Taylor Hawkins - Kota

Aside from Dave Grohl, the other true rockstar in the Foo Fighters has always been Taylor Hawkins. He brings his all to the Foo's live shows and can pull off the impressive feat of singing and playing drums at the same time. He's released his solo album Kota, and the mini-LP unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired.

The album begins promising, but slowly just loses sight in being a fun rock n' roll album. The Pink Floyd atmosphere from the intro of 'Range Rover Bitch' leads into groovy riffs, punctuated throughout by cool guitar lines and some powerful vocals - classic rock n' roll. That momentum attempts to carry on in 'Bob Quit His Job,' but if you couldn't tell from the title, this song really isn't great. It starts off okay, but the chorus is literally just "Bob quit his job, Bob quit his job / Did you know that Bob quit his job today," in a bombastic Queen feel, making it feel really tacky. The ending is just cluttered mess.

The truly sad part of this record is that it has such a misguided idea of what it is. It was supposed to be an epic, fun rock n' roll record that brought Queen and punk together. It certainly does, but in the tackiest and uninspired way possible. 'Rudy' is straight Queen vibes, bassline and piano included. It's down to the harmonies. But it's nothing more than that. It's a good track but doesn't quite feel like an original song. Like the songs that Foo often cover live, it feels like a Queen B-side, but a bad one. It also feels like he didn't really know how to do this project by himself. Closing track 'I've Got Some Not Being Around You Today' is as cluttered as the title is. Truly, this album is just a mess.

Taylor Hawkins is a rockstar, but his solo material does feel ready to show that yet. Kota is misguided and lost in an idea that it never executes quite well. It's truly unfortunate, given that you can understand the promise it has. It just doesn't make the cut, in the end.

Favorite Track: Range Rover Bitch

Least Favorite Track: Bob Quit His Job

Rating: 49 / 100

Green Day - American Idiot

The Election of 2016 may have come to end, but for many it seems to be just the start. Donald Trump is to be the president of the United States after an intense year campaigning and debating against Hillary Clinton, and many are not happy about this. In perhaps what is the most negative reception to a president ever, there are actual protests going on in the streets and many are saying that Trump "is not their president."

There's a new wave of rebellion rising in the United States, but for some, this may be similar to something they've heard before. In 2004, Green Day predicted, almost word-for-word, the disillusioned feelings many Americans are feeling in their rock opera American Idiot. The album follows the story of a man who just can't come to terms with his place in society and runs away in search of clarity.

The album is lead in by the iconic title track 'American Idiot,' what may perhaps be the most relevant track on the record to this year's election. It's no mystery that the media was one of, if not the most influential element of the election. As hindsight kicks in, we've begun dissecting what happened this election for it to come out with such unexpected results. Turns out we don't need to, since Green Day had summed it up twelve years ago. The DNC shoved a candidate we just didn't want? 'American Idiot' chants "Can you hear the sound of hysteria? / The subliminal mind fuck America." The media sought to, for lack of a better term, sabotage the election in favor of Clinton? The chorus sings of the "Television dreams of tomorrow." Our soon-to-be president is a bigot? The chorus is brought in by "Welcome to a new kind of tension / All across the alien nation." This track hit on more issues in 2004 than what is affecting us now in 2016 that we choose to believe.

Beyond the foreshadowed messages comes the rebellious and uplifting instrumental, complete with the melodic guitar solo and punchy riffs. This is only one key sound that reprises itself throughout the record. The story of the record starts falling into the place as the main character, the 'Jesus Of Suburbia' is introduced. Billie Joe Armstrong's vision of a futuristic 'Bohemian Rhapsody' becomes a modern tale as the song goes through five distinct parts: part one, where the drug addicted Jesus Of Suburbia (JOS, as we'll refer to him as) claims he does not want to become another 'American Idiot,' part two where he makes confessions about his own broken hometown and his own loneliness, part three where he gives up hope, part four in which he questions if what he's experiencing is normal, and the final part five where he runs away in search of finding a new life. It's an introduction that really sets the mood of self-absorption evolving into self-hate and a need for something new.

'Holiday' has two sentiments: for the JOS, it's hard living life on the streets. It's a crazy living, making him wonder why he left the simplicity of his home and, furthermore, if he's ready to handle this lifestyle. On a grander scale, however, 'Holiday' is an anti-war song. It treads away from the story of the record and instead goes straight into a political bashing, the chorus chanting "I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies / This is the dawning of the rest of our lives," as if to say we should be free from political brainwashing and be free to have our own opinions before there's nothing left of our own ideas.

The only other song on the record that treads away from the story is the iconic 'Wake Me Up When September Ends,' an emotional song not only for the listener but also for Armstrong. It's a somber track about the loss of his father to cancer on September 1, 1982. Armstrong ran home  from his father's funeral and when his mother came home to console him, he cried "wake me up when September ends," which served as inspiration for this song. It gives the record some humanity, ultimately supplying a relatable sense to the record amongst the politically charged the themes throughout the record.

The album's story carries on from 'Holiday' in the hit 'Boulevard Of Broken Dreams,' the ultra-popular hit resonating on an equally as relatable level as 'September.' It elaborates and the lost and confused feelings the JOS is having as he travels away from home in search of his new life. The song's mood gives it a powerful and emotional vibe that is probably the same feeling that many others are having in the face of the election's results. America is lost, perhaps even scared, of the future ahead of us. What's important about this song is that in its climax, it almost brings together all of the lost souls into one emotional burst as if to say you're never really alone. We're all scared and confused, but together we can find comfort and achieve what we want.

The album starts to move ahead beyond the JOS's travels. 'Are We The Waiting' slows down the pacing of the record from the pop-rock tempos of the previous tracks. The group vocals and anthemic drums sound powerfully but almost dejectedly below arpeggiated guitar chords as hte JOS loses what's left of his sanity. In the empty shell of himself, he forms an alter ego in 'St. Jimmy,' the image of everything he wishes he could be. The track segues seamlessly from 'Waiting' in true rock opera fashion, the fast punk blistering forward in a punchy manner. He begins asking Jimmy for justification for a drug-ridden life in 'Give Me Novocaine' which agains slows down the pacing. The sweeter track sounds something like you'd hear in a paradise setting (perhaps influenced by all the drugs he's taking), the carefree nature of the track picking up some energy with powerful distorted guitars in its choruses.

As many will say, love (and time) heals all wounds. The JOS meets a girl known as Whatsername in 'She's A Rebel,' a punk girl with her own set of problems that helps free him from his own problems. In the nature of the modern day, this might as well be Hillary Clinton (though she never really goes away, so I doubt we'll be forgetting her name any time soon). The Indian vibes of 'Extraordinary Girl' tells of their relationship starting to crumble, as her problems - some of which may be the result of the JOS - start becoming too much, sadly summed up in the chorus: "She's all alone again / Wiping the tears from her eyes / Some days he feels like dying / She gets so sick of crying." It all comes to an end in 'Letterbomb,' where Whatsername leaves him over his melodramatic nature. The blistering punk rock vibes from the earlier tracks on the record returns in the track, bringing the edginess back into the picture.

The journey of the JOS comes to an end in the second 'Bohemian Rhapsody' of the record, 'Homecoming.' It's another track with five distinct parts, but in a less self-deprecating way. Instead, he comes to terms with himself and society: in part one, St. Jimmy dies (figuratively, in his mind) and the JOS realizes he has gained nothing from this experience, against his original mindset, and in part two he gets a job and accepts conformity. With that acceptance, though, he begins to feel empty again, waiting for Whatsername to return to no avail. Part three is sung by bassist Mike Dirnt, giving the song a little change in timbre. Drummer Tré Cool takes over vocals in part four, taking up the character Tunny, someone the JOS met on his time in the street. Tunny brags about his luxurious life as a rebel, making the JOS a bit jealous and empty. Part five, however, sees him coming to terms with everything: himself, society, etc. He's not quite sure about who he is or how he's doing, but he has come to terms with it all. He is himself.

The album's conclusion is 'Whatsername' - even though he has come to terms with his own life, there's one thing that alludes him: love. The emotional conclusion of the record brings anthemic, melodic leads in both the vocals and guitars as it builds to one final climax of energy. The JOS regrets losing Whatsername, and can ponders over where she is and why he ever left her. The second verse says it all: "Seems that she disappeared without a trace / Did she ever marry old Whatshisface? I made a point to burn all of the photographs / She went away and then I took a different path / I remember the face but I can't recall the name / Now I wonder how Whatsername has been." The song then hits an emotional bridge with driven guitars and harmonies in the vocals. The song ends in quietly and understatedly, as the JOS's story concludes by trying to get the memories of Whatsername out of his mind.

American Idiot is more than just a story about a rebel. It's the emotion of feeling like an outsider, as someone who doesn't feel like they belong to a society. That's what a good half of America is feeling right now - alienation as a result of a new leader. They band's newest effort Revolution Radio is almost like a sequel to this record, with more of a sense of where the world is currently at, but it's the uncertainty of American Idiot that really sells it as a foreshadowing of the United States today.

This album doesn't tell us that there's no hope, though. It reminds us that there are those just like us feeling the same way, and furthermore, that we have things to cling onto when everything seems lost. Green Day predicted the future in the most unfortunate of ways, but it also provided a lesson for us in case it did ever come true. If you're someone who feels that way, just remember that there is hope for the future; that's because we are the future.

Favorite Tracks: Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, Holiday, American Idiot, Whatsername

Least Favorite Track: Are We The Waiting

Rating: 91 / 100

Muse - Drones

As civilization moves ever further into the era of technology, we begin to make everything mechanical. Including ourselves. The creation of drones allows for silent murder - the controller sitting behind a monitor, aiming their strike on their target. The controller of the drone is influenced by its handler, and so forth. Everything has become so monotonous, so controlled and contrived, as far as to say we have become so dead inside that killing is just another check off of the to-do list.

Muse explores this concept with their latest album, Drones, a concept album exploring the journey of a protagonist trapped in a world like this (that is, a more acute approach on the whole “mechanical killing” world than ours is at the moment). It follows a vivid story, from losing all emotion, to becoming a human drone, to fighting against the system, and ultimately finding love again despite being broken down so many times.

1) Dead Inside: I’m not afraid to admit that I was skeptical about this one at first. Muse had been promoting a “back to basics” and “heavy, guitar oriented” album and had released ‘Psycho’ only a short while before. Then they dropped ‘Dead Inside’, which is almost the opposite of what everyone expected. This song, has, however, REALLY grown on me. The funky sound is great and the U2-esque breakdown is just beautiful. You can really hear the emotion in Bellamy’s vocals in this one. The story is introduced in this song, giving an insight to how the protagonist has reached this point in his or her life: they lose hope and all concept of love. This makes them vulnerable, for what comes next... 9/10

2) [Drill Sergeant]: Nothing much to say about this one. It almost feels unnecessary, nothing much other than a drill sergeant yelling at the next “super drone”. It doesn’t deserve a 0, though. It builds up the hype for one of the biggest moments on the album... 5/10

3) Psycho: That goddamn riff. I still remember blowing up when the famous “0305030″ riff that has been a staple riff to jam to live after the likes of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘Map Of The Problematique’ had finally become its own song. While the instrumentation really, really brings out the best in this song, it’s hard to say the lyrics are particularly good. You have to understand the perspective of it, first, before making a judgement on the lyrical content: the drill sergeant. In this song, the drill sergeant is drilling these thoughts that the protagonist is nothing more than a killing machine. “Your ass belongs to me now” does have its own charm, though. Can’t have a good album without the one meme-generating moment, can you? As a whole, the song grooves throughout, keeping the listener bobbing their head and ready for the riff to kick back in. The brass being brought to the front in the final chorus is a great moment, too. 8.5/10

4) Mercy: At this point in the story, the protagonist realizes that they’ve lost something. Theirself. They become aware of what has become of them after the brainwashing in ‘Psycho’, and beg for mercy (who’d have thought?) against what they’ve become. Sonically, this song is comparable to Black Holes & Revelations’ ‘Starlight’, albeit heavier in many ways. Muse’s synth arpeggios return in a big way on this track, a welcome element in any Muse song. Admittedly, like ‘Dead Inside’, this track took a bit of growing on me. Everything feels in place and adds to a very enjoyable listening experience before the truly heavier parts of the album kick in. 8.5/10

5) Reapers: This is what Muse fans were waiting for. It’s like a wonderful mashup of the rocking of Absolution, the electronics and vocoders of The 2nd Law, and just pure rock ‘n’ roll. The song begins with an awesome tapping riff intro and progresses into an onslaught of pedals and modulation on the guitar end of things. Bellamy really shines with his falsettos during the choruses. The massive outro cannot be overlooked either - one of the most memorable (and jam-worthy) parts of the album. Muse meets Rage Against The Machine! Thematically, the protagonist realizes the truth behind the mindless killing and the danger and brutality behind it. 9/10

6) The Handler: Muse? Progressive rock? Well, hello there, Origin Of Symmetry. With an absolutely crushingly huge riff in to kick this song off (the Drop D is strong with this one), you know from the get-go that you’re in for a monster song. The chorus is everything Muse should be - heavy, falsettos, you name it. The bridge is reminiscent of another relatively-heavy Muse song, In Your World. No complaints there. The quantum entanglement with ‘Showbiz’ from the band’s debut album right after the bridge is an incredible moment, sends chills down my spine. Another “ah-ha!” moment: “behold my trance formation.” Oh Matt, how clever you are. Doesn’t make much sense, but points for trying and admittedly posing an interesting play on words. The protagonist no longer wants to be held down by the controlling, and seeks rebellion. Ultimately, this is my favorite song on the album, nearly beat out by ‘The Globalist’ because of that bridge, but we’ll get into that later. 10/10

7) [JFK]: Finally, treading into some unmarked territory. Unless you watched the leaked “Making Of:” featuring ‘Defector’ and ‘The Globalist’, for which I’d scold you for, but that’d make me a hypocrite. The song features a speech by President John F. Kennedy regarding the spread of communism, which carry a relevant meaning in today’s society, not necessarily to the intended message. According to Mr. Bellamy, the track, “...talks about the human spirit, freedom, and independence...” and “where everything transitions.” Accompanied by a lovely string version of the ‘Defector’ solo, this song is very beautiful. 8/10

8) Defector: Based on prior reviews of the song, no one expected this one to be as good as it is. Muse meets the grandiose of Queen meets the riffs of AC/DC. Bellamy preaches, “Free / Yeah I’m free / From SO-CIE-TEE!” in the most operatic way possible while still remaining subtle and massive at the same time. A chorus of a thousand voices, if you will. The solo utilizes some Whammy pedals, which is also welcome. The riff comes in pretty big, too! The protagonist begins to realize their freedom in this portion of the story. 9/10

9) Revolt: It’s hard to not associate this song’s melody to an 80s sitcom. It just fits so perfectly. This one also didn’t immediately bring me in, but I was hooked by the end. The song is built on charm and some heavy powerchords. Bellamy does great vocal work here. That falsetto coming out of the bridge is phenomenal. Nothing much more to say about the sonic elements of this song! Here, the protagonist encourages others around him to stand up against the system and find back. 8.5/10

10) Aftermath: You couldn’t have prepared me for how beautiful this song ended up being. An ambient journey where you can feel the dramatic atmosphere of the aftermath of war. Amidst the destruction and strife, the protagonist finds love again - the opposite of what ‘Dead Inside’ brought to the plot. This song is so serene, imagine Hendrix ft. an Italian Orchestra. In Muse-terminology, imagine ‘Blackout’ meets ‘Hoodoo’. Simply fantastic in every regard. 9.5/10

11) The Globalist: Ask any Muser what song they weren’t prepared for on Drones. It’s ‘The Globalist’. The claimed sequel to the beloved ‘Citizen Erased’ and a ten-minute odyssey of progressive rock. While a sequel to ‘Citizen Erased’ only in that it feels segmented into “parts” (it’s more of a heavier sequel to ‘Explorers’), it still a massive track. The symphonic intro akin to Ennio Morricone’s ‘L’arena’ builds a beautiful and haunting image building up to Matt kicking in with the vocals. The first part of the song (up until 4:28) is a beautiful dream, and suddenly, the ‘Helsinki Jam’ riff kicks in full force. It’s in your face and the operatic backing adds to the intensity. It all counts down into the heaviest territory Muse has ever delved into with a Spanish-esque guitar solo that breaks down into a piano ballad. Wild from start to finish! The story of this song is almost separate from that of the entirety of Drones - perhaps it acts as a backstory of sorts. It is its own narrative on the rise and fall of a dictator. ‘The Globalist’ ends with the thought-provoking lyrics, “I just wanted, / I just needed to be loved.” All a dictator ever wants is some attention. Before you can ask for more, the song ends just as subtly as it began, leaving you reconsidering what rollercoaster you just experienced. 10/10 (note: it COULD have been a smart move to split this song into two separate songs, but I’m not complaining.)

12) Drones: Nothing more than a beautifully layered a cappella track featuring Bellamy sending off the album in a sort of prayer. It’s a statement on the casualties of this war of drones - the voices of those who perished and those who will be forgotten without justice. It’s pretty dramatic, really: they’ve been killed by this machine of a human, who had no empathy towards them as they pushed the shiny read button. A big statement on what war has become, and what it can and will evolve into, should we continue in this direction. The album concludes on one final “Amen” as the story comes to a close. The album could not have ended on a more perfect note. 9/10

Muse delivered one monster of an album, fulfilling their promises in more ways than one. They returned to the basics of who they were: guitar driven songs, synth arpeggios and pianos splashed here and there, and grandiose melodies driven by huge choruses. Sure, it may not be as fine tuned or revolutionary as Origin Of Symmetry was, but, then again, can it be? This album combined the best of what Muse had to offer throughout their career, and I couldn’t ask for anything more out of this album. It told a story and made its mark on society. Here come the drones!

Favorite Tracks: The Handler, The Globalist, Aftermath, Reapers, Dead Inside

Least Favorite Tracks: [Drill Sergeant]

Overall Rating: 9.5/10


My Top 10 Albums of 2015:

  1. Muse - Drones
  2. 10 Years - From Birth To Burial
  3. Fall Out Boy - American Beauty / American Psycho
  4. Halestorm - Into The Wild Life
  5. Zs - Xe
  6. Joey Bada$$ - B4.DA.$$
  7. Purity Ring - Another Eternity
  8. Liturgy - The Ark Work
  9. Lightning Bolt - Fantasy Empire
  10. Kamasi Washington - The Epic