Monthly Report: May 2017 Albums

1. Paramore - After Laughter
It's a little weird to say that one of the best rock bands in the world right now is essentially a singer who's been signed to a major label since she was 14 and a revolving door of band members who participate as contracted employees. But Paramore has been consistently great for 10 years, and I'm happy that Zac Farro is back on board, I always loved his drumming on Riot! and I get the sense from his solo project that he's a big part of the aesthetic direction on this album. Their last album, Paramore, was one of my favorite albums of the decade, and I loved its sprawl and variety. But After Laughter feels like a deliberately, shrewdly scaled-down followup, 20 minutes shorter and with a much more focused aesthetic. It's taken a little more time for me to hunker down and get on its wavelength, but I'm really enjoying it, "Fake Happy" and "Rose-Colored Boy" are early favorites. While most 21st century acts use glossy '80s sounds for shiny happy pop records, After Laughter really gets to the heart of how the bright and tight sound of new wave was usually employed in the service of really nervous, anxious music with dark emotions at the core. Here's the 2017 albums Spotify playlist I add records to as I listen to them.

2. Harry Styles - Harry Styles
As someone who thinks One Direction's Four is a masterpiece and that Harry Styles sang (and even wrote) as impressively with the group as he does on his solo debut, I'm a bit exasperated by how predictably people that never gave the band's music a chance are falling over themselves to embrace the "surprising" "mature" solo album. It's good, though, I think the vocals and the production are carrying the songs a bit, but "Ever Since New York" in particular is pretty great.

3. Big Walnuts Yonder - Big Walnuts Yonder
Mike Watt and Nels Cline are two of my favorite living musicians, and it's always especially exciting when they make a record together. This group also includes Greg Saunier of Deerhoof and Nick Reinhart of Tera Melos, and it's a pretty fun, relaxed record, Reinhart sings the more melodic tracks and there's some Watt spiels and some knotty instrumental sections, really just feels like some guys who are all really good at their instruments giving each other space to get weird and creative.

4. various artists - The Bob's Burgers Music Album
After 7 seasons on the air, "Bob's Burgers" finally has a soundtrack album, and they really just kind of went nuts and threw everything they could into it, 112 tracks over nearly 2 hours, all those weird little songs over the ending credits and memorable moments like the hybrid Die Hard / Working Girl musical and Fred Armisen singing "Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex." A lot of the music on the show is made by Chris Maxwell, whose old band Skeleton Key I just wrote about, so it's fun to have a record of that side of his work.

5. T-Pain & Lil Wayne - T-Wayne
It's been about a decade since T-Pain completely changed the sound of popular music, and Lil Wayne assisted by being the first major rapper to adopt his use of AutoTune and put his own spin on it. So for T-Pain to finally leak 8 tracks of the duo album they started but never finished way back then is kind of like a weird little bit of pop archaeology. I actually included in a list of 13 unreleased Wayne projects that I wrote over five years ago. And it's fascinating to hear now since both guys were near the peak of their abilities when they made these songs and haven't been at that level in a long time, but it's notable that T-Pain outraps Wayne (without AutoTune) for much of the album. "Waist Of A Wasp" sounds like it could've been a hit then and like it still might become one now. Also I'm kid of glad that this project has reclaimed the name T-Wayne after that lame "Nasty Freestyle" guy ran with it. Listen to it on DatPiff.

6. Gucci Mane - Droptopwop
Droptopwop is the 4th full length project Gucci Mane has released in the year since he got out of jail, which is actually not even that many by his old standard. But even as much as I hate some of his recent superstar-assisted singles like "Both" and "Make Love," I have to admit that Gucci's been pretty great on guest verses lately, and a 10 track project with a producer at the top of his game like Metro Boomin was a smart move. "Met Gala" is one of those great little rare moments where you hear Gucci try a flow you haven't heard him do a hundred times before.

7. Logic - Everybody
For the last four or five years, I've been kind of watching Logic's career blossom from afar, and sometimes it really irritated me that this really earnest kid from Gaithersburg was getting bigger than almost any other rapper from Maryland. But I got asked to interview him for Rolling Stone the day his latest album came out, and in the course of listening to the album and then discussing it with him, I kinda felt like I came to a better understanding of who he is and how he got here and what he's good at. "Everybody," which sounds to me like an almost deliberate rewrite of Kendrick Lamar's "Alright," really grates on me, but "Ink Blot" and "America" and "Confess" are pretty strong, and the album's whole hippie positivity vibe is pretty endearing.

8. Don Bryant - Don't Give Up On Love
Don Bryant is one of those old Memphis soul guys, wrote hits for his wife Ann Peebles and other Hi Records in the '60s and '70s, and started making his own albums in the '90s. So many younger artists try to get this sound these days but a lot of retro soul can really just sound forced and cheesy to me, so I appreciate being able to hear someone from that actual generation preserve its traditions and write some pretty strong new songs in that style.

9. Snoop Dogg - Neva Left
Snoop has a stronger discography than he usually gets credit for, and the more recent albums that have had fewer commercial pressures have usually been pretty relaxed and enjoyable. Neva Left has a 1992 photo of young Snoop on the cover and opens with tracks that sample early '90s Wu Tang and A Tribe Called Quest, but it pretty quickly abandons any pretense of a theme and becomes a grab bag of all the different kind of Snoop songs and collaborations you'd expect (contemporary guys like K Camp, other '90s guys like Redman and Method Man, a weed song with Wiz, a reggae track) and odds and ends like a remix of his BadBadNotGood track and, oddly, a remix of his 1996 version of Biz Markie's "Vapors." Fun record, though, very little of it isn't enjoyable.

10. Little Steven - Soulfire
I sometimes do the lyric teleprompter for concerts at the Kennedy Center, and a few weeks ago I worked on their John Lennon tribute, which had a lot of really great performers, including Steven Van Zandt. It was fun to watch him in rehearsal, going over details of arrangements and giving band members instructions, it was like having a little window into what an E Street Band soundcheck is probably like. His new record is fun, lots of big booming horn arrangements, some new recordings of songs he'd written for other artists, my favorite performance is "Saint Valentine's Day."

Worst Album of the Month: Bryson Tiller - True To Self
Bryson Tiller's first album, with the irksome title TRAPSOUL, was a serious sleeper hit, going platinum with the help of no big guests and only one track by a known producer. It really struck me as a guy who can barely sing intoning vapid Instagram captions over trendy post-Drake productions, but the amount of buzz he had was undeniable and I wanted to give him a chance that maybe he'd come into his own musically on his second album. This one is probably even worse, though, it's 19 tracks and just goes on forever.
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