Lil Wayne: The Dedication 6
The sixth instalment in Lil Wayne and DJ Drama’s Dedication series, and the first in four years, came out on Christmas Day, and it had everything you’d expect from a stocking-filler, down to the DatPiff digital wrapping. The beats are familiar, from Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA” to 21 Savage’s “Bank Account” to JAY-Z’s “The Story of O.J,” and Nicki Minaj and Gudda Gudda show up early. It’s inevitably spotty and ephemeral, but it’s reassuring to hear Lil Wayne find his flow, even if it only happens briefly. The highlight is “XO Tour Life,” where Wayne sounds comfortable without sounding narcoleptic, rhyming “Just call me the Rapper, I’m Chancin’ it” with “Kaepernick.” Take the highs where you can get them.
Francis and the Lights: Just for Us
Released at a day’s notice in the middle of post-Christmas purgatory, Francis Farewell Starlite’s third album is rich, dreamlike, refreshingly simple, and just charming enough to get away with its occasionally tiring wholesomeness. Its a step forward for Starlite, who is more engaging on his own gentle piano ballads than he is on collaborations with megastars, and he’s honest enough to let his agony mix with wit. “Breaking Up” is a one-sided conversation over a shitty phone line, and there’s plenty of pain in it: “I can’t hear you, we’re breaking up / Did you say it’s over? / I can’t hear you, we’re breaking up / Did you say you were coming over?” The next song is “Never Back,” which opens here: “There is no God.”
Sub Pop are selling LiE as the “first unlimited-edition, non-bootleg” live album in Mudhoney’s 30-year career, which doesn’t seem so important when you remember that Live at El Sol and Live at Third Man are readily available online, the KEXP Space Needle performance is on YouTube, and bootlegs are kicking around the type of places that bootlegs kick around. But, despite all that, LiE is more than worth the time and money. The band have sounded leaner since returning with Vanishing Point in 2013, and this is the first time anyone’s captured that properly, balancing Steve Turner’s fuzz without sacrificing the elastic precision of Dan Peters and Guy Maddison as a rhythm section. And the chances are that Mark Arm will still be howling like this into his dotage.
Barrington Devaughn Hendricks grew up in New York and moved to Alabama as a teenager. He enlisted in the army, which sent him to Kuwait, Iraq, Germany, and finally Japan, where he stayed for a while before moving to Baltimore, just before the city erupted in protest in response to the death, at police hands, of Freddie Gray. He’s a contrarian—projects like Communist Slow Jamz, Black Ben Carson, and the 2nd Amendment EP are a giveaway—and his rhymes are built to confront and confound the inanities and stupid brutalities of the internet’s darker corners. Veteran is wild—seventeen tracks of furious irony that spit and sputter and end up moving through a four-song stretch of “Whole Foods,” “Macauley Culkin,” “Williamsburg,” and “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies.” That last one, with its SoundCloud parody beat, detaches itself when he raps, “4chan on my dick cuz I’m edgy / Sit ya pale ass down, have a Pepsi.” But when he refers to himself as a “left-wing Hades,” he might be telling the truth.
Shopping: The Official Body
Still straight-up post-punks but never just for purists, the London-based four-piece have responded to Brexit, fear, and insularity by focusing on the human body and its place in society. That’s inevitably a more biting critique of a broken culture than any protest album can muster, and certainly more potent than any of the shouty, monoculture indie that’s continued to rise since the country retreated into itself. Everything here is sonically taught, but it’s harder to resist now that they’ve found some danceable rhythms. That helps the anger to land. Like this line, from co-lead vocalist Rachel Aggs, on “My Dad’s a Dancer”: “This is such a simple thing / You don’t like me / I don’t look like you.
Higher Brothers: Journey to the West EP
These four kids from Chengdu, China, who decided to combine their Sichuanese dialect with English after watching Noisey Atlanta, are coming to the US next month, and this four-track EP is supposed to stoke the hype around them in the run-up. Two of these songs feature Ski Mask the Slump God and, of those, only “Rich Bitch” is new. But it serves as a good intro to a group you’re likely to hear more about in 2018. The highlight is “Chanel,” an ominous and bass-heavy song that features the following recognizable words: “Coco,” “Chanel,” “logo.” You get the idea.
No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
The LA-based noise-rock band’s fifth album (and first since leaving Sub Pop) is joyous and anthemic, never more than a couple seconds from Dean Spunt exhaling a weightless vocal hook and Randy Randall striking some exultant power chord. There’s fear beneath the fuzz, because it was written in 2017. On “Stuck in the Changer,” Spunt sings, “Everywhere I face / I toss and turn”; on “Send Me,” he’s more restless still: “Send me, send me / Where should I go?” But it’s all delivered with such abandon that the angst burns away.
Khruangbin: Con Todo El Mundo
A three-piece from Burton, Texas (population 300), Khruangbin build unclassifiable, international instrumental jams. Their debut LP, 2015’s The Universe Smiles Upon You, drew from Thai cassette tapes, with the band’s roots in hip-hop and house bubbling beneath. But Con Todo El Mundo is, as its name suggests, even more diverse, touching on Compas, Persian pop, and psychedelia. It hangs together beautifully, mostly because the trio itself is so well-balanced—Mark Speer’s fluid guitar is given space to spill over by drummer Donald Johnson’s gentle syncopations, and Laura Lee’s intuitive basslines are always drifting in and out. It’s truly international music at a time when that’s more vital than ever.
Field Music: Open Here
Sixty percent of people in Sunderland, the northern English city that brothers Peter and David Brewis call home, voted to leave the European Union in 2016. And while Field Music’s fourth studio album—with its lush strings and woodwind skipping into jaunty electronic drums and almost kitschy horns—is as direct a response to that cataclysm as you’ll find in art-pop (or anywhere), it is compelling because it doesn’t pretend to know precisely what the hell happened. These are masterfully constructed songs that wrestle with themselves lyrically as much they burrow into the listener melodically. Take the danceable rumination on privilege in “Count It Up” (influenced by the American economist Joseph Stiglitz, for what it’s worth) or the jaunty, filtered funk of “Goodbye to the Country,” in which David Brewis sings from the perspective of a refugee in a northern town, noting—and he needs to—that “there’s a real war on” elsewhere. Or just start at the beginning, with fear and irony on Wearside: “Couldn’t sleep last night? Me too. Do you think that proves we need to stick together? Or is sympathy too serious a thing to take seriously?”
Ezra Feinberg: Pentimento and Others
This is Feinberg’s debut solo album, though he built a formidable back catalog fronting the ambitious, acid-inspired rock band Citay in the Bay Area in the ’00s. That band came to a close in 2012 before Feinberg moved to Brooklyn, started a family, and concentrated on his work as a psychoanalyst. Pentimento and Others is a meditative album in the truest sense, designed to lull the listener into some cosmic relaxation, its looping acoustic guitars and swelling synths always overlapping but never interrupting each other. It could lift you into all the same places that Citay tried to in the first place. If nothing else, it will chill you out.
Charlie Martin and Will Taylor were both drummers when they started playing music together as Hovvdy, and the semi-whispered, mellowed-out acoustic pop that they’ve produced in the past two years has a pretty, percussive simplicity to it. They call it “pillowcore,” which makes sense, and you’ll find plenty of parallels between these Austin-based twenty-somethings and the slowcore kids of the 1990s—think Duster and Bedhead, for starters. On Cranberry, though, the hushed, instinctively simple harmonies set them apart. “Truck,” with its subtle country inflections, is the standout track, suggesting that there’s plenty of space to explore moving forward (though they’d only need to look at Alex Giannascoli for proof that bedroom pop can move into strange and exciting new places). In the meantime, Cranberry is a rare treat—a bedroom pop album that demands more than background listening.
American Pleasure Club: A Whole Fucking Lifetime of This
This is Sam Ray’s best album as Teen Suicide or Julia Brown or Ricky Eat Acid or anything else, and it’s the best album of the young year so far by some distance. Fucking LIfetime floats between cerebral clatter, distorted samples, and tape-deck acoustics—different angles from which to articulate love and longing and painful past addictions. “Let’s Move to the Desert,” which samples Frank Ocean’s Endless cover of the Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best (You Are Love),” is blissful, an attempt to freeze a perfect split-second that actually works, for once. It’s further evidence that Ray has a rare gift—present in his ambient work too—for making life’s ugly moments beautiful and its beautiful moments limitless.
Rejjie Snow: Dear Annie
This 24-year-old Dublin-born rapper has been promising a debut album for the better part of five years (under the name Dear Annie the whole time, remarkably). There’s a lot to be written about the way his sound and flow have matured in that time, the way that the American hip-hop establishment has stuck with him (he’s part of 300 Entertainment), and the lessons he picked up from, say, touring with Madonna and signing to Elton John’s management company. But for now, we get to enjoy a real-life full-length from a man who seems terrifyingly close to being the finished article. Only on the inter-song skits will you get a feel for his transatlantic accent, with most of Dear Annie delivered in a soft Californian inflection. He sees love and lust as inseparable forces, and he touches on them with some self-aware, third-grade French: “désolé,” “mon amour,” “She say, ‘bonjour, bonsoir’ / I like eggs / I say, ‘I like FIFA, Like sex.'” In the end, it all melts into soft soul over a 20-track album that doesn’t overstay its welcome. If there’s any justice, he’ll be a star; with the connections he’s got Stateside, I’ll be shocked if he isn’t one by the end of the year.