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. In 2016, Matt relaunched this column on The Young Folks. You can read past installments of this column here.
Last week, there was no Matt on Music, because life got in the way. Life Will See You Now, in particular, since I saw Jens Lekman live in Detroit. If you get the chance, definitely see him. Hearing his best songs together paints him as a genius in a way none of his albums—including his latest, which I might upgrade to a 9/10—have managed to. As a plus, he also enjoys the hell out of performing more than any other artist I’ve seen live. It was a blast.
Then, this weekend, as I planned my column, perhaps my favorite artist of all time, the great Chuck Berry, passed away. I’ll have an article on Chuck Berry posted sometime this week, but for now, enjoy his greatest song:
Now, onto the reviews. This week’s theme is, there is no theme. Just albums I’ve been meaning to get to, including my favorite of the year so far.
Migos: Culture (Quality Control/300/Atlantic) This is exactly the sort of album I’ve been hoping Young Thug would release: Black Portland’s consistency and pop perfection packed into a record with the production and tightness of a studio album. Thugger hasn’t been able to deliver that yet—though Barter 6 and Jeffery both came close—but his labelmates and frequent collaborators Migos have somehow accomplished it. Lyrically, it’s what happens when an already status-obsessed group gets a #1 single. Musically, the major hit and early song-of-the-year candidate “Bad and Boujee” is just one of the many pleasures here. Other notable moments include the follow-up single “T-Shirt,” and “Big on Big,” whose twinkling piano almost puts it on the level of “Bad and Boujee.” It is disheartening that this trio—whose homophobic comments earlier this year make this harder to love than it should be—made this record instead of a trap artist who said, “I feel like there’s no such thing as gender.” But what can you do? 9/10
Kehlani: SweetSexySavage (Deluxe Edition) (Atlantic) This begins with a sequence of some of the best R&B cuts you’ll hear this year, if not this decade. Most astounding is her ability to revel in contradictions, going from the heartbroken (“Escape”) to the “badass bitch” heartbreaker (“Too Much”) in a single transition. That type of split personality, delivered with flawless ease, is what makes this brand of pop R&B so poignant and eclectic, after all, and the sound has plenty of eclecticism as well (check out the way “Escape” combines electronic and acoustic instruments). But the standard edition falters in the final quarter, closing with a few forgettable ballads. So get the deluxe, which has the sense to close with two great ones: “I Wanna Be” and (from the Suicide Squad soundtrack) “Gangsta.” Nevertheless, both standard and deluxe are about half a spectacular R&B record. 8/10
Spoon: Hot Thoughts (Matador) Britt Daniel may be the most boring frontman to a good band this century, and Spoon isn’t even the only good band he fronts. Both he and his groups are at their best when he serves the purpose of aiding pseudo-soul, as he did with the white-guy grooves of Kill the Moonlight and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. So this record, in which they discover electronic instruments (long after indie bands are supposed to) and attempt to turn their distinctively vanilla indie-rock into full-on funk, tops their other albums from the ‘Teens (though not the excellent Divine Fits debut). It still doesn’t quite stack up to their best work, though, largely because of the clumsily political “Tear It Down,” in which Daniel fails to decide whether he wants to be subtle and obvious and winds up with a mess. And when the band goes instrumental on “Pink Up”’s opening minutes and throughout closing song “Us,” Daniel proves more integral than I previously thought. The outlier is the titular song, which sits among their finest. 7.5/10
Dirty Projectors: Dirty Projectors (Domino) I can’t wait for Amber Coffman’s debut, since it could reveal how central she was to holding this band together. Like so many other indie-rock songsmiths, David Longstreth reached his peak and then fell into the trap of the tortured artist, culminating in an album about his and Coffman’s breakup in which his knack for mixing beauty and roughness (best seen on the band’s only great album, Swing Lo Magellan) only shows itself a couple times. Mostly, it’s just rocky, and not in a way that’s enlightening or enjoyable. It’s seven minutes longer than the last one, too, with three fewer songs. Joy. 6.5/10
Thundercat: Drunk (Brainfeeder) I think I remember him having songs before. Then again, I haven’t listened to Apocalypse since it came out, and if that represents him at his most tuneful, then I imagine this one will fare worse in re-playability. Along with the record’s tiresome vignette format, likely the effect of Flying Lotus stepping in as producer, the occasional dick and fart jokes pale in comparison to those of better artists (George Clinton, The Moldy Peaches, Eminem, etc.). Beyond that, there is also his friendzone song, which is worthless, and outside of the gross-out humor and just grossness, it’s mostly just a slog. The Michael McDonald/Kenny Loggins appearance gets points for concept, the Kendrick appearance points for Kendrick. It’s no coincidence that those are on the best tracks on the album. 4.5/10
My two singles of the week (to make up for last week’s absence):
Nicki Minaj: “Regret in Your Tears”(Young Money/Cash Money/Republic) I couldn’t care less about the feud with Remy Ma. What’s the point of putting any sort of stock into a fight where no one can come out looking good? So my favorite of the three new songs she released earlier this month is “Regret in Your Tears,” about her breakup with Meek Mill. Odd, since a lot of what I like about it are things that kept me at a distance with The Pinkprint. Either she’s maturing or I am.
Taeyeon: “I Got Love” (S.M. Entertainment) The first Korean song I’ve loved in 2017, with the weirdest sounding synth hook you’re likely to hear this year..