Editor's note: I wrote this actually in May but got really busy towards the end of May, then went on a long break to work and travel in the USA from early June to mid Spetember. But I will post this anyway for archival sake :)
Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers
Possibly the biggest album of the year is Kendrick Lamar's fifth studio album, following his most commercially and critically acclaimed album DAMN. though as time has passed I think his previous two efforts are generally held in higher regard. What's cool about Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is that Kendrick's not really holding anything back on this release, deconstructing his role in hip-hop culture and holding himself accountable for a troubled past, which he easily could've brushed aside given his status as the no. 1 in hip-hop.
While the album's theme of inward self-acceptance is apparent, it's a lot less focused as an album compared to his previous records. The unruliness means it's varied and you don't know what sort of track you're getting next. There's excellent production throughout and well chosen guest appearances. It's probably the least mainstream appealing Kendrick album, some tracks in particular relish in uncomfortable topics and there's only a few songs I could see fitting in on radio playlists. But that makes it al the more compelling as a personal statement.
Everything Everything - Raw Data Feel
Genre: Indie Pop / Rock
This is the sixth album from British experimental rock/pop group Everything Everything and doesn't show any signs of their creativity slowing down. For me, it's their most consistent record since their best regarded album Get to Heaven. Varied instrumentation, massive hooks and puzzling, funny lyrics. Apparently a AI was used to generate lyrical inspiration for this album, hardly a new idea as Radiohead did it back in 2000 for Kid A, but the results are a lot more odd and comical here. It's a really fun album and I'm glad to see the band back to such a strong standard.
Flume - Palaces
Flume's music has always sounded great, but until his "mixtape" Hi This Is Flume was released it didn't feel like a full-length project really capitalized on his full appeal to make boundary pushing, but pop-friendly electronic music. Palaces mostly continues the trajectory of his mixtape with some of the coolest sounding electronic music you'll hear this year, with a pop edge.
Sometimes the pop angle leads to a few tracks being unremarkable, like the lead single Say Nothing which seems made for festival singalongs. But the instrumental tracks, and even some of the pop vocal assisted tracks like the opener Highest Building sound incredible. As a whole package this is for sure Flume's most exciting "album", as long as you don't make the arbitrary distinction between this and his last full-length effort which was a "mixtape". Regardless, probably not going to get much better pop-electronic fusion this year, and some of this is delightfully maximalist and weird.
Ethel Cain - Preacher's Daughter
Genre: Dream Pop, Indie Rock
Ethel Cain's 'Inbred' EP from last year was among my favourites of that year, so it's cool to see a full-length successor released so quickly. This continues that dreamy, gothic aesthetic with Lana Del Rey esque lyricism and delivery over alt- rock indie instrumentals. At 76 minutes long this one is a little harder to digest and at times feels a bit samey, but still the general soung and songwriting makes for a really good album experience.
Jack Harlow - Come Home The Kids Miss You
Jack Harlow is a big deal, the new hot white rapper. He has the charm and has clearly listened to enough Drake that he can successfully emulate the pop-rap style top make it big. But for what is billed as his breakout 'hit the bigtime' album, this isn't very good. Harlow is a technically efficient rapper, but often relies on gimmicks to allow his songs to coast along. The big hits from this album feel familiar, one in an intentional way as it egregiously samples a Fergie pop song from the '00s, the other feeling like a part 2 for his great verse on Lil Nas X's smash hit Industry Baby.
The rest of the album feels unremarkable and the feature appearance from Drake himself only highlights how even way past his peak, the veteran rapper is a league above Jack Harlow. It seems like Jack Harlow is a decent dude and worked hard for his success, but aside from feature appearances and singles, I'm not likely to feel compelled to check out new projects by him unless he really decides to change the game up like Mac Miller did after his initial string of underwhelming projects.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Endless Rooms
Genre: Indie Rock / Jangle Pop
This band is THE go-to for jangle pop right now and this album once again offers just that. It's a lot of fun, it's better than their last effort which seemed to show signs of redundancy creeping into their formulas. But a lot of the material on offer here offers exactly what you'd want out of this Australian band, fun, catchy jangle pop anthems. Check out the single The Way It Shatters as it's one of their very best tracks yet.
ericdoa - things with wings
Genre: Pop, Electronic
ericdoa's trendy hyperpop did win me over with his output last year and he continues the formula of big electronic productions over bratty teenage breakup anthems. Some of the tracks on this album are starting to sound a bit more like run of the mill pop and some of the lyrics portraying teenage melodrama doesn't show much growth from his breakout stuff from last year, but lots of tracks here are good and the album as a whole is hardly a step down from his previous output.
Mallrat - Butterfly Blue
Genre: Dream Pop
To me, this album is a slight mixed bag but the hits here REALLY hit. Mallrat's voice is great and her production choices are interesting. One of my songs of the year is the dreamy, cloud-rap esque Your Love, which features deliberately repetitive lyrics over an intoxicating beat and a fantastic hip-hop sample flip at the end. There's a great Azealia Banks feature on the catchy Surprise Me, which contrasts Mallrat's playfully subtle lyrics referencing sex with a typically filthy verse with some great punchlines ("he said my pussy tighter than Nicole Kidman's face, yeah"). It's a shame that a large amount of the album doesn't really connect with me, especially the slower more acoustic leaning tracks. But the highlights are wonderful for sure.