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New albums: Future delivers 'sluggish' songs, Ryan Adams plays it safe

Future, "FUTURE"

When you're the reigning king of the Atlanta hip-hop scene, you don't have to change much of your formula, especially when most of your competition is just doing the same exact thing, but not as well. It comes as no surprise, then, that "FUTURE"-- the latest short-notice release from one of trap's most prolific artists -- fits snugly within the rest of his expansive discography.

Several of the album's takes, like "POA" and "Draco," are a little more propulsive than most of his other sluggish songs, and opener "Rent Money" finds Future at his most aggressive, manipulating his voice from its normal codeine-induced mumble and letting us know, "I put a middle finger up, because, f--- you."

"FUTURE" follows the trend of today's trap albums, which have been released at an alarming rate, by making a uniform collection of songs that could be individual club hits but become grossly repetitive when listened to as a collection. Is that all that these collections are meant to be? Is the definition of an album changing in modern times? Whatever the case, "FUTURE" makes for a collection of party-ready jams that are a pain to consume as a cohesive unit.

(3/5 stars)

Ryan Adams, "Prisoner"

The most publicity that Ryan Adams has received in about a decade came when he released his track-by-track remake of Taylor Swift's "1989." The release was most definitely a cry for attention, but, all the same, his minimalist covers revealed the sorrowful messages of breakups that are covered up by Swift's bubbly pop exterior. It seems that Adams has taken that broken-hearted aesthetic and applied it to his latest collection of original works, "Prisoner."

Even though his most popular works are covers (Exhibit A: his most popular song on Spotify is Oasis's "Wonderwall"), Adams is an accomplished songwriter. His music can sound like anything from blues with a country twang to Springsteen-esque soft rock to arena jams worthy of U2 comparisons, and his voice can fit all of it effortlessly. Lead single and album opener "Do You Still Love Me?" starts things off with huge guitar riffs and towering vocals, but that quickly presents itself as an outlier on an otherwise contemplative and melancholy release.

Perhaps the greatest complaint is how safe the album sounds: Adams paints himself in the hackneyed image of that wandering musician who lets his emotions be known through a guitar. You may think that you've heard some of these songs a thousand times before, and you'd be right. Leaning on cliched images of the "Outbound Train" and "Tightrope" certainly doesn't help separate "Prisoner" from the other releases around it. Adams may not be the first to hit on these subjects, but that doesn't mean he's not pretty good at it.

(3.5/5 stars)

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Jens Lekman, "Life Will See You Now"

On "Life Will See You Now," Jens Lekman's first album since 2012, the Swedish singer-songwriter continues his tradition of impeccable pop songwriting mixed with unconventional instrumentation and schmaltzy yet endearing storytelling. Over the album's 10 tracks, Lekman tackles some of life's big topics -- lost love, friendship, purpose -- through quaint, whimsical, fictitious stories.

In "What's That Perfume That You Wear?" a Caribbean-infused, infectious dance track, Lekman recounts how different smells remind him of his ex: "And I guess I still love her/But she's gone forever/And however hard that might feel/At least it was real if it can hurt like that." He just as deftly takes the role of a man in love with his straight best friend in the somber and touching "How Can I Tell Him," and "How We Met, the Long Version" goes all the way back to the Big Band and works from there, recounting history atop a boom-clap disco beat that would make the Bee Gees proud.

The album's lyricism is simultaneously its biggest draw and flaw, as the straightforwardness can leave attentive listeners wanting. Lekman's patented weirdness is an acquired taste that could turn off certain people, but if you're attracted to this unique songster, "Life Will See You Now" serves as a charming, emotional and catchy collection.

(4/5 stars)