Every week, the Noisey staff puts together a list of the best and most important albums, mixtapes, and EPs from the past seven days. Sometimes it includes projects we’ve written about on the site already; sometimes it's just made up of great records that we want everyone to hear, but never got the chance to write about. The result is neither comprehensive nor fair. We hope it helps.
Steve Lacy, Apollo XXI
The young genius of fractured funk and reverberant R&B emerges boldly his debut full-length. After the short, swooning "Only If," Steve Lacy launches into a 9-minute collection of vignettes called “Like Me” about working to accept himself as he is, which is to say fluid ("I only feel energy / I see no gender"). The record only opens up from there, presenting complicated emotions inside colorful arrangements. Let's just leave it at that; the record seems far too layered, complex, and vibrant to glean much more from Friday morning listening alone. This is one you’ll want to live with. —Colin Joyce
Flying Lotus, Flamagra
Flamagra arrives amid a particularly chaotic time in Ellison's life. It's been five years since the release of his last record, the contortionist-jazz, dark-comedy You're Dead! A lot has happened in the interim period. He directed his first feature film—a mind-bending body horror called Kuso, for which he also did the soundtrack—and produced Drunk, the latest psych-funk record from his good friend and frequent collaborator Thundercat. The stress of doing both projects at the same time almost "broke" him. The world has started to feel ever more apocalyptic—he watched a fire tear through the hills near his house in L.A. in a way that felt like something out of a disaster movie. His good friend Mac Miller died in September of last year.
It's been an overwhelming period, and the record reflects that. There are no direct comparisons elsewhere in Flying Lotus' catalog, but it's run through with anxious energy and attention to detail that informed both You're Dead! and his 2010 masterwork Cosmogramma. He bounds valiantly between cosmic jazz riffs like "Remind U?" to delirious funk and bruising rap tracks. Throughout, he's aided by famous friends from across the musical spectrum, including Solange, Toro y Moi, Tierra Whack, and Anderson .Paak. It's jittery and unsettling, in the way you might expect from a record that takes its title and subject matter from fire. — Colin Joyce, “Flying Lotus Ranks His Records”
YG, 4REAL 4REAL
YG is at his best when he's committed to telling a story. His fourth studio album, 4REAL 4REAL, is a continuation of the narratives he introduced on albums like My Krazy Life and Still Brazy. He's mockingly poetic on the intro, but YG's messaging on 4REAL 4REAL isn't delivered haphazardly. The stories that are the most poignant show up on "Her Story" and "Keisha Had a Baby," two stories centered around a woman's perspective. "Keisha Had a Baby" evokes the energy of Tupac's 1991 song, "Brenda's Got a Baby," but details how children often keep people trapped in dysfunctional relationships. When 4REAL 4REAL departs from YG's storytelling, he's playing nice with a handful of collaborators—as many as two or three on a track. Standout "I Was On The Block" finds the rapper slow creeping with Valee and Boogie, for a track that is as laid back as it is hectic. —Kristin Corry
Mavis Staples, We Get By
Mavis Staples is one of most enduring and essential figures in American music and her latter-day career has found her rejuvenated thanks to working with producers like Jeff Tweedy and M. Ward. For her latest, the excellent and prescient We Get By finds her teaming with producer Ben Harper to make resonant songs about freedom, love, and friendship. The politically-charged "Change" finds her singing “What good is freedom / If we haven't learned to be free?" Elsewhere, she turns nostalgic on the heartfelt "Never Needed Anyone," when she croons, "Started over many times / now I’m paying the cost." She turns 80 this summer but her voice is as rich and powerful as she was with the Staples Singers or backing the Band in The Last Waltz. — Josh Terry.
Faye Webster, Atlanta Millionaires Club
Faye Webster’s third album, Atlanta Millionaires, exceeds the promise of the Georgia native’s intimate brand of pop-Americana for one of the most fully formed LPs of 2019. While gorgeous pedal steel and a compelling twang color the arrangements, her strong songs are malleable and universal to be confined to the genre tag of country music. Originally signed to Awful Records before hopping on Secretly Canadian, Webster has always seamlessly jumped between worlds, providing guest vocals on songs from several Atlanta hip-hop artists like Lil Yachty and Father. The latter guests on highlight "Come To Atlanta," a left-field move, on paper, for a folk record but it's more than an organic collaboration on the recording. There are few LPs as effortlessly confident out this year. — Josh Terry
Lucky Daye, Painted
Recorded, per Billboard, at the end of a long period of couch-surfing and trying to "keep his head above water," Lucky Daye's debut album of kaleidoscopic funk and R&B sounds, paradoxically, exceptionally rich. Tracks like "Karma" are full of these immaculately stacked harmonies and lushly orchestrated instrumentation. Throughout Lucky and his primary collaborator—producer Dernst "D'mile" Emile—craft this impossibly vibrant, overstuffed and expensive-sounding combo of glimmering melodies and complex studio trickery. That it was done on a shoestring budget only makes it even more impressive—it's proof that true originals will always find a way to make their voices heard. —Colin Joyce
Cate Le Bon, Reward
For an artist who works in isolation, Cate Le Bon makes surprisingly lush and welcoming music. She opens up grandly throughout her fifth studio album Reward. To flesh out the LP, the Los Angeles resident decamped to northwest England, took a course in furniture making, and wrote songs at night on piano. The result is a densely-orchestrated and thrilling work, with songs that radiate hypnotic energy like the pulsing "The Light" and the swooning "Home To You." Kurt Vile assists on highlight "Magnificent Gestures," a knotty, off-kilter jam that finds Le Bon singing, "The mood escapes me / And I am writing it down." It’s a mission statement for the entire album, a snapshot of how solitude can turn into revelation. — Josh Terry.
The Glow, Am I
Am I, as its title suggests, allows former LVL UP member Mike Caridi the space to explore a lot of open-ended questions, consider the past, to figure out who he is in this new space. The title, he says, came to him after he’d finished the record, when he sat down and wrote out all the lyrics and realized that these sorts of questions were all over it: "Am I good? Am I alone? Am I capable?"
"I tend to question myself a lot of the time," Caridi says. "Life decisions I'm making, and so on. I've found it helpful and healthy to question myself. I want to be self aware, and to understand myself and why I make whatever decisions I make." —Colin Joyce, “The Glow’s Fuzzy Debut Album Ponders the Big Questions”
L'Eclair would like for you to know as little as possible about their new album, Sauropoda. It's the Swiss group’s second, this much we're sure of, but aside from basic facts, the music is the only clue. It was recorded over two days but there's no rush to the album's 37 minutes. These are deep grooves that move patiently from Italian film scores circa the ‘70s to library music and '90s Grateful Dead. These are less songs than slow transitions unconcerned with such narrative formalities as "beginnings" and "ends."
There's a little bit of everything, and with the way these tracks expand, you're likely to find a transcendent moment every few minutes. The band has seven members, but that doesn't really mean anything, either. Yavor Lilov, for instance, plays three instruments: the Kicker's Delight, the Endless Kick, and the Bronto Kick. I'm no expert, but I don't think those are real instruments.
So much about L'Eclair is beyond belief or understanding. The music has no choice but to do the work for the mysteries surrounding the group. —Will Schube
Luka Productions, Falaw
The Malian artist Luka Productions debuted in 2017 with Fasokan a collection of kosmische synth work and reedy folk instrumentation. It was full of these circuitous, shimmering melodies, echoing insistently like mantras. It got compared to new age music a lot, which makes sense on one hand, Luka’s music did have the same sort of sighing cosmic quality. But the follow-up Falaw illustrates that there was always a lot more going on. He opens up his world a lot here, both in sound and style—refining those electronic gasps into more pop directions and folding in even more organic instruments (peep the lovelorn and elastic guitar work on "Bbni"). Luka had already proven himself capable of beautiful abstractions, but Falaw shows he can focus too. —Colin Joyce