The 10 Best Albums of August 2017

With Queens of the Stone Age, Randy Newman, Kesha, and more.

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The 10 Best Albums of August 2017

August got weird with music. We have synth pop, hard rock, Latin punk, West Coast folk, Southern gospel and more represented in last month’s round-up of the best new music. Dive in, then, and check out the 10 best albums that Paste reviewed and rated from August 2017.

10. Queens of the Stone Age, Villains
Rating: 8.5

Even though Mark Ronson—the British pop producer behind Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, who struck gold in 2014 with his single “Uptown Funk”—produced the new Queens of the Stone Age record, Josh Homme’s songs are no less heavy, weird or ambitious. While the frontman/primary songwriter’s mind and voice still directing the ship, Ronson’s bone-dry production helps match ’70s studio tricks with modern ambient flourishes. Additionally, Villains benefits from the fact that Homme settled on a sturdy lineup (including longtime guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen) vs. the glut of revolving guest musicians and egos of past albums. In that sense Villains is far more consistent and taut than 2013’s sprawling …Like Clockwork—every song punches hard. Add to that the levity of Rated R, which busts up any semblance of being too overwrought. Homme’s rock ’n’ roll instincts are still as keen as ever. —Mark Lore

Read the full review here

9. Downtown Boys, Cost of Living
Rating: 8.5

Cost of Living, Downtown Boys’ third full-length, was written before this year’s inauguration, but its battle cries over centuries of injustices for marginalized people who have been left out of historical (and musical) narratives feels timeless. This is the queer Latinx band’s first release via the Sub Pop label, but that does not suggest that they will adhere to a capitalist, corporate music agenda. With the help of Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto, Downtown Boys have not toned down their demands or volume on Cost of Living. Instead, they have tightened their burly brass melodies, lengthened some tracks and even incorporated new instrumental additions all to bring vocalist and lyricist Victoria Ruiz’s formidable protest anthems to the forefront. Goodness knows we need it right now. —Natalia Barr

Read the full review here

8. Shelley Short, Pacific City
Rating: 8.6

Like all great folk purists, Shelley Short has a knack for finding beauty, pain, and pleasure in the darker corners of the world. Whether coaxing a fluttering melody from a song about a lover leaving town, or wondering what death feels like, Short’s sweet disposition is cut with the bitterness of life’s burdens. As such, her new album Pacific City flirts with the sweet and the sour, the light and the shade, and the ominous shadows lurking in between over a beautifully haunting collection of folk-saturated tunes. —Ryan J. Prado

Read the full review here

7. Blind Boys of Alabama, Almost Home
Rating: 8.6

At this stage in their impossibly long and remarkable career, it might be unnecessary to begin a review of the new Blind Boys of Alabama record rehashing their biography, or offering another appraisal of their legacy. But after seven decades together as a group, having lived through ever-changing times and many departed bandmates, Almost Home can’t help but feel like their swan song, or like the culmination of their long journey. The two surviving original members, Clarence Fountain and Jimmy Carter, are nearing 90 years old, and the overarching theme, as the title suggests, is their impending mortality. But instead of a sad and funereal affair, Almost Home celebrates their home-going by returning to their roots, with the most front-to-back gospel album they’ve recorded in years. —Santi Elijah Holley

Read the full review here

6. Randy Newman, Dark Matter
Rating: 8.7

Randy Newman  has enjoyed one of the more charmed careers of any composer or pop singer from the 20th century. It’s a rearview full of Grammy, Emmy, Oscar awards and so much more. Yet it’s Newman’s drive to out-Newman himself that keeps audiences enraptured. Such is the effect found throughout Dark Matter, the 73-year-old’s first record of new material since 2008.

Newman puts ample faith in his listeners to be able to distinguish the various forms of pathos his characters suffer from on Dark Matter, and that arm’s-length approach is stretched in dazzling ways throughout. It’s been a method ripe for parody at times—the spectacle of the uber-observer parroting what he’s seeing right in front of him to music. If anyone were going to have the balls to try something like that, it’s Newman. Unafraid of taboo vernacular in his lyrics—often misunderstood on older songs like “Yellow Man” and “Rednecks”—he has always attempted to bridge cultural divides by dropping into the everyman verbiage of his characters. It’s a tricky proposition, but one that Newman gets away with through the honesty of his delivery and the strength of his reputation. —Ryan J. Prado

Read the full review here

5. Dead Cross, Dead Cross
Rating: 8.8

Dave Lombardo and Mike Patton have been responsible for some of the most brutal music of the last 30 years, for sure. However, neither the former Slayer drummer nor the enigmatic front man of Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, etc. have ever cut a record that could be demonstrative of the hardcore idiom as Dead Crosses. And to hear Patton and Lombardo celebrate their 50s with their most visceral work yet is absolute magic. —Ron Hart

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4. Shelby Lynn & Allison Moorer, Not Dark Yet
Rating: 8.8

It’s been a long time coming. Though Shelby Lynne and her younger sister, Allison Moorer, have released a slew of solo records between them since the late ‘80s, Not Dark Yet marks their first joint effort. In one sense, it’s not surprising the siblings didn’t collaborate sooner: DNA aside, they’re not too similar. Still, with nine covers and one devastating original, this lovely longplayer spotlights their tangy harmonies, with Lynne’s saltier vocals and Moorer’s sweeter singing intertwining gracefully, evoking ancient traditions of family music-making. —Jon Young

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3. Kesha, Rainbow
Rating: 9.0

It’s no secret that Kesha’s ongoing legal battles with producer Dr. Luke have taken a heartbreaking toll on her life and career. And without naming names, she tells her story her way on Rainbow, but focuses her gospel-fueled lyrics on being the better person (and by giving you chills with her rallying cry). Throughout the record, Kesha oscillates between owning her confidence on the soulful, empowering “Woman” to having enough self-awareness to know that her past won’t stop her from loving herself and finding joy (“Rainbow”). Her new LP might have a different sound than the songs that put her on the map, but she’s being as authentic as possible and it’s a triumph. —Ilana Kaplan

Read the full review here

2. LCD Soundsystem, American Dream
Rating: 9.1

Post-hiatus records are often be mediocre attempts to rejuvenate the enthusiasm of the past. Fans probably applied this to James Murphy’s band, wondering how American Dream, the first LCD Soundsystem in seven years, could live up to 2007’s Sound of Silver or 2010’s This Is Happening. Thankfully, it’s a beautiful work of art about aging, regret and an arduous search for meaning. Although the album is more soft-spoken as a whole, listeners can still find the disco-punk from LCD Soundsystem’s past in tracks such as “Other Voices” and “Tonite.” Chanted lyrics, omnipresent cowbells and driving bass recall “Us V Them” and “One Touch.” —Grant Sharples

Read the full review here

1. Oh Sees, Orc
Rating: 9.5

With a band like Oh Sees (née Thee Oh Sees, née OCS, née many other variations of the name), you keep waiting for the inevitable dud to drop, especially with the prolific output the band has gained a reputation for. Orc marks the band’s 19th release in this project’s 20 year existence, and with it, comes another hyperbolic batch of praises and huzzahs. The record is an absolutely evil stunner from front to back, top to bottom, head to toes and everywhere in between, and whips up the same kind of radiant, strange awe that the band’s overdriven catalog has so generously perpetrated album after wicked album. —Ryan J. Prado

Read the full review here

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