By: Derek Jung
Imagine a scene from a typical 80's movie, with opening credits over a red convertible driving through the desert at night , faint lights of a city flickering in the distance. The driver, dressed in a leather jacket, puffs on a cigarette and smirks as the camera pans out and the location becomes clear. This is Las Vegas, and the driver knows that he's in for a hell of a night. This was the image that swirled around my mind during the seductive opener to the album, "Vegas". Shamir, moniker of singer-songwriter Shamir Bailey, softly sings "We're sinners alright, at least at night" in his distinctively high-pitched voice. He may be young, but since Las Vegas is his hometown, he's experienced much of what Sin City has to offer and projects this sensuality throughout Ratchet. "Vegas" is our silence before the storm.
Shamir's dance-pop roots, while not as apparent on "Vegas", come in full view on the next three tracks, "Make A Scene", "On The Regular", and "Call It Off". These songs are meant for the dance floor, and Shamir is in prime form on these songs. With deep, robotic and catchy beat, "Make a Scene" encourages us to do just that, before launching into an amazingly danceable synth beat break. "On The Regular" showcases his rapping, stating defiantly that "Haters get the bird, more like an eagle./This is my movie, stay tuned for the sequel". I love the clinking cowbell that surrounds this track and the house beat that drives this single. It helps the song through powerful movements and ups the intensity of the lyricism of the raps, which is fluid but never really varies in tone. This is easily one of the catchiest songs of the year so far, and it was an easy choice in my Best of 2015 So Far list. The next track, "Call It Off", is a break-up song, but one that is excited to be free to party again. Shamir exclaims that he "just can't make a THOT a wife/No more basic ratchet guys" before belting out a disco-esque refrain of "It's time...to call it off".
These three songs, each one clocking in at less than 3 minutes, are definitely the highlight of the album, and if you're looking for the remaining 6 songs to be dance anthems like these singles, you're in for a disappointing listen. Yes, they have similar dance beats and catchy refrains, but they come no where near where the above three songs reach. "Demon" is a swing and a miss of a pop song, sounding like something your standard radio pop star would try to do, in a bad way, despite being pretty deep and vulnerable lyrically. "Darker" is a beautiful ballad that really highlights Shamir's vocals and showcases the vulnerability that was missed on "Demon". If this is what he sounds like toned down and soulful, I want to hear more.
Overall, this is a pretty solid full length debut that pushes the dance-pop vibe into new territory, flashes brilliance, and never lacks the flamboyant confidence or in-your-face attitude that we've come to know from Shamir. I think it's safe to say that the phrase "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" does not apply for Shamir; he's destined for bigger things...on his own terms.
My Number: 7/10
By: The Busted Amp Staff
Joseph: Tame Impala are at the top of the psychedelic world. Since their debut in 2010, this band has been blowing away fans of psychedelic music with their experiments in vocals, drum lines, and guitar riffs. If you don't know Tame Impala, you probably aren't a fan of The Grateful Dead or Phish, however if you are a fan of those then you'd probably say Tame Impala is one of the best bands on the planet. Tame Impala is in a rare position. A position to introduce the purists of the psychedelic genre to the world of the synthesizer. While the genre has been experimenting with synthesizers for years, there are many fans of the genre who believe that these melodies pollute the experience, and have thus avoided it. Well, if Tame Impala's transition to synthesizers doesn't convince them of the validity of the instrument, nothing will.
Currents is, in my opinion, the best album to come out of the psychedelic genre in a long time. From its frantic opening in "Let It Happen" to the final fade out (one of the few times I will ever enjoy a fade out because it's actually used properly) in finale "New Person, Same Old Mistakes," I believe bandleader Kevin Parker is trying to bring the purists of the genre with him. I think it will work.
My favorite song on the album, "The Less I Know, the Better," features a fantastic bass line that I have the strongest urge to sit down and learn and play with as much personality as bassist Cam Avery does. I also really enjoyed the opener and single, "Let It Happen," because this song is a great introduction to the synthesizer, as the instrument dominates the song at baby bear levels: not too much or too little, but just right.
You know it's funny because, in my review of X Ambassadors VHS, I said I prefer singles over album listening. Well, this still reigns true. However, this is the album I will remember at the end of the year when I think of my favorite albums of 2015. Not VHS. Why? Because I still greatly appreciate and respect an artist willing to sacrifice good singles and good radio airplay to churn out a phenomenal album experience. This is the expectation in the psychedelic world, and Tame Impala is now 3 for 3 when it comes to delivering a memorable album experience. While I do think things get a little too crazy around "Cause I'm a Man" and "Reality in Motion," as both of these songs have the tendency to mesh together, that's hardly a worthy complaint. This album is phenomenal, and I strongly recommend a listen to anyone who has had some experience with psychedelic music at some point in their lives. Now, I have the strangest urge to find some "substances" and listen to this album again. And by "substances" I mean water of course.
My Number: 9/10
Derek: From the very first note, bandleader Kevin Parker wastes little time before revealing the new direction of the band on Currents. Gone are the grooving psychedelic guitar riffs found on Lonerism, replaced instead by a myriad of synths and pinpoint production tweaks that sends you on journey after journey into Parker's mind.
The lead single "Let It Happen" is aptly named; we just have to take the plunge and let it happen. This is a slow burning album, far from songs like "Elephant" that helped propel the band to headlining status in the last three years, and "Let It Happen" is the perfect introduction. This multi-section, nearly 8 minute long song is full of surprises, from the foggy synths, the looping, and the electronic vocals, to the familiar albeit brief return of electric guitar, this is the most complex and ambitious Tame Impala song I've heard to date (confession: At first, I thought the looping was my music player crashing). Not surprisingly, the song made my list of Top Songs in 2015 So Far.
After a brief interlude to catch your breath, Parker and gang continue the slow, but purposeful vibe for the rest of the album. There are no heavy guitar riffs, but there is a distinct focus on what they wanted this album to achieve. I really thought Nina Corcoran from Consequence of Sound captured it best on her review when she said that Currents is "dance music for closed eyes, opium over ecstasy, slow moves rather than sweaty motions".
One of the few misses for me appears right in the middle of the album with the song "Past Life". On it, a low, groveling voice, reminiscent of what people sound like when they want their identity protected during interviews, provides a clichéd narrative of an unexpected sighting of a lost love that rekindles old feelings. This, combined with dreamy synths and an awful chorus of "I'm a past life" with added quips by the voice, come together to form a horrendous song that should have been scrapped. Spoiler, the song ends when the narrator calls his lost love. Besides this hiccup, the upbeat "Disciples" and catchy chorus on "'Cause I'm a Man" thoroughly make up for any pain endured on "Past Life".
All in all, this is a great evolution for the band. While many will miss the heavy psychedelic guitar riffs from Lonerism, I think Currents brings something just as beautiful to their catalog, and something that people will be listening to for a while.
My Number: 8/10
Final Verdict: 8.5/10
By: Joseph Kathmann
So I'm gonna essentially spoil my review right off the bat. VHS is not an album. It is a compilation of singles, thrown together with a horrible attempt at cohesion using what's meant to be a VHS player playing different memories from a person's life. However, the singles are fantastic, and some of my favorites of the year thus far. "Renegades" has already hit number 1 on the Alternative charts, and I expect several more songs from this album to hit that spot in the upcoming weeks as well.
If this first paragraph is any indication, it should tell you that I, on a general, surface level, enjoy an album made up entirely of decent singles. VHS certainly delivers on this front. We'll get to why I'm so high on this album but first? Lyrics. Lyrically, this album sucks. Let's just get that out of the way. Most of the songs try to be "edgy" and are made for today's mainstream hipster, with lyrics like "Won't you follow me into the jungle/ain't no God on the streets in the heart of the jungle." This is from the song "The Jungle," which was a major hit a few months ago. Wow guys, you're so edgy with a refrain like that! But it doesn't matter.....I freaking love this song. It's not my favorite from the album, but I can't help but jam out whenever I hear it. It's catchy, what can I say?
Ok, I can't help but laugh at that thumbnail. They're trying to hard to be edgy! Just stop! Do what you do best: make catchy music. So why am I so high on this album? Well, besides for the fact that most of the songs are catchy as hell, there's just something about the frontman, Sam Harris, and his brother, Casey Harris. So, personal anecdote: I saw this band live in Virginia back in March and discovered Casey, the band's piano player, is blind. I can't help but respect this band for just this reason alone. However, there's also something about the voice of Sam Harris. It really comes out in songs like "Nervous" and "Unsteady" on this album. He's not afraid to stretch the limits of his voice, which is more than can be said for most singers today. While the lyrics of "Unsteady" are very typical, opening with the line "Hold/hold on/hold on to me/cause I'm a little unsteady," Sam Harris makes the song extremely interesting and fun to listen to just with what he does with his voice. And yes, he makes the song, and many others on this album, good. In my highly subjective opinion.
There were a few other bold tracks on here as well. It was obvious these guys were simply throwing as many ideas against the wall as possible and seeing what stuck. Not all did. The biggest of these misfires was "Fear," a rather bold and (unusually) unique collaboration with Imagine Dragons. I tried to like the song. They really went all out trying to create something that doesn't sound like every other mainstream Alternative song out there. But, there's just too much production on top of the track tying it down. There's so much crap going on. The production makes this song a convoluted mess, because more is always better, right? Well....not so much here. Honestly I would love to hear a stripped-down version of this track, with just the band and the basic parts. I think that could be a great song. Such a wasted opportunity....
There isn't much else to say about this album. At the end of the day, I still had fun listening to it, and I've found myself playing it quite a bit in the car. I just wish they owned up to the fact that it is a compilation of singles thrown together and not bothered to include the VHS interludes. Honestly, I'm still not sure if that was supposed to be a VHS player. It certainly didn't sound like one, (since I'm old enough to remember what those sounded like) but why would you call the album VHS and then not make the interludes VHS-related? I don't know, and I don't care. It was just silly, and a horrible attempt at creating cohesion between songs. Despite the negatives, I'm still very high on this album because the singles are catchy, fun, and some of the songs are even good. This album is destined for my guilty pleasure list, and I'm certainly not ashamed to admit that.
My Number: 7/10
Derek: Hans, you took the words right out of my mouth. This is, at its core, a collection of singles thrown together and sprinkled with some pointless interludes to call it an album. This could very well have been a X Ambassadors greatest hits album, spanning two decades of band development and a rotating cast of bandmates, that's about how much cohesion can be found here. Whereas a band like alt-J can add interludes to an album that actually make sense, this feels like X Ambassadors were trying to make a concept album for the sake of having a concept album.
For me this album had too much layering, too much production, and was too schizophrenic to be taken seriously. Yes, some of the songs are catchy; yes, these singles will get airplay. That being said, whatever meaning and emotions many of these songs were trying to communicate get lost in the sheer number of things going on. There are just too many bells and whistles. It's fitting that they collaborated with Imagine Dragons on a track because I have the same complaint about them too. Everything is overproduced to the point where I don't know what to listen to. So I won't.
My Number: 3/10
By: Derek Jung
Neil Young has never been afraid to pick a fight with anyone. A little over a week after he made headlines for picking a bone with Donald Trump for using his song "Rockin' in the Free World" at a campaign rally, he releases an album taking aim at the controversial agricultural giant Monsanto, most famous for their genetically engineered seeds. Teaming up with Promise of the Real, which includes two of Willie Nelson's sons, Lukas and Micah, Young carves through 9 songs of scathing political commentary against all things Corporate America.
There's no mincing words on this album. Guns blazing, Young hits heavy and often. While there's a definite aging in his voice, he even sounds out of breath at times, you can never question his convictions or his distinctive tone. Churning, driving electric guitars feature on a number of songs that could easily translate into heavy improvised grooves on stage; others highlight Young, his acoustic guitar, and his signature harmonica.
On the opener, "A New Day For Love", Young declares emphatically that "it's a new day for the planet/It's a new day for love" with an optimism that isn't seen elsewhere on the album. From there on out the album delves into the struggles of American farmers, mother nature "enduring thoughtless plundering" on "Wolf Moon", and the evils of corporations, politicians, and, of course, Monsanto.
There's nothing necessarily new to this formula for the rock icon of over a half century, and that's not a bad thing. In fact, I think a number of these songs, especially jams like "Big Box" and fun whistler "A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop" would fit right in with "Rockin' In The Free World" just as "Wolf Moon" would complement his other moon hit, "Harvest Moon".
All of that being said, there's something missing that Young had years ago. Whether age or inspiration, there are times where this album completely misses its target. There's only so many times he can say "Monsanto" before we get the point. But at nearly 70 years old, Neil Young is still the Godfather of Grunge, and he can still produce an album to bob your head to. Monsanto better watch their backs.
My Number: 6/10
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.