By KYLE KERSEY
February’s no fun. Football season is over. Arizona has yet to reach peak surfing weather. There isn’t much new music. Oh, and the Grammys happened. That’s bad, too.
1. Pusha T – “Daytona” (Hip-hop)
Boomers will deride it as everything that’s wrong with hip-hop culture. I’ll praise it as a pugnacious poem to sinning that’s no different than the excess of ’80s hair metal except it’s actually good.
Pusha’s latest record isn’t going to blow anyone away with an ambitious concept or deep themes. It’s as straightforward as it gets.
“Hello,” he says. “My name is Pusha T. I deal drugs and hate Drake.
Here’s some songs about me dealing drugs and hating Drake.” Simple, yet effective. Kanye provides some of his grittiest production to date to back the pugnacious Pusha T. It’s like Grand Theft Auto: the album.
Highlights: “If You Know You Know,” “The Games We Play,” “Come Back Baby,” “Santeria”
2. Colter Wall – “Songs of the Plains” (Country)
Call it my token country album if you like, but Colter Wall’s rebellion against everything Nashville (autotune, snap percussion, drum machines, bro country, et cetera) deserves all the praise it receives. Armed with an acoustic guitar, harmonica and a throwback bassy singing voice, he calls back to country’s simplistic roots while embracing his Midwestern ethos in his folksy storytelling (he is Canadian after all, eh). “Saskatchewan in 1881” is as good an ode to 19th Century Canadian folk as you’ll ever hear, while “Wild Bill Hickok” showcases Wall’s formidable storytelling chops. Somewhere in heaven, Johnny Cash smiles.
Highlights: “Plain to See Plainsman,” “Saskatchewan in 1881,” “Wild Bill Hickok”
3. Kids See Ghosts – “Kids See Ghosts” (Hip-hop)
After months and months of taking to social media and TMZ to stir up as much controversy as possible and prove the age-old adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” wrong, Kanye dropped one of the year’s best rap albums. A collaboration with the ever-soulful Kid Cudi (who’s an enigma in his own right), “KIDS SEE GHOSTS” improves on all the elements where Kanye’s solo release “Ye” was lacking. The production is beefed up and seamless, incorporating the glitz of Mr. West with the grungy rock inspiration of Kid Cudi. Cudi might be the real star of the show here. He’s shown promise before (see “Man on the Moon” for more), but this is the first time he’s really in his element. “Reborn” is effortless. “Cudi’s Montage” takes an old Kurt Cobain outtake and turns it into a spacious R&B anthem.
Highlights: “Feel the Love,” “4th Dimension,” “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)”, “Reborn,” “Cudi’s Montage”
4. Arctic Monkeys – “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” (Rock)
After AM, the Arctic Monkeys needed to do something different. Their sound had grown progressively stale since one of the best debut records of all-time. They risked experiencing the same fate as their idols, the Strokes; stagnation. Thankfully, Alex Turner opted for going full weirdo by providing an answer to the question nobody was asking: “What would happen if we, like, set Hotel California on the Moon?” Placed in the then-future of 2019, “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” constructs (quite literally given the album cover) a futuristic resort on a recently colonized moon as a framework for societal critiques of the egocentric obsession with social media and the disillusionment of fame, as well as exploring their place in all this mess. Part David Bowie oddity, part wannabe Kubrick absurdity, “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” can’t help but be interesting, be it the ’60s rock of “She Looks Like Fun” or the funky “One Point Perspective.” It’s a grower for sure.
Highlights: “Star Treatment,” “One Point Perspective,” “Four Out of Five,” “She Looks Like Fun”
5. Denzel Curry – “TA13OO” (Hip-hop)
Denzel Curry presents a 43-minute trilogy: helpfully color coordinated into Light, Gray and Dark, feeding his flair for the dramatic. On his second LP, Curry displays the versatility that made him a breakout star on his debut release “Imperial.” There aren’t many bells and whistles here; just passion and a lyrical approach that separates him from the sea of self-made SoundCloud rappers. “Switch It Up” is a microcosm of his diverse mic skills, from theatrical showmanship (see his exaggerated parody of “to be or not to be”) to a choppy early 2000s Eminem flow. There’s some diversity here to; each act increases in intensity, from the subdued sway of “Black Balloons” to the menacing mayhem of “Black Metal Terrorist.” And the dude’s only 23 years old.
Highlights: “Taboo,” “Black Balloons,” “Switch It Up,” “Percs”