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Travis Scott – Worth the Wait?, Another Bloated Drake Album, What’s Album of the Year? – MPHS Newspaper’s 2023 Retrospective Album Reviews

MPHS Newspaper’s 2023 Album Reviews

André 3000 – New Blue Sun

André 3000 delivers his first album in 17 years, a complete departure from what anyone expected. His decision to create an ambient flute album was controversial, but the result is a fun ambient album that is great for passive listening. André’s humor shines through with the needlessly long yet charming song titles, with the opening track I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album but This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time being the most attention-grabbing. The music itself is not very gripping of your attention, but that’s the point. André delivers on his idea to make an album that feels loose and relaxed, which makes it very enjoyable throughout. The album’s calm and whimsical nature make it wonderful to listen to in the background.   


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billy woods and Kenny Segal – Maps



For people familiar with the rap underground, billy woods needs no introduction – for someone unfamiliar such as myself, his album Maps transported me into the mind of one of the most influential artists in the New York underground. Maps, a joint project that sees woods team up with producer Kenny Segal, is a fascinating concept album that explores the highs and lows of touring and traveling. Kenny Segal’s production does wonders for this album – each song feels almost cinematic, pairing excellently with billy woods’ flows. The selection of features are excellent as well. The best of the bunch are Samuel T. Herring of Hemlock Ernst fame stealing the show on FaceTime, and Aesop Rock delivering a solid feature on Waiting Around. Any fan of rap will get something out of this album, whether it be the creative production, the potent flows, the great features, or the unique concept. 


Colin Stetson – When we were that what wept for the sea



Colin Stetson is a gifted multi-instrumentalist, and his skill shines through in this album. His soft, ambient style is well-suited for an album setting, and his sound is a raw expression of what makes Stetson unique – he doesn’t take regard for conventions, instead choosing to do whatever he wants within the confines of his instrument. The title track When we were that what wept for the sea is an excellent example of this, being a nice-sounding, free saxophone solo for the most part. The rare vocal performance on the album fits seamlessly into the fold – especially Iarla Ó Lionárd’s standout performance on The Lighthouse III – which creates a beautiful blend of voice and instrument that I can only wish Stetson explored more on this album. Rather than being overdone,the sparsity actually makes the vocal performances more special. Overall, this is a very enjoyable album that pushes the boundaries of jazz and ambient music as a whole. 


Drake – For All the Dogs



Drake returns to the forefront with another album – his fifth of the decade. And after his best offering of the decade so far on Her Loss with 21 Savage, this album is a complete regression to the bloated, low effort sound of his albums post-If You’re Reading This. The boring, played out sound on most of the songs on this album is exactly why Her Loss stood out in the first place – this album is a return to boring, needlessly long Drake albums. Some of the songs are worth a listen, 8AM In Charlotte, Slime You Out, and especially First Person Shooter stand out, but for the most part this album is an undercooked, oversaturated mess that has no business being an hour and a half long. On most of the songs, he is completely overshadowed by his features, to the point where the best verse on his 23 song album isn’t even his own. J. Cole’s one verse on First Person Shooter is more engaging, creative, and enjoyable than any verse that Drake has on this album. It’s not terrible, but it’s definitely one of the weaker releases in his discography that’s becoming sadly more of his status quo.


Gregory Alan Isakov – Appaloosa Bones


Appaloosa Bones is an instant classic. Five years removed from his fourth album Evening Machines, Isakov’s post-Covid return is nothing short of spectacular. The tracklist is tight, with 11 songs, and every song earns its place. If Evening Machines was somewhat of a departure from his usual folk aesthetic with maximalist production, then Appaloosa Bones is a triumphant return to his Americana- and classic folk-inspired sound, while still using notes of his experiment from Machines. Songs like The Fall and Watchman capture a sound that only Isakov can portray, effortlessly blending high-scale production with subtle folk melodies. Almost every song stands out as spectacular, with highlights being the aforementioned The Fall and Watchman, as well as Terlingua, Sweet Heat Lightning, and the title track Appaloosa Bones. This album is a resounding success and my choice for album of the year. 


James Blake – Playing Robots into Heaven



After exploring the conventions of the pop, hip-hop, and R&B genres on his previous few albums and features, James Blake returns to his original electronica sound to deliver an album that’s high quality and endlessly replayable. Songs like Loading deliver classic Blake melodies, while songs like the title track and closer Playing Robots into Heaven delve into more experimental electronic concepts that are consistently engaging. This album is definitely worth checking out, regardless of interest in the genre. 


Lil Yachty – Let’s Start Here.



Released in January, Let’s Start Here was one of the first albums released in 2023 that got people talking. Yachty presents a drastic departure from his typical trap and trip-hop sound to deliver a surprisingly effective psychedelic rock album. The album grabs your attention immediately with standout opener the BLACK seminole. This track is the strongest on the album, however it doesn’t derail or lose any momentum. Songs like the ride-, drive ME crazy!, and sAy sOMETHINg are standouts as well, encapsulating the autotune-driven, psychedelic soundscape that Yachty creates on this album. While being a strange experiment, it is also pretty accessible, which makes it a great enjoyable album if you’re looking for something a bit avant-garde. 


McKinley Dixon – Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?



In a year that did not see the release of many chart topping hip hop albums, Richmond-based McKinley Dixon presents one of the best albums of the year. This album is a rich, unique experience that encapsulates the best of what the underground has to offer. The jazz sounds and Dixon’s unique flows create a cohesive vibe that is consistent the whole way through. Live! From the Kitchen Table is the best example of the colorful jazz instrumentation that Dixon experiments with on this album. The project contains very few misses in its short, 28 minute run. Songs like the aforementioned Live!, as well as Sun, I Rise, Tyler Forever, The Story so Far, and the title track (and closer) Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!? are all standouts on an outstanding tracklist. Overall, this album is cohesive, consistent, and quality all the way through. 


Paramore – This is Why


Paramore delivered one of the first widely discussed albums of the year last February as another stylistic shift for the group, moving away from the pop-rock stylings of their last album After Laughter towards a more alt-rock and post-punk sound for This is Why.This style works wonders for the group, as the smooth bass lines and Hayley Williams’ powerful voice are perfect for the style they decided to go for in this album. Songs like the title track This is Why and Crave are perfect examples of this, catchy and attention-grabbing, and this trend continues throughout the whole album. It is consistent the whole way through and every song is worth a listen. This was one of my favorite albums of the year and rekindles excitement for the future of the band.


Travis Scott – UTOPIA

Travis Scott returns from a 5-year hiatus with his much anticipated UTOPIA – but was it worth the wait?




UTOPIA is a collection of carefully produced, well performed songs that build on Travis Scott’s former sounds that he produced in Rodeo and Astroworld, as well as contribute to the sounds that he helped create on Kanye West’s Yeezus. But UTOPIA never feels derivative of these sounds; it instead takes the foundation and builds on it in a way that earns your attention all the way throughout the 19 song tracklist. A couple songs might try an experiment that doesn’t work, or become uninteresting after a while, but the creative leaps that Scott takes to create some of these songs are masterful and worth the time that he spent creating it. Most of the 21 features he brings on are worth their time as well – Westside Gunn, SZA, and James Blake stand out as show stealers – but don’t steal any of the shine from Scott himself. He is able to juggle many different types of emotions in the songs on the album, and the features he brings on reflect the emotions he portrays – upbeat jams with a high energy Teezo Touchdown feature, an introspective trap ballad with vocals from Sampha and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and one of the best rage cuts of the year with a feature from the king of rage Playboi Carti, coupled with dark and immersive production from Scott himself alongside guest producers such as Metro Boomin and Tay Keith. All these elements combine to create an album that was well worth the five year wait that Scott took to make it – while not reaching the high highs of Rodeo or ASTROWORLD, it stands tall as another fantastic album for an artist with a discography full of them.






BADBADNOTGOOD and Charlotte Day Wilson – Sleeper


2 years after the release of their album Talk Memory in 2021, BADBADNOTGOOD continues to stay active, releasing singles with frequent collaborators like Daniel Caesar and Mick Jenkins. This single has them teaming up with one of their most frequent and consistent collaborators, Charlotte Day Wilson, on a track that’s dreamy and excellent. Wilson’s voice slots in well with the flute-heavy R&B production style that BBNG opts for in this song, similar to some of their previous work such as Stars on JID’s The Forever Story and a later single released this year, White Chocolate with Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine. The melodies are tight and the refrains are showstopping, swelling the laidback verses into a dynamic refrain with louder backing instruments and more intense vocals. This track is incredible and my choice for best single of the year.

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