Atlanta's Playboi Carti would not be the first artist to be looked upon as enigmatic, especially as — up until the present — he's released none of his own solo material to show for his long rep as the king of the mumble rappers. Features? He's had a slew of them since 2014, with repetitive, conversational guest bits on big records from the A$AP crew, Gucci Mane, 21 Savage, and Lil Uzi Vert, to say nothing of countless leaked freestyle clips on SoundCloud.
Now, after finally dropping an eponymous 2017 mixtape, there's a full Carti artist-album to speak of, with his usual mix of sparsely appointed grumbles, sweet sing-songy phrases, and melodic murmurs and grunts. With co-producer Pi'erre Bourne and samples from Zapp and Jodeci, Carti makes sly reference to his rep and his style with the head-banging "R.I.P." Philly's Lil Uzi Vert joins his mumble-rap brother in the surging "Shoota," with each man staking his particular claim to guy play and power moves. To add to the art and drama of Carti's mumbles, there's the trick of pitch-altering vocal programming that gives the rapper a rushed, dangerously hysterical tone on "Long Time" and "Lean 4 Real" – like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet, only fleeter. Frippery and mumbles aside, Carti isn't playing. Die Lit is a stellar, imaginative debut. — A.D. Amorosi
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
(Domino *** ½)
As unexpected career about-faces go, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a doozy. The Arctic Monkeys' sixth album is their first since 2013's A.M., a successful hard-rock and hip-hop conflation that broadly expanded the huge-in-the-U.K. group's fan base in the U.S. Rather than rev up the guitars again, songwriter Alex Turner learned to play the piano and settled in for a sci-fi concept album about a colonized – and gentrified – Moon, where the witty lyricist and his fellow Monkeys hunker down as the lounge act at a lunar resort. (They could have gone for a Honeymooners-referencing alternative album title: "To the Moon, Alex!")
Tranquility takes some getting used to and will probably confuse more old fans than attract new ones. But Turner's Bowie-inspired space oddity songs are melodically sturdy, and the conceit allows him to be both fruitfully reflective and satisfyingly snarky. While considering where his own fandom has taken him — "I just wanted to be one of the Strokes," is the album's opening line — Turner largely pulls off the difficult trick of being super-self-conscious about the meta-performance-within-the-performance game he's playing yet still expresses something worthwhile. "I want to make a simple point about peace and love, but in a sexy way, where it's not obvious," he sings. "The way some science fiction does." Tranquility manages to do that and gives the Monkeys the opportunity to stretch creatively while fans wait patiently for them to rock out again. — Dan DeLuca
(Elektra *** ½)
The title song of Brent Cobb's second album is about grabbing a cooler and some friends and heading off in a pickup for a night of partying. Is that a cliché or what?
The thing is, Cobb brings an unusual amount of self-awareness — an acknowledgement about the fleeting nature of it all — that gives the song an extra dimension: "I got the wheel, somebody play an old song / That reminds us that we're still young / The night won't last forever, after all."