Note: After putting up with my poorly titled Music Snob column for the better part of 18 months, I've decided that a more creative, more concise title was in order. So, what was "Mr. Music Snob's New Music Guide" has been shortened to "Note for Note," a title I created for my music review column at NUVO. Since I no longer operate a music column there, I figured I would just take the name and put it someplace else. Carry on.
Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
Two entries about weed and crack separate four bored-and-stoned-in-suburbia numbers from six in-love-and-stoned-in-the-city bummers. The centerpiece is the wondrously epic “Pyramids,” a slow burning ten minutes of Ocean losing his Cleopatra to the ills and shame of prostitution. It’s as hypnotic and seductive as anything found on last year’s Nostalgia, Ultra, which made heartbreak, hangovers and ice blue bongs attractive, therapeutic and cathartic. But where Ocean once found himself in dourness, here he finds himself on “Bad Religion” while bravely professing his love for another man to a taxi driver in the back of his cab. The music is stripped, almost naked; making Ocean’s raw pleading all the more visceral, and it’s beautiful to experience. But where he’s rigidly focused, he can also be uninterestingly content. It’s not until “Sweet Life,” a good seven minutes into the record, where the pace quickens, and some of the songs at record’s end, such as “Pink Matter,” (guess, just guess), wander rather than hit their respective spots. However, I'm willing to forgive the uneven tone. These songs are the sound of a man wrestling to find himself. GRADE: A-
Johnny Cash - Bootleg IV: The Soul of Truth
A two-disc gospel set comprised of the 1975 vinyl-only A Believer Sings the Truth, snippets of 1984's I Believe, and some choice B-sides from the same era, this fourth installment in the Bootleg series captures my favorite facet of the multi-faceted Cash. His sincere proclamations of having seen the light and discovering the love of Christ might contradict the idea of Cash the hard-ass his record company touted him as in his waning years, but that world-famous baritone of his rendered any musical façade he adorned to seem as sincere as the old rugged cross. The second disk is the better find as the first is prone to being too hokey even for Cash’s standards – although the contributions from the Carter family are noteworthy on “Way Worn Traveler” and “He’s Alive.” But it should be noted that the best track, a country-jazz cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal,” is found on the opening disc. When those horns kick in, you can hear those saints go marching all the way to eternity. With Cash’s God-like voice tossed in, this backsliding non-believer almost thinks about joining them. GRADE: A-
JEFF the Brotherhood - Hypnotic Nights
The brothers Orrall live and die by the riff. Along the way they enjoy beer, records, sunshine, road trips, Black Sabbath covers and beer. Hell, they even indulge themselves in some rather sharp melodies when they chose to. They'll never be anything other than the bare bones hard rock punks they currently are, and I doubt they'll ever make a record that's better than this one. Rather, they'll release consistent record after consistent record, never peaking while never disappointing. Not bad for a band who lives and dies by the riff. GRADE: B
"Leave Me Out"
"Mystic Portal II"
Beach House – Bloom
Having cast the Baltimore dream pop duo's fourth album in the scrap heap a few months back despite its almost universal appraisal from critics, I uncharacteristically dug it out, wiped off the grime and desperately tried to see if I was missing the mark. Only slightly. I still find their sound to be wondrously hollow, and singer Victoria Legrand’s vocals to be as dry as the wine they export from her native France, but where this record improves is the rhythm. Where the rest of their discography is want to wander, here they seem more focused and propelled – which makes their dry hollowness tolerable, at least until the halfway point where they morph back into their old selves. My feelings now? Let’s call it a draw. GRADE: B-
Katy Perry - Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection
First things first; I almost always avoid deluxe repackagings, especially when the initial effort leaves me as underwhelmed and annoyed as Ms. Perry’s sophomore effort. The hits are there, but the stadium ready dreamscape of “T.G.I.F.” and “Teenage Dream,” couldn’t overcome the stupefying inanity of pee-pee anthem “Peacock,” or the sappy ballad “Who Am I Living For,” which was overproduced to unflattering Gaga-like proportions. But where 2010’s incarnation was too diluted and unbalanced, version 2.0 features seven bonus tracks, four of which hit their mark, to complement the hits you already know. The acoustic rendition of “The One That Got Away” reinforces her disillusionment with romance, "Part of Me" re-establishes her charming and easily likable sensibilities just fine, while “Wide Awake,” finds a woman discovering that boys have more baggage than simply being hot n’ cold. Here’s hoping her maturation doesn’t stop her from having too much fun. She needs those Friday nights as much as she needs a good cuddle. GRADE: B-
Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
He hates Ronald Wilson Reagan as much as he hates dance rap, but don’t get him started on glam emcees who sell imaginary mansions to poverty stricken black kids who will never own one. Want to reach his soft spot? Get him to talk about the women he admires and the “baby mamas” whose womb could “make a Christ or Dali Lama.” If it sounds like a mixed bag it’s because it is. Part soft-hearted biography and part hell-fire political protest, only half the songs live up to the Rebellious African People acronym. And while his disdain and misanthropy for a system that has never done many favors for African Americans is palpable and full of merit, I enjoy it when he gets off his soap box and finds something to be proud of, the very music that African Americans have been making for decades. Rap music. No acronym needed. GRADE: B-
“Untitled” feat. Scar
Aesop Rock - Skelethon
His rhymes and beats are solid enough, but variety goes a long way too ya know. GRADE: C+
"Cycles to Gehenna"
Choice Cuts (good songs from otherwise bad albums)
Patti Smith - Banga
Jimmy Cliff - Rebirth
The Antlers – Undersea Ep
Dud of the Month
Zac Brown Band - Uncaged
The Buffett/Hootie/Alan Jackson tribute band you couldn't wait to loathe. GRADE: C-
Chris Brown - Fortune
Purity Ring - Shrines
Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten
Passion Pit - Gossamer
Gold Motel - Self Titled
Baroness - Yellow & Gold