September kicked off with new releases from Travis Scott and Isaiah Rashad that dominated the conversation about the next generation of rap — but there were plenty more memorable albums out that month, too. The point of this column will be to highlight albums you might’ve missed elsewhere, something to put on in a moment when you’re wondering what you need to catch up on.
From Touché Amoré’s punishing post-hardcore to the sparkling synth-pop of Jenn Wasner’s solo debut as Flock Of Dimes, here’s all the best September albums you can now stream at your leisure. October’s list will be coming soon, for now, these are albums that exist either beyond hype or despite it. Listen below.
25. Touché Amoré, Stage Four
Touché Amoré’s latest album Stage Four is a record centered around grief, namely, the death of lead singer Jeremy Bolm’s mother in 2014. She died from cancer (hence the album title) and for Bolm there was no way through the experience but via the same visceral post-hardcore and screamo that has always defined the band’s sound. Infamously, Bolm got the news of his mother’s death while on tour, and in these new songs there is a sense of his battle against the music that kept him from being by her side when she passed. That tension and struggle is present in every chord and every screamed note of Stage Four, and part of what makes it such a gripping listen. Come for the compelling post-hardcore hooks, stay for the cathartically screamed lyrics, and the brutally honest, autobiographical undertow. This is an album for those going through sh*t and for those who are almost out the other side. That’s part of why it continues the legacy of Is Survived By.
24. Drive-By Truckers, American Band
Patterson Hood has a voice that sounds like a country music song. Even if he’d had an inkling to head toward another genre, his rawhide drawl cements the man directly in the center of the country music tradition. Luckily, he likes it that way. The Drive-By Truckers are the epitome of American mythos, and they leaned into that more than ever on their newest album, christening it American Band for good measure. Given all the rancor that’s sometimes leveled at inhabitants of the American South due to the underlying brokenness trailing after slavery’s ugly specter, last year Hood penned an op-ed for The New York Times about how the region’s legacy is so much more than the Confederate flag, and offering a nuanced take on the inhabitants of that area who helped wage the war for civil rights that, unfortunately, we’re still fighting today. Hood and co. have never been a band to take their role — both as entertainers and Americans — lightly, and American Band lets them darken it up without losing any of their well-earned momentum.
23. How To Dress Well, Care
How To Dress Well makes R&B that possesses the same earnest level as most folk music. Even when Tom Krell ventures into the sex-jam side of things, he manages to keep consent and tenderness in the forefront of the narrative without sacrificing any intimacy. That’s the definition of Care, and his painstaking attention to detail makes me proud to be a fan. The shades of rubbery synth grooves and fluttering layered harmonies are all here on Krell’s fourth album. A solid, playful collection of self-conscious R&B that is not made more awkward in its inward gaze, but rather, seems to expand the more closely Krell examines himself.
22. St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Sea Of Noise
If you have yet to hear St. Paul & The Broken Bones then get your affairs in order and settle in for a trip through Sea Of Noise. The Birmingham, Alabama retro-soul outfit is fronted by the baby-faced Paul Janeway, but don’t let his angelic demeanor fool you — Janeway can get as gritty and dark as any of the soul greats, before bringing you back up into the glorious light. Sea Of Noise is just that, a record that hits you wave after wave with funky, elated sex-jams and beatific hymnals that circle the edge of religion without crossing over into believer territory. Thus, the album is never unwieldy or preachy even when it spews a golden-gospel rush. A must-listen for any traditionalists in your life, and for those listeners who think a falsetto and brass combination is proof that God exists.
21. Wilco, Schmilco
Wilco is a legendary band. If you don’t believe that, go read Steven Hyden’s synopsis of the band’s entire career, then come back and listen to Schmilco. Because, as Hyden notes, their impeccable “dad rock” has gone through five distinct stages, and this record is a muted, PTSD record like Star Wars was. Well, I don’t know about you, but muted, existential folk rock done right has a huge place in my heart this fall. Put this on when you want to pull up the covers and stare up at the ceiling. It’s a nice companion for those hours of darkness, early and late.