Summer really is flying by, huh? It's already the first weekend of August, which means Osheaga and Lollapalooza (the latter is already underway, and you can check out our list of 12 acts we're excited to see whether you're going or streaming it live). And, as July is now over, listen to our playlist of 35 songs we like from July 2018.
The most talked about new album out today is probably the new Travis Scott album, partially because of its album rollout that included giant heads. I'm not really the biggest Travis Scott fan and so far the album sounds... like Travis Scott usually does. What do you think of it?
I picked five other non-Travis Scott (and non-Mac Miller) albums to highlight today, and you can check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
It was obvious that Compton rapper YG had talent from his early mixtapes and singles, and his proper 2014 debut album My Krazy Life made good on the promise of the material that led up to it, but even after My Krazy Life's release, it still seemed possible that YG could end up as just another rapper with a DJ Mustard-produced hit who ends up turning into a punchline just a few years later. But YG proved he had staying power. He split with DJ Mustard and made 2016's Still Brazy with mostly smaller name producers and mostly smaller name guests (save for Drake and Lil Wayne). It secured him a place in rap history not just for its era-defining anthem "Fuck Donald Trump," but also for helping to usher in a minor G-Funk revival. Now, YG is more of a star than ever, and on his third album Stay Dangerous, he sure sounds like one. He reunited with DJ Mustard, who produced the bulk of these songs, but this time DJ Mustard sounds mostly like he's catering to YG's style and not the other way around. When he brings in bigger guests, like A$AP Rocky, Nicki Minaj, 2 Chainz, Big Sean, Quavo of Migos, and his old pal Ty Dolla $ign, YG sounds like he's rapping amongst his peers, not relying on big names to boost sales. When he brings in smaller guests like YoungBoy Never Broke Again and Mozzy, it feels like he's now giving them the spotlight to show off their talents to the world, as other popular rappers once did for YG (and YoungBoy and Mozzy both rise to the occasion).
Soundwise, Stay Dangerous isn't much like the bouncy Mustard-wave of My Krazy Life or the G-Funk of Still Brazy. Most of the album sees YG and DJ Mustard making their own version of the kind of rich-sounding, star-power rap that Stay Dangerous contributors A$AP Rocky, Nicki Minaj, and Big Sean have all made in the past. It sounds like a victory lap. If Still Brazy proved that YG could be taken very, very seriously, then Stay Dangerous is YG allowing himself to have a little fun too. Songs like the "I'm Too Sexy"-interpolating "Too Cocky," the braggadocio posse cut "Big Bank," and the self-evident "Pussy Money Fame" are like the "Humble" to Still Brazy's "Alright." But Stay Dangerous isn't all fun and games. The album opens with "10 Times," where, over an ominous beat from DJ Mustard, YG rattles off "Fuck the D.A., fuck the P.O., fuck the president, fuck the popo," before getting into deep storytelling about the flawed justice system. He delivers more of the gang life storytelling he's become known for on the Jay 305 collab "Bulletproof," the Mozzy collab "Too Brazy," and the pensive closer "Bom[town Finest." And on "Deeper Than Rap," YG dives into recently becoming a father, religion, therapy, and other real-life topics that go far beyond the celebratory boasts. "Deeper Than Rap" isn't the best song on the album, but it's the one that really proves how increasingly multi-faceted of a rapper YG is still becoming. YG has a lot to celebrate on Stay Dangerous, but it sounds like he's still pushing forward too.
Alt-country singer, songwriter, and violinist Amanda Shires is back with a followup to 2016's very solid My Piece of Land, and like that album, To The Sunset was produced by the great country producer Dave Cobb. Cobb also plays on the record, as does Amanda's husband and frequent collaborator Jason Isbell. All three of them also collaborated on Isbell's great 2017 album The Nashville Sound, and this album can sort of function as a companion to that album in some ways. It sees Amanda taking her music in a more rock direction, and it shares some similar lyrical topics (their daughter, the state of the world). But Amanda's lyrical style also differs greatly from that of her husband. He tends to write autobiographically, while To The Sunset sees Amanda experimenting with writing songs from other people's perspectives -- a trick that maybe has something to do with the M.F.A. in poetry that she earned since last releasing an album. Also, with the more rock direction her songs take on this album, she experimented more than ever with the actual sound of her violin. "It would have been displaced-sounding on this record just playing it as a traditional sound," she said, so instead, she ran it through various effect pedals, and the results are pretty awesome. She ends up making some pretty inventive sounds that aren't what you typically think of when you think of country or Americana. Sometimes, like on "Mirror, Mirror," the album gets kinda psychedelic. Other songs, like "Eve's Daughter," find Amanda in straight-up hard rock territory. And she's still got the gorgeous folk ballads that she's usually known for mixed in too. The album nails a balance between music that should please longtime fans, and Amanda Shires' most experimental, adventurous music yet.
Lucero are now in their 20th year as a band and they're back with their ninth album, Among the Ghosts, released on their own long-running Liberty & Lament label (following a few albums on ATO). Like their last album, 2015's All A Man Should Do, the new one sees Lucero focusing most heavily on slow, melancholic, "My Best Girl" type songs, but with a wisdom and maturity that they didn't have in their early years as a band. That's especially true of this new one, which is the band's first album since singer Ben Nichols got married and welcomed his daughter into the world. It's clear from listening to Among the Ghosts how much of an impact those major life changes had on Ben's songwriting. It's impossible to miss on songs like "To My Dearest Wife," but the way Ben tells it, "she’s kind of a presence through the whole record, whether I actually mention my daughter or not." And though bringing a new life into the world often influences songwriters to make happy music, Among the Ghosts is actually one of Lucero's darker sounding albums. "The stakes are higher now [...] I think I’ve got something to lose now," Ben says. It's an exciting development, as Lucero's darker, more somber songs are often among their best, and it's refreshing to hear Ben write music that recalls the band's beloved early days, but with a new perspective that he never could've had back then. And though the lyrical topics are changing, Ben still has that charmingly gravelly voice that sounds like he smokes a pack and drinks a bottle of whiskey a day. When Among the Ghosts does get a little more upbeat, it's not in the rollicking country-punk way or the horns-fueled soul-rock way they've done in the past. More than usual, this album has a few songs that see Lucero taking on Springsteeny heartland rock (the title track, "Cover Me," "Long Way Back Home"), and I'm not suggesting that Lucero are bandwagon jumpers by any means, but in this post-War On Drugs world we live in, those songs make this album sound just a bit more zeitgeist-y than Lucero have sounded in a while. If the crossover between this album and today's popular indie rock gets Lucero a few new fans this late in the game, it'd be very deserved. Lucero have always just stayed in their lane as a hard-working, consistently-great band no matter what's going on around them, and this album proves that they're far from out of steam.
Once mysterious and still-hard-to-google R&B singer H.E.R. (aka Gabi Wilson) has been rising super fast since releasing her debut EP trilogy in late 2016 and 2017 (which was eventually compiled as one release), and she's been gearing up to release her debut album. Ahead of that, she just released yet another EP, I Used To Know Her: The Prelude, which sees H.E.R. just getting better and better. Known mostly as an R&B singer, H.E.R. actually starts off the EP with a rap song, "Lost Souls," and it turns out she's at least as good at rapping as she is at singing. On "Against Me," she dips her toes into '90s-style R&B (and a bit of slow, introspective rapping towards the end), before returning to a more modern, "alt-R&B" sound on "Be On My (Interlude)," the Bryson Tiller collab "Could've Been," and "Feel A Way." She wraps up the EP with "As I Am," which is sort of a cross between her usual electronic R&B sound and jazzier, more lively sounding neo-soul. The EP is a nice little teaser of H.E.R.'s ability to pull off various styles of music, and if her eventual debut album follows suit, I have a feeling it's gonna be one hell of a debut.
Without Integrity's classic '90s albums like 1995's Systems Overload, metallic hardcore as we know it (and, for better or worse, the early 2000s metalcore boom) probably wouldn't have sounded the way it did. And, while a lot of their peers have faded away, they're still making vital music today. Last year's Howling, For The Nightmare Shall Consume -- their first album for Relapse and first with new guitarist Dom Romeo (A389 Recordings, Pulling Teeth, etc) -- is killer and it's certainly not a retread of the band's earlier material. Now they're following that album up with a new split with long-running black metal act Krieg. On Integrity's side, they've got two new songs, "Scorched Earth" and "Flames of the Immortal," a new version of "Sons of Satan" that Integrity leader Dwid Helion originally recorded for his Vermapyre project, and a cover of "Document One" by Japanese hardcore legends G.I.S.M. The rework of the Vermapyre song is fairly faithful to the original, while Integrity turn the G.I.S.M. cover from a raw hardcore song into searing metallic punk. The two new originals rip as hard as anything on Howling, and they take a similar approach to the songs on that album: breakneck speed hardcore with screaming guitar solos that K.K. Downing would probably be proud of. Krieg's side includes one new song, "Circle of Guilt," which is their first new song since 2014, and it sounds as evil as you'd hope. As far as black metal goes, Krieg have always had a punk side so it makes sense that they work so well on a split with Integrity. They're overall a lesser-known band than Integrity, so if you're coming to this split as an Integrity fan who hasn't yet heard Krieg, "Circle of Guilt" should have no trouble winning you over. The split also offers up a newly-remastered version of "This Time I’ll Leave You To Drown" (which initially appeared on a 2012 split with Bitter Peace, Esoterica, and The Many), and a live version of "The Sick Winds Stir the Cold Dawn" from 2006's Blue Miasma. There's not too much of a drastic difference between the remastered "This Time I’ll Leave You To Drown" and the version you may already know, but the live version of "The Sick Winds Stir the Cold Dawn" is very worth hearing, even if you've worn out your copy of Blue Miasma. Krieg have an energy on this live recording that wasn't entirely captured on album. It sounds bigger, more aggressive, and perhaps most surprisingly, it might even be recorded a little more clearly.