New music roundups are a monthly recap dedicated to covering the latest music in a series of short, descriptive reviews. This month’s edition includes new releases from Janelle Monae, Kimbra, Post Malone and more.
Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino
Arctic Monkeys take a 180 degree turn for their first record since 2013 on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Sonically, this album is all over the place. The funky basslines on songs like “American Sports” are a huge contrast to the constant, drunk crooning of lead singer Alex Turner. His dramatic wailing and hissing, more often than not, sounds awkward over the colorful blends of instrumentation and clashes with the experiments the band is attempting to forge. “One Point Perspective” is a rare case where all the elements mesh well and create a goofy, but groovy, piano-rock tune that is soothing and pretty. Even though Turner’s vocals initially struck me as off-putting, his lyrical approach is still interesting and somewhat thought-provoking. I could see this record growing on me as the year goes on.
Jack Ladder – Blue Poles
Australian Jack Ladder, who I first discovered in the backings of Alex Cameron’s live band, ranks among the more intriguingly quirky songwriters in indie music. He possesses an abnormally deep voice that can reach dark, almost haunting depths. On his new album Blue Poles, Ladder and his band meddle in a moody, synth-laden style of pop and rock. They aren’t afraid of slowing the pace either, best exemplified on tracks like “White Flag” or the melancholy boogie “Susan.” Even amidst the gloomy vibe of his tunes, Ladder maintains his oddball confidence. “Another year up in smoke, but moving on not losing hope,” he groans with quiet optimism on “Feel Brand New.” Head into this record ready to have your patience tested, but rest assured you will be entertained.
Jon Hopkins – Singularity
Jon Hopkins brings together intensity and ambience on his new project Singularity. His infusions of classical and electronic music range from soothing and spacious to jolting and rigid. It’s hard to ignore the subtle dance grooves that underlie songs like “Emerald Rush” and “Everything Connected” – also the most commercial bits of music on the record. Each track on this project is compact and tightly produced, and as a result, the album maintains solid momentum throughout the tracklist. Even the longer cuts (“Luminous Beings”) are easy to engage with for most of their duration.
Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
Despite her brief catalog, Janelle Monáe is widely considered one of the most musically ambitious and well-rounded artists in the modern day. On her new album, Dirty Computer, she recalibrates her creative impulses, which were previously submerged deep in funk and soul nostalgia, to pop erotica. It’s Janelle’s sexiest album to date. Tracks like “Take A Byte” and “Make Me Feel” are centered around thumping grooves and enticing lyrics, with Janelle singing Prince-inspired melodies rather effortlessly. It seems appropriate for an artist so skilled at elegantly reinterpreting old sounds to take on the challenge of making a solid pop album. All in all, it’s another exceptionally produced Janelle Monáe record, admirably focused on the sexual nature of self-expression. The title track and “Django Jane” are other standouts.
John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness
American country outlaw. Folk-rock troubador. There are too few words to properly describe the artist that is John Prine, the seasoned Illinois songwriter who first came to fame back in the 1970s for his humorous lyrics and heartland folk tunes. His first record in thirteen years, The Tree of Forgiveness, finds him at a new stage of life, reflecting on what has been and what never was. The album is a swift 32 minutes of aged Americana, honing in on John’s elderly voice and classic storytelling. His experience allows the listener to engage with unique perspectives that one only comes to know on the back end of life. Highlights include the sweet duet “I Have Met My Love Today” and “Summer’s End.”
Kimbra – A Primal Heart
This New Zealand pop singer is hard to pin down in one particular lane, not only because she meshes different styles together in her production, but because her heavy influences also cover a wide spectrum of contemporary sounds. At her best, Kimbra is a dynamic singer that fits as well over smooth and rhythmic R&B (“Past Love”) as she does on rich electro-pop (“Like They Do On the TV”). A bulk of Primal Heart is passable, often due to a combination of flat production and uninspired vocal takes, but the highs on the record are addicting and well worth returning to.
Playboi Carti – Die Lit
The second wave of Playboi Carti’s sudden but gripping reign on the cloud-rap sector of contemporary hip-hop elevates his status as one of the biggest stylistic influencers in the genre. 19 tracks of Carti’s repetitive rapping is a bit much to sit through at once, but it doesn’t take away from the potency of his aesthetic. The Skepta featuring “Lean 4 Real” is as intoxicating as its title suggests and “Shoota” sports a weirdly mesmerizing instrumental, plus some of Carti’s catchiest refrains. Die Lit (probably album title of the year) doesn’t feel as significant as its predecessor, but artistically speaking, Carti and his producers are clearly aiming to evolve and avoid ending up a one-time trend – something at least worth acknowledging.
Post Malone – Beerbongs & Bentleys
Post Malone “blew up” after “White Iverson” and Stoney, but I don’t think many critics or fans envisioned him amassing a following of this magnitude within a year of his debut. By fusing trap, R&B and acoustics, Post stands out from his fellow rap crooners on beerbongs & bentleys. He has an uncanny knack for delivering melodic hooks (“Better Now”) and earworm verses (“rockstar”). Tracks like “Rich & Sad” and “Stay” also offer up a vulnerable side to Post, which is perfectly complimented by his smooth, auto-tune infused singing. His rapid ascension to mainstream stardom ensures that we’ll have plenty of Post Malone hits to sing along within the near future.
Rae Sremmurd – SR3MM
It was only a matter of time before a modern rap artist dropped a triple album. The time has come, and the men of the hour are Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi of Rae Sremmurd. Divided into a collab album and two separate solo projects, the brothers bring a heavy dose of their trendy melodies and swag raps to SR3MM. While Swae Lee comes through with a handful of decent hooks and verses on his solo side of the record, it’s clear that the tandem works best together. With that said, their formula of mellow, steady trap beats and rap-sung verses – while very catchy – grows old and redundant in a short amount of time. “Guatemala” is a guilty pleasure.