Semipop Life: Hammering the nails themselves
Jamila Woods: HEAVN
Woods reclaims loneliness like she’s Wordsworth, only solace in nature would’ve been hard for Wordsworth to find if he were wandering Lake Shore Drive, regardless of the water temperature in Lake Michigan. That Woods instead finds her daffodils in “Just Like Heaven” and the Dawson’s Creek theme demonstrates she’s from more privilege than, say, guest and 2017 breakout star we hope Noname. Who knows whether she learned Rockin’ Robin in the playground or she studied it at Brown, but either way her solidarity with the vry blk runs deep, and she’s determined to use her degree to keep her people warm. When she cites Audre, Angela, Sojourner, and Assata, she seems to draw from the very femininity of the names, so it’s no surprise that with just the right amount of early-Holiday-via-Badu head voice insouciance she insists on her own long “i.” Yet since she doesn’t want next week to remake last century, she has to get out of the house eventually to organize, whether that means going to her nonprofit day job or getting a dense verse out of Chance, who while hardly boasting when he claims the title of “number one most gentrified” for Chicago, reveals a side of the city you don’t get in no Vice doc. To be social risks loss, with cancer causing more bereavements than gun violence — in this context, self-care is an act of resistance. Collective self-care is revolutionary.
Grade: A (“Blk Girl Soldier”, “Breadcrumbs”, “Lonely Lonely”)
The opener reveals a band that realized the right lesson to learn from Call the Doctor wasn’t to fire your bass player. Then they lean to straight up rock and roll on one titled “Feminazi” (“I don’t hate men, I just love women”) in case you were wondering about their themes, and when you put it all together it’s punk, Janet. Aside from the one about the pinchy nun who gets one of the most vicious go-to-hell messages in music history, the Carrie B. rips are the most valuable due to scarcity, but they all slice as they explore the tension between assimilation and resistance, best resolved by not hanging out with assholes.
Grade: A MINUS (“Sister K”, “Mujer Moderna”, “No Hablo Español”)
A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
The best argument for this surpassing The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders comes down to politics, which would be a very good reason if there was more of it. Beyond “We the People…” the best agitprop is Phife’s verse on “Conrad Tokyo,” where he sees better than Kendrick it’s time for clarity not comedy. For his part, while Q-Tip can’t stay on point for too long without resorting to Michael Phelps references, he’s happy to pass the mic around, and if you thought Jarobi would outperform K. Dot and 3 Stacks then I hope you put money into the election prediction markets. Tip’s sonic imagination is as febrile as ever, interpolating Ligeti and Willy Wonka, Elton John and Jack White as yellow bricks in his solid wall of sound. The echo of “Bonita Applebum” on “Enough!!” is a mistake, however, showing only that hard-won wisdom and a contacts list sortable by descending number of Grammys can’t recreate the excitement of a young crew discovering their talent. Sometimes you can’t go back to your plough.
Grade: A MINUS (“We the People…”, “The Space Program”, “Solid Wall of Sound”)
Mitski: Puberty 2
I was put off by “Your Best American Girl” failing to justify its title’s strained significance, but it turns out that beyond the genre lucky dip she’s an effective writer with well-constructed progressions, slouching toward Jerusalem or at least John Darnielle. Like almost every singer-songwriter, best when there’s a pulse — “Dan the Dancer” coheres not as a metaphor but as a lanky dude going Denis Lavant over the rhythm guitar. Hope she doesn’t learn the wrong lessons from the praise, but as long as she doesn’t do something stupid like decide to write an album for each state, she should be fine.
Grade: B PLUS (“Fireworks”, “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”, “Dan the Dancer”)
Frank Ocean: Blonde
Seven years after we thought the GAPDY list consensus portended the end of history when it only signaled the end of rock criticism, publications are limiting end-of-year debate to which Knowles goes into their Knowles-Bowie-Ocean triumvirate. If this is a demographic improvement, it’s no better musically when they choose the wrong Knowles, and Ocean means the floor is just as low. He borrows the class of ’09’s most daring conceptual coup — covering up your weak-ass falsetto by electronically treating it to make it sound even worse — and their kitchen-sink approach, which has backfired on artists who left the water running since the White Album. Standing in a puddle, we look from Grizzly Bear to man and from man to Grizzly Bear, but it’s impossible to say which is which — except Veckatimest didn’t need Andre 3000 to provide its one great moment.
Grade: B MINUS (“Solo (Reprise)”)