Write Down for What
Not actually a very big drop, mostly because every time I look through the list of what I have, I keep telling myself I need to listen to such-and-such album again one more time before slapping on a grade. So I imagine I’ll have one more of these for pop and rock before the year’s out, and one for jazz coming along sometime this week. Will also try to see how many regular reviews I can squeeze out before the new year rolls around. I’ve put a sort of moratorium on book and film reviews for the time being. Too much other stuff to do to do it properly. Not like anything below was done properly.
DEATH GRIPS – Niggas on the Moon (free download): Barring this thrash-hawp trio actually do what’s expected of them for once in their fucking “career,” consider this first half of a supposed double LP that may never surface the death knell of DG, a final foray into fuzzy violence and vitriolic fun. Picking up where No Love Deep Web left off (note: not Government Plates), MC Ride is unusually contained even when Hill’s beats and Morin’s samples aren’t (and boy are those beats ‘n samples nifty, especially on “Billy Not Really” and “Black Quarterback”), a fine tradeoff in my book, as intensity of their caliber can only be carried so long. And that’s the quality that makes me think this self-proclaimed “conceptual art exhibition” was actually just a peculiar combination of three too-old-to-be-so-rebellious, enigmatic assholes and truly three too-old-to-give-a-shit-about-being-hip, crafty assholes. So who cares if it’s not as brutal as The Money Store? When was brutal ever something you looked for in your alt-rap? Or any other horseshit hybrid of genre fuckery? (“Billy Not Really,” “Black Quarterback”) ***
JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE – Single Mothers (Vagrant): Best thing about Earle’s newest is its fluency; easy Nashville and Memphis, stylized but not overwrought. While Harlem River Blues holds a special place for me, the leadoff/title track of that is too steeped in posturing to compare with the leadoff/title here, where Earle makes an observation outside himself. Possibly his best yet. (“Single Mothers,” “My Baby Drives”) ***
LEONARD COHEN – Popular Problems (Columbia): Perhaps encouraged to release what else is on his mind before he kicks the bucket, the eighty year-old Cohen sounds about as close to the grave as ever, huffing and puffing his way through religious ramblings and last-minute love songs with his signature growl. I enjoy just about every song here, though what gave the edge to his last was its slight blues shuffle. Here he goes more gospel, or at least his raspy spoken-word version of gospel, which relies more on those female backups than ever before. A cookie for anyone who can explain the red and black silhouettes appearing on the covers of this and 2012’s Old Ideas. ***
FREDDIE GIBBS & MADLIB – Piñata (Madlib Invazion): Match made in heaven, though for the life of my I couldn’t tell you what either party is doing structurally. Wherein Gibbs reassesses thug life when his uni-educated B dashes off with a “square ass mothafucka” and devours six wings w/ mild sauce. First half really rips. ***
TRICKY – Adrian Thaws (False Idols): His ‘club’ album, albeit with tropes not necessarily associated with such a scene, namely leftist politics that are moderately articulate. Despite a short skit calling for a revolution (not any specific kind of revolution, just a revolution) and Francesca Belmonte’s whispered plea about a ghetto or something, this at least approaches real-world on the slow-grinding and siren-laden “Palestine Girl” or exhibits soul on bluesy “Keep Me in Your Shake.” True gem is “Lonnie Listen,” all in the music—the clubbiest one, probably—and apolitical, thank God. (“Lonnie Listen,” “Palestine Girl”) ***
SONDRE LERCHE – Please (Mona): I so loved his eponymous seventh, thought him a not-quite-equally-clever and certainly-less-emotionally-honest Jens Lekman, and he really cranked out gems on that album, slow-grinding prologue to poppy pap to voyeuristic love song to kinda break-up ballad. But nothing here stands toe-to-toe with anything there, though the gameplan is awfully similar. (“Legends,” “Bad Law”) **
ROYKSOPP & ROBYN – Do It Again (Cherrytree): Interesting combo. 36-minute workout of five extended cuts that’s far removed from the airy Melody A.M. in the early ‘00s. Royksopp bring the jogging-music beats, Robyn brings the metallic ‘tude. (“Monument,” “Do It Again”) **
PRINCE – Art Official Age (Warner Bros.): Not the comeback all of us were hoping for, but a damn fine effort. Wish more like “Gold Standard” reared its funky head more often. (“Gold Standard”) **
SHABAZZ PALACES – Lese Majesty (Sub Pop): You’d be hard-pressed to find equivalent nominees for Biggest Disappointment for a Follow-Up Album. Sub Pop let Lazaro loose in the studio—not the worst idea, since that’s how he delivered 2011’s meditative Black Up—but it was Tendai Marare’s deep grooves and sudden breaks that grounded Lazaro’s cryptic philosophizing. Lese Majesty suffers from sounding as though everything’s up in a puff of smoke, an experiment in mind expansion that doesn’t quite pull off what its practitioners hope. **
NEHRUVIANDOOM – NehruvianDOOM (Lex Records): Wish this 30 minute sesh was replete with cuts like “Om” and “Darkness,” more for the killer music than the words—up-and-comer Bishop Nehru shares Doom’s affinity for rhyme but not his humor, and that Doom plays producer rather than co-headliner is a bit of a bummer. (“Om,” “Darkness”) **
PHARRELL WILLIAMS – G I R L (Columbia): Flaccid hitmaker finally scores one on his own rather than co-opting someone else’s. (“Happy”) **
FLYING LOTUS – You’re Dead! (Warp): In trying to articulate to a good friend my frustration with Steven Ellison’s latest, the best I could muster was a paltry, “Er, there’s no structure?” Only that isn’t true. You’re Dead!’s structure may be a serious detriment—all the talk about how one song folds into the next is accurate, though nothing ever feels like it’s a natural extension or addition to what came previously, and instead the faux-jazz the Coleman-related computer-whiz concocts crumbles under the weight of a concept that can’t support itself; i.e., exploring the sounds you might encounter right after death sure sounds like a neat idea, though this could just have easily been titled You’re Alive! or You’re Asleep! or You’re in a Fucking Coma! and the reaction would likely have been the same. And it may well be that this is remembered as his magnum opus given that reaction, but I’ll take, uh, anything else he’s done. My pick for “Review Most Likely to Get Me Death Threats.” *
HOMEBOY SANDMAN – White Sands (Stones Throw EP): Third and last in a series of EPs featuring different producers. Weakest of the three, with flaccid beats that undermine his freewheeling flow, not to mention lyrics subpar in comparison with the previous two. *
TONY BENNETT & LADY GAGA – Face to Face (Columbia): Gaga vocally overpowers the eighty-something Bennett (no surprise), but Bennett’s still got it and keeps pace (very surprising). A range of standards, nothing dangerous, completely predictable. *
FKA TWIGS – LP1 (Young Turks): Tahliah Barnett’s originality knows no bounds. After the creatively titled EP1 and EP2, she unpredictably calls this debut long-player LP1. It features what many have dubbed “the future of R&B,” but it’s a lie if ever there was one; nowhere on this slow electroengineered schlep will you find a hint of either rhythm or blues, and many defenders of the album refuse the title anyway. So what is it? In Barnett’s own words: “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
KAREN O – Crush Songs (Cult): Acoustic EP (I guess? 27 minutes?) from former Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman. I don’t mind lo-fi, but there’ve gotta be songs, as underwhelming guitar strums and whispered vocals along don’t cut it.
PHILIP SELWAY – Weatherhouse (Bella Union): Radiohead drummer’s second solo full-length, predictably hushed although with fuller instrumentation. Still, I yawn like a lawn every time his throaty whisper hovers above his airy arrangements.
SINKANE – Mean Love (DFA): Ahmed Gallab ditches vox-box inanities for straightforward pop with hints of Eastern influence. Less compelling than 2012’s Mars.
U2 – Songs of Innocence (free iTunes invasion): The Irish heroes end not with a bang but a whimper, screwing up their swan song in every way conceivable: toiling for five years on so-so songs that neither resemble anything they’ve done nor pushes forward into uncharted waters, hiring producer Danger Mouse to stand at perfect odds with the band’s aesthetic, and dropping this into the iTunes of basically everyone who has it as if they were bequeathing some gift to the ear-addled world, an act of narcissism surprising even for Bono. Yet I admit Bono’s affected crooning sometimes reels me in, though only because The, er, Edge (seriously, do any of these fuckers have real names?) found some new gimmicky guitar trick to riff on, like “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” or “Elevation.” I haven’t liked anything they’ve done since All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and that this is possibly the Biggest Band in the World’s finale does not leave the impression they ever approached being Greatest Band in the World. Kinda does the opposite, actually. But guess who gave it a perfect score?