Album reviews: Open Mike Eagle, Chris Stapleton, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Chief Keef

Album reviews: Open Mike Eagle, Chris Stapleton, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Chief Keef

Open Mike Eagle

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (Mello)

Chicago’s late-but-beautiful bloomer Open Mike Eagle moved to L.A. in his mid-20s, joining underground hip-hop collective Project Blowed and founding the trio Thirsty Fish before releasing his solo debut in 2010. Since then he’s authored an NIH study on the cognitive effects of freestyle rapping (!) and successfully pitched a music/talk show pilot on Comedy Central (!!) while keeping up a regular release schedule. Eagle’s relaxed, melodic flow and gauzy, lo-fi electronic backing tracks gradually earned notice, and Brick Body Kids Still Daydream should propel Eagle onto the A-list of left-field rap artists. Eagle’s an immensely appealing emcee, never losing beneficence even while dropping bitter pills about internet sickness on “TLDR,” urban renewal on “My Auntie’s Building” (is City Council listening?) and the state of the nation on “Happy Wasteland Day.”

Chris Stapleton

From a Room: Volume 2 (Universal)

The new Chris Stapleton album is welcome news for fans of hot new country who also love congratulating themselves for embracing someone “authentic.” The son of a Kentucky coal miner, Stapleton played bluegrass with The SteelDrivers and paid Nashville dues writing hits for Kenny Chesney and Luke Bryan before releasing his restrained Grammy-winning debut, Traveller, in 2015. Stapleton continued to eschew studio excess on From a Room: Volume 1 and does so again here, and that’s good. Bringing soul, country-rock and honky-tonk into the brew is also good, and as expected, the Nashville cats backing up Stapleton are unimpeachable. If only Stapleton didn’t try so hard to put it over—his voice is flat and sullen, bent on imposing intensity on all occasions. You sure Hank done it this way?

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

The Kid (Western Vinyl)

After seeing Jurassic Park, a friend of mine joked that the animatronic dinosaurs seemed more real than the actors. This echoed in my head as I listened to The Kid by synthesizer genius Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Smith creates swirling, spiraling, happily bubbling stews of sound—and then her vocals come in muffled, detached and mechanical-sounding, like a hologram transmitting from a sad planet. The lyrical themes, ironically, include human expression and connection—not that you can pick up much without training your ears on the misty messenger. But The Kid gets two big thumbs up on the glittering instrumentals—the whimsical landscape of “I Am a Thought,” the genial interlude “I Am Consumed” and mostly, “Who I Am & Why I Am Where I Am,” on which Smith conjures a mesmerizing electronic menagerie.

Chief Keef

Dedication (Glo Gang/RBC)

Dedication is either the first official album or the fifth mixtape that Chicago’s Chief Keef has released in 2017, aiming to return him to the glory days of his 2012 debut, Finally Rich. Through incarcerations, lawsuits, and feuds with Lupe Fiasco and Migos, Keef has stuck to his script, that being dealing dope, spending millions and [having sex with] your mama. Cartoonish, but Keef helped create the cartoon, so he’s got a claim, and his slurring delivery has its charms. The backing tracks are ominous and claustrophobic, and feel like spiraling down an endless parking deck—an exception is the subdued, floating “Come On Now” featuring Lil Yachty, rising star of a new school who nevertheless ends his verse “I’m finally rich like that n**** Chief Keef.” Amoral to the story.

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