Rihanna – ANTI (Roc Nation) This is nominally an R&B album by one of the biggest Pop stars in the world, whether you’d actually know either of those things on hearing the album is quite another question. Jam packed with stylistic shifts, short tracks, and heady energy, ANTI is an incredible work that accentuates its diversity before all else. Whether she’s covering Tame Impala on ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’ or dueting with Drake on the Dub heavy earworm ‘Work’ (you’ll be singing it for the next three months), Rihanna never appears stretched, whilst still pushing the envelope. While the creeping beats of ‘Desperado’ are lightly epic, the highlight comes in the shape of ‘Needed Me’ which sounds like a Brainfeeder release. Here’s a great article that says so much more than we can.
LION BABE – Begin (Interscope) Coming somewhere between Soul, R&B, Pop, and Hip Hop, LION BABE are a duo who blur lines and mix styles in a manner and tradition that places them in line with Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu. While Jillian Hervey’s vocals play a major part in that, the beats and production of Lucas Goodman tap in to the kind of soulful yet driven grooves that have come to underpin so many crossover success stories. At their best, like on ‘Jump Hi’, which features Childish Gambino, and ‘Stressed OUT!’ with its light Disco touches, LION BABE showcase just how much soul Pop can really have. Check out ‘Jump Hi’ right here.
Emma Pollock - In Search of Harperfield (Chemikal Underground) To anyone who is aware of the last twenty years of Emma Pollock’s music it’ll come as no surprise that In Search of Harperfield is a masterclass of engaging, smart, and thoughtful song writing. Lyrically, verse after verse paint resonantly detailed scenes as if chapters from a book. Musically, keys, strings, guitar, bass, and punchy drums build atmospherically entertaining backing. We expect this record to hit the Mercury shortlist, and deservedly so, but we’re thankful we’re not judging right now as we’re struggling to pick a highlight. It truly is an album to enjoy as a whole. Check out ‘Alabaster’ here.
Eliane Correa & En El Aire Project - Rumba Con Flores (Movimientos) With thirty-one musicians involved in the En El Aire Project it’s no wonder the musicianship positively crackles with quality. Throughout, Eliane Correa’s crisp vocals cut through the mix of Cuban percussion and Jazz keys. While the multilayered drum rhythms are an obvious part of the mix to throw superlatives at, we’re keen to draw attention to just how good the horn section really is. The downtempo ‘Cáscaras’ is particularly impressive, while the upbeat horn intro of the title track is a highlight in itself. Check it out here.
M.Ward - More Rain (Merge) Whether it’s his work with Zooey Deschanel in She & Him or as part of the Monsters of Folk, M. Ward has been busy over the four years since his last solo release. Now that a new release has landed we see that collaboration is still in the blood with Neko Case, and Peter Buck of REM making appearances on an album that was initially conceived of as a Doo Wop album. Instead, Ward’s latest is like Beirut gone Pop, which is to say it’s recognisably in his established Indie Folk style. The highlight comes in ‘Confession’ which has some irresistible horns. Check it out here.
Anderson.Paak – Malibu (Steel Wool Records) While he may have got his biggest outing to date on a half dozen tracks on Dr Dre’s comeback album Compton, this debut by Anderson.Paak is a far more interesting release. Featuring talent like Talib Kweli and Schoolboy Q on vocal duties and luminaries like Madlib on production duties, like many other debut Hip Hop albums Malibu is rounded out with the assistance of others more familiar names. With Jazz-inflected keys across many of the tracks, we’re reminded that this is always a great time of year for thoughtful and highly musical Hip Hop. We’d take this over a boastful Twitter user any day. Here’s that Schoolboy Q collab.
Bloc Party – Hymns (Create Control) No longer hyped and hotly anticipated, a new album by Bloc Party is still worth taking notice of. Kele is now a rounded and recognisable vocalist with an assuredness to his voice that complements his lyrical storytelling. Hymns is split fairly evenly between electronic based tracks and solid guitar, bass & drum rockers. It’s a set destined to tour well on the festival scene this summer. While ‘Different Drugs’ is a plaintive cry for understanding that reminds us of CHVRCHES, our highlight is the track closest to their early Indie sound, ‘Into the Earth’. Check that highlight out here.
Field Music – Commontime (Memphis Industries) Running straight out the traps with saxophone blasts and super funky rhythm guitar chops, Field Music have produced a smart Pop album that will never trouble the charts. Taking healthy dollops of influence from 80s New Wave, Commontime flirts with slightly left of centre melodies while staying relatively low key. The DEVO-like vocal cadence of ‘I’m Glad’ is a prime example. Elsewhere, ‘The Noisy Days Are Over’ breaks down into a cacophonous saxophone solo and our highlight, ‘Don’t You Want To Know What’s Wrong’ builds on a base of crisp Talking Heads style guitars. Check out that saxophone solo here.