(Quality Control/Motown/Capitol )
Even huge fans of Migos' breakthrough smash Culture last year have to admit they didn't want a nearly two-hour follow-up. They don't call these double albums anymore, but even these innovators of the current standard signature flow in hip-hop can't quite do what they do as successfully without judicious editing. Loaded with catchphrases and ad libs galore ("you're a dork" is a fave), lush but rarely irresistible production, and endless hooks that do grow interchangeable and wearing after a while, Culture II botches its own chance at being a strong follow-up by never once justifying its length. It does have peaks: the lovely opening "Higher We Go," the humorously effacing "Too Much Jewelry," the surprisingly saxophone-driven "Too Playa." But sometimes the song-after-song effect is so homogeneous you can't tell those from the valleys. -- Dan Weiss
(Loma Vista, 1/2 stars)
"Woman," Rhye's 2013 debut, was single-minded in its focus on seductive slow jams full of erotic longing. Michael Milosh sang in an androgynous alto and collaborated with Danish producer Robin Hannibal on arrangements that blended smooth jazz, gentle R&B and crooning soft rock. But what started as a studio project became an in-demand live band, and Hannibal opted out. Milosh helmed the long-awaited second album, "Blood," and it's slightly sharper, but no less seductive. There's a little less Sade, a little more xx.
The songs loosely trace the dissolution of one relationship and the beginning of another, starting with the melancholy "Waste." "Taste" blends strings and woodwinds with a rumbling bassline. "Please" floats on a patient trip-hop beat and some soul-jazz piano. "Count to Five" has a funk-disco groove. Unifying it all is Milosh's gentle, pillow talk voice, full of earnest restraint. Where "Woman" focused on the bedroom, "Blood" focuses on the clubs -- and the bedroom. -- Steve Klinge
(SYCO / Epic )
They may have been devised through NBC's The X Factor in 2012, but hit-making girl-group Fifth Harmony is hardly a tidy proposition unless planned obsolescence was part of the deal (Lauren Jauregui just signed to do a solo album). Blame Camila Cabello for being the upstart in that revolution.
As the most charismatic and dramatic member of the group, Cabello has set out to make edgier solo endeavors and move away from the clean dance-soul clutches of Fifth Harmony. Oddly enough, however, the edge she goes for on "Camila" is quiet simplicity -- subtle washes of Latin flavor, blissed-out emotional vocals (to go with her equally driven lyrics), and understated production. Once past her zesty rap-banging (and surprisingly romantic) "Havana" with Young Thug, the rest of Cabello's solo debut is tender to the touch. Somnolent, yet deeply passionate, ballads such as "Consequences" and acoustic folkie moments "Real Friends" and "All These Years" show off her theatricality in hushed tones rather than grand fashion. "She Loves Control" humbly looks at the need for individuality within girl group conformity. Though she's only 20, Cabello wants to sing about a past, a heritage, and her history, all of which flavors "Inside Out," and -- quite frankly -- every element of "Camila." And here's something else -- there's not a bum cut on the album, which made its debut atop the Billboard charts. That's pretty great for any artist at any age. -- A.D. Amorosi
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