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  • Writer's pictureEvan

Album Review Rewind: May '24

Updated: Jun 3

By far the most eventful month for music this year, May has been a fantastic time to be a music fan. In the hip hop scene, the Kendrick Lamar vs. Drake feud brought some much-needed excitement to the mainstream, but even beyond that, we were blessed with brilliant new albums from Vince Staples and Mach-Hommy, amongst others. Outside of rap, May has been just as varied, with the latest Beth Gibbons, Kamasi Washington, and Billie Eilish projects creeping their way up my best of 2024 list.


Section 1: Modern Masterworks

 

Mach-Hommy - #RICHAXXHAITIAN

Mach-Hommy - #RICHAXXHAITIAN (2024) [Abstract Hip Hop]

 

The latest album from Mach-Hommy is up there with the best projects the rapper has ever made. Grand in scale, its soundscape shifts from grimy bangers with Roc Marciano and Your Old Droog to summery pop hits with 03 Greedo and KAYTRANADA, with Hommy mastering every style he incorporates. His pen game is as dense and abstract as ever, juggling witty brags with political messages and simple flexes of his rhyming ability. His focussed flows make the listener concentrate on every word, with Hommy’s bars cutting through instrumentals dreamy and grimy. A host of producers combine their talents to build the versatile soundscape of the LP. Fortes’s ethereal flourish adds to the jazzy elegance of “SAME 24” while the punching piano and drums on “SONJE” add impact to every bar from Mach. Showcasing his talents at his most versatile and consistent, #RICHAXXHAITIAN is a must-listen for hip hop fans.

 

Billie Eilish - HIT ME HARD AND SOFT

Billie Eilish – HIT ME HARD AND SOFT (2024) [Pop]

 

After 2021’s Happier Than Ever – a mixed bag of an album that simply never clicked with me – I was relieved by how much I enjoyed the newest Billie Eilish album. Going in a darker, more atmospheric direction, the production of HIT ME HARD AND SOFT matches Billie’s writing: stripped back, open, and vulnerable. The occasional synth passage adds life to the LP, but for the most part, Finneas’s production consists of melancholic acoustic elements, building a naturalistic foundation for Billie to deliver some of the most personal and tragic verses of her career. The guaranteed hit “LUNCH” is an infectious bop with Billie’s tongue-in-cheek demeanour and the groovy bassline, but it’s in the ballads where the album reaches its apex, especially in intimate moments like “THE GREATEST” and “SKINNY”.

 

Kamasi Washington - Fearless Movement

Kamasi Washington – Fearless Movement (2024) [Jazz-Fusion]

 

Fearless Movement is proof that Kamasi Washington is one of the boldest, most ambitious voices in jazz today. Rather than sticking to the traditional style of jazz-fusion – blending together a few horn solos with a heavy bassline and some guitar-work – Washington goes beyond fusing jazz with funk, bringing in elements of soul, ambient, electronic, and hip hop. Laced between impactful horn solos are angelic choruses, ferocious rap verses, and chilling synth passages. Fearless Movement is a vibrant splatter of assorted genres that mix together to create an eclectic celebration of black culture and the power of jazz. Highlights like “Dream State” and “Prologue” are amongst the best songs of the year, but there is no greater way to appreciate the album than to play it start to finish, and completely immerse yourself in its ever-evolving soundscape.

 

Vince Staples - Dark Times

Vince Staples – Dark Times (2024) [Conscious Hip Hop]

 

From his music to his new TV show, Vince Staples has been on a creative streak this decade, and Dark Times is proof that he’s only getting better. Dark in tone and subdued in its sound, Dark Times is a far cry from the hip house anthems of Big Fish Theory, with Staples fully embracing the minimalist style of his past few LPs to deliver a rap album of the year contender. Unlike VINCE STAPLES and RAMONA PARK where the rapper matched his calm delivery to fit the laidback production, he sounds more alive than ever here, with a versatile set of flows and a strong hook game where multiple songs are guaranteed to loop in your head for hours. Beyond the sound of Dark Times, it’s a lyrical masterclass from Staples, with a refreshing blend of nuanced storytelling, wit, and introspection. A decade on from his commercial debut, the rapper is in his creative prime.

 

Beth Gibbons - Lives Outgrown

Beth Gibbons – Lives Outgrown (2024) [Chamber Folk]

 

I went into Lives Outgrown not knowing what to expect, but left it utterly amazed. Sonically, the album reminds me in part of Bowie’s Blackstar – dark and twisted at times, blending together the most foreboding elements of jazz, rock, and electronica. Some songs have an industrial flourish while others bask in a more natural, acoustic style, offering Gibbons an eclectic array of sounds to perform over. Her soft, whispered vocals add an intimacy to her performance which complements the introspection of her poetic lyrics. The vast, dense soundscapes on display are what make Lives Outgrown so extraordinary, with the grand instrumentation offering a nice contrast against the softspoken whisper of her words.

 

Rapsody - Please Don't Cry

Rapsody – Please Don’t Cry (2024) [Conscious Hip Hop]

 

Five years after Eve, Rapsody is back with a plethora of conscious hip hop highlights. The sound of Please Don’t Cry is nothing new for the rapper – embracing the soft and soulful sound that brought her to fame – but lyrically, the album provides some of the most powerful songs of her career. Touching on themes of self-love, recognition, and family, the MC is a natural when it comes to penning her thoughts, turning every trouble into a beautiful stanza rich in meaning and dense in rhyme. However, the album does have its issues. As slick as she sounds over the soulful instrumentals, I wish there was more variety in the sound of Please Don’t Cry, especially when the LP spans a lengthy 22 tracks. Moreover, a host of features are involved, many of whom distract from Rapsody’s performance rather than add to it. Although it may not be her most consistent effort, the rapping and writing ability of Rapsody remains undeniable.

 

Dua Lipa - Radical Optimism

Dua Lipa – Radical Optimism (2024) [Dance-Pop]

 

Following the singles “Houdini”, “Training Season”, and “Illusion”, Radical Optimism quickly became one of my most highly anticipated albums of 2024. Each single was so danceable and rich in detail, with the psychedelic swirl of sounds on “Houdini” especially impressing me. Unfortunately, however, the rest of the album fails to reach the heights of those teasers. Dua’s singing is strong throughout, but the production and songwriting are where the LP suffers most. So many songs embody a safe, vaguely dance-driven sound like a throwaway from Future Nostalgia, abandoning the darkness of “Training Season” and the psychedelia of “Houdini” to embrace a far more commercial and digestible sound. “Anything For Love” could have been a favourite of mine if not for its abrupt ending. After a full minute of buildup, the beat kicks in, but we only have a minute to enjoy it before the song cuts off. The potential is there for a brilliant pop record, but many songs end up feeling half-baked, lacking the nuance, colour, and personality of the singles.


Section 2: Recurring Classics

Prince - 1999

Prince – 1999 (1982) [Synth-Funk & New Wave]

 

In his prime, Prince was unbeatable. 1999 is one of many classics the singer released in his early career, bringing together the hedonistic pop appeal of Dirty Mind with the politics and celebrity focus of Controversy. The album sees Prince embrace the new wave. Countless tracks are slow burns where meticulous layers of electro-funk production are added in, pulsing beneath the singer’s raw, soulful, seductive vocals. “1999” and “Delirious” are irresistible synth-pop bangers whereas “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “Lady Cab Driver” are patient funk jams, with either style showing off Prince’s innate talents as a hitmaker and a producer. “Free” is the only song that doesn’t quite grab me: an uplifting piano ballad whose stripped back sound and emotional appeal feel out of place in the groovy bustle of 1999.


John Coltrane - Giant Steps

John Coltrane – Giant Steps (1960) [Hard Bop]

 

Coltrane is a legend with dozens of classics under his belt, but few are as compelling – and as addictive – as Giant Steps. On this hard bop essential, Coltrane brings together a band of undeniable talents including drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Paul Chambers, and pianist Wynton Kelly. The rhythm section is lively and bright, creating an upbeat atmosphere over which Coltrane and his bandmates deliver a stunning array of solos, meandering for minutes at a time while the piano and percussion maintain a danceable rhythm. Whether it be “Giant Steps”, “Countdown”, or the closer “Mr. P.C.”, no track is less than flawless.

 

Section 3: Underground Spotlight

KNOWITALL and Filip Neuf - CAUTION: Laser In Use

KNOWITALL & Filip Neuf – CAUTION: Laser In Use (2024) [Jazz Rap]

 

A collaboration between one of the underground’s greatest rappers and one of its finest producers, CAUTION: Laser In Use was guaranteed to be incredible. Despite being a mere nine tracks and 23 minutes in length, there is enough depth and nuance here to sit with the album on repeat for a full month. Producer Filip Neuf is as slick as ever, in his element as he chops up an array of vibrant and hypnotic jazz samples for KNOWITALL to tear apart on the mic. The talent of KNOWITALL is common knowledge at this point, but somehow he outdoes himself, bringing back the swagger from 777 but with a newfound sense of introspection and poetry to his rhymes. Every bar is a quotable; every verse is a mesmerising display in rhyme, wordplay, and flow. If this doesn’t make you a KNOWITALL fan, nothing will.

 

Gustavo Louis and Sauce Yin - NARCO TWINS

Gustavo Louis & Sauce Yin – NARCO TWINS (2024) [Hardcore Hip Hop]

 

An unapologetically grimy effort from Gustavo Louis and Sauce Yin, on NARCO TWINS, the ferocious MCs bring out the best in one another. Every song is like a competition for who can deliver the hardest verse, with the pair growling their rhymes over a batch of gritty instrumentals. Spitting cold-hearted threats into the mic or simply bragging for minutes on end, both rappers have enough charisma to pull off the seemingly simple topics, finding fresh ways on every track to turn their bars into brutal explosions of rhyme. Gustavo Louis has a nonchalant presence, contrasted by the deep-voiced rasp of Sauce Yin’s performance. Although the two sound distinct, they complement one another perfectly, working in unison to forge another gritty highlight for the hip hop underground.

 

L1FEL1NE - Dark Glamour

L1FEL1NE – Dark Glamour (2024) [Emo Rap & Southern Hip Hop]

 

Dark Glamour is a mesmerising exercise in Southern hip hop. On this EP, L1FEL1NE borrows from Memphis rap with a range of dark and desolate tunes. The production is dense and woozy, with a flurry of hi-hats and deep basslines echoing through a haze of haunting vocal chops and buzzing synths. The rapper has a distinctly moody presence, basking in the horrorcore-inspired drone of the production as his lyrics become more sinister with every tune. “Pinot Nightmares” and “Lies” stand out as my favourites, with the ominous, rap-focussed soundscape appealing to me more than the acoustic emo rap of “The Last Goodbye” and “Executioner”. The demonic roars into the mic from L1FEL1NE on “DARK!” are too harsh for my taste, but they bring the EP to a powerful crescendo, ending the project at its most intense heights.

 

Lo Katana and Ross Colon - Red Sun

Lo Katana & Ross Colon – Red Sun (2024) [UK Hip Hop]

 

An homage to their time spent in Hong Kong and South Korea, Red Sun is an ethereal EP whose dreamy soundscape perfectly captures the serenity of East Asia. The production is soulful and atmospheric, with an emphasis on spiritual jazz and soothing vocal samples. That peaceful sound fits well with the introspective rapping on display, with vivid imagery and reflection prioritised over dynamic flows and witty punchlines. Each song is brief, allowing the project to flow cohesively from track to track. Although there were points I wish some songs had longer to breathe, the brevity of Red Sun makes it infinitely re-playable.

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