The Rotation: Albums We're Listening to Right Now

Albums still matter. Here's what we're listening to right now, including Earl Sweatshirt, FKA twigs, Mavi, Caroline Polachek, Danny Brown, Grip, and more.

The Rotation
P&P Original

Image by Sho Hanafusa

The Rotation

Every month, we try to keep up the daily onslaught of new music, and every month we highlight the best new artists. But what about the albums? In today's non-stop streaming economy, singles and playlists are more popular than ever, and the traditional full-length project has become less of a priority.

To most music fans, albums still matter, and a good album is an opportunity for an artist to present depth and versatility. Since we're usually focused on sharing all our favorite new singles, we realize that we don't talk about albums enough, so we're starting a new feature.

Each month, we'll ask some Pigeons & Planes contributors and friends of the brand to share which albums they're currently listening to and what they like about them. Here is the latest installation of The Rotation.

Earl Sweatshirt - 'FEET OF CLAY'

Earl Sweatshirt Feet Of Clay

Favorite songs: "EL TORO COMBO MEAL," "74," "MTOMB"

The opening seconds of each song on Earl Sweatshirt's FEET OF CLAY are seeds about to crack open and grow into something more developed, but they never do. Instead, Earl keeps piling on syllable after syllable until the underdeveloped beat is buried so deeply that even if it sprouted a sign of life, it would never reach the surface.

It all makes sense, I guess. That's what you get from a project that Earl described as “a collection of observations and feelings recorded during the death throes of a crumbling empire.” It's dark, isolated, and heavy.

Something about it is refreshing, though. Music—hip-hop especially—has been commercialized into oblivion, with the big thing evolving into the next big thing so quickly that the cycle is numbing. The alternative that Earl offers on FEET OF CLAY is challenging and sometimes unpleasant, but it's also therapeutic. These songs don't hit that sweet spot of a big beat drop or a clever punchline, but the hypnotizing bars and morbidly repetitive beats demand a meditative state, a state I'm more than willing to sink into these days.—Jacob Moore

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Favorite songs: "home with you," "fallen alien," "cellophane"

It's hard not to discuss MAGDALENE without considering what FKA twigs went through over the past four years, especially with the knowledge that the album was very much born out of all-encompassing heartbreak and personal suffering. This is evident in the album's lyrics—she paints a picture of struggle, pain, and internal conflict, drawing links between her role in a public breakup with the story of the Bible's most misunderstood "sinful woman," Mary Magdalene. On "home with you," she also alludes to the health issues that plagued her throughout last year, and the agony in her voice on the album is palpable, particularly on "mirrored heart." But MAGDALENE is anything but tragic.

FKA twigs has always had a very singular vision for her art, and having been lucky enough to see her perform just days before the release of MAGDALENE, the control she exerts is now all the more clear to me. Through pairing vulnerable lyrics with experimental production that features bouts of pop sensibility, perhaps the songs hint towards something other than tragedy. Perhaps MAGDALENE is actually an album of epiphanies and a triumphant assertion: of her worth, of her freedom, of her liberation. After four years in the public eye, it appears that FKA twigs is finally putting herself first.—Joyce Ng

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Mavi - 'Let The Sun Talk'

mavi lead

Favorite songs: "Self Love," "Moonfire," "Eye/I and I/Nation" 

If you’ve listened to the latest Earl Sweatshirt release, you’ve heard Mavi, the 20-year-old Charlotte rapper who takes the spotlight on “El Toro Combo Meal.” “So we goin' to the grave with this shit,” he raps breathlessly. “If we join the second line/The ancestors'll hand us a drum to load a second time.” His latest project, Let the Sun Talk, dropped on October 18; bringing forth a warm, dense rush of language, Mavi doesn’t go for the typical verse-hook-verse structure but he still wants to embed lines in your brain.

“Self Love” is my favorite song at the moment, and encapsulates what makes Mavi such a welcome presence. Produced by Nephew Hesh, the beat is a gentle soul loop, giving you the feeling of early No I.D. For five minutes, Mavi unfurls his gifts before you, speeding up in tempo and falling back, sounding confident and unhurried for one stretch, on edge and bolting the next.

One of the most exciting things about hip-hop right now is the deep sense of community among certain like-minded artists. Earl, Mavi and MIKE are but three rappers who share similar thematic concerns, who are driving for a new kind of unvarnished honesty about inner turmoil, while also searching for the pockets of hope you find in friends and family and art. Their kinship and support of one another keeps me listening.—Ross Scarano

Danny Brown - 'uknowhatimsayin?'

danny brown

Favorite songs: "Savage Nomad," "3 Tearz," "Dirty Laundry"

Danny Brown raps the way I feel. Jokes lead into moments of middle-aged reflection before a deranged beat snaps me back to attention. Because of this, it’s been easy for me to slide back into the confines of his latest album uknowhatimsayin? week after week. The Detroit rapper’s old-school tendencies meet his experimental musical ambitions like never before across these 11 tracks. Where else can you hear bars about being as sexy as Roy Orbison next to zonky breakbeats from a revived Q-Tip? 

Tip, the album’s executive producer, and Brown are an odd couple whose chemistry is the stuff of hardcore rap nerd dreams. The very act of rapping inspires Danny’s every move from standup comedy to Pat Benatar to dunking on LinkedIn’s automated email service. The fact that  uknowhatimsayin? is as focused as it is is a small marvel. This is Danny’s house now, and I’m just living in it.—Dylan Green

Read our interview with Danny Brown here.

Caroline Polachek - 'Pang'


Favorite songs: "Look At Me Now," "Pang," "Ocean of Tears"

Pang is the singer, songwriter, and producer Caroline Polachek's third solo album, but the first released under her own name. First emerging in 2008 as the vocalist of Chairlift, Polachek went on to work with Blood Orange, SBTRKT, Charli XCX, PC Music, and even Beyoncé, with whom she co-wrote 2013's "No Angel." Polachek's sharp pop writing, her classical training, and her experimental electronic tendencies all come together on Pang, a singular record that feels both vividly futuristic and referential of the pop music of year's past.

Polachek explores many moods and feelings across these 14 songs, from euphoria to the pain and questioning that comes when relationships start to fray at the seams and eventually fall to pieces. The lyrics range from broad brush imagery to painfully specific, never more than on the stunning "Look At Me Now." It seems right that this is the first album Polachek released under her own name; it centers her voice and is cohesive and singular, her vision communicated without being diluted on one of 2019's most interesting albums.—Alex Gardner

Jack Larsen - 'Mildew'

Jack Larsen Mildew

Favorite songs: “Rigid,” “Move On,” “Bubba”

There’s been an abundance of coming-of-age music in the last few years, but few albums have tackled these themes as confidently as Jack Larsen’s idiosyncratic Mildew. Inspired by the time he spent bedridden with a mysterious illness, which later turned out to be an allergic reaction to the mold growing in his apartment, Mildew is beautifully crafted psychedelic pop at its absolute finest.

Mildew is a navigator of my growth—a story that took shape during a brutal Chicago winter earlier this year,” he explained to us. “The album represents my best attempt to get past a period of uncertainty and disarray as it acts as a form of escape into a much more dynamic world.” The project is an amalgamation of everything the Chicago songwriter has been working towards. There’s an ambition to Mildew that recalls some of the Beach Boys’ more grandiose, stranger works, wasting no time across its sprawling eight tracks. Nothing that has come out in 2019 sounds quite like Mildew.—Joe Price

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LUCKI - ‘Days B4 III’


Favorite songs: “4 The Betta,” “RIP Act,” “Last Time Mentioning (Good Riddance)”

There was a famous boxing match back in 2005 between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis. In the tenth round of the fight, near the very end, Luis knocks down a tired Corrales twice, both times nearly for the full count. Corrales keeps getting back up, though. By the final minutes of the round, his eyes are so swollen and his body so tired, he can barely stand. Finally, when all hope is nearly lost, Corrales inches back. He catches Jose Luis with a few quick shots, and just like that, after dominating the fight, Jose Luis is knocked out and Diego Corrales wins.

Days B4 III, the latest project from Lucki, feels a similar way. Having endured management changes, drug problems, and everything in between, Lucki’s career has seen just about every obstacle under the sun—and yet, through it all, the Chicago native simply refuses to go down. Now six years into his career and still on the way up, Lucki’s resilience has become one of his defining characteristics, stretching muddied hymns and chilling introspection into a renowned catalog of albums, each one building on the honesty of the last.

With Days B4 III, Lucki’s ongoing fight seems to take a turn for the better. He’s on billboards now, things feel more structured than ever before, and per usual, Lucki is letting loose some of the best raps of his career thus far. We’re looking at a rapper who has been down numerous times, but never for the count. Lucki’s persistence has yielded impressive progression throughout the years, and Days B4 III is the symbol of a winning fight.—Seamus Fay

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Hana Vu - 'Nicole Kidman / Anne Hathaway'

hana vu

Favorite songs: "Insider," "At The Party," "Outside"

When I first heard “Insider,” the third track on Hana Vu’s album-length dual EP Nicole Kidman/Anne Hathaway, playing as a short clip on my friend’s Instagram story, I was shocked. The rich synths and crooning vocals pushed the limits of bedroom pop while soaking in every bit of its intense nostalgia. It was the first song I’d heard in a long time that had an immediate, deeply emotional impact on me. 

At only 19, Vu’s deep voice belies her age—she produced and released her first EP How Many Times Have You Driven By in high school—but aspects of her youth still shine through. Her opening track “At the Party” rings with that familiar youthful abandon, the kind that gets you carelessly dancing around your room, even if you still kind of hate yourself. “Everyone in the Room” hints at the intense infatuation of young love when it comes to how “everyone in the room looks like you.” And the aptly-titled “Actress” speaks to Vu’s girlish obsession with female actresses, like those who became the namesake for the dual EP.

As a whole, the record doesn’t feel quite complete—but Vu knows that. That’s why she purposefully choose not to make it her debut album, she told Nylon. Regardless, the work overflows with moments of vividly poignant emotion and gorgeous production. It’s undoubtedly a step forward for the growing artist, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.—Eda Yu

Brittany Howard - 'Jaime'


Favorite songs: "Goat Head," "He Loves Me," "Stay High"

We’re all distracted and our attention spans are dwindling. Undoubtedly you’ve noticed. Perhaps you figured it out when Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” topped charts, but didn’t top two minutes. Maybe the rise and fall of Vine and post-Vine surge of Tik-Tok clued you in. “Short” as a description of content so often becomes synonymous with “insignificant.” Whereas some compact things are considered focused and measured, many are considered trifles of a digital age that demands the succinct, gimmickry that’s almost over before it begins. That’s the entry price of attention. Shortness can imply undercooking. Lack of fully formed ideas. Absence of proper resources to see a vision through. Even celebrated artists like Frank Ocean and rising star King Princess can have their shorter songs called out for feeling incomplete, leaving a sense of longing for more (a quality typically in the eye of the beholder, not the creator).

The best ideas should only be as long as they need to be. Brittany Howard’s stunning solo debut Jaime clocks in at a tight 35 minutes and 22 seconds. Its brevity belies its depth and careful consideration. Any album that begins with an extended vamp from a tight band and the line “I just don’t want to be back in that place again” (on opener “History Repeats”) promises to require multiple full listens. No note feels unplaced, no lyric unconsidered. Jaime packs a dizzying number of sounds and ideas into its short run time, a summary of soul, blues, and rock that shows Howard’s mind to be as fertile as her musical gifts are many. Her voice is an instrument of the kind only experience can mold, lending incalculable weight to her words. “He Loves Me” and “Georgia” trace relationships of different kinds, mingling love, faith, and identity with a deftness so often the signature of the greatest writers. “Tomorrow” and “13th Century Metal” explore varied musical ideas without ever feeling overstuffed—songs that benefit from the album’s tighter run time, their structural adventurism and length well-earned.

The album’s centerpiece and seeming thesis, however, is “Goat Head.” One of the year’s most stunning songs, it hinges on the story of a racist incident Howard and her family suffered when she was a child. A hateful neighbor beheaded a goat and placed it in her family’s car. The revelation of this moment doesn’t arrive until near the song’s end—after Howard has painted as spare and true an image of the American south’s violent dissonance as one can. The story lands with a heart-dropping thud, delivered in one line: “Who slashed my dad’s tires and put a goat head in the back?” “Goat Head” contains multitudes that could inspire a book on race, identity, family, history, and innocence lost. It is barely longer than three minutes, a novel embedded in sound. Howard’s full magic reveals itself here, her poeticism and honesty, her sense of timing and pace, her control of her band. In microcosm, it show the mastery that allows an album to be very short and reveal new corners of itself on every successive return.—Jon Tanners

Grip - 'Snubnose'

Grip Snubnose

Favorite songs: "He is ... I am," "Menace ... Nigganomics," "Open Arms" 

I'm starting to feel like P&P is turning into a Grip fanpage, but I can't say it enough: Grip is really good. The Atlanta rapper is an up-and-comer, but he's also an old soul who takes pride in the craft of rapping and has a lot to say. Those two qualities might have once been a prerequisite to making a career out of hip-hop, but it's a surprisingly rare combination today.

On Snubnose, Grip puts his nimble rapping ability and storytelling prowess on full display, painting a much bigger picture than any one song on the project. In the era of hit singles and playlist consumption, Grip made an album that holds weight, and the story's just beginning.—Jacob Moore

Read our 2018 interview with Grip here.

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Gang Starr - 'One Of The Best Yet'

Gang Starr One Of The Best Yet

Favorite songs: "Family and Loyalty," "Lights Out," "Hit Man"

Posthumous albums rarely please all fans. Some fall in love with an artist's early work, some latch on to the most recent songs, and some expect a posthumous album to magically capture where an act was headed.

With Gang Starr, the MC/DJ duo comprised of Premier and Guru, there was never any doubt. For over a decade, they were one of the most consistent in hip-hop, and over a decade since their last release, Gang Starr remain true to form on One Of The Best Yet.

Guru passed away in 2010, but Premier continues to carry the torch and pushed to create this album that almost didn't happen. Pride and integrity have always been pillars of Gang Starr's music, and they stand strong in 2019. The messages are universal—maybe even more urgent today—and most importantly, the music holds up.—Jacob Moore

Read more on One Of The Best Yet here.

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Lontalius - 'All I Have'

Lontalius All I Have

Favorite songs: “Make My Dreams Come True,” “Optimistic,” “Carelessly”

There’s nothing flashy about the way Eddie Johnston delivers his lyrics as Lontalius, but that’s exactly what makes them hit harder. His song “All I Wanna Say,” among many others, personally helped me become more comfortable with my identity. His second album, All I Have, builds upon everything that made his songwriting so essential. With a stripped-back length but layered instrumentation, the record speaks volumes with otherwise barebones elements. It’s striking, tender, and something that could undoubtedly help queer youth discover who they are.

Recorded in Los Angeles with Grammy award-winning producer Om’Mas Keith and Jim Fairchild, All I Have moves further away from the electronic R&B approach Jonhston built his name on. With a full band, he’s managed to make his sounds bigger but no less intimate. The simplicity of his delivery, tender and hushed, highlights the breadth of feeling contained within his words. It’s exactly the type of music that will have anyone with a heart weeping at 4 a.m. as rain taps on their window, and if that’s not high praise I don’t know what is.—Joe Price

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Guapdad 4000 - 'Dior Deposits'

guapdad 4000

Favorite songs: “Doing Too Much,” “Izayah,” “Stunt On Ghosts”

Guapdad 4000 is scam rap’s charming leading man, with a warm, raspy voice and an endless string of hilarious, self-aggrandizing nicknames (Ferragamo Falcon, Shia Lebustdown, Valentino Viper, just to name a few). In 2019, the Oakland MC has finessed a few high-profile friendships, social media success, and a string of infectious hooks on Revenge of the Dreamers III to get more ears on his music than ever before, and Dior Deposits is an impressively polished debut that validates the hype.

He’s a charismatic rapscallion on “Gucci Pajamas” and “First Things First,” a shrewd street tough on “Scammin” and “Izayah,” and a reflective, empathetic figure on “Can’t Stop Finessing” and “Stunt On Ghosts.” Dior Deposits is crammed with A-list features, but through most of it I found myself gravitating to his verses and hooks over the ones from his star friends.—Grant Rindner