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Of COURSE Future Sucks. We Live In A Dystopia! - Music Reviews For Feb. 24, 2017

Okay, I'm feelin' froggish.  I'm going to try and be as objective as I can with these hot takes of mere sound samples of stuff on iTunes.  Let's see what newness there is to glean:




As always, it's a 0 to ***** rating system.  Let's get to it!


Future "HNDRXX"

The man every up and coming rapper wishes they were, Future has a following that genuinely LOVES what he does.  He's tapping into something.  It's not something that connects with me, but I've got to say right off the bat "My Collection" is better than anything I've ever heard from him.  It's not good, but...it's not the fucking Plan 9 From Outer Space shit that "Wicked" was.  I can actually understand what he's saying on this album, which is sort of a sellout move since one of the ideas of rappers that slur their words and put autotune on their voice is so that only people from their culture can understand it without Rap Genius, but it sounds better than he usually is.

That being said, this is boilerplate at best, painfully cliché at worst.  It's not saying anything you haven't heard from every pop rapper since 2004.  Only difference is he's singing with autotune instead of rapping.  "Comin Out Strong" (because of The Weeknd) and "Fresh Air" (because it's a little slower) are the only songs I could even tell apart from the others, but then "Neva Missa Lost" was pretty similar to "Fresh Air", so they even fucked that up (although to his credit, the subject matter was a refreshing change of pace; something about immigration and airports, but then just goes completely off topic in the next verse again, changing what he's rapping about seemingly every second).  Not even Rihanna could save "Selfish".  The album closes with a seven minute song called "Sorry", which at the end of the sample says something about "Sorry for the crack baby" and then starts getting an okay flow going without as much autotune on it, then cuts off.  It was just fucked up enough to be kind of interesting for a second there.

And that's this album's biggest crime: It's not terrible in interesting ways.  "Wicked" is bad in ways that are fitting of YouTube react videos and MST3k.  It's the kind of awful that is audacious in its daring; uniquely terrible to the point where it's worth commenting on.  This just feels like a big gray wall of crap.  But on the other hand, I can sort of hear...something.  In better hands, with better lyrics, better vocals and with just a few tweaks to the beats to make them distinct from one another, this could have been okay. 

I'll never understand why people not only settle for something that sounds like this, but actively love it.  But hey, I'm not the target demo anyway.  Maybe the twisted, warped, cliché, repetitive, unfinished, barely intelligible musings of someone who is playing at being a cough syrup addict yet refutes such claims in his own interviews is the perfect reflection for those that would listen to this, and they connect with it deeply because they too feel broken and warped and like their lives are a never-ending mobius strip of misery.  (Maybe I can relate to this better than I thought...)



The Rain Outside My Window *** and 1/3

This isn't an album I listened to.  I just laid on my bed for about fifteen minutes with the lights off and listened to the rain falling on my skylight.  It was a real stop and smell the roses kind of moment.  It was nice.



Aaron Watson "Vaquero" ** and 7/8

It's no secret I don't like country.  Weirdly enough, I like modern country even less.  "Vaquero", however, isn't as bad as either.  Watson's voice isn't the worst, the songs seem interested in telling stories, even if they fall into country tropes, and the music avoids being morose.  It's got a pulse, which is a breath of fresh air.

What else is a breath of fresh air is the vocal harmonies in the background of "Take You Home Tonight"'s chorus.  That's butter to me.  "These Old Boots Have Roots" is kind of a head nodder.  "They Don't Make Em Like They Used To" is even charming in spite of being incredibly stereotypical.  Even "Be My Girl" seems like a song I could get into if I ended up listening to this album more than once in spite of being a painfully average ballad on the surface.  But something about this album...just works.  I can't explain it.

The song most emblematic of my inner conflict is "Run Wild Horses".  The lyrics are fucking cringe worthy, but holy SHIT that chorus is amazing.  The verses aren't a bad build to it either.  I think the experience I can liken this to is listening to Peter Himmelman's "Skin" for the first time.  I was a total metalhead in 1998, but the lyrics were so outlandish I couldn't help but sit up and take notice.  And once the words sucked me in, about three or four listens in I liked the music too in spite of myself.  I can feel that being a distinct possibility with this album.

I was ready to dismiss this with four sentences about how I'm just not into country and this is typical of the genre, but...  I'd say, it does follow the clichés (especially toward the back half) and sixteen tracks is way too many, but this is surprisingly decent.  I might check this out again.



John Mayer "The Search For Everything: Wave Two" EP *** 1/2

...Am I turning into a douche?  The first song, despite again, cringe worthy lyrics, is pretty solid.  "Still Feel Like Your Man" is a real soul song by goddam John Mayer.  What is happening to the world?  I even liked "Emoji Of A Wave" in spite of its idiotic title because those vocal harmonies are boss.  Mayer has always had a knack for interesting note choices and weird jazz chords in a pop context.  And wouldn't you know it, track four is a country song I don't hate.  Son of a bitch.  Out of curiosity, I went back and listened to "Wave One" (which I didn't know existed until now) and it was nowhere near as good.  Three of the four tracks on this hooked me instantly, and the fourth was okay.  Considering I haven't liked anything this guy's done in over a decade, this is a pretty remarkable little EP.



Little Big Town "The Breaker" ** 7/8

Little Big Town is another country band that does some shit I like.  I'm sensing a theme.  Going in, I liked precisely four songs of theirs out of the twelve I heard, but one of them is the leadoff track on this album, so hey.  They have four singers (two male, two female) and they all take turns, but I've never liked the ones where the guys sing.  "Night On Our Side" is the least worst of the ones I've heard from the male vocalists, though.

I don't know what's happening to me.  Is this second puberty?  Are my music tastes shifting, leading to weird physiological changes?  (Okay, maybe I'm playing this up a little too much, but you don't understand how long and deep my distaste for this genre goes.  It's downright weird for me to be this nice to country music.)

The four part harmonies are the kind of dreamy that makes you want to lay in the tall grass and smile.  "Free" is breezy in a pleasant way, and "Drivin' Around" is fucking phenomenal.  "We Went To The Beach" is sort of skippable, but the post-chorus guitar leads really make you think twice.  The worst song on the album (which is...inoffensively boring at worst) is "Better Man", which was written by Taylor Swift (go figure).  "Rollin'" is kind of like a so-so early 90's Bonnie Raitt album cut with shitty lyrics and a guest male vocalist.  "Don't Die Young, Don't Get Old" is fine, but after that are nothing but really bland ballads (which they do NOT do well, see: "Girl Crush" off their last album).  I wanted to give this three stars, but out of the back half of the album, "Don't Die Young, Don't Get Old" and sort of "The Breaker" were the only songs I could get into.  If you listen to anything off this album, you can't go wrong with "Drivin' Around" or "Happy People".



NAV

Speaking of people who want to be Future...

I'm not even sure NAV would take that as an insult.  "Myself" was kind of interesting with some of the lines about how he needs drugs to have self-confidence (instead of just rapping about drugs period), but then the title track (on his self titled album, which is literally between the songs "Myself" and "My Mind") is just another brag song.  He's big on Xanax, because he's three for three on the first three songs referencing it.  One of the saddest lines I've ever heard in my life is "Before I had money, I swear that I had no life / Now I'm smokin' weed, gettin' drunk, poppin' pills all of the time" because...goddam, that's not a life.  You use that shit to get away from your life, when you need to take the edge off.  Other than that, all we have is this dude constantly referencing drugs, sing/rapping with autotune and trying to shoehorn in the Migos cadence.  (And has a guest spot from The Weeknd just like Future did on his album.)  I'm frankly surprised I've typed this much about an album this unremarkable.



Dirty Projectors **

I've heard the name Dirty Projectors mentioned a few times in the last few weeks, but I can never remember where.  Is it people I know talking about it in conversations they're having with someone else in our group that I can overhear?  Is it on the radio?  Is it at the radio station/video store where I do my thing on Tuesday nights?  Is it someone rappelling down from my roof on the third story to whisper it through my window?

Regardless, I'm getting some pretty disparate vibes here.  The first two songs feel like Justin Timberlake slipping Galant some dumber lyrics to try and get him more mainstream exposure or something.  "Up In Hudson" feels like that David Byrne/St. Vincent collabo album from five years ago.  "Work Together" feels like some off the wall Mats/Morgan band shit mixed with some Adrien Belew.  "Ascent Through Clouds" is like "Baba O'Riley" via Supertramp.  And absolutely everything on this album feels like it's doused by a misting of "22, A Million" by Bon Iver.

The songs get more unfocused as the thing goes on and a bit more downtempo than I'd like, but the real concern I have is that I'm only hearing 90 seconds of songs that are mostly 5 to 7 minutes.  Unless there are some changes in there, I don't know if these ideas will hold up for that long.  It may not be my cup of tea, but this album is certainly interesting.  I don't have to like something to respect it, but I don't even hate this.



The Shack: Music From And Inspired By The Original Motion Picture

Okay, think I'm back to hating country again.



Thundercat "Drunk" *** and 2/3

Damn, dude!  It's been a minute since I've checked in with Thundercat.  In the meantime, I feel like the mainstream has caught up with him slightly, but he remains ahead of the curve because he knows how to write interesting songs.  If George Duke and Flying Lotus did some shit, it might sound like Thundercat.  He's even got some funk fusion on here in the form of "Uh Uh".  "A Fan's Mail (Tron's Song II)" is real good.  "Lava Lamp" is the perfect song to fit the title.  "Jethro" is pretty bad ass too.  HE EVEN HAS A SMOOTH R&B SONG WITH MICHAEL MCDONALD & KENNY LOGGINS ON IT.  This album continues Thundercat's proud tradition of awesome, smooth, hooky, musically dexterous at points and above all delightfully weird tuneage.



La La Land - The Complete Musical Experience *

Oh God.  This is another genre in the "Nick Usually Hates This" bingo that's pleasantly subverting my expectations.  Well, okay, the first song "Another Day Of Sun" is pretty good.  The rest is expertly done if painfully standard score pieces, two lame and out of place new wave covers and a few average showtunes that aren't the worst I've ever heard but don't exactly change my mind about the genre.  If you like this sort of thing, this is probably top shelf.



Hillsong Young & Free "Youth Revival Acoustic"

Track one is a pop song that has a sort of trappy beat, an electric guitar drone and NO acoustic instruments in earshot.  The "studio" version sounds like a Carly Rae Jepsen outtake, no more no less.  It's catchy, but then WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT HIGH PITCHED THING YOU'RE DOING AFTER THE CHORUS!??!?  For a love song that's about Jesus to make it qualify as Christian, those four bars sounded pretty demonic.  Track two, "Only Wanna Sing," at least has a piano and a faint acoustic guitar, but even the finger snaps are synthesized.  There's not much else to write about; it's pretty dull piano ballad duets after that.



Bea Miller "Chapter One: Blue" - Single *

At first, I thought this said Bea Arthur, but I think Bea Miller's a better singer.  (And probably looks better wearing only what looks like a backwards fur coat with a bouquet of blue flowers stuck in it.)  "Song Like You" is a decent pop song with a backbone, the antithesis of what works in 2017, so don't expect to hear it on the radio.  "Burning Bridges" is the one you might hear once or twice, because of the goddam 808's and half to quarter time (I can't even tell anymore) and weird voice thing that actually reminds me of the freaky part from Hillsong Young & Free.  "I Can't Breathe" is a bog standard piano ballad, so it sounds like Bea Miller took three possible paths to claiming a hit: one which has power but doesn't have a chance because it sounds too complete to work, one which has too much personality to succeed in spite of running down the 2017 pop music checklist and the other which is a nice, safe piano ballad with no other distinguishing characteristics.  Place your bets!



Dirty Heads "Dessert" EP

From Dirty Projectors to Dirty Heads.  It's listed under Alternative, but this is Rap.  The guy has a flow, so it's kind of a shame he's not really saying anything interesting.  The second rapper is better, though.  Kind of reminds me of...Oh wait.  Nevermind.  This is some Cod Reggae.  White guys with dreadlocks and a few guest rappers.  Not my scene.  (And...wait, Josh Freese was in this band from 07 to 08?  And they managed to get Billy Preston on their debut?  The fuck?)



When We Rise (Original Television Soundtrack)

A bunch of covers that really do sound like something you'd hear in the background of a show on ABC.  It's weird how oddly specific the sound is, but you'd know it was for ABC and not a different network.  The other noteworthy things about it are: 1. Brandi Carlile's cover of "Tie Your Mother Down" is the only thing on this entire album with any life to it, 2. A version of Chic's "Good Times", which is a disco party anthem, that would put Lana Del Rey to sleep, and 3. Two versions of "I'd Love To Change The World" by two different artists that are practically the same except for production choices.



Old 97's "Graveyard Whistling"

This is another band whose name I've heard being bandied about lately, and I can see why.  "I Don't Wanna Die In This Town" is a little like The Smiths covering Mumford & Sons, splitting the difference in edginess between the two.  "Bad Luck Charm" is the kind of old school country song that I could never get into, but put through an 80's pop production filter.  And oh hey, there's Brandi Carlile again.  She fin'ta blow up big this year, I think.

Hmmm?  Oh, right.  Old 97's.  Not interesting in the slightest.  If you need some kind of shorthand descriptor to hang their hat on, I'd say Hipster country.



Hippo Campus "Landmark" * and 1/2

Whereas some acts would try some kind of angle, Hippo Campus don't fuck around and just give you "80'S".  Okay, as I hear more, it's got a tinge of hipster to it, but it's not the worst approximation of 1985 I've ever come across.  "Simple Season" is a decent little song.  "Western Kids" has a groove and a pulse, which aren't necessarily mutually inclusive anymore.  Most of the album is way too airy and laid back to qualify as good, kind of like they're a few steps removed from the emotional core of every song.  It's a lifeless affair except for the two I mentioned.



THEY. "Nu Religion: Hyena" *

I already like this at least twice as much as Future or NAV.  "Africa" has a decent tune to it.  The lyrics ain't deep or anything, but it's not a bad little song.  This album doesn't quite make it over the line of genuinely interesting, but it's CERTAINLY better composed, better performed, more alive, more full and just...MORE than Monsignor Future.  Really, if the lyrics weren't awful this might be halfway decent (especially "Motley Crew" and "What You Want"). (Also, umlauts over the "nu" in the title but not over "Motley Crew"? Amateur.)



Pouya & Fat Nick "Drop Out Of School"

No, not that Puya.  I would take Gucci Mane over this because, yes, he may suck on a legendary level, but at least he knows what he's doing.  This just feels like amateur hour.



Various Artists "Monstercat 030: Finale" ****

Year 2001 me would have JAMMED this.  Year 2002 me would've worshipped it because holy shit that was a dismal year for music.  "Monstercat 030: Finale" has quite a bit of variety to it: EDM, Chiptune, Drum & Bass, Dubstep, New Wave, and some songs that have a bit of it all happening in concert.  I'm surprised this is a compilation; everything sounds like it belongs, and it maintains a level of quality throughout 30 tracks.  No small task!  There are plenty of merely okay songs towards the middle, but there are some really cool songs on here that hoist it to the coveted four star rating.  I don't give a "great" to an album lightly on first listen; I'm pretty harsh.  But this does it for me.


And that does it for us this week.  There were fourteen albums I didn't even get to in the new releases section, but it's five in the morning and the hail, wind and lightning are causing the lights to flicker a bit.  Also, this is seven single spaced pages (six and a few pennies after editing, says 1:30 PM Nick).  There are some year end blogs I've done that are shorter than this.  Not bad for four hours work.  I'm'a keep on keepin' on with the radio show and the band, and who knows, maybe I'll do some other creative stuff along the line.  Keep your eyes peeled, I guess.  If not, I'll let'cha know.  Peace.

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