Trouble Maker – Rancid (album review)

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(promotional art for the Trouble Maker album)

For a long time now I have been a fan of the Punk movement for the fashion, the attitude, the music and what it represents. I personally think the Punk Movement was one of the most important events in musical history and I rarely pass an opportunity to sing its praises. However, in spite of my adoration and respect for the genre, I often find myself over-looking it in a bid for new styles of music. Seeing the release of Trouble Maker, a very recent album by Punk icons, Rancid, I have decided to address this and catch up with a genre I had otherwise left neglected.

Rancid are far from new and unknown, since starting in 1991 they have amassed a large following and are often credited, along with Green Day and The Offspring, for spearheading a resurgence of punk in the mid-90’s. Whilst they may not have achieved the level of mainstream success Green Day enjoyed, they are largely respected by fans of the music for their consistency and a character which largely remains committed to the ideals and attitude of earlier Punk bands from the 70’s and 80’s. Punk has manifested in a number of ways through the years, ranging from the upbeat cheek of The Sex Pistols to the raw brutality of bands such as The Exploited and Rancid have always worn the banner of Ska Punk, shrugging off the hate-fuelled aggression of other bands in favour of a bouncy and upbeat feel of their own.

In spite of my love for the Punk movement, Rancid are one of the key names I have little experience with. I’ve heard a few of their albums in my time, but don’t have anything to really compare this album to – which, following my previous review, may be a positive thing. Generally speaking, I have always gravitated towards the more anger-fuelled Punk bands such as The Exploited, Anti-Nowhere League and Subhumans and as such it feels a change of pace from what I’m used to. This being said, I feel very positive about this album! In a manner similar to the Dubtopia album by Gentleman’s Dub Club, I find myself won over by the positive energy and personality of this newest release. There are a number of more raw and harsh-sounding tracks on this album, but this just appeals to my love of Hardcore Punk and, in my eyes, just carries the banner of what Punk really is.

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(image sourced from Bombshellzine.com)

Punk has always been an inspiration to me and I have always seen such a positive energy to it – especially in the more aggressive-sounding Punk bands. It cries out for you to live your life, live without barriers and screams for you to embrace your character and opinions and I find this as important today as it ever has been. Bands like this encourage this attitude and for that I feel they deserve so much respect. This album is no different – it makes you feel younger, more energetic and, most importantly, it pushes you into living your life. As a criticism, I would argue that the album should be a little bit longer, but the short and sweet approach exists through so much of Punk music and this album isn’t really short enough for this to be too much of a criticism.

I feel there are many parts in this album where the bass seems to carry the music a little as well. The instrumentation isn’t poorly written or performed, it just seems very predictable – but in a genre like this it is hard to avoid that. The instrumentation always seems fine, but I feel the heavily Ska-influenced bass lines give the tracks so much more colour – particularly in tracks such as Beauty of the Pool Hall and Ghost of a Chance. There are times in this album I feel they could use brass instruments, just to truly accent this Ska inspiration and draw a little more character from the album but this seems to serve the simplicity and organic feel of the band.

There’s a lot to recommend this album for and I would heartily do so, but don’t go into it expecting a peaceful and easy-listening experience. There is a wonderful rawness to this album, a glorious Punk-Rock pace and an abundance of character and I think it’s important to remember music like this and the youth and excitement we so easily forget. Albums like this remind me that music can still have heart, passion and energy and it pulls me through when I start to have doubts about music in general. Above all things, however, it reminds me that music can still be fun.

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How Did We Get So Dark? – Royal Blood (album review)

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(official album artwork from How Did We Get So Dark?)

With my recent review of The XX, I have gone from one band I once loved in their early days of few studio releases and fast-growing fan base to another, I find myself in the position of rediscovering a band I once enjoyed – this time discovering a higher level of disappointment in them. Given that this album was released six days ago (at time of writing), it will be hard to approximate the level of success this album will get – but my opinion may be altered by my sheer lack of exposure to its marketing and general dissatisfaction of the album.

Royal blood is a name that will likely be familiar to a lot of people, given that they are a very recent band and, in the past few years, they received a sizeable amount of attention from general mainstream music fans and continued to spread beyond that. The band have enjoyed a reputation as being a Hard Rock/Blues Rock band reminiscent of older bands such as Wolfmother and have been appreciated by many for their take and homage to acts like this and, by many musicians, for the sound they achieve as a two-piece band.

My general opinion of Royal Blood has previously been positive, but the fact I did ease out of them speaks aloud to me. Though I have a respect for the band and I enjoy their older music, I just feel like they’re a bit of a one-trick pony and, despite the quality of their music, they never seem to stray far from a dynamic they’re obviously more comfortable with. I’ve always considered them to be a consistently good band, which is a good thing in many ways- but it seems to lack humanity when they can’t seem to perform better than this standard and don’t ever fall below into mediocrity. I just feel this makes it harder to develop a personal connection with them.

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(image sourced from Consequence of Sound webpage)

Another issue I have with Royal Blood is with the length of their albums. Now, don’t get me wrong – I have heard albums around the 40 minute mark which were absolutely phenomenal, and one might appreciate their desire to keep it short at the risk of compromising album quality, but 34 minutes? That’s just insane. I consider this, and then relate it to the Opiate EP by Tool which, as an EP, is a total of almost 27 minutes and I just feel faced with an overwhelming impression of laziness – especially when you consider the album before came to a total of nearly 33 minutes. Now I know that you’re thinking it’s not that much of a deal and I’m just being neurotic but I’m about to explain why that train of thought is totally wrong.

This album sells at approximately the same price as any other studio album, retailing at £14.99 – ten pounds more than their previously released self-titled album would cost to buy now, which is of drastically superior value with a stronger track listing and a far more organic, raw and energetic feel. This makes for a far smaller return for the money invested in the album and just makes it impossible to recommend for purchase, especially when you can find copies of albums like Dark Side of the Moon, OK Computer and Hatful of Hollow (listed as some of the best albums of all time from various sources) for far less than this.

But I digress, value for money aside, I can’t recommend this album to anybody apart from existing fans of the band. From a production point it is really good, the music sounds pretty cool in places – but there aren’t any songs I can put above anything from their self-titled album. They started off well with their previous album, and I would recommend that for a great many reasons, but it was clearly too much for them to follow and I just stand really disappointed. Part of the negativity behind this review stems from the fact I did really enjoy Royal Blood in the past and now I’ve just seen them fall from that standard. That all said, the album still shows their ability to write hard-hitting drum grooves, cool riffs and maintain a raw drive, which leaves them capable of a return to form in their next studio release if they stay true to what gave them their character in their earlier days.

Dubtopia – Gentleman’s Dub Club (album review)

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(official promotional image for Dubtopia)

After a day-long break of listening to bands and artists I am somewhat familiar with, I have returned to something more unknown and of a style I don’t usually immerse myself in – to this end I couldn’t think of anything more fitting than 2017 release, Dubtopia by the relatively recent band: Gentleman’s Dub Club. How many times can one type Dub into five paragraphs? Let’s find out.

As a bassist with nearly nine years of practice and true musical exposure behind me, I think it fair to say I have more than a passing knowledge of Reggae music and many of the genres that stemmed from it. In addition to it being a great way to irritate an obnoxious neighbour, it is a genre that doesn’t seem to stem far from the topics of love, unity and ideals of a positive and caring society. Whilst one can appreciate the optimism of such subject matters, it has always made for a lack of topical diversity which has often swayed me from the genre. Too much of a good thing, one might say. For better or worse, this album remains true to these ideals and topics, but not to an extent where it can detract from the music – and in these days I appreciate the tribute this pays to its core influences.

Much like the prominent and often droning bass lines prevalent in this kind of music, I believe Dub and Reggae is a genre you feel, as opposed to listen to – and this both makes the album easy and difficult to recommend. It can really come down to a matter of if you want something in the background to support a cheerful and social environment or if you want to irritate somebody several floors from you. People with an interest in hearing something original or creative likely wouldn’t derive much from this album because there’s nothing new to discover, but for many that is part of the appeal. We all gravitate to things we understand and find comfort in, and this album welcomes this with open arms.

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(photo taken from Dubtopia official Facebook page, credits to @jazzablanca and @Sife Elamine)

With all this said, I must say it’s particularly difficult to discuss this album. We all know what Reggae is, and Dub doesn’t stray far from this – with the main difference being a drastic increase of overlays, sound effects and production quality, so what more can I say? The album feels wonderful to listen to and have on around you and it is so easy to recommend it on that basis alone, however, as a musician and a lover of music, I can freely admit that the album doesn’t have anything truly its own to offer a listener. Tracks such as Higher Ground and the opening tracks, Dancing in the Breeze and Let a Little Love serve as fantastic ambassadors to the genre and I could easily suggest it to somebody who wants to discover Reggae and wants an entry point that varies from some of the more well-recognised Reggae icons, such as Bob Marley.

So there we have it! It’s Dub. You know what this is, what to expect and if you’re likely to like it or not. I’d suggest giving it a listen and letting this into your heart a little because it represents so much of the greatness of human spirit and wears positivity in abundance, but at a minor cost of true musical creativity and originality. Nevertheless, it still makes for a fun, if repetitive, listen and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It kept me swaying and bobbing throughout – which, as a rigid, Cornish geek who dances like dry spaghetti, should carry a lot of weight.

I See You – The XX (album review)

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(image taken from I See You official album cover)

If you have read my previous reviews you will probably begin to notice a pattern between the albums I have been reviewing – they are all recent releases from this year and vary from the more mainstream bands and acts. I wanted to address the balance in this review by looking towards a more well-established band, which drew me closer to The XX. For those who may not be aware of this band, The XX are an Electronic Indie group from London who have developed a reputation for their balance of experimentation and emotion, often focusing on personal themes such as insecurity and rejection.

Unlike my previous reviews, I have a pre-existing opinion on The XX – and it is generally a positive one! A number of years ago they were recommended to me alongside Bonobo, and this helped influence me into listening to a number of electronic acts and encouraged me down a path of more chilled and calm music – so at the beginning of this album I had my worries. The calm and emotional feel of Coexist and their self-titled album was a large part of why I loved this band so much and I felt like they were really easy to connect with on a personal level. The opening tracks of I See You seem to begin with a whole different dynamic, and though I can appreciate the attempt at variety, I feel it comes as a detriment to the album, given that it dismisses a large part of their individual appeal.

The band have always varied from traditional Pop music, in large part due to their emphasis on space and unusual effects and I can see that this effort still exists in this latest release, if to a far lesser degree, but I just don’t feel as strongly about the emotional content of the music as I previously did because, in my eyes, this album lacks the more organic feel the previous albums had. I feel like heavy effort has been made in this album to appeal to a more mainstream Pop audience by making the songs more predictable, but this could be a result of my own familiarity with their music. There are obvious exceptions to this statement, of course – such as their track Performance.

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(image sourced from official live promo webpage)

This next criticism is actually a pretty big deal for me, and that’s in regards to the flow of the songs. Again, this may be a result of my familiarity with the band – but I can see clearly how all of the songs either begin on a low dynamic and follow a rising gradient throughout the song, or they remain on the same low dynamic throughout the whole song. Saying that, however, I feel like the band does handle this well by optimising both vocalists to their ultimate potential and also incorporating wonderful use of atmospheric bass and various guitar layers.

As the album progresses, it shows clear signs of improvement as it settles into a style they are clearly more comfortable with and, though it does little to vary from their pre-existing sound, it does serve as a wonderful display of talent and fresh ideas – though tracks such as On Hold and Dangerous make me worry about the direction of the band. I have always been a fan of how the band handles flow, space and feeling and I feel like this album does much to showcase this, but I find it hard to recommend it over their previous albums. Still, fans of the band will find plenty to enjoy – and it is clear that they’re focussing more on the higher dynamics, more organic instrumentation in places and better production in most areas, which does give it enough variety to be worth the investment. I’d be unfair to dismiss that the band have definitely improved in almost eery technical basis, but I feel it came at the cost of heart and pure emotion.

Drunk – Thundercat (album review)

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(image sourced from Ninja Tune official website)

A large part of why I wanted to pursue a career in critiquing was my inherent love of music and desire to hear lots of different styles, to this end I take recommendations from people all the time on which albums to check out, which is actually how I decided to review Pure Comedy. This album, however, was one that caught my interest in passing – a Jazz Fusion album written by former Kendrick Lamar and Suicidal Tendencies bassist, Thundercat (Stephen Bruner) and captures a feel I haven’t heard since my past obsession with acts such as Weather Report.

Drunk, released February 24th, 2017, is a wondrous modern interpretation of Jazz Fusion – a genre largely neglected for decades that combines the free nature and technical wizardry of Jazz music with the visceral grooves of Funk whilst also taking influence from many other surrounding genres such as Soul and R&B. This album is no different in this respect, but far exceeds anything anything of its kind. This work of art shows clear influence from throughout history with clear musical inspiration of old bands and new bands alike. Never before have I heard a band that so perfectly displays the progression of music from early Jazz and Funk to modern Hip-Hop, Electronic, R&B and Soul with tracks such as Drink Dat and Walk On By being two of the best examples I’ve heard of modern R&B and Electronic-influenced Jazz (respectively) I have ever heard, Walk On By also containing such a phenomenal combination of Jazz and Contemporary Hip-Hop with a brilliant contribution from Kendrick Lamar.
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(image sourced from @thundercat_music)

Perhaps I should state now that I don’t imagine this album receiving much attention in the UK given that the album only seemed to receive a measure of success in the US 200 Billboard and high success in the US R&B Billboard at the date of release and is a representation of a genre so rarely appreciated in the UK at present. Still, I can’t recommend this highly enough to anybody who wants to hear something different to the Pop and R&B we have come to expect whilst retaining the superb levels of production quality that comes with the advancement of modern technology.

Friends of mine are completely aware of my obsession towards Bonobo and part of that adoration stems from their combination of groove, colour and accessibility, a trait this album contains in abundance. Despite being a fan of Jazz Fusion already, I can happily admit that it can often be hard to a new listener to admire, especially one who respects feel over technical prowess and I genuinely had concerns that this album would appeal primarily to the musical elite, given the style it describes itself as – but this is seriously not the case! This album shows incredible respect to music of most styles and has something that can appeal to anybody who appreciates chilled out and creative music.

I stand purely in awe of this album, entranced in the thrill of seeing so many ideas formulated into one beautiful, inoffensive and well-crafted work of art. Everything has its place, everything is so perfectly mixed and every instrument and aspect serves as an inspiration in its own right. Listening to this feels like musical history unravelling before my eyes in the most perfectly constructed way and it is so rare to find a gem such as this in today’s age. The recurring flow in this album seems to start on a fun, free-flowing and fast pace and slowly eases into such a relaxing and calm experience and before you know it you’ll be sitting in a relaxed R&B state, absorbed into a wave of pure groove with only the fun of the Parliament-influenced grooves and additions to distract you from the fantastic feel.

Pure Comedy – Father John Misty (album review)

 

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(taken from official Pure Comedy album cover)

You know that feeling you get when you set out with a vision and you’re shot in the foot on your first step? Well yeah. Within an hour of pursuing my vision of critiquing music with ruthless brutality and hard honesty I stand dumbstruck by something that, against my every expectation, has already won my love.

Pure Comedy (released April 7th, 2017) is the third studio album released by American folk musician, Josh Tillman – an artist strongly associated with genres such as Indie Folk, Indie Rock and Orchestral Folk who had previously evaded my attention, perhaps unsurprising, considering his musical career seemed to truly develop relatively recently in 2006 with his first properly distributed album, Minor Works and hasn’t received the commercial success he truly deserves.

The album presents a clear knowledge of musical construction shown in the masterful use of dynamics and flow and the whole album seems to show a clear effort made by the artist and you can almost feel the respect he has for the subject matters and music in general. The song wears a spectrum of emotion and presents it in such a genuine, human way with a measure of complexity and intelligence that I haven’t felt in an album since I first heard the Seldom Seen Kid album, a number of years ago.

An issue I usually have with acoustic music, whether it be guitar or piano driven, is that it often doesn’t alter much from a seemingly consistent dynamic and I find this to be a detriment in a full album because it limits the flow of the music and does little to subvert the listener’s expectations of the album and when this album started I did have a worry that Pure Comedy would fall into this trap, but intelligent and creative use of orchestral instrumentation and general ambience put me at ease in this respect. A great example of this being the smooth, inoffensive bass melodies in a number of the early tracks, such as Ballad of the Dying Man.
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(taken from the official Father John Misty Facebook page)

A criticism I would give is that the dynamic seems to remain fairly consistent around the halfway point of the album and the parts where it does pick up don’t last long enough to have a particularly incredible impact. This saddens me greatly given that songs which display this point, such as Two Wildly Different Perspectives, show such an amazing display of Tillman’s ability to craft incredible builds and soundscapes that I would absolutely love to hear more of.

There are many reasons why I would recommend this and for that reason I am going to do just that. Seriously, if you want to hear something new with heart, soul and real depth, you can’t do much better than this! Far too rarely are there times where a work of art like this appears and reminds you that there is still promise and passion in the music industry. Not since Elbow have I heard such a respectable and developed piece of music and I feel so much better for knowing about this album.

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

<Insert Charming Introduction>

So it is, with bravado and grace, that I take to the internet, proudly joining the ever-increasing population of opinionated hate-mongers of the world in a bid to bring new, fresh and genuine critiques of various artists, albums and performances.

With a wide range of musical tastes, there is nothing I am not willing to review – and I will happily give an honest and often brutal opinion to anything that takes my interest.

Follow me on twitter (@barry_cornetto) and feel free to suggest albums and bands to listen to, I’ll happily listen to anything. This page is for more that fuelling my ego, it’s just as much for you – so let me know what you’re interested in hearing and I’ll let you know what I think.

Peace.