Each month, the editors and critics at Rolling Stone compile a list of our favorite new albums. Our picks for Deceember include Taylor Swift’s second amazing album of 2020, Playboi Carti’s cathartic punk-loving rap and a covers LP from the late Chris Cornell.
Paul McCartney, McCartney III
Every decade should kick off with a Paul McCartney one-man-band album — and this one needs it more than most. McCartney III carries on his tradition of homemade solo records, in the mode of his acoustic 1970 debut and his 1980 synth-pop oddity McCartney II. Like its two predecessors, it’s Macca at his most playful. He’s not sweating about being a legend, a genius, or a Beatle — just a family man kicking back in quarantine, writing a few songs to keep his juices flowing. Like the rest of us, he’s been in lockdown, hanging out on his daughter’s farm, grandchildren on his knee, strumming his acoustic guitar in the English summer sun. It’s the warmest and friendliest of quarantine albums — it’s basically Ram meets Folklore. RS
Taylor Swift, Evermore
With Evermore coasting on its older sibling’s tidal wave of success, Swift and her team had even more freedom to do whatever they wanted, and it reflects back in the music. She’s working here again with Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff, and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and although Folklore’s moody, “indie”-inspired sound is still the dominant feature of Evermore, there’s room for more variety and experimentation this time around. Swift’s usual approach to dabbling in new genres or sounds is to go balls-to-the-wall, but on Evermore, she’s just as good at curating these more detailed production flourishes, all with the same contouring and meticulousness as she does with her best lyrics. CS
Playboi Carti, Whole Lotta Red
Between jarring track sequencing (including DJ Akademiks’ inexplicable cameo in the first 30 seconds of “Control,” an otherwise gorgeous song) Carti’s rapid, chameleonic shifts in cadence, timbre, and phrasing, and his permanent smokescreen of “whet” ad-libs, Whole Lotta Red is designed to keep the listener on edge. If Carti is posturing when he name-checks Black Flag, Slayer, and Hendrix, it’s a moot point. Whole Lotta Red successfully distills the sheer performance, spectacle, and catharsis of metal and hardcore punk. DS
The Australian EDM combo’s debut, Since I Left You, took the art of constructing music out of samples to a heightened level of craft; that patchwork quilt of music was one of 2000’s kickiest albums. Now reduced to a duo of Robert Chater and Anthony Diblasi, the Avalanches are still dedicated crate-diggers, unearthing obscure oldies at every turn. But this time, they go lighter on the samples and heavier on post-trip hop soundscapes and contemporary singers, from Rivers Cuomo to Leon Bridges and many more, making for recombinant pop that feels joyfully seamless and organic. DB
On Thats What They All Say, Harlow wallows in his newfound fame, raises the guardedness necessary to maintain sanity as a celebrity, and reps Louisville like his life depends on it. He is a hundred times funnier on Instagram than on wax, but his writing is clean, clever, and heartfelt. His aesthetic has absolutely zero regional bearing, and the fact that his music sounds like it could come from any city in America makes his Louisville-forward lens on the world the most compelling element of the album.
Chris Cornell, No One Sings Like You Anymore
Artists’ influences are never nearly as interesting as what they do with them. Chris Cornell always thrived at taking well-known songs and making them his own. In the year before his death, he was splitting his time between making new Soundgarden music and working up a collection of cover songs, which is finally seeing the light of day with the title No One Sings Like You Anymore. The track list shows off Cornell’s reliably catholic taste — Prince sits next to John Lennon, Ghostland Observatory alongside Guns N’ Roses — but listening to his interpretations displays his irreverence. KG
Wonder is essentially a concept album, the concept being Camila Cabello, like, whoa. “Just isn’t fair what you put in the air/I don’t wanna share,” Mendes notes.Mendes, who wrote or co-wrote every song on the record, is at his best when exploring his own real feelings of hope and heartbreak. There’s genuine ache in the feverish “Dreams,” in which he sings about rushing home so he can get his head on his pillow and connect on the astral plane: “You’re asleep in London…. Count back from one hundred.” On “Call My Friends,” she’s back home, and he’s on the road, wandering through fame like a zombie looking for people to get high with: “I need a vacation from my mind,” he sings. JD
Chilly Gonzalez, A Very Chilly Christmas
Since it’s January, you’re probably not in the mood to hear the pianist Chilly Gonzalez play “Silent Night” or “Good King Wenceslas.” But you don’t want to miss the album’s stunning centerpiece: the late David Berman’s “Snow Is Falling In Manhattan,” crooned by Jarvis Cocker with a harmony assist from Feist. Berman wrote so many beautiful songs with the Silver Jews and Purple Mountains, but this winter ballad is one of his best, released right before his tragic 2019 death. Jarvis sings in a tender whisper, especially the key lines: “Songs build little rooms in time / And housed within the song’s design / Is the ghost the host has left behind.” He treats the song like a room where you can feel at home, taking a little shelter from the storm. It’s a poignant tribute from one master rock & roll storyteller to another. RS