August 2019 Album Round Up!

What’s up guys! Another month, another Album Round Up. And August was absolutely ACTION-PACKED! Below is a quick run-through of all the records I checked out this month:

Illenium – Ascend: Quite disappointed with album number three from this EDM wunderkind. While I enjoyed its predecessor Awake quite a bit in 2017, Ascend finds Illenium leaning full-on into the bland, bubblegum Top 40 Dance/Pop hybrids that he only winked and nodded at previously. He seems to be going the way of Kygo. But to be fair, you knew it was doomed when a Chainsmokers collaboration was involved. What a shame. Notable tracks I enjoy in spite of this continued distillation of his sound are “Hold On”, “Crashing”, and “Every Piece of Me”. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Joell Ortiz- Monday: As I explained here in detail, the veteran Brooklyn spitter and former Slaughterhouse member continues to distinguish himself from the pack on Monday, which arrives only 10 months after Ortiz’s excellent Mona Lisa project with Apollo Brown. Rich in lyricism, narrative, and introspection, Hip-Hop fans won’t want to miss this one. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Killswitch Engage – Atonement: To my dismay as a longtime KSE fan, album number three in the Jesse Leach Era 2.0 is shockingly middling. The majority of this short track list is lyrically repetitive, musically derivative, and contains no sense of exploration outside of its Killswitch-by-the-numbers songwriting formula. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Rick Ross – Port of Miami 2: While 2017’s exceptional Rather You Than Me put Rick Ross in my good graces with several years of leeway, I found Port of Miami 2 to be a slight step backwards. While you have certified bangers like the intro track “Act a Fool”, a familiarly luxurious cut like “Vegas Residency”, and even the jazz-tinged “Running the Streets”, the  hooks are in short supply here. “Big Tyme”, “Maybach Music VI”, and “Rich N*gga Lifestyle” – all of which utilize somewhat forced-sounding guest appearances to achieve their ends – exemplify this. But still a solid release from Ross, who continues to impress me as an MC. RECOMMENDED.

Sleater-Kinney – The Center Won’t Hold: One of 2019’s greatest blessings for me has been getting into Sleater-Kinney. I’m utterly addicted to the sass of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker. The Center Won’t Hold is certainly much sleeker and more polished than the band’s raw mid-90s material (which I tend to prefer) but “Can I Go On”, “Hurry On Home”, and “The Future Is Here” have all been in steady rotation for me since this came out. RECOMMENDED.

Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind: With the notable exception of Tool-mania,  I’m not sure a Metal release in 2019 has landed with quite the splash that this one did. While We Are Not Your Kind winds up somewhere in the middle ranks of Slipknot’s catalogue (which speaks more to this band’s accumulated artistic achievements thus far than anything else), I’m so thrilled by the combination of forward-thinking 2019 Slipknot (“Spiders”, “My Pain”, “Nero Forte”) and vintage early-2000s Slipknot (“Red Flag”, “Critical Darling”, “Orphan”) that makes this track list so well-rounded. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED.

Taylor Swift – Lover: Um, I actually like this. This is my favorite Taylor Swift album thus far, and for me to admit that must mean that the “Swifties” are going absolutely insane over it. The defiant feminist anthem “The Man”, the break-up ballad “Death By a Thousand Cuts”, the slightly mawkish but enjoyable title track, the tender Dixie Chicks collaboration “Soon You’ll Get Better”, the carefree “Paper Rings”…I could go on and on. Sure, I’ve got plenty of gripes about it too, but Lover is a well-thought out and very well-executed Pop juggernaut. RECOMMENDED.

Young Thug – So Much Fun: Quite the misleading title, Thugger. A sprawling 19-song track list with a few great moments here and there (“The London”, “Hot”, “Jumped Out the Window”) is the opposite of fun. I guess So Much Arduousness wasn’t as snappy. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Like:

Brockhampton – Ginger

Carnifex – World War X

Clairo – Immunity

Common – Let Love

Drake – Care Package

Knocked Loose – A Different Shade of Blue

Lana Del Rey – Norman F*cking Rockwell

Tool – Fear Inoculum

 

Dislike:

A$AP Ferg – Floor Seats

Trippie Redd – !

Ugly God – Bumps and Bruises

Vic Mensa & 93PUNX – 93PUNX

Volbeat – Rewind, Replay, Rebound

Care Package is Way Better Than Drake’s REAL Albums

This past Friday, Aubrey Drake Graham dropped the clumsily titled Care Package, a collection of old b-sides, rarities, and unofficial singles that nobody asked for but everyone’s listening to. It’s set to debut at number one on the Billboard Charts this week.

Being the retrospective project that it is, Care Package reminds us of several things we might have forgotten. It reminds us that “Johnny Football” was once a thing (see: “Draft Day”). It reminds us that J. Cole once apologized for saying “retarded” in jest (see: “Jodeci Freestyle”). But here’s the one big fat reminder that Care Package serves up: Drake can’t make albums like he makes songs.

As a loose collection, the Care Package track-list arguably flows better than Drake’s last three albums (or FOUR, if God forbid you wanna separate Scorpion into two). It’s more lyrically proficient than Nothing Was the Same, it’s less narcissistic than Scorpion, and as for Views…well, there’s certainly less Dancehall pandering.

I love the lyrical toughness of tracks like “Dreams Money Can Buy”. I love the introspection of “4PM in Calabasas”. I love the biting bitterness of “How Bout Now”. I love hearing Drake trade bars with J. Cole on “Jodeci Freestyle” and Rick Ross on “Free Spirit”, and find myself wishing his real albums were more feature-friendly.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is by no means a wholesale endorsement of this project. Some cuts, like the plodding “My Side”, are flat-out terrible. And there are more than a couple of reminders on Care Package  that no matter what era we’re talking about, Singing Drizzy is never as good as Rapping Drizzy. Ever.

I’m merely pointing out the glaring contrast between the invigorated Drake on these b-sides who’s just, to quote his lyrics, “do(ing) it just to do it like it’s nothing”, and the tiresome insular self-obsession of Drake’s last few LPs. This guy has so much raw talent, but when he goes to put an ALBUM together, it’s like he’s trying too hard. Don’t believe me? It took him branding something a mixtape (If You’re Reading This) for it to garner deserved critical acclaim.

We’ll forever remember Drake for his great songs, of which there are many. If only he’d stop overthinking his albums, maybe we’ll have a chance to remember him for those too.