Each month, the editors and critics at Rolling Stone compile a list of must-hear new albums. Our picks for April include Fiona Apple’s finest album, the Strokes’ weirdly chill comeback and Rina Sawayama’s nu-metal-loving pop breakthrough.
Fiona Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters
For longtime fans who are expectantly, perhaps giddily, steeling themselves for another brutal LP from Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters will not disappoint. Released with little warning nearly a decade after 2012’s The Idler Wheel…, the album sees the now-42-year-old songwriter proving that she’s still more than capable of telling off partners, detractors, and others who have done her wrong, all while picking apart the inner workings of her frantic mind. But what sets Bolt Cutters apart from its predecessors is that, for the first time, the scales tip more toward resilience than agony
The Strokes, The New Abnormal
The first Strokes album in seven years picks up pretty much where the last one, 2013’s Comedown Machine, left off — another study in what LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy once called “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered Eighties.” Most encouragingly, the New Order-indebted “Bad Decisions” fondly transports us back to the concise neo-New Wave charge of the band’s classic era, showing just how easy it might be for the Strokes to make a pretty sweet Strokes record if they felt like it. Even if that song is the only moment that openly sops to the band’s glory days, The New Abnormal still manages to find a fresh, albeit more low-key, way into the woozy late-night grandeur they’ve always been so skilled at evoking.
Ed O’Brien has been an under-appreciated but crucial part of Radiohead ever since the band formed in 1985. It’s taken some time, but O’Brien has finally stepped out from the shadows with the release of his exceptional solo debut, under the moniker EOB. He’s noted in interviews that he felt he had to release the record, that part of him would “die” if he didn’t. That sense of urgency is felt all over Earth. The opener “Shangri-La,” is a triumphant scorcher sprinkled with percussion as O’Brien acknowledges feelings he didn’t realize he had before finding the song’s titular mystical harmonious place. Never has his voice sounded so prominent — so recognizable — until now.
Sam Hunt, Southside
Sam Hunt has taken more than a few knocks for his progressive approach to country music. So it’s a bit of a surprise to hear Hunt begin his long-awaited follow-up Southside with an acoustic guitar and the line “I put the whiskey back in the bottle/Put the smoke back in the joint” Classic gestures are all over Southside, though Hunt thankfully has no interest in doing something so straightforward. His current single “Hard to Forget” flips a Webb Pierce vocal sample into a new iteration of country drinking song that gleefully mixes up hip-hop beats and banjo. Elsewhere, he shows off an admirable amount of sensitivity.
Rina Sawayama, Sawayama
The Japan-born, U.K.-raised singer-model’s debut album, Sawayama, is a thrilling musical adventure, expertly referencing the chaos of Top 40 at the turn of the century without getting too hung up on the nostalgia of it all. Combining crunchy nu-metal guitar riffs with a penchant for early-aughts R&B-pop production in the vein of Aaliyah and ‘NSync, Sawayama sounds like Britney Spears’ Blackout by way of Korn — and it inexplicably works.
Lucinda Williams, Good Souls Better Angels
Over the years, Williams’ drawl has thickened, making every vowel its own sumptuously rolling river to cross and lending her songs a heavier tug of sensual hunger, which is saying something for someone whose been writing almost impossibly intense songs of love (and other afflictions) for decades. On Good Souls Better Angels, that couples powerfully with a visceral urgency that seems striking even for her: the defiant, stomping political rocker “You Can’t Rule Me,” the scathing “Wakin’ Up,” a tumultuous song about moving past a violent relationship, or more tender moments like the lovely, empathetic “When the Way Gets Dark.”
Lido Pimienta, Miss. Colombia
After months of buzz and colorful, evocative singles unspooling diasporic disillusionment and the burdens of womanhood, Polaris Prize-winning artist Lido Pimienta has finally unleashed her long-awaited third full-length, Miss Colombia. Lead singles “No Pude” and “Eso Que Tu Haces” explore this thesis further as breakup songs, wherein Pimienta laments a relationship turned toxic — aiming feelings of heartbreak and disappointment towards her ancestral home, soured by racism, machismo and institutional corruption.Though the tone of Miss Colombia is cutting throughout, Pimienta exhibits flashes of love and resilience, paying loving tribute to her Afro-Indigenous heritage in songs like “Quiero Que Me Salves” and “Pelo Cucu.”
John Anderson, Years
John Anderson has never gone away. The Eighties/Nineties country hitmaker behind songs like “Seminole Wind,” “Swingin’,” “Straight Tequila Night” and the immortal “She Just Started Liking Cheatin’ Songs” has trudged along in the 21st century, releasing four albums between 2001 and 2015 that largely landed under the radar. On Years, his first new studio album in five years, Anderson teams up with Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound team of songwriters, producers and session musicians for a subtle shift away from straight country to the type of veteran rootsy storytelling that Auerbach and company have refined over the past few years.
Ashley McBryde, Never Will
Thundercat, It Is What it Is
It Is What It Is, is daring in its musical reach, and its pairing of goofy and gutting. The record finds bass player-singer-songwriter-producer Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner continuing to parse the existential crises of everyday life, especially the void left by the death of his friend, Mac Miller. Once again working with psychedelic-minded beatmaker Flying Lotus, It Is What It Is finds its groove in headier spaces. Thundercat’s bass anchors and propels his sonic fancies, beating a head-spinning pulse on “I Love Louis Cole” and “How Sway,” tracks that add a dash of 8-bit video game delirium to the fusion stew.