We’ve got a pretty colossal haul this week — new space-age R&B from Janelle Monae, weirdo horror-goth from Bestial Mouths and more music from The Clash than any one human being would have any idea what to do with. And, as always, I’m convinced I missed something. Let me know in the comments.
Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady: FINALLY. It feels like a small eternity since the last Janelle Monae record, but the years have only heightened and deepened her bonkers, otherworldly outlook. Her new record is here at last and — guess what? — it’s HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Barry Walters says:
The Electric Lady is much more than a monument to maximalism, though. It’s a testimony to the power of particularly female and African-American dreams well-honed and not afraid to freak. Interspersed with radio DJ breaks that only lightly allude to the Cindi Mayweather cyborg narrative of her previous releases, The Electric Lady is nothing less than concept album about black female empowerment via love, otherness and heaps of Hendrix-kissed guitar solos courtesy of Kellindo Parker, who, together with Monáe, Nate “Rocket” Wonder, Chuck Lightning and Roman GianArthur comprise the extraordinary Wondaland posse that write, play and produce this deliciously effusive stuff.
The Clash, Sound System, 5 Studio Album Set and Hits Back: THESE ARE A LOT OF DIFFERENT WAYS INTO THE CLASH CATALOG. Let’s go in reverse order. Hits Back is, as it sounds, a double-disc Greatest Hits comp, sequenced to follow the setlist of a show the group played at Brixton Fair Deal in July of 1982. Insert your own crowd noise, I guess? 5 Studio Albums you can probably figure out (I like to think of this as another elaborate effort to officially erase Cut the Crap from the band’s discography) and finally Sound System, which has all of the albums (except, once again, Cut the Crap), plus 3 discs of rarities, B-Sides, demos & otherwise. A CORNUCOPIA OF CLASH. A CLASHUCOPIA. I mean, come on. If you somehow don’t have at least the studio albums already, this is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Arctic Monkeys, AM: This band occupies a curious place — almost-superstars that are massive in the UK but never-quite-happened over here, the Monks (as they are known to me and basically no one else) have instead produced a steady string of durable, well-construced rock records of which this is the latest. Oh those Monks. Always up to something. Maura Johnston says:
Hangovers happen. The Arctic Monkeys — the brash British band led by the acid-voiced, silver-tongued Alex Turner — know this all too well. Their inaugural single hinged on a dancefloor fantasy; the lead single from their last album was hatched at a bar. The title of their fifth album, AM, could be seen as an attempt to get back to basics by going the acronymic route; but the bleary-eyed, moving-through-swamp feel makes it seem like a direction to play the album in the morning, preferably while you’re trying to figure out the coming hours through the headachy haze of what happened the night before.
The Weeknd, Kiss Land: The Weeknd’s latest is a testament to how touring and excess can take over the mind, body and soul. Probably he should have a paper, rock, scissors with the indie band The Weekend because I’m getting pretty tired of having to explain which one I’m talking about all the time. Barry Walters says:
Kiss Land is a regressive worldview where women are represented either by prostitutes/strippers/groupies or long-suffering hometown girlfriends; drugs are ever-present, and Nix is as necessary as toothpaste. Such excess ordinarily lends itself to comical clichés. Yet singer/lyricist Abel Tesfaye avoids the Spinal Tap effect by emphasizing the physical and emotional brutality of his vagabond existence.
2 Chainz, B.O.A.T.S. II #MeTime: This is basically my favorite album title of the year. Come to think of it, what you think of that album title will probably clue you in to what you’re gonna think about 2 Chainz. He isn’t known for rhymes so much as posture, and there’s plenty of that here — chest-swelled stunting, brand-name name-drops and attitude, attitude, attitude. The production is high-gloss club-style twinkle-and-bounce. Somehow this is being released at the end of the summer instead of the beginning of it, which seems like a colossal miscalculation to me.
Goldfrapp, Tales of Us: More high drama and higher costumes from Alison Goldfrapp & Co. eMusic’s Barry Walters — who’s on a real roll this week — says:
This time around, Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory focus mostly on acoustic instrumentation — primarily guitar, strings and piano — while maintaining their exacting control over their instrumentation’s sonic impact. There’s far too much studio processing and thickly arranged orchestration on their sixth album to deem the results folky or unfinished. And all the billowing softness on display doesn’t make for straightforward easy listening; the harmonies are constructed in such a way that tension rarely dissipates.
Madonna, MDNA World Tour: And speaking of Goldfrapp, here’s a new Madonna record. This is a live recording from her last world tour. The version of “Like a Virgin” on here is really good. Seriously! I don’t know, man. People still give Madonna grief, but I think her live sets are always cannily constructed, with an eye toward using the songs to construct a narrative. But what do I know?
Holy Ghost!, Dynamics: The New York duo’s sophomore album can be taken seriously even off the dancefloor (though it certainly belongs there too). Annie Zaleski says:
On their second full-length, Dynamics, the duo — comprised of two life-long friends and musical collaborators, Alex Frankel and Nick Millhiser — amplify their pop tendencies and diversify their sound. Dynamics expands to encompass sugary new, chugging synthpop, New Order-style electropop and ’80s R&B slow jams. Holy Ghost! has always created dance music with aspirations to be taken seriously outside of clubs or parties. Thanks to finely sculpted hooks, straightforward melodies and Frankel’s increasingly confident vocals, Dynamics reaches — and exceeds—this goal.
Forest Fire, Screens: Beautiful, ethereal post-rocky outing from this Brooklyn band combines the best elements of the Silver Apples and Can into a bright, brilliant, ethereal package. I want you to know how much I resisted saying that they “put the Silver Apples in a Can” right there. You can thank me later. I’m overselling the krautiness of this. But, you know, I really tend to relish writing about kraut, so. (OK. I’m done.) This one is RECOMMENDED
Heathered Pearls, Loyal Reworks: Heathered Pearls, aka Jakub Alexander, released the lush and moody Loyal last year. Those who loved that record will likely love this: a full-album remix featuring contributions by Foxes in Fiction, Teen Daze and more. It’s moody and soothing and gentle.
J. Roddy Walston & the Business, Essential Tremors: J. Roddy & His Business have been around for a hot minute now, dishing out their grit-under-the-nails take on classic rock & roll. There’s some of the bash ‘n’ shamble of Exile on Main Street here, but its kinda filthier and sleazier. Like, sleazier than Deer Tick, even, if you can imagine. That’s some serious sleaze. Sleaziness is his business, and business is…
Drive-By Truckers, Alabama Ass Whuppin’ (Reissue): Reissue of a rollicking 1999 DC live show by the Truckers, captured just before their Southern Rock Opera breakthrough, at their wound-up, unhinged, outta-control best.
Jimmy Webb, Still Within The Sound Of My Voice: Here is the thing about Jimmy Webb: “Wichita Lineman” is one of the 10 or 15 greatest songs of all time. Period. If you hear that and are not moved, you are some kind of cyborg monster, and you should re-evaluate your life choices. Webb’s latest album shines a light on some of the via duets with the likes of Lyle Lovett, Amy Grant, Keith Urban and Brian Wilson. Peter Blackstock says:
“Sleeping in the Daytime,” from his 1970 debut, never charted for anyone, but Lyle Lovett pushes him to a dynamic remake of the tune here. On “Where’s The Playground Susie,” a minor Glen Campbell hit in 1969, Webb finds another country singer who gets the power of a great melody in Keith Urban. The graceful ballad “Adios,” a late-’80s album highlight for Ronstadt, is a perfect fit for the rich warmth of Amy Grant’s voice. And when Webb does turn to one of his major songs — the pop-classical juggernaut “MacArthur Park” — he taps no less than Brian Wilson to fill in the multilayered harmonies.
Jacuzzi Boys, Jacuzzi Boys: I love these dudes. Power garage trio from Miami — Miami! — blends serrated riffing with snarl & posture and primping, like a bargain basement version of The Sweet. Plenty o’ attitude, even more hooks. RECOMMENDED
Bestial Mouths, Bestial Mouths: Apocalyptic synth-rock is the cold sound of distilled horror. Doomy vocals and icicle streaks of synths make this one a magnificent fright show. RECOMMENDED, especially if you ever wondered what Grace Jones fronting Front 242 might sound like.
Tal National, Kaani: Highlife 2013: Tal National delivers bright, skipping songs that draw on the legacy of his nation’s musical heritage while updating it with a decidedly jagged, indie slant. eMusic’s Richard Gehr says of this RECOMMENDED record:
West Africa’s largest nation, Niger, has one of the region’s smallest musical profiles. But that should change once the world gets wind of Kaani, the thrilling third album (and first export) by Tal National, a Niamey-based group that emits as much jubilant energy as any on at least a couple of continents. Formed in 2000 by guitarist (and current municipal judge) Hamadal “Almeida” Moumine, Tal National combines high-speed contrapuntal guitar lines, hard chikita-chikita beats, and chattering mbalax-flavored talking drums into a breakneck polyrhythmic skein.
Frightened Rabbit, Late March, Death March: The latest single from the Frabbits’ excellent last record gets augmented with three excellent unreleased songs, making this more like an EP than a one-off single. The songs maintain the sheen of Pedestrian Verse, but have the kind of nervous tension for which FR have become famous.
Terry Malts, Nobody Realizes This is Nowhere: Clever title, jokers! What’s next, Moss Sometimes Naps? San Fran punk wiseasses deliver another batch of surly, burly ramrodders that sound like what the Ramones might have sounded like if they were fronted by Barney from New Order. In other words: big, grimy hooks, delicate vocals and reckless energy galore.
The Orwells, Who Needs You: I am pretty into this! Scrappy, poppy garage ‘n’ roll group; half of this is produced by Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio, but you’ll get none of the dense, layered arty stuff here — this is good, greasy, bouncy, hooky rock & roll with throat-shredding vocals and riotous riffs.
Man Man, On Oni Pond: The Philly group has matured without becoming boring, which is more than I can say for myself. Austin L. Ray says:
This kinder, gentler Man Man — which, all things considered, will shock no fans of the group — hits plenty of excellent notes throughout On Oni Pond. “Pink Wonton” is an organ-and-horns rollicker; “Head On” a gorgeous ode to love (“Hold on to your heart!” Honus proclaims in the chorus. “Never let nobody drag it under.”); “Deep Cover” is a plaintive, ukulele-led lullaby. The chaos, when it rears its head as it does briefly during a noisy bridge on “Born Tight,” is reined in, subdued.
Ane Brun, Songs 2003 – 2013: Retrospective of perpetually-underrated Norwegian songwriter; her style is forthright and fluttering, some delicate acoustic guitars and yearning vocals make for good early-morning, coffee-drinking music.
Katatonia, Dethroned & Uncrowned: An acoustic interpretation of the band’s 2012 release Dead End Kings, which makes this band’s direction even more baffling to me than it was before. Jon Wiederhorn, who is more qualified to discuss these things than I am, says:
Dethroned isn’t merely an unplugged version of its predecessor. For each song, Katatonia have retained only the guide vocal and completely rewritten everything else, creating a melancholy, beautiful album that proves how poignant the band remains even without the heaviness that helped define the album. It probably won’t appeal to listeners who require heavy with their metal, but for those who value strong progressive songwriting and emotional expression over sheer volume may end up preferring these versions to the originals.
Balance and Composure, The Things We Think We’re Missing: B&C bite emo, but late-game emo, long after Knapsack had packed up and night fell on Sunny Day Real Estate. Fear & Loathing in the Food Court. People seem to like this. Andrew Parks says:
The Things We Think We’re Missing delivers its heart-on-sleeve hooks in the spirit of Sunny Day Real Estate and their pre-Fugazi forebears Rites of Spring, only not quite as raw or rough around the edges — the poison-tipped melodies of “Parachutes” and the door-clawing climax of “Notice Me” are offset by contemplative choruses and riffs that shimmer and shudder. So while the minor-keyed malaise of frontman Jon Simmons may sound a little too familiar on paper — lots of lines about crying, falling and letting go — it’s actually quite endearing on record, capable of waking the confused teenager in all of us.