New This Week: Lily Allen, tUnE-yArDs, Atmosphere & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 05.06.14 in Features

Lily Allen, Sheezus: Kind of a mess. Rawiya Kameir says:

Sheezus‘s big ideas are hollow; there’s the generic blind-to-the-haters “Air Balloon” (“We can’t hear what they say up in my air balloon”), the unconvincing party anthem “Our Time” (“We just wanna dance the night away/ We don’t give a damn what people say”), and the ironic, reference-heavy anti-blogger manifesto “URL Badman” (“I don’t like you, I think you’re worthless/ I wrote a long piece about it up on my WordPress”). And its musical ideas are mostly outdated; pastiches of the dubby, M.I.A.-derived fusion-pop are interspersed with uneven interpolations of country (“As Long As I Got You”) and Afropop (“Life for Me”). Allen herself recently acknowledged singles like the patriarchy-skewering “Hard Out Here” are “rubbish.”

tUnE-yArDs, Nikki Nack: Merrill Garbus’s latest is loud, powerful, a little bit complicated and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Laura Leebove says:

On her third album, Nikki Nack, she writes more from her own perspective, like in “Hey Life,” when she urgently sings about being pulled in too many directions (“I’d stop to smell the roses but I’m running, running all of the time”), and “Wait For a Minute,” where she seems to be grappling with her self-worth and needing to slow down to avoid hurting herself (“Today, I’m feeling like I live on a ledge/ At any moment I just know I’m gonna fall off the edge. That, along with shinier but still-unconventional production, makes for a collection that’s powerful and direct, and one of the year’s most brilliant releases.

Atmosphere, Southsiders: Atmosphere returns to his roots. Nate Patrin says:

Named for the hardscrabble region of Minneapolis they’ve long claimed as stomping grounds, you could call it a return to Atmosphere’s roots if there was ever any indication they’d pulled them up too far. The blistering war-party title track, the tipsy soul of whisky-drinker’s lament “Arthur’s Song,” and the gradual boil of ballad-turned-banger “January on Lake Street” feature Slug in classic Bukowski-via-De La lyrical form, with Ant flipping the best permutation yet of the live-band sound he’s been working with since 2008′s When Life Gives You Lemons….

The Horrors, Luminous: They’ve refined the mix of shoegaze, goth, psych and dance music that distinguished their 2011 album. Steven Hyden says:

Two important digressions set Luminous apart: First, it appears that the Horrors loved Tame Impala’s Lonerism, as that record’s sparkly haze is discernible in songs like the grinding “Jealous Sun.” It also turns up in Badwan’s vocals; setting aside the smoldering baritone he employed on Skying, Badwan sings in his upper register throughout Luminous, evoking a kind of chemical-assisted bliss that suits the darkly ecstatic music. Disco is also a more pronounced influence on Luminous, though as Giorgio Moroder-quoting “I See You” demonstrates, the Horrors utilize dance thumpers not as a pisstake on arena rock (cough, Reflektor, cough) but rather as way to push themselves even higher. Four albums into a thriving career, the Horrors show no signs of coming down.

Curtis Harding, Soul Power: Raw, rollicking R&B from soon-to-be breakout new artist. Dan Epstein says:

It would be easy enough to imagine a major label building a sweet-but-safe neo-soul album around Harding’s exceptional vocal talents; thankfully, the folks at Burger Records have given him license to do his own idiosyncratic thing. “Next Time,” “Keep On Shining” and “Heaven’s On the Other Side” are catchy, propulsive slices of stripped-down soul, spiked with occasional off-beat touches like heavily vibratoed guitar and ’80s Syndrums. The meditative “Freedom,” which is reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s “As” in both groove and melody, nicely showcases Harding’s falsetto and lower ranges, as well as his way with a jazzy, flamenco-influenced guitar lead — and he follows it up with “Surf,” a pounding garage rocker with ringing rhythm chords and fuzzed-out leads.

Fatima Al Qadiri, Asiatisch: The first release from the Brooklyn-based composer, musician and visual artist, who works in the cracks between cultures. Tristan Rodman says:

Al Qadiri, born in Kuwait and educated at American universities, works in the cracks between cultures, and much of Asiatisch concerns such (mis)translations between West and East. Asiatisch is the German word for “Asian,” while a press release describes the project as “a simulated road trip through an imagined China.” On Asiatisch, as with the Desert Strike and Genre-Specific eXperience EPs before it, uses ready-made sounds and places them in contexts at once expected and improper.

William Onyeabor, What?!: A whole batch of remixes from last year’s Onyeabor compilation from the likes of Hot Chip, the Vaccines and Caribou that reinvent Onyeabor’s songs almost entirely while continuing to emphasize the steadily-percolating rhythms.

Papercuts, Life Among the Savages: Jason Quever continues his consistently pleasant folk-rock. Ian Cohen says:

There’s the distinct possibility that Jason Quever has never written a bad song in Papercuts’ decade-long run. With the exception of “John Brown” and that one song on Can’t Go Back that namedropped Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson, he may not have ever written a truly great one either. You won’t find either on his fifth LP, Life Among the Savages, which further means it’s no better or worse than the low-risk, handsomely rewarding albums that came before.

Andrew Jackson Jihad, Christmas Island: More capital-Q quirky songs from bash-n-holler anti-folk band. Clattering acoustic guitars and wry lyrics that reference McDonalds and underwear.

Nikki Lane, All or Nothin’: Wry, stomping country rock not too far afield from what’s going on with people like Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves these days, though Lane’s voice is oakier and stranger and more interesting. RECOMMENDED

Craig Wedren, On in Love: Latest from ex-Shudder to Think frontman is on the neo-classical label New Amsterdam, and you can here some of that in the music. Moody, stark compositions that put an emphasis on Wedren’s swooping voice. He’s a little more polished and operatic here than usual.

PAWS, Youth Culture Forever: New record from noisy Socts that we profiled a while back. This one flashes back to the glory days of U.S. alt radio; noisy guitars and plainspoken vocal melodies, not too far off from first-album Weezer.

Giving Up Everything from Natalie Merchant on Vimeo.

Natalie Merchant, Natalie Merchant: First new album from the onetime 10,000 Maniacs singer in four years. Some of us used to be huge 10,000 Maniacs fans. As you might expect, most of the songs here are bare shadowy ballads that puts Merchant’s alto front and center.

Mick Harvey, Intoxicated Man/Pink Elephants: Arguably the most comprehensive attempt to translate Serge Gainsbourg’s songs. Simon Price says:

As you’d expect from someone who’s spent a significant amount of his musical career a few feet away from Nick Cave (as a member of Boys Next Door, the Birthday Party and the Bad Seeds), the Australian Mick Harvey instils a mood of noirishness to Gainsbourg’s oeuvre, his deep, rich croon caressing semi-orchestral pop-rock arrangements that manage to sound both classy and louche at the same time. Just like the real thing.

Prison Garde, Occultsystem and Strategy, Boxology: Two new ones from one of my favorite labels, 100% Silk. Bafflingly, neither of these artists have a Soundcloud or Bandcamp — though I guess that’s in keeping with the label’s mysterious nature. Both are vaguely house-derived; Prison Garde is a bit filmier and more atmospheric, comprised of radar-blip-style synths; Strategy is more overtly dance-oriented, with driving percussion and flashing-light electronics for a real late ’70s/early ’80s feel. Both are RECOMMENDED

Chief Kamachi, Radio Raheem: Booming hip-hop from Philly emcee boasts imposing beats and Kamachi’s thick, swaggering delivery. There’s no swagger here, it’s more stomp. As the title implies, there’s a bit of nostalgia for the past going on here, but not in a way that’s overbearing.

Can’t Kids, Ennui Go: Earnest, pleading indie rock augmented by tasteful strings and grounded in sorrowful melodies. Like if Frightened Rabbit went alt-folk.

Roddy Frame, Seven Dials: The Aztec Camera frontman revisits his masterworks. Andrew Mueller says:

As “White Pony” could have appeared on Aztec Camera’s last album, Frestonia, so the acoustic finale “From a Train” isn’t miles away from “Down the Dip,” which closed Aztec Camera’s immortal debut, High Land Hard Rain. “Postcard” has the fat Philadelphia soul sound of Aztec Camera’s Love and a guitar solo echoing the one-note riff which introduced the equivalent flourish on Aztec Camera’s “Oblivious.” “On The Waves” channels the exuberance of “Somewhere in My Heart,” and “Rear View Mirror” assays a similar flamenco shimmy to “Spanish Horses.”

Kristeen Young, The Knife Shift: Beloved by Morrisseys everywhere. Young’s latest, Tony Visconti-produced record is full of Broadway-big art-rock, like if Kate Bush just kept making Lionheart.

People Under the Stairs, 12 Step Program: Mid ’90s LA hip-hop group returns with a record that furthers their time-tested sound with humid soul productions and limber, bounding rapping.

The Dwellers, Pagan Fruit: Super slow-moving, doomy hard rock. Parts of it sound like Soundgarden if Soundgarden took the time to let their songs breathe.

Ursula Oppens / Bruce Brubaker, Meredith Monk: Piano Songs: Ursula Oppens and Bruce Brubaker preserve the quality of Monk’s music without her own performing expertise. Seth Colter Walls says:

Piano Songs is the first-ever album to feature Monk’s music, but not her own singing (or else her trained ensemble). This 48-minute program for two pianos, performed (and, in some cases, arranged) by the pianist Bruce Brubaker and Ursula Oppens, helps get an independent look at Monk’s sound world, outside the realm of the composer’s own performance practices. And damn if it isn’t a gateway drug, too — even for listeners who think they’ve got Monk’s discography sorted already. (Monk’s hardcore fans are likely to be sent back digging through deep-cut material, after encountering some of the rarer pieces here.)