As we wrap up the month of August, let’s take stock of all the great new records that have flooded our minds and Spotify accounts over the past few weeks. This month’s list of best releases contains a diverse mix of modern music veterans and relative newbies, including two debut albums and one rock and roll musical. Take a listen and read our thoughts on some of Paste’s essential listens from the month of August.
Here are the 10 best albums of August, according to Paste’s music critics.
Along with nine new songs on Amanda Shires’ latest album lurks an older gem. “Swimmer” is a reworked version of a tune she first recorded on her 2010 album Carrying Lightning. It’s also the throughline that belies all the buzz about how To the Sunset represents a radical departure for Shires. Really, her new album is the expansive next step she’s been working toward all along. It’s not that To the Sunset finds Shires wandering further—it’s that she’s digging deeper, with the same diligence and abundance of talent she’s been drawing from all along. —Eric R. Danton
The album is dazzling in its ambition, not least because the Lemon Twigs are in earnest. Go to School seems at first to have a lot in common with the music of Sparks, which features another pair of brothers. Ron and Russell Mael also have a theatrical streak and an impressive command of musical sounds and styles, along with a propensity for sardonic lyrics and a deadpan delivery. The D’Addarios, by contrast, seem genuinely interested in sussing out the motives of their characters, and they work to make them more than caricatures. That is, for an operetta where no one questions why the protagonist is a chimpanzee passing for human and attending high school. Anyway, the bully, Shane, his parents: they’re complicated people, and the D’Addarios are sympathetic storytellers. True, it’s a batshit crazy story, but the Lemon Twigs make it compelling, highly tuneful and undoubtedly more memorable than an album of indie-pop songs would have been. —Eric R. Danton
With eight other studio albums under their belt and 20 years as a band, Thank You for Today surprises by offering a fresh take on Death Cab’s familiar sound: an album that’s grown-up without being musty. The title comes from how the band would end each day in the studio, shaking each others hands and thanking everyone for what they had just done, coming from a place of gratitude regardless of how that day’s session went. It’s a small gesture but one that clearly drew the band, new and longtime members alike, into an alliance that resulted in another fine stop in Death Cab’s ongoing evolution. — Madison Desler
Brighton, U.K. trio Our Girl’s debut album Stranger Today is the perfect gift for the listener that loves a good musical dichotomy. Fronted by The Big Moon’s Soph Nathan, the band exudes the sweet and tender meets heavy and formidable sound of groups like the Pixies and My Bloody Valentine with their cathartic, thoughtful pop/rock and distorted shoegaze and grunge. As much as the term “grunge” has been thrown around to describe the band, it doesn’t fully account for the beauty and richness of Nathan’s songs and guitar playing. —Lizzie Manno
There are a lot of unhappy people in the songs on Mitski’s new album. Some of them are Mitski herself, but not all. Belying the usual assumption that any woman who writes first-person lyrics is singing about herself, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter has said that many of the songs on Be the Cowboy are experiments in writing fiction. Let’s call it a successful experiment. Whether she’s singing about herself or creating stand-ins that feel just like real people, Be the Cowboy shows why she is fast making herself into one of the most interesting songwriters of her generation. —Eric R. Danton
The word smote is the past tense of smite: to hit, to strike, to attack. If there’s one thing the latest album from the latest incarnation of John Dwyer’s Oh Sees does, it’s that—smiting and smoting all over the goddamn place. But while there’s always an attack, an aggression, a precision to every second of Smote Reverser, the psych-rock turned every-genre-imaginable outfit explore all kinds of territory over the album’s 11 tracks, as variable takes on ‘70s prog rock and proto-metal morph into Dwyer’s own unpredictable brand of acid-rock-free-jazz-fusion. —Madison Desler
Sara Beth Tomberlin’s debut album, At Weddings, is an ode to the uncertainty and overall dishevelment of your late teens and early twenties: bogged down by self-doubt, seeking validation from others, rebelling against unsolicited religious beliefs that were pressed upon you as a child (the 23-year-old singer/songwriter was born to strict Baptist parents) and longing for someone even though you know they’re a bad influence. Featuring only an acoustic guitar and various keyboards and effects, the record centers on Tomberlin’s Joni Mitchell-esque pipes, loud in their softness and tenderness and unsuspectedly moving you to your absolute core. The naked instrumentation mirrors the transparency of her lyrics and while the songs consist of just a few elements, her overflowing emotions make the tracks feel full and warm. At Weddings is filled with such a powerful, saintly aura that even the most ugly subject matters can spur flawless, beautiful results. —Lizzie Manno
The release of Time Flies is accompanied by the belated appearance of what amounts to Lauderdale’s very first album, recorded when he first arrived in Nashville from North Carolina and had opportunity to work with nu-grass legend Roland White. The eponymous effort was recorded in October 1979, but due to lack of a recording deal, never saw the light of day. Fashioned in an old style bluegrass vein, it features a pair of early Lauderdale originals, “Regrets and Mistakes” and “Forgive and Forget,” as well as several classic covers, among them, the unassuming ballad “(Stone Must Be The) Walls Built Around Your Heart,” a caressing take on Donovan’s “Try and Catch the Wind” and an upbeat version of Gordon Lightfoot’s sobering “(That’s What You Get) For Loving Me.” The album sounds as current as it might have some 40 years ago. As with everything Lauderdale does, the music never gets old. After all, from past to present, time does fly. —Lee Zimmerman
Big Red Machine was a decade in the making, starting with the sketch of a song The National’s Aaron Dessner sent Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon for the Dark Was the Night charity compilation. The duo enlisted more than two dozen collaborators, including vocalists like Lisa Hannigan, Phoebe Bridgers, This Is the Kit’s Kate Stables and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, and string arrangements from Rob Moose and Dessner’s twin brother Bryce. Side projects like this often seem tossed off, but Big Red Machine feels like the opposite—something remarkably ambitious, a labor of love that sees two of indie rock’s most talented and creative minds pursuing a passion without pressure, or limits. The resulting music can sound at times like a National album with Vernon’s echoing, manipulated falsetto serving as a stark contrast to the warm, intimate baritone of Matt Berninger, and at other times like a Bon Iver album with more complex and inventive chordal patterns and rhythmic structures. It’s experimental but affecting with Vernon’s snippets of heart-on-sleeve vulnerability popping up screaming from a cloud of otherwise opaque lyrics. —Josh Jackson
James Baldwin once noted that sensuality existed at the root of Black America’s “ironic tenacity” – that tendency to endlessly weave suffering into something luscious. To be sensual, Baldwin suggests, is not some promiscuous thing. Rather, it is to “respect and rejoice in the force of life.” Dev Hynes has crafted a work that does exactly this. With myriad collaborators from A$AP Rocky and Puff Daddy, to rising talents TeiShi and Ian Isiah, Negro Swan looks unflinchingly at black and queer life—its traumas, its tensions, its passions. And tucked somewhere within it all, is hope: “The sun comes in,” Hynes reminds us at last. —Jenzia Burgos