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: Pet Shop Boysâs Hotspot Points to Potential Joy Amid a Backdrop of Dread
If the world is burning, the album asserts, you might as well enjoy the bonfire.4
Reportedly the last in a trilogy of collaborations with producer Stuart Price, Hotspot is stuffed with instantly infectious melodies and lyrics that flaunt the Pet Shop Boysâs fierce intellect. Eternally sly postmodernists Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are at their funniest here, embedding bouncy synths with barbs directed at failing political institutions across the globe (their own kind of hotspot), social hypocrisies, and even themselves.
The bleeping synth hook of the opening track, âWill-o-the-Wisp,â is the sonic equivalent of mainlining sucrose, and only Tennant would think to use the songâs chorus as an occasion to reference the Vienna U-Bahn metro system. But heâs after something less esoteric and much knottier. A kind of sequel to 1993âs groundbreaking âCan You Forgive Her?,â a song about repressed homosexuality, âWill-o-the-Wispâ finds the narrator running into an old flame on a train and wondering whatâs become of him and whether the two will even acknowledge each other. âBut maybe you’ve gone respectable/With a wife and job and all that,â Tennant deadpans in a tone of hilarious disdain that suggests no fate could be more horrifying, before delivering the come-on: âGive me a smile for old time’s sake/Before you run away.â
Hotspot consistently points to potential joy amid a backdrop of dread. Over the euphoric house keyboards of âHappy People,â Tennantâs nimble rapped verses (lest we forget that this is the group that launched their career with âWest End Girlsâ) allude to âThe sense of so much missing/When the world gets in the way.â Lead single âDreamlandââfeaturing Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander, whose own work is indebted to the Pet Shop Boysâmight scan at first as romantic four-on-the-floor club filler, but the famously progressive and unflinching Tennant employs the titleâs fantastical metaphor to eviscerate the very real leaders whoâve abdicated their countriesâ responsibility to take in refugees. âYou don’t need a visa,â he sings of an imagined destination. âYou can come and go and still be here.â
Not all is (quite) so grim. âYou Are the One,â with its sweet yearnings and sticky percussion, ranks among the Pet Shop Boysâs most straightforward love songs, and theyâve rarely sounded more convincing. While theyâve long knocked rock music (Tennant recently joked that the acoustic guitar âshould be bannedâ), âBurning the Heatherâ adopts the rock textures of 2002âs Release with, um, an acoustic guitar. Autobiographical lyrics describe a fading troubadour who sits in a bar alone insisting that heâs fine before, finally, reaching out for company.
Tennantâs satire can, however, sometimes tend toward glibness, as on âMonkey Business,â in which he vaguely targets a traveler who just wants to get wasted on margaritas and wine. But the track is saved by the irresistible disco production and the darker implications of the unchecked hedonist at its center looking for âa party where we all cross the line.â If the world is burning, the album asserts, you might as well enjoy the bonfire.
The Pet Shop Boys are pranksters to the end, in this case literally. Non-fans would be forgiven for finding closer âWedding in Berlinâ confusing or just grating. But its tragicomic vision of marriage represents a statement of defiance. Church organs interrupt the aggressive EDM beat more like a nightmare than a reprieve. Tennant clearly takes vows less than seriously, reducing them to an act of bourgeois convenience: âA lot of people do it/Don’t matter if they’re straight or gay.â Itâs a happily stinging finish to an album that proves no one is safe in the hands of Tennant and Lowe, and that pop can be anything but pedestrian.
Label: x2 Release Date: January 24, 2020 Buy: Amazon
Review: Drive-By Truckersâs The Unraveling Is a Bleak Reflection of the Times
The bandâs 12th album is constructed on the premise that the personal is political.4
Drive-By Truckersâs American Band was released a month before the 2016 presidential electionâseemingly an eternity ago both in terms of the political landscape and the time between albums for the typically prolific band. American Band was supposed to be their final word on all that, but according to Patterson Hoodâs notes for their 12th studio effort, The Unraveling, âwriting silly love songs just seemed the height of privilege.â
This is a dark, uncompromising album about such topics as gun violence, white nationalism, the opioid crisis, and putting children in cages. But despite similar subject matter, it isnât a sequel to American Band. Never mind that there are no individual tracks quite as immediate as âSurrender Under Protestâ or âGuns of Umpqua.â But whereas the previous album was composed largely of the narrative history lessons that have been the Truckersâs stock in trade for over 20 years, The Unraveling is constructed on the premise that the personal is political.
Hood frames multiple songs around either trying to explain daily horrors to his two young kids, or hoping they will one day make things better. âWhen my childrenâs eyes look at me and they ask me to explain/It hurts me that I have to look away,â he sings on âThoughts and Prayers,â a plainspoken accounting of the onslaught of gun violence in America. He repeats the sentiment on the pointedly titled âBabies in Cagesâ: âIâm sorry to my children/Iâm sorry what they see/Iâm sorry for the world that theyâll inherit from me.â All Hood can do in â21st Century USAâ is âhope and pray that they can conjure up a better day.â
This is heavy stuff, with only the wishful catharsis of the soaring âThoughts and Prayersâ offering much respite. Other flashes of optimism are fleeting: Lead single âArmageddonâs Back in Townâ is an uptempo travelogue with a blazoning classic rock riff, but Hood sings about broken-down buses, standing in the rain, and his âresponsibility for the darkness and the pain.â Itâs not until the songâs frenzied instrumental codaâa thrilling showcase for the bandâs usually unassuming drummer, Brad Morganâthat the adrenaline really kicks in.
Mike Cooley, a sort of redneck Confucius who seems to never run out of sardonic one-liners, only wrote two songs here, and one of them, âGrievance Merchantsââa trenchant breakdown of the alt-right pipelineâis one of the most lyrically serious-minded, musically dramatic songs heâs ever written. Delivered in Cooleyâs uniquely conversational style, itâs an arresting effort; hearing him sound so scared out of his wits that he canât even muster a single quip is genuinely chilling. His other contribution, âSlow Ride Argument,â is much more fun, with its overlapping vocal hooks and cheeky advice for cooling down after a heated debate, political or otherwise by, basically, going for a drive, possibly after downing a couple of tall boy beers (ânot one, not three,â Cooley advises). A driving, minor-key rocker that stylistically lands somewhere between Blue Oyster Cult and early R.E.M., itâs yet more evidence that Drive-By Truckers transcend the Southern rock label they inexplicably still get pigeonholed into.
Where The Unraveling really distances itself from its predecessor, and all of the bandâs prior work, is its sonic complexity. Former Sugar bassist David Barbe has produced every Drive-by Truckers album since 2001, and to his credit, not one of them sounds alike. But armed with the vintage analog toys at his disposal, and accompanied by engineer Matt Ross-Spang, Barbe has helped the band craft its first true piece of sonic art. A wisp of a song like âRosemary with a Bible and a Gunâ is transformed into something captivating by the sheer depth of the mix: the subtle tremolo guitar accents, the snaky violin/viola accompaniment, the delicate mingling of Hoodâs vocal and the natural reverb off the piano. From reliable tricks (old school slapback on Cooleyâs vocals) to new ones (running a washboard through a guitar amp, wah pedal, and delay to add an otherworldly effect to âBabies in Cagesâ), thereâs no shortage of ear candy here.
The album ends with the eight-minute-plus âAwaiting Resurrection,â which, with its unrelenting bleakness and all the air between Morganâs minimalist drums and Hood and Cooleyâs cobweb-like guitars, is the closest the band has ever come to post-rock. âI hold my family close/Trying to find the balance/Between the bad shit going down/And the beauty that this life can keep injecting,â Hood intones in a ghostly growl, returning once again to the same theme of many of the preceding songs. Hood and Cooley dwell more on the bad shit than the beauty throughout The Unraveling. Itâs perhaps their most confrontational, challenging effort to date, an intricate work thatâs more a reflection of than an antidote to the darkness.
Label: ATO Release Date: January 31, 2020 Buy: Amazon
Review: With High Road, Kesha Finds a Comfortable Middle Ground
The album sets out to prove that people are complicated creatures, capable of being more than one thing.3.5
The opening track of Keshaâs fourth album, High Road, begins with a piano melody in the key of Cheers, followed by a life-affirming refrain about âthe best night of our lives.â But, then, âTonightâ abruptly pivots to a flurry of 808s and Keshaâs half-rapped, half-slurred admission that she canât find her phone. If that sounds awfully familiar, thatâs precisely the point. âWoke up this morning, feeling myself/Hungover as hell like 2012,â she quips on the following track, âMy Own Dance,â an obvious nod to her breakout hit âTik Tok.â
If 2017âs Rainbow proved that Kesha didnât need producer-cum-svengali Dr. Luke to create compelling pop music, High Road is an attempt to show those who lamented her shift away from party anthems that people are messy, complicated creatures, capable of being more than one thing at the same time. The albumâs first single, âRaising Hell,â is a gospel-tinged rave-up that provides a bridge between Keshaâs breakout sound and the more reflective, roots-inspired Rainbow. Itâs admittedly hard not to long for Dr. Lukeâs euphoric EDM hooks, but the albumâs ferocious opening salvo makes clear that even when she wasnât the one navigating, Kesha has always been in the driverâs seat.
By the albumâs midpoint, she returns to the heart-on-her-sleeve introspection of songs like âPraying,â even making melodic reference to that momentous single during the coda of the midtempo âShadow.â The next track, âCowboy Blues,â is a meditative acoustic ballad that finds the singer examining the ways in which loneliness can cloud oneâs instincts (âThey say youâll know when you know/What do you do when you donât?â), while the country-inflected âResentmentâ transcends the genreâs typical narrative of a woman scorned (âI donât hate you, babe, itâs worse than thatâ).
From Brian Wilson to Sturgill Simpson to Big Freedia, the guest artists featured throughout High Road are as disparate as the songs themselves. âThe Potato Song (Cuz I Want To)â is a silly, vaudevillian rejection of grown-up things, while âBirthday Suitâ is pure retro pop, complete with glitchy sound effects inspired by Super Mario Bros. And despite âKe$haâ receiving a guest credit on âKinky,â the track is more of a throwback to early â90s R&B than to the Auto-Tuned electro-pop of the early 2010s.
Those mottled sounds make High Road Keshaâs least consistent album to date, at least sonically. But thereâs a clear emotional through line from the joyous, unapologetic bombast of the albumâs first third to the naked vulnerability of âFather Daughter Dance,â in which Kesha deliberates on the absence of a formative relationship in her life (âThe worst part of this is Iâm not even sad/How do I miss something I never had?â), and the rapture of the gospel-infused closing track, âChasing Thunder.â With High Road, Kesha has found a way to double back and carve out a comfortable, if not happy, middle ground.
Label: RCA Release Date: January 31, 2020 Buy: Amazon
Review: Destroyerâs Have We Met Is As Strangely Vexing As It Is Familiar
The album both calls attention to its artifice and proves it can still hold a broad emotional range.4
Dan Bejar insists thereâs no deeper meaning to the name Destroyer. In 2016, he told NPR he chose it because âIt’s got three syllables, which is good, but it’s still one word, that’s also cool.â And yet, Destroyer figuratively destroys itself every few years: abandoning guitars for electronics, or veering from big-band dramatics to adventures in solitude.
Bejar began Destroyer as a solo project, tracking songs by himself on a basic four-track cassette recorder. His touring band has grown its ranks since thenâpeaking with the current eight-piece art-rock orchestraâbut in the studio, Bejar has occasionally opted to return to the DIY spirit of his earliest work, as he did on 2004âs Your Blues, which was performed almost entirely on MIDI instruments. Destroyerâs 13th album, Have We Met, was constructed similarly, with electronic elements layered on top of Bejarâs basic demos. Not unlike his lyricsâwhich are the most layered and entertaining theyâve been in years, both dark and funnyâthe resulting music is as vexing and strange as it is comforting and familiar.
Unlike Your Blues, though, Have We Met features real electric bass and guitar, and the synths are slicker and fuller, landing very far from the chintzy, fake-sounding tones Bejar employed on that album. And the drums on Have We Met are heavier and funkier than on any previous Destroyer album. On âKinda Darkâ and âCue Synthesizer,â they lock into a dirty stutter, crossing over into hip-hop-like territory and cleverly contrasting Bejarâs relaxed delivery.
Have We Met is perhaps closer in timbre to 2011âs Kaputt, with its angular guitar work, dreamy synthscapes, and Bejarâs detached, lackadaisical vocals. But while the synths on Kaputt are cold and dreary, and distinctly retro, here theyâre warm, inviting, and modern, establishing an entirely distinct emotional tone. Swaying reveries like âUniversity Hillâ and âfoolssong,â which Bejar first played live in 2009, are much sweeter-sounding than any other recent Destroyer songs. âIt Just Doesnât Happenâ plays up a similar late-night, neon-lit atmosphere as Kaputt, but the synths here are more evocative of a video game arcade than a discotheque. Even as Bejar calls attention to the artifice of his musical surroundings on âCue SynthesizerâââDid you realize it was hollow?â he asks before listing off the culprits of this âidiot dissonant roarââhe proves that artifice can still hold a broad emotional range.
Credit for this should go largely to longtime producer and bassist John Collins, who mostly pieced together the final tracks himself on top of Bejarâs home demos. (The only personnel on Have We Met are Collins, Bejar, and guitarist Nic Bragg, whose distinctively wobbly playing has been perhaps the sole consistent element in Destroyerâs ever-shifting sound since he joined the band in 2002.) To Collinsâs credit, the album certainly sounds more like the work of a full band than that of someone seated alone at a keyboard, iPad in hand. Still, the arrangements are inevitably more utilitarian and less focused on band dynamics than any of Destroyerâs post-Kaputt efforts. This is vital, because for the first time in too long, those arrangements sound like theyâre built to follow Bejarâs voice and lyrics rather than the other way around.
Bejar the enigmatic, drunken poet has for several Destroyer albums now taken a back seat to Bejar the singer and bandleader. And while the singing on Have We Met remains tastefully restrained, lyrically there are glimpses of the younger, brasher Bejar here. He makes himself known a verse into opener âCrimson Tide,â the sort of rambling stream-of-consciousness epic that used to constitute almost the entirety of Destroyer albums. Itâs a quintessential Bejar track, largely for its liberal use of comfortingly well-worn lyrical tropes: the direct juxtaposition of the poetic with the flippant and coarse; conscious contradictions like âI was like the laziest river/A vulture predisposed to eating off floors/No wait, I take that backâ; direct references to other songs, both those of others and his own, including allusions to, of all things, âThe Gambler,â as well as at least two other Destroyer tracks.
The rush of catharsis âCrimson Tideâ provides is rivaled a few songs later by âThe Raven,â which opens with its own slippery coupletââJust look at the world around you/Actually no, donât lookââand proceeds to careen through delightfully idiosyncratic territory, from a âcity of dying the embersâ to a âpetite terror trainâ and âthe Grand Ole Opry of Death.â Despite the apocalyptic imagery, the tone is invigorating. âIt feels so good to be drunk on the field again,â Bejar intones, his voice quivering with the kind of ardor that he rarely draws for his singing anymore. Like most of his lyrics, if thereâs a literal meaning to the line, itâs impossible to parse, but the implication is clear enough: Bejar is feeling the groove again.
Label: Merge Release Date: January 31, 2020 Buy: Amazon
Review: With Manic, Halsey Fearlessly Inhabits Her Myriad Parts
The singer’s refusal to pick a lane is what makes the album her most compelling effort to date.4
In a recent interview, Halsey, nĂ©e Ashley Frangipane, lamented the confusion with which her music and public persona are sometimes met in the press. âLike, how fucking immune are you to the human experience?â she scoffed, incredulous at the implication that she hasâor indeed is even ableâto choose just one version of herself. Certainly, at least over the past year, her music has defied easy categorization; from the trap-influenced âWithout Me,â to the punky âNightmare,â to her guest appearance on K-pop group BTSâs vibrant âBoy with Luv,â sheâs slipped from genre to genre effortlessly. Itâs this refusal to pick a lane thatâs precisely what makes Halseyâs third album, Manic, her most compelling effort to date.
The albumâs shifting production style allows Halsey the space to inhabit different parts of her personality and even invite them into conversation with one another. Opening track âAshleyâ gets the album off to a confessional start: âI told you I spilled my guts, I left you to clean it up,â she sings, and itâs hard not to feel like that should be in the present tense, so affected is her open-throated, emo-inflected delivery. âClementineâ is no less raw, but here she creates a subtler atmosphere, though no less disquieting as a cyclical piano line rings out like the melody of a music box as she breezily delivers the lyric âI donât need anyone/I just need everyone and then someâ and her more distraught backing vocal echoes the sentiment.
Rarely does Halsey let herself off the hook across the albumâs 16 tracks, confronting even the most damaged parts of herself head on. But she doesnât let the men who did the damage off scot-free either. âIâm so glad I never ever had a baby with you/âCause you canât love nothing unless thereâs something in it for you,â she sneers on the country-inflected âYou Should Be Sad,â and thereâs no shortage of derision on âWithout Meâ: âAnd then I got you off your knees/Put you right back on your feet/Just so you can take advantage of me.â
The most arresting moments on Manic come via openhearted storytelling, as on the gorgeous closing track, â929,â which is composed of a series of vignettes as Halsey recounts the precise time of her birth, her teenage years in a âcheap apartment,â the most exploitative moments of her career, and the hope that her father will finally pick up the phone. Itâs a welcome moment of quiet reflection after 15 tracks of shifting perspective, tone, and genre, as it sees Halsey expose herself with precision and purpose. Bearing your soul publicly is fraught with complicationsââI should be living the dream/But Iâm livinâ with a security team,â she sings ruefully on âStill Learningââbut it does seem, for Halsey, to be a truly productive way of figuring out what makes her complicated in the first place, and how to embrace those complexities without fear.
Label: Capitol Release Date: January 17, 2020 Buy: Amazon
Eminem Drops Surprise Album and Anti-Gun Violence Video for âDarknessâ
Music to Be Murdered By was released unexpectedly, accompanied by a music video for the track âDarkness.â
Less than 17 months after his last album, Kamikaze, swooped in out of nowhere, Detroit rapper Eminem, nĂ© Marshall Mathers, has dropped another surprise album. Music to Be Murdered By was released unexpectedly tonight, accompanied by a music video for the track âDarkness.â
Directed by James Larese, the clip was seemingly inspired by the 2017 Las Vegas gun massacre, as Eminem narrates the disturbing inner thoughts of an isolated, mentally ill mass shooter. The video ends with the message, âWhen will this end? When enough people careâ and a call to register to vote.
The 20-track album features collaborations with Ed Sheeran, Juice WRLD, Q-Tip, Anderson .Paak, and more. It also includes a song called âStepdad,â about the rapperâs abusive stepfather.
Music to Be Murdered By is out now on Shady/Aftermath/Interscope Records.
Review: Selena Gomezâs Rare Is Spotty in Its Attempts at Authenticity
Despite glimmers of authenticity throughout the album, itâs hard to discern who Gomez is, musically or otherwise.3
Selena Gomez is no stranger to reinvention. After making the tricky transition to maturity with a starring role in Harmony Korineâs drug-fueled 2013 film Spring Breakers, the former Disney sweetheart stepped out as a bona fide solo pop star with Revival, an album chockablock with R&B and dance-pop gems.
On her long-awaited follow-up, Rare, Gomez attempts another about-face, shedding the empowerment anthems and EDM-infused bangers of Revival and aiming for a quirkier brand of pop and, purportedly, a new sense of candor. But even though this is the closest sheâs invited us into her headspace, it still feels like weâre being held at armâs length. Despite glimmers of authenticity, itâs hard to discern who Gomez is, musically or otherwise.
Notably, it seems like Gomez is finally making music she can fully get behind. The albumâs four-and-a-half-year germination seems to have heartened the singer to incorporate more vulnerability into her songs. Whereas on Revival, Gomez tiptoed around emotional rawness, there are moments throughout Rare in which she fully inhabits it. On the stirring lead single, âLose You to Love Me,â the most evocative vocal performance on the album, she dons the clarity of hindsight, which yields uncompromising truths: âI needed to hate you to love me.â
Elsewhere, attempts at emotional authenticity miss the mark. The platitude-ridden âPeople You Knowâ suffers from distracting Auto-Tune, which produces a distancing effect as Gomez offers up such banalities as, âPeople can go from people you know to people you donât.â More insightful is âCut You Off,â a midtempo meditation on protecting oneself from a toxic relationship; the chorusâs ascending melody are redolent of Taylor Swiftâs best pop incursions, but the track is sanitized to the point of being forgettable.
Rare continually teases intriguing forays into leftfield pop, but so many of the albumâs experiments come off as just that, without ever crystallizing with memorable hooks. Gomezâs breathy vocal on âCrowded Room,â assisted by a melodic verse from rapper 6lack, lands on just the right side of fragile, but the trackâs innocuousness lets the singer float away completely. The pulsing bass of âFunâ calls to mind her excellent, one-off 2017 single âBad Liarâ (included on some deluxe versions of this album), but the chorus rests on a scant four wordsââYou look like funââand a flimsy guitar riff. On the title track, Gomez makes it known to a distant lover why sheâs rare and deserving of attention, but based on her performances throughout Rare, itâs dubious as to whether sheâs convinced of that or not.
Label: Interscopes Release Date: January 10, 2020 Buy: Amazon
The 25 Best Janet Jackson Songs
We count down Janetâs 25 greatest songs, from her most iconic hits to her least heralded cult favorites.
Nothing summarizes Janet Jacksonâs contributions to pop music any clearer than the interlude that serves as the transition between Rhythm Nationâs opening trio of socially conscious tracks and the largely feel-good love songs that follow: âGet the point? Good, letâs dance.â Sheâs gone through many phases (industrial trainee, man-conquering vamp, spiritual gardener, 20-year-old), but span her entire career and those stages seem less clearly delineated than most comparable iconsâ respective chapters, with symmetrically uniform peaks and surprisingly rare valleys. With Janet, the pleasure principle has always served as her musical conscience, and itâs guided her through a career near unparalleled in its ability to serve unfussy pop confections. Unlike that of big brother Michael or her rival on the â80s and â90s dance charts, Madonna, there ainât no acid in Janetâs delivery, just bubblegum. The nasty boys of Slant have decided once and for all to count down her 25 greatest songs, from her most iconic hits to her least heralded cult favorites. Eric Henderson
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14, 2015.
Technology is the thrust of 2008âs infectious and ridiculously weird single âFeedback.â With it, Jan got her 4/4 back, equating her vagina to a subwoofer (and, notably, her clit to guitar strings) and her swagger to a heavy-flow day. The beats are spare but oppressive, the synths scratchy and impatient, the perfect accompaniment for the singerâs libidinous frustration. Sal Cinquemani
24. âAll for Youâ
Hard to tell which was bigger: this comeback disco anthem (which sat atop the Billboard charts for a lusty seven weeks in 2001) or the size of the impressive basket the guy who caught Janetâs eye apparently had (and upon which, according to the lyrics, she later sat atop). What was striking about âAll for Youâ at the time wasnât its unabashed frankness (the entire song is Jackson basically knocking the listener upside the head with the promise that sheâs not hard to get), but the atmosphere of airless frivolity around it. Itâs a sex jam that sounds like a carnival ride. Henderson
23. âFunky Big Bandâ
Realness, as anyone whoâs seen Paris Is Burning knows, presumes aspirational designs among those who espouse it. âFunky Big Bandâ grasps that harshly glamorous concept right from its opening interlude, âThe Lounge,â which drops listeners into the illicit milieu of a password-only speakeasy before reminding them, âYouâve got to be real/If you want to hear the funky big band.â From its tangy clavinet doodles to its roaring Lionel Hampton-sampled jazz loops (producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had clearly spun Soho once or twice), âFunk Big Bandâ is the militant bastard stepchild of the zoot-suit antics of âAlright.â Henderson
22. âVelvet Ropeâ
A song about self-empowerment, featuring a childrenâs choir and violin solo to boot, smacks of inevitable mawkishness. But with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewisâs thoughtful production, Janetâs unpretentious delivery of even lyrics like âOne loveâs the answer,â and violinist Vanessa Maeâs edgy solo, this potential schmaltz-fest became a thoughtful theme-establishing introduction to Janetâs most personal album to date. Cinquemani
Throughout Janetâs imperial phase, the template called for each of her albums to close out with a suite of love ballads. Skippable as any of them may have seemed when all you wanted to do was follow Janetâs own mantra âGet the point? Good, letâs dance,â the best of themâlike this sultry, intimate invitation from one isolated soul to anotherâexpose themselves at the most unexpected moments. Just like sex. Henderson
Review: Poppyâs I Disagree Obliterates the Niceties of Genre Convention
The album tosses the singerâs pop aesthetic into the shredder with heavy metal and industrial rock.3.5
In many ways, Poppy was an inevitability: a YouTube personality turned pop singer, portrayed by Moriah Rose Pereira as a cyborg controlled by âthemââreferring, presumably, to co-creator Titanic Sinclair and the duoâs actual or imagined corporate overlords. From Alice Cooper to Lana Del Rey, thereâs a storied history of musicians concocting personae for public consumption, but Pereira has taken the gimmick to absurd, if predictable, lengths, conducting entire interviews as a soft-spoken, obedient automaton that seems culled directly from a straight male fantasy. Poppyâs early YouTube videos were glorified ASMR porn, featuring the singer sensually licking cotton candy from a stick and blankly answering a disconnected rotary phone, an ominous male voiceâpresumably Sinclairâsâoccasionally posing questions to her like a sexual predator might to a captive.
For Pereira and Sinclair, with whom the former recently cut ties, Poppy is a commentary on social media and a satire of how we use the internet more broadly. But Pereiraâs decision to finally break character during an interview with NME last year represented a more intriguing development, conveniently doubling as an extension of the Poppy narrative, wherein she becomes sentient, and a reflection of Pereiraâs ostensible real-life struggles as a female artist.
Though Poppyâs third album, I Disagree, was largely co-written by Sinclair, itâs littered with allusions that telegraph Pereiraâs creative and personal emancipation from him. âGodspeed to the radio star/Stop the beat when they take it too far,â she delicately warns on âSit/Stay.â Opening track âConcreteâ is about the killing of oneâs former selfââBury me six feet deep and just cover me in concrete, please/Turn me into a streetââwhile âNothing I Needâ and the title track find her reevaluating her own values and those of others, respectively. âIf only all of you could see the world I see,â she sings on âI Disagree.â
The album also marks a sonic rebirth for Pereira. Poppyâs first two efforts were defined by bubble-gum pop filtered through the lens of J- and K-pop, which, in turn, are influenced by American music, resulting in a re-translated sound that felt at once familiar and alien. I Disagree is decidedly âpost-genre,â tossing Poppyâs pop aesthetic into the shredder with heavy metal and industrial rock, previously only hinted at on the tail end of 2018âs Am I a Girl? âConcreteâ shifts abruptly between tempos and genres, between commercial jingles and Beatles-esque chamber-pop, all shot through with roaring electric guitar riffs. That might sound incoherent, but it serves as a bold, deftly executed mission statement.
Inspired by a quote by British writer Alan Watts, âBite Your Teethâ boasts I Disagreeâs starkest contrast between thrashing verses and harmonious hooks, with a dreamy, almost â70s AM radio-style bridge and a moody synth-string coda. The glitchy âBLOODMONEY,â which takes no prisoners in its skewering of religious hypocrisy, likewise juxtaposes abrasive noise-pop with sugary melodies, punctuated by blood-curdling screams.
These individual elements arenât new to pop musicâthe album at turns evokes Rammstein, Sleigh Bells, and Lady Gagaâbut itâs regurgitated and repackaged in a way that manages to escape derivativeness. Where Poppy does sound overtly imitative is on âAnything Like Me,â which hews extremely close to Billie Eilishâs brand of avant-popâironic given that the song is a response to an artist with whom Pereira and Sinclair have been engaged in a contentious copyright battle. The track, though, is more sonically expansive than Eilishâs work, an exhilarating guitar solo bumping up against the softly strummed acoustic guitar of the bridge, during which Pereira generously offers, âLove is never-ending in me.â
I Disagreeâs final two tracks present a more promising direction forward for Poppy as she, presumably, continues to shed the artifice of her persona. Thematically, âSick of the Sunâ and the two-part âDonât Go Outsideâ share a distinct sense of despondency: The former details the singerâs self-isolation, her unexpectedly emotive vocals couched in hazy, reverb-soaked guitars, while the latter shifts the focus to the world outside (âThe TV says weâre out of time/Suck the fear in through your eyesâ). The second half of âDonât Go Outsideâ reprises several songs from earlier in the album, including the Marilyn Manson-indebted âFill the Crown,â the sole track on I Disagree that veers into caricature. A lyric from that songââYou can be anyone you want to beââtakes on more potent significance when repeated here, the dream-pop approach charting a middle ground between the sugary dance-pop of Poppyâs earlier efforts and her nascent metal shtick.
Label: Sumerian Release Date: January 10, 2020 Buy: Amazon
Review: Field Musicâs Making a New World Plays Like a Strangely Funky History Lesson
The bandâs latest is an ambitious concept album about the aftermath of World War I.3.5
David and Peter Brewis of Field Music have carved a unique niche for themselves in the U.K. music world, outlasting many of their buzzy British peers. Their music has always stood out from the post-punk revival of the mid-2000s thanks to an intellectual underpinning and less emphasis on massive shout-along choruses. That tack continues on Making a New World, an ambitious concept album about the aftermath of World War I. Even if you donât feel the need to follow along with their historical lyrics, these 19 short songs are an entertaining, unpredictable listen.
This isnât the first time Field Music has delved into the past or current events: Previous projects have included a soundtrack for John Griersonâs 1929 silent documentary Drifters, following a day in the life of a fishing fleet, while their last album, Open Here, was inspired by their hometown of Sunderland becoming the first city to declare its vote in favor of Brexit. The bandâs interest in WWI dates back to 2016, when they collaborated with electro-pop duo Warm Digits and the Northern Sinfonia orchestra on the soundtrack for Esther Johnsonâs film Asunder, a historical retelling of the warâs effects on a small English town.
Making a New World was born out of another WWI project, commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. The initial inspiration for the songs here was an image from the museumâs collection that used âsound rangingâ to capture vibrations of gunfire. Like a seismograph, this visual techniqueâs peaking lines artfully represent the bullet-filled sounds in the minute leading up to 11 a.m. on November 11th, 1918, and the moment of smoke-clearing silence after the warâs end.
Each of the albumâs songs focuses on a different facet of WWI, unfolding in chronological order like a series of art-rock audio plays. âCoffee or Wineâ sets the scene with a servicemanâs journey home to a post-war world, as its narrator stomps through off-kilter piano pop. âA Change of Heirâ uses spooky slide guitars as an introduction to Dr. Harold Gillies, whose pioneering skin grafts for injured soldiers led to some of the worldâs first gender reassignment surgeries. âOnly in a Manâs Worldâ is a feminist outcry against the taxation of sanitary pads, set to jittery disco in the tradition of Talking Heads, while the warped grooves of âMoney Is a Memoryâ most closely recall late â70s oddballs Godley & Creme.
The album marks the first full-band release from Field Music since 2007âs Tones of Town and the quartet jumps between musical styles adeptly. The Brewis brothersâ vocals sound as effortless as always, delivered with a laidback breeziness belying the songsâ sophisticated melodies. Theyâve clearly studied the music of their predecessors with the same enthusiasm as WWI textbooks, and never has a history lesson sounded so strangely funky.
Label: Memphis Industries Release Date: January 10, 2020 Buy: Amazon