New This Week: M.I.A., Eminem & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 11.05.13 in Spotlights

Aaaaand we’re back! After two weeks’ hiatus, for a series of boring technical reasons, we’re back with another New This Week roundup. This is one of the last big release weeks of the year but, man, is it a good one. We’ve all had enough of this pro forma intro, I think. Today, we’ve got:

M.I.A., Matangi: M.I.A.’s first record since 2010′s, uhm, divisive MAYA finds her honing back in on some of her traditional strengths. Maura Johnston writes:

If her boastful, stuffed-to-the-gills fourth album Matangi could be summed up with a single, driving question, it would be: “Why?” Her answers are as thorny as the woman answering it. Matangi is a high-wire act, balancing itself between clamor and self-reflection, politics and partying.

Eminem, The Marshal Mathers LP 2: Speaking of “divisive!” Marshall Mathers spent his last record twelve-stepping, hard, making amends to his fans and generally coming off like a cranked-up-to-ten version of the humble, enlightened, recovering addict. Now that that‘s over with, he can go back to villainous role-playing, which he does with gusto on The Marshal Mathers LP 2, the sequel to his most iconic album. Rob Harvilla writes:

Eminem’s seventh major-label solo album is the Rap Game Ulysses: crazy long, crazy dense, and crazy, period. It’s all part of the self-flagellating, astoundingly verbose martyr/menace pose Eminem strikes, a “borderline genius who’s bored of his lines” aware of the ways pop culture passed him by (“I’m all out of Backstreet Boys to call out and attack”), but also the ways it hasn’t. He’s still got it: the good, the bad, the ugly, the uglier, and the astonishing.

Midlake, Antiphon: The solemn, hushed indie-folk outfit lost their lead singer Tim Smith, but reconfigured and pressed onward. Ryan Reed says that the result, their latest album, is their best:

Without being anchored to Smith’s brilliant but singular vision, Midlake became sonically liberated, writing and recording the new batch of material that ultimately became Antiphon in just six months. The result is the most absorbing Midlake album to date: 10 lush, cohesive tracks that maintain the band’s warmth while also journeying toward weirder waters — from the spooky psychedelia of “It’s Going Down” to the hypnotic Medieval prog of “Provider.”

Avril Lavigne, Avril Lavigne: Paramore kind of ate Avril Lavigne’s lunch, finessing the pop-act-with-punk-overtones a lot better than she ever managed, and generally managing a better song-for-song batting average. This self-titled is Lavigne’s most straightforward re-bid for the rock audience in years — most of the songs are explicitly about rock — but it still fits a bit uncomfortably (case in point, I don’t think singing “Radiohead at the top of our lungs” is a thing any human being has ever done, as referenced in “Here’s to Never Growing Up.” Also, poor Radiohead, forever being the band called-out for cool points any time a pop star wants a bit of Automat cred.) This is already a lot of words about an Avril Lavigne record, so I’ll stop now.

Swearin’, Surfing Strange: This scrappy Brooklyn-via-Philly pop-punk group continues to expand their sound. Marc Hogan writes:

Surfing Strange should please fans of similar groups while at the same time stretching out what counts as “similar groups.” Crutchfield still comes off like her favorite band is the Breeders, and fellow singer-guitarist Kyle Gilbride (also of Big Soda) still obviously adores Superchunk, but this album is richer and more varied than its predecessor.

Connan Mockasin, Caramel: Weirded-out, warped, and wobbly lo-fi psych-pop, with a sticky-smeary candy grin and a soft-rock undertone that will be familiar to Ariel Pink devotees. Ian Cohen writes:

Whereas the kaleidoscopic, tropical-hued Dolphin presented Mockasin as part acid casualty, part space oddity and total Kiwi oddball, Caramel is cohesive, earthy and carnal, drawing attention to the sticky, oozing, mahogany nature of its titular candy. There he lies on the album cover, presumably wrapped up in clean white sheets he’s looking to muss up a little (or a lot) and the music takes all of the mystery out of his intentions.

William Onyeabor, World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who Is William Onyeabor?: A classic of late-70s Nigerian afro-funk, from a one-man studio wizard worth getting acquainted with. Richard Gehr writes:

William Onyeabor has an affinity for Big Ideas. He blends nuclear warfare with orgasmic megatonnage in the irrepressible “Atomic Bomb,” discovers spiritual fulfillment in the disco grooves of “Body and Soul,” and conjures an electroclash sermonette in “Why Go to War?” But where afro-funk usually evokes big bands, often augmented by bonus dancing babes, Onyeabor was a one-man studio wizard, comparable to earlyTodd Rundgren or Paul McCartney, who self-produced and -released a handful of solid and spacious sci-fi funk albums between 1977 and ’85.

Latyrx, The Second Album: The first collaboration between Lyrics Born and Lateef the Truthspeaker in 16 years. Sixteen years! Do you know how much has changed in 16 years? Fortunately, not much has changed with Latyrx. The lyrics are still adroit, political and insightful, and the music still oddball galactic funk, the perfect complement to their bounding rhymes.

Bright Eyes, A Christmas Album: If you want any evidence of how much Conor Oberst’s general demeanor has changed over the years, I feel like this is it. A Bright Eyes Christmas record! What a world! What remains is his affinity for gently ramshackle arrangements and subtle Americana shadings, taking a generally tasteful approach to songs that could get hokey pretty quickly.

David Bowie, The Next Day Extra: Expanded edition of the last David Bowie record comes with a second disc of songs that didn’t make the first outing. If you bought it the first time and just want the bonus stuff, The Thin White Duke has handily packaged those in a standalone EP. I liked the last record a lot, so the prospect of seven extra Bowie songs sounds pretty good to me.

Ahnnu, Battered Sphinx: I’m a huge fan of the Vermont cassette label NNA Tapes which, if you don’t know now, you should take some time to discover. Their releases are always edgy in all the right ways — moody ambiance, nervous electronics, format-breaking experimentalism. If you like music that warps the brain, this is the label for you. Ahnnu’s Battered Sphinx is another weird triumph, woozy synth music that buckles and bends. RECOMMENDED

Howe Gelb, The Coincidentalist: Latest solo record from Giant Sand frontman Howe Gelb is as, as you might expect, hushed and restrained. There are elements of country music to be sure — lap steel, gently-brushed snare, but there’s a haze over the songs that makes them feel otherworldly and almost dreamlike.

Blanche Blanche Blanche, Breaking Mirrors: I love this weirdo band. Synth-driven robo-rock outfit Blanche Blanche Blanche have been around for a while now, releasing a series of tapes on various outre labels. In the past, they’ve mostly been the brainchild of Sarah Smith and Zach Phillips, but they’ve expanded to a full band for Breaking Mirrors, their first album recorded in an actual studio. Their songs are full of jabbing acute-angled synths and guitars, with the same kind of herky-jerk stylings that defined super early Devo and XTC. This is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Hubble, Hubble Eagle: Skittering, blip-on-radar experimental music from The Men’s Ben Greenberg full of spiraling pinpricks of guitar and heaving, swelling ambiance. I’ve really got a thing for this band — it’s soothing and unsettling at the same time. RECOMMENDED