Every Friday, ‘The Album Cycle’ reviews a handful of new releases.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Migos – Culture
The Falcons are in the Super Bowl, Donald Glover’s Atlanta dominated the Golden Globes, Gucci Mane is free and Migos just dropped their sophomore album, Culture. In his acceptance speech for Best Television Series Comedy or Musical, Glover thanked the Atlanta trio for the album’s first single ‘Bad and Boujee’, leaving the audience and press perplexed. In the week that followed, the trio performed on Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen and evoked the same stunned response.
‘Bad and Boujee’ earned Migos their first Billboard number one single and Culture is the number one album in the US Album charts. Chance the Rapper has called the icy, Versace snow boot-strapped visuals for the second single, ‘T-Shirt’, Oscar-worthy. The trio – Quavo, Offset and Takeoff – have crossed the one-hit wonder threshold with a cache of hits exemplified by Culture. The album boasts features from longtime collaborator Travis Scott on ‘Kelly Price’, with arguably the best Quavo hook yet; as well as Khaled, Gucci, 2Chainz and Lil Uzi Vert. Despite talks of signing to G.O.O.D. music, Migos continue to release under independent label Quality Control. Staying free from the fiscal restraints that so often plague artists under major labels has ensured the Migos legacy that gestated in Atlanta, remains in Atlanta.
Their triplet-syllable signature, though not the first to employ it, has helped to cement themselves in the hip-hop annals. Like their predecessors, Migos define themselves within the idiosyncratic circumstances that only Atlanta can prescribe. They are a cultural phenomenon leaving a wake of Confused White Folk™. In the vacuous post-Trump era, Migos success is a necessary counter-narrative of black excellence we need to celebrate. – Miriama Aoake
Sampha – Process
In these times of darkness and struggle and holy-shit-is-this-really-happening, it can be tempting to drown yourself in the fucked-upness of the world – to spend every waking hour skim reading the New York Times, retweeting Twitter threads, arguing with yourself over the efficacy of Nazi-punching – lest anything else be a totally acquiescence to the rising global populist right. But, as we all know, the personal is political too. And it can be not only kinda nice, but also kinda healthy, to step away from the roaring blaze of contemporary public life, and take some time in the interior and the intimate. Process, the debut album from British singer/songwriter/producer (credits include: Kanye West, Beyonce, Solange, Drake, FKA Twigs, Frank Ocean, et cetera, et cetera), is a soulful, calm-inducing, there-is-still-beauty-in-the-world light in the dark. Alternating between piano balladry and beat-driven modern sad guy pop, Sampha has a way of walking up to the line of over-sentimentality and then taking a half-step back, allowing you to give yourself up to every word that comes singing out of his mouth. So next time you’re feeling newsed out and frazzled, put down your phone, pour a drink, put this album on and do your dishes. You’ll thank me. – Henry Oliver
Ty Segall – Ty Segall
Self-titled albums are often intended to announce an arrival, or in the case of an artist who has been around for some time, a rejuvenation. The latter is the case for Ty Segall’s new record, his second eponymous effort (following his debut), and his 9th studio album overall. Segall enters 2017 at mild risk of falling victim to his own prolificacy, with his albums since his 2012 breakout Twins coming thick and fast. That impressive work ethic means that, despite solid critical reviews, nothing has caught broader attention quite like that record did. On Ty Segall our protagonist doesn’t really change his approach – he still sounds like Marc Bolan, filtered through Black Sabbath and the Stooges, and transported to the present day where he mucks around on protools in his garage. What does change is his focus. Gone are the odd affectations and concept of the otherwise strong 2016 effort Emotional Mugger, and in their place Segall doubles down on his strengths – namely roaring garage glam rock (‘Break a Guitar’ and ‘Freedom’), offset by quieter moments of elegant beauty (the sweet country rock of ‘Papers’). This confident, yet ragged sound, combined with Segall’s most consistent set of songs yet result in his best album, and the point where he pushes his influences aside to truly make his own mark. – Pete Douglas
MUNA – About U
The other day I found myself wondering: whatever happened to the band HAIM? The answer to that question was they’ve got a new album meant to be coming out later this year. Cool, but what if you don’t want to wait all year for a new album of slickly-produced, catchily-written 80s-influenced pop by an all-woman band with a four-letter all-caps name? The answer to that question arrived this week in the form of MUNA’s debut LP About U. It sounds similar to that HAIM album but not the same – About U is a little more unabashedly poppy, with stronger modern R&B lines running parallel to the expensive-sounding ‘Tango in the Night-era Fleetwood Mac’ guitar and synth. Big songs, big album; smart pop connoisseurs should check it out ASAP. – Calum Henderson
Train – A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat
Somewhere between 2016’s pointless re-creation of Led Zeppelin’s second record, and the release of this their 10th studio album, Train lost guitarist Jimmy Stafford, leaving singer Patrick Monahan as the sole remaining original member of the band. With this change, any slight semblance of grit that made the group sound like a poor man’s Counting Crows on their early records has disappeared entirely, leaving Train to go full pop. Admittedly, suggesting Train have in some way sold out is ludicrous, but remarkably it appears Monahan was actually being held in check to a degree by Stafford. Freed of any of the trad-rock shackles imposed by his erstwhile guitarist, Monahan unashamedly lets every ounce of schmaltz and corn he can muster take control.
Overreaching into a variety of modern pop productions, A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat gleams so brightly it is nearly possible to overlook the middle-aged cheese ball at the center of proceedings, but not quite. In this setting Monahan’s absurd lyrics (“If you ain’t sweet like aspartame / If you don’t like the bacon I bring / Let me get the door for ya”) seem even more cast adrift from reality, and his earnestness is often painful to witness (as on the album-closing ‘You Better Believe’). And yet, perhaps no other ill-equipped artist is so completely lacking in self awareness in 2017 to attempt an album like this. That doesn’t make A Girl, a Bottle, a Boat good, but it makes it kind of fascinating for a certain kind of pop nerd, and in it’s own strange way that is better than quietly fading away into obscurity. – PD
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