It was a short week due to Labor Day, but not a less busy one, so let's just get straight to the music. I highlight eight new albums below, Bill tackles Saint Etienne, Amyl & the Sniffers, The Bevis Frond, and more in Bill's Indie Basement, and here are a number of honorable mentions: Bomba Estéreo, Colleen Green, Matthew E. White, Face To Face, Spencer., Tony Seltzer (ft. Wiki, Mavi, Eartheater, Lucki, Jam City, Lil Ugly Mane & more), Sneaker Pimps (grab one of the last copies of our exclusive vinyl), Heartless Bastards, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Andrew WK, Pokey LaFarge, Mehenet, Mastiff, Common, Yebba, ShooterGang Kony, Teejay3k, Paul Wall, Ralo, Chrome Waves, Delta Sleep, Zealot R.I.P., AZ, Silence Equals Death, Riddy Arman, Sleigh Bells, Jazz Cartier, Starless, Slothrust, Broadside Hacks, Jason Anderson, Domingæ (Föllakzoid), The Stranglers, The Vaccines, Maston, I Feel Fine, Sarah Davachi, AJ Davila, Steve Hackett, Pays P., Julia Bardo, the Gully Boys EP, the Machinedrum EP, the Girl K EP, the second Militarie Gun EP of 2021, the King Krule live album, the Spanish-language version of Elvis Costello's This Year's Model, the Kevin Devine album with re-imaginings of old songs, the Woody Guthrie tribute album (ft. Waxahatchee, Mark Lanegan, Colter Wall, Swamp Dogg & more), and the Metallica tribute album + Black Album box.

Read on for my picks. What's your favorite release of the week?

Sincere Engineer - Bless My Psyche
Hopeless

Sincere Engineer hail from the ever-thriving Chicago punk scene, and they especially take after the late '90s / early 2000s records by hometown heroes like The Lawrence Arms and Alkaline Trio. Like both of those bands, they write songs that fused revved-up punk grit and pop melodicism without ever really crossing over into "pop punk," and like Brendan Kelly specifically, Sincere Engineer leader Deanna Belos delivers even her poppiest songs with a gravelly rasp and brings a noticeable folk music quality to her songs (and sometimes actually writes folk songs). They turned heads with their 2017 debut album Rhombithian (released on Red Scare Industries), which helped ink them a deal with Hopeless, who's now releasing their sophomore LP Bless My Psyche. The new label will likely help Sincere Engineer reach a larger audience, but Deanna Belos & co haven't changed anything up for commercial gain. Bless My Psyche picks up right where Rhombithian left off, but just tightens the bolts a little with clearer production, sharper musicianship, and even more memorable songs. The album enters the lineage of Chicago classics like Apathy and Exhaustion and Maybe I'll Catch Fire, albums that straddled the line between what was happening in the punk underground and what was happening on MTV. With Bless My Psyche, Deanna sounds like she's studied that era profusely, learned what worked and what didn't, and she brought that knowledge with her when writing an album that hits as hard today as those records did back then.

 

Low - HEY WHAT
Sub Pop

With their 13th album and third with producer BJ Burton, Low understand that innovation is exciting, but having something familiar to latch onto is rewarding too. It's an album that appeals to your mind, body, and heart all at once, and it's some of the most uniquely powerful music I've heard all year. Read my full review.

Pick it up on crystal clear vinyl.

 

Kacey Musgraves - Star-Crossed
MCA Nashville/Interscope

Written in response to her recent divorce, Star-Crossed is Kacey Musgraves' most lyrically honest and musically bare-bones album yet. She never minces words, and to make her message even clearer, she strips back most of the musical maximalism that she introduced on her instant-classic 2018 album Golden Hour. Read my full review.

 

Baby Keem - The Melodic Blue
pgLang/Baby Keem LLC/Columbia

Kendrick Lamar has been taking his time with his much-anticipated followup to DAMN., but meanwhile he's also been directing his attention towards his recent protégé (and cousin) Baby Keem. Kendrick delivered a comeback verse for the ages on Keem's recent single "Family Ties," and today Keem releases his new album The Melodic Blue, through Kendrick and former TDE president Dave Free's new company pgLang. It includes "Family Ties," as well as Keem's recent Travis Scott-featuring single "Durag Activity," and it also features Kendrick on "Range Brothers" and "Vent" (he's uncredited on the latter). The Melodic Blue is Keem's third album, but it's his first since Kendrick took him under his wing. The two also worked together on Kendrick's Black Panther: The Album and Beyonce's The Lion King: The Gift, and Keem contributed production to Kendrick's TDE labelmates Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q on 2018's Redemption and 2019's Crash Talk, respectively. (He also just appeared on Kanye West's Donda.)

It's easy to see why Kendrick has taken a liking to Keem's music. Like his more famous cousin, Keem is invested in constantly changing up his flow, experimenting with new ideas, and making rap that has pop appeal but doesn't sound like "pop rap." This is evident all over The Melodic Blue, a strong offering that suggests Keem won't be living in Kendrick's shadow for much longer. Largely self-produced by Keem (alongside a few other contributors, including longtime Kendrick collaborator DJ Dahi), The Melodic Blue affirms that Keem's rapping and production are both inventive. And powerful songs like new single "Issues" prove Keem can be an intense lyricist. With Kendrick saying his next album will be his last for TDE, it seems likely that he'll be building a new empire with pgLang, and if that;'s the case, The Melodic Blue makes for a strong foundation.

 

J Balvin - Jose
Universal Latin

J Balvin continues his reign as one of the biggest, best, and most prolific international reggaetón stars around, as he follows 2020's Colores with his fifth proper album, Jose. Named after his actual first name, Jose is said to be a more personal album, not that that means it's any less crowdpleasing. Picking right up where Colores left off, it's another collection of innovative, infectious, dancefloor-moving reggaetón songs that feel like effortless hits without ever catering to the pop mainstream. There are a few moments that English-speaking audiences may find more digestible, like the Skrillex-aided "In De Ghetto" rework and guest vocals from Dua Lipa and Khalid, but J Balvin is an artist who achieved crossover success outside of Colombia by sticking to his roots, and he continues to do that on Jose. He ropes in likeminded guests like Bad Bunny, Jhay Cortez, Sech, Ozuna, Myke Towers, Tokischa, Maria Becerra, and Karol G, all of whom share a similar vision, and all of whom have been infiltrating the mainstream on their own terms, just like J Balvin has.

 

Gift of Gab - Finding Inspiration Somehow
Nature Sounds

Underground rap great Gift of Gab tragically passed away at age 50 this past June. Before that he hadn't released a full-length album since 2012, and Blackalicious -- his duo with Chief Xcel -- hadn't released one since 2015. But after his passing, we learned that he had completed an entire new album with producer Nick Andre called Finding Inspiration Somehow, and that album arrives today. As the title implies, Gab was able to find inspiration, even after such a long break between albums and the ongoing battle with kidney failure that ultimately ended his life. Maybe part of the inspiration came from seeing new rappers emerge who carried the tongue-twisting torch that Gab kept lit in the early 2000s (his 2018 EP is called Rejoice! Rappers Are Rapping Again!), but whatever the cause, Gab does indeed sound inspired on this album. He raps with the same urgency and determination that he had on classics like 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up, and he proves that his moment hadn't passed. Finding Inspiration Somehow isn't a misguided attempt at a comeback; it truly adds to his legacy.

 

박혜진 Park Hye Jin - Before I Die
Ninja Tune

South Korean DJ/producer/vocalist 박혜진 Park Hye Jin follows two EPs, several singles, collaborations with Blood Orange, Nosaj Thing, and Clams Casino, and a lot of buzz, with her debut album, Before I Die, out today on Ninja Tune. Vocally, she hops between hip hop, dream pop, and spoken word, while providing musically diverse production that goes from hard, thumping, clubby beats to weeping pianos and melodic trap. It's an album that will sound just as good blasting out of a dance club's soundsystem at 3 AM as it will at home on your headphones, and an album that consistently finds ways to do new things with familiar ingredients.

 

Trophy Scars - Astral Pariah
self-released

In the aftermath of their landmark 2006 album Alphabet. Alphabets., NJ's Trophy Scars have increasingly been forging their own path, offering up a modern mix of prog, psychedelia, and blues that retains the post-hardcore grit of their early days. The latest addition to their unique discography is Astral Pariah, a concept album that takes place during the post-Civil War western expansion, and you can read more about it here.

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Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive or keep scrolling down for previous weeks.

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