Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

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I’ll be honest-I almost wanted this release to disappoint me. Many friends had a countdown going for the release date, and I soon became tired of hearing about the album before I even heard the first song released. The amount of hype was staggering, albeit for good reason. Run the Jewels was undoubtedly the surprise of 2013, with El-P producing synth-drenched soundscapes that dwarfed any other hip-hop release last year and both rappers giving top-notch lyrical performances. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of listening to the two was the undeniable fact that they were having a blast creating music together. And the good news with Run the Jewels 2 is that the chemistry between Killer Mike and El-P has only gotten better this time around. Truly what it comes down to is that these two bring the best out of each other whether they’re introspectively rapping over a subtle beat on “Jeopardy”, or simply slinging their patented creative braggadocio on tracks like “Blockbuster Part 1” or “All My Life”.

It’s hard to determine if Run the Jewels labored intensively to make as perfect a record as they could, or if they just went in a studio and had the time of their lives. It skirts a fine line between meticulous construction and haphazardly (yet confidently) throwing together everything that they ever wanted to test out. The Zach de la Rocha-featured track “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” should have stood out like a sore thumb on this release, given the fact that his style couldn’t be further from Killer Mike’s syrupy Southern delivery and El-P’s quick-draw precision. It ends up not only being a strong standout, but it left me wistfully hoping that the dynamic duo would soon be allowing a third into Run the Jewels due to the natural collaborative effort. Having de la Rocha’s proclamation of “Run them jewels fast” looped over the beat was a stroke of genius and propels the explosive track into the stratosphere, with Zach providing a stellar verse at the end of the song. Travis Barker (of Blink-182 fame) lends his drum talents to the high-octane “All Due Respect”, where Killer Mike goes from throwing nuns in a double penetration situation to making a Pulp Fiction reference. It is deliciously irreverent, but at this point it’s exactly what listeners expect lyrically. On top of the ever-improving lyricism, it also seems that El-P is only getting better in terms of producing infectious yet still low-key beats. “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” is a stiff contender for song of the year. The spacey and minimalist beat unobtrusively drapes over the rappers as they trade off effortlessly, producing an endless amount of quotable lines.

Run the Jewels 2 shocked the shit out of me; not because it was good, as I certainly expected that. I just didn’t expect it to be this good. “Crowns” sees Killer Mike looking inwardly at his guilt for selling cocaine to a pregnant mother years ago, only to find that the child was having developmental issues later on. The heartwarming bars of, “I release you from all your sins and your shame/Cause I’ve been redeemed/I found in Christ/Whatever it take I hope you find it, Mike” introduce a vulnerability not heard in the Run the Jewels music thus far. These small deviations (or maturations, if you prefer) from the normal formula embraced are what make this album so good. The ability to take musical risks while still not seeming to end up too far away from where Run the Jewels resides is certainly impressive. “Angel Duster” is a seductive, slow closer, proving that Run the Jewels will continue to surprise its fans; Killer Mike and El-P have waited a long time for their time in the limelight, and they obviously have a death grip on it now. We might as well enjoy the ride.

Rating: 4.8/5

Tracklist:

1. Jeopardy
2. Oh My Darling Don’t Cry
3. Blockbuster Night – Part I
4. Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) [featuring Zack de la Rocha]
5. All My Life
6. Lie, Cheat, Steal
7. Early (featuring Boots)
8. All Due Respect (featuring Travis Barker)
9. Love Again (Akinyele Back)
10. Crown (featuring Diane Coffee)
11. Angel Duster
12. Blockbuster Night – Part II (featuring Despot and Wiki) [Bonus Track]

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Ty Segall – Manipulator

When I first heard the term “Flower Punk”, my brain kind of exploded. Not only had I never heard of anything similar to that term before, but I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to. Being a fan of garage rock/punk, I liked many of Ty Segall’s previous works, particularly Reverse Shark Attack and one of his few recordings with a full band entitled Slaughterhouse. I knew that he had since expanded his genre list even more on his more recent records and covered what seemed to be a slightly different genre for each release. All were good, but not necessarily my cup of tea. So when I heard about his first double vinyl release which took the longest amount of time out of any of his albums yet to create (about 14 weeks), I was naturally curious. I had to check it out.

Manipulator is the most well rounded album that Ty Segall has released. He has managed to infuse all of his previous sounds in to one cohesive sonic emission, the likes of which are stunning. The tracks on Manipulator are an impressive amalgam of power pop, 70’s psych rock, and garage rock with considerably less (but still prevalent), punk and noise influences. The psych rock influence is far from subtle but isn’t quite enough to make the album annoying (although it does come close at times). The album also is pretty synth-heavy and super groovy throughout (Not a bad 70’s joke folks; every song is a toe-tapper or a foot-stomper).

The mid to slow tempo songs that make up this album are very well produced, straying from the lo-fi sound that Segall championed in many of his early releases. Segall also managed to track the whole album by himself, with the exception of track 6, entitled “The Faker.” Considering the comparatively polished sound of this record, mixed with the fact that Segall is the sole performer as well as the catchiness and technical prowess which abounds throughout the entire album, Manipulator is quite a feat. I strongly recommend picking this album up if you are a fan of any of the aforementioned musical genres or even if you are just in the mood for something original and creative. You can pick it up through Drag City Records, or ITunes if you’re lazy.

Score: 4.25/5

Track List

1.”Manipulator” 3:10
2.”Tall Man Skinny Lady” 4:03
3.”The Singer” 4:16
4.”It’s Over” 3:01
5.”Feel” 4:17
6.”The Faker” 4:09
7.”The Clock” 2:53
8.”Green Belly” 2:33
9.”The Connection Man” 2:19
10.”Mister Main” 2:48
11.”The Hand” 4:45
12.”Susie Thumb” 2:30
13.”Don’t You Want To Know? (Sue)” 2:36
14.”The Crawler” 2:25
15.”Who’s Producing You?” 2:55
16.”The Feels” 3:09
17.”Stick Around” 4:34

Tiny Moving Parts – Pleasant Living

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Pleasant Living is certainly an interesting listen. With emo and post hardcore being the two main influences, it wouldn’t be difficult to expect subdued melodies and somewhat depressing lyrics. With so many  bands embracing the same “sad” Midwestern emo sound, there aren’t many ways to escape from the monotony. Admittedly, many bands embody the sound very well; it’s absolutely the reason why the emo revivalist movement has exploded in popularity, especially the past few years. Tiny Moving Parts have allowed themselves to stand out from their peers with just a few tweaks to the proven formula. Armed with a more energetic, pop punk approach and lyrics encroaching on endearingly hopeful territory, Pleasant Living is a breath of fresh air. From the Modest-Mouse aping guitars (this is a compliment, of course) in the beginning of “Movies” to the concluding yell of “There is so much more/Out there waiting” in the mostly subdued “Skinny Veins”, the album is proof that bands can still stand out from a glut of bands within the scene.

The continuity of the album is incredibly impressive, as it sounds natural without the tracks sounding too similar to distinguish from one another. The catchy qualities of the album are also at the forefront of Pleasant Living, providing plenty of vocal hooks (“Sundress”) and memorable angular guitar lines (“Always Focused”). The absolutely anthemic “Boxcar” is a foot-stomping and invigorating song from start to finish, transitioning from a low-key sound complete with hushed vocals to an energetic frenzy with ease several times in the two and a half minute runtime. It’s more than just a strength of the band, as they make those transitions quite a bit throughout the entirety of the album; it’s actually the biggest determining factor that allows them to stand out. “Entrances and Exits” display some of the best lyrics on the album, and also some of the most incisive lyrics about the topic of friendships in general. Tiny Moving Parts are able to make themselves seem human through their lyrics and music, which is the biggest compliment that a band can receive.

With all of the praise heaped onto this album, there is still some room for improvement. The lyrics range from incredibly insightful to full-on cheesiness at times, and while it fits with their aesthetic it does detract from an otherwise excellent release. Closer “Van Beers” add piano and horns to their sound, and they have never sounded more natural or energized because of it. It points to an even better progression for the next album, but Pleasant Living is a more than welcome placeholder while Tiny Moving Parts perfect their sound.

Rating: 4.2/5

Tracklist:

01. Sundress
02. Always Focused
03. Fourth of July
04. I Hope Things Go The Way I Hope
05. Whiskey Waters
06. Movies
07. The Better Days
08. Boxcar
09. Spring Fever
10. Entrances & Exits
11. Skinny Veins
12. Van Beers

The Copyrights – Report

Have you ever had a moment when listening to a record where you put your head in you hands and wonder, “How in the hell are these guys so talented? How is it possible to write an album that is so consistently catchy?” Well folks, wait no more, because if you like pop-punk in the vein of Screeching Weasel, The Lillingtons, and The Riptides then this album will do it for you.

Report, the newest effort from Illinois’ The Copyrights, is their most solid release to date. The boys pump out 14 songs where each one is equally as catchy and anthemic as the last. The album’s opening track “Slider” kicks the record off with a cool and low-key bass riff that then explodes into an unapologetically powerful intro that firmly plants the standard for the rest of the record.The melodies and hooks on this album are insane, drawing from what seems to be every instrument in their ensemble to contribute to the sing along choruses. Innovative and interesting bridges (see “Stuck in The Fall”) remind the listeners that this is a band that has over a decade of writing and touring under their belts and are only getting better. The sheer singability (see what I did there?) of this record alone makes it everything that this reviewer could want from a modern day pop-punk album.

The only gripe that I have with this album is the lyrics. The Copyrights have a knack for being able to cleverly say the same things on each of their records. For the most part, the standard pop-punk themes of struggling with money, relationships, and trying to have a good time through it all abound. The saving grace in this respect is that the lyrics are so catchy that it makes me want to claw my eyes out (in a good way). They didn’t try to reinvent the lyrical wheel on this release and that adds to its charm. They are what they are, and what they are is a pop-punk band that has honed their specific sound to the best version of themselves yet.

You can check out Report via Red Scare Industries.

Score: 5/5

1. Slider
2. Heart Of Glue
3. Telescope
4. Stuck In The Fall
5. This World Is Such A Drag
6. Keep The Change
7. Worlds On Fire
8. No Knocks
9. Fireworks
10. Wishbone
11. The New Frontier
12. Try So Hard
13. Basement
15. Away We Go

The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

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If you are anything like me, then you have been following The Gaslight Anthem’s career for a while now. You fell in love with their gritty yet whimsical sound in Sink or Swim and Senor and the Queen, then again with the 1950’s-esque heartfelt and innovative sound of The ’59 Sound. You were probably a little surprised by the almost London Calling ethos (not sound) of American Slang but thought, “This is still obviously the Gaslight Anthem, so I can get behind it.” Then when Handwritten came out, you probably thought “This is kind of boring but still good songwriting. Way more mainstream than their other releases, but whatever. They are still pretty close to the band I love.”

If all of this is true then 1: We should probably hang out (because we like, TOTALLY click, you know?) and 2: When the Gaslight Anthem’s newest release Get Hurt dropped last month you were probably a little bit…confused. Track one, entitled “Stay Vicious”, sounds like they are trying way too hard to sound like a worse Audioslave. Then they tried to remind everyone that they were still The Gaslight Anthem by going back to a light and melodic kind-of chorus. In its entirety, the song just sounds inorganic and forced, which makes me uncomfortable as a listener.

Their next song “1,000 Years” is kind of a bridge between “Stay Vicious” and the more classic Gaslight sound. The lyrics are a little more personal, and the over all sound is a little less comically abrasive. The feel of the song is more reminiscent of The Hold Steady as opposed to a weird Sound Garden yielding a more organic feel that makes a little bit more sense when looking at Gaslights larger body of work. Then, out of the mist and confusion comes the albums title track, Get Hurt. Track three sets the tone for the rest of the album both sonically and lyrically. The bulk of the lyrics are the musings of a sensitive man dealing with love, loss, starting over and deciding where to go from here. Instrumentally speaking, the rest of the album fits nicely in a category with the other slow and mid tempo songs in the Gaslight catalogue. Granted, the album is lacking its songs similar to “We Came to Dance”, “The 59 Sound”, “American Slang” and “Handwritten”, but singles don’t define a band. The personality is between the hits, and Get Hurt has a ton of personality.

I realize saying this will put me in the minority of reviewers but overall, I really like this album. Yes it is different and yes I HATE the opening track, but after track one every song has its place within the album and makes sense aesthetically speaking. In an interview with Noisey, lyricist and front man Brian Fallon admitted that critics probably wouldn’t like Get Hurt at all but the fans will grow to love it and accept the album as a practical next step in the progression of the band. This seems to ring true, but I think that it’s a little of an overstatement. Anyone who appreciates The Gaslight Anthem’s more bluesy songs and lyrics will like this album from the get go. I would be surprised if the long time fans were not at least accepting of the album, providing they went into it with an open mind.

Get Hurt is a personal favorite of mine overtaking both American Slang and Handwritten in songwriting, both sonically and lyrically. After the initial speed bump of the opening track, it becomes one of the better put together albums they have released in recent memory. To the skeptical die-hard fans I say this: Just give it a chance, kids. You may be surprised.

Track List:

1. “Stay Vicious” 3:33
2. “1,000 Years” 3:38
3. “Get Hurt” 3:43
4. “Stray Paper” 2:48
5. “Helter Skeleton” 3:13
6. “Underneath the Ground” 4:05
7. “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” 2:50
8. “Red Violins” 3:20
9. “Selected Poems” 2:53
10. “Ain’t That a Shame” 3:02
11. “Break Your Heart” 4:20
12. “Dark Places” 3:44

Score: 4.25/5

FACT – Witness

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As someone who’s constantly critiquing music, it becomes quite tiresome having to lump every damn band into a specific genre category; let alone their various sub-genres. I mean does it really matter whether it’s rock-n-roll, doom metal or even dream pop? Essentially, only one thing should really matter. Is it enjoyable to listen to?

I introduce you to exhibit A, a Japanese band by the name of FACT that mixes too many musical influences to count on one hand. And yes, their music often makes for a good time behind your headphones. To say they are an interesting band would be a bit of an understatement. Describing their music, however, is even more perplexing. The band’s hefty array of influences ranging from pop-punk to metal allow them to stand out from the pack. They’ve also been known to wear traditional Japanese masks to conceal their identity, but in recent years they’ve all shown their faces. I’ll admit when I stumbled across the band while surfing the net I was sold almost instantly. Something just drew me to them; whether it was the slick artwork of their album or their band name all in caps, I’m not entirely sure.

Although inconsistent, FACT’s newest effort “Witness” is a pretty damn fun and varied listening experience. Hardcore influences are around lurking around every corner with electronic flourishes thrown in sporadically. The first two tracks ‘New Element’ and ‘Drag’ start things off with a bang as they mix pop influenced vocals with some unexpectedly intimidating screams. Other songs like the title track are just plain catchy as hell, and definitely give off a Sum 41 vibe with their sky-high energy levels and similar vocal melodies. Unfortunately there are some real duds as well such as ‘Ape’ which houses the most annoying chorus on the album and ‘2-1′ just comes across as unnecessary with its overdone electronics and random screaming. Thankfully most of these weaker moments are easily overlooked when you hear a song as catchy as ‘Miles Away’ or as aggressive as ‘Devil’s Work’.

There’s really not much else to say about “Witness.” It’s just one of those amusing albums you jam at work to help pass the time. It’s not without its flaws, but the majority of the tracks will have you either banging your head or simply forgetting how tedious life can be; even if it’s just for a moment.

SCORE: 3.25/5

City and Colour- The Hurry and the Harm

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Singer/songwriter Dallas Green has built quite the following for himself, and rightfully so. His blend of stratosphere-shattering vocals with heart-rending lyricism has the ability to resonate with a wide variety of fans, from listeners of folk music to modern pop lovers. After third release Little Hell brought more exposure to the band in the form of single “Northern Wind”, they continued on in the same commercial-friendly vein with The Hurry and the Harm.

There is markedly more atmosphere in this album, as evidenced immediately in album opener “The Hurry and the Harm”. The ever present acoustic guitar starts off the song after a bit of built-up distortion, but the beautiful steel guitar in the background sets off Green’s crooning and ethereal vocals even more so than that of past albums. The crystal-clear production continues throughout the entirety of The Hurry and the Harm, and the first four songs breeze by beautifully without any missteps at all. “Of Space and Time” mixes a lush soundscape with hand-wringing self doubt in the lyrics and a triumphantly jangling guitar line, while “The Lonely Life” boasts the most beautiful and ear-catching chorus of the album. Unfortunately, the album slows down dramatically after that. “Paradise” relies heavily on Green’s sincere vocals to succeed, but is ultimately nothing new compared to the back discography of this already-accomplished act. This is truly the album’s crux, as most of the album seems to be a retread of earlier work. The going-through-the-motions ethos is the antithesis of the passion that was present on past albums and marks The Hurry and the Harm as merely enjoyable, nothing more.

It’s a bit head-scratching to think that just a few years ago Green was lyrically at the top of his story-telling game with gem after gem; most tracks seem to contain tired, overused clichés. “Commentators” adopts an unnaturally (for this band, at least) peppy tone that flows awkwardly from the overpowering chorus to yawn-inducing verses. “Thirst” sounds like City and Colour trying to recreate “The Fragile Bird” from their last full-length; while it’s an incredible song in its own right, it feels like a cheap imitation. When “Ladies and Gentlemen” washes over the listener with warm atmosphere and beautiful melodies, it’s too late to name this the band’s best release to date, but not too late to say that this still contains some of the band’s best songs. It unfortunately feels like some of these were left over from Little Hell, and considering the incredible leap from second LP Bring Me Your Love to Little Hell, it was fair to expect a little more progression from this full-length release. As it stands, Dallas Green and company have created some of their best songs and continue to stand out as one of the more distinguishable alternative pop/folk acts.

1. “The Hurry and the Harm” 4:23
2. “Harder Than Stone” 4:26
3. “Of Space and Time” 3:33
4. “The Lonely Life” 4:34
5. “Paradise” 3:38
6. “Commentators” 3:35
7. “Thirst” 3:26
8. “Two Coins” 5:32
9. “Take Care” 3:38
10. “Ladies and Gentlemen” 4:05
11. “The Golden State” 5:18
12. “Death’s Song” 4:43

Score: 4/5