Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Top 10 Hip Hop Albums of 2014

This is my top 10 Hip Hop albums of 2014. 2014 was a good year for hip hop overall which is saying a lot as it was missing albums from heavyweights like Eminem, Jay-Z, Kanye West and the list goes on. That being said, the underground really killed it this year.

10. Kid Cudi - Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon - Serving as the bridge between Indicud and the finale of the Man on the Moon trilogy, this album was Cudi's spaciest yet. A short 10 song ride best experienced with overhead headphones in the dark the album takes you to another world as Cudi himself seems like an alien even more on this album.

9. Common - Nobody's Smiling - Common's status as a living legend in hip hop has been cemented for years so for him to still be releasing quality music in 2014 is a bonus. This is the darkest and grittiest we've seen Common in a while but what really stands out on this album is the features; there really aren't any typical Common features on this album instead we see the likes of Big Sean, Vince Staples and Lil Herb on this all killing it.

8. Big K.R.I.T. - Cadillactica - Any other year this album would've been higher because K.R.I.T. absolutely killed his sophomore album and for me finally got back to how good his first few mixtapes were. If you don't like K.R.I.T. then this is the album to check out to get into him as it's accessible and he spits fire as always.

7. Logic - Under Pressure - Logic finally gave us his debut album after 4 mixtapes and a XXL Freshman feature and it was well worth the wait. The entire album, excluding the bonus tracks, is all Logic, no features which is a great way to make a debut album especially when you have the following that Logic has.

6. J. Cole - 2014 Forest Hills Drive - Following Logic, J. Cole's album has zero features on it as well and even sees Cole singing on some tracks. This album is fantastic and it's the kind of album that needs to be heard as Cole is a mainstream rapper making underground albums and making the radio fit to him which is important in 2014.

5. Lil Herb - Welcome to Fazoland - Lil Herb is a 19 year old rapper from Chicago who not only dropped one of the best mixtapes of the year but also even worked with giants like Common and Nicki Minaj. His voice cuts through production like few others and his stories of the streets of Chicago are worth hearing, this kid has a bright future.

4. ScHoolboy Q - Oxymoron - If TDE isn't running hip hop right now, no one is, whether their signees are dropping some of the biggest albums of the year or doing features that set the hip hop world on fire, TDE is all the rage right now. Oxymoron is a well rounded album that has songs for every type of person and with features from Kendrick Lamar, Tyler the Creator, Kurupt and more. Oxymoron came out way back in February and it has only seemed to grow like a fine wine.

3. PRhyme - PRhyme - PRhyme is the duo of DJ Premier and Royce da 5'9" and this is their debut album. What's great about this album is how compact it is, 9 songs clocking in at under 35 minutes of banging beats and Royce spitting harder than he's ever spit before. This album is a nod to the 90's and seminal albums like Illmatic and not only does it succeed at paying tribute to those classics it even makes an argument at being a modern day classic,

2. Jon Connor - Best in the World: Kanye - The 2nd and final mixtape on this list is a mixtape by Jon Connor in which he rhymes over Kanye West beats which on paper sounds dumb but in practice works perfectly as your ears are already used to the beats so they key in on Connor and his stories and he makes the songs his own. This tape was on constant replay for me all summer being played front to back almost daily and to this day I still return to it pretty often.

1. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2 - If you know me or have talked to me the last few weeks, this album at number 1 should come as no surprise as I've listened to this album damn near every day since the day it came out. They give out this album for free, legally and after I got the free copy I still bought a physical copy. This album is an album you show someone when they say rap isn't art, this album is just, I don't have the words to describe it. This album is free, go sign up for their email and get it, I promise you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Punk Goes Christmas - Review

Punk Goes Christmas is the 14th compilation by Fearless records under the "Punk Goes..." banner in which punk bands cover a certain area of music. It used to be punk bands but since Punk Goes Pop 2 it's been more of the metalcore, pop-punk, electro band variety. Punk Goes Pop 4 & 5 had the same type of bands on the entire album so they got repetitive and bland. Looking at the tracklisting for Christmas it's a bit more varied, with up and coming bands (Real Friends, Man Overboard), pop-punk vets (Yellowcard, New Found Glory) to the fun Issues and Set it Off who put a new twist of Christmas songs. At first glance this album would put off fans of the heavier side of the usual Punk Goes collection but with it being Christmas themed you can't really expect heavy bands to be all over it.

Positive: As previously stated the bands this time around are pretty varied in style, thank god. Starting with New Found Glory I expected it to be an upbeat pop-punk song but it's acoustic and actually really well done. A lot of the bands seem to have went the sad-Christmas feel instead of the traditional happiness that comes with the holiday and it's a good twist. Man Overboard's song is one of the best as it puts a twist on Christmas and reinventing how grateful we all should feel with what we have. The Real Friends track is fantastic as well. The Issues cover of an N'sync Christmas song is how you'd expect it, full of fun that you can feel listening to it. Set it Off's "This Christmas (I'll Burn it to the Ground)" is fun, funny and a blast to listen to. Jason Lancaster's "All I Can Give You" is, you guessed it, a sappy acoustic/piano track but as always, it's awesome. Yellowcard and Crown the Empire's tracks are great too even though Crown the Empire stepped outside of their comfort zone and still made it work. All Time Low's "Fool's Holiday" was pretty enjoyable too which is surprising 'cause I haven't liked any of their recent stuff.

Negative: The album kinda fails in its mission, where it doesn't really put me in the Christmas spirit. While that doesn't diminish the quality of the songs it kinda just falls short on amping you up for Christmas. William Beckett's rendition of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" is the most traditional and while it's good it's nothing more than the standard song. The Ready Set and The Summer Set's songs are just too poppy for my taste and they don't do much for me, they're not necessarily bad but I won't revisit them again. Outside of those few things the album is pretty good.

Overall: With only a few songs being duds the album puts the Punk Goes on an upswing after the last couple had been pretty bland. It's an enjoyable listen with more to offer than you would think and is worth the listen.

Number of Tracks Kept: 9/12

Rating: 7.5/10

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of the Last 5 Years

Strictly albums, no mixtapes or EP's. 2008-2013

MIXTAPE MENTIONS: Joey Bada$$ - 1999, Big K.R.I.T. - 4evaNaDay, Tyler, the Creator - Bastard, Logic - Young Sinatra: Welcome to Forever

10.) B.o.B - B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray (2010) - B.o.B blew up on the scene with his debut album which mixed rap with pop and some alt-rap in a perfect mixture. This album is superb, especially once you dig deeper than the singles.

9.) Tyler, the Creator - Goblin (2011) - Tyler got huge off of his "Yonkers" video but there's a lot more to this kid than eating cockroaches, Bastard may be a better example in showing his skills off but Goblin is a monster of an album that is influencing the new wave of rappers coming up.

8.) Childish Gambino - Camp (2011) - Donald Glover came out of nowhere with this debut, coming off a decent buzz from mixtapes he created a conceptual album that even more impressively is performed entirely by him, no features. He can spit, storytell and is lyrical out of his mind.

7.) Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music (2012) - You knew this was gonna be a classic as soon as the first track, "Big Beast" came on, featuring Bun B, T.I. and Trouble it's a monster track that obliterates everything in its path. The pairing of Killer Mike and El-P seems so natural that they dropped an album that put Mike back on the map and put El-P even more on the map than he already was.

6.) Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels (2013) - Speaking of Killer Mike and El-P, they transform into a duo with El-P on production and vocals, with Killer Mike complimenting him on vocals as well. A free album, it's in the running for Album of 2013, the production is on point and just when you thought Mike and El couldn't vibe together any better, they sound so natural going bar for bar over a killer beat. They're chemistry is as good as Big Boi and Andre 3000's, no I'm not exaggerating.

5.) Kendrick Lamar - Section.80 (2011) - Before GKMC Kendrick dropped his debut album for TDE that foreshadowed his explosion into the mainstream. Section.80 is the album to show someone who says that hip-hop is dead. It's real, lyrical and damn does Kendrick know how to rap. There's not a bad thing about this album.

4.) Kid Cudi - Man on the Moon: The End of Day (2009) - Cudi's debut album is nothing short of marvelous. With spacey beats, the voice of a god and some deep, introspective lyrics, Cudi is mesmerizing. Features ranging from Chip tha Ripper to Kanye and Common, Cudi puts together what is sure to go down as a classic, if it hasn't already.

3.) Macklemore x Ryan Lewis - The Heist (2012) - Macklemore has become the "Thrift Shop" and gay support guy. It really sucks because this album is beyond amazing, the depth in his lyrics is unfathomable. Never have I praised a producer so much (besides El-P) as much as I praise Ryan Lewis, he picked a sound that worked with Macklemore and they hit a grand slam with it. This album has the first hip-hop instrumental that I fully enjoy and will listen to endlessly ("BomBom"). I can't say enough about this album.

2.) Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2012)- An album doesn't get called the modern Illmatic for nothing. This concept album is so tightly knit, with every single song applying to the overall story. Kendrick achieved the impossible in rapping about real things, with elite skill and somehow being able to break into the mainstream. We may look back in 20 years and say this is the most important album since Nas' Illmatic and Eminem's Marshall Mathers LP. Kendrick is near holding down "real" hip-hop and putting out spectacular music while doing so.

1.) Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) - What's a hip-hop list without Kanye? I can't describe how good this album is, it's impossible. You can't compare it to another album either, it sounds so different than anything else Kanye or anyone else has done. Kanye went ahead and made an artistic hip-hop album which focused on content and it shows. The closest we have to a perfect album in the last 5 years. This album could go down as top 10 hip-hop albums of all time. Once you get passed Kanye's image in the public eye and dive into his music, he never lets go and MBDTF is the best example. With long, anti-mainstream sounding songs he still was able to produce a commercial and critical smash and the album is here to stay for a long time.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Avenged Sevenfold - Hail to the King

Overview: Hail to the Kings indeed.

Let's not sit and pretend like you don't know who Avenged Sevenfold is. To my generation (I'm 19), we remember them for "Bat Country" as that was their first huge hit. Looking back I still love that song but back in 2005 I didn't realize how much more there was to the band. City of Evil is an incredible album, that's less of an opinion, more of a fact by now. 2003's Waking the Fallen has grown to become my favorite album of theirs, it's heavy as shit while showing us the catchiness that we would come to love on later albums. If you know me and have talked to me about the band, you know I'm not the biggest fan of their self-titled album, it gets an "okay" in my book and for me, the low point of their discography. The band came back with a vengeance with 2010's Nightmare which was a cross between Waking the Fallen and City of Evil and was a surprisingly good album.

The Positive: First off, cause this is important, the riff in "This Means War" is godly. It wasn't until a friend told me that I realized it sounds pretty similar to Metallica's "Sad But True" which is one of my favorite riffs. Now I wasn't too big on the lead single and title track when it came out but it seriously grew on me. "Requiem" is probably my favorite song, with a choir singing the intro and M. Shadows singing to the same melody, it goes back to the haunting days of Waking the Fallen where they had an evil sound to them. "Heretic" continues the creepy atmosphere with Shadows speaking parts of the verses, the chorus isn't the best but the rest of the track holds it together. A7X has always, in my opinion been good at doing slow songs, "Warmness on the Soul", "Tonight the World Dies" and "Fiction" are some of my favorites from the band in general and "Crimson Day" on this album joins them. "Coming Home" has a very Iron Maiden-esque sound to it; from the riff to the way Shadows sings over it, I could see Bruce Dickinson soaring over this track on one of Maiden's newer albums. "Planets" is a monstrosity of a track, I don't know how to explain but the song just sounds huge, like watching planets collide into each other, that's what this sounds like, and it's a great sound. Lastly, I enjoy the opener "Shepard of Fire" but I don't think it should've opened the album, it's mid-tempo and doesn't pump you up for the album, but upon further listens, the song is great. The bonus track is worth buying off of iTunes, "St. James" is pretty killer, I wish it was on the standard, store-bought edition but I'll pay the $1.29 for it and so should you.

The Negative: They hit a homerun with "Crimson Day" but they hit a single with "Acid Rain", I find it rather boring, the chorus is pretty solid but what's built around it falls flat for me. Reworked it could be better, maybe they'll rework it and do it acoustically, that could work, but overall I wasn't big on the song. I'll keep it for now to see if I can hammer it into my ears. "Doing Time" is really the only track I can say I fully don't like on this album, it's just cheesy and doesn't offer much. We're used to A7X doing rather complex things but this song seems very basic to me. I was a little disappointed that M. Shadows didn't scream on this album since it made a return on Nightmare. I guess it wouldn't really fit with any of the tracks except maybe "Requiem", it doesn't hurt the album though, just don't expect them.

Overall: This album is one you need to listen to more than once, on my first listen through I only like 2 songs, I've now listened to it 4/5 times and it's grown on me immensely. The album is somewhat a simplified version of what we're used to as the songs are very riffed based. Pretty much it's like an Iron Maiden album from the mid 80's (Powerslave or Somewhere in Time) in that the guitars shine when they're meant to while the vocalist soars over the instruments, all the while the rhythm section is tight and holding it all together. This isn't the best A7X album but it's not even close to their worst. It's better than I expected it to be and I'm very happy that it is.

Number of Tracks Kept(Including Deluxe): 10/11, with "Acid Rain" still pending, so possibly 9/11.

Rating: 8.5/10

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Top 10 Bands of the 21st Century

This is the DEFINITIVE list of the top 10 bands of the 21st century.

- The band's official debut album must've come out on or after January 1, 2000.
- The list is any genre although it pretty much ended up being all metal.
- That's it.

10. Parkway Drive, is a band who's 2005 debut crushed the metalcore scene and since then have released 3 albums that have all been different but have all been great with last years outing, Atlas, solidifying their spot on this list. Debut: 2005's Killing With a Smile.

9. Revocation, some may argue that they're too low on the list, some may argue that they haven't been around long enough to prove themselves. The truth is they released their debut in 2008 and have since released 3 albums and 1 EP which is an extremely good output. Each album has been better than the one before and in 20 years we may look back at Revocation in the 2010'S as we look at Pantera in the 90's. Debut: 2008's Empire of the Obscene.

8. The Black Dahlia Murder, Unhallowed debuted this now beloved death/black metal bands sound which was perfected on 2007's Nocturnal. Now 6 albums deep, Dahlia has proven over and over again that they are modern death metal and one of the biggest bands doing it today. Debut: 2003's Unhallowed.

7. Whitechapel, while Dahlia are the masters of modern death metal, Whitechapel are without a doubt the masters of deathcore. Making brutality somehow catchy is no easy feat as few other bands in the overpopulated genre have done it but none of have done it nearly as well as Whitechapel. 4 albums in, with a 5th on the way, the band is heading the deathcore movement with no competition. Debut: 2007's The Somatic Defilement.

6. Avenged Sevenfold, broke onto the scene back in 2001 and released their 6th album earlier this week. They may be one of the lighter and commercial bands on the list but albums like Waking the Fallen, City of Evil and Nightmare make the band a can't miss band of the century. Debut: 2001's Sounding the Seventh Trumpet.

5. Senses Fail, the odd man out on this list, they came out back in '03 and have been dominating the depressing/emo/metalcore world ever since, with the monster album Still Searching, the band has been on an incline ever since with the bands latest release, Renacer, leading right now in my "Album of the Year" list. Debut: 2004's Let it Enfold You

4. Killswitch Engage, barely making the cut with their debut being released in 2000 the band has seen 2 singers, 1 on their first 2 and most recent and the other(pictured) on the 3 in between. They saw a huge rise in popularity with 2006's As Daylight Dies and with the exit of Howard Jones and the reentry of Jesse Leach the band released Disarm the Descent earlier this year that brought the band back to their heavier than hell roots. Debut: 2000's Killswitch Engage.

3. Trivium, releasing their debut in 2003, I didn't discover the band until 2007, 2 years after their breakthrough album, Ascendancy. The band perfected their sound on Shogun and In Waves and are now looking to release their 6th album later this year. Debut: 2003's Ember to Inferno.

2. Mastodon, the band transformed themselves from their sludgy 2002 debut, Remission into their 4th album, the prog masterpiece that is Crack the Skye. The band sounds like 2 different bands while still sounding like Mastodon, something most bands can't do. 2011's The Hunter was yet another departure for the band, leaning away from the concept album and into more single song structure. Mid-2013 the band is one of the biggest in modern metal and it's clear to see why, each of their albums have brilliance laced within them and they would be the number 1 if it weren't for the behemoth of a band that took the spot. Debut: 2002's Remission.

1. Lamb of God, this is where the criteria comes into play, yes they had an album out in 1999 but it was under the name Burn the Priest. OFFICIALLY the band released their debut, New American Gospel in 2000. The band's breakthrough was in 2004 with Ashes of the Wake and even more so in 2006 with Sacrament. Somehow the band kept improving and released their (in my opinion) masterpiece in 2009 with Wrath. Off of those 3 albums they would make this list, but their debut, 2002's As the Palaces Burn and 2012's Resolution catapult the band into being my number 1 pick for the top band of the 21st century. They have earned the label of "Pure American Metal". Debut: 2000's New American Gospel.

Honorable Mentions: Rise Against, A Day to Remember, Sum 41, Silverstein, Bullet for My Valentine(pre-Temper Temper, Every Time I Die and The Sword.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sworn In - The Death Card

Overview: Three Fucking Cheers

Sworn In is an Illinois hardcore/deathcore/metalcore (I'm not entirely sure what to label them) band that formed in 2011. In 2012 they released their first EP, Start/End which I enjoyed but thought there were things that could've been done better. The band released the song "Let Down" which I absolutely love and got me pumped for the album.

The Positive: The album absolutely kills, it's undeniably brutal. From the get go you're in for a 40-minute session of being kicked in the balls and punched in the face simultaneously and as soon as it ends all you can say is "Thank you sir, may I have another?" There are breakdowns and surprisingly a ton of riffage, and good riffage at that. The vocals are pretty nuts too, his highs are shrieking and his lows sound like the stereotypical ultra-Christian idea of what Satan sounds like. Some of the phrases he screams with such passion and in some instances, velocity that it's impossible not to get into. On to the songs, what separates Sworn In from the plethora of bands in this genre is good songwriting. They take a cue from Parkway Drive and use breakdowns to accent the song instead of building an entire song around a breakdown which is what it seems 95% of bands do now. "Hypocrisy" is a crazy good standout with great lines. The band is great at writing one-liners that stick in your head all day. For example, "So take your necklace off and put a fucking noose in its place."(From "Hypocrisy"). "Dead Soul", "A Song for the Nameless", "Snake Eyes", "Deadpan", "Three Cheers", the short but super sweet "Bitter Blood" and "Death" are the rest of the tracks that I have as standouts that are fantastic tracks. These tracks alone are better than some albums that have been released this year.

The Negative: While the lyrics aren't exactly riveting they're brutal and get you pissed like they're supposed to and that's all they need to do. Also the interludes "Senseless" and "Mute" work as nice breaks if you're listening to the album all the way through as I did a few times and they tie the songs together pretty well but besides that they don't do much for me. I haven't decided how I feel as the intro "XIII" and the closing track "Return (Heartless)", the intro is good and sets the album up pretty well but I don't see myself listening to it besides that. "Return (Heartless" is a solid track but I'm not feeling it entirely.

Overview: It's a great debut album that's not perfect but who's album is these days anyway? The Death Card is hopefully the first album in a long career for the band. It won't win any "album of the year" but it's a damn good album. Sworn In are poised to become one of the standout bands in a genre(s) overrun with generic bands.

Number of Tracks Kept: 10/13

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Asking Alexandria - From Death to Destiny

Overview: From Great to Bad.

Asking Alexandria are a metalcore band from England who's latest release is their 3rd full-length. Back in 2009 they released their debut Stand Up and Scream which defined what has become known as "risecore", "sumeriancore" and "crabcore" and spawned countless bands who imitated the album, Attack Attack!, Woe, is Me, I See Stars, to name a few. Looking back on the album it's incredibly generic but something about it still feels fresh and all of its imitators have yet to be able to do the album as well as Asking Alexandria did. Their sophomore album Reckless and Relentless was a change of pace stylistically that I hated at first but since 2011 it's grown on me a bit and while not as good as its predecessor it's a solid album. Which brings us to album number 3. The stylistic change is even more prevalent on this than before. I would bet that if you showed someone that's unfamiliar with the band a song from their debut and a song from this album, they would think it's 2 different bands. Danny Worsnop's vocals are unrecognizable. His screams are way less harsh and his cleans are worse, yet better because I think the band finally used his voice instead of using studio magic.

The Positive: The band is starting to find what they want their sound to be which is respectable. The opener "Don't Pray for Me" is a great opening track minus the obnoxious minute and a half barely audible electronic intro which would've been better off as it's own track so you can just skip it. The 2 singles, "The Death of Me" and "Run Free" are some of the strongest tracks on the album as they have catchy choruses and heavy verses. "White Line Fever" is one of my favorites on the album which a great chorus and for once on this album pretty good lyrics. "Moving On" is a completely cleanly sung song that I really enjoy, for me the band is 2 for 2 when it comes to cleanly sung songs(the other track being "Someone, Somewhere).

The Negative: As I said, the annoying intro to the opening track. "Killing You" is an abysmal track with an abysmal chorus. "Creature" flat out sucks and the band completely misuses Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage fame on the track "Until the End". The main issue with this album is the choruses, they're just not good. Outside of a few tracks the choruses really drag every song down instead of elevating and hooking you. Though I enjoy the songs I enjoy there's really nothing special at all about them, they're just solid songs.

Overall: It's an album that's just kind of there, there are good tracks, okay tracks and bad tracks. The band really seems to be trying to get away from the genre that they almost single-handedly created. There is nothing from Stand Up and Scream that is still with the band now, I think I counted 4 breakdowns, maybe. Now that the band is really finding the sound they want hopefully they'll put more into creating songs that are better and hopefully this album is a stepping stone in a discography that could be better. But, sadly as of now this album continues the downward trend of the band's releases. If you hated their debut, you may like this better, if you loved their debut, chances are you won't enjoy this nearly as much.

Number of Tracks Kept(Including Deluxe Edition): 7/14

Rating: 5/10