What does one expect from Young Thug in 2021? Since his arrival onto the contemporary hip-hop landscape nearly a decade ago, he’s managed to accomplish nearly everything he’s set out to do — mainstream success continues to elude him, but things are improving in that regard — and then some. He founded his own sorta-popular label, influenced an entire generation of young slimes, garnered respect from the most esteemed of his peers. Still, in many respects, his music output hit something of a ceiling a few years back. He hasn’t become bad or even boring per se, but the edge he once brought with his outré vocal delivery and questionable lyrical content has noticeably dulled. He’s tightened the formula a bit; he’s acting less a wild card and more like an established talent, one who engages in traditional media rollouts and gives routine press interviews. But what’s missing from Thugger’s music these days is the defiant spark that propelled releases like Barter 6 and Jeffery forward, even when they were tonally and qualitatively inconsistent. So Much Fun, by stark contrast, was technically competent, but also utterly nondescript and largely forgettable. The perfect YSL ideal would be a middle-ground between these two modes: irreverent, but also sonically coherent.
His latest, Punk, seems to be this very release — at least at the outset. For an all-too-brief six-track stretch, it operates more or less as a spiritual successor to the acoustic-friendly Beautiful Thugger Girls (albeit decidedly more “punk” in presentation and ethos than in musical tone or instrumentation), and ranks as one of Young Thug’s most aesthetically consistent projects to date. The intimate and introspective “Die Slow” — which kicks off with a single solemn guitar riff and sustains the sole instrumentation throughout — has Thug going on several extended mid-verse tangents regarding his philandering father, and the anguished sentiment bleeds over into “Stressed,” though it also features a rambly J. Cole bridge that has him once again bragging about how rich he is. The first half of “Stupid/Asking” has Thug whelping the titular question (“Is you stupid?”) from the perspective of a scorned lover, while its second part focuses on the dissatisfied sentiment (“I’m tired of askin’”). Up until “Peepin Out the Window,” which features an inspired Future crooning about all these “racist-ass cops tryna catch a n***a slackin’ like Jim Crow,” Punk is pure bliss, including tracks from the mellow “Contagious” to “Recognize Real,” which ranks as one of Gunna’s finest and heroic hours.
Then things go awry with “Rich N***a Shit,” which ends the sonic gambit of the front-loaded album before it’s able to really develop; instead, we now get a boring, derivative Pi’erre Bourne beat (supposedly Kanye West had some hand in producing this one, though it’s difficult to discern his contributions here) with a boring, derivative Young Thug and a below-average Juice Wrld verse. The nose-dive continues on “Livin It Up,” with a dumbass Post Malone chorus and A$AP Rocky singing over a corny country-pop beat; it’s dreadful, but not even the worst threesome song here, as “Bubbly” provides one of Travis Scott’s goofiest guest spots yet (he has a funny line about the “way we bustin’ up faces”) right before a mid-song beat switch-up — all of this ostentatious ornamentation makes way for a tired, painfully uninterested Drake guest spot — which kills any remaining momentum. The rest of Punk’s material feels equally miscalculated — the cartoonish “Icy Hot,” with Doja Cat’s underwhelming, heavily auto-tuned vocals — and uninventive (did Thug forget he already had a track called “Scoliosis,” which was much better than the one here?). The only real saving graces are a wannabe pop-punk anthem (“Hate The Game”) and gaudily sentimental track that miraculously pays off (“Love You More,” with fun.’s Nate Ruess murdering the hook). Not even an alright Mac Miller verse — supposedly recorded a day before his death — thrown in at the last second could ever hope to truly redeem the jumbled, inconsistent mess Punk eventually turns into, amounting to yet another misstep from a once-great artist who now regularly makes them..
An artist whose rapturous reception in his early career seemed to sit uneasy with him, Hayes Carll has often struggled to release albums with coherent points of view or consistently edited songs, resulting in a catalogue that has some glorious highlights and a whole lot of material that sounds about three-quarters cooked. You Get It All, co-produced by Allison Moorer and Kenny Greenberg, is a pleasant surprise, then, as it’s handily the most cohesive and quality-controlled set Carll has recorded since his debut. The album boasts more frequent traditional-country flourishes than any of his prior efforts, with fiddle and dobro complimenting a set of narratives that are alternately heartbreaking, provocative, and uproarious. By allowing his wiseass sense of humor to shine in the context of songs that otherwise sound like more conventional country and folk music, Carll stakes out a comfortable and productive middle ground between the likes of Todd Snider and Ray Wylie Hubbard.
The down-home blues arrangement of “She’ll Come Back to Me” could’ve been lifted from one of Hubbard’s fantastic late-career records, and Carll tempers the song’s lovelorn tale by saying his ex will return when, “Dolly just can’t sing.” Opener “Nice Things” spins a cockeyed theology in which the angel of God visits Georgia, only to get arrested for smoking weed, admonishing her would-be followers for their lack of empathy, compassion, and critical thought; it’s a song that challenges stereotypes about country music as having just one type of story to tell, and it does so with thoughtfulness and a real sense of wit. Elsewhere, Carll’s relationship with Moorer has inspired a terrific batch of more straightforward love songs — the title track, in particular, is as lovely as anything Carll’s ever done — and he’s joined by Brandy Clark on an absolutely killer duet, “In the Mean Time,” that’s certainly a #1 hit in some alternate timeline where country radio actually still embraces the genre’s diverse styles and perspectives. Every Carll album is good for a song or two like that, but, with You Got It All, Carll has finally released another record on which every song is an outright winner: An ace songwriter at the top of his game makes You Got It All handily one of the year’s best.
Lil Wayne & Rich the Kid
The prospect of a collaborative effort from Lil Wayne and Rich the Kid is not a low-stakes project. Indeed, it would be far more accurate to call said release a no-stakes project: to be the least bit listenable, the collaboration would first of all have to be in on how ridiculous it would be for the two to team up. Trust Fund Babies, a recent mixtape by the duo, certainly lives up to that non-ambitious descriptor: it runs under half an hour, has one feature (YG on “Buzzin’”), had virtually zero press coverage upon release, and comfortably sounds like it was recorded over the span of a few days. The pairing’s origin story is equally unimpressive: they really like skateboarding together… and that’s essentially that! Somehow, Rich the Kid has been able to cultivate some long-lasting high-profile professional relationships (he was, in essence, the fourth member of Migos early on in their career), but they’re also the kind that highlight how much of an A&R middle-man the dude is instead of an artist with anything interesting to say. He’s made bold claims that Wayne was the initiator of this recorded collection, and perhaps that really is the long and short of it. Weezy has never been one to shy away from doing the plainly ridiculous, but Rich must be some really cool dude to kick it with, one worthy of bestowing an album’s worth of material to. The same questions were raised a year ago when he collaborated with NBA Youngboy, to which the exact same answer applies: they’re friends, that’s it.
Truth be told, that’s all the lore one needs in order to be properly primed for the occasion; it’s almost admirable how little context has been given for this most unnatural of musical unions. What’s important is that they’re having fun, or had fun recording at Wayne’s skatepark; more to the point, they at least sound like they’re having fun, in a natural, impromptu sort of way. Wayne will lead with some tongue-twisting chorus that he’ll breezily rattle off, making way for Rich to make some lame joke about his “big racks” (his favorite topic) for a few bars, passing it back to Wayne, then back to Rich, rinse, lather, and repeat. It’s an approach to craft that could generously be considered “relaxed.” As one would expect, this doesn’t result in the greatest material either has ever attached their name to — though that’s an admittedly low bar for Rich, a strong candidate for the least necessary character in hip-hop — but Wayne and his partner have an agreeable enough chemistry with one another, the kind that can comfortably keep a project of this scope afloat. To put it another way: Rich doesn’t get in the way of Wayne being great — which he is at least on “Headlock,” where he’s vocally traipsing around the track’s darkly orchestral production, going full-on stream of consciousness with his wordplay (“Moonwalk, lеt the juice talk/Got sticks, got racks, no pool balls”) — enough of the time for it to ever become much of an issue..
Producer and sound engineer extraordinaire Sarah Tudzin is back with her second full-length album, and third release as Illuminati Hotties, Let Me Do One More. The record spawns from a tumultuous time in her career, after releasing last year’s mixtape FREE I.H: This is Not the One You’ve Been Waiting For as a way to escape a subpar contract. As such, Let Me Do One More is the first release on her new label, Snack Shack Tracks, and this genesis tidily fits within the album’s themes of new beginnings, something Tudzin has been through plenty of in the course of this record’s conception and release.
Illuminati Hotties originally served as a purpose to showcase Tudzin’s songwriting prowess outside the bounds of the traditional indie pop/rock fields that she was working in. Her music is a blend of these soft pop stylings and lyrical fodder orchestrated with the delivery of a punk rock freight train, ripping hot power chords and shouted lines about how hard changes can be peppering all three of the band’s records. On this latest, there’s a palpable tenderness, the LP narratively/thematically opening in the period of uncertainty following a breakup. Let Me Do One More weaves a story of reclamation through dates and late-night trips to hotel pools, and the progressions feel incredibly authentic, recognizing that pain comes in waves and matching its sonic movements to this rhythm, the unexpected emotional ass-kickings here coming even during something enjoyable like an ice cream date.
There are plenty of delicate moments to be found, such as on tracks like “u v v p,” featuring Buck Meek of Big Thief, but there are loud, almost unhinged moments too, speaking to insecurities rather than tenderness on tracks like “Joni: LA’s No. 1 Health Goth,” with Tudzin shouting “You wish you were like her” while describing a clean-eating yoga instructor (as grand an overt criticism on what is ostensibly a breakup album). Indeed, there’s plenty to latch on to in individual moments across Let Me Do One More, but the only thing the tracks seem to lack is a succinct sound, something that her previous releases accomplished with relative ease. There’s space and reason for all of the movements made, but the steps to get there don’t always feel like the right sonic decisions, too often opting for something humorous at times when an angry beat would play better, for instance. This isn’t a pervasive issue on the album, as Tudzin’s career in production has led to mostly prudent choices in these areas, but it’s a more notable bug on this release than in past efforts.
Pain and conflict can certainly lead to great art, and after losing her mother to cancer, a breakup, paying her way out of a contract to regain her old masters, and putting out her third release in as many years, Tudzin’s thematic palette — and, indeed, career — certainly seems to have been goosed as of late. These struggles shape the sound of Let Me Do One More, cultivating an earnestness that’s more endearing than cringe, and presents a compelling invitation to return for multiple listens as Tudzin sifts through feelings as if they were wholly new, communicating these new beginnings onto the listener and priming them for the same kind of introspection. It’s in these emotional footholds that Illuminati Hotties thrive, and even if the sum sound isn’t quite as clear in its vision, Tudzin and crew effectively earn the emotional payoffs here one song at a time.
For decades, the only known live recording of A Love Supreme, John Coltrane’s four-part paean to God, recorded in December 1964 in one session at Van Gelder Studios in New Jersey and released the following January, came from a set in Antibes, France, recorded in July 1965. That recording, which was re-issued as part of the 2013 collection A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters, is great — it’s Coltrane’s quartet, after all — but it offers no real surprises. It sounds like a live recording of the studio album — all the same musicians, the same structure, the same sound. They even recreated the dim lighting of a nightclub in the studio to set a mood.
Half a century after A Love Supreme debuted, a newly unearthed recording, from Seattle in October 1965, has been released, and it’s a revelation. Whereas the French performance doesn’t deviate too significantly from the album, the newly released recording is twice as long. It mingles the raucous wail of free jazz with the sanguine smoothness of Coltrane’s spirituality, tender moments of calm obliterated by the tumult of players at the apogee of their game. (Joe Brazil taped the concert using the club’s two-channel recording system, so the sound quality isn’t quite as good as the Complete Masters, but that’s fine because the performance is so beguiling.) Coltrane’s quartet (pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones) is joined by an up-and-coming Pharoah Sanders (who appears on Coltrane’s Ascension) on tenor sax, alto saxophonist Carlos Ward, and bassist Donald Rafael Garrett. The first song, “Acknowledgment,” 21-minutes-long here (the original recording is only eight minutes), is an eruption of sound, with the young Sanders blowing rapturously, Jones beating the skins furiously, and Coltrane, coming in late to the recording, delivering a brash solo. There’s a sense of pandemonium that isn’t on the album. The third movement, “Pursuance,” features Tyner’s swinging, sultry, grooving solo as the rest of the band follows along. On each movement, Coltrane states the themes of the album, then gets out of the way.
A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle is a polyrhythmic concatenation of solos, the calamity of improvisation cohering into something strange and wonderful. Throughout the performance, Coltrane allows everyone to take a turn in the spotlight, much like Miles Davis during his electric era. (Coltrane, a heroin addict and alcoholic, was, incidentally, fired from Davis’s band in 1957 for his bedraggled, bibulous appearance. But according to Coltrane, he “experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life.”) A Love Supreme is the prodigy of Coltrane’s newfound spirituality. The final song on the album, “Psalm,” is set to a poem written by Coltrane, though he blows the notes rather than singing the words: “I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee O Lord. / It all has to do with it. / Thank you God. / Peace. / There is none other. / God is. It is so beautiful. / Thank you God. God is all.“
Jazz is a genre constantly in flux, always reinventing itself, transmuting into something at once new and old. Consider Davis’s “He Loved Him Madly,” a half-hour ambient tribute to Duke Ellington. Standards, Geoff Dyer wrote, are constantly being reinterpreted. On A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle, the standards are blown to smithereens, the little bits and pieces scooped up and rearranged into something that sometimes resembles the jazz of old, and marks a canonical work in Coltrane’s catalog.