The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 8 — Cody Jinks, Brent Faiyaz, Miley Cyrus & more!

Welcome to the first edition of The Endless Music Odyssey of 2021 and the eight volume overall! In this volume I take a look at several albums (plus a single) that were released in late 2020 as I continue to knock out the backlog of releases from 2020 I didn’t cover yet. So if you don’t see something covered here, it’s likely in the next volume or it’s going to be a separate review. Let’s dive in…

Buy It

Cody Jinks — Red Rocks Live

Basically if you’ve ever wanted a Cody Jinks greatest hits album, here you go. A live album is always hard to review, as they’re mostly songs that have been heard and reviewed before. So you have to judge it just like you’re at a show. And if this was a show, I would give it an easy two thumbs up. As someone who greatly misses live music, this makes you feel like you’re back in person. The only complaint I have with this album is I would have liked to have heard more crowd noise incorporated, as at times it feels like they go missing. You gotta remember to keep the live element to distinctly differentiate it from the studio recordings, otherwise it sounds sterile and uninteresting (Midland’s live album is unfortunately an example of this). If you want a great example of a modern band who does this well on their live records, see all of Blackberry Smoke’s live albums.

Other than that this is a fun album front to back that covers all of the great Jinks songs from his first handful of albums. The sped up live version of “David” and the encore, extended performance of “Loud and Heavy” are the immediate standouts. And of course I really enjoy Jinks’ cover of Alan Jackson’s “Chasin’ that Neon Rainbow,” as it’s one of my favorites from Jackson and the song fits Jinks like a glove. I’ve never seen Cody Jinks live before, but this album reminded me I need to change that once concerts return one day. This is a great live album and well worth your time and money if you’re a fan of Jinks.

Stream It

Brent Faiyaz — F**k the World

This was an album that slipped through the cracks for me last year and when I discovered this at year’s end I immediately rectified this. I wish I had heard and reviewed this sooner because it would have without question gotten attention on at least one year-end list. Brent Faiyaz is an artist I’ve been following with interest, as his independent approach has been written about countless times and he’s an example of an artist who’s figured out how to thrive outside of the traditional music system.

His debut album didn’t do a lot for me, but it showed enough potential that I hoped I would like the next one. Well I definitely enjoy F**k the World. It’s a fantastic fusion of R&B, pop, soul and hip-hop that see Faiyaz explore relationships, wealth, indulging in pleasures and consciousness of one’s own self. The song that best exemplifies this is “Clouded,” a song that clocks in just under two minutes. Despite it’s short length, this song pulls no punches and showcases everything great about this album: the catchy lyrics, Faiyaz’s confident and cool delivery, the musing lyrics and the drowning, atmospheric production that engulfs the listener.

“Been Away” is a really nice take on 90s R&B and I enjoy the wandering anxiety of doubt and trust that’s explored in a relationship. The album’s title track shows off Faiyaz’s crude humor, as best shown by the line “Fuck the world I’m a walking erection.” That’s the funny thing about this album: how Faiyaz is able to pull off this weird juxtaposition between thoughtful reflection and outward bravado. They’re polar opposite reactions, but I feel like that’s the point Faiyaz is making with this album. It shows how complicated people can be and how the inside and the outside don’t always match up. “Bluffin” only reinforces this idea. And oh yeah Faiyaz really makes some fun songs that quickly grab your attention.

As funny as this is to say out loud, a great R&B album should have a sexy, classy tone. And F**k the World quickly establishes this mood and keeps it from front to back. Also I must say this album impresses me with how long it feels in terms of runtime while listening to it despite it coming in under 30 minutes. It speaks to how great this record is and I can’t wait to hear more from Brent Faiyaz.

 

Kishi Bashi — “Never Ending Dream”

I usually stick to albums for The Endless Music Odyssey, but I had to make an exception here. Kishi Bashi continues to be one of the most underrated artists in indie music and his pop sensibilities are incredible. His new song “Never Ending Dream” only drives this point harder. Made as the theme song for Apple TV+ kids show Stillwater, this song is so damn bright and colorful, as it bursts with the kind of happiness you expect from a song for a kid’s show. Yet it’s not cartoony or corny and works equally great as a regular song. The soaring, whimsical melody and the catchy lyrics can’t help but make me grin as I listen. Can more people finally start paying attention to Bashi on his next project, please?

Worth a Listen

Miley Cyrus — Plastic Hearts

I really wanted to like this album more than I ultimately did. It’s the type of album I’ve been hoping to hear from Miley Cyrus: an 80s pop rock album with a modern touch. This style of music is right in my wheelhouse. It starts out promising, as the first three songs are pretty good and feature strong hooks. Then you get to “Prisoner” and I’m expecting something great with Dua Lipa being featured. After all Lipa released one of the best pop albums of 2020 and she did an excellent job of utilizing retro sounds. But this song is so underwhelming. Lipa’s vocals sound incredibly weak and I can’t believe there’s no harmonies on the song, as it strongly calls for it.

The rest of the album follows suit for the most part with songs that have potential, but fall short. I will say an exception is “Night Crawling,” as Billy Idol’s feature is good and the over-the-top, synth driven sound has a real infectious appeal. Some songs the hooks are weak (“Midnight Sky”, “Hate Me”), others the production is half-baked (“High,” “Golden G String”) and lacks any sort of melody or groove. I’m shocked by the lack of guitars featured on this album, as you would think this style of music would feature plenty of guitars. But they’re largely absent until “Edge of Midnight,” which is a clear highlight of the album (even this song could use more guitars). Stevie Nicks sounds great on the feature and there’s harmonies that give the song real power (see why this was needed for “Prisoner”).

While Miley Cyrus clearly appreciates 80s pop rock, her execution of it on Plastic Hearts is unfortunately lacking overall. If you enjoy this style of music, it’s definitely worth one listen and who knows you might find more to like than I did. But as someone who’s listened to a lot of this type of music, there’s certain elements that just aren’t strong enough for this album to rival any of it’s inspiration.

Izaak Opetz — Hot & Heavy-Handed

While the chill and lo-fi approach Izaak Opetz takes to this is intriguing and drew me in, the only song I found myself wanting to re-listen to was “Drunk on a Plane.” And I feel like that was only because of my familiarity with it and the jarring contrast to the original. This is a fun novelty album that I’m glad I gave a chance, but not something I see myself returning to in the future. The aesthetic and presentation of this album is make or break for you.

Ariana Grande — Positions 

Ariana Grande has a fantastic voice, probably one of the best in pop music today. But her music has always proved to be elusively appealing to me because it feels like her songs just lack the type of melody that get me interested in a pop song. Her songs also have a more modern sleekness, which I personally don’t enjoy as much as pop music that reutilizes retro sounds and combines with modern stylings. There’s a few songs I enjoy on this and while I respect Grande’s work, it’s just not something that appeals to me.

Goodie Mob — Survival Kit

Man, the production on this is fantastic! It’s rich, varied and immediately commands your attention. There’s a melting pot of influences from hip hop to soul to gospel. Andre 3000 and Big Boi deliver great features as you expect from Outkast. And CeeLo Green is singing his ass off throughout it. But the songwriting is just flat-out weak and fails to hold my attention in any way. The hooks are somehow even weaker and are instantly forgettable. It’s worth a listen just for the production, but if the songwriting was just a little better this album might have bumped up a category. Damn shame.

Jim Clack — Submariner 

For a debut album, this is a decent effort from Jim Clack and shows enough potential that I would check out his next project. But this one just doesn’t quite have enough to go from decent to good. The songwriting is not bad and explores interesting themes, but it falls just short of being interesting enough to merit revisiting. The touches of harmonica throughout give the songs a nice bluesy feel. Clack has passionate vocals, but at times stretches himself a bit too thin like on “Long Lost Innocence.” He feels much more comfortable vocally on the rowdy and catchy “Sick” and the reflective “Someday I’ll Go into Space.” It’s a short project, so if you enjoy country music with a bluesier, rougher edge I think you’ll find things to enjoy.

Avoid It

38 Spesh — Interstate 38

The production on this is intriguing at first and keeps you listening. It’s the clear strong point. But the hooks on this are weak, the lyrics are not memorable and it feels like 38 Spesh’s flow never changes throughout the album. Even Benny the Butcher’s feature is kind of unremarkable. This album feels like the perfect example of an unfortunate side-effect in music, but especially in hip-hop: artists are churning out music so quickly that it pressures those around them to keep pace and not being forgotten by listeners. Not to mention it also pressures a lot of artists to stay close to the sound “that works.” The result is album’s like this that feel like your standard hip hop album in today’s music world; there’s nothing that really stands out or is remarkable.

Album Review — The Weeknd’s ‘After Hours’

There’s nothing better than on the first listen of an album knowing that you’re listening to something that’s special. When I listened to this new album from The Weeknd, that’s the feeling I got. On his last album Starboy, there were several great moments. But the overall album felt unfocused and bloated. It just didn’t have a direction. All of this though is not only rectified on After Hours, it’s a front-to-back required listen to truly appreciate each song. It’s what an album experience should be.

Eery keyboards play in opening track “Alone Again,” where Abel Tesfaye (it feels more appropriate to refer to him by his actual name when discussing the story) finds himself in an identity crisis, wondering if he’s really the type to be in a relationship. But at the same time he questions if he can be alone again too. It sets up a battle that plays out through the album: his love versus his demons, fighting for and against both at various points. On “Too Late” the relationship has fallen apart and now he’s alone, confronting the guilt and realizing how he did her wrong. I love the pulsating, yet reflective tone of the production, as it heightens the lyrics. “Hardest To Love” is Abel admitting how difficult of a person he is to love and seeing how she’s trying to let him go for good. The dream pop influences mixed with The Weeknd’s usual sound really works well, a credit to producer Max Martin. It gives the song an appropriate overwhelming feeling, as this feeling of disappointment consumes Abel.

“Scared To Live” sees Abel apologizing for being selfish enough to not let her go sooner, stringing her along much longer than he should have. He also owns up to ruining her perception of love and encouraging her to get back out there and find love. It’s a great dose of maturity on an album centered around immature and reckless love. One more cool factoid for this song: it uses an interpolation of Elton John’s “Your Song.” On “Snowchild” Abel reflects on all the sacrifices and work it took him to make it big, but now he plots leaving the bright lights of Los Angeles. He’s simply over it all in the light of the breakup, looking to remove himself from the situation entirely. Despite the sad nature of the song, The Weeknd does manage to get in a clever and funny line: “She liked my futuristic sounds in the new spaceship/Futuristic sex, give her Phillip K. Dick.”

“Escape from LA” sees him leaving finally, but not before one more battle of giving into the desires and sins he knows are destroying him, hooking up with his ex while also realizing she’s a “cold-hearted bitch” and the fake, plastic nature of the bright lights around him. The frustration at the situation and himself bubbles out, while yet indulging in what he knows is wrong. This leads to his jaded bitterness now driving him on “Heartless.” He’s fully relapsed into his single lifestyle, sleeping with every woman he can trying to ignore the pain coming from his heart. The glitzy, yet dark undertones of the production from Metro Boomin perfectly paints the mindset and feeling of Abel in this moment. The song serves as the precursor to the car going off the cliff so to speak.

Abel is going down hill fast and headed for rock bottom on “Faith,” the major turning point on this album and in this story. He throws away his year-long sobriety, indulging in drinking and various drugs in his favorite place of sin, Las Vegas. He admits he’s losing his religion and faith, as the heartbreak of his situation completely overtakes him. By the end of the song he finds himself in the back of a cop car, finally hitting rock bottom. Both the lyrics and production do such a great job of giving that feeling of slowly descending into darkness and then the thud of hitting the bottom at the end when the sirens sound. It’s the most important moment on this album, the crossroads of falling and climbing back to the top.

The climb back up begins on “Blinding Lights.” Abel begins to fight to regain his love, admitting that maybe he can learn to truly love someone. It’s an appropriate title too, as it’s play on the last song being about being blinded by the lights of a cop car and Las Vegas. But now he’s being blinded by the light of the realization of how much he wants to win his love back. Martin comes through once again with more fun production, as the synth and drum machine-driven sound is instantly catchy and makes you want to dance. “In Your Eyes” is Abel professing his love and claiming to see that same passion in her eyes, even though he know there’s hurt that still lurks within her too. This song features even more excellent production from Martin, in fact it’s the best on the album. It’s also the best modern take on 80s pop rock I’ve heard, nailing every little detail needed with the synths, including the fantastic surprise saxophone that comes in at the end.

“Save Your Tears” sees Abel coming across his love at a club, with each exchanging looks and neither being able to walk up and talk to the other. Internally he’s pleading for her to take him back, while also acknowledging he’s late and that she deserves better than him. I love all the little details in the lyrics showing both the external and internal conflicting emotions on display from both Abel and his ex. Throw in the moody, dream pop-influenced production of Martin that gives the song the right amount of tension and anticipation and it’s another great coordination of The Weeknd and Martin. “Repeat After Me” is an interlude of Abel saying his ex doesn’t really love her new man if she’s still thinking of Abel and that it’s just casual sex that means nothing to him. One wonders if he’s trying to convince her or himself more with this plead. Also gotta love how The Weeknd manages to sneak in yet another top notch producer in Kevin Parker to produce this, who of course even in an interlude manages to deliver great production.

The album’s title track is about Abel falling into desperation over his pleadings to win back his ex, unable to sleep. In fact the song is a mash-up of essentially all the feelings he’s experienced up to this point, showing how his emotions are spiraling out of control. He finds himself stuck reliving everything from his past as he struggles to cope with his feelings in the present. The production is noticeably darker and downbeat, as it goes into the final track “Until I Bleed Out.” Abel finally realizes that he’s lost her for good and will never win her heart back again. Now he’s trying to go through the process of letting her go, proclaiming with these visceral lines: “I wanna cut you outta my dreams/Till I’m bleeding out, til I’m bleeding out/I wanna cut you outta my mind.” The production is appropriately dreary and dark, as Abel reaches the same point he thought he might have wanted at the beginning of the album: alone.

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt an album of the year contender.

Grade: 10/10