The best albums of the week, from Chloe x Halle, RMR, and more

Photo by Robin Harper

As if it hadn’t been the case for most of this year, the distinctions between weeks continue to blur. I don’t think I’ll be able to tell you which month or week something like Chromatica or Fetch the Bolt Cutters was released when all this is over. Although the music industry took a symbolic day of pause last week, other artists and labels appear to be continuing the practice. This week was originally going to see the posthumous album from Pop Smoke, who’s become something of a soundtrack to the protest movement, and an EP from elusive country artist Orville Peck, but both were delayed. It feels like the industry and, at least anecdotally, most people I know are taking a step back from listening to music as the protests against the police killing of George Floyd continue. That said, this week still brings a number of albums for a break from the news, including records from Chloe x Halle, Savages’ Jehnny Beth, RMR, and more.

Chloe x Halle — Ungodly Hour

Landing a Beyoncé cosign is always a strong place to get your bearings. The sisters, who first caught her attention with a “Pretty Hurts” cover on YouTube, then signed to Bey’s Parkwood Entertainment label and never looked back. Chloe x Halle’s Ungodly Hour marks their first album since 2018’s The Kids Are Alright, which netted them Grammy nominations in Best New Artist and the recently renamed Best Urban Contemporary Album. At first glance, their return continues to reshape their immense resources into R&B replete with widescreen scope and feeling. Swae Lee, Mike WiLL Made-It, Disclosure, and more collaborated with the duo.

Jehnny Beth — To Love Is to Live

Savages’ Silence Yourself remains one of the most self-assured debuts of the last decade, still blistering in its conviction and immediacy. From the jump, it already seemed clear how challenging it’d be to duplicate that sensation a second time, and bandleader Jehnny Beth hasn’t quite tried to. After 2016’s Adore Life, the band has splintered off into side projects, and Beth’s even tried her hand at acting. Now she’s returned with her solo debut, a record that trades pummeling full band post-punk for drum machines and skittering synths. Although she’s altered the tools and even her vocal delivery, Beth’s still confrontational as ever, but also makes room for some of her lushest and most expansive songs yet. The actor Cillian Murphy is here to assist, along with The xx’s Romy Madley Croft and IDLES’ Joe Talbot.

RMR — Drug Dealing Is a Lost Art

RMR’s “Rascal” was one of the best, weirdest introductions to an ostensible industry plant in recent memory. It was just spontaneous and dizzying enough — an earnest Rascal Flatts medley, peppered with “fuck 12s” near the track’s end. An unlikely song of the summer candidate that probably arrived a few months too soon. Four months later, we still know very little about the country fan behind the mask, but he’s pushing the genre-bending efforts several steps beyond “Old Town Road.” His new EP, featuring Future, Lil Baby, and Westside Gunn, lays the groundwork for something that seems built to last.

Gia Margaret — Mia Gargaret

The Chicago singer enjoyed a breakout with 2018’s There’s Always Glimmer, touring heavily behind its cross-section of folk and ambient underpinnings. But when illness struck, her plans for a follow-up record were upended. “After having to cancel tours because of illness, I was unable to sing for nearly half of the year. This left me feeling like a shell of myself, so I turned to my synthesizer for comfort,” she’s said in a press release. So Mia Gargaret’s something of a stopgap in one sense, an almost entirely instrumental collection to highlight her knack for new landscapes. Another, more vocal-centric Gia Margaret record is due in 2021.

GUM — Out in the World

Tame Impala — one of the last big arena rock acts that’s ostensibly the brainchild of one dude — has launched an impressive constellation of side projects. Much of the Perth psych-rock outfit Pond has either toured with or counts themself as a member of Tame Impala. Jay Watson, an integral multi-instrumentalist in both projects, has been churning out consistent psych-pop as GUM for the better part of a decade now. Out in the World, his fifth record under that name, is by some counts his most accessible and unified set to date, mirroring the trajectory of his other band’s pursuit of hazy pop perfection.