Monthly Report: September 2016 Albums

1. Mick Jenkins - The Healing Component
I enjoyed last year's Wave[s], which kinda felt like it was bursting at the seams with the ambition to be more than an EP, and this feels like the big album statement he was ready to make. The earnest serious tone isn't really my thing usual, but it feels like Jenkins is just being himself, and the new Audio Push album had a similar tone but kinda pushed into a preachy area where I just didn't agree with the message, whereas Jenkins feels a little more personal and empathetic. And the production is just really layered and creative and kinda matches the depth of the subject matter well. This and the other albums I've been listening to are in my 2016 albums Spotify playlist.

2. Flock Of Dimes - If You See Me, Say Yes
I remember about 5 years I saw one of the first Flock Of Dimes shows (maybe the first?) at Soft House, and just being amazed that Jenn Wasner was playing and singing over these beautiful dense self-produced beats and developing a new skill set in addition to everything she does as one half of Wye Oak. The material at those early shows was mostly released on singles, but now she's finally assembled a full-length Flock Of Dimes album in the same vein, and it's really lovely, inventive stuff, I love hearing the way her guitars and synths tangle together on songs like "Minor Justice." As a fan of hers, it just feels like an embarrassment of riches to get this album just 3 months after Wye Oak's Tween.

3. Usher - Hard II Love
Protracted, confusing album rollouts from major artists are still pretty common in the age of the 'surprise release,' but few have been more awkward than Usher's. For 28 months, Usher released single after single, ostensibly for his 8th album, first called UR and then Flawed and then finally Hard II Love. And at some point he rebooted the whole process and R&B radio hits like "Good Kisser" and "I Don't Mind" were left by the wayside (which were so good that I still really wanna hear the 2014 album he shelved). Hard II Love does have a hit in "No Limit," but it feels like the whole thing was handled so badly, from the weak title and cover he ended up with, to the Tuesday release on Tidal that did nothing to help sales for a Friday retail release, that the project has already been deemed a failure. And that's a shame, because I think it's a much more consistent and cohesive album than Looking 4 Myself, which got a lot more credit for its scattershot ambition. Hard II Love is thematically old news -- the spoken "I fucked up...I'm man enough to admit" stuff that opens the album feels like almost a verbatim retread of lyrics from Confessions -- but vocally he's holding up well, and musically it holds together well with radio-ready songs like "Bump" and "FWM" and the Steely Dan-sampling "Missin U" as well as more ambitious tracks like the 8-minute slow jam "Tell Me."

4. Against Me! - Shape Shift With Me
Transgender Dysphoria Blues is one of the greatest rock albums of the decade and won me over to a band I'd never really been into before, so I'm still slowly getting into their earlier stuff. The songs on this album haven't stuck with me as much so far, but it's definitely carrying on in the same spirit, I think "Dead Rats" is my favorite right now.

5. Witty Rock - Birthday Boy 2 EP
Witty Rock is a part of 9% Camp along with JuegoTheNinety, and really they've been one of my favorite rap crews in Baltimore the last couple years. This is the second time Witty Rock has released a record on his birthday, which appears to be the same as Beyonce's (September 4th), it's a pretty upbeat record, I feel like Witty Rock is a little less intense than Juego, but they're both really skilled rappers who aren't afraid to pick some noisy beats and twist their voices into odd shapes. Check it out on Soundcloud.

6. T.I. - Us Or Else EP
T.I.'s ability to rap and make great songs has really not faded much at all, considering how long he's been at it. But a lot of the urgency has been drained out of his career due to a number of reasons, including the way every bloated album he's made since Paper Trail has been an eager-to-please attempt to cater to every possible constituency. So these sharp little 20-minute EPs he's been making lately, Da' Nic last year and now the more politically motivated Us Or Else, are really refreshing. I just wish he had the confidence to make a whole album that sounded like this.

7. Entrance - Promises EP
I first saw The Entrance Band, which is kind of the loud rock combo version of Entrance, which tends to be quieter, open for Sonic Youth a few years ago, and was surprised to learn that Guy Blakeslee is actually originally from Baltimore. This is Entrance's first release on Thrill Jockey and it's kind of a teaser for a new album coming out in February, but this record is pretty strong in its own right.

8. various artists - The Get Down: Original Soundtrack
I had mixed feelings about the first half-season of Netflix's "The Get Down," but there were certainly some great musical moments. And while the soundtrack is kind of a hodgepodge of old songs, covers of old songs, and retro-flavored new songs, the strength of the assembled talent really makes it work.

9. Bruce Springsteen - Chapter And Verse
Most of this album is familiar classics, but the first few tracks are some really exhilarating glimpses at Bruce's early pre-E Street bands that I'd read about for years without hearing. And, as I wrote last week, it's just kind of remarkable to hear one disc span 46 years of recordings.

10. Isaiah Rashad - The Sun's Tirade
I can't remember the last time my opinion of an album sunk more from the first listen to the second listen than The Sun's Tirade. I'd never really checked for Isaiah Rashad and had only skimmed Cilvia Demo (although there was about a year that he followed me on Twitter for some reason, and probably unfollowed because I make fun of TDE's weird label decisions so much). I like that he's taking the TDE sound and putting his own spin on it with southern influences, and there are some undeniable standout moments in the first half. But then it keeps going and it just feels like there are some really dull songs where he's just playing around with his voice and muttering and it doesn't really work.

Worst Album of the Month: Skylar Grey - Natural Causes
About 5 years ago, Skylar Grey was briefly an industry savior for writing a series of blockbuster hip pop power ballads. Now, she's still releasing major label albums and still has the support of Eminem, but it's really hard to see the point of her doing poverty Sarah MacLachlan songs over trap beats, it's just incredibly bland.
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