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Kendrick Lamar – DAMN

26 May

At this point, it almost feels like a foregone conclusion that a new Kendrick album will be Album of the Year. The only real question is whether it is another classic. Personally, I don’t think DAMN is quite that strong. Kendrick Lamar has set an impossibly high bar for himself, and I think this is the album that finally fails to hurdle it. I’d be shocked if it there’s another album this year to touch it though.

There are so many strong parts to this album. I love the flow and the submerged beat of “FEEL.” “LOYALTY.” features an excellent Rihanna. The more rap that we get from her, the happier I will be. “FEAR.” is genuine in a way most confessionals aren’t. It’s eye-opening to hear Kendrick’s mother on the verse and to hear him speak about still being worried about money. His storytelling is still the best in the game. Also, these videos are the best of his career. TDE is doing really amazing work right now.

However, there are just more weak points to this album than to its predecessors. “YAH” is honestly weak, despite giving us the excellent nickname of Kung Fu Kenny and while the harmonizing of “LOVE” is interesting, it’s just not that good a song. Every Kendrick album has weak points, but this is the first one that seems to lack a purpose and so these faults feel exaggerrated. GKMC was his breakout and TPAB was breathlessly innovative but DAMN just doesn’t seem to have as strong a raison d’etre and so can’t help but feel a lesser album.

This is still a great album. This will almost certainly be Album of the Year. This is something you should listen to right now. Even if you’ve already had it on repeat all year, you should listen to it again. This is not quite a masterpiece, but is still close enough to deserve reverence. It’s a bold and innovating album that showcases a top-tier rapper at the top of his game. I highly recommend it.

@murthynikhil

Vagabon – Infinite Worlds

8 Apr

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Infinite Worlds is the beauty of minimalism. Almost every sound and word has purpose. It makes a wonderfully succinct argument for the value of brevity.

“Cleaning House”, for instance, uses a simple background to allow Laetitia Tamko’s voice to really shine. She draws out notes perfectly and the quiet periods of the song do a lot to emphasize this skill. Similarly, her vocalizing in “Cold Apartment” just sucks you in. Unfortunately, I feel that this focus on sound was taken too far on “Mal a Laise”. It’s just a little too long and a little too repetitive, but that’s really the only fault I could find with the album.

Albums like this are the reason to listen to indie rock. I highly recommend you try it.

@murthynikhil

Jidenna – The Chief

22 Mar

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Jidenna’s chief gimmick of dressing up makes it tempting to write him off as a one-hit wonder, but that would be unfair. He’s had at least two. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to carry a full album.

He gets points for variety, but not many for imagination. There are some interesting snippets, like learning that he refused Harvard, some decent stunting, and some clever lines, but nothing really compelling anywhere.

As a whole, The Chief is just not really worth a listen. I look forward to hearing Jidenna drop a verse on the occasional Kendrick or Janelle Monae track, but that is probably the most we should hope for from him.

@murthynikhil

Bria Skonberg- Bria

30 Jan

42471c_2d54c26fe7cd45fa8150c9955310985bmv2Bria is a charming Jazz album well worth a listen no matter your experience with the genre. The music is very listenable and packed full of interesting moments. The Arabic tint of “Curious Game” is intriguing and the trumpet solo into vibraphone solo of “I Was A Little Too Lonely” is excellent.

Bria Skonberg herself has a wonderful voice for Jazz standards and it really sells songs like “Don’t Be That Way” and “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me.” Her chanting is the lovely and intricate “Malaguena” is also of note. None of this is to diminish her trumpet playing or the rest of the musicians, all of whom are irreproachable.

The album is a whole is laid back and not very challenging, but nevertheless quite good and packed with interesting little moments. Highly recommended for people looking to get into Jazz and worth a listen from those already invested.

@murthynikhil

Joey Alexander – Countdown

1 Dec

Joey Alexander’s second album continues the clean, proficient jazz that defined his previous one. The piano sparkles in tracks like “Smile” or “Sunday Waltz” with a sound that feels simple, but perfect. This holds true for “Soul Dreamer” where every note is individual and the music takes on a wonderful clarity. Even in the up-tempo “City Lights” and “Countdown”, the pace increases and the music constantly moves, but the sharpness of the notes keep you moving with it. This version of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” is also fantastic with superb work on the saxophone by Chris Potter.

This album lacks a little of the fire of the true jazz classics, but that’s really the only criticism that can be made of it. This is a fantastic album and worth a listen from anyone keeping up with present-day jazz. Joey Alexander is an incredibly promising young talent, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

@murthynikhil

Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

10 Sep

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This is the album that moves Chance from outsider to establishment for me. He’s been doing well for himself, from opening Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo to being the centerpiece of 2015’s Surf and that’s great to see. His raps are so sincere and so joyful that he’s impossible to hate. He’s just a lot of fun to listen to.

Coloring Book takes all of him, adds a number of star collaborators and a ton of gospel and blends it together into an undeniably excellent album. He goes from running his verses with a laid-back Weezy verse over an upbeat vocal backing in “No Problem” to posturing with Thugger and Lil Yachty on “Mixtape” to heartfelt in the slower “Juke Jam” and highly personal tale of growing apart “Same Drugs.” Despite some more forgettable cuts to fill the album out, this is one of the best rap albums of the year and definitely worth a listen.

@murthynikhil

Drake – Views

2 Jul

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This album needed to be great. To Pimp A Butterfly is a landmark album and while The Life of Pablo is not Kanye’s best, it remains a very strong album. Things were looking good for Drake too, he comprehensively demolished Meek Mill in their beef and “Hotline Bling” was not only the best song, but also the best meme of the past year. Views however is the kind of album that collapses an empire.

The biggest issue is how repetitive it is. A cut like “9” could have survived on a different album, but here it just reinforces the faults of the album, namely that it is repetitive and just slightly boring. We’ve heard the petty Drake for far too long and by this point his mix of hurtful and hurting is no longer interesting. He raps “Why you gotta fight with me at Cheesecake/ You know I love to go there” in “Child’s Play”, but really who cares? This act has gotten tiring and his monotonous beats and flow in Views does not help. I can still listen to the incredibly petty “Marvins Room” indefinitely, but half of the music of this album is tedious from the first listen.

There are some strong pieces to this album though. “Too Good” with Rihanna is quite good and has enough self-awareness to become meaningful and “Hotline Bling” is still fantastic. I just cannot recommend that people track this album down however. Overall, it just lacks in ideas and in quality.

@murthynikhil

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