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 Gary Clark Jr., Julia Jacklin, Panda Bear and more.
Blu & Oh No – A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night
When it comes to west coast hip-hop, Blu and Oh No fit together like two evenly shaped, adjacent puzzle pieces. Their track record speaks for itself. Each of their discographies is far from perfect and boasts a handful of average to mediocre releases, but their very best work has unquestionably shaped the sound and style of underground rap in Los Angeles for the last 15 years. From a narrative standpoint, A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night is a highly-focused concept record that works in the same cinematic fashion as albums like good kid, m.A.A.d city. This is dusty, late-night, straight-off-the-block hip-hop. Blu’s picture-esque storytelling lays the scene for a variety of tales (“The Robbery”) and odes to the Angel City (“The Lost Angels Anthem” and “It Never Rains in South L.A.”), while Oh No provides a meticulously-assembled, vibe-heavy backdrop.
Gary Clark Jr. – This Land
As one of rock’s true modern bluesmen and six-string virtuosos, Gary Clark Jr. has made it a point on recent projects to break the stereotypes that can hold guitar-oriented acts like himself back in the minds of modern music fans and critics. Fusing elements of countless different styles, from reggae to Americana to even some indie rock aesthetics, Clark expands his sound pallet to enchanting heights on his latest project This Land, an expansive collection of songs dedicated to themes of love, triumph and his human roots. The title track is a ferociously rapped assertion of perseverance in “Trump country,” while tracks like “I Got My Eyes on You” and “The Guitar Man” find a sweet spot in dreamy melodies. As enjoyable as Clark’s ventures into other musical territories can be, it’s equally satisfying when he decides to flex his brute riff-crafting excellence; the Black Sabbathian “What About Us” and the organ-assisted “Low Down Rolling Stone” are the two most captivating cuts in this mode.
Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs
Much like its title indicates, Quiet Signs is filled with calm and still folk songs, drenched in the ambience of Jessica Pratt’s whispery voice. The atmosphere she creates on tracks like “Fare Thee Well” and “This Time Around” is minimal in activity but effective at that. The touch of a subtle flute melody or a softly played piano is often enough to accentuate the sentiments of each track, creating a continuously dreamy soundscape that flows seamlessly. The way Pratt’s voice flutters through the hushed production likens to a bird flying above a forest, fluid in motion and silent in sound. This is essential listening for singer-songwriter fans.
Julia Jacklin – Crushing
Jacklin’s been a front-of-mind indie artist since her last LP in 2016, but her newest release is undoubtedly her boldest and most gripping album yet. Crushing is air-tight and completely sure of its direction. Jacklin delivers one heavy-hitting and self-aware number after another, coming through with compelling takes on themes such as body positivity, self-empowerment and individuality. “Pressure to Party,” the album’s standout anthem captures her thoughtful pen game over a simple but vibrant guitar progression: “I’ll try to love again soon,” she cries out repeatedly throughout the track. Among other great tracks are the fiery intro “Body” and the slow-burning guitar jam “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You.” This may be indie rock’s best album of the first quarter.
Panda Bear – Buoys
The Animal Collective co-founder, real name Noah Lennox, has found continued success as a solo act, specifically in the realm of chill, spacious indie pop. In many regards he deserves credit for being ahead of the curve when it comes to the recent trends of bedroom pop and DIY experimental music, but unfortunately his recent material fails to present much in the way of intriguing song topics or cutting edge production. Buoys is a batch off-kilter pop songs set to quirky electronic instrumentals – the aesthetic Panda Bear brings to the table is artfully assembled, but ultimately, the songs themselves never amount to much more than a vibe. “Token” and “Buoys” are the two exceptions, the former being an atmospheric meld of distant pianos, sparse drums and a pained vocal performance. Generally, however, most of the LP is uneventful and boring muzak.
2 Chainz – Rap or Go to the League
Simply put, 2 Chainz has flat out worked his way into being arguably the most relevant rapper over 40 out today. His efforts to maintain meme viability and commercial relevance aren’t slowing down by any means either. On Rap or Go to the League, he’s incorporating not only the expected big name hip-hop features (Travis Scott, Young Thug, Kendrick Lamar), but also a number of rap-sung collabs with the likes of Ariana Grande (Rule The World”), Ty Dolla $ign (“2 Dollar Bill”), and Marsha Ambrosius (“Forgiven”). These crossover attempts don’t always stick the landing, but it shows 2 Chainz isn’t planning on going anywhere anytime soon and that he remains extremely aware of what audiences are available to him at the present moment. Throw in a couple satirical bangers (“NCAA” and “Momma I Hit A Lick”) and the numbers will likely take care of themselves. Also worth mentioning, beyond the surface level, pop-rap tracks, 2 Chainz does offer up more personal moments than usual on this LP, “Statute of Limitations” perhaps being the best of the bunch.