The last few weeks have ushered in a wave of new music, with a number of big albums coming out since Labor Day.
And though tracks from Eminem’s latest, Kamikaze, have been all over the Billboard charts since it was released at the end of August, while Drake’s “In My Feelings” continues its hot streak, we’d hate for you to miss the greatness of more recent releases. These albums haven’t made as much of a dent in the charts, but they shouldn’t be overlooked.
With that in mind, here are five excellent new albums to listen to now, and the tracks from each that you shouldn’t miss.
Egypt Station, Paul McCartney
Rolling Stone’s review of the former Beatle’s new album begins like this: “Make a list of all the songwriters who were composing great tunes in 1958. Now make an overlapping list of the ones who are still writing brilliant songs in 2018. Your list reads: Paul McCartney.”
The magazine is right. Egypt Station, McCartney’s first new album in five years, feels both old and new, somber and playful — it’s full of thrilling contradictions, with frequent flashes of the fresh, catchy rock ‘n’ roll that made his work with The Beatles and Wings so great.
The Guardian cites McCartney’s “high emotional IQ” as part of why his music is so magical, lauding the startling vulnerability of “I Don’t Know” in particular (“I got crows at my window / dogs at my door,” goes the song; “I don’t think I can take any more”).
There’s also the bouncy yet pointed-feeling “Fuh You,” which seems to defy the passage of time as McCartney croons through what he’s called a “schoolboy prank”: Though he insists the title translates to “for you,” it’s impossible not to hear it as something a little ruder.
Metacritic score: 74
Must-listen track: “Dominoes” veers between shimmery choruses and more stripped-back verses, making the song stand out as one of Egypt Station’s dreamiest tracks.
Piano & a Microphone 1983, Prince
Piano & a Microphone 1983 isn’t technically a new album — it’s a collection of previously unreleased Prince demos — but it’s so remarkable that it’s worth the exception. The songs were discovered on a cassette in Prince’s vault, and every song was recorded in a single take. Sometimes Prince sniffles or something rattles; it’s an astonishingly intimate listen.
“He’s exploring and playing around, not constructing taut commercial tracks,” Jon Pareles writes in the New York Times. “He shifts musical styles and vocal personae at whim — melancholy, playful, devout, flirtatious — yet it’s all Prince.”
Metacritic score: 84
Must-listen track: “Wednesday” is perhaps the most affecting track on the album for being so bare. With just the piano and Prince’s plaintive vocals, the song, which is about loneliness, is crushing.
Art of Doubt, Metric
Listening to Metric’s latest album feels like being tossed about on a raging sea, thanks to the sheer power embodied by lead singer Emily Haines. Art of Doubt is a “seething, feminine rock record for a time of rage,” writes Uproxx’s Caitlin White, and it’s a description that the album more than lives up to.
Featuring tracks that seem to reach for sci-fi trappings (“Now or Never Now”) as well as grungier numbers (“Holding Out”), Art of Doubt is a self-possessed, rebellious aural experience. “Here, Metric are picking up that impulsive thread that’s run through their best work, thereby capturing the essence of what makes their fans love them so dearly,” reads NME’s review. “[The album is] a lesson on how to do it yourself, and do it well. Defiance never sounded so good.”
Metacritic score: 73
Must-listen track: Put simply, “Dark Saturday” is the kind of song that’s so full of life that it’ll make you want to do cartwheels.
Chris, Christine and the Queens
Chris is fascinating not only for just how great it is as an album, but also for the statement that Christine and the Queens lead singer Hélöise Letissier is making by taking on “Chris” as her alter ego. She “doesn’t so much blur genders as transcend them,” says Rolling Stone, in reference to the way that Letissier has embraced the kind of open sexuality that has been celebrated in men but often frowned upon in women.
“While Chris’ vigor is intoxicating, Letissier hardly conceals the trauma and hurt women like Chris are made to endure before achieving this degree of self-possession,” writes Jamieson Cox for Pitchfork, noting the way that the “lurid, sizzling pop-funk” of the album doesn’t exclude true emotional depth.
It’s these layers that help to elevate Chris from good to great. The closer you listen to the pulsing tracks, the deeper they get, mixing in layers of uncompromising fun and funk while twisting against the traditional bounds of femininity.
Metacritic score: 90
Must-listen track: “Girlfriend” boasts a stunning video, as well as being, as the Atlantic put it, “genderless passion situated amid extremely gendered musical traditions.”
Mandy soundtrack, Jóhann Jóhannsson
Putting a movie soundtrack on this list may be a cheat, but it feels necessary to showcase composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s final work prior to his unexpected death at the age of 48 earlier this year. Mandy stars Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough as a couple contending with malevolent, supernatural darkness, and Jóhannsson’s score helps to distinguish it as more than a typical action thriller.
In an interview with Variety, Mandy director Panos Cosmatos said that he’d wanted the film’s score to have a “rock-opera” feel, and what Jóhannsson came up with both fits and transcends that description — it’s more on the emotional wavelength of a classical opera.
“One of Jóhannsson’s great gifts was his sense of sonic balance,” reads the Pitchfork review of the album, speaking of Jóhannsson’s breadth of work (which includes the scores for Sicario and Arrival). “He could make icy, spare soundscapes drip with warmth and locate the human element amid big machinations.”
It’s this talent that makes the score to Mandy stand out, as it aches and soars in a way that you would never expect from music described by Pitchfork as “black metal, menacing ambient, [and] doom drone.” And it’s a bittersweet reminder of just what Jóhannsson was capable of.
Metacritic score: Not yet available
Must-listen track: “Death and Ashes” exemplifies the way that the score’s metal trappings peel back to reveal something much more tender at its core.