September has come and gone which means that any day with a trace of warm weather is now officially a thing of the past. But we were fortunate enough to have our last gasps of summer soundtracked by some of the year’s strongest new hip-hop releases (in a year already stacked with instant classics) from the likes of Danny Brown, Isaiah Rashad and Travis Scott.
But even outside of rap, this past month has seen everything from a radical reinvention of Bon Iver to what might possibly be the final music from M.I.A.
In other words, September was packed with stellar new music. Here are our personal picks for the best albums of the month:
Bon Iver—22, A Million
Every great artist hits that record, three or four into their career, where they take their trademark sound and rip it right to shreds, forging a radical reinvention that truly changes their game. We can refer to it as the “Kid A Effect,” so named for Radiohead’s revolutionary shift in 2000.
Bon Iver just had their Kid A Effect with this epic piece of work, one that transforms the much-parodied quiet, woodsy folk of their first two albums and turns it into a brash, electronic symphony. Even if it feels impenetrable and hard to define, there is no denying that this is their biggest record yet.
Danny Brown—Atrocity Exhibition
With 2010’s XXX and 2013’s Old, Danny Brown created two bonafide masterpieces that hurled his acidic, abrasive Detroit sound into the public consciousness and became one of rap’s most watched (and most oddball) characters. Needless to say, that’s a tough act to follow.
But Atrocity Exhibition rises to the challenge, creating an environment that is every bit as dark and foreboding but one that sounds inherently more accessible. It is a marriage between Brown’s new sounds and his old ones, giving the feeling that he has truly completed an artistic cycle. Who knows where he might go next.
De La Soul—And the Anonymous Nobody…
Most ‘80s bands that release an album 30 years after their debut, not to mention one made after a decade of silence, should probably just stay home and skip the studio. But De La Soul have come back from an extended hiatus with a record that is truly surprising in how enjoyable it is.
This is thanks in large part to a blockbuster list of collaborators ranging from Talking Heads’ David Byrne to Snoop Dogg to 2 Chainz. But instead of distracting from the main show, they serve as a reminder of just how savvy De La Soul still are, and that they may be old but can certainly play ball with the new kids on the block.
Isaiah Rashad–The Sun’s Tirade
Isaiah Rashad is a rapper who is very much still on the come up. His debut effort Cilvia Demo evoked the kind of homespun, overtly personal raps that have been given new life by artists like Chance the Rapper, but his outlook is one significantly more dark and up front.
On The Sun’s Tirade, Rashad has truly started to blossom, exchanging none of the characteristics that marked his previous work and improving and evolving in every way, both sonically and lyrically. “Free Lunch” remains one of the year’s most bitingly funny and melancholy tracks of the year.
Is it too soon to call Kaytranada our generation’s J Dilla? Maybe, but after examining his consistently innovative output of hip-hop electro and instrumental beats that he’s been churning out all year long, the comparison seems only natural. He already killed it with his debut album 99.9% from the spring, but this surprise mixtape dropped shortly after his Polaris Music Prize win is just icing on the cake. It’s 90-minutes of pure stoner-hazed, synthesizer-laden audio candy.
It’s easy to forget that M.I.A. was once a star so big that she could steal the Grammy stage spotlight away from both Jay Z and Kanye West with barely a second glance, but the formative electronic musician has been unusually quiet in the lead-up to AIM, a record she has claimed may be her final full-length.
This feeling shows in the music, which though political, is far from her urgent and radical earlier work. That said, the production on many of these tracks is a pure confectionary delight thanks to assists from the likes of Diplo, Blaqstarr and Skrillex. And her duet with Zayn Malik will melt your heart out.
Mac Miller—The Divine Feminine
The Divine Feminine, in which Mac Miller sheds his persona as a raunchy fratboy party-rat and morphs into a…raunchy fratboy party-rat with a newfound appreciation and respect for women. If you put weight in the information found in the gossip column, we have Ariana Grande to thank for that.
Miller’s duet with his new girlfriend ends up being a heartfelt moment of clarity in a record full of “realizations” (some more earnest than others). And though his philosophies may still be spotty at best, this is far and away his most cohesive and thoroughly enjoyable set of songs to date.
The album cover of Sirens, depicting a dark cityscape on the verge of melting, could not be more telling of the music within. The latest effort from producer/mad genius Nicolas Jaar is a journey through a dark headspace, but one that is at times as comfortingly familiar as it is moody and fraught with tension.
Jaar’s work has always had an ethereal quality, but tracks like “The Governor” introduce a newfound intensity and frenetic energy that pits his work in the same league as that of mid-period Aphex Twin. But no matter how much he’s changed, he’s lost of none of his irresistible funkiness.
Solange—A Seat at the Table
It has been four long years since Solange wowed the world with True, a brief but stellar EP produced by Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes that truly allowed the singer to step outside the long, long shadow cast by her older sister Beyoncé.
Is A Seat at the Table more of the pitch-perfect pop that made us fall in love with her? Not quite, but it is far away her most political and important work to date, thematically addressing subjects that announce Solange as a more than just a talented singer and songwriter.
Travis Scott—Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight
So we may have spent more time talking about the absurd album merch for Travis Scott’s latest album than the music itself, but can you blame us? How couldn’t we be distracted by getting a custom Travis Scott toothbrush with matching condom? But all mystifying advertising aside, Scott’s long-awaited full-length does not disappoint.
“Pick Up the Phone,” a collaboration with Young Thug, ranks as a career-best, while he continues to find new ways of exploring his syrupy trap sound in standouts like “Sweet Sweet” and “Goosebumps.”
For more great album guides, check out the 10 Records You Need to Hear Before Watching ‘Atlanta.’