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The Mountain Goats - In League With Dragons Music Album Reviews

John Darnielle explores the humanity of wizards, sports legends, Ozzy Osbourne, and other folk heroes and beacons of hope.
“Old wizards and old athletes are the same,” John Darnielle said during a Facebook live stream at the headquarters of Wizards of the Coast, the game company that owns Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. He was there to announce the latest record from the Mountain Goats, In League With Dragons, and his rhetoric was appropriately fanciful: “They were once magic,” he offered by way of explanation.

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Lil Baby - Harder Than Ever Music Album Reviews

Lil Baby - Harder Than Ever Music Album Reviews
Lil Baby’s official debut is technically impressive: polished, efficient, but also kind of nondescript.

One of Lil Baby’s things is that he wears normal clothes, I guess. “Real dope boy I ain’t nothing like the weirdos/Never seen me putting on no weird clothes,” the Atlanta rapper states upfront on his debut Harder Than Ever, though by most accounts he owes his career to some of those same weirdos. Baby came up watching Young Thug and Migos in the studio, and it was Thug’s eager cosign along with the backing of Migos’ label Quality Control that put him on the national radar last year, mere months after he picked up a microphone—an incredible stroke of fortune for someone who’d spent the previous two years “sitting in prison getting no mail,” as he puts it here.

Baby’s rapping isn’t any flashier than his fashion sense. He rhymes in a tuneful, half-sung stream of thought, sort of like a more nuanced Rich Homie Quan. On a purely technical level, he’s impressive. His words are vivid, his emotions pronounced, and his flow is frictionless; he hovers just over every beat like a puck on an air hockey table. In a rap scene suddenly dominated by eccentrics and self-proclaimed rock stars, there’s room for a rapper this grounded, even if that isn’t the most exciting stake to claim. His practical, melodic flow is an alternative to Migos’ staccato patter or the indifference of SoundCloud rappers like Playboi Carti—a respectable option for listeners who like the general sound of Atlanta right now, but find some of those other guys over-the-top.

Harder Than Ever is mostly of a piece with the mixtapes that preceded it, it does flaunt some of the privileges of Baby’s rising stature. The beats are a little better this time, more voluptuous and, yes, harder. Baby leans particularly on producer Quay Global, whose work is a bit like Baby’s delivery: polished, efficient, and kind of nondescript. And most prominently, Baby has landed a Drake feature, the ultimate score for any rapper looking to take their regional act global.

What a debacle their collaboration turns out to be, though. While Drake does just enough to make sure “Yes Indeed” charts, Baby completely flubs his verse, inexplicably adopting a quirky flow that cuts against his entire persona. Pitching his voice somewhere between Young Thug at his whiniest and Pharrell’s deliberately dopey Swae Lee impression from “Chanel,” he even tests a dead-on-arrival catchphrase: “Wahhhh wahhhh wahhhh, bitch I’m Lil Baby.” It’s a complete misrepresentation of what he stands for, an introduction to a far more insufferable rapper than the one who’s been building heat for the last year.

The album’s other features fare better, especially the ones from some of those aforementioned weirdos. Lil Uzi Vert and Young Thug both sweep through their tracks with the crazed velocity of untied helium balloons, and Offset absolutely crushes “Transporter,” sending volts through the track. Lil Baby takes his verse after Offset’s, and dexterous as it is, it’s a bit like trying to follow an incredible magic act with a PowerPoint presentation about fuel economy—highlighting the challenge of being a rapper as low-key as Baby. In a thrilling world of weirdos, it takes more than just showing up to make an impact.

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