Notable Releases of the Week (10/16)
Here's your weekly reminder to VOTE (for Biden/Harris).
Now on to the new music. I highlight seven new albums below, and here are some honorable mentions: HEALTH's album of their collaborative singles, Sturgill Simpson's bluegrass album, beabadoobee, Homeboy Sandman, Osees, Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine, Spirit Adrift, Helena Deland, T.I., Blue Note Re:Imagined, Autechre, Oliver Coates, Dorian Electra, Good Sad Happy Bad (fka Micachu & The Shapes), Jennifer Castle, Wayfarer, Jeremy Ivey, SPAZA, Resistance Revival Chorus, Frisco, ShooterGang Kony, Gucci Mane & the New 1017, Sheek Louch, UnoTheActivist & Travis Barker, Gulfer, Molassess (ex-The Devil's Blood), Deep Sea Diver, The Phoenix Foundation, Wendy Eisenberg, Quattracenta, Omar Apollo, JeGong (mem MONO), Holy Motors, the James Blake EP, the Preme & Popcaan EP, the Tomberlin EP, the Rid of Me EP (mem Soul Glo, Low Dose, Fight Amp) EP, the ọmọlólù EP, and the Hayden Thorpe (Wild Beasts) EP.
Also out today is the Rock Against Racism doc White Riot and I recommend checking that out too.
Check out my seven picks below. What's your favorite release of the week?
Black Thought - Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane and Able
The Roots are so constantly active that it's almost hard to believe they haven't released a new album in over six years, which is the longest they've gone without an album and there's no word on when they'll finally close that gap. However, lead MC Black Thought has used the time since that last Roots LP to launch his solo career, and he's proven himself time and time again to be the rare veteran MC who's still sharpening his skills, still moving in exciting new directions, and releasing some of his best music three decades into his career. His first solo projects were 2018's Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 (produced by 9th Wonder) and Streams of Thought, Vol. 2: Traxploitation (produced by Salaam Remi), both of which were among the best rap albums of that year, and he's also recently stolen the show on projects by Benny the Butcher, The Alchemist, Rapsody, PRhyme, Roc Marciano, Che Noir, and Freddie Gibbs. "I damn near don't like doing songs with Black Thought," Freddie said when recently naming the best rappers in the game right now. The implication, if it wasn't clear, was that Black Thought is just too good.
Two years after the first two Streams of Thought records, Black Thought now finally returns with volume 3, featuring 10 more songs (plus an intro, outro, and interlude) that only further solidify him as one of the best currently doing it. Like the first two volumes, this one was made entirely with one producer. This time Thought went with Sean C, who you know from Jay-Z's "Can't Knock the Hustle," Big Pun's "100%," and various songs by Fat Joe, Remy Ma, Ghostface Killah, Dead Prez, Jadakiss, and more. Sean C brings a diverse palette of beats to the table, from classic glass-shattering hip hop beats to syrupy funk to airy psychedelia, and Black Thought handles it all like the pro he is. He remains both a razor-sharp performer and a powerful lyricist who always has a story to tell and always leaves you hanging on every word. It's the most accessible of his three solo records, thanks in part to indie lifers Portugal. The Man adding anthemic hooks to three of its songs, but accessible doesn't mean watered-down. It's hard-hitting, incisive art, and it takes a good look at the dark underside of the world we live in, which continues to get a long-overdue examination in the mainstream consciousness this year. (Black Thought also adds in a little humor about it, by sampling Dave Chappelle's joke about white people getting outraged by NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.)
As ever, Black Thought has no trouble holding down the spotlight for the entire album, but he does invite a little friendly competition. Schoolboy Q is at his grittiest on "Steak Um," and one of the album's major highlights is Pusha T and Killer Mike showing up on "Good Morning" (alongside a few ad-libs by Swizz Beatz). Like Black Thought, they're both veterans who are also among the best doing it right now (as Freddie Gibbs would agree), and they all bring out the best in each other on that song. "The space that I occupy in the world is somewhere between a Killer Mike and a Pusha T, between an activist and a street hero, a man of the people and a man of the streets," Thought told Variety. There's "an equal level of sportsmanship and musicianship" Thought adds, and you can hear it. They're challenging and competing with each other, but they also show off the kind of chemistry that can't be fabricated. It takes a lot of true talent to come together in this way, and these three just keep proving how much of it they've got.
Benny the Butcher - Burden of Proof
The Buffalo rap crew/label Griselda has been extremely prolific this year, with three Westside Gunn albums, a new Conway album and two Conway EPs, and the Griselda debuts from new recruits Armani Caesar and Boldy James (the latter of whom put out two 2020 albums before joining Griselda), but Benny the Butcher hadn't put out a proper solo project since summer 2019's The Plugs I Met, which many consider to be the best Griselda project. (He did make several guest appearances and release a mixtape by his group Black Soprano Family this year, all of which probably adds up to at least an album's worth of Benny the Butcher verses.) He now finally returns with Burden of Proof, a 12-song full-length album produced entirely by Hit-Boy, and Griselda's not-so-secret weapon has leveled up once again.
We're used to hearing Benny over grimy, gritty production -- usually crafted by Daringer or Alchemist or Beat Butcha or the late DJ Shay -- but Burden of Proof is a conscious departure from that sound. Hit-Boy had his breakthrough producing Kanye & Jay-Z's "N****s In Paris" and "Clique," and he quickly went on to helm such early/mid 2010s classics as Kendrick Lamar's "Backseat Freestyle," Drake's "Trophies," A$AP Rocky's "1 Train," and Nicki Minaj & Beyonce's "Feeling Myself," and on Burden of Proof, he's provided Benny with warm, rich production that any of those artists would be grateful for. He favors the kind of pitched-up soul samples that Kanye gave Jay-Z on The Blueprint, and he does it in a way that would've sounded at home on the early '10s Kendrick and Drake albums as well. It might be the slickest backdrop that Benny's ever had, but he knows exactly what to do with it without sacrificing any of his usual attack. The man who once said he feels like '97 Hov now sounds like 2001 Hov, or 2002 Cam'ron, or 2004 Jadakiss. Like all of those rappers did in those respective years, Benny has written an album where he brings the grit of street rap to shiny, hummable production that you don't need to be a hip hop head to get behind. He's figured out how to make his music a little more accessible while keeping it as honest, hard-hitting, and technical as it ever was. And while Burden of Proof may bring back memories of the CD era, Benny has learned from that era's mistakes too. Too many turn-of-the-millennium rap albums were overstuffed and tried to have something for everybody: the street songs, the love songs, the pop songs, the club songs, etc. Some people pulled it off, but often even the best albums of that time felt bloated. Benny embraces the sound of that era but brings it back to the Illmatic approach of having a lean tracklist with no filler. (And he does so more effectively than Nas' Hit-Boy-produced album from earlier this year.) And just like Griselda have done on their rawer projects that recall '90s LOX and Mobb Deep records, Burden of Proof recalls the Blueprint era without feeling retro or derivative. As ever, Benny knows how to make an album sound familiar and fresh at the same time.
Benny also doesn't shy away from a few radio-friendly guests (like Lil Wayne and Big Sean on lead single "Timeless"), but he's also got usual suspects like Westside Gunn, Conway, and Freddie Gibbs, and even the big-name guests feel well chosen and earn their spots on the album. Those bigger names may draw in some new listeners, and if and when they do, those listeners will hear the same Benny that old fans know and love -- full of highly detailed come-up stories, knockout punchlines, and staunch realism. Benny's words drill their way into your brain as quickly, effortlessly, and naturally as Hit-Boy's production gets you nodding along. "They tried to tell me Ima be a legend soon though, but I'm a legend now," Benny raps as the final beat on the album fades away. A lot of people say stuff like that, but Benny makes you believe it.
Benny is also on the new T.I. and Sheek Louch albums that are out today.
Matt Berninger - Serpentine Prison
The National have two decades, nine albums, their own festivals, and much more under their belts, and frontman Matt Berninger also has his EL VY side project and tons of cool collaborations with other artists, but he's actually never released a solo album until now. The album was produced by R&B/soul legend Booker T. Jones and it's being co-released by Book's Records, which Matt and Booker T. launched together. That may seem like sort of an unexpected partnership, but the album also features some of the more usual suspects in Matt's world, including his National bandmate Scott Devendorf, his EL VY bandmate Brent Knopf, The Walkmen's Walter Martin & Matt Barrick, Ben Lanz, Phoebe Bridgers bandmate Harrison Whitford, Gail Ann Dorsey, Andrew Bird, and more. A cast like that is well within Matt's usual comfort zone, so it should come as no surprise that the songs on Serpentine Prison instantly sound like trademark Matt Berninger songs. There are some clear differences from The National -- where that band would put effected electric guitar soundscapes over propulsive drums, Matt's album tends to favor strummy acoustic guitars and gentle guitar or piano arpeggios over barely-there drumming -- but you can tell the core of the songs are coming from the same place, and that familiarity makes this album very satisfying. It's also nice to hear Matt over these more simple musical backdrops. The National's subtle complexity is one of their biggest draws, but something that's a little more relaxed (instrumentally, at least) suits Matt's distinct songwriting too.
Tom Petty - Wildflowers & All The Rest
Over 25 years after Wildflowers' release and three years after Petty's death, his family and Heartbreakers bandmates have released Wildflowers & All the Rest (following a lengthy legal battle), featuring 70 tracks including a live album, home recordings, and the entire 25-song version of Wildflowers that Petty originally intended to release. You can read my full review here.
Open Mike Eagle - Anime, Trauma and Divorce
Open Mike Eagle has been so busy with one-off singles and his Comedy Central show, that it's almost hard to believe he hasn't actually released a proper record since his 2018 EP What Happens When I Try To Relax. That finally changes with Anime, Trauma and Divorce, which picks up where his 2018 EP left off and continues to take Mike down new and unexpected paths. "Before the world went to shit I was already in the middle of a few personal crises," Mike said. "Shit had gone haywire personally and professionally and my therapist had to remind me that I have an outlet to process some of my shit in rap music. So I made a bunch of painful rap songs and Jacknife Lee was kind enough to help me make good music out of them. Maybe it can help other people too. It probably won't but maybe."
You can very much sense the pain in these songs, but as you may expect from Open Mike Eagle, he does it in a way that feels witty and clever and funny even when he's driven by sadness ("What the fuck is self care? Trying to find that shit like a tourist / See if they take my insurance," goes one punchline). His delivery is all over the place -- sometimes in your face and aggressive, other times abstract and eccentric -- and the production is just as varied, moving between traditional hip hop, thumping dance beats, ethereal psychedelia, and more. The songs on this album are full of clashes and contradictions, but it all makes sense coming from Open Mike Eagle. He ties it all together in a way that would be hard to imagine almost anyone else doing.
Annie - Dark Hearts
Like Robyn, Annie was making cutting edge alt-pop before they called it that and before the subgenre came to dominate the 2010s. Her 2004 debut album Anniemal, which came five years after its first single, delivered on the hype Annie had been building and it quickly became regarded as one of the best albums of its kind. Five years and label troubles later came the worthy but less earth-shattering followup Don't Stop, and then Annie started to fade from the spotlight a bit. She put out two EPs in the early/mid 2010s, but as alt-pop reached new heights during that decade, Annie wasn't really there to benefit from the genre's popularity. Now, 11 years after her last album, five years after her last EP, and two years after Metro Boomin and Travis Scott sampled her on a chart-topping album, she's back with her third album, and it sounds as forward-thinking today as Anniemal did over 15 years ago.
The euphoric pop that Annie's best known for -- and which has almost definitely influenced some of the newer alt-pop artists -- shows up once again on Dark Hearts, but this is overall a darker, more atmospheric, more experimental album than she's ever released. She could've rewritten Anniemal and gotten away with it, but instead she's raising the bar once again. She said that she envisioned Dark Hearts as "the soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist," taking influence from Twin Peaks, The Wicker Man, and David Cronenberg's psychological thriller Crash, and Dark Hearts very much captures that creepier vibe. If you didn't know any better, you could mistake Dark Hearts for anything from Chromatics to Purity Ring, and it rivals the recent music by both of those artists at every turn. It's almost hard to believe this is an artist whose breakthrough single came out over two decades ago; Annie's perspective on this album feels entirely fresh.
Kevin Morby - Sundowner
Following the ambitious, heavily layered 2019 album Oh My God, Kevin Morby's latest feels more stripped-back and secluded -- definitely reflective of a year spent in isolation. (Kevin began the album before global lockdown ensued, but finished it afterwards.) As impressive as the arrangements on Oh My God are, the warm, folky vibe of this album captures Kevin at his most natural, and really finds the sweet spot of his sound. You can read more about the album in Bill's Indie Basement.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive or keep scrolling down for previous weeks.
For even more metal, browse the 'Upcoming Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.