Believe the Hype - No Ripcord Recommendations

  • Big Thief Two Hands

    As powerful as these songs are, there is no denying that some of Two Hands' most effective moments are those that cut close. Given the rapt attention and imagination that U.F.O.F. commanded, you almost feel guilty relishing some of the more direct pleasures displayed here. The title track is a cousin to Cattails from the prior album, sharing a similar percussive style. But while Cattails swayed on the hazy horizon, Two Hands is right in the room with you. Maybe the softer songs of the prior album prove superior to those here, but when any push of force is put into motion the sturdiest songs here are undeniable, as is the case here.
  • Brittany Howard Jaime

    In a way, Howard's approach—leaning on what she knows best before then exploring—isn’t different from the way most solo debuts go. What’s notable here is that everything that should be a risk is pulled off without missing a step. The process of writing this album was personal and intimate, but the end result is a confident, bold debut. Whether this record means that Howard will be ready to go out on her own permanently, or ready to return to Alabama Shakes, is unclear—maybe it’ll just be something else new. She might even get around to that memoir, but you get the sense the best could still be to come.
  • Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell!

    For an album literally breaking her own boundaries and those of conventional pop albums for that matter, the choice to work with a renowned pop producer like Jack Antonoff might seem a little strange, but, in the end, it turns out to be a fruitful collaboration. The sound is spacious and elegant, at times stripped to its most essential parts, and other times it's completely indulgent and expansive. Venice Bitch is the best example of this: A nine-minute pop song that builds from gently plucked acoustic guitars to a long instrumental passage of surging guitars that give way to squiggly synths and psychedelic soloing with Del Rey's voice harmonizing from a distance before everything comes crashing back in and comes to an appropriately dramatic conclusion.
  • Vivian Girls Memory

    Something to Do is the one single on Memory that is emblematic to the Vivian Girls of yore, so it made sense to release it early—most likely to reintroduce those who may have forgotten their undying affection for both love and reverb. It's a healthy way to start with a clean slate, but there's nothing simplistic about how these songs manage to sound so robust—even when they sound hazy and dreamlike. Mistake is mesmerizing, a reflection on missing someone that gradually coddles you with a radiant strum, later to rattle you to your core. The multi-part scorcher of All Your Promises provides a similar effect, the album's emotional centerpiece, a brooding lament on lost love that holds its tension throughout its grand, blazing soundscape. The trio has experimented with longer songs before, but never have they sounded this dynamic—controlling the song's mercurial flow with taut efficiency.
  • (Sandy) Alex G House of Sugar

    Giannascoli stacks many of his most accessible tracks early on, some of which are career highlights. Hope is a devastating recount on how he lost his friend to synthetic opioids—and yet he keeps the rhythm upbeat, maintaining a straightforward acoustic strum that follows his bittersweet vocal melody. The striding Southern Sky is the album's "Elliott Smith" moment, in the best sense of the term, a twangy waltz with a beautiful violin lead (courtesy of frequent collaborator Molly Germer) that oscillates around guest singer Emily Yacina's mellifluous delivery. There's a lot of variation from track to track, but Giannascoli applies a steady atmosphere to his well-structured arrangements without drifting off into the distance.
  • Bill Callahan Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

    The album follows a narrative path, but so does each song. Rather than adhere to a particular formula, tracks ramble along, following imagery or emotional threads, but almost never adhering to a verse-chorus-verse pattern. You might feel like Callahan's making it all up as he goes along, and we're all getting stoned together and having those kinds of dream-conversations that last all night—but that's just because Callahan's craftspersonship makes these songs seem laid back and easy, when realistically, only a lifetime of wisdom and hard work yields music so engaging and vibrant.
  • Craig Finn I Need a New War

    None of Finn's nuance would work without an adept musical complement, but don't worry, Finn's band accentuates every gentle emotional move. As with his last album, a woodwind and horn section rounds out a traditional rock setup that channels Springsteen, sixties soul and especially Lambchop, and does so creatively and better yet, coherently. Finn's dropped-register, Elvis Costello-like spoken word melts the variety of songs into something whole, ensuring that by the end of the album we've been on a unified journey.
  • Anderson .Paak Ventura

    Down to the last reference, Paak’s recollection and retrospection of success is prevalent on the album. “Yada Yada” goes through the motions of the open mics, label problems and personal darker days. He rhetorically asks (“Does somebody got some shit to say?”) as he reaffirms his worth (“If they forget the dot, I’m chargin’ double for the purchase”). Callum and Kiefer’s production is sliced with funk and caressed with Paak’s saucy drumming.
  • Weyes Blood Titanic Rising

    Big, heavy drum fills punctuate the steady piano keys of album opener A Lot's Gonna Change, where a swooning Mering accepts that every passing complication seems moot in the grand scheme of things. Her deep, yet honeyed drawl—bearing a striking resemblance to Karen Carpenter's— adds a dramatic flair to the song's orchestral backdrop. Titanic Rising sounds positively spectral, and not just because she opted to title one of the tracks Andromeda; regardless, she looks to the sky for answers over a cosmic country style that sounds open, yet intimate. She fluidly transitions from the lithe psychedelic touches of 2016's Front Row Seat to Earth by applying a painterly—though no less natural—stroke to a well-remembered seventies FM radio sound.
  • Helado Negro This Is How You Smile

    Where his earlier work took a more experimental tone and was built around both samples and field music, his music has shifted gradually over time toward a more organic sound that arguably reaches new heights here. On Please Won't Please, an otherwise anxious beat is draped in glimmering synths and warm pianos. Steel drums appear towards the end of Imagining What To Do, as they add soft splashes of color to the gently plucked acoustics and breezy string section. Running begins with a gust of wind that gives way to a slow tumbling beat which carries a gorgeous melancholy piano refrain.