Monthly Report: September 2018 Albums

1. Christine And The Queens - Chris 
I only heard my favorite album of the last month because I heard a cool-sounding song, "Doesn't Matter," while buying clothes for my kids in Old Navy and got out my phone and Shazam'd it, which makes me really feel lame and square (I also vaguely remember looking up Christine And The Queens' earlier viral dance video for "Tilted" after characters on "Better Things" reenacted the video on the show's last season finale). But in any event, I'm glad I checked out this album, it's fantastic. A lot of young acts these days are mining this particular vein of funky '80s pop, but Heloise Letissier's voice and lyrics are distinctive enough to cut through and feel a little more like individual expression. Letissier is from France and recorded the entire album in both English and French, I'm glad the U.S. release of the album has both versions, it's fun to hear the difference and I enjoyed hearing the songs in French more than I thought I would (also, the one song that's only on the French version, "Le G," is awesome. I put all the albums I listen to this year into this 2018 albums Spotify playlist

2. MNEK - Language
"Never Forget You" by Zara Larsson and MNEK was one of my favorite pop hits of 2016, but MNEK has largely bbeen writing and producing for big stars since then, so I was pleasantly surprised to see him release a new solo album. Language opens with "Background," a brief song where MNEK sings about coming out from his behind-the-scenes work to the spotlight, which transitions to a silly interlude where two girls sing along to "Never Forget You," one mispronounces MNEK's name, and the other sets her (and the listener) straight (MNEK is basically a way of tricking you into saying 'Emenike' correctly). MNEK's music is a nice fusion of EDM and pop and R&B with a little UK garage influence, kind of that lane that served Craig David so well, but MNEK really puts his own stamp on it with his personality and makes some fantastic-sounding beats. "Crazy World" with Becky Hill is a particular favorite.

3. Tom Petty - An American Treasure 
I've been reading the Tom Petty biography by Warren Zanes lately and revisiting Petty's music a lot so I was really happy to hear that the first posthumous project would be a big 4 hour box set. An American Treasure has about a dozen previously unreleased songs that are woven into a semi-chronological collection of album tracks, alternate takes, live recordings, and other miscellany. It's a pretty fun and satisfying way to amble through Petty's career, with the hits only peppered through in different incarnations (like an alternate mix of "Here Comes My Girl" that has some great different Mike Campbell leads on the outro). A lot of favorites from my Petty deep cuts playlist are represented, including "Insider," "Southern Accents," and "The Wild One, Forever." And you get a good look at how one of his most underrated albums, Long After Dark, could've been different -- an alternate "Straight Into Darkness," the newly unearthed outtake "Keep A Little Soul," and the famous 'one that got away' outtake that Petty often regretted leaving off the album, "Keeping Me Alive."

4. Prince - Piano & A Microphone 1983
I'm glad that Tom Petty and Prince's respective estates have taken different approaches for their first posthumous releases -- mixing Petty rarities in with more familiar material works for him, but Prince has so much unreleased material that I definitely want to hear albums mined from specific sessions and eras (although I feel weird that Prince probably didn't want a lot of that stuff to see the light of day, but it's kind of on him that he never left any kind of will or instructions, so we get what we get). Piano & A Microphone 1983 is a promising start in that direction because they basically just found a 34-minute demo tape of Prince singing and playing piano and released it as is. So you get a few fully fleshed out, incredible performances, but also a lot of cool off-the-cuff stuff like a 1-minute sketch of "Purple Rain" and a great version of "Strange Relationship" made about 4 years before the song would end up on an album. It's by definition kind of a minor record, more exciting if you isolate the best performances than to look at it as an actual album, but it's hard to imagine any other musician messing around this casually for a half hour and it sounding this good. 

5. The Joy Formidable - Aaarth
Each of The Joy Formidable's 4 albums has gotten substantially less attention than the one before it, but they really haven't made a bad record and Aaarth is probably the best since their classic debut, 2011's The Big Roar. They still do the big epic neo-shoegaze thing well but there's a lot more to their sound, particularly on the opener "Y Bluen Eira." 

6. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter V
I think my piece about this album for Noisey came out well, but judging from some of the reactions to it, maybe I came off a little more negative toward the album than I could've been. There are some really great songs on here, particularly "Dope" and "Mona Lisa" and "Start This Shit Off Right," they're just kinda swimming in some less interesting stuff. All these 90-minute rap albums sound like they were sequenced a little indifferently, when really I think sequencing is more important when an album is longer, you can blunt the impact of good songs if you put them in the wrong place. 

7. Kevin Gates - Luca Brasi 3
Kevin Gates started 2016 with a great platinum breakthrough album, ISLAH, and ended it beginning a year in prison. So Luca Brasi 3 feels less like a big follow-up than just his first project getting back into the swing of things, he's always had his own particular sound and ear for beats and there's nothing too new or different here. I really like "Adding Up" and "Luca Brasi Freestyle," but there's also a poorly timed upbeat song called "Me Too" and a "make America trap again" song.

8. Noname - Room 25
I don't demand that every rapper be as animated as Busta Rhymes, but I definitely listen to a lot of my favorite MCs because of their expressive and elastic voices. So someone like Noname, who came from the poetry scene and has this kind of softly delivered spoken word flow, I don't vibe with it really heavily, even though lyrically and musically it's not far off from my favorite stuff from Chance The Rapper and other people in that Chicago scene. She's definitely really talented and at times funny in a really biting, incisive way, but it still sounds a little too much like an ASMR rap album for me.

9. The Band Perry - Coordinates EP 
In 2010 and 2013, The Band Perry released two very successful pop country albums that spun off 7 radio hits, and then they entered a very strange sort of career wilderness for the next 5 years. They released 3 singles that leaned further away from country and more toward Taylor Swift-style crossover pop, but they didn't cross over -- in fact each one was less successful than the last. They jumped from one major label to another, and then got dropped from that label and went independent. And now they've finally resurfaced with a self-released 5-song EP produced by Rick Rubin that is darker and more overtly electronic than their attempts at Top 40 singles, influenced by stuff like Yeezus and Trent Reznor. It's a little jarring, particularly because Kimberly Perry has the same clear and pretty voice she used to sing over banjos and fiddles with, but it works, I'm kinda rooting for their weird career pivot to thrive. 

10. Nile Rodgers & Chic - It's About Time 
It's been over 5 years since Nile Rodgers brought the classic Chic sound back to the pop charts with Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and announced that he was working on a new Chic album, and 3 years since the first release date for the ironically named It's About Name came and went. So it's hard not to feel like the album is a little anticlimactic, especially since its 10 tracks include 2 versions of the same song and a Lady Gaga-sung re-recording of an old Chic hit, "I Want Your Love." I'm just happy it's finally here, and there's a nice run of tracks like "I Dance My Dance" and "State of Mine (It's About Time)" that feel like a pretty perfect modern update of the classic Chic sound.

The Worst Album of the Month: 6lack - East Atlanta Love Letter
I've always enjoyed making fun of 6lack's name and calling him "six-lack," but I never really felt strongly about his music either way. Listening to this album, though, he started to sound less like the Bryson Tiller 'trap soul' wave to me that I previously thought of him as, and started sounding more like the white and racially ambiguous Top 40 singers that I've started calling 'Frat R&B' lately: Bazzi, Bryce Vine, MAX, Lauv, and so on. His voice just really sucks, and he closes the album with a somber power ballad about how he's "gonna love you like a stan."
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