Sleigh Bells, âBitter Rivalsâ: Sleigh Bells will release the follow-up to last yearâs Reign of Terror on October 8th. The title track, âBitter Rivals,â and its music video are both appropriately playful and in-your-faceâbasically everything weâve come to expect from the band.
Pixies, âIndie Cindyâ: Following the June release of âBagboy,â the Pixies have unveiled another new track and video, this one from the unexpectedly released EP-1, reportedly the first in a series of new limited edition EPs from the bandââBagboyâ and Kim Deal not included.
Natasha Khan & Jon Hopkins, âGardenâs Heartâ: âGardenâs Heartâ is a collaboration between Bat for Lashesâ Natasha Khan and Jon Hopkins from the soundtrack to Kevin Macdonaldâs new WWIII film, How I Live Now. The music video, directed by Ms. Khan herself, features the filmâs star, Saoirse Ronan.
Moby featuring Wayne Coyne, âThe Perfect Lifeâ: The second single from Mobyâs Innocents, out October 1st on Mute, is, like its predecessor, âA Case for Shame,â a collaboration, this one with Flaming Lips clown Wayne Coyne.
Cults, âHigh Roadâ: âHigh Roadâ is the first official single from NYC duo Cultsâ sophomore effort, Static, out October 15th via Columbia.
Review: Crumbâs Jinx Is a Psych-Rock Debut Thatâs Hard to Shake
The album often feels cerebral and off-kilter, and its dreamlike ambience at times turns nightmarish.4
In his 1973 essay âApproaches to What?,â French writer Georges Perec contemplates Western cultureâs obsession with spectacle, urging us to ignore the distraction of the extraordinary and drink in the everyday, âinfra-ordinaryâ details. âQuestion your teaspoons,â Perec challenges, before asking, âWhat is there under your wallpaper?â
Brooklyn-based psych-pop outfit Crumbâs debut, Jinx, operates in the same regard for the quotidian fabric of life. âPressed my face up close against the glass I see the people/When they pass they move so automatic,â frontwoman and guitarist Lila Ramani sings on âGhostride.â Though Crumbâs lyrics are imbued with a heightened awareness of routine and ritual, their music has an uncanny ability to immerse us deeply in reverb-soaked guitars and synths that float in like a fog. This is psychedelic rock that stops you dead in your tracks without calling flamboyant attention to itself, relying on artful touches like a low-key synth, a distant French horn, and a ghostly slide guitar to intensify the songsâ spellbinding nature.
Jinx often feels cerebral and off-kilter, and its dreamlike ambience at times turns nightmarish. The disorienting âAnd It Never Endsâ captures the claustrophobia of city life, conveying a feeling of alienating paranoia reminiscent of Radioheadâs OK Computer. And though demons haunt Ramani on âThe Letter,â what torments her most is the terrible vacuity of everyday life. On âPart III,â sheâs hyperaware of the subtle yet mindless details of routine: âI waste my time in the morning and evening/Caught in a feeling/I lost my mind looking up at the ceiling.â
With Jinx, Crumb manages to distinguish themselves among the latest crop of promising alt-rock bands. The shape of their sound is clearly delineated: Ramaniâs plainspoken vocal glides over the gossamer lightness of the bandâs soundscapes, forging a distinctive musical identity for the band. Though their sonic palate is monochromatic, their music is both cogent and engrossing. Jinx feels like a hallucination that proves hard to shake.
Label: Crumb Buy: Amazon
Interview: Calexico and Iron & Wine Talk Years to Burn and Collaboration
Joey Burns and Sam Beam spoke with reverence about each other, revealing their multifaceted relationship.
From âFather Mountain,â which urges you to savor love in the face of lifeâs inevitabilities, to âIn Your Own Time,â with its shadowy images flirting with the nightmarish, thereâs a melancholy percolating beneath Years to Burn, the second collaborative album from Iron and Wine and Calexico. In a recent conversation with Iron and Wine, a.k.a. Sam Beam, and Calexicoâs Joey Burns, the musicians spoke with reverence about each other, both personally and professionally, revealing their multifaceted relationship.
As elusive as the exact source of Years to Burnâs mellowness might be, the work on the project was, to hear Beam and Burns tell it, focused and grounded. The album grew, as Beam says, âout of a determination and a willingness to work together. After we made [2005âs In the Reins], that time we spent together promoting it, and just sort of playing together for so long, formed really strong bondsâfamilial bondsâand we just really enjoy each otherâs company.â
The questions they faced were, according to Burns, âWell, where do you go next? Do you do begin where you last left off or do you just go somewhere totally different?â As it happened, they wouldnât have too much of an opportunity to ruminate about that: Their time in the studio was limited to five days, and they limited the number of musicians they used, sticking with tried-and-true band members like John Convertino, Paul Niehaus, and Paul Valenzuela. Burns describes a fairly stoic regimen: âYou show up at 10 oâclock, do some work, break for lunch, work up until dinner, finish up or just listen back, and then do it all over again. Thereâs really not much time for hanging out or doing anything else.â
These limitations ended up working to the albumâs benefit. âHaving a limited amount of time kind of forces you as an artist to make decisions,â Beam says. âYou can get really hung up on what the right choices are, and thatâs kind of an endless question. With this approach, Iâm able to separate myself in a way where I say, well, this is the best choice that weâve made on this day from this point in the snapshot of our best ideas at the moment. And to me thatâs a freeing thing. You make decisions, and those decisions stick, and you live with them, and then you can move on to the next thing.â
Remarkably, Beam and Burns and the other musicians surrounding them found room to improvise and experiment within their constraints. The most evident sign of this, âBittersweet,â is an entrancing mix of three songs. Burns says it started with his primary partner in Calexico, John Convertino, who suggested they do one song that was totally free of lyrics, chords, and rhythm. âI came up with a title for that, âOutside El Paso,â sort of connecting us geographically,â Burns remembers. âAnd, of course, there we were in Nashville. And so Sam had a song called âTennessee Train.â And I thought, hey, what if we took just one chord and we just made a â70s groove? And we wound up putting some really great trumpet solos on that. We added some backing vocals. And since it was sort of linked with the song âTennessee Train,â we started bridging those together. And then I suggested that we take one of the verses and translate it into Spanish for Jacob [Valenzuela] to sing. And then that became sort of a medley. Everything fell together really naturally and quickly.â
Burns describes other moments of productive experimenting too: âWe had John Convertino climb into this big old empty tall echo-chamber. Itâs at the studio. And we had him record the drum intro [for âWhat Heavenâs Leftâ]. And he had to carry his floor tom inside there. Itâs a very small opening. Itâs like a tiny window. And basically what you do is you put a microphone at one end of this room, and then at the other end you put a speaker. And thatâs how you get the natural reverb sound.â
Though Beam had clear ideas about how he wanted the album to proceed, he also welcomed and appreciated these gestures of spontaneity. âItâs what can potentially make music really exciting, recording music and also playing music,â he says. âItâs sort of losing the safety net and stretching out. And so I wanted to make sure that we incorporated that into what we were making this time. Last time, I donât feel like we really did that, because I didnât really understand that about them at the time.â
Time has made the two bands more effective collaborators. The way Burns sees it, time has changed them, but thatâs inevitable: âWeâre just different people. Different experiences have accumulated. And so thereâs a different end result. And not only that, but if we were to record the same songs and do another album like this, a week or a month later, it probably would come out a lot differently. Thatâs the beauty of thisâit just depends on the mood and the vibe and the place where youâre at, and where everyone is at internally or emotionally.â
Beam, similarly, takes time in stride but is also curious about the changes it could bring. âIt was odd, you know, that almost 15 years had passed in between, kind of crazy to think of,â he says. âThe first time we did it, we hadnât worked together before, so I was just sort of bringing in songs without knowing what it would sound like or what the collaboration would end up being like. And this time, it was 15 years later, so I was looking over my memories, and memories can be not quite so trustworthy sometimes. But I was also working off those strengths, and then also trying some new things.â
And so what of the songs themselves? Many musical collaborations sound like they were were designed by committee. With Years to Burn, like collaborations ranging from that of Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong and reaching all the way back to Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, something just works. While you might hear traces of each individual performer in the mix, the sound created is unique.
Beam says collaboration drove everything here, starting with the track sequence: âThere were thematic elements going on in the songs chosen for the album. I think we were all really intent on there being a lot of shared singing responsibilities. And so, in putting the sequence together I really wanted to feel like we kept sort of passing the baton around. When youâre putting those things together, youâre looking for a sort of sonic feel, flow, variety. Youâre looking for different kinds of musical movements, and then also passing the baton around like a hot potato of singing responsibilities.â
And yet Beamâs process for writing the songs on the album (he wrote all but one of them) was fairly private and intuitive. âWriting songs is not a math problem,â he says. âThereâs not a right or wrong answer. So you kind of do what you feel like at the moment. Itâs a matter of what youâre trying to achieve with a song, any individual one. If you want to express an idea outside of your experience and live into that, songs and art are a great place to do that, to explore an ideal or fantasy. I donât really do that. I just talk about my experience, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. But I guess thatâs just where my mind is when I sit down to write. I get contemplative.â The album, indeed, is all about thoughts, and the emotions behind them, more than itâs about tangible things; these songs float just outside of what we might easily summarize. And yet the feelings and impressions being described in the songs are quite real, and recognizable, becoming more poignant with each listen.
Taylor Swift Drops Star-Studded, Pride-Themed âYou Need to Calm Downâ Video
The video takes the notion of visibility as a means of acceptance to the extreme.
After years of political agnosticism, Taylor Swift endorsed two Tennessee Democrats during the 2018 midterm elections, prompting a backlash from white supremacists and their dear leader, Donald Trump. In the span of less than a year, the singer went from being the Aryan goddess of the alt-right to being called out as an agent of sodomy in a sermon by a homophobic pastor and sheriffâs deputy in her home state.
Swiftâs path to wokeness has been a long one, and while the launch of her new single, âYou Need to Calm Down,â during LGBT Pride Month might feel like the equivalent of Google slapping a rainbow flag on their logo, her activismâwhich included a recent $113,000 donation to a Tennessee LGBT organizationâseems like more than just a branding opportunity. âTo be an ally is to understand the difference between advocating and baiting,â Swift posted on Tumblr after rumors circulated that she kisses former rival Katy Perry in the video for âYou Need to Calm Down,â the second single from Swiftâs seventh album, Lover.
The clip does, however, take the notion of visibility as a means of acceptance to the extreme, featuring cameos from RuPaul, Ellen DeGeneres, Adam Lambert, Adam Rippon, Laverne Cox, Billy Porter, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (whom she serenaded at a surprise performance at New Yorkâs Stonewall Inn last week), and other queer celebrities, YouTube stars, and allies.
Directed by Swift and Drew Kirsch, the video opens with the pop singer waking up in a pastel-colored trailer home adorned with kitschy paintings and a framed Cher quote (âMom, I am a rich manâ). She makes herself a cotton-candy smoothie, takes a dip the cleanest above-ground pool youâll ever see, and parades through the trailer parkâs pride-themed festivities, which includes a âpop queen pageantâ featuring drag versions of Swift, Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Adele, Cardi B, BeyoncĂ©, Nicki Minaj, and Katy Perry.
The real Katy pops up for a heartfelt reunion with Swift that makes âYou Need to Calm Downââwhich seems to strive for, but falls short of, the campy eye candy that Perry has honed in her own videos over the yearsâfeel like a bachelorette party at a gay bar. But just in case you question Swiftâs allegiance to the cause, the video ends with a message urging viewers to sign her petition for Senate support of the Equality Act.
Swiftâs album, Lover, is due August 23 via Republic Records.
Review: Yeasayerâs Erotic Reruns Is a Collection of Benign Love Songs
The album aims for an enthralling vision of infatuation, but the bandâs message rings hollow.2
Yeasayerâs decade-plus-spanning discography is eclectic, purveying everything from world music (All Hour Cymbals) to austere electro (Fragrant World) to outlandish psych rock (Amen & Goodbye). As a relic of the bygone age of neo-hippie pantheism marshaled by the likes of Animal Collective and MGMT, the experimental rock outfit faces the quandary of evolving their sound for todayâs indie landscape, which favors the low-key over the baroque. On Erotic Reruns, the band dives headfirst into flowery pop-rock, accomplishing yet another stylistic about-face and pruning away their most esoteric tendencies.
Throughout their fifth studio album, Yeasayer aims to transmit an enthralling vision of infatuation, but their message rings hollow. With its truncated verses and refrain, opener âPeople I Lovedâ seems hastily assembled, and its âna-na-naâ hook quickly grows tiring. The bandâs lyrics are often half-baked, making the rapture of falling in love on the plodding piano-driven âIâll Kiss You Tonightâ feel like a rather banal occurrence.
Even when Yeasayer is primed toward eliciting the longing and lust of infatuation, their sound is fettered by exaggeration. âLet Me Listen in on Youâ is chock-full of sweet nothings like âI can make your dreams come true,â and its florid strings give the chorus a sense of overdone theatricality. Elsewhere, a high-pitched vocal and carnival synth grant âEcstatic Babyâ a whimsy so overblown that one imagines the track would be deemed too cheesy for an Apple commercial. When Yeasayar does accomplish to tap into loveâs exhilaration, they relay it with a heavy hand, making already sentimental concepts feel saccharine.
Erotic Reruns is a collection of ultimately benign love songs, as the eroticism proposed by the albumâs title is glaringly absent across 29 scant minutes. Yeasayer are amiable, starry-eyed musicians whose sound, at its best, is inviting even as it overreaches. But while a concern for authenticity may not be pop musicâs primary enterprise, among its virtues is its capacity to consistently excite and enchant. Try as they might, Yeasayer fail to attain either.
Label: Yeasayer Release Date: June 7, 2019 Buy: Amazon
Review: Titus Andronicusâs An Obelisk Is All Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing
On a superficial level, the ostensibly back-to-basics album could charitably be described as workmanlike.2
It takes balls to open your rock album by screaming about âan inferior version of rock nâ roll,â as Patrick Stickles does on âJust Like Ringing a Bell,â the opening track of Titus Andronicusâs An Obelisk. The bandâs ostensibly back-to-basics sixth album could charitably be described as workmanlike. Stickles and longtime sideman Liam Betsonâs guitar tones are fuzzy and chunky in all the right ways, and Stickles has his punk-rock growl down pat. But these are mere superficialities; loud guitars and screaming have hardly been the main focal point of the bandâs sound. On An Obelisk, though, theyâre just about all that Stickles and company have to offer. Forgive the clichĂ©, but they asked for it by naming themselves after a Shakespeareâs tragedy: The album is the very epitome of sound and fury signifying nothing.
An Obelisk arrives just 15 months after the expectation-subverting A Productive Cough, but it couldnât be more different, despite the fact that Stickles wrote both albums around the same time, separating the material into the bangers found here and the prior albumâs more complex and mellower epics. This may sound like a welcome news for fans who struggled to embrace A Productive Coughâs cavalcade of guest musicians and auxiliary percussion, horns, and other instrumentation. But anyone whoâs been clamoring for Titus Andronicus to make a uniformly hard and fast punk album like this one hasnât been paying attention to what the band is about.
One of Titus Andronicusâs greatest strengths has always been the dichotomies in their musicâthose juxtapositions of the quiet and loud, the portentous and the irreverent. This is, after all, a band whose first album, The Airing of Grievances, borrowed its name from a Seinfeld episode, and whose breakthrough, The Monitor, was an epic concept album about the Civil War that they managed to somehow top five years later with a 90-minute rock opera about bipolar disorder. An Obelisk is loosely conceptual, but unlike The Monitor and The Most Lamentable Tragedy, thereâs no discernable narrative or character to hang onto here. We do, though, get a narrator, known as Troubleman, who serves as little more than a thin veneer from behind which Stickles can excuse his under-baked ideas. After all, one wouldnât expect the guy who wrote ambitious epics like âA More Perfect Unionâ and âNumber One (in New York)â to be capable of penning the adolescent inanities that constitute the lazy three-chord blunders that are â(I Blame) Societyâ and âTumult Around the World.â But he did.
From the generic stick-it-to-the-man platitudes of â(I Blame) Societyâ and the 68-second âOn the Streetâ (âThereâs too many police on the street/And theyâre all after me!â), to the clearly unintentional parody of hardcore punk that is the 88-second âBeneath the Boot,â itâs almost hard to believe how dumb these songs are. Stickles has successfully managed to confront his demons in increasingly creative and resonant ways, from inventing a doppelganger on The Most Lamentable Tragedy to turning those demons into a party on A Productive Coughâs âAbove the Bodega (Local Business),â but âMy Body and Meâ is insultingly glib: âMy body and me, we donât always get along/He tells me itâs all right, I tell him heâs all wrong.â
Producer Bob Mould, apparently unable to transfer whatever is powering his late-career renaissance to other artists, does capture an organic live-in-the-studio sound that shows the bandâs current lineupâStickles, Betson, and rhythm section R.J. Gordon and Chris Wilsonâdoesnât lack for intensity. But with so many flat, unoriginal riffs and unmemorable choruses, thereâs just not enough meat here to reward that approach, and despite its unrelenting volume, An Obelisk just feels empty without the wide-ranging dynamics and ambitious arrangements that have, until now, defined Titus Andronicusâs music.
Mercifully, most of the songs are over and done with quickly enough, though only a coupleâthe bright âJust Like Ringing a Bellâ and the freewheeling âTroubleman Unlimited,â the only tracks here that donât sound like âan inferior version of rock ân rollââstick to the ribs at all. A few grind on unimaginatively for over five minutes, either to the point of boredom (âWithin the Gravitronâ) or absurdity (âHey Ma,â with its face-palm-inducing imitation-bagpipe guitar solo). Like all of Troublemanâs diatribes, they just feel like a lot of hot air.
Label: Merge Release Date: June 21, 2019 Buy: Amazon
Review: The Raconteursâs Help Us Stranger Is a Robust Return to Form
The album proves that thereâs still more to be mined from the supposedly anachronistic guitar-rock template.4.5
The Raconteurs were initially billed as an outlet for Jack White to step outside of the self-imposed sandbox of the White Stripes. But coming after a period during which Whiteâs workâas both a solo artist and with the Dead Weatherâhas become increasingly untethered from his original no-frills ethos, the Raconteursâs first album in 11 years, Help Us Stranger, feels like a robust return to form for the musician.
But the Raconteurs shouldnât just be viewed through a White-centric prism. Thereâs no better contemporary rock example of two halves of a songwriting duo, like John Lennon and Paul McCartney, uncannily counterbalancing the otherâs strengths and weaknesses than White and singer-songwriter Brendan Benson. Bensonâs irrepressible melodic instincts keep Whiteâs focus on his songcraft, while Whiteâs boundless energy coaxes new tiers of passion from Benson, a less expressive vocalist and more rudimentary lyricist than White.
As White and Benson trade vocals on the albumâs savage opener, âBored and Razed,â with Whiteâs spitfire verses building into Bensonâs soaring choruses, their twin lead guitars batter away at each other like feral animals. Add Patrick Keelerâs thunderous drumming, and the band enters a dimension of pure rock power theyâve only ever succeeded in accessing together. The Raconteurs may lack the unconventional optics and charming minimalism of the White Stripes or the relentless power-pop hooks of Bensonâs solo work, but Help Us Stranger is another compelling exhibit in the bandâs continuing quest to prove that thereâs still more to be mined from the supposedly anachronistic guitar-rock template.
Almost every track here is another example of one that would never have reached the same heights without the contributions of each band member. The main guitar riff of âSunday Driverâ is far from Whiteâs most indelible, but combined with Jack Lawrenceâs revving bassline and Whiteâs own swaggering vocals and squealing lead guitarâcontrasted with Bensonâs laidback, psych-tinged, harmony-drenched bridgeâthe result is one of the most well-rounded and satisfying straight-up rock songs White has made since, well, the last Raconteurs album.
Likewise, with Whiteâs frenzied guitar and Lawrenceâs fat, greasy sonic low end, the Benson-led blue-eyed soul of âNow That Youâre Goneâ becomes a lighter-waving anthem. The band proves itself able to apply this effortless chemistry to any type of song, running the gamut from the groovy Detroit-style garage rock of âWhatâs Yours Is Mineâ to the yearning bluegrass ballad âThoughts and Prayers.â With âHelp Me Stranger,â the Raconteurs even uncover something fresh, with White and Bensonâs Everly Brothers-style harmonizing and acoustic strumming getting a quirky, modern kick from the off-kilter rhythmic foundation provided by Keelerâs upside-down snare drum and Lawrenceâs heavy bass-pedal work.
While the disparity in fame between the band members may forever doom the Raconteurs to being remembered as one of Whiteâs âside projects,â such a view is ignorant of both the bandâs overall chemistry and White and Bensonâs virtually equal songwriting talents. In fact, itâs the Benson-heavy songs here that make the most lasting impression, and White was clearly responsible for the albumâs only misfire, âDonât Bother Me,â a generic bar-band choogle over which White angrily sputters about his old nemeses, the âclicking and swipingâ generation.
Both the melancholy Beatlesque pop of âOnly Childâ and the swooning country-soul of âSomedays (I Donât Feel Like Trying)â rank among Bensonâs very best work to date, with Whiteâs multi-textured, ever-inventive guitar riffs and the rock solid rhythm section elevating Bensonâs usual sad-sack routine toward true pathos. Help Us Stranger reaches its emotional apex during the latterâs honey-sweet outro: âIâm here right now, not dead yet,â Benson repeats, leaping registers as the band slowly works up to a fevered pitch behind him. Corny as it sounds, he might as well be singing about rock nâ roll itself. Few other bands out there are such compelling proof of its enduring viability.
Label: Third Man Release Date: June 21, 2019 Buy: Amazon
Review: Silversun Pickupsâs Widowâs Weeds Is a Clear-Eyed and Intrepid Renewal
The album grants us backstage access to the band at its most vulnerable and personal.4
Ever since the success of 2006âs Carnavas, the Silversun Pickups have had a hard time leaving the safety of their comfort zone. Without slipping completely into self-parody, each of the Los Angeles-based rock bandâs subsequent releases has seen them tempering their winning formula with only cautious variations on Brian Aubertâs breathy, quavering vocals and their thick Gaussian blur of sonic distortion and reverb. The groupâs dalliance with Depeche Mode-style synth-pop on 2015âs Better Nature boasted tantalizing moments of sparkling elegance and pulse-racing throttle, but its dependence on booming yet generically applied electronics left the album feeling vacant, even lethargic.
Enter Butch Vig. For a band that canât quite quit its love for â90s alternative rock, their choice to enlist the production wizard behind Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, and the Foo Fighters seems only fitting. But their fifth album, Widowâs Weeds, is anything but a sentimental rehash of the good olâ days. Instead, the album profits mightily from the veteran producerâs ability to transition established acts into more mature, self-assured iterations of themselves, without scrapping the essence of what made those bands great in the first place.
Widowâs Weeds thus grants us backstage access to the band at its most vulnerable and personal, but also its most clear-eyed and intrepid. After years of lackluster reviews and a string of personal struggles, the Silversun Pickups were perfectly poised for renewal and, as Aubert croons on âDonât Know Yet,â the band has worked hard to âreboot the machine.â Under Vigâs steady hand, theyâve stripped away the stylistic accretions of their previous albums and come up with a much tighter, more identifiably rock sound. From its opening notes, the album presents a band brimming with reclaimed confidence and vitality, one that need no longer take refuge behind endless waves of feedback and sonic distractions.
Right out of the gate, âNeon Wound,â as it chugs along to the metronomic precision of Christopher Guanlaoâs drums, unrolls the perfectly pointed welcome mat for those familiar with the Silversun Pickups. âHello, my friend,â Aubert sings, almost winkingly, âItâs nice to see you again/Now that weâre on the mend.â The songâs taut spareness gradually drifts off into what sounds like little more than a listless B-side from Better Nature, but âIt Doesnât Matter Whyâ hurries in to take up the slack in full-charging tempo.
To be sure, Aubert and the gang have given up no ground in creating soundscapes of great power and intensity, sculpting with staccato rhythms and relentless builds the jumpy, nervous tension of a downed power line. Where on previous efforts that tension relied on muddy guitar riffs or Lesterâs alchemic keyboard effects, this is an album driven by instrumentation and tightly crafted movements. Excesses of distortion have been peeled away to reveal the musical proficiency beneath, so that the finger-picked intro to âIt Doesnât Matter Why,â the sensuous chord bends of âSimpatico,â and the poppy electronics on âDonât Know Yetâ receive their full technical due. And the timely flourishes of orchestral support across the album add interesting melodrama to the streamlined arrangements. What results is a sultry, if not still-too-hesitant, intimacy that allows songs to shimmer with moments of nuance and sophistication.
In keeping with this shift toward musical accessibility, Aubertâs lyrics have acquired a greater transparency. His customary blend of cerebral metaphors and visual imagery still prevails, but his language has become more plainly self-referential, lending unmitigated tenderness to the songs. And without having to compete any longer with the drone of sheer loudness, heâs able to showcase a range of peaks and valleys that ventures boldly outside of his typical monotone.
But for all of Aubertâs newfound reach, the punch of his vocal thrusts throughout Widowâs Weeds wouldnât be possible without the harmonic parries of bassist Nikki Monninger. Her contributions on albums past have supplied softness and moderation to some of the groupâs brawnier impulses (âGun-Shy Sunshine,â âRagamuffinâ), and while it seems sheâll always be stuck at second mic, sheâs no longer merely echoing Aubertâs lead. Her husky alto provides flawless melodic counterpoint on the ethereal âFreakazoidâ and the restless âSongbirds,â and she offsets Aubertâs gravelly baritone on âWidowâs Weedsâ with delicate grace.
The album also conjures the ghosts of exemplars past, sampling a whisper of Placeboâs âPure Morning,â a hint of Radioheadâs âParanoid Android,â and a whiff of the guitar crunches from Alice in Chainsâs âMan in the Box.â Especially on âStraw Manâ and âSimpatico,â the sleek, cleaned-up sound does little to hide the bandâs influences. But if the going recommendation is to steal like an artist, then Silversun Pickups have appropriated their indulgences happily and in good faith. âSongbirdsâ bursts out of the speakers like a post-pubertal âPanic Switch,â still bristling with angsty vigor but far more composed and sure of itself. In contrast, âBag of Bones,â a meandering blunder, just shuffles along aimlessly and repetitiously.
Elsewhere, âSimpaticoâ spotlights the bandâs calmer, quieter tendencies while offering some of the albumâs most intricate guitar work. And the hardest-hitting yet most nostalgic track, âWe Are Chameleons,â lives up to its title by mopping up virtually every color and texture of Carnavas and wringing it out into a frenzied sonic meltdown that defies the restraint and self-control that led up to it. Widowâs Weeds may lack the arena-sized atmospherics and anthemic party songs of past Silversun Pickups efforts, but with each additional listen the hooks sink in deeper and the melodies stay longer in your head. Itâs catchy, heartfelt, and far less forgettable thanâŠwhat were those previous two albums named again?
Label: New Machine Release Date: June 7, 2019 Buy: Amazon
Review: Madonnaâs Madame X Is a Fearless, Eccentric Musical Memoir
The album is the work of an artist reawakened, and one whoâs got something to say.4
Madonnaâs 2005 EDM opus Confessions on a Dance Floor is considered by many to be the 21st-century standard for both every new album the singer releases and contemporary dance-pop at large. Though glorious in its own right, it seemed, at the time, like the work of an artist in damage control. The damage was 2003âs American Life, a personal, politically strident, and humorless album that became Madonnaâs first commercial failure in 20 years. It also happens to mark the last time the queen of pop appeared to make music purely on her own terms, without any consideration of the charts or what the public expected of herâa novel idea for an artist in the business of making, well, popular music.
Of course, Madonna has never been your average pop star. Though her music has deep roots in R&B and disco, she is, at heart, a rock auteur, with all of the inclinations toward upending the status quo and expressing a singular vision that designation implies. Her last album, 2015âs Rebel Heart, was designed by committee, while its predecessor, MDNA, was recorded during a period when she seemed more interested in directing movies and extending her brand than making music. So it makes sense that when she decided to forgo songwriting camps and aspirations of a late-career radio hit for her 14th album, Madame X, Madonna turned to French producer Mirwais, her primary collaborator on American Life.
In other words, Madame X sounds like the work of an artist reawakened, and one whoâs got something to say. Itâs a development reportedly inspired by her time in Lisbon, where she was surrounded by musicians and art in a way she hadnât been since her pre-fame days in the East Village. The influence of Lisbonâs multicultural history can be heard on tracks like the fado-meets-Motown âCrazyââco-produced by Mike Dean, the albumâs other principal knob-twirlerâand the polyrhythmic âBatuka,â featuring Afro-Portuguese group Orquestra de Batukadeiras.
Madame X plays like a musical memoir, sometimes literally: âI came from the Midwest/Then I went to the Far East/I tried to discover my own identity,â Madonna sings on the Eastern-inflected âExtreme Occident,â referencing her rise to fame and spiritual awakening, famously documented on her 1998 album Ray of Light. A multi-part suite that shifts abruptly from electro-pop dirge to classical ballet and back again, âDark Balletâ is a Kafkaesque treatise on faith and her lifelong crusade against the patriarchal forces of religion, gender, and celebrityâan existential battle echoed in the Jean-Paul Sartre-quoting closing track âI Rise.â
The albumâs autobiography is also conveyed sonically: Itâs a thrill to hear Madonna singing over a â90s house beat on the smoldering âI Donât Search I Find.â But despite its ballroom strings, finger-snaps, and throaty spoken-word bridge, comparing it to âVogueâ or âEroticaâ would be too easy. This isnât a song so much as a mood. Itâs downstairs music, the distant bassline rumbling beneath your feet as you slip into a bathroom stall for a quick bump or fuck.
Madonna has a reputation for being a trendsetter, but her true talent lies in bending those trends to her will, twisting them around until theyâre barely recognizable, and creating something entirely new. The albumâs piĂšce de rĂ©sistance, at least in that regard, is the six-minute âGod Control,â which begins with Madonna conjuring the spirit and disaffected monotone of Kurt CobainââI think I understand why people get a gun/I think I understand why we all give up,â she sings through clenched teethâbefore the whole thing implodes into a euphoric, densely layered samba-disco-gospel mash-up. Throughout the song, Madonnaâs vocals alternate between Auto-Tuned belting, urgent whispers, and Tom Tom Club-style rapping as she takes on the gaslight industrial complex and so-called political reformers. On paper, it might sound like the ingredients for a musical Hindenburg, butâsomewhere around the midpoint, when she declares, âItâs a con, itâs a hustle, itâs a weird kind of energy!ââit all coheres into the most exhilaratingly batshit thing sheâs done in years.
If, metaphorically, Madame X represents Madonnaâs rediscovery of her voice as an artist, then it also highlights the literal loss of it. Over the years, the soft edges of her voice have grown sharper, and the albumâs pervasive vocal effectsâmost gratuitous on the electro-ragga âFutureâ and, to a lesser degree, the haunting âLooking for Mercyââhave a distancing effect. The heavy Auto-Tune on Music and American Life was deployed in service of larger conceptual themes like imperfection (âNobodyâs Perfectâ) and anonymity (âNobody Knows Meâ), contrasted by the bare performances of more confessional songs like âEasy Ride.â Here, filters are indiscriminately thrown on nearly every song, which only serves to obscure Madonnaâs humanity. On âMedĂ©llin,â for example, her admission that âFor once, I didnât have to hide myselfâ is pointlessly cloaked in Auto-Tune, keeping us at a remove.
When Madonna isnât singing with what sounds like a mouthful of gumballs on âCrave,â the rawness of her voice amplifies the nakedness of her lyrics: âRan so far to try to find the thing I lacked/And there it was inside of me.â Likewise, you can hear the grit and grief in her voice when, on âCrazy,â she sings, âI bent my knees for you like a prayer/My God, look at me now.â The track âKillers Who Are Partyingâ has been flagged by some critics for its lyricsâostensibly inspired by scripture, the post-World War II poem âFirst they cameâŠ,â or maybe bothâbut the naĂŻvetĂ© of Madonnaâs words would be more cringe-inducing if her delivery wasnât quite so bewitching. Mirwaisâs arrangement, too, casts a spell: Old world meets new world as mournful fado guitar and accordion swirl beneath the trackâs stuttering beats and warped synths.
Madame X is fearless, the sound of an artist unapologetically indulging all of her whims and quirks. The garish favela funk of âFaz Gostosoâ and the racy reggaeton of âBitch Iâm Locaââfeaturing Anitta and Maluma, respectivelyâfeel out of place amid the albumâs otherwise refined sonic palette. But even when Madonna falters, at least you know youâre getting the real deal and not some version of a pop icon cooked up in a songwriting lab.
Label: Interscope Release Date: June 14, 2019 Buy: Amazon
Mykki Blanco Is a Trans Joan of Arc in Madonnaâs âDark Balletâ Video â Watch
The self-described transfeminine rapper stars in the video from the queen of pop’s upcoming album Madame X.
While presenting Madonna with GLAADâs Advocate for Change award last month, Mykki Blanco hinted that a collaboration with the queen of pop might be imminent. Sure enough, the self-described transfeminine rapper stars in the video for âDark Ballet,â the final track to be released in the lead-up to Madonnaâs new album, Madame X.
Directed by Dutch Ghanaian visual artist Emmanuel Adjei, âDark Balletâ echoes the themes of Madonnaâs infamous âLike a Prayerâ video, awash with Catholic iconography and a storyline revolving around a persecuted black person. But thatâs where the similarities end. The singer only briefly appears in the clip, behind a black veil, and the burning crosses of her 1989 video are traded for a ceremonial burning at the stake.
The video is frenetic and non-linear, opening with Blanco held captive in a stonewalled room, wrapped in a dirty white robe. Wrists bound with rope, heâs led by clergymen to be executed for an undisclosed crime. Heâs then seen dancing, first in a cathedralâpleading with the men, who forsake himâand then in the churchâs sanctuary, dressed in a gold corset reminiscent of the iconic one designed by Jean Paul Gaultier for Madonnaâs Blond Ambition Tour. Madonna is, in effect, all over the video, but her casting of a queer person of color as the oppressed, rather than herself, spotlights the disproportionate impact of the patriarchy on minorities.
Produced by Madonna and longtime collaborator Mirwais, the song itself is an ambitious electro suite featuring a heavily Auto-Tuned denouncement of gender, lies, and fame, before the track breaks into Tchaikovskyâs âDance of the Reed Pipesâ from The Nutcracker accompanied by a robot Joan of Arc proclaiming her faith. (Thereâs a brief, blink-and-youâll-miss-it shot from Carl Theodor Dreyerâs 1928 film The Passion of Joan of Arc near the beginning of the video.) The song is a reminder of the wacky magic Madonna and Mirwais are capable of cooking up together.
Madame X will be released on June 14 via Interscope Records.
Review: Miley Cyrusâs She Is Coming Feels Like Empty Posturing
The singer finds her groove when she follows a less strident tack.2.5
The only thing Miley Cyrusâs critics found more problematic than her appropriation of black culture on her 2013 album Bangerz was the singerâs utter abandonment of hip-hop on 2017âs Younger Now. That album was marked by a more mellow pop-rock sound, complemented by a newly squeaky-clean image that found her literally frolicking in a country meadow. The move was seen as confirmation that Cyrusâs interest in hip-hop is merely performative, and her recent renunciation of Younger Now and subsequent pivot back toward urban-influenced pop is unlikely to quash that impression.
She Is Coming, the first of three EPs that Cyrus plans to release throughout the year, is rife with references to her newfound toughness. Lead single âMotherâs Daughterâ boasts an admirable feminist-adjacent messageââDonât fuck with my freedomââbut Cyrusâs standoffish pose feels like so much empty posturing, making the bravado of Taylor Swiftâs Reputation seem downright menacing. On the mercifully brief âUnholy,â Cyrus tosses off glib vaunts like âIâm a little bit unholy/So what? So is everyone else,â while an unintentionally comical quip about having sex next to takeout food may arouse little in listeners besides a sudden compulsion to sanitize their kitchen counter.
The EPâs dubious employment of hip-hop tropes and graphic sexual metaphors reaches its nadir on ballroom-inspired âCattitude,â part boast track and part ode to Mileyâs female prowess: âI love my pussy, that means I got cattitude/If you donât feel what Iâm saying, I donât fuck with you.â RuPaulâs presence lends a certain tongue-in-cheek quality to the song, but given the straight-faced appropriation on display throughout the rest of She Is Coming, itâs impossible not to consider this one with as much seriousnessâthat is, not much at all. When, at the end of the track, Cyrus awkwardly raps, âYouâre just mad âcause your hair is flat,â itâs hard to tell if sheâs taking the piss or deliberately provoking her critics.
Which is a shame, as Cyrus finds her groove when she doesnât try so hard, as on âD.R.E.A.M.,â a hazy confessional that, true to its title, is dreamy enough to forgive its puerile conflation of chemical and romantic euphoria. Even an initially jarring coda from Ghostface Killah feels of a piece with the impeccably produced trackâs distorted guitars and slyly discomfiting beat. The ragga-inspired âParty Up the Streetâ likewise cushions its drug-induced reverie with pillowy keyboards and swoony orchestral flourishes. Unless the subsequent EPs in this series follow this less strident tack, Bangerz might start to seem like an act of cultural reverence.
Label: RCA Release Date: May 31, 2019