In this weekly segment, we review the most notable albums out each Friday and pick our album of the week. Here are this week’s releases:
Ed Sheeran, No. 6 Collaborations Project
A lot of people might hate on Ed Sheehan for shifting away from his trademark acoustic style in favour of a more pop-centric sound, but that’s not really a fair criticism. If anything, the summery opener to his new album, ‘Beautiful People’ feat. Khalid, proves that he can incorporate electronic elements into his music in a way that pleasantly suits his vocal delivery and lyrics. Instead, the problem with his latest effort, which is a collaborative project featuring some of the biggest names in hip-hop, pop, and beyond, is that rather than the guest artists making an appearance on an Ed Sheehan song, it feels more like Ed Sheeran deliberately copying the guest artist’s style to the safest and most radio-friendly version it could be (see ‘Anstisocial’ feat. Travis Scott or ‘Remember the Name’ feat. Eminem and 50 Cent). The exceptions to this pattern lead to the album’s best and worst tracks: ‘Best Part of Me’ is a heartfelt acoustic love ballad as good as Ed Sheehan has ever written and featuring an emotive performance from YEBBA, while lead single ‘I Don’t Care’ feat. Justin Bieber is a lifeless and annoying pop song evoking the worst moments off Sheeran’s previous album, Divide. It’s also not unlikely that Sheeran’s going through some kind of identity crisis, uncertain whether he wants to humbly portray himself as an ultra-rich superstar or the same old insecure guy from a small English town. I’m not sure we’d get the Led Zeppelin knock-off that is ‘BLOW’ (featuring Bruno Mars and Chris Stapleton of all people) if that wasn’t the case. A collaborative project is probably not the best opportunity to redefine yourself, but still, No. 6 Collaborations Project is not much more than just listenable, inoffensive pop music.
Highlights: ‘Beautiful People’ feat. Khalid, ‘Best Part of Me’ feat. YEBBA
Big K.R.I.T., K.R.I.T. IZ HERE
The Mississippi rapper’s fourth studio album is his official return following his ambitious and epic 2017 double album 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time, a project that saw him parting ways with his then label Def Jam to embrace a new kind of artistic freedom. It was definitely for the best – it’s one of the few double albums that actually work – but the following EPs he dropped in 2018, which were released as a compilation earlier this year, were somewhat underwhelming for a rapper of Big K.R.I.T.’s caliber. His new mixtape, theoretically a sequel to 2010’s K.R.I.T. WUZ HERE, sees him going on a similarly more commercial, less conceptual route, but with more memorable hooks and production this time around, and K.R.I.T. on top form as usual. There are bangers like the opener ‘K.R.I.T. HERE’, in which here reflects on his time with Def Jam, or the more thoughtful and inspiring ‘Believe’, as well as trap-influenced cuts, some of which tend to suffer from a lack of originality (two notable exceptions being ‘High Beams’ and ’Energy’). More soulful tracks like ‘Make it Easy’ or the wonderfully jazzy ‘M.I.S.S.I.S.S.I.P.P.I’ help give some personality to the project, while perhaps the biggest highlight is the infectious single ‘Addiction’ feat. Lil Wayne & Saweetie. Some of the features are spotty, but K.R.I.T. IZ HERE is proof that a Big K.R.I.T. album doesn’t need to be high-minded to be good.
Highlights: ‘Addiction’ (feat. Lil Wayne & Saweetie)’, ‘M.I.S.S.I.S.S.I.P.P.I’, ‘Energy’, ‘Believe’
Album of the Week: Blood Orange, Angel’s Pulse
In describing his new project, Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange, explained that he normally writes and records a bunch of songs after putting out an album, but that he only shares them with friends, despite the fact that he puts as much effort into them as the official release. Having grown older, he’s decided there’s no reason not to release material at the same pace at which he makes it. The result is Angel’s Pulse, a half-hour mixtape that serves as an epilogue to last year’s critically acclaimed Negro Swan, a thoughtful left-field R&B album that requires patience to truly sink in. While Angel’s Pulse feels understandably less focused and essential, it flows surprisingly well for something with such a wide range of musical influences scattered all over the place. The songs here are laid-back and loose, with Hynes comfortably bringing together his knack for writing sticky hooks (he’s produced for the likes of Kylie Minogue, FKA Twigs, and Mac Miller) and experimenting with his production style. See for example the IDM-influenced beat on ‘Baby Florence (Figure)’, the shoegaze-inspired ‘Tuesday Feeling (Choose To Stay)’, the Sparklehorse-eque instrumental on ‘Take It Back’, or the hypnotically multi-layered guitar solo on ‘Something to Do’. With the music being this good, let’s hope he keeps releasing it at this pace.
Highlights: ‘Benzo’, ’Baby Florence (Figure)’, ‘Take it Back’, ‘Gold Teeth’, ‘Tuesday Feeling (Choose To Stay)’
Banks is back stronger and more confident on her new album III, a follow-up to 2016’s The Altar. The alternative R&B singer’s third album opens with two of its best songs: the bold production on ’Till Now’ is certainly an attention-grabber, but it’s also an emotionally engaging track that immerses you into the singer’s devastating feelings of mindset. Single ’Gimme’ continues on this maximalist pop path, with its rich, distorted bass and an infectious hook to bring it all together. Once Banks returns to familiar R&B ballad territory, though, the tracks become somewhat weaker and more forgettable, as in the nearly 5-minute long ‘Contaminated’ and ‘Hawaiian Mazes’, or the poppier ‘Look What You’re Doing To Me’, which doesn’t do much justice to Banks’ compellingly personal lyrics. ’Sawzall’ is the exception here, with its quietly affecting guitar in the background as she sings “I go over every word you said to me/Every single syllable I could repeat/Certified to scuba dive in my memory.” Despite being somewhat unfocused, there are more hits than misses here, and III is a welcome new direction for Banks.
Highlights: ‘Till Now’, ‘Gimme’, ‘Sawzall’, ‘The Fall’