Category: Music

November 4, 2010

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 … (More) “30 In 30: Linkin Park – A Thousand Suns [90/100]”

November 3, 2010

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 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 … (More) “30 in 30 Club, You’re Invited”

November 2, 2010

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 … (More) “Kings of Leon – Come Around Sundown [56/100]”

October 31, 2010

N.E.R.D. – Nothing [86/100]

Notes: “Party People (feat. T.I.)” is a solid opening with a sound more reminiscent of The Neptunes than N.E.R.D., though the sound that keeps coming to mind is The Chemical Brothers, or maybe Q-Tip. No accusations here, just a comparison, but Pharrell does admire both and he’s talented enough I’ll consider it a hat-tip. “Hypnotize U” has tons of club bass, floor toms and synthesizers, unique from anything I’ve heard from them in the past but it’s not really landing with me, can’t put my finger on why. “Help Me” has that offbeat N.E.R.D. sound that intrigued me years ago, more thoughtful lyrics than the first two tracks that had me fearing Pharrell had further devolved into the “Cars, Money, Hoes” theme that pervades hip-hop on the radio. “Help Me” really is catchy, interesting choice of instruments and the arrangement breaks the mold. Solid on all levels. “Victory” has Pharrell backing himself in 3-part harmony over handclaps and overdriven bass guitar. The bridge is genuinely impressive and shows the most focus on vocal harmony I think I’ve ever heard in a N.E.R.D. song. Interesting take on what’s intended as an inspirational song. “Perfect Defect” has catchy hooks throughout, a slick funk bass line follows nicely syncopated vocals and a horn section, honestly there’s more going on in the song than I’m able to determine in one listening, lots of instruments dropping in and out, an arrangement that blurs the lines between verse, chorus and bridge. Really impressed with it. “I’ve Seen The Light” Starts out sounding like Pharrell’s about to wax poetic about some sailors a few hundred years ago, but the chorus has that Neptunes sound that is often imitated, rarely duplicated. “Inside of Clouds” picks up right at the end of “I’ve Seen The Light” and is about … (More) “N.E.R.D. – Nothing [86/100]”

October 28, 2010

Ray Charles – Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters [78/100]

Released yesterday, this album is a set of 10 never-before-heard songs that cover the whole range of the Genius’s abilities, from country-western to blues to funk. It was a bit of a sentimental rollercoaster to listen to, but I enjoyed it very much. Below are my notes and scores for the album.

Notes: Sound quality is exceptional given the age of the material, some of which dates back to the 1970s. From track to track you’re reminded of Ray’s ability to shine in any genre. “It Hurts To Be In Love” has tons of emotion over a funky swing sound, with little stabs of electronic piano placing it firmly in the 1980s. “Wheel of Fortune” feels like two songs in one, the swelling strings of orchestral soul on one side of the coin and a more syncopated big band sound with subtle two-part harmony that gives the song tons of character. An early favorite in this album. “I’m Gonna Keep On Singin'” Opens with tasty funk licks on bass and takes you on a trip that feels largely improvised and delightfully so, like you could feel privileged to sit in for a jam session with the Genius hard at work. Even though the whole band seems to be in attendance, for most of the song it feels quite minimal and intimate, transitioning with a bridge featuring marimbas that places the track firmly in funk. “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” is slow blues that is soulful, but with a solo that feels about 8 bars too long. His vocals seem forced but still beautiful. “Isn’t It Wonderful” doesn’t categorize well but bass and electric guitar pluck out a simple 4/4, Charles’ vocals are spot-on but the track feels very roughed-in, and in fact several of these tracks were finished posthumously by … (More) “Ray Charles – Rare Genius: The Undiscovered Masters [78/100]”

October 27, 2010

Winter Is For Writing

Most of you know I thrive on projects. The more ambitious, the more I toss and turn over it, the better. Sometimes I remember projects with more fondness than I honestly had for them at the time. Writing projects can be like that, but I remind myself that this could just be important practice, training for a career in who-knows-what. This winter I’m revisiting music reviews, and trying to review one new release a week and maybe one of my favorite albums weekly or bi-weekly too. The good news is I put much more work into the details first this time, and I feel like I can make a more objective statement about the music itself than with my prior setup. I’m using a rubric much like written compositions are scored against, which you can see here. I created the rubric to cover the things I find most important, and also make it a point to reward innovation, originality, and creativity.

I’m also using high-quality headphones instead of my 5.1 surround sound system. The Sennheiser HD25-1 II is known for being neutral and true to the source, with tighter bass than other models I tried while deciding. I justify this by my experience as a music producer, and referenced the headphones with several songs I created and found the bass to be heavy but true to the sound I was trying to achieve in my work. They’re being fed into a Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS sound card, and all equalizer settings between software and hardware are set to flat. With my end of things sussed I had to decide on a source. I can’t sink 10 bucks a week into a new release every week so I chose to use a music streaming service, and decided on … (More) “Winter Is For Writing”

September 25, 2009

Five Finger Death Punch – War Is The Answer

This sophomore offering from Five Finger Death Punch features the same line-up as the sound that gave you The Way of the Fist, which provided “The Bleeding” and “Never Enough”, the two songs that propelled them into regular airplay on rock stations.   If you’ve been in your local Best Buy recently, you may have heard their first single off the album, titled “Hard To See”.  The thing with 5FDP, though, is they truly do aspire to be more than prefab, mass-consumable rock.  I listen to this album, and I hear some flashes of talent that extends beyond what they’re known for, and I feel their strength is in a heavier vein of metal than what is usually acceptable on your major radio stations.  At the same time, the album as a whole feels scattered and loose; you go from catchy, inspired rock in “Hard to See” to a very traditional, melodic metal offering in “Bulletproof” with an unclear message. The angry, defiant “Burn It Down” seems included as an afterthought and was quite powerful, which goes back to their strength, which is raw, melodic metal.

I’m not gonna lie, I think Ivan Moody, their lead singer, makes the band.  This guy will have work in the industry for as long as he chooses to rock, and in this album he does get to try some new situations, and while the talent’s there in his growls and screams, he needs to work on control when he has the opportunity to sing cleanly, I was cringing all the way through “Far From Home,” if he can improve his sense of pitch in clean sections it’s going to do wonders for their sound and versatility.

Viewing the album as a whole, I’ll call it an acceptable effort by some genuinely talented … (More) “Five Finger Death Punch – War Is The Answer”

September 25, 2009

How Music is Graded (My 100-point scale.)

Tone/Overall Sound: 20 pts
How do the instruments interact with each other, and how is the end result aesthetically? This also includes vocal qualities, though not lyrics (covered under Theme).
Melody/Harmony: 20 pts
Does the artist display technical prowess by utilizing melody and/or harmony effectively?
Rhythm/Syncopation: 20 pts
Does the rhythm of the piece contribute to the sound as a whole? Have they searched beyond the standard rhythms or utilized different percussion instruments?
Mixing/Production: 20 pts
How polished is the album on execution? Are effects, samples, and dynamics used effectively to improve the overall quality of the album? Does the flow of the album from track to track feel natural?
Theme/Concept: 10 pts
Is there an overarching theme to the album as a whole? Are the lyrics meaningful, well-presented, and well thought-out?
Presentation: 10 pts
Do the artwork and packaging reinforce the story of the album? Does the presentation fit the image of the band, and vice-versa? How is the quality of the artwork?

Originality, exceptional execution, and innovation are all rewarded heavily.(More) “How Music is Graded (My 100-point scale.)”