Brett Eldredge, Brett Eldredge
Forgoing daring disco and Gnarls Barkley references of 2015’s Illinois, the Midwestern country smoothie plays it safe on his self-titled, third regular issue album, focusing on ladies’ choice ballads. “The Reason” crosses the drunk-dialing of Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” with the doo-woppish sparseness of Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” “Somethin’ I’m Good At” bounces along self-deprecatingly, “Brother” embraces a male sibling; “No Stopping You” breaks up with someone so she can achieve her potential. By the end, in “Castaway” and especially “Crystal Clear,” Brett slips on his Buffett/Chesney flip-flops to ride his catamaran off the dock of the bay.--Chuck Eddy
Ugly God, Booty Tape
Ugly God is part of a wave who deconstructs their rhymes into virtual chants that bounce along the beat. It’s the sonic equivalent of hitting a tennis ball over a net, and has its roots in viral stars like Soulja Boy, Lil B and, most recently, Migos. The Texas rapper and 2017 XXL Freshman boasts a self-deprecating tone – one of his tracks is titled “Fuck Ugly God,” and sounds like he’s dissing himself while looking in the mirror. He also drenches his raps with sexual come-ons, and his songs are short, like fleeting thoughts. “Baby stop teasing/Baby girl I know you hit my phone for a reason,” he chants on the unapologetically aggressive “I’m Tryna F***.” Highlights on this debut EP include his Billboard hit “Water,” and a pairing with Wiz Khalifa in “No Lies.” --Mosi Reeves
A$AP Twelvyy, 12
This relatively brief debut strikes an uneasy balance between throwback boom-bap and the kind of atmospheric, gaseous laptop beats the A$AP crew is widely known for. The contrast reflects how a chastened-yet-unbowed New York continues to debate its role in the post-millennial rap industry. Twelvvy spins lyrics about life on the block on “Strapped,” and mourns his dead friend on “Brothers.” “This my last year being broke,” he claims over the chiming rhythm of “LYBB.” But he doesn’t sound like he’s quite made it, and freely mixes lyrics about street life with trips to Japan, the latter being spoils of his association with one of the top crews in hip-hop. A$AP Rocky assists on the superior “Diamonds,” and A$AP Ferg cameos on “Hop Out.” --Mosi Reeves
Smallpools, THE SCIENCE OF LETTING GO
On The Science of Letting Go Smallpools distance themselves from the exuberant (and cleverly cheeky) electropop and ’80s-infected indie rock the L.A. group rode to fame in 2013-2015. The key difference is the emotional tenor. “Million Bucks” and “Centerfold” may be outfitted with enticing club grooves, but lurking inside their pulsating thump is insecurity and self-doubt. Sean Scanlon’s soaring tenor, once the life of the party, now sounds as if it wants nothing more than to escape the hustle and bustle of a Friday night in the city and simply enjoy a quiet sunset with that certain someone special (if he can find her, of course). Perhaps the most telling evidence is “Mother,” a big, gauzy and slowly pulsating anthem that finds Scanlon meditating on all the modern hardships, heartaches and tumultuous life changes overwhelming him. That said, listen to closely enough, and you’ll notice the vocalist hasn’t lost any of his razor-sharp wit. -- Justin Farrar
Big & Rich, "Smoke in Her Eyes"
The third preview single off the once-hick-hop prescient country duo’s forthcoming sixth album tones down the powerchords, but not the turn-of-the-‘80s AOR vibe — from close harmonies to guitar jangles to slick production, “Smoke In Her Eyes” is a ringer for The Long Run-era Eagles. Can easily imagine that band singing about a treacherous Jezebel rolling up in a cab then sipping Patrón while flipping through her phone, too: here not for the band or beer but to wreck some poor sucker’s life. Somehow, you wind up rooting for her – not the dude. --Chuck Eddy
The War On Drugs, "Pain"
Every preview single from The War on Pain’s A Deeper Understanding (due out August 25th on Atlantic Records) has been an emotionally hypnotic gem, and the aptly titled “Pain” is no different. Over a reverb-drenched wall of chiming guitars, hazy synths, and a patiently throbbing rhythm section, Adam Granduciel oozes heartbreak in a hushed, airy cry recalling Tunnel of Love-era Bruce Springsteen. He sounds like a man lost, alone, and haunted by demons far stronger than him. A truly gifted singer and songwriter, Granduciel has always excelled at blending classic rock earnestness with alt-rock artiness, but as “Pain” proves, he has reached a whole new level of depth and mastery. -- Justin Farrar