Monthly Report: January 2016 Albums

1. David Bowie - 
I'm glad that I listened to this album the weekend it was released, before Bowie passed away, so I could appreciate it at least once without the context of his death looming over it. Obviously, that context gives the album a different kind of significance, maybe some more weight, but it sounded pretty damn good without it. I liked The Next Day but this feels like a much bolder statement, belonging in that special subset of Bowie albums that are just of their own world. I really like jittery drums on the title track and "Sue," and "I Can't Give Everything Away" is a really beautiful, strange finale. Only David Bowie could have complete creative control over his own death. Here's my new Spotify playlist of all the albums I'm listening to in 2016.

2. Boosie Badazz - In My Feelings (Goin' Thru It)
When it became apparent that David Bowie had made his album while dying of cancer, I immediately thought about the fact that Boosie had released an album a week earlier that's all about his recent cancer diagnosis. It's really not clear what's going on with him health-wise, but his music's been pretty dark since he got out of prison, and this album is just harrowing stuff, 33 minutes of self-released music that he seemed to rush out while the feeling was fresh (there's apparently another album coming in February). My dad got a Staph infection in December, and I've spent more time in a hospital the past couple months than in my entire life before that, it's just been a really dark stressful time, and I appreciate having records like this that can kinda tap into what I'm feeling and put it in perspective.

3. Brothers Osborne - Pawn Shop
"Stay A Little Longer" was one of my favorite country singles of 2015. And the full-length version of the track, which ran past 5 minutes with half of it given over to guitar solos, set my expectations for an album that would establish John Osborne as a guitar hero. Instead, Pawn Shop has only one other song that goes past 4 minutes, and only a couple with particularly memorable guitar solos (the one on "Down Home" is pretty great). But T.J. Osborne has a great voice and Jay Joyce remains the best producer in country music, so this is a pretty enjoyable record. I'll still hope that they get comfortable enough to stretch their legs and jam more on a future album, though.

4. Kevin Gates - Islah
Atlantic Records has distributed four "retail mixtapes" by Kevin Gates over the last three years, minimally promoted projects that seemed aimed at growing a regional star's fanbase organically, just letting him do his thing and refine his dark, idiosyncratic sound and score a couple minor radio hits in the process. Islah is the big 'debut album' that Atlantic has ostensibly been building up to over the years, but it sounds and feels more or less like the mixtapes, with no guests (other than a bonus track on the deluxe edition that has three R&B stars stuffed onto it, like some kind of weird emergency back-up hit to use if needed). And it's refreshing to see them put that kind of confidence behind a guy with little crossover appeal, just letting him put his all into making songs as catchy as "Really Really" and "Kno One" but also rap his ass off on "Not The Only One" and experiment with different sounds on "Told Me" and "Hard For" and be a controversial, problematic figure on "The Truth."

5. Future - Purple Reign
I was really anticipating Ape Shit as the likely next Future mixtape since he and Mike WiLL Made It have such a history together and haven't done a lot together lately (and funnily enough I predicted 5 different projects from Future in 2016 in this piece, none of which was Purple Reign). So this wasn't as exciting to me as another mixtape with pretty much the same production lineup as DS2 and What A Time. But this tape is pretty solid and I think keeps Future's streak going, even his streak has been going long enough now that people are eager to proclaim it over just to be the first to jump off the bandwagon. I like "Drippin'" and "Salute" the most so far although most of his projects since Pluto have been growers for me, it takes me a while to really find my favorites. Listen to it on DatPiff.

6. Rihanna - Anti
This album's long, strange gestation is, I think, more interesting to me than the album itself. For years Rihanna has been rejecting Rihanna-type songs pitched to her (I wrote about all of them here) and taking a long break between albums, and then last year she announced that Kanye West would exec producer her next album, and released 3 singles all co-produced and co-written by Kanye, none of them a natural fit for pop radio. Then, it appears that everything they did together was scrapped, and she made a whole new album while still pretty committed to the general mission of not doing another simple Top 40-ready collection of singles (and no Kanye credits, and only a small amount of credits from Kanye associates like Travi$ Scott and No I.D.). True to the title, Anti sounds like it was defined more by what Rihanna wanted to avoid than what she wanted to do, so the whole thing feels like it's been painted into an aesthetic corner. I love "Kiss It Better" and some of the other mellower tracks like "Close To You" and "Yeah, I Said It," but a lot of it just feels like trendy time-stamped 'alt pop' of the moment that isn't actually as enjoyable as the more measured experimentation of Talk That Talk and Unapologetic. "Woo" features writing credits from four major stars (The Weeknd, The-Dream, Jeremih and Travi$ Scott) and it's probably the worst dogshit Rihanna has ever released.

7. 2 Chainz - Felt Like Cappin
2 Chainz clearly has 9 lives, so I never count him out, but he had a couple quiet years and lately it feels like he's on the rise again, "Watch Out" is on the Hot 100 and this tape is getting a good buzz. I'm not always real into EP-length mixtapes, but 6 good songs from 2 Chainz seems like a good ideal length, this probably isn't way better than Trapavelli Tre but it feels a little more potent at this length. The "Mindin' My Business" beat is crazy. Listen to it on DatPiff.

8. Rowdy Rebel - Shmoney Keeps Calling
Back during Bobby Shmurda's brief, ill-fated stint in the spotlight, Rowdy Rebel kept impressing me on his tracks as maybe the member of the GS9 crew who has a little more long-term potential. So I'm glad he finally dropped a mixtape that captures his flow and personality pretty well. You can tell just by looking at the features, which include A$AP Ferg and 2Milly and French Montana, that he's in that post-Dipset niche of goofy gangsta rap that's dominated New York for the last few years, and that's not really my favorite sound, but I wouldn't mind him becoming a star in that scene. Check it out on DatPiff.

9. Jacquees - Mood
I'm really not a fan of Jacquees's voice, he sounds like the return of Pleasure P to me. But the production values on this tape are pretty high and there are some songs I like a lot more than "Like Baby." Listen to it on DatPiff.

10. Anderson .Paak - Malibu
Judging from the fact that the first time I heard him was on half the tracks on that Dr. Dre album, Anderson .Paak is well connected, and he's undeniably talented. But I haven't really warmed to this album too much yet, it's well produced and ambitious but not much really sticks with me besides maybe "Put Me Thru" and "Silicon Valley." At time I feel like I'm listening to Chance The Rapper if he didn't write as well, or Bilal if he had less confidence to be weird, or if he made the music he really wanted to make but it still wasn't that good.

Worst Album of the Month: Rachel Platten - Wildfire
"Fight Song" was more annoying than bad and "Stand By You" was just awful but I still wanted to give this album a chance to be enjoyable MOR VH1 fare. But the first song that I really enjoyed, "Hey Hey Hallelujah," was wrecked by an Andy Grammer guest verse where he says "I'm singin' hallelujah when you touch me/ hallelujah/ Jeff Buckley!" And after there it just gets blander and blander.
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