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Rewinding September | The Top Pop & Rock

Charli, Hobo, Pixies, Posty and the other toppermost of this month's poppermost.

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You ever have one of those dreams where you’re running as fast as you can but getting nowhere? That was my September. Between one thing and another, it flew by so fast that I didn’t even get to listen to half the albums on my list (last week alone, I downloaded more than 110 releases). Here are the best of the big-name pop and rock releases that did manage to find their way into my earholes, presented in alphabetical order. Just click on the cover pic to read the original review (and probably listen to the album in full).


Sam Fender
Hypersonic Missiles

WHO IS HE? The latest high-cheekboned, tousle-haired pretty-boy singer-songwriter to be eagerly exported from Britain to these shores. But before you lump Sam Fender in with the rest of the acoustic guitar-wielding whingers, know this: He’s way more Bruce Springsteen than Ed Sheeran. In fact, based on Hypersonic Missiles, it’s probably fair to say he’s the biggest Boss fan to hail from a council estate in North Shields.

WHAT IS THIS? His debut full-length, which was originally slated to come out in mid-August but was pushed back a month (I suspect his label didn’t want it to compete with the Springsteen-centric soundtrack for the movie Blinded by the Light).

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Heartland rock filtered through a British sensibility. Fender’s musical man-crush on Bruce — which he’s openly owned up to in interviews — manifests itself in the guitar-based, saxophone-braced cuts that dominate this disc. Though to his credit, he writes about toxic masculinity and mental health more often than he writes about teenage tramps who were born to run through the streets in the night. And here’s the weird thing: About half the time, he actually sounds more like fellow Springsteen acolyte Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem. Even odder: More than a couple of these songs recall the hypnotic jangle of War on Drugs and even the clanging alt-rock of The Strokes. So go figure.


Fitz & The Tantrums
All The Feels

WHO ARE THEY? The L.A. pop-chart mainstays and former neo-soul revivalists fronted by singer and chief songwriter Michael Fitzpatrick, who claims his Pepe Le Pew-meets-Cruella De Vil two-tone locks are natural.

WHAT IS THIS? Their fourth collection of catchy commercial confections that are coming soon to a radio station, supermarket aisle and superhero soundtrack near you.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Somewhat surprisingly, it’s not just an album of HandClap rewrites. Which it could easily have been, given Fitzpatrick’s seemingly innate ability to pen indelible hooks and melodies. Instead, he has written a 17-song disc that aims to earn its title with a musically and emotionally diverse slate of synth-based fare that runs the gamut from pop and rock to soul, R&B, EDM and more. Of course, if you were actually hoping for an entire album of HandClap rewrites, you have my condolences.


Liam Gallagher
Why Me? Why Not.

WHO IS HE? The formerly supersonic frontman of Oasis and Beady Eye. Brother Noel’s eternal sparring partner and constant foil. Britpop’s leading parka and anorak enthusiast. The singer with the most distinctive performance posture in rock ’n’ roll. And a guy who’s never going to change in the slightest, much to the delight of your dad.

WHAT IS THIS? His second Greg Kurstin-produced solo album, fourth post-Oasis studio release — and a surprisingly satisfying disc whose title comes from a pair of John Lennon drawings that Gallagher owns, one of which was given to him by Yoko Ono. Take that, Noel.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Exactly what you think it sounds like — yet another batch of self-described ‘meat and veg’ songs that try to channel John, Paul, George and Ringo at their late-’60s creative peak. If you’ve got a problem with that, Liam will be happy to discuss it with you outside the pub after a few pints.


Brittany Howard
Jaime

WHO IS SHE? The singer, guitarist and primary songwriter of southern-fried soul-rockers The Alabama Shakes. And the woman with one of the mightiest and most distinctive voices in contemporary rock — no wonder, considering she has a mouth so unnaturally large she can probably munch whole apples like they were grapes.

WHAT IS THIS? Her first true solo album Jaime, named for her older sister, who reportedly taught the young Brittany how to write poetry and play piano before she died from retinoblastoma in 1998.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Sonically, way more like the Shakes’ expansive (and Grammy-winning) 2015 sophomore album Sound & Colour than the garage-rock grit and rootsy revivalism of their career-making 2012 debut Boys & Girls. Once again painting outside stylistic lines with a more expansive instrumental palette, looser song structures, trippier arrangements and multi-dimensional soundscapes, Howard and her band — Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell, jazz pianist Robert Glasper, keyboardist Dan Horton, and drummer Nate Smith — deliver 35 minutes of eccentric Princely funk and psychedelic soul. Her acrobatic force-of-nature pipes are still the star of the show, though now she spends more time crooning tenderly like Billie Holiday than rattling the rafters like Janis Joplin. And now the queer, mixed-race 30-year-old is singing more pointedly and openly about her own life and upbringing, tackling everything from romance to racism. She’s come a long way from the youngster I once interviewed as she stood outside a garage on the band’s first tour.


Hobo Johnson
The Fall of Hobo Johnson

WHO IS HE? Sacramento rap-rock weirdo Frank Lopes Jr., who went from sleeping in his car — which inspired his stage name — to a major-label deal within five years.

WHAT IS THIS? His third, finest and freakiest album — and the fittingly (if misleadingly) titled followup to his 2016 breakthrough The Rise of Hobo Johnson.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Not quite like anything you’ve ever heard before. Fuelled by Johnson’s manic pinballing energy, absurdly witty wordplay, cracked vocals and freewheeling songcraft that straddles the link between hip-hop, rock, pop and punk, these 12 tracks establish the 24-year-old oddball as one of the most fearlessly creative and daring artists in the game right now.


Keane
Cause & Effect

WHO ARE THEY? The veteran British pop-rockers who earned fame, fortune, awards and adulation in their homeland with their piano-based, guitar-free sound — but could never quite crack the North American market as successfully as peers like Coldplay.

WHAT IS THIS? Their fifth album and first studio effort in seven years was originally slated to be a solo release for pianist and main songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley — until frontman Tom Chaplin heard the songs and was impressed and moved enough to bring the band’s four-year hiatus and his own burgeoning solo career to a halt.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? A comeback disc and a breakup album at the same time. Inspired by Rice-Oxley’s divorce, these revealing cuts unflinchingly examine the death of a relationship. And they do it against a musical backdrop that includes everything from soaring heartland rock reminiscent of latter-day Killers to Sparks-like synth-pop to heart-tugging piano-soul balladry.


Pixies
Beneath the Eyrie

WHO ARE THEY? The beloved and influential Boston alt-rockers who acrimoniously imploded in 1993, vowing never to reunite — until some giant paydays changed their mind in 2004, kicking off a comeback that has somewhat surprisingly lasted to this day (minus original bassist Kim Deal, who jumped ship again after a decade).

WHAT IS THIS? Their third album since getting back together — though it took them a decade to get around to making the first one, so they’re still kind of making up for lost time.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Well, that depends. If you’re one of those fans who still hold out hope that frontman Charles (Black Francis/Frank Black) Thompson, lead guitarist Joey Santiago, drummer David Lovering and current bassist Paz Lenchantin will someday create another album as good as Surfer Rosa or Doolittle, you might be in for disappointment. But if you let go of all that awkward baggage, you’ll hear their strongest and most consistent post-reunion outing — a remarkably confident collection of noisy guitar-rock laced with darkly stylish, vaguely gothy sonic and lyrical undercurrents. Granted, some of the band’s sharper edges have long been sanded down and smoothed out. But at a time when good rock records are at a premium, you could do way worse than Beneath the Eyrie (which got its name from an eagle’s nest near the studio where it was recorded).


Post Malone
Hollywood’s Bleeding

WHO IS HE? The face-tattooed (and pretty much everywhere-else-tattooed) rapper and singer-songwriter whose real name is Austin Richard Post.

WHAT IS THIS? His third studio album in less than three years and the eagerly anticipated, closely guarded followup to last year’s global chart-topper Beerbongs & Bentleys, which spawned the hit singles Psycho and Better Now.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? As always, Posty deftly toes the line between pop, rock, rap and R&B — though at first blush, this one feels a little poppier and more ballad-heavy than Beerbongs. Whatever direction an individual song takes, however, Malone seldom fails to attache a memorable melody and a catchy chorus. And of course, the 17-song set includes plenty of cameos, including spots by DaBaby, Future, Halsey, Meek Mill, SZA, Swae Lee, Young Thug and (for some unfathomable reason) Ozzy Osbourne.


Steel Panther
Heavy Metal Rules

WHO ARE THEY? The last hair-metal hedonists still standing. The sleaziest sluts on the Sunset Strip since Mötley Crüe. And the men singlehandedly consuming 99% of the world’s supply of zebra-striped Spandex and leopard-spotted Lycra.

WHAT IS THIS? Their fifth full-length ode to partyin’, fuckin’, and fuckin’ partyin’, brah.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Every bit as gleefully stupid as their other four albums. What, you thought Steel Panther were going to mature as songwriters and embrace the MeToo movement? Not on your Aquanet stash, chump. Their formula hasn’t changed a bit since Day 1: Guitarist Satchel, bassist Lexxi Foxx and drummer Stix Zadinia (say that five times fast) lay down thundering glam-slam tracks fuelled with crunchy riffs and sick solos. Michael Starr adds his ball-squeezing vocals and lyrics about sex, drugs, sex, rockin’ and sex. Serve loud and repeat as necessary.


Charli XCX
Charli

WHO IS SHE? British pop futurist Charlotte Aitchison, who has notched hits like Boom Clap, Doing It and Break the Rules — when she isn’t writing or guesting on chart-toppers for fellow stars like Iggy Azalea, Selena Gomez, Icona Pop, Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello.

WHAT IS THIS? Her self-titled third collection of can’t-miss radio singles, club bangers and introspective ballads — and a disc that more or less follows in the stylistic footprints of her 2014 sophomore release Sucker.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Dance-pop that once again blurs the line between the mainstream and the underground. Over the course of 15 songs and 50 minutes, Charli delivers all the infectious grooves and hooks you expect — but also includes edgier sonics, more adventurous arrangements and sharper lyrics than most of her contemporaries. Speaking of, the star-studded set features cameos by Christine and the Queens, Sky Ferreira, Troye Sivan, Haim, Lizzo, Big Freedia, Cupcakke and plenty more.