With the first single off her upcoming album No Tears Left to Cry, it’s certainly safe to say that Ariana Grande is back. About a year after the Manchester terrorist attack at her show where 22 people were killed and more than 500 people were injured, Grande takes us on an emotional roller coaster that arrives at an overall better place. The title track opens with what we expect to be a full ballad, but shortly after Grande delivers her signature top-notch vocals, the beat picks up and her voice becomes edgier. As the track progresses, we get that ’80s house music vibe mixed with an R&B flair and it gives us all the feels. Grande addresses much of the hate and negativity in today’s climate and sings to her fans, “We’re way too fly to partake in all this hate / we’re out here vibin’, we vibin’, we vibin’.” This is one of Grande’s more personal songs, and it’s quite a nice teaser for what’s to come on her new album. | Republic
Janelle Monáe puts the “sex” in intersectionality with her latest onslaught of fashion-forward political pop. Dirty Computer is belly-deep in innuendos, heavy-handed feminism, and anti-establishment eroticism. The visually stunning video for “Pynk” boasts an all-black female cast bathed in pink lights and dancing in couture vagina-inspired pantsuits. As Monáe’s messages get personal, her production remains tight and accessible, with melodies that could swap for a Taylor Swift track. The influence of her belated mentor, Prince, can be heard explicitly in the funky AF guitars on “Make Me Feel.” Monáe has historically hid behind the personae of robots and aliens, but this latest effort thrusts her body and soul center stage. In “Django Jane”, she instructs the listener to “Hit the mute button / Let the vagina have a monologue.” As to whether this is explicitly a “coming out” record, Monáe simply told The New York Times Magazine: “I hope people feel celebrated, I hope they feel love. I hope they feel seen.” | Bad Boy
For many a double-denim donning hesher, April 20th, 2018 was more than just a day to stop and smoke the flowers. It was on this date that doom pioneers Sleep released The Sciences, their fourth album (if you understand that 1999’s Jerusalem and 2003’s Dopesmoker are essentially the same) and first proper full-length in nearly two decades. Those who favor Sleep’s sprawling song lengths might be surprised that the opening title-track is barely over three minutes. But like the similarly short instrumental “Nain’s Baptism” from 1992’s Sleep’s Holy Mountain, the trio packs a tight bowl of riffs to help spark all that follows. And what follows is arguably the most potent strain of Sleep yet. “Marijuanaut’s Theme” reminds us of bassist and singer Al Cisneros’ penchant for epic weedian concepts, while the following 12-and-a-half minute long “Sonic Titan” continues to follow the smoke toward the riff filled land. Since Sleep may be mostly responsible for turning Black Sabbath into a musical subgenre, it makes perfect sense for them to pay homage to Geezer Butler with the bass-heavy epic, “Giza Butler.” | Third Man
Since the 1970s, Ebo Taylor has made the case for fellow Ghanaians to steer away from highlife — the country’s main musical export — and opt instead for the hard, pulsating sounds of afro-funk. His latest offering, Yen Ara, continues in this crusade while also demonstrating the mastery of his craft he’s developed over the more than 60 years he’s spent making music. With their relentlessly percussive accompaniments and full-bodied brass arrangements, songs like “Mumudey Mumudey” and “Mind Your Own Business” swing with a ferocious vigor that defies Taylor’s 82 years. The outstanding title track eases into a soulful, mid-tempo pace reminiscent of Taylor’s classic production for C.K. Mann or Pat Thomas. In both consistency and modern sensibility, Yen Ara can be rightfully compared to Taylor’s 2010 afro-funk masterpiece, Love and Death. The album further magnifies Taylor’s essential role in Ghanaian music and African music as whole. | Mr Bongo
Masicka has quick risen through reggae’s ranks to become a deejay’s deejay: a prolific lyrical tempest who seems equally at ease over roots and dancehall riddims. On his latest single, “Ears a Ring,” he delivers a playful rundown of where he’s at in life, bouncing between humility and hubris in a single breath. Masicka has earned the right to be braggadocious: his heavy songbook is full of quality tunes laced with dextrous stanzas, and he’s still riding high off the success of ”Infrared,” his 2017 collaboration with fellow Portmore artist Vybz Kartel. With its sing-a-long chorus and whimsical verses riding Seanizzle’s lurching, guitar-driven instrumental, “Ears a Ring” is the perfect candidate for an early summer dancehall anthem. | Seanizzle
Beloved Canadian power pop super heroes Sloan return with their twelfth full length, and while Sloan remains a bit of a cult band in the US, the sort of slavish devotion they engender makes one wonder what it is exactly that keeps them from making it big here in the states. It’s certainly not a problem of songs — their entire catalog is essentially a master class in catchy, sing-along power pop perfection. And even as personalities, they’ve always been like a cool, indie rock version of a boy band, with fans going gaga for their favorite member (Chris, Jay, Patrick or Andrew!). The group is often greeted by borderline, Beatlemania-style hysteria at live shows. They’re also hilarious — the band’s stage banter is often as entertaining as the music.
One of the most unique aspects of Sloan as a band, though, is that all four members are incredible songwriters, and they effortlessly swap instruments as each writer moves to the front to handle lead vocals on his songs. This individual songwriting approach was most recently (and most conspicuously) on display on Sloan’s 2014 double album, Commonwealth. Each member took an entire album side to themselves, on which they each wrote and performed their own songs with no input from the other band members. And yet somehow, it managed to be surprisingly cohesive and very much a proper Sloan record. On 12, the band decided to go in the opposite direction, each member still contributing their own songs, three each this time around, but with the focus on real collaboration. The coolest part of this new shared approach is that the individual “voices” are still immediately recognizable: Chris’s songs are the super catchy sing-along power pop epics, Andrew’s are more brooding and introspective, etc.. And yet each member’s songs end up sounding like some of their very best material, with that Sloan band chemistry working some kind of mystery pop music magic. And while 12 is maybe one of their strongest records in years, opener “Spin Our Wheels” might be the star of the show, easily one of the best Sloan songs ever, which is saying a lot considering their catalog is essentially made up entirely of “best songs ever” already!
Perhaps ours is not to forever question why American success has continued to elude Sloan, but instead, simply to enjoy the musical bounty they provide, and of course, to count ourselves lucky that a band 12 albums into their career can still somehow remain our little secret! | Yep Roc
Florida is home to swamps, bizarre local news and flipturn, an emerging indie surf rock band. They’ve quickly established a strong presence in North Florida’s local music scene, and are poised to expand their fun, feel-good sound far beyond the Sunshine State. Named after a street in their hometown, flipturn’s second EP, Citrona, plays like a classic summer day: moving in slow motion through the blanket of humidity, driving around palm tree-lined roads with the windows down and catching the cotton candy sunsets that make Florida beautiful. Not much makes me homesick, but between the music and lyrics of youthful exploration — making mistakes and eventually growing from them — I find myself missing the days spent sweating it out with people who are now nothing but sweet summer memories.
Citrona demonstrates flipturn’s impressive musicianship and songwriting talents. Instrumental tracks “Fletcher” and “Jasmine” are lush, shimmering bookends to the powerful punches that “Six Below” and “Churches” pack. “August” and “Hippies” fondly recall the one that got away, while “Nickel” laments the choice between chasing dreams and chasing a paycheck. Each song is beautifully recorded, coming together in an EP that perfectly captures common aspects of youth: finding your place, learning hard lessons and basking in the bittersweet glow of nostalgia. Citrona is a polished, dynamic display of raw emotion and pure talent that leaves you craving more. | flipturn
Compton rapper/producer Channel Tres’s new single “Controller” is an infectious mix of day-party house music and SoCal rap vocal delivery, with Tres stepping confidently into the fray and boldly asserting himself as the controller. By the end of the track, there’s absolutely no argument made to the contrary. “Controller” is Tres’ debut single on Godmode, and was co-written/produced by label boss Nick Sylvester, who in the past has championed similarly forward thinking, left-of-center dance/electronic artists like Shamir and Yaeji. With Channel Tres, Sylvester has once again found another unique voice in dance music. His distinctive, deep vocals looped warmly over the sort of propulsive, sinewy beat that demands movement. The track itself is a seriously swung, uptempo house jam complete with tasty looped percussion, muffled chord stabs, a bouncy pumping bass line and even some throwback R&B sax lines. Tres’s hypnotic vocal delivery, coupled with an impeccable production style, make “Controller” a subtly powerful dancefloor dominator. | Godmode
If you follow Bart Davenport’s recordings (and you should if you’re at all drawn to jangly power pop, amorous soft rock and bossa nova-tinged indie pop), Blue Motel will sound both familiar and new. The production boasts warm, vintage fidelity with moments of glassy guitar leads that cut through the mix. Where Davenport’s preceding album, Physical World, presented the keen narratives of a Bay Area native adjusting to a Los Angeles move, Blue Motel plays with the wiser confidence of a cosmopolitan musician who navigates LA’s characters and freeways with a natural agility. Though he’ll still get compared to Cleaners from Venus and Prefab Sprout, Davenport and Co. more cleverly blend those chorus-slathered ’80s moments with classic jazz chords while keeping his lifelong ’60s influences confined to song arrangements. “Halloween by the Sea” spotlights Davenport’s knack for making haunting melodies and vexing lyrics sound bright and beautiful. “Vampire” could very well be musing on a human woman, but it also seems to personify a seductive city incapable of loving anyone back. | Lovemonk
For myriad, unfortunate reasons, the shelf-life for singer-songwriters of faith-informed folk-pop – especially women – is dreadfully short. For every artist up on the shelf, there are dozens of even more talented ones you’ll likely never hear. So when a project as fierce and beautiful as Christa Wells’ Velveteen gets through the door, there isn’t enough Twitterspace to wave the flag I’d like to wave.
Awash in themes of bravery and redemption, the seven songs on Velveteen are, in many ways, the anthem of anyone who finds the strength — in a season of suffering — to unclench her fists, take a deep breath and remember she is greater than the sum of her circumstances. On the title track, she sings:
If my beauty starts to fade, I’ve been held in a thousand ways
If my heart looks broken in, then I’ve been brave enough to live
If perfect turns to perfect mess, and all your love is all that’s left
Then I’m as real as real can be, call me Velveteen
Christa Wells’ brilliant, conscience-pricking lyrics and soulful alt-pop sound deserve a wider audience. | Cinco Ninos
How to listen to this album:
- Begin Sunday afternoon. It should be warm and sunny without much of a breeze.
- Clear your schedule. Errands? Nope. Chores? Not today.
- Take a leisurely bubble bath. Bonus points if it’s aromatic. Really soak in those suds.
- Find an open window, or better yet, a balcony. Pull up a cozy chair. Make sure you can feel the outside air and the warmth of the sun on your skin.
- Wrap yourself in the softest, fluffiest blanket you can find.
- Hit play 45 minutes before sunset.
Please note: You may experience euphoria and a sensation of weightless. This is normal. | MCA Nashville
Eric Church calls himself a “massive fan” of Ashley McBryde, and her major label debut, Girl Going Nowhere, gives us a good indication why. Every track is a testament to the thoughtfully placed detail that can make a song seem so specific, yet so universal. The romantic honesty of “Andy (I Can’t Live Without You),” the bone-chilling “Southern Babylon” and the coming-of-age title-track “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” all showcase McBryde’s command of songwriting and her musical foundation in traditional country, Southern rock and the bluegrass festivals in which she was raised. Influences from the songwriting of Patty Griffin and Bonnie Raitt’s blues guitar, to Carl Jackson’s bluegrass prowess all shine through in stories about family, life and music. McBryde, one of Pandora’s 2018 Country Artists to Watch, is a proven entertainer and will have you raising your glass and crying in your beer over this new album, which we recommend seeing her perform live if at all possible. | Warner Music Nashville
Daptone expands into new territory while maintaining high standards of quality and taste with this excellent release by Cuba’s Orquesta Akokán. Though deeply rooted in son and mambo, these songs sparkle with New York freshness. Dashes of salsa dura-style trombones and pregones keep this record on fire. | Daptone
Hailing from Sao Paulo, Brazil, BIKE have been laying down reverb-drenched psychedelia since their 2015 hallucinogenic debut, 1943. BIKE is the brainchild of musician and producer Julito Cavalcante and was born out of his personal experiences with hallucinogenic substances, as well as the resurgence of the rich and diverse underground Tropicália movement that had defined Brazilian music for more than 40 years. Cavalcante and crew continue the tradition on their third release, Their Shamanic Majesties’ Third Request, with obvious inspiration coming from the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request and the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request. Serene psychedelic sounds are melded to shimmery dream pop with a subtle touch of drums, percussion and indigenous viola caipira, taking you on a dreamlike journey with a swirling climactic finale. Have a good trip! | BIKE
Various Artists — Uneven Paths: Deviant Pop From Europe (1980-1991)
Amsterdam-based label Music from Memory has quickly solidified itself as a defining voice in left-field music over the past five years. Its latest release, Uneven Paths: Deviant Pop From Europe (1980-1991), features a selection of reissued pop oddities filled with synthesizers, drum-machines and guitar upstrokes. “This is music with one foot in the avant-garde and another foot firmly rooted within the sensibilities of pop,” the label’s website reads. With vinyl reselling at absurd prices, this expertly-curated compilation unearths priceless Balearic gems and puts listeners before collectors. Standout tracks like “What You Are” by Peter Brandt’s Method and Tony Hymas’s “Pictures Of Departure” make this a sun-soaked mixtape fit for afternoon car rides and sweaty dancefloors alike. For those with an ear toward the adventurous, enjoy this deep dive into funked-out ’80s synthpop. | Music from Memory