We've already gotten a a handful of good new albums this year so far, but this week feels like the moment that 2021 officially kicks in. A slew of heavy hitters were released today, including some albums that already feel like year-end list contenders. I highlight seven below, Bill reviews three more in Bill's Indie Basement (The Notwist, The Besnard Lakes, and Goat Girl), and there are still more worthy records on top of that, including Weezer, Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree), Lucero, The Body, Ize, Lia Ices, Ani DiFranco, Baio (Vampire Weekend), LNZNDRF (The National), Accept, Pounder, Lawrence Rothman, Buke and Gase / So Percussion, Langhorne Slim, Yasmin Williams, Waltzer, Werewolves, Collapse Culture (Bleach Everything, Kowloon Walled City), The Inevitables' dub album, the Martin Gore of Depeche Mode EP, the Vaughns EP, the Alchemist EP, the acoustic EP by Chester Bennington's '90s band Grey Daze, and Brownswood Recordings' Indaba Is compilation.

Update: a collaborative Tha God Fahim/Your Old Droog album came out today too.

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

Madlib (& Four Tet) - Sound Ancestors
Madlib Invazion

Madlib and Four Tet are two of the most innovative and consistently great producers/electronic musicians of the past 20+ years, so it was very exciting when we learned that Madlib had a new album on the way that he made in collaboration with Four Tet. Four Tet says that Madlib sent him hundreds of pieces of music, and then Four Tet "would arrange, edit, manipulate and combine" them until he had assembled the 16 songs that make up Sound Ancestors. In an interview with NPR, Four Tet said he told Madlib that "he could do something unique, like [put] a really amazing instrumental hip-hop album out that was more of a listening experience." Madlib's put out instrumental versions of albums he's produced for rappers, but this is an instrumental hip hop album in the spirit of J Dilla's Donuts or DJ Shadow's Entroducing, albums that hold up as highly listenable classics of their own. They decided not to use any guest vocalists, but a lot of the samples are vocal-driven, "so even though there was still going to be no featured vocalists, we could have these sort of poppy singles with vocal hooks," Four Tet said. As you might expect from Madlib, the samples tend to be sourced from old soul, R&B, psych-rock, and jazz records, and Madlib and Four Tet are both pros at finding the ways that seemingly disparate records can interact with each other, and at making old sounds feel futuristic. Madlib still has the same crate-digging hunger that he had when he was defining the sound of underground hip hop in the early 2000s, and Four Tet seems to have been the perfect person to help him channel his endless ambition into a concise, cohesive album. The various ingredients on Sound Ancestors come from all over the place, but the end result is seamless.

Portrayal of Guilt - We Are Always Alone
Closed Casket Activities

Not that I would usually advise arguing about a band's genre, but when it comes to Portrayal of Guilt, don't even bother trying. From the start, they've been just as much a screamo/hardcore band as a black/death metal band (and even those are too limiting), and as they continue to evolve, the lines just get even blurrier. On their sophomore LP We Are Always Alone -- which follows their already-killer discography of one album, two EPs, and other miscellaneous releases, and manages to stand out as the best thing they've done yet -- they remind me of the way Deafheaven broke down barriers between screamo and metal on Sunbather, or the way Inter Arma fused together as many styles of heavy music as they could on that same year's Sky Burial. But while those records were sprawling, lengthy offerings, Portrayal of Guilt get it all done in like 25 minutes. Read the rest of my review here.

The Sonder Bombs - Clothbound
Take This To Heart/Big Scary Monsters

The Sonder Bombs released one of the most promising indie-punk debut LPs in recent memory with 2018's MODERN FEMALE ROCKSTAR. It's one of the only albums in this genre that I can think of where ukulele is the main instrument, but that's not the only reason the album stood out. Willow Hawks has a powerful, versatile, unique voice, and when you hear it, it draws you right in. The band is now back with their second album -- their first with their current four-piece lineup and first produced by Hop Along's Joe Reinhart -- and it raises the bar, making good on the promise of their debut and pushing their sound in new directions. As revealed on the early singles, The Sonder Bombs continue to master indie-punk, while pushing their sound towards '50s/'60s pop "ooh sha la la la"s on one song ("Crying Is Cool") and towards gnarly post-hardcore on another ("k."). Those two songs are at the total opposite sides of Clothbound's spectrum, and there's all kinds of other stuff happening within the album's appealing middle ground. It's a tighter, fuller, and more spacious album than its predecessor, and Willow continues to capture a range of emotions in her lyrics, from introspective self-doubt to finger-pointing anger to playing back a reel of old memories. The songs are casual and plainspoken yet poetic, like they were ripped out of a diary or a real-life conversation and just so happened to roll off the tongue and rhyme. Willow wraps them in compelling melodies that prompt repeated listens, and the songs seem to reveal an even greater depth every time you come back to them.

Tribulation - Where The Gloom Becomes Sound
Metal Blade

Tribulation gradually became one of the most interesting and accessible bands in modern metal, with a sound that fused together the extremity of black and death metal with the swagger and melody of classic rock and glam. That fusion was perfected on 2015's The Children of the Night (which we named the 12th best album of the 2010s in any genre of music) and Tribulation continued to push it forward on 2018's more psych/prog-inspired Down Below. Now Tribulation are finally back once again with ten new songs cut from that same appealing cloth. Where The Gloom Becomes Sound isn't as drastic a progression as Down Below was from The Children of the Night or as that album was from 2013's more aggressive The Formulas of Death, but it still finds Tribulation operating at a high level, churning out the kinds of songs that could only have come from Tribulation. This album is also extra special (and bittersweet), as it's their last album with guitarist/primary songwriter Jonathan Hultén. (His replacement is Joseph Tholl, who used to play in Enforcer with Tribulation guitarist Adam Zaars.) Our hopes are high that Tribulation continue to do exciting stuff with their new lineup, but this album just might be the end of an era, the final entry in a trilogy of albums that found Tribulation putting a spin on extreme metal that went damn near unparalleled the entire time.

Arlo Parks - Collapsed In Sunbeams
Transgressive

UK artist Arlo Parks has been rolling out the singles for her debut album Collapsed In Sunbeams for almost a year straight, and she has continued to rapidly rise throughout the process. She's made fans out of the likes of Billie Eilish and Lily Allen, and her music should appeal to fans of both. Arlo has the minimal pop vibes of the former and a similar voice (and strong British accent) to the latter. Arlo's praises have also been sung by Florence Welch and Phoebe Bridgers, and she has covered and collaborated with Phoebe (on a Radiohead cover), and she's also worked with Romy from The xx, Clairo, and more. It's easy to see why so many talented artists are drawn to Arlo's music; maybe it's just because some of these songs have been out for several months, or because Arlo reminds you of some of those aforementioned artists, but these songs stick with you and they quickly feel like songs you've known your whole life. The jazz-meets-indie-meets-pop instrumentals (produced with Tei Shi collaborator Gianluca Buccellati) and Arlo's smooth, silky voice are warm, welcoming, and nostalgia-inducing. But no matter who you think Arlo sounds most like, there's an undeniable freshness to her music. The way she toes the line between honoring musical traditions and forging her own path feels nearly effortless.

Pick it up on limited yellow vinyl (with bonus CD) from the BrooklynVegan shop.

Celeste - Not Your Muse
Interscope

Arlo Parks isn't the only super-hyped UK artist with a debut album out today. Celeste, who won the BBC Sound of 2020 poll, follows over a year of singles with Not Your Muse, featuring four of those singles plus eight other songs that showcase her powerful pipes. Celeste's nostalgic, melancholic jazz-pop has been compared to Billie Holiday, and her soaring voice has been compared to past BBC Sound Of winner Adele. Fans of both will probably like what they hear on Not Your Muse, which already feels like a debut album with staying power. Celeste can really belt it when the song calls for it, but the best moments often come when it's just Celeste quietly singing over an acoustic guitar. She's a totally captivating singer, and Not Your Muse has the impactful songwriting needed to back up a voice like hers.

Fredo - Money Can't Buy Happiness
Since 93

Fredo has long had a collaborative relationship with fellow UK rapper Dave (they topped the UK charts together in 2018 with "Funky Friday"), and now Fredo has tapped Dave to executive produce his new project Money Can't Buy Happiness. He also made most of the beats, and he lent his voice to the song "Money Talks." (The other guest appearances come from Pop Smoke, Summer Walker, and Young Adz.) Dave helps bring out the best in Fredo, and he brings some of the dark atmospherics of his own instant-classic Psychodrama to this album. Fredo was already a great rapper, and with Dave's help, he's able to channel that rapping -- which varies between gritty street tales and melancholic introspection -- into what may be his most meticulously crafted album yet.

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