Note: The tracklist discussed in this review is based on the 1997 compact disc re-issue, which included songs from both the original UK and U.S. versions as well as the band’s first three UK singles.
The opening eight notes of “Purple Haze” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience are enormously crucial. For those eight or so seconds, a guitar chops through the surrounding darkness before diving into the boisterous body of the song like a cold, crystalline lake. Following that brief prologue of steady simplicity, Are You Experienced may adjust pace, but the album never drops its frenetic juggling act. As a debut, it’s an audacious, busy piece of psychedelic rock that finds a lot of breathing room in its loose structure, its constant sense of locomotion keeping it from becoming stagnant. Not only is Are You Experienced an earthshattering debut, it’s a high bar that no psych rock band has equaled in the fifty years since the album’s release.
Continue reading Review: ‘Are You Experienced’ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
For a period of time, it appeared as if The Fall would be the Gorillaz’s final outing following the April 7, 2012 announcement that the band had split. It would’ve been a somewhat gloomy end for the virtual band, as The Fall was little more than a pet project recorded on an iPad during the American leg of the Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour, hardly the swan song Gorillaz fans wanted or deserved. That period of time, however, only lasted between two to three weeks, as by April 25, 2012, co-founders Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett had mended their relationship and were confident a fifth Gorillaz record would be in their future.
In the years following Albarn and Hewlett’s reconciliation, Humanz (then untitled) felt like a foregone conclusion, which made its absence all the more frustrating. But over the last two years, while we were waiting, they were hard at work—Humanz sports twenty tracks plus six on the deluxe edition—collaborating across the musical spectrum with some of the industry’s most interesting artists: old, new, and soon-to-be-discovered. Albarn’s ambitions transcend genre, and Humanz explores a lot of different musical ideas and guest combinations; unfortunately, Albarn doesn’t always use these guests correctly, nor does he explore many of these ideas in any sort of depth. The result is an album that can’t help but occasionally feel half-baked, even when it works.
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Co-written by Rob Piersall.
For as influential to the genre as they were, The Clash didn’t spend much time as a pureblooded punk band. With the 1979 release of London Calling, the band began a transition away from the jagged purist punk aesthetic to a fuller, more polished sound with broader appeal; by the time Sandinista! and Combat Rock rolled around in 1980 and 1982, respectively, The Clash had gone fully “mainstream.” It was in this era that they released some of their most popular songs—including “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go”—but despite their peak commerciality in the ‘80s, it was in the year 1977 that the band made its biggest impact of all with their self-titled debut album.
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“I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA / I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA.” In “DNA,” Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar establishes the central thematic through line of his new album, or, more accurately, confesses that no such single through line actually exists. Damn lacks the driving narrative force of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and the political consequence of To Pimp a Butterfly, but that doesn’t mean it lacks purpose or emotional potency. Lamar has a lot to say, and unlike his past two studio albums, he doesn’t use a storytelling device to say it. After two critically-acclaimed concept albums, it may be tough to swallow Lamar’s return to a more standard album format (i.e. 2011’s Section.80), as it was initially for me. However, Lamar remains as deceptively dense as ever in how he balances vocal delivery and lyrical content, crafting songs that are as poetically meaningful as they are sonically enjoyable.
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In the lifespan of every successful band there exists a point at which the band must decide whether to stay within their niche or branch out into the mainstream, essentially “selling out.” Mastodon seems to have chosen the latter, though the changes didn’t come all at once. Their discography displays incremental shifts from the grimy sludge metal of early efforts Remission and Leviathan to The Hunter, which showed signs of Mastodon’s initial change in sound, to Once More ‘Round the Sun, a mopey hard rock album posing as progressive metal. Emperor of the Sand continues this trend, proving that the law of diminishing returns applies to Mastodon as much as it does economics.
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Peel slowly and see.
These four words can be found on the original vinyl copies of The Velvet Underground & Nico, intended to instruct the listener to slowly remove the banana peel sticker on the cover to reveal the soft fruit underneath. It also, as it would turn out, somewhat predicted the reception of the album itself, which was initially met with an uninspiring and bewildered response due to its shrill experimental instrumentation and lurid subject matter.
However, following the critical acclaim of the band’s self-titled third album and the general commercial success of front man Lou Reed’s solo career, music critics began to reevaluate The Velvet Underground’s debut record (and, to a lesser extent, their sophomore album White Light/White Heat) and retroactively hailed it as a masterpiece. Fifty years later, The Velvet Underground & Nico remains both a turning point in rock music history and a profoundly insightful account of ‘60s drug culture.
Continue reading Review: ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ by The Velvet Underground and Nico
Back in 2014, BBC Radio 1Xtra rightfully earned flack for its list of the twenty most powerful entertainers in the UK’s urban music scene, on which Ed Sheeran held the number one spot. The most attentive listeners of Sheeran’s may recognize Sheeran’s Saltine cracker jams to be anything but urban, and in fact, this seemed like Sheeran’s whole selling point: he’s an inoffensive presence whose Hallmark tales of love and heartbreak are just generic enough to be identifiable to the lowest comment denominator. Someone, at some point, however, decided that if Sheeran wasn’t lovingly accepted by all as a representative of Black music coming from the UK, he would be in short time. That can be the only explanation as to why Sheeran decided to rap as much as he does on Divide, his third studio album—and the worst part is, Sheeran’s embarrassing brand of “fish n’ chip”-hop is far from the only problem with this record.
Continue reading Review: ‘Divide’ by Ed Sheeran