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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.





Rae Sremmurd - SR3MM,Swae Lee - Swaecation,Slim Jxmmi - Jxmtro Music Albums Reviews

Rae Sremmurd - SR3MM,Swae Lee - Swaecation,Slim Jxmmi - Jxmtro Music Albums Reviews


The triple album from Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee is their clearest personal statement yet, a shining triptych of what it looks like to be young, black, and euphoric.

Rae Sremmurd were not seen as masters of their own universe until “Black Beatles,” a song whose very premise expanded a longstanding reclamation project: Rappers are the new rock stars. The Brown brothers—Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee—have been trying to prove themselves serious artists to naysayers for years now, defending rap as serious art in the process. SR3MM has a song called “Rock N Roll Hall of Fame,” a continuation of “Black Beatles” that takes their rockstar evolution a step further, claiming the duo as entrants into the canon. “We’re the ones in charge now, who are y’all?” Lee asks, not waiting for an answer. On SR3MM and the two solo records packaged with it—Swaecation and Jxmtro—Swae and Jxmmi not only place their partying ethos in the rock-star lineage but lobby to earn the same kind of respect as artists deemed “classic rock.” In shooting that gap, SR3MM ends up being their clearest personal statement yet, finding their voices almost coincidentally. And let’s face it, few things are more rock’n’roll than releasing a triple album.

Rae Sremmurd have built a reputation as one of rap’s foremost purveyors of bacchanalian splendor, a cartoonish duo living out fame in real time through their raps. Everything on their three new albums is still in service of having (and sustaining) a good time, but there are different destinations in mind: SR3MM is an all-inclusive celebration of success and excess, the full embrace of stardom, its perks and its provisions; Swaecation is a top-down California cruise into a romantic waterfront sojourn; Jxmtro is a stoned reflection mid-lapdance. Together they create a wondrous, shining triptych of what it looks like to be young, black, and euphoric.

It’s tempting to compare SR3MM to OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, a double album in which a dichotomous rap duo separated into solo stars, exploring their respective visions while still in conversation with one another. But as Swae recently pointed out, he and his brother deepen their bond here, as opposed to unyoking: “We going three-sided. [OutKast] didn’t come together. We got to come together—we’re brothers.” And the brotherly love story isn’t just hype because SR3MM feels even more like an act of unity: not even going solo can truly divide them.

The Rae Sremmurd portion of the triple album, SR3MM, with its largely off-kilter and metallic productions overseen and co-produced by Ear Drummers architect Mike WiLL Made-It, feels like a riff on the weirder moments from 2016’s SremmLife 2. It expands their catalog of oddball romps while mining the past (“Powerglide”) and envisioning an alternate rap future (“Perplexing Pegasus”). It’s a different kind of party, because the songs don’t bang so much as strobe. Where previous tracks like “Throw Sum Mo” and “Come Get Her” were club-ready trap hits, few of these songs are meant to scan in that same way. In the spirit of “Black Beatles,” these are attempts to warp the sound of rap radio. On SR3MM songs like “Rock N Roll Hall of Fame” and the Travis Scott-assisted “CLOSE,” Jxmmi and Swae get even stranger, finding more confidence as a team and achieving near-perfect balance between their two styles.

SR3MM is the strongest of the three albums, further proving that the pair work best as a unit, but Swaecation and Jxmtro provide an opportunity for the brothers to stretch out and explore their impulses. Jxmmi has often been pegged as the conservative one and Swae the ambitious one, but it’s more that Jxmmi’s strength is spinning sublimity out of simplicity. When seeing their visions through, this comes to the fore: Jxmmi emerges as a snappy songwriter, and Swae burrows deeper into melody than ever before, transforming from rapper to full-on balladeer.

As a newly minted heartthrob, Swae leans into the elegance of his vocals. Swaecation is about living fast and finding romance in sun-soaked spots, getting wine-drunk and opening up your heart to a fling. There is sex in Maybachs and missed connections on exotic getaways. Only rarely does he find the high of his hit with French Montana, the chart-storming “Unforgettable”—”Guatemala,” which tries somewhat desperately to replicate it, is tourist-resort dancehall—but he settles nicely into his range throughout. On “Offshore,” his stunning duet with Young Thug, he is pushed to his limits, as Thug raps, “I’ll slap the shit out Donald Trump any day” in a verse that also contains illustrative flexes like “Bentley on the side and it’s sittin’ on LeBron James.”

While Swae’s blend of pop, R&B, and dancehall is more daring, Jxmmi’s Jxmtro is more consistent and reveals more of himself as an artist and person. As the more introverted (and less celebrated) of the two brothers, Jxmmi uses his opportunity to rap with fluidity, putting his ideas first for a change, rapping about growing up, outgrowing friends, and prioritizing as on “Keep God First.” He has grown into a full-fledged co-star, weaving together uncomplicated gems like, “I pay my tithes when I fuck with the strippers,” or, “I’ma stack up the cake like Obama told me.” He seems less concerned with selling himself than he is simply being himself. His casual swaggering gets played up by a rapping Zoe Kravitz on “Anti-Social Smokers Club.” When Swae rejoins him and Pharrell for “Chanel,” the song still seems focused on Jxmmi, effortlessly comfortable in the spotlight.

Charmingly, Swae Lee used “Dragon Ball Z” to make sense of Rae Sremmurd’s arrangement on SR3MM: Each brother exists as a formidable artist in their own right, but they are strongest when they form a whole. They have never been apart from one another for longer than two months in their entire lives, and SR3MM is designed to facilitate that relationship, showing who the members of Rae Sremmurd really are, and who they’d like to be. They’re rock stars for the modern age trying to bend the sound of radio to their whims. Even when one takes center stage, the other is always close by.



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