Kanye West – Donda
Released August 29th, 2021 on G.O.O.D. II / Def Jam
Kanye’s mental issues have been leading to some fairly controversial musical choices over the past decade. Sometimes they work – Yeezus had a coherent production sound, even if it was lyrically lacking, and The Life Of Pablo seemed sprawled and unfinished but still contained almost entirely a lineup of bangers. After that, things got dicey. The move to Wyoming, going off of his medication, and his gravitation toward MAGA weirdos like Trump and Candace Owens went hand-in-hand with a sharp decline in his quality. After a G.O.O.D. Summer of 7-song albums started off strong with Pusha’s Daytona and Ye’s collab with Kid Cudi on Kids See Ghosts, he capped it with Ye, objectively his worst record and one that seemed heavily unfocused both lyrically (to be expected) and musically (a sign of the end). Then came the ultra-religious Kanye, who needed to shoehorn his love of Jesus into every nook and cranny, which resulted in the tepid Jesus Is King, an incoherent album of worship and gospel tones that was clearly one thing before he decided it needed a lot more God in it. Now comes Donda, an album that has been the subject of listening parties (more like workshops) three times and is named after his deceased mother. The latest featured a recreation of Kanye’s childhood home where he brought DaBaby and Marilyn Manson out onto the porch. I have no idea what he means by this gesture – homophobes and abusers are welcome in Ye’s Kingdom of Heaven? – but both of them are on the album, as is serial abuser Chris Brown. It seems offensive for the sake of it, as though Kanye just heard that people were ‘cancelling’ DaBaby and Manson without actually thinking through why that might be. It shows that Kanye’s MAGA persona is less a bit and more what he is: a guy whose judgement is legendarily questionable and who feels persecuted at every turn, so he shacks up with other people who he perceives as being persecuted. All of which would be at least marginally interesting if the album underneath all of this middle-finger-to-the-liberals gesturing wasn’t such an absolute goddamn slog. It’s Jesus Is King writ large, an album that is built on clipped, chopped gospel choir and church organ samples, very few interesting beats, and feature after feature that, to their credit, go hard and outshine Ye at every turn. Kanye, for his part, sticks to Jesus and his marriage, which is fine except the album runs nearly two hours and 27 songs. It’s bloated beyond all reason, the result of a supermassive ego who has not heard the word “no” in a decade. When he went all-in on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy it was enthralling, the sound of an artist coming into his own at his peak. Yeezus was charming in how brash and effortlessly cool it was, and The Life Of Pablo could be excused its hiccups (the same fits-and-starts and false release dates that plagued Donda got their start under TLOP) by virtue of how good its songs were. Donda does not have that advantage: the songs are mostly trash – a better class of trash than the songs on Jesus Is King, to be sure, but largely garbage all the same. If I wanted to hear a gospel record with church organs I would – I listen to Kanye for his superb sense of beatcraft, and that’s entirely absent here. There are good songs, of course – it would be weird if Ye didn’t put out some diamonds in the refuse – but there aren’t enough of them over the absurd sprawl of the record to warrant sticking around for long.
Chvrches – Screen Violence
Released August 27th, 2021 on Glassnote Entertainment/EMI Records
When they released Love Is Dead back in 2018 I figured that was it. The Scottish band had released the best synth pop album since Violator and a worthy follow up in the space of two years, then a three year gap, then what seemed like the sort of album that you later point to and say “that album was decent, but everything since has been trash.” A ride off into the sunset sort of album, like California Nights. Screen Violence is not that album. Instead, it’s a solid return to the sound and songwriting that made them blow up the indie world in the first place, replete with huge hooks, booming synths, cutting lyrics, and a Robert Smith cameo. Just like that, they’re back.
Big Red Machine – How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?
Released August 27th, 2021 on Jagjaguwar Records
Aaron Dessner (The National) and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) return for their second Big Red Machine record. It’s a striking, well-written collection of haunting/soothing folktronic indie tunes featuring cameos from Fleet Foxes, Sharon Van Etten, and latter-day Dessner bestie Taylor Swift. If it were 3-5 songs shorter it would be perfect. Alas, we live in the real world with all of its consequences.
Men I Trust – Untourable Album
Released August 27th, 2021
Between the entrancing, hazy melodies, the dreamlike arrangements, and the narcotic instrumentation, I wouldn’t call this album untourable. Maybe just run tape for the more difficult parts.
Turnstile – GLOW ON
Released August 27th, 2021 on Roadrunner Records
Hardcore with slick production values, hooky riffs, and a certain odd lightness that lifts these tracks up to another level in-genre.
Steve Gunn – Other You
Released August 27th, 2021 on Matador Records
Tastefully understated folkie music with a penchant for lonely desert country road sounds.
Scarypoolparty – The Act Of Forgiveness
Released August 27th, 2021 on Hollywood Records
The former American Idol contestant covers some interesting sonic ground here and there but at an hour forty-five the duds start to outweigh the good stuff.
Chubby And The Gang – The Mutt’s Nuts
Released August 27th, 2021 on Partisan Records
A West London punk band that fires out some fine, classic-edged garage classics, but the singer’s vocals are a little too one-note for much of it to be recognizable from the next track.
Water From Your Eyes – Structure
Released August 27th, 2021 on Wharf Cat Records
Experimental art-punk that blends some of the kind of cutting edge, beat-modular production Sophie was doing before their untimely demise and blends in moments of odd, speak-and-spell poetry.
Marisa Anderson & William Tyler – Lost Futures
Released August 27th, 2021 on Thrill Jockey Records
A rambling set of acoustic/electric blend of country/folk guitar exercises that get off some good haunting melodies here and there and have a good sense for dynamic switches and curves.
Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take
Released August 27th, 2021 on Saddle Creek Records
The liner notes promise a dynamic sonic range but really this album delivers varying flavours of alt-rock. It’s good alt-rock though, so I don’t really mind.
Thalia Zedek Band – Perfect Vision
Released August 27th, 2021 on Thrill Jockey Records
Thalia Zedek has been doing this weary, cigarette-smoke-and-despair style of indie rock for a long time. Regardless, I keep getting hints of slightly older, foreign influences. This is a funny way of saying that I keep hearing snippets of Blue Rodeo, early Sloan, and early Treble Charger – very Canadian sounds for a very American artist.
Baba Ali – Memory Devices
Released August 27th, 2021 on Memphis Industries
A dance-pop album, if your idea of pop is goth and Eighties rock. It keeps dealing out hooks and sooner or later one of them is going to get their barbs into you.
Sugar Horse – The Live Long After
Released August 27th, 2021 on Small Pond Records
A searing blend of shoegaze and post-metal that gets a little shrill here and there and can be a bit hit and miss but when it lands, it lands like a bomb. “Shouting Judas At Bob Dylan” is a goddamn certified banger.
Santpoort – Ocean Tales
Released August 27th, 2021 on FoF Records
Breezy lo-fi hip hop, potentially to study to. Who’s to say?
Emma Blackery – Girl In A Box
Released August 27th, 2021 on AntiFragile Records
Strictly middle of the road synth songs tailor-made for early adolescents to obsess over. Includes a cover of every baby witch’s favourite Smiths song.
The Bug – FIRE
Released August 27th, 2021 on Ninja Tune Records
The first Bug record from Kevin Martin in seven years launches back into it with some heavy dub and experimental dancehall sounds that sound uncommonly like a riot blowing up in your neighbourhood.
Space Afrika – Honest Labour
Released August 27th, 2021 on DAIS Records
Part found-sound collage, part exercise in atmosphere building, and part surreal spoken word dreamscape, Manchester’s Space Afrika draw on the isolation of the COVID era to build an album homage to unsettling times.
Torment & Glory – We Left A Note With An Apology
Released August 27th, 2021 on Sargent House Records
Part shoegaze, party country, part primitive folk, the only real issue here is the singer’s voice. It’s not quite as emotive as would otherwise be needed to carry this particular balancing act off.
Ngaiire – 3
Released August 27th, 2021 on Majestic Casual Records
Aussie by way of Paupa New Guinea, Ngaiire has the kind of voice and presence that stars could be made of. Her sonic choices are pretty impressive as well – Eighties-indebted rock-steady synth basslines and and the kind of drums that only benefit from being gated. In fact if there were gated drums on this record I’d probably just keel over and die.
Nite Jewel – No Sun
Released August 27th, 2021 on Gloriette Records
Born from divorce and a Moog, No Sun is like James Blake with all the obscuring haze stripped away. Minimalist instrumentation and maximalist vocal emoting make for an incisive record of loss and rebound.
Snowy Band – Alternate Endings
Released August 27th, 2021 on Happiness Records
Less of an indie-folk band (which is what others have billed them as) and more of a stoned alt-jazz band that listened to some Animal Collective and decided to do that but, you know, subtly.
Thief – The 16 Deaths of My Master
Released August 27th, 2021 on Prophecy Productions
Leaving aside the whole “living in a Zen monastery and partially recording in a cabin in the woods,” this is a pretty good industrial album – great textures, varied sonic range, a decent vocalist, and eases off of the bog-standard chunky guitar that a lot of industrial projects tend to overuse for the past 25 years. It’s a little on the long side, though, and while it never stoops to the level of boring it does get a little stretched-out in places.
Kiefer – When There’s Love Around
Released August 27th, 2021 on Stones Throw Records
Not as cutting edge or as crossed with global musical movements as their London brethren, L.A.’s Kiefer nonetheless make a classy, bopping jazz fusion record that gets downright knotted at times.
Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
Released August 27th, 2021 on Capitol Records
Halsey clawed her way up from the wilds of social media seven years ago and her particular blend of pop, punk, and industrial sounds has remained consistently popular ever since. Her fourth album is a treatise on motherhood, the patriarchy, and the Madonna/Whore dichotomy, touched with references to the French Revolution. It’s also produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who know exactly what she’s going for and tease out all of the key moments to full effect.
Westside Gunn – Hitler Wears Hermes 8, Sincerely Adolf
Released August 27th, 2021 on Griselda Records
Solid beat selection, solid bars, and a stellar selection of guests that include the usual Griselda suspects as well as Jadakiss and Weezy (but no Freddie Gibbs for the first time in forever) makes for a mixtape that keeps the Griselda family right at the top.
B-Real – Tell You Somethin
Released August 27th, 2021 on eOne
The Cypress Hill OG still has that stabbing flow that Danny Brown will forever be compared to, but for the most part on this record he seems content to stay in the golden era of the 90s. “Real G”, for example, is framed by a beat that seems like it was lifted dripping from a Bad Boy record in the middle of the decade. Won’t set the world on fire, but he still has skills for sure.
Curren$y & Trauma Tone – Highest In Charge
Released August 27th, 2021 on Jet Life
Decent presentation but Curren$y still feels like he’s flying on autopilot.
Ohgeesy – Geezy World
Released August 27th, 2021 on Atlantic Records
Makes no effort to draw outside of the lines, plays it as safe as a major label hip hop album often does. It should sound familiar, because it sounds like everyone else. You’ll see it on the charts and hear it on the radio, and then you won’t. Circle of life.
Jinjer – Wallflowers
Released August 27th, 2021 on Napalm Records
Hard-edged groove metal a la Pantera and Lamb Of God, but with more of a foray into death metal and touches here and there of prog.
Moon Unit – Differences In Language And Lifestyle
Released August 27th, 2021
A Croatian metal band that brings together a wide palette of crunch, a bizarre collection of electronic flourishes, and a singer who clearly grew up on Axl Rose.
Oxygen Destroyer – Sinister Monstrosities Spawned By The Unfathomable Ignorance Of Humankind
Released August 27th, 2021 on Redefining Darkness
Classic old school death metal about big monster horror. Not exactly cutting-edge, but if you’re missing that old Morbid Angel style sound then it’s a real treat. Plus it’s in and out in just under half an hour.
Phinehas – The Fire Itself
Released August 27th, 2021 on Solid State Records
Sometimes (most times) melodic metalcore is cringe af but this band manages to make it sound halfway decent. The level the drummer is getting out of their kit helps a great deal with that.
The Bronx – The Bronx VI
Released August 27th, 2021 on Cooking Vinyl Records
Barrel-rolling punk rock with headbanger tempos and scorching lead guitar. If you want to rock, they ain’t gonna stop you.
Feral Lord – Purity Of Corruption
Released August 27th, 2021 on Vargheist Records
Primitive black metal, the kind with the drums too high up in the mix and no atmosphere beyond suffocation and death. Which, from a certain point of view, is pretty good.
Hooded Menace – The Tritonous Bell
Released August 27th, 2021 on Season Of Mist
Thick doom metal slashed apart and fitted with death metal heroics, about as heavy as you could possibly want.
Windfaerer – Breaths of Elder Dawns
Released August 27th, 2021 on Frost Gauntlet / Avantgarde
Cinematic blackened folk metal from New Jersey that sounds massive, from the guttural blastbeats to the ethereal string work to the precisely explosive scorched-earth guitar.
White Stones – Dancing Into Oblivion
Released August 27th, 2021 on Nuclear Blast Records
Spanish death metal that lays it on thick and chunky, which tends to blunt some of their riffing but the dynamics keep things interesting otherwise.