January’s best new releases, including Migos making culture, The xx’s boldest and brightest pop moment yet, and a victory lap by grime pioneer Wiley
January hasn’t been short of great releases, from chart-busting albums by The xx and Migos to nostalgic releases by Kehlani to reflective pieces by Brian Eno. Here, we’ve narrowed it down to our five favourite records this month.
CEP – DRAWING THE TARGET AROUND THE ARROW
Caroline Polachek is best known as one half of Brooklyn duo Chairlift, who from 2005 until their breakup last year had been consistently releasing inventive and unconventional pop music. Polachek herself has had many other projects, though – she wrote “No Angel” with Beyoncé, released an excellent solo record as Ramona Lisa in 2014, and guested on the astounding “Ashes of Love” with PC Music’s Danny L Harle – yet even with her diverse resumé, her latest solo effort is an unexpected left turn. Released for free under her initials CEP, Drawing the Target Around the Arrow is a slow, meditative ambient album. It’s made up of delicate, minimal compositions and floatation-tank drones, forming a pretty and uncomplicated counterpart to her bigger pop projects.
DOON KANDA – HEART EP
Jesse Kanda is the visual artist whose buckled and contorted depictions of the human figure have led him to work with musicians like Arca, Björk, and FKA twigs. When Dazed interviewed him last year, he revealed that he’d been working on music himself, and in mid-January he surprise-released his heart EP under the name ‘doon kanda’ via the Hyperdub label (who are best known for putting out music by Burial, Zomby and more). On first listen, Kanda’s music gives the impression of being abstract and formless, but listen closely to the haunting, melodic “Feline” and the melancholic house track “Axolotl” and his clear focus comes into view.
MIGOS – CULTURE
When they started to break through earlier this decade, Migos pretty much defined what the rap landscape would sound like for the next few years. But despite how influential the Atlanta trio have been, they’d never had a genuinely huge hit to their name. That changed with “Bad and Boujee”, which, after being released in October last year became a viral sensation, peaking at #1 shortly before Culture’s release. That song is still the best thing on here, but the rest of the album is full of hooks, shapeshifting flows, tight interplay between Quavo, Offset and Takeoff, and some genuinely weird moments. Migos didn’t really change tack for Culture; instead, it’s proof that the rest of the pop world has caught up to them.
WILEY – GODFATHER
Wiley’s Godfather is being pitched as his comeback – the grime pioneer returning to the genre he helped create, just as it hits its biggest commercial and critical peak – but while it’s tempting to view the album in the shadow of Skepta’s Mercury-winning Konnichiwa, it’s much closer his last album, 2014’s underrated Snakes & Ladders. Though Wiley’s workrate has never really ceased, what Godfather has over its predecessor is a far tighter focus – it’s probably his most consistent ‘statement’ album yet (though not necessarily his most innovative), with Wiley giving plenty of space to veteran MCs and newcomers alike on the track features but never being overshadowed by them.
THE XX – I SEE YOU
The xx’s third album sees the usually introverted trio face outwards, resulting in their boldest and brightest record yet. Album opener “Dangerous” sets the tone for the rest of the record, with its irradiant horns and garage groove: where previously the band had sounded monochrome and sparse, here they’re vivid and full-bodied. The rest of I See You traverses lithe R&B grooves, delicate electro-pop, and – on “A Violent Noise” – unexpectedly trance-like territories. Having left their mark all over both mainstream and alternative pop music since they first emerged, it’s fitting that I See You is The xx’s biggest pop moment so far.