Monthly Report: March 2017 Albums

1. Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales - Room 29
Jarvis Cocker's last solo album was released nearly 8 years ago, and though he'd busied himself with a number of minor projects and guest appearances and a Pulp reunion, I'd started to get a little frustrated that a songwriter I hold in such high regard hadn't made an album in so long. I vented about this on Twitter recently, only to be asked by several people whether I was making some weird joke or simply didn't know about Room 29, which had been released just the week before. Room 29 is more starkly monochromatic and concentrated on a single theme than any album Cocker has made before; pretty much the entire thing is him singing about the storied Chateau Marmont, and in general about the experience of staying in a hotel, over spare piano melodies. I kind of wish he had done this as a big loud full band thing, since that's how I'm used to hearing his songs, but it works as is. I occasionally have to stay in a hotel for the weekend for work, and so I ended up actually listening to this album in a hotel room and kind of having that perfect dull sterile environment to hear the album in. It ends on a really high note with "Ice Cream As Main Course." Here's the 2017 albums playlist on Spotify that I keep adding records to as I listen to them.

2. Aimee Mann - Mental Illness
I am, as Al Pacino would say in The Devil's Advocate, a fan of Mann, but she has a lot of records I haven't heard, I feel like I'm always failing to fully appreciate her. And this album is really hitting the spot, "Rollercoasters" in particularly is lovely.

3. GoldLink - At What Cost
"Crew" has been all over D.C. radio for months and the album really lives up to it, I'm happy to see someone represent the city this well, I feel like a lot of D.C. rappers could make albums that have this relaxed, funky sound but they usually reach for broader appeal instead. GoldLink isn't the most distinctive rapper, I dunno if I'd even recognize his voice if he turned up on a guest verse, but he's got a great flow and a great ear. RCA Records released this album and I like what they're doing with records like this and King Los's GodMoneyWar where they're not really waiting around for a rapper to be hugely famous before putting out an album and really let them make an enjoyable, personal project that can help them build a fanbase.

4. Khalid - American Teen
I dug "Location" really hard from the first time I heard it last summer, and I'm happy to see it really blow up at radio and set up an album. That said, an 18 year old kid coming out of nowhere with one hot song doesn't always mean they have more good material in the chamber, so I didn't have any expectations for the album, which turned out pretty strong. It's a little precious at times, but there are some strong songs, I really like "Another Sad Love Song."

5. Chants - Amethyst Dust EP
Jordan is a good guy and excellent drummer that I've been friendly with for ages and it's been cool to watch this Chants project evolve from one EP to the next for the last few years. Amethyst Dust continues in the really aggressive, abrupt sounds of his last EP, reminds me at times of what Amon Tobin was doing on Supermodified,

6. King Midas - Who Am I
I interviewed King Midas about five years ago, when he was starting to get well known in Baltimore for producing and singing the hook on Caddy Da Don's local radio hit "Grindin' On Me." And I'm glad to see him still out there doing his thing as a solo artist and thriving, Who Am I is 10 songs, 7 of them self-produced, all in that weird aesthetic interzone where I wouldn't say he's rapping but I wouldn't say it's R&B either, which is commercially a pretty good place to be these days.

7. Tate Kobang - Silent Waves
It's been about a year since Baltimore rapper Tate Kobang's big wave of national attention that included my Pigeons & Planes feature, but he never stops making moves and making music. Silent Waves includes a couple songs that have gotten buzz on Soundcloud in the last few months, "Chirp Chirp" and "Yeah," the latter of which 300 just put on iTunes as an official single. I think my favorite track on here is "So Many" produced by Yung Lan, who also did my favorite beat on the YoungBoy Never Broke Again album.

8. Zara Larsson - So Good
It's funny, I was just saying on here that I was impatient for Zara Larsson's album to come out and then a few days later it did. I don't even know how much I like her voice but I feel like she's got the best material of all the pop starlets currently doing this sound, all the singles are solid and some of the new songs like "Don't Let Me Be Yours" are excellent. I'm not sure why she was a guest on The Daily Show but she came across really likable in the interview.

9. Trey Songz - Tremaine
Trey Songz occupies an odd space where he can seem either really talented and taken for granted or kind of tediously overexposed depending on what angle I'm coming from or how recently his last album was. And his last album was almost 3 years ago, so I'd really had time to look forward to him coming back and at least occupying his niche more capably and tolerably than Chris Brown. Tremaine is one of his best albums, but for some reason I feel like his ceiling isn't that high so it's just refreshingly listenable and not much more than that. "She Lovin' It" is fantastic, but then the very next track is the hideously stupid "Animal," that's Trey in a nutshell. Also it felt like kind of a cool power move for Trey to do a promo campaign that faked like he was making a reality show and then just satirized them with the videos for the album, since most R&B stars are just running to do those shows to stay in the spotlight and he doesn't need to.

10. Rick Ross - Rather You Than Me
I think of Rick Ross much like I think of Trey Songz: reasonably talented with a pretty impressive career, but lacking some components of excellence or creativity to ever really be one of the greats. He makes some of the most considered and, well, album-y albums of any rapper in the south, but even his best aren't really classics, and he was coming off of 4 consecutive duds when Rather You Than Me turned out to be above average. It generally doesn't bode well when the diss track overshadows the rest of the album, but "Idols Become Rivals" is kind of a great display of how refreshing it is when Ross just speaks his mind and displays his values and gets past all the generic kingpin platitudes. I like how Ross has really kept Bink in his rotation of producers over the years and had him do 3 tracks on this album, and even "I Think She Like Me" has Bink-sounding drums even if he didn't produce it. I wish "Buy Back The Block" made the album, though, that song was too good to just be a loosie.

Worst Album of the Month: Kodak Black - Painting Pictures
Kodak Black rose to national fame parallel with some fairly goofy Hot Topic trap rappers like Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert that make Kodak's darker, more Boosie-influenced raps seem pretty sophisticated by comparison. But I never really heard much in Kodak beyond a 19-year-old kid who sounds like Strap from Travis Porter and might grow into a great rapper if he's not too convinced that he's already surpassed Lil Wayne. And the moment he dropped "Tunnel Vision," the single he'd teased in studio footage and fans had been demanding for months, I kinda felt like it was confirmed that he wasn't doing much growing right now based on that song's two bland 8 and 12 bar verses swimming in a sea of repetitive choruses. Painting Pictures is respectable as a major label debut, in terms of the variety of production, guests, and subject matter, but never because Kodak's flow or lyrics rise above the bare minimum of what he's capable of. And I think "Patty Cake" is the only song that surprises me in any way by by showing him have fun with a different kind of beat than what he usually goes for. But the way the album tries to get gravitas out of the fact that he's behind the bars on rape charges at the time of its release just underlines how empty and even loathsome the supposedly impressive substance and emotion in Kodak Black's music is.
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