October feels like a long time ago, mostly just because of how much music-related stuff went down in November. We lost Leonard Cohen, who just put out an album that easily made this list. We lost Sharon Jones, a beloved, heroic late-bloomer who reminded us all what a live performance really meant. We elected a new president, to surprise and confusion. We got a new Tribe Called Quest album, something some people thought would never happen.
But despite all that, October really wasn’t that long ago! And there were a bunch of incredible records that came out that month and got lost in the political onslaught. So this space is reserved today for celebrating them, check out our picks below for the 25 best new releases that month.
25. Green Day, Revolution Radio
Green Day revealed their punk streak is alive and well when they burst into the unexpected — and unplanned — chant denouncing Trump at this year’s AMAs. It’s rare for a band to maintain a sense of rebellion when they’re already massive stars, but that didn’t stop the punk rock trio, who haven’t shied away from being political in the past (See: American Idiot). Similarly, Revolution Radio is a recommitment to the kind of riff-heavy, shouty punk that made this band beloved to an entire generation of angsty teens. This album and stunts like that AMAs chant, just might win them the hearts of the next generation to boot.
24. Tove Lo, Lady Wood
I could probably write 500 words strictly on the balls it took for Tove Lo to name her album Lady Wood and juxtapose it with a cover image of a crotch shot where she’s pulling down her pants — that’s the artwork equivalent of an unsolicited dick pic. Her subversion of gender roles and fluid sexuality is the driving force behind the Swedish songwriter’s second full-length album, Lady Wood. Tove Lo breaks the mold of female pop star sexualization by grasping firmly on the reigns of her own desires and galloping away into the wind on songs that play with irony, desire, and flat out f*cking over silky, synthy production kicked into high gear by her lucid, lascivious voice. Sure “Cool Girl” is a great banger, but if you dig in, you’ll find the slow-paced duet with Joe Janiak “Vibes” proves Tove Lo can write a great sex jam of any speed.
23. Kings Of Leon, WALLS
Aside from the co-sign from their superstar fan Taylor Swift, Kings Of Leon have been fighting an uphill battle for their new album WALLS. After a critical and commercial peak with 2008’s Only By The Night, one of my personal all-time favorite records, the band has faced a bit of a slump trying to get back to that mountaintop. Sure, the follow-up Come Around Sundown in 2010 technically charted better, but it didn’t have the same impact, and 2013’s Mechanical Bull did even worse. There’s plenty of factors at work here, dropping albums sales, the deescalation of rock as the most popular genre, a refocus on more diverse voices in music, but the primary force at work is that people only really like rock bands when they’re undiscovered, when they don’t have big names like Taylor Swift on their side. Most fans of Kings Of Leon consider Only By The Night to be the moment they started selling out, instead of the moment they perfected their version of moonlit-darkness howling rock jams. Anyway, if you like moonlit-darkness howling rock jams, this album is for you.
22. Lady Gaga, Joanne
I already wrote about how this album completely took me by surprise when it came out. Joanne floored me because, for once, Lady Gaga showed up without her signature maximalism, and the results proved that she’s much more than a loud costume, a garishly fantastic chorus, or a world-stopping stunt. Instead, Joanne made me curious to hear more from whoever Gaga has become in her whirlwind rise and fall — or who she was all along, behind all that hot air. It’s not that this isn’t a pop album, it’s just a pop album that focuses more on “album” than “pop.”
21. Regina Spektor, Remember Us To Life
Nostalgia is such a strong undercurrent in 2016, please allow me this single moment to rhapsodize about Regina Spektor’s now ten-year-old one foot on the ground masterpiece Begin To Hope. There has perhaps never been a more perfect distillation of folk-pop and what it is capable of instilling in the listener. Begin To Hope is full of hope yes, and longing, and whimsy, and devastating poetry. While the Russian singer identifies as anti-folk, her latest album Remember Us To Life is perhaps more pop than Begin To Hope or anything that followed, but the clarity and cleanness works well with her fiery outbursts and pristine vocals. If you’re looking for an album to play in the car with your mom while you’re home on vacation, look no further. Spektor’s emotionally-charged bleeding heart pop spans generations, settings, and moods. Flexible folk whimsy that nonetheless touches a chord, even if it never reaches the deepness of Begin To Hope.
20. Empire Of The Sun, Two Vines
Uproxx Editor-In-Chief Brett Michael already gave us a great play-by-play on the way listening to Empire Of The Sun can turn your day around, and Two Vines is one of the finest albums the Australian synth-pop duo have released to date. Following up their extremely successful debut Walking On A Dream with 2014’s Ice On The Dune, it seems like it took a third effort, Two Vines, for the duo to synthesize their icy, blueish synth-pop into its fullest iteration.
19. American Football, American Football (LP2)
When American Football announced their return after a 17-year hiatus, it was one of those moments that reminded me how powerful the currency of nostalgia can be. The iconic emo band only ever put out one album, the self-titled American Football in 1999, and then broke up. While together, the band only received minimal praise, but in the intervening years developed an unexpected cult following. Given the recent surge in emo-focused or influenced bands, it only made sense that one of the early forebearers would return to help usher back in this age, and LP2 builds off their melancholic math rock to further their impact on the genre as a whole. Scarcity is certainly one way to preserve your legacy.
18. Terry Allen, Lubbock (On Everything)
Not sure how long I have to keep repping Paradise Of Bachelors before the rest of the world catches up, but their release of Terry Allen’s Lubbock (On Everything) is only one of the many great records the independent North Carolina label has put out this year — and actually is only one of the two reissues by influential Texan artist Terry Allen that they released in 2016. Earlier this year the label reissued Allen’s storied 1975 release Juarez, and followed that up with his ode to his home in West Texas, Lubbock (On Everything). Allen is both a musician and a visual artist, and his work has been renowned for decades by the likes of David Byrne, Lucinda Williams, Jason Isbell and so many more. These reissues are a prime example of honoring an influential artist while they’re still with us, instead of waiting until their passing, and bring Allen’s tongue-in-cheek, earnest songwriting into sharp focus.
17. Jeff Rosenstock, WORRY
Jeff Rosenstock is a fiercely independent punk songwriter who has been working in music for almost two decades. Despite his early avoidance of anything corporate or mainstream, last year he signed on to a deal with SideOneDummy records and released his first solo album, We Cool?. Follow that record’s success, he stuck with the plan, and once again teamed with the label to put out his sophomore solo record WORRY. In an interview last month with Steven Hyden, Rosenstock noted that getting older helped him settle into doing this, he felt okay working with a label since the music would still be released for free. He said his vision for WORRY was to make something that sounded “punk-as-f*ck, and congratulations Mr. Rosenstock, you have more than succeeded. WORRY is 17 tracks of full-fledged, roiling adult worry converted into thrashing pop-punk that will make you scream along at the top of your lungs, even if you have a car payment, a nine-to-five and a bad knee.
16. Boogie, Thirst 48 Pt. II
LA rap is going through something of a renaissance right now, but Boogie is happy to let those popularity waves go up and down while he quietly focuses on his own sh*t. The Compton rapper followed up two strong mixtapes, 2014’s Thirst 48 and 2015’s The Reach with this year’s Interscope debut, Thirst 48 Pt. II, a project full-bodied and snarling enough to catch Rihanna’s ear. Pop star curators be damned, Boogie’s cutthroat analysis of his own romantic failings — and how he was wronged — thrust alongside scathing takedowns of the struggles of inner city parenting make this record a full-fledged competitor for this year’s top rap album.
15. Matt Kivel, Fires On The Plain
Matt Kivel is part of LA’s quietly thriving folk scene, and Fires On The Plain is actually the second album this prolific songwriter put out this year. Following up April’s Janus, here Kivel is eerie, teetering and mournful, linking up with fellow nu-folk experts Robin Pecknold (of Fleet Foxes) and the legendary Bonnie “Prince” Billy for a pair of features on the otherwise sparse 26-track album. Kivel can do morose without losing the thread, and this unwieldy album becomes a meditative balm the longer you listen — philosophical, dark folk for someone with the patience and time to follow Kivel spark his vision into a raging bonfire.
14. The Radio Dept., Running Out Of Love
Swedish synthpop that’s stuck around since the early 2000s is not in short supply, but The Radio Dept. have done something singular over the last decade — they’ve taken their sweet, innocuous sound and bent it, pushed it to carry a heavy dose of political vision. The result is a record that sounds light and carefree but feels weighty. Don’t call it a comeback, but it’s the kind of hairpin turn that makes a band intriguing again, even ten years after their initial peak. Some of the contrasts between lightheartedness and looming darkness remind me of Twin Peaks whiplash, and the resulting jolt is similarly satisfying.
13. Gucci Mane, Woptober
Congratulations are in order to Gucci Mane for his recent engagement, and for singlehandedly giving us something to be thankful for in 2016. Gucci’s transition from Trap God to Trap Role Model is one of the most unexpected and celebrated rap events of the year — Woptober simply continues the party. Choice line: “We love each other but we don’t like people,” off “Aggressive. If you’re on Team Gucci, there’s plenty for you to love here. If you aren’t by now, well I have nothing for you.
12. Joyce Manor, Cody
Joyce Manor are a California pop-punk band who deserve at least as much attention as your nostalgic reach toward warmed up new tracks from an old fav. Following their 2014 breakthrough Never Hungover Again was actually their third album, and 2016’s Cody, is their fourth. It shows. This album is about strength, even when it laments weakness, mess, and confusion. The guitars shimmer and the percussion crunches, the vocals whine and lean and beg and plead. Bands who are just starting out try to make panicky pop-punk sound this velvety and seamless, and serene, but always fail. Joyce Manor succeed because while they’re singing about the pains of being young and directionless, Cody is a north star.
11. Kacey Musgraves, A Very Kacey Christmas
One thing I love about Kacey Musgraves is that no matter how polite she may be, she does whatever the f*ck she wants. That was true on Pageant Material, the lowkey follow-up to her beloved breakout Same Trailer Different Park, and it’s even more true on her new Christmas album A Very Kacey Christmas. As her performance of “Mele Kalikimaka” for tonight’s CMA Country Christmas special revealed, Musgraves leaned even farther into the Hawaiian/’70s country influences for her take on Christmas classics. It’s not what I would’ve chosen — I’m still waiting for her to take the genre back with a spitfire roar — but that doesn’t seem to be her style. And this slowed down, easy-listening approach still makes for a fascinating, fun album. Especially “A Willie Nice Christmas” which is a direct ode to getting stoned on Christmas. God bless.
10. Mannequin Pussy, Romantic
There are sentiments too strong for sentient discourse, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying. Maybe that’s why Mannequin Pussy’s oscillation between hardcore interludes, pop punk riffs, and softly-sung choruses is so cathartic — it’s got a little of everything. Marisa Dabice’s voice would’ve been more than at home in a soft, ’60s-influenced folk outfit like Weyes Blood, below, but her temperament was more suited to a band who are keen to mimic the emotional repercussions of a panic attack for a half a track, like they do on “Denial.” This is an album full of erratic bursts in a musical world where heated emotions aren’t just celebrated, they’re everything. No really, this album clocks in around less than twenty minutes, with nary a song longer than three whole minutes. Romantic doubles down on the thesis that emotions are everything, what’s more romantic than that?
9. Tkay Maidza, TKAY
Tkay is a frenetic rapper, she raps like she’s running out of time, then she’ll giggle and reassure you she knows exactly how long it’s going to take for anyone to listen to her. Here’s a hope at speeding that process up: TKAY sounds like it’s a direct descendant of M.I.A.’s patchwork pop dissonance and Nicki Minaj’s and steamroller rapping. It might help further to know your favorite rapper, Killer Mike, thinks Tkay is worth f*cking with; he shows up on “Carry On” to reprimand haters and encourage fearless rebellion. You don’t have to tell Tkay twice. You can watch for this girl’s inevitable rise in 2017, or be an early adopter for once.
8. D.R.A.M., Big Baby D.R.A.M.
I became a D.R.A.M. fan at a Remy Banks show back in late 2014/early 2015 when the Virginia Beach rapper appeared onstage like a beam of light and performed his still bubbling soon-to-be-hit “Cha Cha.” Hearing that song live for the first time, out of nowhere, I was immediately fascinated by the force of D.R.A.M.’s singing voice, his impeccable ability to bend a melody to said voice’s will, and his limitless enthusiasm. Luckily, all three of those qualities are sprinkled all over his major label debut, Big Baby D.R.A.M.. Notable guest spots from Young Thug, Erykah Badu, and Lil Yachty — on the insurmountable jam “Broccoli” — remind us how far D.R.A.M. has risen since his mixtape days, but succinctly keep the spotlight on his own powers, of which there are many. This album is just the beginning for a massive force in music who remains under-appreciated, even now.
7. Weyes Blood, Front Row Seat To Earth
Natalie Mering lords over her songs like an empress. Neither rash or benevolent, there is nevertheless an air of dignity, of separation, between her voice and the orchestral folk songs she writes. Mering’s co-producer Chris Cohen helps craft the stateliness of Weyes Blood songs, which sound like chamber orchestra temporarily subdued for the calm quiet of a summer evening, then resurrected for the first storms of winter. It feels correct to describe her fourth album, Front Row Seat To Earth in terms of seasons, these songs, though related, are at times towering, wintry, completely inaccessible, before falling into the warm fullness of a blossoming folk stillness.
6. Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker
Steven Hyden wrote a great rebuttal to the many critics who are trying to all but put Leonard Cohen in the ground. Then he died. Life comes at you fast, man. Still, Hyden’s points about how Cohen had a late-in-life career resurgence stand. A big part of Cohen’s legendary status was his uncanny ability to mix the sacred and the profane, and You Want It Darker is full of moody, magnificent moments when he does just that.
5. Twin Limb, Haplo
Sometimes a band doesn’t come into their proper due on the album it should’ve happened on — that seems to be the case for Twin Limb. Haplo is a distillation of folk, soaring dream pop, and skyscraping harmonies, and should’ve garnered attention from all the usual suspects, yet, it sits in strange, undiscovered limbo. If you’re looking for the kind of record that soothes your stormy thoughts, and alternatively, gives voice to them in swirling, cloudy folk, Haplo is the solution. Even when albums are temporary solutions for real problems, the records that got me through specific stages live eternally in my memory. Haplo will be one that helped me through winter 2016.
4. NxWorries, Yes Lawd!
A while ago Anderson Paak tweeted that his new collaboration with Knxwledge was a masterpiece. Well, it’s not quite that — it actually isn’t as good as Paak’s solo 2016 release Malibu — but it is really f*cking good. Yes Lawd! gets deeper into both old school gospel and deeper into explicit sex-jams than Paak’s solo album did, and is at times blatantly sexist and objectifying, a weird contrast with the rest of Paak’s ebullient, uplifting output. He literally sings “look what they wearing” at one point, speaking on women who he says tempt him out of monogamy on “What More Can I Say,” a cringe-worthy callback to justifications for the gloom of rape culture that has finally come under fire, particularly in 2016. Though egregious missteps like this — and other weird notations like a monologue about flammable piss on the album closer “Fkku” mar the record, its synthesis of gospel, R&B, rap, funk, and soul is unparalleled.
3. Sasha Siem, Bird Burning
I almost don’t have to tell you that Bird Burning was recorded in a greenhouse in Iceland, because the record bears all the markings of this already — reedy soprano, chilly instrumentation, humid blooms of heat, lush patches of emerald-green melody dotted with blueish vocals from Sasha. Siem is an British-Norwegian songwriter who trained at the Guildhall Music School in London as a child, went on to study music and literature at Cambridge and Harvard, apprenticed for Pulitzer Prize winning poet Jorie Graham, and won the British Composer Award in 2010, becoming the youngest person to ever do so. Bird Burning isn’t all ice and growth, there’s also weirdo pop-circus elaborations like “Air IV – You Punish” and several reworkings of her tracks by Rabit that bring out the delicious hologram of darkness hidden under compositions. Produced with Valgeir Sigurðsson, who has worked on albums with Björk, Feist, and Sigur Rós, on this album Siem has asserted her name deserves to be right alongside any of those artists.
2. Big Smoke, Time Is Golden
Time Is Golden is a record named in grief, a pointed reminder that we can lose people whenever. For the whole story on what the band has gone through, and the loss of member Adrian Slattery, check out the excellent, benchmark feature on the group by Vinyl Me, Please. A quick rundown of this jam-band debut album is that it leans into the joy of living while we’re here instead of the grief that marks untimely loss, delivering a legacy for Slattery that is, well, golden. Fans of alt-rock, country, and rollicking heartland bawdiness will find everything they need here, the more folksy-driven listener will, too.
1. Hiss Golden Messenger, Heart Like A Levee
It’s important to note what a levee is: A levee is a temporary, earth-bound support that stops water from overtaking a community. It’s often the last line of defense against disaster, it’s often proof that a community is in a precarious position, just by the sheer fact of existing. We don’t really hear about levees that much unless they break, and the same goes for hearts, so the album title Hiss Golden Messenger aka M.C. Taylor chose for his latest record, Heart Like A Levee begins to take on deeper meaning when pulled apart. Most things do, I guess. But if there’s one thing Taylor’s band has done over the last five years, it’s hold up under pressure. Heart or talent or gusto, the North Carolina group has released two full-length albums and an EP for Merge since their breakout album, 2013’s Haw, landed them real estate in the national consciousness. (Important to note who helped them breakout, Paradise Of Bachelors, again.) And sure, HGM was making incredible work before that too, but few bands tend to improve, or even stay steady, when they get more attention and a wider scope. That is simply not the case here — Heart Like A Levee is the fullest, richest record that Hiss Golden Messenger have yet to release. It doubles down on all their regional weirdness, arcane wisdom, light-handed brass, and rubbery psych-folk, emerging with a joyful collection of songs that I can find few comparisons for other than the legendary Van Morrison. Taylor is on track to be as prolific as Van, let’s see what happens if he keeps putting pressure on this levee. Even if it bursts, the songs from that flood will surely help water the hearts of others.