Notable Releases of the Week (3/6)
What a week... for so many reasons. In the music world, it's certainly a busy one. Of this week's many new albums, I highlight eight below. Here are some more worth checking out: Lil Uzi Vert, Riz Ahmed, Honey Harper (read more about it in Bill's Indie Basement), P.E. (ditto), Cornershop (ditto again), Swamp Dogg, Jhene Aiko, Juelz Santana, Psychonaut, Earth Rot, PEARS, CJ Fly, LEYA, Big Cheese, Moby, Chassol, Disq, Worriers, Bacchae, Snarls, Tulus, Phantogram, Jose James, Jonathan Wilson, Aoife O’Donovan, Mark Kozelek's album with Ben Boye and Jim White, Caroline Rose, Addy, Pantha Du Prince, William Tyler's score for First Cow, Anna Calvi's guest-filled album of reworkings (ft. Julia Holter, Courtney Barnett, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and IDLES' Joe Talbot), the Noel Gallagher EP, the Tricky EP, the Viagra Boys EP, and the World Demise demo.
Read on for my eight picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Megan Thee Stallion - Suga
1501 Certified / 300 Entertainment
Legal issues with Megan Thee Stallion's label 1501 Certified almost prevented the release of this new nine-song EP, but thankfully it didn't because Megan has been on a roll since emerging as one of the best new-ish rappers of last year and she should not have her momentum stopped by anything. Megan says she has a full-length in the works, and this project is clearly just a warm-up, but even this brief EP is enough to prove she's already better than she was this time last year. She's an even sharper rapper, a stronger singer, and her sound on these nine songs is more multi-faceted than ever. Suga starts out with two of Megan's hardest and most classicist songs yet ("Ain't Equal" and "Savage"), both of which prove she's a genuinely great rapper in the traditional sense. Then she offers up some more of the fun, sex-driven bounce of some of her earlier fan faves on "Captain Hook" before veering off into new territory. The Kehlani collab "Hit My Phone" is practically G-Funk, while the already-classic lead single "B.I.T.C.H." finds Megan applying her style to laid back '70s funk/soul and proving she doesn't need to rely on the in-your-face stuff to be effective. The last three songs on Suga were produced by some of the most game-changing hip hop producers of all time ("Stop Playing" and "Crying In The Car" by The Neptunes, "What I Need" by Timbaland), and as much as Megan would probably sound amazing over some classic Neptunes and Timbaland beats, that's actually not what she does here. All three songs are chilled-out R&B songs, and they allow Megan to show she can captivate as a singer as well. Suga feels more like a sampler of all Megan's current ideas than a fully fleshed-out project, but presumably that's what her full-length will be, and until then, here's nine great songs that mark a clear progression from the great work Megan already released.
Nadia Reid - Out of My Province
New Zealand singer/songwriter Nadia Reid slowly but surely started to take off in the US after releasing her excellent 2017 album Preservation, and now she's signed to a US label (Spacebomb) and finally back with a followup album, Out of My Province. Joining the Spacebomb family not only gave Nadia more visibility in the US, it also allowed her to work with the label's in-house production team of Matthew E. White and Trey Pollard, who have earned themselves a reputation for their grand string arrangements thanks to their work on recent albums by Foxygen, Natalie Prass, Bedouine, and more. The strings do wonders for Out of My Province, which is a beautiful sounding record and the most massive sounding album Nadia has released yet. But as much of a sell as they are, Nadia never relies on any of the embellishments to drive these songs home. Just like her first two records, Out of My Province brings you to the edge of your seat with the power of Nadia's words and voice alone.
R.A.P. Ferreira - Purple Moonlight Pages
As milo, Rory Ferreira has made some of the best underground rap of the last decade, so it felt like the end of an era when he decided to retire that moniker. But then Rory (who also raps as scallops hotel and as a member of Nostrum Grocers and other groups) launched the new moniker R.A.P. Ferreira, whose debut album Purple Moonlight Pages is out today, and it already feels like a great new era has begun. Purple Moonlight Pages is a substantial, immersive album that lends itself to repeated listens and reveals more each time, and it already feels on par with Rory's best work. Production wise, it varies between far-out psychedelia, real-deal jazz, and eerie atmospheric instrumentals (provided by the Jefferson Park Boys, aka Kenny Segal, Mike Parvizi, and Mr. Carmack), and Rory's raps vary between the unconventional flow and tongue-twisting lyricism that has been part of underground hip hop since the early '90s, spoken word, slam poetry, and flashes of the more conventional, accessible style of the boom bap era. And within all the off-kilter wordplay and oddball references, Rory always has a message or a story to tell. Lines like "I wonder if Chance the Rapper do his own laundry" jump out on you on first listen, but there's a depth to the album that warrants and encourages you to keep coming back.
U.S. Girls - Heavy Light
U.S. Girls' sound has been getting bigger and better with each album and it hit its highest peak yet with 2018's In A Poem Unlimited, one of our favorite albums of the last decade. They're now back with a followup and once again going bigger -- main member Meg Remy made this one with over 20 session musicians and it includes prominent horns, synths, piano, funky basslines, lots of percussion, several layers of vocals, spoken word interludes, and more. Like In A Poem Unlimited, Heavy Light casually defies genre, incorporating bits of funk, disco, indie rock, piano pop, avant-garde compositions, and more, and is always blurring different sounds together to the point where it sounds more "post-genre" than "multi-genre." Coming off a record as transcendent as In A Poem Unlimited, the one downside of Heavy Light is that it doesn't have individual songs that jump out at you like its predecessor did. Still, it's not everyday that an album this elaborate is also this listenable.
Stephen Malkmus - Traditional Techniques
Stephen Malkmus of the reunited Pavement has a new solo album that he made with his old pal/former Matador labelmate Matt Sweeney (of Chavez, Zwan, etc) and The Decemberists’ Chris Funk, and it finds him exploring earthy folk/blues and trippy psychedelia. It's a far cry from "Cut Your Hair" but I, for one, am a fan of Malkmus exploring this side of him. Bill's got a longer review in Bill's Indie Basement (and he also interviewed him and discussed some of the album's obscure influences with him).
Jadakiss - Ignatius
"As soon as they hear the voice and the flow, they already know it's..."
That's the fired-up first line Jadakiss rapped on his recent single "ME" (right before a pitched-up soul sample singing the word "me"), and who could disagree? Nobody sounds like Jadakiss, and this is one of the most classic-Jadakiss-sounding -- and best -- songs he released in years. It's kind of like the sequel to "Why," without sounding exactly like it, and it really made it feel like Jadakiss was back. Jadakiss also hadn't necessarily gone anywhere -- the past few years have included The LOX's reunion album, a collaborative album with Fabolous, and a handful of notable guest appearances -- but Ignatius is his first solo album in half a decade, and "ME" really set the bar high for this one. Kiss has always earned himself the "top 5 dead or alive" title off the strength of his bars alone, but sometimes he could really apply his raw talent to a great song, appeasing hip hop heads and more casual music listeners alike. "Why" is one of those songs, and so is "ME."
The downside, though, is that his ear for songcraft and his ability to rap his ass off still don't always line up. Even though he's got enough classic verses throughout his career to fill at least two discs, he's never really been able to turn all that material into a classic album. Even his best ones like Kiss tha Game Goodbye and Kiss of Death are bogged down by filler tracks like ballads that felt built for the CD era's radio but never really did Jadakiss' style any favors. And unfortunately, even with that era long in the rearview, Jadakiss still falls into those same traps on Ignatius. The dark street rap of a song like the Pusha T collab "Hunting Season" is still where Jadakiss sounds best, and that song is another reminder that Kiss is still capable of making top-tier rap music. Ignatius too often relies on slower, more sentimental songs, and even those songs remind you that he's one of the best rappers in the world but the production and all the guest R&B singing just gets in the way. One of Jadakiss' most standout verses in recent memory was on last year's great The Plugs I Met by Benny the Butcher, and the success that the Griselda guys are having proves there is still a market for tough, gritty rap albums. Not to mention guys like Pusha T, Black Thought, and Killer Mike have all recently reasserted their dominance in the music world by releasing no-frills projects that virtually ignore mainstream expectations. Ignatius isn't that, but it's got enough meat on it to prove Jadakiss could do it too if he tried.
My Dying Bride - The Ghost of Orion
UK gothic doom OGs My Dying Bride are back with their first new album in five years, and as Joseph Aprill writes for Invisible Oranges: "It’s still My Dying Bride, but The Ghost of Orion certainly has a more fragile and tearful beauty as exemplified well on songs like 'Tired of Tears' and the Lindy Fay-Hella [Wardruna] guest-vocal-led 'The Solace.' While some of the stomp and violent mid-paced gallop might be missing, there’s certainly no loss of Stainthorpe’s tortured growling that highlights on heavy moments throughout the album." You can read his full review here. Joseph also interviewed them.
Body Count - Carnivore
If Rage Against the Machine's reunion tour is gonna be like the biggest tour of the year, and nu metal and rap rock are gonna be making legit resurgences (within both rap and hardcore), then there's no reason not to be excited about a new Body Count album. Especially when it features guest screams by one of the best modern hardcore musicians around, Power Trip's Riley Gale. (It also has guest singing by Hatebreed's Jamey Jasta and Evanescence's Amy Lee, spoken word by former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra who was also on Body Count's classic debut, drums by former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, and production by the guy who works with pretty much every cool metalcore band around, Will Putney.) It's basically exactly what you expect -- super tough metal/hardcore riffs and Ice-T shouting his head off about justice and politics in a way that especially resonates in the Trump era. Carnivore's also got metallic reworkings of two of Ice-T's most classic solo songs, 1988's "Colors" and his gangsta-rap-pioneering 1986 track "6 in the Mornin'." If you needed proof that post-Law & Order Ice-T is still cool, hearing him rap "6 in the Mornin'" over bone-crushing power chords in the year 2020 should do it.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive.
For even more metal, browse the 'Upcoming Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.