We’re here to tell you what’s hot and what’s not in this week’s music roundup
This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Bullet For My Valentine – GRAVITY
Genre: Alternative Metal
Favorite Tracks: None
15-year-old me’s love for FEVER, Bullet for My Valentine’s fourth album, cannot be overstated. The opening machine gun-drums of “Your Betrayal” were my first introduction to a simulacrum of extreme metal, and relistening to it in preparation for this review still brought a smile to my face. Even at the time, I could sense they were shedding their heaviness and metalcore edge and heading towards gutless, synthetic, overwrought alt-metal, a trend that will likely get even worse as the two-decade anniversary of nu-metal’s peak approaches and nostalgia for it hits critical mass. Their latest album, GRAVITY, reminds me of BATTLES by In Flames; both albums consist of an aggro metal band pivoting towards atmosphere without understanding how to create it, thinking the mere inclusion of electronics makes their music more deep and meaningful.
It would be one thing if the electronic tinkering contributed to a sense of bombast a la Black Veil Brides’ WRETCHED AND DIVINE or Bring Me The Horizon’s THAT’S THE SPIRIT, two massive guilty pleasures of mine, but the tones are too generic and the lyrics aren’t imaginative enough to support a more dreamlike mood. When the verses are musically and vocally hushed in an attempt to create more intimacy, it only brings more attention to Bullet for My Valentine’s toxic, monotonous blend of unconvincing self-empowerment that could be applied to any situation, (“Leap of Faith,” “Not Dead Yet”), bitter reprimanding of woman that are written as so cartoonishly evil you end up siding with them (“Letting You Go,” “The Very Last Time”), and angst that isn’t detailed enough to be cathartic or catchy enough to be fun like Linkin Park’s best material (“Gravity,” Coma”). Yes, lyrics have never been the band’s strong suit, but GRAVITY is so underthought and repetitive that I couldn’t even derive any enjoyment from an occasional rousing chorus or mosh-pit ready breakdown. The only thing I took away from it was embarrassment for everyone involved and a need to go listen to Hands Like Houses to convince myself that not all modern Warped Tour “core” bands suck. [Blake Michelle]
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
Freddie Gibbs – FREDDIE
Genre: Gangsta Rap
Favorite Tracks: “Weight,” “Death Row (featuring 03 Greedo),” “Triple Threat”
Freddie Gibbs’ career is a case study for hip hop album length, a conversation the internet has been actively engaging in for the last month in the midst of seven-song experiments and 25-track double LPs. While Gibbs has never released something as monolithic as Drake’s SCORPION, his career lows have come when he’s reached the upper teens in track length (2013’s ESGN, 2012’s COLD DAY IN HELL). The beats and Gibbs’ one-track flow typically can’t sustain themselves for long amounts of time without coming across as boring, self-indulgent, irritating, exhausting, or some mix of of the four. Even 2015’s necessary evolution SHADOW OF A DOUBT, with some great guest features and a more thorough atmospheric pivot from the exhaustive street trap beats that he’d cut his teeth on, rang in at an hour-and-five-minutes and only barely got his excitable, chugging flow limping to the finish line. The flip side of that came on last year’s extremely manageable (and generally great) YOU ONLY LIVE 2WICE, an eight-song production oasis that saw the rapper explore new sounds. With a record jacket that riffs on Teddy Pendergrass’s TEDDY, the Indiana rapper’s latest project FREDDIE delivers a similar amount of fun, and while sonically it’s a closer return to his early material than the reaches taken on PINATA or YOU ONLY LIVE 2WICE, in a lot of ways it’s the platonic ideal of a Freddie Gibbs release. Even if it doesn’t match some of his career highs, it’s his most natural sounding and concise project yet, a return to the grimier gangsta rap that we haven’t really seen over the last few years. Here, the fun stems more from Gibbs fierceness and intensity and less from interesting dynamic beats or solid collaborations—although 03 Greedo’s Mike Jones cadence on “Death Row” is genuinely one of the highlights of the record. The sequencing on FREDDIE is excellent, and the sparse yet loaded production make the whole thing a pretty cohesive sprint, really only coming up for air on the Silk-sampled “FLFM (Interlude),” a shivering break from Gibbs’ cutthroat energy. And minus the 808-heavy cloudiness of standout “Triple Threat” and the Cassie Jo Craig-assisted closing track, most of these songs are all about two minutes long, keeping Gibbs’ energy focused. While he’s thugged his way through an up-and-down career, FREDDIE is the rapper’s most succinct work yet and a worthy standout in a crowded hip hop landscape. [CJ Simonson]
MIKE – RENAISSANCE MAN
Genre: Experimental Hip Hop, Conscious Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: ‘Goliath Goliath,” “Decision Tower,” “Rebirth”
The fact that Northeastern rapper MIKE counts Earl Sweatshirt as a member of his steadily expanding fanbase shouldn’t be a surprise after checking out one of his songs. MIKE’s smoggy production and ultra-lax flow sound like lost takes from the sessions for Sweatshirt’s sophomore album, I DON’T LIKE SHIT I DON’T GO OUTSIDE. Though the two artists have a number of obvious parallels, MIKE’s voice on his latest tape, RENAISSANCE MAN, is starting to take on a maturity not present on his May release, BLACK SOAP.
On “Goliath Goliath,” clicking hi-hats keep a half-time beat underneath metallic samples, crafting a Clams Casino-indebted ambience for mumbly rapping that sometimes sounds like it was recorded with a flip phone. His last project, BLACK SOAP, featured alt-jazz crew Standing On The Corner, a collaboration that contributed to the album’s ethereal tone. Surprisingly though, RENAISSANCE MAN borrows from the same purposefully disengaging studio strategies that allow MIKE to keep himself out of the spotlight in his music. Though this makes listening to his typically short tapes a simple endeavor, it also makes me crave personality. MIKE’s bars are hardly decipherable and the slow tempo of all of his beats makes it hard to focus on his music for more than around 30 seconds.
When he presents listeners with more bass, it starts to seem like MIKE’s putting out fully developed works instead of cloudy hip hop background music. “Goliath Goliath” may be the third track on the tape, but it’s the first time that RENAISSANCE MAN seems like it wants to draw in its listener. This is largely due to mixing that includes EQ-bands below 50HZ—bands that his usual mixing is typically wary to embrace. “Rebirth” also features boom bap low end that adequately equips him with the train ride boombox sound I crave while listening to his music. It’s unfortunate that “Rebirth” is the outro, since it’s the most developed track on the record. Luckily, it also gives me hope that MIKE could dial in his sound on the next release, supplying a more engaging listen.
Although he leaves more to be desired, MIKE is clearly running in a circle that can help him unlock the next level. Lunches with Earl, collaborations with Standing On The Corner, and releasing records alongside SOUR SOUL and Eyedress all help prove that MIKE is keeping good company on the come-up. With a street-smart demeanor similar to Wiki’s, the understated cool of NAPPYNAPPA, and production that sounds like it could have been done by Knxwledge, in a tape or two MIKE is going to be poised as the East Coast’s best up and coming lo-fi rapper. [Ted Davis]
Panic! At The Disco – PRAY FOR THE WICKED
Genre: Electropop, Pop
Favorite Tracks: “High Hopes,” “Roaring 20s,” “The Overpass”
In the war between Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco, I was firmly in the former camp. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but while I found them both to be douchey, the former came across as slightly more charming. Despite how often they were positioned as rivals, their recent output shares a lot of the same problems, but even Fall Out Boy’s missteps are more fascinating than Brendon Urie’s. You can hear more of the musical theater flair that has always been with Panic!, which is a better use of Urie’s showmanship and histrionics than emo-pop. The horns on “High Hopes” and “Roaring 20s” make them definite highlights and show the potential of merging glamorous, big band music with modern production and trap percussion. It’s at its best when an actual groove is allowed to develop, like the kinetic drums and guitar echoes of “The Overpass,” but it would be preferable if said groove came from a bassline and not from percussion like so much of modern pop-rock (looking at you, Imagine Dragons). The production is to blame for a lot of these shortcomings; every song is so front-loaded in the mix and filled with chiptunes and oddly warped tones, and the melodies outside of the percussion are too smothered to resonate like they need to. Great theater also knows when to take a rest from all the bombast, and though PRAY FOR THE WICKED has plenty of solid swell on songs like “Dancing’s Not a Crime” and “King of the Clouds,” it’s exhaustingly loud outside of the closing piano ballad. Most of this could be salvaged by Urie’s performance, and though he’s got plenty of charisma, he oversings and strains into his upper reach too much for my liking. Though it’s likely to please Urie’s rampant fanbase, those who find his music formless and overstuffed are only going to have their preconceptions vindicated. [Blake Michelle]
Verdict: Do Not Recommend