The 10 Albums You Need to Hear This July

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With most of the blockbuster releases expected in 2016 already on the charts, July was looking a bit bleak for new album releases. But a little scratch beneath the surface reveals some low-key crucial releases from some of music’s biggest (and most embattled) names, as well as a hotly anticipated debut.

This month, we’ve got new LPs from aging pop punks, some long-awaited sequels, sounds of freedom, and hopefully, the return of the Doggfather. But first, let’s jump right into the record we’ve had on repeat for much of our recent waking hours, which just got a “surprise” release just days ahead of it’s official date:

Blood Orange – Freetown Sound (July 1, Domino)

Despite its “official” release date, this record is actually out right now, so if you’re not already doing so, go listen to it right now. It’s the first LP from Devonté Hynes’ Blood Orange project since 2013’s stellar Cupid Deluxe, and references the capital of Sierra Leone, the West African nation whose culture and sound permeates the record. We’ll likely have much more to say about this record in the coming days, but for now, just go listen.

Blink 182 – California (July 1, BMG) Mark, Travis, and Matt are a little old for dick and fart jokes, but that’s never stopped them before. California is the first Blink 182 album with a new member since 1999’s Enema of the State, when Travis replaced original drummer Scott Raynor — Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba has replaced founding member Tom Delonge. Early single “No Future” is a bit tepid, but if nothing else, it will be interesting to hear Skiba’s influence on the rest of the record, as Alkaline Trio songs tend to skew more goth and alcoholic than Blink’s sophomoric brand of self-deprecation.

Maxwell – blackSUMMERS’night (July 1, Columbia)

Sequels are hot right now — pretty much every rapper from the 90s that’s still in the game is pushing a “sequel” to a hit record they made 20 years ago. Maxwell isn’t a rapper, but he seems to have at least one variation on the theme he started with 2009’s BLACKsummers’night. It’s been seven years, and he hasn’t released an LP since, so more so than most, this continuation makes sense. He’s working with all the same collaborators from the first one, and if early single “Fingers Crossed” is any indication, it’ll be feel more jazz than smooth—but still suitable for the bedroom. This is a Maxwell record, after all.

Snoop Dogg – Cool Aid (July 1, Doggystyle)

For some time, Snoop has appeared to be on autopilot, just coasting on his OG reputation, smooth laid-back flow, and seemingly endless marketing opportunities. He’s always had the ability to be one of the nicest MCs in the game, but he hasn’t had to try too hard for quite a while. We’re hoping his renewed dedication to Doggystyle Records — the label he founded in 1995 after his Death Row comeup — will light the spark on his blunted rap career. He’s got a gang of different producers (including Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, J Dilla, Just Blaze, and even Nottz), and guest spots from E-40, Wiz Khalifa, and Too $hort, but most of the record is unadulterated Snoop. We’ve been waiting for a return to form; might this be it?

Aphex Twin – Cheetah (July 8, Warp)

Tha digital GAWD Richard D. James is back, with a new EP and his first music video in 17 years. The above clip, for Cheetah track “CIRKLON3” was directed by a 12-year-old Irish kid James found on YouTube. Staying on brand, Warp is being coy about the project’s details, taking out print ads and sending posters to record stores rather than any substantial info on the project. We’ll just have to wait and hear, which, if we’re being honest, is fine by us.

The Avalanches – Wildflower (July 8, XL Recordings)

The Avalanches are one of those bands occupying that weird space where most of their fans likely never heard their music while they were actually releasing music. Wildflower is the first record from the sample-loving Australians since 2000’s ironically titled Since I Left You, and while the first single, “Frank Sinatra,” featuring Danny Brown and MF Doom, got mixed reviews, the second, “Subways,” is a little more vintage Avalanches. Outside a couple guest rappers, Wildflower — which has been in production since at least 2005, seems to be a direct continuation of the vibe set on Since I Left You. It should be interesting to see how well the ahead-of-its-time sound will fare more than 15 years later.

Blu & Nottz – Titans in the Flesh (July 15, Coalmine)

Blu has been holding it down in the underground for a hot minute, quietly releasing clever songs with tight raps and inspired instrumentation. But with his collaboration with Nottz — an OG producer with credits on records from the likes of Biggie, Busta, Snoop, 50, and -faces both Ghost and Scar—he leaves subtlety behind. The followup to their 2013 EP Gods in the Spirit, Titans in the Flesh is as self-reverential as they come, as the pair seek to assert their lyrical and musical dominance. Braggadocio well-earned.

Clams Casino – 32 Levels (July 15, Columbia)

Clammy Clams is one of the hottest young producers in the game right now, with production credits on songs by Vince Staples, Lil B, A$AP Rocky, FKA Twigs, Blood Orange, and The Weeknd. He’s crossed into the mainstream consciousness with his three instrumental mixtapes, but 32 Levels is his first LP of complete songs to bear his name. “All Nite,” an early single featuring Vince Staples, perfectly complements the rapper’s default flow, to the point where it’s hard to tell who is leading who. Regardless, the rest of 32 Levels is sure to knock.

Gucci Mane – Everybody Looking (July 22)

It’s true: since he got out of jail early for good behavior, Everybody Looking at Gucci Mane, indeed. It’s not that Gucci let incarceration stop him from recording, but now that he’s out, all anyone can talk about his ice cream tattoo, the track he released within 24 hours of being released, and the theory that he’s actually a government clone. Much of the clone talk is related to the fact that Gucci is cleaner and leaner than he’s ever been — does he have a new lease on life? His first single hinted at redemption, so we’re curious what the rest of the record holds.

Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate (July 29, Epitaph)

Descendents’ Milo Aukerman is something of a nerd hero; he made loud, brash, punk rock music without ever conforming to the increasingly codified signifiers of punk rock. He wore glasses, did well in school, didn’t do drugs, and rejected “the look.” And then he just dropped out… leaving the scene behind to go work as a biochemist. The last time he came back to his band (they had been touring and performing as ALL since his departure), Descendents dropped 2003’s Cool to Be You, which undoubtedly lived up to the hype. In 2016, the band is firmly in middle age, but appears to have lost none of its fire.