A ranked selection of notable new recordings we heard in August
1. Royal Headache, “High”
Here’s an Australian rock-and-roll group — a punk-and-soul group singing about love-and-hate in the mode of the Jam, really — that isn’t reinventing any wheels, but clearly has a gas tank full of rock’s most scarce 21st century resource: personality.
2. Destroyer, “Poison Season”
Trying to sum up the blunt-force mysteries of a Destroyer album in 35 words would be idiotic, but sometimes idiot-feelings are legitimate symptoms of awe, so here: As Dan Bejar’s rock songs descend further into zones of loucheness, the prickly intelligence of his lyrics only sharpens, and there’s an increasingly disorienting familiarity to it all, and it’s very hard to look away.
3, The Weeknd, “Beauty Behind the Madness”
The next Michael Jackson will not sound like Michael Jackson, but that hasn’t stopped Abel Tesfaye from trying, clogging his new album with weird compromises and bland misfires. Even so, it’s impossible not to be stunned by the guy’s voice, which suddenly sounds like the most agile instrument in all of pop. And there’s still enough over-sexed naughtiness lingering in these songs to hope that brighter days — or the darker ones he sings about so well — are still ahead.
4. Natural Information Society and Bitchin Bajas, “Automaginary”
You can practically smell the Nag Champa wafting off this thing; it’s an album of highly-stylized new age psychedelia that’s much deeper and sturdier than it first lets on. Hold your nose and loosen your mind, and you might feel your third eye blink open.
5. James Brandon Lewis, “Days of FreeMan”
Lewis’s previous disc, “Divine Travels,” wasn’t necessarily polite, nor is his new one particularly rude. But compared to one another, it sure feels that way, meaning that the jazz saxophonist is currently going after something dryer and funkier, sleeves rolled up, head down.
6. Maddie and Tae, “Start Here”
Last summer, a young duo popped up on the radio with “Girl In A Country Song,” the most astute state-of-the-genre anthem that Nashville had heard in some time. A year later, they’ve finally released their debut album, and it’s all about hope and mobility — good songs about longing to get out (“Waitin’ On A Plane’; “Downside of Growing Up”) and even better ones about longing to come back (“No Place Like You”).
7. FKA twigs, “M3LL155X”
This Londoner’s post-R&B remains intense and slippery. Even at its most vivid, it can float right past your ears. But twigs has always been smart enough to get the retinas involved, too, and squeezes much of her new EP into a spectacular medley-video, probing deeper into the space between looking and listening.
Listen to selections from the month’s best music in the playlist below:
WARNING: Some songs contain explicit lyrics.