New Music Roundup: January

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 Bad Ambassadors, Gabrielle Aplin, Mick Jenkins and more.

Bad Ambassadors – Bad Ambassadors

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The sounds of Bad Ambassadors, the self-titled EP from the new Chicago duo, pull influence from an overwhelming array of different styles and genres, yet the final product you hear on the album asserts a voice entirely its own. Over six tracks, vocalist Rich Jones and producer Walkingshoe forge an idiosyncratic blend of hip-hop, dance, electronic, indie-folk and R&B, heat-checking both gentrifying politicians and industry vultures along the way. At the heart of the music and performances lies a conscience embedded in the resilience of Chicago’s underground scene. Whether it’s the somber atmosphere of the partially acoustic “Who Me,” the tumbling rhythms of “Up for You,” or the tantalizing flows on the hazy art-rap opus “Pardon,” each track is vibrant, eclectic and uncompromising.  – Roberto Johnson

Listen // Top tracks: Up for You, Pardon, Saturday

Cave Flowers – Cave Flowers

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On their self-titled debut, Cave Flowers deliver a stellar crop of country-rock tunes that are as loose and infectious as they are tight and finely-tuned. From the jump, Andy McAllister and co. establish their prowess as skilled interpreters of all things California country. They make for the honky-tonks on the drunkenly endearing “Country Fan” and croon their hearts out on the back porch burner “Rent Life,” only to unleash their garage-rock flair on the blistering highway jam “Best Lonesome Friend.” The album isn’t short for tender moments either. They sing cheerfully for burnouts and outcasts on “Midnight Movie” and mourn mass shooting victims on “Upper Hand,” an epic seven-minute guitar ballad that channels Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere-era Neil Young. In their portrayal of the modern troubadour’s weary subconscious, the songs on this LP serve as an emblem of redemption and finding peace amid a world full of urban nightmares.  – RJ

Listen // Top tracks: Best Lonesome Friend, Midnight Movie, Upper Hand

Gabrielle Aplin – Dear Happy

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Like many of her peers rooted in acoustic balladry, British singer-songwriter Gabrielle Aplin has developed an infatuation with pop, which she explores in her third studio album, Dear Happy. The record melds her seasoned vulnerability with energized production effects reminiscent of slightly passé radio trends so that the collection of songs emanates security by means of cultural familiarity. Aplin’s plainspoken lyricism is occasionally incongruent with her chosen pop formula, but tracks such as “Strange” and “Miss You” prove her capacity for creating her own sound within the constraints of her chosen framework. Dear Happy tracks a narrative of evolution from insecurity to peace through colorful detail and hints of personal maturity.  – Gabrielle Johnsen

Listen // Top tracks: Strange, Miss You

Marcus King – El Dorado

Music Review - Marcus King

Enlisting Dan Auerbach on production, the latest full-length effort from Marcus King is a full-proof compilation of raw Southern rock affection and tender soul. King comes from a long bloodline of musicians (his grandfather played guitar with Charley Pride and his dad was a local blues hero in South Carolina) and in the last few years, has established a reputation as one of modern roots music’s most renowned guitarists. El Dorado further solidifies him as not only a six-string savant but an outstanding soul crooner. He brings the brash on hard rockers “The Well” and “Too Much Whiskey,” but even more impressive are the soft serenades of “Young Man’s Dream” and “Beautiful Stranger.” Track in and track out, King breathes life into the foundational pillars of the Southern music that made him.  – RJ

Listen // Top tracks: Young Man’s Dream, Beautiful Stranger, Too Much Whiskey

Mick Jenkins – The Circus

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After two years of waiting, Jenkins has blessed us with his new short and sweet EP, The Circus. Not that we haven’t heard his voice in various features in the meantime, but these tracks serve as a reminder that Jenkins is still kickin’ it at the forefront of conscious rap while reverberating his soulful sound and epic messages. While some may just hear seven seemingly random (but good) tracks, Jenkins juxtaposes harsh reality with jazz-influenced acid-rap by focusing on social commentary. Each lyric and beat more deliberate and impactful than the last, Jenkins guides you through his swarming and wandering mind, which one could call ‘the circus.’ The neo-soul hip-hop beats, particularly on “Carefree” make you reflect on what it means to be carefree in a society designed around stress, a luxury only a few can afford. His hypnotic and groovy style never fails to make you think and “Same Ol” stands as a reminder that he doesn’t need a reintroduction. This kind of philosopher’s rap is best enjoyed in a large armchair in a fire-lit room or any space that can liberate, educate and uplift your mind.  – Ilana Cohen

Listen // Top tracks: Carefree, Flaunt

Ryan Beatty – Dreaming of David

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After establishing himself as a songwriter of great ambitions on 2018’s Boy In Jeans, on his sophomore release, Ryan Beatty opts for spacious pop-soul minimalism in the mode of Frank Ocean’s Blonde. It comes as no surprise that Beatty recruited Slow Hollows guitarist Austin Anderson, who has credits on Ocean’s Blonde and Endless and Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy, to assist in achieving his desired sound. At times, the sparse aesthetic produces little more than tedious R&B fodder, but there are enough compelling arrangements, textures, nuances and vocal styles to believe Beatty can expand upon this brand of singer-songwriter music in the future. Contrary to Ocean’s favored impressionist delivery, Beatty’s current talents lie in his ability to meld atmosphere and melody. His vocal shines brightest on more overt pop songs like “Evergreen” and “Casino.”  – RJ

Listen // Top tracks: In The End, Evergreen, Casino

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