Spinning All The Records — April/May 2020

Hey all! So I wanted to give a quick update on the plans for the site moving forward and what’s been happening. First I wanted to address the abrupt stop in posts. The reason for this was due to a privacy issue that I would chalk more up to trolling than a legitimate concern. But at the time I wanted to be safe and closed the blog down temporarily. It’s now back of course, but I wanted to give you all an explanation, as I hated leaving you hanging without a reason. 

During this downtime I started to rethink of how I want to approach posting on the blog. And to be quite frank I was starting to fall into an old bad habit of mine of listening to post reviews, instead of listening and then posting a review when I’m ready. It’s so easy nowadays to fall into the trap of wanting to constantly keep up with every release and I find personally this ruins my own listening experience. So I realized I need to get away from my usual style and do something that fits me better. 

My first thought was a podcast and I even got to the point of test recording and a first episode written out. But unfortunately I’ve realized I simply just don’t have the proper amount of time to do one. As someone who has done a podcast before and felt I did it the right way, it takes A LOT of work and time to pull off, at least in the way I would want to do it. Just the recording and editing alone is arduous. So for now I’ve decided not to do a podcast. I’ve not ruled out doing one at another time, but for now it’s something that will be on the back burner. 

However, the tinkering with the podcast and the realization of the need to adapt my approach did lead me to an idea of how I want to approach writing moving forward. I look at the way reviews are approached nowadays, specifically by larger publications, and I see something that just isn’t natural in this constant rush to post reviews. Most people don’t listen to an album and form such an immediate judgement. And even after the initial judgement, that opinion can then shift even more with time. But reviews don’t reflect this; there’s a finiteness about them. You post the review, the grade and then the reviewer is put into a box of defending this take for…well forever it seems like. So I hope this new style and approach will be a better reflection of the way an average listener approaches music. Stay tuned!

For now I wanted to post all of the stuff I had written below for Spinning All The Records for April 2020. And thank you for reading!

Conway the Machine & The Alchemist – LULU

This is a really tight, short and cohesive album from start to finish. As always The Alchemist brings some really smooth beats, which fit the rapid fire delivery of Conway well. Not to mention the sampling used is great too, especially on “The Contract.” ScHoolboy Q delivers a solid feature on “Shoot Sideways,” but I especially enjoy Cormega’s feature on “They Got Sunny.” The veteran rapper spits absolute fire on his verses. If you enjoy coke bar rap and the work of the Griselda Records group (which I sang their praises of last year when I put Benny the Butcher on my album of the year list), you don’t want to miss this album. 8/10

Niall Horan – Heartbreak Weather

This is an enjoyable and solid album of soft rock meets pop love songs. Although I will say it’s not all straight-ahead love songs, as Horan weaves in themes throughout the album of insecurity, doubt and details of the hard road one can experience in finding love. The album has an overall sound of being bouncy, fun and upbeat, while Horan demonstrates himself to be a charismatic vocalist with range. And while there’s many fun moments like on “Everywhere,” there’s also some more serious and introspective moments that give this album a softness to balance it out (“Put a Little Love on Me” and “Still”). 7/10

Sam Hunt – SOUTHSIDE

I’m sure some of you wanted me to do a full review takedown of this album, but it’s just not worth it (and I don’t do rants anymore). The good of this album: opening track “2016” is by far the best song Hunt has ever done. It’s melodic, it has meaning and it has heart. While the Webb Pierce sample is just necessary, putting it aside, “Hard to Forget” is undeniably catchy. So is “Body Like a Backroad” (even though it feels completely shoehorned in the album). I still enjoy “Downtown’s Dead” as much as when I originally praised it on Fusion Country. And I appreciate the attempt at a bluegrass-influenced sound on “Let It Down.” I wish he would have explored this sound more.

Now to the bad and let’s just state the biggest issue. The ordering of the songs and overall theme of the story is a complete and disjointed mess. The overall flow of the album is like a zig zag, with no logical order whatsoever. “2016” should have been the closing song. “Kinfolks” is boring as hell and forgettable. “Young Once” is just absolutely stupid with it’s premise that dumb mistakes can be completely dismissed due to youth. “That Ain’t Beautiful” would be best described as having just a gross feel about it and features the worst side of Hunt and that is him wishing he was the Drake of country music.

“Breaking Up Was Easy in the 90s” has an annoying “I was born in le wrong generation” vibe. “Sinning With You” is the ultimate display of immaturity and also features nauseatingly cliche religious imagery that comes across so fake and insincere. “Drinkin’ Too Much” is best summed up as an abomination in every way, from his Drake impression to the lyrical content being disgusting and hypocritical. If Hunt ever indulged in his best tendencies, he could deliver a good album. But this is not it. 3/10

Western Centuries – Call the Captain

This band showed a lot of potential in their debut album. Their sophomore album was completely forgettable. And this album is very much along the same lines. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but it just doesn’t stand out in any way for me.

Jessi Alexander – Decatur County Red

I can essentially repeat the same for this album. That’s the double-edged sword of independent country, well at least from my perspective. On one hand, I’m much more inclined to listen to country music from the independent realm because I know how to find it. But that also means I listen to more of it and that kind of makes the bar higher too. It’s a brutally competitive space, so standing out is key. This is a decent album and Alexander has a nice voice, but after a few listens I just don’t feel like coming back to it.

Knxwledge – 1988

This is mostly an instrumental album, not surprising as Knxwledge is mostly known as a producer, most notably his collaboration with Anderson .Paak as NxWorries. So I only recommend this album if you’re a music nerd like me who can listen to a half-hour of random beats and sounds. And if you do listen you can get a great fill of pop, R&B, hip hop and even some gospel sounds. It’s quite a relaxing, chill listen I might add too. Knxwledge cements himself further as a standout producer on 1988. 8/10

Logan Ledger – Logan Ledger

All of this build up and an intriguing voice only for this to be another new act that leans hard on a nostalgic style and adds nothing fresh to it. So it just comes off as boring. I couldn’t even make it through one listen.

Maddie & Tae – The Way It Feels

I did not expect to be sticking this album here. But then again I didn’t expect this to be a giant disappointment and I didn’t feel like re-writing the Caitlyn Smith review. Just like Smith, Maddie & Tae throw away everything on this album that made their debut album great: warm melodies, sharp songwriting and harmonies that melt the ears. In their place is schlocky pop country, copy and paste songwriting, and little to no harmonies. I literally yawned several times going through this album because it’s so predictable in it’s approach. And there’s so many boring moments that the few standouts like “Die From A Broken Heart” just get lost in this mundane and drab collection of songs. It’s just another album in a sea of albums. What a damn shame for a promising duo. 5/10

Ruthie Collins – Cold Comfort

Honestly I just couldn’t engage with this album and I think a big reason why is the image and presentation is such a 180 from her “Ramblin’ Man” days that this just comes off as too calculated and insincere for me. Maybe I’ll be able to revisit this later, but for now this comes off as “dress up” to me.


Any other releases in late April and any in May will likely be covered in some way coming soon! But please feel free to engage in the comments and ask me as always about anything that isn’t covered or for further clarification on any comments I’ve made above! 

Album Review — Jay Electronica’s ‘A Written Testimony’

The long-awaited debut album of Jay Electronica finally arrived. Years of delays and mystery around one of rap’s most promising young artists at the end of the 2000s and early 2010s is over and now A Written Testimony is here. If you’re not familiar with Electronica, read this summary of the wild and unpredictable path of his life. Electronica signed to the legendary Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation nearly a decade ago. Now on his debut album Hov himself makes an appearance on nearly every single track. Imagine having one of the all-time bests in hip-hop as your side man on your debut album. That’s crazy! But it fits with Electronica.

The album opens with “The Overwhelming Effect,” which serves more as a vignette than song as it’s a monologue from Minister Louis Farrakhan set to a beautiful sounding instrumental. That’s one important thing to note up front with this album: for better and for worse, Electronica’s faith, The Nation of Islam, has a noticeable influence throughout. I don’t really want to give my opinion on the faith itself or any other religions for that matter, as I respect all people’s beliefs. So any commentary I have regarding the religious influences on this album are strictly from a musical standpoint (just like my criticisms of gospel music and Kanye’s latest album in the past on this blog). So as far as an opener, it’s fine and I guess gives a dramatic buildup. But I would always rather hear bars to open a rap album.

“Ghost of Soulja Slim” opens not with Electronica rapping, but Jay-Z. And I have to say Jay-Z sounds as hungry and fiery as ever on not just this song, but the whole album. His bars are catchy, have something to say and get right to the point. When Electronica makes his appearance about halfway through the song, he matches Jay-Z’s bars himself. But the song drags on too long with it’s instrumental at the end and the use of the clip of the kids cheering is really annoying. I feel like this song would have been better as the introduction track, as it doesn’t really have a point and has more of an introduction/demonstration feel to it.

“The Blinding” sees the Jays joined by Travis Scott. And it’s obviously a mainstream/streaming play with Scott’s inclusion. But it’s one of my favorites on the album, as Electronica opens up about the making of this album, the pressure of the buildup of the release and how he never wants to let his daughter down. Despite it’s shortness and Scott being kind of shoehorned in, the song does well at telling a great story and giving the listener an appropriate insight into rap’s biggest enigma. “The Neverending Story” has a fun and spacey sound that envelopes the listener from the beginning and I’m not surprised that it was The Alchemist behind this smooth beat. It’s perfect for Electronica to lay down some of his most clever wordplay on the album. I particularly enjoy these lines: “Spread love like Kermit the Frog that permeate the fog/I’m at war like the Dukes of Hazzard against the Bosses of the Hogs.”

Next is “Shiny Suit Theory,” a song that came out years earlier. I’m glad it’s included though because I love the bouncy horns and glimmering chimes that drive the beat of this song. Electronica himself produced this song and it sounds great. Once again this is a song that gives an insight into Electronica’s thinking and a conversation he had with P. Diddy before dropping his album. The bars from both him and Jay-Z are tight and don’t waste any time in getting to the points they’re making. I enjoy the dramatic production on “Universal Solider,” but the bars feel too same-y to me throughout and the over-reliance of religious references doesn’t work for me. And once again I think the song carries on a bit long like “Ghost of Soulja Slim.”

Jay-Z spits absolute fire over great production from Electronica on “Flux Capacitor.” He goes on the defensive over his deal with the NFL and again I love how in the latter half of his career he’s maybe dropping some of the best bars of his career. It’s unfortunate for Electronica though he’s getting out-rapped on his own song and album, but that’s what happens I guess when you have an icon as a sideman on your album. “Fruits of the Spirit” feels more like an interlude than song but it’s still one of my favorite moments on the album. The soulful production of No I.D., one of my favorite producers in hip-hop, and Electronica rapping his ass off (with a sweet Thanos reference to start the song) makes me wish this was a full-fledged song.

I enjoy the different, clinky sound of “Ezekiel’s Wheel” and the inclusion of The-Dream as a feature is a great choice on a chiller, smooth song like this one. The bars from the Jays aren’t bad for the most part either. It’s just too long at six and a half minutes. The bars that are bad though is where Electronica raps: “It could be in Lagos, or Seattle, or Chicag-y/Hotel lobby Grammy after-party, it’s whatev-y.” It’s cringe-y and dumb-y. I do not understand why he felt the need to just randomly add y’s to these words other than trying to make his bars flow together better. Despite this baffling choice, Electronica redeems himself in a big way on the closing song of the album, “A.P.I.D.T.A.” Over gorgeous production from Khruangbin (who you know I’ve absolutely praised), Electronica absolutely pours his heart out over heartfelt bars about the loss of his mother. It’s heartbreakingly touching and beautiful personal song from Electronica that shows why his debut album has been so hyped. It’s without doubt the best song of his career.

The long-awaited debut album of Jay Electronica does not live up to it’s lofty expectations and hype, but A Written Testimony is nevertheless a pretty good album. The production is definitely the strongest point of this album, as a cavalcade of all-star producers and Electronica himself create some exciting and interesting sounds throughout the whole album. The bars on this album are mostly good despite some bumps along the way and the overuse of religious imagery. More than anything I’m glad that Jay Electronica is finally releasing music and I think on his next album we’ll see something even better from him. But for now this is a solid debut.

Grade: 7/10