Young Money Entertainment/Cash Money Records
Nicki Minaj, your favorite Barb, just released her fourth studio album, and it’s everything we hoped it would be. Pop culture has an insatiable need to pit women against each other and argue that there can only be one chart-topping female rapper at a time, so Minaj dropped Queen to prove she’s it. On “Barbie Dreams,” she puts her own (fire) spin on Biggie’s “Just Playing (Dreams),” but she shows her more vulnerable side on tracks like “Thought I Knew You” and teams up with Ariana Grande on hit single “Bed.” Um, #BestFriendGoals? Throughout the album, Minaj pays homage to the greats, all while taking shots at anyone she deems deserving. Cheers, Nicki — hip-hop needs you. | Tiana Lewis
Amos Lee gently ushers in the end of summer with his laid-back, perfect-for-fall, smell-the-crisp-air-from-the-back-porch album, My New Moon. This seventh release is an updated mix of Lee’s regular sonic palette, as he weaves together his deep, bluesy vocals, acoustic folk instrumentation, orchestration and rich harmonies across 10 carefully selected, deeply personal, self-penned tracks.
Lee is clearly inspired by legendary singer/songwriters like John Prine and Joni Mitchell as well as the soulful sounds of Otis Redding and Bill Withers. Key tracks include the anthemic “Louisville,” the crooner of a love song “I Get Weak” and, in true protest folk fashion, his take on our current political environment, “Crooked.” | Rachel Whitney
There’s something ironic about a group of Australians calling their album The American Dream, but it’s also completely perfect. Trophy Eyes’ third album represents a marked departure from their hardcore and pop-punk roots, a bold move considering how the alt scene has been known to condemn any and all stylistic changes. But although Dream might have a slightly softer sound than previous efforts, singer John Floreani’s voice loses none of its edge when moments of angst rip through the melodic tapestry they’ve woven here. This is an album full of juxtaposition: massive moments are just as powerful as quiet ones, and gut-wrenching confessions are just as impactful as hopeful passages. Strong, anthemic choruses just barely mask the album’s heavy lyrics, making Dream accessible enough to sing along to or pump you up, as long as you don’t listen too closely. Really, the record is a microcosm of American life today. You make sacrifices, you feel beat down and sometimes, you look inward and don’t like what you see. But despite all that, you continue to work toward something bigger than yourself. Across 12 tight tracks, Trophy Eyes sum up what took Kerouac 320 pages to explain: just because you might not ever find that thing doesn’t mean it isn’t worth searching for. | Stephanie Elkin
Castle Face Records
There may already be a few million albums in existence by Thee Oh Sees — or Oh Sees, or OCS, or whatever John Dwyer and his current crew of garage-psych wackos are calling themselves at the moment. There will undoubtedly be even more albums from them by this time next year, or maybe even next month. But how many of those once and future Oh Sees albums have a cover like this one, with a painting of a giant demonic kaiju monster laying fiery waste to a city? “Not enough” is the correct answer. At least we have Smote Reverser, which lives up to the chaotic heaviness hinted at by the cover art. It’s about what you’d expect, and then some.
Smote Reverser takes the vintage ’60s psych sound of LA’s Sunset Strip, complete with Iron Butterfly/Deep Purple-style keyboards, and gets frantic and almost metallic with it, especially on prog-thrashed tracks like “Overthrown.” This album is a freaky good time, running the gamut from electric acid rock ritual to poppy dance spasms to spaced-out, Kraut-flavored bliss, and it’s all delivered with Dwyer’s stage-whispery vocals and bowls of fried guitar noodles. Maybe we should look at that tentacled terror on the cover a little differently: perhaps he/she/it is just misunderstood, only out to have some fun. You know, do a little dancing? Oh, and sorry about the death and destruction. | Allan Horrocks
Primal Fear are celebrating their 20th anniversary with the release of their 12th album, Apocalypse, which firmly cements their place as power metal royalty. Founding German metal legends Ralf Scheepers (of Gamma Ray fame) and Matt Sinner (of power metal pioneers Sinner) have forged a mighty machine of epic proportions. Power metal is all about execution, and these guys are some of the best out there, in the same league as Iron Maiden, Rhapsody and Helloween. What sets Primal Fear apart, however, is their own rugged sensibility, muscular sound and deep riffs inspired by classic rock and thrash as much as classical music and speed metal. | Diego González
Domino Recording Company
2018 is proving to be the year of queer and gender-binary protest music, with the likes of Janelle Monae, BROCKHAMPTON, Perfume Genius and Tyler, the Creator shaking up gender stereotypes. Add to that list British songwriter and guitar hero Anna Calvi, who’s just dropped her third LP following 2013’s Strange Weather, a collaboration with David Byrne. The music is smart but primal. Slow-burning orchestral arrangements crescendo into growls and screams on “Don’t Beat the Girl out of My Boy,” while Calvi’s tour de force guitar playing is simply brutal. If you plucked Patti Smith at her angstiest and added the vibrato-rich, nearly cabaret voice of Brian Ferry, you would be getting close to Calvi’s flame. Hunter is a refreshingly honest rock ‘n’ roll album, with a majestic scope in songwriting and organic production. Like the record’s sweaty, lipstick and dust-smeared album art, Calvi is not hiding her passionate and elemental quest to alchemize wholeness within the confines of traditional gender roles. | Lisa Light
When you listen to music for a living, you soon learn the difference between the music you have to listen to and the music you want to listen to. You’re reminded daily that what glitters not only isn’t gold, it isn’t even copper — that record deals and social media thrills promise diamonds, but mine a helluva lot of CZ. Conversely, you remember those sparkling moments of emergence, the infant stages of brilliance that only a true gem afloat on a sparkling sea of bling can produce.
The New Respects are one of those diamonds. This female-fronted, retro-soul foursome brings the fun, the funk and a lyrical fortitude well beyond their years. They sway and stomp and lay the stage bare — think Jackson 5 meets the White Stripes meets Alabama Shakes meets Mavis Staples.
Before the Sun Goes Down, TNR’s debut album, delivers the shimmery goods on so many levels, it’s difficult to pick its finest facets. The thumping bass groove of the title track, the Bond-does-tuba-and-scrub of “Trigger,” the scorching, ’70s-sounding “Freedom” and even softer ballads like “What Makes the World” and “Rich” only hint at the band’s capacity to rock. The Fitzgerald siblings and their cousin Jasmine Mullen write, play and sing — they wail, even, in the best possible way. | Melissa Chalos
Northern Spy Records
Driving, psychedelic hypno-rock is not something you’d expect to hear from Australian improv “jazz” trio the Necks, but then again, all the ingredients were there on their 19 previous albums. It only took until Body for the group to put them together to create such an immediately invigorating and downright rocking concoction.
The group’s line-up, and thus core sound, has remained constant since the beginning: Chris Abrahams on piano and keyboards, Lloyd Swanton on acoustic bass and Tony Buck on drums and guitar. And the trio begin Body in true Necks style: a circular thrum of minimal percussive skitter, hushed bass pulses and soft flurries of piano. The sound unfurls like a single measure of cosmic jazz in stasis, trapped forever in sonic amber, but close listening reveals constant mutation and the group’s peerless knack for creating momentum from minimalism. Swirls of organ wreath the ever-intensifying sound until everything drops out in a lull before the oncoming storm: a blast of hard-driving psychedelic rock that wouldn’t sound out of place alongside groups like Circle, Wooden Shjips, Acid Mothers Temple or White Hills.
Drummer Buck leads the charge, wielding the electric guitar as the whole group unleashes a dense tangle of hypnotic heaviness and rock ‘n’ roll repetition before ending things in an abstract drift of unmoored free-jazziness. Delicate clusters of piano notes become a fog of rumble and shimmer, drifting over a glistening bed of cymbals, firefly electronics and a plodding doominess so slow and freeform that it becomes near-ambience. It’s a dark, dreamlike threnody that could easily have stretched out into a whole other Necks record. | Andee Connors
If your favorite letter in CSN or CSN&Y happens to be N, you’re in for a serious treat. Over the Years… is a thoughtfully curated compilation that focuses on Graham Nash’s output between 1968–1972. It comprises the more salient songs from Crosby, Stills & Nash’s eponymous debut album, as well as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s celebrated album Déjà Vu and some subsequent long-players. Standouts from this era include the warm and twangy “Teach Your Children,” as well as the comforting “Our House” and the harmonious “Wasted on the Way.” Songs from Nash’s 1971 debut solo album Songs for Beginners also turn up. Check out the timeless (and timely) “Military Madness” or the gorgeously remastered version of “Simple Man.” True music heads are sure to gush over the demos included here. Stripped down to acoustic guitar and Nash’s instantly recognizable voice, these intimate recordings sound like you’re sitting with him at a campfire as he plays an unplugged set of everyone’s favorite tunes. But you also get to peer into the creative process as songs like “Sleep Song” and “Man In The Mirror” unfold to reveal their skeletal foundations. The best part? Over the Years… boasts a whopping 15 demos, all thanks to the good folks at Rhino, who also recently built this cool hosted playlist of classic hits throughout the decades. | Eric Shea
It’s odd that the late Erma Franklin, four years older than her sister Aretha, didn’t receive anywhere near the same recognition as our dearly departed Queen of Soul. This incredible collection — which includes Erma’s 1962 LP Her Name is Erma and non-album singles recorded for both Epic and Shout Records between 1967–68 — reveals Erma’s emotional, dynamic and versatile singing ability.
Like sisters Aretha and Carolyn (who also had a recording career), Erma sang in her church’s gospel choir throughout her childhood, and when Aretha became a full-time recording artist, Erma provided background vocals and toured with her sister. Erma then moved to New York City and later signed with Shout Records in 1967. For the briefest of moments, she achieved great heights. Erma was best known for recording the original and definitive version of “Piece of My Heart” (sorry, Janis). In addition to gut-wrenching soul, this gifted vocalist also laid down harder-edged funk with surprisingly sweet sophistication like that of Etta James.
This collection is an expansive survey of a singer who, overshadowed by her celebrated sibling, could not keep up the momentum of her one great hit, despite a rich career full of excellent performances. Like both of her sisters, Erma succumbed to cancer far too soon. The Franklin sisters — symbols of perseverance and power — leave behind a legacy of soulful music that will never be forgotten. | Michelle Solomon
Long Branch Records
Agent Fresco’s origin story reads like a Scandinavian School of Rock fantasy: four music students get together in 2008, mere weeks before sweeping Iceland’s annual battle of the bands. Their early recordings garner top accolades in the Nordic music world. By the time 2015’s Destrier rolls around, the quartet is one of Reykjavík’s hottest aural exports since Sigur Rós.
It certainly helps that Destrier is a magnificent record, polished and punchy in all the ways that count. Though undergirded by ever-shifting rhythms, the album favors atmosphere and tension (okay, and a little melodrama) over instrumental pyrotechnics. Even when Þórarinn Guðnason’s guitar work gets knotty, as on “Howls” or the djent-ed “Angst,” a heart-stopping release is always imminent. | Julian Ring
Ambient and dance music are ostensibly opposites. One genre is all about amplifying energy, while the other is about relaxing that energy. However, to make compelling music in either style, one must have a keen sense of space and rhythm, which makes it particularly special when electronic music producers have an ear for both. Such is the case with UK musician Arthur Cayzer, who performs under the moniker Pariah. After putting out several EPs on legendary dance label R&S, Cayzer returns with a nine-track ambient suite of sorts, Here From Where We Are. With each track swirling into the next, Cayzer sparks nostalgia for classic ’80s new age while simultaneously tinkering with the more active sonic palate found in today’s electronic music. The album should be listened to in its entirety, but for those eager to get started, grab a nice pair of headphones, throw on “Rain Soup” or “Pith” and enjoy the dregs of summer. | Lee Robinson
Dry Bar Comedy/Vidangel Studios
Kellen Erskine has a dry, low-key delivery that lets his jokes do the heavy lifting. As if to prove the primacy of this concept, his debut album ends with an automated Siri voice reading out a series of one-liners. Dry Bar Comedy is a comedy label and video production company specializing in clean, family-friendly material. They did well to include the former America’s Got Talent and Conan-vetted Erskine, who does classic observational comedy with a slightly darker edge than, say, Jim Gaffigan. Erskine’s crowd work manages to lightly call out his audience without going into full roast-mode, which is a balletic form of restraint for a wit this sharp. | George Chen