As I settle in for my first-ever winter here in the midwest, I’ve found myself thankful for ice scrapers, Dr. Martens, and lots of good music. It may already be colder outside than I’ve ever experienced in my entire life, but at least November gave us got lots of great new music to keep warm. Here are some of the month’s best albums.
Metro Boomin’ - Not All Heroes Wear Capes
After taking a short hiatus earlier this year, the biggest producer in the rap game has returned to his rightful space at the top of the modern music landscape. With 21 Savage and Travis Scott features aplenty, Not All Heroes Wear Capes is a producer-led playlist the like of which we rarely see anymore. From Crooning Swae Lee tracks to worldly dance songs, even a fast-paced Drake feature, everything about the album seems scientifically-designed to succeed. Indicative of the goodwill he’s built up in the industry, the record earned Metro a well-deserved #1 spot on the Billboard chart, perhaps signaling a new era for the unspoken heroes of the rap game: producers.
boygenius - boygenius
In 2015 Julien Baker released Sprained Ankle and it destroyed me. In 2016 Lucy Dacus released No Burden and it moved me. In 2017 Phoebe Bridgers released Stranger in the Alps and it robbed me of happiness for a full calendar year. Now in 2018 the three musicians team up to take down my emotional state once and for all with boygenius, a 6-song EP of smoldering emotional destruction. With voices that intertwine, unfurl, and cast a spell on the listener, boygenius is a siren song of sadness and emotions all entangling like a string of Christmas lights.
Sufjan Stevens - Lonely Man of Winter
I love Christmas. I love Sufjan. I love Sufjan’s Christmas work. Originally recorded in 2007, “Lonely Man of Winter” has existed for over one decade as a single vinyl record belonging to Alec Duffy who originally won the track in a Christmas Song Exchange with Sufjan himself. Since 2007 Duffy held yearly listening parties of the song for friends and family (complete with hot cocoa), but now the track has been released to the world in both its original form and as a 2018 Doveman remix featuring Melissa Mary Ahern. Adding onto Sufjan’s already-massive 100-song Holiday Canon, “Lonely Man of Winter” is a lush, crisp, and bitter look at the holiday season. The single also includes “Every Day Is Christmas,” the track that won Duffey the honor of guarding this Sufjan rarity. Overall, Lonely Man of Winter is a welcome throwback to the heyday of Sufjan’s Holiday powers and a song that makes me feel like the entire world has received an early Christmas treat.
August Burns Red - Winter Wilderness EP
Aside from Sufjan Stevens, August Burns Red is my next favorite creator of Christmas music. While the group initially dipped their toe into the genre with a headbanging rendition of “Carol of the Bells” back in 2008, the metalcore act eventually unveiled their full Christmas spirit in 2012 with their full-length holiday album Sleddin’ Hill. Releasing one additional Christmas single every season from that year forward, the group has now returned with Winter Wilderness, a six-track EP of holiday offerings. From spicy originals like “Avalanche” to traditional classics like “What Child is This?” and even some out-of-the-box deep-pulls like the Home Alone Theme, this EP has a little something for every type of Christmas fan.
Vince Staples - FM!
Vince Staples feels like rap’s odd man out. His debut double-album Summertime ‘06 made waves in insular music communities, Prima Donna attempted to cultivate his fanbase, and Big Fish Theory pushed the boundaries of the current hip-hop sound. He’s tried everything he can, and never really broken through to a mainstream level of acceptance… not that the man himself is too concerned with that. On FM! Vince takes listeners through hectic two-minute chunks of a would-be terrestrial hip-hop station. Featuring interviews, sneak peeks, and surprisingly-accessible bangers, FM! feels like the synthesis of his high-concept aspirations with the kind of radio-ready hits he often finds himself circling around. Only time will tell how deeply this resonates with his current fanbase, let alone connects to the audience just outside of it.
Liance - The Rat House
When he’s not penning ambient music as Ministry of Interior Spaces, James Li creates heart-rending indie songs under the moniker Liance. Inspired by true events, The Rat House acts as a companion piece to Bronze Age of the Nineties, both of which recount the events of his college years spent in Michigan. Featuring densely-packed multi-part folk epics, bite-size personal tales, and Sufjan-esque instrumentation, The Rat House is a more than worthy successor to his full-length. And clocking in at just 14 minutes, it’s a wonder he was able to pack such deeply-emotional and universally-human feelings into such a small amount of time.
Takeoff - The Last Rocket
Takeoff has always been my favorite Migo. While I definitely understand the poppy appeal of Quavo and the hard-edged bars of Offset, Takeoff’s untouchable flow is often my favorite component of any Migos song. While he’s often unfairly named last as anyone’s favorite Migo, The Last Rocket is irrefutable proof that he can stand on his own as an artist, creator, and voice to rise above the crowd. The second solo Migos release of the year following QUAVO HUNCHO, Takeoff’s turn at the wheel sees him crafting everything from grimy gangster tracks to raspy confessionals, all with expected proficiency and accessibility.
Fleet Foxes -First Collection 2006-2009
Way back in 2006 a group named Fleet Foxes emerged from a rainy corner of Seattle, signed to Sub Pop Records, and released one of the most important folk records of the decade. Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut, alongside albums like For Emma, Forever Ago, acted as an entry point to the indie music genre for hordes of directionless teenagers (myself included). Now one decade down the line from that album’s release, the band have returned with a wistful and comprehensive four-disc compilation of demos, outtakes, and b-sides. It’s interesting to listen to First Collection and wonder what songs might have become iconic classics had they released back in ‘08, but for now, all we can do is listen, reflect, and appreciate the hearty wilderness of Fleet Foxes’ early years.
Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs
Spring of 2015 was a weird time for me. A major transition in my life combined with the changing of the seasons compounded into a mixture of anxiety and claustrophobia that felt like an uphill battle to overcome. Extensive listening to Earl Sweatshirt’s second album I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside definitely didn’t help alleviate that feeling. Now, nearly four years after his sophomore record, I’m in a much better spot, and the public has finally got its hands on Earl’s long-awaited follow-up. The unceremoniously-named, Some Rap Songs is a dissonant, blippy, and insular hip-hop album that’s as enigmatic as it is reclusive. With most of the songs hovering around one-minute-long, the tracks clip forward with muffled Madlib-esque beats and effortless flows. A dense, personal, and abrupt album that forces you to lean in, listen, and absorb it fully.
Action Bronson - White Bronco: Embracing his go-to husky flow, Bronson makes a brief outing to discuss food, women, drugs, and fashion in this mixtape released the second the clock struck midnight on Halloween.
Sun Kil Moon - This Is My Dinner: It’s basically a sad podcast.
Rostam - In A River: Technically just one song recorded in three different styles, Rostam’s newest single still feels rich enough to gorge out on in the most decadent and delicate way possible.
Ellis - The Fuzz: Dreamy and lonely indie rock songs beamed across a pastel canvas that’s burning slowly.
Nap Eyes - Too Bad: A two-song sample platter of the group’s lovely and laid-back indie rock tunes that drip with Lou Reed-inflection.
Smino - NOIR: Fast-paced and hyper-lyrical jazzy raps straight from the soul.
Hopeless Records - Songs That Saved My Life: From Dance Gavin Dance to Wonder Years Frontman Daniel Campbell, this comp organized by Hopeless Records is packed with mutual appreciation and admiration sure to warm your inner pop-punk kid’s heart.
Grapetooth - Grapetooth: A wildcard new signee in the Polyvinyl lineup, Grapetooth’s self-titled debut exceeds expectations as a groovy, synthy record that mixes throwback instrumentation with distinctly modern lyrics and deliveries.
It Looks Sad. - Sky Lake: Dreamy, swirling, atmospheric indie rock with an electronic infusion.
Architects - Holy Hell: Anthemic metalcore recorded in the wake of guitarist and founding member Tom Searle’s death.
Lil Peep - Come Over When You're Sober Pt. 2: Elaborating on the intoxicating mix of emo and trap we witnessed on the preceding album, this sequel is a swan song to Lil Peep’s life, and proof that one’s impact can last beyond death.
Macseal - Map It Out: Jangly heart-on-sleeve pop-punk that’s as pleasant as it is earnest.
CupcakKe - Eden: Horny, Hungry, and Hilarious, Mrs. CupcakKe is the exact type of emcee we need in 2018.
IDK - IDK & FRIENDS :): A start-studded producer-led EP of bangers.
Anderson .Paak - Oxnard: Funky hip-pop with stellar Dre production and passionate vocals.
Tyler, The Creator - Music Inspired By Illumination & Dr. Seuss' The Grinch: Following his iconic contribution to this year’s Grinch reboot, Tyler doubles-down with an EP full of Grinch-themed hip-hop cuts.
Smashing Pumpkins - Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.: While this may be one of the best records the group has put out recently, Billy Corgan is still a bad person, and that makes me want to dislike this album.
Mike Will Made-It - Creed II: The Album: The mastermind behind some of hip-hop’s biggest hits tries his hand at his own Kendrick Lamar-esque curated soundtrack for this year’s biggest sports drama.
Jaden Smith - The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story: While he’s a meme to some, Jaden Smith is actually surprisingly personable and proficient when he focuses on rapping.
Memphis May Fire - Broken: Synthetic and sterilized metalcore that’s stretching desperately for maturity and emotional resonance.
Something Merry - EMO-TION: A wide range of indie/emo/pop-punk darlings sharing their takes of Carly Rae Jepsen’s monumental E•MO•TION, all for a good cause.
Oneohtrix Point Never - Love in the Time of Lexapro: Songs for drugged-out space cowboys.
Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, Clams Casino, and Fish Narc - Spider Web: Five goth rap tracks from an ex-pop-punk icon.
J.I.D - DiCaprio 2: Impactful and compact bars from the most outstanding member of this year’s XXL Freshman Class.
Mac Miller - Spotify Singles: Two posthumously-released cuts that showcase Miller’s unique voice and sense of style.
Lil Baby - Street Gossip: His third release of the year, Lil Baby keeps his hot streak alive with another helping of catchy, personable, and flex-worthy trap.
Meek Mill - Championships: Mother. Fucking. Heat.
Ski Mask the Slump God - Stokeley: Hip-hop that jumps between vocal-chord-destroying shouts and hyper-dense rapid-fire bars.
Peewee Longway - State of the Art: A trapped-out hip-hop release for the streets.
The Alchemist - Bread: Four star-studded slow-moving rap tracks alongside their instrumental counterparts.
David Bowie - Glastonbury 2000: Two hours of David Bowie live goodness.
Oliver Houston - Mixed Reviews: The final release from the Grand Rapids emo rockers.
The Mountain Goats - Aquarium Drunkard's Lagniappe Session: A mini-offering of Bon Iver, Robin Trower, and Godspell covers.
Wavves - Emo Christmas: Two surfy Christmas cuts from the recovering party animals.
This month we also heard new singles from Saba, Desiigner, Juice WRLD, Ice Cube, Shame, JPEGMAFIA, Emarosa, Hozier, 2 Chainz, Kodak Black, Saba, Girlpool, The Regrettes, Weezer, Preoccupations, Amine, Manchester Orchestra, Slaves, A$AP Rocky, Vulfpeck, Mono, Iceage, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sharon Van Etten, Jeff Tweedy, Travis Scott, Kim Petras, Grimes, Phoebe Bridgers, Kaytranada, American Pleasure Club, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Conor Oberst, Big K.R.I.T., The Beths, Offset, Cold War Kids, Say Anything, Jay Rock, AFI, Blood Orange, Arctic Monkeys, Men I Trust, Deaf Dog, Chance The Rapper (Times Two), and Saba.