RZA- Digi Snacks
The third album in RZA's "Bobby Digital" trilogy is an album that is hard to not praise. At the same time, it's also one that is hard not to fault. On one hard, RZA's Digi Snacks is something entirely new and experimental. No other Wu-Tang Clan member has strayed as far from the Wu-Tang forumula than RZA does here, often to a fault. There is a distinct difference between the production RZA uses on his "Bobby Digital" albums, as opposed to the many other works he has been credited with producing, including much of Wu-Tang's material. This not only allows RZA to truly craft his interesting Bobby Digital character through both his rapping and production, but also allows the sound of the record to have a distinct sound that nearly flawlessly creates a science-fiction and martial arts setting that compliments the character of the album, as well as RZA's flow and lyrics. From that stand point, Digi Snacks is a wonderfully fun hip-hop album that truly sets itself apart from everything else in hip-hop. The problem is that this is the third album in RZA's trilogy, and it still feels like an experiment. As great as the Bobby Digital character is, there really isn't much here that has a whole lot to do with. The production and flow of the album have finally come together in a way that feels distinct, but much of it goes to waste. Often times, it's hard to tell exactly what RZA is trying to do, and while some fans may praise the album's weirdness for that reason, it's certainly disappointing that such a unique and creative concept isn't more focused on the actual concept at hand. What makes matters even more conflicting is that the listener does in fact get a taste of what could have been. There are moments of pure hip-hop bliss that amounts to some of the most unique and purely enjoyable hip-hop of 2008. However, RZA's constant and often unnecessarily experimentation makes the album as a whole simply an experiment, instead of a truly great piece of art. Simply, fails at living up to its concept, is all over the map lyrically, and is not as fun of a hip-hop album as RZA intended it to be. It has its moments, and it's hard to fault an artist for trying something new, but Digi Snacks is the epitome of a mixed bag.
Flight of the Conchords- Flight of the Conchords
Saying that Flight of the Conchords' full length debut is funny is like stating that the sun is bright and Antarctica is cold. It may be an opinion, but one that any rational human being would have a hard time disputing. It goes without saying then, that Flight of the Conchords is one hilarious album. However, this is isn't the definitive way to experience the hysteria that is Flight of the Conchords. At times the album versions of these songs feel overproduced, and those who are used to group's always hilarious improvisational lines will be surprised to find that many of the lines they chose as studio replacements in the songs are lacking in comparision. It's not that new versions of these songs are bad, it's just that none of the songs are really very new at all, and the bits that have been altered are almost always for the worse. Obviously, some glaring omissions have been made to the track list, including the masterful "If You're Into It," but it's hard to argue with what is found on the album. Every track is funny in its own right, as Flight of the Conchords is great when looked at as purely an album on its own. Still, fans of the band have heard these songs and heard better versions of them, and newcomers to the band would be better suited watching their TV series or seeing them live to get a taste of the band at their absolute best.
Staind- The Illusion of Progress
The fact that Staind has actually titled this album The Illusion of Progress must be some kind of inside joke. Considering this album as no progression whatsoever from past Staind albums, or even the illusion of it, it's practically begging critics to go crazy with puns. The sad truth is though, Staind is giving themsevles too much credit. It's obvious that progress was not the band's intention, but if Staind was trying to create the illusion of progress on this record, they failed miserably. Actually, if they were trying to create anything more than your standard post-grunge album, they failed miserably. This is a prime example of your standard post-grunge release. It's basic, both lyrically and musically, and it makes absolutely not attempts whatsoever to stray from the proven formula that got Staind radio play. Granted, that's not necessarily a bad thing to fan's of the band, as anything expecting the same old Staind will not be disappointed. However, it's impossible to recommend an album this bland and generic to anyone who isn't already a huge fan of the band. It's not necessarily bad, nor is it any worse than what else is played on the radio these days, but after six albums, even the illusion of progress isn't too much to ask.
It's really no coincidence that Mikael Akerfeldt appers on what are essentially the two best metal albums released in 2008 thus far. Not only is Akerfeldt the frontman of Opeth, who released yet another masterpiece this year with Watershed, but Mikael also lends his voice to the track "Unhealer" from Ihsahn's angL. angL may not be as good of an album as Opeth's Watershed, but that doesn't mean it isn't a legitimate masterpice in its own right. Even the other 8 tracks that don't feature Akerfeldt are nearly flawless. Ihsahn, who is best known as the frontman of black metal legends Emporer has created an album here that is far more unique, progressive, and down right better than anything he has ever done with Emporer. And make no mistake, Emporer have relased some A-quality albums throughout their career. However, angL is an album that seemlessly bends the line between black and progressive metal, creating a sound that is unlike anything else in music. Quite simply, angL is phenomenal, and there's not much more that can be said without being redudent. Go pick it up as soon as possible.
Taken from my review of the album...
"Like many technical metal albums, ObZen does start to develop a common formula near the end, but that's a small flaw considering that the highs of this album far exceed what is usually found in the genre, as well as that the album has numerous moments of progression. The absolutely phenomenal "Bleed" is an example of that, as the song is a nearly flawless mixture of Meshuggah's uncanny brutality and the band's integration of melodic elements. Not every song on the album mixes those elements at such a high level of success, but the number of tracks that come close (the title track, "Combustion," "Electric Red," and "Pravus" for example) are simply staggering. ObZen is a brutal album from start to finish, but it's not brutal for the sake of being brutal. The album still has enough melody, progression, and varied songwriting to make it a great album period, not just a great extreme metal album. That, in essence, is what metal should be, and ObZen, for better or for worse, is about as metal of a record as there is."
The longer version of the review can found as part of the feature 10 New Albums You Should Buy