Black Rebel Motorcycle Club might be the most aptly-named group of the past couple decades, since those four words kind of evoke their whole deal. Since their 2001 debut, BRMC’s formula has been largely un-freaked with, and it’s a sturdy, un-freakable one at that. Jesus & Mary Chain noise over a T-Rex stomp, featuring the Velvet Underground’s brittle tenderness in their softer moments and the ‘Stones particularly stoned version of the blues in their boogie. Wrong Creatures , the eighth album by the rock ‘n roll lifers, turns the volume down a bit on a slower, more meditative collection of narcotized ballads. Yet while the result is an album that leans more towards Chris Isaak than J. Spacemen, this remains a BRMC album through and through. So if you’re still wondering what to expect, just reread the band’s name again.
Blame it on sequels. In every way the bigger, faster, and stronger update over its predecessor, Culture II is nearly double its length, too. With one hour and 45 minutes of music spread over a modest 24 tracks, and featuring a litany of star-studded features, Migos’ newest album is an absolutely massive release in the vein of overstuffed '90s rap blockbusters such as Life After Death or All Eyez On M e. Fortunately, out of any group working in hip-hop today, Migos come well-equipped to handle the spotlight. While initial single “MotorSport” brought promises of a dutiful “Bad and Boujee” imitation, thankfully elsewhere on Culture II the trio are not afraid to let their hair down. “Narcos” melds Latin American-guitar samples to a vicious trap beat and features some absolutely bonkers ad libs alongside a scene stealing Offset verse. “Supastars” is hip-hop gone '70s prog, with spacey synths draped across its thumping 808 bounce. And then there’s “Stir-Fry,” arguably the album’s greatest moment. Over an incredibly dense Pharrell beat, one that somewhat resembles an attempt to combine all his best known productions into a single song, Migos are up to the challenge; somehow fitting tongue twisting verses and effortless hooks into the madness. The result is a breathless, joyous burst of kinetic energy that marks a true evolution for Migos’ sound. “Stir-Fry” is destined to become a dance floor banger for years to come and elevates Culture II to instant classic status, hyperbole be damned.
I Like Fun? After 30-some odd years together, is that the sentiment TMBG’s hyper-literate brain trust has boiled down to? Is it a goof or another children’s album? The two Johns are the consummate professionals - the songwriter’s songwriters, as much mischievous sonic and lyrical tinkerers as they are masters of the craft. It doesn’t take long for those irreverent tendencies to show up, approximately 3 seconds in fact, as John Flansburg compares the loudness of a drum to a big rock that crushes you on opening track “Let’s Get This Over With.” From there we get the daydreaming thoughts of a murdered spouse over tango piano, a power-pop rumination on the indescribable, and a track that postulates a race of lake monsters that come up for air to vote on Election Day. “That’s my fun,” to hear the title track tell it. Agreed.
If you’d forgotten how masterful Fleet Foxes are at creating dreamy wall-of-sound Americana-infused indie rock in the six years since their last release, their latest, Crack-Up , will do a bang-up job of reminding you. The band sounds better than ever; their hazy, melancholy melodies envelop the listener, their haunting harmonies dig at the heart. The scope of Crack-Up , named after an F. Scott Fitzgerald essay, is grand and orchestral with sweeping soundscapes and incredible arrangements. When so much of what passes for indie folk today sounds like forgettable radio-friendly festival rock, it’s nice to hear Fleet Foxes staying true to their roots while expanding the boundaries of the genre.
Member of underground hip-hop mainstays Dilated People releases his fifth solo album, Weather Or Not . Featuring a litany of savvy producers, including the Alchemist and Jonwayne, among others, this is an impeccably-made boom bap record for the diehards. There are no frills or pop features to be found; just dirty, old school hip-hop at its best.
A songwriter in the outlaw country tradition, Chris Stapleton’s From A Room: Volume 2 serves up rootsy, atmospheric Americana that stands in stark contrast to the over-polished country pop dominating the airwaves. The album is a fine showcase for Stapleton’s many gifts; alternating between laid-back, down-home jams and slightly ominous forays into the Southern Gothic, each track is a world unto itself. Stapleton clearly knows what he’s doing: his ability to weave country soul and Appalachian folk into his work adds an extra level of sonic intrigue and an infusion of heart. This smart, authentic, and evocative album is one of the year’s best.
Memphis singer-songwriter Julien Baker’s Turn Out the Lights is a quietly dazzling follow-up to her excellent debut, Sprained Ankle . Baker’s work has always been vulnerable, brave, and intense, and the sparseness of her melodies only heightens these qualities already present in her lyrics. Disguised as a simple folk album, this latest LP packs a devastating emotional punch. Baker is the rare artist who doesn’t hide beneath a stage persona or an enigmatic image; instead she lays her soul bare on each song. Our world is better for it.
Jonny Greenwood’s evolution from Radiohead guitarist/keyboardist to next generation Hans Zimmer has been fascinating and rewarding. His work for Paul Thomas Anderson’s lovely, disconcerting film Phantom Thread is one of his finest accomplishments. Like the movie, Greenwood’s score operates at a slightly more fevered pitch than everyday life. It’s ravishing and romantic, ruthless and unrelenting. Rarely has a soundtrack been this spot-on, this lovely, and unforgettable.
AWOLNATION are back with their unique, ambitious take on heartland rock. Melding bluesy textures with a radio-ready production not unlike contemporaries such as Cage The Elephant, AWOLNATION also utilize fuzzy, heavy guitars that bring to mind Queens Of The Stone Age at their '00s peak. The songs themselves tend to follow the winning pattern of soft hook followed by loud hook and louder hook, riding an ecstatic high of catchiness throughout. It’s not for lack of nuance, rather AWOLNATION aim to make every moment arena sized, turning haikus into high fives. Is it possible for an album to be comprised solely of lighter-in-the-air moments? Here Comes The Runts does a damn good job at finding out.
Written and recorded in the wake of a failed relationship, which itself followed a severe bout of writer’s block, The OOZ is Archie Marshall’s most personal release yet. Thematically, the title finds inspiration from the “earwax and snot and bodily fluids and skin and stuff that just comes out of you on a day to day basis”; a sort of obsessive rumination on subconscious activity that attempts to distract from the painful awareness of loss. Yet, while the subject matter and atmosphere grows increasingly insular, Marshall’s sound pallet is wider than ever; updating his jazz punk update of trip-hop with bossa nova, industrial, and hip-hop textures, all grounded by his signature gravelly croon and nocturnal moodiness. Is it too premature to crown King Krule the English answer to Tom Waits?
On Take Me Apart , Kelela proves once again that she’s at the forefront of new, dark, and dreamy R&B. The album is lush, heady, and captivating. In short, it’s got that unique Kelela stamp. Although it’s her show, the songstress has also assembled a dream team for this one; some of the songs are co-written by The xx’s Romy Madley Croft and production duties are split between Arca, Kingdom, Jam City, Bok Bok, and Ariel Rechtshaid. Filled with deep grooves and an alluring atmosphere, Take Me Apart will be in heavy rotation.
Princess Nokia’s acclaimed underground debut 1992 Deluxe has been remastered and expanded to reach an even larger audience — which the NYC-based rapper proves she’s definitely worthy of. The beats are hard and hypnotic, Nokia’s flow is smart, sassy, and insightful. She’s tough. She’s street smart. She’s proud of who she is — and she wants you to feel the same way, too. That’s what makes this album so special: lots of bangers, to be sure, but there’s also a lot of heart behind the dance floor fillers. Princess Nokia is one-of-a-kind and our world is better for having her in it.