A Perfect Circle, Lil Wayne, Death Grips, and More! 2018’s Honorable Mentions!

In no particular order, here are a few albums that got very close to making my top ten and why!

A Perfect CircleEat the Elephant

After nearly a decade and a half of radio silence from the Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel side project, APC is finally back in 2018 with a daring and unique project. While the album’s unexpected town and softness maybe have turned off a few longtime fans, I felt it was a welcome change and gave an opportunity for MJK to sing over more than a few unique instrumentals. Additionally, the lyricism was as thoughtful and the vocal melodies as singable as we’ve come to expect from the group, several tracks that land squarely in the top tier of their discography. The record certainly goes down a few dead ends and that likely kept it out of my top ten, but nothing feels better than hearing one of my favorite bands finally back in the studio.

Amanda ShiresTo the Sunset

With her third studio release, Shires brought back much of what has made her previous work enjoyable. Her thoughtful lyricism his here in spades, her husband and last year’s best album choice, Jason Isbell returns to lay down some excellent guitar work and her voice is, as always, a great mix of sweet and powerful. To the Sunset brings with it, however, a strong sense of concept and cohesion that makes all the difference. Every track feels like a chapter in a larger book, though each is still tight and well paced in it’s own right. Dave Cobb’s production is as wonderful and ever and the blend of glitzy, synth pop with more classical americana songwriting is perfectly balanced and forms something that I want to hear further developed on future outings.

Loretta LynnWouldn’t It Be Great

2018 was quite a year for comebacks and icons, and Loretta Lynn was no exception. Wouldn’t It Be Great does everything right from wonderful orchestration to excellent, tight songwriting. Lynn’s voice is still as radiant as ever and the production from John Carter Cash, who’s legacy as a producer is quite impressive beyond just his lineage, is vibrant and dynamic. The only complaint levied against this album is its lack of original material, with many of the tracks having appeared on earlier Loretta Lynn records, but aside from “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” most of the updates felt interesting and necessary. Above all, it’s an album that genuinely stacks up against any project from her time on the top, an excellent listen for new and old fans alike.

Lil’ WayneTha Carter V

The wait is finally over, after legal battles, lean addictions, legal battles, and more, Tha Carter V arrived to massive fanfare and definitely didn’t disappoint. The very long gestation period shows as this album dances through the popular influences of last decade, from bling to trap to emo rap. A feature list that included Kendrick Lamar, XXXTentacion, and Travis Scott while mercifully lacking a Drake feature is a veritable who’s who of modern rap. While the album lacks the prescience and modernity of earlier Carter entries, it makes that up in its tour through the last several years of rap music. Best of all, Wayne’s flow is as hard hitting as it’s ever been.

The 1975A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

This album surprised me more than any other in 2018 as The 1975’s work had been rather unimpressive up to this point.However, it’s clear from the first few tracks the Brief Inquiry has fixed nearly every issue that had plagued the previous two outings. The instrumentation is glitzy, well produced, and even abrasively bright at times. Matty Healy’s lyricism is heavily matured and is, in fact, the overwhelming highlight of the record. The soup of cynicism, sarcasm, apathy, and drug references that he cooks up on this project is truly fantastic and it elevates an already good album to a great one, and by far the band’s best work to date. 

Death GripsThe Year of the Snitch

One of the strangest and most divisive bands of all time, Death Grips keep up their relatively prolific pace with maybe their most despondent and chaotic release yet. The Year of the Snitch is easily their least hip-hop influenced work yet, pulling instead from elements of noise and industrial rock, EDM, avant guarde, and hardcore punk. It’s really quite the experience, and it’ll need to be heard a few times before it can be processed Attempting to track the influences and ideas through out is a challenge for even the most avid music fan, especially as the complex mis of elements that exists is warped in the end stage by the group’s powerful absurdist tendencies. Nevertheless,  The Year of the Snitch is a must listen for fans of underground and extreme music. 

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The Wait is Over, Carter V is Finally Here, and it’s Excellent

Lil Wayne is an undeniable legend of rap music, and Tha Carter V shows us all exactly why.

     Lil’ Wayne is, undeniably, a legend in the hip-hop world. He debuted in 1996 with a group called Hot Boys on their debut album Get It How U Live! At fifteen, Wayne was the youngest member of the group and went on to easily the most successful solo career out of the five members. He released his first solo project in 1999 with Tha Block is Hot, which went platinum.

   This album series, however, began with the first Carter album in 2004 and was last updated by 2011’s Tha Carter IV. Today, The Carter series is one of the most critically and commercially successful album series of all time and after a seven year break due to legal troubles, Wayne is ready to return to The Carter this time with the added challenge of making the record feel current and new after a long hiatus from a genre which evolves at a breakneck pace. Luckily for all of us, he does this well.

   The first and most obvious notable quality of Carter V is the runtime. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, this record is able to explore every idea fully, and a few times to an exhaustive extent. This can, at first make the album feel a bit daunting, but it isn’t nearly as dense as length may suggest, and the bulk of of these tracks are hits rather than misses.

   Perhaps the most interesting piece of this album is the production which, though handled by several different producers, strikes a surprisingly similar tone throughout. Tracks like “Can’t Be Broken,” “Open Safe,” “Famous,” and “Took His Time,” benefit from instrumentals which are very dated in the best possible way. They’re very reminiscent of Wayne’s work in his prime, around the mid-2000’s, during the early years of trap music and this is the first time that this sound has been done well in many years.

   On other occasions, the album’s sound is very current. Tracks like “Demon,” and “Dope New Gospel,” sport a very interesting neo-soul vibe which is done very well with excellent vocal work from Nivea on the latter. Wayne’s classic sung/rap flow fits well on these tracks as he lyrically dances over these beats with a skill that only comes from experience.

   In addition to all this, the soundbites which Wayne and his team chose for this album are fantastic. From the message from Wayne’s mother on the “I Love You Dwayne,” intro to her subsequent appearances on “Used 2,” and “Let It All Work Out,” which close out the project, each of these clips are extremely moving and bring weight to the album’s subject matter. On top of these, Barrack Obama makes a hilarious appearance on “Dedicate,” and Katie Couric drops by on “Hittas,” to remind us all that “Lil’ Wayne answers to no-one.”

   The features list here sports a few surprising names and interesting omissions. Thankfully, Drake doesn’t make an appearance, save for one line. Nicki Minaj, however, does feature on the rather underwhelming “Dark Side of the Moon,” with her best verse in several years. Similarly, Travis Scott gives an uncharacteristically solid performance on “Let it Fly.” The late XXXTentacion’s hook on “Don’t Cry,” is eiry and Snoop Dogg gives a fun closing verse on “Dope N***az.”

   The best feature, however, and the best track on the album as a whole is Kendrick Lamar on “Mona Lisa,” which just may be one of the best rap tracks of the year. In it, Wayne and Kendrick tell a grimy story of set ups, robbery, and theft with fantastic flow and storytelling abilities that really draws the parallel between two artists who have long been at the top of their game.

   The most impressive and exciting aspect of all of this is, without a doubt, Wayne’s flow. Listen to tracks like “Uproar,” “Open Letter,” “Problems,” or the very close contender for the title of best track on the album, “Start This Shit Off Right,” for the most shining examples of this, but Wayne’s flow is excellent on nearly every song. He often hangs on to a single rhyme for long periods of time, dropping non-stop bars along the way without missing a beat. His lyricism has improved, and he rarely relies on punchlines as he once did, but his iconic, hard-hitting flow is here in spades.

   All of this being said, I do have a few complaints. The worst track on this album, by far, is “Mess,” though other songs like “What About Me,” and “Perfect Strangers,” suffer from a similar issue: boring R&B beats that severely limit Wayne’s flow and offer nothing of substance to make up for this. This is the album’s worst offense, though several of the outros are far too long and the entire runtime could benefit quite a bit from shaving off 20-30 unjustified minutes.

   All of this being said, Tha Carter V is nothing short of excellent. After the nearly five year wait, we finally have brand new tracks from Lil Wayne with a full budget and original beats and it is well worth the wait. Rap music is often measured in eras, and the Wheezy era ended a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean that the man can’t still release fantastic music.

   Lil Wayne is an undeniable legend of rap music, and Tha Carter V shows us all exactly why.

8/10

HEAR THA CARTER V: https://open.spotify.com/album/50yFYgKdwJANZ5O9MIbMkg