Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

9 May

Dirty Computer is quite a shift to the left from an already innovative artist. It takes Janelle Monáe out of her comfort zone as the Archandroid Cindi Mayweather and back into her own skin. Electric Lady already set something of the direction of this album, but committing to it fully was a brave move for Janelle Monáe and one that has worked extremely well.

It’s a perennial shame that Janelle Monáe’s music doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Her genre-bending sound is unquestionably unique, but despite “Yoga” briefly flirting with crossover appeal before Jidenna truly broke out for himself with “Classic Man” and a quick cameo on the summer hit “We Are Young” with fun. she has yet to find an audience of the size that her music deserves. Now however, after a successful sojourn in acting and possibly the friendliest of her albums, she seems poised to correct that circumstance.

This may be a little more approachable than her Cindi Mayweather trilogy, but the musical ability is still undeniable. Her range of talent is still shocking four albums into her career. The ability to switch from full-bodied pop to a light rap and back adds a delicious variety to the sound. Her switch over the bass is the best part of the already great “Crazy, Classic, Life.”

Additionally, she’s delved deeper into the funk of Prince, who sadly died while mentoring this exact album and the dirtiness and sexiness that results is absolutely excellent. “Make Me Feel” is exactly the kind of music that Prince would have made were he still alive and the up-beat pop of “Screwed” is much better for the funk running through it.

In fact, there is very little in the form of exceptions to the high standard of music here. The singles in particular are all fantastic. “Pynk” is very clever pop that takes the completely unexpected and makes it feel natural and similarly the sheer musical scope of “Django Jane” is impressive. I simply love the storytelling of “I Like That” and its beautiful chorus.

Her soft politics are a welcome addition to the album. The messages of inclusivity gain a lot of weight due to Janelle Monáe herself and the stakes she brings to the table. Lines like “I am not America’s nightmare, I am the American dream” are all the right kinds of assertive. While there is nothing particularly groundbreaking in what she has to say, given the rest of politics and music right now, I’m not going to complain.

The one complaint that I do have about this album though is just in the lack of an absolute stand-out song like “Many Moons” or “Dance or Die.” Her voice is a little more restrained than in her early albums and I also miss the big brass of before. However, were it not for the strength of her previous albums, this would be a deeply unfair criticism.

This is an excellent album and well worth your time. Seeing Janelle Monáe quite so confident is inspiring and I’m really excited to see what comes next in this new phase of her career.

@murthynikhil

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J. Cole – KOD

24 Apr

Look, I just don’t get why J. Cole is as big as he is. I thought that both 2014 Forest Hills Drive and 4 Your Eyez Only were mediocre albums and I think the same of KOD.

There are a couple of good songs here. I actually like “KOD” iteslf and I like “ATM.” I find his philosophizing sophomoric though and I consider his rapping average. KOD is an okay album, but given the amount of amazing rap available now, I see no reason to spend much time on it.

@murthynikhil

Ghostpoet – Dark Days + Canapés

22 Apr

I love Ghostpoet and I love that he’s consistently been doing his own thing all the way back to Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam. His flavor of quiet, understated rap is unique to him. There is no other rapper quite so sincere and human, no one so willing to lower the stakes and create comfort and intimacy. I want what happened for grime to happen for him, I want him to take the next step like Stormzy and break out, but this is not going to be the album to do that.

It unfortunately just does not have a track as fascinating as his earlier “Meltdown” or “Cash And Carry Me Home.” “Freakshow” had the potential to be something, but needed a little bit more to really stand out. His music has a slight tendency to fall into repetition, which is essential to the experience, but would still benefit from a few more subthemes.

Nevertheless, Dark Days + Canapés is another solid entry in a deeply underserved genre. If you haven’t tried Ghostpoet yet, I would actually recommend Some Say I So I Say Light instead as a starting point, but if you have, I’m sure you’re listening to this already.

@murthynikhil

The Weeknd – My Dear Melancholy,

17 Apr

This EP is the only way I was ever going to learn that The Weeknd was dating Selena Gomez, let alone that they had broken up. I was quite surprised by that. I was much more surprised when it turned to be Abel who ended up, and I quote, “catching feelings.”

Unfortunately, the music doesn’t manage quite the same amount of surprise. My Dear Melancholy, returns to the sound he pioneered with his Trilogy, but lacks the raw strength of that work and naturally carries none of the same novelty five years after his debut. The Weeknd’s sound changed for the more commercial after the breakout success of “Love Me Harder” and it can’t fully shake that off in this return to his original sound. The sense of danger is, seemingly irrevocably, gone.

It is, nevertheless, a solid 20 minutes of music. Abel’s voice remains as haunting as ever and the production is both sunken and mildly threatening, but in a way that you can dance to. It’s not Trilogy though, although it’s the album that tries most to be since Kiss Land, and it’s still likely the closest you’re going to get this year.

@murthynikhil

Soccer Mommy – Clean

9 Apr

A sub-genre that I really cannot get enough of is the whip-smart, deeply cynical, very feminine indie rock of bands like Speedy Ortiz and Mitski and Girlpool. The debut album from Soccer Mommy is all of that, for sure, but it’s also very much her own.

“Your Dog” is an early contender for song of the year for me and a good place to start my praise of this album. The song is dark and personal and the video is honestly disturbing, but what I like the most from this is how stripped down it feels. Indie rock is at its best when there’s nothing extraneous and this song drills right down to what it means to say. The line “Forehead kisses break my knees and / Leave me crawling back to you” is both evocative and delivered beautifully.

Similarly, I love the slow, understated burn of “Scorpio Rising”. It is glorious storytelling in Autumnal colors. The quiet yearning of “Wildflowers” is simply poetic and the fuzziness as the song fades in and out of comprehensibility says things that the words could not have.

For all of the highlights, and there are quite a few more than those above, there is still a bit too much that’s forgettable than would be ideal. Nevertheless, it’s a clever, personal indie rock album and “Your Dog” is a stellar piece of work. Clean is well worth the listen.

@murthynikhil

Kendrick Lamar – Black Panther: The Album

16 Mar

Black Panther was both an excellent movie and a cultural milestone. The album doesn’t quite hold up to that standard on either axis or the standard that Kendrick has gotten us accustomed to, but there is still space below all those bars for it to be quite good.

First of all, the singles all do well. “All The Stars” is just a great Kendrick joint and SZA absolutely kills both the chorus and her own verse. The Weeknd is in his comfort zone with “Pray For Me” and while Kendrick’s verse doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the song, it’s still just very good. “King’s Dead” has a solid Jay Rock verse, some stellar work from Future and the memorable “Miss me with that bullshit” from Kendrick.

Additionally, a couple of the other songs punch well above their weight. SOB x RBE burn down their song and Yugen Blakrok simply overwhelms the rest of “Opps” until it there’s nothing else left. The rest of the album is unfortunately forgettable however. There are moments, but not enough to save it from a slight blandness. There are no actual misses here. There’s nothing so poor as to hurt. The album as a whole does feel a little deadened due to all the cotton wool packed in it though.

The entire album runs the afro-futurism of the movie quite well however. There are a lot of explicit call-outs to Wakanda, Killmonger and the Black Panther himself, but more importantly, the beats themselves strongly reinforce the theme. Hearing sounds like this from a confirmed A-lister like Kendrick in the context of an album of the magnitude of this one is both novel and important. Also, it’s just good music.

@murthynikhil

Migos – Culture 2

1 Mar

Where their previous album was a statement of intent, Culture 2 is a victory lap. Trap is the biggest thing going around and Migos are bona-fide superstars as a result. Like an actual victory lap, this album is rather more relaxed than the run that it took to get here. There’s maybe a little too much playing to the crowd, a little too much space for friends to jump in and just a little too much self-indulgence. Still, a victory lap is not meant to break world records, it’s just a moment to celebrate with the winners and why would I begrudge them that?

Also, this album is of strikingly consistent quality despite the length. The singles definitely stand out with the Kanye-produced “BBO (Bad Bitches Only)” and Pharell-produced “Stir Fry” as particularly memorable. Similarly, the chant in “Auto Pilot” is insistent. However, the album as a whole is just good, muscular rap. A couple of songs are forgettable, and the guest spots mostly feel unrealized, but there’s not a single song in the album that breaks the flow and most of them will drag you deeper in.

It’s worth going over again just how good most of the music in this is. I just happen to have “Movin’ Too Fast” on and the drowned beat in it is just excellent. Offset flows so smoothly for the first half and is then broken cleanly by the gravel in Takeoff’s verse which goes back to Offset before Quavo’s yelps put an almost-jarringly new spin on the song.

It jumps quickly from radio-ready to experimental and back again. The result is definitely a little inchoate, but the quality is steady across both types. It’s a slightly messy album and the ideas come fast and hard, but I don’t want a Migos album built under a waterfall in the first place. While Culture 2 lacks the focus of their previous album, and with that some of the quality, it’s still a lot of fun to listen to, all 105 minutes of it.

@murthynikhil

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