While the end of any given year can feel musically dry relative to more active periods in the year—such as the summer season, when singles and LPs alike zip through the metaphorical air like lightning bugs—the months culminating any year are never without notable releases in various musical scenes, and 2018 is no exception. Here are brief reviews of some of late-2018’s most high profile albums, and one local, student release to note.
Some Rap Songs – Earl Sweatshirt
Odd Future alumnus Earl Sweatshirt’s third studio album Some Rap Songs holds true to its name. The record is a loose and brief collection of lo-fi hip-hop grooves combined with some severely chopped up old school soul samples. To a fan, this might simply sound like Earl’s usual fare; and this is true in that this record is more of an evolution on his established style than a departure from it, but it is noticeably different. Earl’s delivery is less sharp and immediate than usual, with his slow-grooving, droning affect perfectly complementing the album’s glitzy, funky instrumentals. While the record often feels like a collection of high-effort song sketches, with no obvious thematic or musical throughlines, it delivers on what it promises: some rap songs, by Earl Sweatshirt.
Listen if you like – Mac Demarco, Steve Lacy, freestyling with your computer
Highlights: “The Mint,” “Ontheway!” and “Riot!”
WARM – Jeff Tweedy
As a sonic companion to his recently published memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), Jeff Tweedy’s WARM is a collection of songs that are appropriately nestled in the singer-songwriters’ comfortable alt-country niche. The record doesn’t diverge radically from the kind of material one might find on past records by his bands Wilco and Tweedy, although there are some more abstract, instrumentally focused tracks that serve as refreshing detours from Tweedy’s definitive style. All in all, WARM is something fans of Jeff Tweedy’s work will enjoy as a further exploration of what he is known for, as opposed to something new or unheard of.
Listen if you like – Wilco, Warm and witty Americana
Highlights: “Some Birds,” “Warm (When The Sun Has Died),” and “How Will I Find You?”
Oxnard – Anderson .Paak
Oxnard, the third studio album by Anderson .Paak—a definite horseman of the current rap/funk/soul fusion wave in hip-hop—presents an artist at the top of his game held back by a fatal flaw. Paak’s performance as a rapper and as a singer on this record is incredible, as there is no compromise to the quality or credibility of either style of his delivery. He can unleash volatile flows in one playful breath and pour his heart into a more traditional vocal performance in the next, equally as soulful and invigorated in both modes. The album benefits from this dedication to duality, and it isn’t found only in Paak’s vocals; the instrumentals feel like they are the undertaking of a collective like Parliament or Funkadelic to craft a seamless blend of ‘70s funk and soul with ‘90s G-funk and more modern hip-hop stylings. Paak and his veritable ensemble of featured performers are the perfect heralds for this musical Frankenstein’s monster…so what’s the catch? What is Oxnard’s aforementioned fatal flaw?
Paak’s Achilles’ Heel lies in his writing (and occasionally the conceptualization of certain entire songs, such as “Headlow,” “Petty,” and “Sweet Chick”). While the music is sophisticated and engaging, Paak’s lyrics and in-song skits frequently dip into the kind of casual misogyny, obnoxious juvenalia, and downright absurdity that rap is often looked down upon for. If these ideas were executed with an air of self-parody or with intent to make a statement on negative trends in the genre, it would be another thing, but as presented they are nothing more than outdated and impeding what is an otherwise great album.
Listen if you like – Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, Marvin Gaye
Highlights: “The Chase,” “Tints,” “Anywhere”
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships – The 1975
The 1975’s new album is not, as the NME claims, “the OK Computer for this generation” for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s not a rock record at all, and its social critiques are more wide and shallow than those found on Radiohead’s genre defining opus. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is, however, an incredibly solid and surprisingly risky alternative pop album from the 1975, an outfit who could have just as easily cashed in on the more commercial and American-accessible sounds of their previous two records. Instead, the band has generated a record that, while it sometimes sounds confused, it feels like that is the overall intention; to present a ridiculously tech-saturated world of loneliness and confusion, and tell the audience that they’re looking into a mirror.
The record is surprisingly musically diverse—electronica, sparse acoustic tracks, a brief foray into jazz, and even a latin/reggaeton inspired song—especially compared to the band’s past output; frontman Matt Healy specifically shines in his more nuanced approaches to singing, channeling the soulful wailing of ‘80s power ballads alongside his brand of nervous britpop crooning. It’s all quite effective, but not nearly so affecting as it is trying to be in Healy’s lyricism, with its intentions of lampooning everything from computers to Kanye ultimately feeling a little flat. When it ditches these attempts at social critique for more direct, personal lyrics on the latter half of the album, backed by some truly beautiful and somber instrumentation, the 1975 flourishes.
Listen if you like – Art pop, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino Arctic Monkeys
Highlights: “Mine,” “Love It If We Made It,” and “I Couldn’t Be More In Love” (while the record isn’t this generation’s OK Computer, this song could very well be this generation’s “Everybody Hurts.”)
Dicaprio 2 – J.I.D
Dicaprio 2—the sophomore LP of Atlanta native rapper J.I.D—begins juvenile and shallow, similarly to Anderson .Paak’s Oxnard. Without the crutch of an abundance of strong features and musical sophistication, this can be discouraging and almost alienating at first. However, as the listener progresses through the tracklist, Dicaprio 2 opens itself to more complex themes and lyrical content (as well as more complexity in lyrical phrasing), and its instrumentals become more lively and varied than the simple drum and bass grooves of the first few cuts. Ultimately, J.I.D sums it up best himself: “This album is for car rides, working out, and smoke sessions (in cars) or wherever u [wanna] smoke that’s sonically friendly.” It’s stupid, fun hype music with some occasional, surprising turns that showcase a lot of potential for something greater in J.I.D’s future.
Listen if you like – Section 80 Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, fast-talking auctioneers
Highlights: “Workin Out,” “Off Deez,” and “151 Rum”
Winter Yellows – Bijou Holiday
Finally, Madison High School student Bijou Holiday’s (12) sophomore EP, Winter Yellows. As a follow-up to this summer’s Feel It, her debut LP, Winter Yellows delivers more of the spare, lo-fi indie folk that Holiday has come to be known for, but with the kind of confidence and expanded direction that one release under your belt is known to give. This collection of wintry ballads—with a slightly harder edge than Holiday’s previous collection by way of more energized vocal performances and the presence of some booming percussion—presents a slightly more cohesive and focused execution of this kind of “clever-sad” singer-songwriter style. Hopefully, the next year has a lot to offer from this local gem.
Listen if you like – Kimya Dawson, Luigi memes
Highlights: “O-Boy/Blue-Boy,” and “E Song”