There’s too many albums released in a week, let alone half of a year, for just one man to review, but I’m always up for the challenge! Instead of continuing to talk about albums that came out in March during July, here’s a lightning quick take on some records I’ve been meaning to touch on:
Smino – blkswn
Smino might be from St. Louis, but his days in Chicago for college during his most formidable years as an artist has equally influenced his unique sound. He’d worked with other Chicago artists such as Saba, Mick Jenkins, and Noname, and cites his influences as Chicago legends Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco.
His affiliation with Saba is immediately present within his music, like on “Edgar Allen Poe’d Up,” but his affinity to lean towards more high-pitched vocals feel more like the upbeat Chicago artists such as D.R.A.M. or the sing-rap style originally developed by St. Louis artist Nelly. Tracks on blkswn such as “Wild Irish Roses” and “Spit Shine” are clear favorites, and some of his most unique material. It’s a really decent debut, and another rising artist out of the mid-West.
Young Thug – Beautiful Thugger Girls, 2 Chainz – Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, and Kodak Black – Painting Pictures
While these three records are not only the best and most listenable projects from each respective rapper, they’re still entirely difficult projects to enjoy or, in some cases, even understand. Young Thug’s record, billed as a “singing album” full of guitar, still includes his horrendous and downright disgusting lyrics (plus he’s holding the guitar upside down on the album cover).
2 Chainz presents his best yet most lackluster project thus far, with bars so off of flow or rhyme scheme that it somehow makes the eerie and ear-stabbing beats not the least favorable quality, and finally Kodak Black, who actually impressed me with how low I set my expectations, still managed to sound almost unintelligible. My main problem with these records is just how lazily their words flow out, and with lyrical/vocal tweaks here and there, tracks like Kodak’s “Candy Paint” or Thug’s “Family Don’t Matter” could be great songs, it’s just the nature of their particular style that holds them back.
Woods – Love Is Love
Woods’ last record, Sun City Eater in the River of Light, was surprisingly my favorite of theirs thus far. The melodies were memorable, and they even included more funky, groovier bass lines to keep the songs from spiraling out into seven-minute abyss’ of progressive indie-rock. Returning with Love Is Love, less than a year later, the six-track mini-LP keeps a similar style, but loses the mythos that their previous project had. Plus the ten-minute “Spring Is in the Air” drone of a song might be one of the most boring songs ever created. The “Love is Love” occurring theme comes off as some ’70s hippie/political message throughout their instrumentation and lyrics, which sadly only emphasizes the rut of indie rock songwriting over the last couple of years.
Czarface – First Weapon Drawn
Initially, I was excited to see another Czarface record so soon, the hip-hop collaboration between Wu-Tang’s Inspectah Deck and Boston-producers 7l & Esoteric, with MF Doom-type beats that focus on comic book references and the marrying of comics and hip-hop. First Weapon Drawn isn’t technically their fourth record however, as zero rapping or even fundamental songs exist on the project other than the occasional underlying instrumental.
Apparently, First Weapon Drawn is in-fact a comic book with an accompanying audio-book record labeled “Book and Record Set: It’s Fun to Read As You Hear.” It’s an interesting idea, but when you just slap it on Apple Music/Spotify without knowledge of the comic book or idea behind the project, it’s quite surprising and rather disappointing to expect a new Czarface record just to hear an audio-book version of a comic book you’re not looking at. If I ever get a hold of the book I’ll have to listen again for the full effect, but be warned that First Weapon Drawn is not at all a new Czarface record.
Snoop Dogg – Neva Left
I don’t know how Snoop Dogg just releases these massive albums one after another, but Neva Left is his best in a good long while. Sure, hearing Snoop meander a rap over Wu-Tang’s legendary “C.R.E.A.M.” beat for five-minutes was a bit odd for 2017, but tracks like “Lavender” with BadBadNotGood, “I’m Still Here” with Kendrick Lamar, and “Moment I Feared” with Rick Ross are decent additions to Snoop’s discography. Snoop might have never left, but this being his fifteenth-studio album of practically the same sound and rapping style, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t gotten old. He’s having the time of his life on this record, and for that I applaud his ability to keep cranking out albums, but it’s easy to hear that he’s not that young kid on the cover anymore.
Sufjan Stevens/Bryce Dessner/Nico Muhly/James McAlister – Planetarium
Commissioned for Nico Muhly, the orchestral composer brought in artists such as Bryce Dessner (from the National), and singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, for a seventy-six minute take on the planets and the gods they represent. The record functions audibly as mainly a Sufjan project oddly, combining his sound from Carrie & Lowell with McAlister’s drums reminiscent of the style from Sufjan’s record Age of Adz.
While it becomes a bit of a taxing listen at seventeen tracks in length, the inter-planetary metaphors and trying relation to human emotions experienced by Sufjan post Carrie & Lowell project a deep sadness upon what could have been more of a vast and mysteriously awe-inspiring story of space. “Father of light, father of death/Give us your wisdom, give us your breath/Summoner says that Jupiter is the loneliest planet,” he says on “Jupiter” before erupting into hard-hitting drums even Yeezus-era Kanye would think were too abruptly unpleasant. Maybe it’s because it’s hard for someone to identify with a planet set to somber Sufjan orchestrations, but there’s an emotional gap here that is usually full on Sufjan’s projects. On Carrie & Lowell it felt so personal, and on Michigan/Illinois it felt warm, but here in space it all just feels cold.
Bryson Tiller – True to Self
While I never cared for Bryson Tiller, he did impress me on DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts” with Rihanna. For me, I just don’t get the hype: there’s nothing original about his music, lyrics, style, voice, look, or anything he’s doing. He might as well just say out loud that his biggest inspirations are Usher and Chris Brown because it’s written all over him. I don’t even know what kind of message he’s going for, with tracks named “Don’t Get Too High” back-to-back with “Blowing Smoke.” True to Self confirmed all of these beliefs since his debut TRAPSOUL, especially since True to Self couldn’t even hold on to its own loose narrative.
Dan Auerbach – Waiting on a Song
Dan Auerbach, the lead singer of The Black Keys, has had his fair share of production and solo credits over the last couple of years. His last record leading a band known as The Arcs was amazing, wherein he was able to bring his influence from the Black Keys to more of a psych-rock/synth driven project. Here on Waiting on a Song; however, Auerbach presents some of the most derivative and boring material of 70’s blues that sounds like a man trapped in the music of the past.
The Black Keys are one of the last surviving “rock bands” left, and it’s because they were able to innovate their sound enough to stay fresh and relevant. On Waiting on a Song, Auerbach does the complete opposite, and thus has the reverse effect. While some songs like “Undertow” come close, I would rather have another Black Keys record than some Auerbach solo record of not-as-good Keys songs any day.
Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1
Surprisingly, I think Calvin Harris had the better star-studded producer record this year over DJ Khaled. Khaled did his usual round-up of celebrities making pop-rap hits for the dance-floor on Grateful, but it didn’t shine or impress as much as his last effort on Major Key. Harris’ Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 follows a similar mindset, but at least Calvin works not only towards a unifying sound, but one that now feels like he has cemented as his own.
It’s the sounds first heard on “Slide” with Frank Ocean and Migos, a sound that easily transfers over into “Cash Out” with ScHoolboy Q, “Heatstroke” with Young Thug, and “Feels” with Pharrell Williams. Each song might not be super enticing or impressive either, with some sounding like “Slide” reattempts, but Funk Wav Bounces went for a successful and cohesive sound—one that bolsters the strength of the record as a whole and redefines Calvin Harris since his “We Found Love” or “Where Have You Been” Rihanna days.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below: