By: Derek Jung
Four albums and five years into their musical careers, Foxygen continue to redefine their sound with every release. Their last album, the abysmal ...And Star Power, was especially disappointing because it was the followup to one of my favorite records of 2013, We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. Whereas We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic was scatterbrained, an accurate portrayal of the band's live show, they balanced it with great songwriting and production. ...And Star Power lost all of that. On top of being incredibly boring from start to finish, the production was muddled and the songwriting was subpar. I was beginning to doubt that they'd be able to match anything near their sophomore release, however Hang proved me very, very wrong.
By the first ten seconds of the album, it's clear that there's been another drastic production shift for the band. Wearing his Mick Jagger influences on his chest, lead singer Sam France swaggers through album opener "Follow The Leader", which features a beautifully arranged orchestral solo and strings and horns throughout. Many songs on the album have a distinct showtune flair to them. "Avalon" is the first example of this on the album. I honestly expected a dancing interlude to break out at some point during the song. You can even hear some faint tapping in the background. It's a great effect that's executed tastefully.
Lead single "America" soars over everything the band has attempted previously in terms of pure compositional ambition. It's just the anthem that the listener needs in the middle of the album, and the adventure that awaits is exciting, with a number of unexpected twists and turns. The middle section bounces back and forth between soft, elegant instrumentation and pounding drums. There's even a classic swing section that almost made me spit out my drink laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. But that's where Foxygen thrives, in the ridiculous, and there's more of it on Hang than any of their albums to date. When French and Rado rein it in their crazy just enough, they're in the zone. That zone encompasses about two thirds of Hang. There are moments where they go off the deep end, like on "Trauma", which, besides being about two minutes too long, highlights French's vocal shortcomings with dramatic effect. It's pretty unlistenable. But maybe the point is to create trauma for the listener. That'd be deep. Beyond that, however, this is one of the few spots of poor songwriting on an otherwise brilliantly written and composed album.
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: Joseph Kathmann
This is what your first (and only) album after an 18 year hiatus should sound like. A Tribe Called Quest, one of hip hop's legendary groups, returns for one final album that can simply be described as extraordinary. ATCQ manages to find a balancing act between looking behind and ahead, crafting an album that is both honoring their glorious past while blazing new roads-which is customary for the group. The band's daring experimentation is obvious from the onset, as the group brings elements of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka of all things in the opening track "The Space Program" which of course works beautifully because it's ATCQ.
More importantly than that, though, is the band's poignant message prevalent throughout the album. It is especially obvious on a track like "We the People...." which features the lyrics "The fog and smog of news media the logs / false narratives of Gods that came up against the odds." Clearly nobody knows who's the target of those lyrics. That said, there are a few missteps. A track like "Dis Generation" features fairly ordinary lyrics that are meant to rile up Millennials, but it comes out as a song that sounds just like every other song meant to rile up Millennials...... Of which, there are many.
The real calling card of We Got It from Here though, is undoubtedly its experimentation. ATCQ pioneered some of the crazy experimentation we've heard in the hip hop genre over the years, and that did not go away in their latest installment. Honestly this experimentation is hard to describe, but it amplifies the experience that is listening to this long LP. Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Q-Tip, Jarobi White, and the late Phife Dawg all play off each others vocals and create tracks that are so....different, that they just have to be heard to be believed. I mean, there is total silence for nearly 10 seconds in the track "Lost Somebody" that leads into a guitar riff that sounds like something from Gary Clark Jr. It shouldn't work, but it does! I first listened to this album a few weeks ago and have been contemplating how to write this review ever since. Clearly I still haven't quite figured out how to do it, but, between a poignant message, great contrasts in rapping styles, and unique experimentation, ATCQ successfully reminds us why they were considered one of the best rap groups of 1990's while also dropping a powerful album by today's standards. Take a listen.
Also, RIP Phife Dawg. The band was hit hard by his sudden death, and have definitely dedicated this final album to him. Check out their touching SNL tribute while performing "We the People...." to him below.
My Number: 8/10
By: Derek Jung
Over the last decade, My Morning Jacket and their frontman Jim James have been moving more and more away from the alt-country jam band sounds that highlighted the beginning of their career. In between, Jim has done a smattering of solo albums, early on under the moniker Yim Yames (misspelling intended), but recently under his own name. 2013's Regions Of Light And Sound Of God was an extreme departure from his main band's sound, and something that I was never able to connect with. On Eternally Even, however, he takes elements from his first album, smokey synth driven burners, and props them up with better songwriting, better production, and a better sense of who he is as an artist outside of MMJ.
The soul and psychedelic influences abound on this album. Lead single "Same Old Lie" takes the synths from a My Morning Jacket song like "Touch Me I'm Going To Scream Pt. 2" and makes them broodier, angstier, and more focused with a clear political voice. He laments "If you don't vote it's on you not me". The two minute jam towards the end has much greater effect than anything from his first album, which sounded more like time filler than any productive. Album opener "Hide In Plain Sight" makes it clear that this is no repeat of the 2013 album. This is Jim James' dark and twisted reality, and the rabbit hole the listener jumps into is deep and full of twists and turns. There is a palpable tension surrounding every song on the album, and it's perfectly encapsulated in the uncertain political climate of 2016. Do you really think it was coincidence that it was released the Friday before the election? I think not. For someone who has never been a savvy topical songwriter with My Morning Jacket, James jumps headfirst into the fray of protest albums here, and he does it well.
As the listener gets to the deeper cuts on the album, the soul influences really blossom. "The World's Smiling Now" is a sexy, jazz club dancing, old school tune. "We Ain't Getting Any Younger Pt. 1" churns like a steam engine chugging down the tracks, starting slowly but steadily building up pace before reaching the main synth line. This is really just a long introduction to part 2, which returns to the main synth line from part one. For all of the tension on the front half of the album, after this two parted behemoth of a song, the tone of the album gets comparatively cheerier. Some funky bass grooves on "In The Moment" and horns on that and "True Nature" turns the album on a hopeful 180 degrees. Since that the hope was probably more directed towards the election of the democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, I wonder what the end of the album would sound like now.
Joseph: I had to come on here and add an addendum on this review. It's hard to believe that this is the same guy who championed a song like "Off the Record" back in 2005 or "Nashville to Kentucky" back in 1999, but Jim James newest LP is one of my favorite kinds of listens: one that takes you deep down the rabbit hole of the album's puppet master. Well within the realms of experimental music, Jim James new LP is oozing with influences across various genres, and thus it is a very unique sounding album. While not all of these songs stuck for me, particularly in the second half, I love hearing an artist take the listener on a musical journey on their LP, whether the listener wants to or not. If you're into listening "experiences," then this is an album that you cannot pass up.
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.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.