The Lawrence Arms, “Metropole”
This collection is the first album by the Chicago punk trio in eight years and its first on Epitaph. As such, the music sounds about 10 years out of fashion (in a good, melodically punky way), and the gang has plenty to talk about, even when the topics are as familiar as workaday life, advancing age and dingy bar stools. “I never wanted to die old / But it’s too late now” opens “Seventeener (17th and 37th).” Truly uplifting it is not, but self-awareness (see the tune “Drunk Tweets”) can be a fine substitute for salvation.
Essential song: “You Are Here”
Angel Olsen, “Burn Your Fire For No Witness”
A few seconds of Angel Olsen’s piercing voice is enough to make you willingly dive into the rabbit hole of her emotionally wresting tunes. Olsen’s 2013 debut LP was a solo affair with unusually gripping songs; this record, her first on Jagjaguar, keeps the edge and sweetens the sound by introducing a full band.
Essential song: “Hi-Five”
St. Vincent, “St. Vincent”
The fact that New York musician Annie Clark’s new release is self-titled could indicate a few things—a rebirth, a coming out—but, if early tracks are any indication, it’s a doubling down on her recent M.O. With a footprint in her stellar Strange Mercy LP and recent David Byrne collaboration “Love This Giant,” lead single “Digital Witness” goes deeper into weird synthesizers, stabby horns and robotic, funky rhythms. (Though I still have fingers crossed for the aggro-shred St. Vincent record that’s in there somewhere.)
Essential song: “Digital Witness”
Beck, “Morning Phase”
It’s been a particularly brutal, snowy winter for much of the US. Whether you’re stranded in an ice-locked East Coast airport or suffering through a merely-50-degree day in Los Angeles, it can be helpful to spin summery music. The latest from Beck Hanson isn’t exactly “Walking on Sunshine”—it’s a reprise of his slow, simmering acoustic self found on Sea Change (many of that album’s collaborators return). The result recalls a lazy, sun-baked afternoon that will hopefully usher in some warmer thoughts.
Essential song: “Blue Moon”
Mark McGuire, “Along the Way”
The guitar experimentalist explores the space between dreamy New Age music, early electronica and hazy post-chillwave pop: Envision Vangelis’s lush Blade Runner soundtrack with looped guitars and a toe-tapping groove. That might sound awfully specific but McGuire covers a lot of ground in 13 songs: from presomnal chill-out to uptempo grooving and places beyond.
Essential song: “In Search of the Miraculous”