Monthly Report: April 2015 Albums
1. Beauty Pill - Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are
I already wrote 2,000 words about this album for Noisey, which accompanied a premiere of the stream of the album, the day before it was released. So my article was the way a lot of people heard it for the first time, which was really exciting for me (and I also did a shorter piece about the Lungfish cover on the album). But I've been anticipating it for a long time -- I interviewed the band during the Artisphere recording sessions in 2011, and wrote about the dolby mix of the album that was exhibited in 2012. And on Thursday I went back to Artisphere for the band's first show in over 7 years, and it was incredible. I never thought I'd get to see Chad Clark and Devin Ocampo play a Smart Went Crazy song live, that's some bucket list shit. It's so exciting to hear something so ambitious and so vividly one-of-a-kind on both a musical and lyrical level, the collective talents of the band are exploited really beautifully and Chad's acidic wit and hyperliterate sensibility have taken on so much gravity with the topics he's tackling in these songs. Read my article and stream it, and then buy it.
2. Dwight Yoakam - Second Hand Heart
I don't know everything he's done in between, but I love Dwight Yoakam's 1986 debut Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. and I also love 2012's 3 Pears, so I'm guessing this guy just doesn't make bad records ever. Great energy on this one, the "Man Of Constant Sorrow" cover is a barnstormer and doesn't just feel like an obligatory O Brother move. Even the slower songs just have this great, loud full band energy, belted vocals, no holding back at all. A lot of these albums this month aren't on Spotify to put in my 2015 albums playlist, but this one is.
3. JuegoTheNinety - Abandoned Mansions
Sonny September CD was my favorite Baltimore rap record of 2014, so I'm glad JuegoTheNinety is back with a new album already. I feel like a lot of times now, "weird" delivery styles and production kind of become this shield underground MCs can use to deflect any criticism, so you get these very eccentric, unique records that don't really have any decent rapping or enjoyable production. But with Juego, the beats actually knock even when they have odd, discomforting textures, and he's flowing like crazy and saying some interesting, perceptive things even when he's bending his voice in all these different directions and trying to sound unhinged. "When I Was A Boy" is a pretty impressive, ambitious song, how deep he goes into so many different issues in one track. Check it out on Soundcloud.
4. Rich Homie Quan - If You Ever Think I Will Stop Goin' In Ask RR
Rich Gang's Tha Tour Part 1 was so good, and Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug complemented each other so perfectly on it, that it's kinda raised expectations for their solo projects while also raising the bar for them to prove they can do as well on their own. I never thought I Promise I Will Never Stop Goin' In was very strong outside of the singles, but this one's a lot more consistent, and there's some really playful, wide-ranging production. Listen on DatPiff.
5. Young Thug - Barter 6
Thug's always had more buzz around him than Quan and this project had a lot of hooplah that wasn't all positive or flattering. In a way it's kind of funny, but it's a shame that YT and Birdman doubled down on this Lil Wayne worship/trolling thing right at a time when he's outgrown that influence and really become his own artist. The guy who produced half the thing calls himself Wheezy, and his beats aren't even that good, the whole shit is just weird. And considering that Thug and London On Da Track made some of the best rap of 2014, their tracks together on here are just anticlimactic. The biggest issue it has, really, is that the 2nd half is so much better than the 1st, the record would probably have a better rep if "Just Might Be" and "OD" and "Halftime" were frontloaded.
6. Halestorm - Into The Wild Life
Jay Joyce is probably the best producer in the old fashioned 'placing microphones in front of amps and instruments' sense operating on a major label level right now. Eric Church and Little Big Town made my 2 favorite country albums last year, and he probably had a lot to do with how amazing and rich they sounded, and he's been working with indie-leaning alt-rock bands like Cage The Elephant and Sleeper Agent for a while. But Halestorm is I think the first straight-up hard rock band he's worked with, and I was really blown away with the production on this album even before I realized Jay Joyce did it. I always thought of Halestorm as a solid singles band with bland albums, but the variety here and the inventive sequencing and transitions really elevate the songs and give Lzzy Hale's big voice a great showcase.
7. Squarepusher - Damogen Furies
I have a limited appetite for heady instrumental electronic stuff, whatever we're calling it this year, but I've always really dug Squarepusher, there's just this restless physicality to his tracks that most of his contemporaries lack. I kinda lost track of him after I got my fill of a half a dozen of the earlier records, but this one is really strong, a nice concise 40-minute record with some really arresting textures.
8. They Might Be Giants - Glean
I recently read a book about TMBG and made a playlist of their best deep cuts, and I've been following along somewhat with the songs they've been releasing every week for the 2015 comeback of the Dial-A-Song project. So I've been primed to enjoy this album, but I dunno, it's just OK, not on the level of recent high watermarks Join Us and Nanobots. "All The Lazy Boyfriends" is one of the best songs they've ever written, though.
9. Yelawolf - Love Story
It's been 5 years since Trunk Muzik established Yelawolf as one of the more promising and unique white rappers to come along in a while. And then he quickly squandered that potential, and that opportunity to create his own lane, by signing with Eminem and doing a terrible single with Kid Rock. His second Shady album is a pretty big step up from the first, though. I heard the first single "Till It's Gone" initially on "Sons Of Anarchy" and then on alt-rock radio stations, and in some ways it's a predictable Everlast move, but his flow and his songwriting are still pretty impressive. And out of this whole long 80-minute album where he goes outside of his comfort zone several times, there's only maybe a couple notable missteps, everything is pretty good even if it is way way too long to be very digestible as an album.
10. Trey Songz - Intermission EP
Trey has never really had a great album, just the occasional great song scattered over spotty albums. I feel like his between-album EP and mixtape releases are at least a little more relaxed, though, less eager to please and better for it. I mostly just dig the sound of this one, the production is really impressive. But then I read Meaghan Garvey's review and it pointed out the odious running theme of the lyrics, so I can't really unhear that. Still way better than the EP that The-Dream put out, though.
Worst Album of the Month: Blues Traveler - Blow Up The Moon
I'm not gonna dismiss Blues Traveler out of hand. "Hook" is a classic pop song as far as I'm concerned, and I went to the HORDE Tour in '97 when the lineup was crazy good and I watched their set and really enjoyed it. So I don't pick on them as just an easy target, this is a genuinely bizarre and depressing album. John Popper has a great distinctive voice, but the overwhelming majority of vocals are by a random assortment of guest stars like 3OH!3 and Bowling Soup, not real current stars but acts whose Top 40 moment in the sun was 5-10 years ago instead of 20 years ago like Blues Traveler. It's basically Blues Traveler With Rome, quite literally, Rome sings on two songs. It doesn't even work as a sellout move -- the album didn't chart on the Billboard 200 (and their previous album did). Even when one song threatens to be kind of spirited and catchy, the refrain "I know right?" totally torpedoes it.