Monthly Report: October 2017 Albums

1. Carly Pearce - Every Little Thing
busbee played a similar role in producing and co-writing Carly Pearce's debut album as he did with Maren Morris's debut last year, so it's not surprising that they're both excellent in similar ways, with busbee's ear for understated modern production touches that foreground the vocalist's classic country sensibilities. Morris has the bigger personality but Pearce has the richer, more expressive voice, equally good for wounded ballads like the title track, one of the best country singles of the year, and for playful uptempo tracks like "Hide The Wine." Here's my 2017 albums playlist that most of these records are on.

2. Robert Plant - Carry Fire
Robert Plant has long been one of the more interesting and restless classic rock icons, one of maybe a handful of guys whose careers started in the '60s who kept up with new music enough to make some surprisingly modern stuff in the 2010s (alongside David Bowie, Paul Simon, and Paul McCartney). And this album is just gorgeous from front to back, lots of familiar acoustic Zep type textures with the occasional gnarly synth line, Plant often sings just above a whisper but sometimes lets loose the ragged majesty of his aging voice, including on a duet with Chrissie Hynde.

3. Sabrina Claudio - About Time
I checked this out on a whim the other day and it really grabbed me, it kind of fits into the breathy moody alt R&B zeitgeist pretty well (6lack appears on a remix at the end of the album), but there's some pretty cool distinctive sonics going on and Claudio's voice is like silk, she might really be a star soon. "Wanna Know" is like a classic torch song, really beautiful stuff.

4. Brent Faiyaz - Sonder Son
Brent Faiyaz's voice on the hook of GoldLink's "Crew" has been one of the best sounds on the radio in 2017 that I've enjoyed hearing again and again. So it's nice to finally explore a little more from that voice, this is a really lovely understated album, feels very handmade and heartfelt, and this guy comes from just up the road from where I live in Maryland so I'm really rooting for him.

5. Microkingdom - Return to the Valley of the Jeep Beats
The Baltimore avant jazz trio Microkingdom have been doing some really interesting stuff for years -- I particularly liked 2012's Three Compositions of No Jazz, which we used a track from for a compilation I helped assemble. This is the first of 3 releases they have coming out this fall, and it may be my favorite thing they've done to date. The title Return to the Valley of the Jeep Beats is probably a bit tongue in cheek, but I feel like it gives an indication of how these guys are looking outside jazz for some of their rhythmic ideas and the kind of digital aesthetic of how they edit down their improvs into records.

6. Niall Horan - Flicker
I always thought Niall's high, cutesy voice worked best in small doses in the context of One Direction, and kind of assumed that Harry and Zayn would have the only viable solo careers out of the group. So I was pleasantly surprised when Niall had my favorite run of solo singles, including the fantastic "Slow Hands," and actually sold more copies of his debut the first week than Zayn (in part thanks to including album vouchers with tickets for his tour). The album is a little lacking in more songs as upbeat as "Slow Hands," but it has a great sound, I especially love "Since We're Alone" and the Maren Morris duet "Seeing Blind." The 3 bonus tracks on the deluxe edition are really strong, as far as I'm concerned you're not getting the complete ideal album without listening to those.

7. Pink - Beautiful Trauma
Pink was always one of the best pop stars of her generation but I particularly like cool mom era Pink. There's a bit of the mellow folky sound of her 2014 side project You+Me on here but for the most part it's a really solid record with the usual suspects like Max Martin, Jack Antonoff, and busbee (whose work I first heard when he wrote Pink's 2012 hit "Try"). That song with Eminem is the one big weak spot, but at least she gets it out the way early.

8. YBS Skola - Only Hope 2
For most of the many years that I've followed and written about Baltimore hip hop, even the city's best and best known rappers have struggled to build the kind of young, enthusiastic local grassroots followings that viable careers are usually built on in other cities. So it's been promising the last few years to see a new generation rappers really start to do that, particularly the late Lor Scoota and Young Moose. And YBS Skola from Scoota's YBS crew has kind of been the next guy in that wave for a minute (no relation to early 2000s Baltimore rapper Norm Skola or Dru Hill member Scola, not sure why that name is so prevalent around here). YBS Skola's got this infectiously raspy whiny voice, best heard on his local radio hit "Shinning," which you hear local schoolkids singing at the beginning of Only Hope 2. This tape is a little overlong and inconsistent, but the production is strong and there's appearances from Meek Mill, Moose, and a posthumous Scoota verse. YGG Tay's Rich Before Rap 2, also out in October, is also a pretty good record out of this scene (for some reason most street rappers now, especially in Baltimore, have 3-initial names, like YFN Lucci, or JRR Tolkien).

9. Cordite Tracker - Six Systems for Post-Human Alienation
Some cool experimental synthesizer music out of Maryland that you can stream or buy on cassette on Bandcamp. The title and the description ("Six PureData patches, programmed by me with randomized parameters, then recorded & edited down to the most compelling parts") had me expecting something more cold and mechanical, and I was pleasantly surprised how warm and human the textures and bursts of melodies are.

10. Future & Young Thug - Super Slimey
Timing and chemistry are everything in these rapper teamup albums that have become increasingly fashionable, and What A Slime To Be Alive kind of seems like it just doesn't quite have the formula right on either count. Any fan of Future or Thug realizes that their respective styles aren't really that close despite some superficial similarities, and they spent the most exciting years of their careers either quietly feuding or simply competitively keeping their distance from each other after an early friendship where Thug nearly signed to Future's label. So this album kind of feels like too little too late to be the event it could've been, but there's plenty of enjoyable tracks, and Future's voice sounds incredible on "Group Home."

Worst Album of the Month: Lil Pump - Lil Pump
For a decade or two, self-titled albums where virtually unheard of in rap. Rich Boy's 2007 was one of the only ones I can even remember from that era. But in the last couple years, the new wave of rappers crawling out of SoundCloud seem to like them, with Fetty Wap, Playboi Carti, NAV, and Lil Pump all releasing self-titled albums. But the lack of a 'real' title mostly increases the sense that these albums are just careless data dumps of established online hits and a few new tracks, and Lil Pump's major label debut feels like one of the most haphazard of them all. The first viral hit I heard by him, the repetitive 2-minute lo-fi "D Rose," is here alongside some much more polished material, so you can ostensibly hear some growth or range, but even at his most sophisticated, he basically sounds like a braindead Mac Miller on "Gucci Gang." I used to get Lil Pump confused with Lil Peep, another racially ambiguous SoundCloud rapper with half pink hair, but now I know the difference, and I dislike Pump slightly more.
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