Monthly Report: December 2015 Albums

1. Jeremih - Late Nights: The Album
I already put this at #3 on my top albums of 2015, and I'm always thrilled when there's a December release good enough to justify doing something like that. But really I'm obviously still digesting this album, and finding favorites beyond the singles and the immediate stunners ("Pass Dat," "Actin' Up," "Paradise"). Even with the ridiculously long gestation, everything sounds fresh and fits together, even "Don't Tell 'Em" comes at the perfect point 70% into the album where the 18-month-old hit single sounds surprisingly welcome. Jeremih has the most reptilian vocal texture in R&B since Slim from 112 and I love the way he wraps that weird voice around such a wide variety of backdrops, his songwriting is really underrated. Juicy J's hilarious disgusting quotable on this album is "You give me a private show, I put my dick in front row." Here's my final Spotify playlist of just about every 2015 album I listened to.

2. Cam - Untamed
"Burning House" was high on my list of favorite 2015 country singles and I'm happy to say that it's not a fluke, although the rest of Cam's debut album is considerably more upbeat and sharply witty than that beautiful, trembling ballad. But "Cold In California" and "Half Broke Heart" are just wonderfully written songs that I sincerely hope will be singles. Given Cam and producer Jeff Bhasker's pop-heavy resumes, you might want to categorize this as a glammy crossover country record, but "Country Ain't Never Been Pretty" is a catchy little manifesto against that kind of thing, and there's some nice twangy stuff like "Runaway Train" elsewhere on the record.

3. Babyface - Return Of The Tender Lover
Toni Braxton and Babyface's Love, Marriage & Divorce was one of my favorite albums of 2014, just this incredibly smooth, grown-ass R&B album about love gone bad. And Return Of The Tender Lover kind of feels like the flipside of that album, with a similar sound and much happier, more contented songs, which might sound boring, but as a boring happy married person, I find records like this to be kind of inspiring.

4. Monica - Code Red
Most of the tracks on this album are produced by Polow Da Don, Timbaland, or Danja, and it has kind of a late '00s vibe simply because that's the last time those guys were on every other R&B album (even Akon shows up at one point!). They're all pretty brilliant producers even past their peak, though, so that's not a bad thing, although Timbaland does some weird retro songs where he sings a lot that kind of torpedo the album's momentum early on. Still, I've always loved Monica's voice and she remains a pleasure to listen to whether the material is top shelf or not.

5. Pimp C - Long Live The Pimp
The unreleased material Pimp C left behind all seems to be from the last 2 years of his life after he got out of jail, and counting the material released in that time and since his death, we've now gotten two UGK albums and four solo albums. It's amazing there was anything left for Long Live The Pimp, although I wouldn't be surprised if some verses got used on multiple songs. I'm glad they're still wringing some music out of what he left behind, though, and I'd rather a record like this than another UGK album where Bun B lays new verses and tries to simulate the old chemistry. It's all pretty faithful to his classic sound with a few modern touches, nothing essential but it's nice to be reminded what a huge personality Pimp was. Juicy J's hilarious disgusting quotable on this album is "Your girl on my nuts wanna try my dick, if she spit it back out I'ma fire that bitch."

6. Ariana Grande - Christmas & Chill EP
I loved Ariana Grande's first album and first Christmas EP, but I was mostly let down by the 2nd album even as it made her a bigger star, and the recent single "Focus" was an unmitigated disaster. So I was pleasantly surprised that her new Christmas EP was even better than the first, despite the cringe-inducing title, with more original songs and a really strong sense of what her sound is and how to situate her voice.

7. R. Kelly - The Buffet
The retro exercises Love Letter and Write Me Back are the best of R. Kelly's last few albums, but I prefer him doing more contemporary stuff, and this is the best (or maybe just the least strained) attempt at a current-sounding R&B album he's done since Double Up. It says something, though, that the best song, "Sextime," is also the one that sounds the most like a hyperbolic parody of an R. Kelly song. Juicy J's hilarious disgusting quotable on this album is "She like it on her chin like a violin."

8. August Alsina - This Thing Called Life
The first person who sings on This Thing Called Life is Anthony Hamilton, and it kinda feels like August Alsina is borrowing Hamilton's pipes and gravitas to set the tone, and make a sorrowful southern soul album in spite of the fact that his own voice can be best described as "Chris Brown but even more nasal." There's nothing on the album quite as heavy as the single I loved off his debut, "Make It Home," but he's at least trying for something weighty while most of his contemporaries are just doing sub-R. Kelly sex madlibs.

9. Coldplay - A Head Full Of Dreams
I happened to finally get around to listening to this album on Christmas day, and it wound up being appropriate, since this album is incredibly saccharine even by Coldplay standards. I've always thought Stargate were one of the best production teams in pop music, so I thought they were an interesting choice to helm Coldplay's dancey midlife crisis Achtung Baby record. But after a few decent songs early in the record, the whole thing gets treacly, and there's some offensive cloying moments like the sample of President Obama singing "Amazing Grace" in Charleston that even Bono wouldn't be shameless enough to try. It's a shame, because at its best this album is a decent sequel to the underrated Mylo Xyloto.

10. Busta Rhymes - The Return Of The Dragon (The Abstract Went On Vacation)
It's been 3 years since Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip did the great "Thank You" single and promised an entire project together, and even though I liked that song, I'd be fine with them just dropping the whole idea. Instead, Busta had to tailor the whole title and concept of his new solo tape around making an excuse for the Q-Tip record not happening, with Tip doing skits about how he has to go take a vacation, which all seems kind of tedious. I love Busta, though, I feel like rap fans are so consumed with putting 'leading men'-type rappers on the highest pedestals that the 'character actor' guys like Busta kind of get forgotten even though he's had an incredible career. And really I'll talk his animated punchlines and old-fashioned boom bap production on this tape over the labored new animated rapping style of Pusha T on his new record.

Worst Album of the Month: Eric Bellinger - Cuffing Season Part 2
Jeremih's album is great in a way that sounds deceptively easy, like all you need is a guy with a smooth high voice and some trendy beats and you can make a dope R&B record. But this Eric Bellinger album really demonstrates how hard it is to pull something like that off by just putting the right ingredients in and winding up all wrong. The first few lines on the album are just jaw-droppingly awful: "every month is February-ary/ you know I don't like watching movies if they scary-ary/ let's eat a bowl of cereal and watch some Tom & Jerry / maybe we'll go out and chew on some berries." This guy is actually a songwriter who's penned hits for other artists, I don't know how he gets away with garbage like that. Really it's just embarrassing for anyone to be naming records "cuffing season" in 2015, let alone two of them, and the album's many attempts at stringing multiple songs into long 'suites' feel like hamhanded attempts at making a The-Dream album.
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