Quick Take: The best albums of July 2020

by Ryan Hardison, Senior Staff Writer

Every year there’s a single month that defines the current musical landscape and is looked back upon for it’s excellent releases. So far it looks as if July will be that month. 

The best albums from July cover a variety of topics, sounds and talents, and it currently stands above the rest as 2020’s most outstanding musical period. 

From surprise mainstream projects (Taylor Swift’s “Folklore”) to under-the-radar successes (Flo Milli’s “Ho, Why is You Here”) to emotional swan songs (Logic’s “No Pressure”), this past month has delivered an abundance of great albums to indulge in. 

Here are the albums worth listening to from July. 

Lianne La Havas “Lianne La Havas”

Lianne La Havas released her own self-titled album, which explores romance and relationships. (Wikimedia Commons)

On July 17, British neo-soul singer Lianne La Havas released her self-titled third album, “Lianne La Havas.”

Drawing upon her own failed romances as inspiration, “Lianne La Havas” is a concept album that narrates the highs and lows of an unsuccessful relationship and is modeled after the cyclical flow of nature. 

The album’s minimalistic soul production features hints of folk and jazz on various tracks, which help keep an upbeat acoustic sound despite the bleak subject matter. Since many of the songs opt for subtle instrumentals, it allows every detail of her dynamic songwriting to be fully absorbed.

One of La Havas’ greatest characteristics as an artist is her gently soothing voice, which is soft on the ears and affectionate to the heart. But during the album’s most tender moments, she showcases powerful croons that originate from the very core of her sorrow.

The best example of her extraordinary singing range is in “Bittersweet,” an overwhelming, powerful track that opens and closes the album. Both renditions of “Bittersweet” demonstrate La Havas’ journey from an agonizing breakup to her ensuing rebirth as a single woman, with each version revealing her intensely sincere vocals.

Another one of La Havas’ strengths is her incredible guitar playing. Mentored by the late great singer-songwriter Prince, his influence shines through on the euphoric “Can’t Fight” and Brazilian bossa nova rhythm “Seven Times.” On these tracks, each lovely guitar strum is like a trance, sending the listener into a hypnotic lull.

From start to finish, La Havas tells an amazing story in her music, covering every facet of a troubled romance; and out of all the aspects of relationship she explores, the one she conveys perfectly is how fast things can unexpectedly spiral out of control. 

On “Read My Mind” and “Green Papaya,” La Havas is head over heels in love, so much so she’s blinded by her own infatuation. But by the time we encounter the beautifully soft “Paper Thin,” she questions the strength of her relationship while grappling with her own fragility and insecurity. 

In this vignette, one lover is trying to help the other through their pain, and soon it becomes clear neither of them is on the same page. During the chorus, La Havas softly pleads to her partner “Just give me the other key / Your heart is an open door / So let me love you / I just wanna love you.” It is the first major sign things are going wrong and foreshadows an inevitable split.

Following “Paper Thin” is a successive string of emotional tracks which include a breathtaking Radiohead cover (“Weird Fishes”), a riotous anthem (“Please Don’t Make Me Cry”) and an ode to her struggle with loneliness (“Courage”). As La Havas continues to learn valuable love lessons, she embraces her most painful moments and becomes stronger because of them.

Once the listener finishes traveling through a minefield of relationship troubles, they reach the story’s climax, “Sour Flower.” Taken from a resonating phrase used by her Jamaican great grandmother, “Sour Flower” is an astonishing triumph, as La Havas flaunts the growth and stability she gained following her romance.

Overall, “Lianne La Havas” is a glittering and captivating masterpiece, effectively describing the misfortunes of heartbreak in the most gripping way possible. It’s evident La Havas reached deep within to make this inspiring album and it can certainly resonate with anyone who’s had an unsuccessful love affair.

Dominic Fike “What Could Possibly Go Wrong”

Dominic Fike’s new music takes sonic inspiration from the rebellious and soft rock nature of 90’s bands. (Wikimedia Commons)

After dropping a slew of intriguing singles and amassing a larger following with each subsequent release, indie pop/rock artist Dominic Fike released his long-awaited debut album “What Could Possibly Go Wrong” on July 31.

Fike is one of music’s brightest up-and-comers, known for his braggadocious swagger and eclectic sound just as much as he’s known for the massive bidding war over his musical catalog while he sat in prison. 

Taking inspiration from various ‘90s bands, most notably the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he shows a fondness for both rebellious and soft rock music. But over the course of 14 tracks in this tightly-packed 34-minute album, Fike strolls through numerous genres besides rock, coasting through other musical styles and showing off his rapping ability, affectionate crooning and popstar-level charm.

However, even when staying within the constraints of a specific genre, Fike is able to make songs that stand out. From the album’s turbulent and aggressive introduction “Come Here” to the catchy hooks on “Why?” and “Superstar Shit,” he displays a knack for crafting a wide variety of rock tunes.

On much of the album, Fike serves as an unreliable narrator while exposing many of the uglier sides of the music industry. Simultaneously, he evaluates much of his own past behavior.

He shows a persistent fear of fame on “Vampire,” an acoustic R&B song that describes the paranoia he feels when surrounded by “bloodsucking” people at a party. From this context, it can be assumed Fike is talking about leeching record executives and other toxic industry figures who watch his every move and pretend to care for his well-being. 

His aversion to the music industry is also imperative in “Cancel Me,” a dark comedic monologue where Fike wrestles with his newfound fame and relative unease for the lifestyle, rapping “I hope they cancel me / So I can go be with my family / So I can quit wearin’ this mask, dawg / Tell the people ‘Kiss my ass, dawg.’” 

With social media debates questioning the legitimacy of “cancel culture,” raging on, Fike uses this phenomenon as his hypothetical ticket to escape celebrity status. At times it comes off as distasteful, such as his insensitive reference to the #MeToo movement, but it’s a memorable tune and the relevant commentary make up for the track’s blemishes. 

The album’s second single “Politics & Violence” stands out amongst the other great tracks. 

Split into two halves, the intro beautifully combines distorted singing, organs and angelic background vocals. When the beat switches during the song, Fike finishes off with an energetic rap verse.  

There are numerous times on the album when Fike dives into his fascinating personal life, however  his most candid moment is in the intimate final track “Florida.” Reflecting on his roots in Naples, Florida along with his eight-month imprisonment for felony battery, “Florida” is another successful partnership with beloved producer Kenny Beats, and is Fike’s most profound song on the entire album.

With “What Could Possibly Go Wrong,” the 24-year-old artist continues to carve out his musical niche, and this exciting full-length debut album undoubtedly pushes him one step closer to stardom. 

Curren$y and Harry Fraud “The OutRunners”

“The Outrunners,” released on July 24, is Curren$y’s sixth project this year. (Wikimedia Commons)

Curren$y is easily one of the busiest rappers in the world. With over 80 albums, mixtapes and EPs to his name over an incredible 19-year career, he’s been a constant beacon of joy and success while providing an endless cache of inspiring music for his followers along the way. 

“The OutRunners,” released on July 24, is already Curren$y’s sixth project this year, and his third-ever with producer extraordinaire Harry Fraud. But instead of mailing it in, Curren$y excels when rapping over Fraud’s mesmerizing sample-filled production. 

On this album, Curren$y exhibits a growing level of vulnerability and maturity that proves he’s become more considerate of the world around him. Usually, nothing can affect his idealistic and picturesque lifestyle full of weed, video games and cars, but throughout the project, he touches on many personal topics including his biggest fears and closest relationships.

This maturation is heavily presented on the project’s best track “Gold and Chrome,” a poignant tribute to Curren$y’s infant son. This song chronicles the uncertainties that come with being an inexperienced father during the ongoing pandemic and how he’s ready for his son to experience the world. 

While speaking directly to his son, he references some of the unforeseen changes from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as automated crowd noise at sporting events, the mass abandonment of high-fives and NBA games being played in a “biosphere.” 

Along with his quarantine observations, Curren$y has many worries on his mind. This includes dreading his son growing up in a world with police brutality and corrupt cops along with mourning the close friends he’s lost to the virus. 

However, in this direct address to his son, Curren$y’s openness is in many ways therapeutic, as it validates his anxious feelings and makes him relatable to the audience. Like many of us, Curren$y yearns for a virus-free world and by confessing his fears, he beautifully expresses his love for the people around him.

On the hook, he raps “When my son is full grown / May he roll on gold and chrome / In a Chevy sittin’ low / Like his pops did before the world closed,” wishing his son will be able to live as freely as him someday.

Another outstanding solo track is “Seven Seas,” a magically smooth voyage that flaunts Fraud’s skill for finding elegant samples. Matched with Curren$y’s relaxed demeanor, it feels like you’re drifting peacefully over majestic waters, without a care in the world.

Over the course of nine tracks, Curren$y is joined by an assortment of veteran rappers including Jim Jones (“In the Coupe”), Rick Ross (“Mugello Red”), and Conway (“Riviera Beach”). But the most notable guest appearance is from Curren$y’s friend and frequent collaborator Wiz Khalifa on “‘90 IROC-Z.” 

Named after a vintage Chevy Camaro model, “‘90 IROC-Z” is an essential listen and like many of Curren$y’s songs, it displays his adoration for classic cars. Hearing Khalifa and Curren$y  reminisce over slow and soulful horns recall the infectious chemistry of their 2009 mixtape “How Fly,” and shows how after all these years, they’re still an exceptional team.

Due to Curren$y’s captivatingly sleek flow and charisma, every second of the album contains blissful tunes for cruising down the coast. Combined with Fraud’s masterful production and a rare, emotional glimpse into Curren$y’s family life, “The OutRunners” is definitely the pair’s most meaningful excursion yet. 

Additional Projects Worth Checking Out:

Liv.e – “Couldn’t Wait To Tell You …”

Brandy – “B7”

Flo Milli – “Ho, Why Is You Here”

Blu & Exile – “Miles: From an Interlude Called Life”