Monthly Report: November 2013 Albums

1. Yo Gotti - I Am
I've never expected much out of Yo Gotti, and in some ways that makes really workmanlike, effective major label rap albums like this easier to enjoy, there's no lofty standard to live up to. "Act Right" is already a classic to me and "I Know" and "King Shit" and "F-U" all knock, even the lighter tracks like the one with Wale and Ne-Yo that my homie Kenton Dunson co-produced work well within the context of the album.

2. Vinny Vegas - The Big White Whale
For the sake of completism, I catch up and do all of these monthly lists after I do the big year-end lists, which makes it a little awkward to write about these albums again after they were already in my top 50 albums of 2013. In any event, another chance to say a word for Vinny Vegas -- 6 years ago I was hanging out in the back of a short-lived venue in Baltimore interviewing the owner, not really knowing anything of the bands that happened to be playing that night, and was really bowled over by the singer of one of the bands. I eventually asked that singer, Scott Siskind of Vinny Vegas, to sing on a couple of Western Blot songs, one of which has already been released. But his band only just recently released their first full-length, and it's really impressive, ambitious stuff, they write these really huge-sounding piano-driven prog ballads, and again Scott's voice is just incredible so that's a big part of the appeal for me.

3. Da Mafia 6ix - 6ix Commandments
It's really a shame to be writing about this awesome comeback mixtape from most of the classic Three 6 Mafia lineup right after the death of Lord Infamous, but it's at least cool that he got to be heard on one last high profile project. I have to admit, I enjoy the pop spin on the HCP sound of Juicy J's album to this, and DJ Paul's Scale-A-Ton album a few years ago is more consistent at this particular style, but it's still great to hear Gangsta Boo and everybody just ripping it again.

4. Reverend Dollars - Arson EP
Rev is one of my internet homies, I also posted about his previous EP here, and this one is even better. He's from Seattle but he really gets Baltimore club and other intersections of rap and dance music (there's even some shards of "Bring In The Katz" in the opening track, "Noise Joint"). And not in a cheesy 'trap EDM' way, this stuff is really sharp and well considered, all these different samples and signifiers being combined into something that's actually uptempo and has a lot of forward momentum.

5. Lady Gaga - ARTPOP
I was a pretty fan of Born This Way, so I was pretty optimistic about Gaga making another great album, at least until "Applause" dropped and immediately lowered my expectations. Then "Do What U Want" got me hyped all over again, and the album ended up somewhere in between. Stuff like the Sun Ra nod on "Venus" and guest spots by Twista and Too $hort work really hard to make this the kind of album I'd love, but there are a whole lot of annoying strident anthems that don't quite land bringing down the album's hit rate. I'd be happy if "Sexxx Dreams" or "Gypsy" or "Fashion!" was a single, though.

6. One Direction - Midnight Memories
I always liked how "What Makes You Beautiful" was basically a power pop song, but it's a little surprising the degree to which One Direction seem to be deliberately courting some kind of classic guitar pop pedigree, between doing a charity single medley of a Blondie song and "Teenage Kicks," and this album which had a lead single that sounds like "Baba O'Riley," an acoustic follow-up single, and a title track that sounds like "Pour Some Sugar On Me." And then there's "Little Black Dress," which has gotten some deserved critical hype for being one of the most unexpected great rock songs of 2013 (although I may actually prefer Sara Bareilles's "Little Black Dress").

7. Rich Homie Quan - I Promise I Will Never Stop Going In
I won't compare him to you-know-who because I pretty much accept that they've got a good amount of differences as vocalists and as rappers and that the similarity is increasingly superficial and based as much on them being from the same area and having the same accent as anything else. Still, it's hard for me to really look at Quan as more than someone with a couple hot songs -- the first few tracks are a little rough, especially when "I Fuck Wit You Girl" (as in "I fuck wit you like a middle finger") shows how lousy he is at doing a lighter romantic kind of track. The back half is stronger, though, and I'm glad they threw on "Party" as a bonus track, it's been really growing on me, hope that's a big radio single soon.

8. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Miami Pop Festival
I'm enough of a Hendrix fanatic that I still tend to check out whatever unessential posthumous release still comes down the pike every year or two, and as recently as March the People, Hells And Angels studio outtakes collection underwhelmed me. But the Experience are one of my all-time favorite bands, and it's always good to hear a well-recorded set of them tearing it up. This is from May 1968, by which point most of Electric Ladyland had already been recorded, but it's a festival set full of Are You Experienced? hits, not even anything from Axis. Just sounds fantastic, though, I worship Mitch Mitchell.

9. The Entrance Band - Face The Sun
I saw The Entrance Band open for Sonic Youth a few years ago and enjoyed the album that dropped around that time enough to check this one out. Its hooks aren't immediate, and I feel like the lead singer's shortcomings as a vocalist are a little more evident, but they have a good guitar sound, some good production.

10. Omarion - Care Package 2
You'd think if any rap label would be well equipped to launch an R&B star, or relaunch a pretty established star's career, it'd be the home of Rick Ross and Wale, and 'Maybach O' has had some good singles with MMG, but for some reason nothing has really popped off. These little mixtape/EP things he's been releasing are nice, though, lot of it feels very 'of the moment' trendy R&B but there's odd stuff like "Too Much" that feels genuinely personal or even experimental for him. The version of "Know You Better" on here has my nemesis Nipsey Hussle on it but the single version with Fabolous is much better.

Worst Album of the Month: Jhene Aiko - Sail Out EP
I could make fun of her B2K origins, but hey, Omarion is making some decent modern R&B right now. This girl, though, shit, she's got more whisper songs than the Ying Yang Twins. It's like if Hilary Duff made a coked out R&B record.
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