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
By: Joseph Kathmann
JOSEPH: What a wasted opportunity. When Green Day announced this album, they hinted at a return to their political roots. My eyes got real big at the idea of Green Day returning to a style similar to my favorite album of theirs, American Idiot. Through the first 3 songs of this album, I was having a blast. "Revolution Radio" is a great single, and makes a great "Green Day" style political statement, too. This song is by far my favorite Green Day song since the classic namesake single on 2004's American Idiot. But, after this song, the album falls off a cliff and into a Donald Trump-esque death spiral. "Say Goodbye" loses much of the intensity of the first 3 tracks and replaces the great punk vibe with standard pop beats, and it only gets worse from there. From this point the whole album just feels like Green Day trying to find their next "Wake Me Up When September Ends" or worse, "21 Guns" single, which culminates with the TERRIBLE closer, "Ordinary World." There's also a "Jesus of Suburbia" wannabe track in "Forever Now."
If you haven't figured it out already, my biggest problem with this album is with how safe it is. Given the fact that it's supposed to be an "edgy" political statement, Green Day reveals their true colors as this album wears on: it's nothing more than yet another lazy cash-grab attempting to capitalize on the resentment many have towards a certain orange political candidate. This album will no doubt sell, and there will be several singles that will populate the radio over the next few months, but it does not forgive how incredibly lazy this album is. Try again, Billie Joe Armstrong.
Joseph's Number: 3/10
By: The Busted Amp Staff
JOSEPH: Let's get one thing out of the way immediately: this is a phenomenal piece of music. Front man Justin Vernon follows up his strong 2011 sophomore self-titled with another great piece of music. But it doesn't always work, and the lack of any discernible singles may hamper the commercial success of this album. But even though it didn't always work with me, I also didn't care. Because this album just might be the best work of music you'll hear all year.
The album starts with a strong opener in "22 (Over So∞∞n)" that ends up being the most Bon Iver-like song of the entire album. After this track the album really turns into a "Justin Vernon meets Kanye West" mashup, with many songs featuring heavy sampling by Vernon. Some of this worked, like in "715 - CRΣΣKS" (which sounds like something straight out of Yeezus) as well as "33 'GOD'" which was also my favorite track on the album. But just as the album's strongest track end, Bon Iver follows it up with the albums weakest track, "29 #Strattfford APTS." I do not understand what Vernon decided to do with his voice on this track, but I simply could not get into the experimentation here. Fortunately Bon Iver brings it back immediately with another strong track, "666 ʇ." At the end of the day, the strengths definitely outweigh the weaknesses for me, and even on the weak parts of the album I can still commend Vernon and company for valuing creativity over what people necessarily want to hear.
DEREK: There comes a point where I just have to throw my hands in the air and say "I don't get it". Well, Justin Vernon has produced the most strange musical pivot from an artist that I've heard in a long time. Going from the minimalist acoustic songs from For Emma, Forever Ago to the lush, orchestral self-titled follow up, Bon Iver certainly hasn't stuck to one style of music for a long time, and the trend continues on 22, A Million.
Ever since Justin collaborated with Kanye West on My Dark and Beautiful Fantasy, I wondered if that friendship would ever outwardly influence his style. Well, the glitchy production and abruptly edited samples that fill up each song on the album screams Kanye. Opener "22 (Over So∞∞n)" is a prime example. With a looping vocal that occasionally sounds like it lags or buffers, the sped up vocals saying "it might be over soon" and the plethora of other loops and samples, Justin makes a statement right away that this will not be like anything you've heard from the group. This is still Bon Iver though, so a wonderful saxophone solo and accompanying strings create a beautifully positive image. While it might be over soon, this is just the beginning; the sun is rising and it's going to be a beautiful day.
"10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄⚄" is one of the more emotionally charged songs on the album. The driving percussion set the tone and Vernon's vocals build into a wonderful crescendo towards the end. "715 - CRΣΣKS" has vocals that sound like the sibling track to "Woods" from the Blood Bank EP, which was sampled by Kanye West.
"33 "God"" is the first miss on the album. The sampled vocals, along with the Pacman like munching that loops through the entirety of the song, While I'm not a huge fan of the song, there are some interesting samples on the track, including a song by Sharon Van Etten.
The second half of the album is a rough mix of hits and misses. "29 #Strattfford APTS" is probably the closest to a throwback from For Emma, Forever Ago, but even this comparison is only because it's more acoustic. His vocals vary dramatically throughout the song, at some points become hard to listen to, but it works for the most part. The production here and throughout the album is not something to write home about, and again on this song, the laggy/buffering vocals return and sound awful. "8 (circle)" reminds me of the closing track "Beth/Rest" off of his self-titled, the biggest Peter Gabriel circlejerk that Vernon has created to date, but this comes scarily close to surpassing that.
The rest of this album is, frankly, forgettable. The biggest impression that I got from this album is that Vernon got some new music production software that he wanted to experiment with for a little while. Which is fine. The problem is, of course, that many people will take this 34 minute quote unquote album and worship it no matter what. For me, it's just a way for Vernon to shotgun a bunch of odds and ends at us and see if any stick. For the most part, it didn't.
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
JOSEPH: Siiiiiiiiiigh. What a disappointment. Dawes, one of the more popular folk-rock bands out there right now, has officially hit a major bump in the road with their latest installment. Following up their album All Your Favorite Bands which made both Derek and myself's list for best albums of 2015, Dawes has officially pulled a Mumford and Sons with their latest installment. Well, ok, that might be unfair to Dawes. At least their transition from their traditional folk-rock sound to this....mutt of an album felt more creative-based than publicity-based at least, but it doesn't excuse how rushed and messy this album feels. It starts with the complaint I just mentioned. This album is a mutt. It doesn't really fall into any particular style, and thus it struggles to find any coherency. I think nowhere is this lack of coherency more prevalent than the first single, "When the Tequila Runs Out" even though this song has grown on me and I was particularly impressed with the live performance of this song at Live on the Green, it doesn't forgive the fact that this song is messy from start to finish, and is held together by a weak shout chorus, even by Dawes standards. "When the tequila runs out/We'll be drinking champagne." Brilliance.
But I think my biggest problem with this album is how rushed it feels. I really don't know why Dawes decided to come out with a new album just one year after All Your Favorite Bands but it makes this album feel like all the B-tracks that didn't make last year's installment. I think even the band knows they do not have a great album here as evidenced by the fact that they only played "When the Tequila Runs Out" during their 90 minute show at Live on the Green just a few weeks ago. Tear it down and start again, guys.
Joseph's Number: 3/10
DEREK: Oh, what to say about this album. Only a year after their fantastic LP "All Your Favorite Bands", Dawes returns with an album comprised of what feels like the B-sides and stuff that didn't quite fit on the last release. I was really intrigued with album opener "One of Us", which is probably my favorite song on the album. The churning guitar riff and the stellar vocal performance by lead singer Taylor Goldsmith start the album off on really solid note. Unfortunately for all of us, that's the last truly noteworthy song until lead single "When the Tequila Runs Out" stumbles into the picture during the second half of the record. As Joseph mentioned, the weak shout chorus is Dawes' attempt at a party anthem, and it really doesn't go over well. Yes, it's catchy. Yes, it's a tolerable listen. In fact, you may even find yourself singing along; the words aren't that difficult to pick up by the third repetition. But good golly Miss Molly is this the lowest common denominator kind of song that I never expected from Dawes. Typically, their songwriting and storytelling are superb on every song, but this is a huge swing in miss from my perspective. That being said, the rest of the album, lyrically, is good. Musically, however, it's a 46 minute long yawn.
Derek's Number: 4/10
By: The Busted Amp Staff
DEREK: The indie neo-soul movement, filled with crooners attempting to capture the essence of years past, certainly has its winners and losers. Artists like Leon Bridges and Anderson East have successfully created authentic sounding indie soul, whereas artists like Fitz & the Tantrums have turned their backs on soul in favor of a more popular poppy sound. Luckily for us, St. Paul & The Broken Bones falls into the first category. Coming off their solid full length debut Half The City, the band returns with an ambitious, fuller sounding sophomore release that doesn't sacrifice anything in terms of the soulful identity, yet gains a more pronounced, mature sound.
The album is divided into three sections, with each separated by an interlude titled "Crumbling Light Posts" parts 1, 2, and 3. With the opening interlude, it's immediately apparent that the listener has a much different adventure awaiting them than what was on their debut. Swelling and expansive, I pictured braving a storm on the Sea of Noise and coming through to calm, serene waters on the other side. This simple clarity sets the tone for the rest of the album, which is more focused, better produced, and features performances, especially those by lead singer Paul Janeway, that are honest, heartfelt, and passionate.
"Midnight on the Earth" brings a surprising dosage of funk to the record that plateaus with a rousing horn finale. Janeway's falsetto is a highlight here and something that he hasn't showcased much outside of overdubbed backing vocals. Lead single "All I Ever Wonder" is probably the best song that the band has produced up to this point. The driving chorus "I can't tell what side I'm on / I can't tell what's right or wrong / We ain't ever gonna sing one song / Love goes hate goes now I'm all alone" is the high point of the album.
While this album is noticeably more up tempo compared to their debut. "Burning Rome" is restrained and lets Janeway's vocals shine through with subtle horns and keys guiding the melody. Hold your love ones close for this one, folks, because this is the perfect slow dancing song.
Overall, SP&BB showed more growth than I expected and produced a fantastic neo-soul record. Take note Fitz, it can be done!
Derek's Number: 7.5/10
JOSEPH: Many artists go through a sophomore slump. This is nothing new. However one band that does not suffer from this is St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Delivering one of my current favorite albums of the year, (Sturgill Simpson finally has company) St. Paul takes us through a listening experience here in Sea of Noise. As much as I love a good single, I can equally dig an album that completely lacks any standout tracks. St. Paul and the Broken Bones chose to focus on the album experience as a whole, and it leads to a great listening experience.
Now that's not to say this album doesn't have some stand out tracks. Derek already talked about the highlight in "All I Ever Wanted," but I will also mention "Brain Matter." Frontman "Saint" Paul Janeway has some wonderful vocal cues throughout this song, and the instrumentation is extremely catchy. This song screams to be selected for a scene in a movie involving a romantic dinner or something, because it oozes class. Additionally, I really loved the "Crumbling Light Posts" interludes. Those interludes were outstanding and did a phenomenal job job in adding to the overall listening experience of this LP. X Ambassadors, I hope you're listening to this because St. Paul and the Broken Bones just put on a clinic for what to do in album coherency. One thing is for sure: I cannot wait to hear this album done live, and honestly that's about as high a praise as I can offer.
By: Derek Jung
Ryley Walker's 2015 sophomore album Primrose Green was an eye opener for me in so many ways. The jazzy, acoustic folk was unfamiliar territory for me, and I welcomed it with open arms and eager ears. The title track even made my 2015 list of Favorite Songs. The Chicago native returned again last week with his third full length, and a noticeable bump in production and songwriting has only solidified him as an artist worth paying attention to.
Walker's ability to create immersive songs through complex, multi-part song structures is fantastic, and his skillful guitar playing only adds to this fact. Lead single "The Halfwit in Me" immediately showcases the progressive folk that has endeared him to so many fans around the world. Later on, "Sullen Mind" explodes midway into an expansive masterpiece of sonic genius. This song in particular is the full band performance that I've been waiting for from Walker. The drumming, additional guitar, and what sounds like a vibraphone build wave after wave until the finale. On a more subdued note, "The Roundabout" is one of the best lyrical showcases on the album, I loved the verse "And I'd buy you a drink / My credit is quite shit / We can all laugh / And have tap water". It's funny, clever, and a little self-deprecating all at the same time.
There's no denying that Walker is a skilled songwriter. His wordplay and storytelling are top notch, but one of the weak spots on the album is Walker's vocal performance, which gets a bit monotonous. While his singing style has never been stellar, I really enjoyed songs like "Summer Dress" on Primrose Green that really pushed his singing to the limits. On this album, however, I don't hear him taking the same vocal risks.
If you're looking for a musically and lyrically complex album to enjoy on a lazy Sunday afternoon, this album would be a great place to start.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.