Editor’s note: From 2012 to 2014, Matt Rice wrote the music column Matt on Music for The Eastern Echo, the student newspaper for Eastern Michigan University. Beginning in 2016, Matt relaunched this column on The Young Folks.
My New Year’s resolution is to write more, and hopefully make this column a regular, weekly thing. With few new releases to write about, though, I’ll have to start with some surprised late December releases.
In this decade, the surprise December release has become a staple, with Beyoncé’s self-titled album in 2013, D’Angelo’s Black Messiah in 2014, and Pusha T’s King Push – Darkest Before the Done: The Prelude all pleasantly surprising fans and infuriating critics who just wanted to be done with their year-end lists.
In 2016, there was nothing really on that level. There wasn’t an album big enough to make all the already-submitted lists null and void, even with a highly praised new Run the Jewels album (which is getting its physical release in 2017, anyway). But here are three albums that at least came close to stirring the pot that it is list season.
Jeremih & Chance: Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama (self-released) This Christmas gift from the first major explicitly millennial artist is undoubtedly of my generation, a joyous album for 20-somethings who still find it hard to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. All Christmas albums are flawed, and this is no exception, obviously a mixtape in consistency and flow; this is unusual for the generally tight Chance, so I have to place the blame on the overshadowed and often spotty Jeremih. But considering how mass produced Christmas albums are, hearing one that sounds new, doesn’t feel slapped together, and actually illustrates the excitement and love of the holidays–even with a Hannibal Buress skit calling out consumerism–is delightful and satisfying. Highlight: “Chi Town Christmas,” which should be on everyone’s playlists come future holidays. 8/10
Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 3 (Run the Jewels, Inc.) Third time isn’t the charm. Killer Mike is much smarter than the typical Bernie bro, but he nevertheless puts more stock in defending sexist anti-Hillary comments than going after our future president (who, to be fair, didn’t seem much like our future president when this was crafted). The record sounds fine, but the novelty’s worn off since last time and El-P is tiring as ever, his sex boasts (“I got a brain-with-an-ass girl”) neither as funny nor as endearing as Kevin Gates’. All in all, less biting than I expected from a group whose last album made its impact largely because of its militancy. Overlong, too. But it is worth noting that, when they hit their radical stride on “Thieves!” and the closer, the beats follow suit. 7.5/10
Nine Inch Nails: Not the Actual Events (The Null Corporation) As artists like Trent Reznor get older, there’s the vague hope that they’ll mature, at least enough to start seeing the humor in their angst. So far, his output this decade has been been fairly rich. Hesitation Marks is among the band’s best straightforward rock albums, while his Gone Girl score was one of the few saving graces of that piece of shit. But here, there’s little semblance of progression, self-awareness, or value. “Dear World,” brings them closer to being the synthpop band they’ve always had in them, and the full-on heavy metal of “The Idea of You” is cute enough. Elsewhere, it’s the same old white male angst bullshit, which in the age of Gamergate isn’t even entertaining. 5.5/10
Single of the Week – Sam Hunt: “Drinkin Too Much” (MCA Nashville) Bro country meets Drake, with a lyric that makes “Hotline Bling” sound like a Bikini Kill song comparatively. And yet I love it, despite myself.