Here are my reviews and scores for June 2017 albums that I did not feature earlier.
Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz
Aside from the strong beats and some interesting texture changes, this was quite an underwhelming work. The overall sound was pretty cool and worked well to set up a feel-good rhythm with synthetic instruments. That’s the only real worth this music has, though, and it’s nothing revolutionary. 2 Chainz left me shaking my head too many times with his uninteresting, lethargic, and Dr. Suess-like pacing in his rap (actually, Dr. Suess may have even done better in that regard). Some of the guest rappers gave a little more spirit and rhythmic intrigue, but most stayed within 2 Chainz’s confines and found nothing compelling to say or do. A few songs had a strong enough uninterrupted groove to be pleasing on a personal level, but the album as a whole has too many boring trouble spots to stand up to other works within the same realm. No wonder the underground rap world is steadily growing; if this is the only talent you need in order to make it big, the next person to do it could be just about anyone. A sizeable beat library and a rhyming dictionary are all it would take to replicate the core of this album, and then it’s just trial and error on the microphone.
Final Score: 96/180
Dua Lipa – Dua Lipa
This work hardly had any interesting or charismatic musical moments, and I’m not sure who to blame more, the musician or her producers. It was obvious throughout the album that Dua Lipa does not yet have the ability to write strong melodies. When left alone they were too segmented and flat, and when paired with more layering they moved so expectedly as if programmed by algorithms. Along with that, there were hardly any chord progressions that offered any personality or excitement, mostly being lame drudges of obvious pop-style movement. Now, Dua Lipa showed a couple of sparks in creative thought and ingenuity, like in a few choruses where her range was stretched and energy came from something other than an added instrumental layer, but those were always met with dull motion and boringness within the same song. Was this a lack of passion or lack of support from those around her? My gut says it’s more the latter. It’s as if she was told that she’d only get two songs to do whatever she wanted and show her true passion on this album, while the rest needed to be constricted to certain forms and techniques in order to be sellable. As a result, only the songs “Be The One” and “Homesick” gave off any genuine emotion. Going forward, Dua Lipa either needs much more passion and understanding of melody, or she needs to get away from her current people and become her own musician. While I’m not convinced this is her true voice, I can’t deny that this was a rather woeful pop album.
Final Score: 83/180
Crack-Up – Fleet Foxes
This sect of folk rock seems very specific and prescribed, with many modern musicians using similar tactics to find a successful down to earth, heartfelt, and genuine sound. There’s a reason it’s so popular; with the right musical tools, it’s very beautiful. This album exemplifies just that. There’s nothing too musically overwhelming, and while unique, Fleet Foxes don’t necessarily create any spectacular or ingenious moments. What they do create is a masterful atmosphere that’s raw, pastoral, and intelligent. It’s the atmosphere that many have attempted to control, but few do it to the degree of consistency that this album has. Fleet Foxes easily set themselves up for success with their understanding of stylistic acoustic settings. The melodies were simply the natural add-ons to this great sound, working perfectly in tandem with the moods and the direction. A little more bravery and personality in the melodic lines would have really made this a powerful work. They did struggle a bit in finding engaging harmonic repetitions, with many of the small progressions and stagnancies losing their shine the longer they went on. That didn’t matter too much in their attempt at solidity, because the bottom line is that this album achieved the highly sought after contemporary folk atmosphere, and it’s done quite effortlessly.
Final Score: 135/180
Hopeless Fountain Kingdom – Halsey
There were some likeable moments when Halsey stretched her vocal range to create broader shapes, or when the beat was funky and distinctive enough to warrant its repetition, but these moments didn’t last long. Looking at the work as a whole, the music was way too contrived, formulaic, and ordinary for this pop-style goal. Rhythm was mostly lifeless, melodic lines were mostly passive and unexcitable, and the overall sound was too empty and predictable despite using countless different textures and effects. While each song was nicely concise and had purpose within them, musical experimentation was sadly at a minimum. Halsey showed small signs of breaking away from the rut she was put in, mostly in her interesting storytelling and different forms, so this is a foreseeable future improvement for her. However, it may not happen until she realizes that her popularity is both temporary and meaningless. It’s the heart that counts, and there wasn’t enough here.
Final Score: 97/180
Murder of the Universe – King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
This is not just an album; it’s a short three act rock opera. This work of psychedelic rock art is full to the brim with ambition, direction, and power that shakes the listener to their core. The huge highlight is their exceptional odd meters that keep the listener on the edge but without pushing them off. The entire world of heavy metal should learn from the harmonic finesse displayed here. I could keep rattling off buzzwords that musicians like to describe music with as much strength as this, but I wouldn’t be contributing much to the conversation. Musically, it is the overwhelmingly powerful work the modern music world needs. There isn’t much else I can put into words. It is great, really great, especially if you’ve already been indoctrinated into psychedelic rock. I will say this: it takes effort on the listener’s part for the music to reach its full potential. This isn’t background music, or something to just listen to for 10 minutes. To passive ears this amount of experimentation will come off as weird and unsettling. If the listener is willing to gain a bigger understanding of what they’re listening to and take this work in as it’s presented, it can be cooler beyond imagination.
Final Score: 154/180
Truth Is a Beautiful Thing – London Grammar
While the truth is not always beautiful, I will deem it true that this is a beautiful album. The starting point and basis for the work’s existence, which was the sonic and spatial experimentation, was exquisitely executed. While mostly rather small, which could have expanded more, the sound was an ambitious and gorgeous demonstration of simple piano and engaging synthetic layers. That’s enough to be considered a success today, but London Grammar didn’t stop there, using their wonderful harmonic palate to bring true life and individuality to each song. At times the rhythm seemed to lag, perhaps to not interfere with the overall space, but there were many strong harmonic progressions here that actually became the musical crown of the work. If they can just pair these superb usages of harmony and timbre with knockout charismatic melodic lines, instead of merely the very adept harmonic adornments present here, they will be on their way to greatness in no time.
Final Score: 141/180
Planetarium – James McAlister, Bryce Dessner, Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly
This was a beautiful collaboration of four very intelligent musicians that knew how to combine their different backgrounds to work towards a common goal. Nico Muhly, apart from being a wonderfully eclectic composer, demonstrates his true talent of getting the best out of who he works with. The ambient and thoughtful music always had purposeful energy and flow to it, fully disguising the fact that it came from four very different musical minds. It was almost like ambient jazz in a way, only with hardly any traditionally acoustic instruments. There was a detectable release and unhurriedness in these musicians as their process of unification unfolded, which meant that the end result was not necessarily even and balanced but was ultimately what achieved the goal of beauty and thoughtfulness. In their process, it was the influence from Sufjan Stevens, the quartet’s strongest writer, which effortlessly rose above the rest in a rather obvious way. I’m certainly not complaining. Gorgeous work. All it really takes to appreciate is patience, especially in the long instrumental sections, and sadly that is asking a lot of today’s audience.
Final Score: 148/180
Woodstock – Portugal. The Man
On the surface, this sounds like just another neat, successful timbral experiment using funky textures through fundamental song forms. The overall consistency of those successes on this album, though, makes Portugal. the Man quietly one of the best in this simplistic realm today. Nothing that’s done here is overly powerful or legendary, but they make the most beauty out of what little vigor is present. It’s noticeably difficult today for musicians to rely so heavily on synthetic textures while still giving recognizable form and shape to the music. This album is a good example of music that’s both aesthetically pleasing and approachable. I would’ve liked there to be more melodic allure as a whole, which I know they’ve done several times in the past. That would’ve given the music stronger legs to stand on and not just be a passing, amusing sonority. Having said that, in the big picture these melodies were still quite enjoyable and helpful within the context. For listeners that just want a familiar, heavy groove and don’t care about the missed melodic potential, this is an awesome work. To the rest of us, it’s still quite a solid album.
Final Score: 140/180
Wolves – Rise Against
For a band that doesn’t seem to be able to find uniqueness or style within their heavy rock sound, this was a somewhat enjoyable journey through 11 neatly written songs. Harmonically, the forms and progressions were clear, giving a nice sense of grounded energy although not very spectacular. If it weren’t for the well formed melodic shapes that gave a good sense of personality, especially in the choruses, this album would hardly mean anything. That may be what Rise Against does best, but they’re a far cry from a legitimate punk band. They try to be too perfect with their sound here, and aside from a few of the best musicians who have ever lived, that’s not where musical power comes from. I felt too much effort from them without getting any substantial reward.
Final Score: 106/180
Is This the Life We Really Want? – Roger Waters
The former Pink Floyd frontman shatters the barrier between performer and listener, stepping alone into the world and delivering passionate messages while bringing with him some magic from the sound that he once captivated all of humanity with. Just a touch of that magic was all that was present – this wasn’t anything overwhelming or incredibly deep, but there was enough gorgeous space and well worked slow textures to consider this a highly successful timbral project. Waters obviously knows his way around sensible and compelling harmonic language in this specific context, even though there was hardly any engaging rhythm or supplemental lines to it. Complacency came off a bit too much in the melodic layer, as Waters mostly just said what he wanted to say without regard of the music around him. At this point in his career, though, he is somewhat allowed to be lackadaisical, because his influential voice can make up for a few musical shortcomings in the long run.
Final Score: 130/180
Ctrl – SZA
It’s a lovely and well thought out work for those who live and die with today’s alternative R&B. The extreme attachment it has to the aforementioned genre, though, may be its biggest weakness. SZA has a great voice to go along with her interesting lyrical talent, but there were too many times when her passion and drive seemed to be cut off by empty, immobile background textures. It’s a staple in this genre to have very little movement and height in the sound so as to create more spacious atmospheres capable of giving off relaxation and contemplation. The overall sound here was indeed pretty cool and relaxing, but wasn’t brilliant enough in its small textures to justify the loss it had in musical character. Each different layer was too cut off from the rest as a result of individually striving for a market-tested sound. That was the only general negative of the work, but it dragged down every musical element quite a bit, and further proves to me how today’s strict categorization of music serves only as a detriment. SZA has some important things to say and made this album good solely on her subjects and ability to keep everything afloat in a nice, peaceful way. She showed glimmers of eclecticism, but in the future she needs to trust herself more and break free from the non-existent boundaries that the industry has set up, or else her music will continue to only be decent at best for most outside listeners.
Final Score: 118/180