New This Week: Danny Brown, Miley Cyrus, of Montreal & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 10.08.13 in Spotlights

This week’s New Arrivals come in like a wrecking ball. All they wanna do is break your walls.

Danny Brown, Old: Look, not to editorialize too much, but this is probably the best record that’s out today. It’s a thrilling, hyperactive panic attack of a record, where the party anthems sound like nervous breakdowns and vice versa. The chilling “Wonderbread” cops a two-note guitar phrase from “Maggot Brain,” and Old, in a lot of ways, shares DNA with that apocalyptic party classic. Guess what: this one is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Nick Murray says:

In the two years following the release of his breakthrough XXX, Danny Brown’s released a smattering of new material, but “Grown Up,” a warm, boom-bap, near-nostalgic account of overcoming the poverty of his youth, was the most well-known, complete with an actually-adorable video in which a young actor walks through the city lip-syncing Brown’s lyrics. Although Old opens with a full side of tunes mostly concerned with depicting the effects of that poverty, “Grown Up” is notably absent, replaced by songs like “Wonderbread,” a post-industrial Detroit “Little Red Riding Hood” about the people Brown crosses on a childhood grocery run; “Red 2 Go,” which describes mismatched meals of “corned beef and some fuckin’ Apple Jacks” with the detail of an A.D.D. Ghostface; and “Torture,” about how these experiences still keep him up at night. Three things you’ll notice right away: This LP isn’t warm, it isn’t boom-bap and it is never, under any circumstances, nostalgic.

Alex Chilton, Electricity By Candlelight / NYC 2/13/97: We’ve been touting the cred of our freelance staff for years now — we’ve got New York Times contributors, a Pulitzer winner, NPR personalities — but today we proudly take it to the next level. Our review of this live Alex Chilton album was written by Holly George-Warren, who was not only at the show, but is audible on this album. As you might guess, this one is also HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:

A sudden power outage has plunged New York’s Knitting Factory into total darkness. Instead of using the electrical failure as an excuse to flee the stage, Alex Chilton accepts the loan of an acoustic guitar and heeds requests from the 80 or so people in the audience — “Let’s Get Lost,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “Surfer Girl” among them. At this urban campfire sing-along — with votive candles rather than kindling — Chilton banters merrily with his fellow music lovers, surprising even hardcore fans with his diverse selections. I was there that night, and hearing myself call out for “Waltz Across Texas” and “My Funny Valentine” brings back a flood of memories of the numerous Chilton concerts (including those with his former bands Big Star and the Box Tops) I witnessed beginning in 1985. This one, on February 13, 1997, is at the top of my list — and the fact that it was documented by a hand-held tape recorder makes it even more special.

Miley Cyrus, Bangerz: Miley Cyrus wants you to forget about Hannah Montana. You’re at least a little bit curious about this one, right? She kind of crushed it on SNL. And I’m not fully in the tank for all the Miley hate that’s going around these days. Of the album, Barry Walters says:

“Hey baby, are you listening,” are Cyrus’s first words, as if she’s fully aware that most people are more interested in voicing their pro- or anti-Miley stance than in actually hearing her record. But there is music here, and some of it is quite good: A singular combo of dance tracks, melodramatic balladry and emphatically southern hip-hop, Bangerz packs a couple dozen songwriters, but her key studio collaborator is Mike WiLL Made It, a 24-year-old Atlanta producer who specializes in trap music, a once-underground genre initially focused on drug-dealing exploits. If there’s a sound more street than trap, a pop star hasn’t tried it.

Anna Calvi, One Breath: The English artist melds power and seduction into a towering presence. Brian Howe says:

Now she returns with producer John Congleton for the more focused and direct One Breath. Calvi leads a quintet armed with harmonium, tuned percussion, keyboards, strings and drums through a cavernous space, generating a sound furious enough to fill it. Eerie, subtle atmospheres and explosive riffage hang together with dreamy grandeur; an orchestra repeatedly swoops in from nowhere. The title track’s gorgeous symphonic home stretch is followed by the raw sound of a guitar plugging into a live amp for the hurtling garage-fuzz of “Love of My Life.”

Lindi Ortega, Tin Star: MAN OH MAN is this record great. So great. This is what that Jack White solo record should have sounded like. Ortega scorches her way through a stack of rockabilly and country songs like a drag racer on a deserted dirt road somewhere in the middle of Arkansas. Tabasco-covered Buddy Holly rave-ups share space with what could pass for long lost Wanda Jackson B-Sides. It’s one of the year’s best records, and it’s HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Various Artists, Mexican Summer: Five Years: As you may have heard, this year marks the excellent Mexican Summer’s fifth birthday. They’ve decided to pull out all the stops — they’re hosting a straight-up incredible weekend-long show in Brooklyn, they put a whole host of titles on sale for $5.99 or less, they talked with me for this feature on the history of the label and, if all that isn’t enough, they’ve given us this free sampler with a dozen stone-classic Mexican Summer jams. RECOMMENDED

Of Montreal, Lousy with Sylvianbriar: Yet another one from the prolific Kevin Barnes & co. There have been so many of Montreal records. This one sounds pretty bananas. Barry Walters says:

Now Barnes spins another 180. Written during “a self-imposed isolation experiment” in San Francisco earlier this year, Lousy with Sylvianbriar is, according to Barnes, influenced by Sylvia Plath, Neil Young, the Flying Burrito Brothers and, um, the Grateful Dead. The typically control-crazed Barnes — who played all but the earliest Of Montreal discs mostly by himself — here recorded onto tape much of the album with his live band playing alongside in real time, without the computers that made the last several albums possible.

Various Artists, Feelin’ Nice, Volume 2: Here’s a thing I can tell you about the Feelin’ Nice series: you can either buy them on vinyl or put a down payment on a house. So expensive! Probably because they’re weird imports? Anyway: while you’re squirreling away cash for the physical versions of these, you’ve got the digital to keep you warm. This is 17 tracks of hard-hitting, good ‘n’ greasy R&B, scratchy and soulful and terrific. A dance party in a digital bag. RECOMMENDED

Easy Kabaka Brown, Opotopo: The latest from our good friends at Soundway Records. The backstory on this one is a baffler — not much is known about Easy Kabaka Brown, a Nigerian musician who tends toward the bubbling, liquid guitar tones of Afro-Jazz and Highlife. Opotopo is his first, and it’s gorgeous, a combination of babbling-brook guitars, bubbling percussion and Brown’s sweet-soul style delivery. Like everything on Soundway, it’s HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Various Artists, Red Hot + Fela: My Morning Jacket, Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, Nneka and more contribute to this surprising Fela tribute album. Michaelangelo Matos says:

That artist listing is typical: Red Hot + Fela pays tribute to a man who typically hit the stage with a dozen pieces, so there’s a lot of teaming up here. There’s also the fact that Fela’s long grooves are perfect sites for making new connections as well as revisiting old pleasures. Nneka, Sinkane, Amayo and Superhuman Happiness transform “No Buredi” into driving synth-pop, losing nothing in the translation. And My Morning Jacket absolutely nails the groove on “Trouble Sleep,” with help from tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, achieving quiet, easy flight with quietly piercing solos. Part revue, part played-out mastermixing, this honors its musical source nicely, and proves how fecund Fela continues to be.

Tim Kasher, Adult Film: Cursive frontman returns with another solo album full of the kind of quirky indie rock on which he built his name. Kasher’s got a straightforward delivery — his voice is almost fascinatingly plainspoken — which contrasts well with the bells-and-whistles in the arrangements. Corkscrewing synths and buoyant rhythms and sudden strings abound.

Patty Griffin, Silver Bell: Patti Griffin recorded Silver Bell 13 years ago, intending it for a 2000 release. But shakeups at her label resulted in the album sitting on a shelf. For over a decade. In the intervening years, “Truth #2″ became a hit for the Dixie Chicks and Griffin released other records, but Bell was a lost jewel heard by only a privileged few (In this Billboard interview, Natalie Maines jokes about how the album’s release thwarts her intention to quietly pillage songs from Silver Bell for her own career.) This one is RECOMMENDED

Panic! At the Disco, Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!>: I think the torch I once held for this band is burning out. Their second record is still a colossally-underrated, thoroughly excellent batch of ’60s Zombies-core but it didn’t sell well and so the band fractured and the half that retained the Panic! name have since retreated into what is effectively dance-rock, delivering the same kind of chugging hybrid of pop-emo with R&B as Fall Out Boy, just kind of more artlessly. I dunno, you be the judge. I’m an old man.

Daniel Bachman, Jesus I’m a Sinner: Lovely finger-picked acoustic guitar ballads from the always-reliable Tompkins Square. Some fiddle, violin and banjo appear throughout, making this a lovely, autumnal record, perfect for the changing season.

Deap Valley, Sistrionix: A big, snarling, stomper of a record; deep-fried guitar and tempos that luch forward like Brontosauri, topped with vocals that are alternately pouted and howled and wailed.

St. Lucia, When the Night: I might be crazy, but the singer for this band kind of sounds like Peter Cetera to me. So I guess this is Peter Cetera fronting driving synth-based pop music that blinks like pink lights at a dance club at like 12:15. It’s pretty aerodynamic stuff,

Kenny Rogers, You Can’t Make Old Friends: Remember that episode of Seinfeld where the Kenny Rogers’ Roasters opened across the street from Kramer’s apartment, and the lights kept him up all night and slowly drove him crazy? Are there any Kenny Rogers’ Roasters left in America? Important questions to think about as you listen to Rogers’ latest outing, his first in seven years. The album skews mellow singer-songwriter style, less country, more Adult Contemporary. The title track is a duet with Dolly Parton, fully 30 years after “Islands in the Stream.”

Cage The Elephant, Melophobia: I have a soft spot for this band that I cannot deny. I feel like people have a notion of what this band sounds like based on their name, and then they hear this band and it’s not at all what they expected. Maybe this will be the case for you? Dan Hyman says:

There’s swampy Danger Mouse-ian electro sonics (“Come A Little Closer”), Beatlesque psychedelia “Take It Or leave It”), and enough New Orleans voodoo (“Black Widow”) to make the Night Ripper himself tip his dusty cane in approval. Ambition occasionally gets the best of them, as on the overwrought garage rocker “Teeth”). But it’s the risk-taking that continues to fuel this go-for-broke band.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., The Speed of Things: Synth-gilded indie rock sounds like a chilled-out Passion Pit at times, but with slightly greater psych leanings. Oddball pop for early autumn afternoons.

Earthless, From the Ages: BOOM. San Diego doomsayers are back with more boom for the buck. Dan Epstein says:

Though the muscular San Diego power trio’s latest opus is a strictly instrumental affair, this isn’t background music in any way, shape or form; rather, it’s a hard-rock thrill ride that demands your undivided attention for every one of its 65 face-melting minutes. Despite the band’s name, Earthless remain primarily terra firma-bound on From the Ages; like Cream, Blue Cheer and the Jimi Hendrix Experience before them — or maybe more appropriately, late-’60s Japanese free-blues acolytes like the Flower Traveling Band or Speed, Glue & Shinki — they take the elemental building blocks of blues rock and pile them high with feedback and wah-wah solos to form sky-kissing psychedelic pyramids and temples.

Korn, The Paradigm Shift: Fully half of this band are Christians now, which is kind of weird. Christian metal magazine has a feature about this titled — wait for it! — “Korn Again.”