(Young Money ***)
The title of Made in America headliner Nicki Minaj's first album in nearly four years arrives at a somewhat awkward time, particularly as it includes the boast, "I'm still the master / Miss Aretha, I think I passed her," in reference to Minaj's topping the Queen of Soul for the most songs on the Billboard charts by a female artist. (It's a bogus accomplishment, because every song an artist releases digitally these days is in essence a single, whereas only two or three per album came out in Franklin's time.)
Still, the name of the Trinidanian American rapper's fourth album more than serves its purpose. It asserts her claim as an emperor of hip-hop who rules not just over fellow female MCs — like Cardi B, whom Minaj can't resist dissing with the line "I ain't ever had to strip to get to pole position" — but over male rappers, as well. The deliciously witty attention-getting track on that topic is "Barbie Dreams," in which a long list of former or wouldbe lovers, including 50 Cent, Drake, Philly upstart Lil Uzi Vert, and Minaj's ex Meek Mill are all informed that they won't be getting busy with her anytime soon. (DJ Khaled is also mocked for declaring he won't perform oral sex on his own wife, but Eminem, who drops a blazing verse on "Majesty" is spared the Queen's wrath.)
At its best, Queen is a reminder of what a one-of-a-kind artist Minaj is. The intricacy of her flow and volume of her vocabulary put most of the competition to shame. Sure, the 19-cut album is too long, with a weak Ariana Grande collab in "Bed" and a forgettable ballad in "Come See About Me." But Queen never gets dull for long stretches, and Minaj shines brightly throughout, like on the eerie "Chun Swae," on which she's accompanied by the otherworldly falsetto of Rae Sremmurd's Swae Lee, and the playfully acquisitive "Good Form," which finds her "channeling Bugs Bunny, 'cause all I want is karats." — Dan DeLuca
(Domino, **½ stars)
Tangerine Reef is a collaboration between the wildly experimental indie-rock band Animal Collective — in this case, Avey Tare (Dave Portner), Geologist (Brian Weitz), and Deakin (Josh Dibb) — and the science videographers Coral Morphologic (Colin Foord and J.D. McKay). It's billed as an audiovisual album: Animal Collective created a soundtrack for a film of slowly unfurling fluorescent corals and other startling and beautiful scenes of marine life (the film will stream on the band's website, myanimalhome.net).
The soundtrack is Animal Collective at their most abstract and trippy — no drum circle chants, no ecstatic choirs, and no Panda Bear (Noah Lennox). Instead, tracks are nearly beatless, with reverberating, slowly dissolving tones and bubbles of electronic burbles and blips. Think early Tangerine Dream or Yo La Tengo's similar marine soundtrack, The Sounds of the Sounds of Science, but with eerie vocals singing chorusless incantations that surface and submerge. It's deliberately amorphous but divorced from the psychedelic visuals. Tangerine Reef is less immersive and more diluted than Animal Collective at their best. — Steve Klinge
"Got Major Moves on my radio now / Got nothin' to lose when Hank Jr. moans the blues," Shooter Jennings sings on "Shades and Hues." On Shooter, the son of Waylon Jennings takes a lot of inspiration from the son of another country legend, Hank Williams Jr. (He's even wearing a Bocephus shirt on the cover of the CD booklet.
Working again with the ubiquitous Dave Cobb, who produced his 2005 debut, Jennings gets back to country music after some adventurous detours. And what an enjoyable return it is.
The Hank Jr. influence is most apparent on the up-tempo stuff. Jennings comes out blazing, "looking to burn this juke joint down," on the horn-fired "Bound ta Get Down," then moving on to the honky-tonk sing-along "Do You Like Texas?" "D.R.U.N.K." and "I'm Wild and My Woman Is Crazy" are also sure-fire crowd-pleasers.