Monthly Report: November 2016 Albums
1. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service
Phife's death really hit me hard earlier this year, maybe moreso than any other musician that passed in 2016. But I was never hanging on for a new Tribe album, it always seemed like a pipe dream and I was content to just wait for Q-Tip to make a new solo album. So it's really a wonderful surprise to get this album, and hear Phife rap one last time and still have that spring in his step. And Jarobi, who was a minor presence on the group's first album and then basically absent but frequently namechecked as an honorary member for the rest of Tribe's '90s run, actually raps several verses on We Got It and is really dope, it makes me wonder what me missed out on when his verses for Low End Theory were left off the album. The production on this album is really what makes it special, though, "Space Program" and "Solid Wall of Sound" sound amazing. Listening to this album at the end of that awful election week was really one of the most emotional experiences I've had with music in a while. I released my own album in November, but this Tribe record is probably my musical highlight of the month anyway.
2. Dawn Richard - Redemption
It's been really exciting and fascinating to watch Dawn Richard's solo career unfold over the past 6 years, from A Tell Tale Heart to now. Blackheart really bowled me over as her most creative and ambitious album to date, and Redemption kind of continues that sound. It's gorgeous and otherworldly and unpredictable, but in terms of the strength of the songs, it kind of feels to me like a solid but lesser sequel much like I thought Goldenheart was the lesser sequel to Armor On. There are some jams on here, though, the stretch in the second half, "Lazarus" and "Tyrant" and "Vines" in particular.
3. Bruno Mars - 24K Magic
There's nothing like making the biggest single of the decade to bolster your confidence in a creative direction, and 24K Magic feels very much like Bruno Mars taking the success of "Uptown Funk" as a cue to go whole hog on playful pastiches of the '80s and '90s R&B and funk. I loved the title track right off the bat, and I appreciate that he made a 33-minute album that's so light on its feet, but I miss the variety and less campy songwriting of Unorthodox Jukebox a little. That New Jack Swing groove on "Finesse" is great, though.
4. DNCE - DNCE
As much as I love "Cake By The Ocean," I didn't necessarily expect much from DNCE's album, and was pleasantly surprised that it's almost as enjoyable a retro funk confection as the Bruno Mars record. There is a stretch in the middle where it takes an unfortunate dip into Smashmouth territory, but for the most part it's pretty killer.
5. E-40 - The D-Boy Diary
For the 6th time just in this decade, E-40 has released over 100 minutes of music at once. In fact, this time it's 158 minutes. There's really not any rapper that any of us need that much music from, but I respect that a vet who's pioneered and perfected a regional sound is still churning it out at this level at 49 years old. The first guest verse on the album is G-Eazy, but other than that there are no missteps, and the second disc is stronger than the first.
6. Body/Head - No Waves
Kim Gordon has probably made the least music outside of Sonic Youth, both during the band's run and since their split about 5 years ago -- in a way I think she's the one who really required the context of Sonic Youth to thrive and create with such a rich musical legacy for her unusual voice and lyrics, although I always had a soft spot for Free Kitten. But I'm always curious to hear what she can do, and Body/Head is a project with Bill Nace, two guitars with no rhythm section and occasional vocals, very noisy and drawn out but with occasionally flashes of intensity.
7. Boosie Badazz - Happy Thanksgiving And Merry Christmas
Boosie released 5 solo albums (plus one with C-Murder) in the first half of 2016, and talked about the possibility of keeping up that monthly pace for the entire year, but ended up slowing down for the last few months, which is fine since I'm still processing all the music he's already put out. But I was pleasantly surprised that he got one more out before the end of the year, with a festive title and cover but mostly the same old bleak Boosie music.
8. Dae Dae & London On Da Track - The DefAnition
London On Da Track is by far one of my favorite rap producers of the past few years, and I'm still bitter that Young Thug passed on the opportunity to make the first Slime Season with all London beats (although I could at least easily make a playlist of Thug/London songs). So surprisingly, the first Atlanta rapper to do a full project with London is Dae Dae, a newer dude with a couple of radio hits this year (neither of which was produced by London). Dae Dae doesn't have a whole lot of personality but he can write, this record is pretty solid.
9. E - E
This is a new Thrill Jockey band featuring Thalia Zedek, really nice little loud propulsive rock record, digging it a little more that Zedek's last solo record that came out in August.
10. Tinashe - Nightride
I was a pretty big fan of Tinashe's major label debut Aquarius and most of the underperforming singles released in advance of her planned follow-up Joyride. But after that project was delayed many times, her label RCA released a "surprise" "mixtape" under the title Nightride which features some of her more downtempo recent singles ("Company," "Ride Of Your Life," "Party Favors") but not the uptempo ones ("Player," "Superlove"). It's a pretty shrewd way to get some of that music out there while still holding out hope that they can launch Joyride as a big dance pop album, but I don't know if it actually works out that well musically to kind of sequester Tinashe's tumblr trip hop side into its own record, it's all pretty low energy and lacks the variety of Aquarius. Also, I got pretty mad at this record on the 2nd listen when I realized she really said "got money comin', that's a Forbesgasm," though.
Worst Album of the Month: The Weeknd - Starboy
As someone who hated The Weeknd's "important" early work and half-heartedly enjoyed his crossover pop move last year, I was optimistic that he would continue to at least be tolerable, but this album is really garbage. He's always reminded me of those kids on YouTube who cover rap songs in solemn falsetto but now he's increasingly writing his own awful punchlines like "David Carradine, I'ma die when I cum" and "got a sweet Asian chick, she go low mane." I thought this album was doomed to be another Kiss Land but for some reason it actually seems to be connecting almost as much as the last one.