Mumford and Sons, Wilder Mind

Mumford and Sons, Wilder Mind

After winning a coveted Grammy for Babel, just their second full-length album, the always-eclectic Mumford and Sons fell quiet, taking some time off after touring relentlessly. It was time for a break. During that break, it didn’t really feel like the band was gone, or at least not the influence. We saw Marcus Mumford join supergroup The New Basement Tapes to sling new flavors and melodies onto old, unused Bob Dylan sessions. They even released multiple live recordings, but it seemed the hiatus might go on for a while.

Mat Kearney, Just Kids

Mat Kearney, Just Kids

When it’s been nearly four years since you heard from an artist, things can be forgotten. We may have forgotten the way that artist made us feel when we listened to their songs. We may have replaced their best songs with current top tracks on Spotify or iTunes. We may have even forgotten they existed. Four years is a long time, specifically and especially in the music industry. But for Mat Kearney, the second you jump into Just Kids, you’ll remember what you’ve been missing this whole time.

Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color

Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color

Rockers Alabama Shakes have made quite a name for themselves over the past few years, and after 2012’s impressive Boys and Girls, they took to the road to support the record. Three Grammy nominations and countless shows later, it’s been three solid years and we’ve finally got a new album from the four-some to digest.

Drake, If You're Reading This It's Too Late

Drake, If You're Reading This It's Too Late

While it may have been a surprise release, there’s really no surprise that Drake has been keeping his newest mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late under wraps. The interesting thing about this whole project is that we don’t really know what to call it, at least until Drake confirmed it’s a mixtape. Being 17 tracks, it’s certainly an album’s worth, but IYRTITL is a different beast than 2013’s landmark Nothing Was The Same. Many reviewers and critics are comparing the new mixtape to Drake’s debut EP So Far Gonesince it’s his first mixtape since that one, and IYRTITL released on the six-year anniversary of that first release. But in truth, this isn’t the same Drake from 2008.

Fall Out Boy, American Beauty / American Psycho

Fall Out Boy, American Beauty / American Psycho

Save Rock and Roll, the fifth album from Fall Out Boy, and coincidentally their triumphant return to music after nearly three years, was one of the best records of 2013. After a failed attempt by lead singer Patrick Stump to make it as a solo artist, and the rest of the band jumping headlong into side projects, the band reunited and quietly recorded easily one of their best and most ambitious records to date. While praise reigned for the record, a large enough group of fans were vocal that the band had completely removed themselves from the straight punk days of Take This To Your Grave, so Pax AM Days was born. 

Derek Minor, Empire

Derek Minor, Empire

Empire, the fifth full-length from rapper Derek Minor, is the equivalent of Kanye West’s Yeezus from 2013. While it might be surprising to some, that’s the closest comparison I could find to what Derek Minor has accomplished with Empire. After releasing three full-lengths under the name PRo, Minor signed to Reach Records, home of Lecrae, Andy Mineo, KB, Tedashii and Trip Lee. When the signing occurred, the public erupted, knowing what Reach was known for and what they could accomplish with Minor’s brash and passionate style. After one record with the label in mid-2013, he left to create his own label, Reflection Music Group (RMG). Minorville was an instant classic in the Reach library, but Minor’s focus has always been to develop artists as well as make great music.

Kanye West, Yeezus

Kanye West, Yeezus

If there’s one thing you can’t fault Kanye West for, it’s creativity. The man makes every attempt at making music that is just way out of — what seems like — his comfort zone. With Yeezus, he somehow kept the entire project under wraps until the last couple of months. After the immense (critical) success of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he’s back with a follow-up, and it proves to be much more in your face than anything he’s released before.

Jay-Z, Magna Carta Holy Grail

Jay-Z, Magna Carta Holy Grail

You could easily say that hip-hop has definitely changed in the past five, maybe even ten years. The leader of the change could be Kanye West, as evidenced by the innovative yet flawed Yeezus which I’ve reviewed here on this blog. Where Kanye was all about pushing the envelope, and trying new things in the name of creativity, the stark contrast is sticking with what you’re good at, and what works.

Coldplay, Ghost Stories

Coldplay, Ghost Stories

Coldplay has come a long way through their career. It’s a powerful creative tool when, as a band, you have the control to make the kind of record you want to make. Despite being on a major label, it appears that Parlophone has allowed vocalist and primary songwriter Chris Martin and Co. to really take their time with each album, and create music they love. Martin was on record when they were working on Ghost Stories that this album would be more stripped down, but still Coldplay.

Anberlin, Lowborn

Anberlin, Lowborn

Anberlin’s tenure in music has been a tricky one. Starting out as a simple, self-contained rock band in 2002, the band signed to Tooth and Nail Records and went on to release a trio of albums, each one with more depth, thought, and structure than the last. While Blueprints for the Black Market and even Never Take Friendship Personal saw lead singer and songwriter Stephen Christian leading a band that didn’t have much identity, the turbulent rockers hit their stride with Cities in 2007. Long revered as the quintessential Anberlin record, Cities brought on so much more than a newer sound. It brought the identity the band had been looking for, and caused a massive shift in what was to come.

Jack White, Lazaretto

Jack White, Lazaretto

Typically, with a review on a sophomore record for an artist, you would dive into the differences (or similarities) of what was done on the first record, compare it to the second, and make a judgement call based on whichever one is better. Can you do that with Jack White? Not necessarily. While Lazaretto might be his second full-length solo venture, it’s not like he had to start over as soon as The White Stripes ended. His fan base continued on with him, and it’s likely he gained quite a few fans when Blunderbuss released. The first record for him as a solo artist was indicitive of what we’ve come to expect from White: brash, unadulterated rock, with a heaping spoonful of the experimental.

Passenger, Whispers

Passenger, Whispers

It’s still funny to me how artists can be so good, and writing and recording records for years before they actually get “discovered”. Michael David Rosenberg, aka Passenger, is one of these examples. Whispers is his fifth full-length album, and likely one of only two (and that might be a stretch) that most of his fan-base will know of. I’ll admit that I only ever knew about the original five-piece Passenger band back in 2007 with Wicked Man’s Rest, and then Rosenberg fell off my radar. But with the immense success of “Let Her Go” from All The Little Lights, coupled with opening for young superstar Ed Sheeran, Whispers is sure to garner a much wider audience than ever before for this songwriter.

The Black Keys, Turn Blue

The Black Keys, Turn Blue

The Black Keys have kept this new album Turn Blue hidden from the public eye for much of its existence, and likely on purpose. As big as they are, they couldn’t risk it falling into the wrong hands and leaking onto the internet before release. But more than that, I think they wanted to try the Beyonce method, where it was much of a shorter time between releasing a few singles and then the album coming out. The tactic definitely worked, as they’ve seen some great sales initially. Unfortunately, as before, they’ve decided to keep their distance from streaming services, similar to their big debacle with El Camino in 2012. But nevertheless, two years after the landmark and most popular album the duo has released, The Black Keys are back.

Extremist

Extremist

Longevity is a tricky thing within the music industry. You’ve undoubtedly heard the horror stories of bands starting off, going into debt with a record label, and then having to quit just to pay off that record. Others have been around 15–20 years and still doing the same thing they did in the beginning. The passion is lost (for some, not all), and they’re just playing the shows and making the records for something to do. 

I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry and I Love You

I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry and I Love You

While I haven’t spent a ton of time listening to Derek Webb and his impressive eight album solo career, I was familiar enough with his music as well as Caedmon’s Call to know that his new album, I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry and I Love You was a special one. Through a forthcoming interview I was able to learn more about the heart and soul behind the story of this record, and that made the album that much more appealing and worth my time to listen to. The album is a harkening back to what made Webb such a stand out and albeit, at times, controversial singer-songwriter, and plays off many of the same subjects once covered by his debut solo album, She Must and Shall Go Free.

Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks

Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks

Five years is short for a hiatus. More and more bands are finishing their careers later on and then coming back, say 10 or 11 years later. Some of them even just get back together for one 2 minute performance and then go back into hiding, as not to foreshadow what other artists have accomplished. When it comes to Trent Reznor, despite the hiatus he didn’t stop working. He scored two of the best films of the last five years with collaborator Atticus Ross. But it seems that Reznor couldn’t leave the Nine Inch Nails name behind (and why would he, since the past has proven its worth), and we’re gifted with Hesitation Marks , a record five years in the making.

Bastille, Bad Blood

Bastille, Bad Blood

A dream of mine is to visit and work with an artist who records an album of theirs at the legendary Abbey Road Studios. Knowing that nearly every Beatles record was recorded there, among other hit albums, it would be as surreal as sitting in the same room where Dolly Parton recorded “Jolene”, which I got to do just last year. So to say that Bastille has a leg up, recording their debut album at Abbey Road, is an understatement.

Nothing Was The Same

Nothing Was The Same

I haven’t always been a fan of Drake. When he first started, I thought he was just going to be another one of those rap/R&B crossover guys who didn’t have anything new to say, or interesting to bring to the table. But when I dove into Take Care, I was pleasantly surprised at the maturity and artistry that he brings to the table. Nothing Was The Same continues this trend, and surpasses it.

Arctic Monkeys, AM

Arctic Monkeys, AM

Arctic Monkeys has never really been on my radar. I’ve heard them for years and I’ve been told by so many people that I need to hear them, how could you not like them? My excuse is simply, I just didn’t like it. Through four records, somehow they never held my attention. But then we have AM. I don’t know what these guys did to change things up, because it sounds like a standard evolution for the band, but this is by far, their best work.

The Marshall Mathers LP 2

The Marshall Mathers LP 2

When people get annoyed that artists aren’t doing their old album styles anymore, I just laugh. Doesn’t anyone besides me understand that artists grow? We wouldn’t have half the artist we have today if somebody hadn’t changed their sound from their first, second, third albums. Growth is inevitable. And no one knows this more than Eminem. Of course, part of this annoyance from people is because he called his new album The Marshall Mathers LP 2. People have been saying this is his worst album, and it sounds so pop, but do you really think he cares? He’s happy to be alive. He’s doing music. Despite the haters, despite the ridiculous things people will say, Eminem has, in fact, released the best possible sequel to his most iconic record.