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North Carolina rap superstar J. Cole was missing in action through much of the pandemic, then unexpectedly released an album in mid-May that broke all Spotify records, save those of Olivia Rodrigo. The Off-Season (Dreamville/Interscope) doesn’t solely address the weighty topics he’s handled in recent works, but takes time to relax with basketball and gaming. That hardly makes the work superficial — tracks like

“my.life” make plenty of oblique references to the intense 2020 months of racism and lockdown.

The more important point, however, is that an artist needs off-season space to refresh and reassess. It’s still not certain if this album will stand on its own, or as a prelude to the long-hinted-at concept album The Fall-Off, but it may not matter if the latter work never surfaces. Cole has insisted, perhaps too vociferously, that he’s not a social commentator, just a rapper; but tracks like “interlude” prove he takes some responsibilities seriously. What he’s saying here is that if you’re going to make successful mid-court three-point scores, you have to perfect your game in the off-season.

Also New & Noteworthy

Sam Gellaitry, IV (Viewfinder Recordings) – Scottish vocalist and producer Sam Gellaitry has developed a reputation over three EPs for smooth EDM and hip-hop melds that bridge the gap between Moses Sumney and Prince, often using synaesthesia in developing soundscapes. The four tracks on his latest work are most effective when tied to a beat, like “Duo,” as the more ethereal sounds can drift without solid grounding.

Penelope Trappes, Penelope Three, (Houndstooth) – the Australian film-score producer and singer, now based in Brighton, has been working on a trilogy of albums on fear, ambition and healing that employ minimalist sound patterns in both keyboards and voice. One might anticipate landscapes as dreamy as Eno’s more ambient work, but in tracks like the single “Nervous” there are repeated stark percussive riffs that feel more like Julee Cruise in a Twin Peaks episode. Ultimately, Trappes aims for a calming influence to move the listener to a new plane, but she’ll take you through some cathartic and scary territory first.