Monthly Report: July 2016 Albums

1. Fantasia - The Definition Of...
I recently made a Fantasia deep cuts playlist because her albums have been getting better and better over the course of her career, and I had a feeling this would be her best yet, and it is. 2013's Side Effects Of You found her locking in with one producer, Harmony Samuels, to co-write most of her material for the first time, but The Definition Of... really goes all over the place with inspired results, from "Ugly," a country ballad penned by Nashville songwriters, to the closing gospel track "I Made It" with Tye Tribbett. The album opens with a distorted guitar but "Crazy" then piles on funk bass and sumptuous horns, but all the stylistic detours hang together because Fantasia has the right kind of powerful, flinty voice for this Tina Turner-inspired 'rock soul' direction she's gone in. Listen to it in my 2016 albums Spotify playlist.

2. Maxwell - blackSUMMERS'night
Maxwell is currently touring with Fantasia, and he's already spent his career in the kind of ambitious melting pot of R&B mixed with other influences that she's only beginning to really explore. And this album is the second installment in a trilogy, so it very much feels like kind of a stop along a journey instead of a piece totally unto itself -- I really adored BLACKsummers'night, so it's hard for me to say this is quite on that level. But I'm glad this album that I've been waiting for nearly the entirety of the Obama administration for is finally here (in fact, I wonder if he got it together to put it out this year because of the Michelle Obama namecheck on "III"). The biggest difference from the previous album is that the synth sounds are getting bolder and noisier, and the unusual percussion treatments on "Lake By The Ocean" are continued on other songs, but it still all falls into some incredibly pretty grooves that sound great against the rasp of Maxwell's voice. I also have a deep cuts playlist from Maxwell's previous albums.

3. Dreezy - No Hard Feelings
Dreezy is, I guess, only third young rapper from Chicago to get out a major label album (besides Chief Keef and Lil Durk) after all the deafening hype around the city in the past 4 years. And she doesn't even fully register on the national stage as a rapper, since she sings R&B duets with Jeremih and T-Pain on her two radio singles. But I really came out of this album loving her as an MC, "Spazz" and "We Gon Ride" and "Invincible" are awesome, in a really quiet year for major label rap debuts, this does a great job of establishing her talent. It's pretty bittersweet to hear all these songs where she sounds so happy to make it big, though, and then see that the album didn't even crack the top 100 on Billboard. I really hope this album gains some steam and gets more attention.

4. Shy Glizzy - Young Jefe 2
I've been a fan of Glizzy for a while, and really enjoyed his Zaytoven-produced tape For Trappers Only last year, but I wasn't sure if he'd already peaked. This album is really something special, though, I feel like he's stepped up as a rapper and really started picking some varied beats, Zaytoven contributes some tracks but the overall sound is kinda low key and feels like he's not riding the trap wave or trying to make more songs like "Awwsome" and it's exciting to see.

5. Gucci Mane - Everybody Looking
I already wrote a lot about this album for Noisey, but that was kind of a first listen reaction, I'm still digging into the album. I love "Pop Music" and "Guwop Home" and "Robbed," the record really hits its stride in the middle and it kinda feels like Gucci's still shaking off the cobwebs and getting his voice back. Still, I think a lot of songs on here have legs and this could be the beginning of another strong run. Here's my Gucci Mane deep cuts playlist from a couple months ago.

6. Melanin Free - White Noise Boys
A couple of local guys made this record in a day, and released it the same day, and one of them described it on Twitter as such: "There's this racist trash noise scene in Baltimore and I wanted to prove I could make a better album than them." And I mean, I'm pretty ambivalent about the extreme noise contingent of Baltimore music myself, so I enjoy this confrontational trolling thing they're doing with this record and its title, and it really is one of the better weird experimental local records I've heard in a while, all these weird nasty guitar tones over blown out, bass-heavy beats. Listen to it on Bandcamp.

7. Dave Fell - Modern Easy Favorites
Dave Fell has lived in Baltimore on and off, right now he's in Pennsylvania, and he's just a really talented guy, I love his voice and his songwriting, and I played a couple shows with him a few years ago. He plays multiple instruments and the previous stuff I've heard from him was pretty fleshed out with overdubs, but Modern Easy Favorites is all solo voice and guitar, and the simple arrangements really work well for creative, well written songs like "Another Successful Melancholy Brunch" and "Like A Vine."

8. Repelican - Slack In The Tendon
Jon Ehrens is another erstwhile Baltimore musician currently based in Pennsylvania (and Dave Fell played on his White Life project). I'm always interested to hear what Jon is up to, and Slack In The Tendon is his second Repelican album so far this year, after Half Spasms in February, and it kind of continues that record's movie towards a little more polish when it suits him but also sticking with some pretty quirky lo-fi sounds. This guy has made literally dozens of albums in a ton of different styles, I'm forever trying to get the world to recognize his genius.

9. Jeremih - Late Nights: Europe
Late Nights: The Album was only released 8 months ago and is still all over the radio, but that record was on the shelf for so long that I'n not surprised he already has enough new material for this mixtape (and a supposed other project with PartyNextDoor on the way). I have to admit, though, there always seem to be people who get way more hyped up for Jeremih's mixtapes than his albums, and I think they've just got it backwards, all the albums are better than all the tapes. And this one is just a little more on the rap side of things than I really wanna hear anyway, but there are still some great tracks, Jeremih can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned, "Stockholm" and "British Headboards" are great. Listen to it on DatPiff.

10. various artists - Waitress (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Two fairly girly things that I like a lot, the 2007 film Waitress and the music of Sara Bareilles, came together last year when she wrote the songs for its Broadway adaptation. Bareilles's recordings of the songs, What's Inside: Songs From Waitress, was one of my favorite albums of 2015, but since I don't get out to Broadway shows very often, I probably won't see the play, but I wanted to hear the cast recording that was just released. Jessie Mueller does a great job with the vocals, and it's fun to hear all the extra songs and moments that were added as the stage show was finalized, cast recordings aren't really my thing but this one's pretty enjoyable.

Worst Album of the Month: 21 Savage and Metro Boomin - Savage Mode
21 Savage is one of the young rappers from the recent XXL Freshmen issue that has predictably offended the tender conservative sensibilities of opinionated old heads. I have mixed feelings about most of these guys, I think some have more potential than others but aren't really a huge fan of any of them yet. 21 Savage is definitely my least favorite, though. I got so bored listening to this record that I counted how many times he says his favorite ad lib, "twenty one," under his breath in between his mumbled monotone lyrics. Turns out there are 129 "twenty one" ad libs over the course of these 9 songs, with 43 in just one song. Getting Metro Boomin to produce an entire mixtape was a huge coup for a fairly new artist, but Metro's beats have a lot of empty space to fill, and this guy's creaky, lifeless voice just doesn't do it like Future, who shows up on one track and demonstrates the difference.

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