January 2024 Album Reviews

Introduction:

 

January’s sonic landscape exploded with fresh sounds and familiar faces! From energetic anthems to introspective singer-songwriters, the month offered something for everyone. Join us as we dive into the highlights, exploring breakout stars and industry veterans pushing boundaries with our January Album Reviews. We’ll unpack standout albums and uncover hidden gems that shaped this month’s musical narrative.

 

For reference, we will be using play buttons as ratings, 1 the lowest and 5 the highest. We’ll also give you related artists (FFO or For Fans Of) as a cherry on top. Moving on to January 2024 Albums…

Star Sign / Sword & Stone / 1985 / Heatwave

Ryan Adams

 

The singer-songwriter released 4 albums on the first day of 2024 (5, if you count Prisoners Live) so you bet Adams has a lot of time in his hands. Since we have a short space here for album reviews, we will be condensing each album in one sentence descriptions.

 

Star Sign – A foray on the country folk-rock melancholic side of Adams, great for staying at home on a rainy day.

Sword & Stone – Closer to his Whiskeytown days bordering on Bruce Springsteen upbeat rock sound. An album you can add on your road trip playlist.

1985 – A generally melodic punky throwback to Adams’ old days pre-Whiskeytown but sung by a current Ryan Adams.

Heatwave – Sort of a continuation to Sword & Stone. Actually, more of a B-side material album than anything. Enough said.

 

In terms of cohesiveness, Star Sign and Sword & Stone are decent playthroughs while the other two albums are either uninspired or leave little to the imagination.

 

Ratings:

Star Sign – 3 ½ play buttons

Sword & Stone – 4 play buttons

1985 – 2 play buttons

Heatwave – 3 play buttons

 

FFO: Jason Isbell, Josh Ritter, Son Volt, Jeff Tweedy (Wilco)

 

Paisley Dreams

The Game & Big Hit

If this isn’t a West Coast throwback, I won’t know what to call this. The Game is coming back to his element at his prime and accompanied by rapper Big Hit and produced by Big Hit’s son and highly-sought after producer Hit-Boy. Paisley Dreams is a surprise collaboration that continues both rappers’ trajectories.

 

The Game is a household name in West Coast gangsta rap and Big Hit, who just released his long overdue debut album, also produced by his son, are shouting Blood pride and more gangsta themes with a tinge of observation poetry on the life we live in. As nostalgic as it is, it is not bringing anything new to the table lyrically as much as we would like. The saving grace on this album is the producer – Hit-Boy, and a Katt Williams sample on Bang Freestyle.

 

If you are a fan of gritty LA West Coast gangsta rap and boomin beats, this one’s for you. Don’t expect anything beyond this though. Standout bangers are Paisley Dreams, The Game Won’t Stop and Crisis.

 

Rating: 3 1/2 play buttons

 

FFO: Old 50 Cent, G-Unit, Xzibit, Nipsey Hussle

 

Quiz EP

Jeong Sewoon

A fun album for K-Pop lovers and non-fans alike, for sure! Jeong Sewoon keeps churning out catchy tunes left and right as evident with his most recent EP titled Quiz. Mixing R&B and jazz/funk/pop-rock guitar elements and the balanced and pristine production makes this album an interesting aural ride.

 

Rating: 4.5 play buttons

 

FFO: Sam Kim, Jung Seung Hwan, Punch

 

A Matter of Time

Shed Seven

The indie rock darlings from York, England are back! Shed Seven releases a timely and a mature album that still keeps up with the times. With hints of post-punk, alternative and acoustic rock and more, A Matter of Time is a great listen with the energetic opener Let’s Go, the 60’s flower power pop-rock of Kissing California, the Beatles-esque Tripping With You and post-punk anthems In Ecstasy and Real Love.

 

Rating: 4 play buttons

 

FFO: The Charlatans, James, Inspiral Carpets

 

Bread ‘n’ Butter

OMA

Instrumental band OMA has released their renditions of more hip-hop classics titled Bread ‘n’ Butter. Artists they cover include Nas (NY State of Mind, The Message, The World Is Yours), MF Doom (Doomsday) A Tribe Called Quest (Electric Relaxation), Mobb Deep (Shook Ones, Pt. II), Pharcyde (Runnin) and more. If you are a fan of the jazzy boom bap New York hip-hop movement in the 90’s, this might be your jam. 

 

Rating: 4.5 play buttons

 

FFO: Mac DeMarco, Balance and the Travelling Sounds, Quantic

 

BORN TO BE

ITZY

A banger of an album, ITZY’s BORN TO BE is a bass-thumping (believe us, the bass is real loud on our headphones) from start to finish. With tracks like UNTOUCHABLE, the title track, and Dynamite (not to be confused with the BTS song) and solo tracks that showcase their individual spectrums and leanings within the girl group. Take for example YEJI’s Crown On My Head is predominantly hard rock, YUNA’s Yet, But is a cutesy sweet pop song and LIA’s Blossom borders on R&B – it is that diverse. Overall, the album never wanes on energy – perfect to go-getters who want a great start of the day. The production is top-notch as always.

 

Rating: 4.5 play buttons

 

FFO: NMIXX, (G)I-DLE and other K-Pop girl group you could possibly think of

 

ROUNDABOUT

Tatsuya Kitani

Parts J-Rock, parts J-Pop, all around Japan cool cat Tatsuya Kitani produces ROUNDABOUT, his latest album. This is the musical hyphenate’s (singer-songwriter-bassist-producer-composer-lyricist-what-have-you) highest charting outing. If you think about it, it is just a collection of singles and EPs previously released but combined in one package that still keeps it fresh. The first two tracks are J-Rock gold but the rest of the album is diverse and playful on different spectrums of modern Japanese music.

 

Rating: 4 play buttons

 

FFO: Yonezu Kenchi, STEREO DIVE FOUNDATION, Sukima Switch

 

Grinding Gears Vol. 4

Rabea Massaad

Youtube musician Rabea Massaad (yes, the one with the afro) is at it again for the fourth time in his Grinding Gears series of albums. Expect the same consistent tasty guitar passages – when it is heavy, it is heavy and when it’s light, it is classy and inspiring with the way he combines melodies, jarring rhythms and varied guitar tones. Even a rock-centered track like It Goes To Eleven (if you get the reference, big ups!) goes hard and never sounds stale or dated. Check this album out and the rest of his catalog if you’re interested in guitar instrumental music.

 

Rating: 4 play buttons

 

FFO: Ola Englund, Keith Merrow, Plini

 

Piano & Voice EP

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

This stripped down extended play by former rock band, now solo artist Alec Ounsworth (who has taken the name of the band as his musical nom de plume) reimagines songs from their previous discography – with only his voice and a piano. This four-song EP is as hauntingly beautiful as it is barenaked with its vulnerability. You can hear Ounsworth’s world weariness on his voice and it brings a whole new meaning to how they were originally presented.

 

Rating: 4.5 play buttons

 

FFO: Wolf Parade, The Walkmen, TV on the Radio, Broken Social Scene

 

LAST DANCE EP

Limelight

Officially a 4-track EP (with variations of each track amounting to a total of 18), girl group Limelight released an upbeat dancey offering that may keep you wanting more as 4 songs don’t cut it. But it would have been for the best because there is not much variety among the rest of their peers with the songs available on this EP. It is decent at best and the production is nice. It would have done better with being bombastic to stand out from the current releases in K-Pop. 

 

Rating: 3.5 play buttons

 

FFO: See ITZY FFO

 

New Zealand Survival Songs EP

Amanda Palmer

As the other half of dark cabaret duo Dresden Dolls, Amanda Palmer has been flying solo for so long and she has graced her listeners with a new EP called New Zealand Survival Songs. And it is an honest viewpoint of her experience during the COVID lockdown being in New Zealand with his now ex-husband author Neil Gaiman and their shared child. Palmer’s observational wit takes form with the songs about parenting (The Man Who Ate Too Much), learning of the news back home (The Ballad of the New York Times), and the appreciation for New Zealand (Little Island). Another great listen from Amanda Effing Palmer.

 

Rating: 4.5 play buttons

 

FFO: Emilie Autumn, Birdeatsbaby, Regina Spektor

 

american dream

21 Savage

Mr. Joseph, better known as rapper 21 Savage, released his third studio album american dream and it is a highly anticipated effort from the Atlanta-raised rap phenom. The main theme of this release is the rapper’s recently revealed history of immigration, coming from the UK and moving to the US for the chance of a better life – hence the album title. His stories are graphic from early struggles and the hood life to relationships and dedication towards his so-called “brudda” Young Thug, who is incarcerated at the moment. His mother opens the album with a monologue sharing her american dream for her son, and more guests like Doja Cat, Lil Durk, Travis Scott, Brett Faiyaz, Burna Boy pop up on this 15-track album. While most of the songs follow the overall theme religiously, some feel like fillers and contribute less to the cohesiveness. But it is in no way a bad album.

 

Rating: 4 play buttons

 

FFO: Future, Lil Baby, Travis Scott, Migos

 

VILLAIN

Akini Jing

This Chinese-born electronica maven just recently celebrated her entry to 88rising’s growing roster with her previous album, and this year surprised us all with a new album VILLAIN. Akini Jing borders on sweet-sounding songstress with a tinfoil layer of industrial sounds reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails married with modern production. The title track recalls a bit of Imogen Heap and we like it! 

 

Rating: 4 play buttons

 

FFO: Jolin Tsai, yeule, Lexie Liu

 

RYUJIN

RYUJIN

The band formerly known as GYZE, symphonic/melodic metal band RYUJIN rebranded themselves as “Samurai metal” and it shows with their marketing efforts. They lean heavily on traditional Japanese sounds that you usually hear from a koto or a shamisen but in a very cinematic metal way. Matt Heafy of the band Trivium and half-Japanese himself, now manages the band and produced their self-titled album and is also featured as a guest on some tracks. The songs are what you’ve imagined a Guitar Hero or Rocksmith DLC would contain, they’re that fun sounding. Imagine Dragonforce – that is the nearest comparison we can give you. 

 

Rating: 4.5 play buttons

 

FFO: Dragonforce, Children of Bodom 

 

Breathe In

Armin van Buuren

Armin van Buuren has been a driving force among EDM DJs at present. This time, Breathe In is a mixed bag, literally and not in a bad way. Expect more high-energy dance hits and arena bangers on this album but with a twist of positivity and unity. Incorporating pop and world music on his repertoire, van Buuren never misses a beat with hits like the first single Forever (Stay Like This), Destination, When We Come Alive, Inevitable and more. It is a sonic trip worth taking, at least for us!  

 

Rating: 4.5 play buttons

 

FFO: Paul Oakenfeld, Tiesto, Paul Van Dyk

 

Kitto Zettai Zettai

Nearly Equal Joy

Not sure about the current standard of a J-Pop artist or album but they’re really starting to be aggressive with their rock leanings. Did this all start because of BABYMETAL? Tell us! This 10-member group’s palette ranges from dance pop (Muboujin) to straight up metal (Tyoukodoku lion), to ska punk (Kitto Aoi) and back to their standard J-Rock sound, evident on their new album Kitto Zettai Zettai. It is an enjoyable experience regardless of the language barrier!

 

Rating: 4.5 play buttons

 

FFO: TAKANE NO NADESHIKO, Peel the Apple, Not Equal Me

 

Saviors

Green Day

30 years ago, Gilman Street pop-punkers Green Day broke into the popular music space with their third full-length Dookie. 10 albums later and after a bunch of milestones and genre absorptions, they released their 14th album Saviors – a mish-mash of old and new Green Day. How old is old, you say? They regrouped with their old Dookie producer Rob Cavallo and polished a bunch of songs that harken their whole discography and then some. Running with the same spirit of their best-selling rock opera American Idiot, Saviors has pop-punk at their prime with songs like The American Dream is Killing Me, 1981, Strange Days Are Here to Stay, Coma City and more. They also have ballads like Goodnight Adeline (the chorus chords are the same as When I Come Around) and Father to a Son. We’re not really sure about the singles though, they are a bit tame and conventional sounding. The faster songs would have been put to better use but maybe that’s just a stylistic choice from the band. Take a listen and see if it jolts your inner teenager.

 

Rating: 3.5 play buttons

 

FFO: Foo Fighters, Blink 182, Sum 41

 

Little Rope

Sleater-Kinney

Olympia, Washington band Sleater-Kinney turn to music as therapy to grief with their newest album Little Rope. Their second album as a duo (longtime drummer Janet Weiss left in 2019) and with baggage to carry (guitarist and songwriter Carrie Brownstein had deaths in the family in between writing for the album), they showcase a maturity and focus unseen in their previous albums. Not to fret, their signature dynamic is still there – but retooled and fine-tuned to get with the times. Album opener Hell’s chorus still gives off the rage and the angular Small Finds is classic Sleater-Kinney. The new direction also reflects where they are in their lives individually, way different from 30 years ago. This approach makes it a polarizing album, which is the true mark of growth. 

 

Rating: 4.5 play buttons

 

FFO: Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, PJ Harvey

 

Neck Deep

Neck Deep

Album number 5 and they decide to make it their self-titled one. For whatever reason, we don’t know but what we can determine here is they are resting on their laurels musically. Same old formula, same old Neck Deep. 80 percent of the album sounds the same. But does it hide something under the surface? The lyrical themes are the same but there’s a comfortability to it from the band that you have not seen since their last album. Hey, if they feel better about it, great for them.

 

Rating: 3 play buttons

 

FFO: Sum 41, All Time Low, Knuckle Puck, The Story So Far

 

Is It The Clouds?

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez

Is It The Clouds was an unreleased album included in the epic 57 LP box set called Amor De Frances. Rodriguez-Lopez, best known as the spazzy guitarist and songwriter for highly acclaimed bands like At The Drive-In, The Mars Volta and Bosnian Rainbows as well as a bunch of other projects, this outing shows his eclectic musical tastes and brings the listener to multiple avenues and facets of the musician’s range. His vocals are a cross of Frank Zappa and Lou Reed on a good day, his arrangements quirky at one point (Once A Broken Human) and reserved the next (Amor Frio, Your Own Worst Enemy. The instrumentation is well layered and textured. Those who aren’t fans of the mentioned bands might be put off with this record. Just give it a try – there’s nothing to lose. 

 

Rating: 4 play buttons

 

FFO: Frank Zappa, John Frusciante, The Claypool Lennon Delirium

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We hope you have had your fill of the reviewed 2024 albums this month and we at Asia Live 365 will be doing this every month! Join us for another round next month and keep your eyes peeled and ears glued here for the best and the brightest new music in 2024!

 

 

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