albums of the week

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., and 6 Other Albums to Listen to Now

Kendrick Lamar Photo: SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Images

Every week, Vulture gathers new albums you can listen to right now. We don’t have a problem admitting it: keeping track of everything that’s released can be overwhelming, but finding out about interesting music doesn’t have to be work. Read our picks below, and share your thoughts in the comments.

Kendrick Lamar, DAMN. (TDE/Interscope)
Is DAMN. Kendrick Lamar’s best album? Will any of us even have a chance to form an opinion, or will he release another LP this weekend? How surprising is it on a scale of 1 to 10 that the song with U2 is actually really good and doesn’t feel at all like a cash grab? Is Rihanna’s accountant bummed that Kendrick calls him out on “FEAR.”? Is Kendrick the voice of our generation? How is it possible for an artist to speak so intelligently — and with such pathos — about the troubling position America is in right now, and somehow make it feel comforting, like just by voicing these ideas from the limelight, change is still within reach? DAMN. is out now, go listen to it. This is just some stuff to think about. — Sam Hockley-Smith (@shockleysmith)

Rich Homie Quan, Back to the Basics (Motown)
Rich Homie Quan spent a lot of time promising us that he would “never stop going in.” He also promised that he was “still going in,” and at one point, preemptively warned that if we ever thought he would stop going in, we should “ask RR.” Then … he stopped going in. After a steady stream of mixtapes, he spent 2016 quietly, popping up for an occasional guest verse but not much more. Now we have Back to the Basics, a melancholy, often beautiful album about what fame and money can do to a person. Presumably, Quan reckoned with the harsh realities of stardom and didn’t like what he saw. That he released such a good record at the same time that Kendrick Lamar released an album that automatically overshadowed everything else that came out today — all but assuring that Back to the Basics be completely overlooked — just furthers the point Quan makes throughout. Maybe Quan got tired of going in, but his music isn’t suffering for it. — SH-S

Actress, AZD (Ninja Tune)
In his recording career as Actress, British beatmaker Darren Cunningham crafts breathy, ambient dance music that hits the ear like startling woodwork hits the eye: Age and wear are employed as the intentional textural choices of a smart craftsman. Synth sounds are wrapped in static, and the drum programming always feels imperceptibly but deliberately out of perfect sync. Cunningham’s new album AZD is another bout of dance music as spirited design project. Hypnotic simplicity is the aim, but it’s achieved through a number of means. The meditative “Falling Rizlas” is all twinkling keys and open space, but right before it, “Runner” achieves a similar calm through stacking layers of ebbing sound on top of a methodical beat. “Blue Window” mixes both methods, pairing plodding drums with a simplistic melody. The unshakable feeling AZD gives off is that time is a breathing entity, not just the rigid structure of a guy programming different blocks of sound. Put it on when you’re cleaning, or driving, and sink into the groove. — Craig Jenkins (@CraigSJ)

John Mayer, The Search for Everything (Columbia)
John Mayer’s previous album Paradise Valley came out in 2013, and it had a frontier-inspired folk vibe from the musician’s time spent under the big Montana sky (where he was in a kind of self-imposed media exile). Today’s new arrival, The Search for Everything, yields a lot of smooth-jazzy, adult-contemporary sentimental pop that feels saccharine even by Mayer standards. Considered as a whole, there’s almost a satirical quality to Everything. The pencil-drawn portrait of Mayer on the album cover, a song actually called “Emoji of a Wave,” the internet-trolling video for “Still Feel Like Your Man,” and lyrics like “love on the weekend, love on the weekend, like only we can, like only we can” all add up to something that feels possibly self-aware enough to be beyond critique. But you can make that call on your own. — Jordan Crucchiola (@JorCru)

Fionn Regan, The Meetings of the Waters (Abbey Records)
Folky singer-songwriters have been pushing their sounds to higher and higher levels of grandiosity, and with The Meetings of the Waters, the Irish singer-songwriter Fionn Regan offers his own attempt to augment the intimacy of the acoustic-guitar-toting singers of yore. “Euphoria” sounds like Leonard Cohen gone ambient, while “Cape of Diamonds” unexpectedly slips into synth-pop. There’s a lot of variety here but what makes the record successful is that its core — Regan himself — is never lost in the mix. —Gabe Cohn (@gabescohn)

Lillie Mae, Forever and Then Some (Third Man Records)
Maybe it’s the long road she’s taken to get to this point, but Lillie Mae, the fiddle player previously known for recording and touring with Jack White and with her own family band Jypsi, sounds seasoned and confident on Forever and Then Some, her White-produced debut. The record moves from traditional country (“Honky Tonks & Taverns,” “These Daze”) to alt-country hodgepodges (“Over the Hills and Through the Woods,” “Honest and True”) with ease. If there’s an overarching theme, it’s independence and self-isolation in the wake of a bad breakup: “I’ll never be quite as happy as when I’m with you,” she laments on “Honest and True.” Studio chatter is sprinkled throughout the album, making it feel like a friendly jam session, while keeping the tone from ever getting too dark. — GC

Little Dragon, Season High (Loma Vista)
Swedish soul quartet Little Dragon likes to play with hots and colds: Their music turns the warmth and intimacy of singer Yukimi Nagano’s voice loose over the serene, synthetic grooves emanating from her backing band’s wall of keys and drums. It’s reductive to call the stuff synth-pop, since it swings too much for that genre’s trademark rigidity, but cuts like “Klapp Klapp” off 2014’s Nabuma Rubberband run a few degrees too icy in their rhythms to fairly be called soul. This all changes on the brand-new Season High, the band’s fifth album. Season High rearranges Little Dragon’s rhythmic sensibilities into something closer to the big drum-forward electronic pop of the late ’80s, from opener “Celebrate,” which rides a slinky robot funk loop straight to a breakneck, hair-raising guitar solo, through “Sweet” and “Strobe Light,” two popping ’80s house genre exercises. The new album’s time displacement goes deeper than an appreciation of Reagan-era pop: The dirge-like closer “Gravity” warps a stormy goth vamp like taffy. The new moods suit this band well. Most importantly, Season High sounds like a dream on a balmy day. — CJ

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., and 6 Other Albums to Listen to Now