November was another fruitful month for music: Megan Thee Stallion triumphed in her delivery of Good News, William Basinski mesmerized with his haunting Lamentations and Knox Fortune came through with one of the most fun records of the year on Stock Child Wonder. Still, there were a few things that may have passed under your radar. Have no fear, dear reader! Music beat reporters Vincent Tran and Crew Bittner are here to provide you with a few recommendations of highlights you might’ve missed in the music world this past month.
K-pop supergroup BTS has returned at the tail end of the year with a record so earnest it’s hard not to like.
Be finds BTS stripping things back with a sound less like the saturated pure-pop of 2019’s Map of the Soul: Persona and more reminiscent of their Skool Luv Affair days. Sincerity, hope and unity are the central messages this time around as the group centers their music around the tumultuous events engulfing the world this year. From appropriately sentimental slices of hip-hop-tinged-pop such as “Life Goes On” and “Blue & Grey” to the bubbly “Telepathy” and the arena-ready “Stay,” the album showcases BTS’ best qualities with an of the moment set of songs that are their most accessible and relatable to date. Like a cherry on top, the Grammy-nominated single “Dynamite” shows up on the track list to finish things off with a high-energy bang.
For those looking for an entry point into the group’s music as well as K-pop in general, this isn’t a bad place to start.
— Vincent Tran
Once again, JPEGMAFIA has delivered a stunning collection of high-energy, crunchy music. Throughout 2020, he’s been releasing singles with an unstoppable fervor as he continues his domination of the rap game. He knows the strength of his career and the increase in his popularity, too, as he sings “fuck the underground, I’m going pop!” on the careening “Covered in Money!”
The songs on EP! are a loose collection of tracks without a central thesis or theme, but their sum is less a coherent project and more a showcase of the artist’s most impressive qualities. His production is as strong as it’s ever been, as JPEGMAFIA continues to hone his craft and adapt his style from song to song. Both “Bald!” and “Bald Remix” are wavy, vaporous tracks that delve into their samples with aplomb.
His rhythm and flow are terrific, too, as he’s able to rap over distracting beats while still standing out on tracks such as “Living Single,” a squeaking and aching beat that is impossibly impeccable. EP! isn’t a complete meal, but it’s a complex charcuterie board that offers a delectable variety of songs from one of rap’s best contemporaries.
Listen here: https://jpegmafia.bandcamp.com/album/ep
— Crew Bittner
Yankee Purple Foxtrot (CHOPNOTSLOP), Barry Jenkins & The Chopstars
Two decades ago, in a legendary stunt defying their previous record label, Wilco streamed their newest album at the time, titled Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, to millions of listeners for free online. It remains a staple of the band’s legacy and of rock canon, with its breezy, irresistible radio-friendly melodies, effortlessly cool influences and deeply seeded sense of romanticism that only furthers its status as the stuff of legend.
It’s astonishing then that Yankee Purple Foxtrot, a chopped-and-screwed remix from director Barry Jenkins (yes, THAT Barry Jenkins) and the Houston DJ collective known as The Chopstars, is as good as it is, a compelling album where all the slowed-down versions of the original tracks retain their potency. Released just after Joe Biden’s projected win of the 2020 Presidential Election, the project comes as a hearty serving of life-affirming, hip-hop influenced Americana perfectly befitting the times.
Though they’ve collaborated on previous “CHOPNOTSLOP” projects (their remix of Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest and Painted Ruins is another highlight), Jenkins and company have made a reverent remix into must-hear music. If anything, Yankee Purple Foxtrot makes its case known: The perfect record can be messed with.
— Vincent Tran
If We Make It Through December, Phoebe Bridgers
Our parents’ carols are not our own. Bing Crosby, Wham!, Mariah Carey, Michael Buble — the Christmas songs of seasons past are reflective of the eras from which they come. A good Christmas album doesn’t simply retread the weary ground of old carols. It is a befitting time capsule, a glimpse into the psyche of generations past.
We live in an age of calamitous melancholy. Phoebe Bridgers understands this. On her Christmas EP If We Make It Through December, she offers a view into the flickering window of the modern epoch, one defined by anxiety and isolation. With all the uncertainty this year has brought us, it would be uncouth to treat light, spirited music as illustrative of the times.
Instead, Bridgers has released what will likely be the year’s most appropriate Christmas album, a series of mournful covers of Christmas classics from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to “Silent Night.”
With albums such as this, gloom can often dominate. Instead, Bridgers supplies an undeniable Christmas spirit — not through joy, but through hope. Hope that we can make it through December, hope for a kinder winter.
— Crew Bittner
Other notable releases: Magic Oneohtrix Point Never — Oneohtrix Point Never, “Pareidolia” — Buck Meek, Idiot Prayer (Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace) — Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds