New Music Friday Graphic

Four exploratory albums dropped Friday, revealing never-before-heard sides of artists like The Neighbourhood and Joji.

I’ve been patiently waiting for The Neighbourhood’s release of “Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones,” since their last album dropped in 2018, and it didn’t disappoint. Departing from the band’s indie-pop sound heard on their 2012 hit “Sweater Weather,” this album reveals a more mellow, acoustic and vintage vibe. Both emotional expressions of the band’s newfound take on easy listening, “Pretty Boy” and “Tobacco Sunburst” are soft pleas for love and sentiment. “Hell or High Water” is backed by a Western-sounding guitar and a plucky melody, further establishing the melancholic ambiance of the album.

Fronted by a man in a head-to-toe silver spandex suit, fittingly named Chip Chrome, the band adopted a new persona for the album. This alter ego is reminiscent of that of Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie’s second self, who had his own trials and tribulations apart from Bowie. The group’s departure from their classic indie roots is reinforced by this otherworldly image of silver superstars.

Machine Gun Kelly, known for his in-your-face hip-hop, also departed from his original sound with his new pop-punk album. A guitar-driven album, “Tickets to My Downfall” boasts elements of soul-searching and raw vocals. If you didn’t know this album came out in 2020, you might assume it appeared on the scene during the height of pop-punk anthems.

Featuring artists such as Halsey and blackbear, the album delves into Kelly’s vocal talent parting from his quick-paced raps of the past. The song “jawbreaker” is a classic example of mid-2000s pop-punk with its angsty lyrics and powerful drum beat. “concert for aliens” characterizes Kelly’s revamped style with its opening line “The headlines say the world is over / Whatever happened to a fairytale ending?” All and all, Kelly fits right in with pop-punk legends such as Green Day and Paramore.

Artist Joji continues the synth-pop sound he’s known for on “Nectar,” further expanding his sultry repertoire with new alternative influences. By mixing elements of brooding R&B with overpowering computerized backings, the album sounds disconnected. Though the album tackles themes of love and longing, the expressive lyrics are overshadowed by an unexpressive delivery, again dominated by background synthesizers.

The vibe I get from the album is that of background music—good for studying, not for active listening. The exception is “Gimmie Love,” the most popular single and only song to effectively match vocals and melody together.

Rounding out the group of new albums, Sufjan Stevens’ “The Ascension” explores everything under the sun. From death to desire, Stevens’ detailed and dark exploration of numerous facets of life is elevated by his buzzing electronic melodies.

The album as a whole dances from one raw topic to another, such as faith and sorrow, carried by simplistic lyrics that easily convey Stevens’ messages. Stevens allows the music to lead the conversation, with the lyrics pairing perfectly as a form of storytelling. The title track mixes pulsating piano with honest feelings about hopelessness, recognizable in “Let the record show what I couldn’t quite confess / For by living for myself I was living for unrest.” Listening to the full album is like opening up a diary, with candid narratives about hope and fear bursting from the pages and into listener’s ears.

These albums, along with numerous others, showcased a fusion of sounds discovered by artists during their times in isolation, marking the beginnings of newfangled, genre-bending tracks I expect to be released for the foreseeable future.

Hanna Ellington is an assistant editor for the Arkansas Traveler.

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