Best album nominees for Grammy Awards: episode three

On Feb. 10, the music industry's biggest names will vie for a prized Grammy Award while Alicia Keys host the events.

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<iframe src="" width="300" height="380" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe>For the last episode of the investigation into the nominees for Album of the Year, we look at the
last three nominees, all of whom are enjoying their first nominations in the iconic category. 

beerbongs & bentleys — Post Malone

Post Malone is the Black Eyed Peas of 2018. He is a hip-hop musician for casual pop listeners who don’t care for Future or think rappers are just “talking.” He is a safe pop artist that hip-hop fans could claim diversify their palette due to his wider vocal range and melodic phrases. Looking through a more all-encompassing lens, Post Malone is the center of a modern popular music crossroads: triplet flows and rich decadence combined with pleasant vocal performances and easygoing lyrics. As a conglomeration of today’s most popular musical ideas, beerbongs & bentleys is a surface-level album that plays the same song over and over.

Post Malone’s sweet spot is easy to pinpoint as the album progresses: sparse instrumentals around 70 or 80 beats per minute, with eighth-note melodic flows from Post that give tracks the ability to be slow grooves to play in private or fast tracks to play in clubs at the same time. This groundwork stretches itself over all of beerbongs & bentleys save for two or three tracks, and in being so easily identifiable, can only last so long before growing old.

There is nothing wrong in trying to deliver different exercises of the same move, but what is tiresome about b&b is that the executions are all too comfortable to push listeners or to stick with real memorability. Post’s melodies all have the same vocal range as he sings or sing-raps — his production is pretty much Migos’ — except with a little more positivity to keep non-rap fans interested. The lyrical content of the album is split between love and wealth; in this respect, Post essentially manipulates Drake in a more pop-driven fashion. 

The highlights of b&b are when Post actually ventures a bit outside his comfort zone. “Stay” is an acoustic guitar-driven track that features a handful of different melodic phrases to keep things interesting throughout. Lead single “rockstar” has more bite and mood than the majority of beerbongs & bentleys to good effect, along with a 21 Savage feature. 

For every moment of Post Malone pushing himself and creating something more than just adequate, however, there are two moments of him crippling himself to please as many listeners as possible with his casual and unchallenging musical fusion. 

Final Grade: C

By The Way, I Forgive You — Brandi Carlile

Calm and collected, Brandi Carlile sings with bittersweet pride on By The Way, I Forgive You. Armed with her voice and a very capable production team, Carlile succeeds in creating widescreen moments. The truly sad part of By The Way, I Forgive You is that when those widescreen moments are compiled, there are still too many adequately plain moments to bring the album to the next level.

“The Joke,” which has garnered nominations for Record of the Year and Song of the Year at this year’s Grammy Awards, is the culmination of her ambition falling out. The chorus, “Let 'em laugh while they can/Let 'em spin, let 'em scatter in the wind/I have been to the movies, I've seen how it ends/And the joke's on them,” builds with each phrase as Carlile holds each word out, getting more and more intense to the hopeful punchline. The production is dense, with an orchestra layered inside of an organ, an acoustic guitar and triplet drum fills. Yet, as the song fades, nothing has really changed. The build-ups, the belted chorus and epic quality of the soundscapes are admirable. The lyrics will probably be used in positive inclusivity messages for a while, but the summation of these parts just falls flat as another cliche track.

A better example of By The Way, I Forgive You is “Harder to Forgive.” In this track, producers Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings let the banjo, acoustic guitars and harmonizing vocals maximize their effect rather than overfill the space. The chord progressions are slightly less somber, letting the song move along from one thing to the next without feeling too heavy. Carlile works in a triplet switch halfway through — slowing the song down at an appropriate moment to bring in some stylistic piano and letting her voice fall to the backdrop —  mixed to sound more like an instrument than a belting singer. 

Basically, everything else on this album exists on a spectrum between “The Joke” and “Harder to Forgive.” Sadly, more often than not, the songs will be closer to the former than the latter. In the end, By the Way, I Forgive You is a perfectly adequate Americana album. The sounds are organic and the lyrics are poignant, but neither aspect is thrillingly organic or powerfully poignant. With plenty of build-ups and breakdowns, in addition to some songs that move along without much change in them, Carlile may think she has all of her bases covered, but there is a lacking quality across the board that elevates By The Way, I Forgive You past slightly memorable mediocrity.

Final Grade: C

Golden Hour — Kacey Musgraves

In a perfect world, a musician is able to execute everything just as they planned. Only a few people live in that world, and Kacey Musgraves is one of them, based on the sunshine and rainbows that is Golden Hour. With effective instrumentation, clever lyricism and focused vocal performances, Kacey Musgraves’ latest effort is one of the best that the past year in music has to offer.

The album opens with two acoustic guitars and Musgraves’ voice on “Slow Burn;" a simple beginning, but well-executed. Then, as Musgraves continues, “I’m gonna do it my way, it’ll be alright/if we burn it down and it takes all night/it’s a slow burn, yeah,” an electronic piano chimes in a timely phrase to widen the musical picture. 

Eventually, a lowkey drum set, some synth tones, a backing banjo and vocal harmonies all introduce themselves, leading into a completely assembled instrumental interlude. This allows the listeners to enjoy all the little parts as a finished product before wrapping up with the outro. It’s a great introduction to what Musgraves has planned for the rest of the album, and the next twelve tracks do not disappoint. 

The mixing is very well-done, as Musgraves’ backing band balances dueling guitars, a bass and percussion — each part at just the right volume for the right moments. The production finds countless opportunities to add in musical flourishes, making sure there are no wasted spaces and keeping the soundscape interesting and consistent. 

Lyrically, Musgraves is concise and to-the-point. Her melodies and hooks are catchy, but not overbearing, such as the pop culture references of “Velvet Elvis” and “Wonder Woman.” Looking at the track list, the song “Space Cowboy” sounded like the least ambitious crossover, when it is actually one of the best that this album has to offer. Musgraves uses timpani-like tones to create space and distance between notes. There is a straightforward chord progression to give the wide-reaching feeling of space, tied down by her clever hook: “You can have your space, cowboy/I ain’t gonna fence you in.”

Golden Hour is the equivalent to your favorite flavor of Babcock ice cream: so sweet and tasteful, yet not too flavorful to ruin itself as just another forgettable dessert. Here’s to you, Kacey Musgraves, and your amazing scoop of s’mores on a waffle cone of an album.

Final Grade: B+

Carl "CJ" Zabat is a music columnist for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.

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