Hope you’re not too stuffed on leftovers and stressed from holiday shopping to enjoy some of the best music from last month.
From posthumous farewell albums to vinyl reissues of beloved classics, we’ve got some old and new for ya this time.
Leonard Cohen, Thanks for the Dance
Thanks for the Dance, put together and produced by Leonard Cohen’s son, Adam Cohen, with contributions from Beck, Feist, Daniel Lanois, and The National’s Bryce Dessner, is something of an odd epilogue to You Want It Darker. There is, of course, Cohen’s usual suspects to consider: the unholy union of love, gods, carnality, and faith, all knit together with Biblical heft, just a hint of sarcasm and sexual innuendo, and a soupçon of wit, woe, and wonder. And in most cases, the aural endgame works as well, and sounds as intense as any of his past records. Cobbled and stitched together from unfinished sessions with his dad’s whispery sing-speak intact, Thanks for The Dance is, in some ways, more like Adam Cohen’s love letter to his father’s artistry than a final statement from the late poet. —A.D. Amorosi
By and large, the later albums Beck’s released have traded a discoverer’s zeal for a craftsman’s sophistication and assurance. They are not especially startling albums, but they are generally quite good, savvy in their arrangements, songwriting, and production choices. The same is true of Hyperspace, an album that frequently, faintly recalls Beck’s legacy records while still sounding like something that stands on its own. Whether it will surprise you depends on how shocking you find the idea of a Beck-Pharrell Williams team-up; Williams is credited as a co-producer, and his minimalist aesthetic looms over the whole project. The best way to describe Hyperspace is to say that it’s another Beck album that plays fast-and-loose with genre and form, blurring the margins between established sounds in a way not too dissimilar to Odelay or Midnite Vultures; the difference is how streamlined it feels, how sleek and how nimble. It’s as though Beck’s porous imagination and roaming curiosity has been excavated from under all that ’90s-vintage Dust Brothers maximalism. —Josh Hurst
Street Sects, “If Life’s a Gift, It’s in Very Poor Taste”
This month saw the release of Street Sect’s penultimate installment in their five-part Gentrification series, Gentrification IV: Suspended From Gallery Rails, which showcases the same disorienting electro-punk as its predecessors. While the previously released “Tomorrow Is a Trap” at times recalls early HEALTH, its complement track and second single “If Life’s a Gift, It’s in Very Poor Taste,” is a more fractured, bipolar experience rife with bleak observations about love. —Mike LeSuer
The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin Live LP
In May 2016, Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips performed their classic 1999 album The Soft Bulletin in its entirety at Colorado’s legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a concert in which they were backed by the sixty-eight-piece Colorado Symphony Orchestra and a fifty-seven-member choir, all conducted by André de Ridder. However stressful it may have been to pull together, to perform and record, the combination of band, orchestra and choir made for an absolutely stunning evening of music. Released this past week, The Soft Bulletin Recorded Live at Red Rocks with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra is more than just an aural souvenir of that evening—it’s an object lesson in how such collaborations can, when done right, add entirely new dimensions to already-brilliant works. —Dan Epstein
Jim Sullivan, If the Evening Were Dawn / Jim Sullivan vinyl reissue
While no answers have been found as to what happened to Jim Sullivan’s person—murdered by federales or bandits or transported to another universe by his treasured alien wildlife?—it is his soul’s soundtrack that was left behind: the smartly lyrical, lushly produced likes of U.F.O., Jim Sullivan, and a rare collection of previously unreleased demos If the Evening Were Dawn. All are in the good hands of the label Light in the Attic, who are currently overseeing Sullivan’s recorded output. —A.D. Amorosi
Read our feature on Jim Sullivan here.
Hit Like a Girl, “It’s Not Me”
When they’re not playing keys as a part of Kississippi’s live band, or supporting people going through the process of transition with the non-profit they started called No More Dysphoria, Nicolle Maroulis is releasing music as Hit Like a Girl—utilizing the cathartic emotional release of pop-punk songwriting to vent nagging mental health concerns ranging from dysphoria to exes. —Mike LeSuer
Deerhoof, reissues of The Man, the King, the Girl, Holdypaws, and Halfbird
Critics have generally described Deerhoof as growing more approachable with time, with Friend Opportunity often marked as a notable turning point toward accessibility. The two albums Deerhoof released after La Isla Bonita, 2016’s The Magic and 2017’s Mountain Moves, seemingly cemented this narrative. But with the band’s vinyl reissues of debut album The Man, the King, the Girl, sophomore LP Holdypaws, and third album Halfbird (all of which have been remastered for the occasion), Deerhoof is here to set that notion ablaze. —Max Freedman
Read our feature on Deerhoof here.
FKA Twigs, MAGDALENE
Physical and emotional trauma is the bedrock of Twigs’ sophomore album, MAGDALENE, a deeply wounded but fiercely empowered project that strengthens the steely fusion of trip-hop and R&B she mastered on her debut. FKA Twigs enlists an all-star army of producers (Nicolas Jaar, Arca, Skrillex, and Benny Blanco, among others) as well as a guest spot from Future, who sounds just as comfortable on an FKA Twigs song as she does. Far from a distraction, the collaborative spirit only seems to have sharpened her vision. MAGDALENE doesn’t mark a jarring departure for Twigs, but the pulse is much easier to detect this time around. Her concepts and themes, crisply executed and fearless in their candor, have a clarity and sense of purpose that set these songs apart from LP1. MAGDALENE dances along without ever dipping into easy catharsis, consumed with pain but unwavering in its determination to fight through it. —Alex Swhear
Bob Dylan, Travelin’ Thru, Featuring Johnny Cash: The Bootleg Series Vol. 15
Within three tightly packed CDs, Dylan cuts through the swath of his warmly relaxed Nashville period, one which found him swerving again into semi-acoustic territory from his controversial, revolutionary run with electric guitars. With that, and his famed teaming with oddball network television star Cash (whoever pitched The Man in Black in this role was a diabolical genius), this pair in 1969 built—or at least fortified—the still nascent “rock” genre into something countrified, something steadily insistent, something that could lean hard into rock’s (or Dylan’s hyper-folk, singer-songwriter éclat) C&W roots. —A.D. Amorosi
For those still ruing the dissolution of Maryland post-hardcore trio Two Inch Astronaut, fret not—frontman Sam Woodring officially launched his solo career as Mister Goblin last year with the acoustic-heavy Final Boy EP, and is now following up the project with his first full-length, Is Path Warm? With electric guitar dominating the album’s eight tracks, IPW? feels like a slight pivot to angst-drained Midwest emo, sounding more in the vein of Topshelf Records than the post-hardcore tradition of Exploding in Sound. —Mike LeSuer