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The Best Releases of January: Music Staff Picks

Earl Sweatshirt – SICK!

On the newest album from Earl Sweatshirt, the rapper continues his streak of thoughtful and melancholic bars–this time with a slightly more approachable selection of beats, supplied by the likes of The Alchemist and Black Noi$e. Avant jazz is still a key piece of the production, though some of the pianos here have a midi sheen to them, and some of the trap-influenced drum tracks will be familiar to fans of contemporary hip hop. One such track featuring this style of production is “2010”, with a bright, yet off-kilter synth loop. Here, as with many spots on the record, Earl sounds more confident than he has across his entire discography, looking forward while holding reverence for the past–he spits, “Foot shook ground when I stepped on it / Didn’t look back when I broke soil / Cause every time I did it would hurt more.” “Tabula Rasa” with rap duo Armand Hammer acts as a centerpiece for the album, and an excellent one at that. The poignant soul sample like a skipping record provides a groove for each rapper to do their thing, recalling moments of pain and passion with large doses of metaphor. This along with “Lye” and “Fire In the Hole” find Earl rapping some of his best bars over jazz samples. “Titanic” may feature the freshest production on the record, which he matches with an unconventionally catchy flow. Na-Kel’s infectious ad-libs thrown into the mix make the track an all-time great in Earl’s catalog. SICK! is an excellent addition to the rapper’s discography as he continues an ethos of quality over quantity in his output.

–Jaden Amjadi

FKA Twigs – Caprisongs

Experimental pop sweetheart FKA Twigs is known for her heart-wrenching and enchanting songwriting that stands just as firmly in the pop camp as it does the alternative. On her last full-length release, 2019’s MAGDALENE, Twigs made use of a haunting production style with soft and sweet layered vocals as well as daunting undercurrents of reverb or feedback-infused synths. On her new mixtape, CAPRISONGS, she continues some of the trends of soft, feminine vocals and a nocturnal production palette, though this time around Twigs is arguably more concerned with mainstream pop aesthetics than those of her experimental back catalog. On tracks like “ride the dragon” or “honda”, Twigs’ typically softened vocal performance feels hyper-feminized and playful rather than painfully delicate. These songs also exhibit bassy club beats, and swaying, seductive synths. The mixtape frequently highlights its uncut and emotionally raw ethos by utilizing a number of interludes of recorded conversations about relationships and self-help monologues. There are also a plethora of impressive features across the record including Pa Salieu, The Weeknd, and Shygirl to name a few. Despite taking an obvious turn towards a sound that is arguably less experimental or groundbreaking than her previous work, FKA Twigs manages to retain her ability to write undeniably, palpably human songs that are at once catchy and endearing.

–Sydney Sjobakken

foxtails – fawn

On their latest release fawn, Connecticut post-hardcore outfit foxtails shatter whatever expectations any listener may have had going into it. Lead vocalist Megan Cadena-Fernandez delivers unforgettable performances from the front to the back of this album and everywhere in between, often sporting a signature hellish wail that is second to none in pure intensity. Their vocals shine powerfully over the gloomy and murky chord progressions and basslines. While the band employs traditional instrumental aspects of post-hardcore screamo, melodies from a violin serve to add a remarkable layer of richness and beauty to the music while simultaneously stripping down the emotion into raw, gut-wrenching angst. While the record may be most notable for the peak of its intensity, the more mellow moments, such as the intros to “gallons of spiders went flying thru the stratosphere” and “life is a death scene, princess” are masterfully placed and surrenders none of the haunting, soul-crushing darkness that the rest of the record displays. The themes of the album open a window into the excruciating realities of depression and trauma. While this is a common theme in many forms of popular music, so few artists capture it so well both with lyrics and the music itself as foxtails do on this album. foxtails carve an energetic and forceful work with fawn, and hold a bright future in the world of post-hardcore screamo.

–Evan Weidl

Wylie Hopkins – On the Way Out

In a rather soothing and reassuring fashion, pioneering singer and producer Wylie Hopkins stuns with his very first EP release, On The Way Out. Before this tape, releases from Hopkins have been slim – with only 3 singles being dropped until this point. Tracks from this period, songs like “honey, i just” and “Cut”, guided listeners into a wave of euphoria and unexplainable nostalgia in their seamless blend of indie, folk, and pop rock. Serene drum loops, soft and smooth guitar tacks, and Hopkins’ sweet and rich voice created a lovely and entertaining couple of releases, both satiating and creating a thirst for more among the still-young fanbase. Hopkins continues to develop on this fun and memorable sound with this 8-track EP. His reliably catchy and organic melody lines coupled with heartfelt lyrics–ranging from relationship experiences, the ups and downs of online dating, personal uncertainty, depression, and COVID, provide the audience with a cohesive, yet adorable project. With a very strong EP under his belt right from the get-go, one can only wonder what else this solemn, yet ambitious musician has in store for the world next. I for one, am rooting for him!

–Russel Hanneman

Anxious – Little Green House

On the debut album from Connecticut emo band Anxious, they meld hardcore energy with catchy melodies to achieve a pop punk opus. Songs center around the change that comes with aging, love, and heartbreak–nothing unexpected for the genre, but there is a confident acceptance showcased on many tracks here that makes them exceptional. Vocalist Grady Allen reflects on regrets, yet the emphasis is on moving forward. On the opener, “Your One Way Street”, Allen trades between tender croons and aggressive screams before arriving at a heartfelt chorus: “No one’s to blame / We both have changed.” Singles “In April” and “Growing Up Song” have the melodic genius of some of the better Mark Hoppus songs circa ‘97, now granted heavier production and screamed supporting vocals. When the band does choose to lean into their hardcore roots, such as on “Call From You”, they perform excellently as well. Emo fans get the twinkly riffs they crave, but none that ever disrupt the momentum of the song. Even more impressive, is the seamless flow of one song to the next across the entire project. The closer, “You When You’re Gone” is a welcome surprise that finds Stella Branstool of Hello Mary taking the reigns on vocals. The song is stunningly beautiful in how it deals with the grim subject of death but somehow also manages to be deeply comforting. On Little Green House, Anxious kicks off the year in music strong

–Jaden Amjadi