February is one of the shortest months of the year, but twenty eight days later we’re still left with a host of new albums to add to January’s edition. A lot of these records are growers, albums that will continue to pick up steam throughout the year, and won’t be lost in the curse of first quarter forgetfulness. It’s tough to stack up two releases from Future in one month and only come away with one on the list, but one of these albums is a little too cohesive, and one is a kingmaker. Across the pond, grime is coming on strong in the newcomer Stormzy, and here at home a beloved indie band is feeling the bloat of emotion.
Speaking of which, Sampha finally let all of his feelings show on his very own debut — more on that record coming tomorrow courtesy of our new hip-hop and pop culture column. Feelings took a more country turn for Nikki Lane and New York’s latest breed of punks, Citris. All that and more below, because February may be over, but these albums are just getting started.
Stormzy, Gang Signs & Prayer
Thanks in large part to Skepta — and Kanye’s use of Grime in that infamous BRIT awards performance of “All Day” in 2015 — grime has finally begun to cross over in America. Which means a ferocious rapper with the fortitude of Stormzy came along at the perfect time. For a brief rundown on the young rapper’s history, check out this incredible Guardian profile on his background and rise, and his declaration that he deserves the same respect as Frank Ocean and Adele. Listening to Gang Signs & Prayer, you can hear that ambition coursing through the dark, shimmering beats and his chainsaw flow. The storm is coming, and it’s led by a young black king. Turn it up and let the lightning strike.
Vagabon, Infinite Worlds
Vagabon’s debut record Infinite Worlds has been a long time coming. Laetitia Tamko released her initial EP Persian Garden three years ago in 2014, and since then several tracks have been reworked over countless months touring, rewriting, and refining. Infinite Worlds sounds like refinement at its best; eight songs that rethink indie rock without thinking too hard, and with a lyrical sweetness that’s earnest and sharp. Tamko deftly combines prog rock, catchy indie pop choruses, soaring rock and small folk melodies to weave together a cohesive world of her own. After you fall in, you’ll feel both infinite and tiny, the best kind of world to be in.
It’s hard to name a voice in music in 2017 that’s more sumptuous than Sampha. In his brief time he’s been on the scene, Sampha has become a go-to vocalist for some of the biggest names around. Solange, Kanye, Beyonce — the list goes on. In fact, he was becoming such a well-known finish to already gorgeous songs, that people began to wonder if an album of just Sampha would sound like enough on its own. Well, Process answers that question with firm, resounding yes, establishing him as a dramatic, brilliant songwriter who can easily carry songs all on his own, even songs weighted with grief and anguish. His debut seeks to wade through heavy, deep emotion, and on the other side, you’ll feel something shift within your heart. An album that lives up to its name in every sense.
You gotta love a jazz and funk virtuoso with the balls to call his album Drunk. On the record, Thundercat sings about masturbating, fan mail, and croons alongside two of his jazz heroes, all with the same gravity. The best thing about Stephen Bruner’s music is that it makes silly things feel serious, and serious things feel funny. He uses forms of music that are improvisational, but also difficult for many to understand, and sometimes inaccessible in our current era, to project his feelings about the friend zone and leaving your wallet at the bar. The swift, frequent juxtaposition of so-called “high brow” and “low brow” forces gives this record its own gravitational pull. It sounds just as good sober as it does drunk — or is it the other way around?
Dirty Projectors, Dirty Projectors
A tough, tender record that ultimately fails to connect, Dirty Projectors is absolutely worth listening to for the production and melodies alone. Make no mistake, David Longstreth is one of the foremost musical minds of our time, and will continue to be long after his heart heals. It’s a shame this record doesn’t live up to the revelations contained on its closer, “I See You,” where he postulates “I think the love we made is the art.” Love over everything, even clunky breakup records. I love this band and will continue to look forward to their next chapter.
Ryan Adams, Prisoner
A near-masterpiece from an artist who openly struggles with the echo chamber of social media, Adams has poured a pound and a half of anguish into Prisoner, and by damn if it isn’t just the kind of catharsis we could all use in this gloomy year. There are few songwriters who can capture the exact ache of a long slow loss like Adams does on “Shiver And Shake,” or the unfettered, desperate hope of “Do You Still Love Me?” With his signature poetry, Adams makes the death of love feel like a reason to be alive. That’s a f*cking art, man.
Nikki Lane, Highway Queen
On her rip-roaring sophomore record, Nikki Lane steps even further outside the country-pop bubble that many would try to rope her into. On Highway Queen, she may be outlaw royalty, but she doesn’t give a damn about convention or rank. On this bluesy, bawdy album she grabs ’70s country by the horns and drags it into 2017 kicking and screaming. It’s a hell of a ride, even on the sad ones, and Lane sells her characters for all their worth. We should expect nothing less from a road warrior with a penchant for shiny things and old country ballads.
Future has been teasing an album called Hendrix or Future Hendrix for years now. Now that it’s finally seeing the light of day, it’s clear that HNDRXX has been a long time in the making. It is the pop crossover that Honest promised, but it is fully an Atlanta rap album. Songs like “Incredible” sound destined for the Billboard‘s No. 1 slot, and yet he hasn’t lost an ounce of his old self. This is the sound of an artist’s evolution, and Future’s higher self nods to his own projected, always forward-thinking vision. And if you thought this self-titled and pop album pair would mark the end of his year, I’d be willing to bet you’re dead wrong.
Muna, About U
I truly thought by now more people would’ve caught onto the magic of Muna, but late night knows, so perhaps we’re just cresting the wave of realization that this dark-pop synth trio from LA are onto something big. Following up their Loudspeaker EP from last year, About U builds out on those glamorous, heartbreaking songs and establishes the band as a clear contender in the world of wounded pop brilliance. Whether you’re just falling in love or trying to climb back out, About U has a shimmering salve for your heart, and the fact that it was created by three young women who are just getting started in this industry only makes it better.
Citris, Panic In Hampton Bays
As Citris break out of their east coast bubble, don’t be surprised if you hear the name Angelina Torreano everywhere. Torreano is the frontwoman for the punk quartet, but she does most of the songwriting, and all of the lyric writing, and already had a stint starring in an early Mitski video. Along with guitarist and producer Chris Krasnow, she wrote and recorded the first Citris record Panic In Hampton Bays, and self-released it back in 2015 without much fanfare. Enter New Professor Records, the independent LA-based label who decided it needed a lot more fanfare than the initial cycle yielded. So the grungey, feminist record was re-released toward the end of Februray, and is a must-listen for fans of Hole, Alanis Morissette, and anyone who loves to hear a woman scream her pain and come away stronger from making the noise.