God’s Favorite Customer – Father John Misty

Talk about dark…Jesus Christ! Josh Tillman, who goes by the stage name Father John Misty, has some twisted things to say on this album, that’s for sure. I have been meaning to get around to reviewing God’s Favorite Customer for a while now, but for some reason, every time I sit down and listen to it, I get depressed. This whole project is one man’s long suicide note that he composed over a two-month stint at a hotel while dealing with a divorce. So yeah, dark is an understatement, however, we see a ton of artistry throughout the ten track album.

The Vocals:

Obviously, you can’t talk much about vocals on any project without discussing the artist at hand’s voice. FJM immediately greets listeners on “Hangout at the Gallows” with this haunting tone. It’s not that the chords he hits are surprisingly low or rough, but instead surprisingly smooth and emotional. You can almost hear the hurt in his voice. He moves from there into “Mr. Tillman” which has more story-based lyrics, describing his time living in the hotel while dealing with some major mental issues. He discusses paranoia and depression while doing every verse through the mouth of the concierge and the chorus from his own standpoint. Just watch the music video to get a sense of how strange and twisted the lyrics of his songs can be. On “Please Don’t Die,” FJM discusses his contemplation of suicide, yet another example of his discussion of some emotional, mental, and drug issues, however, we see his vocal talent the most through this track. He hits every note so smoothly and perfectly, that, while haunting and unnerving, only makes you more interested.

The Instrumentals:

God’s Favorite Customer is listed by Apple Music as an “Alternative” project. I disagree with that to an extent due to the fact that he plays with some heavy influences of pop and folk. Now, of course, any genre can have an alternative side, with its differing sounds to what is mainstream. However, between the twangy guitar riffs, haunting piano loops, and sneaky little additions of a harmonica, you get a much more poppy folk feel throughout. FJM does much of the work on the all the instrumentals throughout. This definitely helps the general vibe of the project stay together, as we often hear the guitar and piano almost coming in synch with one another like on “Just Dumb Enough To Try” and “Date Night.” I can’t talk about the instrumentals without out mentioning the drums on the album’s final track too…just smooth and rhythmic adding to an already vibey outro.

The Production:

Fair warning…this album will depress you a ton. Have a said that already? Well, it’s definitely no Pharrell’s “Happy.” FJM wrote, recorded, and produced this album during that two-month stint living in the hotel. As you listen to the project, the flow helps you visualize a man completely unraveling from mental issues as he pleads out for help. The smooth transitions help keep the stoic, haunting sound going and we never truly see any song straying from that theme. Jonathan Rado was FJM’s right-hand man for the production throughout, a key addition to the album’s steady flow and solid vocal mixings.

The Essentials:

“Hangout at the Gallows,” “God’s Favorite Customer,” and “We’re Only People”

The Rating:

This album feels weird for me because while it is so dark and twisted, I keep adding it back into my rotation and loving it. I can’t pin down what exactly I like about Father John Misty, whether it’s his voice, instrumentals, or storytelling in his lyrics. Something about this album will most likely bring you back to it like it has done to me. God’s Favorite Customer is a:

Super solid 7

While I know most people don’t listen to records start to finish anymore, I highly recommend you try to with God’s Favorite Customer. You will have a better understanding of what FJM is about.

-Heff

fjm

Skylight – Pinegrove

It’s that time of the year again! The weather gets colder, drinks get warmer, and indie rock bands shed their bright pastel colors for more earthy tones. The flannel weather of the fall creates a yearning among indie listeners for a certain kind of warm and comforting sound. Montclair, New Jersey natives, Pinegrove, are the champions of that sound. Thankfully, they just released their sophomore album, Skylight, just in time for the season to begin.

The Vocals:

Vocal harmonies are the power behind the release. Pinegrove lead singer and lyricist, Evan Stephens Hall, is accompanied by Zack Levine and Nandi Plunkett on the backend. The trio blends their voices together in such a way that evokes memories of friend’s singing around a fall bonfire. “Light On” showcases the angelic side of the voices of the band, while “Easy Enough” highlights the band’s ability to create a more emo version of the California sound of the 1970’s. It is hard to find a chorus on the album that is not supported by three to four background voices. Their harmonies design full chords to emphasize Hall’s powerful and thought-provoking writing. These voices also strip back every once in a while to let Hall’s country twang cover his Kurt Cobain vocal essence and howl.

The Instrumentals:

Pinegrove was founded by Hall and Levine, a guitar player and drummer. With that being said, there is a focus on the two instruments, because of the duo. Hall and lead guitarist, Sam Skinner, both highlight their tremendous playing ability by making their complicated leads or whimsical ad-libs blend into the background of the tracks. The guitar leads paint over distorted chords in order to create a visual of a leafy autumn plagued by a harsh wind.

Almost every song is accented with either a lap steel guitar drone or a driving rock beat provided by Levine, courtesy of his Grohl or John Bonham heavy hitting style. Even on more relaxed numbers, like “Portal” and “Patterson & Leo”, Levine’s drums are prominent. Last, but not least, there is an abundance of middle sounding keys and synths. Between the dancing piano line of  “Light On” or the fuzzy overdrive on Plunkett’s synth on “Intrepid”, these middle voices fill in an already large sound.

The Production:

Pinegrove has prided themselves on their DIY attitude. This attitude has carried over to their lo-fi recording process. Similar to their previous recordings, the album was recorded literally in-house by the band. The full release was recorded on a laptop inside of a house, in upstate New York, owned by the band’s members. This process of recording in more natural settings is something bands, like Led Zeppelin and Red Hot Chili Peppers, used to create some of their best works. The only difference between Pinegrove’s process and the process of rock royalty is time and experience. Skylight has some minor production flaws, but nothing that will bother the regular listener. The production of the album is documented in the series “Command+S” on YouTube.

The Essentials:

“Darkness”, “Easy Enough” and “Light On”

The Rating:

Skylight is a logical progression from the release that broke them, 2016’s Cardinal. Hall and Levine took on the herculean task of following up a critically acclaimed debut album and knocked it out of the park. Skylight has depth on a lyrical level, as well as, a wall of sound on every song with over distorted guitars, swirling synths, and thunderous drums. However, there is still a little to be desired from the album. Three songs, on the eleven-song album, are less than two minutes long. A few of the songs feel half-finished, because of their short length and simple lyrics. These minor things might actually delight some listeners.

All in all, I think Skylight is a late candidate for the album of the year. From front to back, the album provides the listener with a journey of growing through a winter’s hibernation and introspection. Darkness will come and go, but there is always sun from the skylight.

9.2

-Peter McDermott

Pinegrove

Cabin by the Sea – The Dirty Heads

I want to start this off by saying if you don’t know The Dirty Heads, you should get to…really well. The Dirty Heads are hard to categorize into one genre because they cover a multitude of genres within their unique and soothing sounds. But, I guess the best way to sum these guys up is a delightful blend of Reggae, Hip Hop, Alternative Rock, and Acoustic. They’re from Huntington Beach, California, so you know its good vibes only, and if I haven’t said enough to convince you to check them out hopefully the next few sentences will grab your attention. These dudes are nearly incapable of making even “iffy” music (I don’t even want to say the word “bad” in association with this band). Cabin by the Sea was my review of choice because I thoroughly believe everyone should have this 50-minute escape from reality in their life. This album includes a little bit of everything I mentioned before, as well as beautifully crafted lyrics and only the funkiest/soothing/good mood inducing instrumentals.

The Vocals:

I think it’s the funniest thing that two dudes named “Dirty J”– who is the lead singer and occasional backup vocalist, and “Duddy B”– who is the lead guitarist, as well as a lead singer but more often a backup vocalist are so capable of creating such magnificent melodious and mood-lifting music. Their names, as well as calling their band “The Dirty Heads,” is pretty misleading towards their overall sound and messages that are told by their lyrics.

Their vocals are like a salad. A lot of their earlier works are heavy on the indie ‘beach boys’ type vocals, for lack of a better term; sort of a Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz type vibes. A great example of this is on the track “Notice.” This is the base of The Dirty Heads salad, they add toppings of more upbeat pop style songs like “Cabin by the Sea” while still maintaining their own (very original) sound. They then dress the salad with flawlessly written and incredibly delivered rap verses hidden around the album, my favorite on this album is “Mongo Push” (My favorite of all time is “Sloth’s Revenge” off of yet another one of their fantastic albums Home: Phantoms of Summer).

They take their vocals into the stratosphere with their ability to harmonize with one another as well as the rest of the band. Their harmonies are the ones that give you those little bursts of chills when you hear them, and they do this on just about every song. A fantastic example of this is on “Burn by Myself.”

The Instrumentals:

Oh…the instrumentals are, simply put, beautiful. But let’s talk about it. As I’ve said before, their overall sound is composed of many different things, but their instrumentals hold all the different genres together by always maintaining an acoustic guitar heavy, island-type sound. If I didn’t know any better I might just assume these dudes are from Jamaica based off their instrumentals. On their more hip-hop heavy songs they use the funkiest instrumentals. I’m talking awesome drum kits, distorted guitars, and nice little instrumental breakdowns where they absolutely murder quick-witted verses.

Earth’s my home for now it seems
But Mars is in my destiny
I’m just floating high on steam
I’ll come down eventually
Just to get some Listerine
‘Cause verbally I’m disgusting”

That’s literally a five-second snippet of one of Duddy B’s verses on “Mongo Push.” As you can see, these dudes have some real serious writing skills. But back to the instruments. Their blended sound just makes you want to bob your head, and by the end of the album will have you up and dancing around your living room.

The Features:

Legen– wait for it– DARY. The Dirty Heads are batting with a squad of absolute units and hitting home run after home run with their features. The first feature we see is one of Bob Marley’s sons Kymani Marley on “Your love.” Immediately after this, we get blessed with a delicious verse from Rome, who is best known from the collective Sublime with Rome. Then, in comes Reggae legend Matisyahu, most famous for “One Day,” on “Dance All Night.” Just when we think the features are over, Del the Funky Homosapien, a rapper best known for his song “If I Must” stops by and drops a ridiculously hot verse on “Smoke Rings.” The Dirty Heads seriously have some legendary talent on this album.

The Overall Vibe:

I could seriously write forever about this album, this band, and everything they do, but we’re limited to this album, whose vibes are magical. It’s an album with its own voice, and it’s screaming “GOOD VIBES ONLY.” The Dirty Heads only preach positive messages, from simply living life without regret to reminding listeners that sometimes it’s okay to “burn by yourself.” Every song just makes you smile. Their view on life comes through on their music and reminds you to love yourself, do what makes you happy, and enjoy our time we have while we have it.

The Essentials:

“Cabin By the Sea,” “Mongo Push,” “Day By Day,” “Smoke Rings,” and “Burn by Myself.”

The Rating:

I’ve been speaking highly about this band and this band. While this is my first review and I don’t quite have a process to determine a rating I do believe this album is absolutely fantastic. That being said, I’ll give it a:

8.0

Solid 8…their lyrics are insanely uplifting, beautifully presented to the listener, and the instrumentals are absolute bops. I want to rate it higher, but there are songs that mellow the upbeat vibes and feel ever so slightly out of place, which for me dropped the rating a little bit.

I suggest the next time you wake up and make yourself a coffee, throw this album on, watch the beauty of life from your window, and let The Dirty Heads transport you to a Cabin by the Sea. You won’t regret this one.

– JMac

dh

JMax Hypetrain – JMac

It seems that every school in America has its own rap scene. There is always that one or two guys or girls who think they can “spit” on the mic. Sometimes, they are surprisingly good and more often than not, they aren’t. At Mercy College, we have our own up-and-coming artist by the name of JMac. When I first heard that he rapped, I laughed, thinking to myself, “No way this kid is much more than a few rhymes.” However, I was more wrong than I thought. Over this past summer, JMac released his first mixtape on SoundCloud, JMax Hypetrain, a collection of funky rhymes and beachy vibes. Let’s take a look at what he has to offer.

The Vocals:

JMac opens the project by describing his “lyrics [are] out of this world” and, to be honest, he isn’t completely wrong. He shows some serious lyrical talent throughout the projects with highlights on “Inspiration” and “50 Rhymes (Intermission).” While JMac proves that he can rhyme quite well, he still has improvements to make on his general flows. The tracks “Definition of JMac” and “Plant Matter” feature some solid work on this aspect, each playing nicely with the beat he is rapping over. It proves that he has the ability and room to grow. However, much of the mixtape features verses that feel a bit more choppy and looser than one would hope for. JMac doesn’t show too much versatility in his voice while rapping, however, does provide us with a little singing on “Home,” something I hope we see more in future projects.

The Beats:

The beats picked for the project are so fitting for JMac’s general vibe. With his stoner lyrics, beachy sounds, and funky styles, you can tell there were a lot of joints smoked in the making of the project. We also see a huge amount of JMac’s influences through the beats he chose to use, with instrumentals sounding more like they would fit on a Dirty Heads or Aer album (two of which come from Aer’s The Bright Side). Everything just feels so fitting, not to mention some awesome beats on the tracks “Plant Matter” and “Where The Cops At: The Return.” He understands his style and vibe and with that, picked the right set of instrumentals to match perfectly.

The Production:

JMax Hypetrain is a SoundCloud mixtape. Therefore, the quality is not top-notch and that is expected. When artists don’t have the resources, they can’t always produce great sounding work but, as with any business, content is key. With that said, it’s hard to gauge the overall production quality when we know up front JMac wasn’t working with the best. However, as a project, the flow is very solid. The transitions need a bit of work but the buildup to some really fun tracks at the end is well done. It almost feels like the mixtape is a hyped-up locomotive and it just needs a bit of time to get warmed up before its flying down the rails.

The Essentials:

“Plant Matter,” “50 Rhymes (Intermission),” and “Where The Cops At: The Return”

The Rating:

For a white dude out of a small college in New York, JMac is better than you expect. He recognizes his audience and his style and sticks with it. We don’t see him bounce around with five different flows or sounds, instead, everything sticks with that stoner beach vibe. JMax Hypetrain is a solid first mixtape and gets a:

6.8

With practice and time, I think we will see JMac creating some strong work in the near future. If you are apart of the Mercy community, keep your eye out for him as I think he may have some growth and potential that he has yet to tap into.

-Heff

JMac

Graduation – Kanye West

This Friday I’m gonna change up from the usual classic rock I’ve been reviewing, and take a look at what all the kids are listening to these days. Rap and hip-hop music is what holds the top of the charts these days, but rap music has changed a lot in the short time it’s reigned. One artist that has managed to keep up with this change the longest is Kanye West. Say what you want about him (there’s a lot to stay) but he’s probably the most musically talented person in the rap game, and that’s what’s allowed him to evolve with this genre. We’re gonna flashback eleven years to 2007 when Kanye West released his third studio album, Graduation. Let’s get after it.

The Vocals:

Kanye West just has one of those voices that work for rap music. It doesn’t really matter what he says, it just sounds cool. Supplement that voice with masterfully written and composed songs, and you’ve got Graduation. He flows hard on certain tracks like “Stronger” or “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” and pivots well to flow well over some of the strange and spacey beats on other tracks like “Flashing Lights” or “The Glory.” On this album, he displays a type of versatility as an artist that very few people in the industry possess. It’s also important to mention the vocal work from all of the features (Jay Z, Lil Wayne, and Chris Martin just to name a few) was definitely something to write home about.

The Instrumentals:

The instrumentals on this album are pretty crazy as far as hip-hop albums go. This album was not produced as most are today, using mostly synthesizers and computer-generated beats, but with a ridiculous amount of studio artists playing an oddly wide range of instruments. By ridiculous, I mean that there are seven different violin players listed in the credits. A ton of man-hours were poured into this album, and it shows. In addition to this, there are a few subtly placed samples that give the instrumentation of the album so much re-listening value. Samples from Elton John, Steely Dan, and Michael Jackson are hidden on some of these tracks, so see if you can spot them out.

The Production:

Also great. The beats and sounds behind Kanye West on this album were meticulously crafted over two years, and it shows. Each song on this album is like a layer cake of different synth noises and instrumentation, and each, with the exception of Big Brother, were produced by Kanye West himself. There’s so much going on in each song, and it blows my mind how it all seems to come together neatly.

The Essentials:

Every track is great, listen to all of them, and then do it again.

The Rating:

Overall it’s just an impressive album.

9.3

He might be a crazy person, but he makes good music. See ya next week.

-Drew

Kanye West

Behold a Dark Horse – Roc Marciano

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!

Roc Marciano has quietly built one of the most consistent catalogs in rap. Ranking his discography is not an easy undertaking and his newest album Behold a Dark Horse only further complicates that task. Continuing to deliver his brand of off-kilter, stream-of-consciousness raps with the most precise and unnecessary-yet-fly details, Roc Marciano floats on every track leaving you wondering how someone can rhyme so many syllables while still sounding so smooth.

Setting things off over some haunting production Roc doesn’t waste any time delivering a slew of fresh rhymes to satisfy his core audience as well as welcoming newcomers to his world of slick talk and syllable acrobatics. He then gets you settled into the album as jungle drums of “Congo” let Roc coast through his bars showcasing his signature wordplay which is unlike anyone else in the game and includes quips like:

“I give you this work like you unemployed,
I just copped another toy, spoiled like a new little bundle of joy,
you bums couldn’t touch a coin.”

Not one for many features Roc Marciano includes two titans on this album as Black Thought and Busta Rhymes both show up, with the former doing what he does best by delivering yet another MVP caliber verse further proving that he’s only gotten better with age and is easily one of the greatest of all time, while the latter motors his way through the spastic “Trojan Horse” while also providing the hook.

Other gems include “Amethyst”, “Fabio” (produced by The Alchemist) and “1000 Deaths” where he drops lines like “this a kilo on my earlobe for realo, yall some weirdos, Ferragamos with some clear soles, the new TEC-22 with the air holes, gotta be prepared holmes.” His cadence combined with the nonstop rhyming is what set him apart from other rappers in the game as someone like 2 Chainz may drop witticisms with brilliant simplicity but Roc cleverly weaves his jokes into elaborate schemes that have you pulling lines back just to catch everything.

It helps that Roc Marciano produces a lot of his own songs as sometimes you almost think he’s off beat until you realize that he just found a groove that no one else even knew was there. There may not be any direction to many of his bars but it sounds so fly that it doesn’t matter that he’s basically just throwing together random phrases. And speaking of no direction, many of his beats have an almost free-jazz aesthetic to them as heard on a track like “Sampson & Delilah” which is built upon running strings, a simple flute line and the occasional vocal sample thrown in. It’s songs like this that truly set Roc Marciano apart as most rappers wouldn’t know how to attack a beat like this but he proves that you don’t need a standard 4/4 drum loop in order to coast on a track. The result of all this is production that may sound dissonant at times but his flow makes it a smooth song you can vibe to.

Behold a Dark Horse is another solid outing from the people’s champ and continues Roc Marciano’s streak of providing gritty New York raps housed in a package of extravagant artistry. He sounds as fly as ever but when you get beneath the surface you hear the griminess in bars like “condo shopping out in Cabo, the condom broke but that ain’t my child though” and realize that dude is your average cat just trying to navigate the streets like everyone else. If you like multi-syllabic rhyme schemes from a slick-talking pimp over eclectic production then Roc Marciano will be your new favorite rapper and if you’re already up on his stellar catalog then this will only further cement his legacy as one of the greats of the last decade.

-Classic

roc marciano

Suffolk County – Cousin Stizz

If you are from Massachusetts and love hip-hop but haven’t heard of Cousin Stizz, you are not paying enough attention to the rap scene in your local area. Boston has never been known as a rap town, primarily producing a lot of rock, jam band, and alternative groups. Cousin Stizz is one of the few to come out of the city and actually make a name for himself. With this evening being the NBA’s opening night, the Celtics released a hype video featuring Stizz doing the voiceover. Not only did it get me hyped for the season, but it also made me go back and listen to my favorite album from the young rapper, Suffolk County. This rookie album went way under the radar outside of New England in my opinion, even with it being Stizz’s attempt to crave out Boston a name in the rap industry.

The Vocals:

This isn’t the first time I have discussed this and will definitely not be the last…many of today’s rising artists have the same sound and flow. It seems to inevitable at this point with the rise of “SoundCloud rappers” only focused on getting clout. However, Stizz seems to be creating his own style and sound. He definitely has a bit of that trap vibe but his flows are very vibed out, all while having a distinct gruff voice. On “No Explanation,” he even sounds a bit like 50 Cent. I know that is a very big comparison to make but listen to the entrance of the first chorus and you will understand where I am coming from. Stizz also includes some great lyricism in his repertoire. His flows are much slower but some of the metaphors and one-liners he uses are fantastic. “Real Life” discusses his upbringing as a part of the drug culture, pissing off his mom by smoking in the house, and his opinions on snitches.

“When the screen go up, them grams we
passing ’em out
No business with you cause you look like you
a mouse”

Stizz only uses one feature on the album, on the track “Talk.” Jefe Replay is a fellow rapper out of Boston; Roxbury to be specific. As the hip-hop scene in Boston grows, it wouldn’t surprise me if we start to see more collabs from some of the main talents, such as Michael Christmas, Joyner Lucas (out of Worcester), Latrell James, and of course Stizz and Jefe.

The Beats:

Much of Suffolk County has a trap feel. It isn’t exactly like the beats out of Atlanta but it definitely has similar styles. There is heavy usage of hi-hats, synths, and 808s, all often used in tracks produced by guys like Mike WiLL Made-It, 808s Mafia, and London On Da Track. Stizz’s styles and voice seems to give it the separate “Boston” sound, as many of these beats would fit in on pretty much any trap album. Yet, most notably are the tracks produced by DumDrumz out of Florida. He seems to have a heavy hand in much of Cousin Stizz’s work, being used on some of the most recent projects. His work on “Fed Up,” “No Bells,” and “Fresh Prince” stand out the most though.

The Production:

For a rookie album, Stizz did a great job back in 2015 making sure that this project flowed. From start to finish, there aren’t many points where you get bored or tune out. He consistently brings heat on the vocals, which all sound beautifully mixed. The transitions are surprisingly smooth as well, not perfect but not awful, which definitely helps with the general vibe of the album.

The Essentials:

“Ain’t Really Much,” “Fresh Prince,” and “No Bells”

The Rating:

I am going to be straight up with you…I am biased on this. I am from Massachusetts and I want to see a hip-hop scene flourish out of Boston, therefore, I am going to love Cousin Stizz’s albums and projects. However, there is a reason he had Offset and G-Eazy on his last album, had “Shoutout” played at Drake’s birthday, and has had music featured on the FX show “Atlanta.” He is a seriously good rapper and there is no reason to ignore him anymore. With that said, Suffolk County is fire and you need to give it a listen because it is a:

8.7

If you like trap rap, you will love Cousin Stizz…trust me. “I’m the fucking Fresh Prince. Think my name is Ill Smith”

-Heff

Cousin Stizz

All of It – Cole Swindell

So before you say it, I know this album was released in August so it isn’t really new music. However…it was released this year, I just booked a ticket to visit friends down south, and I haven’t reviewed a country record in a while. All of It has been in and out of my rotation since it was dropped. For those of you that don’t know, aside from loving rap, classic rock, and alternative, I love listening to country music. Cole Swindell has been a favorite of mine for a while now and this album only cements that.

The  Vocals:

One of my favorite aspects of Swindell as an artist is his lyricism, which is often more focused on everyday life. He isn’t talking about flying around on a jet or sitting on a beach all day. He is talking about simple things like coming home drunk, falling in love and breaking up, or driving down a favorite local road. It’s the simpler things in life and love that Swindell sings about, which he does very well. He has a very strong voice that has decent range but most importantly demonstrates emotions well. On the track “Dad’s Old Number,” his most personal on the album by far, Swindell talks about the struggles he has had following his father’s passing, including calling his dad’s phone number knowing that it won’t be him anymore.

“Sometimes I forget
These 10 digits ain’t my lifeline any more
Every now and then I dial ’em up
When life gets tough or when the Braves score”

The Instrumentals:

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the band backing Swindell up on the record did a hell of a job. Often it seems that many of the mainstream country albums have a very similar sound and feel, however, the Georgia-born singer seems to have found the right combinations to fit his voice. The opening song, “Love You Too Late,” has a distinctly country rock sound but then quickly changes pace on the much slower title track that follows. Between electric and acoustic guitars, a solid accompanying bass and keys, plus some seriously fun drumming, Swindell’s band pleases the ears throughout. Not to mention, adding a very “pop country” vibe to “20 in a Chevy.”

The Production:

While the team did a good job with spacing out songs, making sure there weren’t any lulls or back to back uptempo tracks, the production wasn’t anything special. The mixing was well done, but other than that, there isn’t much here you’d write home about. Just pretty standard production.

The Essentials:

“Love You Too Late,” I’ll Be Your Small Town,” “20 in a Chevy,” and “Reason To Drink”

The Rating:

Cole Swindell did a really great job with his summer project, providing listeners with fun drinking tracks, emotional lyrics on others, and really solid work from his band. If there is an album to keep in your rotation for a while, it is this one. All of It gets a:

7

Nothing higher or lower, just a solid number for solid Swindell record. And don’t forget that “we all got a reason to drink!”

– Heff

cole

Excitable Boy – Warren Zevon

It’s Friday again, and it’s time to flashback. I missed last week as I was in the midst of a midterm marathon, but I’m coming back with one of my favorites. In January of 1978, Warren Zevon released his classic album Excitable Boy. Zevon is one of my favorite artists, combining an unmistakable rock and roll structure with folk song type lyrics. My dad showed me him when I was younger, and what I enjoyed most was his ability to paint a vivid and detailed story with such few words. So let’s take a look at an often overlooked album by an under-appreciated artist.

The Vocals:

To be honest, they aren’t the best. He’s got a cool voice, very gruff tone, but he doesn’t have the range a lot of solo artists do. However, what he lacks in vocals he makes up for in his lyrics. All the tracks tell impressively intricate stories in an elegantly simple way, and most of the stories are kind of out there. Take, for example, the title track. “Excitable Boy” tells the story of a boy that keeps doing increasingly worse things, followed by the excuse that “he’s just an excitable boy”. It starts out with him spilling a pot roast on his chest, who of us hasn’t? I won’t ruin the song, but it escalates pretty quickly from there. Overall I’d have to say the vocals are nothing to write home about, but you’re gonna want to pay attention to what he’s singing.

The Instrumentals:

The instrumentals on this album are pretty great. A couple notable names helped in recording this album, with Jackson Browne playing guitar in many of the songs, as well as John McVie and Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac appearing on the track “Werewolves of London” (on bass and drums respectively). The studio helped to put together a very tight back band for Warren Zevon, who conducts the whole show from behind the piano. Each song has similar instrumentation, but each manages to be distinctly different from the one before it.

The X-Factor:

The album is only 30ish minutes, so it probably loses points for that. However, it’s an album that you can listen through start to finish, all nine songs.

The Essentials:

Every Track. (Except maybe “Veracruz”)

The Rating:

8.1

This album is sort of a hidden gem to anybody that didn’t grow up with it, and I recommend taking a look if you’ve got thirty minutes to kill. Til next week (probably).

-Drew

zevon

Escape Tha City – Generic Tha Character

Upstate New York is not exactly the first place I would think of when it comes to growing hip-hop scenes. However, that is exactly what Eric Armitage is cultivating. Going by the stage name Generic Tha Character, the young artist has created a movement of other rappers and singers from the Utica area and formed the label and production company, Tha Bakery. When he is not working on the business side of things, he is in the studio pumping out mixtapes. Escape Tha City is Generic’s first official album on the major streaming services.

The Vocals:

White rappers have always gotten a lot of heat from the industry, most of the time for the reason that they all sound the same. What feels different from Generic is that, while he doesn’t hide from that stereotype, he seems to be creating his own sound. You start to see hints of this on the tracks “Funk” and “Scenic Route.” Many of his flows just feel distinctly different than how many of the current young rappers rhyme. We often see from this crop of rising artists that lyrics and verses can be corny, talking about drugs or cars or chains, all feeling roughly the same. In “Coffee Shop,” Generic tells the story of two hopeless romantics starting a relationship over a coffee date. His topics are unique to him, clearly coming from personal experiences and emotions. It also helps when any hip-hop artist collabs with other members of their label. CASSIDI hops on the opening track “Keys” to provide an R&B vibe to compliment Generic’s verses and Kyle Partyka joins in for the chorus of “Home” using his rapping persona, Go Go Gadget Pink Packet (seriously, that is a name).

The Beats:

Tha Bakery did the majority of beat production throughout the 9-track album. Each track seems to give a much more laid back feel, nothing is up in your face or overpowering the vocals, which creates this lofi hip-hop sound at times. “Coffee Shop” features a beautiful sounding acoustic piece that is paired nicely with some hi-hats. Everything just feels very relaxed throughout the project, even on the tracks with faster tempos like “Funk” and “Black & White”. It adds a certain vibe and flow to the record that fits it all together.

The Production:

With that certain vibe, you can’t ignore how well produced this album is. Before Escape Tha City, Generic was putting out many of his mixtapes on SoundCloud. The switch between albums and mixtapes can often be difficult for self-produced rappers, however, the Utica rapper seems to have done it pretty flawlessly. The transitions are smooth, each track sounds like it was mixed by professionals, and, as mentioned before, the album just vibes out really well. I was surprised if I am being honest. Going in, I was expecting a lack in production value, with more focus on Generic’s skills as a rapper or beat developer, however, it’s clear that Tha Bakery is the real deal when it comes to music production services.

The Essentials:

“Black & White,” “Happy, Pt. 1,” “Happy, Pt. 2,” and “Rondaxe Run”

The Rating:

It’s pretty obvious to see that Generic is helping curate Utica’s hip-hop sound and culture. Atlanta has trap, New York City has gangsta rap, and California has west coast rap…I am not sure what to classify Utica’s sound as but I sure it will be Generic and his team of artists at Tha Bakery who will be the ones to coin it. With top quality production, solid bars, and good beats Escape Tha City gets a:

7.4

I highly recommend you give Generic a listen. Utica is the last place I would expect to find a rapper, but it turns out that Upstate New York may have a bigger hip-hop scene than most give it credit.

-Heff

generic