30 in 30: Lazersword – Lazer Sword [86/100]

By request I’m putting line breaks between track descriptions. Sorry about that.

Notes: “Tar” opens up with chiptunes aplenty, transitioning into a moody electronica sound, definitely on the experimental side, a lot going on that I wouldn’t be able to really explain but that’s typical of the genre, not bad at all though you do need to be a fan of the genre to appreciate a lot of what’s going on. If you’ve listened to Infected Mushroom or Shpongle you’re suitably prepared for what’s going on here. Good opener.

“Agrokrag” opens up very heavy on dropping the beat altogether, this one’s less the realm of Shpongle and more like a Squarepusher or Flashbulb sound. The crystal synth they chose gives them an interesting sound, the track would be less palatable without it. Nice buildup to a bridge with time-stretched handclaps. Solid ending. This one’s not quite as solid as the first track but should have its share of fans.

“Surf News” has a watery opening true to its name, and the first vocal sample I could understand. This one’s even more experimental than the last, we’re getting into some obscure stuff like Prabhamandala. These are admittedly hard to grade, but the song isn’t bad.

“I’m Gone (Feat. Turf Talk)” has a wild bass drum sound opening up the track which is the first electro-rap song on here. Soundstage is a bit cluttered, instruments are drowning the vocals in the verses. The last minute or so serves as an outro and it’s top-notch.

“Batman” has a great syncopated rhythm section, with little vocal stings and pad synths throughout. This one’s pretty different from anything I’ve heard in the genre, the rhythm gives it a hypnotic quality. If you’re the sort that prefers better living through chemistry, you’ll probably have this song as a go-to track. Very interesting track, but it feels a bit drawn out towards the end.

“Topflites (Feat. M Sayyid)” has a name that makes me hope we’re covering Arabian trance. Doesn’t appear to be the case, we get a second electro-rap song with a very different feel, less instruments on the stage and it’s much easier to hear to vocals. Some hot lyrics here, but we are still in very experimental electronica. It’s a “learn to love it” genre.

“4loko” is a slower track, very syncopated rhythms and an acid synth are the bulk of what’s going on. The rhythm almost feels spasmic, quite an interesting track honestly given the short length.

“Machine (Feat. Zackey Force Funk)” has an industrial sound straight from Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock”, complete with samples. It’s actually a bit comforting to have a less experimental track to listen to, and they do a really good job taking an established genre and adding their sound, in this case adding their synthesizers with pitch bends. A really solid track, I’d like to hear them do more in this space.

“Web Swag” opens up with a lot going on, samples, instruments, synths, chiptunes. It’s got some of the trappings of rap, you keep thinking it’s heading that way, but this one’s a melodic experimental sound that is one of the high points of the album. No good comparison to make here in terms of another artist, I honestly haven’t followed the genre closely recently. Worth a listen for sure though, with the caveat that goes with the rest of this album that you like the sound or aren’t afraid to listen to something totally different.

“Skybox” opens up with endearing chiptunes, more of a video-game sound than any of the other tracks have had. Simple melodies and simple instruments, it’s not even two minutes long but it’s quite unique from anything else on the album. These guys are covering a lot of ground in experimental.

“Def Work” has an opening with bells and cleverly placed synthesizers that remind me of Amon Tobin, but when it transitions it’s closer to acid house than anything else on the album has been, though we’re still a bit too syncopated to fit neatly in that genre, with a bridge full of that crystal synth from the first few tracks, bringing the song to a much more brooding sound, big sweeping bass synth, the synths change scale into something more menacing. Very complex song in terms of arrangement.

“Fubu” opens up dominated by synthesizers, big acid synth in the front with little stings from a spooky pad synth, other little Neptunes-esque cosmic sounds going on in the back. If I were DJing this song has about as much promise as anything on the album so far. There’s an arpeggiated synth that’s giving the song tons of character, it’d have a lot less impact without it. Good gated ending that ends it on a good note.

“Owl Tats” once again has a ton of stuff going on, we’re knee deep in experimental with more emphasis on vocal synths than in previous tracks, about halfway through the song it changes character but even it’s not enough to get me on board with this one. Not enough setting it apart from previous tracks.

“Cosmic Ride (Feat. Myka Nyne)” opens up with a sort of synthesized harpsichord sound climbing up and down scales, transitioning into more of a future-house rap sound. Really not bad, the strongest of the three rap tracks by a fair margin. Much easier listening than the last few tracks.

“Beast’s Reprise” opens up with brooding plucked strings, joined by a crunchy acid synth, and finally some nice mellow chiptunes and vox box. Actually quite a solid little song, and a good closer to a pretty good album.

Tone and Overall Sound: 16/20 Points. They did a really good job in a genre where it’s tough to srtike a balance. I had one or two times where the soundstage was too cluttered for comfort, but this is innovative stuff from a pair of up and comers.

Melody and Harmony: 16/20 Points. Little use of harmonies meant that brilliant melodies save the score here. Good varied approach.

Rhythmic Qualities: 16/20 Points. Had to dock a few points for not bringing anything new to the table in terms of percussion instrument choice. What they did use was solid on nearly every track and on a few of the more syncopated tracks it stole the show. Good job here.

Mixing and Production: 20/20 Points. I’ve already made mention of there being a bit too much going on on the soundstage, so I’m not taking off points in this section for it. Lots of good use of synthesizers of all kinds, which is harder to get a feel for than most people realize. It’s far too easy to have two or three to use all the time, but they went above and beyond. Effects were solid and dynamics were used well.

Theme and Concept: 8/10 Points. Theme in a work like this is less about a story and more about overarching musical themes, and the brooding, spooky sound they went for that gave me that Amon Tobin feel is consistent throughout. The four songs that used lyrics were each good but not quite standout material.

Presentation: 10/10 Points. Beautiful cover art, very appealing aesthetically and it does feel like a good fit.

Total: 86/100 Points. In an earlier life I’d have been listening to this with the company of some plant friends and a bag of Chewy Chips Ahoy with the lights out. For newcomers to the genre, it’s easy to be turned off by all the noise, all the stuff going on, the nonstandard rhythms, instruments and melodies. I encourage you to expand your horizons, that’s part of this 30 in 30 project for all of us, to listen to stuff we wouldn’t normally. For experimental fans, there’s something new here for you, give it a listen, and soon, so you can say you heard these guys when they were just putting out their first EP because they have tons of potential.

Setup:
Scoring Method: http://is.gd/gnNWc [pdf]
Sennheiser HD25-1 II
Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS
MOG 320kbps MP3 Stream

Lazersword was a pleasant surprise from a new band. Tomorrow was supposed to be the new one by Machinae Supremacy but I can’t find it anywhere on MOG, so an emergency substitute is called in, the band is Avey Tare and the album is called Down There, released back on Tuesday. If the new MaSu shows up I’ll see about working it into the project.

30 in 30: Eric Clapton – Clapton [94/100]

Notes: “Travelin’ Alone” opens up the album with a tricky little blues run and organs, Clapton’s vocals are as inspired as ever, he may even be improving with age. Maracas and bongos give character to what might be a pretty sterile Lil’ Son Jackson cover without it. High hopes for the album after this opener. Arrangement is even slightly different from standard blues (that’s a good thing). “Rockin’ Chair” is a slower affair, giving homage to the original Hoagy Carmichael version of 1929. Brushes on snare, piano and clean electric guitar. Eric’s looking a bit older on this cover art but this is more of a morbidly humorous song than your typical blues. “Old rockin’ chair’s got me / cane by my side / Fetch me my gin, son, / ‘fore I tan your hide” Simple but good song. “River Runs Deep” opens up reminiscent of an old Carlos Santana song, with touches of modern strings. This one covers JJ Cale’s “River Runs Deep”, and the tone is fascinating, if you’ve heard Santana’s stuff around the Abraxas era you’ve got a good idea what’s going on here. Electric organ, vocal harmonies, latin blues riffs, even a couple of horn stings. Long chanted ending with some reversed guitar for good measure. An early favorite on the album. “Judgement Day” opens up with a gospel-blues sound, standard blues scale and harmonica, choral opening. Call-and-response chorus, as solid a harmonica solo as I believe you can really manage with the thing. I’m thrilled to hear four totally different approaches to the blues in four songs, people that say you can’t innovate in a genre like this have never given a master like Clapton a thorough listen. “How Deep Is The Ocean” opens with acoustic guitar, upright bass and piano. This covers Irving Berlin’s 1932 hit, and it’s appropriately modernized while respecting the original work, a solid cover that can be added to a long list of covers for this song. Absolutely love the horn solo over strings and guitar, gives the song a classic character, I’m really stopping to respect the amount of polish put into all of the songs so far. “My Very Good Friend The Milkman” is another 30s hit, this one by Fats Waller in 1935. Blues shuffle with tuba and horns, much more of an old-timey feel than the previous track. Quite a humorous track given the age. “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” is an interesting blend of slow standard blues with accordion, big punches of percussion, piano, and distorted electric guitar, great hat-tip to Little Walter. Subject matter is much more in line with typical blues, a solid song with interesting instrument choices to make it stand out. “That’s No Way To Get Along” is an offbeat blues shuffle with Clapton and JJ Cale on vocals, covering a bit more recent work in The Rolling Stones. Big band sound here, lots of instruments, drums are masterfully done. “Everything Will Be Alright” is a big band sound, everything tastefully done with regards to dynamics, the strings in particular are really solid through the solos and keep the song moving along at a good clip. Clapton’s electric guitar solo at the end is an understated beauty. “Diamonds Made From Rain” has more of a ballad sound than anything else, hard to categorize. Sheryl Crow joins us in the chorus, but Clapton’s singing is some of his best, it’s humbling to hear the man say he hates his singing, guess it happens to all of us. EC’s solo at the end is fantastic, the backup is tremendous, I totally understand why this was the first single off the album. “When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful” takes us back to the 30s, complete with Louis Armstrong-esque trumpet provided by Wynton Marsalis. This is not a new cover for Clapton, my dad recalls hearing him play this Fats Waller piece about five years ago. Tons of talent evident in the song, the piano, the shuffling drums, the vocals, a solid standout. “Hard Time Blues” has with a more upbeat sound than the name indicates, largely from the first mandolin appearance in the album. This is a fairly sparse song when you’re comparing it to the big band compositions of the last few tracks, acoustic guitar, mandolin, piano and drums. Despite it they do a good job of filling the soundstage, with a lovely distorted slide solo. This one’s not landing with the impact of the previous tracks, nothing wrong with it, just personal preference. “Run Back To Your Side” feels like an Allman Brothers song, largely because Derek Trucks joins on the slide guitar with a sound that’s inimitable. Clapton’s vocals have a totally different feel from the rest of the album, the whole thing feels pulled right out of the 70s in the best possible way. The rhythm is great, tapping my feet for the first time on the album, this is the feel of the Clapton songs I grew up listening to. For that matter, it feels like the Allman Brothers songs I grew up listening to, too. Great song, love it. “Autumn Leaves” should be a familiar title to any oldies fan, the Johnny Mercer standard has been covered by Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, and Louis Armstrong among many others, and Clapton’s version opens up tremendously faithful to the original, tremendous work on the brushes, Clapton moves from tenor to baritone and gives the song the voice it needed, he’s a tremendously talented baritone. Strings in the background give the song edge and emotion, and piano gives it a somber tone. Clapton closes out the last two minutes of the album with a solo on a muted, bluesy electric guitar. This may well be the best solo on an album full of great solos, as it’s got the most soul, the most in-tune with what the sound needs. Album closes out with me wishing I had another 5 or 6 tracks to go.

Tone and Overall Sound: 20/20 Points. Clapton gives his strongest vocal performance in years, maybe ever, and at 65 the man’s showing no sign of slowing down or running out of source material.

Melody and Harmony: 20/20 Points. So many instruments had tremendous presence on the album, harmony was used effectively when it was used and wisely omitted when it wasn’t needed.

Rhythmic Qualities: 16/20 Points. Couldn’t give the full 20 because while we had wonderful rhythm, we were working with a pretty limited set of instruments and timings throughout. This didn’t impact the enjoyment of the album, though.

Mixing and Production: 20/20 Points. Everything on this front was done with love and effort evident. On high-end headphones the sound was a pleasure to listen to, all the instruments were crisp, even the work on the brushes didn’t go muddy as they have a tendency to.

Theme and Concept: 8/10 Points. Even though it’s an album largely made of covers, choosing the song does also give the artist control over the lyrics and theme. It’s in play here, though we covered a lot of ground that didn’t always meet in the middle.

Presentation: 10/10 Points. The album is largely a self-portrait of Clapton’s past, and a simple portrait of the man under stage lighting is quite effective. Good use of Rule of Thirds, text is legible with timeless serif style.

Total: 94/100 Points. This album was not only an absolute pleasure to listen to but an exciting introspective tour of the music Clapton grew up listening to, and taking the time to reinvent with the tools he’s picked up over the last fifty years. This one was nothing less than a privilege to listen to. Go get it.

Setup:
Scoring Method: http://is.gd/gnNWc [pdf]
Sennheiser HD25-1 II
Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS
MOG 320kbps MP3 Stream

Well, this one’s going to be a tough act to follow, and for many of us this may be the last touch of the familiar for a while. We trade in the Les Paul for…something else. Who is Lazersword? I have no idea, but we’re listening to their self-titled album tomorrow. Have fun!

30 in 30: 10 Years – Feeding The Wolves [84/100]

Notes: “Shoot It Out” starts out feeling much darker than their past releases, dissonance and repetition used effectively. Angrier lyrics and vocals have me quite intrigued if their sound has changed drastically. “The Wicked Ones” is downtempo rock in 4/4 that reminds me of Switchfoot more than anything, in a good way. Chorus is in double-time and pretty different from anything in their past works, and there’s a screaming aspect that wasn’t there in previous albums evident in the first two tracks. Not a bad track at all. “Now Is The Time (Ravenous)” has a more Division-esque sound than the last two, complete with betrayal theme and lyrics that are generously described as hit-and-miss. Good vocal arrangement though, interesting rhythms arranging the vocals in dotted 16th notes through the chorus. Solid melody improves the track, I’m admittedly a big fan of Division so the fact that I like this one isn’t surprising, take it with a grain of salt. Interesting to note they closed this one out with a scream too. “One More Day” has Jesse singing over clean electric and acoustic guitars, transitioning into another downtempo rock song. Interesting chord choices which they’ve done well for quite a while, with a well-done bridge, but the arrangement is far from a new one for 10 Years, I’m hoping to see some innovation in this aspect on the album, though it’s admittedly tough for a songwriter to rework the arrangement they get comfortable with. Ends with violins, interesting choice. “Fix Me” goes for a hook early with catchy melodic electric and bass guitar. This does sound quite a bit like the last track honestly. Bridge has slight tinges of electronica, then dropping everything but piano and vocals and picking back up with the works 4 bars later. Not great. “Chasing The Rapture” starts out higher up the fretboard, rhythm and vocals are immediately more engaging, they used a similar rhythm in “Drug Of Choice” on Division, this sounds like a mashup of a few of that and “All Your Lies”, but this one has character all his own, and there’s that screaming again. Arrangment’s still the same as it ever was. “Dead In The Water” has more of a traditional rock opening but transitions into some thing more typically 10 Years, clean reverb’ed electric guitar stings panned out wide over vocals and minimal instruments. This one does have a different feel in terms of rhythm, going from a frenetic chorus to a short half-time bridge. I admit that if I wasn’t a fan of them already I probably wouldn’t be much for that track. “Don’t Fight It” opens out sounding like it’ll be an acoustic guitar song and it is…for a good 45 seconds. Then it becomes a rock song that’s reminiscent of but not slavish to “Beautiful” from Division. Strings in the bridge are a nice touch, as is the vocals and kick drum section. Actually quite original, and unique on the album thus far. Solid. “Waking Up The Ghost” has a tricky thing going on the vocals, a slightly overdriven part in harmony giving it that dissonant sound we heard in “Shoot It Out”. This one has great attitude, especially in the choruses and vocoded guitar straight out of the Joe Walsh cookbook. (Good for them.) We’ve had a consistent theme throughout the album, religious themes especially exorcism, they’re doing a good job toeing the line. “Fade Into (The Ocean)” is clean electric guitar and vocals for 24 bars or so, bringing in the band in a track that I was enjoying just fine without them. Big floor drums and that 10 Years electric guitar set a great atmosphere for Jesse to sing on, and a rare guitar solo is giving this track tons of character. I’d swear I heard Sully from Godsmack in the background, or someone doing their best impression. The arrangement on this is really cool, and this is the innovation I wish they’d moved further up the track list, rather than right at the end of the album. More of a Tool sound which I think they were actively moving away from in the earlier tracks, even though they do quite an impressive copy job.Good way to close the album. Note: Bonus tracks are not graded. There are two solid acoustic covers on the deluxe edition that are worth a listen though, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Tone and Overall Sound: 16/20 Points. There is innovation in areas beyond the arrangement, their tone has changed rather drastically. Their sound is unique in rock right now, I get more of a Switchfoot or Skillet sound than I did earlier but that’s more to do with their choice of theme than the tracks themselves, I think.

Melody and Harmony: 16/20 Points. I didn’t hear much here that changed from their past works, but it’s still solid on both counts and I remind myself I’m grading not the album versus their past works, but versus the genre. In that regard they’re putting more effort into melody and vocal harmony than most.

Rhythmic Qualities: 16/20 Points. They do a great job of keeping the rhythm varied throughout the album, it’s nothing groundbreaking but they mix it up enough that they’ll get every bit of 16 points.

Mixing and Production: 16/20 Points. No real issues with post-production, but some issues with repetitions in the arrangement adversely affect the flow of the album. Good decisions throughout with regards to effects and supplementary intruments.

Theme and Concept: 10/10 Points. They chose to give this one a religious cast, and there’s a risk there of becoming offensive or pretentious, but they did a good job of balancing it out. Consistent overarching theme means full marks.

Presentation: 10/10 Points. While it’s quite different from their first two album covers, this one does a good job in preparing you for the rougher sound they aim for, and it’s really quite pretty. Glad to see a more direct connection in this album than previous ones.

Total: 84/100 points. Higher than I expected, honestly. There may be some issues with the rubric not giving enough weight to not mixing up the arrangement of songs, but I’m going to stick with the scoring method as-is for this project anyway. If you’re a fan of 10 Years, this one’s quite interesting to hear a sound that’s changing, but less drastically than from The Autumn Effect to Division. Their third album lets us know they’re not out of steam yet.

Setup:
Scoring Method: http://is.gd/gnNWc [pdf]
Sennheiser HD25-1 II
Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS
MOG 320kbps MP3 Stream

Sorry for being late in the day in getting this one up, the album for tomorrow is Eric Clapton’s “Clapton”. Give it a listen tonight, and be ready for my review earlier in the day tomorrow.

30 In 30: Linkin Park – A Thousand Suns [90/100]

Notes: “The Requiem” is a slow fade in, industrial sounds and echoes transition into piano and vocal harmony, then a vocoded female, “God Save Us Everyone” which I’ve heard on the single towards the end of the album. Progresses into “The Radiance”, very industrial techno sound, Oppenheimer’s “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” sample dominates the short track. Fades out, first actual song three tracks in in “Burning In The Skies”, piano, clean electric guitar, nu-metal drumkit. Provoking lyrics, “I’m swimming in the smoke / Of bridges I have burned / So don’t apologize, / I’m losing what I don’t deserve” The sound is quite clean, distances itself quite effectively from “Minutes To Midnight”, a rather tame guitar solo bridges a song that’s pretty standard of the genre with regards to arrangement. Progresses into “Empty Spaces”, wartime samples of explosions, short segue track into “When They Come For Me”, jarring industrial-distortion on the electric guitar is quite different from anything I’ve heard them do before. Congas and this buzzing guitar sound lead into a very interesting blend of tribal and industrial, M. Shinoda’s rap is on-point and really a great arrangement on a very unique track. Reminded of Nonpoint’s earlier stuff for some reason, “Bullet With A Name” is a distant cousin but I really like both. Song closes out with greater emphasis on vocal harmony, Chester’s chanting gives it a very tribal ending, gritty, focused, powerful, the song may not makes waves on Rock radio stations but it’s one of their best since Meteora. “Robot Boy” uses their usual opening of piano and nu-metal drums, but kick drums and claps slow the tempo to half-time. Chester in three-part harmony, gently swelling strings in the background transition the song into a reverb-heavy echo chamber that’s a drumkit shy of being a capella. Part of why I like these guys is they’re willing to step into genres that most rockers aren’t, this is almost an electronica/R&B sound, it’s a bit more energetic than their closer on Minutes To Midnight “The Little Things Give You Away”, but there’s a similar feel. Progresses into “Jordana del Muerto”, opening vocals are run through a noise gate, I appreciate the attempt but it’s falling flat, it doesn’t stick around for very long, instead going for an overdriven synthesizer with a crescendo of background noise, so far the album is aiming to be more of an epic than their previous works. Progresses into “Waiting For The End”, very moody sound imparted by a buzzing electric guitar, piano is again present, I will give them credit for at least changing the dynamics of the piano up each track. The moodiness subsides and you’re left with Chester singing a slow ballad-esque track, the track is minimalist but has their sound signature all over it. I think I have heard this one on the radio already, their second single off the album. It’s a bit too close for comfort to “Robot Boy” honestly. “Blackout” opens with pad synths and a military snare, then synthesized bass guitar and piano. Transitions rather abruptly into a strange mix of Chester’s early days of screaming (think “Faint”). The backing track is strangely upbeat, the whole thing in a major scale until a bridge that changes the whole landscape of the song, Chester’s vocals sliced, scratched and mixed in an angry 30 seconds that has the feel of a panic attack. Bridge leads to a vocal style more fitting the original upbeat sound, then finishes with the same vocal-heavy finish I’ve heard a few times already, though this one is much more electronica-infused than previous tracks. “Wretches And Kings” opens with a vocal sample, interesting tricky guitars move us back into industrial, M. Shinoda and Chester tag-team this one which are almost always interesting tracks if nothing else. The song is much more a rap song than “When They Come For Me” was, emphasis on the dropped 8th bar for rhyming with a scratch-heavy outro. My original thought was the track was out of place contextually, but the vocal sample indicates there was in fact an underlying message. “Wisdom, Justice, and Love” is a vocal sample of Martin Luther King, Jr. and piano, another segue track but they are actually quite effective in tying the album together thus far, the vocal sample is increasingly vocoded and dehumanized as the track continues, until it ends with an inhuman voice repeating “Cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.” Their strongest segue track thus far. Progresses into “Iridescent” is piano and vocals, building up with a kick drum and Chester joins in for the chorus, subtle hat joins in somewhere during the first chorus and we’re at a fully fleshed-out track by verse 2. Though the last album was technically about the Doomsday Clock, this one has a much tighter association with it’s name. I have to say, the minor changes in this one don’t do enough to set it apart from “Robot Boy” or “Waiting For The End”. It’s not bad, but for a short album we’re covering a lot of the same ground. Progresses into “Fallout”, brooding sweeping synthesizers and vox box recounting lyrics from “Burning In The Skies”. The vocoder almost has an organ feel, slowly transitioning to Chester’s voice. Progresses into “The Catalyst”, their first single off the album. Organ and nu-metal drumkit lead the way, tremolo-infused vocals reference the introduction, the track is eminently creepy opening up and transitions into a synthesizer and kick drum reminiscent of Hardstyle tracks. Building up instruments and energy for a good three minutes, this is the best fusion of electronica and rock on the album thus far and given I’ve only got one track to go I’d say it’ll hang on to that title. Finally the crescendo breaks to piano and that hardcore synth, floor drums close the song out in half-time. Electric guitar and rock drums give this outro much more energy and character than previous tracks, vocals “in the round” aren’t used enough these days and it was really a good match for the feel of the song. Very emotional song, almost drained by the end of it. “The Messenger” opens with acoustic guitar, the first time it’s come up in the album. I’ve never been a huge fan of simple acoustic and damn-near shouted vocals, and it’s actually clipping quite a bit in my headphones. Piano joins in on chords, I’m really wishing Chester had dialed it down just a bit here, but willing to take the ride here. Trying to end the album with upbeat lyrics give mixed messages as to the point of the album, actually undermined it a bit there at the end.

Tone and Overall Sound: 20/20 Points. This was a 16 originally but the criteria I chose meant they were getting full marks here. The album has tons of polish, you can tell a lot of talk and effort went into getting things exactly how they envisioned. Solid and beautiful throughout.

Melody and Harmony: 12/20 Points. The way Linkin Park approaches an album has more to do with the percussion and vocals getting the feel across than the other instruments. No real innovation even from their previous works in this category, and a bit too much repetition in places.

Rhythmic Qualities: 20/20 Points. One thing I really like about these guys is that even something like a kick drum or a snare won’t be the same track-to-track, they take care to adjust the reverb, effects and dynamics to make their percussion pop nearly every time. Good variance of rhythms, tempos and drum kits.

Mixing and Production: 20/20 Points. I’m a bit surprised I’m rating the album this high but I’m going by a standard criteria and again they get full marks here. Great use of samples, and not just using them but wrapping them in effects that give them entirely new meanings. Tons of gated effects and subtle pans and cues that are a trademark of their work ethic.

Theme and Concept: 10/10 Points. Consistent reinforcement of a nuclear/apocalyptic theme throughout with lyrics, samples, and effects. I’m a huge fan of music that makes you think, and they give a tremendous effort here.

Presentation: 8/10 Points. The cover art was intended to be ambiguous and open to interpretation, but sometimes that stretches the credibility of the thing and while I like it, and get the connections one can make, I’d have liked something with a bit more substance.

Total: 90/100 Points. If you haven’t listened to them since their days of Meteora and Hybrid Theory, it’s time to check up on them, we see them give some of their best work since those heady days thanks to “The Catalyst” and “When They Come For Me”. Don’t miss this one.

Setup:
Scoring Method: http://is.gd/gnNWc [pdf]
Sennheiser HD25-1 II
Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS
MOG 320kbps MP3 Stream

Alright, that’s two albums down and twenty-eight to go, tomorrow we’re moving from nu-metal to alt-rock, and the newest album by 10 Years, titled Feeding The Wolves. Give it a listen tonight and be ready for tomorrow’s review.

30 in 30 Club, You’re Invited

I’m going to listen to and review 30 albums, nearly all of them new releases, over the next 30 days. Each Tuesday will feature a new release from that day. I’ll warn you in advance, the selections are quite varied, this will be a challenge for someone that considers themselves only to be a fan of one genre. I think if you’re bothering to read this, you’re open-minded enough to try some bands you may have either never heard of, or never had any desire to listen to. In 30 days we will cover pop, rock, metal, R&B, rap, electronica, blues, ambient, easy listening and more. So grab your headphones and follow along on the journey. This is being posted to multiple sources, Facebook, Twitter, my personal Blog and the MOG.com website. You will need some type of music streaming service to participate, if you don’t have one I recommend MOG’s unlimited streaming for $5 a month, and a free 14-day trial.

Alright, are you ready? Today’s album is Linkin Park’s fourth studio album, A Thousand Suns. Give it a listen or two today, my review will be up tomorrow and then we can share thoughts and experiences with the work. Also, if you like, my review of yesterday’s album, Come Around Sundown by Kings of Leon, is also available for comment.

Date Artist Album
2nd Kings Of Leon – Come Around Sundown
3rd Linkin Park – A Thousand Suns
4th 10 Years – Feeding The Wolves
5th Eric Clapton – Clapton
6th Lazersword – Lazersword
7th Machinae Supremacy – A View From The End Of The World
8th Good Charlotte – Cardiology
9th Kid Cudi – Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager
10th Andrew Bird – Useless Creatures
11th Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
12th Brian Eno – Small Craft On A Milk Sea
13th The Gracious Few – The Gracious Few
14th Hellogoodbye – Would It Kill You?
15th Powerglove – Saturday Morning Apocalypse
16th Rihanna – Loud
17th Kid Rock – Born Free
18th Bruce Springsteen – The Promise
19th Josh Groban – Illuminations
20th Maroon 5 – Hands All Over
21st Napoleon IIIrd – Christiania
22nd Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
23rd Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
24th Yngwie Malmsteen – Relentless
25th OFF THANKSGIVING
26th Daft Punk – TRON: Legacy Soundtrack
27th Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard Of Ozz 30th Anniversary Edition
28th Alter Bridge – AB III
29th Annie Lennox – A Christmas Cornucopia
30th Ne-Yo – Libra Scale
1st Black Eyed Peas – The Beginning
2nd Conjure One – Exilarch

Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown [56/100]

Preface: I’m listening to the new Kings of Leon album with a few preconceived notions. Mainly, I dislike the stuff they put on the radio, like, a lot. I found it insincere, sexist and generally not to my palate at all (too much pop in my rock). That said, I’ve heard plenty of bands that make poor decisions when it comes to their choice of singles and thus resigned myself to listening to their new album, Come Around Sundown, in its entirety unless I cry uncle. Having said all that, I do believe I can remain quite neutral going into this album as none of those songs are on here.

Notes: “The End” starts out with minimalist drums, a smooth electric guitar and long synthesizers reminiscent of M83. The first thing that comes to mind is listening to the lyrics…they don’t make much sense, more a thematic rock mashup than a song. The second thing is there are some interesting choice of instruments, from that scratchy sythesizer to a simple ending on ps iano. Undecided thus far. “Radioactive” is the first single off the album and the only track I’ve heard on this album prior to tonight. Nice melodic guitar and an admittedly solid vocal performance. Choral backing in the bridge and last chorus was something I hadn’t previously noticed, and again an interesting and innovative choice for rock. Solid. “Pyro” has a sad feeling though it’s not in a minor scale, I think it’s emotion in the vocals giving the song a bluesy cast and that’s not easily done. The chorus and bridge are both quite well done technically, quite pleasurable to listen to. Despite it I’m not feeling a ton of variation yet technically with respect to arrangement, timing. “Mary” provides a good opportunity for the sound to change up to accomodate the country-esque lyrics, but the closest they come to is a blues beat being thumped out by the kick drum, and the rest is the same overdriven guitars and choral backing I’ve heard on half the tracks thus far. Disappointed. “The Face” is primarily slightly overdriven guitars, kick drums and little electric guitar stings. I’m like I’ve heard this song before, changing up synthesizers for guitar stings and keeping equally nonsensical lyrics doesn’t give you a new song. “The Immortals” offers a slightly moodier melody with a BPM slowdown over the chorus, which gives the song more character than the last few. This one might be my favorite so far, the lyrics are a step up from the others so far and all in all it’s quite a well-done song. “Back Down South” opens up with delayed steel guitar (possibly just a slide guitar) and violin, could this be them breaking the mold? It’s quite good, the opening instruments stick around and are joined by a simple kick drum and tambourine, this could easily be a country-rock crossover track, and proof the guys can innovate if they put their mind to it. The improvised ending feels authentic and is a good ending for the song. Very well done track. “Beach Side” is an uptempo track with funk elements that drops into a half-time feel with bass guitar, slide guitar stings and tons of character. This has the closest connection to the cover art than anything else thus far. I quite like this one, with the best use of drums so far. Liked it enough that I was disappointed it was so short. “No Money” is a bit more of what I’m having to call the Kings sound, see “The End”, “Mary”, and “The Face” as references. Choral backing, guitar solo, predictable arrangement. Maybe a lot of people really like it? I can only handle so many iterations on the same structure. Yawn. “Pony Up” is different enough I’m not gonna call BS on this album, but seriously, adding a wood block for percussion and single note strumming for your stings instead of a riff is pushing the limits of credibility if you’re gonna claim innovation. Maybe I’m just not cut out to enjoy this type of soft rock, but I feel like if you aren’t going to offer powerful melodies or lyrics, or tons of energy in lieu of experience or talent, you need to be innovative in some other way and I’m just not getting that. “Birthday” features simple drums and bass guitar, electric guitar stings, and…long synthesizers. Maybe N.E.R.D. is a tough act to follow. I’m actually bored before the song ends. “Mi Amigo” does feel quite different from the last few tracks, introducing a horn section and a blues rhythm to the formula, and there are again some timing changes, and the lyrics at least tell a bit of a story. The ending isn’t much to write about except I was fearing another “smash cut” like most of them have been. “Pickup Truck” features minimal drums and bass, electric guitar stings, and…long synthesizers. And the tiniest hint of piano that if I wasn’t listening to on closed-system headphones I would’ve missed entirely. I know rock in general abides by verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus but I also don’t know if I’ve heard a band with the popularity of these guys make an entire album, in 4/4, with no deviation from that pattern.

Tone and Overall Sound: 12/20 Points. The point of my new scoring system is I can leave opinion somewhat out of the equation, and I have set criteria to equate the work to. I can’t give the album more or less than 12 points in this category as there are no real flaws in the tone and sound, but also no significant innovaton.

Melody and Harmony: 8/20 Points. Too much repetition, too little innovation. Even the best tricks (or stings) in the book feel old and stale after a while, and by not moving outside of the sound that made them money in the first place this just feels weak. One or two solid melodic offerings that break the mold don’t save the score here.

Rhythmic Qualities: 8/20 Points. Too much repetition, too little innovation. As I mentioned in my notes, the whole thing is 4/4 and largely feels like the same song if you discount the superfluous changes. I’d like to think the guys have made enough money from their first few albums to have more than one drumset, so why am I hearing the exact same percussion instruments every track?

Mixing and Producion: 16/20 Points. The sound itself is quite clean, dynamics are used well and the soundstage is clean and makes good use of pans and effects where needed. Knocking a few points for album flow also being included in this category, and the number of similar tracks makes the flow somewhat jarring in itself.

Theme and Concept: 6/10 Points. I feel like there’s an attempt at an overarching theme here, and it stays with it when the lyrics don’t take a faceplant. Being personally unsure on the score to give this category, see the rubric for how I ended up at 6.

Presentation: 6/10 Points. Sepia-toned photograph, good respect of the Rule of Thirds, horizon line is unlevel, grain is a bit overdone, if they were in my Photography class they’d get a B-. The connection to the album and band is there, so it’s more my issues with the photo. No more sepia, please guys.

Total: 56/100 Points. That’s a lower score than even I was expecting going in. Alt-rock is a hot genre right now and while the guys are pioneers in a genre they’re largely inventing, from a more technical standpoint there’s a lot to take issue with, the biggest being the obvious repetition and lack of impetus to break the mold. It’s unfortunate when an artist chooses to pigeonhole themselves into such a tight set of circumstances. Not only does it always seem to upset some diehard fans when the band finally realizes they’re starved creatively and want to break free of self-imposed bonds, but it also spawns a generation of copycat bands that think it’s some magical formula. It’s not, sadly, and the magic of this group seems lost on me.

Setup:
Scoring Method: http://is.gd/gnNWc [pdf]
Sennheiser HD25-1 II
Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS
MOG 320kbps MP3 Stream