Sunday, August 30, 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: The Killers - Imploding The Mirage

The Killers: Imploding the Mirage Album Review | Pitchfork

If you know anything about me, you know how much I love this band. For those who don't know The Killers, which would be really surprising, the band was born in Las Vegas in 2001 when Brandon Flowers responded to a newspaper ad written by original guitarist Dave Keuning. After going through two drummers, they met Ronnie Vannucci Jr. who started playing with the band in 2002, along with original bassist Mark Stroemer. Together, the 4 were a live force in the Las Vegas scene, standing out from the NuMetal and Garage Rock trends at the time, going for a more synth-based, glam rock sound. Then, in 2004, we got Hot Fuss. 16 years after it's release, I still don't know if I have words to accurately describe how amazing this album is. The sound of the album is something that wasn't common in rock music at the time, with a lot of synths, a lot of swagger, and a lot of Las Vegas flair. All of the songs on here still hold up after all this time. Songs like All These Things That I've Done with that unforgettable refrain "I got soul but I'm not a soldier!" to Somebody Told Me with some of the best synth work on the album, one of the best basslines in the band's catalog, and a super catchy chorus that is such a beast to hear live. Then there's the British National Anthem, Mr. Brightside, which, what can be said about this song that hasn't been already. I feel like everyone is born with the lyrics to this song already memorized, and if you think you haven't heard the song before, yes you have. So with such an amazing debut album, the question was begged, where will The Killers go from here? The answer was Sam's Town, which is not only my favorite Killers album but in my opinion, their best work. Whatever flaws there were on Hot Fuss were tweaked and perfected. I also love the loose concept of being stuck in a town where there is no hope, no opportunity, and needing to get out. The album features Brandon Flowers' best songwriting, the bands best performances, and is the most consistent project they have released.

The Killers performing Mr. Brightside in BBC's Live Lounge

But, ever since Sam's Town's release, the band has had a problem finding that consistency again. Their next few albums, Day & Age, Battle Born, and Wonderful Wonderful, each had solid singles leading me in with high hopes but the singles would end up being the best songs on those projects. The rest of each respective album would have songs that were either forgettable or just not up to par with the rest of the album. The band has also been through some weird shifts since that album. In 2016, Mark Stroemer retired from the road after issues with his hearing and just being burned out from the road. The following year, Dave Keuning followed suit saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. While both are still officially members of the band, neither has played a show with the band since they've left. Speaking of shows, that seems to be another weird shift the band has taken. While the quality of the records slowly declined, the quality of their live shows skyrocketed, with Brandon going from being sort of shy and timid on stage to having audiences at the palm of his hands. I was lucky enough to see the band perform last May at a festival and it was incredible. Brandon is one of the most passionate frontmen in music right now, smiling throughout the whole gig and just providing this great energy. Match this with Vannucci's incredible live drumming, a great backing band, confetti, streamers, and lasers, and it's a wild 90-minute ride. If you have not seen this band live, make it a priority when concerts come back.  

The Killers - 2020 Tour Dates & Concert Schedule - Live Nation
Brandon Flowers at Glastonbury 2019 (Photo Courtesy of Rob Loud)

And those live performances are part of the reason why they've kept their relevancy high even though their latest projects might be a little lackluster. So once again, I was sort of nervous to go into this album when I really enjoyed the singles. Our introduction to this album, Caution, really set the tone well. With Brandon painting this beautiful of a girl who's tied to a city she isn't proud of and to a bad family reputation. His vocals are smooth and passionate and when the chorus comes in, wow. I love the Tom Petty sort of influence with acoustic guitar chords soaked in chorus contrast with the synths and distorted guitar chords, almost like in the song Runnin' Down a Dream. I also can't not mention the awesome guitar solo at the end of the song courtesy of the one and only Lindsey Buckingham. I love the buildup to it with the instrumental toning down to just Brandon, the drums, and some subtle chords before pausing for a moment, then the drums come back in and so does the solo. It's a great arrangement on all fronts. I also really loved the song My Own Soul's Warning, with Brandon singing about some internal struggles, trying to go with his gut rather than his soul. The chorus on this song is beautiful, quite literally. The song just builds up so perfectly around Brandon and the payoff when the chorus hits is incredible. It almost reminds me of the song Run for Cover off of their previous album Wonderful Wonderful just in the way it's structured, not saying that in a bad way as Run for Cover is my favorite song on that album. I am happy to report though, that Brandon and the gang proved me wrong, delivering their most consistent project in a long time. 

At 10 tracks long, that album is packed in with banger after banger and the energy never dies down. It also follows a loose concept of a man and a woman unhappy with their lives finding each other and realizing that together, they're perfect. A lot of the songs also show Brandon continuing to write about a recurring theme on Wonderful Wonderful and that is his wife Tana's struggles with PTSD, part of the reason why he and his family moved from Las Vegas to Utah in 2017. These themes are most occurrent on the song Blowback. It's a smooth alternative song with a little bit of a country flair too it, especially with the slide guitars throughout the song. This song specifically is Brandon singing about why Las Vegas was terrible for her wife, saying in many interviews before the album dropped that Las Vegas means something a lot different to her than to him. He sings about how the girl in the song has a whisper in her heartbeat just loud enough to keep her going, and later on singing about how this girl knows where she comes from, and she doesn't need to be drug through it again. Dying Breed is the song where our two characters supposedly meet and is probably the best song on this album. The best writing, the best instrumental, Brandon's best vocal performance, all in one. The song starts off sort of slow with this interesting drum groove and some light synths while Brandon confesses his love to this girl. I love the comparisons Brandon makes at the end of the first verse, singing:

When everyone's compromising
I'll be your diehard
I'll be there when water's rising
I'll be your lifeguard
We're cut from a stained glass mountain
Baby, we're a dying breed

The song gets even better when the drums hit as it leads to something straight out of Sam's Town. Loud strings, some twinkly synths blended with distorted guitars, it's so so good. And the bridge on the song is honestly one of the best things Brandon has written in the past 5 years, pretty much breaking down on top of the song singing:

I don't know what you want from me
Sometimes I don't know what to do
It's like I'm screaming in a dream
It's like I can't get through
What if we're not prepared for this?
What if we just can't find the trail?
Then I remember the promise I made
And the way that I fell

The outro of the song is pure bliss with these beautiful strings just ascending higher and higher. It's nice to just lay down, put on headphones, and let the song take you above the clouds. 

The last half of the album sees the hits keep coming but there are a few stinkers here for sure. While I have warmed up to the song Fire In Bone a lot, I still don't really understand how it fits in this tracklist. The song probably has the weakest lyrics on the album and while I do enjoy the funkier instrumental, I still think it's a bit too close to Talking Heads for my tastes. There's also the song When The Dreams Run Dry which has this awesome slow build with a lot of nice synths, a big choir backed chorus, it just creates a really nice atmosphere but I can't help but notice how close it sounds to Hang On Me by St. Vincent. However, that comment becomes invalid once we hit the 1:40 mark and the drums come in because they switch up the tone of the song quickly. I really love the outro of this song too with a sick guitar solo complimenting some bells and some subtle synth. It's really really nice, but, it's the songs only redeeming quality as, once again, it is pretty weak lyrically. The song Running Towards A Place has slowly become one of my favorites with Brandon's super poetic lyrics complimented by an instrumental the wouldn't sound too out of place on a Bruce Springsteen song but I don't care, this song bangs. I really love the lyrics of the bridge with Brandon singing:

Can you see the world
In a grain of sand?
Can you find heaven in a wildflower
Hold it in the palm of your hand?
The moment we met
Burst like a star
Onto the canvas of the skyline, purple and gold
We're in this together, I ain't never letting go

I don't know how much longer I can go without mentioning the two collaborative tracks on the album too, Lightning Fields which features k.d. lang and My God which features Weyes Blood. The first is a song that Flowers wrote about his parent's relationship, portraying his late mother appearing his father's dream, singing in the chorus about how he wants to run his fastest to stand beside her and how he doesn't want to wake up for fear of losing her again. k.d. lang portrays Flower's mother in this song, singing to his father who is regretting things he didn't say and do while she was on Earth, singing:

Don't beat yourself up, you laid good ground
Look at 'em all from scratch 'til sundown
You put the work in and then some
Where is all this coming from?

My God featuring Weyes Blood is something I didn't expect to work but Flowers and Weyes Blood together sounds heavenly. I absolutely love the chorus on this song with Flowers and Weyes Blood harmonizing on top of these fat drums, some subtle synths in the background and a really sweet bassline. The closing title track might be my favorite closing song of the year. I love how grand and lush the production on the song is. It really sounds like Vegas. I also really love how each of the choruses end with a choir building behind Brandon while his voice just goes higher and higher. It's really really pleasing to listen to.

The Killers performing at KAABOO Texas 2019. (Photo Courtesy of Me)

So at the end of this, I'm happy to say that my original expectations were exceeded by quite a bit. There is one overarching complaint I have and that is the mixing on some of the song on here. I get that this is supposed to be a grand, arena sounding album meant to be played live, but it's hard to listen to songs like Caution and Dying Breed if they're turned up loud enough. Caution being the worse example of the two as it's hard to pick out instruments from one another during the instrumental bits between chorus and verse. Each instrument is trying it's hardest to be louder than the other and it's just rough. In my opinion, it doesn't hurt the album that much altogether. This next comment might age badly but I have to say that this is not only the band's most cohesive album since Sam's Town, but it might also be their best work since that album.

I would rate
Imploding The Mirage
By The Killers


Friday, August 21, 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: Glass Animals - Dreamland

Glass Animals were one of the most exciting bands in indie-rock when they first burst into the scene in 2014 with the album Zaba, which was one of the strongest debut albums of the last decade. I loved the quirky, atmospheric instrumentals paired with lead singer Dave Bayley's great vocal performances, going from smooth, layered falsettos to this deep, passionate crooning. Their next offering, How To Be Human Being, was even better. I think they worked out whatever kinks they had in the first album and perfected them. It was a lot more consistent and the production was a lot better. Songs like Pork Soda and The Other Side of Paradise are still in constant rotation for me. So going into this new album, I expected them to progress once more. In my opinion, the only way Glass Animals could go from How To Be Human Being was up. I also loved the teaser tracks to this album. From the sick synths and groove in Your Love (Deja VĂș) to the song Heat Waves which has the same vibe as that exactly. It sounds like something that would be playing on the radio as the sun sets on your back porch. So it's safe to say, my expectations were high for this album. But, wow, I've never had my expectations shattered so much by an album this year. 

Glass Animals Got Creative, Made It Through Quarantine and Ended ...
The band Glass Animals

I honestly don't know what Dave was trying to do with this album. Gone are the days of the super ethereal instrumentals and smooth vocal performances and gone are the days of Dave caring about lyrics, as so many verses on here are either ruined by the lackluster instrumentals or Dave's awful lyrics. And I understand that lyrics might never have been his strong suit, but come on, he wasn't even trying here. I can give this album some praise where it's due though. I like the opening title track with how it sets the mood, sort of gives us some background info into the project we're all listening to. The keyboards on the song are sort of dreamy, very woozy. I also really like the song Tangerine. I really dig the vocal harmonies on the song. I also really enjoy the pre-chorus bit with some synths sort of building in the background before the song goes back to really cool sub-bass and trap drum pattern. Tokyo Drifting, featuring Denzel Curry, is probably in the running for my favorite song on the project. The way the song is structured makes it feel like something off of a Gorillaz album with a slight pause between sung verses and a rap verse. The song is an absolute banger with a really sick drum beat and an interpolation of Denzel's voice in the intro. Dave flows surprisingly well on this song, almost like he's been rapping for a while now. It's not a cringey attempt and he doesn't fall on his face trying to rap. I absolutely love the transition from the first half of the song to the second with these horns coming out of nowhere and adding a ton of energy to the song before Denzel drops an absolute bomb of a verse to end the song. Many stank faces were hit listening to the song. 

I also really love the song It's All So Incredibly Loud. It seems to be the one song Dave actually cared about writing lyrics for, with Dave singing about the 3 incredibly loud seconds after you tell a person something that will really, really hurt them to hear, with Dave singing, "I'm breakin' down / Whispers would deafen me now / You don't make a sound / Heartbreak was never so loud." The instrumental leaves a little to be desired though. It's a slow build-up that just gets me more and more excited for a drop that never comes. 

So with these songs, I don't have much to complain about, but the bad songs on here are really rough. Melon and the Coconut is probably the worst song I've heard all year. No exaggeration. The song describes a melon and a coconut breaking up which sounds like a writing prompt in an 8th grade English class. The lyrics throughout the song are just horrendous with the last few lines in the song so bad, you can't help but laugh, with Dave, or, the melon saying, "Off-White Air Force Ones in boxes / You're a f*cking coconut, can't even put 'em on / Even if you could, you couldn't even pull 'em off." The guitar solo on this song sounds like Dave was playing along to another song. I usually don't try to say things like this next comment because I really respect the craft of making music, but I am 100% confident that I could write and record a better guitar solo in 1 take than the one that made it onto the album. There's also the song Waterfalls Coming Out Of Your Mouth, which, wow. This song has to be the peak of the landfill that this album is. The worst lyrics on the album, the worst instrumental, and the worst vocal performance, all in one song. From screaming "Big d*cks and big ol' t*tties on the sly," to the absolutely terrible rhymes later on in the song, with Dave singing, "Cheap booze, Pepsi Blue / You got bottles in from 2002 / Hot glue, vape juice / Hit undo, how the hell are you so cool." I really don't know what the goal of this song was and I do not see any appeal in it. 

So yeah, this album did not cross the bar I set for it. It barely crawls over the bar for that matter. And that sucks for me because I wanted to like this album. But when the singles are the only good songs on the album, it's pretty tough. The band has a lot of potential, and I'm well aware of what they're capable of. I'm not sure if there was pressure to have a new project out soon or if Dave just got too comfortable, but I really hope they turn it around whenever the next Glass Animals project comes out.

I would rate
By Glass Animals


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: Logic - No Pressure


Logic sent Hip Hop Twitter into a frenzy a couple of weeks ago announcing that not only would he be dropping an album very soon, but it would also be his last. An album that would be the sequel to his debut Under Pressure entitled, No Pressure. Now, look. I have a huge love/hate relationship with Logic. I loved his first two albums, Under Pressure and The Incredible True Story, but ever since then, his albums have been kind of odd to me. While the production keeps getting better and better, Logic's rapping and lyrics have slowly gotten worse. Probably most evident on the song 1-800-273-8255, which, I understand the purpose of the song. It's trying to shed light that suicide isn't the solution to anyone's problems. But god damn it the chorus just makes the song lose all validity for me. Nothing pisses me off more than hearing that one line, "Who can relate? WOOOO!!" There's also Supermarket which is an audio component to his book of the same title and if the book is anything like the album, it's not worth buying. The album is full of 90's rock rip-offs and terrible singing with Logic trying to channel his inner Red Hot Chili Peppers at times. And then there was Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Jesus Christ. The album featured some of his worst music to date with terrible bars, very cheap and bland production, and just really weird choices all around. A central topic was how he never listened to haters and he's so much better than all of those haters and ever since that project dropped, I've been hoping and praying that he finally listened to some of the criticism so he can make a more quality project. Or, at the very least, try to do something that could help him redeem himself and leave the rap game on a good note. It's safe to say, we got that.

Logic's Uniquely Bad Literary Rock Experiment 'Supermarket ...
Logic in a promotional image for Supermarket.

The album is 15 songs, almost an hour-long, but never does it get boring. I'm really happy that Logic paired up with No I.D. again because when these two get together, magic happens. I don't think there's one terrible track on here, there's not one bad beat on here, and everything is executed perfectly. There's a lot of energy and a lot of charisma on this album which is something that Logic has been lacking in previous projects. The album starts with the aptly titled, No Pressure Intro, and, simply put, it's an MF DOOM intro. Logic is popping in at random times over a spoken word piece. Introducing himself, No I.D., and even finding time to say that he hasn't met a person who didn't like The Incredible True Story. When he starts rapping, his wordplay is great. I love the line where he says "Gangsters put that heat to your head like a hairdresser." 

The first half of the record is packed in with banger after banger and it doesn't really slow down until after the 7th song. There's the song Hit My Line with a smooth Tyler, the Creator sample, some woozy piano, and a great chorus. I love Logic's delivery during the verses. It almost sounds like he's preaching to a choir rather than trying to rap. I also really love the song Celebration. No I.D.'s production sounds like something he would've put on 4:44 by Jay Z. There's this noisy choir sample, some really sick drums, and the only guest verse on the album courtesy of Silas, who I didn't know existed until I listened to this album. I do really really like his verse though. I like how strong he comes in rapping about how he was hyped up to sit in the nosebleeds of an arena for a basketball game and now he sits courtside, "still posted in my white tee." Logic's verse is also pretty great with some one-liners that still stick out to me every time like when he says "I get under people's skin like stitches." I also really love the line "What's rap without a little braggadocio" right before he raps about his successes, his mansion, his family. I couldn't love it more. The song Soul Food II is also great. It's might me Logic's most charismatic performance on the album. I just smile hearing him do his thing. Again, the track is filled with one-liners like the hilarious line "Hurricane Bobby in the studio blowing trees." I also really like the line "Your new sh*t ain't as good as your old sh*t / 'Til your new sh*t is your old sh*t" which is a recurring theme in rap music. Nothing is ever as good as that one album. And Logic touches on that on of my personal favorite songs, DadBod.

I love how Logic sort of dismantles the claim that rappers always have to be rapping about drugs and girls and lavish lifestyles, pretty much saying, "You wanna know what my life is really like? This is what it's really like." He takes us through his daily routine. He wakes up, he wakes his son up, feeds him, then usually has groceries to get or errands to run. And he even acknowledges that there's gonna be people who don't like him rapping about this saying near the end of the third verse, "Is this want you wanted, everyday life material? / I'm not a kid anymore and be sure sh*t's boring." I respect it a lot. Everyone is gonna grow up, everyone is gonna mature, Logic is never gonna be the same Logic he was when he recorded this album's predecessor or The Incredible True Story. He's been married, he's had a kid. He can't keep rapping about clubbing and getting turnt when that's not the life he's living anymore. I also never fail to laugh at the line in the first verse where he says, "I love my wife like I am Chance.

The second half of the album is reserved for more moody tracks like the song Dark Place since we can't have a Logic album without him taking a deep dive into his depression and bad thoughts. (And I don't mean that in a bad way, there's just a song like this on every one of his albums.) I do really like this song as it doesn't come off super corny like other songs in this vein, he sounds a lot more genuine here. Rapping about how he constantly wonders if the strain his career puts on his mental health is worth it. He also touches on how the internet hasn't helped matters, saying that he's tired of googling himself just to confirm that he's worthless. Also in this verse, he talks about how his fame has messed with his creative process and shares a sentiment that I've seen in common with a lot of musicians in that, it's hard to make music for a large audience now and he second-guesses himself a lot more now. It was easier for him when he was just making music for himself. I also like the sort of twist at the end where the song doesn't end happily, rather Logic saying that fame and money won't solve all of your problems and that he's never been perfect, even though he's tried to be many many times. I love how this album ends with a switch from the "No Pressure Programming" to the "Ultra 85 programming." The song Amen, which kicks off that portion, might be a little cheesy sure, but it's so god damn catchy. I love the piano sample that I immediately recognized from Tyler, the Creator's interview with Zane Lowe. It's just an awesome song to end the album on. 

As always, no album is without its flaws and if you thought I was gonna come out of a Logic album with no complaints, you're wrong, because while there is a lot that I love and while I do think it's a fantastic comeback, there are a few things on this album that left a sour taste in my mouth, however, I came to expect them since they are recurring things on Logic's projects. The first complaint comes in the song GP4 which has a guest feature from the one and only, Bobby Hall, also known as Logic's dad. Who has provided great vocal contributions such as the intro to Logic's song Homicide explaining why his son is the greatest in the world. I'm cringing thinking about it. His contribution to this track is no different. He doesn't ruin the song but his son certainly didn't need to waste studio time recording his parts. Another thing that was a recurring theme was once again, Logic biting other flows from his contemporaries. For example, I can't help but hear a Vince Staples flow in the chorus of DadBod, or a Chance the Rapper type delivery during the verses of Hit My Line. Besides those two major gripes, I don't have much else negative to say. This is the album I've been waiting for Logic to drop and I'm so happy he can end his career on a really positive note. 

I would rate
No Pressure
By Logic