AJJ – “The Bible 2”

(Photo Credit: AJJ)Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Cody’s Theme,” “Terrifyer”

Sometimes, punk bands grow up. There’s nothing that can stop a natural aging process. The Clash embraced reggae, the Offspring started writing about suicide, Green Day wrote a Broadway musical. What often gets mistaken as “selling out” is usually just a band’s members realizing their image is going to fade, and jumping the gun to adopt a new one. AJJ had hinted at this transition on their last album, the excellent “Christmas Island.” It opens with “Temple Grandin” and “Children of God,” two songs that are prime AJJ – fast, acoustic guitar mixed with lyrics that more-than-border on violence and gross imagery. But the album also included songs like “Linda Ronstadt,” which touches on the same loneliness that the band usually touches on, but with less violence, less disguises, and more palpable humanity. Sean Bonnette is better than anyone else in music at masking his own insecurities, faults and dark desires through characters, satire and overblown odes. But that started to chip on “Christmas Island,” and it gets stripped away on “The Bible 2.”

The band, sporting a new drummer, have awarded themselves a re-baptism: they abbreviated their name. AJJ, of course, used to stand for Andrew Jackson Jihad. But now it’s just “AJJ.” Partially because of maturity – I mean, their name was kinda racist for a bunch of Arizona white guys – partially because of an increase in actual Jihadist violence, and partially just because it’s what everyone called them anyways.  Eleven years after their first album, they’ve been re-christened, and it’s allowed them to expand, or decompress their sound and explore what they’ve previously ignored – their stance as an actual, successful band.

AJJ’s most progressive songs on “The Bible 2” aren’t necessarily the most interesting, because they’re slower and more adult than we’re used to. But this isn’t a bad thing; a lack of humanity, although AJJ’s strongest weapon, is also their biggest downfall. “American Garbage” is downright an indie song – a different cry than “American Tune” from only a few years ago. Slap a different band’s name on the song and it might pick up some airplay on college radio. Same goes for “Small Red Boy,” and “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread,” which seems like a sequel to 2007’s “No More Tears,” but really isn’t. In fact, those two songs work together for a more honest, painfully aware song than any of the early guitar blasts.

All of this isn’t to say that old AJJ doesn’t pop in, too. Songs like “White Worms” and “Junkie Church” have lyrics that could’ve easily passed on any earlier album. “The waiting room was pissing in my ear / So we went and bought ourselves a can of beer / Steel Reserve,” Bonnette sings on the latter. The former: “My teeth are brown / My lips are blue / The grass is green / My tongue is too.” The horrors on this album don’t come as frequently. After years of songs like “Bad Bad Things,” “Back Pack” and “Dad Song,” there’s little that AJJ can sing in a song that’s still shocking. So, they reserve those moments. Opener “Cody’s Theme” has such lyrics, with the chorus: “I had to talk to the teacher / She had to talk to my mom / We had a real long talk / I had to talk to the teacher / She had to talk to my mom / They made the visions stop.” While this is nothing compared to the lyrics of, say, “Darling, I Love You,” they do announce that even if AJJ is growing, changing – they’re still the same at heart.

The secret weapon of “The Bible 2” is actually the songs that manage to place themselves in between ‘old’ and ‘new’ AJJ. “Cody’s Theme,” “Golden Eagle” and lead single “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye” all sound strangely reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel, with wickedly distorted guitar playing alongside acoustic. These songs almost act as the torchbearers, saying that yes, AJJ is transitioning, and no, they’re not changing completely. They could pass as indie songs, in a way, but it might not be a comfortable passing. “Terrifyer” might be one of the most interesting songs because its use of melody sounds pretty satisfying, while still giving in to the sound of “Sense & Sensibility,” in the best way possible.

Although I personally think the band hit a highest high with 2011’s “Knife Man,” this might be their most cohesive album. Musically, it hits more different territories than ever before. The album’s first half starts with guitar, dips gradually down into piano before revving back up for “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye.” And although the lyrics do once again embrace religion, mental illness, and deathly imagery, there’s broader topics at play. By shedding away the masks the band has previously used to hide their desires and delusions within the confinements of people worse then them, they’ve humanized themselves, fully, and even the first-person songs feel more real because of it. This isn’t a criticism of their older music – far from it, what they’ve done lyrically with the use of satire, violence, and irony is amazing – but simply an awareness that it was starting to get old. AJJ ran that line as long as they could, and, now that it’s over, they’re switching gears. While this is a transition album of sorts, there’s a lot to like, and it proves that AJJ might be able to bridge a gap that a lot of punk bands have previously failed – stay yourselves, stay interesting, yet change.

-By Andrew McNally

No Man’s Valley – “Time Travel”

(Photo Credit: Jasper Hesselink)Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Kill the Bees,” “The Wolves Are Coming”

After a successful five track EP in 2014, Dutch rock band No Man’s Valley are back with their first full-length. The album blends psych-rock with a throwback garage sound, into a murky and thundering work that shows its teeth, but values restraint all the same. The band, which consists of Jasper Hesselink on vocals, Christian Keijsers on guitar, Rob Perree on bass, Ruud Van Den Munckhof on organ and Dinand Claessens on drums (with all on backing vocals), provide a brief, tight album that extends the work on their earlier EP’s into broader, more stretched-out territory.

“Time Travel” is a fitting name for this album, for a few different reasons. One reason is that the band’s different sounds throughout the album feel reminiscent of the transitional period between garage rock and metal. Specifically, the album’s first three songs, “The Man Who Would Be King,” “Kill the Bees” and “Sinking the Lifeboat,” sound somewhat like long lost odes to Deep Purple. Deep Purple often mixed heavy guitar and organ to create a dense, tough sound. While they may have been doing it as a reaction to overly melodic rock n’ roll, the guys in No Man’s Valley are focused more on the brooding aspect. Songs with titles like “Sinking the Lifeboat” and “Love or Axe Murder” aren’t exactly subtle about their brooding qualities. The band retains a garage-rock sound throughout “Time Travel,” but one that sounds dragged through the Bauhaus songbook too.

There is a focus on cohesion throughout “Time Travel.” Often, as compared to garage rock, No Man’s Valley is working in unison. Sometimes it’s very harmonious and sometimes it’s not, but rarely is one element of the band intended to be more prominent or important than any others (while most garage rock is focused on volume, rather than full band unison – to each genre their own). The band roars through the title track, and sludges through the big finale, “Goon,” all in unison.

The album is centered around “The Wolves Are Coming,” the most energetic and vocal track, as well as a single the band released in 2014 that has climbed the charts in their native Netherlands. It’s another reason why “Time Travel” might be a fitting name, because the band is both showcasing where they’ve been, and how far they’ve come in those short years. The band give glimpses into their steady past with “Wolves,” and into their potential future with more balanced, psychedelic and heavy tracks. While it might only be a brief outing, “Time Travel” is a very cohesive and diverse record, that shows a band that still knows how to have fun in the studio. “Time Travel” proves that a throwback sound can still sound refreshing in 2016.

-By Andrew McNally

Radiohead – “A Moon Shaped Pool”

Grade: A

Key tracks: “Burn the Witch,” “Glass Eyes”

This review was originally posted at the filtered lens

By this point, we don’t really need to be reviewing Radiohead’s albums. Their last, 2011’s “The King of Limbs,” shocked audiences by getting a reception that was only pretty good, not great. Nothing noteworthy for other bands, but a huge misfire for them (and, personally, it’s one of my favorite RH albums). They’re a cultural institution, changing themselves and popular music with each release. They’ve done it again here, on their ninth album “A Moon Shaped Pool,” an album that balances emotions just as it balances its instrumentation.

The most immediate sound on the album is the alarming strings of opener and lead single “Burn the Witch.” It’s a very compact song, clocking in at 3:41, relatively short by the band’s standards. It has that catchy, staccato string rhythm that’s somewhat infectious, unexpected for a band that doesn’t exactly have the most whistle-able tunes. The second song and second single “Daydreaming,” hits the much more familiar other-end-of-the-spectrum, a 6+ minute haunting electro-ballad. It’s a gorgeous song, equally enthralling and terrifying. The two songs, released close together and playing back-to-back, are uniquely different in a way that doesn’t exactly work, and to have them kick off the album seems like it’s setting a path for an album of great songs but with a lacking cohesiveness.

This couldn’t be less of the case. Other reviewers have used the word “symphonic” to describe the album, and it settles into that kind of groove. The next four tracks – “Decks Dark,” “Desert Island Disk,” “Ful Stop,” and “Glass Eyes,” act as a massive (and excellent) suite. “Decks” transitions into “Desert,” and although the other songs aren’t connected, there is a real vulnerable and murky tone to the songs that draw the listener for quite a while (about 17 minutes, through the four songs). And just when that set starts to feel a little worn-in, they turn on a dime to the more rhythmic “Identikit,” one of a few songs they’ve recorded for the album after playing them live for years. It’s not an energetic track, but it feels like after the previous five.

Radiohead’s best albums have a real cohesiveness to them, and “A Moon Shaped Pool” is about as cohesive as they come. The biggest outlier is “Burn the Witch,” with a bursting energy not found anywhere else. A majority of the tracks are slow-burning ballads, to varying success, although most are sheer Radiohead brilliance. “Glass Eyes,” the shortest track, is also the most effective. Closing song “True Love Waits” is the same (and another song that Radiohead has been kicking around for years). The album shares a cohesiveness with “Kid A,” but without doing a retread of that album’s murky synths. There is a lot of synth here, but it’s a more spellbinding and complex use of them, and occasional strings and acoustic guitar work to fully complement the otherwise electro-heavy music.

As with some of Radiohead’s other albums, the lyrics don’t take a full priority. Between the importance placed on music, and Thom Yorke’s typically high-flying and jumbled vocals, the lyrics aren’t always the most discernible. Still, “Decks Dark” has a great line, “There’s a spacecraft blocking out the sky,” which complements the song’s spacey feel (that would feel in place on “OK Computer”).

This certainly isn’t one of Radiohead’s most accessible or immediately enjoyable albums. In fact, some of the tracks might not even sound great individually. This is an album meant to be consumed whole. Their last two albums, “In Rainbows” and “The King of Limbs,” had pop standouts that you could listen to and love immediately – this album is more of a grower. In time, it’ll go down as one the band’s best albums yet, but we have to give it time to get there. Trust me, give it the time.

-By Andrew McNally

Head Wound City – “A New Wave of Violence”

Grade: A

Key Tracks: “Head Wound City, USA,” “Scraper”

Let it be known: this is not a noisegrind album. When Head Wound City formed in 2005, they formed as a nosiegrind supergroup, consisting of Cody Votolato and Jordan Blilie of the Blood Brothers, Justin Pearson and Gabe Serbian of the Locust and, uh, Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, they formed as a fun side project who wrote and recorded an entire EP in a week. The resulting project, a self-titled work, wasn’t extraordinary, but was a breath of fresh air nonetheless. The EP, at seven songs, clocks in at only 9:38. That was released 11 years ago. Their unexpected reformation has given us a full-length, one born out of maturity. “A New Wave of Violence” is about as mature as anything in this genre can get.

Zinner’s songwriting credit on “Lemonade” be damned, he requested a Head Wound City reunion. And that reunion led to the idea of a full-length. But with members like Blilie and Pearson among the ranks, the desire to expand upon noisegrind must have been obvious. Some of the people responsible for the sub-genre’s growth in America didn’t want to be consumed by it. And with the overall silliness of noisegrind becoming overwhelming – Pearson and Serbian once played in Holy Molar, a band that sang almost exclusively about teeth – the member felt a need to play themselves out of it. So while this album is intense, by all means, it doesn’t really fit under any qualifications. And, in that way, it is purely gratifying.

The first sign that this wasn’t going to be a proper noisegrind album was the lead single, “Scraper.” For one thing, it’s 2:40. While still short, it’s about two minutes longer than a proper noisegrind song. And the song builds for about half its length, building into a big climax. The band hit all kinds of marks across the album, be it immediate intense pleasure (“I Wanna Be Your Original Sin”) or restrained hardcore punk (“Closed Casket”). They strive to make every song unique, and succeed unequivocally. “Palace of Love and Hate” might be a proper noisegrind song, but “Avalanche in Heaven” shows massive restraint. Hell, “Love Is Best,” is as grown-up as anything that might otherwise be radio-approachable.

But that’s not to say that they hold back. Blilie’s vocals are as intense as ever, and there a few times where he seems to be dubbed over himself – screaming and regular vocals. It’s disorienting. The band, collectively, makes a statement, that they don’t need to be as aggressive as humanly possible to get their point across. Members of the band, especially Pearson and Serbian, expressed a desire to move away from the comedic side of noisegrind. Their primary band, the Locust, is responsible for such song titles as “Skin Graft at Seventy-Five Miles Per Hour,” “Get Off the Cross, the Wood is Needed,” and, my favorite Locust song, “Nice Tranquil Thumb in Mouth.” There’s little humor here, instead replaced by a less intense but more hard-hitting intensity, a demand to cut the shit and get to work. And that they do. “A New Wave of Violence” is a collaborative effort, and it feels like one. It is maturity through forced innocence, volume through forced filtration. It doesn’t classify as any sub-sub-genre of rock or punk, instead choosing to exist as its own brutal being. And pardon my French, but holy shit, is it going to rip your skull apart.

-By Andrew McNally

White Lung – “Paradise”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Below,” “Kiss Me When I Bleed”

There’s two meanings to the word “raw.” On White Lung’s previous album, “Deep Fantasy,” they explored a hardcore sound that roared ferociously, even for hardcore punk, ripping through 10 songs in 22 minutes. Their new album smoothes things out a bit (although not much, it’s 10 songs through 28 minutes). There is a lot more emotional rawness on the album – the band is focused less on speed and volume and more on wearing themselves thin on tape.

White Lung are following in a trend set by previous releases by Perfect Pussy and Savages, in which very loud and angry bands are not shying away from their sudden success and are instead using their new standpoints in their music. Tellingly, Meredith Graves and Jhenny Beth opened their arms to love. Mish Barber-Way? Serial killers. And trailers. But also love. In between albums, she wed, and a post-wedding blissfulness permeates the album. At times, unfortunately, the band sounds like they’re pushing the volume only because they’re White Lung and that’s what is expected. Most of the time, however, this theme of emotional and physical rawness comes across effectively.

“Deep Fantasy” is one of my favorite albums – in the past two years I’ve spun it more than almost any other album. But if there’s any criticism I could level at it, it’s that it feels a little too polished at times. Surprising, given Kenneth William’s utterly shrieking guitar. The band operates at 11 and sound like they’re about to go off the rails at all moments. But still, they could use for a little more emotion in their music. It comes through here. On “Demented,” William trades in his wailing guitar for a straight-forward, pounding and unexpected one-chord riff. Anne-Marie Vassiliou sounds immediately more forceful on the drums, on opener “Dead Weight,” and one multiple songs throughout. And Mish Barber-Way strains herself on nearly every song. I found their first single, “Hungry,” underwhelming, but man her voice propels the song. She brings carnage to “Kiss Me When I Bleed” and adds tension to ballad “Below.” She dominates the album in the way that she dominated “In Your Home,” the closer to “Deep Fantasy.”

Lyrically, too, this album has a certain rawness to it that doesn’t jibe with the rawness of “Deep Fantasy.” One of that album’s best songs, “I Believe You,” was an extremely direct message to rape culture. That directness exists here, too, but instead of a punishing rawness, it’s an emotional one. Barber-Way investigates her fears and wonders about marrying a Southern man: “I will give birth in a trailer / Huffing the gas in the air / Baby is born in molasses / Like I would even care” she sings on “Kiss Me When I Bleed.” On “I Beg You,” “This is the death of me / I need a fantasy.” Between the rapid drumming, relentless guitar exploration and strained vocals, White Lung push themselves to a maximum that they’ve never explored. It doesn’t always pay off, some tracks like “Narcoleptic” and “Hungry” suffer from a tempo that’s too fast to be slow and too slow to be White Lung. Exploring their space might not always be their thing. Then again, they strip everything away and let sheer tension run “Below.” This is a personal and bleeding album, one that addresses the successes and failures of being a touring band, sudden notoriety, and life in general. It isn’t necessarily hardcore punk, but then again, White Lung never truly adapted the title. They never adapted any title. And it’s not like this album isn’t gonna rip your face off most of the time anyways. It’s raw, it’s passionate, it’s emotional, it’s loud, it’s destructive and most importantly, it’s White Lung.

-By Andrew McNally

Radiohead Through 10 Videos

On the release of Radiohead’s ninth album and their two excellent new singles, I thought we should take a look back on some of the band’s best videos. They’re a cultural institution as much as any classic rock band, with one of the best singers and a pair of the best guitarists in modern music. They followed a legendary-status album with two more, and even their worst album is still a pretty solid rock record.

When you ask someone what they think the greatest music videos of all-time are, you may get some stock answers: “Sabotage,” “Thriller,” “Sledgehammer.” But it won’t take long to mention Radiohead. The difference from person to person is which Radiohead video they think is the best. This is because there has never been a band who has captured the meaning of their own songs in video form as well, and on such a consistent basis, as Radiohead. The sound, tone and emotion of their songs is delivered expertly in exciting and often surreal videos. This is not meant as a list of their best videos; far from it. I’m not even getting to “House of Cards,” “Paranoid Android,” “There, There,” or “Go To Sleep.” It’s a celebration of what makes Radiohead so damn good at their own visual arts.

“Daydreaming,” 2016 –

Radiohead’s newest video may also be one of their most direct, or at least directly related to the song. The video, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is six minutes of Thom Yorke walking through doorways into varying locales – kitchens, hospital rooms, the beach, and finally a frozen tundra. While maybe too reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine, the video has the look and feel of daydreaming. It’s nice that this is the video that came out right when I decided to make this post, because it has that direct music-to-video correlation that Radiohead nails almost every time.

“No Surprises,” 1998 –

If “Daydreaming” seemed minimalistic, then “No Surprises” seems downright cheap. Whether the video is a tense look at someone testing their own mortality, or just using the title to taunt the audience, it’s one of their best videos. If you haven’t seen it, it’s one long shot of Thom Yorke in some kind of chamber, water rising up to and over his head as he stares blankly at the camera. When he blinks, the water goes rushing beneath him and he gasps for air as the song continues playing. It’s alarming and a little scary, even if it’s one long, unchanging shot. The minimalistic quality matches the song’s tone, somber, even by the band’s standards.

“Lotus Flower,” 2011 –

This video is also minimalism pushed to the fullest (or emptiest?), but in an entirely different way. By 2011, Radiohead seemed to know that they had hit a legendary status and, as they grew older, felt like they didn’t have to prove themselves. “The King of Limbs” received pretty mixed reviews, but I love it because they’re not trying to make the artistic statement that all of their other albums strive for. That, in itself, is a paradoxical artistic statement. And to celebrate, the album’s only video is just Thom Yorke busting out his worst dad-dance moves in a big, empty room.

“Karma Police,” 1997 –

Arguably their best video, “Karma Police” is yet another work in fantastic minimalism. The POV shot follows a car moving down a pitch-black Southern road at night, catching up to some poor, unfortunate man, until he can make the tables turn. It’s an incredible slow-burner (pun intended), that adds tension by beefing up the mystery. And it’s one of their many, very Lynch-ian videos. I shouldn’t have to explain how the video relates to the song. Even though we have no context for the video, we can feel empathetic for the man being hunted, and the karma he delivers.

“High And Dry,” 1995 –

So if you’ve never seen a Radiohead video and you’ve just watched these four, you might think they’re the kings of understatement (and you might also think that Thom Yorke is the only member). But this video is downright cinematic. It is reminiscent of the then-recent Pulp Fiction, with the band sitting innocently in a diner while a key to a suitcase is passed through a pie to a different table but, unfortunately, the wrong table. This is maybe the only video that would probably benefit by the band not being there, but their presence does add some authenticity. It’s a beautiful but tense song, and it plays out perfectly in this Shakespeare-cum-gangster video.

“Pop Is Dead,” 1993 –

Speaking of cinematic qualities, Radiohead allowed themselves to slip into weirdness in their videos before they did in their music. Their first album, “Pablo Honey,” is easily the least exciting in their discography (even if it does have their only true hit). It’s a fairly standard early-90’s wannabe-grunge album, and although this song was a non-album single, it shows. The video even looks like Alice in Chains’ “Them Bones” video. But with Thom dressed up like a corpse, and a funeral procession moving in a serpentine fashion through a field, it has a strong David Lynch aura. They may have felt constrained on their first album, but this video shows it didn’t last long.

“Fake Plastic Trees,” 1995 –

On top of being one of the band’s most beautiful songs, “Fake Plastic Trees” has a certain childlike innocence to it. Thom’s vocals and the band’s music resemble a child learning the harsh realities of the world. The lyrics are notoriously cryptic – rumor has it they’re about abortion – but it doesn’t matter. The feel is captured perfectly in the video, with band members riding around like children in shopping carts and make a ruckus in a faux-grocery store filled with bright lights. This is a song that transports you back to your childhood just to make pain even worse, and the video emphasizes it even more.

“Burn the Witch,” 2016 –

Radiohead have had a love affair with animation – aside from this, their other new single, they also have the videos for “Paranoid Android,” “Go to Sleep,” House of Cards,” “Pyramid Song,” and “There, There.” All of them have animation of some kind, and all strikingly different from each other. Their new video continues this affair – with claymation. “Burn the Witch” is a pretty bleak video from the get-go, with an inspector surveying a town and seeing a witch being attacked, a hanging square and a massive effigy to be burned – only to be put in it himself. The strings in the song have a confusing impact, sounding equally joyous and shameless, and the video’s irrepressibly morbid tone plays off of both.

“Knives Out,” 2001 –

Michael Gondry hadn’t yet directed the as-previously-mentioned Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but he brings the same feel to Radiohead’s 2001 single. The video, done seemingly in one-take, details a woman being operated on and her lover sitting close-by, while their history plays out on a television. They love each other, but we also see them battling with axes. It’s surreal to the fullest – at one point, Thom’s head is replaced with a heart that opens and absorbs a picture of her – equal parts creepy and heartfelt. The video establishes a whole world within seconds, and makes a brief song feel like a whole movie.

“Just,” 1995 –

My personal favorite Radiohead video. “The Bends” provided some of the best (see above), this one being even better than the others. It’s another take on minimalism, with a middle-aged businessman walking to work and suddenly laying down in the street. A man, and then a few people, and then a crowd, try to figure out what’s wrong with him, even though he demands they just leave him alone. Eventually he tells them, but not us, and we see the whole crowd laying down. The song is not-so-subtly-but-poetically about depression, and having a man – an everyday man, but not the face of depression – suddenly take to bed on the sidewalk is a perfect encapsulation of how suddenly it can come on. The intercuts of the band playing in an apartment overheard are unexpected, especially since the members who aren’t Thom Yorke have become notoriously absent from their videos.

Radiohead have worked with some big name people, and here’s to hoping it continues. Some bands can make memorable videos, and some bands can make videos related to the song, but not all bands can do both – and Radiohead have been doing both since 1993. Their excellent new album, “A Moon Shaped Pool,” is available now, and I cannot recommend enough that you pick it up.

Beyonce – “Lemonade”

(Photo Credit: honourmymystique.com)Grade: A

Key Tracks: “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” “Freedom,” “Formation”

Beyonce’s previous album, one of the only albums that I’ve felt deserved a self-title, was a masterpiece ode to love, sex, celebrity and family. And it’s release was revolutionary, the kind previously reserved to more predictably innovative acts like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. So expectations were high coming in to her next album, and although we’ve gotten an entirely different album than what we expected, it’s every bit as good, if not better, than expectations.

“Beyonce” felt like she was opening the doors into the private life of her and Jay-Z, into a world we shouldn’t really be hearing. The album was like we were all the winners of a Golden Ticket, getting a brief look inside the magic world of music’s most powerful couple. Well, this album also feels like something we shouldn’t be hearing, but for the opposite reason. “Lemonade” is full of personal clapbacks aimed at Jay, with the lyrics stopping just short of specifically telling us he’s cheated, and with whom (it was Becky with the good hair, who is supposedly Rita Ora). It is an emotional and personal roller coaster, with as much revenge as regret. Jay-Z might be one of the richest and most powerful men in entertainment, but no one can wrong Bey and get away with it.

There are memorable lines across nearly every song on “Lemonade.” She wastes no time in addressing the issue, on the ballad opener “Pray You Catch Me,” singing “You can taste the dishonesty / It’s all over your breath.” On the follow-up “Hold Up,” she laments being in her position, saying “What’s worse, looking jealous or crazy?” before deciding that she’s already been jealous, so she’s choosing crazy. Indeed, the album might feel a little crazy, with nearly every song serving as a very public response to a very private issue. But it also serves as part of the album’s identity, as an ode to black women. Anyone can – and should – listen to “Lemonade,” but it isn’t an album designed for everyone. There’s no proper radio bangers, and it’s intentional. If there were, we wouldn’t all be listening to the message. By developing her own marital problems, she addresses issues of women, occasionally black women, and puts them in a context that’s often pushed against in media. It’s been an interesting trend over the years, as Beyonce has voluntarily become a voice for black pride. This continues here in just about every context – musically, lyrically, historically and visually.

If she sounds frustrated on the first two tracks, then she’s totally over it on the next two. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” has some of the album’s most blatant lines – “You ain’t married to no average bitch, boy / You can watch my fat ass twist, boy / As I bounce to the next dick, boy” – that quell any notion that she has been singing from a fictional POV. She wrote a diss track about her own husband. I mean c’mon, that’s incredible. And it drags onwards into “Sorry,” which is not an apology for anything (nor should it be). “Now you wanna say you’re sorry / Now you wanna call me crying” she sings, holding it over Jay’s head. Elsewhere, on “Sandcastles,” she laments, “I know I promised that I couldn’t stay / Every promise don’t work out that way.” The album’s best line goes to “Love Drought”: “Nine times out of ten I’m in my feelings / But ten times out of nine I’m only human.”

Musically, the album is kind of all over the place. It needs to be, it highlights Bey processing a terrible thing and going through a range of emotions. What this album successfully tries to show is that, at the end of the day, she’s as human as the rest of us. She might sound justified, only to come off as too angry or too forgiving, because she’s not perfect.

The collaborators and co-writers are key to understanding the diverse music. She often reflected the styles of her collaborators on her self-titled album, namely Drake and Jay. It was done then because of the album’s secrecy. On “Lemonade,” it is done out of appreciation. The album is about appreciation – of yourself but more so, of others. And if the lyrics are multi-faceted, so are the collaborators. Jack White nails an appearance on “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” a blues-rock tune. “Freedom” is about black pride and is easily the most intense track, unsurprisingly featuring Kendrick Lamar. James Blake pops up on an interlude that is really just a James Blake song. The Weeknd turns “6 Inch,” a song about identity, into one of the album’s smoothest. She reflects all of their styles out of appreciation for their own work. Animal Collective and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs get songwriting credits for lyrics taken from their songs (on “6 Inch” and “Hold Up,” respectively). And “Hold Up” features co-author credits from EDM superstar Diplo and indie singers Ezra Koenig and Father John Misty. Going even further, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Jerome “Doc” Pomus & Mort Shuman, Burt Bacharach and “Prisoner 22” show up in the sample credits.

The music is as much of a journey as the lyrics, with all of the above artists contributing their own sounds. “6 Inch” is sultry, “Forward” is an electro-ballad, “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is a blues-rock kicker, and “Hold Up” sounds like what a Beyonce song written by indie singers would sound like. “Daddy Lessons,” one of the only songs about something other than her husband’s infidelity, starts with a New Orleans jazz sound before transitioning into an ode to her father, with a country-esque backdrop (taking in her Houston heritage). It sits right at the album’s midpoint, a standout that shows how divisive the album’s feel can be. And early single but visual-album afterthought “Formation” sounds (and looks) like New Orleans.

This was an album that no one was expecting, about an incident that we had only ever speculated about. But it’s an album we need – an affirmation for women who have been cheated on, and a call to arms for black women around the world. It’s not like black pride and feminism are new topics for Beyonce, far from it. But it’s the personality she’s decided to mold herself into that has allowed her to become such a powerful force in the world socially. The music has helped that, too. We don’t know what’s in store for the Jay/Bey marriage, but given the quality and rapidity of his music lately – or lack thereof – she may have just driven a nail into the coffin of his music career. And she did it with one of the albums of the year.

-By Andrew McNally