Kanye West, Yeezus: – Kanye returns, reclaims the spotlight with typical ferocity. You can look away from this guy, if you find him objectionable, but you’re missing the only reliably fascinating big-top show happening in pop culture right now. No one who fell in love with The College Dropout could have ever predicted Yeezus. Michaelangelo Matos says:
West isn’t saying anything particularly different than usual; he’s just being more severe and forthright about it. “New Slaves” is Kanye’s latest and most searing indictment of African-American consumerism, the force of which he nearly guts by declaring, “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.” “I’m in It” is his latest Sexaholics Anonymous confessional, like a seedier “Hell of A Life,” which features the racist equation of “Asian pussy” with “sweet-and-sour sauce.” Call Yeezus his Vice Magazine album — stark, confrontational, willfully offensive and more crafted than it first appears.
Austra, Olympia: The second LP from Toronto’s Austra brings together classical, goth and underground house music. Barry Walters says:
Fronted by classically-trained singer/keyboardist/composer Katie Stelmanis, Austra have created the rare kind of record that’s equal parts unsettling and inviting, austere and yet deeply emotional. Lyrics that mention forbidden rendezvous and clandestine arrangements accumulate, building an enticing landscape of ambiguity, insinuation, queer whispers: It’s the music of shadows brought into the light.
Quasimoto, Yessir Whatever: As his alter-ego Quasimoto, Madlib offers a collection from many years of sessions. Michaelangelo Matos says:
The rule with Madlib albums — no matter who raps or sings or does whatever on them — is that even the lousy ones invariably contain at least a couple songs worth knowing, especially if you’re a fan. And the rule with collections of previously unreleased material — as Madlib’s third album as his helium-voiced layabout alter ego Quasimoto is — is that only a couple of things are going to turn your head.
Primal Scream, More Light: Andrew Harrison calls Primal Scream’s 10th album their best and most exhilarating in more than a decade. Continued:
This 10th outing aims for the far-out — and surpasses its target by heroic margins. Co-produced by Belfast DJ and connoisseur soundtrack man David Holmes, More Light returns the Scream to the cosmic-futurist dance-rock of their Vanishing Point/XTRMNR days but turns up both the aggression and the psychedelia. It’s big, wild, valiant, occasionally ridiculous and possibly better than XTRMNTR — which puts More Light toe-to-toe with big old Screamadelica itself.
Vacation, Candy Waves: Cincinnati trio clashes pop melodies and squalling feedback, DIY energy with ambitious songwriting. Ashley Melzer says:
The best moments are the details: Repeated listens may reveal a piano lick coasting in the mix (“Candy Waves”), feedback whines bridging to the chorus (“Cellophone”), a jaunt of tambourine (“SFA”). The lyrics may revel in simple stuff — sunshiny days, making fun of horny politicians — but the combination of punk power and sneaky verve show a band digging past the surface.
J. Cole, Born Sinner: J. Cole’s follow-up to his breakthrough major-label debut. Christina Lee says:
Born Sinner finds Cole conflicted, as usual, toward hip-hop and himself. But he cheers himself up by reminding himself of rap’s hallowed greats: In the boisterous interlude “Ain’t That Some Shit,” he ticks off 2Pac, West and label boss Jay-Z. “Villuminati,” the album’s opener, is punctuated by strings, a Notorious B.I.G. sample (“Born sinner, the opposite of a killer”) and Cole’s claim that “sometimes I brag like Hov.”On “Let Nas Down,” he fondly remembers taping the rapper’s lyrics to the wall. It’s as if, faced with rap stardom of his own, he’d rather be the fan again — a compellingly human turn for the MC once so consumed with the notion of himself as rap’s great hope that he nicknamed himself Simba.
Bobby Whitlock, The Bobby Whitlock Story: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way: Bobby Whitlock’s early resume includes playing backup for Booker T and George Harrison; this is a compilation of his solo work. Stephen M. Deusner says:
In the early 1970s, Whitlock recorded two solo albums with his close friends and famous collaborators, including Harrison and Eric Clapton, and after being out of print for years, Bobby Whitlock and Raw Velvet have been compiled on Where There’s a Will There’s a Way. Whitlock’s wild, thundering vocals absolutely dominate these songs, sounding soulful, intense, and even a bit unhinged on “A Day Without Jesus” and a particularly heavy cover of “Hello L.A., Bye Bye Birmingham.” These two albums sum up his early career, mixing gritty Stax R&B with gospel-rock jamming to create a sound that is still potent 40 years later.
Empire of the Sun, Ice on the Dune: A brighter and shinier set from Australia’s Empire of the Sun. Barry Walters says:
The bewitching begins with Ice on the Dune‘s first vocal track, “DNA.” It’s a flashback to the spring of 1979, when disco was at its absolute peak, but Littlemore was barely a year old and Steele was still a few weeks away from being conceived. It’s a fantasy of a memory of what it was like to lie in a meadow and fall asleep to the radio back then, and so it sounds like a 21st-century impression of hits from that era by Gerry Rafferty, ELO, Donna Summer and Al Stewart, all whipped up in a froth of elation and elegy.
Hospital Ships, Destruction in Yr Soul: Jordan Geiger’s third album as Hospital Ships is a step up from the last. Ryan Reed says:
The music is gnarlier, often downright ugly — played with a reckless, live-in-the-room sprawl — in contrast to the gorgeous, impeccably layered psychedelics of his previous LP, 2011′s Lonely Twin. Each beat stutter-steps awkwardly; electronic loops slip and out of time with each other; fragmented guitars stumble drunkenly in and out of the mix.
Slaid Cleaves, Still Fighting The War – The latest poignant, wry, understated singer/songwriter record from the always-incisive Slaid Cleaves.
Steve Gunn, Time Off – Picking-and-grinning, easeful folk rock, shades of Kurt Vile, who is an on-record admirer of Gunn’s.
Various Artists, Twitch and Gloam: Dark Sounds from The Pacific Northwest – Do I know what the hell this is? Nope, no, I do not. Only that it has my favorite title of the day and that it sounds pretty good. Did Googling the project help solve my confusion? Here’s the available intel on this compilation: “12 tracks of darkness from sound collectives possessing music venues + house shows + art + fashion + film-based social rituals in Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, B.C.” So, no, it did not.
Ghostpoet, Meltdown EP – Latest EP from mush-mouthed, evocative, impressionist London rapper/mumbler, whose music walks a careful line between dubstep and indie-rap.
Hanson, Anthem – NEW HANSON! *****AIRHORN*******
Talk A Good Game – Kelly Rowland, the other prominent ex-member of Destiny’s Child, has a slinkier, dirtier, more explicit take on mainstream R&B than Beyonce; check out the self-explanatory “Kisses Down Low” for the sexually explicit, “Dirty Laundry” for the emotionally so. A great record.
Lemuria, The Distance Is So Big – Vintage emo outfit from Buffalo, NY.
Mac Miller, Watching Movies With the Sound Off – The frattiest of the white frat-rap stars to rise to mainstream prominence of the last few years, Mac Miller tries to shake off that vibe and succeeds, partially, with a weirder and more interesting sophomore effort, featuring Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-Soul, and others. His bid for long-time respectability; it will, at least, prolong his short-term career longevity.
The Mantles, Long Enough To Leave – San Francisco/Bay Area garage-pop outfit returns with second delightfully catchy collection of roughed-up pop songs. There is less crust and squall in the sound now, more Flying Nun.
Matthew Dear, Beams (Expanded Edition) – Matthew Dear reissues his excellent 2012 record Beams with an entire second disc of goodies.
Bill Frisell, Big Sur – An album-length meditation on the glory of the Big Sur, featuring contemporary-classical violist Eyvind Kang alongside Jenny Scheinman on violin, Hank Roberts on cello, and Rudy Royston on drums.