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With the 56th Grammy Awards looming on the horizon (January 26th), it seems like an appropriate time to look over the list of nominees and review a handful of the albums that I missed writing about when they first dropped. On the docket are Drake’s Nothing Was The Same (nominated for Best Rap Album), Kings of Leon’s Mechanical Bull (Best Rock Album), and Lorde’s Pure Heroine (Best Pop Vocal Album).

Let’s jump into it.

Drake – Nothing Was The Same

Drake has always been something of an enigma amongst the titans of the rap game. Despite what he’d have us believe from his self-mythologizing “Started From The Bottom,” Drake did not have the type of hardscrabble upbringing that has shaped the rhymes of many of his peers (to his credit, he admits as much on “Wu-Tang Forever,” when he raps, “I find peace knowing that it’s harder in the streets / I know, luckily I didn’t have to grow there”). And amongst the leading rappers of the day, Drake actually spends the least amount of time actually rapping, opting instead to spend a large chunk of time singing and pursuing more of an R&B vibe. Despite the title of the record, that hasn’t changed here. In fact, Nothing Was The Same does indeed follow in the same footsteps as its predecessor, Take Care (which, oh by the way, happened to take home last year’s Grammy award for Best Rap Album).

Though the formula is essentially the same–dark, spare production work handled predominantly by Drake’s pal Noah “40″ Shebib, and songs that are based more on mood than hooks–it does seem that Drake learned a few lessons from Take Care that he’s implementing here. Namely, he cut back on some of the chaff (though still not enough), turning in a much more manageable and listenable hour-long album, and he all but eliminated guest spots for other rappers. Other than Jay-Z, who seemingly gets a pass for his eminence, there are no other rappers in the mix to compete with Drake. And that’s a good thing, because, as we found out on Take Care, those guests had a tendency to show Drake up. Without them, he comes off much smoother. It’s a matter of perspective, sure, but it certainly helps the overall product. And there are plenty of non-rapping guests to help flesh out the poppier songs, including Jhene Aiko on “From Time,” an exploration of self-confidence and how the lack of it can damage a relationship, Majid Jordan on the slinky hit “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” and the gorgeous hook that Sampha lends to “Too Much.”

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The 55th Grammy Awards are taking place tomorrow, and while there likely will be an unfortunate dearth of good ol’ fashioned T&A (come on Grammys, what is your show without a little conspicuous Katy Perry cleavage?!), there will definitely be plenty of worthy musical talent vying for trophies.

Today, I’m going to take a look at four albums that I never got around to reviewing upon their release but are up for awards this year.  I mean, this is as good a time as any to evaluate these records’ merit, no?  And due to the Grammys’ nomination process, you may notice that some of these records actually came out way back in 2011, but that’s just how these awards shows roll.

So let’s get into it!

The Lumineers – The Lumineers (Best New Artist, Best Americana Album)

A lot of times, the Grammys’ Best New Artist award introduces a young artist or two to a wider audience who had never before heard of them.  Let’s be honest, before the 2011 show, who had ever heard of Esperanza Spalding?  This year, I can be sure that absolutely everybody, no matter how socially secluded they may be, has heard of The Lumineers.  This ragtag troupe exploded seemingly out of nowhere based on the inescapable, utterly infectious two minutes and forty-three seconds that make up “Ho Hey” – perhaps the most culturally ubiquitous song of 2012.  That ditty showed up everywhere – played nonstop on radio (some stations going so far as to regularly play it twice in a row) and soundtracking countless TV shows, movie trailers and commercials.  Most songs that get this kind of star treatment eventually lose most of their luster, becoming passe’ or seen as a commercial shill.  In extreme cases, it causes listeners who at first enjoyed the song to turn their back on it in over-saturated disgust.  Amazingly, I don’t think that’s happened yet with “Ho Hey,” and I sincerely hope it never does because as The Lumineers have proven on their debut record, they are the farthest thing from one-hit wonders.

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Recently released on December 21st, “The Refill”, Eminem’s addition to his previous release, “Relapse,” contains an additional seven songs that never made the album. “The Refill” is being package with the “Relapse” so you now get both albums. Track listings for “Relapse: The Refill” shown below include appearances by Drake, Lil Wayne, and Kanye; just to name a few.

Track listing after the break. continue reading