Also, first: I included some very late August releases that I missed last time, such as:
Kanye West - Donda
Kanye West's tenth studio album, named after and dedicated to his late mother, arrived with no album art and a massive selection of 27 tracks which in total run at almost 2 hours long. The whole lead-up to this album's release was a circus, but now it's here and it's quite a beast to try and break down. It's filled with guest spots and the production is spacey, often lacking drums. Kanye's still in his Jesus phase, but it's not a wholly Christian gospel inspired album like his previous record, Jesus is King, was. Across almost two hours there's great moments, questionable moments and some bad moments, but above all it is a very compelling listen. Clearly though, this could have been tidied up and turned into a properly great album, but we're left with this behemoth of a release, that's as captivating as it is frustrating.
Turnstile - GLOW ON
Genre: Rock, Hardcore
Immediately this was one of the most gratifying albums of the year for me so far. A hardcore album that's aiming for crossover appeal, with anthemic vocals and massive riffs. While previously making very solid hardcore rock music, with some experimental flourishes, this new album is definitely Turnstile finding their focus. There's variety in the songs, feeling like a greatest hits tour of some of indie-rock music's recent highlights with an enthusiastic host in the form of frontman Brendon Yates. Sometimes it's dreamy, sometimes it's danceable and sometimes it's headbanging. But all the way through, it's a blast. One that's easy to stick on repeat for sure, a highlight of the year so far.
Dreams We've Had - I Will Make My Own Bed
Genre: Indie, Synth-pop, Ambient
Sure to be an underrated album, but this has some of the best synth work of the year. Dreams We've Had draws comparison to the cinematic synth-pop of M83. This sophmore album from the band is pretty long and padded with some experimental ambient soundscapes, but it's worth sitting through the almost 90 minute runtime for the rousing highs. This sounds wonderful and is pretty emotionally potent. Not quite as direct as the previous music from this band, but this is a trip worth taking for sure.
Now for September's releases:
Drake - Certified Lover Boy
There was a time when Drake was an exciting artist. Back in 2016 his place on top of the world felt earned, following projects like Take Care, Nothing Was the Same and If You're Reading This It's Too Late. Now he's back with a ridiculous album title, an album cover that manages to somehow be even more ridiculous and a runtime almost eclipsing an hour and a half. It's just hard to care anymore. Song titles like Papi's Home, Way 2 Sexy and Fucking Fans don't really help the case that Drake is just having a laugh now. I'm sure this album will leave a few hits, but it's not worth a look if you have to sit through over an hour of mediocrity to find them.
LANY - gg bb xx
I am a fan of synth-pop trio LANY's 2018 Malibu Nights album for its consistently pleasant synth-pop sound and focus on documenting a break-up in honest detail. It was a really solid set of 9 tracks. Their follow-up, released 11 months ago was a weird pivot to making a hybrid of vaguely Christian country and their typical synth-pop, which wasn't quite as engaging. Anyway, now they're back returning to a more standard synth-pop mould and are also competing with Drake for the worst album title of the month. This isn't quite as tight and uniform as Malibu Nights but offers a similar sound, with happier and usually more optimistic lyrics. It's not amazing, I'd say the CHVRCHES album from last month was a much stronger set of synth-pop tracks, but it's hard for me to disagree much with this one. It's a nice album, even if not essential by any means.
Injury Reserve - By the Time I Get to Phoenix
Genre: Experimental, Hip-hop
If some of the production on Injury Reserve's previous music was already boundary pushing, it's hard to even think of what to call this. It's definitely going to be unlike anything else you listen to this year, a challenging record but one that's fascinating and rewarding. It's a harsh change of pace from their mainstream-leaning self-titled album, but after the passing of one of their members Stepa J. Groggs, this dark melancholy vibe feels suiting. This isn't something you're likely to figure out after a single listen, but to me it sounds like something that could be genre-defining and no doubt a highlight of the year simply for its raw creativity.
Worth highlighting is the track Top Picks for You which is arguably the centrepiece of the album. Here the death of a loved one is explored in a way I haven't really thought about that strongly before, in that when someone dies they often leave behind a strong digital footprint. When you die, algorithms remain working to bring you new content, leaving a shadow of a person existing digitally. Netflix and Spotify will keep recommending media for you to consume as if nothing ever happened. It's a weird abstract concept that fits this album's dark theme.
DJ Seinfeld - Mirrors
Genre: House, Electronic
DJ Seinfeld makes dreamy, understated house music. Emerging from the 'lo-fi house' trend from a few years ago, he's managed to stick around by crafting really good alternative electronic dance music. It's uplifting, warm sounding and very polished. A great soundtrack to a solo dance party or a casual get together, rather than banging club music. It sounds alternative, while still having nostalgic and current dance music motifs that make it an accessible dance record, compared to a more out there producer such as Aphex Twin or Flying Lotus.
Baby Keem - The Melodic Blue
Out of nowhere, Baby Keem's debut album DIE FOR MY BITCH became one of my favourite albums of 2019. He was producing concise and varied takes on trap music, which felt refreshing and hugely energetic compared to many of his other young contemporaries. The Melodic Blue is mostly exactly what I wanted out of a sophmore album from Baby Keem. A more mature project, with a mix of tongue in cheek and inward looking lyricism. Most of the production on this album is excellent and compliments Keem's crazy vocal inflections and twisty flows. It contains experimental flourishes in both the production and abstract, enjoyably nonsensical lyricism.
Mild High Club - Going Going Gone
After almost 5 years, Mild High Club return with a new album and it's the same dreamy pop that's drenched in a thick hazy atmosphere that made the music so enticing in their previous records. The production is busy, but sounds effortlessly groovy regardless. Under 30 minutes this is a fairly cursory listen and it's the sort of album that you can throw on in the background as calming mood music, but it's dense enough to reward active listening as well. Very pretty album art too.
Sleigh Bells - Texis
Genre: Electronic, Pop
Sleigh Bells have been around for a while now, lots of good-will comes from their debut album Treats from way back in 2010 which still feels distinct in its gleefully noisy, anthemic and genre-defying sounds. Since then the band's had ups and downs, but return here with their fifth full studio album. This is relatively modest compared to a lot of their previous output, as the 'noisy and distorted' gimmick has been run through at this point. What's here instead is a set of really solid pop songs, with stadium sized riffs and some of the most assured vocals from vocalist Alexis Krauss. It's still got enough bite in the production to still make the band feel distinct, so while this may not be a rebirth, it's different and refined enough to be one of the better albums under their belt.
Poppy - Flux
Poppy continues her tour of the various styles of rock music with a grab-bag of 9 songs running at 30ish minutes. Less aggressive than her EAT EP from earlier this year, more working as a collection of alt-rock inspired by artists such as Hole, Garbage or even Sonic Youth at times. Interesting to see that Poppy still hasn't settled into a consistent sound, but regardless her consistent quality across different projects and genre experiments makes a case for her to remain an exciting artist. Definitely a fresh prospect in the mainstream leaning alt-rock/metal scene.
박혜진 park hye jin - Before I Die
Genre: Electronic, Hip-hop
A really exciting and promising name in electronic music has been 박혜진 park hye jin, off the back of well received DJ sets, two EP's and a few singles. She's producing a confident mix of music without committing to a specific genre, switching between sing-rapping in both Korean and English. There's an intoxicating, hazy feeling to a lot of the songs on offer here on her debut album. Often it sounds hypnotic, mixing these very well produced beats with some repetitive vocals to draw you in further. The sonic palette on offer here is hugely varied and makes for an exciting listen, very fresh sounding and mostly what I wanted from a full album from 박혜진 park hye jin.
Spiritbox - Eternal Blue
Spiritbox's debut album proves them to be an a very exciting voice in the metalcore scene. Not just with a very capable singer at the center of the music with frontwoman Courtney LaPlante, but musically this is heads above the crowds of other contemporary metalcore acts. Interesting production and the ability to excel in both heavy and more mellow moods, make them a great act to listen to a full album from finally. Alongside ERRA's self-titled, this is surely a contender for metalcore album of the year and definitely the debut of the year for a metalcore act.
Andrew W.K. - God is Partying
Genre: Rock, Metal
Above all, Andrew W.K. is a fascinating character. 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of his fantastic debut album I Get Wet, which was an unabashed ode to partying. It's an album that prides itself on being as exhilarating as possible, and sometimes that's all you need. As the album cover of this new sixth studio album suggests, the seemingly everlasting party's on the comedown. Compared to earlier work, this has some unashamedly gaudy heavy metal and massive '80s inspired tracks. Andrew W.K.'s ever-positive character and lyrics that encourage resolve even in the face of hopelessness, make what could've been a lame throwback record, into something more enjoyably campy, fun and with still with a lot of heart. The album's final two tracks, I Made It and Not Anymore culminates in a great two punch of motivational bangers from Andrew, a really nice finish to a good album.
ZillaKami - DOG BOY
Genre: Alternative Rock, Hip-hop
This debut solo album from member of the "trap-metal" duo City Morgue shows a bit more range than that music project usually offers. This sounds influenced by popular '90s grunge and other forms of alternative rock, such as Nirvana, Sonic Youth or Pixies. ZillaKami's voice is really suited for this type of music and he's a refreshingly different character in the mainstream leaning alternative scene. There's a nice anthemic quality to a lot of the songs on offer, even if they occasionally fall back to feeling repetitive or simplistic. Given that a third volume of City Morgue's albums is supposedly on the way later this year, it would've been nice to see ZillaKami focus in on the alternative rock sound rather than fall back on familiar City Morgue style boisterous shout-rap for some of this record. Regardless though this shows a lot of promise and the partial departure from hip-hop, without deserting the roots, makes for a fun project.
Eidola - The Architect
Eidola are interesting to me due to their proximity to post-hardcore legends Dance Gavin Dance, who're a great fun act. Eidola scratch a similar itch, with lots of technical guitar playing and strong vocal performances in a post-hardcore setting. It's a very bouncy album that still rocks pretty hard. Strong hooks, lots of instrumental variation and moments of respite from the typical post-hardcore formula.
The Plot in You - Swan Song
This is the fifth album from Ohio metalcore band The Plot in You. Melancholy lyrics and a more patient approach to the genre makes this an interesting take, even if occasionally it leans too much into pop song structures or generic metalcore clichés. Frontman Landon Tewers' voice and melodies are standout here, the instrumentation has more electronic elements than you'd expect and breakdowns aren't as brutal as usual for the genre. But the restraint works to make for an enjoyable album.
Sadness - Rain Chamber
Genre: Metal, Ambient
You haven't heard the limits of genre until you hear ambient black metal. Rain Chamber is a set of three atmospheric tracks running at a total of 30 minutes. Sometimes accompanied with the sound of rain, which creates a soothing atmosphere, though often contrasted by the distorted blackgaze and muted screaming. It's really something different and an interesting mix that's sure not to be for everyone, but the clash of intensity and subtler ambience is very intriguing. The only other Sadness project I'm familiar with is I Want to be There which was really good, but drew a lot of comparison to other "blackgaze" metal bands, such as early Deafheaven. This sounds fairly distinct and it's all the better for it.
Clarence Clarity - VANISHING ACT I: NO NOUNS
Genre: Electronic, Pop, Experimental
Some wonderfully twisted pop music. Clarence Clarity's music sounds unlike anyone else's and it's all the better for it. Maximalist production, experimental flourishes but still above all it has the catchy DNA of pop music. This EP is fairly cursory, but considering how much is going on track to track it feels more substantial than an under 10 minute runtime would have you believe. Excited to see whatever's next from Clarence.
Lady Gaga - Dawn of Chromatica
Genre: Electronic, Pop
This is a remix album for Lady Gaga's recent album Chromatica, which was released last year. This companion album shows more experimental flourishes as well as choice guest remixers and vocalists. Definitely a weirder listening experience than the original album, one that's more focused on the beats than Gaga's vocals. For fans of Chromatica it's well worth a look, but also for fans of the massive guest list of producers and guest vocalists this could also be worth a grab-bag of listens. Highlights include Rina Sawayama & Clarence Clarity's remix of Free Woman - which blows the original out of the water, Charli XCX & A. G. Cook's remix of 911 is really great and Doss' house remix of Enigma is another that improves on the original.
New Bring me the Horizon Single
Bring me the Horizon always made solid music, but recently by refusing to adhere to any specific genre they've been making some of their most interesting music in years. Since 2019's amo they've been more pop leaning, though last year's POST HUMAN: SURVIVAL HORROR went more in the direction of metalcore. This new track is a big pop-rock anthem, a nice mix of pop-punk. metalcore and electronic. This sort of genre mash-up scratches a certain itch for me, even though the chorus is a bit lame.
New Charli XCX Single
Charli XCX has one album left on her record deal and seems to be going for a sort of 'ironic sell out' tone for it. After years of going against the grain and making pop music that wasn't exactly suited for the charts or mainstream tastes, this track is pretty accustomed to mainstream tastes. It sounds like something you could imagine hearing in a clothing store or a bar, a pretty nonchalant pop song. It's definitely the most serviceable track she could've put out, not really as exciting as her output from 2016 until now. Some teasing indicates the album might be out in March of next year, so we'll likely see more tracks in the meantime.
New JPEGMAFIA Single
Nothing but quality is getting released by JPEGMAFIA, fantastic production as usual. He's still managing to make stuff that sounds distinctly out of the box. TRUST! follows the capitalised and exclamation point song name format as his recent EP's, so that points towards a third instalment in that series coming along at some point.
New Radiohead Single
Well actually, it's an old Radiohead single, recorded as part of the sessions in 1999-2000 that led to two incredible albums: Kid A and Amnesiac. But we've never heard it before now and it will come packaged as part of a 20th anniversary release including unheard versions of existing tracks and a few entirely new, unheard songs such as this one. There's even an interactive exhibition that will be available on PC and video-game consoles. Exciting things to come in November for Radioherad fans, especially those who enjoy Kid A and Amnesiac.
New Oliver Francis Singles
Another two great set of songs and music videos from Oliver Francis seemingly teasing a project titled 'Oli FM'. Looking to be one of his best if the quality is kept as high as we've seen so far. The melodic style of rapping and cloudy beats as usual make All I Know and Money on My Mind a couple of earworms.
New The War on Drugs Single
It's not reinventing the wheel for this band, who're returning next month with their first album since 2017, of which this is the title track. But The War on Drugs consistently provide a fresh take on classic rock and this sounds great. Big chorus, sounds exciting but isn't gaudy. A perfect festival headliner type of sound, or a road trip song. It's a nice positive track that seems ready to be sung along too in a live setting as we hopefully emerge from COVID dystopia soon.