Hunky Dory – David Bowie

It’s Friday, and therefore time for another flashback in music history. Today we’re looking into the work of music icon David Bowie, who released an astonishing 27 studio albums over the course of his career. We’ll be focusing in on his fourth album, Hunky Dory, the first album he released after signing his first record deal with RCA in 1971. David Bowie has a very distinctive musical style that could be described as a kaleidoscope of genres, and Hunky Dory could very well be him at his Bowiest. Let’s take a look.

The Vocals:

Every aspect of Bowie’s music is unique, but none more so than his voice. He’s got an incredible range, and he’s not afraid to use it on every track of this record. He can sing anything from a dramatic pop ballad like “Life on Mars” to an art-rock piece like “Queen Bitch.” All the while the catchy melody and heavy British accent could have you thinking Beatles, but the strange and cryptic songwriting is unmistakably Bowie’s. From time to time his voice is admittedly pretty irritating, but for the most part, it’s solid throughout this album (just skip “Eight Line Poem”).

The Instrumentals:

The instrumentation on this album is pretty strange, as it gives a mixed message as to what genre he was going for. The rhythm is played almost entirely on acoustic instruments, which has you thinking folk. At the same time, it features electric guitar riffs and beats that could make you think it’s without a doubt a rock album. That is until you hear the piano, mellotron, and brass arrangements on tracks like “Changes,” and then you’d swear its a pure pop-style work. Not to mention much of it is in the same timing and style as traditional cabaret music. As a side note Rick Wakeman, the keyboardist for Yes is featured on most of these tracks, and he’s a master of phrasing. The instrumentals throughout this work show how distinct Bowie’s musical style was, even in some of his earliest work.

The X-factor:

This week’s x-factor has to be production. This record was produced by Ken Scott, who’s a big name sound engineering. With the help of Bowie’s now fully formed backing band (known as “The Spiders from Mars”), Scott produced a genre bending-pop album full of crazy layering and experimental sampling that became as much a part of Bowie’s sound as his voice. The production here was before its time and is a big bonus for this album. Another thing I need to mention as an x-factor is that not every track on this 41-minute record is a gem. A few of them seem like cocaine-fueled nonsense, but this pretty much became a piece of Bowie’s trademark style.

The Essentials:

“Changes,” “Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Life on Mars?,” and “Queen Bitch”

The Rating:

This album contains some of the best works of a music legend, however, it also may contain some of his worst. For that reason, it’s a…

7.8

Not too shabby. If you’re interested in introducing yourself to this artist I’d start with his compilation album ChangesOneBowie. Until next week.

-Drew

bowie

Painting Pictures – Kodak Black

Kodak Black is back. And by back, I mean chubby and out of prison…again. Today we will travel back to 2017 to when Kodak dropped his first and only studio record Painted Pictures. Most of the stuff he has released between prison sentences have been mixtapes, all of which have a certain vibe and tone that at times feels unfinished. Painting Pictures, on the other hand, remains as some of my favorite work from the young rapper out of Florida. Let’s look closer at it.

The Vocals:

We all know the trend that has swept the rap game over the past few years. Mumble mumble mumble…love it or hate it, its the style of rapping Kodak chooses to use. This is the first album that I had to read through the Genius lyrics a few times for each song. Kodak is no Young Thug but he also isn’t Lil Pump. Some lyrics actually are artistic while others are just boring and lame, and while this takes away a lot from the vocal aspect of the album, Kodak makes it up by bringing in some solid talent in the features department. Having Future and Jeezy on a record always helps, A Boogie and Bun B both do great jobs with their respective verses, and Young Thug makes “Top Off Benz” his song. His feature isn’t his best ever but you still start to forget its not his song.

The Beats:

Kodak has a certain style he goes for and he never seems to let his producers mix things up. Most rappers have a certain sound, however, will make the sound of each album be different in certain ways. A perfect example would be the distinct differences in the tone and vibe of J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only and his recent record KOD. Looking back through Kodak’s catalog of mixtapes and singles, he never really plays with his sound. Throughout the album, the production team uses very similar loops of hi-hats, 808s, chimes, and synths. The beats are never bad, to be honest, quite the opposite. They make this album feel like a well-produced album. That beat on “Tunnel Vision” is just so hard to resist not doing the Kodak dance move. With that said, the beats is what holds this entire project together.

The Production:

Three words to describe the production of Painting Pictures. Dysfunctional, fluff, and singles. Let me explain. Listening through the tracks I started to notice how strange it was laid out. The transitions are smooth but something just seems lost. It feels like Kodak didn’t truly know where he wanted to take the project. He has love songs, gang-related stuff, jail stories, and other themes throughout. It just feels like a mixed bag of music that Kodak felt worked together but in the end, feels much more like a mixtape than a studio album. The singles, “There He Go”, “Tunnel Vision”, and “Patty Cake” are peak Kodak but surrounding it are songs that feel like they are just…there. They are fluff and nothing special.

The Essentials:

The singles (see above) plus “Why They Call You Kodak” and “Conscience”

The Rating:

This album has some of the best we have seen from Kodak Black. Sure he is a mumble rapper and that turns a lot of people away, however, everyone still enjoys “Tunnel Vision” and “Patty Cake”. Is he the best rapper? Hell no, not even the best mumble rapper out there. While this may have some of the best work Kodak has done, as an actual album, it just kind of sucks. Painting Pictures gets a:

4.3

Pretty sure this is the lowest score I have given and I don’t regret it at all. Doesn’t mean I am not going to blast “Patty Cake” when I hear it come on.

-Heff

Kodak Black

Live After Death – Iron Maiden

This review is part of the Colossus Guest Time Series. Some weeks will have one, some will have two, others will have none. At Colossus we are committed to be for the people and by the people! If you are interested in writing a review of your favorite album, DM us on Twitter at @music_colossus!

Cleaning the garage calls for cranking Iron Maiden loud and this has always been my favorite of their many, many albums. So, for my second Colossus Music review, probably around the 70th time I’ve listened to this album since the release in 1985, I will take a look at Live after Death. Admittedly, Iron Maiden listening for me peaked that year, although I come back to this album, or at least the first four tracks repeatedly when I need a good Maiden fix.

A quick word on live albums, especially double live albums, none of which have ever been better named than Nugent’s Double Live Gonzo! If the album perfectly captures the experience of seeing the band, you’re going to take a break at some point to grab a beer or hit the head, you’re going to get distracted and lose your own focus, but you’re going to spend most of the time singing along or banging your head to the best tracks. So, while a studio recording might disappoint a bit with a track or two or three that seems like maybe it could have been left off, live albums almost by definition will have a few of those tracks, especially double live albums.

The Vocals: 

Iron Maiden’s distinct sound doesn’t start with Bruce Dickinson’s voice, but I can’t imagine another singer in the role. He nails the heavy metal shouting, the hard rock ballad-y crooning, and the spaces in-between. Let’s be honest: some of the lyrics make you think of Spinal Tap – there is a fine line between “Flight of Icarus” and “Stonehenge”– so Dickinson needs to deliver in a way that doesn’t make you think of leprechauns or David St. Hubbins. And, mostly, he does. “2 Minutes to Midnight,” “The Trooper,” and “Revelations” all contain lyrics on the right side of deep and earnest and still metal. Dylan’s “Masters of War” had less volume, but no less righteous anger than:

“The body bags and the little rags of children torn in two; And the jellied brains of those who remains to put finger right on you; As the Madman play on words and makes us all dance to their song; To the tune of starving millions to make a better kind of gun.”

And being a live album from the mid-1980s, Dickinson gets to call out, “let me see your lighters out there.” Faint blue cellphones’ glows have nothing on flickering lighters.

The Instrumentals:

Iron Maiden’s distinct sound blends Black Sabbath, Rush, and Van Halen, and yes that makes sense. They’re loud and heavy, as thunderous as anything from the early Sabbath days. Maiden echoes Rush, especially when the bass, drums, and guitar synch perfectly, following the same riffs and rhythm. Listen to ‘Revelations’ – starts like a Black Sabbath song, you can almost imagine Ozzy singing it (almost). Then at the 1:20 mark it sounds like Rush’s 2112, so much so I had to look up when that album was released (1976, way before Maiden’s Piece of Mind). We get Van Halen moments in the guitar solo and plenty of Maiden’s signature speed. And with one minute left, Maiden nails the heavy metal mid-tempo anthem sound, closing with a nod to Led Zeppelin (so, yeah, ‘Revelations’ is an essential track).

One complaint: ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ clocks in at over 13 minutes and maybe some Maiden fans love it. I don’t. Strikes me as just over-indulgent, a way to show off admittedly impressive musical talent.

The Production: 

Live albums, as mentioned above, carry their own complications, including getting enough of the crowd’s excitement and participation without making the white-noise roars and cheers distracting and annoying, especially at top volume (and you can’t listen to Maiden quietly). Plenty of productions get it right, although none as perfectly as U2 playing “I Will Follow” in Boston and Bono calling out to Boston to “lift me up on your shoulders” and the crowd missing it the first time, then roaring the second. On Live After Death, everything sounds raw without sounding under-produced, pretty much the way you would want it to sound if you were there….and that’s the point of a live album, right? Having never seen Maiden live, I can’t say how much the theatrics of being there, the Eddie figure, the pyramids, the pyrotechnics, all that, play into the sound, but listening to this always makes me regret I didn’t catch them in concert back when I cared about them a lot. (Do yourself a favor and go to YouTube now and watch this concert. The hair, the spandex, the head-banging – unreal great)

The Essentials:

Churchill’s speech provides the intro and the next four tracks define Iron Maiden. “Aces High” blisters. “2 Minutes to Midnight” and “The Trooper” stand as metal hall-of-fame tracks. And “Revelations” remains my favorite across this album, in large part because, as explained above, Maiden manages to blend so much hard rock and metal essentials into one song, including over-the-top serious-as-only-metal-can-be lyrics. “Run to the Hills”, “22 Acacia Avenue” and “Die with Your Boots On” round out the full Maiden package, while I can honestly do without some of the other tracks, including “Rime” and “Powerslave.” If you’ve got the vinyl, play side one again and again. (Ok, so I wrote this and put it on the shelf for a few days and then found myself singing parts of “Powerslave,” so maybe that track stands up better the more I listen to it. Crazy how some songs stick in your head even when you think you don’t want them to)

The Rating:

Listening to this album in full again deepened my appreciation for Iron Maiden’s best stuff, but reminded me that sometimes they just missed. This album, now 33 years old, helps me understand why they’ve lasted more than three decades on the strength of their music, their concerts, their fans, just the raw power in these songs.

8

Side One holds its own with any other single side of any other metal album. The rest includes five tracks I like or love. Maybe that’s too much that doesn’t move me to give it such a high rating, but I can’t listen to that first side without wanting to listen to it again. And again. Maiden reached peak metal here and that can’t be diminished or dismissed.

-PMH

iron maiden

Exodus – Bob Marley & The Wailers

Last week I was moving back into school, so I took last Friday off to get ahead on my studies. But I’m here now to throw it back to 1977, to take a look at Bob Marley’s ninth studio album Exodus. In December of 1976, seven armed men broke into Marley’s home and shot him in the chest and arm, so he decided to take a break from Jamaica for a while. He made his exodus to London and crafted a reggae album unlike any other before or since.

The Vocals:

Terrific. Bob Marley’s got one of those raspy voices that makes everything he sings sound cool. In addition to this, he’s an excellent songwriter. Half the songs on the album tackle issues like the religious and political turmoil in his homeland of Jamaica and the other half just cut loose and talk about themes like love and jamming with the boys. Cool voice singing cool words…you just can’t go wrong with that combo.

The Instruments:

This is a very interesting album instrumentally. Marley split with The Wailers the previous year, though continued to release albums as “Bob Marley and the Wailers” with a few new recording musicians. One returning member from the original Wailers was keyboard player Tyrone Downie, and his contribution on the keys serves as a backbone for much of the songs on the album. Reggae music is inherently offbeat, so the percussion from Carlton Barrett on this album gets pretty funky at points. Even funkier are the baselines and lead guitar licks provided by Aston “Family Man” Barrett and Julian “Junior” Marvin, respectively. Junior’s riffs and licks just slither around in the background of the album. And underneath all of it is Bob on rhythm guitar. The group comes together to create a sound that’s grounded reggae but also dips a toe in British rock, soul, and Funk.

The Production:

It’s occurred to me that production isn’t as relevant in these throwback tracks, so I hope Heff doesn’t mind me messing with his format, but I’d like to rename this section…

The X Factor:

In this new section, I’ll highlight anything that could add or detract from the score or just anything interesting I hadn’t mentioned. This is quintessential feel-good music. Go ahead and cook breakfast listening through these tracks and it’d be pretty hard to have a bad rest of your day.

The Essentials:

“Jamming”, “Waiting in Vain”, “Punky Reggae Party”, and “One Love/People Get Ready”

The Rating:

It’s some of the best work from the father of reggae music. It’s gotta be……

8.4

That’s the review. Don’t wait in vain for my next review, cus I’ve got so much things to say.

-Drew

 

BobMarley.jpg

Grime & Basslinez – Jayy Grams

Not many people can say they discovered Kendrick before Kendrick or Pusha T before Pusha T or J. Cole before J. Cole. Sometimes, we as music listeners get so caught up in the mainstream sound coming out from the big labels that we don’t see who is on their way up. Every once in a while I like to dive deep into the unknowns of the rap world, seeing who might be next up to bat. My latest discovery is Jayy Grams. I can’t even remember how I came across the 18-year-old out of North Baltimore last year, but his album Grime & Basslinez has yet to leave my rotation ever since.

The Vocals:

First things first…this kid can spit. The creativity, rhyming schemes, and references in his verses are often not seen in young rappers these days. The first verse of “WuFi” throws shots left and right but he keeps it tight and fluid.

“Round these up and yo we surely infiltrating the spot
They saying damn Jayy’s cold beating drake to the top
Some tape for Lamar determined to show all you cats what’s goody
I came with 7 verses while you target shop for hoodies
I’m hardly out in philly screaming free Meek Milly”

Grams seems to mix the old school flows of hip-hop from the 90s into a street bully sound. In “Pigs Theory” and “Menace” you can almost hear his anger spilling out in the words he spits. While the tracks on the back half of the album have a more traditional style with hooks and verses, “G&B” and “Pigs Theory” have a more freestyle feel to them. While it doesn’t take away from his sound or vocals, it does make the flow of the album feel a bit off. Grams finishes off the project with his middle finger aimed right at the current trend of the rap industry, with the first line shot right at them: “Ayo f@&k a mumble rapper on God.” He doesn’t try to hide how he feels…that is for sure.

The Beats:

The whole album is bass heavy, as the title might suggest. Grams also released an EP in 2017 titled Good Times, which definitely had a more subdued old school vibe with its beats compared to the mean sounding Grime & Basslinez. “Oh Sh*t” literally opens up with the sounds of a war zone and goes into a beat that seems like it would fit perfectly on Bizarre Ride II: The Pharcyde. Grams also begins his first verse for “Menace” with such a clean bass drop into a beat filled with synths, snares, basses, and a brass sample. While Grams throws shade at the “Lil movement”, he spits on a very old school Tedd Boyd beat that works perfectly, considering the subject matter.

The Production:

Unfortunately, Jayy Grams only blessed us listeners with about 20 minutes of music. While he may consider that an album, to me its an EP at best; just a sample of what he can do. Everything seems to be mixed well together and nothing sounds unpleasant. Yet, while the style stays consistent, the transitions don’t cleanly pull it altogether for me. With such a short album, his production team may not have had time to make it flow as fluid as it could have.

The Essentials:

“Pigs Theory”, “WuFi”, “Oh Sh*t”, and “Rap Robbery”

The Rating:

My gut is telling me that this kid is gonna blow up. I don’t know when or how but I really feel that he will. It’s not often that we see a lyrical talent like this come up. Anyone who can reference Magellan and Mr. Bookman from Seinfeld in the same freestyle has a special set of skills. With that said, lyrically Jayy Grams killed it on Grime & Basslinez which gets a:

7.1

Make sure you watch this 18-year-old out of Baltimore as he takes on the current crop of young rappers, bringing his old school street sound to the table.

-Heff

Jayy-Grams

K.T.S.E. – Teyana Taylor

This review is part of the Colossus Guest Time Series. Some weeks will have one, some will have two, others will have none. At Colossus we are committed to be for the people and by the people! If you are interested in writing a review of your favorite album, DM us on Twitter at @music_colossus!

The roll out of G.O.O.D. Music releases at the beginning of the summer was an event covered more for its orchestrator’s statements and behavior than the product being promoted. It also suffered from not delivering albums on time (except for Pusha T’s which actually leaked early) such that each album came out later than the one before it. Kanye’s leaked around 9:30 am, Kids See Ghosts closer to 11:00 am, Nas’s didn’t drop til the late hours of Friday night, while Teyana Taylor’s still hadn’t hit even when we woke up Saturday morning. Combined with her own criticisms of the record, it’s no surprise why this album was passed over, especially as the general consensus by the time it finally came out was that the entire Wyoming project was a fail and that Kanye had truly lost it. That perception is unfortunate because this really is the best of the whole output as Ms. Taylor croons over what is arguably Kanye’s finest production in years; the result being a beautiful 90s R&B throwback album that’s perfect for the summer.

The opening chorus of strings and piano paint a lush landscape while Ms. Taylor celebrates her relationship but also reminding us that she’s no pushover as she cleverly states “I got a man, but ain’t got no manners”. In true Kanye form we’re greeted with a strange and haunting sample that awkwardly yet brilliantly cuts and then our vocalist comes back to repeat her serenade of matrimonious merriment. When the sample returns and is again axed with the quickness we begin the album proper as “Gonna Love Me” immediately transports you to a feeling of bliss with a Delfonics sample over Michael Jackson drums creating a simple yet infectious beat you can’t help but move to. Ms. Taylor’s smooth vocals carry through the unassuming track which Kanye has so perfectly crafted to capture a sound reminiscent of Ms. Lauryn Hill.

This album contains Kanye’s most soulful production since The College Dropout as he lets us know he’s still got it and is still the best at it, even as he seemingly trolls us with laser sounds inexplicably thrown in on the charming “Issues/Hold On”.  The album continues with more incredible sampling on “Hurry” and “A Rose in Harlem”, both songs incorporating additional instruments late in the track to provide beautiful layers to the already exquisite production. The piano on the last hook of “Hurry” is a simple yet perfect complement to Ms. Taylor’s soft tone while the strings on “A Rose in Harlem” take the song from a sample-driven banger to an elegant black-tie affair as you can practically feel the chandelier lighting the ballroom dancefloor while high society flows throughout the lavish hall.

The crowning jewel of K.T.S.E. is “Never Would Have Made It” which is Ms. Taylor’s love letter to the man who has supported her through it at all. It starts as a ballad then quickly turns into a joyful celebration as the beat drops into something so hype yet so beautiful at the same time. To be honest I’d almost prefer to hear Mary J. Blige sing this but that might just be due to the stripped vocals. This is something frequently found on the album which requires Ms. Taylor to rise to a level most singers don’t need to these days as so many songs are overproduced with multiple vocal layers. Yet, part of Kanye’s genius on this album is to give us only one vocal track on most of the songs, leaving the rawness of Ms. Taylor’s voice to sell the emotion of her words while the production carries the track.

It’s damn near criminal how much this project got slept on as Teyana Taylor really blessed us with an amazing album that’s perfect for that exciting time post-cuffing season when you’re out meeting a new companion to spend those warm summer evenings making new memories with. Fans of a time when R&B was about passionately pursuing a love interest as opposed to just recklessly dismissing hazy mistakes will find tranquility in this quaint project as Ms. Taylor pours her heart and soul into every track while Kanye further cements his legacy as one of the greatest artists of our generation.

-Classic

teyana

Florida Georgia Line – Florida Georgia Line

It’s been a while since we have had a “New Music Monday” and even longer since we have had a country record reviewed on Colossus. Why not return from the blog’s summer break with Florida Georgia Line, a duo of country singers who have torn it up in the industry. After having a quiet recording year in 2017, focusing more on their tour, this new EP is a glimpse at their next album to come. The self-titled project, Florida Georgia Line includes four songs, each different in their own ways but remaining on par with Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley’s sound and style.

The Vocals:

These two just work well together. Neither seems to out do or outweigh the other on any of the songs. They have very smooth southern voices that just sound pleasant to listeners. To make the vocals all the better, their lyrics are catchy. Trust me when I say that after your first listen to the chorus of “Simple”, you won’t be able to resist humming or singing along.

“It’s like one, two, three
Just as easy as can be
Just the way you look at me
You make me smile”

The Instrumentals:

Hubbard and Kelley are the front men of the band and obviously the more well-known ones to fans. However, if you dive past the singers, you notice a surprisingly solid sound from the remaining members of the group. Dan Weller provides the mandolin and banjo pieces which seem to give many of the songs its distinct country sound. He does a great job on “Simple” and “Sittin’ Pretty”. Oddly enough, I also can’t help but note the percussion throughout the project from Sean Fuller. “Colorado” features a much more rock ‘n roll sounding drum kit while the following track, “Talk You Out Of It” is this super relaxed combo of snares, cymbals, and hi-hats.

The Production:

To be honest, their isn’t much to talk about here since the EP is only 4 songs long. There isn’t enough time to see any major production trends or styles but all the songs are mixed well and the transitions all feel very smooth.

The Essentials:

It’s four songs people…listen to them. If you really can’t take 12 minutes out of your day, just listen to “Simple” because its that fun and upbeat and catchy.

The Rating:

I have found that Florida Georgia Line doesn’t often disappoint with their music. They’re a solid country band, especially for anyone looking to get into the genre more. I have been a fan since Nelly hopped on the remix of “Cruise”. Hubbard and Kelley seem to have found the perfect crossroads of country, rock, and pop. With that said, Florida Georgia Line gets a:

Light 8

If you have been reading Colossus Music for a while now, you’ll know I hate EP’s because its feels like only a sample of what is to come. However, this is a solid project from FGL and highly recommend it be added to any late summer or early fall playlists you’ve got.

-Heff

fgl

Thriller – Michael Jackson

Last week I sent Leo my review for Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited at 3 o’clock on Thursday. Maybe he was too busy listening to that boring new Mac Miller album. Anyways, thought I’d take the chance to hit you guys with a double whammy this Friday, throwing it back twice in one day, this time to 1982. Michael Jackson was at the top of the game in 1982. It was also the year he released the legendary album Thriller. Quincy Jones provided the stanky beats, as well as the $750,000 production budget, and Michael Jackson offered the…well… Michael Jackson. Let’s see how the “Prince of Pop” fairs in this review.

The Vocals:

MJ has a crazy voice. It’s unlike anything you’ll ever hear, and he’s got the range to go wherever he wants with it. And great lyrics too. For example “Uh, dah-yeeeheee” on every song, or “heeeeeee duh uh, (heavy breathing)” from “P.Y.T.” To be honest, I have no idea why his vocals work so well on every track, but it’s no secret that he gets the people going. Also, Paul McCartney drops in for a duet on “The Girl Is Mine”. I won’t waste too much time here, vocals on this are great.

The Instrumentals/Production:

Quincy Jones is a mad scientist of funky pop songs. With an outrageous budget at his disposal, he brought in an army of hired guns into the studio to record his masterpiece. There are more than forty recording musicians on this piece, so Jones was more of a composer at that point than a producer. He seamlessly wove together pop, rock, and funk, as well as the last dying breath of disco music. He also wrote a majority of the songs. Production and instruments are very solid.

The Essentials:

“P.Y.T.” and “Billie Jean”

The Rating:

All of that being said, it’s not Jackson’s best album, just his best selling. It’s also the best selling album of all time at 66 million copies, which makes it even harder for me to give this album an…

8.1

I like Bad better. Sue me. “The Girl Is Mine” is my least favorite Paul McCartney song. There are other reasons, but it’s an 8.1. See you next week.

-Drew

CONTEST: Next week I’m considering doing a side by side of two albums from two of the best bands from the British Invasion. One of them is one of the most groundbreaking and experimental rock albums of all time. The other sounds suspiciously similar to that first album. If you guess which two albums I’m talking about you win an iPod shuffle without the charger.

Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan

This week for Flashback Friday, I’ve decided to throw it way back, all the way to August 30th, 1965, when Bob Dylan released his sixth studio album, Highway 61 Revisited. Bob Dylan is sort of a shapeshifter in a sense, in that each of his albums has a completely different feel and tone. On this record, Dylan puts his folk music past on a shelf and poses as a front man for an electric blues/rock band. He’s is one of my favorite artists so I’ll try to remain unbiased, as I understand there are mixed opinions about his work. Let’s dive in.

The Vocals:

Look, I know they’re not the best. Bob Dylan may sound like Tom Petty with a cold, but I promise that it’ll grow on you. What he lacks in vocal ability, he more than makes up for with thoughtful and poetic lyrics, which start a subtle dialogue over the chaotic cultural and political goings on of that time period. For example, on track two “Tombstone Blues” he says,

“The king of the Philistines, his soldiers to save Puts jawbones on their tombstones and flatters their graves Puts the pied pipers in prison and fattens the slaves Then sends them out to the jungle”

This could be an allusion to Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam war, but it’s up for interpretation. It’s this kind of absurdist poetry that made Dylan the first musician to receive a Nobel Prize for literature two years ago. If you listen close, you’ll pick up on something new from each listen through this album.

The Instrumentals:

This album captures Dylan wandering into uncharted territory, as it’s only his second album featuring an electric guitar. Every instrument captures a sort of nervous energy, from the twangy/jingling guitars to high pitched organ riffs. Each song on the album is a jumbled and sloppy composition of textures from instruments that somehow works out just fine. The album is named after the highway that connects his hometown in Minnesota to some of the blues/rock destinations in America’s southern states, and each instrument gives a sense of the classic American music that the album breaths its inspiration from. It’s a big step from Dylan’s campfire sing-along style of play in his past works.

The Production:

The first recording sessions on the album were produced by Tom Wilson, and the only remaining work from those sessions that made the final cut was “Like a Rolling Stone”. The rest of the album was produced by Columbia Record’s staff producer Brian Johnston. The instrumentation on this album is kind of strange, so I have to give these two props for reigning it all in. It can’t be an easy task to infuse a rock album with an organ and a slide whistle.

The Essentials:

“Like a Rolling Stone” (obviously), “Tombstone Blues”, and “Desolation Row”

The Rating:

It’s tough not to be biased, so I’ve weighted my honest rating of this album. That being said, it an…

8.1

It’s not Dylan’s best album (which is Blood on the Tracks), but it’s a great album and his first real “rock” album. Keep it classic.

-Drew

Swimming – Mac Miller

I listened to this album a lot before writing this. I listened to it at work, playing FIFA, cooking dinner, and on a crowded train with crappy airplane headphones. And in all those settings, I found things I liked and disliked. Mac Miller has never truly impressed me since I saw him in concert at The Meadows in 2016. I don’t know if I was too sober for him or he was too intoxicated for me but ever since he hasn’t been on my rotation much. Yet with the drop of Swimming, I knew I couldn’t ignore him much more. Let’s dive into this project.

The Vocals:

Look. You can disagree with me all you want but Mac cannot sing. He sucks but he makes up for it with his lyricism. When you really dig into some of his verses, you notice some really unique rhyming patterns and very clever lines.

“Way up where we on, space shuttle, Elon/Time we don’t waste much, fuck when we wake up/Then have her sing just like Celine Dion/Catch me if you can but, yeah you never catch me damn/Whole lotta “yes I am”

Many of his verses are more personal. Having recently gone through a break-up with his girlfriend Ariana Grande, many of his lyrics are more focused on the self-care needed after hitting that low point of depression. All of that is well done and you really feel for the Pittsburgh rapper. Yet, he loses it with the lack of versatility in his flows. Many of the songs just sound very similar, much of that coming from this very monotone, slower verses. We know he has a range of speed when it comes to rapping however he only shows little glimpses of it, “Ladders” being one. I understand that it’s his fifth studio album and its supposed to be more vibey, but that doesn’t mean every verse has to be so monotone.

The Instrumentals:

Mac and his production team killed it on this aspect of the project. I was pleasantly surprised how instrumentally dynamic this album was. Thundercat slaps the bass so cleanly on “What’s the Use?”. The entrance to “2009” is a beautiful piece from what sounds like a string quartet. Horns compliment the chorus on “Ladders”. And throughout much of the album, you get some awesome piano chords. There is really not much to complain here…because it is just plain good. The instrumentals of Swimming are a really nice break from the seemingly industry-wide push toward more trap sounding beats. “Perfecto” has to have my favorite sound of the album. Those sweet synths and funky keys just make it sound so beachy and smooth.

The Production:

Larry Fisherman, Mac’s producing alter-ego, had a major hand in how the album flowed and mixed and it shows. The flow is near perfect. Everything sounds very pleasing together. The transitions are on point and the beat switch-ups are really killer on “Small Worlds” and “Self Care”. Is it artistic? Not really but that doesn’t really take away from how smooth this album came out.

The Essentials:

“What’s the Use?”, “Self Care”, “Jet Fuel”, and the live, NPR version of “2009

The Rating:

So as I said before, last time I really listened to Mac Miller, it was live and I was not a fan. After listening to his latest work, I can definitely say he has grown on me. While this is his most personal and pessimistic record yet, it is still solid. That’s the best way to describe it. Swimming gets a:

7.5

This is the kind of album you can put on in the background during any chill activity. Beach? Yes. Cleaning? Yes. Hanging out? Yes. Walking around a zoo while its raining and you forgot an umbrella? Sure why not. Turning up at a club? Nahhhh.

-Heff

mac