Monthly Report: April 2012 Albums
1. Future - Pluto
I can't help but see a lot of echoes of Waka Flocka Flame's career arc in Future's: ATL rapper who seems at first destined for some kind of moderate regional success scores one national hit after another until his debut album arrives with three pretty huge singles already on it, and kind of beats the odds to become a fairly cohesive major label rap album in an era when people who can theoretically make any album they want end up with Roman Reloaded-level messes. It says a lot that even when R. Kelly hijacks the first couple minutes of the first full song this still feels like a Future record through and through, and that I can actually say that like it's a good thing less than a year after despising "Tony Montana" (which at least sounds a little better in this context).
2. Miguel - Art Dealer Chic Vol. 3
With All I Want Is You emerging as one of my favorite R&B albums of the young decade and the parent album of easily my favorite string of R&B singles, I'm a little wary of his blog-friendly free download series being rated higher than it, but these songs are by and large pretty dope. I don't know if Vol. 3 is my favorite, but after Vol. 1 in February and Vol. 2 in March seemed too short and insubstantial in and of themselves for these album roundups, now I've got a nice fat half hour of good or great songs to listen to all together.
3. Say Wut - Club Innovator EP
Say Wut's been one of my favorite Baltimore club producers ever since he came on the scene in the mid-2000s, but sometimes it's easy to forget how dope he is because he has a particular kind of energy he does really well and rarely ventures outside of. This EP doesn't live up to the title with anything especially unique or out of the box, but it shows how much he's able to mix up the drum sounds and keep things fresh, and the use of space on tracks like "MerryGoRound" is really something else.
4. SWV - I Missed Us
I think that the disappearance of harmony groups, male or female, from the mainstream R&B landscape has been a really sad fact of the last 5-10 years, and even a couple years when it looked like there might be a revival with Electrik Red and RichGirl, that never really popped off. So it's cool to see one of the best groups of the '90s, one that never quite reached that En Vogue/Destiny's Child level of crossover success, come back and do their thing with an independent album that's as good as most of the major label product young singers are coming out with right now. "Everything I Love" is one of my favorite R&B tunes of the year so far, and it's fun to hear "Do Ya" with a guest verse from Brianna Perry of "Marilyn Monroe" fame, who I believe would've been 4 years old when SWV released their last album in '97.
5. Monica - New Life
Monica is also kind of a '90s R&B holdover, although her commercial decline has been more gradual over time and she still has a moderately good radio profile. Aside from the anticlimactic reunion duet with Brandy that utterly fails to live up to "The Boy Is Mine" in any way (and I say that as not even a huge fan of that song), this album is pretty strong, if not especially memorable. I've always loved the hell out of Monica's sweet fluttering voice, and this album reveals that I enjoy hearing her on downtempo and/or retro-flavored material like "Time To Move On" more than just about any of her female contemporaries.
6. ellen cherry - Please Don't Sell The Piano EP
I like ellen cherry's older guitar-oriented material and was curious to hear her first piano-driven record; I think this stuff doesn't quite retain as much of her personality or sensibility, but it's still pretty cool to hear her stretch out and really commit to the instrument, and it's just beautifully recorded and sung.
7. Shark Tank - Fun Youngs
This weird little super group of Baltimore/not-Baltimore indie rappers is fun just for hearing these guys bounce off each other and find common ground, especially Height and Lord Grunge, but I definitely miss Mickey Free's presence (he was all over the first Shark Tank album but referred to as the group's Jarobi in a skit on this one).
8. various artists - Treme: Music From The HBO Original Series - Season 2
I was a huge fan of David Simon's "The Wire" and what music supervisor Blake Leyh did with the score on that show, and I was honored to interview Leyh and get a liner note mention in "The Wire"'s soundtrack album after helping get a handle on Baltimore music. So even though I'm not as much of a fan of "Treme," it's obviously a show that is even more concerned with a city's musical identity and it's fun to hear Leyh put together another great soundtrack collection -- hearing Juvenile rap over a brass band is especially fun. I did find it disappointing, though, that this CD doesn't feature my favorite piece of music from the show's second season, "Knock With Me, Rock With Me" by Glen David Andrews and Lil' Rascals Brass Band.
9. Brendan Benson - What Kind Of World
Brendan Benson's career has been on such a steady decline for all 5 of his albums now that each one has been less memorable and less engaging than the last (although that pretty good second Raconteurs album slows a slight wrench in that narrative). Not necessarily worse, because there is a certain consistently in both the level of his melodic craft and in the casual, tossed off attitude of both his recordings and his lyric writing, but it's just really hard to care about each of these beyond an especially song or two once you've heard One Mississippi and Lapalco.
10. Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Like Brendan Benson, Spiritualized has seemed to have been on a steady decline since their mid-'90s peak, although I say 'seemed' because I really haven't listened to the last few albums other than hearing bits here and there. And when I decided to check back in for this one, all I could think was "wow, Spiritualized songs about contented family life sound exactly like Spiritualized songs about being a heartbroken heroin addict."