Great new records in hip-hop and R&B this week, which we’ll lead off with, but a few great indie-pop and garage entrants as well.
Kelis, Food – The pop singer and great R&B innovator Kelis returns with her first album for Ninja Tune. Maura Johnston writes:
While the track listing’s resemblance to a soul-food shack’s menu might be a bit of an accident — Kelis told Rolling Stone that song names like “Biscuits n’ Gravy” were in part the result of an engineer’s end-of-the-night in-jokes — digging into Food makes the comparison between Kelis’s medium and this album’s overarching angle even more explicit. The best music, like the best food, nourishes and pleases even as the finish offers an unexpected kick. Food doesn’t really have a lot of surprises, but it satisfies anyway: She could have called it Comfort Food.
Future, Honest – The Atlanta rapper/crooner/AutoTune mangler—and by now, bonafide pop star—Future releases his long-awaited sophomore album. Winston Cook-Wilson writes:
Honest, which was finally released this week, delivers plenty of prototypical Future fare; songs like “T-Shirt” stay in the lane of his strongest mixtape work (see “Same Damn Time”), and “Special,” “I Be You” and the title track are beautiful mid-tempo anthems that update the sound of Future’s debut LP, Pluto. But though Honest‘s beats are rooted in the post-Lex Luger production the rapper has always favored, they traverse far-flung borders (note the triple-meter Amadou and Miriam/Santigold sample on album opener “Look Ahead,” and the dense ’80s reverb sheathing the toms on album highlight “I Be U”). The throwback posse cut “Move That Dope” and the psychedelic, country-fried Andre 3000 collab “Benz Frenz (Whatchutola)” — two particularly drastic experiments — give the A and B sides of the album, respectively, refreshing jolts of left-field energy.
Fear of Men, Loom – Spacious, glimmering indie pop tinged with nervous tension. Liz Pelly writes:
“Waterfall,” the song emerging from “Alta,” sets up the record’s main metaphor, using the recurring image of rushing water as a mirror for love: It’s calm and meditative and beautiful, but also something to be feared, a natural force that could unexpectedly and inescapably pull you in. “I’m not alone in this, I’m not alone in this,” Weiss sings. “Take me to the waterfall when it’s over.” Her voice is soft and lulling but loaded with loneliness. “I’ve tried my best to destroy you but the waves keep overflowing me,” she sings later on “Luna.”
The Menzingers, Rented World – Leading us into the next wave of “denim rock”: Not quite blue collar, definitely not white collar. Ian Cohen writes:
The first song on The Menzingers’ fourth LP Rented World boasts a title so declarative and on-the-nose that it threatens to render the actual song redundant. Fortunately, “I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore” lives up to its billing — a raucous, raw-throated anthem that testifies to the redemptive powers of rock for the kind of people who see themselves in the Scranton band’s music. Who are those people? Well, note that “I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore” is an apology, not a promise. When Greg Barnett yells “BABY, BABY I’LL BE GOOD TO YOU,” he sounds like has no choice but to believe in himself if he expects anything to change.
Thee Oh Sees, The Drop – The last (? It’s a little confusing) album from Thee Oh Sees before they go on a hiatus, which may last up to a full 48 hours. Technically, this came out Record Store day. At any rate, here’s what Steven Hyden had to say for us:
If Drop is Thee Oh Sees’ swan song, it also functions as a handy primer for this stealthily diverse band. Opening with a menacing double-shot of muscle-car psych-punk in “Penetrating Eye” and “Encrypted Bounce,” Drop swings swiftly through Dwyer’s various guises as an acolyte of Syd Barrett (“Savage Victory”), fractured art-punk (“Put Some Reverb On My Brother”), and uglied-up AM pop (“Camera (Queer Sound)”). In the record’s final third, Dwyer takes a sharp turn into prog, tricking out “King’s Noise” with stinging Keith Emerson keyboard fills. By the last track “The Lens,” he’s gone full-on baroque, murmuring against a softly churning cello, exiting the record (and possibly Thee Oh Sees, though who knows with this unpredictable band) on an incongruously quiet note.
TEEN, The Way and Color – A subtly R&B-inflected, subdued, and powerful album from TEEN, who are growing more formally audacious and conceptually daring with each release. “Sticky,” in particular, is calmly devastating.
Asher Roth, RetroHash – Hoo boy. Our man Asher had a spiritual conversion of sorts, and now his hair is very long and his expression is very somber and his beats are, like, mega-spaced out. Roth’s music is still thimble deep, but the sound of the record is smoothed-out and more enjoyable by far than his debut Asleep In The Bread Aisle.
Keb’ Mo’, Bluesamericana – A tough-and-tender soulful dispatch from Keb’ Mo’, including some uncharacteristically vulnerable songs about a rocky patch in his own relationship.
Various Artists, Dconstructed – Do you know what this is? This is an EDM take on Disney songs. That is what this is. Avicii may be involved.
EELS, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett – A lovely record from the man E behind EELS. More downcast than his last effort. The grit and rattle in his voice is really affecting in this context, which lands somewhere between chamber pop and midtempo country rock.
Neon Trees, Pop Psychology – This deft pop-rock band continues chewing through styles – There’s some Bowie in here, some Peter Gabriel, some Cars. There are some more of the straight Strokes rips they offered on their first album. Hard not to close your eyes and see the overly air-conditioned sneaker store this was meant to play in, and this is meant without a hint of snideness; If I were buying Sketchers to this, I would totally bob my head.
The Whigs, Modern Creation – Modern garage-pop outfit slicks back its hair and goes for bigger sound.
G Love & Special Sauce, Sugar – G Love is still doing this G Lovin’ thing, where he mixes blues riffs with the barest traces of hip-hop influence and some swampy harmonica. It’s about as harmless as store-bought medium-strength BBQ sauce. It will get the job done, if this is a particular job that you need doing.
Jerry Bergonzi, Intersecting Lines – The latest from Boston-based tenor sax Jerry Bergonzi, about whom, it must be confessed, I know nothing; hopefully, Dave Sumner will pick this up in his Jazz Picks.
Bo Saris, The Addict – Evocative, nicely produced contemporary soul from Bo Saris, who won the second edition of a Dutch talent show and finds himself in lush surroundings, emulating ’06-era Justin Timberlake. This is slinky, though; he’s pretty good at this.
Various Artists, Dunedin Double – Another RSD-only release, this one revisiting the beautifully insular little New Zealand indie scene and its big ripple effects. Bob Ham writes:
Martin Phillipps brought a love of ’60s psych and bubblegum to the three arch, edgy love songs he recorded for this compilation with his still-active band the Chills. The short-lived trio the Stones exhibited a Gang of Four influence, while the Sneaky Feelings aped the agitpop of the first Velvet Underground album. The Verlaines sounded as if they were bursting out of their skin with ideas: The stutter step rhythm that opens “Angela” bolsters singer/guitarist Graeme Downes’s barely-masked vocal fury in “You Cheat Yourself of Everything That Moves.” Hindsight allows us to see the effect this release had on not only the New Zealand pop universe, but the many acts around the world that followed in its wake (Superchunk, Pavement and Bright Eyes would be much different animals without it). Now we just have to hope some industrious young musician will stumble upon this on Saturday and let it blow some new minds.
Tracy Morgan, Bona Fide – Tracy Morgan returns to Brooklyn for a comedy special. Queuing this, I am hearing Morgan inquiring of white people whether or not they’ve tried SPAM, and then telling them “You better get used to it.” This sounds promising.
Margot & The Nuclear So & So’s, Slingshot to Heaven – Self-produced effort, with some analog grit and grain to the sound, which adds a dimension of pathos to their lovely, rain-streaked midtempo pop.