Periodically over the course of the year, we will produce two lists to highlight a few of each month's new albums. This list spans multiple genres, with each album ordered best to worst. With about 40 albums in both lists, make sure you Don't Miss These Albums! - - -
Katie Gately – Loom
Loom is only Katie Gately’s second release, but she can already craft a deeply moving, complex, and emotional album. Her experimental approach is less written than designed, shaping the sound to match her chaotic yet intentional vision. The middle track “Bracer” is one of the most brilliant avant-garde/electronic pieces I have ever heard, moving through a series of increasingly intense and eerie sonic concoctions – however, this is just one-quarter of an album filled with adventurous and transportive material from start to finish.
Sepultura – Quadra
Now long past losing their original members (and, as some would say, most essential), this Brazilian group finally puts all the pieces together to capture exactly what made the band’s early output so special. The album has everything fans have been waiting for, intersecting the thrash and groove metal of their classic releases with some progressive and melodic material found on later albums. A revelatory metal album that ends up as an instant classic, Quadra shows that decades of subpar Sepultura albums have not been for naught.
Isobel Campbell – There is No Other…
Flowing melodies and arrangements abound on this new Isobel Campbell album, but that has happened on all of her solo albums. What makes this one special, however, is its ability to make each feel simultaneously new and old, soft yet poignant, individual yet cohesive. Some could get thrown off by the unique Tom Petty cover song, but those who make it to the end might not be able to keep track of the number of beautifully performed songs.
BTS – Map of the Soul: 7
I could never have predicted a South Korean boy band would perfectly encapsulate the pop music sound of 2020, but that just shows how ignorant I am of Asian music. Bravo to BTS for opening my eyes to this fact.
Gil Scott-Heron/Makaya McCraven – We’re New Again: A Reimagining by Makaya McCraven
Fresh off his essential 2018 release, drummer/composer Makaya McCraven uses his signature techniques to reimagine the final Gil Scott-Heron album from 2010. Taking the vocal track from this American poet, who died in 2011, McCraven continues his method from Universal Beings, taking improvised and newly composed performances from his bandmates and digitally crafting them into original configurations. The power of Scott-Heron’s posthumous appearance speaks to his permanent legacy as an everlasting part of American music history.
Royce da 5’9” – The Allegory
An absolute epic of an album, The Allegory is not Royce’s longest record but feels twice as dense as anything else out right now. Each song tackles a new hard-hitting topic in a more informative than aggressive approach, with spare yet provocative production that highlights the message of each song. With a laundry list of references packed into each song, not every bar comes across with the same intensity, but the vast majority makes up some of his best work ever.
Stone Temple Pilots – Perdida
The second new STP album following the death of lead singer Scott Weiland, Perdida drifts into an acoustic vein that will certainly turn the heads of the classic fans. Those who enjoyed the group’s rocking 2018 album might scoff, but those listeners must have forgotten about the masterful songwriting of stripped-down songs like “Big Empty.” Perdida ebbs and flows through a consistently bittersweet mood, central to which is the feeling of “loss” (English translation of “perdida”) – this unified sound and approach show that the group is ready to reflect on life’s tragedies without losing any of their spirit.
Six Organs of Admittance – Companion Rises
Ben Chasny is now over 20 years into his run as Six Organs of Admittance, and his music is still fascinating. His excellently-formed compositions remain fresh and imaginative (even with ten albums in the last 15 years) and blend his signature approach with engaging effect. Opening with the purely electronic “Pacific,” the record then moves to “Two Forms Moving,” showing off his finger-picked style and setting the classic tone for the rest of the album.
Nada Surf – Never Not Together
Brimming with creativity and fueled by their 90’s heyday, Nada Surf’s 9th album is as full of vitality as their lone hit, “Popular.” This time around, the New York band finds a tipping point between their love of 90’s pop hooks and their love of ambitious alternative songwriting. Nada Surf sustains this approach with a reflective mood, resulting in a record as exuberant as their 1996 debut but with over 20 years of songwriting experience.
Allie X – Cape God
Allie X’s new album is masterful pop for its time – familiar and summative in sound, yet containing deeply thought-out lyrical and musical arcs to heighten the album experience. The lyrics have the same poignant effect as Billie Eilish or Melanie Martinez, without either’s sardonic or bitter tendencies. The music fits closer to CHVRCHES than Madonna as an alt-pop artist, using lush soundscapes and bouncy rhythms to contrast a layer of darkness that gives Allie X her standout edge.
The Secret Sisters – Saturn Return
Even following up one of the best folk albums of the past decade, The Secret Sisters never fail to impress with their immaculate harmonies and far-too-catchy Country-esque songwriting.
King Krule – Man Alive!
The shortest King Krule album to date is luckily still as bleak and disconcerting as before. While The Ooz seemed to stretch Archy Marshall’s caustic bite as far as he could take it, Man Alive! drifts through time while looking at the world from the outside. While not having as many standout tracks as that last masterpiece, Marshall’s newest venture into the darkness is equally as compelling.
La Roux – Supervision
Synth-pop is not dead! La Roux returns with a bright and sincere pop album, incorporating her music with funky, dance-y, and groovy inclusions that could put the songs on almost any pop playlist post-1975. She can do disco, synth-pop, and dance-pop music with equal sincerity, and she has an inspiring and empowering independence that can only come from a confident performer such as herself.
Moses Boyd – Dark Matter
Jazzy hip-hop instrumentals that infuse some traditional instrumentation with modern pop beats, resulting in some seriously funky music. There are a few guest vocalists that shine on their tracks, but the instrumentals with drummer Boyd and his band put this British newcomer at the top of his genre.
Soccer Mommy – Color Theory
The alias of singer/songwriter Sophie Allison, Soccer Mommy’s second album is a straight upgrade from her solid debut. Though Clean had an admirable group of songs, Color Theory frames these new songs through three lenses of thematic coloring, namely Blue, Yellow, and Grey. Recommended to experience the concept for yourself, but if conceptual records are not for you, the “color theory” will not keep you from enjoying another solid set of songs.
Tennis – Swimmer
The consistent indie-pop duo that seems to perfect their sound with each record, Tennis’ fifth album comes in only a notch short of the pitch-perfect Yours Conditionally. As the second release on their new label, Mutually Detrimental, Swimmer shows Tennis thinking outside the box while sating fans with stylish songs about love and the events of married life.
Nathaniel Rateliff – And It’s Still Alright
Superbly well-written songs from front to back, And It’s Still Alright showcases Rateliff’s penchant for low-key folk songwriting, but loads the front half with a little bit of the Night Sweat’s rootsy grit for an authentic, raw feel. No track feels overly processed, hitting the typical Americana imperfection just right to make his reflective messages clear. With a variety of highs and lows under his consistent vision, Rateliff spends his solo time well and improves on his melodic abilities with each release.
Shopping – All or Nothing
Capturing most of their past music’s complex interweaving on All or Nothing, Shopping once again turn in a post-punk record that smashes up conformity and complacency without ever needing to resort to heavy punk intensity.
Caribou – Suddenly
Some electronic music can be detached and unemotional, but producer Dan Snaith has never seemed impersonal in his Caribou output. With production like a warm blanket and a pastiche of exultant samples, Caribou once again demonstrates its consistent vision balanced with a unique album experience.
Kvelertak – Splid
Splid is more of the same Kvelertak, and no one is complaining. Even with a new vocalist, the Norwegian punk-metal aficionados continue to hone their signature sound, refining each guitar riff along the same path they began with Nattesferd in 2016. A few extra goodies come in now and then to shake things up, but the band has no shame about keeping Iron Maiden, Mayhem, and Guns ‘n’ Roses as their go-to references.
The Homesick – The Big Exercise
Any band debuting on Sub Pop is always worth hearing. Last year alone, we saw debuts from Orville Peck, Corridor, and Shannon Lay (all quality new groups), plus records from newly joined Tacocat and Weyes Blood; now, the streak continues with The Homesick. This Dutch band joins art-punk with indie-pop hooks for a buoyant ride that only occasionally gets lost in its peculiar ambitions.
Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
Grimes’ shapeshifting wackiness twists and turns into a cohesive character on Miss Anthropocene. Allegedly about climate change as well, her dark persona uses threads from various inspiration to tie together a singular vision, and the results, though perhaps inferior to Visions and Art Angels, are as fascinating as ever.
Greg Dulli – Random Desire
As the main person from the Afghan Whigs, Greg Dulli’s new solo album is understandably a work of its own. But fear not, there is plenty of great songwriting on Random Desire that, like all good Whigs album, you never feel put off by his excesses. It even improves on the band’s reunion albums a bit; Dulli cannot quite capture the feel of the past, but he can still write a handful of great-sounding songs.
BAMBARA – Stray
Dark, aggressive post-punk in the vein of IDLES, BAMBARA make up for their noisy D.I.Y. past on Stray, striking the perfect balance of driving New York intensity with the Southern gloom of their home state of Georgia. The production has a glisten that clarifies the guitar, bass, and drum precision while simultaneously shrouding each song with a cloudy atmosphere. The last few years have exploded with many excellent bands similar to BAMBARA, and this group’s continual refinement of their sound puts them closer and closer to joining the top of the pack.
The Orielles – Disco Volador
On their 2018 debut, The Orielles took a page from the 90s bands of their native U.K. to influence their modern indie-pop sound. By repeating their freewheeling formula on Disco Volador, they might not be winning any originality prizes. Still, the album is an absolute joy, full of exciting twists and turns to an occasionally stale genre.
Real Estate – The Main Thing
After Real Estate’s last two albums, the New Jersey band set themselves up for disappointment. Luckily, they switched things up just enough to keep fans engaged. The sound is nearly identical to the past, but this time around, Martin Courtney introduces more intricate lyrics to the fold – this makes for a better match to their shift away from basic warm flowy indie vibes, perhaps indicating more matured new directions for the band on future albums.
Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man
Ordinary Man has a consistency that just borders on repetitive, but one cannot deny his unusually present inspiration and vitality. After collaborating with Post Malone and producer Andrew Watt on the song “Take What You Want” in 2019, Osbourne somehow became livelier than he ever has, starting the writing and recording only a few months ago. Featuring a bunch of people he’s never worked with before (including Watt on guitar/production, Duff McKagan from Guns ‘n’ Roses, Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers, and pop-songwriter Ali Tamposi), Ozzy surprisingly came up with his best album in years.
Spinning Coin – Hyacinth
With an excellently capable debut imbuing pop melodies with a diverse and semi-complex noise atmosphere, Spinning Coin’s Scottish heritage continues to inform on Hyacinth, the band’s sophomore release. Though there are not quite as many memorable songs this time around, Hyacinth does sport some improved production and a pervasive but lovable weirdness. The first single “Feel You More than the World Right Now,” the most pop-driven song on the album, might be the most majestic, infectious, and downright well-written song of their career.
Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
Replete with disco references galore, The Slow Rush coheres the musical explorations that began with the hip-hop incorporations on his 2015 album Currents. Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker makes each song an impactful and meticulously planned voyage, albeit a highly polished one that by now has done away with almost all guitars in replace of various keyboard sounds. Anyone can understand the betrayal that some of their classic fans must feel, but luckily Parker revives his approach here with something that Currents lovers and haters alike can enjoy.