New Music Roundup: December

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 21 Savage, Bad Bunny, Jeff Tweedy and more.

21 Savage – i am > i was

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21 Savage returns with his sophomore album that truly shows he was greater than he was before. The whispering raps he’s known for aren’t lost but you can hear and hold onto the bars far better than before. The beats are much more than trap. The album opener “a lot” provides the soul with a catchy chorus and standout verse from J. Cole, who ended his guest verse year strong. And besides Cole, all the features were pleasant surprises, as they aren’t credited on the track listing. Another surprise we also get to see is a more sentimental side from the rapper on “letter 2 my momma.” For those who may not have been fans of his previous efforts, 21 just might win them over on this one. While there is still more room for growth, this album is a step in the right direction.  – Tyler Jones

A Boogie wit da Hoodie – Hoodie SZN

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Boogie comes in full force with a 20-track, melody driven tribute to his core. While there isn’t too much new venturing out musically, Boogie does what he does best and ride a beat with his mix of rapping and singing. After the intro track, “Beasty” provides a menacing playground for him to show what he is capable of. The project does land at an hour and can seem a bit long, but the gems in the pond make it worth the listening session. Maybe cutting off some fat next time might make the project strong enough to shine all on its own.  – TJ

Bad Bunny – X 100PRE

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Bad Bunny’s debut arrives to immense hype across the globe and for good reason. In a matter of a couple years, the Puerto Rican rapper and singer has skyrocketed to become one of the world’s biggest stars. X 100PRE lies at the crossroads of what feels like a dozen musical styles. On the surface, Bunny’s music comes across as a rhythmic cross between reggaeton and trap rap (often referred to as Latin trap), but dive deeper into his sound and you’ll be submerged into a swoon of cloud rap, contemporary pop and hip-hop, dance, and even elements of indie music – all on top of his predominant influences. Vocally speaking, he’s far from a one trick pony, adopting a multitude of flows and deliveries, most notably on the three-piece banger “Caro.” Bunny’s knack for penning melodic and auto-tune heavy refrains resembles that of the Atlanta school which has dominated mainstream hip-hop for much of this decade, but this record presents him as modern day chameleon.  – Roberto Johnson

The Chainsmokers – Sick Boy

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In 2017, The Chainsmokers promised a freshman album that personified their signature electro-pop synths, while also incorporating heavy, down sampled beats that attracted all cultures in the electronic music community. When their promise of a full-body album didn’t meet most listeners’ standards, the duo went back to the drawing board. They have since been releasing single after single, testing out the waters of their newest album Sick Boy. This album has all attributes that they promised back then: emotion, top features, and their signature sound. It also includes heavier festival songs thanks to the help of electronic artists Aazar and NGHTMRE. The songs are structured from light and fun, to dark and ambient towards the end of the album. My personal favorite, “Hope,” has a very simple MIDI drone pattern that accentuates throughout the song. Winona Oak makes this track with her raspy, addictive voice. Although this album is full of mesmerizing production, The Chainsmokers also briefly touch on how fame has changed their perspective of success, friends, and social status in songs such as “Everybody Hates Me,” “Somebody,” and “Sick Boy.” Overall the duo’s sophomore album makes up for the lack of what they previously produced in recent years.  – Matthew Sandoval

Gryffin – Gravity Pt. 1

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Gryffin’s Gravity Pt. 1 threw me back to when I first started listening to electronic music. The implementation of organic instruments, beautiful vocals, and warm bass instantly reels you into the album on the first track “Nobody Compares To You.” The album also brings you to the clubs with the utilization of sidechaining in tracks such as “Remember” and “You Remind Me.” This vocally driven EP features some really amazing voices that fit each track perfectly into Gryffins’ production. Some notable features include incredible vocal chops, clean drum patterns, and amazing mixing in each song. Gryffin stands to never disappoint me and continues to impress me with his own unique twist on electronic music.  – MS

Jeff Tweedy – WARM

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At 51 years old, Tweedy remains one of the alt’s most beloved frontmen of the 1990s and 2000s and yet, his debut solo album seems like it arrived at the very perfect moment. WARM is a collection of tender and earnestly performed songs – a raw and direct representation of a man with over half a lifetime under his belt. It’s equally a record of confession and life advice, embedded in the familiarness of Tweedy’s mellow indie rock grooves. WARM is undoubtedly an applause worthy achievement for Tweedy – perfectly summed up by the passively optimistic cover art – but some of its most harrowing moments are the most impactful. He recalls strenuous rehab stints on “Bombs Above” and then dwells on how heartbreak and the perils of fame helped him forge a stronger sense of character on “How Hard It Is For A Desert To Die.” Overall, a beautifully written, wonderfully executed, and potent yet easy to absorb album.  – RJ

Stephen Steinbrink – Utopia Teased

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Self-admittedly, I missed this record in time for last month’s roundup. Rest assured, I am making up for it by abusing my replay button on a daily basis with it. Steinbrink’s squealy but smooth voice weaves in and out of an interesting array of indie pop tunes that range from soft and melancholy to bright and shimmery. His story-based songwriting is coated in colliding acoustic guitars and synthesizers, the end result being a welcoming mix of oddball ditties and lazer sharp production that can’t decide whether it wants to be ambient, garage-sounding or psychedelic. I find that it is all those things at once. “Bad Love” and “Maximum Sunlight” are the most addicting songs of the bunch.  – RJ

Vic Mensa – HOOLIGANS

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Vic Mensa’s newest EP depicts multiple themes comprising of suicidal thoughts, clout, and love-lust. Songs such as “Rowdy” and “Reverse” give the listeners the hard-hitting, aggressive production Vic Mensa is known for. “Dark Things” and “Klonopin” express Vic’s frequent suicidal thinking, contemplating on what it would be like if he joined the 27 club. Mensa has addressed suicide and mental health issues before, receiving backlash for tackling topics too touchy for the rap community. With lyrics like “I knew the drugs wouldn’t help, I think of hanging myself” (Klonopin, Vic Mensa), Vic is hoping that issuing his struggles with his fans will break the mental health stigma in the rap community. On my personal favorite song, “Deserve It,” Mensa tells his own personal story of determination, addressing multiple peoples’ stories of ambition in different situations. The recurring message on this song: whoever works hard should know they deserve greatness no matter what situation you’re in. Overall, Mensa had great lyricism along with some great features including Mr Hudson, G-Eazy and Ty Dolla $ign. This eight-track EP is sure to entice fans with Mensa’s storytelling and fine tuned production.  – MS

New Music Roundup: November

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 Action Bronson, Mike WiLL Made-It, Rosalía and more.

Action Bronson – White Bronco

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Amidst filming his ongoing television show (highly recommend for foodies and weed-heads) and other out-of-booth endeavors, hip-hop’s biggest food aficionado is back with another extravagant collection of songs, this time in short album format. His ear for classy jazz and soul samples remains intact (“Prince Charming”), his personality is still as charismatic and infectious as ever, but his will to create a well-detailed project from front to back has clearly waivered. Bronson’s flashy bars and sports metaphors are more clever than your average rapper’s jokes, but it’s hard not to feel as if he’s recycling his reference points a little these days. Still, it’s worth dropping in to hear him tell you he could’ve played for the Steelers (“Dr. Kimble”) or about his post-Trey Songz concert run-in with the law (“Irishman Freestyle”).  – Roberto Johnson

Anna St. Louis – If Only There Was a River

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Hailing from Los Angeles by way of Kansas City, Anna St. Louis’ debut album beholds the picture-esque beauty of classic Americana. “The Bells” would be the perfect backdrop to a cowboy strolling into an abandoned town in 1880s New Mexico, while “Desert” heads in a more ambient direction – the ringing of a faded electric guitar guide St. Louis’ scenic songwriting. She poses to be an interesting artist over the next few years thanks to the combination of her enchanting voice and an ability to utilize spacious song structures. “Understand” is one of the most delightful songwriter cuts of 2018.  – RJ

The Aquadolls – The Dream and the Deception

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The Aquadolls embody mermaid rock to the fullest. The catalyst behind their signature sound, Melissa Brooks pens youthful and exuberant pop songs decked out in vibrant rhythms and dreamy refrains. The Dream and the Deception further progresses the band’s fusion of surf rock and pop punk. “Hollywood” is one of the album’s smoothest guitar jams and also one the group’s breeziest songs to date. The biggest hit on the record comes courtesy of “Communicationissexy/Idkhow2communicate,” a pop-friendly cut with nods to feelings of angst and insecurity that also alludes to the album’s dualistic themes. Above all, The Aquadolls are pure fun.  – RJ

EXO – Don’t Mess Up My Tempo

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SM Entertainment’s favorite group is finally back after over a year of fan anticipation and drought with Don’t Mess Up My Tempo. As always, the boys give vocals that could make an angel cry tears of joy. The title track “Tempo” has them step into a unified R&B chorus with the classic bed squeak sample. Once again, they don’t stop there with the bops as they expand their music palette by incorporating latin, calypso rhythms on “Ooh La La La.” They also have the hard hitting “Damage” that might make you break your speakers and vocals singing along. Personally, a favorite standout member has to be D.O. He has runs that would make you want to have a whole track of him just harmonizing. While the tracks are in the familiar lyrical territory of love, they still are still done at such a level that you can’t help but for fall for them. Anticipation for their repackage is ramped up even more and we’ll have to wait and see how they shine.  – Tyler Jones

Julia Holter – Aviary

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Few modern-day composers, let alone dream-pop related artists, sport a catalog as accomplished as Julia Holter’s. Aviary, the latest work from the electronic music virtuoso, may be her most challenging listen yet. It clocks in at just under an hour and a half and features some of Holter’s boldest and most extensive songs of her career. Lengthy compositions like “Turn the Light On” paint intensified emotions over deep and surreal soundscapes. Holter’s fragmented vocal sound bites amplify the record’s unsettling ambience, notably on “Whether” and the euphoric “I Shall Love 2.” This record is likely too left field for first time listeners, but for fans of elaborate experimentation, it’s a gold mine.  – RJ

Mike WiLL Made-It – Creed II: The Album

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We all have something to fight for. Whether it’s love, money, or respect, there is something that motivates that inner fire. For Mike WiLL, he’s fighting for the soundtrack of the year against Black Panther. Getting help from labelmates and friends alike, Mike WiLL is on the boards providing beats that hit as hard as Adonis Creed’s punches. Each track is tailor made for the artist on it. J. Cole and Ari Lennox provide smoothness on “Shea Butter Baby” and let us hear the softer side of the mix, while Earz, ScHoolboy Q, and 2 Chainz give us the motivation record with “Kill Em’ With Success.” It is the true measure of what it’s like to capture the meaning of hunger through hip-hop in cinema.  – TJ

Rafael Casal & Daveed Diggs – Blindspotting: The Miles EP

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Blindspotting was one of the year’s best films and from one piece of art, we get another. Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs bring the bars and their roles in this little piece of characterized music. The character of Miles played by Casal was reckless, brash, confident, yet insecure in the place of his own hometown. Always trying to prove something to somebody, he was in turmoil. The perfect foil to Daveed’s Colin, this flawed man gives his side and perspective on standouts like “Thug Tho” and “Goals.” Oakland’s resident white boy lets us see how he can be a father, best friend, and mess to the ones he loves. His mind and soul are revealed and we get to sing along to it.  – TJ

Rosalía – El Mal Querer

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International artists of different kinds have their own unique pockets in American culture, but no singer from overseas has found the level of acclaim which Rosalía has in 2018. A year after releasing Los Ángeles – a raw, powerful collection of acoustic Spanish-folk songs – Rosalía returns with a Latin-pop concept record inspired by 13th-century Occitan novel Flamenca. The new LP, El Mal Querer, features a sprawling and expansive display of dynamic compositions, ranging from the infectious and bass-heavy “MALAMENTE” to the commanding and sorrowful “PIENSO EN TU MIRA.” Rosalía’s talent places her in a unique lane artistically, especially considering she’s signed to a major label (Sony). She’s a songbird capable of delivering a thumping club hit as much as she is a heartbreaking ballad, yet she clearly has a thorough and advanced understanding of both her musical heritage and the modern pop landscape.  – RJ

ROYAL – Heart of Shadows

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ROYAL’s debut EP brings forth a warm collision of retro and melodramatic aesthetics. Her style recalls the likes of pop contemporary Lana Del Rey, but her uncanny knack for crafting compelling songs of love and independence feels entirely her own. Her majestic vocal delivery shifts between a shimmering falsetto and smooth R&B croons, both of which effortlessly glide over rich and glossy production. Whether it’s the bold, anthemic melodies on “Vessel” or the atmospheric acapella of “Kings & Queens,” Heart of Shadows continuously presents a potent mix of pop and ambience.  – RJ

Swizz Beatz – Poison

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Swizzy is a legend in the game and an all-time producer. On his third studio album, executively produced by J. Cole, he gets back to curating the best he can. Still the hype man, he doesn’t hide behind the bars and gives adlibs for the sharp lyricism spat by the guests. The album is unbelievably New York in its sound. Flipping beats like it’s light work. The LOX show us that no matter how old they get they can still rhyme with the best of them on “Something Dirty/Pic Got Us.” He rejuvenates Young Thug on “25 Soldiers” with a sound that lets the rapper be shown in a new light. While we would love to have heard the mysterious Jay-Z verse, it does keep the focus on the records provided. It’s a short 10-track project but it’s perfect in its lean nature. No track is wasted and if Swizz really has another two projects coming in this vein, we’ll be happy to hear it.  – TJ

New Music Roundup: August

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 Aminé, Tony Molina, YG and more.

Aminé – ONEPOINTFIVE

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Talk about one of the more enjoyable surprises of the month. Amine delivers with his sophomore project, almost serving as an appetizer to hold fans over since last year’s Good for You. This album is better. The MC sounds comfortable and relaxed, yet serious. The production problem on his last project is nowhere to be found and Aminé switches flows on every other song like it’s lightwork. You just want to keep the album on repeat all day, especially when “TOGETHER” ends, just so you can get more of “DR. WHOEVER”. He doesn’t take any beat for granted and lets loose. Have you ever heard an MC casually kill it? This might the album to make you believe it can be done. Aminé is showing just because he was quiet, he wasn’t done. Makes you wonder what will happen when he finally gets to TWO.  – Tyler Jones

Bas – Milky Way

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Dreamville got another one with the summertime release of Bas’ third studio album. Bas delivers some fun rhymes and beats that make you want to melt in a hammock and relax in the heat while it’s still warm outside. It’s a refreshing change for the Queens rapper, as it takes it musical landscape from the city to the beach. The least serious project from the MC might be his best, as he soaks in what it’s like just to have fun on the mic. The album does have its serious moments, but ultimately, he realizes life is too serious to be taken seriously. “Tribe” will make you move and “Spaces+Rockets” will make you want to roll one. All in all, the project is a step up from his last and he’s gonna enjoy the ride until it stops. Hopefully, it never does.  – TJ

The Beths – Future Me Hates Me

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Every year needs a good rock record where the band plays fast and hard, the lead singer has a carefree but inviting voice, and the song titles are all four words or less. This year, that record belongs to The Beths and Future Me Hates Me may just be their breakthrough. Their tracks are concise and easy to digest, simultaneously allowing the band to pack a lot of energy into their style of play, in traditional punk rock fashion. “Great No One” features an infectious lead guitar riff with some loose, airy harmonizing. “Uptown Girl” has an ultra-aggressive melody and tongue-in-cheek lyrics about getting wasted. Though this record isn’t incredibly unique, its pace and charm make it addicting.  – Roberto Johnson

BTS – Love Yourself: Answer

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The Bulletproof Boy Scouts release their second compilation album. The first disc is sonically separated into three parts to guide the listener on their journey of love and it’s meanings. The first part explores the route of finding love in another. The next discusses how the natural disappointment occurs when investing into all the love you have in another doesn’t go as planned. The last part tackles the rediscovery of love and satisfaction in one’s self. The lead single “Idol” takes influence from South African gqom and Korean instrumentation to find the boys embracing the name of idol and loving it. The second disc includes others B-sides, remixes, and a surprise Nicki feature for more fun. Through the lense of EDM, hip-hop, and rock, the boys show their musical, rapping, and vocal ranges can stretch anywhere on the map. This ending of an era makes you wonder where they’ll go next.  – TJ

Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears

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On I’m All Ears, Let’s Eat Grandma dabbles in similar waters as other pop experimentalists this year: “Hot Pink” nods to the industrial bangers of SOPHIE’s summer record and “It’s Not Just Me” recalls the spacious love songs of Kimbra’s recent album. Where Let’s Eat Grandma separates themselves from their peers is that their music always sounds intentional. It’s stylistically diverse, but each layer of every track feels well calculated and purposeful. Songs like “Falling Into Me” have a gargantuan dance vibe that so often other artists perform with little taste, yet Let’s Eat Grandma attack the style with a sharp sense of focus and precision. They simplify art pop into the stimulating and beautiful genre it is meant to be.  – RJ

Ryan Beatty – Boy in Jeans

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After becoming a viral sensation as a teenager, Ryan Beatty has his foot in the door of the millenial and Generation Z music world. His sound is a direct R&B offshoot of BROCKHAMPTON. He employs lots of similar maneuvers as the Texas boy band: multi-layered vocals on his hooks, strong effects on his voice to switch up his pitch, shouty singing to emphasize his feelings, etc. The influence doesn’t stop there, as thematically, Beatty shares a lot of the same ground as his anti-pop contemporaries. His song topics frequently revolve around adolescent yearning and struggling to accept adulthood, taking after the soulful impressionism of Frank Ocean and the innocent crooning of Rex Orange County. Boy in Jeans feels raw and youthful, like a true debut, but it’s smooth and polished, like it came from a veteran. “Haircut” and “Powerslide” are two standouts.  – RJ

Santigold – I Don’t Want: The Gold Fire Sessions

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The artwork for Santigold’s latest LP perfectly represents the diversity of sounds she embraces on the project. One second she is singing soul over reggaeton, the next she’s rapping over electronic beats. Her influences obviously come from numerous artistic avenues and at times, they clash so hard it becomes hard to distinguish what exactly she’s doing, creatively speaking. However, she deserves credit, as there are few dull moments on this album. The M.I.A.-inspired “Run the Road” is subtly triumphant and boasts tons of swagger. “I Don’t Want” nods to the minimalism of contemporary pop and trap with a simple, catchy refrain for a chorus.  – RJ

Tony Molina – Kill the Lights

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Tony Molina’s records are unique in the sense that they barely reach the 10-minute mark, but sonically, they are largely indebted to the type of rock music that dominated the charts in the 1960s. Taking inspiration from the sunny instrumentation of the Byrds and the catchy, short pop ditties of The Beatles, Molina brings forth another infectious collection of miniature guitar jams – many of which don’t even crack two minutes in length. Whether it’s the driving tones of “Jasper’s Theme” or the somber melodies of “Look Inside Your Mind/Losin’ Touch,” his skills as a composer and producer seem more fully realized than ever, even if the finished product feels like just a snapshot of his true potential.  – RJ

Trippie Redd – Life’s A Trip

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Last year, when internet culture declared Trippie Redd, Lil Yachty, Lil Pump, Lil Uzi Vert and many others the faces of rap’s young generation, I’m not sure if many people saw Trippie to be as capable of a solo artist as some of his peers. Now coming off his commercial debut, he’s proven that while he may not be incredibly dynamic, he can hold his own among the rap mainstream. Life’s A Trip showcases Trippie’s moody and hormonal vocal theatrics over mellow, contemporary trap and R&B production. This combo is not exactly unique, but the quality of the LP is more sustainable than one might assume. At its worst moments, this album is almost unbearable, but the tracks that go over well (“Taking A Walk” and “Missing My Idols”) capture lightning in a bottle with Trippie’s emo-ish singing over melodic beats.  – RJ

YG – Stay Dangerous

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Bloods will be bloods. YG is back to brackin’ on his third studio album, Stay Dangerous. Two years after Still Brazy, YG continues to deliver. While this album isn’t as ambitious and story-based as his previous projects, the west coast rapper still lets the listeners know he is THAT guy. That doesn’t stop him from having bangers either, with “Big Bank”, “Bulletproof”, and “Too Brazy”. The album does have it’s slow moments in the middle, but YG catches you again on the last five joints to make sure this album is remembered and not forgotten in what was a hectic month of music. He will make sure he’s heard at all costs. YG is determined to show he’s a force to be reckoned with and as always, he’ll continue to spread his message. So, stay dangerous my people.  – TJ