Camila Cabello stepped away from Fifth Harmony just over a year ago. By all indications, it was the right move: her new solo album, Camila, debuted at number one in the U.S. and sold 119,000 copies its first week. Cabello effortlessly mixes pop, R&B and Latin styles across 10 tracks, which means there’s something here for everyone. Lead single “Havana” is sexy, fiery and fun. On the uptempo “In the Dark,” she explores her sultry side while begging for honesty. “All These Years” slows things down and shows off Cabello’s vocal range. This setlist is full of lust and longing, and Cabello takes fans on a journey through a seemingly non-existent relationship. She delivers bold, fierce, vulnerable and oh-so-smooth performances on this excellent first outing as a solo artist.
Maleek Berry has been at the forefront of the UK afrobeats scene for the past few years thanks to his certified club hit “Kontrol” and an amazingly solid first solo EP. His newest release, First Daze of Winter, picks up where Last Daze of Summer left off, combining Caribbean and West African rhythms with melodic crooning. These songs land softly without sacrificing the project’s dance-inducing edge. Surefire standouts include lead singles “Been Calling” and “Pon My Mind.” However, it’s “Sisi Maria,” Berry’s ode to unattainable love, that really owns the EP. Its melodic guitar riff gently floats in the background, harking back to Congolese pop of yesteryear.
Eskimos may know 50 words for snow, but there are twice as many words for sex on your average Cupcakke album. An outspoken 20-year-old rapper from Chicago, Cupcakke brings together the energy and rawness of Tampa’s Yo Majesty and the absurd genius of Shel Silverstein to create her hilarious, free associative vocal style. On Ephorize, Cupcakke’s third LP, Def Starz’s production takes a giant leap forward from previous efforts, tastefully utilizing elements of minimal pop, drill, reggaeton, tropical house and old school without languishing in any one camp.
Cupcakke plunders the full depths of her imagination on “Duck Duck Goose,” a scandalous play on the children’s song. In contrast to the anti-lyrical, bleakly aggressive style popular with fellow Windy City rappers like Chief Keef, Cupcakke’s wit and IDGAF silliness stands out. She tackles more emotionally substantive topics as well, evolving beyond the campy X-rated niche that gained her notoriety. On “Wisdom Teeth,” she calls out her male contemporaries’ obsession with spending money on camouflage accessories instead of buying their children school clothes. On “Total,” she gets vulnerable about seeking real love: “This is what I deserve, give me a stand up soulmate,” she raps, “Someone that can brush hoes off like Colgate.” With no guest artists to water her down, and no topic off the table, Cupcakke revels in every color of her rainbow all by herself.
The Dangerous Summer pick up where they left off in 2014 with 10 songs of anthemic, atmospheric rock punctuated by poignant lyricism. The soaring melodies on their new self-titled album weave a blanket of sound that contrasts nicely with singer AJ Perdomo’s raw, emotive voice. The album feels like a respectful nod to a fanbase whose dedication largely catalyzed the band’s reunion.
It’s fitting for a newly-reunited band to drop an album that so thoroughly explores nostalgia: that elusive, intoxicating feeling that writers write about and singers sing about and artists make art about. Each song is dripping with the sublime sweetness of youth suspended in time. The world doesn’t exist beyond where you are and the people you’re with, and it feels like the moment will never end — or, at least you wish it wouldn’t.
The story goes that one day, Burna Boy presented several songs to Drake for consideration. Drake took the name of one, “More Life,” and used it as the title for his most recent album, but essentially left Burna off the project and unaccredited. Not one to let a good song go to waste or be set back by the apparent snub, Burna opens his major-label debut with that very song, delivered with his one-of-kind baritone swagger. He speaks genuinely about love, sex and hardship while demonstrating his understanding of afrobeats as a maturing genre. Outside’s 12 tracks live comfortably at the crossroads of several music styles. Burna sways back and forth between jazzy, ethereal beats, R&B and bouncy U.K.-style afro-swing, all coated in a Jamaican patois, English and Nigerian pidgen. In an saturated musical landscape that often relies on autotune and studio gimmicks to create the illusion of talent, Burna Boy truly stands alone.
Any hip-hop artist who identifies as “Christian” must perform the awkward, exhausting dance of pleasing the faithful while jockeying for a seat at legitimacy’s table. Yet as difficult as it can be, there’s an entire class of up-and-comers earning respect for social and sonic relevance as well as innovation. Steven Malcolm is one of them.
Malcolm is best known for contributing guest vocals to songs like “Party in the Hills” with Andy Mineo and Hollyn. His sophomore effort, The Second City (Part 1), draws on the rapper’s familial roots. Malcom’s father, born in Montego Bay, Jamaica (aka the “Second City”), was arrested in the U.S. and deported when Malcolm was 10 years old. Malcolm never saw his father again.
Produced by Joseph Prielozny (Lecrae’s Gravity), this four-song EP opens with “Not to Us/Good Love” a straight-up, harmony-laden worship thing that edges into a thick, thumpy, tuba-bass undercurrent. The bridge reaches back for an R&B church organ vibe. Lead single “Watch” lays out the “real recognize real” biographical hook, while “Rodeo” and “Fadeaway” (the latter featuring newcomer Zauntee) capitalize on Malcolm’s passion for trap, East Coast boom-bap and of course, the Marley-esque “love, peace and unity” groove that runs thick in his blood.
England’s buzziest new band is bloody vicious. Shame have emerged from Southeast London sounding like a three-car pileup of late-’70s post-punk, mid-aughts indie and this decade’s crustiest garage rock. Their debut, Songs of Praise, gives guitar music a much-needed kick in the pants, packing more seditious energy into 38 minutes than some peers do in an entire catalogue. “Concrete” and “Lampoon” are customary, Fall-esque propulsions, but in a welcome surprise, the album contains a surplus of denser and more melodic songs. Opener “Dust on Trial” tramples all light and hope with a twin guitar crush, and singer Charlie Steen’s monologue on “The Lick” couldn’t be more malcontent if delivered by Mark E. Smith himself.
After releasing the eight-track Dulce Compañia on Imprint Incienso, New York producer DJ Python has returned with his newest concoction, an edit of Makeness’ single “Day Old Death.” The titular phrase loops continuously, beginning upfront and sonically gleaming before being absorbed in smoky synth drones and ambient pads. DJ Python’s reggaeton-inspired drum patterns and spare deliberate percussion support the song’s progression, with snare hits and hi-hat rolls locking into and separating from the groove in equal measure. The mood here is meditative, as vocals swirl and repeat like a mantra while subtly shifting as the track moves along. Synthetic, airy melodies emerge and disappear in this verdant atmosphere, highlighting Python’s skill in creating a sonic palette that is both blissful and alien.
Attention all comedy nerds: start 2018 off right with a brand-new album from the hilarious Dan Cummins, recorded exclusively for Pandora. On Maybe I’m the Problem, Cummins effortlessly weaves through bits about family, fatherhood and mandatory sterilization for those monsters who watch movies without headphones on the plane. No matter the topic, Cummins keeps it funny, so stop whatever serious business you’re doing and get laughing. That’s an order!
One thing is certain: Kassi Ashton is not to be messed with. The singer’s first release, “California, Missouri,” is a groovy country rocker, with Ashton’s fierce vocal wading through a midwest lake of distorted guitar. She introduces herself with the line, “I graduated with 86 sheep / I was the black one,” while laying out the “bittersweet” push and pull of growing up in a small town. Ashton is a competitive shooter, pageant girl and cancer survivor whose parents encouraged her to pursue her dreams of moving to Nashville, where she’s currently working on a debut album.
“More is more” must be the motto of LA’s White Wizzard, a terrifically talented throwback metal band who seem like they still have something to prove after four full-length albums. And prove something they do on Infernal Overdrive, a rousing display of high-octane heavy metal and Sunset Strip swagger that occasionally crosses over into bonkers progressive rock territory. Perhaps they should have saved the title of their debut, Over the Top, for this record, seeing as they double down on the ’80s-inspired excess and kick out epic compositions crammed with more parts than your local Pep Boys shop. But it comes off as ballsy, not bloated. Galloping bass, guitar harmonies and melodic screaming vocals are all taken to an exhibitionist extreme that, by salting the satisfying cliches with subversive songwriting twists and outside influences, sounds invigorating and inventive. Ultimately, Infernal Overdrive is a ton of damn fun.
On their fifth full-length, Australia’s premier purveyors of sonic horror descend ever deeper into a harrowing and hellish music underworld of their own design. It’s a world in which the vokills of Portal’s clock-headed frontman, known only as the Curator, emerge from his shadowy form as an inhuman rasp, like the rattle of rusty chains. Guitarist Horror Illogium adds frenzied squiggles of dissonance and blasts of buzz-drenched scrabble to the band’s arcane metallic ritualism. And while Ion’s production is more polished than on previous outings, its gloriously grim cacophony remains a curiously murky and tattered sonic shroud. Portal’s lurching, convoluted tangles of blackened death metal continue to evolve, venturing into territories so atonal and abstract, it feels more like some sort of Lovecraftian free jazz conjured up by a mysterious cabal of head-banging shamans.
In 1981, Quincy Jones was on fire. He was hot off producing Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking Off the Wall after working with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, playing trumpet with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker while composing the scores for 35 movies and TV shows. Given all that, it’s no small feat that The Dude became the most successful and critically acclaimed solo record of Jones’s career. With peppery disco, soul-piercing ballads and icy-fire jazz, the collaborative and cross-cultural album had a profound influence on ’80s R&B and wrote the book on connecting jazz and funk for a wider audience. Jones assembled a cast of top-shelf players (pianists Herbie Hancock and David Foster, and Stevie Wonder on synths), vocalists and newcomers, as well as longtime engineer and collaborator Bruce Swedien. Newly enlisted singer James Ingram took two of the album’s singles, “One Hundred Ways” and “Just Once,” into the Top 20; hit songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil wrote the latter. Like every other Jones production past and present, there’s nary a hair out of place.
Solomon Arye Rosenschein isn’t playing out of any towering rigs of doom, and he most likely won’t appear onstage in some sort of weedian robe. But the one-man band known as STAHV (Hebrew for autumn) does doom better than most. He calls his music “doomgaze,” which is an appropriate way to describe this clever convergence of doom and shoegaze. These monolithic instrumentals also blend trace elements of post-rock, psychedelia and esoterica. Unlike most of today’s doom disciples, Rosenschein was at ground zero from act one, scene one. His early 1990s bands played with Sleep, Neurosis and Kyuss. STAHV opens with “Jardín Infinito,” a wide-eyed panoramic soundscape resting on rumbling, shifting tectonic plates of doomy distortion, Middle Eastern-inspired melodies and shimmering guitar ambience. “The Test” injects an Ennio Morricone-influenced interlude under hard-chugging riffs before “Grüver” closes on a gorgeous contrast of gossamer drones, acoustic arpeggios and a mantra of hypnotic rhythms.
This single has been making rounds at nightclubs, wedding receptions and house parties in the Indian community. Wala showcases his powerful folk Punjabi vocals as mainstream hip-hop beats bang in the back, creating a true fusion of styles that remains authentic. The song’s lyrics, vocal quality and instrumental production are undeniably fresh and infectious. “So High” will appeal to a younger demographic, and as a bonus, can also be enjoyed by those that don’t understand the language.
– Ravinder Sandhu
The CCR classic redone as brooding electro-R&B.
Killer, Warped Tour-style melodic metalcore.
Hooky, fuzzy, jangly pop punk. Catchy as all get-out.
Della Memoria — “Yours“
Finally, new music from this amazing group. Super polished modern pop flecked with R&B and electronica. They should be huge.
Airtight performances of poppy, progressive bluegrass.
You know those spacious guitar intros in War on Drugs songs? An entire album of those.