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Third Eye Blind - Screamer Music Album Reviews

Third Eye Blind - Screamer Music Album Reviews On the band’s sixth album, frontman Stephan Jenkins Peter Pans his way through an improbably infectious set of would-be hits.
If he had less ambition and a lower tolerance for failure, Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins could be sipping Mai Tais with Mark McGrath on the deck of a ’90s rock cruise right now, enjoying a life of royalty checks and low expectations. Instead, he’s carried on as if any year might be the one where his group finally reclaims its former glory. Everything he does is a long-shot bid for relevance: He covers Bon Iver, records bold political statements, and generally does the last thing we ask from the second-tier figures of alt-rock’s yesteryear: He tries.

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billy woods - Terror Management Music Album Reviews

On his bleak new album, woods doubles down on the misery that snakes through all his music.

Terror Management begins with a clip of Kurt Vonnegut explaining narrative arcs. The most common story structure, he argues, is “man in a hole,” which he breaks down as “somebody gets into trouble, gets out of it again.” Vonnegut’s audience laughs, but in billy woods’ world, holes tend to be bottomless. His last album was March’s hiding places, a record set in crawl spaces and crags where men in holes settle into the sediment instead of plotting escape. Terror Management, written immediately after hiding places, doubles down on that fatalism, sinking into the darkness at the bottom of the well.


The album’s cover is a jagged ice plain with a fleck of a sun in the distant horizon, and woods channels that sense of chilled abandonment throughout the record, finding misery everywhere he looks: cancelled Christmases, dead spiders stuck in webs, splintered glaciers. The imagery is crisp but plotless; instead of characters, woods offers landscapes. “The sky empty, trees like widows huddled/The bore muzzle nuzzle, iridescent black truffle/Black snow in the forest,” he raps on “Shepherd’s Tone” He sounds like he’s narrating satellite footage.

That sense of dreadful stillness is amplified by the production, which is often tenuously connected to the writing. On “Gas Leak” a blast wave of distortion detonates in the middle of the song, presumably dramatizing the title but also disrupting the momentum. On “Blood Thinner,” hisses and crackles sizzle in the foreground at a steady clip. woods is clearly trying to evoke tension and paranoia, but the result too often feels cluttered and airless.

The record catches steam around the midway point, where woods taps into the sentiments behind his obsession with bleakness. His freeform, street-preacher flow works wonders on “Birdsong,” winding into volleys of gut punches. “First time he saw the word nigga in a book/How it danced on the page/Back in the day/It’s what the family didn't say/How you knew it was AIDS,” he raps. “Trivial Pursuit” turns Open Mike Eagle’s album Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes into a funny conspiracy: “Rappers dying in they sleep/I’m watching Mike Eagle on TV/It ain’t just luck, chief.” Moments like these are reminders that the miseries and absurdities of the late capitalist hellscape are sensory and personal. The abyss is an experience, not just a setting.

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Album highlight “Great Fires” centers on the permanence of a breakup, presumably woods’ divorce. woods is oblique throughout, never citing a decisive scene of rupture, but never disputing that the relationship was doomed. “Sleep a steep fall, wake up like a stray dog/You wonder where she found the strength not to call/You’re proud of her, you know what it cost,” he laments, stuck in the aftermath. Built around a tinny horn loop and dusty drums, the song swells to a despondent utterance of the former lover’s name that’s jaggedly overdubbed with the word “love.” The insertion sucks the wind out of woods and lays bare the kinds of losses he sees in the desolation he’s so intent on cataloging.

In 2013 billy woods described himself as the bridge between late Zimbabwean novelist Dambudzo Marechera and Earl Sweatshirt. There was a defiant pride in that claim, a conviction that despite Marechera’s death from AIDS in the ’80s, and woods’ obscurity, the lineage of artful African perspectives on Western terrors would persist. In 2019 Marechera is still dead, the Klan is active in Kurt Vonnegut’s native Indiana, and Earl regularly tweets billy woods lyrics. The world is absolutely the shitshow woods knows it to be, but even the apocalypse has its charms.


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