February 2018 Album Round Up!

Wow, this month marks two years straight of Album Round Ups on this blog! Twenty four consecutive months of verbal diarrhea for the WordPress Porta Potty. What a milestone. Here is the very first one I ever did. It was totally on a whim at the time.

These Round Ups, as tedious as they can be to put together (hence my predictable procrastination every month), do help discipline me to keep up with the never-ending onslaught of new music that must intimidate even the most prolific blogger. This little ritual guarantees that I listen to about twenty albums a month, which affords me a wonderful array of choices come List Time and also plenty to write about on the RYANPANNYMUSIC EMAIL LIST (Sign up for that shit here! Do it!!)

February may have been a slightly quieter month on the music front, but your favorite narcissist still found plenty to rave/complain about. Below you’ll find all kinds of shit to either dive into or stay away from. Please don’t conflate the two.

Oh, and good luck with your March Madness brackets!

 Effected – Cozz

While the sophomore effort from this J. Cole protégé might have all the fundamentals in place – understated but effective beat selection, carefully crafted rhymes, and standout features from the likes of Curren$y, Kendrick Lamar, and Cole himself – Cozz has a certain dime-a-dozen genericism that I can’t shake. There have to be THOUSANDS of up-and-coming MCs that could make this exact record. Cozz is clearly a well-read student of the Hip-Hop game, but he’s yet to find that X factor that separates him. To be fair, the guy is only 24 years old, so he’s got plenty of time to develop his own identity. ‘Til then, I’ll bump this LP’s highlights (the money-over-bitches anthem “My Love”, the bitter ballad “Bout It”, and the grimy title cut) and wait and see if he delivers next time. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Man Of the Woods – Justin Timberlake

Much like Timberlake’s Halftime performance at the Super Bowl, his fourth solo album isn’t nearly as bad as everyone is saying – it’s just MEH. The LP is not without its moments – the Chris Stapleton collaboration “Say Something” is proving itself as a crossover success, and a great deep cut like “Higher Higher” serves as a reminder of how talented Timberlake is as a vocalist. Unfortunately, these high points are simply too far and in between. Listen to how a bland track like “Flannel” drags on. Or the campy lead single “Filthy”, which is Justin’s cheap attempt at a sex anthem with FutureSex/LoveSounds collaborators Timbaland and Danja. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Little Dark Age – MGMT

 Let’s get this out of the way: this album’s title track is one of the best songs of 2018. Those irresistible synths have kept me coming back on a near daily basis since its relesae. And I’m pleased to say that the band’s fourth record offers more than just a great title track. I thoroughly enjoy the morbidity of “When You Die”, as well as the dreamy “Tslamp”, the unapologetic synth-pop of “One Thing Left to Try”, and “Days That Got Away”, the LP’s lone instrumental. While I find myself cherry picking favorite tracks rather than enjoying it in fluid listens, I wouldn’t be surprised if Little Dark Age pops up on some mid-year album lists. RECOMMENDED

 How To Solve Our Human Problems, pt 3 EP – Belle & Sebastian

I am thoroughly embarrassed to admit that How To Solve Our Human Problems, Pt. 3 is my first experience with Indie-Poppers Belle and Sebastian (over 20 years into their career, may I add). I am astonished at what I’ve been missing. This five-track affair offers healthy doses of sugar-sweet melodies, from the folky “There Is an Everlasting Song” to the estrangement anthem “Too Many Tears”. And to top it all off, the band weave together male and female vocals like Fleetwood Mac in their prime. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Black Panther: The Album – Various Artists

This fucking movie did $786.3 million in its first week. And I’m one of the five people who refused to see it. Superhero movies just aren’t my thing, and I wasn’t gonna force it. But I AM glad I gave this soundtrack a listen. This diverse tracklist brings together bangers like the Mike Will Made-It-produced “King’s Dead” with more daring musical adventures like the weird Techno-Rap of “Opps” and the African-themed “Seasons”. Far from a cohesive listen, fans are likely to cherry pick their favorite moments, but Kendrick Lamar clearly got the right people involved for this high-profile affair. RECOMMENDED

Victory Lap – Nipsey Hussle

 Can you believe that Nipsey Hussle has been in the rap game for over THIRTEEN YEARS and is just finally putting out his debut album? I respect this dude’s work ethic– he’s built quite the buzz over the last decade with a remarkably consistent mixtape run, and if anyone deserves the big commercial full-length treatment, it’s Nipsey. Unfortunately, this LA spitter’s mixtape grind doesn’t completely translate in an album context While the G-Funk-flavored banger “Rap N****s” is one of my favorite Hip-Hop tracks of the year so far, and production-wise the chipmunk soul and juicy basslines behind “Blue Laces 2” are exemplary, there are also several lackluster lyrical moments, like the YG collab “Last Time that I Checc’d” (which was especially heartbreaking given my anticipation of it), as well as “Status Symbol” and “Succa Proof”, both of which are straight filler. But this record’s pure West Coast heart and Nipsey’s endless self-assurance make Victory Lap worth your while overall. RECOMMENDED.

Here Come the Runts – AWOLNATION

Thank you AWOLNATION for keeping Rock music interesting. It’s not gonna progress forward with corny, dreary-eyed “Radio Rock” acts like Three Days Grace continuing to sell out concerts, so it looks like the world of Alternative has to shoulder some of the burden. And Here Come the Runts does its part, albeit with mixed results (see the cringeworthy lyrical tirades of “Cannonball”). But I have to single out “Jealous Buffoon” as the single catchiest song of 2018 so far. Holy shit. Give it a listen! And the sweet Folk-Rock ditty “Handyman” is well worth your time too! RECOMMENDED

Future – Don Diablo

While I’ve enjoyed some of Diablo’s music in the past, this new record is absolute garbage. This thing is chalk full of super lightweight, cookie cutter Pop EDM. The “drops” in songs like “Put It On For Me” sound like this guy is shooting to be Justin Bieber’s backing track on the next endlessly irritating Top 40 hit. I wish he would at least roll back the vocal features a bit, ‘cause there are a bunch of instrumental sections on tracks like “Satellites” and “Reflections” that catch my attention, but sadly, they’re short lived and far and few in between. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Thunderbolt – Saxon

Cura – Keys N Krates

Crooked Shadows – Dashboard Confessional

The Play Don’t Care Who Makes It EP – 2 Chainz

Ultraviolet – 3LAU

Mark of the Necrogram – Necrophobic

 

DON’T LIKE:

Fake Friends – LAXX

Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life – The Wombats

Pop Evil – Pop Evil

Kyoto – Tyga

If There Is Light, It Will Find You – Senses Fail

December 2017 Album Round Up!

Happy New Year everyone! It’s 2018 and here I am a week and a half into the new year playing catch-up on everything that should’ve been finished before…well, whenever it was I blacked out on the night of the 31st.

The problem is, I was too busy pouring my heart and soul into year-end lists like this one and this one and this one, obsessing over every little detail and second-guessing every single candidate for hours and hours on end, to keep both eyes on the release calendar all December. So I definitely missed a few albums. But I do feel like I managed to hear all the important ones. For instance, it was absolutely CRUCIAL that I set aside enough time for both Eminem AND the Star Wars franchise to disappoint me on the same day (which happened to be my half-birthday, no less). Boy, that was fun.

But whether you’re a reader, a viewer, or just a serial angry commenter, thank you so much for your support in 2017! It means the world to me. I felt like the quality of my content grew exponentially this past year, and my goal for 2018 is to kick this shit up about ten notches! Which, that’ll mostly happen on my YouTube channel, so if you haven’t already, please subscribe and tune in every week!

But as long as I love to write, this blog lives on. And what the fuck is this blog without my monthly keyboard diarrhea about “disappointing new album” this and “corny overused descriptive adjective” that? Exactly. That’s what I thought.

So without further ado, the last Monthly Round Up of 2017!

Revival – Eminem

Annnnnnnd, after over a decade of remarkably inconsistent output, see-sawing constantly between unbearable nadirs and soaring highs, the day has finally arrived. The undeniable WORST release of Eminem’s legendary career. On the 44-year-old rapper’s eighth LP, everything falls apart. The production – whether it’s Rick Rubin’s appallingly lazy sampling of “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” on the song “Remind Me”, or it’s the syrupy Ed Sheeran collab “River” with its hideous Rock-ish bridge – shits the bed. And Eminem’s bars? They kind of shit the bed too, especially when he’s making horrible “shit” puns (“shit on my last chick/she has what my ex lacks”). On Revival, Eminem has so little sense about how to make his virtuosic rhymes sound musical. He’s like a malfunctioning “bar machine” that randomly generates intricate syllable combinations while ignoring the fact that there’s supposed to be “songs” going on here. Quite unfortunate to see one of my heroes take such a late-career nosedive. NOT RECOMMENDED

Kingdoms Disdained – Morbid Angel

 With the bar set impossibly low by the disastrous Industrial attempts on 2011’s Illud Divinum Insanus, these legendary Death Metallers could’ve put out pretty much anything and their fans would’ve gobbled it up, because hey, “at least it’s not that other one”. Enter Kingdoms Disdained, a suffocating, impenetrable, aggressively mediocre pummelfest that was welcomed with rave reviews. Well, from everyone expect me anyway. Even though I dug a couple tracks here and there, I found this LP to be swamped with filler and ultimately brought down by its completely one-dimensional brutality. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Pop 2 – Charli XCX

After my surprising love affair with her Number 1 Angel mixtape back in March, I was hoping for this feisty Brit to bring a second jolt of to the predictable Pop world before the year was up. But unfortunately, while Charli’s slightly brash approach to Pop music is still undeniably cutting edge, the punches didn’t land this time around for me. Whether it’s the flat hook on “Unlock It”, the mind-numbingly repetitive “I Got It”, or the underwhelming electro-tinged snoozefest that is the opener “Backseat” (yes, even with my girl Carly Rae on it!), I just couldn’t vibe with this project. Though I do enjoy the (cleverly titled) closing track “Track 10” and the EDM flair with which it crescendos toward the end, I’m gonna have to go against the overwhelmingly positive grain here and declare this one a no-go. Sawwy. NOT RECOMMENDED

From a Room: Volume 2 – Chris Stapleton

 In terms of raw singing talent, Chris Stapleton is, without any debate, one of the best in the Country business. But on From a Room: Volume 2 – Stapleton’s second release of 2017 – what makes him stand out even more is his range. From the folk-y minimalism of “Drunkard’s Prayer” to the loud Country Rock of “Hard Livin’” to the soulful balladry of “Nobody’s Lonely Tonight”, the man’s versatility makes this 32-minute record feel like 10 minutes that’s over all too soon (cue the easy jokes about my sex life). In a year where I put a ton of effort into acquiring a taste for Country music of all kinds, Chris Stapleton made the kind of songs that required no effort at all. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Pressure – Jeezy

 If you had told me in 2006 that 12 years later, (then “Young”) Jeezy would still be relevant, I would’ve laughed in your face. But here we are, and though Jeezy hasn’t been terribly concerned with evolving his sound, he’s still pumping out the kind of bangers that make me wish I gave this thing a proper review. Exhibit A: the triumphant, bravado-laced “Spyder”, with D. Rich’s hard-hitting production giving the LP an immediate lift. And later on, of course, “American Dream” is a huge moment, given that it finds Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole joining forces on the same beat (Cole in particular kills it), adding even more intrigue to that rumored collaborative project between the two of them. Oh, and there’s also “In a Major Way” where guest Payroll Giovanni is an absolute monster. Sure, Pressure is far from perfect – you’ve got the generic “Floor Seats”, you’ve got straight unjustifiable duds like “This Is It”, and you’ve got bars like “two bitches, double date/diamonds floatin’, levitate” dragging the record down- but Jeezy continues to remind us why we still care about him after a decade and a half.

Virtual Self EP – Virtual Self

As I gushed on this very blog a few months back, our first taste of Porter Robinson’s Virtual Self side project (why he feels compelled to trade in his own MONEY-PRINTING household name for a generic pseudonym here, I have no idea) was nothing short of rapturous. The song in question, “Eon Break”, had everything; it had drops like fireworks, it had these rapturous major key synth melodies vaulting it into the stratosphere…not to mention its explosive climax at the end, featuring frenetic drum programming that felt like a distant cousin of Metal music. Well, I am happy to report that Porter’s debut EP as Virtual Self lives up to the hype generated by its first single. There’s the futuristic Trance adventures of “Ghost Voices”, there’s the twitching glitches of the most unique track on here, “a.i.ngel (Become God)”, and there’s perhaps my personal favorite, the so-sugary-and-blissful-it’s-almost-too-much-but-it’s-actually-beautiful “Key”, the latter of which most adheres to the “Eon Break” blueprint. All reasons to go check this EP out immediately. C’mon, it’s 20 minutes! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

War & Leisure – Miguel

Another capital W for one of the de facto leaders of the R & B genre. While Miguel’s fourth album War & Leisure might’ve reeled me in with the Travis Scott-assisted lead single “Sky Walker” – I wrote about that HERE – it quickly proved to me that it had a lot more to offer. The blissful, tropical-tinged “Pineapple Skies”, the entrancing “Banana Clip”, the jazzy J. Cole collab “Come Through and Chill”…Miguel did it again. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

In Becoming a Ghost – The Faceless

 Kudos to The Faceless for continuing to push the boundaries of what Technical Death Metal can be. After half a decade, they’ve come roaring back with a fourth LP that manages to be their most dynamic yet. I’m still hesitant to call it their “best” – that honor remains with 2008’s genre-defining Planetary Duality – but masterful Metal compositions like the delightfully dissonant “Digging the Grave”, or “Cup of Mephistopheles” with its snake-like riffing, or the head-spinning closer “The Terminal Breath” certainly qualify In Becoming a Ghost as a must-listen. And I should mention it’s all brought together by Ken Bergeron’s raspy vocal performance – he is far and away the best frontman that this band has ever had. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Dedication – Chief Keef

Material Control – Glassjaw

Reflective Pt. 2 EP – Bassnectar

Songs of Experience – U2

Say Less – Roy Woods

DON’T LIKE:

Asking Alexandria – Asking Alexandria

The New Reality – Operation: Mindcrime

Double or Nothing – Big Sean & Metro Boomin’

Wednesday – Chris Webby

 

2017 Grammys Rundown: Who Won, Who Should’ve Won, and More Angry Thoughts

If you’re anything other than the most casual, Kool Aid-chugging Z100 listener, you’re probably aware that the Grammys suck massive amounts of dick a good amount of the time. I’m not going to get myself all worked up here with a Grammy Awards: Cluelessness and Disrespect 101 history lesson, but you get my point. (Side note: Sometimes I wonder if film buffs feel the same about the Oscars, but I’m as fair weather a moviegoer as they come, so if that’s the case, I’m part of the problem.)

Of course I love music too much to look away, and every year my morbid curiosity gets the best of me.Here’s a cathartic synopsis of some of my most primitive thoughts: the right decisions, the wrong decisions, and some additional commentary about the show itself. So I’ll begin with a dissection of the categories relevant to this blog, and end with a bunch of self-absorbed opinions. Enjoy!

Category: Album of the Year

Winner: 25 – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: Lemonade – Beyonce

Why: Ask Adele. She’ll tell you.

 

Category: Song of the Year

Winner: Hello – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: Hello – Adele

Why: Despite my personal distaste for it, “Hello” has been a ubiquitous radio monster for the last 18 months, and with its success we saw Adele reach an even higher echelon of stardom than on her tremendous 21 album cycle.

 

Category: Best New Artist

Winner: Chance The Rapper

Who Should’ve Won: Anderson .Paak

Why: Chance is not NEW you fucking idiots. Since Acid Rap dropped in 2013, he has been the de facto face of independent Hip-Hop and a massively influential force in the industry’s ever-evolving approach to music distribution. But hey, I guess when you’re half a decade behind, he IS new.

 

Category: Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

Winner: “Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots

Who Should’ve Won: “Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots

Why: So we could see one of the best acceptance speeches of all time.

 

Category: Best Pop Vocal Album

Winner: 25 – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande

Why: Beyonce may have had the artfulness and critically acclaim, but Ariana had the hits! Not just one or two, but a whole album full of them! Like it or not, Dangerous Woman is such a flawlessly executed Pop record that it’s still dominating airwaves EIGHT MONTHS after its release.

 

 Category: Best Pop Solo Performance

Winner: “Hello” – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: “Dangerous Woman” – Ariana Grande

Why: Far and away the better song! Plus, it was so cool to hear some bluesy guitars make it onto the charts.

 

 

Category: Best Rock Song

Winner: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Who Should’ve Won: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Why: Even though this is classic “better-late-than-never” posthumous appreciation from a clueless institution, “Blackstar” is an amazing song. Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch” gets a close second here.

 

 Category: Best Rock Performance

Winner: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Who Should’ve Won: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Why: What a joke that Bowie’s competition for best ROCK performance was a fucking Beyonce song and Disturbed’s Simon & Garfunkel cover. Fuck the Grammys.

 

 Category: Best Metal Performance

Winner: “Dystopia” – Megadeth

Who Should’ve Won: “Dystopia” – Megadeth

Why: Would’ve been happy with Megadeth, Baroness, or Gojira on this one. All three are favorites of mine! The Grammys are so historically clueless with Metal that you just hope the dice land in a reasonable place (i.e. NOT Motorhead winning for a Metallica cover, or Tenacious D beating out Slipknot, Mastodon, Motorhead, and Anthrax).

 

Category: Best Rock Album

Winner: Tell Me I’m Pretty – Cage the Elephant

Who Should’ve Won: Weezer – Weezer

Why: Weezer was a Top 5 Album for me last year. Cage…maybe in the top….300? Haha. Oh, and Gojira is not a “rock band” guys. The Grammys’ ignorance would almost be cute if it wasn’t so upsetting

 

Category: Best Urban Contemporary Album

Winner: Lemonade – Beyonce

Who Should’ve Won: Lemonade – Beyonce

Why:

 

Category: Best Rap Album

Winner: Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper

Who Should’ve Won: The Life of Pablo – Kanye West

Why: MASSIVE respect to Chance for his much deserved win! Couldn’t be happier for him. It’s a big moment in Grammys history since Coloring Book is a “free project” and all. I just preferred TLOP.

 

Category: Best Rap Performance

Winner: “No Problem” – Chance the Rapper

Who Should’ve Won: “No Problem” – Chance the Rapper

Why: One Summer ‘16’s most irresistible and inescapable bangers. Blows the other four nominees out of the water (let’s face it, the nominees themselves are the real issue a lot of the time).

 

Category: Best Rap song

Winner: “Hotline Bling” – Drake

Who Should’ve Won: “Famous” – Kanye West feat. Rihanna

Why: Drake did crush it with “Hotline Bling”. He really did. But it’s another in a long line of petty bitter ex-boyfriend-isms from Drizzy that glorify controlling, chauvinistic nonsense. So I guess I’ll go with the less concealed chauvinism on “Famous”.

 

Category: Best Rap/Sung Performance

Winner: “Hotline Bling” – Drake

Who Should’ve Won: “Hotline Bling” – Drake

Why: I HAVE to give him this. Much more appropriate in this category anyway ‘cause he’s barely even “rapping” on this track.

 

Some More Thoughts:

  • A Tribe Called Quest’s performance was one of the greatest moments in Grammy history. So powerful, so true to their legacy, and so NEEDED. Please watch it if you haven’t yet! They call Trump “President Agent Orange” on national television.
  • Say what you want about Adele beating out Beyonce, but to her credit, she did a HELLUVA better job being a white apologist than Macklemore did when he beat out Kendrick. I still cringe so hard when I think about that.
  • The Chainsmokers need to go away. I’m praying that they’re relevant by the 2018 show. Unfortunately I’m an Atheist, so Closer 3.0 and Closer 4.0 might be up for some awards next year (Closer 2.0 is “Paris”, in case you’re wondering).
  • Twenty One Pilots gave one of the most memorable, touching acceptance speeches I’ve ever seen. Though I’m beginning to grow out of their music, I’m so happy for those guys and all their much deserved success.
  •  Putting aside the two things that everybody was upset about – James Hetfield’s mic being turned off and the tranny forgetting to mention Metallica’s name when he/she introduced them – the Metallica/Lady GaGa collaboration was fucking wack. Having been not only a fan of GaGa, but aware of her unabashed Metal fandom for quite some, I had high hopes, but it was as awkward and forced as an Anakin/Padme love scene in Attack of the Clones. Bummed me the hell out.
  • Lastly, to all you Metalheads getting your studs and leather in a wad over this shit – the Grammys have NEVER showed one iota of respect towards the genre. This is not new. You can get as pissed as you want, but what you should really do is focus your attention on bigging up the true METAL awards shows hosted by REAL members of the faithful like Revolver and Metal Hammer. Let’s put our energy into making these awards shows a cornerstone of the genre! Forget the Grammys. In Metal, when you’re not invited to the party, you start your own.

 

 

 

December 2016 Album Round Up!

I don’t care what anyone says – the last month of 2016 belonged to Hip-Hop. In the 11 months prior, every other genre had seemingly said all they had to say, but a legion of brilliant MCs, beat makers, and (hopefully not too many) ghostwriters were just getting started.

I.E. The hare that was the rest of the music biz had all but settled in for 2017, and Hip-Hop was the ultimate tortoise. And for me, this is not even COUNTING the surprise Christmas Eve release of the highly anticipated Run The Jewels 3 album – I can wait ‘til the official date in January for that (I think).

And I’m glad that I didn’t have a crazy influx of new music to deal with, ‘cause I was so God damn busy with my year-end lists that it would’ve been too much to handle anyway. I needed to debate Frank Ocean vs. Beyonce for hours on end in peace.

Anyway, I’m beyond psyched to see what 2017 has in store for us (anticipated albums coming next!), and I’m gonna enjoy turning my eye toward the future once again, ‘cause List Season is all about the retrospective. But before I turn forward, here’s one more look back – eight albums that I was bumping in between year-end list work:

Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin’ – Kid Cudi

Hands down the best Kid Cudi project since 2010’s Man on the Moon 2: The Legend of Mr. Rager. If you’re a longtime Cudi fan, I bet you’re LOVING this. Unfortunately, there are a couple things holding me back from an overall positive verdict. A) this thing is an incredibly bloated 86 minutes – Frustratingly, a lot of said 86 minutes consists of Cudi ruining otherwise great tracks by dragging them out for unnecessary lengths. B) it’s excessively mopey at times – and “mopey” as in minus the self-destructive charisma of the “moping” on his first two records. But FUCK ME if there isn’t a killer album in here somewhere! Getting some dope, vibed-out production from the likes of Dot da Genius, Plain Pat, and Pharrell definitely helped – I love the spacey beats on tracks like “ILLusions”,”Swim in the Light”, and the Travis Scott-assisted lead single “Baptized in Fire”. And “By Design” is one of the top 5 tracks of Cudi’s entire career. I swear, one of these days this guy’s gonna drop a FIRE project front to back. I can feel it. But not this one. NOT RECOMMENDED

4 Your Eyez Only – J. Cole

I fucking hate J. Cole’s fans. J. Cole’s fans ruined (the stuff I did like by) J. Cole for me. They tried to act like JUST because there was a loose concept to this album – Cole’s fourth – anybody who didn’t like it must feel that way ‘cause it’s “over their head” and they’re JUST NOT SMART ENOUGH. What a crock of shit. 4 Your Eyez Only does have a cool (easy to follow!) storyline, and it has a few phenomenal tracks like “Neighbors” and the tear-jerking title track, but it has a major momentum problem. Too much mopey crooning, too much underwhelming lyricism, and an abomination called “Foldin’ Clothes”. However, I did enjoy the strong cuts enough to grant it a 6/10. But no, dickriders, it’s not a “classic”. FOH with that. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Awaken, My Love! – Childish Gambino

Donald Glover is CRUSHING it right now. The other night, his critically acclaimed TV series Atlanta got hella more critically acclaimed when it took home a pair of Golden Globes; he’s playing Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Star Wars film; AND he dropped Awaken, My Love! – this total stylistic left turn of a record – out of nowhere. DAMN. If you haven’t heard the LP yet, Glover abandoned rapping altogether and hopped in a time machine back to the mid-70s for some George Clinton-inspired funk and soul jams. I’d be full of shit if I said I was well-versed in this genre of music, but I would not be full of shit if I said I enjoyed what I heard, and that I’m continually impressed with Glover’s versatility. RECOMMENDED

Not the Actual Events EP – Nine Inch Nails

With this quick little Christmastime EP, these Industrial Rock legends have finally crawled out of their three-year cave to (hopefully) give us a taste of what they have in store for us on their highly anticipated ninth full-length. In other words, they’re lubricating their audience (pause). A good chunk of what’s on here is classic Nine Inch Nails though. Exhibit A: the electronic grooves on highlight “Dear World” that are nearly danceable but still ominous and foreboding. I’m especially into the track “The Idea of You”, which has these off-kilter machine gun rhythms that are addicting as hell. Ultimately, it’s all just a teaser though, like the full theater trailer for a summer blockbuster. But this thing has me excited for a new Nine Inch Nails studio album (fingers crossed) this year. RECOMMENDED

White Friday (CM9) – Yo Gotti

While every other music nerd spent Christmas Eve freaking out about the Run the Jewels surprise release, I was bumping this mixtape, lured by the explosive single “Power of Money”. Gotti continues to impress me. He’s clearly a street rapper, but there’s a certain elegance to him – he spits with the self-assurance of an OG with nothing to prove, but with the hunger of an MC half his age. He also gets surprisingly sentimental on the closing track “What Happened”, which is dedicated to his friend and manager Mel Carter, who passed away a few weeks before this tape came out. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 Don’t Smoke Rock – Smoke DZA & Pete Rock

 Harlem MC Smoke DZA teamed up with one of the greatest Hip-Hop producers of all time for a beautifully old school Hip-Hop record, one rooted purely in the ‘90s. Don’t Smoke Rock was so up my alley, it almost feels like it was made specifically for me. I’m giving the top 3 features to Jadakiss, Royce da 5’9, and Big K.R.I.T – they all crushed it. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Darkness and Light – John Legend

So this is the first time I’ve given a full John Legend project a shot. Maybe this style of (mostly) lethargic R & B just isn’t my cup of tea, but these 45 minutes elicited more yawns than anything else. That’s not to say the LP is without its undeniable high points: the funky Chance the Rapper collaboration “Penthouse Floor” is awesome – Chance’s verse on that one, much like himself, is quirky, fun, and imaginative – but my personal favorite is the sensual “Temporarily Painless”. It’s one of my favorite songs right now. It’s SO.DAMN.SEXY, between its dreamy production and Legend’s airtight songwriting – I just can’t get enough. Overall, Darkness and Light is a decent listen for a rainy day, but I’ve found myself coming back to a few select tracks rather than the whole LP. NOT RECOMMENDED

Filthy America…It’s Beautiful – The Lox

No, this hugely anticipated comeback record did not meet my extremely overinflated expectations. The Lox’s 1998 debut Money, Power, & Respect was one of my Hip-Hop bibles growing up, and Jadakiss was always a favorite of mine. Unfortunately, the issue with Filthy America seems to be an identity crisis. This LP doesn’t know whether it wants to be traditionalist (the Premo-produced “Move Forward”) or fit in with the young’ns (the generic trap turn-up of “Secure the Bag”). So it winds up being a disjointed listen. Aside from one gem – the menacing Mobb Deep collab “Hard Life” – I think I’ll stick with Money, Power, & Respect. NOT RECOMMENDED