The Best Albums of January 2020 - Rolling Stone
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The Best Albums of January 2021: Maluma, Weezer and More

Here are the must-hear albums from last month, from realist R&B romance to new wrinkles in old school rock angst

weezer maluma best albums february

Phraa; Brendan Walter*

Each month, the editors and critics at Rolling Stone compile a list of our favorite new albums. Our picks for January include Colombian pop star Maluma’s Jamaican detour, a brilliant new LP from hip-hop innovator Madlib and great post-punk from Pom Poko and Goat Girl.

Maluma, #7 DJ: 7 Dias En Jamaica

The Colombian star worked with Jamaican artists to create an organic LP that never feels like musical tourism. Though the island’s legendary dancehall producer Bobby Digital is responsible for the dembow riddim that came to define reggaetón, Maluma’s latest represents less a homecoming than a pilgrimage. What keeps #7DJ from backsliding into gimmicky ephemera is just how well he maintains his signature Pretty Boy/Dirty Boy identity throughout. By never losing himself in the moment to serve some irie trope, he preserves what endears him to his fans. GS

Madlib, Sound Ancestors

The wildly inventive rapper-producer’s proper debut after 30 years of making records under various aliases and guises, came into fruition thanks to the electronic musician Four Tet, whose long standing friendship with Madlib stems from a shared reverence for sonic exploration. The product of several years and hundreds of recordings and fragments provided by Madlib, Sound Ancestors is dense but never overwhelming. The connections blend seamlessly thanks both to Four Tet’s steady hand and Madlib’s uncanny ability to deftly juggle ideas. Madlib deploys samples to the point of near sublimation, leaving you with the ecstasy of discovery. JI

Weezer, OK Human

what would happen if Cuomo poured his heart out unfiltered for once? Since there’s no true antonym for irony (and Cuomo would never allow himself to drop the seventh veil), Weezer’s 14th LPOK Human, is likely as close as he’ll get. For the album, the title of which conspicuously winks at Radiohead’s OK Computer, Cuomo & Co. traded loud guitars for flowery string arrangements. The approach is a not-so-subtle nod at chamber-pop benchmarks like Pet Sounds and Let It Be but without the confessional diary entries of the former or the sentimentality of the latter. Instead, Cuomo tempers his natural sense of humor to the mood of the music and the world in front of him. KG

Playboi Carti, Whole Lotta Red

Carti has long couched himself in the visual language of metal and hardcore punk. If Carti is posturing when he name-checks Black Flag, Slayer, and Hendrix, it’s a moot point. Whole Lotta Red (released last Christmas) successfully distills the sheer performance, spectacle, and catharsis of metal and hardcore punk; Carti, with his bold, larynx-shredding vocal demonstrations, joins the musical ranks of artists like Rico Nasty and his own personal troll Mario Judah, two shapeshifters who both gained popularity by consciously fusing these traditions’ moods and vocal tropes with trap. DS

Zayn, Nobody is Listening

It’s been more than two years since his last album, Icarus Falls, an aptly titled 27-track follow-up to his much sleeker 2016 debut, Mind of Mine. Both LPs left listeners with more questions than answers about what Malik wanted out of his post-1D career. Despite its brooding introduction, Nobody Is Listening shows both restraint and growth from a new dad who just turned 28, even if the songs seem more reflective of his relationship with longtime partner Gigi Hadid than of his journey into fatherhood. Given Malik’s R&B-crooner ambitions, it’s a good thing he can sing the hell out of a love song. BS

Lil Durk, The Voice: Deluxe Edition

With recent tragedy and pending court cases looming over Lil Durk, his music remains the reason why he sits at rap’s forefront. On the deluxe edition of The Voice, Durk delivers 12 more tracks filled with melodic Bone-Thugs-like cadence mixed with his drill roots. Picking up from where left off from 2020’s deluxe Just Cause Ya’ll Waited 2, ‘The Voice’ is Durk at his finest, voicing his pain, harsh realities and struggles with incarceration. Whether you’re getting his alter ego of “No-auto Durk” on tracks like “Should’ve Ducked” and “Still Trappin,’” or his clever vulnerable sincerity over guitar or saxophone driven instrumentals on “To Be Honest” and “Kanye Krazy,” it’s clear that he has found his place in rap music. DG

Sleaford Mods, Spare Ribs

When the only music you can stand is the drumbeat of rage coursing through your aching head, the Sleaford Mods are always good for a spin. They’re Nottingham, England’s answer to the Fall, with singer Jason Williamson rant-rapping about everything from austerity-era Britain to consumerism to the foibles of the music business over Andrew Fearn’s spare-yet-sharp beats. Spare Ribs, the Mods’ 11th LP since they formed in 2007, is a veritable a la carte menu of outrages. Written partly during lockdown, the record features some of the least-annoying songs about the pandemic recorded since the initial outbreak in 2019. BE

Jazmine Sullivan, Heaux Tales

Sullivan’s stunning vocal range is well-documented. She was a contestant on Showtime at the Apollo at the age of 11, singing better than most adults. And she’s particularly gifted at modulating her voice.  As a songwriter, Sullivan is known to confront thorny emotions with open-faced compassion. Heaux Tales finds the singer at her most dexterous. That it took five years for Heaux Tales to come into fruition feels right. Though brief, with a runtime of just over 30-minutes, the EP shows Sullivan crafting a complete constellation of love and loss. JI

Arlo Parks, Collapsed Into Sunbeams

This 20 year-old singer-songwriter from London is getting “voice of a generation” hype in the U.K., and there’s no doubting the power of her music, which is equally influenced by Elliott Smith and Frank Ocean. Arlo Parks sings subtly and feels deeply on her debut, Collapsed Into Sunbeams, which takes its title from a line in a Zadie Smith novel, spinning tales of Gen Z emotional malaise over tracks that land between R&B, indie pop, and folk. The highlight is “Caroline,” a delicate evocation of watching a couple fight on the street that gets inside other people’s pain with the empathetic literary beauty of classic Ray Davies. JD

CelesteNot Your Muse

Rising Star Celeste’s debut album, Not Your Muse, has been a long time coming. Since releasing her first single, “Daydreaming,” in 2016, she’s been winning praise from the likes of Elton John and Billie Eilish and getting compared to Adele. Not Your Muse delivers on the promise, veering between hazy disco tunes and syrupy ballads with ease, thanks to her dreamy, smoky voice. Upbeat songs like “Tonight Tonight” and “Love Is Back” are sweet retro steppers full of attitude and funk. The best moments show off her powerful range, like the twinkling, wintry “A Little Love” and the sublime highlight “A Kiss.” BS

Rhye, Home 

Home may feel like a prison to a lot of us at this point, but for Rhye’s Michael Milosh it’s always a nice place to chill. On this languid, lowkey ode to his safe space, Milosh unfurls his thin, gorgeous voice over soft, sumptuous art-disco grooves, at times bringing to mind the way Arthur Russell could mix outré disco and pure pop. There’s a warm, slinky claustrophobia to songs like “Come In Closer” and “Hold You Down,” while the airily inviting “Safeword” feels like it courses with the distant hope of throwing open the windows and welcoming in the spring to come. JD

Goat Girl, On All Fours

The  members of this UK band have excellent punk names like Clottie Cream and Rosy Bones and they sing about modern rubbish like climate change and anxiety meds, channeling their angst into songs that call recall the dreamier side of post-punk, mixing slanted dissonance and offhanded beauty. Listening to their excellent second record feels like happily sleep walking through the early days of the apocalypse. JD

Pom Poko, Cheater

Can’t decide between listening to Talking Heads, Gang of Four or Nirvana? Don’t worry, Pom Poko’s got you covered. The Norwegian art-punk quartet seamlessly blend together the sounds of post-punk, grunge, and bratty pop together on their second album Cheater, pairing head-banging power chords with changing time signatures and unexpected cowbell. If Speedy Ortiz or Woods-era Sleater-Kinney is more your style, standout track “Like a Lady” will provide all your guitar-fuzz needs. CS

Morgan Wallen, Dangerous: The Double Album

Call it cliché, but hey,” he sings after cramming at least ten country clichés into a single chorus, “it’s still going down in the country.” This argument — that Wallen is here to revive the genre’s most typical tropes — is the basic thesis of the 100-minute Dangerous, which is less interested in presenting the singer as the future of country music and more as the summation of its last decade. JB 

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