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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.

Related: Ari Lennox's Age/Sex/Location Explores Online Dating, Never Settling & Old School Romance

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.

Related: For The Record: Kendrick Lamar's 'Good Kid, M.A.A.d City' Launched A New Era In Storytelling & West Coast Rap

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.

A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys Tribute Concert To Feature Performances By John Legend, Brandi Carlile, St. Vincent, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, Weezer & More; Tickets On Sale Now
A GRAMMY Salute to the Beach Boys

Graphic: The Recording Academy

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A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys Tribute Concert To Feature Performances By John Legend, Brandi Carlile, St. Vincent, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, Weezer & More; Tickets On Sale Now

Taking place Wednesday, Feb. 8, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, the live concert special will feature a star-studded lineup that also includes Charlie Puth, LeAnn Rimes, My Morning Jacket, Norah Jones, Pentatonix, Lady A, and many others.

GRAMMYs/Jan 26, 2023 - 05:44 pm

A few days after the 2023 GRAMMYs, the Recording Academy, along with Tenth Planet Productions and CBS, will present A GRAMMY Salute to the Beach Boys, a special tribute concert honoring the legendary, GRAMMY-nominated music icons, the Beach Boys. Taking place Wednesday, Feb. 8, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, the live concert special will feature a star-studded performer lineup that includes GRAMMY-winning artists and past and current GRAMMY nominees including Beck, Brandi Carlile, Fall Out Boy, Andy Grammer, Hanson, Norah Jones, Lady A, John Legend, Little Big Town, Michael McDonald, Mumford & Sons, My Morning Jacket, Pentatonix, Charlie Puth, LeAnn Rimes, St. Vincent, Take 6, and Weezer, who will all celebrate and honor the Beach Boys’ everlasting music and impactful career.

Tickets for A GRAMMY Salute to the Beach Boys are available now.

A GRAMMY Salute to the Beach Boys will air on the CBS Television Network and will be available live and on demand on Paramount+ at a later date. More info on the event is below.

WHEN:

Concert:
Wednesday, Feb. 8
Doors: 5:30 p.m. PT
Concert: 6:30 p.m. PT

WHERE: 
Dolby Theatre
6801 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Take A Look Back At The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds | For The Record

The Soundtrack Hit Makes A Comeback: How 'Encanto,' 'Top Gun' & ‘Black Panther’ Went From Chart-Toppers To GRAMMY Nominations

Photo: RgStudio via GettyImages

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The Soundtrack Hit Makes A Comeback: How 'Encanto,' 'Top Gun' & ‘Black Panther’ Went From Chart-Toppers To GRAMMY Nominations

The once-golden bridge between Hollywood and Billboard has been quiet in recent years, perhaps due in part to the pandemic. But over the past 12 months, that trend has been truly broken.

GRAMMYs/Jan 23, 2023 - 04:15 pm

It’s the kind of development even an animated fortune teller voiced by John Leguizamo couldn’t have predicted.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2021 animated film Encanto was all-conquering, and its success also touched the Billboard charts. The film's "We Don't Talk About Bruno" entered the first Hot 100 chart of 2022 at No. 50, quickly becoming a record-breaking, multi-million-selling phenomenon. It also led to the renaissance of a particular crossover: the soundtrack hit.

With the domestic box office now showing signs of returning to pre-COVID days, the soundtrack single has, once again, become a key marketing tool and chart staple. The nominees for Best Song Written For Visual Media at the 2023 GRAMMYs are proof: Four of the six nominated songs charted on the Billboard Hot 100, with "We Don't Talk About Bruno" sitting at No. 1 for five weeks — the highest tally for a soundtrack release in seven years. (Aladdin favorite "A Whole New World" is also in the exclusive club of Disney animation No. 1s.)

2022 spawned five Top 10  hits from film soundtracks — a feat last achieved in 2018 via Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther collabs with the Weeknd ("Pray for Me") and SZA ("All the Stars"), Swae Lee and Post Malone’s "Sunflower" (Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse), Khalid & Normani’s "Love Lies" (Love, Simon), and the A Star Is Born cut "Shallow." Yet the once-golden bridge between Hollywood and Billboard was quiet in the intervening years, perhaps due in part to the pandemic.  Not one TV or movie tie-in graced the Top 10 in 2021 or 2020. And although Oscar-winning “Shallow” reached pole position in 2019, it began its chart trajectory the year previously.

Over the past 12 months, however, this drought has been well and truly broken. And for a while, single-handedly by Encanto.

The Encanto OST picked up three GRAMMY nominations — Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media, Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media and Best Song Written For Visual Media for "Bruno" and spawned seven Hot 100 singles, including another Top 10 smash, "Surface Pressure." Not bad for an album which in its first week entered the charts at No. 197.

Unlike the inescapable "Let It Go" from 2013's Disney juggernaut Frozen, the success of "Bruno" happened more organically. Its chart and streaming dominance wasn't steered by record executives, but by the public who deemed it more stream-worthy than any other track from the film. The biggest soundtrack from a live-action film, Top Gun: Maverick, told a similar story.

Lady Gaga’s power ballad "Hold My Hand" was primed to replicate the chart-topping, Academy Award-winning success of Berlin’s "Take My Breath Away" from the 1986 original. But while Gaga's lead single received a Best Song Written For Visual Media nomination at the 65th GRAMMY Awards, its chart peak was overwhelmingly eclipsed by OneRepublic’s "I Ain’t Worried."

The uptempo Peter, Bjorn and John-sampling track played over key scene where Tom Cruise, Glen Powell and Miles Teller play football shirtless on the beach, and became Ryan Tedder and co.’s biggest hit since 2013’s "Counting Stars" (No. 6 on Hot 100, over 660 million streams). The synergy between moviegoers and OneRepublic fans caught the band's record label off guard; Interscope pulled promotion of then-current single "West Coast" to capitalize on all the buzz.

2022 also witnessed a return-to-form from pop music-savvy director Baz Luhrmann, whose expert curation helped Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby spawn radio hits. Luhrmann was never going to give his Elvis Presley biopic a traditional soundtrack; instead he favored a mix of nostalgia and anachronism.

Elvis is peppered with songs performed by The King himself, as well as covers sung by former teen idol/lead actor Austin Butler and a host of newcomers and established artists. Yet the film's sole Top 10 hit was contemporary: Doja Cat's "Hound Dog"-sampling "Vegas." For Luhrmann's vision, Elvis was nominated alongside Encanto, "Stranger Things," Top Gun: Maverick and West Side Story for Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media GRAMMY Award.

Even Rihanna came out of self-imposed musical retirement for a film soundtrack, releasing the lead single from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in late October. While the dramatic balladry of "Lift Me Up" might not have been the floor-filling banger many fans hoped for — the song is Rihanna's first solo single in six years — it still returned the Barbadian to the upper echelons of the hit parade, reaching No. 2.

No stranger to the film soundtrack, Taylor Swift’s contribution to haunting drama Where the Crawdads Sing, "Carolina," is also nominated in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category alongside "Nobody Like U" — Turning Red’s fictional boyband song co-penned by Billie Eilish. And while the monolithic state of the comic book universe has rarely translated to the singles chart, The Batman’s use of Nirvana’s "Something In The Way" catapulted 1992's Nevermind up the charts.

As movie hits were abundant, so were songs featured in big-time TV shows — bringing new songs and decades-old hits back into public consciousness. Chief among these small screen-to-chartoppers was  Kate Bush's 1985 single "Running Up That Hill," which played over a significant moment in the mammoth fourth season of Netflix’s "Stranger Things."

The song was the British singer/songwriter's first Top 40 hit in the U.S., peaking at No. 30 on the Hot 100 in the '80s. Nearly 30 years later, without any label backing, the majestic synth-pop classic enjoyed a much-deserved second wind, shooting all the way up to No. 3 faster than you can say "flesh-eating Demogorgon."

The sci-fi nostalgia-fest also gave another, although much heavier, ‘80s gem a new lease of life when Joseph Quinn’s Eddie Munson shredded Metallica’s "Master of Puppets" in its season finale. The thrash metal favorite subsequently enjoyed a belated chart debut at No. 35, returning the headbangers to the Hot 100 for the first time in 14 years.

Elsewhere, video game adaptation "Arcane" spawned the first TV theme hit in eons with unlikely dream team Imagine Dragons and JID’s "Enemy," while "Euphoria" regular Labrinth scored a chart hit with "I’m Tired," a gospel-tinged song he performs in the second season's fourth episode as Zendaya's Rue imagines entering a church. The new golden age of television combined with the return to multiplexes ensured that 2022 was a banner year for the OST.

2023 looks promising, too: Dua Lipa is rumored to be contributing to Barbie’s long-awaited cinematic debut; Disney is set to give The Little Mermaid the live-action treatment featuring Chloe x Halle’s Halle Bailey; and several franchises that previously spawned No. 1 soundtrack songs have new installments on the way (The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Fast X). Regardless, expect the soundtrack hit renaissance to continue growing like the "grapes that thrive on the vine."

Watch The 2022 Nominees For Best Song Written For Visual Media Nominees At The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

Songbook: Inside Neil Young's Latest Decade And Change, From 'Americana' & 'Psychedelic Pill' To 'Barn' & 'World Record'

Photos (from left): Ebet Roberts/Redferns via Getty Images; Mairo Cinquetti/NurPhoto via Getty Images; Gary Miller/Getty Images; Brian Rasic/WireImage.

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Songbook: Inside Neil Young's Latest Decade And Change, From 'Americana' & 'Psychedelic Pill' To 'Barn' & 'World Record'

Neil Young's resonance and relevance extends far past his '70s commercial heyday; his past decade of albums have been some of the most rich and rewarding of his career. And his GRAMMY-nominated documentary 'Barn' shows that.

GRAMMYs/Jan 20, 2023 - 04:39 pm

In Conan O'Brien's eyes, Neil Young has done the impossible.

"He's managed to stay completely authentic and raw in a way that almost seems impossible to me," O'Brien told Howard Stern last year. "What he was doing with Buffalo Springfield in [1966], he's still going for that. He hasn't calcified. He hasn't crusted over. He's still going for that. So that guy blows me away.”

It's not the first time Young has blown O'Brien's mind. When the two sat down for an interview a few years ago, the comedian expressed his admiration for Young's ability to "not give a s—." To which Young replied, "If somebody doesn't like something, that's just as exciting as them liking it." O'Brien's response? "My head just came off." 

Such are the twin halves of the two-time GRAMMY winner's artistic journey in his 70s: indomitable will and an almost supernatural ability to brush off criticism.

Powered by undiluted passion, moral will-to-power and an unscratchable creative itch, Young is always hurtling forward, prioritizing honesty and raw feeling over all else. ("There's a lot of people who do like it, and they'll like it even more if you didn't guard the edges," Young told O'Brien in the same interview — cogent advice for every creative person in the self-censoring 2020s.)

Key figures in Young's life and career — like filmmaker Larry L.A. Johnson, pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith, former wife Pegi Young, and manager Elliot Roberts — have passed away in the last decade and change; in decades past, he lost producer David Briggs and Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, among so many others. These losses haven't thrown Young off the rails, but seemingly added momentum to his runaway creative train.

This alchemy — his innate ability to process trauma, negativity and loss into quantum motivation — popped up in 2019, when an anonymous fan wrote a letter to Young's quirky online newspaper, the Times-Contrarian. The fan talked about their "Uncle Eddie," concerned that the ailing 76-year-old won't live to hear all of the archival music Young promised he has in the can.

"He wants to know why you don't just put all this material out now. Just dump it all out on the NYA website," they entreated. "He wants you to know that he can't buy it if he's dead." Young sprang into action, and there's now a plethora of lost recordings out there — Homegrown, Summer Songs, Toast — with an untold ocean of music to come.

Amid the archival deluge, Young's latest decade-plus of music making has been one of the most satisfying epochs of his long career — his lyrical messages heartfelt and probing, his production raw and wooly, his electric guitar playing more twisted and brain-bending than ever.

These components of his current run are fully on display in the documentary Barn — which captures the recording process for 2021's Barn — for Best Music Film at the 2023 GRAMMYs. From that rustic jumping-off point, here's a rundown of each album, from a logical entrypoint: his first LP with Crazy Horse in 16 years.

Americana (2012)

(with Crazy Horse)

Young has long had a preoccupation with the taxonomy of song.

He tends to revisit unreleased songs — and albums — from decades ago. Diehards have murmured for years about an abandoned '70s album of songs named after well-known hits. (One contender, "Born to Run," recently emerged — it's not Springsteen's.)

Young took this to an extreme with Americana, his and the Horse's album of public-domain schoolyard bops like "Oh Susannah," "Clementine" and "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain." 

Although it may be tempting to pigeonhole it as a mere on-ramp to the masterpiece that followed it, Americana aged well. The melodic swoops on "Clementine," the goofy R&B cover "Get a Job," and the barreling momentum of "Travel On" are alone worth the price of admission.

Plus, winking renditions of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" and British royal anthem "God Save the Queen" break the fourth wall, in a sense. Young isn't merely dealing in schoolyard chants, but wry commentary on what being American truly means.

Psychedelic Pill (2012)

(with Crazy Horse)

What's the greatest album Young ever made with Crazy Horse? It's logical to jump out for the first one they ever did together, 1969's Everyone Knows This is Nowhere. But it lacks the raw, wooly production everyone associates with this collaboration. 

There's a case to be made for 1975's Zuma, but that discourse tends to hang on a single song: "Cortez the Killer." Same for 1979's Rust Never Sleeps, but its nature — live recordings supplemented with overdubs — muddies the waters.

Obviously, there's no objective answer. But 10 years later, it's time to introduce Psychedelic Pill into the debate. This is the Horse, unfiltered and unadulterated — and guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro's final ride with the band.

This was the year Young released his bloggy, discursive autobiography Waging Heavy Peace, and Psychedelic Pill's 27-minute(!) opening track, "Driftin' Back" reflects that in more ways than one. It's not just that he references "writing [in] his book"; over its hypnotic, chord-looping runtime, Young muses about crummy bitrates, potential paganism and his pending hip-hop hairdo. 

All-time performances by the Horse roll on, married to terrific songs. 

"Ramada Inn" is a pathos-laden character study of a moldering, alcoholic marriage; '80s salvage "For the Love of Man" touchingly resonates with Young's experience of raising two sons with physical disabilities; and "Walk Like a Giant" explodes Tonight's the Night's post-'60s cynicism to Godzilla proportions, complete with speaker-rattling amplifier crashes at the end.

With all genuflection to the old Horse, the band demonstrably reached peak potency in the 21st century. Kick back with something strong and meander down this twisted road.

A Letter Home (2014)

Young recorded A Letter Home in Jack White's Voice-o-Graph vinyl recording booth, where a signal is translated directly into vinyl, to primitive-sounding results. It's all covers.

While classics like Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country," Willie Nelson's "Crazy" and Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe" are certainly luminous, the most emotionally heart-stopping moment comes at the very beginning, when Young dictates a message to his mother in heaven.

"Hi mom! Hey, it's great to be able to talk to you," Young exclaims through moon-landing-grade audio. I haven't been able to talk to you in a really long time, and my friend Jack has got this box that I can talk to you from."

"So, I'd like to be able to send you this message and tell you how much I love you and also tell you that I think you should start talking to Daddy again," he continues. "Since you're both there together, there's no reason not to talk.”

Young rambles on to his mom about "weatherman" Al Gore from there, but it's the following track that hits the solar plexus. He then covers Phil Ochs' "Changes," which should resonate with anyone who's lost a parent. In this damaged and warped presentation, it's almost unbearably moving to hear.

"Your tears will be trembling, now we're somewhere else/ One last cup of wine we will pour," Young croons through brambles of distortion, seemingly reporting from another plane of existence. "And I'll kiss you one more time, and leave you on the rolling river shores of changes."

The rest of this unconventional covers album rolls on; whether you can roll with the "production" for its entire runtime comes down to the ears of the beholder. But that intro, leading into "Changes," comprises the beating heart of A Letter Home.

There's much more than technological gimmickry at play. Through the lens of "Changes," the  fuzz is a metaphor for distance and loss.

Storytone (2014)

Young followed A Letter Home with its polar opposite, fidelity-speaking: Storytone, where every one of its earnest tracks was augmented with an orchestra or big band.

This maximalism should be no surprise to the Young-initiated; his orchestra-abetted tracks, like "A Man Needs a Maid" and "Such a Woman," are proof positive of such.

That said, no Young album has felt quite this Hollywood; even as the gorgeous "Plastic Flowers" recalls the classic "After the Gold Rush" with its yearning melody, the string embellishments take center stage. Ditto the romping big band on "I Want to Drive My Car," which pushes the simple, bluesy composition into deep Vegas territory. 

Upon its release, Young seemed fascinated by how he could pull Storytone in different directions. Not only did he release the embellished and unembellished versions; we have Mixed Pages of Storytone, which shuffles the tracklist and offers a bit of both.

Whatever your Storytone is, the songs are cozy and livable — and reflect the dawn of a new love. (The singer began dating his now-wife, actress and filmmaker Daryl Hannah, that year.) 

The Monsanto Years (2015)

(with Promise of the Real)

Young has a long track record of being shaken to his core by a cause, writing in haste and rushing into the studio.

He did it back in 1970 with Crosby, Stills and Nash's "Ohio," their outrage bomb about the Kent State shootings. And he did it in 2006 with the raw and immediate Living With War, which takes shots at Dubya and the war machine.

This time, agrochemical and agricultural biotech company Monsanto is in the crosshairs, and Young's got new aural weaponry: Promise of the Real, a band helmed by Willie Nelson's sons Lukas and Micah, who actually named themselves after Young's song "Walk On."

Whatever your feelings on the company are — last year, they pled guilty to 30 environmental crimes — these songs about corporate avarice and food transparency ring true. 

And tunes like "People Want to Hear About Love," "Workin' Man" and "Rules of Change" capture the fire of Psychedelic Pill. "No one owns the sacred seed/ No man's law can change that," Young seethes in the latter song, cutting to the heart of the matter.

Peace Trail (2016)

Despite its stripped-down presentation — Young, bassist Paul Bushnell and drummer Jim Keltner Peace Trail might be one of Young's most avant-garde albums. In a great way.

Instead of landing somewhere near 2000's rootsy (and vastly underrated) Silver and Gold, Peace Trail feels nervy and unpolished, like the trio is recording it in first takes in your garage. (The scrawled album cover adds to the effect.)

The songs are some of Young's strongest of his current run; "Can't Stop Workin'" is an ode to imaginary-gun-to-your-head prolificity that would make Robert Pollard proud, and the smoldering "Show Me" recalls 1994's nocturnal Sleeps With Angels.

All the while, Bushnell leans back; Keltner often does the opposite. He doesn't merely keep time; he responds to Young's lines like Rashied Ali to John Coltrane on Interstellar Space.

Throw in some Auto-Tune, computer chatter and possible references to Amazon's Alexa, and you've got a wonderfully strange entry in Young's recent oeuvre. 

Often, the worn and craggy Peace Trail — in all its sonic imperfections and needling political commentary — amounts to Young's private war against the dehumanizing technocratic age.

The Visitor (2017)

(with Promise of the Real)

In 2017, Young beamed us back to 1976 with the long-lost archival album, Hitchhiker. Under a full moon in the late summer, a crossfaded Young sits alone in a Malibu studio, with David Briggs at the helm, and cuts a slew of future classics: "Pocahontas," "Powderfinger," "Campaigner." It's luminous.

Three months later, Young slammed his fans back into Trump-dominated, Twitter-poisoned reality with The Visitor, his second studio turn with Promise of the Real. The tunes deal with the nature of American-ness ("Already Great") and the rising of the young generation ("Children of Destiny").

When you get past the era-specific topicality, though, there's much to explore. "Almost Always" does mention a certain "game show host," its revisitation of the riff to his '90s tune "Unknown Legend" suggests there was more emotional terrain to trawl there.

Plus, there's no precedent in his vast catalog for something like "Carnival," a Tom Waits-level-bizarre excursion that rolls past the eight-minute mark. And the slow sunset of closing track "Forever" shows that Young still excels in the long form; his knack for hypnosis hasn't left him.

Colorado (2019)

(with Crazy Horse)

In 2018, old compatriot Nils Lofgren replaced guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampredo in Crazy Horse; he had appeared on old classics like After the Gold Rush and Tonight's the Night, so he was the logical choice. His first outing as a proper Horseman was the following year's Colorado, recorded at 9,000 feet above sea level in the Rocky Mountains — as captured touchingly and hysterically in the documentary Mountaintop.

Read More: Living Legends: Nils Lofgren On His Guitar Philosophy, Staying Sober & Meshing With Iconoclasts Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young

At this point, Young's ecological concerns became even more of a focal point in his writing. But while a lesser writer would hector and lecture, Young is crucially able to turn this topic in the light and capture new facets every time.

"She Showed Me Love" frames this issue as a matter of betrayal; Mother Nature gave Young everything he has. "I saw old white guys trying to kill mother nature!" he reports in the stormy rocker; his anger spirals into the transfixing, endlessly repeating coda, where the Horse enter one of their trademark reveries.

While "Shut it Down" is like shattered glass against a wall, Colorado is, on the main, one of the Horse's gentler offerings. "Green is Blue," "Milky Way" and "I Do" are some of his most subtle and simmering songs in years.

But the arguable centerpiece is "Olden Days," for completely different reasons. It doesn't mention climate collapse at all; rather, it's about the people Young has loved and lost to death. "Something happened yesterday/ I need to talk to you," he sings in his fragile falsetto, seemingly singing to any and all of his late friends and colleagues.

And even though it's from the perspective of another character, it's bracing to hear the artist who arguably cares more than any other, singing these three resigned words: "Nothing matters anyway."

Barn (2021)

(with Crazy Horse)

Young used to walk away from the Horse for years between albums; now, we're on a roll, one that seems to continue unabated. Just as Colorado was recorded in Colorado, Barn was made in a barn; it's another case of Young's experimentation with location-specific vibes.

Within those century-old timber walls, Young sings of humanity making it work during challenging times — the "children of the fires and floods" navigating a global pandemic and a half-dozen other calamities. 

"Masked people walking everywhere," he notes in "Song of the Seasons," accompanied by Lofgren's rustic accordion. "It's humanity in my sights." Performances of all these songs and behind-the-scenes footage appear in the documentary of the same name, which is nominated for Best Music Film at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

Elsewhere, Young addresses his recent American citizenship ("Canerican"), turns in another winning example of his noir-ish slow burners ("They Might Be Lost") and stretches out on the chills-inducing, eight-minute "Welcome Back." 

Fans of the Horse at their most extreme might bemoan the quick runtimes; most of the tunes are four-and-a-half minutes or shorter. But Barn shows they excel in this economical setting. Best of all, they've proven to remain a potent force for good in a battered world.

World Record (2022)

(with Crazy Horse)

Three Horse albums in about as many years — there's no precedent for this.

Produced by Rick Rubin and recorded live in the studio, the production puts you right there on the studio floor; the interstitial chatter and noodlings weren't cut, but preserved.

Darker and more hymnal than Barn, World Record carries a tint of desperation, often throwing poetry aside in favor of ultra-direct pleas for reconciliation. In "The World (Is In Trouble Now)," Young grinds out the title chorus over gnarled knots of accordion. "No more war/ Only love," he and his accompanists keen in "Walkin' on the Road (To the Future)."

Fans who wished for longer songs than on Barn might have to wait a little longer; these runtimes are tight too. But the majestic, 15-minute workout "Chevrolet" should assuage any concerns.

Plus, the other tracks show Young's way with a haunting melody remains undimmed; the halting, ascendant bridge to "Overhead" and companionable chorus to "This Old Planet (Changing Days)" are unforgettable. 

Wherever these changing days ultimately lead us — to reclamation or disaster — let it be known that a 77-year-old Young has been a warning bell, a balm and a light in the universe.

Songbook: A Guide To Willie Nelson's Voluminous Discography, From Outlaw Country To Jazzy Material & Beyond

2022 Year In Review: 7 Trends That Defined R&B
(L-R) Mariah Carey, FKA Twigs, Mary J. Blige, Wizkid, SZA, Kehlani

Photo: (L-R) Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images for BET, Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, Scott Dudelson/Getty Images, Timothy Norris/Getty Images, Erika Goldring/WireImage, Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Grey Goose Essences

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2022 Year In Review: 7 Trends That Defined R&B

From the return of beloved mainstays to unexpected collaborations, revisit some of the year's biggest moments in R&B.

GRAMMYs/Dec 26, 2022 - 05:24 pm

2022 was a glowing year for R&B, with newcomers and legends alike shattering claims that the genre is on the brink of losing its popularity. It was quite the opposite, actually — newer R&B stars like Flo helped revive '00s nostalgia, and veterans like Babyface showed that there's strength in collaboration.

As the world re-emerges from the pandemic, artists channeled a brighter energy in their music, using more upbeat melodies and lyrics that emphasized fun and romance. Chlöe provided the twerk-friendly anthems, while FKA Twigs' Caprisongs mixtape featured a song for every kind of party imaginable.

There were plenty more R&B stars new and old who contributed to the genre's shine this year. Below, revisit some of 2022's biggest moments in R&B.

The Ladies Seduced Us

R&B has always maintained a sensual core, and the women of the genre confidently reminded listeners of that fact throughout 2022. On her second album Age/Sex/Location, ​​Ari Lennox explored the ebbs and flows of lust with songs like the NSFW "Leak It" (featuring Chlöe) and the flirtatious "Hoodie." Chlöe also continued to unleash her seductive goddess on her solo single, "Surprise."

Two years before SZA dropped her long-anticipated second album, SOS, in December, she showed off her pole-dancing skills in a 2020 Instagram post teasing single "Shirt." (And when lead single "Good Days" arrived in March, she continued her seduction in the outro of the music video.) The LP details the journey of post-lust heartbreak and how to regain one's confidence, from the sneaky affair of "Low" to feeling empty on the punk rock-inspired "F2F."

Peacock's Bel-Air star Coco Jones proved her singing ability was equally as strong as her acting skills, as she captured hearts with her debut EP, What I Didn't Tell You, including the yearning single "ICU." Amber Mark, also a fellow newcomer, released her debut album Three Dimensions Deep. The LP features an array of genres, but songs like "Softly" are what really entranced listeners.

Singers From Across the Pond Ruled

The appreciation for R&B spans shores, and British artists delivered fresh spins on the genre. Cheltenham's FKA Twigs set the energetic tone with the January release of her first mixtape, Caprisongs, which is filled with a kaleidoscope of sounds from drum and bass to trap. Leicester's Mahalia navigated heartbreak with her Letter To Ur Ex EP. Southampton native Craig David tapped back into his '00s style with his nostalgic eighth album, 22, which opens with an interpolation of fellow R&B star Jon B.'s 1998 classic, "They Don't Know."

After winning over stateside fans in 2018 with her GRAMMY-winning single "Boo'd Up," London-born Ella Mai returned with her sophomore album Heart on My Sleeve — a self-described "therapy session" that highlighted the artist's diaristic songwriting. London also spawned a new girl group this year with Flo, a trio who channeled the heydays of '00s pop&B with their debut EP, The Lead.

Afrobeats Trickled Into The Genre

Afrobeats' international popularity has surged over the past few years, so much so that other genres are now borrowing its infectious groove. This year, R&B singers infused the genre into their own sounds, further showcasing Afrobeats' versatility.

FKA Twigs' Caprisongs features "Jealousy," a mellow collab with burgeoning Nigerian artist Rema. Two months later, Rema dropped R&B-infused music of his own on his debut album, Rave & Roses, which featured guests like 6lack and Chris Brown.

The month of June gave way to sweltering summer collaborations. Diddy paired up with Bryson Tiller on the brooding "Gotta Move On," which scored the music mogul his 11th No. 1 on Billboard's Adult R&B Airplay chart. And in true Diddy fashion, he dropped a "Queens" version featuring Yung Miami and Ashanti.

Not long after, Chris Brown and Wizkid joined forces for "Call Me Every Day." Marking their third collaboration, the sultry smash illustrated just why they're crowned the princes of R&B and Afrobeats, respectively.

Artists Took It Back To The Club

R&B is not always about love songs and heartbreak. Rather than dwell in their feelings, a handful of singers opted for a more lighthearted approach in their music. After jumpstarting her solo era with last year's booty anthem "Have Mercy," Chlöe kept the ode to curves going with "Treat Me." Built atop a sample of Bubba Sparxxx and the Ying Yang Twins' 2005 hit "Ms. New Booty," "Treat Me" is a self-confidence anthem.

Baby Tate also borrowed an Atlanta crunk staple from the same year for "Ain't No Love." Featuring fellow Georgia native 2 Chainz, the bouncy tune samples Ciara's "Oh" collaboration with Ludacris, spinning the '00s classic into a modern-day jam.

On the opposite coast, Los Angeles' own Blxst solidified his signature laid-back style with his debut album, Before You Go. Lead single "About You" is best served with a cold one and a two-step.

Kehlani then took listeners to their native Bay Area with April's Blue Water Road album (where Blxst also makes an appearance). The Slick Rick-sampling "Wish I Never" is the ultimate '90s house party jam while the upbeat "Up At Night" with Justin Bieber will do just what its title implies.

Other club genres also came into play, with Ravyn Lenae experiencing house euphoria on Hypnos' "Xtasy" and FKA Twigs going full dancehall alongside shygirl with Caprisongs' "Papi Bones."

There Were Many '90s Celebrations

The '90s still has a tight grip on R&B's current sound, and the artists who ruled that decade proudly reminded us of that fact in 2022. For the 25th anniversary of Mariah Carey's transitional Butterfly album, the icon released a special re-edition that features an updated version of "The Roof" (with added vocals from Brandy) and "Whenever You Call" (with Brian McKnight), a live version of "My All" from VH1 Divas Live, the "Amorphous Anniversary Club Remix" of the title track and more.

Usher also got in the commemorative spirit, releasing My Way (25th Anniversary Edition) — which happens to share the same Sept. 16 anniversary as Carey's Butterfly. The new edition included reimagined versions of three tracks: "My Way (Ryan James Carr Remake)," "Nice & Slow (Ryan James Carr Remake)" and "You Make Me Wanna… (Ryan James Carr Remake)."

To commemorate another 25th anniversary, Erykah Badu celebrated her GRAMMY-winning Baduizm debut with a pair of shows at London's Royal Festival Hall.

Other '90s celebrations came from R&B quartet Xscape, who received the Lady of Soul honor at the 2022 Soul Train Awards, and new artist LAYA, who honored Missy Elliott with a cover of the rapper's 1997 single "Sock It 2 Me" for Women's History Month.

Alt-R&B Girls Made A Return

The beauty of R&B is in its sonic diversity. Alternative R&B has blossomed in popularity over the years, and 2022 saw the return of some of the subgenre's leaders.

Santigold made a thrilling return with Spirituals, the singer's first album in six years. An emotional journey through lockdown, the LP fuses gospel, electronica, punk and pop, all tied together with Santigold's signature yelps.

Another long-awaited comeback came from Kelela, who re-emerged in September after a five-year hiatus. Her single "Washed Away" is the launchpad to her second album Raven, which will be released next February. "Raven is my first breath taken in the dark, an affirmation of Black femme perspective in the midst of systemic erasure and the sound of our vulnerability turned to power," Kelela shared in a press release.

Although Solange didn't give fans new music in 2022, the singer was honored with the 2022 NYU Global Trailblazer Award for Creative and Artistic Excellence in March. And ever the ever-unpredictable star, she composed a score for the New York City Ballet that came to life with a performance at the Lincoln Center in September.

Old School Met New School

This year, there was no separation of generations. Rather, the "legend vs. newcomer" hierarchy was completely dismissed, as artists from the '60s to today joined forces in the recording studio.

Ronald Isley and Beyoncé wooed soul fans with their rework of "Make Me Say It Again, Girl," which originally appeared on the Isley Brothers' 1975 album, The Heat Is On. Isley's wife/manager Kandy told Billboard that Beyoncé's mother Tina Knowles-Lawson was integral in the collaboration, marking a full-circle moment for the star, who grew up listening to the group. "The fact that they are giving us permission to put it out at this time is just overly special," Kandy said.

Ciara and Summer Walker's lilting vocals complemented each other on "Better Thangs," while  SZA (whose stage name pays homage to Wu-Tang Clan member RZA) featured the late Ol' Dirty Bastard on SOS. Elsewhere, PJ Morton's latest album is a celebration of collaboration, with guests Stevie Wonder and Nas on "Water," and Jill Scott and Alex Isley on "Still Believe."

In October, Babyface passed down his GRAMMY-winning torch to the women of R&B with his collaboration album, Girls Night Out. Solely featuring the new generation of female singers, from Muni Long to Ari Lennox, the album showed that romance has no age.

Mary J. Blige donned her Queen of Hip-Hop Soul crown on her latest album, which features rappers like Dave East and Fivio Foreign. On the opposite end, Toronto R&B duo dvsn teamed with male R&B group Jagged Edge on "What's Up" from the former's Working on My Karma album.

Whether it was R&B's legends or promising newcomers making waves, this year had plenty of proof that the genre is still thriving — and never going anywhere.

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