Review: ‘The Clash’ by The Clash

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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Review: ‘Damn’ by Kendrick Lamar

“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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Review: ‘Emperor of Sand’ by Mastodon

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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Review: ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ by The Velvet Underground and Nico

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.

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Review: ‘Divide’ by Ed Sheeran

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.

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Review: ‘Drunk’ by Thundercat

You’ve heard Stephen Bruner, stage name Thundercat, even if you’ve never heard of him. The Los Angeles-born bass guitarist extraordinaire has long played a background role in hip-hop, having appeared in recent years on Mac Miller’s GO:OD AM, Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet, and the latest two projects from Kendrick Lamar. He’s a moldable presence capable of adapting to a stylistically diverse soundscape, even serving as the bass player of crossover thrash group Suicidal Tendencies for a number of years. On Drunk, his third studio album, Bruner displays a masterful flexibility of tone, even if he occasionally veers into sonic homogeny.

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Review: ‘Prisoner’ by Ryan Adams

It was fitting that Ryan Adams’s previous full-length album was a front-to-back cover of Taylor Swift’s award-winning 1989. Both artists have made careers out of amplifying their intimate stories into anthems while retaining the specificity of their songwriting—Adams, at the time, was going through a divorce with his then-wife Mandy Moore, and Swift’s tales of structurally-unsound young love translated well to weariness, Adams’s degradation of relationship reflected in the somber acoustic guitars comprising much of the album.

It’s a principle that hasn’t waned, despite the more uniformly electric soundscape occupying Prisoner. From the outset, Prisoner proves to be a way’s away from his 2000 debut solo album Heartbreaker, a Nashville purist’s wildest fantasy, but Adams even deviates from his bluesy 2014 self-titled album, the last original material we’d heard from him. It’s almost as if he needed 1989 as a middle ground to metamorphose, its pop sensibilities transforming him into a full-fledged heartland rocker. The sun-drenched organs and guitars of the opener, “Do You Still Love Me?,” evoke Bruce Springsteen in the late ‘80s, and on “Doomsday,” his declarations that “My love, we can do better than this” soar over crashing acoustic guitar riffs. On the whole, Prisoner isn’t too far off from a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers record, but its larger-than-life sound and raw sense of emotional turbulence fit the kind of grand arena orchestration that defined acts like Springsteen and Petty thirty years ago.

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