New year, new music. The only silver lining about a terrible political situation is that great music tends to rise from times like these. Tons of long awaited new albums are set to be released this year. For now, check out the Best New Albums from January 2017:
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 3
(Album Of The Month)
Few groups can accomplish three truly great albums in their career. Run The Jewels, however, has done so with their first three releases in a row. This time the duo composed of Killer Mike and El-P have dropped arguably their best material yet. RTJ3 was surprisingly released a few weeks early on Christmas Day, for free as always, but the album was officially made available for purchase on it’s original date of January 13th. El-P’s post-apocalyptic trap b-boy production remains a signature force as the two MCs trade raps with effortless skills. Call Ticketron shows off Killer Mike’s brutal flow and wordplay over a bass heavy beat that’ll rip through your speakers. Talk To Me, the album’s first single, continues on their tradition of adrenaline rap that will force you into a mosh pit.
The guest spots, from Tunde Adebimpe (TV On The Radio) to Trina, are few and about as diverse as you’d expect from the combination of Mike and El. Kamasi Washington adds the sax to Thursday In The Danger Room, which is the duo’s most personal track yet. El touches on his feelings watching a friend slowly succumb to a fatal illness, while Mike speaks on forgiving the man who killed his friend during an armed robbery. It’s verses like this that make Run The Jewels stand out above most artists in today’s hip hop landscape. Zach de la Rocha is back once again for another blistering 16 to close the album out on Kill Your Masters.
Run The Jewels 3 is a call to action for a revolution, all while promoting respect, maturity, togetherness and debauchery. This isn’t a kumbaya sing-a-long rap album, these topics are presented in the most hardcore, thumping package you’ll hear this year. With every album RTJ manages to step it up notch and once again with RTJ3 it seems like they’ve taken their unbridled chemistry one step further to create one of the most relevant and necessary music of their careers.
Stand out tracks: Talk To Me, Panther Like A Panther, Thursday In The Danger Room
Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound
Frontman Dylan Baldi said this album would be his “version of new age music.” Albeit a gross over exaggeration, this is Cloud Nothings’ most mellow record. Know that they haven’t bitched out and turned into Coldplay, but they have ironed out their sound so it’s not a constant stream of punk infused chaos. Life Without Sound is their most melodic album so far and finds the trio introducing a 4th member and an additional guitar that enhances the album’s sound.
Their singles, Modern Act and Internal World. highlight their newer cleaner music while retaining memorable hooks and Baldi’s cryptic lyrics (which might split their fan base). One of the album’s best tracks, Enter Entirely, manages to successfully blend both new and old styles better than the singles did. The album’s last three tracks come closer to what we’ve come to expect from previous Cloud Nothings outings, especially the closer (Realize My Fate) which is a slow 6 minute burn that’s marked by Baldi’s hoarse vocals. Whether you’re a new fan, or a loyal follower, Life Without Sound is a solid listen from top to bottom, and marks the further growth of a very talented band.
Stand out tracks: Up To The Surface, Darkened Rings, Enter Entirely
Nick Grant – Return Of The Cool
When I first heard Nick Grant’s 88, his debut mixtape released last year, there were signs of a very skilled rapper that still needed to find his own voice. Often through out that tape I found his sound too similar to that of other rappers. However, fast forward less than 12 months later and Grant has showed a trait that is rarely seen in hip hop: rapid artistic growth. Return Of The Cool is Nick Grant’s debut album and he set the mark high for future efforts. Everything from beat choice, flows and lyrics are light years ahead of his previous project.
On the Dilla-esque Gotta Be More, accompanied by BJ The Chicago Kid, Grant proclaims “N****s ain’t rapping lately, guess I’m trapped in the 80’s.” A similar concept is applied on The Sing Along as Grant shuns the record industry for it’s lack of originality and the disposable artists that settle for it: “Need of revenue, please never let em Jerry Heller you/ As the regret screams, I pray that the weed settles you/ Nothing is worse than having it and then losing it/ The hunger starts fading and then you become cool with it.”
If you haven’t checked out his appearance on the Late Show With Colbert, make sure you do as he performs another album stand out, Get Up along with WatchTheDuck. Nick Grant’s has shown he cares about improving his craft in order to rise above early comparisons. His long term career will benefit because of it as everyone is just starting to really take notice of the rising rap star.
Stand out tracks: Drug Lord Couture, The Sing Along, Get Up
Leopold and His Fiction – Darling Destroyer
Vocalist Daniel James has received comparisons to Jack White for years now and thanks to the new album he will most likely accrue some more. Leopold and His Fiction’s Darling Destroyer seems like the true culmination of their sound. It’s a polished garage blues-rock album that takes elements from their previous releases and distills them in some whiskey barrels. This is also their cleanest and best engineered album which makes it even more enjoyable than any of their previous projects.
The mood is set as Cowboy opens up the album and it encapsulates what Darling Destroyer is all about with it’s high energy riff driven blues-rock. I’m Caving In is a gorgeous vintage rock track that contains influences of old Zeppelin, as well as early Aerosmith. Darling Destroyer displays James at his most dominant vocal performance in his career and the band sounds more cohesive than ever.
Stand out tracks: Cowboy, I’m Caving In, Saturday
Sheer Mag – Compilation LP
If you’ve never heard of Sheer Mag, I can’t blame you but now it’s a good time to start. The Philly DIY rock outfit prides themselves on having no social media presence whatsoever, besides their SoundCloud page. Not only that, but none of their music is available on streaming services. The only way to get your hands on their three past releases is on their Bandcamp site, in which you can stream and/or purchase their three 7″ EPs on vinyl. Compilation LP groups a remastered version these three projects into one album, which is once again available exclusively on Bandcamp. This compilation serves as a primer to their debut album which will be released later this year.
Sheer Mag is an in your face throwback mixture of 70s rock, punk and soul. You’ll go through the first rawer sounding four tracks that defined their style and hear them evolve in real time as the album progresses. The highlights occur in the last 2/3rds of the album, as Sheer Mag really hits their stride with material from their 2nd and 3rd EPs. Tina Halladay’s screeching vocals reverberate over Hard Lovin’ and Nobody’s Baby. The band shines on Fan The Flames and Can’t Stop Fighting, songs which are able to project each member’s individual talent.
Trust me, stop sleeping on Sheer Mag. They’re one of the truly rare talents in today’s rock scene. Hopefully when their debut album drops later this summer, they become more accessible so more people can appreciate and acknowledge that great rock is far from dead.
Stand out tracks: Fan The Flames. Can’t Stop Fighting, Nobody’s Baby