Monthly Report: December 2017 Albums

1. Miguel - War & Leisure
My little monthly posts are a fun way to keep track throughout the year, but of course the December posts are always a little awkward since I already did the big year-end list, which included a couple of these records, but I enjoy sifting through the stuff released at the tail end of the year. Wildheart was a good record but felt a bit like Miguel was delving a little deeper into the aesthetic he figured out on Kaleidoscope Dream and getting less out of it. War & Leisure feels like he's in it to win it and prove that he's still at the forefront of R&B and should be on the radio every day, while still pushing his own idiosyncratic sound into ecstatic new territory on "Pineapple Skies," one of my favorite songs of the whole year. The central metaphors of "Criminal" and "Banana Clip" imply that War & Leisure has some kind of overarching concept folding together sex and violence, but Miguel's wordplay tends to make me cringe a little so I'm glad that he doesn't lean on that theme too much. Here's the Spotify playlist where I dumped all the 2017 albums I listened to over the course of the year.

2. Boosie Badazz - BooPac
Boosie released 5 solo albums in 2016, an incredible and at times overwhelming run. In 2017, he basically saved up his output for one big 90-minute album. I've always been wary of most albums that pushed the 80-minute limit in the compact disc era, and I've skipped quite a few albums this year because they were just way too long, but I made an exception for Boosie. "Webbie I Remember" is by far the standout of BooPac, literally a piano ballad about his complicated friendship with Webbie, one of the most incredible and surprising songs Boosie has ever written. The other 23 songs are less essential but he's pretty incredibly consistent in terms of picking beats and having something interesting to say. Boosie was kind of born a cranky old man, but he's really playing the role now, rapping about his cancer scare and complaining that children "play on they damn iPod" too much and defensively attempting to defuse accusations of homophobia ("I got no problem with gay (never had no problem with gay!)").

3. Shy Glizzy Quiet Storm
Shy Glizzy has always reminded me a bit of Boosie, and a year ago I thought he was probably on his way to a similar long tail of regional stardom. But then "Crew" happened and he's got a whole new wave of momentum to ride. And he's chosen to use that goodwill on a pretty heavy solo single, "Take Me Away," and an album that follows through on that vibe really well. I heard a lot of these songs for the first time when Glizzy went on WKYS the day of the release and kinda introduced each song as they played it and it was a really great way to hear where he's coming from with this record. It's got some fun moments, though, and "One Day" and "Get Jiggy" are worthy additions to the catalog of Glizzy/Zaytoven tracks.

4. American Pleasure Club - i blew on a dandelion and the whole world disappeared
This band used to be called Teen Suicide but had, quite understandably, grown uncomfortable with carrying on with that name in recent years. Last summer I had run into Sean and he told me about the new band names they were considering, and I remember telling him and Sam that I really liked one of the name ideas and really disliked one of the others. In October, they announced they were going with the name I didn't like, Dumpster, but then a few weeks later changed their minds and went with this American Pleasure Club, an alright name that I don't remember them mentioning over the summer. So this is their first release under that name, a cassette collection of Sam's lo-fi solo recordings, and it has a nice tape hiss intimacy to it, "I'll Get the Car Tonight" in particular is quite lovely.

5. K. Michelle Kimberly: The People I Used To Know
I don't think many artists, in R&B or any other genre, have made 4 albums in the last 5 years as strong as K. Michelle has. Unfortunately, she seems to be slipping away from prominence; after three top 10 albums, but this one charted at #56 on the Billboard 200. Even the reliable Hail Mary of a single featuring Chris Brown hasn't done much to get her back on the radio. But she's as much a force of nature as ever, big voice and bigger personality, most notably sticking her neck out on "Kim K" ("wish I could be a Kardashian, so I could be black") but her little nod to James Brown grit on "God, Love, Sex, and Drugs" is probably my favorite display of her musical range. The spoken interludes really don't work, though.

6. Lil Wayne - Dedication 6
Post-C3 Weezy can be pretty erratic in his output, and the weird strained delivery he favors lately really gets on my nerves. But Wayne still has one of the sharpest minds in rap and it's still fun to hear him run circles around someone else's track, perhaps moreso than his original songs at this point (although I still would love for him to drop Carter V and prove me wrong). And in a way it's fun to hear Wayne sound so relaxed and effortless in contrast to Eminem just getting so tightly wound and effortful that his overwritten rhymes become painful to listen to.

7. Craig Wedren - Adult Desire
I've long thought that Craig Wedren is one of the most unique and gifted songwriters of his generation, and that he hasn't been recognized as such in part because he's spent most of his time since the breakup of Shudder To Think doing score work for film and television. His last solo album, 2011's Wand, was a wonderfully omnivorous overview of all the different things he does well, and by comparison Adult Desire is a little quieter, more subdued, and homogeneous, which I found disappointing at first. But it's growing on me, the second half is more interesting than the first.

8. Lithuania - White Reindeer
When I interviewed Dom from DRGN King a few years ago, he mentioned kind of in passing that he had a new band with Eric Slick of Dr. Dog called Lithuania that was working on its first record. Now Lithuania has beefed up to a full on power trio with their second record, which sounds to me a bit like a slightly punkier DRGN King, I really love "5000 Year Leap" in particular.

9. Cordite Tracker - Autumn Cluster EP
I wrote about a different recent EP by Matt in this space 2 months ago, but I think I like this one even more, some really lovely wistful guitars over weird atmospheric instrumentals.

10. Brockhampton - Saturation III
I've generally approached Brockhampton with a lot of skepticism -- a rap 'collective' that formed on a Kanye fan site message board, whose entire public image consists of being compared to Odd Future, just seems excessively like not my thing. But I tried to give Saturation II a chance earlier in the year, and found it more forgettable than objectionable, and Saturation III is suiting me a lot more, some really playful and offbeat production choices that balance out my disinterest in the usually snarky deadpan tone of however many indistinguishable MCs are on this record. If anything they kind of strike me as a millennial Pharcyde or something.

Worst Album of the Month: Travis Scott & Quavo - Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho
December was a really banner month for deeply unnecessary collaboration projects. I already spent an entire podcast episode disrespecting the Big Sean/Metro Boomin record, but Kangaroo Jack, Jack Reacher is arguably even worse. And I think that's because Travis Scott and Quavo is just a bad pairing with no yin/yang match of strengths and weaknesses; they're both guys who get by on a lot of offhanded charm and melody but often seem to run out of words halfway through verses and just go on autopilot. They could've blown up the formula and done an album full of hooks, but instead they really try to make songs and it all becomes really dull and repetitive. At one point Travis seems to unconsciously remake "Butterfly Effect" on two songs in a row.
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