Monthly Report: June 2017 Albums

1. 2 Chainz Pretty Girls Like Trap Music
2 Chainz released 3 projects in 2016 and none of them was a masterpiece, but cumulatively those records and all his features added up to a lot of my favorite rap in recent memory. He doesn't have the same buzz he had in 2012, but he's become so much more polished and consistent since then, bar for bar and verse for verse the quotables just never stop coming, and there are some pretty cool production choices like the beat switches on "OG Kush Diet" and and "Trap Check". Pretty Girls Like Trap Music kind of builds itself around his two biggest 2016 tracks, "Good Drank" and "Big Amount," but the way he samples OJ Da Juiceman and old Jeezy and T.I. records really roots the album in the whole idea of what 'trap music' is and how oddly universal it's become in recent years, the whole promotional thing he did with a pink trap house in Atlanta where they held a church service and did STD testing was pretty strange and inspired.

2. Dua Lipa Dua Lipa
This album has really flown under the radar in America, and has only been a moderate success even in the U.K. where she's more of a known quantity, so I was really bowled over by just how good it is. I liked "Lost In Your Light" with Miguel before the album came out, but I figured that would probably be the standout on the album just because of Miguel, and then the first four tracks are just a killer opening, this really destroys the last dozen or so albums I've heard by other pop singers, Dua Lipa has a gorgeous, expressive voice. The first song I heard from her was "Blow Your Mind (Mwah)" so I thought all her stuff would have that kind of sassy persona, but the rest of the album is a lot more vulnerable.

3. Jay-- 4:44
I've been a Jay-Z fan since the '90s, which increasingly feels like a rare perspective to approach his music from. And I can remember when there was a marked difference between his coldly confident voice on records and his shy, shaky speaking voice in interviews. I saw him on the tour for the last album and he can still deliver old songs in that confident voice, but on new records he mostly uses his inside voice and seems a lot more interested in what he's saying than how he's saying it, letting his syllables spill all over the beat in a way he never would've in the old days. This has made a lot of his later records really difficult to enjoy, even his other 'cohesive album not meant for radio,' American Gangster, but it works a lot better on 4:44, given the more vulnerable tone of a lot of the songs. And the fact that he went and made the whole album with a producer I've long wanted to hear him work with more, No I.D., really piqued my interest more than anything else, and I love the odd little counterintuitive ways he's twisted up the sample on here. I listened to this album a lot the night it came out for the next day Rolling Stone analysis, but now that I can sit back and appreciate it for what it is as the hype dies down, "Family Feud" and "Moonlight" are the songs I keep coming back where he really sounds in the pocket and like he didn't just rush out a first take of the verses.

4. Vince Staples Big Fish Theory
I listened to this album a lot for my Pigeons And Planes review and really tried to dig deep into what Vince is doing lyrically and musically on here. But one thing I refrained from doing is really rating it or comparing it to Summertime '06 from a quality standpoint, because I loved that album and it's pretty hard to top. But I like how he went left and tried to create something a little different, although I think people have overstated that a little bit, there are songs like "745" that are pretty solid and straightforward.

5. Thee Lexington Arrows Ride That Wave
Thee Lexington Arrows have been one of my favorite Baltimore bands for a long time and I've become friendly with them in recent years -I just released a video for one of the Western Blot songs that their singer Kathleen Wilson appeared on, and my other band Woodfir opened for them in May. So I'm happy that they're still making albums and sounding leaner and meaner with each release, and even kind of branching out a bit from their core garage rock sound. Ride That Wave actually opens with a re-recording one of my favorite songs of theirs, "Don't Come Around," and it just sounds so much tighter than the version that was on their first album over a decade ago that it shows how far they've come. I particularly like the tempo change at the end of "To The End Of The Skies."

6. Chuck Berry Chuck
I spent a lot of time with Chuck Berry's catalog the week of his death, and so there was really no suspense about what his final album would sound like, it's no profound final twist like, say, Bowie's last album. But Berry was one of the older original rock'n'rollers, and one of the last still standing, so it's kind of amazing to have this first opportunity ever to hear a 90-year-old man make a rock album, or I suppose he was in his late 80s when he recorded this stuff. And from a production standpoint they really got it right, it doesn't feel like a product of the times like the albums he made in the '70s.

7. Young Thug Beautiful Thugger Girls
I kind of rolled my eyes when Young Thug started talking up his "singing album," especially back when he was hyping it up as being executive produced by Drake. And it took me a couple listens to really get into it, but it's pretty good, I wish it was just marketed straightforwardly as a new project and people got to just notice that his rapping is a little more melodic than usual than for it to have all this corny framing like him holding a guitar on the cover and saying "yeehaw!" in the first 30 seconds of the album.

8. Lorde Melodrama
I don't really know what to make of Lorde's vocal style. She sounds like Huey reading a spookey story to Dewey and Louie. But I enjoyed "Green Light" (and, for that matter, "Yellow Flicker Beat") so much more than anything on her debut that I was curious to hear this album. And it's got some pretty strong songwriting and production choices, she really got the best out of Jack Antonoff where the recent Bleachers album didn't sound so hot to me. I kinda knew the critical reception of this record was gonna be a little over the top when I saw these headlines about how amazing "Perfect Places" is and it turned out to be a duller "Blank Space," but that's how things go sometimes.
It's at least way better than the Halsey album, but I'm still waiting on my sad teen revolution prophecy.

9. SZA Ctrl
I feel like SZA and Kehlani are kind of like the R&B equivalent of Halsey and Lorde in terms of their weird vocal affectations that I don't even really know how to describe. Someone pointed out that when she goes "skrt skrt" it sounds like "skoy skoy" in "Love Galore" and it cracks me up so much now. There are some good songs on this record, though, I really like "Prom" and "Go Gina."

10. Z-Ro No Love Boulevard
Z-Ro says this is his final album, and knowing the track record of rapper retirements, he's probably got plenty more in him just like Jay did after The Black Album. But I always feel like I should be listening to more Z-Ro than I have, and there's some strong production on here.

Worst Album of the Month: Katy Perry Witness
It always felt like kind of an unfortunate accident that Katy Perry and her weird annoying voice became a standard bearer of popular music, like it was inevitable that she'd slip up or the world would get suitably sick of her. But it's still kind of surprising how any unforced errors she made in both this album and its weird rollout. There's one song, "Pendulum," that I wouldn't mind hearing again, but I'm kinda hoping this whole thing just disappears and she isn't given too many chances for a comeback.
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