ANTS FROM UP HERE
BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD
Everything about Black Country, New Road’s sophomore LP Ants From Up Here screams that this might be a Gen Z indie band with serious staying power. There are touches of Arcade Fire-esque grandness to the arrangements, thanks to the chamber pop flairs being a seven-piece band with a saxophonist and violinist provides, but the group also takes time to breathe in the smaller, intimate moments. Topping it off, lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Isaac Wood delivers contemplative lyrics with a dramatic poetic sincerity. But then Wood left the band days before the album’s release, citing mental health issues. While the band continues on as a six-piece, the record now feels like it might be a glorious totem of what might’ve been rather than an immersive jumping off point for more glory to come. Still, it’s totally worth your time to soak in Ants… ambitious youthful grandeur.
The best pop album so far this year absolutely delights in its electronic sleaze. There’s not a moment across the album’s 12 tracks where Charli XCX doesn’t radiate bad girl pop sensuality. Screw good guys and mushy love, Charli is here for wild passion. Highlighted by the total banger synth-thump single “Good Ones,” Crash is a streamlined artifact of digitized heartsick vocals and big modern pop hooks.
Soul Glo doesn’t allow for passive listening. Diaspora Problems grabs you by the shirt collar and slaps you in the face. The majority-Black Philadelphia hardcore punk band screetches out screeds of political and social unrest without pulling any punches as the guitar and rhythm section blazes forward at blistering pace. Jordan Pierce’s vocals violently smear the line between hardcore screams and hyperspeed raps to further the sense of epic anarchic scrappiness and revel in discomforting truths.
DRIVE MY CAR (ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK)
There’s a grace to Japanese multi-instrumentalist Eiko Ishibashi’s soothing score for Drive My Car that perfectly mirrors the Oscar-winning film itself. Each track of delicate and minimalist ambient jazz carries the movie’s sense of calm-but-weighted reflection. Like the movie’s sweeping flow of traffic (which is captured sonically on “Cassette” and other selections), Ishibashi’s musical approach manages to be both steadfastly disciplined and improvisational, capturing our inability to know what’s around life’s next bend.
After releasing multiple indie-rock masterpieces (Be the Cowboy, Bury Me at Makeout Creek), Mitski decided to drown her sound in ’80s synth-pop stylings for Laurel Hell. The musical tone delightfully clashes with her pensive lyrics that wrestle with staying engaged and connected to life and creativity, worthiness, and lopsided love. No one else can sing as confidently about not being confident at all, and Laurel Hell offers a lush palette to further that exploration.
HOW IS IT THAT I SHOULD LOOK AT THE STARS
THE WEATHER STATION
No act is making mature, sophisticated and somber indie folk on the same level as the Weather Station right now. After releasing one of 2020’s best album’s (Ignorance), the Canadian group led by Tamara Lindeman (and her ever-haunting and emotionally piercing vocals) quickly turned around and made one of 2021’s best LPs. Each track has a prevailing softness and composure with lush arrangements driven by slow-keyed piano and colored by woodwind accents, resulting in a gorgeous and melancholy secluded forest of sound.
Aussie troubadour Alex Cameron has long felt like a character pulled from a David Lynch reality, luxuriating in seedy underbellies with his alternative synth-pop rock. A contributor to recent Killers albums, Cameron is kinda like Brandon Flowers’ dirtbag cousin; still suave and charismatic, but you can see all the gross stains on his suits and teeth. Oxy Music offers up sardonic observations about the people that society shoves to the fringes — the ones that are getting eaten alive by the American opioid epidemic. If you’re seeking a singer/songwriter who can craft catchy choruses based around cancel culture, internet anti-vaxxers, and k-holes and a-holes, look no further.
RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART
This may be a hot take, but Vince Staples is the most consistently excellent MC in the rap game currently. Ramona Park Broke My Heart catches Staples at his most introspective yet, crafting detailed songs about his youth in the Ramona Park neighborhood of Long Beach, California. The melancholy West Coast production sound and unobtrusive beats mostly lay out to let Staples operate in full hip-hop storyteller mode — delving into gangbanging street life, youthful overconfidence, and familial love — with this smooth, unfazed flow reaching new emotional depths.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY & BOLIS PUPUL
Dancefloor electro-pop that’s extremely humorous while also being cutting explorations on post-colonial racism, sexuality, cultural appropriation and digital vanity? Topical Dancer is one of those albums that you don’t realize you need in your life until you hear it. Belgian-Caribbean singer Charlotte Adigéry and her musical co-conspirator Bolis Pupul craft a multilingual debut that pulsates with beats that would get any hips shaking, but it’s Adigéry slyly delivering fierce satirical commentary with a tongue-in-cheek faux-sugar coating that elevates these songs to an elite level all their own.
THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND
The Torontonian frenetic melodic punk band is always wrestling with the dark sides of existence with hooky and anthemic fury. The formula works without ever being wildly depressing because there’s often a comedic turn to the lyrical takes about how everything sucks. PUP toes the line between chaotic melodrama and snotty musical nihilism. From the interstitials that treat the band issues like corporate meetings to the salvo against being a band in late capitalism that is “PUPTHEBAND Inc. Is Filing For Bankruptcy,” THE UNRAVELING…. charges head first into the abyss with aplomb. ♦
ALSO DON’T MISS…
Bronco – Orville Peck
Chloë and the Next 20th Century – Father John Misty
DFTK – Yung Kayo
Feel the Void – Hot Water Music
Growing Up – The Linda Lindas
Life on Earth – Hurray for the Riff Raff
Sick! – Earl Sweatshirt
Sore Thumb – Oso Oso
Squeeze – Sasami
Wet Leg – Wet Leg