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.

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Album Review — Westside Gunn’s ‘WHO MADE THE SUNSHINE’

Out of the Big Three of Griselda, it feels like Westside Gunn is the least heralded. It’s not a big surprise, as his style isn’t as accessible as Benny the Butcher and nor as lyrically compelling as Conway the Machine. But with his major label debut album WHO MADE THE SUNSHINE, Gunn has delivered what I arguably believe to be his best project yet. It shows what he’s best at and that’s delivering exciting flash.

“Sunshine Intro” leads off the album and not only sets the tone of it well with the eery beats, but it also features AA Rashid explaining the duality of lightness and darkness. It’s an interesting introduction that gives way to one of my favorite songs of 2020, “The Butcher and The Blade.” Paying homage to the AEW tag team of the same name (who also originate from Buffalo, New York like Griselda), the beat of this song is downright nasty. The exasperated exclaim of “fuck” at the beginning of the song is such a nice summation of how great this song is. It’s the standard Griselda joint, as each of the big three absolutely split fire over a swirling and surrealistic piano-driven beat. Big props to producers Daringer and Beat Butcha. And while each rapper on this song sounds great, Conway’s verse is absolutely incredible and further shows why he’s the lyricist king of the trio.

Gunn is joined by the iconic Black Thought on “Ishkabibble’s” and as always Black Thought delivers excellent bars. Also I’m impressed as always by his flow, as it’s just so smooth and flawless. Gunn holds his own though too and it’s one of many examples on this album show how when Gunn focuses he can be just as great as his Griselda brothers and the high-profile guests on this album. Boldy James and Jadakiss join “All Praises.” This song took a few listens to grow on me, as it just didn’t feel as strong as other songs on the album. It also has the misfortune of following up two great songs. James’ delivery still isn’t the most compelling to me, as I find it to be a bit stilted and dry for me. Jadakiss though sounds great, as his grimy delivery and solid bars add some much needed grit to this more polished sounding track.

“Big Basha’s” is the only solo Gunn track on the album and I wish we would have gotten more of this on the album. While the guest features on this are excellent, they also overshadow Gunn many times and it feels like he’s lost in his own album. It doesn’t help either that this song is so short too. Despite this song’s shortness, Gunn demonstrates great storytelling on the song, describing a grizzly scene that is common when drug deals go bad. “Liz Loves Luger” is the most controversial track on the album and that’s because it’s about Gunn busting a nut. And we also get to graphically hear him receiving this. Yeah, not something most people want to hear. But props to Armani Caesar for delivering a great feature, as she flows so naturally over the beat.

“Ocean Prime” is so slick and we get to hear two amazing features on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of delivery. First you have Busta Rhymes, who just goes absolutely ham over the beat. His crazy, frenetic, high energy he brings is so infectious. This is followed up by the legendary Slick Rick, who is the definition of cool, calm and collected with his delivery. I find it really cool to hear such differing deliveries in one song and how the versatility in styles in hip hop is what makes it so compelling. “Lessie” is one of my least favorite songs on the album, as it’s just not memorable lyrically and Keisha Plum’s spoken word features never really do anything for me.

“Frank Murphy” is a whopping eight minutes long and based on this runtime, your mileage will vary with this track. The production from Conductor Williams is without a doubt fantastic. It’s dirty, bleeding horns-driven beat is so much fun and it’s a sound you won’t forget after hearing it. It’s a long feature list on the track, but for me Stove God Cooks and Flee Lord deliver the best verses, as they bring the fire and intensity necessary for such a dominating beat. Gunn’s charisma shines well over the beat too. But I just don’t really see why this needed to be this long of a song. It’s not terrible, but it could have sounded just as great if not better at four minutes, as you run the risk of burning the listener out on such a long track with a beat, while compelling, that is also same-y sounding throughout.

“Good Night” features the best storytelling and lyrics on the album, as Gunn and Slick Rick tell an exciting story about a drug deal gone wrong between Gunn and a dealer and his cousin, who’s a rookie cop. The beginning of the song is from Gunn’s perspective and then later Rick comes in with the rookie cop’s side of the story. There’s so many twist and turns throughout the story, so be sure to listen to this until the end. And I’m glad to hear Slick Rick get an extended verse on this track, he once again delivers some cool, hard-hitting bars.

“98 Sabers” is the final track on the album and man does this record go out with an absolute bang. Just Blaze produces an absolute filthy, evil beat that shows why he’s one of the most respected producers in hip hop. Then Gunn, Caesar, Conway and Benny all sound their best, as it feels like each are trying to outdo the other. Everything about this song just feels epic, as it just keeps building and building, never letting up like “Monster” from Kanye’s My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy. It’s by far one of the best songs I’ve heard from Gunn.

WHO MADE THE SUNSHINE is a really fun album that’s enjoyable from front to back. Westside Gunn really steps up his game in his major label debut and shows why Griselda is the fastest rising group in hip hop. This album won’t compete for my top hip hop album of the year, but it’s definitely a record that is worthy of being in rotation for a long time and there are two songs on this album that absolutely belong on the best songs of the year list (“The Butcher and The Blade” and “98 Sabers”).

Grade: 8/10

Album Review — Eminem’s ‘Music To Be Murdered By’

I can’t recall the last time I’ve listened to an album and upon the very first listen getting more annoyed with each passing song. But this new surprise album from Eminem fits the bill. At 20 songs long and over an hour long, it’s an absolute pain in the ass to listen to this album. It’s not fun nor interesting. The themes on this album are so cringy, corny and off-putting that I could barely muster a few listens. Eminem’s Music To Be Murdered By is an album so terrible that I’m not really sure where to begin with all of the things I hate about it.

Keep in mind I enjoyed his previous album (which was also a surprise) Kamikaze. Perhaps I should also preface that maybe I’ve just reached a point where I’m just tired of Eminem and his schtick because he does things on this album that at this point in his career he’s already done a million times. He takes beating a dead horse to a new extreme. For example, songs like “Leaving Heaven” and “Stepdad.” Both songs see him complaining about his dad and stepdad respectively (the latter also features a horribly clunky and forced hook). And I understand that it must have been difficult to have such a rough upbringing. But Eminem has already done tons of songs about these issues. He says nothing new about these subjects that we haven’t already heard from him. Complaining about his family, critics and life in general feel like the only three topics he can rap about. There’s just no adapting or growth; he’s complaining about the same things at nearly 50 as he was in his 20s.

Then we get to the bars on this album. Now Eminem has always had issues creep up of dropping corny and just nonsensical bars that make no sense (see Revival). But this feels even worse at moments on this album. And again maybe this is just me reaching an age where Eminem’s humor and bars no longer appeal to me. But please tell me with a straight face that these are “fire” bars:

“Game ov-over, Thanos on you H-Os/On my petty shit but I don’t paint toes/Get the plunger ’cause Marshall and MA go plumb crazy/Call us Liquid Plumber ’cause even Dre know.”

And yes I’m well aware of the wordplay at the end with the Dre line, but it’s not clever. Why do I want to hear bars about toilets too? I could spend hundreds of words going over all the bad lyrics that plague this album, but I’m not in the mood for this painful exercise as listening to this album was enough of a chore. What makes these lyrics stand out even worse is having features from artists that never fail to deliver clever wordplay and lyrics like Black Thought, Royce da 5’9″ and Q-Tip.

But I haven’t even covered the worst thing about this album. The worst moment on this album is “Darkness,” a song that you think starts out as your typical song from Eminem about being depressed about fame. But then it reveals itself to be an exact recounting of the night of the Las Vegas shooter at the country festival, with Eminem imagining himself as the shooter. Now here’s why this song fails on so many levels: For one, it’s incredibly disturbing and tasteless (not to mention exploiting tragedy for profit). Secondly, Eminem fails to make any point with this song. He just does an exact recounting of the incident and then at the end raps some vague lyrics about gun control and clips of the media play. No point of substance is made. It feels shallow and tries way too hard to get across a message, even though it fails to do this while also failing to be a quality song.

This is my big problem with the political and message songs in general nowadays. Modern artists want to tell us and preach to us these messages, instead of focusing making a quality song that shows us the message. Messages are just so ham-fisted with no regard to the quality of the song and begs the questions of why someone would want to willing listen to a song like this. It’s also pretty hard to get a serious message across about shootings when throughout the rest of the album and in previous albums Eminem would make light of these incidents and casually drop references to them to craft “clever” wordplay. It comes off as fake, insincere and trying to have your cake while eating it too. And Eminem wonders why people don’t take his message songs seriously.

What’s even more bizarre is while parts of this album is Eminem being your woke Twitter friend, the other is him being a callous, edgy teenager who surfs the dark web all day and thinks dead baby jokes are hilarious. As I said before it makes it hard to take anything he raps about seriously on this album, but also makes for a weird and disorienting listen. It’s almost as if Eminem wants to keep his old crowd while also trying to desperately win over socially conscious young people. He bitches about the critics and some listeners not liking him and his music, yet he tries to win them over too. Eminem can’t pick a lane and make up his mind.

It’s not like this album is completely devoid of any quality, as the production is good to decent in most spots and there’s not a bad feature, as each of his features brought much needed quality to the table. “Godzilla” with the late Juice WRLD is a solid song that shows off Eminem’s impressive rapid delivery and both men contribute some great bars. I like the Alfred Hitchcock inspiration behind it too. But the lingering and large issues that permeate nearly every aspect of this album make it hard to appreciate what little this album gets right. I didn’t even get into him doing yet another bad song with Ed Sheeran or his awkward romantic relationship songs that he never pulls off. Music To Be Murdered By is way too long and sees Eminem indulging in his worst tendencies, making for an album that left me highly annoyed and having no desire to listen to it again.

Grade: 2/10

https://open.spotify.com/album/4otkd9As6YaxxEkIjXPiZ6

Album Review — Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s ‘Bandana’

The last time Freddie Gibbs and Madlib teamed up for an album, they delivered a stone-cold classic in Piñata. So expectations were sky high for Bandana and while it’s not quite as great as Piñata, it comes pretty damn close. From front to back this album is full of bangers, bars and beats that constantly leave you coming back for more.

Opening tracks “Obrigado” and “Freestyle Shit” establish the humor and grittiness that you’re accustomed to hearing in a Gibbs album. “Half Manne Half Cocaine” is a bit of a departure from the usual for Gibbs and Madlib with its heavily trap influenced sound, but you wouldn’t know it with Gibbs’ flawless flow over the beat.

“Crime Pays” is more in line from what you expect from the duo and it’s definitely one of the standouts on the album. Everything about this track is smooth and it’s one of many moments on the album that shows how Gibbs just continues to improve both his technical rapping skills and his bars. “Massage Seats” is a fun banger that features some of my favorite bars (“Golden State, the roster, my garage deep” and “Big baller, father, you my son like Lonzo”).

When looking at the track list, “Palmolive” immediately stands out with its A-list features of Pusha T and Killer Mike. And it goes just as hard you expect with these three on a song, with a perfectly nasty sound. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say there are two disappointments with this song: Freddie’s unfortunate anti-vax bar and Killer Mike not getting a verse. Pusha T however absolutely destroys his verse and it continues a year in which he’s delivered some of the best features in hip hop. I also love the stand-up interlude at the end, as it’s classic Gibbs humor.

“Fake Names” goes into the dark and gritty details of Gibbs’ experience of dealing cocaine and the relationships and the greed of the parties involved. While it’s most definitely a banger, Gibbs also does an excellent job displaying his storytelling chops with all of the intricacies the songs covers. It’s Gibbs at this best at what he raps about best. “Flat Tummy Tea” is another fun song and it sounds so much better within the album compared to when it was first released as a standalone single.

“Situations” is my favorite of the album and it’s because of the smooth, yet frenetic delivery from Gibbs and the grimy production from Madlib. Everything just goes together so well on this track and you just get slapped in the face with bars (my favorite being “Motherfuck Jeff Sessions, I’m sellin’ dope with a weapon”). Gibbs comes through with another great interlude on this song too, this time the funny and insightful cussing pastor.

“Giannis” sees Gibbs dropping great bars about everything, from watching Dora the Explorer with his daughter and then getting right back to making dope to calling out rappers getting screwed on 360 deals. Anderson .Paak comes through with a really nice feature and fits over the production well with his delivery. “Practice” is one of the most introspective songs Gibbs has ever done, as it examines how he treats his loved ones and having to change his ways for them. It’s really nice to see and further proof to those who unfairly dismiss him as just a coke bar rapper.

“Cataracts” is an awesome banger and another standout on the album. “I’m chillin’ in my old school, Chevy thang, Cadillac/Smokin’ on that good, good/Good for my cataracts” is one of the best bars on the album, with its catchy wordplay and flawless delivery from Gibbs. “Gat Damn” is one of the more overlooked tracks, but it’s grown on me with more listens and I’m enjoying it more. I think a lot of people will overlook that the song revolves around Gibbs reflecting on his time in jail for being falsely accused of rape and gets more introspective than you realize. It’s also a different flow from a lot of the album and showcases yet another side of Gibbs’ abilities.

“Education” is a song I feel I can’t really do justice because it not only covers so many important topics, but the amount of amazing lyricism from Yasiin Bey, Black Thought and Gibbs is something you just have to hear for yourself. To me this is the type of song you play for people who thumb their nose down on hip hop and say hip hop artists can’t pen serious lyrics like other genres.

The album’s closing song “Soul Right” is Gibbs reflecting on his lifestyle and his choices, and while he realizes he’s made mistakes, he still hopes for forgiveness from God and to get his soul right with him. The dichotomy of the immorality of his actions and the justification of them in the name of injustice and making ends meet is explored throughout the album and so it’s perfect that it ends with him striving for an inner peace after years of grinding to where he’s at now.

Once again Freddie Gibbs and Madlib deliver big, as Bandana is probably not only the best album you’ll hear in hip hop this year, but one of the best albums you’ll hear out of all genres.

Grade: 10/10