Good Albums I Didn’t Review in May 2020

It’s that time again! Another month has come and gone. As always, I can’t get to everything, so there’s quite a bit of good music that I don’t get to review, especially this month since there were 5 Fridays. You’ll probably notice something a little different about this month’s list. In light of recent and ongoing events, I’ve decided to highlight artists of color. Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to fill up the list as May was also an excellent month for black artists. So, collected below are releases I think you should check out.

Grimalkin

BACKXWASH – GOD HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS LEAVE HIM OUT OF IT–Backxwash is a Canadian hip-hop artist who’s style contains elements of industrial hip-hop and horrorcore. These styles pair very well with her lyrics that often deal with evil, magic, and the occult. A lot of the darkness in her lyrics come from her personal experiences, not only as a person of color, but also as a black trans woman. If you like your hip-hop dark, heavy, and noisy, check this out.

ByStorm/RCA

DEANTE’ HITCHCOCK – BETTER–This album is actually the first I’ve heard of Deante’ Hitchcock, but apparently this has been a long time coming. Better was preceded by several mixtapes and EPs since 2012. In that time he’s attracted the attention of other big rappers like Wale and J. Cole, even being invited to appear on the latest Revenge of the Dreamers project from J. Cole’s Dreamville. This album very good, showcasing Hitchcock’s skill as a rapper, lyricist, and even a singer, and it has features from JID, 6LACK, and more.

ESGN/ALC/EMPIRE

FREDDIE GIBBS/THE ALCHEMIST – ALFREDO–May was just a fantastic month for hip hop. I’ve heard some of the best rap albums so far this year since maybe February. Alfredo is probably the best yet. I’m more familiar with Freddie Gibbs’ work with Madlib, and while Madlib is one of my favorite producers in general, The Alchemist is probably a better match for Gibbs. Something about these beats just brings out the best in Freddie’s flows and attitude. They play off each other so well, matching tones and moods perfectly. Even the features are good with guest verses from rappers like Rick Ross and Tyler, The Creator. It’s really just a total package album, good front to back.

Iron Works

KA – DESCENDANTS OF CAIN–Ka is a Brooklyn based rapper who has a unique style all his own. His raps come across almost conversational, like a poet reciting in a coffee shop rather than a rapper. His lyrics use Biblical imagery and the metaphor of the cursed lineage of Cain, the first murderer, to tell stories of his life growing up on the city blocks of New York. Ka produces the majority of the tracks on this album and the instrumentals have an almost stark feel to them, but they’re not minimalist. You really have to hear it for yourself to understand it.

Fltbys

KOTA THE FRIEND – EVERYTHING–I don’t really know how to categorize this one because there’s clear trap influence on this album, but instead hard hitting beats, the instrumentals feel bright and airy with jazz guitar samples. This is almost… summer rap. Like a trap version of something like Shwayze. These are songs for driving along the beach in a convertible or riding your bike in the middle of the day when school’s out or you’re on vacation. It’s a nice, feel-good kind of album.

TBHG

MEDHANE – COLD WATER–Something interesting is happening in Brooklyn. Medhane is another rapper from that area that is doing something different in a good way. His raps are abstract and thoughtful, but still somehow direct and forward thinking. He looks forward without forgetting the scars of his past. And the instrumentals on this album use jazz and soul samples in ways I’ve never heard before. Like the Ka album above, you really have to experience this one for yourself.

Jagjaguwar

MOSES SUMNEY – GRÆ–This one isn’t hip hop, and I really don’t know how to categorize it. Sumney is often called a singer-songwriter, but that doesn’t really narrow things down. There are clear soul influences on this album, but this is not a traditional soul album by any stretch. Sumney’s emotional lyrics are only made more powerful by his impassioned vocals, featuring a frequent and distinctive falsetto. The album also features bass playing from Thundercat on a few tracks and production from James Blake on another. It’s a little uneven, but when it’s good, it’s really good.

Columbia

POLO G – THE GOAT–There’s still a lot I don’t understand about trap rap. I’m trying my darndest, but there’s still some stuff about it that just escapes me. That being said, Polo G is one of the few artists that helps me somewhat understand the appeal, and the praise from other reviewers and critics tells me I’m barking up the right tree. His flows have variety, he doesn’t rely on auto-tune, and his lyrics have considerably more substance than some other artists in the scene.

M.A Music/3D

YOUNG M.A – RED FLU–Yet another rapper from Brooklyn! Seriously, what’s going on over there? Young M.A is another talented rapper from the borough who raps from a particularly unique perspective. Not only is she a woman, but she’s a lesbian. She’s clear in interviews that she doesn’t want her orientation to define her, and it doesn’t have to. Her rapping could easily stand on its own, but her experience still comes through in her lyrics. Female empowerment is a big theme in hip hop these days coming from artists like Megan Thee Stallion and Rico Nasty. Young M.A adds yet another female perspective to the expanding landscape of rap music.

Top Favorite Albums of 2019

Alright, we made it. The final list of the year, my ten favorite albums from 2019. Unlike other sites, I do not rank my top ten. These are just the ten albums that stood out to me for one reason or another and have endured through the year as my favorites. Since half of these were not officially scored by me, score isn’t really the most important factor, but you can safely assume that everything on this list would be scored a 4.0/5.0 or higher. I also try to represent as many genres as I can. But enough explaining, on to the musics!

AM Taxi

AM TAXI – SHIVER BY ME–I came across this album because another band I listen to were being good bros and gave it a shout out. I did not expect to find one of the best albums I’d hear all year. I previously described this album as punk attitude with a bit of heartland rock and that combination just really works for me. There is zero filler, and when you think you can predict the direction a song is going to go, they take a left turn and make you believe that’s the way you should have expected it to go all along. I wish I could go into more detail, but the bottom line is that this is just some great rock music done very well.

Zappo Productions/Thirty Tigers

BRUCE HORNSBY – ABSOLUTE ZERO–After over 30 years and ten albums, veteran soft rock and Americana singer-songwriter Bruce Hornsby takes a surprisingly experimental turn on his latest album. You might expect an artist like Hornsby to just release a collection of piano ballads that old fans will buy but otherwise won’t make too many waves. Instead, he’s teamed up with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, yMusic, and others to actually challenge himself and put out something really unique in his catalog. Even though this leans experimental, Hornsby’s strong skills in songwriting and melody still come through, making this album still very listenable. This was a surprising release, and easily one of my favorites. Watch my full review here.

Triple B

FUMING MOUTH – THE GRAND DESCENT–Now for one of my favorite extreme metal releases of the year. Fuming Mouth play a combination of death metal and hardcore, but like Venom Prison, they never go full deathcore. It’s more like death metal with the raw energy and breakdown riffs of hardcore. This album just comes right out of the gate with the brutality and lets up only a few times over its 33 minute run time. Some say the band is a little one-note, but I personally think they manage to vary the dynamics from song to song enough to keep it interesting. But if we’re honest, sometimes we just want to listen to metal for some intense brutality. And Fuming Mouth brought it this year.

Elektra

THE HIGHWOMEN – self-titled–I’m not entirely sure why, but I often find that in the world of modern country music, a lot of the best albums are made by women. That trend continues this year with The Highwomen. This is a collaboration between Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires, and Natalie Hemby and is a loose tribute to the Highwaymen collaborations of the ’80s and ’90s. The songs on here are inspired by folk and the sounds of previous generations of country music, but have lyrics with very modern sentiments, including what I imagine is one of very few lesbian country love songs. The songs are great, the harmonies are sweet, and every member brings something to the table that makes this album rise above other country releases this year.

Dirty Hit

THE JAPANESE HOUSE – GOOD AT FALLING–First off, shout out to Josh Scott of JHS Pedals for turning me on to this artist on his YouTube channel. Second, if I picked an album of the year, this would easily be a front-runner. Good at Falling is The Japanese House’s debut album following a quartet of fantastic EPs and it is indie pop brilliance. At times the sound reminds me of “Hide And Seek” era Imogen Heap, but it doesn’t sound dated. The songs sound fun but the lyrics cover dark, personal, and emotional topics at times. The production is spot on for every track and even when it doesn’t sound fantastic, you know that it was intentional. You don’t want to miss this one. Watch my full review here.

AGE 101

LITTLE SIMZ – GREY AREA–This is not only the best British rap album of the year, but the best rap album of the year in general. The first thing that grabbed my attention was Inflo’s production, pulling obvious influence from jazz rap of the ’90s but with enough forward thinking to keep it from just being a throwback sound. Then there are the lyrics. Simz delivers smart and conscious lyrics in fantastic flows. The features are all great too. Every guest delivers something that adds to the song instead of feeling tacked on. This is the rap album where everything fell into place; the beats, the flows, and the features all work together and every gamble payed off.

Ghosteen Ltd

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – GHOSTEEN–Nick Cave and company continue the themes of 2016’s Skeleton Tree and conclude the trilogy started by 2013’s Push the Sky Away. This album finds Cave still processing the grief of losing his son, and while the lyrics are still dark and poetic, the music has taken on a more hopeful feel. Vintage synths and strings and the occasional piano dominate the soundscapes created by long-time Bad Seed Warren Ellis. This album isn’t exactly easy to listen to, and it takes a few spins to really dig in. But once you do, the beauty of the work as a whole becomes apparent. Read my full review here.

Century Media

THE OFFERING – HOME–Here is a band whose sound is so hard to nail down that they misleadingly get categorized as power metal on some websites. A more accurate description, and I’m not joking, is a combination of death metal, deathcore, groove metal, hard rock, heavy metal, metalcore, nu-metal, power metal, prog, and thrash. I know that sounds like a metal version of that game kids play where they mix every kind of soda at the fountain, but believe me when I say that the end result tastes way way way better. I don’t know how these guys do it, but they make it work. The songs are the right amount of catchy and brutal, and, oh yeah, they pull it off in a fucking epic 14 minute album closer! My words will never do it justice. You’ll just have to hear it for yourself.

Prosthetic

PALADIN – ASCENSION–Rounding out my metal picks for the year, and speaking of clever blending of sub-genres, we have this album by Paladin. Now, they don’t go quite as crazy as The Offering, but what they accomplish is almost as impressive. Ascension flawlessly blends the styles of power and thrash metal. Within each song, they jump from thrash to power metal bits multiple times, vocally and instrumentally. But the transitions are never jarring in an awkward way. If it’s jarring at all, it’s more in a pleasantly surprising way. And the jumps change from track to track. One will have thrash verses and power choruses, where another will have thrash choruses and power solos. It continues to impress me every time I listen to it. Watch my full review here.

Wilsun

SHEER MAG – A DISTANT CALL–Sheer Mag is a band that is rather unapologetically inspired by ’80s power pop. But they’re more than just an ’80s cover band or an uninspired throwback. They take the things that make you love ’80s music and turn them into solid rock songs. You get hints of glam, Cheap Trick, a dash of punk, and a pinch of Judas Priest. Top it of with Christina Halladay’s awesome voice, and you’ve got one fun rock album. The songs are catchy and they remind you of the best tracks from the past without sounding like cheap ripoffs. It’s like the first time you heard The Darkness back in 2003.

Is JESUS IS KING Kanye’s SLOW TRAIN COMING?

This past weekend, Kanye West finally deemed his latest album fit for the ears of the general public. The not-so-subtly titled JESUS IS KING is Kanye’s first album after he professed a radical conversion to Christianity, features heavy gospel music influences, contains no foul language, and is even categorized as a Christian hip-hop album. Kanye isn’t the first musical artist to pivot so suddenly and completely to religious music, but he’s certainly one of the most prominent figures in American music to do so in recent years. And I can’t help but compare it to a similar conversion that happened 40 years ago.

In August of 1979 Bob Dylan released Slow Train Coming, the first album of what would come to be known as Dylan’s “Christian Era.” 17 years and 18 albums into his recording career, Dylan had established and re-established himself as one of the greatest songwriters in American history and indisputably as a key figure in American music. Slow Train Coming came after contact with the Vineyard Movement and a conversion to evangelical Christianity. The lyrics featured strong references to Dylan’s newfound faith and Christian philosophy. Obviously these sudden changes were polarizing and while the reception was mixed, reviews of the album were generally positive, citing Dylan’s conviction on the subject and its cohesiveness. Robert Christgau even said at the time that it was his best release since Blood on the Tracks.

At the start of this era Dylan stopped performing his previous secular material in favor of his new Christian songs. He would evangelize from the stage, especially when heckled, and there are even accounts of Dylan attempting to evangelize to producer Jerry Wexler during the recording of Slow Train Coming. This era brought another Christian album in 1980’s Saved, which was met with less critical acclaim. The final Christian release was 1981’s Shot of Love that contained a mixture of Christian and secular songs. This and the reintroduction of songs from the ’60s in live performances signaled Dylan’s movement away from a strictly religious approach to his music. 1983’s Infidels marked the official end of this period as it contained all secular material. In the years that followed, there have been hints here and there that Dylan hasn’t completely abandoned religion or at least a belief in God, but he hasn’t released any strictly Christian music.

Over the past 15 years Kanye West has proven to be one of the most talented, if not controversial figures in hip-hop music. Not only has he released genre-defining albums, but he’s proven that he’s not content to sit back on a formula that works and is willing to challenge himself and his fans. This has led to a variety of albums with varying quality, but there’s always been a sense that it was the album that Kanye wanted to make at that time. That sense is still present with JESUS IS KING. In fact, Kanye was so convicted about this album, that the previously announced Yandhi album was shelved or scrapped so JESUS IS KING could be made instead. So now I ask the question, is JESUS IS KING Kanye’s Slow Train Coming? Does this album mark the beginning of Kanye’s “Christian Era?”

The similarities between the two actually go beyond just the sudden pivot to more religious content. Kanye has spent the majority of 2019 holding “Sunday Services” where he performs covers of gospel songs and modified, gospel themed versions of his own material. He said in an interview that he almost quit making rap music because it’s “the devil’s music.” And there’s even claims that he requested that people involved in the production of JESUS IS KING who were not married abstain from sex during the course of the production. So here again we have a radical devotion to a newfound faith.

But when you bring the final product into the comparison, similarities begin to come fewer and farther between. The critical reception of JESUS IS KING has been mixed at best. It currently sits at a 48 on Metacritic (at the time of writing), which puts it in the lowest five scores for the year so far. The production is uneven with evidence of Kanye’s constant meddling throughout. And where Dylan was convicted in his new faith and shared the Gospel as he understood it, Kanye is more using his Christianity as a vehicle to call out his naysayers. One can only hope that if we get more albums out of this Christian era, that they increase in quality and content rather than decrease like they did with Dylan.

Kanye also has a history of being incredibly impulsive. That coupled with the uncertainty of the future makes the longevity of this Christian period a big, fat question mark. We have no way of knowing if Kanye is in this for the long haul or if this will just be a short detour like Dylan’s. And if I’m honest, I don’t think Kanye really knows either. What I do know is that, regardless of your opinions of it, religion can be a very helpful thing for some people. Kanye West is clearly a man with a lot of personal demons. I think we can endure some disappointing music if that’s the price we have to pay for someone to become a happier and healthier person. Personally, I’d like to see another attempt at a gospel rap album, one that’s more focused and thought out. I believe that Kanye certainly has the ability to create a great album in that style. But we won’t know until his next album gets announced and then delayed… and delayed again.