Coldplay – Kaleidoscope: I want something just like about 40% of this.

2017_Coldplay_KaleidoscopeEPArtist: Coldplay
Album: Kaleidoscope EP
Year: 2017
Grade: B

In Brief: While I feel like this EP’s release was a bit overhyped, and I’m not inclined to trust rumors of the band having recorded their final album, there are some genuinely exciting new directions taken here that I’d love to see the band explore a little further… and also some embarrassing attempts at pop culture relevance that I wish they’d bury once and for all.

Continue reading

Advertisements

What Am I Listening To? – July 2017

2017_JenniferKnapp_LoveComesBackAroundJennifer Knapp – Love Comes Back Around
Knapp’s sixth album is a bit more “rock” than Set Me Free was, but in that workmanlike, “heartland” sort of way where the pace of it is more relaxed and the guitars are there to get the job done without too much showing off. There’s the occasional musical bright spot – an earthy guitar solo, a few horns to accent a track or two, a winsome acoustic melody on one of the gentler songs. Unfortunately I’m still rather “meh” about the music overall. I’m excited about the lyrical content, which finds Jennifer digging more into the specifics of what it means to be in a loving, committed relationship with another woman. It’s been strongly hinted at on her past two albums, but never made explicit, and that opens up some new possibilities for her songwriting-wise, while other songs about forgiveness and rebuilding burnt bridges help to ensure it doesn’t ever become the one thing that consumes her identity as a songwriter.

2017_Haim_SomethingtoTellYouHaim – Something to Tell You
I’ve been waiting eagerly for this one ever since I became obsessed with Haim’s debut album in 2014. Some follow-ups take way too long to deliver, but thankfully this one doesn’t disappoint. I can hear a little bit more sampling and interesting use of syncopation as they explore their R&B side a little more, while their rock side emerges in the form of a few surprisingly raw moments of guitar solo glory. Still, this is a pop record at its heart – one which shows some growth in places, but falls back on repetitive choruses and melodies that don’t push themselves quite as much as they could in others. I’m still slightly partial to Days Are Gone, but I’m glad they tried a few things here that they hadn’t thought to the first time around.

2017_Coldplay_KaleidoscopeEPColdplay – Kaleidoscope EP
I don’t think the release of an EP deserves nearly as much hype as Coldplay built up for this one, by releasing nearly all five of its songs in some form ahead of time, and by pushing back the release date a few times. I think there’s been more buzz about this than a band’s usual between-album leftovers project simply because Chris Martin has talked about A Head Full of Dreams, to which this EP is a companion piece, as though it might be their final full-length album. There are some interesting ideas here that both recall Coldplay’s old days as well as suggesting some possible routes forward, both for good (see the off-kilter syncopation of “A L I E N S”) and for bad (see their unfortunate Chainsmokers collaboration “Something Just Like This”, which sounds even stupider presented as a live version here). But I’m a bit worried about the prospect of Coldplay becoming a “singles band” that releases material in a piecemeal fashion. When they pull a collection of songs together in a way where the sum means more than the individual pieces, as they did on Viva la Vida, they can be truly transcendent, but lately they seem a bit too preoccupied with having these massive stand-alone songs that capture the cultural zeitgeist, and considering themselves failures if a single falls short of that.

2017_Radiohead_OKComputer_OKNOTOK19972017Radiohead – OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017
For the 20th anniversary of OK Computer, Radiohead re-released it with a second disc full of lost songs from the era, a few of which had been played live and made their way into fandom folklore, but had never seen official release on a studio recording for now. (There’s also a box set with some other goodies for the diehards. I’m just listening to the standard edition on Spotify.) OKC is my absolute favorite Radiohead album, which feels like one of the few things I have in common with a lot of Radiohead fans, and I didn’t even think it needed a remaster to be honest, because I don’t think there were any technical limitations at the time holding it back from achieving its full potential. But in listening to this version, I do hear occasional bits of instrumentation pop out that I hadn’t noticed as much in the bazillion times I’ve listened to the original release since I first got into the band circa 2001. The new songs and lost B-sides aren’t really doing as much for me – I would say it’s because I don’t have the personal history with any of those songs that some fans do, but also there isn’t as much thematic connection between any of them, which was the big draw for me on OKC (even though Radiohead swears up and down it wasn’t meant to be a concept album). You’ll probably like a lot of these tracks more if The Bends was your favorite era of Radiohead, since several sound like the direction they could have taken that sound before they decided to take the more introverted and progressive turn that make OKC such a landmark album.

2015_POD_TheAwakeningP.O.D. – The Awakening
I’m a bit out of the loop where P.O.D. is concerned. They put out a new album in 2015 that I didn’t even know about until just recently; back then I was actually really enjoying the acoustic SoCal Sessions album they’d put out the year before, which emphasized the actual musicality of the band over pure bravado and heaviness, and gave me hope that there might be some creative juice left in the band. Turns out they funneled that creative energy into a hilariously bad concept album, during which the spaces between every single song are filled with sound bytes and painfully stilted voice acting meant to portray some sort of a redemptive story arc. The music mostly follows this story, but occasionally veers from it to give us the typical “P.O.D. pumps up their hardcore fans” type anthem that makes me wonder if they’re still mentally trapped in the year 2002. (Skillet’s Rise isn’t a bad comparison in terms of the album’s structure, though from what little I remember of that subpar album, it was more tolerable than this.) A few tracks show signs of artistic growth, but for the most part this album is a cringe-inducing trainwreck – easily the worst thing I’ve heard from them since the pre-Satellite days.

2017_JohnReuben_ReubonicJohn Reuben – Reubonic
John Reuben was always a bit of an oddity in my music library, since I don’t normally listen to rap. My reason for liking him had nothing to do with him being a white rapper – I just found that, as goofy and self-deprecating as his music could be, he actually had some solid commentary on the commercial aspects and skewed political priorities of the Christian music industry in which he came to realize he was a square peg in a round hole as the years went on. He pretty much fell off the map after the lackluster Sex, Drugs & Self-Control in 2009, but now he’s back with an edgier album that was surprisingly likeable for me right out of the gate. Usually I think Reuben’s songs are weird and awkward at first, and then some of them grow on me over time. But I think he hit just the right balance of accessibility and experimentation with this one – and some of his more challenging lyrics are bound to shock and confuse the old CCM fans who still expect some sort of a Toby Mac protege, which gives him some real bonus points in my book. This might just outdo his previous career high point, Word of Mouth, but it’ll take a few more listens for me to be sure of that.

2017_ArcadeFire_EverythingNowArcade Fire – Everything Now
While Arcade Fire’s fifth album isn’t as much of a startling change-up as Reflektor, the mish-mash of disco, reggae, and electropop influences is still a large part of their music as it was on that album, which will leave some fans of their older work wanting due to the lack of “old-timey instruments”. But commenting on the excesses of pop culture, the more streamlined, danceable, instant-gratification sort of sound makes sense. Consider it their equivalent of U2’s Pop, I guess. I really enjoy most of what I’m hearing here, and I actually don’t mind Win Butler’s fervent, kinda-preachy vocals now that I’ve had all these years to get used to the band’s shtick. I relate to a lot of what they’re trying to communicate here. Still, they kind of went off the deep end in terms of repetition, with a few songs full-on repeating themselves in different musical contexts on almost identically-named tracks. And perhaps one too many choruses that get a bit redundant and make otherwise digestible-length songs feel like they go on for a bit longer than they really need to. Still, this album is an emotional gut-punch where it really counts, and usually they’ve had to accomplish that by way of songs that take several listens to grow on me. So either I’m used to the learning curve by this point, or Arcade Fire’s finally found that sweet spot in between challenging and accessible.

Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2016: Favorite Songs

The final days of 2016 are upon us, and that can only mean one thing – it’s time for some long lists that try (perhaps in vain) to sum up the best music I was listening to this year. As always, I’ll start with the individual songs that stood out to me the most. The in-depth reasons why I love these songs so much are mostly spelled out in the album reviews I’ve linked to from here, but in addition to the usual video evidence, I’ve also included a quick blurb for each of the Top 30 entries, just to keep it from being a long list with no explanation whatsoever, I guess.

I’ve also made a Spotify playlist that collects a lot of these highlights, if you’d like to spend a few hours following along. (That one’s ordered more as I discovered the songs, not so much how I’d rank them now, and it’s limited to one track per artist.)

Continue reading

Coldplay – A Head Full of Dreams: Quit while you’re a head.

2015_Coldplay_AHeadFullofDreamsArtist: Coldplay
Album: A Head Full of Dreams
Year: 2015
Grade: B-

In Brief: An enjoyably upbeat, albeit overly mushy and commercialized, record that I’d be willing to accept as a decent swansong if Coldplay actually followed through on their threat to call it quits after seven albums.

Continue reading

Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2015: Favorite Songs

The first order of business as 2015 comes to a close is to sift through all of my favorite songs that I first heard this year (or perhaps late last year, and it just took me a little longer to appreciate them) and attempt to put them in order, which as usual starts to get a bit silly below the top 30 or so. Music videos and some live performances are embedded for that first chunk of the list. As I’ve done in previous years, I’ve also got a Spotify playlist that covers a lot of these, limited to a song per artist and more in chronological order of when I discovered them.

Continue reading

What Am I Listening To? – December 2015

Truth be told, I’ve had way less time this month to take in new music due to all the time I’ve been spending going over candidates for this year’s favorites for list-making purposes, so none of these records have really been given the time they deserve just yet. I’ll probably manage to get some more cohesive thoughts gathered about all of these in early 2016, but for now, here are my usual ill-informed first impressions.

2015_Coldplay_AHeadFullofDreamsColdplay – A Head Full of Dreams
Man, who releases a new album in December? I guess we knew that a follow-up to Ghost Stories was right around the corner, and I’m grateful for the much more upbeat and colorful approach taken here after that sleepy downer of an album (which wasn’t terrible, but which definitely didn’t live up to its potential). Coldplay’s gone almost too happy on a lot of these songs, and I don’t know why Chris Martin is so fascinated with trying to turn out the perfect club track with crooners like Beyonce and Tove Lo at his side, but as we found out on Mylo Xyloto and the Ghost Stories single “A Sky Full of Stars”, sometimes Coldplay does danceable pop music extremely well. That’s true in a few cases on this record, though generally when they get down to ballad speed, it’s a bit too gloppy and sentimental for me to handle.

2015_FiveIronFrenzy_BetweenPacementandStarsEPFive Iron Frenzy – Between Pavement and Stars EP
This one seems to be an odds-and-ends collection of stuff leftover from the Engine of a Million Plots sessions, and some of it’s fun, but most of it doesn’t stand out to me that nearly the way every track on that album did. Most of it’s a bit rough around the edges and melodically the hooks just aren’t as strong, with the exception of “Blizzards and Bygones (All Frost and No Thaw)”, a mellower re-interpretation of Engine‘s chilling closer, this time actually sung by its writer, Scott Kerr. Elsewhere, the gloves come off on “God Hates Flags”, which is right up there with “Zen and the Art of Xenophobia” in the “political statements we couldn’t have made on a CCM label” department, and things get downright silly on the pirate-themed “To Astoria!” I would say it’s a mixed bag, but then apparently they actually put out a sequel to Cheeses of Nazareth not too long ago, so I guess I’ll count my blessings.

2015_LeighNash_TheStateImInLeigh Nash – The State I’m In
After two decades and change of making glum alt-rock and slowly morphing into middle-of-the-road pop (in a mostly good way) as the lead singer of Sixpence None the Richer, Leigh has finally decided to embrace her Texas roots and go full-on country for her second solo album. My reactions range from “Hmmm, she’s pretty good at this even though it’s a bit too traditional for my tastes” (a lot of the ballads) to “Hey, this is kind of fun and quirky” (the inherent pun in the title track) to “LOL WUT?!” (yeah, “High Is Better” is about that kind of high.) I doubt I’ll go back to it a whole lot, but it’s nice to hear a different side of a long-time favorite vocalist.

2015_AndrewPeterson_TheBurningEdgeofDawnAndrew Peterson – The Burning Edge of Dawn
I was a huge Andrew Peterson fan in the early days, then I lapsed a bit as his music went from bright and mostly uncomplicated Rich Mullins-esque folk music to more middle-of-the-road pop. 2012’s Light for the Lost Boy really brought me back, and while this record isn’t as ambitious musically, it’s more soul-baring lyrically than I expected, even from a heart-on-sleeve songwriter like Peterson. He was really going through some stuff when he wrote this, and that leads to songs in which he admits he has a hard time seeing the bright side just as much as it leads to songs where he finds new meaning in old Christian-ese cliches like the word “Rejoice!” that perhaps we’ve repeated so much, we’ve forgotten to really think about their definitions. It’s a good “dark night of the soul” sort of record that is honest without being overly depressing, and I can see myself coming back to this one a lot in the months ahead.

Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2014: Favorite Songs

It’s that time of year again, when I arbitrarily sort through the list of songs I’ve been obsessed with over the past 12 months, and try to whittle it down to a semi-reasonable list of 100 favorites. A lot of these were released in 2013, and a few even in 2012, but as usual, I was late to the party.

Music videos and some live performances are embedded for most of the Top 30. I didn’t want to go too far beyond that, for fear of crashing your browser. I’ve also created a Spotify playlist that explores a number of these favorites, more or less chronologically in the order that I discovered them.

Continue reading