is a proper showcase of what their career is defined as; bridging these popular new sounds with their own unique fun and poppy delivery, which became part of a big culture-shift (musically) in the 80s. With many male dominant bands running amuck and stealing limelights, not many female artists made a huge name for themselves in this stratosphere. It was unlike Disco and Soul where female artists could make gangbusters in popularity and deliver consistency, with a lot of their hits feeling like a remnant of the past and never feeling dated. I mean, to this day, Disco has seen its own versions of modernized sounds, which never feel dated – meaning it could be played at the genre’s peak decade and nobody would bat an eye. The same goes for The Go Go’s, whose sound was a blend of new wave and synth pop rock, where a current uptick in synth pop has been growing again in the pop world. 

The Go Go’s subsequent releases, Vacation and Talk Show, maintained the authenticity that kept the Go Go’s in this unique sphere away from others in the genre. It was profound for many, at the time, because there was no one behind the scenes writing chords, percussion patterns, and lyrics of the song. So what they did was beyond imaginable at the time considering the gender cultural norms, and for those cognizant to remember – wasn’t it was crazy to imagine how this little band made such an impact in the 80s, especially in the way their two singles from Beauty and the Beat performed on the Billboard charts?

“We Got The Beat,” was their first major hit on the charts, peaking at #2, opposed to their first single, “Our Lips Are Sealed,” which peaked at 20. Beyond that, the way it shifted the way the new wave genre eventually transitioned away from the gloomier – rainy day punk undertones to more vibrant pop synth patterns. But their take on those kinds of rooted songs was something all its own.

The music The Go Go’s made infiltrated many club mixes and playlists, and its ongoing presence still has relevance today. We still hear the songs in circulation within films and other avenues. I mean Spider-Man: Far From Home gave “Vacation” a new resurgence that summer and today we still hear it circling many pop radios when they categorically shift from those 3 Hot 100s tracks to a throwback on certain stations, amongst other notable and fantastic tracks that are embodiments of new wave, but have a wider range in demographics. Tracks like “Head Over Heels” and “Get Up And Go,” are perfect embodiments of a slower – tempo new wave sound, and though there is this consistency throughout their first three albums that allow their singles to feed off them and create these effervescent attraction to their cohesion of instrumental layers. As well, they don’t trend in these bleak directions and keep a constant uptick, which later new wave acts would adapt like the liveliness of Duran Duran’s funkadelic take on new wave.

A lot of their songs grasp ears with many illustrious songs like “This Town” and “Turn To You.” From Belinda Carlise’s sultry-raspy vocals boast her skills and the grimy strings, which play an intricate part in the overall sound that has minimal focus on its synthesizers. They let their vocal pitches and effects turn the turnstile swiftly beneath the overlaying instrumentation. And The Go Go’s band members’ different vocal pitches become the unsung hero, no pun intended, in their music, like on “Turn to You,” and “Yes or No,” have varying degrees of instrumental isolations where they let their inner pop-glam come out from behind the surface level new wave aesthetic.


Conclusion

Amongst the many potential inductees, one has to think like a voter and how we view these artists in the bigger scheme.

LL Cool J had one helluva 80s and early 90s with his inclusions in the Golden Age of Hip-Hop. His legacy doesn’t have the kind of impact one would expect, unlike Jay-Z, who paved his legacy with consistency and profound works, even in his later years – i.e. 4:44 and American Gangster. A lot of these artists are testaments to the greatness behind an era in which they had a predominant presence in, as well as the wider cultural spectrum, like how potential nominee Iron Maiden had a profound effect on the melodic shifts in heavy metal or Tina Turner whose chameleon-like vocal pitches allowed her to turn a constant array of varying and impactful sounds in her solo career.

The Go Go’s made a statement that helped bend the idealistic social shift, specifically in the industry that was more cut-dry between writers and performers. Their youth and expressive personalities allowed them to become these bigger than life with ear-popping color and dance moves and grooves that made them pop more, especially with the amount of videos that are from live performances evoking their infectious nature. And it stems from the content of their music and the women they were at their peak – young and in charge and cool, which is what we all want to feel like.

I believe that through the many bands we have had in our lifetime, there haven’t been a lavish amount of stage stealing energy from the predominant new wave bands. It was almost as if, due to a genre’s popularity you aren’t guaranteed star power and these transformative airplay, but the ones that do have left a major impact on the YouTube and streaming service time machine. I personally love the band and new wave, so it isn’t hard to see how they have stuck out, as much as bands like the Talking Heads and Tears for Fears. The Go Go’s have been waiting long enough and it is time the Hall lets them in.