TORRES – Thirstier
Released July 30th, 2021 on Merge Records
Overblown, in the best way. Having spent a couple of albums ramping up to it, Mackenzie Scott dives full-on into bending her hooks into glittering alt-rock barbs. She collides arch-modern obscura pop like Deerhunter into more classic sounds: the wide-open electronic clatter of Garbage and the off-kilter crunch of the Breeders. If anyone could grow to challenge PJ Harvey for the title of Empress of the Alternative Nation, it would be her.
Lump – Animal
Released July 30th, 2021 on Partisan Records
Indie-folk darling Laura Marling and Tuung’s Mike Lindsay get busy deconstructing New Wave into strange new forms.
Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever
Released July 30th, 2021 on Interscope Records
When your debut album blows up to a ridiculous extent, it’s a double-edged sword. It’s a blessing/curse situation that any number of artists could tell you about at length. Guns ‘n’ Roses released Appetite For Destruction and following it up took four years and a scandal-ridden circus. The Stone Roses defined a generation with their self-titled debut in 1989 and then didn’t release a follow-up until they were all but broken up. Billie Eilish released When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? in 2019 and proceeded to eat the sales charts and the Grammys for breakfast. “Bad Guy” was at #2 on the Billboard charts for so long it threatened Missy Elliot and Foreigner for longest-running single at #2 without making it all the way, but eventually “Old Town Road” slipped. The expectations are, as such, too high for Happier Than Ever. There is no world in which it will do anything near the numbers of her first record, and the pop wags will inevitably call it “difficult” and “a failure” regardless of how many units it sells or how often you hear “Therefore I Am” on the radio.
Still: musically (and that’s what counts still, right?) it’s a success, an expansion on the sound of her debut and a progression in terms of songwriting. Like any young singer-songwriter she’s had “write what you know” drilled into her; these are songs about the trap of fame, the discomfort with the ever-present public gaze, the troubles with maintaining relationships at this level, and a response to the bullshit heaped on her by the vacuous trash media (see especially “Not My Responsibility”, which has its roots in a short video she started playing at concerts shortly before the plague put an end to concerts). It’s stellar stuff: she’s figured out how to get even more emotion out of her ASMR singing style, and her brother Finneas’ production expands on the strengths he showcased on the first record. Together they’ve proven that they weren’t just pop lightning in a bottle: these are kids growing into serious artists with decades ahead of them to find real roots. If the fickle public ends up being less enthusiastic this time around, let them: going platinum on your debut means never having to say you’re sorry.
King Woman – Celestial Blues
Released July 30th, 2021 on Relapse Records
Heavy female-fronted sludge that dips into doom metal on more than one occasion. The band brings a great sense of dynamics strung together with a rhythm section that crushes no matter what’s going on in the song.
Low Roar – maybe tomorrow
Released July 30th, 2021 on Tonequake Records
Sparse, ambient prog-rock in the vein of Pink Floyd and mid-period Radiohead.
Ty Segall – Harmonizer
Released August 3rd, 2021 on Drag City Records
Ty Segall’s first Drag City record since 2019 is more of the crawling, squealing hard rock sludge that he has made his name on again and again and again.
Bleachers – Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night
Released July 30th, 2021 on RCA Records
Jack Antonoff comes full circle back to making music again, after producing a pile of stars throughout the latter half of the 2010s. Imagine Dragons made big time, overwrought pop music ridiculous again, so here he resurrects his Bleachers moniker and works through a set of Seventies-vintage heartland rockers that hit all the right Springsteen notes, right down to the wailing saxophones and lengthy codas (oh, and the Boss himself on track two). I guess that’s just the other half of the decade that he worked on with St. Vincent.
Durand Jones & The Indications – Private Space
Released July 30th, 2021 on Dead Oceans
They nick their entire aesthetic from the suburban basement Seventies and they look like your local D&D play group, but goddamn they are a smooth-ass R&B band.
Yola – Stand For Myself
Released July 30th, 2021 on Easy Eye Sound
The former Phantom Limb singer puts Dan Auerbach behind the boards again to double down on her status as the reigning queen of outsider-Americana rootsy soul.
Coast Modern – Going Mainstream
Released July 30th, 2021 on +1 Records
Mediocre would-be-gonzo L.A. pop that is neither as charming as Superorganism nor as acidic as the Flaming Lips.
Horsey – Debonair
Released July 30th, 2021 on Untitled Records
Jazz inflections into more hardcore rock music is all the rage these days, but Horsey take a cornier definition of jazz as their main starting point.
Vial – Loudmouth
Released July 30th, 2021 on Get Better Records
Loud, fast, and coated with pop candy hooks, Loudmouth is the sort of album they used to call riot grrrl before the need to differentiate between men and women in punk lost some of its urgency.
Naia Izumi – A Residency In The Los Angeles Area
Released July 30th, 2021 on Sony Records
Slick, inventive neo-soul that would have sounded fresh had Bruno Mars not decided to come in and stomp all over everything.
Lotus Thrones – Lovers In Wartime
Released July 30th, 2021 on Disorder Recordings
Clanging, dour hard rock that borrows shamelessly from doom metal atmosphere-building but never really gets going past a certain point.
prisms – Hot Under The Collar
Released July 30th, 2021
Would have been the hottest release in the summer of 2004.
Liars – The Apple Drop
Released July 30th, 2021 on Mute
Twenty years ago my roommate put on an album and said that he couldn’t figure out if it was the greatest thing he’d ever heard or absolute trash. That album was They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top. Later, I became a fierce advocate of their willfully difficult second album, They Were Wrong So We Drowned. From there they have careened wildly from sound to sound, coming close to being accessible but then shying back from it. On their tenth album they go as accessible as they likely can, a choice that leads to some interesting moments but the sequencing leaves something to be desired. The album starts off slowly and it isn’t until about the halfway mark that the spark of life really flares. The focus on more ambient sounds is nothing new – that’s basically just Drums Not Dead again – but there’s something not quite as much fun this time around.
Isaiah Rashad – The House Is Burning
Released July 30th, 2021 on Top Dawg Entertainment
Rashad hasn’t put out a full album in 5 years but seems to have spent that time in a training montage; he rushes back with a definite level of growth about him, and he delivers songs that hit hard with a subtlety that speaks of newfound maturity. It’s just too bad he’s baby soft about critique.
Logic – Bobby Tarantino III
Released July 30th, 2021 on Def Jam Records
Not to belabor the Zay Rashad point, but people are always talking in reviews about how Logic is a “corny motherfucker” who is “stuck in a holding pattern where he’ll never be on top” and how he’s “Redditcore bullshit” but does he bitch and whine about the reviewers on social media? I actually don’t know because I don’t follow him. But I’ve never heard of him doing it, so that counts for something.