Special

Year End Album Reviews 2014: Part I

Year End Album Reviews 1

It’s December, meaning the holidays are approaching, people start talking about being a “new person” when that doesn’t last for a month, and we get to reflect on the year as a total. The music industry now is in a crucial state. In terms of sales, while singles continue to do well, albums are another story. So, far, this year, only ONE album went platinum. Ten years ago, 55 albums went platinum and that’s during a time when it was easier to sell a million copies. It’s gotten worse in hip-hop where there hasn’t been one gold record. I think there is a reason for these low sales this year and it’s because last year, we saw a bunch of big names release records that felt like events. This year, aside from one, there hasn’t been an event release. A lot of the big names in music haven’t released anything and some of the big names that did under-performed. Quality-wise, it was the same as previous years. So let’s take a good look at the good, the bad, and everything else in between for a second year. A couple of disclaimers before we begin: a lot of things I’m going to say about these albums are my opinion and my opinion only. If you disagree with what I say, fine. You’re entitled to that. Just disagree respectfully. And also, I’m only reviewing full-fledged studio albums. No mixtapes, EPs, compilations, etc., though I will make an exception. Also, I’ll try to be as unbiased as possible, but I won’t make any promises. So let’s start reviewing. What’s the first record I’ll be looking at?

My Own Lane

Kid Ink

Release Date: January 7

I had to ask. Looks like we’re off to a good start. Anyways, this is the debut album from LA rapper Kid Ink. When I used to have satellite radio 2-3 years ago, I would listen to Shade 45 and Hip-Hop Nation. I remember hearing a couple of his songs on one of these stations and I did not get a good impression. He seemed like another one of those sing-songy pop rappers trying to capitalize off of Drake and Chris Brown’s style. I didn’t think he was gonna be anything. Flash forward a few years later and he releases his (only) big hit, Show Me featuring Chris Brown, which is an embarrassingly awful song. Then he released Iz U Down with Tyga and Main Chick with Chris Brown again. I instantly thought that this guy’s debut album is just gonna be another forgettable pop rap record about women and shallow materialism. Was I right? Yep. This is exactly what this record is. This is a generic pop rap album that tries too hard to appeal to the mainstream and offers nothing new. Now some of the production on this record are okay like the intro track Hello World, The Movement,  No Option, Murda, and No Miracles while others are just blech like Iz U Down and all of the DJ Mustard-produced tracks. The topics are your typical mainstream rap, which would be fine if the rapper is interesting or creative, but Kid Ink is none of those things. He still does that sing-songy flow and his lyrics are a joke. This guy is so ridiculous, he seems like a parody of mainstream rappers. Another thing, this album is chock-full of guest features, and they all didn’t do anything great aside from a few like King Los and Pusha T, who are wasted here. So overall, this record is not that good and is just a waste of time. On the strength of some of the production and a few of the features, I’ll be fair and nicely give it a D. It’s not worth checking out.

Voices

Phantogram

Release Date: February 18

I first heard Phantogram on Big Boi’s last album Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors (which is a great album, by the way, and is worth checking out) and I didn’t think much of them. They were good, but they didn’t really stand out from the other indie-rock artists out there. So I decided to check out their recent record Voices to see if they have anything else to offer and because there wasn’t that many records that I wanted to talk about in the first two months. And what I just heard was pretty good, but not something I want to constantly listen to. It left me desiring for something more. The production is hit and miss,  relying on a lot of fuzzy and distorted synths and guitars and hip-hop drums to varied results. Some tracks wind up becoming too noisey and busy while others flow much better. The songwriting and vocals are fine as well. I really don’t have much to say about this record because it left no impact on me. Like I said, this is a good record, but I’ve heard better. I give it a high C. I do recommend it, but don’t expect anything mind-blowing.

Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon

Kid Cudi

Release Date: February 25

Possibly inspired by Beyonce, Kid Cudi released his fourth album out of nowhere without anyone knowing. Satellite Flight, according to Kid Cudi, is gonna be a prelude to Man On The Moon III and will be a link between that record and last year’s Indicud, which is a decent record with glaring flaws. So how is Scott Mescudi’s latest offering? Well, it’s the same as the last album. Yeah, I’m not kidding. This record has all of the flaws of Indicud and actually sounds like a bunch of throwaways. The spacey production Cudi seems to like is still sloppy in a bunch of places. Some of these tracks are actually instrumentals with no vocals and they’re hit or miss. Cudi himself is also a mixed bag. He just sounds lazy here, like he didn’t even try. Half of the time, he’s just moaning. You disappointed me, Kid Cudi. You disappointed me. This record gets a low C. I don’t recommend this. I hope Man On The Moon III is better than this.

Oxymoron

ScHoolboy Q

Release Date: February 25

It’s no secret that Kendrick Lamar made an impact on modern hip-hop with good kid, m.A.A.d city, a smart, creative record that deconstructs West Coast/gangsta rap tropes and helped bring lyricism back into the mainstream while finding a way to appeal to all audiences. The success of this record was a well-needed Godsend with all of the crap that’s in rap right now. Following up a record like that is gonna be a huge challenge for Top Dawg Entertainment label-mate ScHoolboy Q. And he delivered an okay album. Not as good as GKMC, but okay. Q is your typical gangsta rapper, but his flow and energy makes him stand out. The production is tight and punches sans a few tracks and all of the guest features were good (except for 2 Chainz because fuck him). Topic-wise, it has the gangsta rap tropes of gangbanging, doing drugs, sex, etc., plus, Q talks about raising his daughter. Now this record is FAR from perfect. ScHoolboy Q uses ad-libs a lot and it gets redundant after a while and some of these tracks are unlistenable and straight-up bad. Some of the songs that ravel in the gangster rap tropes goes too far. If this record had better cohesion overall, then it would’ve been better, but it’s still no good kid, m.A.A.d city. I give this a low B. It’s worth checking out.

G I R L

Pharrell Williams

Release Date: March 3

It must be good being Pharrell Williams. A successful producer who’s one half of The Neptunes and working with damn near everyone in the industry. With the success of Happy, Pharrell released his second album G I R L and it’s a pretty damn good album. The production is on point, using elements of funk, soul, and disco. Pharrell does a good job vocally and we get contributions from Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk, and Alicia Keys. But this record does have problems. Pharrell said that this album was gonna be a semi-concept record about feminism, yet he doesn’t do anything with that concept lyrically. All of these songs except for Happy are typical love/sex songs. Plus, some of these are pretty weak like Come & Get It Bae featuring she-who-shall-not-be-named. Still, these songs are pretty enjoyable when you’re at a party and as long as you’re looking for fun, you’ll like this record. I give it a B and a recommendation.

Mastermind

Rick Ross

Release Date: March 3

Guys, I do not like Rick Ross. I don’t get why he’s still around. His music is the same shit: luxury rap/drug kingpin tales over good beats. Plus, he’s not even as big as he claims (and I’m not talking about weight-wise). His highest charting single was The Boss featuring T-Pain, which peaked at number 17 on the Hot 100 and was released in 2008, six years ago. His last Top 40 single was Aston Martin Music, which had Drake on it and was released in 2010. This guy hasn’t had a hit for four years. Now don’t get me wrong; commercial success is not an indicator of quality, but I find it funny that Ross talks like he’s the most important person in the world when his numbers don’t match his claims. I’m getting off-topic here. So this is William Roberts’ sixth album, Mastermind, and it sounds like the previous five records. Seriously. This guy refuses to grow as an artist. As with any Rick Ross album, there’s solid production. Too bad it’s wasted on so much mediocrity. Lyrically, Ross is using the same flow he’s always used and his lyrics are cartoonishly bad. The guest features are a mixed bag. Some like Jay Z and The Weeknd have solid performances while others like Meek Mill and French Montana are embarrassing. It’s obvious that William is working on a tired formula and it’s time that things change. This record gets a D. If you’re a Rick Ross fan who doesn’t mind being fed the same shit, you’ll like this. If not, skip it.

Recess

Skrillex

Release Date: March 14

Those in the EDM community are familiar with Skrillex. You either love him or hate him. Either way, he’s on your mind. And here is his debut album, which is ehh. Nothing great, but it’s not bad either. The production is 50/50. You get Skrillex’s signature drops full of fuzzy, wobbling synth lines and bass, which is cool to lose your shit it, but it can also cause migraines if you listen to them too much. It seems like this guy loves noise and just shoves a whole lot of noise in his tracks. On the other hand, he does go into other styles, mostly dancehall and hip-hop, something that isn’t just the sound of robot sex. I just wish there was better mixing on these songs. We’re not gonna talk about lyrical content since this is an EDM album. The goal is to move the clubs. This is where this type of music works. As an album overall, Recess is average. It gets a D. I wouldn’t recommend listening to this, especially if you don’t want a throbbing headache.

Pinata

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

Release Date: March 18

Gangsta rap during its early years was a platform for rappers to speak on the plight of the inner cities. Acts like N.W.A. and Ice T shed light upon things that middle America were not aware of and a lot of people leaned towards that type of music. Nowadays, the sub-genre has gotten stale. Most gangsta rappers over the years have beaten this topic to death and don’t bring anything new or creative. That’s why I rarely pay attention to gangsta rap anymore. Then I hear a lot of praise for Freddie Gibbs’ new album and I decided to check it out on curiosity. And I was blown away with how good this album is. This is Gibbs’ collaboration with producer Madlib, who handled the production of every song here. The beats are fantastic, sounding like something out of a 70s blaxploitation movie. I was never that big into Freddie Gibbs before, but after hearing this record, I would definitely go back and listen to his old records. The guy weaves some genius rhymes. Despite being a gangsta rap record, there is a lot of creativity and introspection that is lacking in a lot of modern rap. He doesn’t glorify the lifestyle, he talks about why he does it, the consequences, and how it affects others. The guest features are good as well like Raekwon on Bomb and Scarface on Broken. This record doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but it’s definitely a great return of what made gangsta rap so prevalent and is easily one of the best hip-hop albums of the year. It gets a perfect A. I highly recommend this.

My Krazy Life

YG

Release Date: March 18

I don’t get people. This album, My Krazy Life, has gotten mostly positive reviews and some critics actually gave it high scores, which is baffling because this record is not deserving of the praise. In fact, it’s not that good at all. First off, YG is a terrible rapper and every track on here proves it. He sounds like somebody rapping for the first time. His flow is always off and lazy and his lyrics are filled with non-stop stupid (not stupid in a funny way, but stupid in a embarrassing way). Second, every track on here (with the exception of three) is produced by DJ Mustard, one of the worst beatmakers ever. Every song he did is the same ratchet bullshit and is interchangeable. This album has gotten comparisons to The Chronic and Doggystyle. Whoever’s making these comparisons should be shot on sight because this shit lacks the strong production, clever lyrics, and overall creativity of those two. It’s also gotten comparisons to good kid, m.A.A.d city because the album tells a story throughout about a day in YG’s life with skits, but that’s where the similarities end. Look at what I said about two sentences ago. My Krazy Life lacks any introspection that GKMC had and any attempts fall flat on its ass. Plus, the story he’s telling isn’t that interesting or new and it feels like a cheap imitation of GKMC without the good stuff. If there’s anything good in this album, it’s the guest verses from Jay Rock and ScHoolboy Q on I just Wanna Party and the song Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin) where Kendrick Lamar steals the show again. But that’s about it. Anybody trying to make My Krazy Life a classic, have a thousand seats. It’s NOT a classic and it never will be one. This shit gets a low D and I immediately say skip it. If you wanna hear 90s West Coast/G-funk, then go listen to actual 90s West Coast/G-funk and if you want something like that in a modern record, hunt down GKMC, don’t waste your time with this overrated piece of mediocrity.

Shakira

Shakira

Release Date: March 21

This self-titled record from Shakira is her first English album since 2009’s She Wolf. And while this isn’t her best, it’s a solid release. The production on most tracks are good while others are kinda messy like the first track Dare (La La La), a sludgy dance track that doesn’t represent the album well. Shakira is a good singer despite her vocals sounding funny at times. She definitely knows how to work her voice on a lot of these tracks. The songwriting is also pretty good, detailing love, being a mom, and living life in general. She’s involved in writing all but two songs on here (that’s still a lot more than most pop artists) and I was worried when I saw the number of co-writers involved, but it’s not a major. Overall, this is a solid record and I give it a B. It’s worth checking out.

The New Classic

Iggy Azalea

Release Date: April 21

Time to talk about one of the year’s most talked about new artists, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea and how ludicrously dumb the title of her debut is. A more appropriate title would The New Average because that’s what this record is, average. At best, the songs are tolerable like Walk The Line, Don’t Need Y’all, Change Your Life, and Impossible To Nothing. At worst, they’re god-awful like Fancy and Black Widow. The rest are just meh; there is a lot of filler here. Iggy as a rapper is average. She’s capable of crafting decent verses with clever lines. But too often, she recycles the typical “I’m a bad bitch” cliches that a lot of female rappers do. The production leans a lot towards pop, EDM, and trap. The EDM-esque songs especially are very anitclimatic, not building up to anything spectacular. There’s no real punch or commitment to a pay-off of that build-up. Look, I have no problems with white rappers or female rappers. Rappers can be good regardless of their gender or race. But there’s barely any good white female rappers in the mainstream and Iggy Azalea doesn’t change that fact. She’s not the worst, but she’s not great, either, and this album proves it. I give it a low C. I only recommend the few okay tracks that I mentioned. Save your time.

Honest

Future

Release Date: April 22

You guys already know my opinion on Future, so I’m gonna be completely honest (no pun intended); I FUCKING HATE THIS ALBUM!! This is terrible, this is shit, this is one of the worst albums I have ever heard this year. Future once again doesn’t show off any talent because he has none. His Auto-Tune singing is atrocious and he’s equally bad when he raps and doesn’t use Auto-Tune. He has no flow and can barely stay on beat. While some tracks have some impressive production (that’s sadly wasted on crap), the rest is nothing more than dreary trap beats without an ounce of energy. Topic-wise, it’s all the same sex, money, and drugs crap that other rappers have covered. Nothing new or creative is being brought here. This is an awful, unlistenable mess. It gets an F. Skip it.

Pop Psychology

Neon Trees

Release Date: April 22

I never was a big fan of Neon Trees. They just never struck me as anything to pay attention to. Their hits Animal and Everybody Talks were nothing more than generic indie-rock songs. I didn’t bother with any of their albums, but then I decided to check out their latest release, Pop Psychology, and it was meh. This album didn’t do anything for me. The production is a throwback to a lot of 80s synth-pop and new wave, which I don’t mind. All of these songs are about sex and teenage love, something a lot of pop-rock bands know a thing about and these guys don’t bring anything new. Plus, a lot of these songs are the same. The lead singer isn’t bad, but he isn’t anything impressive. Overall, this is yet another forgettable pop-rock record. There is a lot more interesting, better bands out there. This gets a low C. If you’re a Neon Trees fan, you’ll like this. Otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone else.

Turn Blue

The Black Keys

Release Date: May 12

The Black Keys are one of those bands obsessed with classic rock of the 70s and late 60s, so it’s no surprise that their newest record sounds similar to that type of music. For the most part, while this isn’t The Black Keys’ best effort, this is okay for what it delivers. The production is the typical garage-rock sound that we’ve gotten from previous Black Keys records, with this one adding a hint of psychedelia. While some songs sound fine, others are just messy and needed more work put into them. The songwriting is pretty decent. Apparently, this album was written during Dan Auberbach’s divorce and you can tell in the lyrics. Overall, this isn’t a strong follow-up to their last record, but it’s not bad. I won’t find myself listening to this again, though. I give it a C. It is worth checking out in spite of the weaker moments.

Ghost Stories

Coldplay

Release Date: May 16

I’m a big Coldplay fan. They made the perfect music to just sit at home and chill to. Plus, they are always experimenting with their music, which I don’t mind. I was really excited for their newest record, Ghost Stories, even though I wasn’t a big fan of their last record. And I enjoyed this record despite it not being perfect. The production very ambient and atmospheric, kinda what you’d expect from a Coldplay record. Chris Martin does another good job as a signer, though the writing could be better. I enjoyed most of the singles, especially Magic and A Sky Full Of Stars. Overall, Ghost Stories is a good album. I give it a B. It’s worth checking out.

… And Then You Shoot Your Cousin

The Roots

Release Date: May 19

The Roots are a rare breed in hip-hop, an actual hip-hop band that incorporates live instrumentation into their music. They’ve always made solid-A concept albums since the 90s and this is their latest work, … And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, which satirizes a lot of mainstream rap. And it is brilliant. This record is another great addition to The Roots’ nearly perfect catalog. The underrated Black Thought is an exceptional emcee, his rhymes pain very vivid pictures and subtle, clever commentary on modern hip-hop. All of the singers on here do an exceptional job with the melodies. The production is top-notch on every song. There is not one weak link in this entire thing. The Roots are one of those acts that consistently release great projects and I believe more people should be more aware of these guys because they deserve to be heard. This gets an A. It’s worth checking out if you want a solid hip-hop album.

Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse

Mariah Carey

Release Date: May 23

What’s really there to say about Mariah Carey? She’s been in the game since the early 90s and has achieved success like no other artist and has influenced a whole generation of singers. Me? I never was a fan of Mariah Carey. I’m not saying she’s bad, hardly. But I just wasn’t a fan of her big vocal gymnastics. Her music just isn’t my cup of tea. So now she has released a new album this year. It’s not bad, it’s not great, either. Everything in this album is a mixed bag. The stripped-down, traditional R&B tracks like Cry, #Beautiful (yes, there is a hashtags in the title), and  work well for Mariah’s style while the more contemporary hip-hop tracks like the songs produced by Mike WiLL Made-It-produced Faded and the Hit Boy track Thirsty doesn’t work and makes it seems like the 45 year old Mariah is trying too hard to fit in with the younger crowd. The songwriting isn’t that impressive, which isn’t surprising since Mariah isn’t a great writer. Her vocals are fine, though they’re not as strong as they used to be. Honestly, I don’t think Mariah should make anymore records because why should she? She’s one of the best selling female artists of all time and has made millions over the years. Overall, I’d give this a low B. I only recommend this to hardcore Mariah fans.

Animal Ambition

50 Cent

Release Date: June 3

Ten years ago, hip-hop troll 50 Cent was at the top of the world, scoring hits effortlessly. Now, he’s no longer signed to Interscope and his hit-making days are long behind him. 50 is currently independent and has released his first album in 5 years, Animal Ambition. If you’re familiar with 50 Cent’s music (let’s face it, who isn’t?), then you already know what to expect. 50 Cent himself is not a technical lyricist. He’s always had the same flow since his debut. The topics are the typical topics of money, materialism, and murder. The production is pretty good, sounding like his older stuff. There are some pretty good songs while others are forgettable. This record is another instance of him trying to recreate the magic he had with Get Rich Or Die Trying and The Massacre, which means he hasn’t grown as an artist that much, which brings down the record. There’s a chance we might get the same shit with 50’s next record Street King Immortal. I give this a C. It is worth checking out for a couple of tracks. Otherwise, don’t expect anything new.

Lazaretto

Jack White

Release Date: June 10

Here we have the latest record from one-half of The White Stripes Jack White and it’s a very interesting record. The production and instrumentation are very solid, ranging from garage to blues to folk and country. I dig the melodies in a lot of these songs. Jack White comes right with some solid songwriting. His vocals can take time to get used to, but they’re pretty good. Not much else to say but just a good album. I give it a high B and a recommendation.

A black and white photo of a fair-skinned, dark-haired woman wearing a sheer white V-neck T-Shirt and a white strapless bra, standing beside a car. Her hand is resting on the opened left car door and the word

Ultraviolence

Lana Del Ray

Release Date: June 13

I’ll probably piss some people with this review, so I’m not gonna sugarcoat this; I don’t like Lana Del Ray. Her style just isn’t that interesting to me and the production she chooses just puts me to sleep. So you already know I wasn’t that excited for her latest release Ultraviolence, which is more of the same shit she’s always provided. The production is alright, but nothing special. A very dreary, atmospheric indie-rock sound that has been done better before by other artists. Vocally, Lana sounds bored and she always sound the same on every track. This wouldn’t be a problem if there’s good writing, which isn’t on this album. The songwriting is shallow and unconvincing. This record just doesn’t do anything for me. I’m prepared for people jumping at my throat for this, but it has to be said. I give this a D. If you’re not a Lana Del Ray fan, then I suggest skipping this.

A monochrome archer pointing and aiming downwards imposed onto a predominantly white and light grey background.

The Hunting Party

Linkin Park

Release Date: June 13

Linkin Park’s last two releases had a very electronic-rock sound and for their recent record, they went back to the sound of their old records, which brought mixed results. The instrumentation does have a heavier sound than their last releases, but some of these tracks are very messy and just noisey. The writing is meh. It’s all of the topics you’d expect from a Linkin Park record. Vocally, it’s also mixed with decent raps from Mike Shinoda and screeching vocals from Chester Bennington. There is also a great verse from the God MC Rakim on the track Guilty All The Same. Overall, this isn’t LP’s best album, but it’s not their worst. You’ll end up leaving the album with a headache because it’s that intense. It gets a high C. Check it out with precaution.

In The Lonely Hour

Sam Smith

Release Date: June 17

UK soul singer Sam Smith has become one of the breakthrough acts of 2014, scoring a bunch of hits with Stay With Me and I’m Not The Only One, along with Latch with Disclosure and La La La with Naughty Boy. Here is his debut album In The Lonely Hour and it’s a decent debut. Sam is a phenomenal singer and this album showcases that talent very well. The production is also good even if it does feel a little safe, a lot of piano and guitar ballads. If there’s one area of this album I feel is the weakest, it’s the songwriting. It’s not bad, but it could definitely be better. Sam said that this album is about falling in love for the first time. If he went deeper into that topic, then this would’ve been the best album of the year. But still, for what’s provided, it’s a good record and I hope to see this guy progress as an artist. For now, I give In The Lonely Hour a B. It’s definitely worth a listen.

x (multiply)

Ed Sheeran

Release Date: June 20

When I first heard Ed Sheeran, it was in 2012 when he released A-Team and Lego House. I wasn’t too impressed with what he had, so I avoided his album + and I wasn’t looking forward to x (pronounced multiply). Then he released the first single Sing and I liked the direction he was going for. I heard the album and I was won over. This guy is amazing. He went from another acoustic-guitar guy to being a legit artist. The production is amazing, reminiscent of a lot of early Justin Timberlake songs, but with Sheeran’s own unique twist. The old acoustic-guitar songs are also there, but they have more flavor added to them. Ed Sheeran has also improved as a singer and songwriter despite a few bumps in the road. Hell, he actually raps in a couple of songs and he wasn’t even half bad. This guy has a lot of potential ahead of him. I give x (multiply) a solid A. It’s definitely worth checking out.

These Days…

Ab-Soul

Release Date: June 24

After Oxymoron, the next album release from LA-based label Top Dawg Entertainment was These Days… from Ab-Soul. 2 years ago, he released Control System, one of the most underrated rap releases of that year (seriously, go check it out; it is brilliant), so you’d expect him to come correct, right? Well, most of the time. This is a good album, but it does have it flaws. It seems like Ab-Soul is trying to appeal to the mainstream crowd with some of these records, jacking the Versace flow on one song and on another, rapping over a beat similar to the works of DJ Mustard. But when he makes a good record, he does it well. His rapping is still top-notch and full of crazy metaphors. Most of the guest features do their thing, especially Ab-Soul’s TDE brethren. So is this as good as Control System? No. Is it a good album? Yes. Overall, I give it a B. Give it a listen.

So that was Part I of the Year End Album Reviews, covering albums from January to June. Part II will be posted up two weeks from now on December 19 where I cover releases from July to December. Agree or disagree with anything I’ve said about these releases? Then let me know your thoughts, whether you love them, hate them, or are indifferent.

Peace!!

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