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Inescapable Progression: 10 Jazz Labels You Need To Know In 2021
10 Jazz Labels You Need To Know

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Inescapable Progression: 10 Jazz Labels You Need To Know In 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic may have contorted jazz into an unrecognizable shape, but it was powerless to derail these ten brilliant labels from around the globe

GRAMMYs/Apr 13, 2021 - 11:34 pm

It may take years to assess how much damage COVID-19 has done to jazz. Irreplaceable hangouts like D.C.'s Twins Jazz, New York's Jazz Standard and L.A.'s Blue Whale are gone. When musicians did play live, they stood six feet apart, behind plexiglass walls or with their wind instruments in fabric sleeves. Others simply took it on the chin, sharpened their acting skills and slung their masterclasses on Instagram. 

Miraculously, none of these hardships hamstrung the genre's forward motion. Because if you survey the recorded work of practitioners like Georgia Anne MuldrowAmbrose Akinmusire, Matthew Shipp, Miguel Zenón and the all-women septet Artemis—whether it was created before or during the outbreak—2020 was a terrific year for jazz. The recent output of Blue Note, ECM Records and other venerated labels is proof positive of this. Still, it's not the whole story.

A handful of independent labels—some of them owned by musicians, others merely by zealous music fans—didn't merely hang in there during the pandemic; they thrived during it. At least one popped up as the lockdown reached a fever pitch. And from TAO Forms' emphasis on "out" sounds to Truth Revolution's braiding of Latin and straight-ahead jazz to Whirlwind's embrace of everything hip, these relatively young labels couldn't be more stylistically diverse.

For Jazz Appreciation Month, let's enjoy the music spilling forth from the Lincoln Center and other prestigious institutions. But let's also lend our support to the small-scaled labels putting their noses to the stone during dangerous times. Here are ten jazz labels you need to know in 2021.

TAO Forms

In March 2020, gigs screeched to a halt. That month, the drummer, improviser and composer Whit Dickey—who has been active in the downtown improvisational scene for decades—announced a new label with a distinct aesthetic and vision. 

"TAO Forms is a new recording label which will be devoted to contemporary free jazz of an elevated & enlightened nature," the label declared in their inaugural Facebook post.

Their first offering was Matthew Shipp's solo piano album The Piano Equation, killing releases by tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, drummer Tani Tabbal and Dickey himself have followed. 

If you're curious about where the New York improv scene is going, keep an eye on Dickey and his co-conspirators. They weren't only on the ground floor of this scene; they're adding new pages to its story.

Biophilia Records

Biophilia is where nourishing music and planetary health are intertwined—even on the most mundane, granular levels. 

"I will be cognizant of my own resource consumption and environmental impacts," founder Fabian Almazan wrote on the label's website, proceeding to pledge to eat less meat, turn off unused lights and separate his recycling. All of this is to operate Biophilia with the flow of nature, not against it.

The label is a collaboration between Almazan—a celebrated pianist in his own right—and Jessica Wu, an environmental specialist and sustainability consultant. Accordingly, the lively music within—which often gravitates toward the experimental and improvisatory spaces—seems to propagate and twist like vines.

For quintessential Biophilia, check out bassist/composer Linda May Han Oh's Aventurine, singer/composer Lara Bello's Sikame and The Awakening Orchestra's volume ii: to call her to a higher plane.

Truth Revolution Records

If Biophilia is unconventional in its environmental mission, Truth Revolution aims to change the game from an economic standpoint.

"This record label is unlike any other," its founders Zaccai and Luques Curtis described. "It allows its artist to remain the owner of their music and focuses more on the partnership with their artists." As they explain, his philosophy extends to every aspect of the record-making process, from recording to promotion.

Take a look at their roster, and you'll notice it splits the difference between traditional fare—like singer and multi-instrumentalist Orice Jenkins' tribute to Nat King Cole—and Latin gems like Andy González's Entre Colegas. If either of those is your lane, seek out Truth Revolution immediately.

Truth Revolution is plugged into tradition and elderhood, too. Check out Triangular III by the revered Jazz Messengers drummer Ralph Peterson, Jr., a crucial mentor to the label's founders who tragically left us this year.

Greenleaf Music

Over the decades, trumpeter Dave Douglas has recorded with luminaries like John Zorn, Chris Potter and Donny McCaslin. In 2005, he ventured out with his label, Greenleaf Music. True to Douglas's prolific nature, Greenleaf's Bandcamp page is voluminous.

Still, don't be intimidated by the ocean of material. Dip in anywhere, and you're liable to find something compelling, like the captivating flutist Nicole Mitchell, the flowing drummer Rudy Royston and the kinetic fusion band Kneebody

Much like Truth Revolution, Greenleaf works from an even-handed business model—half to the artist, half to the label. Plus, on Bandcamp, a $75-per-year subscription will net you an all-access pass to the entire catalog.

It's rare for any label to boast quality, quantity and transparency. If you're curious about where folk- and electronic-inflected jazz might head in the coming decade, Greenleaf is as accurate a compass as any.

Whirlwind Recordings

Whirlwind is a towering UK jazz label plugged into the New York jazz scene. Beyond its terrific overseas artists, its NYC roster includes the fiery altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa, the cutting-edge tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III and the elegant trumpeter Ingrid Jensen.

A musician founded it, too; Whirlwind's American-born founder, Michael Janisch, is a keen electric and double-bassist and composer in his own right. His last album, the excellent Worlds Collide, came out on Whirlwind in 2019.

"I can't sign people as fast as I like," he admitted to JazzTimes in 2020. "I'd be totally happy just running the label, but I'd never touch my instrument. If I don't at least play my bass a couple of times a day, I feel like there's a part of me that's disappeared."

Janisch needs not to worry; he’s already signed some of the hippest acts the contemporary scene has to offer. Who will be next, either from New York or across the pond? Watch their space in the coming year and find out.

Edition Records

Edition, another preeminent British label, is riding into 2021 with heavy artillery, like tenor master Chris Potter, first-call drummer Jeff Ballard and bass pioneer Dave Holland. If you had told founder Dave Stapleton this a decade ago, he might have looked at you askance: He started the label simply to release his and his friends' music.

"When I started Edition in 2008, I never set out to build a label that would achieve an output that we have now," he told Jazz in Europe in 2018. "As more and more musicians asked me to release their music, the focus remained to provide an outlet rather than to build a business."

That music-first ethos paid off: Edition just scored its first GRAMMY win via the New York singer Kurt Elling's Secrets Are The Best Stories, which won Best Jazz Vocal Album at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards show. Once again, the jazz alliance between the U.S. and U.K. has paid off on a worldwide scale.

Jazz & People

Describing its approach as "artisanal" and "editorial" and its paramount value as "participation," Jazz & People is a fertile Paris label that makes extensive use of crowdfunding.

They named themselves after the Jazz & Peoples' Movement, a 1970s organization spearheaded by Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Lee Morgan to increase the presence of Black artists on radio and television. "Glory to our heroes," a caption on their website proclaims beside Kirk's visage.

Jazz & People may be more under-the-radar than the other selections here, but what they have on offer is no less stellar. This spring, they dropped the delightful Light Blue by pianist Simon Chivallon. 

Plus, its pool of participants includes Walter Smith III, Ambrose Akinmusire and pianist Yonathan Avishai—all of whom are pushing the music forward. Their presence alone is proof that Jazz & People is going places.

Pyroclastic Records

Another independent, musician-run label to support this year, Pyroclastic Records is run by the exquisite pianist Kris Davis. Her teeming duet album with Craig Taborn, Octopus, is a highlight of their catalog. 

Pyroclastic also just put out Junk Magic's Compass Confusion, one of the most jarring and fascinating crossovers into electronic music this sphere has seen in years.

Davis founded Pyroclastic to holistic ends. "I launched Pyroclastic Records in hopes that I could grow a modest label to support a whole community within the creative music scene," she wrote on the label website. She wanted her artists to own their own masters and not take a financial hit to create.

"I knew I needed to develop a new model, so I created a nonprofit to support the work of the label," she wrote. As a result, "We've been steadily growing, releasing 5 [to] 6 albums per year." 

Right now, their Bandcamp offers over a dozen selections by top-shelf artists like pianists Angelica Sanchez and Marilyn Crispell and trumpeter Nate Wooley. Whatever Pyroclastic has in store next, be advised not to sleep on it.

Pi Recordings

One thing to understand about the word "jazz" is that it's generally more restrictive than useful. Artists nominally in that sphere, like Henry Threadgill, Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell, have been just as liable to loosen the bonds and venture wherever they please. 

Pi Recordings, which Seth Rosner and Yulun Wang have run for two decades, exists to document such borderless journeys. The label is spiritually linked to the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), an organization partly formed by Abrams to further musicians and educators. 

They also champion younger artists in that musical family, like pianist Vijay Iyer and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. The later addition of Steve Coleman, a MacArthur Fellow who spearheaded the M-Base collective, opened up Pi Recordings' fanbase and further cemented their aesthetic.

"I don't think there's any other label—major, indie, mainstream or otherwise—that has had such a consistent string of recordings widely considered, at least among critics, to be among the most important releases of the year," saxophonist Steve Lehman, who has released a handful of records on the label, told The New York Times in 2011.

Pi currently has captivating releases by uncategorizable musical thinkers like Jen ShyuAnna Webber and Hafez Modirzadeh on the docket. Overall, theirs is a space where stylistic delineations explode and things get genuinely interesting as a result.

Motéma Music

Gregory Porter, whose album All Rise was nominated for Best R&B Album in 2020, and thrice-nominated pianist Joey Alexander got their start at Motéma. Their fellow nominee, the drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, passed through its ranks. Tenor saxophonist David Murray and pianist-composer Geri Allen reinvigorated their careers, too, while on the label.

Like Pyroclastic and Whirlwind, Motéma is artist-owned; label president Jana Herzen is a singer/songwriter and recording artist in her own right. She started Motéma in 1999 to put out her own music but eventually teamed up with Verve's VP of Marketing, David Neidhart, and producer/manager Suzi Reynolds to take it further.

"My folks had come into a little money at that time," Herzen recalled to JazzTimes in 2015. "They loved music almost as much as the science that occupied their days and nights and agreed to help bankroll it. The rest is history."

Motéma is riding high on Daring Mind, the second album by the spellbinding arranger Jihye Lee, which the large-ensemble visionary Darcy James Argue produced. Right now, Lee is plotting a possible release show once vaccinations have fully rolled out.

We may have only been able to enjoy records and livestreams while largely stuck at home for a year. But when gigs fire up again, the progressive strides these 10 labels have made will come to fruition. For now, dig deep, pick up some records and bear witness as jazz history unfolds before us.

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5 Takeaways From RM's New Solo Album 'Indigo'
RM performing at the 2022 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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5 Takeaways From RM's New Solo Album 'Indigo'

BTS leader RM makes his official solo debut with his first studio album, 'Indigo,' which showcases a new level of artistry from the rapper.

GRAMMYs/Dec 5, 2022 - 08:03 pm

Like many of his BTS cohorts, RM has shown off his solo musical talents long before this year. His first mixtape RM came out in 2015, capturing the rapper's raw hip-hop roots. His second mixtape Mono was released to critical acclaim in 2018, when BTS were just scratching the surface of their worldwide domination. But this year took RM's solo efforts to the next level with his first-ever studio album, Indigo. 

Across 10 tracks, RM's official solo debut documents the multilingual rapper, producer and singer/songwriter's journey through his twenties. Meshing Korean and English, his reflections about life under the public eye weave through genres and moods organically. And with diverse collaborations — from R&B legend Erykah Badu to fellow South Korean star parkjiyoon — to boot, RM uses Indigo to bring fans deeper into his expansive musical universe.

Now that the highly anticipated project has finally arrived, take a look at five key takeaways from RM's debut studio album, Indigo.

It's Connected To The Art He Loves

RM is known for being a lover of nature and fine art, and that is reflected within Indigo. Promotional photos for the album featured Yun Hyong-Keun's painting "Blue"; RM is known to be a supporter of the late South Korean artist, so the rapper's inclusion of the work shows the intentionality behind his debut — musically and beyond. 

He isn't afraid to mesh artistic mediums, and the sonic and stylistic choices made reflect this. From then sampling Korean Hyong-Keun's reflection on Plato's humanity in the opening track "Yun" to even titling a song "Still Life," the inspiration is present. RM may have refined taste, but he makes it easily digestible through his music.

It's A Reflection Of His Life Up To Now

According to RM himself, Indigo serves as a diary of the last three years of his life. Even so, the album's messages can be a blueprint for anyone going through a transitional period in life, thanks to RM's honest, open-minded and unfiltered lyrics. 

On "Lonely," he candidly exudes his frustrations over a tropical beat. "I'm f—king lonely/ I'm alone on this island," he raps. He later sings, "So many memories are on the floor/ And now I hate the cities I don't belong/ Just wanna go back home." 

The contrast between the song's upbeat melody and longing lyrics provide a dichotomy that perfectly captures the highs and lows of fame. That's a theme that carries throughout the album, further showcasing why RM has become so admired by his fans and peers alike.

The Features Tell A Lot About His Artistry

Eight of the 10 tracks on Indigo are collaborations, all of which display RM's love of diverse genres and musical eras. They also reflect the caliber of artistry RM has reached — he got Erykah Badu! — as well as his ability to bridge the gap across borders. Along with Badu, he teamed up with two other R&B stars, Anderson .Paak and Mahalia, along with several Korean artists: Paul Blanco, Tablo, Kim Sawol, Colde, youjeen, and parkjiyoon. 

There's A Song For Everyone

Many praise RM for his ability to touch people with his leadership qualities and words, and this album may just be the strongest example of that. The project is noticeably more upbeat than Mono, but RM still takes time to break his emotions down lyrically. 

His first verse on the opening track "Yun" declares "F-k the trendsetter, I'ma turn back the time," setting the tone for how RM feels artistically. Then, the high-energy track "Still Life" with Anderson .Paak expresses joy and resilience, proving that one can still stand tall despite difficulty. As he says to .Paak on the track, "S— happens in life, but what happens is what happens."  

Overall, Indigo shows off RM's versatility in a much more impactful way than his previous mixtapes. This album is about the art of music, not breaking records or following trends. It feels like an exploratory culmination of various emotions, moods, and experiences, which helps each track feel relatable in a different way. 

There's A Lot To Look Forward To

RM displayed an immense maturity in his artistic expression through Indigo. He explores emotions both good and bad, but what remains throughout the entire project is a lingering feeling of hope for a better future. 

RM has always been a symbol of hope and grace as he has served as the spokesperson for his fellow members, both musically and in the public eye. But now, RM is getting to express himself for himself — and if Indigo is any indication, this is just the beginning of his journey inspiring the masses as a soloist.

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Juls' Must-Have Tour Item Is An African Instrument That Doubles As A Stress Reliever
Juls

Photo: Mahaneela Choudhury-Reid

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Juls' Must-Have Tour Item Is An African Instrument That Doubles As A Stress Reliever

The producer and DJ introduces fans to his kosh kash — a pocket-sized, egg-shaped instrument that is so versatile, he carries it with him everywhere when he's on the road.

GRAMMYs/Dec 5, 2022 - 06:59 pm

Juls — also known as Juls Baby, and born Julian Nicco-Annan — is perhaps known best for his work as a producer, helping create hits for acts like Burna Boy, Mr. Eazi and GoldLink. But the Ghanian-British producer and DJ is also a touring act who plays sets around the world — and he makes sure he has his trusty kosh kash with him.

In this episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, Juls introduces viewers to the egg-shaped African percussion instrument, which is also known as a Kashaka. The pocket-sized instrument is made up of two small gourds bound together by a string, and makes a rhythmic, rattling noise when shaken. It serves a lot of purposes, Juls explains.

"It's kind of like a shaker. It's kind of like a stress reliever when I'm preparing tours. It also helps me to make music," he says. "So any time I have an idea, I just record it on my phone in Voice Memos. I carry this everywhere I go when I travel."

Another mainstay of Juls' tour rider is "one of the best drinks in the world: Supermalt," the artist continues. "It's like a malt drink, made of wheat, with other things like added sugar and starch."

The non-alcoholic and caffeine-free malt beverage first originated in the early 1970s and served as a cheap energy source for the Nigerian Army. To this day, it's still an Afro-Caribbean staple — and now, a road necessity for Juls. "Definitely need to have that on the rider," he adds.

Press play on the video above to learn more about Juls' road essentials — plus how he prepares for his shows every night — and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas. 

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Positive Vibes Only: NewSpring Worship Share A Sweeping Message Of Faith With "Desde El Principio"
Charlee Buitrago of NewSpring Worship

Photo: Josh Chapmon

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Positive Vibes Only: NewSpring Worship Share A Sweeping Message Of Faith With "Desde El Principio"

Led by Venezuela-born vocalist Charlee Buitrago, NewSpring Worship shares their message of hope, faith and community in this sparkling live performance of "Desde El Principio."

GRAMMYs/Dec 4, 2022 - 06:10 pm

Since its inception more than two decades ago, NewSpring Worship has grown into a multicultural, multigenerational, musical expression of faith. Their name is a tribute to their beloved home base, the NewSpring Church, which has 14 different locations across South Carolina.

In this episode of Positive Vibes Only, NewSpring Worship deliver a soaring performance of their song, "Desde El Principio." Helmed by vocalist Charlee Buitrago — who also co-wrote the track — the bandmates take viewers through a simple, but powerful, rendition of the song. 

The clip begins with Buitrago singing in front of a simple white backdrop, and as the first verse progresses, the camera pans back to reveal two more musicians — one strumming an acoustic guitar, the other on the bench of a Rhodes electric piano.

With just those three artists in the frame, NewSpring Worship deliver a moving rendition of their song, which represents the faith collective's passion for putting out worship music that represents their own cultural diversity.

According to his website, Buitrago originally hails from Venezuela, but emigrated to the U.S. at age 17 after meeting an American missionary who helped him find his faith. Since then, Buitrago has continued to pursue both music and worship, with both himself and his native Spanish language becoming mainstays in the NewSpring Worship collective. 

Press play on the video above to watch this performance of "Desde El Principio," and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Positive Vibes Only.

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Remembering Christine McVie Of Fleetwood Mac Through Her GRAMMY Triumphs, From 'Rumours' Onward
Christine McVie in 1969

Photo: Evening Standard / Stringer via Getty Images

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Remembering Christine McVie Of Fleetwood Mac Through Her GRAMMY Triumphs, From 'Rumours' Onward

Unflashy and undramatic, McVie's contributions to Fleetwood Mac led to some of their greatest contributions to popular song — with two GRAMMY wins to boot.

GRAMMYs/Dec 2, 2022 - 08:32 pm

In an acclaimed career that spanned more than half a century, Christine McVie staked her claim as one of the most potent singer-songwriters of her generation. A beloved original member of the seminal rock group Fleetwood Mac, with whom she sang, wrote and played keyboard, she and her bandmates catapulted to fame in the early '70s, scoring GRAMMY gold and influencing generations of musicians.

"As a GRAMMY Award winner and 2018 Person of the Year honoree, the Recording Academy has been honored to celebrate Christine McVie and her work with Fleetwood Mac throughout her legendary career," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. stated. In an announcement of her death, the remaining members of Fleetwood Mac mourned her passing by saying "She was truly one-of-a-kind, special, and talented beyond measure."

McVie, who passed away Nov. 30 at 79 after a brief illness, may have not been as flashy, or as dramatic, as fellow Fleetwood Mac members Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. But McVie's contributions to the band led to some of their greatest contributions to popular song, with two GRAMMY wins among seven nominations.

The tour de force that is Rumours is one of the most acclaimed and best-selling albums of all time and an inductee into GRAMMY Hall Of Fame. The masterpiece earned McVie her first GRAMMY (for Album of the Year no less) at the 20th Annual Ceremony in 1978, also earning a nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Group.

Fleetwood Mac's 11th studio album, Rumours was actually McVie's 7th album with the band after making her name in the English blues scene, rising through the ranks as part of the band Chicken Shack, and even releasing a solo album.

In 1971, McVie joined Fleetwood Mac alongside her then-husband John McVie. The potent combination of the McVies, along with Mick Fleetwood, Buckingham and Nicks, catalyzed and detonated into the stratospheric Rumours.

"It's hard to say (what it was like) because we were looking at it from the inside," McVie said about the iconic album earlier this year.  "We were having a blast and it felt incredible to us that we were writing those songs. That's all I can say about it, really."

McVie's coyness may stem from the fact that prior to its production, Christine and John divorced after eight years of marriage. Meanwhile, Buckingham and Nicks were having a tumultuous relationship themselves. 

McVie is credited as sole songwriter on a handful of instant-classic Rumours tracks, all written during a perilous moment. "I thought I was drying up," explained McVie. "I was practically panicking because every time I sat down at a piano, nothing came out. Then, one day,  I just sat down and wrote in the studio, and the four-and-a-half songs of mine on the album are a result of that."

That includes "Don't Stop," an ironically peppy ode considering the turmoil McVie and her bandmates were grappling with at the time. With lyrics that staunchly proclaim "Yesterday's gone!," the song was reportedly written as a plea from Christine to John to move on from their relationship.

"I dare say, if I hadn't joined Fleetwood Mac, we might still be together. I just think it's impossible to work in the band with your spouse," McVie later said. John, meanwhile, was oblivious to the song's message during its production and early acclaim. He revealed in 2015: "I've been playing it for years and it wasn't until somebody told me, 'Chris wrote that about you.' Oh really?"

John was also equally ignorant to the source inspiration of "You Make Loving Fun"; McVie told him the joyful song ("Sweet wonderful you/ You make me happy with the things you do") was about her dog. In reality, it was about an affair with the band's lighting designer.

"It was a therapeutic move," McVie later mused of her lyrical penchant for hiding brutal honesty in plain sight. "The only way we could get this stuff out was to say it, and it came out in a way that was difficult. Imagine trying to sing those songs onstage with the people you're singing them about."

When McVie was asked earlier this year what song she written she was most proud of, it was an easy answer: the Rumours track "Songbird."

"For some peculiar reason, I wrote "Songbird" in half an hour; I've never been able to figure out how I did that," she told People. "I woke up in the middle of the night and the song was there in my brain, chords, lyrics, melody, everything. I played it in my bedroom and didn't have anything to tape it on. So I had to stay awake all night so I wouldn't forget it and I came in the next morning to the studio and had (producer) Ken Callait put it on a 2-track. That was how the song ended up being. I don't know where that came from."

McVie's most recent GRAMMY nominations were for her contributions to The Dance, Fleetwood Mac's 1997 live album that featured her stand-outs from Rumours along with the McVie penned-tracks "Say You Love Me" and "Everywhere."

The album earned McVie and the band GRAMMY nominations for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal (for the Lindsay Buckingham-written "The Chain") and  Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal (for "Silver Springs," penned by Stevie Nicks). It also landed a nomination for Best Pop Album. It was her final album with the band before a 15-year self-imposed retirement.

In her final years, McVie was a vital member of Fleetwood Mac, including in 2018 when they became the first band honored as MusicCare's Person of the Year.

Speaking to the Recording Academy before the ceremony, Nicks expressed that her initial goal upon joining the group was a humble one: "Christine and I made a pact. We said we will never, ever be treated as a second-class citizen amongst our peers."

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15 Must-Hear New Albums Out This Month: SZA, Neil Young, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, NCT Dream & More
(L-R): A Boogie wit da Hoodie, SZA, Jacquees, Metro Boomin, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer

Photos (L-R): Joseph Okpako/WireImage; Tim Mosenfelder/FilmMagic; Prince Williams/Wireimage; Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Justin Combs Events; Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

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15 Must-Hear New Albums Out This Month: SZA, Neil Young, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, NCT Dream & More

Rounding out the year, here are the can't-miss releases and massive new albums dropping in December 2022 from Weezer, Metro Boomin, NOFX, Jacquees, Ab-Soul, and many others.

GRAMMYs/Dec 2, 2022 - 07:20 pm

And just like that, 2022 is almost done — but not before we get another round of must-hear albums. December's slate of releases is set to send the year out on a high note, with something for all tastes.

This month heralds much-anticipated returns from R&B innovator SZA, with S.O.S., and rap super-producer Metro Boomin, with the mysterious HEROES & VILLAINS. December's riches also include Bad MFs from West Coast hip-hop supergroup Mount Westmore, indie-rock lifers Weezer dropping SZNZ: Winter and a loaded, possibly final album from punk-rock misfits NOFX. There's also new-generation R&B (RINI’s Ultraviolet EP and Jacquees' Sincerely For You), dark techno (Terence Fixmer's Shifting Signals), soul-baring indie (Sophie Jamieson's Choosing), and much more.

Below, check out a guide to the 15 essential albums dropping just in time for the festive season. — Jack Tregoning

Contributed reporting by Ashlee Mitchell

SZA - S.O.S.

Release date: TBD

Five years after her GRAMMY-nominated debut album, Ctrl, it's about to be SZA season all over again. While details are still pending, the alternative R&B star is expected to drop her second album, S.O.S., this month, following the single "Shirt" and its teaser follow-up, "PSA."

In a revealing Billboard cover story, SZA spoke frankly about the pressure she feels to release the album while navigating the music industry and her fans' expectations. As always with SZA, the music itself speaks volumes, and the darkly seductive "Shirt" (accompanied by a music video co-starring SZA and Academy Award nominee LaKeith Stanfield in a riff on Bonnie and Clyde) suggests S.O.S. will be something to savor. — J.T.

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Metro Boomin - HEROES & VILLAINS

Release date: December 2

To prepare fans for his new album, HEROES & VILLAINS, sought-after rap producer Metro Boomin went all-out on a short film starring his collaborators Young Thug and Gunna alongside celebrated actors Morgan Freeman and LaKeith Stanfield. Following that flex, the artist's first solo LP in four years is set to feature a who's who of rap, with an exact tracklist still to be announced.

Metro Boomin's previous album, 2018's Not All Heroes Wear Capes, featured the likes of Travis Scott, 21 Savage and Gucci Mane rapping over the producer's dark, trap-centric beats. This time around, he's keeping his cards close to his chest, slyly sharing a video of the studio sessions on his Instagram with the caption, "When the sequel is even better than the first." All will be revealed on Dec. 2. — J.T.

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Neil Young - Harvest (50th Anniversary Edition)

Release date: December 2

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Neil Young's seminal folk-rock album Harvest, released to great acclaim in 1972. Featuring indelible songs like "Heart of Gold," "Old Man" and "The Needle and The Damage Done," Harvest was the best-selling album of that year in the US.

To celebrate the milestone, Young is releasing a special anniversary edition, available in either CD or vinyl box-set. Extras include a new two-hour documentary called Harvest Time, an official release of Young's BBC In Concert performance, and a hardcover book featuring never-before-seen photos and notes by legendary rock photographer Joel Bernstein. Consider this the festive gift for the Neil Young completist in your life. — J.T.

After breaking out with his 2021 debut album, Constellations, RINI returns this month with the seven-track EP, Ultraviolet. The Filipino-Australian R&B talent, who now calls Los Angeles home, pairs his indelible voice with slinky, late-night production that pulls the listener close.

Ahead of Ultraviolet, RINI has released the singles "Haunt Me" and "Selfish," featuring GRAMMY-winning rapper BEAM, which pair his themes of love and longing with gauzy, head-nodding beats. "I want to be able to show the world and myself that I'm growing, not just in music, but as a person," RINI told Uproxx in May. On Ultraviolet, which also features the slick bedroom jams "Something to Feel" and "Your Eyes," that evolution is evident. — J.T.

Related: R&B Isn't Dead: Listen To 51 Songs By Summer Walker, Josh Levi & More Artists Who Are Pushing The Genre Forward

NOFX - Double Album

Release date: December 2

SoCal punk veterans NOFX have always kept up a prolific output, and this month the band returns with their 15th LP, Double Album. Following last year's Single Album, the conveniently titled Double Album features 10 new songs with perfectly NOFX titles like "Punk Rock Cliché" and "Is It Too Soon if Time Is Relative?" Lead single "Darby Crashing Your Party" showcases the band at their hard-riffing, rowdy best, with frontman Fat Mike clearly relishing lyrical volleys like, "A middle-class clown waging lower class war/A Beverly Hillbilly peeled off the floor."

In a statement announcing the new album, Fat Mike revealed the songs were recorded at the same time as Single Album, then finished off later. "I think it's a very enjoyable album, and maybe our funniest," he added. It could also be NOFX's parting gift — responding to a fan’s Instagram comment, Fat Mike announced that 2023 will be the band's "last year" after an "amazing run." — J.T.

Related: 5 Women Essential To Punk: Exene Cervenka, Poly Styrene, Alice Bag, Kathleen Hanna & The Linda Lindas

Terence Fixmer - Shifting Signals

Release date: December 2

French producer Terence Fixmer has been one of the most intriguing figures in the electronic music scene for well over a decade. Over six past solo albums, numerous EPs and standalone releases, Fixmer has perfected a dark, gritty sound that melds techno with the looser industrial spirit of electronic body music (EBM).

Fixmer's seventh album, Shifting Signals, continues in that vein while allowing for new textures to creep in. "On each album I aim for something different but I retain the core sound, which is always there and often dark and melancholic," the producer wrote in a statement. "Sometimes the balance tips slightly and on this album, I'm striving to be freer and open myself up more to melody."

That openness to different modes is showcased on the atmospheric, piano-led "Synthetic Minds," which evokes a John Carpenter film score, while fellow singles "Corne de Brume" and "No Latitude for Errors" are built for heady techno dance floors. — J.T.

Related: Going Underground: House DJ Claude VonStroke On Making Soul Decisions & Keeping Electronic Music Grimy

Sophie Jamieson - Choosing

Release date: December 2

On her debut album, Choosing, London-based singer-songwriter Sophie Jamieson doesn't shy from difficult or uncomfortable emotions. Lead single, "Sink" lays bare her push-pull relationship with alcohol over a lulling bed of piano and drums. That theme of emotional vulnerability carries through the LP's 11 songs, which foreground Jamieson's enchanting voice and plain-spoken lyrics.

"The title of this album is so important," Jamieson wrote in a statement. "Without it, this might sound like another record about self-destruction and pain, but at heart, it's about hope, and finding strength. It's about finding the light at the end of the tunnel and crawling towards it." Choosing arrives via Bella Union, the tastemaking label led by Simon Raymonde, formerly of Scottish dream pop band Cocteau Twins. — J.T.

Related: Hear The 2022 Nominees For Best Alternative Music Performance At The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

White Lung - Premonition

Release date: December 2

Canadian punk rockers White Lung weren't expecting to take six years to follow up 2016's celebrated Paradise. As the story goes, the band got together in their hometown of Vancouver in 2017, expecting to rip out their final album before parting ways. In the studio, frontwoman Mish Barber-Way discovered she was pregnant with her first child — which, along with a global pandemic and another child, put the album plans on ice.

Fast forward to 2022, and White Lung's fifth and final album, Premonition, is finally here. With all that extra time to marinate, Premonition is a thrilling return from the trio, mining deeper themes with the same raucous, kick-down-the-door energy that fans expect. The album opens furiously with "Hysteric", and also features the singles "Date Night" and "Tomorrow," which match Barber-Way's impassioned vocals with muscular punk-rock riffing.

"We felt like this record was the right endpoint and we are happy the songs will finally be released," the band wrote in a statement. — J.T.

Related: Like Turnstile And Code Orange? 10 More Bands Expanding The Boundaries Of Hardcore

A Boogie Wit da Hoodie - Me vs. Myself

Release date: December 9

New York's A Boogie wit da Hoodie has been steadily hyping the release of his fourth album, Me Vs Myself, throughout 2022. Originally scheduled for November, the album will drop this month, right in time for A Boogie's hometown album launch at the iconic Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Me Vs Myself was preceded by a pair of singles, "Take Shots," featuring Tory Lanez, and "Ballin," which both showcase the rapper's supremely confident flow and wavy beats. While the full tracklist is not yet confirmed, A Boogie's previous album, ARTIST 2.0, covered the R&B and rap spectrum with guests like Summer Walker, Khalid, Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert, without pulling focus from the main star. The rapper has already lined up dates for the Me Vs Myself tour stretching into 2023, so it's a great time to bet on A Boogie. — J.T.

Related: Meet The 2022 Nominees For Best Rap Album At The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

Mount Westmore - Snoop, Cube, 40, $hort

Release date: December 9

When living legends Snoop Dogg, E-40, Too Short and Ice Cube formed the supergroup Mount Westmore, West Coast rap heads took notice. After several hints that a collaborative album was coming, Mount Westmore made the surprise decision to release their debut, Bad MFs, exclusively as an NFT via the blockchain-based platform Gala Music.

The album arrives on streaming services this month under a new title, Snoop, Cube, 40, $hort, featuring additional songs not included on the NFT version. A spirit of loose fun and ride-or-die friendship carries through all the singles released so far, including the swaggering "Bad MFs" and the bass-heavy, light-hearted "Big Subwoofer." As Snoop put it to HotNewHipHop, "You bring the legends of the West Coast together, something great will always happen." — J.T.

Related: Take The Power Back: How Rage Against The Machine's Debut LP Created Rap-Rock With A Message

Leland Whitty - Anyhow

Release date: December 9

Best known as a member of Toronto-based jazz ensemble BADBADNOTGOOD, Leland Whitty is a true multi-instrumentalist. On his seven-track solo release, Anyhow, Whitty oversaw all production and composition, moving deftly between guitar, synthesizer, woodwinds and strings.

Following his scores for indie films Disappearance at Clifton Hill and Learn to Swim, Whitty was inspired to combine cinematic composition with rock and jazz instrumentation in his own project. Lead single "Awake" perfectly strikes that balance with twinkling keys, mournful strings and an insistent drum beat, while follow-up "Glass Moon" conjures a similarly beguiling mood. Members of BADBADNOTGOOD and Whitty's musician brother also joined the studio sessions, making Anyhow a family affair. — J.T.

Related: Robert Glasper & Terrace Martin On Removing Their Egos And Creating Their GRAMMY-Nominated Collaboration Dinner Party: Dessert

Jacquees - Sincerely For You

Release date: December 16

On "Say Yea", the sultry bedroom anthem he dropped back in May, Jacquees croons, "Girl, you overdue for some romantic s—." That simple line is something of a mission statement for the R&B casanova, whose third album, Sincerely For You, drops this month.

The LP features "Say Yea" alongside 16 more R&B jams, including singles "Tipsy," which captures the singer's blurry plea to a lover, and the smoothly boastful "Still That." Elsewhere, Sincerely For You offers up guest turns from Future (who also executive produced the album), 21 Savage and Tory Lanez, plus the R&B dream team of 6lack and Summer Walker on "Tell Me It's Over." On his socials, Jacquees dedicated the album to "everybody who been there for me along the way" and promised to deliver only "real R&B." — J.T.

Related: Durand Bernarr's 'Wanderlust': The R&B Singer Explains Why He's "Constantly In A State Of Arriving"

Ab-Soul - Herbert

Release date: December 16

Six hard-won years after his last album, the divisive, conspiracy theory-heavy Do What Thou Wilt., Ab-Soul has found his drive again. The rapper from Carson, California returns this month with a deeply personal album that shares his birth name, Herbert.

Ab-Soul's new outlook was previewed in lead single "Do Better," which reckons with the scars of his past and looks to the future with powerful clarity. The next single, "Gang'Nem," featuring Houston rapper FRE$H and produced by fellow Top Dawg Entertainment mainstay Sounwave, also revisits his upbringing and pays respect to L.A. street culture over a woozy, hard-hitting beat.

For fans of Ab-Soul's dense lyrical style and gravelly flow, Herbert is an eagerly-anticipated return to the rap limelight. — J.T.

Related: From "Rap Sh!t" To "Pistol" And "Treme": 8 Must-See TV Series For Music Lovers

NCT DREAM - Candy

Release date: December 19

NCT Dream, the youngest sub-group of Neo Culture Technology (NCT), has seen exponential growth since they rebranded as a fixed unit in 2020. The septet is set to release a winter special EP called Candy on Dec. 19. The mini-album's six tracks, include lead single "Candy," which was originally performed by H.O.T. in 1996. The album will be the first holiday release for any NCT sub-group, following a slew of successful releases from NCT Dream this year.

The group released their second studio album, Glitch, in March 2022, followed by their repackaged Beatbox in May. Their first feature film, NCT Dream The Movie: In a Dream, released worldwide on Nov. 30 and Dec. 3 and documents the opening days of their tour in Seoul. The group will finish their tour in Japan by February 2023. — Ashlee Mitchell

Related: K-Pop Icon B.I Isn't Afraid To Explore Growth And Freedom On 'Love Or Loved Pt. 1'

Weezer - SZNZ: Winter

Release date: December 21

This has been a remarkably good year to be a Weezer fan. Always pleasingly prolific, in 2022 the band decided to release a four-EP series under the name SZNZ, each timed to coincide with a new season.

Following Spring, Summer and Autumn editions, SZNZ: Winter arrives just in time for peak coziness. While the complete tracklist is not yet known, Weezer performed the EP in full for an intimate crowd at the Troubadour in Los Angeles (using their favored alias Goat Punishment), with new highlights including "I Want A Dog" and "The One That Got Away."

While frontman Rivers Cuomo has described SZNZ: Winter as having a sad vibe that suits snowed-in days, you can always count on Weezer to cut the melancholy with some power-pop verve. — J.T.

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