Monthly Report: June 2014 Albums

1. Chrissie Hynde - Stockholm
Per my latest deep album cuts playlist, I'm a huge fan of The Pretenders, and it's interesting to hear Chrissie Hynde finally make a solo album at the age of 62. In fact, I'm not really sure what even makes this a solo album, other than maybe she doesn't feel comfortable making an album without Martin Chambers and still calling it The Pretenders like she did circa Packed! or whatever. In any event, this is the most solid set of songs she's made in a long time, and more than that it just sounds better. I'm impressed with the production, which is by Bjorn from Peter Bjorn And John of all people. Here's the running Spotify playlist of all the 2014 albums I've been listening to.

2. Jennifer Lopez - A.K.A.
Even back when she was churning out the hits, I never thought J.Lo had more than one or two songs that were better than tolerable, and lately she's not even making hits anymore. But after the recent single "First Love" hooked me, I decided to check out this album and was kind of bowled over by how good it is. It's only 10 songs, and they all sound great from a production standpoint and have huge hooks and make the best of J.Lo's limitations as a vocalist. I'm not even sure how it came together so well -- the credits are a random hodgepodge of familiar and unfamiliar names, and there's a ballad co-written by Chris Brown and Chantal Kreviazuk. But it works. I'm even warming to the ridiculous "I Luh Ya Papi," especially after reading this piece by Jordan Sargent.

3. Priests - Bodies And Control And Money And Power EP
It's weird to even see a new D.C. punk band get national press attention, it being so long since that happened. No reason to question it, though, they're good. And considering the lineage they come from, it almost seems more right to see a 17-minute EP as their breakout record rather than waiting for a full-length album, which hopefully won't be too much longer than this anyway. I'm not wild about the way the drums are recorded on this, but I can see how it's kind of an '80s punk record style, might be a deliberate choice. Guitars sound great, anyway.

4. Foxes - Glorious
As great and as big as Zedd's "Clarity" was, it's a shame that the solo stuff Foxes has put out, which has been similar and very good, hasn't gotten the same kind of traction (at least in the US, the situation seems to be reversed in the UK). She's got one of those voices I could just listen to all day, but beyond that the production is a nice mix of dance stuff and kinda bombastic midtempo pop.

5. Say Anything - Hebrews
Max Bemis's voice and lyrics are so much the defining characteristics of Say Anything's music that I feel sometimes like the music gets overlooked a little -- the odd song structures and creative arrangements and great, great guitar work are really a big part of what makes their albums for me. And while there have been some awesome songs in their catalog driven by synths and drum machines, abandoning guitars entirely for this album is still a pretty big left turn. Mostly it just sounds awkward to have a bunch of string arrangements and mild keyboard tones alongside bombastic drumming and some of Bemis's most aggressive vocals to date. The songwriting is still there, though, to an extent that makes it worth listening to.

6. Bobby E. Lee & The Sympathizers - The New Testament
These guys are a kind of rootsy punky Baltimore band that play around town a lot, this is a pretty enjoyable little record. The production is very straightforward, almost lo-fi, but the singing and the playing is strong and there's a good variety of sounds on here, they kinda run this whole gamut of traditionalist sounds and things that are a little more raw and idiosyncratic. Check it out on Bandcamp.

7. The Soft Pink Truth - Why Do The Heathen Rage?
I don't listen to black metal, so the idea of it being covered and twisted into electronic music is interesting to me but I also don't have a frame of reference to say much about what's being done with the source material. But Drew from Matmos is a brilliant guy, and as usual his work is intensely conceptual, so it's fun to just kinda get on board with the premise of the record and see where it takes you. As a listening experience it's a little hit-and-miss, but it's fun to just hear him run wild with the concept and pull other Baltimore people like Jenn from Wye Oak and Owen from Horse Lords into it. The moment when a sample from Snap!'s "Power" pops into a cover of Sargeist's "Satanic Black Devotion" is just sublime.

8. Mary J. Blige - Think Like A Man Too (Music From And Inspired By The Film)
Don't know if it's more depressing that Mary J. is at a point in her career where she has to attach herself to a blockbuster to get an album out or intriguing that she figured out that strategy -- we might just have to sign up a whole bunch of R&B singers to soundtrack various Kevin Hart movies just to get their albums out. This album came out pretty well, too, the middle section with "Kiss And Make Up" and the Little Feat drum break on "Cargo" are my favorite part of the record. About half of it is produced by The-Dream and Tricky Stewart, who stopped working together for like 4 years and finally came back together recently.

9. Ed Sheeran - x
I rode for "Sing" pretty hard and generally approve of Sheeran's new sound, but he's definitely gone a little over the top with the Vibe cover and the Anthony Hamilton cover and the idea that he's an R&B singer now. Really this is just a nice little acoustic pop album with a handful of rap verses awkwardly shoehorned in.

10. Human Potential - Heartbreak Record
This is the solo project of Andrew Becker, who played drums pretty amazingly on the first Medications EP and album. His stuff as Human Potential is more atmospheric, but well produced and full of some cool arrangement ideas that make up for some kinda anonymous singing and songwriting.

Worst Album of the Month: 50 Cent - Animal Ambition: An Untamed Desire To Win
Just look at that fucking title. I almost kind of understand people who swear 50 has made some good music in the last few years, but I don't even love his classic GRODT to even care to figure out if they're right. A couple of these tracks would've been solid album cuts in his peak period, but for the most part it feels like he's forgotten how to make a good hook or project his personality. "Don't Worry 'Bout It" and "Animal Ambition" in particular are just laughable, the exact kind of hookless flop indie shit sandwich he used to taunt his enemies for making. \
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