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Mid-Year Album Roundup
By Ryan Brunt
The new era of streaming music is a double-edged sword. On one hand, having unlimited access to practically all the music in the world means you’ll never run out of things to listen to; on the other hand, having that amount of music at your fingertips means that a lot of great albums can slip through the cracks. On that note, here are 8 albums from the first half of 2019 that deserve a listen.
Rosie Tucker- Never Not Never Not Never Not
Rosie Tucker’s label debut is a really sweet and enjoyable piece of indie pop. All the pieces you would expect are here: humming guitars, hummable choruses and a general loose and fun atmosphere. But despite that freewheeling vibe, the album’s 11 songs are tightly constructed- not a second is wasted here-and Rosie Tucker demonstrates their knack for casually writing and delivering deeply affecting lyrics. And the short runtime makes it a very enjoyable bite-sized piece of guitar driven pop, perfect for a quite summer afternoon.
Standouts: “Lauren” “Spinster Cycle” “Call it Awful”
Jamila Woods- LEGACY! LEGACY!
Coming three years after her excellent debut Heavn, Chicago singer and poet Jamila Woods’ latest album is essentially perfect. It builds on everything that made that album so great, adding new depth to her sound while still preserving its foundation. And that sound still sounds fresh three years later, a beautiful combination of R&B, hip hop, and electronica that forms the perfect canvas for Woods’ incredible writing and vocals. This is definitely an album that rewards repeated listens.
Standouts: “ZORA” “BASQUIAT” “BETTY (for Boogie)”
Maxo-Lil Big Man
Hip hop artists choosing to rap over low-key, jazzy instrumentals have been unavoidable in the underground since the early 90s, to the point that its hard for rappers in that lane to stand out. LA rapper Maxo accomplishes that handily on his debut. The beats are perfectly smooth, laying wonky drums over bass heavy jazz loops, making it a great late-night driving album. But the real attraction is Maxo, who delivers some introspective bars that mesh perfectly with the mellow beats, and when he shifts into Southern influenced double and triple- time flows he reveals himself to be a talented fusion of styles and sounds.
Standouts: “No Love” “Headphones” “Quiktoldme”
Empath-Active Listening: Night on Earth
Noise pop quartet Empath’s new project finds the band at their chaotic best. Songs slide from quiet nature sounds and cheerful electronics to overwhelming distortion and back with hardly any notice, producing a murky and highly engaging listening experience. But despite the unpredictability of the songs and the dissonance they bring with them, these songs are pop songs at their core; when the band shifts into high gear, its hard not to sing along. And the seamless transitions between songs makes for an album that works really well as a body of work.
Standouts: “Hanging Out of Cars” “Roses that Cry” “Heaven”
Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats-Anger Management
As the name implies, aggression is the name of the game on Rico Nasty’s full-length collaboration with producer Kenny Beats. This isn’t the first time they’ve worked together, and they’re in perfect sync here; Kenny Beats offers up some of his heaviest, most distorted production yet, and Rico accordingly brings her A-game. Mixing Waka Flocka-in-2010- levels of aggression with a raspy, punk rock delivery, Rico Nasty raps in a way that almost no one else does- it’s hard to focus on anything else when she raps. The project clocks in at about 18 minutes, the perfect runtime for an album that consists almost entirely of raw energy.
Standouts: “Cold” “Mood (feat. SPLURGE)” “Cheat Code”
AllegrA- Yet, Not Enough
Jangly indie rock with hyper-specific lyrics is a fairly crowded market in 2019, but AllegrA’s latest EP does a lot to stand out. The song structures used are a lot more progressive than what it typically on offer from indie pop acts; very few of the songs here involve in a typical verse-chorus fashion, which ends up keeping the listener on their toes throughout the EP’s runtime. Add in some impressive guitar runs and inspired lyrics and you get an extremely enjoyable project.
Standouts: “Spoon or Fork” “Subtle Ignition”
Slauson Malone- A Quiet Farewell, Twenty Sixteen to Twenty Eighteen
New York beatmaker Slauson Malone’s first solo project is a little tough to get ahold of. He crams 20 songs into 32 minutes, creating a shifting, melting collage of experimental instrumental hip hop. A few frequent collaborators- Maxo, Medhane, and Pink Siifu, among others- drop by to deliver brief verses, but the real star of the show is Malone’s unique approach to sampling. He throws melodies and vocal bits seamlessly into the mix, to almost disorienting effect. It might feel a little wonky to most ears, but beat nerds will be happy with this one.
Standouts: “King Sisyphus of the Atlantic” “Two Thousand Eighteen Into Bye” “Smile 2”
Marvin Gaye- You’re the Man
The thought of an entirely new Marvin Gaye album being released over 30 years after his death seemed like a long shot, but the previously lost You’re the Man is just that. Recorded shortly after the 1971 classic What’s Going On, this double album finds Gaye continuing to push is art in a highly politicized direction. The fact that there is this much new material still to be heard from such an iconic musician is certainly enough to make it worth a listen, but the music itself stands among his best work. It’s a funky, confrontational, and ultimately beautiful album that should be on every soul music fan’s radar.
Standouts: “You’re the Man Pts. I & II” “Piece of Clay” “Symphony”
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