While you’re hanging out at the pool and enjoying warm-weather vacations, musicians are busy dropping their midsummer albums. From introspective folk rock to a long-awaited Fleet Foxes album, June had some stellar releases. Check out all the best tunes below.
Big Thief’s second album digs deep into personal stories
As the frontwoman and songwriter for Big Thief, Adrianne Lenker draws heavily on her personal history to inform the band’s songs: She was born into what she describes as a religious cult in Indianapolis, then followed her father on a quest to become a child pop star, and eventually settled into the folk rock artist she is today around age 17. Now 25 years old, she mines the stories of her past to craft intimate, delicate lyrics about her life and womanhood.
With Capacity, the four-piece band’s second album, Lenker’s songs toggle between intense reflections on childhood scenes (“Mythological Beauty”) and love songs, like one to her childhood friend “Mary.” If the subject matter seems a little too heavy, don’t worry — Lenker’s pure voice and poetic songwriting make her album one of the best released this year.
Tops’ Sugar at the Gate is a fuzzy ’70s record made in 2017
Tops, a Montréal band whose 2014 album Picture You Staring catapulted them to fame in the US indie scene, is back with their third album, Sugar at the Gate. To make the record, the band moved from Canada to Los Angeles, and produced it in their fuzzy 1970s vintage style. Singer Jane Penny’s voice floats through the songs, backed by easy guitar riffs and lazy drum beats; this is the kind of music you put on at the end of a dinner party when everyone is full and happy, with each song fading into the next one in a drowsy groove while you sit back and sink into it.
Lorde’s “Writer in the Dark” is the standout of many standout tracks on Melodrama
The best way to listen to Lorde’s new album Melodrama is all the way through — as Vox’s Caroline Framke puts it, the record “traces the trajectory of a single night of partying, with all its exhilarating peaks and self-loathing valleys.” But if you’re only choosing one track, “Writer in the Dark” is excellent.
The song straddles the line between indulgent and intimate without veering too far to either side. “Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark,” Lorde sings, before declaring her love dramatically and then snatching it away again. The song is a mini emotional journey, and the way it switches from a low-register solo in the verses to higher-octave vocal layers in the chorus makes the song feel thick with meaning and emotion.
Kevin Morby’s City Music is folk rock for urban dwellers
Kevin Morby’s new album City Music has a pretty obvious overarching theme: living and working and experiencing life somewhere with big buildings and lots of people. This might bring to mind rushed and hustling songs, but Morby’s album stays true to his roots: It’s contemplative, unfussy folk rock. One track in particular, “Downtown’s Lights,” perfectly encapsulates Morby’s ethos. It’s a slow-burning song with Bob Dylan influences about someone looking for warmth in a cold city evening — simple, effective, and sweet.
“I Dare You” by the xx is good, but its accompanying video starring Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown is great
The xx, the English three-piece ensemble made up of Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim, and Jamie Smith (a.k.a. Jamie xx), has been pumping out tunes since 2005. Their sound is consistent — heady male/female vocals with a low-key dance beat backing them. And their new song “I Dare You” is solid, even if it doesn’t break any new musical ground.
But the video that goes along with it is 100 percent worth a watch. It features Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things acting her heart out as a little girl who misses the school bus, convinces her older sister to take her out, and then gets her heart crushed. The video, with its stylized outfits and escapist theme, feels timeless, and it elevates the song to something more than just “good.”
Fleet Foxes’ new album Crack-Up is a massive artistic feat
Crack-Up, Fleet Foxes’ first album in seven years, might feel overwhelming at first. There’s no standout single track like “White Winter Hymnal” or “Helplessness Blues” — but this album doesn’t really need one. Crack-Up is a listen-through album, full of sweeping, intense songs that can change from a dirge-like meditation to a drum-based, driving melody without warning.
Singer Robin Pecknold’s voice is as pure and captivating as it ever was. He uses this album in part to examine his relationship with his fellow bandmates — “Third of May / Ōdaigahara” is named for guitarist and vocalist Skyler Skjelset’s birthday, and the song details the strained relationship between the two. But each track on Crack-Up is unique in both tone and subject, so much so that this album feels more like a work of art than just a regular record release.
With I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone, a disillusioned Chastity Belt announces they’ve had enough
Chastity Belt, a four-person punk rock band from Washington state, is known for their moody teen-girl music with an edge, illustrated clearly in their 2013 songs “Healthy Punk” and “Giant Vagina.” In their June release, I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone, they’ve taken their loud, abrasive rock music and toned it down a bit to explore the conflict-ridden depths of being a young woman.
In the style of bands like Girlpool and Diet Cig, I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone tamps down the rollicking punk music and lyrics that have defined Chastity Belt in the past. On “Complain,” singer Julia Shapiro repeats, “I’m not okay,” again and again and asks, “Do you ever dream about what it's like to give up?” The album captures and expresses a certain kind of discomfort and anxiety in a painful but impressively accurate way.
Deer Tick’s new singles show two sides of the same band
Deer Tick are taking a new approach to their upcoming September 15 record release. They aren’t making a double album, but they’re releasing two different ones on the same day, at the same time. Deer Tick Vol. 1 will be all acoustic, full of unplugged guitar songs in the style of “Baltimore Blues No. 1.” Deer Tick Vol. 2 will be all “garage rock,” and the band has cited the Replacements as a major influence. They’ve released one single from each record so far: “Sea of Clouds,” an introspective acoustic song from Vol. 1, and “It’s a Whale,” a loud jam from Vol. 2.
Jay-Z’s much-anticipated new album is out — but only on Tidal
On the last day of the month, Jay-Z (whose name is now hyphenated once again) released his new album, 4:44, on his streaming service Tidal. The record addresses his notorious 2014 elevator fight with Solange, talks about the marital troubles with Beyoncé she confronted on last year’s Lemonade, and tackles conflicts in hip-hop. The reviews are good so far, but unless you already have Tidal, you won’t be able to listen until you subscribe. To hold you over in the meantime, Rolling Stone broke down the album track by track.
Here’s a Spotify playlist with all the music (except Jay-Z’s) listed above.