Monthly Report: January 2014 Albums

1. Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues
I feel like such a rock critic for taking an interest in this album mainly because it feels kind of important -- a few years ago, when the band had one or two radio hits, I'd kinda dismissed them, somewhat ironically because I thought the singer had an unpleasantly macho punk rock dude voice. And then Laura Jane Grace became the first transgender rock star, or at least the first one who was well known before coming out, and it'd be dumb of me to just stick with my kneejerk first reaction of the band when here's a good opportunity to hear them in a whole new context. Setting aside all the context, though, this is a really amazing and beautiful album -- I had to listen to the title track a few times before getting into the rest of it, just because that song bowled me over. And seeing them perform "FUCKMYLIFE666" on Letterman was pretty amazing. I love hearing a rock album that feels like a really complete artistic statement but gets over with in just 28 minutes, but more than that I love how tangled and idiosyncratic it is, brimming over with ideas and emotions besides just the ones that you already know the record is about. 

2. Timothy Bloom - Timothy Bloom
I don't really have much of a clue who Timothy Bloom is, but some of the R&B heads I know swear by him, so I checked this out. Apparently he wrote songs for Usher and Chris Brown and has been signed to Timbaland and/or Polow Da Don for a while, but this is an independent album that isn't remotely clubby and doesn't seem to have much in the way of commercial aspirations. It's pretty good, though, mostly mellow southern soul with these modern wrinkles and interesting psychedelic touches. "Rivers Run Deep" in particular is pretty crazy. You can hear most of these records on my running 2014 albums Spotify playlist, to which I add any album I listen to throughout the year.

3. Algebra Blessett - Recovery
Recovery's lead single "Nobody But You" caught my ear big time a few months ago, and continues to sound fantastic and not get as much airplay as it deserves. The rest of the album isn't so immediately catchy, but it's I'm enjoying it, some nice varied production and Blessett's got a charming, limber voice. 

4. Greenspan - Stairway To Heaven
It was cool to go to the listening party and hear this album a couple times and then interview Greenspan, I've been following him in Baltimore and showing him respect for a long time and I'm happy that he finally put out a retail album that really makes good on the potential I'd been seeing.

5. Sun Club - Dad Claps At The Mom Prom EP 
These guys are a Baltimore band who I've always been impressed by whenever I've heard their stuff and this record just sounds fantastic, big hooky rock songs with interesting production, and weird song titles like "Beauty Meat" and "Repulsive On Chocolate."

6. DJ AngelBaby - Get Pumped Vol. 2
I already wrote about this a little bit, but it's really a great collection of Baltimore club music, might be better than the first one. One track I didn't mention before that's incredible is DJ C-Him's "Thong Song" remix, which loops up those classic ad libs where Sisquo is just yelling "your thighs! your knees! your breasts! your FEET!" Check it out on DatPiff.

7. Blaqstarr - The Blaq-Files (2002-06) EP
I got to break the story of this EP (supposedly the first in a series) when I interviewed Blaqstarr last year. I've been a huge fan of him for a long time, and the songs from this era are really the reason why, and it's cool to hear some of my favorites from that era like "Feel It In The Air" and "Slide To The Left" re-recorded and remastered. I was a little skeptical about him re-doing the tracks and maybe losing their magic, and their are little ways that I can tell the difference and prefer the originals, but these work pretty well.

8. Mt. Royal - Mt. Royal EP
I've followed the band's Mt. Royal sprang out of (Big In Japan/Lake Trout and Celebration) for a long time, and this particular collaboration has been a long time coming. I was at a 2009 Big In Japan show where they were joined by Celebration's Katrina Ford sang three songs, and I saw their first show in 2011 billed as "Big In Japan with Katrina Ford" before they settled on Mt. Royal as the name of their group together, and they definitely played at least one song that ended up on this EP, "Mockingbird." This is almost exactly what you'd expect based on the members' previous projects, but I don't mean that in a bad way, I'm a fan and this sounds great.

9. Height With Friends - Versus Electric Rockers
Height stays releasing albums and the last one was only 5 months before this one, but the last couple in particular have been really interesting and high concept and fun. You can stream the new one on Stereogum. "The Television Rap" is a kick.

10. Veli Smallz - The Tester
There's always a ton of good street rap coming out of Baltimore but a lot of it's from people who are familiar to me by now, so I'm always glad to see a new face in the game like Veli Smallz who's got some promising music, "Been Wrong" is really dope. Check it out on Band Camp.

Worst Album of the Month: Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes
I love Bruce, and I'm so glad he's still going and have enjoyed bits of the last few albums, but his increasingly gruff studio vocals and the modern rock Brendan O'Brien sheen has just gotten worse and worse. And while I appreciate his effort to try and break things up and do some releases that aren't just normal collections of new songs and raid the vaults a little bit, this odds'n'sods collection just feels kind of pointless, and the Tom Morello bits just sound bad in this context.
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