(hed) pe – Blackout

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I was no naive at the time. I wanted desperately to like this. The album cover was beautiful. The word ‘blackout’ is pretty cool. The band’s name was badass and made no sense. Best of all, there were supposed to be one of the more Hip-Hop orientated Nu Metal. My previous experience with them was with Only in Amerika, which was good if you ignore how it treated women like the Japanese treated their specimen in Unit 731.

Something about this record felt off, though. Sure, the opening song was great and bizarre with its melodic-yet-aggressive vocals. Everything else lacked the punch, that Nu Metal chutzpah that (hed) pe did better than anyone else. After following them further into their career, the position of this album became clearer. It also explained why Only in Amerika was such a hateful record towards women.

This was their normal record. Apparently, the label pushed them to make this. Making a more radio-friendly record means less profanity, less lyrics about partying and more straight-up rock about the general gloom of life. The fact the record still sounds at home in the Nu Metal speaks volumes about the band’s talent. The label couldn’t crush the party. Even while playing straight, the band is weirder than their peers.

The key to this is the band’s natural talent. On previous albums, it could be said the genre pushed them to great moments. Here, they’re dealing with a duller sound that only talent can lift up. Check that ominous riff in “Dangerous”, that jerky guitar line in “Bury Me” or the frantic bassline in “Flesh and Bone”. Whenever a Nu Metal band normalized their sound, they had no such moments. They kicked ordinary riffs. (hed) pe can still finds unique sounds even when making generic gloom rock.

Jahred’s vocals are, of course, an integral part of the charm. His vocals are just as versatile as last time. He raps a little less, but he still jumps freely from style to style. It sometimes even sounds like there are two vocalists in the band. On “Suck It Up”, his singing voice goes ridiculously low. I talk a lot about the balance between melody and aggression which Nu Metal bands are great at capturing. That song is another perfect example of how it works.

He does sound defanged. The title-track should be an anthem against conformity, about trying to fit in. Jahred doesn’t have the same bravado and conviction that made “Crazy Legs” so thrilling. He just sings. His voice is pretty, but is that what people call ‘inauthentic’? In the previous records, his personality dominated. Here, he’s just an extremely talented vocalist. The only time he sounds like the old times is in “Crazy Life”. That’s no coincidence, since it’s the one song that relies more on rapping and some hedonistic lyrics.

At least he has a beautiful singing voice. On the acoustic, Everlast-esque “Other Side” his voice is so pretty it doesn’t really matter that it must be insincere. If we learned anything from the Lostprophets fiasco is that music’s an act. Jahred’s act may not be the most convincing, but his natural charisma lifts up the already excellent melodies. No one else should perform “Revelations” or “Get Away”. Then again, who really cares about authenticity in Nu Metal? It’s a genre about partying and vague complains about life. Blackout may more serious than their previous album, but the title-track is still a banger.

There’s actually a good side to removing the band’s personality. In later records Jahred came off like a misogynistic rapist. How he didn’t get involved a sex scandal is a mystery to me. In fact, I’m sure he did his sure of sex crimes that just weren’t reported yet. Blackout is unique in the band’s discography. It has all the band’s main talents – the crushing riffs, odd sounds, genre-hopping, versatile vocals – without the obnoxious “Women are evil and I love sex” lyrics. It’s the one (hed) pe album I can listen to without squirming.

Despite defanging and normalizing the sound, the natural talent of this band lead to a strong set of songs. It may lack their unique personality, but then again their personality sometimes got in the way. Everything you need in a Nu Metal record – hooks, loudness, variety are here. Not every record can be as brilliant as (hed) pe’s self-titled, but each of these 13 songs should be on a playlist for a rock party.

3.5 crazy lives out of 5

Best Songs of 2015 – Part I

It’s been proven countless times. Music today is terrible, unlike music of the past. There’s no reason to listen to Enter Shikari’s experiments, Skrillex’s frantic energy or Martinez’s outcast pop when you can listen to Bowie’s outdated glam or Zeppelin’s pseudo-blues. Still, there are some good songs made today. This is the first part.

30. CHVRCHES – Leave a Trace

CHVRCHES’ first album was mainly songs about telling people to fuck off using cutsy synthpop. The new album is more varied but this song shows where their strength is. As always, it’s not explicit but Lauren’s harsh tone makes the line “Take care to leave a trace of a man” sounds so cruel. Lauren sounds hateful. She can barely view the guy who broke her heart as a man.

29. Barely Alive – Rough & Rugged

The Bass Music was scene was disappointing this year. The experimentation wasn’t as wide-eyed as before. Barely Alive still sound like it’s 2013, taking wobbles and mixing them in different types of beats. “Rough and Rugged” belongs in that unique house genre we don’t see enough of. It has a more complex, Hip-Hop influenced drumbeat. Plus, it’s full of tempo changes which gives a sense of structure. It’s a brilliant dance song, not just a DJ tool.

28. Of Monsters & Men – Wolves Without Teeth

This is the ideal music to play Skyrim to. ‘Glacial’ is the best word to describe it. Was playing Skyrim inspired them to switch to a colder sound? Everything sounds like icicles shivering in a cave. “Wolves Without Teeth” has the best melody of all the songs there. It helps it’s slightly warmer and less towards the epic side. It’s the perfect song to stroll in a snowy forest to.

27. Lana Del Rey – Music to Watch Boys To

Lana’s voice was always sexy as hell, but on this song she pushes it to the limit. It’s her sexiest song so far with the blunt statement on how she watches boys. There’s still an air of menace here, but the darkness in her music has been toned. Still, unlike a lot of singers who sing about sex Lana is actually being sexual.

26. Skrillex & Jauz – Squad Out!

I don’t know who’s most responsible for the brilliance of this. Jauz has been making great tracks and Skrillex has been moving away from wobbles. Still, he’s involved in a wobble-heavy song and the result is a throwback. It’s in the same style of Barely Alive but the wobbles are more vulgar now. The song is pure wobbles in a way that makes it border on a self-parody. It’s a trite expression, but it assaults the ears with wobbles more producers are killing for. It also changes as it goes on. Hopefully this trend will continue.

25. Insane Clown Posse – Mr. White Suit

They were never as bad as people said they are. They have a lot of horrible songs, but they also have a unique approach to Hip-Hop. No one sounds like them and no song by them sounds like “Mr. White Suit”. It’s a joyous song about a character who makes everyone’s life perfect. It has 3 hooks, all of which are incredibly catchy. The lyrics got no hidden messages about killing or kinky sex or bad humor. If this song was made by any other group, it’d get some acclaim.

24. The Prodigy – Medicine

The popularity of The Prodigy is baffling and obvious at the same time. They borrowed enough from Hip-Hop, Rock and Dance at an era where they all dominated the mainstream. Yet there’s something heavy about them. Their music is creative but it always takes a backseat to beating up the listener. “Medicine” is the best example of this from the new album. The vocals are what make the song. They sound wrong, like the singer is high on some drug and is probably talking to someone who isn’t there. I’m sure people have lots of great sex in their shows but songs like these make it feel like everyone just wants to beat each other up.

23. Faith No More – Cone of Shame

Thank God Patton discovered his voice again. He’s a brilliant musician who often gets caught up in being weird. “Cone of Shame” is an old-fashioned weird Nu Metal song with progressive elements. It builds slowly until it explodes into a climax where Patton alternates between screaming and singing in a clean, beautiful way. This isn’t weirdness for weirdness’ sake but an idea that changes and eventually concludes.

22. Bring Me the Horizon – Oh No

Listen to this and then listen to their debut. How many bands did such a radical change? Most of the new album is still rock, but this detour into gentle EDM is the complete opposite of their beginning and makes perfect sense. They borrow more from Nu Metal now anyway. There’s a unique class of break-up songs that sound both triumphant, accepting, sad and angry at the same. Sykes mourns the end while telling his lover to fuck off with a beautiful chorus that, hopefully, won’t be remixed in an Avicii song.

21. Papa Roach – Gravity

By this point, Papa Roach are a stadium rock band. That’s okay, because Shaddix is a good vocalist and they know how to write a hook. This attempt at making Hip-Hop again (And it’s their most Hip-Hop orientated song yet), like Horizon’s aforementioned track, is weird but they sound comfortable in it. Shaddix was one of the weaker rappers of the scene but here his voice is clear and he sounds like he missed rapping. The chorus is beautiful, too, sounding more tender than anything they made recently. It’s both a moment of tenderness and experimentation in the middle of an ordinary stadium rock album.

20. Carly Rae Jepsen – I Really Like You

Carly shouldn’t be a big thing. She makes simple, joyous Pop music about liking boys. Since now every Pop artist has a statement to make, her simple take on Pop is a statement on its own. Now that we forgot the endless parodies of “Call Me Maybe” we can enjoy this music for what it is. Until I heard this, I didn’t realize how much we needed this type of music. Carly sounds so happy as she repeats the word ‘really’ over and over. It’s a break from the Pop singers who are fine with misogyny to be with the cool guys and the messy personalities of Del Rey and Martinez. Now, I love the latter (the former can die) but we need this, too. Carly won where Swift lost. Unlike Swift, she sounds human, confused and excited about love.

19. Excision – Live Wire

Exicison used this as the final track for his mix. It’s not just because it’s brilliant, but because it disposes of all build-ups. The previous Bass Music tracks on this list still have breaks between the dros. Once “Live Wire” kicks in, it switches tempos constantly and proves how such a tiny change makes the same sounds feel different. “Live Wire” doesn’t add anything new, but it shows a producer perfecting his genre.

18. Primitive Race – Long in the Tooth

I’m glad someone decided 90’s Industrial Rock needs to come back. Everything that made that scene great is here. Raymond Watts is still an arresting personality with his vocals – menacing, badass and sexual in a way that sounds antisexual. The formula remains the same. Write a rock song and find enough bizarre mechanical sounds to stretch it to 5 minutes. Some genres are confining, but Industrial Rock isn’t.

17. Melanie Martinez – Dollhouse

I don’t get how Martinez isn’t bigger. Most Pop stars, even the sad ones, are personalities that society loves. Del Rey and Tove Lo have their troubles but if they were outcasts, they couldn’t complain about sex with bad guys. Martinez is an outcast, and just that makes her more original than all the rest. “Dollhouse” isn’t her best song but it’s the definitive one. It captures her aesthetics its themes. Her obsession with things having a nice cover to hide the terrible is here. The melody sounds like a nursery rhyme and the lyrics talk about a family which is dysfunctional underneath their perfect exterior. She could be more subtle, but there’s enough venom even in her worst lines to make them effective.

16. Fall Out Boy – Centuries

If you’re a rock band who fills up stadiums, songs about heartbreak start becoming less believable. You got groupies in the back. “Centuries” is a stadium anthem that sounds sincere. It’s the cockiest Rock song since Kid Rock’s Rap-Rock album. It makes most rappers sound humble. Stumpg goes on and on about how we will remember him for centuries and then others they’ll disappear soon. If I made a song as good as this, I’d be cocky too.

15. Crazy Town – Lemonface

Yes, they returned. They got critical backlash mostly for being in a genre that didn’t have a loty of mainstream bands. Their brand of Rap-Rock was closer to the wide-eyed approach of PWEI and Urban Dance Squad. “Lemonface” sees them going Industrial Rock, which they always flirted with anyway. You’ll hate it if you hate that brand of cocky angst rock that was big in the 90’s, but there’s something fun about how aggressive and happy it is at the same time.

Insane Clown Posse – The Amazing Jeckel Brothers

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Insane Clown Posse finally makes a consistent, great album. It seemed impossible. Carnival of Carnage and The Ringmaster contain pretty much nothing of worth. Even Great Milenko, which produced some fantastic songs failed as an album. They had a great foundation, but somehow for four albums they failed to even comes close to fulfilling the potential.

The reason Jeckel Brothers works is simple. While on Milenko they lifted their strengths to great singles, on Jeckel Brothers they take care of the weaknesses. There are songs here called “Bitches” and “Another Love Song” and they’re both great. That’s because the Clowns are less considered with being dirty and shocking, and more with this whole act of crazy killer clowns. “Bitches” sounds so stoned and out-there it’s hard to get offended by it. Ol’ Dirty Bastard appears in it to inform us that he’s willing to have sex with fat women when he’s smoking weed. This is how overblown this album is.

The theatrical side was always the Clowns’ strength. Whenever they stopped acting like Horrorcore rappers and tried to make a soundtrack to their Dark Carnival thing, they sounded focused and original. There are two interludes dedicated to the title characters, and they both work. Banging beats with carnival sounds, circus announcer vocals and melodic hooks were what made their best songs.

The Clowns translate this new found understanding of their sound to a strong, consistent set of songs. The album’s length also comes from it. They extend it to 17 tracks not to cover up a lack of ideas, but because they have a lot of them. Songs like “Mad Professor” and “I Want My Shit” wouldn’t work in Riddle Box, or even Great Milenko. Here, they’re amusing enough get by despite the underwhelming hooks. When the hooks are there, it’s good as always.

It’s also thanks to moving further to rock-like songs. Clark’s production hasn’t changed much. It operates in the same way as Great Milenko – guitar riffs, carnival sounds and anything else odd that he can get his hands on. The songs no longer sounds like they’re Hip-Hop with guitar noises added. “Play With Me, “Nothing Left” and “Everybody Rize” rely much more on hooks and melodies, and are closer to Crazy Town than anything else. The bolder approach suits them more. It allows them to play up the theatrical aspect, instead of just making bad rap songs full of cuss words.

Only two songs don’t really work, but even then it’s not as bad as before. “The Shaggy Show” and “Fuck the World” are decent ideas, but the former is boring and the latter has a stiff, annoying flow that’s supposed to be angry but is very unconvincing. It’s a waste of a good hook. They’re at least sound like they can improved upon.

“Assassins” deserves a special mention. The last hook descents into mayhem of gunshots, guitar riffs and screaming. It’s a perfect example of when the Clowns’ music really works, even if it’s a cover. Thankfully, Jeckel Brothers wasn’t a one off. Even when their later albums were underwhelming, they still have the same verve and spark they found here. I’d understand anyone not wanting to wade through the crap in their back catalogue, but Jeckel Brother is a unique album that deserves at least one spin. It’s amazing how they went from the dullness of Carnival of Carnage to this.

3.5 jugglers out of 5