Monthly Report: June 2018 Albums

1. Jacquees - 4275
I know a lot of people who I think primarly like R&B when it's rap-adjacent, which means they usually like certain artists, male singers who are signed to famous rap labels and make mixtapes and do hooks for rappers and constantly sample trendy '90s R&B songs, way more than I do. I've only liked a little of the Jacquees stuff I'd heard before his debut album for Cash Money, so I was highly skeptical of the praise I was hearing for this album and who I was hearing it from, but I was really impressed by 4275, the whole thing sounds great from front to back, Jacquees is writing songs that work well for his particular vocal range and he's doing the autobiographical thing with this album pretty compellingly. And then there are just all these sex jams like "Studio" featuring Young Thug and "House Or Hotel" that are just fantastic. Here's the 2018 albums playlist I add stuff to as I listen to it.

2. Nine Inch Nails - Bad Witch
Apparently among the other things Trent Reznor has in common with David Bowie is a moderate ability to play saxophone, though where Bowie played sax on and off for years, brass of any kind is a totally novel texture to hear on a Nine Inch Nails record in a 2-decade career. When I first heard "God Break Down The Door," my first thought was that Reznor probably has been getting some inspiration from Blackstar, both because of the sax and because of the overall atmosphere and the vocal that affects kind of a Bowie croon. For the most part, though, Bad Witch feels very much like a late period NIN record in a good way, and kind of mimics the unhurried sprawl of the longer records even though it's only a little longer than the last couple EPs.

3. Jay Rock - Redemption
If you really think about how the members of Black Hippy rap and how long they've been doing it, it's pretty remarkable that Kendrick and to a lesser degree Q are genuine stars that the youth of America listen to in huge numbers. So even with Ab-Soul more or less declining to chase stardom, it's not surprising to me that Jay Rock has had a hard time getting the recipe right to cross over, although I feel bad that he even feels compelled to call this album Redemption after two perfectly good but commercial unsuccessful albums, but the storytelling on the title track is beautiful. This album is full of the exact kind of music I wanna hear from him, particularly "ES Tales," but even the outliers like the Jeremih feature work, and I'm proud to see D.K. The Punisher from Baltimore getting more TDE work on a couple tracks.

4. John Coltrane - Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album
As a teenager I played drums in my high school jazz ensemble and became something of a casual jazz fan, and of the couple jazz albums I had, the largest share was by Coltrane and I really adored his the rhythm section of his classic quartet. So I was very curious to hear this recently unearthed 1963 session, although I feel like a total dilettante for caring since I haven't listened to much jazz in recent years or explored Coltrane's catalog beyond a handful of the most famous albums. This sounds fantastic, though, I might have to start checking out some of the albums from this period that I don't have. 

5. Florence + The Machine - High As Hope
I was kind of a Florence + The Machine skeptic initially and then started to regard her as a solid singles artist, and my wife really loves her records so I started to appreciate it more fully. And the sound of this album is really hitting me nicely, cavernous percussive arrangements that kind of build empty space around her big voice, "South London Forever" and "Grace" in particular are just sublime.

6. 03 Greedo - God Level
Among hyperprolific mixtape rappers, I've found 03 Greedo a little hard to get into partly because he makes such long records. And while material often starts to get parceled out in smaller amounts when a rapper goes upstate, Greedo, who claims to have hours and hours of unreleased material, went ahead and put out the 98-minute God Level the week he turned himself in for a 20-year sentence. It's a ballsy move, particularly with a Makaveli-mimicking cover after he caught a lot of shit for criticizing 2Pac a few months ago. But I think it works well, I found this record more consistently enjoyable than The Wolf of Grap Street, even as a lot of songs just sounded like he was up all night rambling in the booth high out of his mind over whatever beat was put in front of him.

7. Teyana Taylor - K.T.S.E.
The annoyed, exasperated, disappointed the way a lot of people feel about Kanye West's recent output is how I've been feeling about his recent output for almost a decade, so welcome to the club, I guess. I had modest expectations for his 5-week run of 7-song projects that it still managed to somehow fall short of -- we got the worst Kanye and Nas albums of their careers, and I'll admit Daytona and Kids See Ghosts came out pretty solid, but I'm just deeply bored of what Pusha T and Kid Cudi do. That leaves Teyana Taylor as the least established G.O.O.D. Music artist to be thrown into this weird project schedule. I didn't think much of her 2014 G.O.O.D. Music debut that Kanye didn't contribute anything to, and while I'm skeptical of the mentality that his involvement implicitly makes a record better, I think the soul sample style he returned to lately for these records really suits her sultry vocal style, "Issues/Hold On" and "Hurry" are great.

8. Black Thought - Streams Of Thought Vol. 1 EP
Black Thought is an incredible MC who's often been underestimated or obscured by the fact that he fronts the most prominent live band in hip-hop and the drummer is kind of the auteur/spokesman of the group. Even the one time Black Thought made a solo album, it ended up shelved and repurposed as a Roots album. So I'm glad that he finally got a little belated shine with a recent radio freestyle that went viral, and Streams Of Thought builds on the energy around that performance with similarly relentless flows over some simple, straightforward production by 9th Wonder, who I've never been a huge fan of but is a good fit for a project like this.

9. The Carters - Everything Is Love
For a long time I snarked that "Crazy In Love" was a fluke and that most Jay-Z and Beyonce collaborations are lousy crap like "Hollywood" and they have fairly little musical chemistry or common ground. But they've had enough records in the last few years that I really enjoyed ("Part II (On The Run)," "Shinin'," "Family Feud," etc.) that I thought maybe they could wind up with an album that's up to the standard of their best solo albums. Everything Is Love really ain't it, but "Boss" and "713" and "Friends" and "Black Effect" are good, I like the more relaxed side of the record over "Apeshit," which is barely better than "Top Off." I also thought Saturday afternoon was a good time for the surprise drop, I was online at the moment the news spread and put the album on right away and listened to it on headphones with everyone else online while I was sitting and chilling with my family, it was nice.

10. Roger Daltrey - As Long As I Have You
The Who did their first 'farewell' tour the year I was born and it's still not clear if their latest farewell tour has more dates to come. But it's clear that there's never going to be another new album from The Who, and it's kind of nice that closing that door has freed them up to do something like this, a surprisingly strong solo album from Roger Daltrey that features a little of his own songwriting and a an interesting mix of covers including Nick Cave's "Into My Arms," with Pete Townshend showing up to play guitar on several tracks. It's a nice way for them to work together outside of the burden of The Who's history and signature sound, and Daltrey's voice has taken on a nice weathered character at 74 that works for this material perhaps better than shouting out old Who tracks on tour.

Worst Album of the Month: Kanye West - Ye
Nasir will probably go down as the most reviled of the May/June 7-song projects, at least unless Kanye makes good on his promise/threat to make 52 of them in 52 weeks, but I thought it had flashes of the kind of inspired, competent bad ideas that have made a lot of middling Nas albums better than they deserved to be. But Ye is just a total shitshow, somehow distilling the chaos and unfinished last-minute thoughts of The Life of Pablo without any of the payoff moments that album had. A lot of Kanye's later records get spun as experimental, as if you're just being narrow-minded if you don't like them, but this really just feels like a smudged up reel of things he's done before, along with some really shitty fake deep lyrics that present a new spin on his regressive politics and love of shock value schlock like "Violent Crimes" and "I Thought About Killing You."
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