Jack Johnson (Pop/Rock)
Sleep Through the Static (3/4)- 2008
It seems like almost a requirement to be a rock critic is to hate Jack Johnson. Problem is, Sleep Through the Static is a difficult album to hate. No, it's not a creative masterpiece that's poised to set the world on fire, but there's something to be said for a simple pleasant album with soothing melodies and catchy rhythms. If that doesn't sound like your type of thing, then this isn't the album for you. However, compared to his often boring adult-alternative peers, Johnson's melodies are not soft simply for the sake of being soft. He knows how to write a melody and he knows how to soothe. Sleep Through the Static is the type of album that can relax any open-minded listener, and that's something worthy of praise. You don't need to be relaxed when you start, but you will be soon if you keep an open mind with this one. It's not earth shattering material, but there's nothing wrong with a simple upbeat melody every now and then.
Jamie Lidell (Neo-Soul/Pop)
Jim (3/4)- 2008
While nothing on his studio albums can compare to Jamie Lidell’s incredible live show, Jim is a solid neo-soul album with a unique sound. It’s hard to describe what exactly Jamie Lidell does musically or who he will appeal to, but anyone looking for a fun and unique album will find it here. Jim is far less experimental than past Lidell albums, which is a somewhat of a disappointment for fans of his ectronica side, but as mentioned before, what makes Jamie Lidell great is found more in his amazing live shows and less on his merely fun studio albums. It’s not a great album by any means, but Jim is a still a fun and moderately creative album by a musician that deserves far more attention than he gets.
Red Right Return (3/4)- 2008
Janus’ Red Right Return is somewhat of a hard album to recommend. Not because of it’s quality, as it’s actually a very good album, but because the post-hardcore genre has become populated with so many awful bands that I’m not quite sure who to recommend this album to. This is a far too progressive, unique, and intelligent album to appeal to fans of the garbage on MTV, but it’s also hard to imagine the average music fan truly enjoying a post-hardcore band with an emo looking and sounding frontman. To anyone looking for a quality post-hardcore album that actually strays from the norm and takes the genre into new territory, this is an album worth getting. Fans of bands like 30 Seconds to Mars and The Used willing to try something a bit more progressive should give this album a chance, and anyone who is intrigued by a quality accessible hardcore album should not be deterred by the comparison to the aforementioned bands. This is actually a very solid album, and it’s far better than anything the mainstream form of the genre has seen in some time.
Jason Becker (Neo-Classical Metal)
Perpetual Burn (4/4)- 1988
You may have never even heard his name, but Jason Becker is one of the most talented guitarists to ever walk the face of the earth. Written at the age of 16, Perpetual Burn is his magnum opus, and one of the greatest instrumental rock album of all-time. Becker is not only the fastest guitarists, but also one of the most technical. The pure emotion and songwriting talent of Perpetual Burn is also staggering, as there are some truly beautiful moments that never compromise his technical prowess.
Perspective (3.5/4)- 1996
Without knowing the story behind Perspective, this can be written off an ambitious follow up that never reaches the greatness of its predecessor. It’s very different from Perpetual Burn, as it features almost no shredding and instead a healthy array of keyboards and other instruments making up most of the instrumentation. On the other hand, the songwriting is masterful. There are number of epic compositions that are only missing the technical guitar work that Becker is know for. The reason for the lack of shredding is that Becker was hospitalized during the recording of Perspective, slowly becoming paralyzed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was unable to play guitar for the latter half of the recording, and ended up finishing the album on keyboards. The sheer passion that this man has for music is found in his playing, something that few other guitarists of his technical ability can convey. Unfortunately, Becker became fully paralyzed after the finishing touches were put on Perspective, and has remained that way since. The world may never see a more talented guitarist, nor will we ever hear Perspective as the masterpiece it could have been.
The Black Album (3.5/4)- 2003
While I haven’t been the biggest fan of Jay-Z through the years, The Black Album takes a look back on the emcee’s career with the same type of confident swagger that made him a favorite among hip-hop fans. To me, this is Jay-Z at his best, as The Black Album shows the peak of his flow, as well what is easily the best production of Jay’s career. The heavy and noticeably varied production make this is an easy album to listen to and a hard one to ignore. I still don’t look at Jay-Z as the legend that many rap purists do, but Jigga’s confident rhymes combined with some outstanding production earns The Black Album a strong recommendation.
The Blueprint 3 (1.5/4)- 2009
It’s more than a little hypocritical that an album with a song called “Death of Auto-Tune” has auto-tune all over that very same album. Even ignoring that it’s hard to take anything Jay-Z says seriously, The Blueprint 3’s biggest problem is that everything on this album has been done before and been done better. Jay-Z’s flow is uninspired to say the least, and none of the guests do anything to help. This is an album full of weak auto-tuned singers, pathetic rapping (even from Jay-Z himself), bad lyrics, and lazy production. There are too many great hip-hop albums out there to recommend generic cash-ins like The Blueprint 3 to anyone outside of Jay-Z’s hardcore fan base.
Jedi Mind Tricks (Rap/Hip-Hop)
Violent by Design (3.5/4)- 2000
Anyone who is easily offended should stop reading. Jedi Mind Tricks are not for you. This is a hip-hop group that is so far into the hardcore subgenre of rap that it puts its middle finger up and smiles at anyone offended by its lyrics. Still, what makes Violent by Design such an interesting album is that the emcees never settle for shock value. This is an album that offends with its hardcore political rants, anti-Christian lyrics, and general “fuck you” attitude. Jedi Mind Tricks are unapologetic in their vulgarity and in love with the idea of hate. On paper, it would be hard to label Violent by Desigin as anything but garbage, but it somehow works. Stoupe, the group’s talented producer, is at the forefront of the album’s greatness, as his unique beats are as raw and varied as they come. The emcees, Vinnie Paz and Jus Allah, certainly have their flaws, but their loud and angry verses are aided by an onslaught of brilliant guests who embrace the raw sound and turn in some of the most hate-filled verses imaginable. Again, that’s a good thing when it comes to Jedi Mind Tricks. Violent by Design is certainly a niche album, but it’s one that proudly flaunts its hardcore label, and it’s hard to deny its greatness.
A History of Violence (2/4)- 2008
Jedi Mind Tricks’ reunion with Violent By Design emcee Jus Allah is unfortunately one of the biggest disappointments of 2008. Jus Allah is underwhelming to say the least, and even bordering on awful in spots. His lines often consist of one or two words, none of which make much sense. It’s hard to believe that this is the same Jus Allah who stood neck to neck with Vinnie Paz on Violent By Design. Speaking of Vinnie Paz, the Jedi Mind frontman continues to improve with each record, and A History of Violence is no exception. His flow is always on point, and his lyrics are more personal than on past Jedi Mind albums. With that being said, Paz’s rhymes don’t always mesh with Stoupe’s production. As always, Stoupe’s beats are outstanding as always, but it often sounds like Paz and Stoupe recorded their parts on different continents and mixed them together at the minute. It all comes together in the messiest way possible, and again, makes for one of the most disappointing albums of 2008.
Jefferson Airplane (Psychedelic Rock)
Surrealistic Pillow (4/4)- 1967
Surrealistic Pillow is a psychedelic masterpiece, as well as one of my personal favorites albums of all-time. “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” are the two recognizable hits, but there’s far to this album than a few singles. Every song has a different atmosphere, beautifully aided by Grace Slick and Marty Balin’s incredible vocals, and the lyrics are easily some of the most thought-provoking in the genre. Surrealistic Pillow was obviously made with the aid of drugs, but its success as a psychedelic album is that makes the listener feel high without the side effects.
Jet (Alternative/Hard Rock)
Get Born (2.5/4)- 2003
Unapologetic in their borrowing of AC/DC riffs and classic rock melodies, Jet is a hard band to praise, but also a hard one to fault. Get Born has little to no artistic value, but it’s catchy and refined, and Jet have enough variety to avoid sounding like your typical AC/DC clone. It’s clearly made for fans of 80’s hard rock and modern alternative pop, and it’s target audience should enjoy it.
Shine On (2/4)- 2006
The more Jet try to break away from their AC/DC homage, the more they start to falter. It doesn’t help that much of the album borrows heavily from 90’s alternative acts, namely Oasis on the numerous unoriginal ballads, nor that the band has strayed from made them tolerable in the first place. There are a few tracks that work, but far too much of it is boring and uninspired.
Shaka Rock (1.5/4)- 2009
Jet has gone from a tolerable “retro-rock” band to a group without an identity. Their third album is all over the place, and to put things simply, none of it works. There’s little more here than a collection of borrowed riffs topped with generic pop vocals, and even fans of Jet’s previous two albums should look the other way. It still has no artistic value, but it’s no longer fun either.
Job for a Cowboy (Deathcore)
Genesis (2/4)- 2007
Job for a Cowboy know exactly what their fans want, and they give it to them on Genesis. The problem is that every song sounds almost identical, and that sound isn’t really anything special to begin with. I’d recommend it to metalcore fans looking to get into death metal, as they bridge the gap nicely between the two genres, but there’s not enough here to recommend to anyone else.
Judas Priest (Heavy Metal)
Screaming for Vengeance (4/4)- 1982
Both one of the best and most accessible Judas Priest albums, Screaming for Vengeance is a highly influential metal record that has stood the test of the time. The songs have no shortage of melody, lead by some catchy choruses and soaring vocals from Rob Halford, while still maintaining instrumentals that were as technical as anything in metal at the time, save for Iron Maiden. Screaming for Vengeance may not be Judas Priest’s best album, but it contains many of the strongest and most memorable songs of the legendary metal band’s career.
Nostradamus (2/4)- 2008
On paper, Nostradamus has the potential to be a superb album. Not only is the story an interesting one, but the right band is at the helm. Judas Priest has one of the most talented and influential metal bands from the start, and a two disc concept album about the prophecies of Nostradamus sounds like an interesting idea to say the least. Unfortunately, it becomes clear towards the middle of the first disc that the story of Nostradamus does not make a successful transition to album form, and it goes downhill from there. Nostradamus is unlike anything Priest has done before, largely in part to the album's story taking priority over the music. That, however, is also the album's biggest flaw. Once the listener loses interest in the story, there isn't a whole lot to the music. It's just your typical mix of speed metal and power ballads, which would be perfectly fine if the story worked. As it is, the story doesn't work, and Nostradamus turns out to be a surprisingly boring and disappointing listen because of it.