Monthly Report: February 2017 Albums

1. Future HNDRXX
The first Future album released in the past month, FUTURE, was basically his 7th in a row where the majority of his songs by Metro Boomin and members of 808 Mafia (seriously: 56 Nights, DS2, WATTB, Purple Reign, EVOL, Project E..T., and FUTURE). And I've been saying for ages that it'd be great to get a change of pace and have a record with different producers and/or a record in the melodic R&B style that had been a pretty big part of Future's sound before that run. So HNDRXX is really exactly what I'd been waiting for, even if I'm not crazy about the Rihanna and Weeknd features, there's so many solo tracks I'm enjoying, particularly "Incredible" and "Damage" and "Fresh Air," and "Sorry" is a pretty amazing closing track. Here's the 2017 albums playlist I add everything I'm listening to.

2. All Them Witches - Sleeping Through The War
I checked out this Nashville band's 4th album on a whim just because I liked the look of their '70s hard rock influences, and am really glad I did. The songs take some interesting instrumental twists and turns without getting bogged down in some droney stoner rock thing (half the tracks run over 6 minutes but they never really bore me), and the vocals have this kind of funny, plainspoken quality that I didn't expect. "Bruce Lee" is probably my favorite track, love the way the drum fills lock into that riff.

3. Little Big Town - The Breaker
Little Big Town has 4 vocalists who sing harmonies and take turns singing lead, but Karen Fairchild has slowly emerged as the voice of most of their biggest hits, and I think it speaks volumes that the first time Taylor Swift has written a song for country radio in years, she had Fairchild sing "Better Man." The whole album is solid, though, I'm glad that after last year's surprisingly enjoyable little record with Pharrell they went back to Pain Killer producer Jay Joyce, who I think is probably the best producer working today who does that old fashioned thing of putting mics in front of instruments and amps.

4. Rhiannon Giddens - Freedom Highway
Just last week I raved about Rhiannon Giddens's guest appearance on Eric Church's latest single, not realizing she was about to release a solo album. This is really a beautifully sung record, I usually don't go for rootsy folk music this traditional, but I love the full vivid sound of the production and the little touches that kind of situate the original songs in the present day.

5. President Davo Forever
I don't write as much about Baltimore rap as I used to but there's a lot of excitement in the scene lately, really feels like a number of artists are building the kind of grassroots followings that have historically been hard to foster in the city, and I think President Davo is one of the more promising guys doing that. He has a really melodic flow but he's not biting the obvious AutoTune rappers and he picks some interesting beats, his biggest track is over Big Pun's "Still Not A Player." Forever collects some popular songs like "Rainy Days" with Young Moose and seems like a pretty good proper 'debut' indie album of original production, this could be his year.

6. SiR Her Too EP
SiR's self-released Her EP was one of my favorite R&B releases of last year and I'm happy that just 3 months later he's followed it up with the news that he's signed with Top Dawg Entertainment, and the release of another 6-song EP that kinda fills out the project to a full album. There's not really any sense of this stuff being deliberately more mainstream other than an Anderson Paak feature, but it's nice to see him move up in the world, even if all it ultimately means is that he does a hook on the next Kendrick or Q album. I think "Sugar" is my favorite off this one.

7. Austin Stahl - Austerity
Austin Stahl is a Baltimore musician I've known for over a decade, I saw his old band Private Eleanor a lot, played a show with his more recent Mink Hollow a couple years ago, and once he borrowed a piece of my drum set for a Small Sur tour. He usually sings on stuff as a solo artist and bandleader, so I was intrigued when he told me his latest album is an instrumental record, but it's a pretty lovely and wide ranging record, like maybe he got to cover more musical ground because he didn't have to limit himself to what would fit his voice. I really think it's a great showcase for his production, too, he should be getting production work off the strength of this.

8. Future - FUTURE
As I said, HNDRXX is refreshing as a change a pace from Future's other releases, and FUTURE is pretty much more of the same. But FUTURE is still a pretty enjoyable record, "Mask Off" and "POA" and "Draco" are all keepers and "I'm So Groovy" is kind of hilarious. I get weary

9. Fat Joe & Remy Ma - Plata O Plomo
I always root for Remy Ma, and her Nicki Minaj diss was a great reminder of what she's capable of, so I hope she gets together a good solo project soon. Reuniting with Fat Joe and making "All The Way Up" and "Money Showers" was a good way to reignite her momentum after prison, but I do wish this album felt less like a generic with all those R&B hooks. I don't know DJ Khaled talked Joe into having Kent Jones on 3 of the first 5 tracks on the album. It really speaks volumes that my favorite song on here, "How Long," is the only one with no guests.

10. Entrance Book of Changes
I heard a promo of this album a few months ago so I'm just kinda coming back to it now that it's actually out. The louder electric sound of The Entrance Band hit me a little more immediately, but I like the acoustic sound here too, the backing vocals and lush strings on "Always The Right Time" are really lovely and surprising.

The Worst Album of the Month: Jidenna The Chief
I didn't especially like "Classic Man" but it was undeniably catchy and deservedly a hit that did a great job of packaging a new artist who probably would've been hard to market to the mainstream without that exact song. So it seemed pretty stupid for his label to throw other singles for almost 2 years and let them flounder before finally putting the album out once all the momentum had dissipated. But man, everything I disliked about "Classic Man" is magnified by this record, including Roman GianArthur once again handily upstaging him on "Chief Don't Run" (seriously, let's hear more from that guy). "The Let Out" is catchy, and they wisely discarded that stupid "Knickers" song in favor of a track that deconstructs the N word with a little more substance, but for the most part this is a really irritating, charmlessly clever record.
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