Monthly Report: July 2017 Albums

1. Sevyn Streeter - Girl Disrupted
A Sevyn Streeter album probably should've come out 4 years ago, when she had two back-to-back radio hits. Instead, Chris Brown's label CBE Entertainment was content to let her release EPs and more singles featuring Chris Brown and Chris Brown songs written by Sevyn. So it's bittersweet that Streeter finally got a major label album out, without CBE and without any Brown features, well after the momentum she had a few years ago has dissipated. But it's really pretty fantastic and consistently provides good, varied backdrops for her sultry voice and vulnerable songwriting. Here's the 2017 albums playlist that I keep adding records to as I listen to them.

2. Meek Mill - Wins & Losses
There's really never been a Meek Mill project that I've disliked or been disappointed by, but most of them are a few iffy choices away from fulfilling his potential. And Dreams & Nightmares and Dreams Worth More Than Money, for all their respective strengths and enduring songs, each wound up with a slightly wrongheaded idea of what a major label Meek Mill album should be. So Wins & Losses is refreshing because it feels like the first time he's really gotten that recipe right. Where Dreams & Nightmares had some awkward flirtation with AutoTune, Meek finally found a way to rap melodically that suits him and doesn't sound like an impression of anyone else on Meekend Music II's "Save Me" that carries over to "1942 Flows" and "Fall Thru" on Wins & Losses; it works out a lot better than, say, French Montana's unlistenable embrace of sing rapping on Jungle Rules. But really the whole album is just jam packed with great tracks like "Glow Up" and "We Ball" and "Fuck That Check Up" and "Young Black America" that, taken together, show his range more than any previous release and kind of put to rest the idea that he's a one-dimensional street rap shouter.

3. Nine Inch Nails - Add Violence EP
I enjoyed the Not The Actual Events EP when it was released last December, but I then promptly pretty much forgot it existed until another EP was announced six months later as part of a trilogy of Nine Inch Nails EPs. Broken notwithstanding, I think of NIN as being well suited to big immersive albums, so I was a little skeptical about the switch to the EP format, but now I'm really on board with it and looking forward to the next installment. "Less Than" is the most instantly hooky thing they've released since "The Hand That Feeds." And the 11-minute closing track, "The Background World," is the longest NIN song to date and has this groove with an irregular loop point that plays over and over and gradually gets more distorted. So this really kind has a nice range for such a short record. And Reznor has always been an inspiration to me just in how he merges synth pop and dance music with heavy rock and he just seems to get more inventive with it with time.

4. Us And Us Only - Full Flower
Us And Us Only's drummer Sean Mercer is a producer/engineer at Mobtown Studios in Baltimore, a place that I've been hanging out and recording at for nearly a decade. So I've known him a little and have heard Us And Us Only's music from the beginning, and we included one of their tracks on Mobtown's compilation that I helped assemble in 2013, and I shared the stage with them for the release party and was really impressed by their set. So it's been really exciting to see Us And Us Only's profile rise with each EP for the last few years and then a lot of good press come in for Full Flower, their first album, but it's also bittersweet because the place where the album was made and which has been so important to me, Mobtown, is closing down in a couple months. But I really dig this record, even if I almost wish they saved some of the songs on the Bored Crusader EP for it.

5. Vinny Vegas - Clear The Walls
Vinny Vegas is another Baltimore band who I have a personal connection to -- they appeared on the same 2013 compilation I worked on, and frontman Scott Siskind sang two songs on my album -- so, as always, I welcome you to take my praise for my friends and associates with a grain of salt. Vinny Vegas's 2nd full-length is really beautifully recorded, though, I'm such a fan of Scott's voice and he really goes for some big soaring, dramatic melodies on here.

6. Aminé - Good For You
Aminé appeared on XXL's 'Freshmen' cover a few weeks ago, and his single "Caroline" is the 2nd biggest hit by any of the 10 rappers on that cover. But out of all those artists, he kinda feels like the one who is most synonymous with one particular song, who doesn't have much of a following or public image beyond it, the mostly likely to be eventually tagged as a 'one hit wonder' even if half of them are likely to wound up with pitifully short careers. And I think that's kind of a shame, because his music, as much as it feels of a piece with a certain strain of self-impressed quirky post-regional rappers found on the XXL cover and elsewhere, has its own unique texture and sensibility that nobody else is doing. He gets in some pretty clever lines here and there and I really love the squirrelly funky sound of "Yellow" and "STFU" and the aesthetic triangulated by him having guests like Nelly, Offset, and Charlie Wilson.

7. HAIM - Something To Tell You
I have a lot of mixed feelings about how HAIM presents their dad rock influences for a contemporary audience that by and large is kind of snobby about the old stuff that sounds like this. But I guess they're growing me a little, this is a pretty good sounding record. "Little Of Your Love" feels like the standout to me on this one.

8. Hunit Stackz - The Black Saiyan Saga
Baltimore's Hunit Stackz is hardly the first rapper to openly reference anime in his lyrics. But he took it a little further with a concept album that has a companion manga comic, and it's really a pretty fun, inventive record.

9. The Isley Brothers & Santana - Power Of Peace
Two legendary bands that have each been together for over half a century coming together for the first time to make a whole album is a pretty exciting prospect, and I had high hopes that this would be a guitar hero free for all between Ernie Isley and Carlos Santana. In practice, though, the album is a bit of a letdown; it sounds like someone just put a mic in the back of a cavernous rehearsal stage and the bands ran through a bunch of covers. But Ronald Isley's voice sounds great and it's fun to hear these guys cut loose like this after both acts have spent the last couple decades making fairly restrained contemporary pop records.

10. Coldplay - Kaleidoscope EP
It's kind of weird how this EP had a longer, more sustained advance promotion, and a bigger hit single, than Coldplay's last album, especially since it's pretty flimsy little record with five tracks, including a totally inessential live version of the aforementioned hit single. But "All I Can Think About Is You" is easily the best Coldplay song in ages, and the Brian Eno collaboration "A L I E N S" is pretty good too. Too bad about that Big Sean verse.

The Worst Album of the Month: NAV and Metro Boomin - Perfect Timing
Much has already been said about this album's mismatch between one of Atlanta's most successful producers of the moment and an awkward Canadian Punjabi rapper who sounds like he's reciting every pop cap cliche in a weird chipper monotone (my favorite review said it "sounds like Siri made a rap album").  I almost hate to pile on, because honestly, it'd be cool if a brown guy with his kind of connections actually deservingly became a big charismatic rap star, but this guy just seems so totally bland and out of his element. At least he stopped staying the N-word after his last project, though.
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