Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Music Update

My current plan is to do a three-fer review of Brandi Carlile, Kacey Musgraves, and Blackberry Smoke in probably mid-April, so the albums have time to sit with me. That will still be one album per month, but gives me more listening time.

A nice February surprise for me was the Black Panther soundtrack, especially since I'm not usually a hip hop fan. Well some of the songs have a more r&b vibe, like "All the Stars" and "Pray for Me," and I've been listening to those a lot. I won't be doing an album review, but it's always nice when something pulls me into different genres. I can feel my mind expanding. It's a little tingly. Ahhhh.

I looked at the country chart today. Why, why did I do that. Okay, here we go.

I've heard good things about Ashley McBryde, I need to check her out.
EDIT: Yeah, I like this. I like this a LOT. Her album's coming out in March, so I might just make that review a four-fer. "Here's to the breakups that didn't break us." This is my kind of country song. Beautiful strong voice, a little Sara Evans. Okay, this is why I look at the charts. Every once in a while there's a gem I might miss.

That new Zac Brown Without the Band song is in the country top 40. Seriously, screw him for saying one thing and doing another for the almighty profit. I'd be fine with him making a pop song for pop radio, but this shows an utter lack of integrity from an artist I used to count as a favorite.

There's a Chase Rice song called "Three Chords and the Truth." Ha. Hahahahaha. I haven't heard it, but I'm guessing it's another attempt at de-broification. More like "Three Chords and the Truth Is I Haven't Known What the Hell to Do With My Career Since 2015." Live by the Axe body spray, die by the Axe body spray, bro.
EDIT: Okay I broke down and listened to this thing and it's still pretty bro-ey, just more toned down. But it's a girl in a car and drinking and name-dropping old songs and YAWN. Do these people ever do anything but travel in cars? I'm getting some Birdemic-level driving here.

Morgan Evans. Dylan Scott. Michael Ray. Chris Lane. Morgan Wallen. Jordan Davis. Devin Dawson. This is all the same person. Prove to me it isn't, I'll wait.

Dierks Bentley has a song called "Woman, Amen," apparently following in the footsteps of Keith Urban's "Female." How nice. Now can we have more actual women on the charts who aren't Bebe freaking Rexha? Amen.

I feel like I'm too old to unironically listen to someone called "Scotty" tbh.

In my last post I raised the question, Will Maren Morris ever make another good song? The answer appears to be no, no she will not. This "Rich" song... okay, I will say it has more personality than anything else I've heard from her since "My Church." But it sounds bad, like really really bad. The production is a mess, just noise being thrown in my ears. Like it genuinely sounds like it wasn't mixed right. I guess we have "busbee" to thank for that, whoever and whatever that is. I'm going with "cartoon bee from the 90s." And to that I say, buzz off! Hahahahahahkillme.

And um yeah, this thing totally takes from "The Joker" by Steve Miller Band, of all things. As a classic rock fan, this is something I could get behind if done right, but it sounds awful and her level of rock swagger is nil. (With the right production, Carrie Underwood could maybe pull this off.) And it's not awful because it's "not country." I'm no purist, there's plenty of pop country and rock country I dig the hell out of. Just make music that sounds good, that's all I ask.

Artists should be able to express themselves and make the music they want without feeling pigeonholed. Telling an artist they MUST make country music, and it must adhere to some arbitrary standard, is about as conducive to creativity and making good music as all the shit I hate on the other side of the argument (autotune, drum machines, etc). But here's the thing. If you're gonna lay claim to a defined genre of music, by all means feel free to experiment with it. But do it with some form of respect. If you give off the impression you don't actually care about country at all, then you shouldn't be marketed that way. The point of country shouldn't be to be as not-country as possible while still maintaining the tiniest shred so you can go, "See? See, that's country!" I mean... why do it if you don't like it?

Country music isn't about somebody hitting you upside the head with a banjo and telling you to play it or else, it's about taking the banjo and other traditions and making them your own. It's about having enough passion for what the genre is, and has been, to find your own lane on the highway. If your music shows no actual connection to country, why lay claim to it at all? I mean, I'm not gonna fly to France and say I'm French.

Monday, February 26, 2018

You know what's a WAY better song and sentiment than "Most People Are Good?" Montgomery Gentry's "Some People Change." This is a more realistic view of the world that still has a positive message without the whitewashing. Don't give up hope, some people change. You know, the ones that aren't good... at least not all the way through.

The Inevitable De-Broification of Bro Country

Before I comment on the quality of the music, can I just say lol? Like, lololololol? Because sometimes pop culture is so predictable and stupid I'm ashamed to be a part of it.

Bro country's been (mostly) dead for a while now, but it's like all the poor lost bros suddenly got torches lit under their asses to not be bros anymore, and stat!, and come up with something Deeper. Deeper, with a capital D. But is there any actual substance here, or just pandering?

Case 1. Marry Me, by Thomas Rhett

I already talked about this one, which turned out to be the warning shot. The non-bro Bat Signal to the rest of the Bat Bros. Or whatever. I'm losing this narrative fast, but not as fast as country music lost its narrative. Zing! Anywayyyy... my takeaway was that, while the song is decent, Rhett's vocals do nothing for me and he has the emotional range of a wicker basket. A photo of a wicker basket was posted, to much snickering glee on my end because I am twelve. And yeah, that's how I still feel. Give the song to a more emotive, gifted vocalist, say Chris Young, Darius Rucker, or Randy Houser, and you've got something.

Case 2. You Make It Easy, by Jason Aldean

Jason Aldean's a weird one for me. This is the guy who made "The Truth" and "Night Train," two songs I love. I don't love his voice, but it's fine enough to carry some good songs. But this is also the guy who made "Burnin' it Down" and "Dirt Road Anthem," and the tonal dissonance kinda makes you think he's just a singer for hire, not an Artist with Something to Say. And never have I felt that more than with this song. Oh it's way, WAY better than either of the latter, but... dude is trying to be Chris Stapleton. It's like, SO OBVIOUS. And there's only one Chris Stapleton. His voice and songwriting come from a real place, a desire to create and express genuine emotion through music. Aldean is riding a trend, and he'll ride the next trend, and the next. While he's not devoid of talent, it's hard to have much respect for him. Also, the couple times I've heard this song I finished the chorus off with a rousing "like Sunday morning!" which was oddly satisfying.

Case 3. Most People Are Good, by Luke Bryan

Well, there's a pandering title for you. Look, this isn't a bad song, and I do like an opportunity for Luke to remind people he can actually sing. I used to like this guy, after all. I just wish he'd show off his voice on something a little less middle of the road. Like "all lives matter," "most people are good" seems like a fitting rallying cry for these divisive times, ON THE SURFACE. I mean, most people want to hear they're good. But it's pretty easy to compartmentalize this shit, you know? Take Mr. Middle America Johnson, he's a good guy, always helps his neighbours, always donates to the church bake sale, claps extra loud for his kids in the school play even though they suck, you know, a great guy.

But dig a little deeper and all his neighbours and congregation and kids are white, and he doesn't know any people of colour or gay people (that he knows of). And maybe he's got some subconscious, casual bigotry that causes him to vote for those who actively seek to harm such people who are outside of his own circle. Does this make Mr. Johnson a bad person? Not necessarily, but it doesn't really make him good either, and that's why these sweeping messages don't work for me. I realize the point was probably to make it not political, but I don't think my point is political. THAT'S the problem, that things like being a bigot or not are considered "politics." I say this because I feel this song is for Mr. and Mrs. Middle America Johnson, and I think you have to look below the surface level there. Saying someone is good doesn't really help anyone; bursting the bubble they live in does.

I do like how he said no one should be ashamed for who they love. That's actually... really damn progressive for Luke Bryan and this kind of song, so good on ya. But overall, I think "Humble and Kind" does this better. It's reminding you to BE humble and kind, not saying that most people ARE humble and kind. Which is a flat ass lie, obviously.

I'll end this with how Tom Servo replied to "Only the good die young:" "Most people are morally ambiguous, which explains their random dying patterns." Because there's a MST3K quote for everything, and it's gonna be my new (non)hit country song.

Case 4. Break Up in the End, by Cole Swindell

AKA The Dance 2018, but with all the power stripped away. Okay, this isn't a bad song either. If it hadn't immediately struck me as wanting to be The Dance, and failing, I'd probably like it more. I'd definitely like it more if, like "Marry Me," it was sung by a more emotive vocalist. Bless his heart, he's trying, but Cole Swindell wishes he had the emotional range of a wicker basket. He has the emotional range of a bowl of poi.

This isn't Cole's first non-bro rodeo, in fact "You Should Be Here" was probably one of the first big shifts away, back in 2015. I feel bad criticizing that song, it's about his actual dead dad, but look... like these other songs, it just didn't hit me emotionally. The detail wasn't there, there was no raw emotion in his voice. If anything, this new song hits me a little more, just because it IS the same theme as The Dance, and it actually has pretty nice sounding production.

EDIT: I discussed "You Should Be Here" here. I called it "grief lite." Damn, 2016 me was cold.

Actually, another thing I wrote there pretty much sums things up. "If you wanna have a hit, make a song that will somehow resonate with everyone despite actually resonating with no one."

We're at the point where the biggest compliment you can give a song on country radio is that it "sounds country". That sucks, but maybe songs like these are how we start to equalize. These are probably some of the best, if not the best songs on country radio right now, and you can either take that as a sad indictment or a stepping stone. Things aren't great yet, but maybe this will lead to some actual great songs being heard. Or maybe it won't. I mean, I wish it didn't all feel so calculated. But I'll give these bros the same grade I gave Justin Timberlake: "You tried." It's better than "You're a lazy sack of shit," at least. We still have to solve the woman problem, but maybe having less toxic songs on the radio is at least a start? idk. I mean, there's also something out there called "Singles You Up," so we might just be heading for the apocalypse.

So what's next? Will Sam Hunt's next single just be a tastefully EDM-laced recording of him singing in the church choir? Will Florida Georgia Line ask to duet with someone actually talented, and get laughed all the way to Alabama? Will Brantley Gilbert find his way out of his own asshole? Will Maren Morris EVER make another good song??

Stay tuned, I guess?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

RIP Daryle Singletary :(

Well shit, I just saw that Daryle Singletary died. What the hell?? He was younger than Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, and Keith Urban. Man, I wish his career could have stuck around like theirs did. He was great. "Amen Kind of Love" is in my top 10, if not top 5 favorite 90s country songs. I mean, if I was gonna use a single song to illustrate the kind of feel good country I like, here it is. Time may have passed him (and many other 90s artists) by, but I never forgot him and never will.

Music randoms

Okay, what's been going on here. Well, I've mostly been going over The Shins' discography and enjoying myself. Sooo many amazing songs in their catalogue, and Heartworms just grows on me with every listen. But then I got tired of enjoying myself, I guess, and decided to look at another trainwreck. Or at least a minor wreck, not the complete derailment and everything on fire sort of wreck that Fall Out Boy was.

So, I've never listened to a Justin Timberlake album. He's not my kind of artist, I never cared about 90s boy bands, I listened to pretty much nothing but country when the whole N*sync vs Backstreet Boys war was raging. Perhaps someday we'll read of it in history books. Anyway, I didn't pay him much attention until his duet with Chris Stapleton on "Tennessee Whiskey," which blew me the hell away. It's a good song to begin with, and wow did their voices sound great together. So having heard that the album would be more organic and rootsy (no, I never expected it to be "country"), and that Stapleton had a feature, I gave it a listen. Or rather, other than "Say Something," I gave it a preview, cause there was no way I was listening to that whole long ass album.

I didn't like "Filthy", and it seemed that releasing one of the least organic, rootsy songs I've ever heard as a leadoff single was either terrible marketing or an indication the album would not be as advertised. Turns out, it was kinda both. The song sounds like there's a robot drowning in the background, which makes me sad honestly, and who the hell wants to think about filthy hands preparing meat? You might as well just call your song "Salmonella." The overly obvious sexual metaphor is not sexy or helpful; I'm still just thinkin' about bacteria. Overall, I will give JT props for trying something a little different. I think he failed, but so many pop stars don't try at all since they don't have to, and I feel like there was at least an attempt at genuine artistry here. I mean, it doesn't feel cash-grabby, which automatically lends it sincerity. I just wish it was any good.

The only song I really care about, "Say Something" with Stapleton, is... okay. Just okay. Their voices still sound good together but it's nowhere near the powerhouse that "Tennessee Whiskey" was. I'm mostly left underwhelmed and feeling like I should just listen to a Stapleton album instead. What it did do is put Chris Stapleton in the top 10 of the pop charts. I don't think it will last, but at least we can say that happened in 2018.

What I got from the rest of the album wasn't so much "OMG this sucks!" as "You tried." I feel like in trying to be "deeper," he only revealed how shallow he is. He's the Anti-Kesha. Any attempted rootsiness does not feel organic, it feels like more of a pose. And the thing is, I don't think it is a pose, because to what end? I think it's genuine but still comes off feeling tryhard, because it just doesn't work.

On a more positive note, I finally checked out two more albums from last year, thanks to the Grammys of all things. First up was Lorde's Melodrama. I don't know if I've talked about Lorde here, but I like her. I enjoyed her first album, with "Tennis Court" being my favorite track. Her minimalist style doesn't blow me away, but it definitely has its place. It's a much better coffee house soundtrack than your typical boring White Guy with Acoustic Guitar. You know, like Arthur Johnson or whoever that guy was. Jack James? Anyway yeah, Lorde. While nothing hit me quite like "Tennis Court," I think Melodrama is overall a stronger album. It's very listenable if you're in the right mood, without any bad tracks. My favorite is "Homemade Dynamite." In fact, the little interlude where she goes, "Now you know it's really gonna blow *boom*" is probably my favorite two seconds in music last year. I also liked "Liability," "The Louvre," and "Perfect Places."

Next was Awaken, My Love! by Childish Gambino and yeah, this one's an honourable mention for my favorite albums. I put off listening to this because I loved "Redbone" so much and was afraid the album wouldn't hold up. Happily that was not the case, the whole album has that sweet vibe. There are a couple skippable songs here - his voice sounds really annoying on "California" - but overall this is a soulful, funky and dare I say, groovy experience to let wash over you. Groovy with a deliciously dark edge that sets it apart. I'll be playing this a lot come summer. Favourites other than "Redbone" are "Me and Your Mama," "Boogieman," and "Have Some Love."

Finally, "Finesse" keeps growing on me more every time I hear it. I LOVED New Jack Swing and still listen to quite a few songs from that era. So Bruno Mars making a Bell Biv Devoe style song? Yeah. HELL yeah. Not only do I hope this is the huge hit of the year like "Uptown Funk" was, I hope it brings back more of that sound. Fun, upbeat pop music with a great beat, what??! Pop music doesn't have to be dour, depressing, midtempo sludge? Why that's just crazy talk, sir. 🧐

New Brandi Carlile in a few days, so that will likely be my next post.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

tbt ~ Patty Loveless

A reminder that mainstream country used to sound like this, and there were women who weren't pop starlets. Lots of 'em.*

*just off the top of my head - Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, Dolly Parton, Martina McBride, Lee Ann Womack, Pam Tillis, Sara Evans, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Alison Krauss, LeAnn Rimes, Highway 101 (female vocalist), The Judds, Reba, and Tanya Tucker. And yes, Shania, who is pop but totally has her own sound and personality. You're not gonna confuse Shania with anyone else, unlike today's few "country" women who aren't Miranda or Carrie.

Am I gonna keep hammering this into the ground? You betcha! This post was partly inspired by this lovely rant.
Maren Morris quickly went downhill for me after "My Church," and now she's working with "Zedd." Pretty sure he's come up here before but I don't remember for what. Ah right, the "feral cat playing a didgeridoo" song. Lovely.

I think the "bro" era is well and truly done with, Body Like a Mud Pit killed it once and for all, but there's still a long way to go in bringing women back. So I'll be back in the 90s, or listening to artists like Angaleena Presley, til the industry gets its head out of its butt. Well, you'll be waiting a mighty long time, you might say, but the 90s weren't THAT long ago. Is the road between there and here really so broken it can't be fixed? I know THE INTERNET is always the big scary monster that killed everything, and radio is scrambling to stay afloat, but... women WERE successful in the 90s. It's not like, "oh we can't afford to carry women anymore, sorry," when they've already been proven hitmakers. I don't get what's changed about that. All I know is country women deserve to be more than just be a throwback.