Daft Punk get far closer to replicating decidedly non-punk forms of the ’70s and early ’80s — disco, progressive rock, jazz-funk and West Coast studio pop — than most 21st-century musicians have ever dared. Absolutely none of it is what has traditionally been considered cool, and that’s precisely the point: RAM is instead focused on warmth, sunshine, good times, intimacy and sweaty shared body heat. There is solitude and melancholy as well, voiced through vocoders and co-writer Paul Williams, who in the shamelessly grand “Touch” plays the part of a robot who craves the reality of physical sensation. Segueing from gurgling synths to piano pop to disco to choral and symphonic pomp and back again, this multi-part epic holds the album’s theme: Even androids long for life.
Shannon and the Clams, Dreams in the Rat House: The fierce Oakland group moves up to Sub Pop’s Hardly Art imprint for their latest LP. Marc Hogan says:
Shannon and the Clams’ third album sticks to the live-sounding, punk-roughed doo-wop, girl group and surf rock throwbacks that made 2011 predecessor Sleep Talk the perfect cheap-beer chaser. It’s a narrow but fertile niche, and this trio goes after it with devilish bravado. Bass player Shannon Shaw, also of Bay Area kindred spirits Hunx and His Punx, shares lead vocal duties with guitarist Cody Blanchard, and their loose, comfortable rapport — along with the emphatic, conversational drumming of Ian Amberson — helps keep the shag-carpet and wood-paneled consistency from getting too same-y.
Laurel Halo, Behind the Green Door: A straightforwardly beat-driven new EP from Laurel Halo. Michaelangelo Matos says:
Laurel Halo still bends the framework into all kinds of aural shapes: The stalactite-like keyboards of “Throw,” the opening track, evokes mid-’90s Aphex Twin or µ-Ziq, while “UHFFO” is a phased-dizzy minimalist techno, everything from the beat to the zapping keyboard duel that livens it up midway in, coated with gauze. The heavily dubbed-out “Sex Mission,” meanwhile, contains zero heavy breathing, unless you count the way the rhythm track heaves — not in a cartoon-porn way, but something more meditative while still evoking arousal.
G&D, The Lighthouse: The latest from the prolific Georgia Anne Muldrow and Dudley Perkins, this time as G&D. Nate Patrin says:
The Lighthouse, the latest in a fruitful series of collaborations by Muldrow and Perkins, maintains their futurist-vintage outlook on music and philosophy and the places where they intersect. With a title track that pairs righteous-anger calls-to-arms with a breathless, almost blissed-out excitement, The Lighthouse kills its own stress in real time. Even the simplest material has an up-front, get-down musicality that gives a next-level jolt of stargazing eccentricity to boogie funk and skyscraper soul.
JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, Howl: The self-described “post-punk soul rockers” get heavy on Howl. Hilary Saunders says:
Musically, Howl sounds like a calculated homage to ’70s funk and soul acts. “River” hearkens back to Al Green-style gospel and R&B and closer “These Things” showcases Brooks’s commanding vocal range and dynamics — switching from counter rhythms to falsettos with interjecting grunts in one fierce ballad.
Emerson String Quartet, Journeys: The Emerson String Quartet tackles Schoenberg and Tchaikovsky. Steve Holtje says:
What really links the works is inner turmoil. While the Tchaikovsky is prototypically Romantic and the Schoenberg verges on Post-Romanticism, both use dramatic harmonic restlessness to vividly portray unrest. The players emphasize this while giving the Schoenberg enough richness of tone to remind us of the composer’s continuing debt to Romanticism’s sound and gestures — even as he began to overthrow its harmonic language. There are, separately, better performances of each, but this combination amplifies the virtues heard here.
Dirty Beaches, Drifters/Love Is The Devil – The latest from Alex Zhang Hungtai in his Dirty Beaches guise – this is languorous and bleakly beautiful. Ilya Zinger says:
Sometime in the winter of 2012, while travelling between Berlin and his hometown of Montreal, Alex Zhang Hungtai recorded Drifters and Love is the Devil under his Dirty Beaches moniker. This double LP, Hungtai’s follow up to 2011′s Badlands, is an emotional exorcism and an intensely personal foray into loneliness and isolation.
Pat Metheny, John Zorn’s Book of Angels – The first collaboration between the guitarist Pat Metheny and the saxophonist/composer/contemporary music icon John Zorn. Metheny takes Zorn’s Jewish songs written for what he came to call his Masada Book and explodes them into suites, full of free-ranging style-devouring explorations.
The Baptist Generals, Jackleg Devotional To The Heart- New album from the Texas band – their second, and their first in ten years — expands on their heart-rending, slightly soused, roughed-up folk sound. A wonderful record.
Saturday Looks Good To Me, One Kiss Ends It All – Fifth full-length from long-running Ann Arbor indie-rock outfit mixes their usual blend of retro-rock signifiers with brainy-sugary indie rock wistfulness.
The 1975, IV – I don’t know if this band will ever get it together to release a full-length, but “Sex” remains, as always, a classic, an all-timer jam. Too bad for them they don’t live in a heavy-rotation world where this one song would be enough for them to be famous for a year or two.
Ugly Heroes, S/T – Apollo Brown, Verbal Kent, and Red Pill team up for Ugly Heroes, a low-key hard-knocking and personal soul-rap effort.
Mykki Blanco, Betty Rubble: The Initiation – Stylistically sprawling new mixtape from the talented and confrontational rapper Mykki Blanco.
Gaytheist, Hold Me…But Not So Tight -What to make of a band called Gaytheist? They are from Portland, OR; they play troglodytic punk-metal; they are a lot of fun.
Darius Rucker, True Believers – I’ve always thought that Darius would make sense as a country singer, and here he brings that mellow rich Blowfish baritone to a nice-sounding midtempo stuff that honestly sounds like Hootie given a few nudges to further into Nashville.
Emma-Louise, Vs. Head Vs. Heart – Burbling, 90s-trip-hop-redolent pop. Her voice has a creamy sort of calm to it, shades of Sarah McLachlan.
French Montana, Excuse My French – Bad Boy debut from lazily charismatic New York rapper, who has a way with bored, half-sung hooks and solid production.
Audra McDonald, Go Back Home – The jazz-standard interpreter’s latest; includes Sondheim, Hammerstein, Kander and Ebb, plus newer voices like Michael John LaChiusa and Adam Gwon.
30 Seconds to Mars, Love Lust Faith + Dreams – How did I forget this is Jared Leto’s band? The cover is Damien Hirst, btw. The modern rock band’s fourth effort.
Ke$ha, Crazy Kids – Our Ke$ha love is well-documented around these parts, but this sounds like ’09-era Ke$ha, like she’s taking a step backwards.
Mayer Hawthorne, Her Favorite Song – The appealingly nerdy white-boy soul balladeer returns, sounding more like Sade than I remember this time.
The Dodos, Confidence – New single from The Dodos.
Kate Boy, The Way We Are – Terrific single from Stockholm pop group.