An excellent month for hip-hop and the sublime sophomore record from Clairo headline a strong July.
If you tuned into the Indie Groove show earlier this month (or its podcast equivalent, handily available here) you might have heard me griping about the lack of great hip-hop releases so far in 2021. Well I'm glad to report that I can stop moaning, as July went a long way towards remedying the issue.
We had not just one but three excellent rap records in the past number of weeks. Two of which are reviewed below, with Tyler The Creator's magnificent sixth album already covered earlier in the month on site.
As well as some excellent hip-hop music to dissect, there's the much anticipated second album from bedroom pop goddess Clairo, as well as a host of quickfire album reviews in GGNB, the monthly E/O Mix for all the best tunes of July and what to look forward to in a stacked August.
Let's do this.
July Album Reviews
Sling - Clairo
Following on from the breakout success of her absorbing bedroom pop fables on debut Immunity in 2019, Claire Cottrill returns on Sling - an album inspired by her newly adopted puppy, of all things. Cottrill found herself improving her own lifestyle in order to provide better care for her dog Joanie, and this change is reflected in the tranquil vibes of Sling, as Clairo genuinely sounds like she is in a happier and healthier place on this sequel.
Instrumentally, there's a clear transition from the lo-fi indie pop sound of Immunity to a rich blend of horns, strings, piano and percussion - all brought to life by crisp production work from Cottrill herself and, to the surprise of nobody familiar with his now renowned Midas touch, Jack Antonoff. Across 12 songs and 45 minutes, Cottrill and Antonoff conduct a luscious jazz folk symphony which presents a more classical acoustic version of Clairo that feels indebted to influences like Joni Mitchell and Sufjan Stevens, while never losing the vital intimacy of Immunity's hushed vocal stylings and thoughtful songwriting.
Despite the dazzling set of instrumentals on display, Clairo's vocals are still the star instrument throughout, warmly enveloping the listener as the hi-fi production bathes her whispered mezzo soprano in a new light, so much so that returning to Immunity may feel like listening to Cottrill underwater - even if Sling is admittedly missing some of the more creative DIY touches of her debut.
Still, if the shift in tone from Gen Z bedroom diaries to 60's folkster is a little jarring at first, remember there's plenty of time for the 22 year old to explore boundless genres as she continues her musical evolution in the coming years. Crucially, Sling's compositional quality suggests that Cottrill is capable of interpreting whatever sound she likes with singular aplomb.
A phenomenal leap forward that retains the power of its artists narrative work and songcraft, Sling justifies a greater level of mainstream success for its modest young artist, as Clairo proves she can hang alongside superstar collaborators and friends like Lorde and Phoebe Bridgers on a sublime sophomore record, while confirming her status as one of the most exciting young songwriters of her generation.
8.0 / B+
Best Tracks: 'Ameoba'/'Just For Today'/'Joanie'
Baw Baw Black Sheep - Rejjie Snow
Following the introspective hip-hop opus of his studio debut Dear Annie in 2018, Dublin rapper Rejjie Snow returns on Baw Baw Black Sheep with a super slick collection of trippy monologues set to an eclectic mix of neo-soul, trap and alternative R&B beats.
The 28-year-old from Drumcondra has been making waves internationally since debuting three years ago and this is reflected in an impressive cast of featured artists, utilized skillfully throughout an immersive sophomore record. Most notable is the late great MF DOOM, who arrives in style on lead single and early highlight ‘Cookie Chips’ to set the playful summer tones of this streamlined tracklist, while later R&B superstar Tinashe shines on the aptly titled ‘Disco Pantz’ in all its funky glory. Perhaps the strongest assist comes from production whiz Cam O’bi though, as the Grammy award winning record producer provides a colourful selection of sunny beats for Snow to bask in.
Crucially, the star power of the guestlist never steals the show away from our narrator, who is in his element laying down bars with a flow so chilled and smooth that you might suspect the young rapper of functioning in a lucid dream state atop the brightly cinematic and sensual backing. Snow declared himself to be “at ease” in the creative process, and the results speak for themselves as the vibrant and intimate energy of Baw Baw Black Sheep reveals a highly perceptive, profoundly evolving artist.
8.0 / B+
Best Tracks: 'Obrigado'/'Cookie Chips (feat. MF DOOM)'/'Disco Pantz (feat. Tinashe & grouptherapy.)'
Vince Staples - Vince Staples
Vince Staples has seemingly been in competition with himself since 2017 to deliver the most distilled dose of his talent in LP form, and it doesn't get much more concentrated than the 22 minutes of the rappers self titled fourth album.
Vince Staples almost acts as a counterpart to 2018's FM!, another super short blast of Staples but one which offered a higher energy Vince and some heavier electro beats for the Compton native to unleash atop of. Whereas that album felt lacking, bordering on incomplete due to its rapid runtime, there isn't a second wasted on Vince Staples as the rapper delivers a stream of super smooth bars atop a delectable selection of sensual R&B, 90s West Coast hip-hop and alternative trap beats courtesy of the in-demand Kenny Beats.
Staples is contemplative and conversational throughout, effortlessly engaging listeners with thoughtful bars that unearth a more introspective side to the 28 year old than previously witnessed on harder records like Big Fish Theory and Summertime 06. It's a sentiment that's backed up by Staples himself, who is quoted as saying the record is "another take on myself that I might not have had before."
It's one that you could get used to hearing as this significantly self titled record not only finds fleshier narratives on display from its artist but a wonderfully laid back flow on show as Staples vividly recalls West Coast icons Nipsey Hussle (a noted influence on the LP) and Doggystyle era Snoop with his casually classic delivery throughout.
Concise and captivating, Vince Staples is the sound of its artist at his easiest yet most arresting in years.
8.0 / B+
Best Tracks: 'ARE YOU WITH THAT?'/'THE SHINING'/'TAKE ME HOME (feat. Foushee)'
You know how this works by now, GOODGOODNOTBAD is where I get to give you some extra quick takes on stuff I've been listening to this month that hasn't gotten the full review treatment! This is my way of including some more quickfire recommendations for all of you that are well worth checking out.
These albums can either be: Very Good, Good, Not Bad or BAD. So with that being said, what else is out there this month and what's good?
July saw Dublin indie rock quartet Inhaler sensationally top the Irish charts with their debut It Won't Always Be Like This, although it's a little hard to buy their success as a victory for the underdog when you pause to consider how many doors have been opened for the band over the years thanks to their inescapable U2 connection, with frontman Jamie Hewson the son and heir to Bono's empire. Taken on its own merit, this is a reasonably catchy if unremarkable collection of indie landfill that would have fit comfortably into the US and UK scenes circa 2006 but comes up relatively short fifteen years later.
A more intriguing Irish debut offer comes from Soda Blonde, the former Little Green Cars, who pressed the self destruct button back in 2019 and transform themselves here from tidy indie rock outfit into 80s synthpop stars on the gloriously moody Small Talk. Frontwoman Faye O Rourke effortlessly steals the show, channelling Kate Bush and Florence Welch with her enigmatic presence dominating each dark groove that the band line up time and time again throughout this stylish arrival.
If you're looking for some sumptuous summer jams to soundtrack the recent heatwave, you won't go wrong with the fifth album from George Lewis AKA Twin Shadow. This lightly exploratory affair skillfully blends genres as wide ranging as bachata, chillwave, 70s psychedelia and a whole host of tropical summer sounds under a delightful neo-funk umbrella. It's fitting that Lewis self titled this particular record, as the Dominican-American multi-instrumentalist and producer sounds at one with himself on the carefree half hour of Twin Shadow.
Switching gears, the modern classical compositions of Caroline Shaw and Sō Percussion sound even better than they did in January on Narrow Sea, as the Pulitzer prize winning composer teams up with the experimental classical quartet for the second time this year on Let The Soil Play Its Part. It's a bolder piece of music than its predecessor, putting Shaw's voice front and centre for the first time in her career, which duly shines amidst the euphonic cacophony of steel drums, strings and piano. And how about that ABBA cover?
Check out these four releases ranked below and let me know whether you thought they were good, bad or indifferent:
Soda Blonde - Small Talk
Twin Shadow - Twin Shadow
Caroline Shaw, Sō Percussion - Let The Soil Play Its Simple Part
Inhaler - It Won't Always Be Like This
Either/Or's July 2021 Mix
28 of the best tracks of July, curated by yours truly for your aural pleasure.
Tyler, The Creator - WUSYANAME (feat. Youngboy Never Broke Again & Ty Dolla $ign)
Syd - Fast Car
Rejjie Snow - Disco Pantz (feat. Tinashe & grouptherapy.)
Vince Staples - TAKE ME HOME (feat. Foushee)
Cooks But We're Chefs - Resting On Laurels
Twin Shadow - Johnny & Jonnie
Declan McKenna - My House
LUMP - We Cannot Resist
Courtney Barnett - Rae Street
Weather Underground - Sitting Here With Gus
Generous Gods - Snake Oil
Inhaler - It Won't Always Be Like This
Soda Blonde - Holy Roses
Clairo - Ameoba
Big Red Machine - Phoenix (feat. Fleet Foxes & Anais Mitchell)
Bleachers - Secret Life (feat. Lana Del Rey)
Damon Albarn - Polaris
James Blake - Say What You Will
Sleigh Bells - Locust Laced
Poppy - Her
Kurt Vile - Run Run Run
The War On Drugs - Living Proof
Lorde - Stoned At The Nail Salon
Natalie Bergman, Beck - You've Got A Woman
Soccer Mommy - rom com 2004
Angel Olsen - Gloria
Sufjan Stevens, Angelo De Augustine - OIympus
Caroline Shaw, Sō Percussion - Lay All Your Love On Me
July's Most Anticipated Releases
Kanye West - Donda
Nas - King's Disease II
RZA - RZA vs Bobby Digital
Jungle - Loving In Stereo
The Killers - Pressure Machine
Angel Olsen - Aisles EP
Bleachers - Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night
Deafheaven - Infinite Granite
Lorde - Solar Power
Orla Gartland - Woman On The Internet
Big Red Machine - How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?
CHVRCHES - Screen Violence