Justin Townes Earle, Absent Fathers: You don't have to dig too deep to find the absent father at the heart of alt-country troubadour Justin Townes Earle’s latest record. His pa, singer Steve Earle, has a well-documented history of booze and drug abuse (a trait passed on to son). As with the record’s companion LP, Single Mothers, which came out in September, the younger Earle sings about broken families within the confines of a twangy ballad, a place where he’s more than at home. (Out Jan 13) Essential track: "Call Ya Momma"
Rae Sremmurd, SremmLife: Mississippi-born Atlanta-based brothers Slim Jimmy and Swae Lee teamed up with blockbuster producer Mike Will Made It for their debut LP, a much-needed dose of gleeful, boisterous rap that's arrived, thankfully, in time for the year’s bleakest month. You may have heard singles “No Flex Zone” and “No Type” already (both dropped in 2014): If that's the case, you know, they're borderline sinister in their ability to kick around your head for days, maybe months, at a time. (Out now) Essential track: “No Type”
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love: It’s been ten years since Olympia, WA, punk trio Sleater-Kinney's last album. In the interim we got the not-too-shabby Portlandia as well as Wild Flag, Corin Tucker Band and Quasi albums—but still, the racket for the real thing has only grown. For thirsty fans, or anyone really, the album's brisk 32 minutes will fly by: Here's hoping there's more where that came from. (Out Jan 20) Essential track: "Bury Our Friends"
California X, Nights in the Dark: For their sophomore album, punk quartet California X (who, note, are from Western Mass. not California) arrive with a caseload of riffs laid out in exacting fashion. The guitars, scuzzy and fuzzed to the brink, are thickly smeared on each song like gooey Nutella: dark, oozing and sugary sweet. (Out Jan 13) Essential track: “Nights In The Dark”
Viet Cong, Viet Cong: This Calgary four-piece sounds as if they’ve been holed up in a snowy garage obsessing about the end of the world with only a bunch of Joy Division records for company. That's basically how the group's first album came about (with a few more LPs tossed in). Over steely post-punk, singer-bassist Matt Flegel exclaims, “If we're lucky we'll get old and die" in a way that doesn’t make it sound like such a bad thing. (Out Jan 20) Essential track: "Silhouettes"