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  • Writer's pictureNoah Castellanos

Twelve Albums for 2024

Updated: May 9

Because the last time I covered music on a blog was both fun to make and actually got some decent reception from other folks in the Penumbra editing room, here are twelve quick reviews for twelve new albums in no particular order that totally aren’t an excuse for me to just ramble about all the music I’ve been listening to lately:


COWBOY CARTER by Beyoncé - As a seasoned Beyoncé hater, I went into COWBOY CARTER fully expecting to say that all the fans were wrong and Beyoncé is not the saving grace of country music, and while I do still think that latter point is true, I’d be lying if I said the album wasn’t one of my favorites of the year so far. From the gentle acoustic guitar on “PROTECTOR” to the fierce rap bars being spit on “SPAGHETTII”, the album is less a straight foray into country music than it is a country-themed rollercoaster of chaos, with Beyoncé’s vocals and stellar production team guiding the listener through all seventy-one minutes of its runtime. Yes, the missteps are suitably massive (the Lemonade-esque cover of Dolly Parton’s “JOLENE” is still baffling to listen to), but those compared to everything that makes COWBOY CARTER an excellent record as a whole is little more than dust in the wind.

(Highlights: “AMERIICAN REQUIEM”, “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” & “YA YA” / Grade: 8/10)


Don’t Forget Me by Maggie Rogers - Much like her last album Surrender, Maggie’s talents as a songwriter really shine when she’s not trying to make incredibly by-the-numbers pop tracks. Songs like “The Kill” and the title track sound perfectly fine on first listen, but compared to the joyful singing on “So Sick of Dreaming” or the moment all the rock gets stripped back for a somber piano ballad on “I Still Do”, they’re ironically quite easy to forget, considering this album’s title. There’s certainly nothing grievous about the album by any means, but Maggie’s still got a ways to go before I can personally start calling myself a fan.

(Highlights: “So Sick of Dreaming”, “I Still Do” & “On & On & On” / Grade: 6/10)


On The Lips by Molly Lewis - After releasing two ethereal EP’s in 2021 and ‘22 respectively, professional whistler Molly Lewis is back with her longest, most nondescript project to date. While the occasional slips into Western folk and dream pop are fun to hear, a large chunk of the album is taken up by lounge pastiches that are relaxing about as much as they are “been there, done that” for anyone who’s had even mild experience with the genre. It’s certainly not the worst jazz record out there, so I do suggest you give it a listen if an instrumental jazz album by a professional whistler sounds even a little bit interesting to you, but I can’t promise you’ll get a whole lot out of it if you do.

(Highlights: “Crushed Velvet ft. Thee Sacred Souls”, “Moon Tan” and “The Crying Game”  / Grade: 6/10)


The Past is Still Alive by Hurray for the Riff Raff - Shedding the pop flavorings that 2022’s LIFE ON EARTH was practically drowned in, the New York-based rock band is back with a throwback to their country roots on The Past is Still Alive, only this time with the songwriting talent and stellar production of a seasoned veteran in the music industry. The album’s energy does wane a bit as it progresses, but considering Alynda Segarra’s wonderfully rustic singing of lyrics longing for America’s past on tracks like “Buffalo” and “Colossus of Roads”, it’s hard to not appreciate the band bringing a bit of heart and soul into the mix during the album’s better moments. While it’s still not quite as good as their 2017 racial rock opera The Navigator, The Past is Still Alive is definitely the best country-themed release the band has had in a very long time and I’m very eager to see where they take it from here.

(Highlights: “Buffalo”, “Snake Plant (The Past Is Still Alive)” & “Ogallala” / Grade: 7/10)


Playing Favorites by Sheer Mag - While the band has always been rather divisive for listeners on account of the rather shrill vocals from lead singer Tina Halladay, Playing Favorites seeks to take things back to basics with rocking tunes while occasionally giving us some new elements to the formula like vocal filters and extensive instrumental breaks. While the end results are certainly better than the incredibly sterile 80’s throwback A Distant Call they released a few years ago, the new changes to the formula do little to stop the band from sounding a bit more formulaic than they do fun, especially considering the healthy fusion of these familiar sounds with disco-influenced dance rock that they deployed on their sophomore album Need to Feel Your Love was already quite the refreshing mix-up when they tried it seven years ago. It’s definitely a far cry from their best, but if they manage to hold on to this creative drive they’ve got going on, I think they can pull through with a pretty solid album the next time around.

(Highlights: “All Lined Up”, “I Gotta Go” & “Golden Hour” / Grade: 6/10)


Prelude to Ecstasy by The Last Dinner Party - The debut studio album from a social media-hyped U.K. rock band, Prelude to Ecstasy is both one of the best rock albums of the year and one that I’ve already showered in an extensive amount of praise in a previous blog on the Penumbra website. In short, the five-fold girl band manages to drum up twelve solid tracks by mashing vintage rock soundscapes with 80’s nostalgia and overtly feminist lyrics that really give those old sounds some new flavor. If you haven’t listened to it already, please do; you’d be hard-pressed to find a rock album as genuinely fun to listen to as this one anytime soon.

(Highlights: “Caesar on a TV Screen”, “Sinner” & “My Lady of Mercy” / Grade: 8/10)


Ramona by Grace Cummings - Only two years since shedding her lo-fi country roots with the stellar Storm Queen, Australian folk singer Grace Cummings is back with another batch of ballads and slow jams that feature some of her best and most varied production to date… for better and for worse. While certain tracks like “I’m Getting Married To The War” and “Everybody’s Somebody” exemplify Grace’s grizzled voice with the best instrumentation possible, certain songs like “Work Today (and Tomorrow)” or the oddly 80’s inspired “On & On” wind up getting stuck in the mud with either subpar songwriting or shifts in genre that just don’t work whatsoever. In short, the album is definitely lesser in quality compared to her previous outings (Storm Queen and her Bob Dylan-esque debut Refuge Cove are both fantastic listens), but Ramona still stands as a spellbinding record that I highly suggest you listen to just to get a taste of one of my personal favorite voices in indie music at the moment.

(Highlights: “Something Going ‘Round”, “Everybody’s Somebody” & “A Precious Thing” / Grade: 7/10)


The Tortured Poets Department / The Anthology by Taylor Swift - As a born-again Taylor Swift fan, coming back around to liking projects like Red and Speak Now in recent years, it brings me no joy to say that The Tortured Poets Department gives Reputation a run for its money by being the worst album in Taylor’s discography, but alas, it turns out that that is exactly the case. The 80’s pop vibes that worked on Midnights resemble little more than a shambling corpse of their old selves on The Department, each song being so monotonous and one-note that only some of the most ludicrous lyrics of Taylor’s career manage to stand out among the thirty-one song tracklist for all of the worst reasons. (“Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” and “thanK you aIMee”, especially, border on self-parody at times.) While the Anthology half of the singer’s impromptu deluxe edition does feature some mildly better songs on it sometimes, any improvements it has does little to stop The Tortured Poets Department from sounding bloated, tired and in need of a Taylor's Version revision less than a month after it's been released.

(Highlights: “loml”, “I Look in People’s Windows” & “Peter” / Grade: 4/10)


These Nuts by Ninja Sex Party -  The eleventh studio album from the LA-based comedy rock duo Ninja Sex Party, These Nuts sheds any pretext of subtlety the spandex-wearing 80’s freaks could’ve possibly had by leaning as hard into their influences as feasibly possible. Jimmy Buffet-esque reggae on “Death Metal”, fast wordplay and rocking blues bars ripped straight from The Black Crowes on “Dig Ol’ Bick”; the band’s somehow managed to wring something out of these familiar sounds while sticking to the same style of childish humor that’s been a staple of the band’s sound just as much as the surprisingly above average musicianship and songwriting talent. Even if the jokes within the songs don’t always land, I still applaud the duo for taking something that shouldn’t work in the slightest and crafting their influences into songs that are both wholly their own and that are only mildly embarrassing to listen to in your free time.

(Highlights: “I Own a Car”, “Dance ‘Til You Stop ft. Tom Cardy” & “Dig Ol’ Bick” / Grade: 7/10)


This Could Be Texas by English Teacher - While it would’ve been perfectly fine for the U.K. rock outfit known as English Teacher to just serve up more of what made their 2022 EP Polyawkward such a strange yet incredibly fun listen, pulling out all the stops for their debut album this year has definitely yielded some interesting results. Yes, as much fun as the band sounds like they’re having, delivering chugging guitar riffs on “The World’s Biggest Paving Slab” or playful buildups on the album’s title track, moments like the odd vocals on “The Best Tears of Your Life” and its follow-up “You Blister My Paint” prove that it is possible to fly a bit too close to the sun in terms of balancing the weirdness with groovy rock jams. While the band may have bitten off more than they could chew with this one, it’s clear that there’s still a lot of potential in these guys to prove themselves as one of the finest rock bands to come out of the indie scene in recent memory.

(Highlights: “The World’s Biggest Paving Slab”, “This Could Be Texas” & “Nearly Daffodils” / Grade: 7/10)


World Wide Whack by Tierra Whack - Since dropping the otherworldly mixtape Whack World back in 2018 (in which she managed to cram fifteen stellar song snippets into fifteen minutes), I have been waiting in eager anticipation for something with a bit more to chew on, and now, six years, many singles and three mediocre EPs later, World Wide Whack is finally here to deliver in the form of an incredibly subpar “debut album”. While getting more in tune with her emotional side does offer some pretty engaging lyrics from time to time, the general lack of energy throughout the entire album makes things feel far more like an exercise than they should arguably be. Maybe someday, we’ll get back to the days of the earworms on Whack World or the lyrically impressive bars being spit on singles like “Unemployed” and “Peppers and Onions”, but until then, World Wide Whack is definitely a sign that Tierra still has quite a ways to go before she finds her way the world of rap music.

(Highlights: “MOOD SWING”, “IMAGINARY FRIENDS” & “27 CLUB” / Grade: 6/10)


Your Day Will Come by Chanel Beads - The newest album on the list from the newest band on the list, the New York indie pop duo known as Chanel Beads delivers a debut album that’s equal parts happy and harrowing, somehow. Every lo-fi pop instrumental on songs like “Idea June” and “Embarrassed Dog” is contrasted with sinister tones like the lyrics of “I Think I Saw” or the slow descent into dissonant rock riffs on the second half of “Urn”, making for a pretty engaging listening experience when it comes to blurring the line between traditional pop and the noisier, more experimental side of indie music. It’s definitely not going to be for everyone, but I think with enough time and work spent on narrowing in on their sound, this duo might just have something up their sleeves that you’ll want to look out for.

(Highlights: “Police Scanner”, “Idea June” & “Coffee Culture” / Grade: 7/10)


            And with that, the list comes to an end, but don’t worry! My scores are only just that: my scores. Chances are that there’s loads of albums that you’ve either listened to or will be listening to this year that I’ll be more than happy to listen to at some point. Justice, St. Vincent, Dua Lipa, The Lemon Twigs, Rapsody, Lake Street Dive, The Aquabats!, Remi Wolf: the list goes on. Billie Eilish is doing a surprise album this year. Willow Smith is doing amazing jazz pop this year. The Decemberists’ first album in six years is getting released on my birthday, which is very apt because I’ve loved them since high school.

The world of music may be huge and truly impossible to conquer, but setting off on your musical journey with albums either like these or nothing like these is definitely a decent way to start, in my opinion.

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