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  • Writer's pictureEvan

Album Review Rewind: March '24

Updated: Jun 2

Three months in, it finally feels like the music scene is picking up in 2024. Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter feels like the first huge release of the year, and the alternative and underground scenes are flourishing. Whether it be the exciting new Andrianne Lenker album or the long-awaited return of Faye Webster, incredible records are constantly pouring out of the singer-songwriter community. Over in the hip hop underground, rappers like Thought Provokah and Len-Dor have dropped some of their sharpest material yet, pushing the boundaries of what the scene has to offer.





Beyoncé – Cowboy Carter (2024) [Country Pop]

 

2022’s RENAISSANCE is among my favourite pop albums ever, so needless to say, I had high expectations for Beyoncé’s next album. While COWBOY CARTER doesn’t quick match RENAISSANCE for me, it still stands as one of the strongest releases in the singer’s catalogue. Diving into the world of country, there are patient, story-driven tales as well as dramatic ballads, with countless pop-country crossovers laced in between. Beyoncé’s voice is immaculate, adding power to every emotional highlight and playfulness to every pop banger, offering gorgeous harmonies on every cut. She fits nicely over the acoustic instrumentation, with the more understated production adding emphasis to her lyrical and vocal abilities. The lead singles “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” and “16 CARRIAGES” remain some of my favourite tunes, but deep cuts like the bass-heavy “Bodyguard”, the country-rock fusion “YA YA”, and the fiery cover of “JOLENE” are new additions to my list of favourite Beyoncé songs. My main issue with COWBOY CARTER is that, unlike RENAISSANCE, it feels directionless at points, failing to capture a sense of cohesion. The numerous interludes, while inoffensive, add little to the experience on repeated listens. Moreover, the sudden tone-shift on rap bangers like “TYRANT” and “SPAGHETTII” feel out of place, taking me out of the atmosphere of the LP, regardless of how brilliant those tracks are. Overall, COWBOY CARTER is a fantastic album brimming with highlights, but its odd genre shifts and overindulgent track-list hold it back from being on the same level as RENAISSANCE and B’Day.

 


Faye Webster – Underdressed at the Symphony (2024) [Indie Pop]

 

The latest LP from Faye Webster is another gem in the songwriter’s catalogue, seamlessly fusing elements of indie with electronica and pop music. The opener, “Thinking About You”, is a gorgeous and equally sombre highlight where the singer’s soft, sleepy vocals are washed over in gentle layers of guitar, piano, and bass, perfectly encapsulating the dreamy atmosphere of the record. “But Not Kiss” shows off the punchier side to her music, with Webster’s brief verses cut off by these recurring eruptions of acoustic noise, hijacking the track with meandering passages of piano. The rest of Underdressed at the Symphony follows a similar pattern, flowing back and forth from more laidback tunes to head-bopping pop tracks, each showcasing the songwriting prowess of the singer. The LP may not feel as cohesive or emotional as Webster’s sharpest work like Atlanta Millionaires Club, but within its 10 tracks, there is still so much to love.

 


Future & Metro Boomin – WE DON’T TRUST YOU (2024) [Trap]

 

The full-length crossover between trap legends Future and Metro Boomin has been a dream amongst rap fans for years. WE DON’T TRUST YOU seemed destined to disappoint with how much hype had been built around the collaboration, but the end-product lived up to expectations. The album is 17 tracks of energetic trap mayhem, full of hypnotic hooks, majestic trap production, and insatiably catchy verses from Future. The first half of the LP is definitely its strongest. “Young Metro” is up there with the best cuts on the album, where Future glides over these interlocking waves of synths and strings. “Ice Attack” starts off sombre with the dreamy production from Metro, but with a sudden beat switch, transforms into another fiery trap banger where Future chants into the mic with a slick and swaggering flow to his bars. As the album goes on, however, its flaws start to show. Songs like “Cinderella” and “Runnin Outta Time” are decent enough, but the production falls flat, giving Future little room to show off his skills as the beats are nowhere near as vibrant or nuanced as those in the first leg of the album. If the track-list were trimmed down and a few needless features removed, WE DON’T TRUST YOU would be among the best projects from either artist.


 



Curtis Mayfield – Back to the World (1973) [Chicago Soul]

 

Curtis Mayfield is best known for classics like Curtis and Superfly, but Back to the World deserves to be mentioned in the same conversation as those soul essentials. The opening title track is one of the best soul songs ever made, where Mayfield belts some impassioned falsettos over a triumphant backdrop of swelling horns and strings. Telling the story of a soldier returning to a world that doesn’t care about him, Mayfield delivers perhaps the most emotional performance of his career. A thick, rippling bassline permeates through the orchestral haze of the production, foreshadowing the rest of the LP’s fusion of sounds funky, soulful, and baroque. “Future Shock” adopts a more traditional funk structure with its prominent bass and punching chorus, but other tunes go in a different direction, like “Can’t Say Nothin’” with its jazzy intro and the eerie backing vocals that loop throughout “Future Song”. In just seven tracks, Back to the World creates an atmosphere as lush and intricate as Mayfield’s masterworks, putting it up there with the greatest soul albums of the ‘70s.



Little Simz – GREY Area (2019) [UK Hip Hop]

 

One of the best rap albums of the past decade, GREY Area encapsulates all the strengths that make Little Simz such a formidable MC. Her flows front to back are relentless, dedicating tracks like “Venom” and “Boss” to a rawer, more aggressive sound while going in a softer, R&B-influenced direction on smooth cuts like “Selfish”. Lyrically introspective and instrumentally versatile, GREY Area offers Simz an array of varied beats to showcase her eclectic talents and limitless confidence on the mic. It may not be quite as conceptual as SIMBI nor as personal as NO THANK YOU, but GREY Area still stands as one of the rapper’s strongest efforts to date, with pristine production and poetically-written verses laced throughout.

 




Thought Provokah – Expensive Thrifts (2024) [Hip Hop]

 

Expensive Thrifts is the latest entry in the tale of Knap Jones, the overworked everyman persona crafted by rapper Thought Provokah. Unlike previous entries like I’M GOOD I’M GOOD and Is It Friday Yet highlighted the mundanity of the character’s life, struggling to get through the average workday and swallowing all his feelings, Expensive Thrifts is surprisingly eventful. The album follows Knap as he takes some shrooms and lets the drug trip carry him into a record store, reminiscing on old memories as he sorts through the music. Instrumentally, Thrifts is impeccable. The meandering, dreamy jazz of “Wear Are You” and “Vinyl Memories” capture the free-flowing narrative of Knap’s life, with highlights like “You Can Dance to Boombap” taking the album in a groovier, more danceable direction. On the mic, Thought Provokah is as elite as always, finding clever rhymes and subtle wordplay to cram into every bar, sprinkling all kinds of imagery into his writing while maintaining the clear narrative of Knap’s lonesome life.

 


Len-Dor & DJ Kawon – A Beacon in the Dark (2024) [Hip Hop]

 

An energetic collaboration between MC Len-Dor and DJ Kawon, the duo bring out the best in one another on A Beacon in the Dark. The EP starts out with its strongest song, the boom bap throwback “Hip Hop Mission” where Len-Dor and guest Rob G float over a groovy patchwork of sliced-up jazz samples. “Pass Life” starts out with a smooth, summery instrumental, but as the MCs pass the mic back and forth for the hook, the beat morphs into a darker reflection of itself, with these faint, sinister vocals echoing beneath the rapper’s booming tone. What the EP lacks in runtime, it makes up for in versatility, with Kawon constantly switching aesthetic from ambient cuts to ‘90s throwbacks to funky jams like “Audio Ezelle”. The EP closes on a high note with “On Sight”, a gritty highlight driven by a hypnotic piano loop. Isis Aset brings an incredible guest verse with her cutthroat flows, but Len-Dor brings an equally ferocious performance, thriving in the dark atmosphere of the track with his demanding mic presence.

 


Shaw Calhoune – Carry Out On Shaw (2024) [Jazz Rap]

 

The latest album from rapper Shaw Calhoune is perhaps his finest work to date. Playing to his strengths, the LP follows the same serene, jazz rap sound that made past projects like Fly Langston so captivating. Carry Out On Shaw is a concept record where Calhoune starts running his very own fast-food restaurant, with unhappy customers and obnoxious complaints becoming his everyday life. The concept helps the MC to deliver some of his most comedic and emotional material to date, with the themed song titles pushing his lyricism in new directions, like on “Anonymous Complaint” where the MC challenges himself to reflect on his own character. With a nonchalant presence, Calhoune glides smoothly over every instrumental, unlocking his full potential with a plethora of standout lines and memorable verses.



Blank Thought – Ghost in the Machine (2024) [Abstract Hip Hop & Ambient]

 

With how prolific Blank Thought’s output is, one might expect him to have run out of ideas by this point, but Ghost in the Machine is proof that the producer is only getting more ambitious. Although Thought has always incorporated spacey, atmospheric elements into his music, on this LP, he fully embraces ambient music, with peaceful highlights like “Drones” and “Cold” working as quiet interludes between the more active hip hop tunes. A score of rappers are featured, carefully curated by Thought to blend in with the understated soundscape. Sanfoka’s raspy tone fits well over the daunting bursts of noise on “Fear of Nature”; Mourning Run and company all pull their weight on the mesmerising posse cut “Rituals”; Zim and Jonny Farias offer some deeply introspective bars on the woozy wash of sounds heard on “Fog of War”. One of the producer’s most consistent and cohesive albums, Ghost in the Machine is an essential in underground hip hop this year.

 


Dome Lettuce – Blunt Raps (2024) [Jazz Rap]

 

Massachusetts rapper Dome Lettuce has been on an upward streak ever since 2022’s Salad Bars, and two years on Blunt Raps is evidence of his musical maturity. Working as producer on the LP as well as lead rapper, the production here is fantastic, with finely-chopped jazz samples and ‘90s-era drum patterns serving as the foundation of its sound. Especially brilliant is “Chicken Little’s Wings”, a sudden departure from the jazzy soundscape where Dome thrives over a brutal thunder of synthesisers. Carrying more humour in his lyrics and more energy in his delivery, the rapper sounds so comfortable, fully embracing the sample-laden sound of Blunt Raps to show off his ever-evolving abilities as a rapper.

 


D'Shon El Villano & DJ Epps – Nuevo Doom (2023) [Spanglish Rap]

 

Nuevo Doom is the latest album from Miami’s D’Shon El Villano, an energetic MC who can change language mid-verse and make it sound effortless. The record has a distinctly summery sound, evident from the Latin pop grooves and autotune-lathered vocals on “Nena Linda”. Despite starting out with a bright, poppy sound, not all of Nuevo Doom keeps to this upbeat style. Abrasive highlights like “Undeniable Rap Shit” and “Asi Lo Hacemos” embrace a darker, more traditional hip hop sound, with D’Shon shouting his bars as the drums crash and a flurry of samples flow in and out of earshot under his demanding voice. The variety of sounds on display is admirable, combining elements of pop with Southern hip hop and trap music, and mastering every one through D’Shon’s boundless enthusiasm.

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