Ryu - Tanks For The Memories

The wait is over. After years of work and hype, Ryu has finally released his debut record (excluding the "secret" 1999 record) Tanks For The Memories. Was it worth the wait, though?

The album opens up with a big sample - Pink Floyd's 'Hey You' being the basis of the instrumental. The sample fits pretty well in an odd way. The pleads of Roger Waters sound nice in between Ryu, Gravity Christ, and Divine Styler's verses. The track 'The One' follows up, full of questionable references, including calls to Street Fighter and CARS. It doesn't really give a great comparison to him being "the one," nor does the counting up from one to eight at the end... would it not have been better to count down?

The album lacks a lot of seriousness, and that's a problem considering how hard it tries to be serious. The goofy instrumental of 'Been Doin This' is funky, but the lyrics are just as silly and have no clear direction. Instrumental moments aren't all bad, though: 'Bottom Of The Bottle' features sweet, Japanese-film strings that add a lot of atmosphere to the track, the hip-hop beat creating a pretty sweet track. Jams is pretty solid on the track too.

This album is plagued by out of place, out of date styles. Revivalism or nostalgia is never discouraged, but it doesn't really work when the music reflects the mentality that it's still in the era in which this music is popular. The fans will enjoy, but there isn't much else to it. Evidence of this is seen in closing track 'I Did It Myself', which references Fort Minor: "For delf, for dolo, the wealth, the fame, the shows, the planes, the photos, the fans that still with me see me on DeSoto / Never heard of Fort Minor but they love Marco Polo." Ironically, in what is essentially a weak version of 'Remember The Name', he raps above a more modern instrumental with piano and poppier beats, but that line itself shows that he still thinks in that era. It is an older song, to be fair, but the point stands.

There are attempts to change that - 'Lap Of The Gods' with Tak and Celph Titled seems to try and channel Kanye West to mixed effects; the beat is good, so it can be excused to some degree. Other tracks try too hard to sound relevant, especially 'The Bumrush' wish is just plain silly. 'Who's Next (Move)' is somehow goofy and oddly aggressive all at the same time, and it doesn't fit well. There's just a lot of attempts at something that even Ryu doesn't seem to quite understand, and it resulted in a very confused album.

Tanks For The Memories is that awkward debut where an artist wants to look past it and move forward to the future. Hopefully, this means Ryu will head in a smarter, more refined direction. This album was years in the making, so let's see what comes from the next one. Maybe we'll see the real Ryu shine through, instead of this confused double and his friends.

Favorite Tracks: Radio Pollution, Bottom Of The Bottle

Least Favorite Tracks: The Bumrush, Who's Next (Move), Mantis For Lotus

Rating: 52 / 100

Skylar Grey - Natural Causes

Skylar Grey isn't a household name, but she certainly deserves to be - she's the mastermind behind some of pop's biggest hits as well as having quite a notable repertoire behind her. Some may remember her from her collaboration with Fort Minor in her Holly Brook for 2005's 'Where'd You Go', while others may remember her sexually suggestive collaboration 'C'mon Let Me Ride' with Eminem who was anything but "suggestive". 

What most people won't remember her for was writing such pop hits like Diddy's 'Coming Home', in which she is featured on, or Eminem's 'Love The Way You Lie' featuring Rihanna. Grey has a lot of talent in writing big, catchy tracks. Her new album Natural Causes isn't necessarily a pop sensation, but it definitely shows off her song writing abilities.

It begins with the hauntingly beautiful, robotic harmonies of 'Wilderness', an a cappella track leading into the creepy 'Jump'. Spidery guitars backing background vocals screaming like riots as she sings oddly calmly above the chaos of the song: "All I want to do is jump... No fear I'm floating." In the same chaotic scenario is 'Straight Shooter', taking over a hip-hop influence with a badass posture. Skylar Grey sings above a demanding and cavernous beat in an aggressive fashion here, a barebones cowbell being backed by the thicker, fatter bass synth and kick drum, as the chorus threatens, "I don't spit before I fuck it / Got a hand on my pistol in my pocket / I don't play nice, I'm not a shit talker / I'm a straight shooter now just give me the money honey."

There are some calmer and more retrospective numbers on the record, too. Single 'Come Up For Air' is an example. We reviewed it a few weeks ago (read that here), but its charm hasn't changed. The powerful drums are just a backing element of the dark storytelling, as Grey sings that she'll wait for her lover to come back even if they never will: "And even if this really is the end / I'm sure I'll be alone until I'm dead / Cause no one else will ever quite compare / To them it wouldn't be fair... If you're my Jack then I'm your Rose / And I promise I'll never ever let go." 'Real World' is a big, synth lead song, the sweet melodies backed by cavernous drums and big, bassy synths. The harmonies add a lot of level to the track, too. The acoustic number 'Moving Mountains' has very sweet and bright chord progressions and slowly building layers of choir synths and pianos leading to a satisfying end. Closing track 'Closer' features beautiful piano layers and sweet vocals in a cavern of sound. 

While much of the album showcases Grey's talent, there's still somethings that are left to be desired. One such example is the Eminem collaboration - 'Kill For You'. The instrumental is tinged with an old-school orchestra and a confident beat, but when Eminem comes in, it feels like a wasted opportunity. It's one of his only appearances this year - his song on the Suicide Squad soundtrack being the other time - and it's a pretty average one. It's standard Eminem, and the wording and delivery is great, it just feels odd above the instrumental and doesn't mesh well.

Many songs show potential but don't quite reach a high. Take 'We Used To Be Bad', which starts raw and folky and progressively builds up with walls of synths. It builds nicely and has sweet vocals, but after the big synth moment when it kicks in, it's pretty underwhelming. That initial rush quickly dies down. Other songs like 'Lemonade' are catchy, but get a bit overdone by the ending; I don't know how many times I can listen to someone say "lemonade" before the hype dies down, but this song definitely passed that limit. 'In My Garden' has odd, janky beats and a pretty strange vocal line that would work a lot nicer in a different scenario. The song begs for something darker, and Grey takes the odd-chord, dejected approach instead and it doesn't pay off. The same is true for 'Picture Perfect' - it's a lot of good ideas packed into one song but something about them doesn't quite fit together.

Skylar Grey continues to show her music making prowess in Natural Causes. It's not perfect - there are some places that there could be more, or have better cohesion, but overall its a solid record that showcases her talents. It outshines her debut by showing off a more experimental side, and hopefully the next album shows those elements all coming together to make something huge.

Favorite Tracks: Come Up For Air, Straight Shooter, Real World

Least Favorite Tracks: In My Garden, Picture Perfect

Rating: 75 / 100

Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory

The turn of the century marked big changes for the world, and for music. Evolution occurred right from the start, yet nu-metal was carrying over from the 90s to truly dominate the first few years of the 2000s. The most prolific band from that era was Linkin Park their brand of nu-metal fused with elements of electronica and hip-hop made Hybrid Theory one of the most important records of the 2000s, and, by extension, all time.

Hybrid Theory changed more than just music - it changed lives. From the angst ridden rebellion of the brutal bridge of 'One Step Closer' to the personal, scared feeling of 'Crawling', Linkin Park hit people in more ways than most were doing at the time. Most people will put it off as just another angsty album of that era, but they miss so much more. From start to finish, this album made its mark in history and in many people's hearts.

1) Papercut: Fans of the band will always cherish the opening drum beat and distorted synth in their hearts. Whether it be from the live scene or just a casual listen, the beginning of the song is perhaps as iconic as the album itself. Mike Shinoda's verses are riddled with paranoia as random harmonies and voices punch in and out in all directions, the thick, drop-tuned guitars providing dynamic throughout its play time. The band's elements all come together in the epic conclusion, Joe Hahn's scratches adding extra percussion on top of Chester Bennington's harmonious croons of "The sun goes down, I feel the light betray me" lines as he sings with the stronger chorus, concluding the song with one big "I can't stop what I'm feeling within / It's like the face inside is right / Beneath my skin!" 'Papercut' is a huge Linkin Park track and it's held in the hearts of the band's fans for a good reason - for many, it was the first track they would hear from the band as they edged into an album that would stay with them forever, unbeknownst to them. That's what makes "Papercut" the true introduction to Linkin Park. (96 / 100)

2) One Step Closer: The opening riff of the song is perhaps one of the most iconic riffs of the era, perhaps even as significant as Metallica's 'Enter Sandman' or Guns N' Roses' 'Sweet Child O' Mine'. Equally as iconic is the bridge of the song, the rebellious, yet all too relatable, unrelenting screams of Bennington's "Shut up when I'm talking to you!" This song is what really got into people's hearts - the early 2000s was a period of confusion for a lot of lost and angry teens. The song's anger gave them a funnel for their inner feelings, and as did much of the rest of the album. What makes this record all the more timeless is the fact that even today, the same anger is what countless people - including pubescent teens and adults alike - struggle with, and Linkin Park has always been able to provide a way to channel that. 'One Step Closer' was only one of the first examples of this. (92 / 100)

3) With You: "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Hahn!" The famous quote from live performances of this song made it one of the most memorable parts of the band's energy-filled live shows (shoutout LPLive!). While lacking the brutal "Come on!" scream from the intro of its Reanimation counterpart and live performances, 'With You' is still packed full of energy. It's this song that really brings out the elements of the band that weren't as obvious on previous tracks. The atmospheric, electronic verse flow sweetly under Shinoda's unstoppable flow and a hip-hop beat, transitioning perfectly into the heavy choruses with Bennington's raspy vocals. The song also highlights Mr. Hahn's contributions to the band (which have been sparse as of late) - his scratches may not be noticeable without focussing on them, but their purpose in carrying the percussion is perhaps just as important as the drums themselves. 'With You' is the perfect example of the band's electronica influences, as well as their talent in creating mind-boggingly amazing instrumentals. (98 / 100)

4) Point Of Authority: Anyone who has heard this song can never forget Shinoda's opening verse. It's one of the songs on the album that features the last rapping, though ironically enough it contains one of the most recognizable verses on the record. There's something threatening in Shinoda's "Forfeit the game" delivery, and it's a threat that sticks with you. Bennington also delivers a memorable appearance - really listening to the choruses, you can hear a lot of depth in his half-screamed vocal. The texture and melody of his voice atop the thick beat truly create a certain power that can't be easily recreated. (96 / 100)

5) Crawling: "Crawling" is the song that won the band a GRAMMY award, and for good reason. It's composition in dark but melodic, beautiful yet full of alertness. It's the first in the band's line of singles that features an iconic synth-key intro ('Numb', 'Burn It Down', 'Until It's Gone' are also examples) as other synths start kicking in and the higher register powerchords that provide a reprieve from the thick lower-register guitars that dominated the album until this point. Chester's delivery of the chorus really made it clear that his voice was something different. The perfect amount of rasp combines with the perfect amount of melody and power to create something unique and epic. The song's premise resonated with thousands, if not millions, again playing to the fact that Linkin Park are able to relate to you no matter what the case. As easy as it is to make "Crawling in my skin, these wounds they will not heal" the subject of a meme, its those simple lines that could really make a difference for some, and that it did. (94 / 100)

6) Runaway: The song leads in with a watery synth and lo-fi guitar before bursting into a heavy bombardment. The song is admittedly one of the weaker songs on the record, but it still serves its purpose. The verses feature Chester singing melodically over the keyboard synths before his raspiness is channeled for the choruses. The bridge explodes with thick guitars and Chester's strong voice screams high above them. The song doesn't have much more to it, but many could identify with its title alone. The frustration of the recording of this track led to the creation of 'One Step Closer', so we have that to thank it for, if for nothing else, at least. (83 / 100)

7) By Myself: Perhaps more iconic than the grumbling intro riff itself is the staple 2003 live intro the band used during the touring for Meteora. 'By Myself' is characterized by its ominous synth verse instrumentals with Shinoda's rapping sounding paranoid and anger and Bennington's screams acting as precursors to the melodic "I can't hold on, it's all too much to take in... with thoughts of failure sinking in" lyrics of the choruses. The bridge creates a quiet tension with Shinoda's threatening whispers before the song kicks back in full force for one final hurrah. 'By Myself' showcases both the melodic and heavy aspects of the band in a similar yet familiar fashion as 'With You' - these elements coming to into fruition together are a signature part of what makes Linkin Park's sound so great. (95 / 1000)

8) In The End: This song needs to introduction or explanation. Everyone has heard 'In The End'. Whether they have learned the simple yet effective key intro to the song or use the chorus as a joke, 'In The End' is a universally known track. It's the song that put the band on the map, and for good reason. It opened up the band's sound to a poppier audience that wouldn't agree with the anger of 'One Step Closer', 'In The End' instead telling the tale of tragic love or struggle. The seamless flow of Shinoda in the verses as he and Bennington trade off to the chorus made this song an iconic track, and a prime example or rap rock. The song's beauty is magnified by the guitar harmonics used in the choruses thanks to Brad Delson; the blend of pretty and heavy really play to the tragedy of Chester's lyrics and voice. 'In The End', as many times as you've heard it before, is ultimately a big classic tune. (95 / 100)

9) A Place For My Head: If you're a fan of Linkin Park, you're a fan of 'A Place For My Head'. The song reigns as a massive fan-favorite in the live scene and is one of the band's signature jams. The Middle-Eastern tinged guitar riff that backs Shinoda's blasting lyrics in the verses ("I watch how the moon sits in the sky in the dark night / Shining with the light from the sun / The sun doesn't give light to the moon assuming / The moon's going to owe it one / It makes me think of how you act to me / You do favors and then rapidly / You just turn around and start asking me about things that you want back from me"). The chorus reigns huge with crushing guitars that support Chester's powerful voice above it, singing melodically. The bridge is where things get intense: Chester painfully whispers "You try to take the best of me, go away" as his anger builds before he explodes into a massive outburst of rage. The chorus reprises itself once more before the giant outro begins, featuring the band giving their all to end the song on an unforgettably massive ending. 'A Place For My Head' to this day remains one of the band's biggest tracks (even with the heavy tunes introduced in the band's latest The Hunting Party), and it has not lost its luster at all in the last sixteen years. (99 / 100)

10) Forgotten: There's no build up to this one - the threat of Linkin Park's dynamic duo of Bennington and Shinoda open to the track in a trade off before the verse kicks in. Shinoda tells a story of loneliness in his rapping, perhaps one of the earliest indications of Fort Minor without an exaggeration of hip-hop elements. The song's guitars are really interesting, changing throughout the entire track. There's the main opening riff that's reprised throughout the song, the peaceful, flowing guitar lines of the verses, and the melodic, almost groovy powerchords of the chorus. 'Forgotten' is an acquired taste on the album, but once you invite its charm to your mind you come to truly appreciate it. (92 / 100)

11) Cure For The Itch: The album's instrumental that gives Mr. Hahn a chance to shine. It showcases his scratching and sampling techniques, but there's really not much else to it. It's nice to see the album's most understated element get a chance to shine all on its own, but it just doesn't do it for me. The song builds with strings and the occasional Eastern-tinged piano line as drum samples and scratches see it through. Never underestimate Mr. Hahn. (60 / 100)

12) Pushing Me Away: 'Pushing Me Away' is a ballad more in the vein of 'Crawling' than any other track, just in a prettier fashion. The guitar harmonics in the intro and verses are beautiful atop the electronic synth, and eventually the driven beat, give the song its character. It's not as heavy and unrelenting as many of the other tracks - like 'In The End', it sees peace in the verses then becomes bigger in the choruses. Chester's vocals sound pained and abused as he sings about being sacrificing everything for someone for it all to be taken for granted. The powerchords go higher up the guitar neck than much of the rest of the album, contrasting the thick rhythm guitar, ending the album on a different note than it began with 'Papercut'. 'Pushing Me Away' isn't about the heaviness; it highlights the band's songwriting abilities that may have been overlooked in other tracks. The album couldn't have ended in a more appropriate way (unless 'High Voltage' was kept on the backend - though 'Pushing' may still be the best way spiritually to end the record). (96 / 100)

Hybrid Theory was the album of a generation. Nothing quite like it had ever been done before - it seamlessly blended nu-metal, alternative rock, and electronic music all into one succinct sound. To this day, there are still bands who try to emulate the mastery of noise Linkin Park created on Hybrid Theory and still can't quite get there. This is an album that shaped music forever, setting it on a different courses and really brought metal to a more accessible scene. Its anger, pain, and fear gave countless people something to hold onto in times of confusion, and it has the same impact today that it did when it was released nearly sixteen years ago. Hybrid Theory is perhaps to most influential debut album to ever be released, and its importance will never be forgotten, because it will forever have a place in our hearts.

Favorite Tracks: A Place For My Head, With You, Papercut, Points Of Authority

Least Favorite Tracks: Cure For The Itch, Runaway

Rating: 95 / 100