Music Wrap-Up: Early 2012

We are well past the halfway point of the year, and since we are now in a musical drought as of late, I’ve decided to go back and listen to some albums that I might have ignored. This is either because I didn’t get a chance to listen to it before it came out, didn’t know it was coming out, or I straight up ignored it. Either way, hope these mini-reviews bring some justice to my lack of listening to everything.

Gotye – Making Mirrors

Everyone has heard “Somebody That I Used To Know” by now, as it is poised to be one of the biggest songs of the year come awards time. But maybe because of that song on constant repeat is why I wanted to avoid reviewing Making Mirrors when it came out early this year. That was a mistake, because Mirrors is a rather solid piece of alternative pop. Of course, there’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” but that’s not the best song on this album. “Eyes Wide Open” is a Phil Collins-esque piece of strength, while the reggae feel of “State Of The Art” makes for an incredibly refreshing single that I would have never guessed to be him. Pretty solid album all in all, and lots more to this than the one single everyone has heard.

Final Grade: B
Go Download: “State Of The Art”

Himanshu – Nehru Jackets

I’m not a big Das Racist fan, but i can get behind Heems (or Himanshu, as it says on the album). He’s funny, loud, abrasive, and downright dastardly on the mic. He can rap like a sort of buffoon (check out the two “Womyn” tracks on the mixtape to hear what I’m talking about), or in the mindset of Jason Bourne. Either way, Nehru Jackets is a completely fun mixtape to listen to. With some creative features from the likes of Danny Brown, Mr. Muthafuckin Exquire, and Childish Gambino, this tape never gets boring.

Final Grade: A-
Go Download: The entire mixtape for free

Childish Gambino – Royalty

Speaking of Gambino, he just so happened to release a mixtape almost a month ago. And although I still found some songs enjoyable, it is by no means better than his 2011 debut album Camp. The album in a nutshell is a push to become more commercial, with lyrics that flaunts all of his excesses instead of all his faults. Some songs here are great, including an entertaining Britney Spears sample with Danny Brown, a Drive sample with Bun B, and a song produced by and featuring Beck (yes, THAT Beck). It even ends with a hilarious verse by Tina Fey (yes, THAT TINA FEY). But all in all, not as impressive as Camp, but still a decent outing by Gambino and friends.

Final Grade: C+
Go Download: The entire mixtape for free

Beach House – Bloom

Everyone seemed to like this album for some reason and I don’t understand why. Yes it has moments that are very pretty, and has a couple of catchy songs. But I just found myself to be bored most of the album. Some songs like “Lazuli” and “Other People” are pretty good, but two tracks does not make for a good album. And the almost 17 minute closer at the end “Irene” could’ve EASILY been two songs, but instead has a giant hole in the middle of the two sections that becomes incredibly agrivating. If you need a quiet album, then by all means check this out. This just didn’t appeal to me as much as I thought it would.

Final Grade: C-
Go Download: “Lazuli”

The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

I feel rather stupid for not getting on The Gaslight Anthem bandwagon before Handwritten, but I just couldn’t get into their previous material. Now, I’m kicking myself for not noticing the genius of these Jersey Boys sooner. Each track is just beautifully produced, hitting each emotion when it needs to be hit. The first two tracks are both riotous and catchy, while the third “Here Comes My Man” hits a softer spot in this band’s repertoire. “Too Much Blood” gives me chills everytime singer Brian Fallon hits the line of “I am no angel/But I’ve got nothing to hide” and “I am no devil/But I got things on my mind.” Truly an album I’m going to come back to come December.

Final Grade: A
Go Download: “Too Much Blood”

Now, Now – Threads

I knew nothing about this band going in, but I took a little nod from NPR to be a good thing. And that it was. The trio really delivers in more than one way, stretching the lines for being ethereal and rocking out. Although some of their jams here aren’t that memorable, it just so happens to add to its replayability. The quieter tracks like “School Friends” hits you with some quiet storytelling, while “Thread” blasts through with some great riffs and some of the best production of the year so far. Go to Spotify and listen to this for yourself.

Final Grade: B+
Go Download: “Thread”

Usher – Looking 4 Myself

Admittedly, I’m not a giant Usher fan, especially now since he is making lots of club ready dance songs. Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch him dance, but he doesn’t need the help of over produced electronic sections and Auto-Tune. Instead, he is best when he is most vulnerable, including the amazing slow jam “Climax” and the deeply personal “Sins Of My Father.” I can do without all of those dance tracks, but these slower, emotional, and beautiful songs are a must.

Final Grade: C+
Go Download: “Climax”

Walk the Moon – Self Titled Debut

I was really excited to hear Walk the Moon’s self titled album once I heard their delightful first single “Anna Sun” earlier this summer. However, the album didn’t have “Anna Sun”’s energy – which was greatly needed here. A lot of the songs were pretty flat, including the annoyingly catchy ender “I Can Lift A Car,” which made me incredibly disappointed. In fact, the middle four songs on the album were probably the best. “Tightrope,” “Jenny,” and “Shiver Shiver” all started to redeem the album for its energy faults. However, those three and “Anna Sun” couldn’t raise the grade here. Still have high hopes for another project later.

Final Grade: C
Go Download: “Anna Sun”

XV – Popular Culture

Firstly, I love the concept. Rapper XV took the idea of popular culture and made it a part of this rather solid mixtape. Songs like “The Kick” (referencing Inception), “Mary Kate & Ashley” (which he took TNGHT’s awesome “Bugg’n” track and killed it), and “Andy Warhol” stick out the most, each one being a pretty positive outlook of what XV is going through right now. There are some songs I could do without (wasn’t really impressed with “Jedi Night” too much), but it’s still a pretty solid piece of…well…pop culture. Can’t wait to see what he does for a real album.

Final Grade: B
Go Download: The entire mixtape for free

BADBADNOTGOOD – BBNG 2

Jazz is one of those genres that I really don’t touch on that much, but when something comes along that is as different as BADBADNOTGOOD, it would be a mild disservice not to talk about them even a little bit. The trio have infused jazz music into modern day rap music, pop music, and video game music (check out their first album for a Legend of Zelda medly). And with BBNG 2, they have made a rather captivating listening experience without the use of vocals or samples. Instead, they use their great instrumentation and play some great covers, including James Blake’s version of “Limit To Your Love” and Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights.” Best part: it’s free. Go check it out STAT.

Final Grade: A-
Go Download: The entire album for free

I know that there is still quite a bit that I missed, so if you want any of my opinions on anything else not listed here, send a tweet over @AlanHST and I’ll try to get back to you the best way I can. Here’s to more music!

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