By: The Busted Amp Staff
By: Derek Jung
By: Derek Jung
As a music reviewer, I realize there are albums that are objectively good and objectively bad. When I come across an album that falls into the former category but is also one that I don't enjoy listening to, a myriad of conflicting feelings rise to the surface. I, as the author of this review, have to give my opinion about something, and that is very subjective. When I listen to The xx, I always appreciate their minimalist style. But at the same time, beyond "Intro" from their self-titled debut album, which has some of the most chilling guitar playing that I've heard in ages, their minimal sound is also one of the things that turns me off from them. Their vocals have always been mediocre, and their pull towards house music, a subgenre of electronic music that I have never enjoyed, only further pushes me away. All of that being said, one would expect this review to go one of two ways. Either I will be pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this album or I'll have my bias reinforced and continue to list The xx as one of the most overrated bands in the last decade. In reality, however, I've fallen somewhere in between. The battle between objective goodness and subjective tastes is in full force here.
As much as people harp on The xx being minimalist visionaries, the most promising song on this album, and shockingly the first single, is "Hold On". It's probably the most upbeat song on the album despite its slow moving verses. The biggest standout for me on this song is the brilliant Hall and Oates sample in the chorus breakdown that makes me bob my head every time I hear it. If more xx songs on the album were similarly styled, I would not complain at all. The problem is that the rest of the album is not like that. Slow-brooding, dreary angst abounds, with added atmospheric drums and the guitar noodling of Romy Madley Croft. Production on this album is especially fitting, as you can definitely imagine a foggy haze surrounding the band when they recorded. While I wasn't a huge fan of Derek xx's debut solo album "In Colour" that won critical acclaim in 2015, I will say that it's the direction that The xx should move in as a band. I'm certainly glad that some elements from that album have made their way into I See You. Otherwise, they're better off covering the Brambles Theme from Donkey Kong Country 2.
By: The Busted Amp Staff
JOSEPH: I love this album. While not without a few missteps, this album is certainly one of my favorites of the year, and I have already found myself putting this album on repeat even though it was released just a few days ago. The album gets off to a great start in "Move" which is an extremely strong opening sequence, but I'll leave this song to Derek. I want to focus on the next song, Getaway. This is a great song, featuring some resounding drum lines and excellent vocals from front man A/J Jackson. There is also a great synth line here, which is also equally great in the opener, "Move"
DEREK: As Joseph mentioned, "Move" starts of the album on a strong note. In fact, I'd argue that it's a stronger opening single than the giant earworm "My Type" from their last album. A handclap intro explodes into a funky, almost disco influenced horn pre-verse. The production on this song is top notch, especially balancing the horns with the rest of the band. While the verses are a little boring from a lyrical standpoint, this song is certainly not made for that purpose. This is all about the chorus, and the band has crafted one of the best hooks of the year. I remember this song from their set at Lollapalooza this year, and hearing the crowd yell "MOVE" was all the evidence I needed to solidify this song as one of my favorites in their discography.
The problem with having such a strong start to the album is that it can sometimes be hard to keep the energy up for the remainder. Unlike what we saw from Phantogram on Three, Saint Motel does a pretty good job of keeping the quality level and a decently high level. What do you think Joseph?
JOSEPH: Agreed. After the excellent opener "Move" and even better "Getaway" which I mentioned earlier, Saint Motel does not let up with in the following tracks. "Destroyer" hits the gas pedal even harder and features an absolutely FILTHY saxophone line and a downright sexy sax solo on top of a catchy chorus. After "Destroyer," Saint Motel gives us a "break" with the gospel track "Born Again." While this might not be the best gospel song on the planet, it is certainly extremely catchy, and it is certainly one of the best mainstream gospel hits of the year. Another highlight for me later on was "For Elise," which featured a beautiful and jazzy rendition of Beethoven's classic Fur Elise. I'm a sucker for modern interpretations of classical pieces.
Ultimately, for me, this is one of my favorite albums of the year. I think Derek and I will disagree on that because he values lyrics more than I do, but from an instrumental standpoint Saint Motel have crafted a catchy and instrumentally interesting LP from start to finish. While it does let off the gas a little bit on the final three tracks, going from 100 MPH to 85 MPH really isn't that big of a difference. So, Derek, would you like to be the spoiler of fun and talk about this album's one major misgiving?
DEREK: I mean, yes, in terms of lyrical content this album is no philosophical or introspective masterpiece. But for what it is, I think a band like Saint Motel is acutely aware of their audience, and the album does what it set out to do. While I wouldn't put it in my top albums of the year, I respect the effort and "Move" is definitely in my top 10 singles of the year.
Derek's Number: 6.5/10
Joseph's Number: 7.5/10
By: The Busted Amp Staff
DEREK: After over a year of recording and touring with Outkast's Big Boi under the name Big Grams, including the release of their fabulous self-titled debut, the duo of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel are back at the helms of Phantogram for their third full length, aptly named Three. Much of the songwriting for this album was done while Barthel was grieving the loss of her older sister. Understandably, the album is dark in many places, and tries to convey some of the heaviest, most honest emotions they've ever attempted. While the album starts off strong, the latter two-thirds drops off sharply and creates an uneven, hit and miss listening experience.
Lead single "You Don't Get Me High Anymore" is a banger. Deep, brooding synths, a punchy drum beat, and Barthel's vocals combine to be one of the group's best songs yet. But this isn't even the highlight of the album for me. That designation goes to "Same Old Blues", which opens with an Afro-hip hop beat and a clapping backtrack before cutting to Barthel's isolated vocal. The chorus is a beautiful "I keep on having this dream / Where I'm stuck in a hole and I can't get out. / There's always something that's pulling me down, down down." The real surprise comes after the second chorus, when the biggest drop on the album hits and goes straight into a mini guitar solo breakdown. It's a song that's executed perfectly from start to finish.
"Cruel World" features samples remind me of the Light half of John Frusciante's "Dark/Light", but this song is all darkness. Barthel declares "goodbye to my good side" in this cruel world. Unfortunately, after this, many attempts at being emotionally vulnerable hit flat. "Barking Dog", my least favorite song on the album, features Carter on lead vocals. I'd argue that the dog is barking to drown out his terrible vocal performance, which is reminiscent to when Iain Cook takes the lead for CHVRCHES.
I'm of the opinion that this album could have been cut into a four or five track EP like 2011's Nightlife that would have been a much better listening experience. This ten song LP where half of the songs are forgettable at best and mediocre at worst. I'm not joking. I'd buy an EP with tracks one through four on it. The entirety of Three? Not so much.
JOSEPH: Another standard pop album. While most of these tracks are certainly dance-worthy thanks to decent instrumentation from Josh Carter, Three is depressingly underwhelming. Sarah Barthel's vocals aren't really anything to write home about, but they are still interesting in some songs, particular opener "Funeral Pyre." While I had little idea what she was saying for most of this song thanks to the mix, I did enjoy what her vocals were doing from an instrumental standpoint. "Funeral Pyre" led into what I felt was by FAR the strongest track on the album, (and possibly one of my favorite songs of 2016 so far) "Same Old Blues." This song is highlighted by one of the sexiest drops I've heard in a long time during the guitar solo. There is little doubt that I will be listening to this song for a long time, and thanks to its dance-friendly beat I will definitely lead with it at any parties I'm invited to. Assuming I'm actually invited to any parties.
The following track, "You Don't Get Me High Anymore" pales in comparison to the two opening tracks. It's actually one of the weaker songs on the album, in my opinion, (and it looks like I'm in the minority on this one) and starts the slow overall downward spiral that is the rest of Three. By "Answer," I was bored, and by track closer "Calling All" I was begging for it to end. The only track that stood out at all to me was "Destroyer," but even it was a pretty standard pop ballad. I just happened to enjoy the chorus on this track. Though that may have been because I was looking for anything to enjoy by that point.
At the end of the day, what I would recommend doing with Three is listen to the first three songs on the track. No, really. The first three tracks of this album are the only three tracks worth listening to on this album. I was so excited for the potential of this album at the end of "Same Old Blues." But after this sexy track Three just turned into another very standard and safe pop album. A swing and a miss.
My number: 4/10
By: The Busted Amp Staff
Here's a quick summary of a few albums that we missed in the last few months. The rest of the year has some highly anticipated releases, so we wanted to make sure these didn't get lost in the hype. Hope you find a good listen or two (or four) in these. Cheers to new music.
By: The Busted Amp Staff
One of my personal favorite artists right now, Kishi Bashi, formerly the violinist for the band of Montreal, has been quietly cementing himself as one of the most talented musicians in the industry right now, ever since he captivated us with his incredible performance of "Manchester" from his debut solo album, 151a. Now 3 albums into his solo career, K. Ishibashi has managed to achieve the rare feat of making each of his albums better than the last. I was really worried that Kishi Bashi was not going to be able to follow up the wonderful Lighght, After hearing the first single, "Say Yeah," this worry did not go away. While I did somewhat enjoy this song, I was not sold on the new 80's style for Kishi Bashi. Well, after hearing the entire LP, I can say I am extremely sold on this new and fun style. About the only misstep on the entire album ironically is the debut single, "Say Yeah" which turned out to be an extremely odd choice given the rest of this terrific album.
However, despite this slightly lackluster single, every other song on this LP is phenomenal. Kishi Bashi immediately captivates the listener in the opener "m'lover" and delivers lyrics in a way only Kishi Bashi can. "I want to do what lovers do with you/I want to walk the edge of the earth with you/I want to say to you the minute we feel the heat would you be m'lover?" The album never lets up, as after "Say Yeah" it feels like each song is better than the last. "Honeybody" is a lovely and distinctly Kishi Bashi track that is a great closer to Sonderlust. This is a track that.....if you've never heard any Kishi Bashi song in your life, is as good a place to start as any.
If there's one thing that can inspire the creative process, it's heavy, personal struggle. In K. Ishibashi's case, marital issues and a brief separation from his wife inspired Sonderlust, an album that is filled with darker lyrical subject matter, but manages to keep the upbeat, poppy sound that's relatable and enjoyable. Album opener "m'lover" brought to mind what an Animal Collective and Passion Pit love child would sound like. The sampled production, the upper tenor vocals, and the danceable, catchy chorus all come together successfully to open the album on a high note.
Lead single "Say Yeah" is sandwiched in between my two favorite songs on the album, "Hey Big Star" and "Can't Let Go, Juno". While I wasn't as down on it as Joseph was, I will say that it wouldn't have been my choice for lead single. With that being said, these are the three strongest songs to appear consecutively on an album that Kishi Bashi has produced thus far in his career. "Can't Let Go, Juno" is the highlight of the album for me, with its synth keys and some of the most heartbreaking and personal lyrics that I've heard from him. It's a raw peek into his life and the emotions that laid the foundation for the album. This is the strongest top-to-bottom release yet for Kishi Bashi, and it's not even close. The arrangements on these songs are bigger, bolder, and more layered than ever. The attention is less focused on K's solo violin playing, and in many cases it's why the songs work in expressing the pain he's feeling. The only miss for me is closer, "Honeybody", which is a silly, island music-sounding song that just doesn't fit with the other songs on the album. Or maybe I just don't get it.
Derek just doesn't get it.
By: The Busted Amp Staff
Derek: In 2010, I read about an up-and-coming neo-soul band on my favorite music website at the time, Antiquiet, and their debut album Pickin' Up The Pieces soon became one of my favorite albums of the year. Their blend of throwback soul with modern pop aesthetics was refreshing, and the obvious Motown influences were enough to sound familiar, yet not enough to be a complete rip of the decades-old soul sound. A few years later, the band's sophomore release More Than Just a Dream departed from much of the throwback sound in favor of a more pop forward, singles focused record, and their resulting commercial success signaled a new, reinvented chapter for Fitz & the Tantrums. The one constant between the two eras was the captivating and energetic live shows, which I had the pleasure of seeing twice, once in each album cycle. While I was happy to see the band gain more fans and continue putting on great shows, I was apprehensive of where their sound was heading. My worst fears were realized on this album.
The transformation of Fitz & the Tantrums from a neo-soul band into a generic, soulless pop band has been completed. Michael Fitzpatrick, like Dr. Frankenstein before him, has created such a grotesque monster of an album that I fear nothing can save the band that I once knew and loved. Whereas their debut had beautifully written songs about heartbreak and loss, this album has lyrics like "It's complicated / When we get naked / But I can take it / (I love to hate it babe; I can't say no)". The music isn't much better. Just as the lyrics are dumbed down on this album, so has the music, which features forgettable dance beats, terrible synths, and a complete lack of depth outside of a few admittedly catchy hooks sprinkled throughout the 36-minute runtime. I have to wonder why Noelle Scaggs continues to take the backseat in the group; she has been featured less and less as a vocalist despite her obvious talent. At this point is she really anything other than a hypewoman telling the crowd to "put their hands up" during their live sets? She certainly doesn't contribute anything of note on this album outside of one bridge on "Complicated".
There's no doubt that the singles on this album like "Handclap" will see airplay on both radio and TV, but this is nothing more than a shallow, poorly produced, poorly written pop album.
Joseph: A lot of times when a band drops a pop-heavy album, I will enjoy it far more than Derek does. Fitz's sophomore album, More Than Just a Dream, was a textbook example of this: I was ok with Fitz & the Tantrums having more pop influences than neo-soul on their album. After all, "The Walker" had one of my favorite hooks of 2013, so there's no doubt these guys have the ability to blend the two genres together. Buuuuuuuuuut we will agree on this pile of crap.
What are you doing Michael Fitzpatrick? I really want to think that he's just trying to express himself creatively, but my cynical side is screaming sellout. And I just might have to let my cynical side win out here, because I KNOW Fitz & the Tantrums have more talent than this. I think that's what really gets me here and why I'm right down in the gutters on this travesty with Derek: I know these guys can do better. Even from a pop perspective this album lacks hooks on almost every song besides "Handclap" and "Burn it Down." Noelle Scaggs has nothing to do here, and can take the title of "Most talented musician completely wasted" to this point this year, and AGAIN my cynical side comes up at this point because part of me thinks she has nothing to do only because Michael Fitzpatrick knows she's a FAR better singer than he is, so he wants to limit her role as much as possible. I hope that's not true but dear Lord I can't shake that thought out of my head.
Ultimately, this album is a disaster. I can only hope that at this point Fitz and the Tantrums attempt to bring their fans back to their neo-soul side with a "triumphant return to their roots" or something, but with Michael Fitzpatrick seemingly settling into his newfound love of the electronic genre with a recent (and very lackluster) collaboration with Cash Cash, I'm not holding my breath. As it stands this may be the most disappointing fall for a group that I have ever seen.
By: The Busted Amp Staff
JOSEPH: One of the most innovative projects of the last decade, M83 has dazzled fans with some truly unique albums, from 2003's Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts to 2008's Saturdays = Youth to 2011's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, when M83 announces an album is coming, people stop what they're doing and listen. Coming off the heels of an album which, along with Queens of the Stone Age's 2013 .....Like Clockwork holds the spot for my favorite albums of this decade, I was quite excited for where Anthony Gonzalez was going to take us on his long anticipated follow up. Initially, I was excited. The first single "Do It, Try It" brings us the return of some classic M83 jams, especially the awesome synth line that closes the song. Sure the song has absolutely nothing to offer from a lyrical perspective short of saying, "Do it, try it" over and over again, but as someone who has never really cared much for lyrics that's fine by me. The second single, "Go!" featuring Mai Lan, suffered from the same problems, but again the amazing instrumentation (dat sexy guitar solo from Steve Vai though) made this song good enough for me to get past the complete lack of distinguishable vocals. But, once the album came out, I began to realize it's limitations.
But as much as I respect the instrumentation on almost every song and the loving ode to 80's synth pop, Junk suffers from the same problem as most of the synth pop of the 80's: it's superficial. From start to finish, this album feels like excess weight, and the album lacks a surprising amount of coherency, which has always been one of Anthony Gonzalez's fortes. Songs like the instrumental "Moon Crystal" feel very out of place on this album, and sound like nothing more than elevator music. Elevator music? That's what you have for us M83? I mean sure it's groovy elevator music, but I still expect so much more from a man who was able to make a song simply called "Intro" be a breathtaking masterpiece of song. The album shifts into one of the few high-points as the incredible Susanne Sundfør makes an appearance on "For the Kids." This was the only time the entire album that I could easily discern the identity of the vocalist singing. I actually totally missed Beck's role in "Team Wind." How is that possible? How is someone with a voice as identifiable as Beck's able to be so lost that the listener doesn't even know it's him? But, despite all of this.....I freaking love "Solitude." For one six minute song, M83 brings all the elements of his past accomplishments to one great song. Despite the missteps of most of the album, "Solitude" has become one of my personal favorite songs by Anthony Gonzalez, and it's definitely one song that I cannot wait to hear live.
But, obviously, one song is not enough to make an album good. And, as painful as it is for me to say, good Junk is not. Maybe it will grow on me as time goes on. Maybe I will decide that I expected too much from Anthony Gonzalez. But I know he can do better. This album, ultimately, is an interesting one to me because Gonzalez has always been one to not rush his creativity. He has always forgone the traditional "album cycle" and has released material when he feels it is good and ready. And yet....we get this? Did he feel that it had been 5 years since Hurry Up, We're Dreaming so he needed to release a new album? Well, I think he named the album after he listened to it from start to finish, because this title does describe most of the album exceptionally well. Now we have to wait 5 years to hope for another truly M83-esque album. Excuse me while I go cry about something else.
My Number: 4/10
DEREK: When "Do It, Try It" dropped as the lead single from Junk, I wasn't quite sure what to think. On the one hand, the song's vocals are garbled and indiscernible, the synths are muffled and poorly mixed, and the content does not nearly live up to the grandiose scope of anything from Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. On the other hand, there's an adorable puppy on the single cover, so obviously I gave the song a pass and looked forward to what I hoped would be a more substantive rest of the album. Unfortunately, my hopes were not realized and Junk really tries its best to live up to the name.
There are a few highlights on the album. "Go!" is going to be a really fun song live, especially at any festivals where Steve Vai can make a cameo for his ridiculous solo at the end. The problem is the rest of the song. Besides not being able to understand any words in the chorus, the overly excessive countdown leading into the solo is a total waste. Did Anthony Gonzalez really think it was a good idea to count down from eight? "Solitude" is a pretty solid tune. Get it? No? Well, I don't get where Gonzalez was going with this album either.
As Joseph mentioned, there are a decent number of collaborators, but none of them really stand out besides Susanne Sundfør on "For The Kids". MAI LAN and Jordan Lawlor are completely forgettable, and Beck's contribution on "Time Wind" is a joke. Each one of them add nothing to any of the songs, and miss nearly every opportunity to inject life in the lifeless filler. Speaking of filler, not only is that one of the bigger weak spots on Junk, but that was also my biggest complaint from Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. I think it was more pronounced on the latter because it was a double album, but on Junk, there just aren't the really fantastic songs to even it out like there was on Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, and it makes for a boring, uninspired listen for the vast majority of the album.
Unless something shocking happens in the remainder of 2016, this will definitely be on my Most Disappointing Albums list.
My Number: 3/10
Also, can we please talk about how the album cover monsters look like a combination of Cousin It and Grimace from McDonald's?
By: Derek Jung
Michigan native Garrett Borns, better known these days by his stage name BØRNS, burst onto the scene this year with the smash hit single "Electric Love". After appearing in commercials, TV shows, and even declared an instant classic by T. Swift, fans all around the world eagerly anticipated the debut full length release to follow one of the biggest songs of the summer. Well, Dopamine finally arrived this past week, and what we got was a hit and miss collection of songs that, while showing off Borns' vocal range, fail to continue the magic of the lead single.
With a wide vocal range, Borns has a lot to work with in the raw talent department. My biggest concern going into the album was songwriting, and from what I heard, it sounds like my concerns were well placed. While it's hard to follow a lead single like "Electric Love", no other song on the album even comes close to its catchiness and repeatability. Lyrically, some of the songs are almost eyerollably cliche; on "Past Lives" Borns swoons that "our love is deeper than oceans of water".
"American Money" could have been a cut from Lorde's Pure Heroine and "Dopamine" sounds like a Passion Pit chorus, and honestly I think both of them could have done it better. Musically, the album has a lot of potential, and there's no doubt that there are some great ideas here, but I felt like many of them were either poorly executed or fell flat because they failed to keep my attention.
I can imagine Borns being a very energetic, entertaining frontman live. His songs hint at the charisma of a lifelong performer (as a teenager, he performed in restaurants as a magician), which I imagine would translate well to the live stage, but the album mostly fails to capture and translate that magic to recorded form. There are some bright spots. "The Emotion" is an upliftingly catchy track with a killer vocal line in the chorus and "10,000 Emerald Pools", is a slow churning opener with a pleasant chorus and another good vocal performance by Borns.
That being said, at times this album comes off as a mediocre Maroon 5 impression. There's so much more to an album than its singles, and BØRNS just doesn't deliver the meat. Instead, while we all enjoyed the initial shock of "Electric Love" this summer, we are feeling the crash now.
My Number: 4/10
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.