In this week’s roundup of album reviews: a rising local talent we’ll definitely be writing more about, a satisfying appetizer from an R&B favorite, a rapper who can do no wrong, an overrated but enjoyable experiment, and the biggest musical disappointment of 2019 so far.
Dua Saleh –Nūr
The deepest 20 minutes of Minnesotan music I’ve heard this young year also include some of the most playful: On “Sugar Mama,” Dua’s voice bobs with double-dutch insouciance over a self-fashioned tick-tock beat as this Sudan-born and St. Paul-raised singer teases and eventually goes down on the girl next door, a white savior wannabe who never had it so good. Once Psymun takes over production duties, the tracks thicken with reinforced steel cables of bass but retain that simple, effective rhythmic core. Dense not murky, moody not ominous, the sound is akin to Dua’s cottony coddling of words, a stylish exercise in false modesty that shrugs “oh, this old phrase” while strewing as glitzy a string of syllables as “I'll spit on silk to find the silver in the slivers in your couch.” Word-wild as Dua is on the mic though, my favorite moment may be enticingly non-verbal: the woozy coda of “Albany,” where wordless vocals and electronics engage in parallel play as distant birds tweet idly. Like I said, deep. GO
Kehlani –While We Wait
Kehlani’s recitative verse flutters through melodies as fluid as the relationships she describes (“I thought we was just fucking,” she sighs with mild exasperation at one clingy partner) and the genders she desires (“you gon’ get my hopes high, girl,” she pines on “Nights Like This” before non-girl Ty Dolla $ign chimes in with a response). Though her features are all men (Musiq Soulchild, Dom Kennedy, 6lack) that’s not to play up sexual tension, but sheerly for vocal contrast: She’s not in this for the drama, she’s in this for the “Feels,” as the title of track that lives up sweetly and sexily (though not savagely) to that vaporous name says. But just as her liquid melodies coalesce firmly when they reach the choruses, Kehlani is plenty good at establishing boundaries when needed on “Nunya” (as in “ain’t nunya business” now that you’re out of her life) or “Morning Glory,” a throwback TLC bounce about how you better appreciate how good she still looks when she doffs her wig and nails at bedtime. And this "mixtape" is just an appetizer for a promised 2019 full-length. GO
2 Chainz– Rap or Go to the League
Maybe 2 Chainz will never make a classic album, but as long as hot producers keep answering his texts, he’ll never make a bad one. Whether 9th Wonder is accelerating a Malaco gospel oldie to rile him up or Mike Dean and Wundagirl are dousing him in Travis Scott psych-trap, he sounds so at home you can practically see his feet resting on your coffee table, unperturbed and unrushed even when Kendrick’s rhyming rings around him. This is an album of moments: “I’m playin’ with the clit like a guitar” cueing up a rock solo, a long “i” wedged into “giraffe” ‘cause it’s funner to say that way, simple phrases like “I’m rare” or “I’m a threat threat threat” borne relentlessly down upon till your brain admits they’re hooks, and an E-40 feature that mentions Donald Goines and bicentennial quarters. But the collection is bookended by two weightier tracks: On “Forgiven,” he responds to the news of a friend’s son’s murder with a simple, stunning “I paused, remorseful,” and he’s so sure of the moral high ground that he doesn’t even raise his voice on the closer “Sam” (as in “uncle”). The Ariana joint’s a dull bid for airplay, and (speaking of Ms. Grande) I could do without 30 Roc recycling the hook from “My Favorite Things,” which really is threatening to become the “Ex-Factor” of 2019, but even here 2 Chainz’ personality is so warmly outsized he feels bigger than the tracks. Sometimes I think a classic album might actually be beneath him. SLOW
Solange –When I Get Home
Honestly? At first this kinda bugged me. Too often, it’s arty rather than artful, flaunting its clever left turns rather than developing its ideas, and though the mood is meditative, as exercises in repetition often are, you’ll need a truckload of zen to zone out to its willful key shifts. But I was just faulting a collection I admired track-by-track for not wholly living up to Solange’s weighty exegesis of its intent, which is like judging a painting by a museum label. Easing up on my expectations, I could hear a selection of smart, pleasurable fragments (not miniatures) built less to further a beat or pulse (consistent as those are) than to showcase two warm textural elements. First, the gurgle and ripple of the analog synths, which recall Stevie Wonder even though I wouldn’t have ID’d the influence as Journey Through the Life of Plants if Solange hadn’t talked it up—to her credit, there’s both less pomp and corn here. Complementing those is Solange’s own vocal timbre, which often suggests a more thoughtful Janet Jackson but ranges into realms both earthier and more spiritual. Even if this isn’t the masterwork advertised, Solange’s assurance that it is provides the sense of purpose that holds it together. SLOW
Maren Morris –Girl
Goddammit. I’m rooting for Morris, whose debut, Hero, should’ve revolutionized country-pop in 2016. But there’s pop that values novelty and possibility and there’s pop that strives for the neat predictability of accomplished craft, and when Morris rhymes “the feels” with “head over heels” the inevitability is disillusioning. It says plenty about the entrenched sexism of the country music industry that some weak-prostated programming directors out there feel challenged simply because the singer executing their format’s formula doesn’t have a Y chromosome. And if by some horrific misfortune I got stuck listening to country radio for an hour, I'd rather hear anything here—even “A Song for Everything,” about how music is good—than Luke Combs for damn sure. But I the only track I might listen to again by choice is the one where she dumps Crystal Light into her well drink while the Brothers Osborne rowdy shit up behind her.
Go Slow No is a weekly survey of new, newish, and overlooked album releases. The rating system is pretty self-explanatory: GO means listen to this now, SLOW means check it out when you get a chance, and NO means run screaming from the room if you hear so much as a note of it.