Monthly Report: April 2016 Albums
1. Beyonce - Lemonade
Beyonce's last album was so good, in that sprawling definitive career statement kind of way, that I was excited to see what she'd do next but also apprehensive. You know, you don't want someone to switch up too much after album like that but you also don't want a crowd-pleasing sequel. So I'm really happy that Lemonade is as musically varied and adventurous, but headed in fairly different directions (never thought a Beyonce/Jack White collaboration could be as good as "Don't Hurt Yourself" is), and much more focused on a narrative throughline in the lyrics. It feels silly to say you 'relate' to Beyonce and Jay-Z, but to be honest I've always liked her music celebrating the longevity of their relationship because they started dating around the same time I met my wife, married around the same time as us, had a kid around the same time as us. So in a way this album is jarring for me because it's like damn, they had some bumps in the road, I hope that's never us. But as far as the songs, there's a lot to love here, from the bridge of "6 Inch" (maybe my favorite minute of the album, though it's sandwiched between some kind of obvious Isaac Hayes samples), to that gorgeous trembling opening of "Pray That You Catch Me" and the way the emotions shift and melt in that middle section from "Sorry" to "Love Drought."
2. Dej Loaf - All Jokes Aside
As much as I enjoyed Dej Loaf's earlier releases, it was really her unique voice and persona and her facility for hooks that made her an interesting new star -- she had some hot verses (I loved her on the "Post To Be" remix) but not too consistently. She really stepped up the bars on All Jokes Aside, though, I heard "Chase Mine" and was just hooked. There's also a few tracks here by "Try Me" producer DDS so she's still kinda sticking with her signature sound, but there's also some different kinds of beats I've never heard her on before. I'm actually kind of pissed that this is a mixtape, because so far Sony's only released an EP by her, and the number of women who've released major label rap albums in the last few years is pathetically small, they should've thrown "Back Up" on here when it was on the radio and put a barcode on All Jokes Aside as a retail album, it's that good (they'd probably need more features than just Silkk The Shocker, I guess). Listen to it on DatPiff.
3. Gallant - Ology
I checked out this album because Gallant was suggested to me to include in my Coachella preview piece for Complex, and I was really impressed. His voice is just impossibly silky and it feels more like a modernized version of slick cosmopolitan '80s/'90s soul than a lot of these kinds of overly hip nu-R&B records by people who can't really sing. Right now my favorites are "Bourbon" and "Episode," you can hear it on my 2016 albums Spotify playlist.
4. Horse Lords - Interventions
Baltimore is probably like a lot of cities in that the music scene has a small number of stable, long running bands and dozens of musicians who are always starting new bands and breaking them up and combining with each other in new configurations. So I'd heard the members of Horse Lords in various other bands over the years (Teeth Mountain, Needle Gun, White Life) but when this band started there seemed to be a lot of excitement about them around town, from the moment they started playing shows, and it's continued over the last few years with the really starting to get well known out of town with this new album. And they're an instrumental band that makes these knotty, hypnotic songs, so it's an interesting project to see some talented people really click and find an audience with.
5. Anna Wise - The Feminine: Act I EP
Anna Wise has appeared on a lot of Kendrick Lamar tracks, often singing with unison with him to create a weird disorienting sound on songs like "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" and "Cartoon & Cereal." So she never really seemed like the average hook singer, and her first solo release is pretty bold, out-there production with provocative, confrontational lyrics about gender and womanhood and misogyny. As an EP it feels like a warning shot that when she makes a full-length album she could be on some ambitious To Pimp A Butterfly shit, but the closing song "Go" is so good that I think she really could pull that off.
6. Chants - The Zookeeper EP
I've known Jordan a bit for years and he's a good dude and a brilliant drummer, and it's been cool to see him move into making kind of left-field electronic beats as Chants and have some success in that arena. I missed some of his recent records so I just started catching up on those when I noticed them after he put out this new record, but I really dig what he's doing. This EP is only 13 minutes long but it takes a lot of twists and turns into different sounds textures, has a little of that '90s IDM vibe of abrupt shifts in mood, but with a more contemporary sound, feels like a quick little journey.
7. DJ Quik & Problem - Rosecrans EP
The first time I ever heard Problem rap was on DJ Quik and Kurupt's BlaQKout, so it feels very appropriate to me that Problem is the other half of another fun, relaxed Quik collab project. This is only 6 tracks long and is mostly about vibing out to these lush, funky beats, but they both have conversational rhyming stills that fit together well in this context. I could deal without the Game and Wiz Khalifa verses, but whatever, they just sound like party guests who dropped by for a good time.
8. Freeway - Free Will
I loved Freeway's Roc-A-Fella output but I've also been pretty impressed with his indie projects and mixtapes since then (he once released over 100 songs in the space of a year that were frighteningly consistent). I never checked for Free's EP with Girl Talk, but he did some tracks here, and I feel kind of ashamed that Girl Talk baited me into geeking out over an indie rock sample in a rap song, but I love that loop of "Rubber Car" by Enon on "First Thing's First."
9. Bankroll Mafia - Bankroll Mafia
T.I. said "bankroll mafia" on his first collaboration with Young Thug, "About The Money," and now it's an actual group, although there are 4 other lesser known rappers in the group who get the majority of the verses on the album. It probably would've been more marketable to just make an EP of the 7 tracks that have Young Thug on them, but the whole thing is pretty good, and Shad Da God kind of turns up as the unexpected anchor of the group, I really became a fan of him based on this.
10. Boosie Badazz & C-Murder - Penitentiary Chances
Boosie released 3 remarkably good solo albums in the first 3 months of 2016, and he's kept up that pace in April, although it's a collaborative project that was mostly recorded a while ago. C-Murder has recorded multiple albums while incarcerated now, and they decided to do this album while Boosie was in Angola, so all of C-Murder's verses and most of Boosie's verses are these distorted vocal tracks recorded in prison. I really have no idea what the logistics of all that are, it's kinda crazy. But while this obviously isn't as polished as Boosie's other recent work, it's pretty harrowing stuff and the lo-fi sound kind of matches the content of songs like "Dear Supreme Court" and "Black Babies Don't Mourn."
Worst Album of the Month: PJ Harvey - The Hope Six Demolition Project
I've always been a pretty casual fan of PJ Harvey, I like Dry and some other records she's made but she was never a big deal to me where I have to hear every new album. I was intrigued to hear this one from the jump, though. First because she recorded it in public as an art exhibit, similar to a Beauty Pill album I wrote about last year (Beauty Pill's Chad Clark wrote about PJ's album here). And then, I was intrigued because this artists who's gotten nothing but glowing reviews her whole career was suddenly getting some really bad reviews (particularly this Tom Breihan review). And man, it really does come off badly, I just didn't enjoy the sledgehammer subtlety of this album's political commentary at all, and the whole thing just sounded drab and dull.