Each month, the editors and critics at Rolling Stone will compile a list of our favorite new albums. Our picks from March include cosmopolitan reggaeton star J Balvin, alt-rock heroes Pearl Jam and rap dynamo Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert, Eternal Atake
Eternal Atake is Lil Uzi Vert’s best album yet, with a cohesiveness, slick concept, and performance that justifies every ounce of hype. He’s still melodically minded—note the almost melismatic flourish of “Got a model/ with vitiligo” on “Prices”—but Eternal Atake sometimes feels like a return to 2013, when he was a nobody in Philly serving the kinetic, drill-adjacent, rapid-fire street raps that inspired his name. Eternal Atake contains some of the best rapping moments of his career, a development foreshadowed by the 2019 G Herbo-sampling loose single “Free Uzi,” as well as the snippets leaked and shared in the interminable run-up to the album’s release.
Dua Lipa, Future Nostalgia
Future Nostalgia is a breathtakingly fun, cohesive and ambitious attempt to find a place for disco in 2020. Incredibly, Lipa is successful: the upbeat album that she decided to release a week earlier than planned is the perfect balm for a stressful time. “Future Nostalgia” is like a neon “Welcome” sign. Its camp, Daft Punk-ian robot funk accents silly full of nonsensical but smartly delivered one-liners like “I can’t teach your man how to wear his pants.” The album’s lead single “Don’t Start Now” has become a mega-hit for a good reason: its the type of big, Robyn-esque break-up dance-pop anthem that every pop star is due to attempt at least once.
Megan Thee Stallion, Suga
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Seasons change: every Hot Girl Summer must turn into a Mad As Hell Winter. So Megan Thee Stallion chose the right moment to break free. Her 9-song EP Suga drops just as the Houston rap goddess goes to war with her label 1501 Certified Entertainment. Suga is just a 24-minute taste of Megan’s new sound—but it’s definitely a State-of-the-Stallion report on the trouble on her mind these days. As she told Charles Holmes in her new Rolling Stone cover story, Suga is her new persona, showing her “sensitive” side. “I want to cry a little bit,” she explained. “We going to cry, but I’m still doing bad-girl shit.” Suga might sound like a moodier big sister to Tina Snow or Hot Girl Meg. But as the new songs show, Megan at her most vulnerable is still tough as a tank.
Code Orange, Underneath
Following the success of their Grammy-nominated LP, Forever, the Pittsburgh hardcore band give their melodic bark more bite in the glitchy horror thrash of Underneath. It’s an all-out assault on the increasingly invasive panopticon that is the Internet: augmented with creeping electro-tremors by Eric ‘Shade’ Balderose, the blistering “Swallowing the Rabbit Hole” sees drummer-vocalist Jami Morgan step to the fore for the first time, slamming naysayers emboldened by the shelter of anonymity (“Where will I be when I’ve aged and I can’t connect/With these little rat fuck kids and the pigs who sign the checks?”). If you hear echoes of The Downward Spiral in “The Easy Way,” it’s by no coincidence — Nine Inch Nails alumnus Chris Vrenna serves as co-programmer on Underneath, passing the torch to Balderose and helping forge an industrial metal renaissance.
Kelsea Ballerini, Kelsea
Ballerini, a singer who’s collaborated with the Chainsmokers and been flooded with comparisons to country-to-pop pioneer Taylor Swift throughout her career, is one such artist. Her third full-length, Kelsea, is a catchy treatise on the push and pull dynamics of a pop-leaning Southern singer trying to negotiate genres, styles, and sounds. Kelsea makes that tension — navigating between pop’s modern urbanity and country music’s rural signifying — its primary subject matter. The 26-year-old singer switches between the club and the cow pasture, between the feel-good Nineties country conservatism of “Hole in the Bottle” and the down-the-center Top 40 pop of “Love Me Like a Girl.”
Pearl Jam, Gigaton
On the first record Pearl Jam has mustered during the Trump administration, the group has blended the miasmic angst of “Jeremy” and “Alive” with a sense of tenderness and even flashes of hope. Although Trump is not the sole focus of the record, Vedder gives the president (“a tragedy of errors,” in EdVed’s words) plenty of airtime. Yet, where the Vedder of 20 years ago might have hollered (or hooted) his blues, he mostly keeps his cool on Gigaton. Album opener “Who Ever Said” doubles as Vedder’s mantra for hope, as he sings, “Whoever said, ‘It’s all been said,’ gave up on satisfaction,” between Pete Townshend-inspired licks and a New Wave-style guitar solo.
Waxahatchee, St. Cloud
On her latest album Saint Cloud, 31-year old songwriter Katie Crutchfield trades in the indie-rock neurosis of her previous work for a mellower, twangy sound that nods towards her roots in Birmingham, Alabama. But her piercing observations have only grown sharper with time. The sun-kissed compositions match her words perfectly. Produced with Brad Cook, they recall one of Crutchfield’s heroes, Lucinda Williams, along with the melodic storytelling from folk songwriters like Patty Griffin. You can hear these songs playing out of car speakers on a daytime road trip, or by a summer bonfire once it starts to die down.
J Balvin, Colores
Don’t let the Crayola motif fool you: Spanning 10 pigment-themed tracks, Colores is a sophisticated show of Balvin’s sonic palette. He opens with a high frequency on the playful “Amarillo,” in which a wonky horn sample rides like a monkey on the back of the marching dembow riddim. But he succumbs to sentimentality in the atmospheric ballad “Rojo,” followed by the blushing “Rosado,” featuring Diplo. With an assist from Afrobeats envoy Mr. Eazi, the Nigerian King of Cool we last met in Oasis, standout track “Arcoiris” is where Balvin’s cosmopolitan jet-setter persona makes a comeback. Together, he and Eazi finesse hook after hook, drawing a timeless groove that recalls not just the history of the Afro-Caribbean music tradition — but where it’s headed next.
The Weeknd, After Hours
Musically, After Hours hits the best balance yet of the gloomy melodrama of the Weeknd’s early EPs or his 2018 release My Dear Melancholy and the pop slickness of his 2016 LP Starboy — at once lachrymose and sleek, cold but plush, like a lavishly ornamented fallout shelter. After Hours certainly has its share of pity-partying. But there’s also a vulnerability that goes beyond the usual too-beautiful-for-the-world sulking. “I thought I’d be a better man, but I lied to you and me,” he sings on the magisterial “Faith,” one of a handful of songs produced by Metro Boomin’, referencing “Purple Rain” and “Losing My Religion,” as his floats above cold-storage synths in a sublime display of his signature feathery falsetto athleticism.
Childish Gambino, 3.15.20
Donald Glover’s latest (and probably last) release as Childish Gambino (created with producer DJ Dahl, Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson and others) is a spacey, anxious mediations on his various worries and obsessions, which range from the challenges of parenting to iPhone overload to racism and relationships. Ariana Grande appears on the summertime synth spiral “Time,” 21 Savage adds a verse to “12.38” and Glover’s young son makes an adorable cameo on “47:48.” Throughout, there’s a vivid debt to Prince, George Clinton and Stevie Wonder. But Glover doesn’t just pay homage to these influences, he makes them feel new and right at home in our scary moment.
Lil Baby, My Turn
Last month, during an engagement at NBA All-Star Weekend, Baby proclaimed that his rapping skills had gotten “20 times” better in the past two years. On My Turn, his first release in 15 months, this is demonstrably untrue. If anything, his floor has simply risen; he is less likely to brick important verses like he did on “Yes Indeed.” With its hourlong runtime, My Turn has a lot of filler. But Baby’s filler is premium grade. While most rappers dream of making one song with potential to get radio play, Baby makes radio songs in his sleep. My Turn is packed with them, to the point that they start to blur together. It’s an album that exhibits both his floor and his ceiling, as well as his likely position as a staple of Atlanta rap for years to come.
Brian Fallon, Local Honey
The New Jersey roots-punk rocker leans into moody folk on this sweet collection about fatherhood and quitting cigarettes. Local Honey is Fallon at his most soft-spoken, which finds the songwriter at the rootsier end of his roots-punk palette. On songs like “I Don’t Mind (If I’m With You”) and “You Have Stolen My Heart,” 40 year-old Fallon finds a way to adapt his bleeding-wound sentimentality to the daily grind of middle-age. “Call it breaking a habit, call it falling out of love,” he sings on the highlight “21 Days”, sounding like the National, if they were from New Brunswick.
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