Album reviews (September/October edition)

Lance Jenson, Student Writer

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As October comes to a close, it is time that the music released in the past two months is examined. The hottest takes from September and October include releases from Tool, Post Malone, and Billy Cobb. While there is certainly much more that can be covered, these selections are something timely and worth the listen.

 

Picture taken from https://ultimateclassicrock.com/tool-fear-inoculum-album-art/

Tool – Fear Inoculum (Aug. 30): Tool has certainly found a way to make new names for themselves after the release of their fifth album, Fear Inoculum. The long-awaited LP comes over 13 years after the release of their previous album 10,000 Days (May 2, 2006). The album’s content varies depending on what media sources you use, and quite frankly, you’d be grateful to own the copies that have less music included.

First, physical CD and vinyl owners are given a seven-track experience. This version of Fear Inoculum kicks things off with the title track — a long, drawn-out intro filled with nothing spectacular. Despite a slow start, the album immediately slams into the next track with one of its heavier hitters, “Pneuma.” “Invincible” follows and shows off the band’s ability to master the art of layered sound. That, and the succeeding “Descending” prove that the album’s engineering is top-notch, a result of the band’s work with record producer Joe Barresi. As the album plays on, the listener is tricked into thinking things are slowing down with the relatively calm “Culling Voices,” and the instrumental “Chocolate Chip Trip” — a “trip” with nothing as sweet as the title. The seventh and final track on the album, “7empest,” is exactly what every Tool fan has been waiting for. As the band is known for its mysterious and enigmatic album concepts, Fear Inoculum seemingly revolves around the number seven. This adds to the complexity of the riffs in the song and creates the ultimate layering effect that has been the band’s lucky number seven to earn the album its redemption.

The adventure doesn’t end there; Tool released a deluxe version of the album containing a 4″ screen, speakers, an insert booklet with artwork, and a code to download “bonus” tracks. The bonus tracks, however, are what brings the second media source into play: digital. In the advent of digitally distributed music, the band was known to shroud their music in secrecy by never officially releasing it online. However, just weeks before Fear Inoculum came to the world, Tool uploaded their entire discography to iTunes, Spotify, and other digital music services of the likes. When accessing this latest release digitally, either via streaming, or the download code given with the “deluxe” version of the album, there are three extra instrumentals added to the tracklist: “Litanie contre la peur,” “Legion Inoculant,” and the new closer “Mockingbeat.” Their significance is debatable, as they offer nothing in the realms of musical entertainment or talent, and simply display a plain, superficial droning sound that robs the listener of the original experience.

Despite Tool’s sad and frustrating attempt to make some sort of social commentary out of trolling die-hard fans with subpar instrumental tracks — ones that are otherwise forgettable if you had just listened to it for free on any streaming service, and not if you had been scarred by the money you arguably lost — Fear Inoculum is a decent presentation in the band’s musical ability. The actual tracks are hard-hitting, and give listeners a glimpse of what members Maynard James Keenan (vocals), Danny Carey (percussion), Adam Jones (guitar), and Justin Chancellor (bass) have been cultivating over the past baker’s dozen in years following 10,000 Days. The initiative, while slow, is still something worth appreciating and taking in on one’s own.

Trying to make a statement in the current metal movement, Tool has almost failed in their efforts to do so; but, trying to make a statement about their fans? That’s where they hit the jackpot.

Overall, the piece is worth a 6 out of 10. 

Favorite track(s): “Invincible” and “7empest.”

 

Picture taken from https://www.complex.com/music/2019/09/post-malone-hollywoods-bleeding-album-stream

Post Malone – Hollywood’s Bleeding (Sep. 6): Upon the first listen, Post Malone’s third album presents the listener with a sound that has evolved from his sophomore album, beerbongs & bentleys (May 2018). The songs offer an audible dreamscape, floating from one song to the other in a heavily filtered valley of Post’s melodramatic vocals. This soft cloud complements the album’s cliche heartbreak stories that Post has come to seemingly only write; however, the delivery of these vocals clashes with the edgy instrumentals that remain a characteristic which sets him apart from the other Top 40 artists. The album’s tracklist is lengthy, totaling 17 songs, but the rather extensive set comes at the expense of having an average track length of just under three minutes. Those three minutes are not to be underestimated though, as nearly every second offers something worth a listen.

The LP starts off weak, with tracks like “Hollywood’s Bleeding” and “Saint-Tropez” displaying a mediocre beat with forgettable lyrics; although, while the beginning shows no promise, there are tracks that make pushing through the first few songs worth the wait. The fifth track “A Thousand Bad Times” becomes very promising, and with a beat reminiscent of “The Cupid Shuffle” it gets you on the edge of your seat and keeps your ears running in circles with another of Post’s earworms. These “Circles” continue with track six, a new acoustic ballad with a catchy bassline and simple drumbeat.

The two heaviest hitters on the album, track seven and nine respectively, are what really makes this album go for the gold. After the 2017 remix of Post Malone and Quavo’s “Congratulations,” Future returns, this time alongside singer Halsey, for his second collaboration with Post on the song “Die For Me” — the most dramatic presentation of a breakup’s duality in 2019. Track nine, “Take What You Want” introduces listeners of this era to a veteran of the industry, Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy collaborates alongside the acclaimed Travis Scott in a rock-laden refresher that’s much different than what’s hit the radio in recent years. With a guitar solo that feels just like it belongs to The Prince of Darkness himself, “Take What You Want” is a collaboration the music industry was in desperate need of.

The latter half of Hollywood’s Bleeding becomes uninteresting again, aside from two songs in particular. The first of the two, “Sunflower,” features Swae Lee, and was previously featured on the soundtrack from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The sweeter tone of the song enhances the message Post and Lee are leaving for their lovers in an attempt to explain their personal schedule conflicts as a result of touring so often. The last track that has massive appeal is the song “Goodbyes,” previously released as a single, featuring Young Thug. The song became a summer hit as soon as it hit the radios in July, and it’s understandable why. The bittersweet goodbyes Post Malone speaks of are accompanied by an angelic and deep instrumental covered with another trap beat, making this a very memorable piece. After “Goodbyes,” the promises come to halt until ultimately reaching the last song on Hollywood’s Bleeding, “Wow.” — a song that really has no “wow” to it.

Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding is an example of an old dog that has actually been taught new tricks. While he’s risen to stardom so suddenly over the past 3 years, Post does what artists need to keep today’s music masses happy — trap beats and heartache — while maintaining his own voice; one that’s been inspired by the smorgasbord of musical influences he grew up on. The album’s sound shows lots of growth for somebody who is still so early in the game, and if anything, builds upon the success and profile of 2018’s beerbongs & bentleys sevenfold. 

Overall, it deserves a solid 7 out of 10. 

Favorite track(s): “Die For Me,” “Take What You Want,” and “Goodbyes.”

 

Picture taken from https://genius.com/albums/Billy-cobb/Halloween-iv

Billy Cobb – Halloween IV (Oct. 18): Just in time for the Halloween season of 2019, Billy Cobb releases the latest installment in his hallmark Halloween music series. Compared to Halloween, Halloween II, and Halloween III (an album also reviewed here), the fourth release shows Cobb exploring a more experimental take on things. The expressive, 36-minute LP follows an artistic interpretation of one’s account of their youth Halloween with a horror movie-esque spin on the tale, and it occurs throughout five tracks that are better thought of movements rather than songs.

The opener, “I. Halloween 1994” sets the tone by describing the young man’s waking day of Halloween up through the moments that lead to his night’s beginning. This is staged with excellence, as the relaxed, folky tone suggests the innocence of the speaker, yet reflects upon the uneasiness felt when he looks back on the night. The real treat comes with the contrast offered by the four-and-a-half minute jam session that follows the introductory narrative. The harsh pseudo-improv guitar solo implies that the story ahead is more of a warning than a simple retelling.

Following is “II. Trick or Treating,” which develops the story and reveals the real horrors behind the speaker’s holiday experience. What had happened years ago continues to haunt the individual, as he remembers the loss of a female friend, making the events so troubling for the speaker and the girl’s family. The somber mood is complemented by a lingering acoustic sound that abandon’s Cobb’s usual folk feel and seems to drag on until the second half of the song. While the track isn’t of too much interest, its place in the story’s concept makes up for the five upsetting minutes it takes up.

Tracks three and four, “III. The Party” and “IV. The Graveyard” move quickly, as they elaborate on the spiraling events that led to the disappearance of the aforementioned girl. The “party” scene depicts the final hours that the speaker and his friend spent together, as another one of their friends met with them at the party and tempted the crew to enter the nearby graveyard. “III” has an alternative pop-rock sound that reflects Billy Cobb’s previous work, similar to that of his 2018 release Strokes of Incarceration. The poppy strokes offer a dash of unoriginality, but the story concept once again keeps the song breathing with lost souls finding their way. “IV” shows what happens in the graveyard, revealing the fate of the speaker’s girlfriend. It begins with a folky, almost rockabilly, sound, and towards the end, it develops a slowed, ominous pace before a ghoulish ambiance plays into the final track.

Ending the album, “V. The Closet” runs on for a full ten minutes, interpolating pieces from other tracks, and allows the narrative to come full-circle with the speaker all grown and explaining that the memories of the events were more horrifying than the holiday itself, hoping to one day soon see his Alice again. The drug out beginning explores the agony of grief until the song begins to get heavy with another solo and breakdown. This breakdown feels as if the story has offered our speaker an escape as the events flash before his eyes, and eventually, a heartbeat fills the listener’s ears. This fades into nothingness as an empty static fills the last three minutes of the album, implying that the story has now come to its end.

Billy Cobb’s Halloween IV is the seasonal spirit everybody needed this October. The constant swaps between a pop-rock sound and acoustic heartsongs heighten the gravity of the story’s situation. The excellently written narrative pays the debt that the plain instrumentals of the middle tracks bring to the table in comparison to the fresh, jam-out attitude of the intro and outro. This is possibly the best half-hour anybody can spend this Halloween.

Overall, the album is worth an 8.5 out of 10. 

Favorite track(s): “I. Halloween 1994” and “III. The Party.”