Monthly Report: December 2018 Albums

1. Mila J - December 2018 EP
Mila J released an EP every month of 2018, and while I already picked one of my favorites, January 2018, to appear in my top 50 albums of the year, she finished on a high note with another strong EP to finish the series. I put a couple of songs from it, "Lookin Back At It" and "Let's Change The World," on my best of Mila J 2018 Spotify playlist skimming my favorites from the 60-something songs she released throughout the year.

2. Bruce Springsteen - Springsteen On Broadway
I like to joke that my ideal 'Springsteen on Broadway' show would be a dramatic staging of "Meeting Across The River." But this, both the Netflix film of the show and the album that is basically an audio track of the same thing, is really a treat for any Springsteen fan. I've never been that big on solo acoustic Bruce -- Nebraska is fine but not top tier boss in my book, and I'd just about always rather hear him with the full power of the E Street band behind him. But this expands on the charm of the format of his 2005 episode of "VH1 Storytellers," except much longer and more ambitious and with mostly different songs. There's a lot of self-deprecating standup comic in Springsteen's onstage persona, and as he talks and talks here, at least twice as much as he sings, he dismantles and criticizes his mythology as much as he buys into it. I'm also pleasantly surprised at his piano playing, I never thought he'd be able to pull off "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" in a solo show.

3. Zayn - Icarus Falls
Zayn Malik played his departure from One Direction and the launch of his solo career perfectly in terms of maximizing anticipation so he'd get a #1 single and #1 album right off the bat in 2016. But when the smoke cleared, it became readily apparent that the single, "Pillowtalk," was middling and had little radio staying power, and the rest of the album, Mind of Mine, was far worse. A couple of 2017 duets with Taylor Swift and Sia kept him on the pop charts, but it really felt like Zayn's momentum dissipated purely on the merits of his mediocre music. So while I was prepared to feel nothing but schadenfreude about his absolute flop of a second album (debuted at #61 in America and, shockingly, #77 in the UK), Icarus Falls is actually quite good. At 27 songs it's far far too long, but only a couple of those tracks have the kind of lyrical or musical missteps that filled Mind of Mine, for the most part he's singing beautifully and building an interesting, varied sound. He could've really had something if he'd just done a surprise drop of a much shorter version of this album that had "Imprint," "If I Got You," "I Don't Mind," "You Wish You Knew," "Scripted," and "Fresh Air," and dropped "All That" and the Nicki Minaj and Timbaland tracks.

4. Day Gone - Children, Dream
Day Gone is a Baltimore band whose drummer, Robbie Liberati, worked as an engineer on some of my recent Western Blot stuff, I thought he was a pretty cool guy from the couple days I spent with him in the studio, and he was the one who really got me into King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Day Gone's second album is really beautifully recorded and has this dreamy disorienting texture, the whole sound and texture of it changes from track to track.

5. Dave Fell - Floated The Beer Check
I'm always happy to hear something new from Dave Fell, he's had his hand in a lot of different stuff in Baltimore and I think he's got a very unique voice and sense of melody on display in his solo stuff. Floated The Beer Check is 7 songs, a little more fleshed out with drums and bass than his last record Modern Easy Favorites, but still pretty skeletal and trebly lo-fi in a way that I think works well with his songwriting. I think "Elis" is my favorite one on this record.

6. The Out_Circuit - Enter The Ghost
Rachel Burke was Beauty Pill's singer on their 2004 album The Unsustainable Lifestyle but moved to Seattle and left the band soon after. And I didn't realize that she had since continued to make music with her husband Nathan Burke's band The Out_Circuit until they released their new album, which also features Beauty Pill's Chad Clark. This record is and isn't reminiscent of Beauty Pill, a little of the same pursuit of hypnotic grooves and weird shiny textures, but very much distinctly its own thing in other ways with the mood and the pacing of the album, I like it.

7. Derez De'Shon - Pain 2
I feel like even though "Hardaway" and "Fed Up" did well on the radio, Derez De'Shon kind of didn't get his due as one of Atlanta rap's breakthroughs of 2018. But his melodic flow is a little more in the Rich Homie Quan/YFN Lucci lineage, so there's at least kind of a historical symmetry to him being overshadowed by the guys more influenced by Young Thug. There's a Russ feature on here that sticks out like a sore thumb, but other than that Derez is in his element

8. Boosie Badazz - Savage Holidays
Savage Holidays is the second recent Boosie album which features him wearing a Santa hat on the cover. But it's a much more faithfully on-topic holiday album than 2016's Happy Thanksgiving And Merry Christmas, almost every song has a seasonal theme. "Savage Holidays" and "This Christmas" are great bleak Boosie songs that happen to be about the worst things that happen in the dead of winter, while there are broader tracks like "The Bitch Who Stole Christmas." It's probably the best Christmas album that came out in 2018, even if he had the bad timing to release it on December 27th.

9. 21 Savage - I Am > I Was
There was a time when there was a real material benefit to releasing albums between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when kids wanted CDs under the tree and the holiday retail surge helped all popular albums sell more. Now, I feel like big rap albums still come out in December out of force of habit even though the financial upside has more or less disappeared, so December was packed with albums by 21 Savage, Kodak Black, Gucci Mane, XXXTentacion, NBA YoungBoy and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie that probably should've come out a month or two earlier or later. I am, I admit, predisposed against the idea that 21 Savage has made a great album -- partly because he raps in a blank, bored monotone that others find menacing or something and I don't, and partly because his indifference to making albums extends to him just moving the hit on Issa to track 1 after it took off. But I Am > I Was is, I'll admit, about as good as anything I could expect from him. The move away from trap beats on a lot of the tracks feels like an obvious play for him to be taken more seriously, but I never thought he sounded as good on Metro Boomin tracks as other people thought he did, so I think he benefits from the variety, and he actually tries some different flows and puts across a less one-dimensional personality.

10. Brett Young - Ticket To L.A.
Two country singers with near-identical voices, Nashville native Mitchell Tenpenny and Orange County's Brett Young, released albums a week apart in December. I don't particularly like that voice in either's body, but where Tenpenny offsets his occasionally catchy songs with obnoxious fare like "Bitches" and "Drunk Me," there are no such missteps on Young's charming second album. The single "Here Tonight" is by far the highlight but I also like "Where You Want Me" and "1, 2, 3 Mississippi."

Worst Album of the Month: The-Dream - Menage a Trois: Sextape Vol. 1, 2, 3
Terius Nash's name still rings bells because a few of the biggest stars in the world still call him when they're making albums, and because he was one of the first artists that made it okay for hipsters to like R&B. But he hasn't really written many memorable songs, for himself or anyone else, since his hot streak nearly a decade ago. So a triple album from him at this point feels more like a data dump than an ambitious artistic statement, especially because in nearly 40 horny slow jams he never manages to stumble on so much as a "Sweat It Out." But I didn't find myself outright hating this tepid album until disc 3, when "Super Soaker" seemed to turn his domestic abuse allegations into a sex punchline.
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