On the Rvn launches Young Thug’s collabo game to the next level. “High,” the album’s standout single, gives Jeffery a big chance at crossing over into pop with an assist from Sir Elton John. Did you ever think Rocket Man could be so funky? The spacey trap ballad takes the duo on a journey to the next universe. London on Da Track gets going on the title cut, hitting the boards hard with an air horn that creates urgency behind Thugga’s distinct voice. The result is pure fire. London blesses “Climax” with more acoustic magic, blending a guitar loop and 6lack’s sexy vocal. Thug also recruits his extra slime for “Sin” via T-Shyne and Jaden Smith. And “Icey” bounces along, keeping the whole EP a clean listen front-to-back. | J Boogie
People sometimes wonder what kind of world we’re leaving behind for Keith Richards. But those people fail to realize that it’s Paul McCartney who is going to outlive us all. At 76, Sir Paul has just released his 17th solo album, and it resonates with more life and energy than most musicians half his age. “Come On to Me” is classic McCartney filtered through modern production. It immediately serves as a great reminder to those skinny-necktie-donning torch-keepers that power pop doesn’t need to rely on throwback retro trappings. You can’t help but wonder how Macca still plays with such spirit, but he kind of answers that question in the romantic “Happy With You,” a Beatles-esque gem in which he sings about how he stopped getting stoned because he’d rather be awake and present in the company of his loved one. Of course, there will always be those critics who opine that McCartney is past his prime. Thankfully, he recorded the hard-grooving “Who Cares” just for them. | Eric Shea
Don’t look too hard for the main thrust of Chris. It’s right there on the cover, staring back at you, dripping from Héloïse Letissier’s slicked hair and panted between her parted lips. Sex — marvelous sex — is all over this second album from the French singer, a sweaty, bilingual emancipation of her butch alter ego. It’s a joyful listen, to be sure, but one full of real talk about Letissier’s budding extra-gender identity: “It hurts, I feel everything / As my sense of self’s wearing thin / Such pains can be a delight / Far from when I could drown in my shame,” she croons on “The Walker.” Elsewhere, she lets her desires lead: “Yes sir, I am wet,” she hisses on the Dâm-Funk-assisted “Girlfriend,” an airy slice of synthpop that glides by on supple keys. A focused set of musical influences — Madonna, MJ, other ’80s icons who could totally get it — lends the album a delightfully retro vibe, yet the empowerment on display roots it in the lyrical now. | Julian Ring
Side B is the brilliant second installment in this two-album set from Jillian Jacqueline, following last year’s Side A. Jacqueline, a born performer who got her start on Broadway as a kid performing with Kenny Rogers, is a Pandora Country Artist to Watch for 2018, and continues to shine with this independent release. The EP kicks off with the high-energy “Priorities,” then alternates between intimate stream of consciousness and hooky songs that still manifest a higher level of self-awareness. “Sad Girls” is cinematic in its heart-wrenching lyricism, and the EP wraps with groovy “Somebody,” which is straight out of Sheryl Crow’s Tuesday Night Music Club playbook. And keep an ear out for Keith Urban’s special guest appearance on “If I Were You.” | Rachel Whitney
Over the course of nearly two decades, Tim Hecker has slowly amassed a stunning body of work. His compositions range from delicate, cinematic sound designs to high-concept art (Van Halen songs and interviews transformed into gorgeous, gossamer shimmers). But all of Hecker’s work shares a sonic palette of detritus and musical shadow. He is a master of sound sculpting and musical manipulation, transforming digital errata and white noise into dense and delicate ambience.
Hecker’s music always seemed classically inclined (or at least influenced). On Konoyo, that element is even more pronounced, with melodies that wind through the entire album. At times, they lend the record an almost electronic or post-rock vibe; at others, Konoyo sounds like Asian folk music fused with a glimmering field of pulsations and keening whirls. Seemingly disparate, these sounds eventually blur and smear into something much more recognizably Hecker-ish.
The album’s first single, “Keyed Out,” is a more childlike take on Aphex Twin. Its disembodied, Satie-esque pastoralia is delicately wreathed in a susurrus of soft glitch and chordal haze, a la Christian Fennesz. Album closer “Across to Anoyo” is a massive, heaving squall of woozy warble and pitch-shifted thrum, like the drone-doom of Nadja reinterpreted by malfunctioning machines. It’s a haunting and harrowing bit of stunning sonic surrealism. | Andee Connors
Basement Beehive: the Girl Group Underground
Chicago’s Numero Group is incomparable. With series like Eccentric Soul and Wayfaring Strangers, each release the label puts out focuses on a specific era, subculture or forgotten genre. You won’t find any Wall of Sound, Brill Building or “My Boyfriend’s Back” sound-alikes on Basement Beehive, a collection of unknown girl groups. Rather, you’ll hear incredibly sophisticated productions and arrangements paired with grit and groove, plus killer vocals from “sister acts, studio receptionists, classmates [and] angelic voices of the 1960s.” This comp runs the gamut style-wise: tough and melodramatic (Vickie & The Van Dykes’ “I Wanna Be A Winner”), sentimental and swooning (the Cineemas’ “Never Gonna Cry”), soulful and funky (the Rayons’ “You Confuse Me Baby”), gritty and garage-y (the Belles’ “Melvin,” a spin on Them’s “Gloria”). Don’t pass up this extravaganza of big-haired — and even bigger voiced — badass women of pop’s halcyon days. | Michelle Solomon
When it comes to recording honky-tonk or outlaw country in the 21st century, it’s all too easy to fall back on yesteryear’s tried and true blueprints. It’s even required, to a certain extent. The harder part is putting a new shine on a timeless formula, but that’s exactly what Nashville singer-songwriter Emily Nenni does on her impressive debut album, Hell of a Woman. From the first few bars of the opening title track, it’s evident that Nenni was born to sing classic-sounding, twangy tunes. Accompanied by a stellar band, her layered harmonies blend with pedal steel notes that flow like cold beer from a new tap. This tune also spotlights her knack for arrangements as it detours into a mellower bridge where Nenni stretches out and even yodels like she grew up on Rosalie Allen and Patsy Montana records. The following track, “Don’t Wanna Cry,” turns up the grit to deliver a modern Americana gem that would sit well next to Margo Price and Nicki Bluhm on a playlist. “Hurt All Over” is another standout that exemplifies how Hell of a Woman balances timeless tones with new ideas. If you ever get the chance to see Nenni in a live setting, make sure to stick around for “Baby Found the Bottle,” a hell-raising drinking song that begs for inclusion on the soundtrack to a remake of Every Which Way But Loose. | Eric Shea
Dopamine acts as a chemical delivery system between neurons, and can trigger the brain’s pleasure centers with any number of stimuli: a kiss, your drug of choice, even a memory. KickRaux and Khxos’ particular flavor of this happy serum comes packaged as an intriguing musical mixture: equal parts Caribbean flavored R&B, thumping dancehall rhythms and subdued guitar stylings normally reserved for indie rock. The song’s first moments wash over like a rainy day, with Khxos waxing floetic over plucked strings, but that mood is soon swept away by the chorus’s broken clockwork drums and vocal samples that dance between octaves. KickRaux has already made a name for himself as a bridger of dancehall, hip hop and R&B, and “Dopamine” illustrates the creative places this producer is capable of venturing. He and Khxos have created connective tissue between different cultural cortexes, a drug that becomes increasingly addictive with each listen. | Diego Herrera
As a yoga teacher, I’m always looking for beautiful ambient music to play in class that doesn’t contain distracting melodic hooks, waves crashing or birds chirping. I want my music to provide an organic sonic cocoon into which one can lay back and disorient from the stresses of real life. I found all this in producer and Pandora Music Analyst Jeffrey Anthony’s meticulously crafted EP Paper Kite Ball. Deeply inspired by Bill Frisell’s debut album In Line, the record creates moods through the use of harmonic ambivalence and a lack of specific melodic statements. Strings, synths and keyboards blend and dip, awash in reverb, always a breath away from a familiar motif. With nothing particular to hold onto, all that is left is to enjoy the moment at hand. Namaste to that. | Lisa Light