The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 9 — Taylor Swift, wrapping up 2020 releases & more!

This edition of The Endless Music Odyssey is a bit shorter than previous editions, as I wrap up the rest of the 2020 releases I wanted to cover (with one big exception, which will be covered in a full review soon). So after one more review, I’ll begin to listen to and review new releases in 2021 (I haven’t listened to an album released this year yet as of this writing). This could also be dubbed the “Worth a Listen” edition, as every album I review in it falls under the category.

Buy It

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Stream It

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Worth a Listen

Taylor Swift — evermore

I had a lot to say about folklore and a lot of it positive. With evermore, I don’t have much to say and a lot of it a simple “meh” from me. The album starts out pretty strong for me: “willow” is catchy and grabs my attention, “champagne problems” is an interesting song about how things fall apart and “gold rush” has a lush, soaring production I can appreciate. And the best song on the album for me is “no body, no crime,” an excellently written murder ballad with a great feature from HAIM. It’s mysterious, intriguing and I hope it’s a huge hit.

But unfortunately the rest of this album does nothing for me. Ultimately the folky, alternative-influenced brand of pop runs thin for Swift. Now admittedly part of what probably hurts my perception of this album is hearing folklore and reviewing it not too long ago. So this does make me a bit more susceptible of fatigue on this sound and themes. But there’s also just not a lot different from folklore for me to get excited about evermore. The production choices feel a bit safer on this album too. Who knows maybe with time I’ll find more to appreciate about this album, but for now it’s just not a record that moves the needle much for me.

The Wild Feathers — Medium Rarities 

The Wild Feathers are a heartland/70s rock-inspired group that I’m surprised doesn’t get more buzz. They have a style and sound that is breezy and easy to like. Nevertheless if you enjoy this style of music they’re well worth your time. On their latest release Medium Rarities, they join the 1,000 mile-long list of bands who released a cover album in 2020. This album covers a variety of different eras of rock and it’s all in all pretty solid. There’s not a single bad track, but there’s nothing mind-blowing either. While the cover albums were enjoyable in 2020 for a while, I hope this trend stops in 2021. I know bands are bored right now with no touring and they’re trying to keep generating attention so they don’t get lost in the endless jungle of music in today’s world, but I’m beyond over cover albums at this point and I would rather hear more live albums instead.

Jack Harlow — That’s What They All Say

I honestly didn’t plan to pay this album any attention until I saw Sturgill Simpson give it a shoutout on Instagram. Any time an artist I enjoy recommends an artist I’ve never heard of, I’ll usually give it a look because I’ve found several great artists this way. Jack Harlow immediately became intriguing when I read that his influences are old school country like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and 90s/2000s hip hop like A Tribe Called Quest and Kanye (his early material, not the garbage he’s recently released). The music is not quite as intriguing though.

It’s definitely got a catchy, melodic vibe, which is apparently what Harlow says he goes for in his music. So mission accomplished. However, it’s not catchy and melodic enough to make me want to revisit it. There’s a few songs that are like his hit “Whats Poppin.” “Tyler Herro,” “Faces of My City” and “Luv is Dro” are pretty catchy and something I certainly wouldn’t skip if I heard on a playlist. But that leads me to this album’s biggest flaw: it’s too safe. It takes no chances and is the definition of playlist fodder. There’s also an abnormally large amount of references to Harlow’s high school days and classmates, which I guess isn’t shocking for someone a few years removed from graduating high school. But it doesn’t make for very interesting lyrics and certainly isn’t an interesting topic for people any older than him listening.

With age I think Harlow will get much better as he gains maturity and goes through more life experiences. He shows hints of introspection and deeper thinking at moments on this album, especially when he addresses the opportunity and privilege gap between himself and his black friends he grew up with in Kentucky (“Baxter Avenue”). So while this album is not good enough that I would seek it out to listen to in my free time, it’s not bad either where you would avoid listening to it. It’s an agreeable, pop-y hip hop album from a young artist with potential.

Black Thought — Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane and Abel

Black Thought is undoubtedly one of the best MCs and lyricists in hip-hop. But it hasn’t quite necessarily translated to a great front-t0-back, full solo project. In his first two volumes of his Streams of Thought series the rapping was excellent as you would expect, but the music itself wasn’t necessarily the most engaging and interesting. It admittedly lacked some flash and they were too short to really get hooked. So on the surface for the third volume, Black Thought appears to directly address both of these: it’s a full album with major label support now, so it allowed him to bring in some heavy-hitting, big names as features. Unfortunately this album goes too far in the flash direction and loses too much substance.

There are some great songs on this album that show Black Thought at his full potential and utilize some excellent features (“Good Morning” with Pusha T and Killer Mike and “Steak Um” with ScHoolboy Q). “Thought vs Everybody” is a prime example of Black Thought bringing his best to the table in terms of his strengths. But the rest of this album has a very disjointed, watered-down feel in an attempt to have greater universal appeal. In the process Black Thought strips away what makes his music appealing in the first place. One of this album’s biggest flaws is multiple Portugal. The Man features, as each one feels so out of place. If Black Thought wanted to bring a more indie pop flavor to his music, there are a plethora of better options that would have been better fits with his style. Portugal. The Man has unfortunately in recent years has come to exemplify the definition of generic indie pop music. See how this isn’t a good fit with deeply lyrical-based hip hop?

It’s worth checking this album out, as there are some good things to enjoy about it. But it’s certainly not an album as a whole worth revisiting and if anything repeat listens makes one frustrated that this album couldn’t avoid such obvious pitfalls.

Avoid It

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4 thoughts on “The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 9 — Taylor Swift, wrapping up 2020 releases & more!

  1. Zackary Kephart January 27, 2021 / 1:59 pm

    Honestly, given the chilly reception of ‘evermore’ (for Swift standards, that is, and especially compared to ‘folklore’), I’m not sure I see her returning to this sound again. Not for a long time, at least. I see her taking a break and building off ‘Lover,’ if anything, and likely when things settle down some.

    Also, it’s weird. I was all set to cover that Wild Feathers album, and I have you to thank for introducing me to them when you covered them years ago. But I didn’t like this new one at all, even for a covers project.

    Great stuff as always!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh January 27, 2021 / 2:26 pm

      I agree! I think this style was fitting for this moment we’re in with the pandemic right now, but not something that Swift will stick with long-term. All in all though I think a successful “experiment,” as it produced several good songs and some hits for her. Yes, either ‘Lover’ or I could see her trying to get in on the disco revival that’s been happening in pop.

      That’s understandable! Their last album was way better and even the one before it. This one felt a bit rushed out and it may be due to the fact Warner has appeared to drop them from the label. But they should be fine as they’re set to be a supporting act for Blackberry Smoke’s postponed tour.

      And thanks man!

      Like

      • Zackary Kephart January 27, 2021 / 2:33 pm

        Agreed. Actually, on a separate but related note, while my 2020 playlist was pretty downbeat, I’m gravitating more upbeat stuff with new releases. It’s weird, given that things aren’t back to normal or much different, but I think it’s just a case of oversaturation, so I hear you on that note too with the cover albums. I’d love to hear more live albums, even if it is just stuff taken from older shows from years ago.

        I guess that ties into another point of how, to a large extent, I get it. New releases are pretty bare this year, and I can’t imagine how much long-term damage this will have (and already has) on artists overall, hence why I’m not much in a critical mood lately. But I’m with you on being kind of over these haphazard releases. I’m all for creativity, but the well has run dry on delivering certain types of projects so to say, haha.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Josh January 27, 2021 / 3:16 pm

          I think that’s a pretty natural reaction. I’ve went through similar shifts myself. It can be pretty easy to fall into a routine of the same sound, especially if it becomes a trend. One thing I’ve been doing lately that helps me is listening to a mix of modern and past releases. Listening to a variety helps me keep music in perspective so to speak and not get caught up in the current trends or sounds. The modern music release machine is so rapid and the pressure to keep up causes a monosound to form for both artists and listeners. At least from my perspective haha

          Yeah it’s going to be interesting to see what damage has been done. I have a feeling that live music is going to be a mess when it comes back, due to pent up demand on all sides and inevitably large price hikes venues will institute to make losses back. Sturgill Simpson also posted on his Instagram last year that TicketMaster sent him a contract asking to take more money from his share. So that’s going to be a battle too. But yes I hope some more creative ideas are sought! I’m shocked there hasn’t been more collaboration projects, as technology should allow for it. More Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen type projects would be great!

          Liked by 1 person

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