from the album "Beauty Behind The Madness"

“Beauty Behind The Madness” The Weeknd

The Weeknd

Beauty Behind The Madness Album Review

XO/Republic Records

Released August 28, 2015

Genre: R&B, Pop

i’m not gonna hold anything back: I absolutely hated Kiss Land, Abel Tesfaye’s debut studio release. Every song on the debut was overly indulgent, hyper-sexual, and was plagued by production failures. This stark departure from Tesfaye’s depressing and introspective R&B gave a new breath to the genre. After his three genre-defining mixtapes, I was hoping for Tesfaye to progress his sound even further in the Alternative R&B world. Since then, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this project, known ubiquitously as The Weeknd. When “Can’t Feel My Face” was realized, I was surprised by the surprisingly conventional instrumentation. Not to say that the song is bad, it’s actually pretty great. But it showcased that The Weeknd could make a song so simple, yet so effective. As usual he does show is penchant for MJ and he does get a little funky, but that, in a sense, is the thesis for this album. Beauty Behind The Madness finds The Weeknd experimenting with different sounds while still holding R&B close to his chest. However, The Weeknd plays it safe, failing to keep these explorations diverse, compelling, and interesting.

The Weeknd has always been a pop fan at heart, so a lot of these tracks, which find him abandoning his alternative trademarks, can be seen as quite normal. The club-raving banger “The Hills” features a wonderfully distorted bass that perfectly captures the neurotic and throbbing pulse of the entire song. “Shameless” and “Dark Times” find The Weeknd utilizing the guitar to gain an organic feel, and surprisingly they pay off. Even Ed Sheeran’s feature (who I’ve haven’t been a big fan of as of late) doesn’t overstays his welcome as he brings blues riffs to the already “Dark Times”. “Shamelss” starts off soft before it’s ripped open with a spectacular guitar solo reminiscent of hair metal’s golden days; a great experiment indeed. The baroque inspired and jarring opener “Real Life” is a great foray for Tesfaye as he perfectly experiments with sounds, yet keeps it simple enough to be approachable. The Fifty Shades of Grey cut “Earned It” is a great experiment with baroque sounds and dynamics, but can’t be saved from its soul-crushingly bland lyricism.

When listening to Beauty Behind The Madness I found that while The Weekend plays with different sounds, he doesn’t necessarily go deep enough into these ideas to fully flesh them out. By not doing so, he has rendered the album surprisingly bland, which is a surprise when knowing how many solid songs he has on here. Honestly, once you go through the second-half of the album, they all begin to sound the same. Not all, but some.

The Weeknd isn’t a bad artist, and Beauty Behind The Madness is a great improvement from the vile Kiss Land; but the fact that Tesfaye’s is playing things close to the chest, in order to stay accessible is kind of a cheat in my opinion. For an artist who owes it all to PBR&B’s bandwagon fans and experimental tendencies, it’s kind of ironic to see The Weeknd abandon genre exploration for a mainstream appeal. Not to say that this is his intention, but with the evidence at hand that’s what it seems to be his vision. Nonetheless, Beauty Behind The Madness is a nice place in Tesfaye’s discography- that awkward place between “almost there” and “not quite”.

FAV TRACKS: Real Life, Often, The Hills, Can’t Feel My Face, Shameless, Dark Times

LEAST FAV TRACKS: Acquainted, Prisoner

Score: (6.5/10)

Caracal

“Caracal” Disclosure

Disclosure

Caracal Album Review

PMR/Island

Released September 25, 2015

Genre: UK House, UK Garage, R&B, Electro House, Synthpop, Deep House

Sophomore albums have a lot of pressure put on them, and while that can be unfair it isn’t arbitrary. After the release of a debut album like Settle, the eyes of the world were all on Disclosure, the undisputed club-bangers masters of 2013. The undeniable and seductive pull of “Latch” and the hallowed production of the UK garage-influenced “Second Chance” cemented the brothers’ place in the pop landscape as they simultaneously influenced and changed the power of an electro house song. Operating on the “featuring (insert relatively unknown artist name here)” framework, the brothers helped bring numerous artists, most notably Sam Smith, to fame as well as their own name. Nowadays, Disclosure can touch a nerve among Top 40 and independent music fans alike. Two years later, Disclosure are back in the game with Caracal, an album full of the occasional banger here and there but this time more focused on the meditative and introspective side of dance music, focusing on a specific moment in time during the thrill of the synths and flashing lights.

Disclosure have changed electronic music for the better. No mainstream artist has been so independent or detached from the stereotypical build, drop, and garbled mumbo-jumbo that plagues EDM culture today. Not that it’s a bad thing (that’s honestly up to you), but seeing a duo reach far out in their genre to provide soundscapes that can make you dance and admire how tastefully constructed the songs are is an achievement to say the least. The Lawrence brothers’ production remains concise and tight, yet it leaves a lot of room for free form instrumentation a la physical hi-hats and woodblocks. They return to the sounds of their predecessor Settle on Caracal, but this time they slow the tempo down, exchanging club bangers for moody R&B.

On “Omen” the brothers reunite with Sam Smith for a less intimate reprise of “Latch”, one that is surface-level affectionate but nonetheless infectious and artfully arranged. Other collaborations like on the track “Holding On”, featuring jazz singer Gregory Porter, explore breakbeat territory while keeping up with the atmospheric trademarks of UK house. The equally as enjoyable “Hourglass”, which dips into R&B territory with some help from LION BABE, is a sultry banger to say the least. However, Caracal is surprisingly filled with a considerable amount of filler.

Despite the meticulously arranged tracks featuring incredible production, these songs hit the mark with what you’d expect from Disclosure, and then some. It’d be unfair to ask Disclosure to make a Settle II and leave it at that for Disclosure are destined to explore more territories in electronic music. The Lawrence brothers have good taste when it comes to synth-selection (“Molecules”), succession of instruments, or even artist choice (pretty much the majority of Settle.) Yet what makes them so refreshing and compelling is how carefully constructed yet astoundingly simple these songs are yet how effortlessly they execute them.

Listen to Settle very closely and you’ll hear layer upon layer built upon each other in almost every track. Watch them live, and the two look like they’re having the time of their lives and it’s rewarding and compelling to say the least. On Caracal, some songs fail to stick and are shockingly run-of-the-mill.The opener “Nocturnal” can easily pass as a track from the new Weeknd album while “Magnets”, despite the incredible instrumentation, is plagued by Lorde’s typical dispassionate and bland vocals. Another surprise, the Miguel feature “Good Intentions” is nothing special and sounds nothing like a Disclosure track, as they trade their free-form UK house for some stagnant synths and some pretty bland dynamics.

It’s hard to have all eyes on you when constructing an album like Caracal, and it can be debated that the expectations for a follow up that can top Settle is to blame for the lackluster delivery from Disclosure. Caracal is a precautionary tale for the duo: an album that they spent a lot of time on, perfecting every flaw and improving every innovation, yet they probably spent too much time – trying so hard to not slump on the sophomore run, but inevitably constructing an unmemorable, safe, and thoroughly pleasant album. But honestly, since when is Disclosure known as pure background music? Caracal has stripped away the effortless fun for run-of-the-mill tracks specifically poised for accessibility and success, and the result is a half-baked album that had so much coming for it.

FAV TRACKS: Omen (feat. Sam Smith), Holding On (feat. Gregory Porter), Hourglass (feat. LION BABE), Jaded, Superego

LEAST FAV TRACK: Nocturnal (feat. The Weeknd)

SCORE: (6.5/10)

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from the album "Sremmlife

“SremmLife” Rae Sremmurd

Rae Sremmurd

SremmLife Album Review

EarDrummers/Interscope Records

Released January 6, 2015

Genre: Hip Hop, Trap, Pop Rap, Good Times

There’s a time in any music fan’s life where you start to forget about artistic merit, introspective and insightful lyricism, and pure ambition, and just listen just to have a good time. No stylistic synthesis, no existential commentary on everyday life, no big risks; as much as I love these aspects of music there comes a time when I completely disregard it and go absolute bonkers over a memorable hook and a simple yet admirable beat.  I’m not gonna sugar coat any more it so I’ll just say it: SremmLife is one of the most enjoyable records this year and goes to show how music can be so good just because it’s “catchy.”

Almost every single track on this debut, in their own way, is pure unadulterated enjoyment. From near-meme ubiquity (“This Could Be Us”) to cultural references (“Up Like Trump”) to memorable and catchy hooks (“Throw Sum Mo”, “No Type”, “Unlock The Swag”), SremmLife is an exercise in having a good time. No intellectual experience needed, leave your snobby preferences at the door; just turn up and have fun. There’s absolutely nothing admirable about the songwriting, it’s amateurish and ignorant at best, but I dare you to listen to this record and not tell me you had a great time. Because for once in my life, there’s a record that can only be described as catchy, and therefore it’s good.

I’ll admit this is a weak argument, and my opinion in the end won’t matter, but just hear me out and put on the absolutely fun SremmLife, because Rae Sremmurd know what they’re doing and they’re here to, hopefully, stay. SremmLife perfectly captures the spirit and essence of a party, the reckless abandon and stupid tomfoolery that one will probably regret, but will be proud to say they did it. And like any foolish opportunity, you’re either in or you’re out. My advice? Take this album for a spin; it’s an absolute blast.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: Lit Like Bic, Unlock The Swag, No Flex Zone, This Could Be Us, Up Like Trump, Throw Sum Mo, YNO, No Type, Safe Sex Pays Checks

LEAST FAV TRACK: My X

SCORE: (7.9/10)

82f7a2ef Courtesy of AbsolutePunk a3270904359_16

“Charnel Passages” Cruciamentum

Cruciamentum

Charnel Passages Album Review

Profound Lore Records

Released September 4, 2015

Genre: Death Metal

Death metal can be stale and predictable. There are so many bands that don’t even attempt to sound like anything but a 90’s Floridian forefather of the controversial genre. However, there are some bands that do the formula such justice that it warrants praise instead of complaints. UK death-metallers Cruciamentum don’t totally reinvent the wheel, but they do a more than satisfactory job of delivering a familiar sound with a signature but slight twist.

Charnel Passages is full of structurally ever-changing songs and galloping riffs, not unlike many death metal bands that came before, but Cruciamentum does not succumb to peer pressure by adopting the Entombed-style buzz saw guitar tone. Rather, they approach the style with an eerie edge. When the riffs aren’t menacingly fast or urgent, the guitars and basslines are very moody in a classic horror movie soundtrack way. Guitar solos are scarce and evanescent, but there is enough tremolo bar abuse to tickle a shred metal nerd’s fancy. Keys aren’t frequent, but they add a spooky atmosphere to each song. Drums are standard death metal drums that are natural sounding even though they are blisteringly fast, but the cymbal work is occasionally too damn tasty (see the song “Tongues Of Nightshade”). The vocal performance is the only aspect of Cruciamentum that doesn’t stand out. It’s a gruff growl that gets the job done and nothing else can be said about it.

The songs on this debut full-length are usually pretty long, averaging around six minutes in length, but they don’t follow a verse-chorus pattern in the slightest. Songs are winding and never stay on one idea or riff for too long. This may be too wishy washy for neophyte death metal fans, but veterans will appreciate the pacing. No song drags on for too long on this 44-minute journey into darkness, which is nice in a world where albums are getting longer and longer. Even though some songs have better riffs than others, and all of the songs are at least good, they start to blend into each other after awhile. No song sticks out stylistically amidst the blast beats, fiery riffs and ominous keys. The only exception is the stellar “Piety Carved From Flesh,” which starts out at a faster tempo and with more urgency than the other songs on Charnel Passages. The lack of curveballs from song to song prevents this from being a fantastic aural experience, although it is a very good experience.

Cruciamentum are definitely a band to look out for in the future, as this debut shows much potential for the future to come.

FAV TRACK: The Conquered Sun, Tongues of Nightshade, Piety Carved From Flesh

LEAST FAV TRACK: Dissolution of Mortal Perception

SCORE: (7.3/10)

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“Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz” Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz Album Review

Smiley Miley Inc.

Released August 30, 2015

Genre: Experimental Pop, Psychedelic Pop, Psychedelic Rock, Art Pop, Space Rock, Absolute SH*T

Listen: https://soundcloud.com/mileycyrus/tracks

I rarely say this so take me seriously here: this is the worst album of 2015. There isn’t a reason that this album should exist only that it can exist. It’s a bastardization of musical experiments that delve into the realms of rock, pop, and psychedelia that make some of the worst decisions in music history. I’m not even gonna waste my time describing how bad it is and you shouldn’t waste 93 f*cking minutes listening to this album of absolute dog sh*t. The only song that saves this from being a straight up 0 is “The Twinkle Song” and that’s because I laughed so hard when the chorus came around.

Honestly, the the f*ck are you doing Miley?? WHAT DOES IT MEANNNN?!?!?!?!?!

FAV TRACK: Twinkle Song

LEAST FAV TRACKS: THE REST OF THEM

SCORE: (.3/10)

84/365. Chvrches

STREAM THE NEW CHVRCHES RECORD EVERY OPEN EYE

Scottish synthpop trio CHRVCHES have new album coming this Friday, September 25. It’s called Every Open Eye and it’s the follow-up to their 2013 debut The Bones Of What You Believe.

The album features the previously released tracks “Get Away,” “Leave A Trace,” Never Ending Circles,” and “Clearest Blue”. Now they are streaming the new record exclusively on NPR. Have a listen below

Listen to “Leave A Trace”:

Oaktopia-logo

INTERVIEW WITH OAKTOPIA MANAGEMENT

Dubbed a “mini-Austin”, Denton, Texas is home to a colorful population of people where you can find practically anything; from a town square to music studios to artists to filmmakers to actors to universities, there’s a lot to do here. I currently go to the University of North Texas (Go Mean Green!) and Denton is a city that has thriving artistic culture. One of the biggest events to hit this underrated city is coming on September 25 and ends on the 2th. It’s a music festival called Oaktopia and the lineup is pretty great. Here’s the lineup:

Pretty awesome right? I recently got the chance to talk to the festival co-founder Matt Battaglia, and I asked about Oaktopia, now and looking into the future.

PNG) What did you guys have in mind artist-wise when organizing the festival?

MB) At the beginning, or this year? This year, we wanted to become a true multi-genre festival, so we tried to book acts with a wide range of styles.

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Photo By Mike Carpenter Used with permission by Narciso Tovar (Big Noise Communications)

PNG) How big do you expect the crowd to be over the three day weekend?

MB) We’re expecting around 5,000 attendees!

PNG) Which performer were guys most excited to book?

MB) Can’t even choose just one!

PNG) How will this festival compare to previous years?

MB) The festival is expanding in every way. It’s 3 days now, we’re shutting down an entire block, there’s an additional main stage, Vans and Stereo are building a half pipe and bringing out skaters, there’s daytime panels, we’re showing movies, we’ve tripled the headliners…. It’s an entirely different beast.

PNG) What does this festival mean to you? To Denton?

MB) It’s hard to put into words what this festival means to me. I’ve made so many friends and learned so much because of this fest. It really

Photo By Mike Carpenter Used with permission by Narciso Tovar (Big Noise Communications)

Photo By Mike Carpenter
Used with permission by Narciso Tovar (Big Noise Communications)

means everything to me. I live and breathe Oaktopia. As for Denton, I can’t really say! Hopefully next weekend we find out they love it!

PNG) What do you have planned for next year?

MB) If we get to come back in 2016, we’ll expand again. Larger headliners, more activities, more art, more surprises.

Tickets are still on sale at http://www.oaktopiafest.com/

I (Jon) and some of the Pretty Neat Grooves crew will be around so if you can, come say hello!

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Photo By Mike Carpenter Used with permission by Narciso Tovar (Big Noise Communications)