Another month, another batch of music to review and/or lampoon.
Zack’s Top 3 Albums of the Month
3. Tim Heidecker – Fear of Death
2. Big Sean – Detroit 2
Detroit 2 was released nearly 8 years to the day of the release of Big Sean’s fourth mixtape, Detroit. Back then, Sean was doing it: his first studio album, Finally Famous, had dropped the year prior. A week after Detroit would be the release of Cruel Summer, a compilation album showcasing several G.O.O.D. Music artist, including Sean on two smashers: Clique and Mercy. He was still with his high-school sweetheart too.
Fast-forward to today: Detroit 2 is Big Sean’s sixth studio album, and he hasn’t slowed down a lick. He’s quietly made a name for himself as one of the best rappers in the game. And, like all the greats do, he spans a variety of topics on Detroit 2, without holding anything back. Whether it’s the diagnosis of his heart condition on “Lucky Me”, the squashing of the apparent non-beef with Kendrick Lamar on “Deep Reverence”, or the vulnerable matters-of-the-heart jam “Guard Your Heart”, Sean puts it all out on the table.
As far as the music itself, Big Sean has one of those unique talents in the rap game. He has ridiculously-nuanced flows, can change said flows up on a dime, and yet still maintains a sort of conversational tone. The beats are amazing (the aforementioned “Lucky Me” and “Full Circle” being tops in that arena), and the featureds are out of this world too. Nipsey (RIP), Post Malone (who does a great job on “Wolves”), and super-dope spoken-word tracks from both Dave Chappelle and noted queen Erykah Badu.
You might be thinking to yourself, “wow, that sounds like a lot. This joint must be 20 tracks long!” 21, actually. But Detroit 2 never slogs, it never slows, and it never fails to impress. Outstanding work from one of the faces on Detroit’s hip-hop Mt. Rushmore (Em, the late J. Dilla and the late Proof, if you were wondering).
FFO: Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak
1. Little Hag – Whatever Happened to Avery Jane?
When an album has track titles like “Tetris”, “Walk of Shame” and “No More Dick Pix”, you know it’s gonna be interesting. And singer-songwriter Little Hag, formerly known by her name, Avery Mandeville, has definitely put together an interesting release – and a great one, at that. The mostly-acoustic album Whatever Happened to Avery Jane? is a real adventure.
Speaking of “Tetris”, that first song on the album begins with this lyric: “Everyone wants to fuck me/No one wants to see me cry”. (And I’m fairly certain it samples actual Tetris game sounds too, but I digress.) As you can tell, Little Hag is not in the business of pulling punches. She goes on to wax poetic about a previous love interest’s social media activity (“Facebook”), the pain of drug addiction (“Alexander”), and an overabundance of dick pix (the aforementioned “No More Dick Pix”).
As far as Little Hag’s vocals are concerned, I’m gonna let her Spotify bio speak for me: “Her unique voice has been compared to Roy Orbison, Angel Olsen, silk taffeta, a river of bourbon, and a car backing out of a gravel driveway”. Yeah, that, uhhh, sums it up perfectly. Now I didn’t say that any of that was bad, and it indeed is not. Little Hag’s voice is at once sultry, spiteful, and vulnerable, and those three traits have her constantly on the precipice of yelling “FUCK YOUUUUU” at the top of her lungs to anyone within earshot.
Again referencing Little Hag’s Spotify bio, Whatever Happened To Avery Jane? is a compilation of older tracks, presumably some from the Avery Mandeville days. Considering how delightful the older tracks are, I’m very much looking forward to the newer stuff too, whenever that may come out. I’ll be waiting patiently.
FFO: Haley Heynderickx, Julia Jacklin, and – apparently – Angel Olsen and Roy Orbison
Jeremy’s Top 3 Albums of the Month
3. Ian Wayne – Risking Illness
The songs that make up Risking Illness are centered around a simple, yet rather terrifying concept: “forces outside your control can become the cornerstone of your worldview” (from Spotify). The catalyst for this nihilistic rhetoric was the death of Wayne’s nephew, who was diagnosed with leukemia and succumbed within a few weeks.
The album is subtle and somber, with simple lines and an easy vibe. It is one of the most beautiful, aching collections of songs I have heard in years. You can hear his ennui with every breathy lyric. I highly recommend you take this record in small doses, lest you dehydrate yourself in a sea of tears.
FFO: Nick Drake, Nathaniel Rateliff, Songs:Ohia
Start With: “Now is Was”, “Winter’s”
2. Sprain – As Lost Through Collision
As happens very rarely, words are failing me somewhat with this album. It isn’t that I don’t have things to say, it’s just that nothing seems adequate. This is a once-in-a-decade act that shows up to confuse the populace, inspire creativity in garage-ready groups, then disappear and become a thing of legend.
The artistry of Sprain is something that (most likely) only a snob of the highest caliber can ascertain. The rest will hate it as much as BWG’s love them some Punkin’ Spice. The guitar work is all angles and sharp edges. The drums are erratic and the bass drones and pops at strange moments. The vocals are at once subdued and over the top.
5 songs make up the 45 minute runtime of the album. “Slant” opens up as a good lead in to the rest of the songs, as it contains elements of slowcore and the violence of cathartic post-indie artcore, which I think I just made up. It is also one of 2 tracks that comes in under 6 minutes.
The second song, “My Way Out”, takes a different tack, slowing and mellowing to the point of near-nonexistence (around the 3:00 mark). But don’t let it lull you to sleep! At around the 6:00 mark, the lightning hammer of an angry god crashes upon your unsuspecting soul (or ears, as the case may be). Seriously, I wasn’t ready for it and spilled my beverage.
Track 4, aptly titled “Everything”, is a 15-minute slog through a war torn mindscape, haunted by squealing electric nightmares, devastating thunderquakes, and the endless torment of Limbo.
If you value artistic integrity, grit, skill, and pure emotion over aesthetics, this will be your favorite record of 2020.
FFO: Slint, Unwound, The Jesus Lizard
1. Bear’s Den – Fragments
“Is there anything I don’t regret?” (“Fuel on the Fire”)
This is one of those records that sticks to your ribs, meaty with plenty to digest. British indie/folk-rock trio Bear’s Den is poised to be a great name on a global scale. There is a palpable beauty and depth contained in each sung syllable, accented by piano, guitar, and various stringed and orchestral instruments arranged by Mr. Frith.
It should be noted that a fair number of these tunes had been previously released on other Bear’s Den albums. While they were good tracks, the impact of the compositional arrangements cannot be overstated. The Fragments versions of “Isaac”, “Fuel on the Fire”, “Crow”, and “Breaker/Keeper” in particular are striking in there subtle but impactful differences.
FFO: Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, The Wood Brothers