A year ago I resolved to listen to one album a week for 52 weeks. Now we’re at the end of that goal and I’m glad to say I met it successfully. Here’s a quick wrap-up for what I listened to this month. I’ll write a retrospective piece on the whole thing in a few days.
The Microphones – The Glow, Pt. 2
I’m surprised how a few small differences in musical choices will decide if I hate something or love it. On paper, I probably shouldn’t have liked The Microphones. An acoustic-focused band with a vocalist who sounds barely inspired to be alive. But the album kicks off with a killer opening track so it got my attention. The mellow tone with an effective use of sound effects created an atmosphere that I liked. They kept it up for the first few tracks but sadly the album becomes irrelevant around track six (out of 20).
Heavily favoring one to two minute sample songs for the majority of the album, it takes a tragic turn when for some reason they decide to get into LOUD MUSIC! Songs like Samurai Sword or I Want TO Be Cold are balls to the wall trashing. The singer’s delicate vocals don’t transform with this change so you get really bizarre sound where an oppressively distorted bass and guitar trash your ear drums while a puny sounding lyric is muddled on top. There aren’t a lot of songs on the album that sound like this, which makes it even more bizarre that there are any at all.
When the album hits, it’s some good stuff. But the portion of good to bad isn’t very favorable.
Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
I don’t like Donald Glover. Even if I get over my irrational hatred for him because I constantly confuse him with Danny Glover (including the first draft of this paragraph), I’ve never gotten into his style. I don’t think his stand-up is funny, I don’t think the shows he wrote for were any good (30 Rock, Community), I also did not like his foray into rap with Camp and Because the Internet.
But the praise for Awaken, My Love has been so hyperbolic, including claims that Glover is a modern day genius, I thought surely there must be something that I can enjoy. And there is.
This is a huge departure from Glover’s previous music projects. The sound of this album is closer to soul or funk then rap. As listenable as the whole thing is, it’s not quite there. The first track Me and Your Mama is an intense opener that peaks and valleys through all the exciting emotions you’d want to feel. It’s probably the best first impression I’ve had for an album this year, but it nose dives afterward. Two “spooky” tracks about zombies and the boogieman reset your expectations for what this album is supposed to be. Then other songs like Terrified, Riot and Stand Tall have all the right elements but don’t quite hit it. The last track especially feels like four drafts of the same song placed one after another rather than a cohesive idea.
As much as I’ll admit to listening to Me and Your Mama, Redbone and Baby Boy all day, this album could have easily been much better. Hopefully Glover’s dedication to the musical field means he’ll give it a second crack.
J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only
I’ll make a confession: I’ve never heard a J. Cole song in my life. Apparently I’m not alone in that due to his commitment to avoiding feature tracks. Unless you’re seeking out his music specifically, you’re not going to run into him.
Luckily, Cole’s musical style is approachable and right up my alley. Preferring laidback melodies and literal lyrics, he’s an easy artist to understand. Some rappers focus on clever word play or metaphors to get across their point, but Cole just says what he’s thinking. I ended up having some mixed feelings about the simplicity of his lyrics, sometimes they come across as corny. At the same time, it was easy to tell immediately what he was going for and I appreciated that.
4 Your Eyez Only is a personal album, packaged up as a letter to Cole’s daughter in the event he’s taken by the issues that face black males in America (incarceration or death). The framing of the album differentiates it from other artists who tackle the same subjects but might have a more view they feel compelled to push. Cole is talking about his own concerns with what faces him in his actual life. Whether that’s frustration over his friends and family demanding change without looking at what they can change in themselves or being persecuted as a drug dealer for living in a white neighborhood.
It’s a short album, with two lengthy songs dedicated to the same concept, so I found myself more disappointed that it ended so quickly rather than compelled to nitpick any of the songs. I probably could’ve done without Foldin Clothes or added a bit more to Neighbors, but in general it’s a solid album, if easily digestible.
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3
Run the Jewels has been a joy to discover and see them explode in popularity over the past three years. I wasn’t a huge fan of RTJ2, but at least they tried some new things. Each of those albums have a distinct sound that differentiate them from each other.
RTJ3 is in an odd place between their second and first attempt. It’s obvious that the Killer Mike and El-P can work together and create some amazingly funny and catchy tracks, but the trend toward quality may finally be wavering.
My favorite tracks from the album touch on El-P’s quality production work mixed with Killer Mike’s lyrical dominance. Legend Has It, Call Tickertron and Oh Mama have the one-two punch of unique melodies and memorable lines. El-P somehow manages to say “Notice me, senpai” in a song without sounding like a total idiot.
I might still need some time to process this album, but for now it’s an average effort.
We’re done! Look for a retrospective on this whole process soon.