Jack White, Lazaretto: As retro as Jack White gets, he’s no purist. Barry Walters says:
Created over an extended period that contrasts sharply with the tight timelines he’s imposed upon previous projects, Lazaretto nevertheless crackles with spontaneity because the playing feels as impulsive as the arrangements are considered. “High Ball Stepper” may at heart be a simple blues-rock jam, but it’s one that alternates backwards piano and violin riffs, shrieking wordless vocals, and soloing so fuzzed-out it sounds like bombs are dropping between the beats. Here and throughout, White is wired so tightly that when he gives himself permission to fly, it results in feats of deranged derring-do.
First Aid Kit, Stay Gold: On their major-label debut, the Swedish sisters reach for a grander sound with more emotional heft. Dan Hyman says:
The duo shines brightest when they use beatific country melodies to mask somber sentiments. On the opening “My Silver Lining,” the Söderbergs are “tired of looking for answers,” but counter that weariness with the catchiest riff they’ve yet written. On the lush title track, the pair wonder if life’s simple pleasures — you know, hugs and high-fives — are gonna cut it. “What if to love and to be loved is not enough?” they wonder, over lilting strings and a gentle, Fleet Foxes-style guitar figure. The charming potency of their earlier work — most notably those high-flying harmonies – remains. But this go-round feels decidedly more urgent than any of the duo’s past output. Time may be on their side but First Aid Kit are too wise to waste any of it.
The Fresh & Onlys, House of Spirits: The Fresh & Onlys trade love songs for lyrics with imagery culled from dreams on their latest LP. Sam Lefebvre says:
The Fresh & Onlys’ 2012 full-length, Long Slow Dance, had a single white carnation on the cover and, like the title, the image signaled the saccharine romantic gestures contained within. But bandleader Tim Cohen’s lyrics balanced the title track’s courtship tropes with more severe ones, like the part where love drags people out of their homes and sets them ablaze. On the San Francisco foursome’s latest album, House of Spirits, Cohen gazes inward, trading love songs for lyrics with imagery culled from dreams. Musically, it’s similar to Long Slow Dance: sauntering drums underpin evenly-balanced arrangements, ornamented by guitarist Wymond Miles’s impeccable lead flourishes, but a pair of left-field tracks excite the thought of a more thorough make-over.
Popcaan, Where We Come From: Hotly-anticipated debut from ex-Vybz Kartel member is just as tough and energetic as his previous work. Anupa Mistry says:
Popcaan is a former protégé of dancehall’s most popular and vilified artist, Vybz Kartel, who recently received a life sentence for murder. In 2010, Vybz and Popcaan (and boss chick Gaza Slim) released “Clarks.” It was the cherub-faced, sweet-voiced emcee’s official coming out, legitimizing the success of the candy-coated club hits he’d go on to release. Now he’s signed to Brooklyn bashment purveyor Mixpak, was featured on Pusha T’s 2012 street single “Blocka,” and has gotten Drake’s official OVO endorsement. There were rumours the Toronto rapper would feature on Poppy’s long-awaited debut, Where We Come From, but there’s really no place for him. Instead of a singles-stacked album of unruly, rave-ready anthems, Popcaan (with the help of Mixpak visionary Dre Skull) delivers a slick, minimal cri de coeur of the Jamaican ghetto – tempered by a few cheeky love songs.
James Chance & the Contortions, Buy Contortions: 35th Anniversary: Deluxe reissue of groundbreaking no-wave record, Buy Contortions sounds just as chaotic today as it did when it was released. Elements of free jazz, delivered with punk attitude. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Chrissie Hynde, Stockholm: Her most fully-realized album in decades. Barry Walters says:
After nine Pretenders albums, most of them recorded with only one other original band member, Chrissie Hynde is finally releasing her first solo effort, and, ironically, it’s her most collaborative work to date. Hynde was wise to surrender some control: Bjorn Yttling’s post-modern pop touch is everywhere, and it almost always flatters, combining contemporary indie and classic-rock styles with a vibe that’s both muted and eloquent. Many of the performances are rougher than the Pretenders at their most casual, and so is their presentation: Hynde’s one-of-a-kind voice is close and clear on every cut, unfiltered and untreated.
Mayhem, Esoteric Warfare: Surprisingly sturdy, aggressive and inventive new release from black metal pioneers. Few original members remain at this point, but Esoteric Warfare does the Mayhem name proud. It’s full of unexpected twists and turns, bouts of fury tempered with strange, slower passages. I’ve been listening to this one a lot. RECOMMENDED
Craft Spells, Nausea: Former New Order-worshipping outfit pulls a semi-reinvention on this record. The songs are lush, beautiful and relaxed, full of easy, filmy vocal melodies that drift lazily by. RECOMMENDED
Lust for Youth, International: Another reinvention — former one-man synth mopers go widescreen, making the kind of surging, relentlessly melodic electropop record that used to soundtrack goth clubs in the ’80s. RECOMMENDED
Dub Thompson, 9 Songs: Throbbing, grimy, Amphetamine Reptile-style sludge rock from this excellent California duo. Shades of Jesus Lizard, but this is weirder and more rubbery, with a greater sense of rhythm. RECOMMENDED
Clipping, clppng: Tough, chaotic and relentless debut from experimental hip-hop trio puts an emphasis on chaos and disorder. There’s a kind of violence to their sound — cutting and punishing — that makes it addictive. Grayson Currin talked with them about all of this in his interview for us.
Open Mike Eagle, Dark Comedy: Yet another solid entry from the always-excellent Mello Music Group. This one is slightly more melodic and laid back than their other offerings, and the production is hazier and more surreal, but it just proves that Mello is committed to exploring unexplored avenues in hip-hop. RECOMMENDED
The Flaming Lips ft. Miley Cyrus & Moby, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”: In between alienating their fanbase with highly questionable activites, the Flaming Lips recorded this Beatles cover with Miley Cyrus. Which, I suppose, some people would also classify as a “highly questionable activity.”
Tiny Victories, Haunts: The Brooklyn duo finds glimmers of happiness, even in the depths of melancholy. Annie Zaleski says:
The album largely focuses on what happens when life tilts toward tragedy and despair. “Systems,” which recalls Tubeway Army, attempts to find order within chaos, to middling success: “Everyone wants a piece of you, but you’ve got nothing left to give.” Walters sound even more heartbroken on “Drinking With Your Ghost,” admitting he engages in the title’s act nightly before pleading, “Tell your ghost to leave me alone.” But thanks to the arrangements, which emphasize rhythm and hooks, Haunts almost feels upbeat; on “Scott & Zelda,” the song’s uncertain chorus (“I don’t know myself anymore”) is surrounded by tropical rhythms and blocky arcade-game keyboards.
Hollie Cooke, Twice: Excellent sophomore effort form former Slits member is a continuation of the pitch-perfect roots reggae revival she explored on her debut. Cook’s voice is as strong as ever, and the production throughout is agreeably humid and loose. A real Marcia Griffiths vibe throughout. RECOMMENDED
Glass Animals, Zaba: Smoky, R&B-inspired electro-pop from this New York group slinks and slithers, full of deliberately relaxed slow jams.
Trap Them, Blissfucker: This is a huge change for Trap Them. Most of their previous songs whizzed by in a minute or a minute and a half, but on Blissfucker, they’re stretching out (one song is seven and a half minutes long!) That said, they’ve sacrificed none of their snarl and energy — they’ve just made it last a bit longer.
Louis Andriessen, La Commedia: A massive setting of Dante’s Divine Comedy that’s absolutely worth the time. Seth Colter Walls says:
The Dutch composer, famously influenced by American minimalism, sneaks in plenty of the brassy hard-riffage for which he’s justly famed (especially in the first hour, all of which takes place in hell). But there’s also a catalog of new Andriessen moves that is beyond rich: a proper aria, moments of jazz percussion that bump up against electric-bass funk, and the occasional pop lick in the woodwinds all occur in the fourth movement. More to the point, the whole project resonates thematically, whether you’re a Dante scholar or not.
Wife, What’s Between: The enigmatic Irishman is sort of like James Blake’s darker, moodier twin brother. Andy Battaglia says:
What’s Between, his full-length debut as Wife after the striking Stoic EP in 2012, is suggestively spacious and slow but also tense, with a sense of pressure and constriction that lends gravitas to even the wispiest ambient sounds. Like other artists on the Tri Angle Records label (see: Balam Acab, Holy Other, the Haxan Cloak), Wife favors ashy blacks and greys that play like charcoal drawings in comparison to lots of other electronic music’s day-glo palette. But they’re just as expressive, and more dramatic too — especially with Kelly’s smoky, sing-songy voice placed front and center in the mix.