So far, 2018 has given us Janelle Monáe’s android funk, Cardi B’s bloody-shoed boasts, J Balvin’s internationalist reggaeton and an all-star dispatch from Wakanda. Here’s the best of the year’s first five months and change.
We Say: Released in tandem with a film of the same name (like Purple Rain) and with music that engages with apocalyptic politics without undermining the party (like 1999), it’s a pop-culture salvo that’s rooted in the present while recognizing and building on the past. In its own way, its as artful, ambitious, determined, joyous and inspiring, as Lemonade or To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s a sexy MF-ing masterpiece. W.H.
We Say: The Black Panther soundtrack album has been nearly as feverishly anticipated as the film, and no wonder: It is helmed by another improbable straddler of cultural categories, Kendrick Lamar, A-list pop star and Black Lives Matter-era protest poet nonpareil. … It is tempting to compare Black Panther to Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly and Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man, classic blaxploitation soundtracks that channeled the social consciousness and sonic adventurism of early Seventies soul. But the analogy is imprecise. Lamar co-executive produced the album, has writing credits on all 14 tracks, and appears throughout, in starring roles and cameos. His main job, though, is a definitively 21st Century one: musical curator. Lamar corrals old friends from L.A. (Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul), southern rap hitmakers (Future, Travis Scott), nu-soul leading lights (the Weeknd, Anderson.Paak), and a host of lesser-knowns, including a handful of South African musicians with no little commercial presence in America. J.R.
We Say: The Bronx queen’s long-awaited debut Invasion of Privacy is even better than everybody was hoping it would be, a whirwind tour of Planet Cardi, a place where female warriors reign supreme, taking occasional breaks to plant a Louboutin heel on a rival’s throat. Cardi expands on the flash of “Bodak Yellow,” one of the most glorious pop hits of this century – all over Invasion of Privacy, she puts on her bloody shoes and dances the blues. As Cardi declares in the fantastic opener “Get Up 10,” “I started speaking my mind and tripled my views/Real bitch, only thing fake is the boobs.” R.S.
We Say: Although Cabello was the most high-profile member of Fifth Harmony, this group wasn’t built to last, and Cabello broke away in one of the messiest, most shade-intensive pop splits of recent years. … Cabello’s long-awaited solo debut is a personal statement, low-key and mellow even when it’s infused with the rhythms of her Cuban-Mexican heritage. Her massive 2017 radio smash “Havana” is the centerpiece, as she rides a steamy piano groove with Young Thug. Camila is sleek pop that gets straight to the point, just 10 songs around the three-minute mark, eschewing celebrity guests or big-name producers. R.S.
We Say: A 27-song record of all new material is not the kind of thing you’d associate with a pop-friendly hip-hop duo that had its first hits just four years ago. … Where recent marathons like Migos’ gratuitous Culture II felt more about streaming algorithms than art, Sr3mm rarely wears out its welcome. The project’s spiritual predecessor, Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, marked the beginning of the end for André 3000 and Big Boi’s creative partnership; but Swae and Jxmmi’s solo turns crackle with promise — and there’s nothing matching their electricity when they’re in the zone together. M.G.
We Say: [Y]ou might not recognize the weed-loving cowgirl troublemaker of “Follow Your Arrow” on this moony set, a throwback to easy-listening pop that’s only “country” by the loosest definition. Joined by a familiar dream team of Music City co-writers – Natalie Hemby, Hillary Lindsey, Luke Laird and Shane McAnally – plus new partners Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian, the newlywed Musgraves is uncharacteristically cooing love songs; see the swooning title track and “Butterflies.” But she hasn’t lost her wit: “Northern lights in our skies/Plants that grow and open your mind,” she muses on “Oh, What a World,” a vocoder intro shimmering in the distance amid plinking banjo. Who knew Americana and robot rock were a thing? W.H.
We Say: Balvin is leading a new breed of Latin stars who can cross over without watering down their roots – an interesting development in this ostensibly wall-building era. The video for last year’s “Mi Gente” – a mighty club jam that shares its title (meaning “My People”) with the signature song of salsa legend/Balvin hero Hector Lavoe – has racked up 1.8 billion YouTube views at last count, and even scored a remix cameo from Beyoncé, who invited Balvin up for her epic Coachella set last month. Produced by Parisian producer/featured co-singer Willy Williams with co-writes by French radio VIP DJ Assad and Swedish-Congolese pop journeyman Mohombi, “Mi Gente” kicks off Vibras, and its dubby, chilled-out, internationalist take on reggaetón is a template for the entire set. W.H.
We Say: Prine’s kept at it steadily, despite a muse evidently grown less insistent, for nearly 50 years, and The Tree of Forgiveness is his first set of originals in over a decade. … After neck surgery in 1998 to remove a squamous cell carcinoma, and more surgery to treat lung cancer in 2013, Prine’s plainspoken tenor creaks like an wide-plank old floor in winter. … And of course, it nails the death meditation “When I Get to Heaven,” a mix of punchlines, sweet sentimentality and looming void. It’s precisely what Dylan – a major fan who offered to sit in on harmonica at Prine’s first New York gig – was referring to when he famously described Prine’s writing as “pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree.” W.H.
We Say: American Utopia – abetted by an old comrade (Brian Eno, contributing beats) and new ones (Daniel “Oneohtrix Point Never” Lopatin, Sampha/XX producer Rodaidh McDonald) – boasts some of the most exciting music Byrne has made in years. The balance of light and dark is especially compelling on “Bullet,” a travelogue of just that (“His skin did part in two/Skin that women had touched”) and “Everybody’s Comin’ to My House,” a sort of agoraphobic’s kidnapping fantasy. W.H.
We Say: Just one year after his unsuspecting opus God’s Problem Child, Nelson, 84, is back with Last Man Standing, the latest in his series of late-career ruminations helmed by producer Buddy Cannon. Whereas last year’s God’s Problem Child found Nelson staring down death in the mirror on meditations like “Old Timer” and “True Love,” this record finds the honky-tonk prophet satirizing the slow march of time with humorous musings set to a comfortable blend of Western swing and roadhouse blues. … On Last Man Standing, Willie Nelson continues to turn his ninth decade into a classic country song full of remembrance, regret and resilience. J.B.
We Say: 2015’s Depression Cherry was Beach House’s lushest album to date, raising the question of how they could possibly top it, short of tapping a team of quantum scientists to develop even headier reverb pedals. 7 … is the duo’s first attempt since then to push their sound forward. … This is the least introverted record Beach House have ever made; it’ll still blow your mind with candles lit and headphones on, but it’s the first time they’ve sounded like a band you might want to hear at a party with more than one guest. S.V.L.
Playboi Carti repeats phrases with an incantatory command over beats that mimic Japanese video game composers, resulting in songs that feel oddly yet infectiously rhythmic. It’s a style template that blossomed on last year’s self-titled album. Die Lit is more of the same as the Atlanta rapper strikes the repetitive chords with audible glee. He’s not in danger of wearing us out yet, although at 19 tracks Die Lit is better at establishing a dopamine-pumping red-eyed gamer vibe than coalescing into a concise body of work. “Long Time (Intro)” sounds like an 8-bit melody emanating from a broken cartridge as Carti chants, “I ain’t felt like this in a long time.” Skepta’s hard spitting nearly overwhelms “Lean 4 Real,” while Young Thug’s atonal crooning adds visceral intensity to the hallucinatory keyboard stabs of “Choppa Don’t Miss.” Despite a plethora of cameos including Nicki Minaj and Lil Uzi Vert, no one upstages Carti, who looms above it all, pleasantly lost in his own Mushroom Kingdom. M.R.
We Say: Pusha-T’s third – and best – solo album is a marvel of musical precision. On this 21-minute, EP-length collaboration with producer Kanye West no moment is wasted. … As usual, Pusha presents himself as the all-knowing veteran dope dealer who pushes product to his consumers. “I predict snow/Al Roker,” he promises on “If You Know You Know,” an opening track buttressed by snippets of ragga chants and a digital dancehall rhythm constructed from Ypsilanti, Michigan’s Seventies hard rock also-rans Air. It’s a conceit he has maintained throughout a career that dates back to the late Nineties as one-half of Clipse, the ferociously talented duo he formed with his brother Malice (now a born-again Christian rapper performing as No Malice). … But here, it feels less an end to itself than metaphor for Pusha-T’s ethos as a pure MC. In other words, he doesn’t cut his lyrical cocaine with pop fillers. M.R.
We Say: [T]he country-themed Restoration [is] a revelation. Tyros (Maren Morris) and legends (Dolly Parton) mine deep cuts to reveal in John’s songs a very country strain of stoic melancholy. Miranda Lambert delivers a stormy “My Father’s Gun”; Don Henley and Vince Gill wring pathos from the divorce lament “Sacrifice,” one of John’s loveliest tunes. The album concludes with Willie Nelson’s quietly epic ramble through “Border Song” – one 20th century legend welcoming another to music’s Mt. Olympus. J.R.
We Say: On the fifth Breeders album, the songs are all cinematic movement – hiding, escaping, screaming in the meadow, running for the exit. Such is life as the Breeders’ Kim Deal, a rock genius with a powderkeg of bittersweet melodies and fearless emotions forever ready to blow, but often without a band to light the fuse. … The boost in dynamic drama is due to the return of the lineup that recorded 1993’s alt-rock gem Last Splash – twin sister-guitarist Kelley Deal, bassist Josephine Wiggs, and drummer Jim MacPherson. Openers “Nervous Mary” and “Wait in the Car” prowl and dash, as the twins’ vocals, Kim’s guitar, and the coiled-tight rhythm section create an almost film-noir atmosphere of fraught anticipation and shifty post-punk shadows (“I got business,” spits Kim). C.A.
We Say: The band members, four liberal-minded musicians who have called purple-state North Carolina their home since they formed in 1989, wrote all of the record’s songs in a frenzied rush between the election and February 2017 and they ultimately struck on a perfect half-hour of punky, poppy vitriol. … They continue the through line of singing about maturity and responsibility that they started on 2010’s Majesty Shredding here – like on “Break the Glass,” one of the group’s strongest singles in ages, when McCaughan sings, “Everyone is acting normal, but no one’s sleeping through the night.” K.G.
We Say: In its piano-ballad gait, baroque-pop raptures and confessional sting, Josh Tillman’s fourth album as the darkly antic Father John Misty often sounds like it was made more than 40 years earlier under yet another name: John Lennon. … What lifts God’s Favorite Customer beyond homage is Tillman’s slicing, free-associative candor as he examines the cost in sanity and constancy of his craft and touring life. D.F.
We Say: The incandescently vibrating soprano is worn down nearer a burnished alto after a half century of committed music-making and activism. Yet the takeaway from Joan Baez’s latest – following her well-earned 2017 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – is how essential her work remains. … Baez, 77, didn’t write songs for this set, instead curating ones that spoke to her – here, by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, Josh Ritter and others. The mood’s reflective and autumnal. Ritter’s “Silver Blade,” a fable for the #MeToo era, nods to Baez’s early signature “Silver Dagger.” And on “Last Leaf” (see Waits’ 2011 LP Bad as Me), the singer accurately notes she’s “been here since Eisenhower/And I’ve outlived even he,” affirming that she will be around “through eternity … I’ll show up in a song.” W.H.
Now that Black Sabbath have completed their final tour, Judas Priest are the longest-running band from heavy metal’s first wave. And from the sound of their 18th LP, Firepower, they take that seriously. The group sounds refreshed throughout the album, whipping through 14 mostly uptempo ragers that sound bloodthirsty while echoing classic Judas Priest. Standouts “Flame Thrower” and “Evil Never Dies” pulse with skull-rattling rhythms, dueling-guitar leads and vocalist Rob Halford’s still-stunning piercing shrieks and guttural yowls. The band will turn 50 next year, but somehow they never sound tired here. K.G.
We Say: Tell Me How You Really Feel is noisy and way more pissed off than her 2015 debut … unsheathing sharp new earnestness alongside her trademark sabers of sarcasm and penetrating observation. She opens by paraphrasing Nelson Mandela. “Y’know what they say/No one’s born to hate/We learn it somewhere along the way,” she whispers at the outset of “Hopefulessness,” a slithering post-punk inspirational that builds from ambivalent incantation to near-snarl, twin guitars cresting into a glorious noise burst before receding comically behind the earthbound wail of a teakettle – a perfectly Barnett-ish touch. W.H.
We Say: The tricks and miracles of Things Have Changed are manifold. Half of its 12 tracks restore life to songs that were dead-on-arrival on Dylan albums from 1979 to 1989; the rest reshapes more essential parts of the legend. The grooves constructed by drummer and producer Steve Jordan have both the booming precision of hip-hop loops and the flexible responsiveness of classic R&B. This is tradition-based music that extends the heritage it draws from. J.L.
We Say: In place of the usual Parquet Courts concerns – oblique self-analysis, post-graduate existential ennui, meta-rock references, girl problems – are big-picture anxieties and flabbergasted outrage. … With light-touch production by Danger Mouse, this is also the funkiest and sweetest Parquet Courts set yet, trading off some of their trademark guitar fireworks for danceable jams. W.H.
Case’s clarion pipes remain the calling card, but on her eighth studio LP, between lyrics and vocal arrangements, they’ve never channeled more imagination or sense of purpose. A set of rangy folk-rock, Hell-On opens pondering the nature of God (“an unspecified tide … a lusty tire fire”) and hits its stride dissecting love, most dazzlingly on “Winnie” (“Joy ran through us like welders flux/We just wanted to be music!”). Beth Ditto, k.d. lang, Eric Bachmann, Laura Veirs and others reinforce the key point: No instrument has more power than the unadorned human voice. W.H.
We Say: These songs are confessional but not diaristic, her lyrics sound like half of a conversation in which Dacus lets fly with discursive bon mots about the more terrifying prospects of companionship and community, anxiously poking around in the lingering wounds of bonds both romantic and familial. “Who knew one day it would be so hard to have you by my side?” Dacus sings on “Addictions.” These are glorious little ghost stories wrapped up in love songs, where the 23-year-old artist seems to be weighing who she’s becoming versus what she’s inherited. J. Hopper
We Say: The greatest story in Nineties indie-rock was watching Pavement grow from boutique noise aesthetes into one of America’s truly fine bands. In the 19 years since they closed up shop, it’s been equally fun seeing frontman Stephen Malkmus relax into an excellent solo career marked by a warmth, humor and generosity, growing past his early days as the “ironic” “Prince of Slack.” … His latest with his post-Pavement crew the Jicks has everything we’ve come to expect from him: effortless Cali-kissed tunefulness and grand guitar jabber steeped in prog, folk and soft rock, perfect for a mellowing, kids-having fanbase who’d rather listen to Fleetwood Mac’s Bare Trees these days than their old Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 albums. J.D.
We Say: Cobb’s as much a throwback Southern rocker as a modern country singer, and his sound is a perfect match for cousin Dave Cobb, whose production work with Chris Stapleton – Brent’s tourmate of late – and others continues re-shaping the Nashville Sound into an earthier, more idiosyncratic thing. Where Cobb’s fine 2016 breakout Shine On Rainy Day cast him as singer-songwriting tale-teller, these songs are more from the gut. The soulful “King of Alabama” is a funky tribute to a fallen friend and fellow traveller that rides a deep-southern strut: “If you thought he looked country/y’oughta heard him sing,” Cobb observes, drawl so thick he might as well be talking about himself. “Sucker for a Good Time” is spiked with screaming doubled-guitar lines that echo the Allmans’ Eat a Peach, while “.30-06” makes its jealous threat with a particular old-school hunting rifle, another example of his eye for telling detail. Throughout, you get the sense of a dude trying to hold on to his roots while riding the present hard. W.H.
We Say: On her sixth LP, veteran songwriter Brandi Carlile teams up with co-producers Shooter Jennings and Dave Cobb for a moving and righteous piece of Americana-infused pop. Across the 10-track LP, the folk-tinged singer belts with gusto, whether offering nostalgic, harmonized forgiveness on album opener “Everytime I Hear That Song” or a shoulder to cry on with anthemic ballad “The Joke.” B.S.
These forward-thinking veterans of electronic music are starting to feel like the world’s most cerebral jam band. Their NTS Radio series – compiling nearly 8 hours(!) of music on a 8-CD or 12-LP set – showcase their recent move towards longform pieces that still contain their trademark brain-boggle: seemingly inhuman sounds, melodies and rhythms built through programming code. It’s up for debate exactly what is live, composed, improvised or artificial intelligence run amok, but it’s a diverse set that covers a lot of ground: heavy squelches, electro with the lurching gait of a twisted ankle, tippy-tappy excursions into vintage IDM drum skitter and “All End,” a 58-minute spaceship glint-scape like a stretched and throbbing update of the Solaris soundtrack. C.W.
The trio still has the same spark (har, har) they did in the Nineties, aping every riff Tony Iommi didn’t write for Master of Reality, then stretching them out and bellowing lyrics about weed. Highlights (inhale) include the bong flutter that introduces “Marijuanaut’s Theme,” the entire 10-minute song “Giza Butler” (“Marijuana is his might and his salvation”) and, naturally, Matt Pike’s devastating guitar tone throughout, from the all-noise intro “The Sciences” to his acid-blues soloing on final track “The Botanist.” K.G.
We Say: Over his past two albums, the Toronto native proved himself an affably charming, guitar-slinging foil to the deluge of often-forgettable, pop’n’B-leaning white male stars. He was a family-friendly one-man boy band, churning out hits about love, heartbreak and savior complexes in a post-One Direction world. On his latest, Mendes crosses a bridge to the other side; it’s groovy R&B funk that doesn’t lose the charm of the way his warm vocals sound over the scratchy strum of his guitar. … Mendes’ strength is in romance, and more than ever before, this teenager seems like he not only believes the words he is singing, but he’s actually lived through the emotions behind them. B.S.
We Say: The music Kali Uchis summons on this fascinating debut album doesn’t refer to a particular place or time. Like Beck or Outkast, she’s a pop weirdo who works grooves that seem vintage and futuristic at the same moment. She grabs splashes of funk, bossa, reggaeton and soul and blankets them with a sunbaked, psychedelic wooziness. Her specialty is flashbacks, not throwbacks. Blink and the picture changes again. J.L.
We Say: In her excellent new solo album, with the droll title Record, the Everything But the Girl chanteuse tells tales of mid-life angst with the same wry wit she’s had in her voice since she was a sullen Brit-punk kid. The fantastic “Sister” sets the tone – over eight pulsing minutes of feminist rage, explicitly inspired by the women’s march, with Corinne Bailey Rae and Warpaint’s rhythm section joining in as she chants, “I think like a girl/I fight like a girl.” She sounds like a woman who woke up one morning to realize she forgot how to give a fuck anymore. R.S.
Canadian recording artist Meghan Remy dishes up art-pop delights on her second LP as U.S. Girls. Songs are elegant yet forceful, full of shape-shifts but smooth, tuneful and fun. “Velvet 4 Sale” sets billowing synth noise over a moodily predatory groove as Remy makes the line “It’s all just friction/but don’t forget the revenge” sound like a viable pop hook. Scary Monsters-era Bowie, Madonna, Kate Bush and early-Eighties downtown NYC punk-funk pop up among the glistening touchstones. But Poem isn’t just solid retro. Remy bounces between genres effortlessly, from the P.M. Dawn dreaminess of “Rosebud” to the rich, inviting synth-pop of “Poem” to the “La Isla Bonita”-tinged bounce of “Pearly Gates,” holding it all together with songwriting chops, searching, self-possessed lyrics and a sense of old-school record-making craft. The result: Rewarding repeated listens. J.D.
Sir’s R&B credentials are impeccable: He’s written for Anita Baker, Jill Scott, Tyrese and Letoya Luckett, among others. So it’s no surprise that November, his debut album for the lauded Top Dawg Entertainment, comes filled with accomplished, serene funk. Sir is at his best when his songs stay quiet, unhurried and almost sleepy, allowing pleasing details to come into focus: his lackadaisical vocal delivery in “Never Home,” the pretty pleading on “I Need Your Love” or the gauzy sample of Soul Mann & the Brothers’ “Bumpy’s Lament” (best known for its use in Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive”) on “Dreaming of Me.” E.L.
“Coochie guaranteed to put you to sleep so damn soon/Riding on that dick, I’m reading Goodnight Moon,” Chicago rapper Cupcakke promises on her outrageously great third LP. Elizabeth Harris is a Lil’ Kim for our times, spooling out raunchy rhymes with a personal and political edge over eclectic beats. The reggaeton-tinged “Crayons” celebrates gay sex and takes on homophobia, and Cupcakke gets introspective on “Self Interview,” admitting, “Most of the people already skipped this song because it ain’t about sex and killing.” It’s their loss. J.D.
We Say: The title track of McBryde’s Girl Going Nowhere is a whispered anthem about crushing it in the face of doubters. Most triumphant artists would holler, gloat, swagger, flip the bird, but in this opener, McBryde barely raises her voice, which quivers potently over a muted snare, guitar notes flashing like phone screens in a dark arena. Then “Radioland” crashes in, a country rocker about old-time broadcast bliss, invoking John Cougar’s “Jack and Diane” and McBryde’s daddy, “a rock star riding on a tractor listening to Townes Van Zandt.” … McBryde’s got a big, vibrato-tinged alto, biker-chick style, and she wrote or co-wrote everything here, including “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” with a sharp eye for piercing detail. She has a serious gift. W.H.
We Say: [A]n LP determined to conjure kinetic joy while staring down our present cultural fright show – and which is more potent for it. … Per usual, the core remains Garbus’ beat science, hypnotically looped and stuttered, driven by handclaps, drumstick clatter and her increasingly varied vocal displays, which are more processed than usual here – fitting for an age where “truth” itself comes digitally warped. “I don’t know the language,” she declares in a rare, barely altered purr on “Coast to Coast,” a resistance anthem for a divided country where, it seems, “all the words mean fear.” W.H.
We Say: Since forming in 2000, the Bad Plus have grown from upstart into institution, one of the few contemporary jazz acts to show up on the mainstream radar in the years before the To Pimp a Butterfly watershed. … As on past efforts, it’s bassist Reid Anderson who takes the lead here, contributing half of the album’s eight pieces. His latest creations – especially opener “Hurricane Birds,” driven by a drum ‘n’ bass–esque groove from drummer Dave King, and soulful, backbeat-powered second track “Trace” – epitomize the band’s signature blend of poppy melodicism and proggy intricacy. On each, you can hear [pianist Orrin] Evans having a ball with the bassist’s themes, savoring their tight contours while adding his own bluesy flourishes. H.S.
Conjuring the golden era of sample-pop –- think Deee-Lite, De La Soul, Beck, Beats International, Avalanches, Coldcut’s “Seven Minutes of Madness” remix of Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid In Full” – but escalating the data overload for modern microprocessor speeds, vocalist Orono and her international collective uncork a firehose flow of found-sound flotsam and sound-effect punchlines over exceptionally well-tooled popcraft. W.H.
The country duo covers an incredible amount of territory on their second album, named for the Florida Gulf Coast town where they recorded it with producer Jay Joyce. Lead single “Shoot Me Straight” is a six-minute rock epic about breaking things off, with singer TJ Osborne demanding “lay my six-foot-four-inch-ass out on the ground” in his chest-deep baritone, and guitarist John Osborne serving up a dazzling fireworks display for the song’s back half. They also tackle Jerry Reed-style country funk on “A Couple Wrongs Makin’ It Alright,” hard-driving rock on “Drank Like Hank” and glistening country soul on “Pushin’ Up Daisies (Love Alive).” In “Weed, Whiskey and Willie,” the Brothers make a turn back into boozy country, proving they’re just as adept at the fundamentals as they are at playing with the formula. J.F.
A star of indie rock’s poetically plainspoken new wave (see Lucy Dacus, Jay Som, Mitski, Big Thief, etc.), Sophie Allison weaves images of bedsheets, flora, fauna and lip-locks through 10 songs, sparkling guitar melodies carrying rubbed raw emotions. “Skin” conjures Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville in the best possible way; “Your Dog” flips Iggy Pop’s proto-punk cornerstone canine fantasy (“I don’t wanna be your fucking dog”); and if there’s a more unnervingly sexy moment in 2018 rock than Allison instructing someone to “rip my flowers out” in “Flaw,” we haven’t heard it yet. W.H.
After five critically acclaimed albums that mysteriously and melancholically blurred the boundaries of techno, ambient, psychedelia, shoegaze and nostalgia, Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas project has returned for his grandest, most ambitious statement yet. Rausch – available as a download as a 60-minute “Continuous Mix” – is a long journey through hissing fog, dark ambient clouds, crying strings and ping-ponging cymbals. From moody banks of lush drone, sounds emerge like creatures from behind the jungle brush and notes appear like car radios rushing by in the night. A house beat throbs in the distance, possibly a memory of dancefloors past, possibly a lighthouse to help guide you through this impressionist symphony of colors. C.W.
We Say: With Snail Mail’s Lush, indie rock has officially entered its “Black Crowes era,” where young artists refigure music from the decade they were born. But that’s not a bad thing here. As the brainchild of 18-year-old Lindsey Jordan, who counts Helium’s Mary Timony and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield as mentors, Snail Mail worship at the altars of Pavement, Liz Phair and Dinosaur Jr. She’s packed Lush, her debut full-length, with the same sort of smart lyrics about unrequited love (“Heat Wave”), personal dissatisfaction (“Pristine”) and the places where those feelings coalesce (“Golden Dream”) as her forebears and set them to a soundtrack of chugging, glassy-toned guitar. K.G.
We Say: Stefan Kozalla is the rare DJ who doesn’t usually dial back his presence when producing vocal tracks, nor does he overwhelm the singer; instead, he insists that everyone shine simultaneously – a nice metaphor for the dance floor’s egalitarian, communal spirit. … “Bonfire” cut ‘n’ pastes vocal samples from Bon Iver’s “Calgary,” making new meanings with Justin Vernon’s warmly cryptic words in a massage-chair techno groove. … His best slight of hand is “Pick Up,” which isolates bits of Gladys Knight’s vocals from her exquisitely lugubrious 1972 ballad signature “Neither One of Us (Want to Be The First to Say Goodbye)” and releases them incrementally, like so many luftballoons, over a dizzying disco-house groove. W.H.
We Say: Tal National are the math-rock mavens of West Africa. Nigerian singer-rapper Zara Moussa delivers the opening couplet on the title-track opener of Tantabara, their fourth album since 2009, before the entire band jumps in jubilantly and takes off at an unrelenting gallop through a complex 12/8 Hausa groove. Recorded in a makeshift Niamey studio by Jamie Carter, a Chicago producer who was more professionally familiar with Joan of Arc and Chance the Rapper when he produced their 2009 debut, Tantabara has a scruffy, econo, indie-rock vibe reminiscent of beautiful Brooklyn afrojazz punks Sunwatchers or Tel Aviv-born Brooklyn guitarist Yonatan Gat, who shreds aggressively on Tal’s “Entente.” R.G.
We Say: Natalie Prass’ second album pairs the sharp and the smooth, its keenly observed lyrics about love and politics grounded in arrangements that recall soft-pop highlights from the past four decades. The Future and the Past is a modern echo of that moment when soft rock and Quiet Storm fed off each other – the plush yet firm yacht-y early-Eighties keyboards on the wide-eyed “The Fire,” simmering counterpoint bass on “Never Too Late,” and the tinkling pianos and swooping strings of the weightless-sounding yet troubled “Far From You.” M.J.
We Say: Who knows how much Hinds’ off-handed magnificence has to do with their roots as Madrileños, and how much is merely the mystic universal science of group chemistry and spirit? Whatever the proportions, their second LP is a gem of indie-rock-revivalism, making faux-naif surf licks and Mo Tucker drum beats seem new all over again. W.H.
We Say: Low Cut Connie’s fifth album draws on the same sessions – at Ardent Studios in Memphis – that propelled this Philadelphia band’s 2017 blast of Fifties-infused glam-punk hallelujah, Dirty Pictures (Part 1). But these ten tracks, mostly written by singer-pianist Adam Weiner, are hardly leftovers. … “All These Kids Are Way Too High” is explosive, hilarious censure, a song about every bar band’s worst nightmare – an audience that just stands and stares – detonated like the New York Dolls produced by Sam Phillips. “Beverly,” in turn, is steeped in Philly soul – a mid-tempo charge of desperate need that Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff could have written for Teddy Pendergrass – then seared with slide guitar and dotted with Weiner’s chiming piano, as if Elton John had joined the Replacements in time for Pleased to Meet Me. D.F.
Renowned for their anarchic live shows, Baltimore hardcore punks Turnstile open the pit to a broader range of sounds and collaborators on their refreshingly free-form major-label debut. The band borrows from the Nirvana playbook on garage-rock shredder “Moon” and shyly flashes a freak flag on slinky jazz interludes “Bomb” and “Disco.” Longtime fan Diplo makes an understated cameo on “Right to Be,” his synths splashing neon onto Turnstile’s concrete political protest. Hardcore purists may bristle, but Time & Space offers fans new and old some room to breathe. S.E.
In February, experimental electronic artist Nicolas Jaar casually released a dance album under his A.A.L. moniker without any sort of promotion: The LP just appeared on his label’s website, and the media didn’t figure out that the project was linked to Jaar until six days later. 2012-2017 is dense, with alluring samples cherrypicked from shimmering Seventies soul and full-throated gospel. Jaar cuts and pastes this source material into loose, walloping, jubilant tracks. “Cityfade” has the club-igniting potential of classic Moby, “Now U Got Me Hooked” relies on a striking snippet of the Dramatics to create strutting, triumphant disco, and even the most steadfast wallflowers will be unable to resist the nearly 10-minute-long closing track, “Rave on U.” E.L.