By: Derek Jung
By: Derek Jung
The last two years have seen Ryan Adams' life turned upside down. In 2015 he received high praise for his imaginative reinventing of Taylor Swift's pop music classic 1989 on a cover album bearing the same name. At the same time, his marriage with singer/actress Mandy Moore was deteriorating, and the couple officially divorced in June 2016. With all of that as the backdrop to writing Prisoner, it's no surprise that the album is filled to the brim with heartbreak, depression, and despair. You only needs to look at the song titles to understand what listening to the album is going to be like. Lead single "Do You Still Love Me?", one of my favorite songs of 2016, is a 1980's Bruce Springsteen arena rock sounding classic. Churning guitars and haunting melodic keys compliment Adams as he repeats one of the most painful questions you can ask in a dying relationship.
The rest of the album, however, is much more singer/songwriter focused. Adams channels the songwriting style of Neil Young after being locked in a dark room for months. It's self-reflective, but the album is relatable if you've ever had a past relationship fall apart. Adams' vocals echo against the very fabric of your soul, projecting the honesty, the vulnerability, and the fragility of his state of mind. It's chilling.
At 42 minutes in length, the album never feels like it drags on for too long, and there is little, if any, filler to be found. On "Doomsday" Adams professes that he "could wait a thousand years", and while we don't have nearly that long to ponder on the album, it feels like just long enough to properly grieve.
I wish I could say the end of the album brings some hope or closure, but that's really not the case. This album is a bleak listen, and understandably so given the topic. But that's ok - sometimes you just have to cry it out.
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
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.