Drake goes full Drake, Little Simz steals the show and there are a couple of indie gems in a huge September.
There was no shortage of big releases this past month, with September seeing three of the biggest hip-hop albums of the year drop within mere weeks of each other as Kanye, Drake and 2021 golden boy Lil Nas X put out hugely anticipated records to mixed results - but more on that below.
You've already heard my thoughts on Kanye (and I had plenty), so what's the verdict on Certified Lover Boy and MONTERO? Both were overshadowed by an unexpected treasure from the UK, and I've got all three albums covered in this month's wrap. As well as that there's the glorious return of a very folky Sufjan Stevens, an independent Irish gem and loads more music to dissect in GGNB before we round off with the September Mix and October's Most Anticipated Releases. So let's get into it.
September Album Reviews
Certified Lover Boy - Drake
Everything about Certified Lover Boy - from its numerous missed release dates all the way back to late 2020, to its inflated length and ludicrous Damien Hirst commissioned album art - has been par for the course Drake in recent years, and for better or (mostly) worse, the final product we get here is the Drizziest Drake album of them all.
It has felt increasingly clear on recent releases that Aubrey Graham switched to cruise control somewhere around the release of Scorpion in 2018, but even by his current standards Certified Lover Boy is a shockingly nonchalant, lackadaisical and predictable affair.
The most glaring symptom of this uninspired formula Drizzy is seemingly now enslaved to is the greatly suffering production quality on his sixth studio album. With such a massive lack of diversity in its beats, these 21 tracks are left to be best identified by their respective features - which tellingly comprise the best moments on the album - as Jay Z, Travis Scott, Lil Wayne and Kid Cudi cause Drake to up his game long enough to hold court with those on the end of the other mic.
Even these hip -hop heavyweights sound jaded by their inclusion on Certified Lover Boy though - while 'Love All', 'Fair Trade', 'You Only Live Twice' and 'IMY2' may count themselves among the better material within this monotonous hour and a half, these half baked trap productions are easily forgotten feature fodder that will likely never make an appearance on the setlists of Jay, Scott and Wayne's respective world tours. In fact, you get the feeling these artists have probably already forgotten the presumable couple of hours in studio that led to these no doubt lucrative bars.
As for the purely solo material here, it's all been said before. Drake has casual sex, breaks hearts, gets his heart broken, enjoys his enormous wealth and generally lives it up in classically braggadocious style to woefully diminishing returns across what is almost the exact same recycled 40 beat for the entirety of these 86 minutes, leaning so heavily into a parody version of himself that you would be almost tempted to brand Certified Lover Boy a project in satire if there was so much as an ounce of self awareness on display here. (Spoiler - there is not.)
At the end of the day, Drake is gonna Drake as long as it keeps returning the assured seven figure sums that each studio release and ensuing world tour generates on command. But once upon a time, he was capable of doing it with style and originality - just two things on a long list that Certified Lover Boy is missing, perhaps the most crucial being an actual identifiable personality or any sign of human life behind the beat.
Instead what we get here is a zombified version of a former rap great, robotically packing fast food music for the masses - once they're eating, why worry about a thing like effort?
4.0 / D-
Best Tracks: 'Love All'/'You Only Live Twice'/'IMY2'
MONTERO - Lil Nas X
Arriving on the back of the blockbuster success of its lead single over the summer, MONTERO marks the full length studio debut of Lil Nas X and moreover the 22 year old's arrival as a serious artist beyond the gimmickry of country rap smash hit 'Old Town Road' back in 2018.
Comprising a set of decently eclectic pop rap productions that draw on an enviable cast of superstar collaborators including Elton John, Miley Cyrus and Doja Cat, MONTERO is radio ready and no doubt destined to continue Lil Nas' global chart domination. Even if the deeper cuts among these fifteen tracks are no match for the grandiose balladry of 'Call Me By Your Name', there's enough pageantry and personality (not to mention catchy songwriting) on display throughout these 41 minutes to excuse the more generic fare and suggest a bright future lies ahead for this young artist, who has already captured the imagination of a generation.
6.0 / C-
Best Tracks: 'MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)'
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert - Little Simz
In a month where the biggest names in music released the most anticipated records in rap this year, Kanye and Drake were put to shame by a somewhat unlikely candidate in Islingston's own Simbiatu Abisola Abiola Ajikawo, AKA Little Simz.
Simz has accrued a reputation as something of a critical darling since debuting in 2015, with early work (particularly 2019's Grey Area) on the receiving end of prestigious nominations for the Mercury and Ivor Novello prizes. Yet despite this acclaim the 27 year old has gone somewhat under the radar in mainstream rap, with the feeling that her time was due only continuing to grow amongst hip-hop circles during the promising build up to this fourth album.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert hinted at the glorious heights it was capable of reaching with a spectacular set of lead singles in 'Introvert', 'Woman' and 'Rolling Stone', yet even audiences attuned to Simz' abilities were perhaps not quite expecting this frankly mind-blowing hour and five minutes - an epic tale of personal and artistic growth that undoubtedly marks the crowning achievement to date in the young career of its rapidly evolving creator.
A furious outpouring and full realization of the potential that Simz has consistently demonstrated over the past six years, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert boasts a dazzling blend of Afrobeat, classic hip-hop, modern soul and jazzy R&B executed with a thrilling orchestral flourish that powers the cinematic narrative Simz explores throughout this 19 track opus.
Blisteringly confessional and highly lyrical, the story of the album finds Simz in search of a clear distinction between Simbi the person and Little Simz the artist, all the while inhabiting her creative persona in order to express the innermost intimate thoughts of the introverted shy young woman behind one of Britain's brightest rapstars.
The result is an staggeringly ambitious record delivered with the extravagance befitting such a concept, as Little Simz boldly marks a line in the sand between herself and the rest of British hip-hop on a landmark album both personally and provincially. Whether SIMBI will achieve the kind of commercial success a record of such quality deserves is as yet unknown but highly unlikely - regardless of whether it sells even a tenth of the copies of DONDA or Certified Lover Boy, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert stands as one of the most triumphant and glorious rap records of the year - a work of such intelligence and intensity that certain industry leaders could only hope to achieve nowadays.
8.5 / A-
Best Tracks: 'Introvert'/'Woman'/'Two Worlds Apart'/'Point And Kill'/'How Did You Get Here'/'Miss Understood'
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?
After his seemingly endless foray into the New Age instrumental abyss the past several years, it's nothing less than majestic to hear the sound of Sufjan Stevens picking up an acoustic guitar again. The results are reliably spellbinding, as Stevens leads a typically gorgeous and comforting indie folk collaboration with frequent writing and touring partner Angelo De Augustine. Written and recorded during a film binge in an upstate NY cabin, with each composition taking direct inspiration from a corresponding movie, A Beginner's Mind is easily Sufjan's best work since the masterful Carrie And Lowell in 2015.
Lorde follows last months relatively underwhelming Solar Power with the very pleasant surprise EP Te Ao Mārama (or "World Of Light), a 5 piece set of tracks taken from the Kiwi's third album and performed entirely in the Mãori language. The 24 year old's delicate yet powerful vocals captivate throughout these 21 minutes, complimenting some of Solar Power's plainer material and lifting standout tracks to new heights on this wonderful accompaniment.
Dublin based alt-rock trio HAVVK level up on their conceptual sophomore record, incorporating a series of profound existential themes into 12 tracks while embellishing the blissful brand of ethereal dream pop that stood out on the band’s 2019 debut. While the markedly matured narratives explored on Levelling unveil newfound depths to Julie Hough’s songwriting, there’s still room for the grungy guitar hooks that HAVVK clearly thrive on to balance out this effective sequel.
Horror pop pioneers Sleigh Bells are still bringing the noise on Texis, as Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller's dynamic mix of melody and metal gets a welcome synth injection to add another dimension to the duo's already chaotic signature sound. Five albums in, the NY hyperpop forebearers may have witnessed the mainstream music scene catch up with them in recent years but their wicked overdriven concoctions still pack a singular, sugary punch.
Following the minimalist ambient instrumentals of The Sea Trees See back in May, Jimmy Tamborello rediscovers his love for indietronica on Dntel's second 2021 release. Away features 10 dreamy electro pop tracks that recall the glory days of watershed record Life Is Full Of Possibilities as well as Tamborello's game changing collaboration with Ben Gibbard as The Postal Service. While it can't hope to reach such great heights as the duo's landmark 2004 record, Away is a mildly pleasing return to classic Tamborello territory.
Lastly, there were a couple of albums from late August that missed the wrap up deadline last month but I couldn't ignore for September.
Indigo De Souza's instantly enchanting brand of anxious 90s indie rock on Any Shape You Take made for a fantastic breakout sophomore album from the Saddle Creek artist, while Turnstile fearlessly fused their hardcore punk compositions with everything from shozegaze to synthpop while creating one of the most captivating rock records of 2021's second half on GLOW ON.
Shout out to my man Kiley Larsen for putting me onto this absolute ripper - read more about the record from Kiley himself, who goes in depth on Turnstile and GLOW ON as a long time fan of the Baltimore band. This was truly one of the best rock albums I've been recommended all year so don't sleep on it.
Check out these seven releases ranked below and let me know whether you thought they were good, bad or indifferent:
Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine - A Beginner's Mind
Turnstile - GLOW ON
HAVVK - Levelling
Indigo De Souza - Any Shape You Take
Lorde - Te Ao Mārama
Sleigh Bells - Texis
Dntel - Away
Either/Or's September 2021 Mix
40 of the best tracks of September, curated by yours truly for your aural pleasure.
ABBA - Don't Shut Me Down
Charli XCX - Good Ones
Kanye West - Jail (feat. Jay-Z)
Little Simz - Two Worlds Apart
Snail Mail - Valentine
HAVVK - Home
Parquet Courts - Black Widow Spider
Big Thief - Certainty
Courtney Barnett - Write a List Of Things to Look Forward To
The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die - Queen Sophie For President
Deerhoof - Planet Thief
Turnstile - MYSTERY
Placebo - Beautiful James
illuminati hotties - Threatening Each Other re: Capitalism
Indigo De Souza - Pretty Pictures
MUNA - Silk Chiffron (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)
Let's Eat Grandma - Hall of Mirrors
Tokischa, ROSALÍA - Linda
Drake - You Only Live Twice (feat. Lil Wayne & Rick Ross)
Maxo Kream - Big Persona (feat. Tyler, The Creator)
Belly, The Weeknd - Die For It (feat. Nas)
James Blake - Famous Last Words
Radiohead - If You Say The Word
Lana Del Rey - Arcadia
St Vincent - The Nowhere Inn
Jarvis Cocker - Aline
Conor Oberst - Million Dollar Bill
Explosions In The Sky - Flying
Cliff Martinez - Ambient 2
Sleigh Bells - SWEET75
Dorian Electra, dollyw00d1 - Gentleman (feat. Danny Brown) [dollyw00d1 Remix]
Remi Wolf - Sexy Villain
Soccer Mommy, Kero Kero Bonito - rom com 2021
FINNEAS - The 90s
Dntel - Connect
Goth Babe - Casita
Lil Nas X - AM I DREAMING (feat. Miley Cyrus)
Lorde - Te Ara Tika / The Path
Taylor Swift - Wildest Dreams (Taylor's Version)
Sufjan Stevens, Angelo De Augustine - Cimmerian Shade
October's Most Anticipated Releases
illuminati hotties - Let Me Do One More
James Blake - Friends That Break Your Heart
The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die - Illusory Walls
Coldplay - Music Of The Spheres
Remi Wolf - Juno
Young Thug - Punk
Grouper - Shade
Lana Del Rey - Blue Bannisters
Parquet Courts - Sympathy For Life
The War On Drugs - I Don't Live Here Anymore