Monthly Report: July 2013 Albums

1. Robin Thicke - Blurred Lines
I've already written a lot about this album and Thicke's back catalogue lately, so I won't say too much either other than rank former within the latter. I'd say this album is not up there with Something Else, but on par with or close to Love After War and Evolution, which is pretty damn good, plus it's just very different from those records (and much better than its closest cousin, Sex Therapy), so it feels like a pretty refreshing summer party album. The bonus tracks produced by The Cataracs on the deluxe version are a nice surprise I just found out about a few days ago, too. As always you can listen to these albums on my 2013 albums Spotify playlist, at least the ones that are on Spotify.

2. Kevin Gates - Stranger Than Fiction
When The Luca Brasi Story dropped a few months ago, I wasn't too wild about it, I think more because I was still getting used to Gates's voice more than anything else. But now I'm a little more on his wavelength and get it, because I enjoyed this record much more immediately, although I'm not sure if I necessarily think it's better, because I went back and liked Luca Brasi more too. I feel like this one's getting maybe a little underrated or presumed to be not as good as the breakthrough mixtape, might even be listened to less because it's a low profile retail album in a market that's driven by free tapes and big budget major label albums. But really aside from the terrible Wiz Khalifa remix this thing goes, I don't see anything wrong with it.

3. Matic808 - Yeezus: Baltimore Club Edition
I already mentioned this last month when writing about the original Yeezus, and in a recent column, but yeah this is just crazy, not just for the fact that Matic did it but that it works so well beyond just the novelty of the concept, he really went in and re-thought the arrangement for every single song, didn't just speed it up to 130bpm and slap a "Think" break on it. It also makes some sense because Baltimore club producers since Blaqstarr have been exploring a dark clausterphobic vibe not too different from Yeezus for a long time now. Check out the remixes on DatPiff.

4. Cex - Prismatic Spray
I've been following Rjyan's records and shit for over a decade now, and occasionally see him at shows or argue with him on Twitter, he's a good dude. I find it hard to keep up with his output the last few years, especially now that he's gone back to straight up weird beat music, which sometimes gets a little wallpaper-y to me compared to the stuff that had vocals back in the day (I am sadly still pretty closed-minded about most music without vocals). But this new one's pretty good, I like the closing track "Everything Crumbling" best.

5. Sara Bareilles - The Blessed Unrest
In case there was any doubt that I am a VH1-watching sap, I kind of love this woman, just a beguiling voice and some really smartly written piano pop songs. The Ben Folds-produced EP she released last year was kind of a step in an offbeat direction, but it felt like a self-conscious indulgence while she worked on a full-length that would convince her label she can still make hits. This album, for better or worse, doesn't really sound like a radio killer -- the single "Brave," written with one of the fun. guys, is neither good nor particularly popular. But the rest of the album is really good and kind of in the vein of the EP, particularly "Hercules" and "Islands. It'll be really stupid if they don't release "Little Black Dress" as a single, though, that thing is a hit.

6. Ace Hood - Trials & Tribulations
He's easy to make fun of, but Ace Hood is far from the worst major label rapper, and has quietly become one of the better ones in his rapidly shrinking lane (although it doesn't help that Meek Mill has emerged doing something similar with so much more intensity and personality). And I also like that he's made struggling and paying dues the subject he obsesses over and offers endless variations on, like Rick Ross with opulence or whatever -- I mean, I can identify with songs about being broke and desperate more than most other kinds of rap songs. And "Another Statistic" and "Hope" are pretty good, well produced songs, even if there's not much on the album that frames Ace Hood as well as "Bugatti."

7. Jay-Z - Magna Carta... Holy Grail
All summer I've been revisiting Jay-Z's back catalog, getting back in touch with my favorite music by my favorite rapper, doing my deep cuts playlist and Complex's underrated tracks list, and then this past week I ran a message board poll of best Jay-Z songs that ended up being almost entirely pre-retirement stuff. All of this is to say that, although I listened to Magna Carta a lot when I wrote my City Paper review, and ended up finding a few tracks I can enjoy (mainly "Nickels And Dimes," "Part II" and "F.U.T.W."), this is mostly a pretty forgettable record, inferior in every way to every album he made before 2004. Hearing garbage like "Tom Ford" and "Holy Grail" on the radio won't help my view of the album, either.

8. Joe - Doubleback: Evolution of R&B
This guy is kind of the ultimate contemporary R&B journeyman who just keeps going for years and years making occasional hits while still being forgotten and underestimated. Maybe bad ideas like the cover and title of this album are part of it. This is a nice mix of old-fashioned and contemporary, though, ill-advised strip club joint "Magic City" aside, and "Compromise" is basically "Fine China" if it was better written and sung by someone other than Chris Brown.

9. Ciara - Ciara
This album has a nice little run from tracks 3-6 where I really dig it, but before that you've got that lame-ass "I'm Out" record, and after that you've got some seriously braindead R&B 101 songwriting like "Super Turnt Up" ("your love got me leanin', boo"), "DUI" ("driving under the influence of your love") and "Overdose" ("don't let me overdose, I took your love, I think I took too much"). The metaphors are so strained on this album that we're lucky "Body Party" didn't have lyrics about cake and balloons. I wish I could review this album with the headline "Ciara Missed."

10. Drew Scott - Places I've Ever Been EP
Drew Scott is Druski, the producer who helmed the bulk of Dawn Richard's great Armor On and Goldenheart projects. I'm a little foggy on the details, but apparently they had a falling out recently, and he's not involved in the album she's releasing later this year, and he just dropped this solo EP. On paper, I'd say that's a bad thing for her, since he had such a huge hand in crafting the unique sound on her records, but her new single "Meteors" is really great and indicates she'll probably do fine with other producers, while his solo stuff is just kinda nothing special. Some nice beats, and his voice isn't terrible, but it's just a bit bland. And there's a really stupid song called "Sex In Paris" with some Frenchy ooh la la oui oui accordion on it.

Worst Album of the Month: Ty Dolla $ign - Beach House 2
I don't wanna have a whole conversation about misogyny in music and whether it's okay sometimes and not okay other times, I just know that this dude is just gross and takes it too far in almost every song, basically sounding like a less talented and way douchier Trey Songz. Some of the production is really dope but generally it ain't worth it, he has yet to write another song as good as "My Cabana" and I always thought that one was kinda overrated to begin with. I'm kinda actually hoping the industry waters him down so that if he ends up with a radio single and/or major label album it ends up really light on the hateful demoralizing lyrical element.
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