Album Reviews | The Five Best Albums Out April 3

Thundercat - It Is What It Is

Bassist, producer and songwriter Thundercat has consistently stunned listeners with his unabridged creativity and originality, and his follow-up to 2017’s Drunk is no different. It Is What It Is, co-produced by frequent collaborator Flying Lotus, spreads an incredible amount of sounds and ideas across 15 songs, but still flows cohesively. Lyrically held together by themes of loss, grief and confusion following the loss of Mac Miller, the album carries a definite heaviness throughout. A slew of guests, including Kamasi Washington, Badbadnotgood, and Childish Gambino, lend help without ever stealing the show. While spastic drums and fluid bass hold down Thundercat’s sound, the amount of other instruments, voices and production tricks popping in and out of the songs is mesmerizing. Potentially Thundercat’s best work to date, It Is What It Is is incredible and an album you need to hear. 

M. Ward - Migration Stories

Songwriter and virtuoso folk guitarist’s M. Ward’s tenth solo album is a concept album revolving around stories of human migration in the future. The loose concept is met by a dense, spacious production, simplistic production and warm acoustic guitars. Synthesizers and string arrangements both point toward a stereotypically futuristic sound, which surprisingly fits well with Ward’s old-timey nature. Both the vocal delivery and lyrics are great as ever, making Migration Stories another gorgeous addition to Ward’s already impressive discography. 

James Elkington - Ever-Roving Eye

British-born Chicagoan James Elkington has been a constant, prolific force in the music scene for years. Releasing multiple collaborations with Nathan Salsburg, working with Eleventh Dream Day and Tortoise, and recently focusing on solo releases, the folk songwriter is an undeniable talent. His newest record, Ever-Roving Eye, is a set of beautiful acoustic folk tracks, his constantly-moving picking style often reminiscent of Ryley Walker or Richard Thompson. Intentionally understated but never simplified, the songs are everything that folk should be, avoiding sounding like any other musician in particular while remaining planted firmly in the folk genre. A treasure to have in our city, Elkington is a name you should absolutely know. 

Tops - I Feel Alive

Underrated staples of the indie scene, Tops are back with a fourth album, adding an additional member on keyboard while maintaining the essential combination of distinct vocalist Jane Penny and guitarist David Carriere. The band has a knack for mining sounds from the late 70s new wave scene while remaining unique and modern in their own right. I Feel Alive remains primarily fun throughout its 11 songs, with a couple ballads adding variety. A great band that remains largely overlooked, Tops remain consistently great and should be on your radar. 

Melkbelly - PITH

Chicago-based Melkbelly’s sophomore release finds the band in top form, perfecting the noisy rock ’n roll they’ve become known for. The four-piece packs an incredible amount of melodies and ideas into each driving, distorted track, and have a terrific ability to let the songs grow endlessly upward to massive climaxes. Each member is skilled, with energetic drumming, harmonized guitar riffs and pounding bass lines leading to explosive heights. PITH is a fantastic record that cements Melkbelly as an essential part of the local music scene. 

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