Jewelâs 0304 has been touted as the singerâs Ray of Light. It may be a stretch, but like Madonnaâs benchmark opus, 0304 reinvents its subject and jumpstarts a career on the wane. Like Ray of Light, the album breaks little musical ground and is, in fact, more pop than electronica, but it also presents one of the most startlingâyet oddly fittingâtransformations in pop history. In many ways, Jewel is simply fulfilling her destiny; sheâs become the pop tart her critics have accused her of being from the very start. But just one look at the cheeky music video for “Intuition,” the albumâs first single, and itâs clear sheâs in on the joke. “Jewelâs music sounds much better now that sheâs dancing!” reads a fake TRL crawl. Whatâs more, if youâre going to sell out (and for fans of the singerâs more earnest, more organic work, thatâs exactly what Jewel is doing), at least do it with an infectious pop song like “Intuition.” She urges us to follow our hearts but then taunts, “Sell your sin/Just cash in.” (Itâs not all tongue-in-cheek, though: you can currently hear the French accordion of “Intuition” in a commercial for a razor of the same name.) Like Madonnaâs own American Life, Jewel takes a few shots at the American dream on the sugary “Stand” and “America,” a track the singer claims her record label made her change out of “fear of litigation.” (What remains are swipes at Bush, the Osbournes and self-tanner, as well as a shout-out to banished director Roman Polanski.) A few tracks on the album successfully capture the essence of “folktronica”ânamely the thumping “Run 2 U” and jazzy, trip-poppy “Leave the Lights On”âbut songs like the retro, new wavy “Yes U Can” and the catchy “U & Me = Love” wouldnât sound out of place on a No Doubt record. In fact, 0304 is less Ray of Light than it is Rock Steady. You can take the guitar out of the girlâs hands but you canât expect her to stop rocking.
Label: Atlantic Release Date: June 6, 2003 Buy: Amazon
Madonna and Swae Leeâs âCraveâ Music Video Delivers a Message â Watch
Alternating between color and black and white, the videoâs concept is refreshingly simple.
Though Madonnaâs 2015 album Rebel Heart was infamously plagued by leaks, the singer has kept a tight lid on the follow-up, Madame X. Until last week, that is. Details about the project were scarce leading up to the release of the first single, âMedellĂn,â but a rough cut of the music video for âCrave,â the albumâs second single, leaked after director Nuno Xico inadvertently posted a âfully unfinishedâ clip to his Vimeo account.
The leak likely cranked up the heat on what already seemed like a rushed release. Madonna reportedly skipped this yearâs Met Gala to shoot the video for âCrave,â which is far more radio-friendly than the bilingual âMedellĂn,â featuring reggaeton singer Maluma. The song is a midtempo trap balladâyes, thatâs a thingâthat juxtaposes acoustic guitar and Madonnaâs plaintive vocal with 808 snares and a guest verse from rapper-singer Swae Lee.
The video for âCrave,â officially out today, opens with the queen of pop releasing a messenger bird off the roof of a building in downtown New York, overlooking the Manhattan Bridge. One by one, Swae collects her messages, which include a reference to Carson McCullersâs The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Madame Xâs favorite novel.
Alternating between color and black and white, the videoâs concept is refreshingly simple, even if the frenetic editing and Madonnaâs jerky, hyper-sexualized dance moves clash with the trackâs unorthodox but elegant arrangement. Thankfully, she ditches the wigs from âMedellĂn,â though she is seen donning that as-yet-unexplained âXâ eye patch throughout.
Madame X will be released on June 14 via Interscope Records.
Review: Jamila Woodsâs LEGACY! LEGACY! Is a Chronicle of Black Trauma and Joy
The singer-songwriter imbues her sophomore effort with a multitude of intertextual meanings and nods to her predecessors.4
Jamila Woods imbues her sophomore effort, LEGACY! LEGACY!, with a multitude of intertextual meanings and nods to her artistic predecessors. With the exception of âFRIDA,â which is dedicated to famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, each track bears the name of a black artist, musician, or writer, assembling an illustrious creative lineage stretching from Muddy Watersâs southern blues to Sun Raâs Afrofuturism. Being given this kind of insight into a cross-section of Woodsâs influences is a small but mighty pleasure for all that it reveals about her creative process, but the musician takes it one step further, presenting the songs here as dialectical tribute, not merely homage.
A spoken-word poet and Pushcart Prize nominee, Woods proven herself an emotive wordsmith, and LEGACY! LEGACY!, like 2016âs Heavn before it, revels in the power of language. On the high-spirited âOCTAVIA,â she honors African-American slaves who illicitly taught themselves to read and write, framing that legacy of language within the accomplishments of science-fiction writer Octavia Butler and issuing a call to empowerment: âDonât ever let a textbook scare you.â She delights in hyperbole on âGIOVANNI,â a tribute to her matrilineage inspired by Nikki Giovanniâs âEgo Tripping.â For Woods, words are both sword and shield in the way that they liberate one from adversity and honor the ego.
Although the album explores intergenerational black trauma and joy, Woodsâs personal insight into such experience functions as the albumâs anchor and serves as a more accessible entry point. Inspired by an interview in which Jean-Michel Basquiat refused to divulge the source of his rage, âBASQUIATâ attests to the power of a not allowing other people to regard your anger as a spectacle. Backed by the jagged textures of descending guitar passages and insistent percussion, Woods divulges how concealing the particulars of her own anger allows her to claim absolute dominion over it: âI smile in your face, but the ovenâs on high.â On âBALDWIN,â Woods criticizes the âprecious lethal fearâ and âcasual violenceâ of white people: âMy friend James/Says I should love you anywayâŠBut youâre making it hard for me.â Throughout the album, Woods utilizes the knowledge of her forebears as a diving-off point, advancing or contradicting their ideas to relay her own message.
Often, Woods plays with her vocal delivery, extending and contorting her pronunciation and intonation to imbue her songs with a childlike air. An ode to the necessity of preserving independence in a relationship, âFRIDAâ alludes to the home Kahlo shared with Diego Rivera, a pair of twin houses united by a bridge. The repetition in the refrainââIf I run, run, would you, you, you see, see, see me?ââbrings to mind the rhythms of a playground game, and this guileless atmosphere casts a gentle, carefree light on the tangle of expectations a relationship can conjure. âSONIAâ unfolds like a fairy tale: âOnce upon a time, little girl on the grind/Met a boy, he was nice at the time.â Woods affirms the pain of a toxic relationship to validate it and ensure it cannot be erased, stating simply in the chorus: âIt was bad, it was bad.â She sings the word âbadâ as an oscillation, fluidly moving up and down the scale like a nursery rhyme.
LEGACY! LEGACY! chronicles the adversity that women of color regularly face, but at the heart of Woodsâs music is an urgent desire to heal and be healed. Throughout the album, from refusing to compromise her ideals (on âEARTHAâ) to embracing her peculiarities (on âBETTYâ), Woods stresses that the first step to healing is a regard for oneâs own boundaries, values, and desiresâor, to put it more simply, self-respect. That self-respect is emboldening and incendiary in the face of generations of devastating animosity, the rationale behind the battle cry on âZORAâ: âNone of us are free, but some of us are brave.â
Label: Jagjaguwar Release Date: May 10, 2019 Buy: Amazon
Review: Carly Rae Jepsenâs Dedicated Is a Single-Minded Declaration of Love
The album doubles down on the singerâs devotion to all things love and â80s pop-rock.3.5
In a world where the only certainty is uncertainty, music can provide reliable solace and stability. A vital component of callout researchâthe process Top 40 radio stations use to test the favorability of songsâis âfamiliarity.â A song thatâs recognizable is more likely to receive a high score from listeners, but it also perpetuates a feedback loop where artists are de-incentivized from substantively tinkering with their established sounds.
Carly Rae Jepsen, of course, isnât your typical radio star. Aside from her breakthrough hit âCall Me Maybe,â her success has been largely fomented by gushing critical praise and word of mouth. But success in the age of Spotify and social media is, like radio, predicated on giving people what they want, when they want it. And Jepsenâs fourth album, Dedicated, is a carefully calibrated attempt at brand extension, reprising the effervescent pop of her last two albums while at the same time acknowledging that the 33-year-old is now a full-grown woman.
For the most part, Jepsen succeeds at threading that needle. The albumâs lead single, âParty for One,â initially felt like a retread, its opening strains nodding to âCall Me Maybeâ and its whirling strings and bouncy keyboards acting as if not a day has gone by since her last album, 2015âs Emotion. As the closing track of Dedicated, however, the song clicks perfectly into place, a declaration of independence that bookends an albumâs worth of frustrated desire: âIâm not over this, but Iâm trying,â Jepsen humbly proclaims.
âThisâ being the various love affairsâconsummated or otherwiseâthat comprise the albumâs loose narrative. Dedicated opens with âJulien,â a recollection of a fleeting romanceââIâm forever haunted by our time,â Jepsen sings wistfullyâfollowed by over a dozen songs that luxuriate in love or fret over the loss of it. She ponders its meaning on the euphoric âReal Love,â her voice filled with knowing abandon (âI go everyday without it/All I want is real, real loveâŠI donât know a thing about it/All I want is real, real loveâ), and shakes off an affirmation thatâs too little to late on âRight Words Wrong Time,â the albumâs sole ballad.
Dedicated is, well, dedicated to its theme, revisiting topics Jepsen studiously explored on Emotion. One notable development is the singerâs newly and boldly expressed sexuality. âI wanna do bad things to you,â she declares on âWant You in My Room,â before coyly asking, âBaby, donât you want me to?â She similarly plays the coquette on âIâll Be Your Girl,â beckoning her object of desire to âcome to bed,â and promises âsweat disco all nightâ on the squelchy âEverything He Needs,â channeling âPhysicalâ-era Olivia Newton-John.
The album also doubles down on its predecessorâs fixation on â80s pop-rock tropes. âWant You in My Roomâ is awash in Vocoder effects, shimmering new-wave guitars, and a grinding bassline straight out of Cameoâs âCandyââall within less than three minutes, and topped off with sax solo for good measure. The kitschy âEverything He Needsâ is the sonic equivalent of a velvet painting, based on a pitched-up vocal sample of Shelley Duvallâs âHe Needs Meâ from Robert Altmanâs Popeye. Producer John Hill lends several tracks a distinct reggae groove, like the simmering âToo Muchâ and the ska-infused âIâll Be Your Girl,â while âFor Sureâ dizzyingly pairs tribal rhythms with swirling synths and chants.
These tweaks to Jepsenâs formula feel less significant when placed alongside more boilerplate fare like the single âNo Drug Like Meâ and the cloying âFeels Right,â both of which could be leftovers from Emotion. But Jepsen deserves credit for committing to a pure pop sound when it might be shrewder to venture into more hip-hop-influenced terrain. Thereâs something to be said for the virtues of familiarityâeven if it means you wonât get played on Top 40 radio.
Label: Interscope Release Date: May 17, 2019 Buy: Amazon
Review: The Nationalâs Sprawling I Am Easy to Find Is Surprising and Ambitious
The album is the bandâs widest-ranging and most surprising effort to date.4
In early 2013, I was interning at a recording studio in upstate New York where the Nationalâs Aaron and Bryce Dessner were working on overdubs for the bandâs sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, which was released later that year. As playback of the lovely âI Need My Girlâ filled the control room, one of the brothers remarked, somewhat shockingly, that the Nationalâs frontman, Matt Berninger, isnât a great singer.
Berningerâs thick, apollonian baritone is one of the most distinctive voices in indie rock, and he wields it like a weapon, lending immense gravitas to everything he sings. He doesnât have much range as a vocalistâin terms of both emotion and literal notesâendowing a certain level of sameness to the Dessnersâ compositions. But he and the rest of the band have managed to parlay that limitation into a consistent, often brilliant 20-year career. Nonetheless, itâs reason enough to approach their eighth album, I Am Easy to Find, with skepticism that 16 tracks and over an hour of running time might be a bit too much Berninger for one sitting.
The first half of the albumâs opening track, âYou Had Your Soul with You,â boasts the same type of deconstructed post-guitar rock that the National has been making for a while now, with glitchy electronics, a lurching drum pattern, and Berninger intoning about loss and failure. But after the building instrumentation fades away into lush piano and strings, the first voice we hear isnât Berningerâs, but that of Gail Ann Dorsey, longtime bassist and vocalist for the late David Bowie. When she sings, âYou have no idea how hard I died when you left,â her steely but buoyant delivery offers an emotional shade to this brooding line that Berninger never could have achieved. Itâs this moment that defines the rest of I Am Easy to Find, as Dorsey is one of various women who share the mic with Berninger over the course the album. The result is the Nationalâs widest-ranging and most surprising effort to date.
Dorsey, Sharon Van Etten, This Is the Kitâs Kate Stables, among others, arenât just some form of affirmative action for a band thatâs sometimes derided as the epitome of self-absorbed straight-white-guy rock. The main impetus for their presence on I Am Easy to Find was, in fact, a short film of the same name directed by Mike Mills, and the bandâs desire to more directly reflect the filmâs female protagonist, played by Alicia Vikander. Besides, Berninger has often collaborated with his wife, writer and former New Yorker fiction editor Carin Besser, on lyrics for the National, so having female voices sing those lyrics is just a more explicit acknowledgement of how Besserâs perspective has shaped the bandâs lyrical identity.
Still, the effect of those voices spotlights the nuances of the Dessnersâ compositional craft. From the stately piano balladry of âRoman Holidayâ and âLight Yearsâ to the more propulsive âRylanâ and âThe Pull of You,â even seemingly standard-issue National songs are made rewarding by the guest singersâ eye-opening interpretations. Best of all, they occasionally empower the band to do something completely new, most notably on the stunningly beautiful title track, with its male-female harmonizing and atypically delicate vocal cadences. Itâs one of the most uncharacteristic, and finest, songs the National has recorded to date.
The preponderance of other voices on I Am Easy to Find is such that Berninger is at times reduced to little more than a bit player in his own band, as on the swirling, blustery âWhere Is Her Headâ and the slow-building âSo Far, So Fast,â a showcase for Irish singer Lisa Hannigan. On the occasions when he does wrest the spotlight entirely for himself, even the greatest indulgence he can musterââNot in Kansas,â a seven-minute ballad composed of stream-of-consciousness musingsâutterly charms and never becomes overbearing.
Of the many singers featured on I Am Easy to Find, the ones who leave the greatest impression are the members of the Brooklyn Youth Choir, who make multiple appearances throughout the album. Their presence, including on the wordless interludes âHer Father in the Poolâ and âUnderwater,â is ethereal and indelible, miles away from the bandâs usual, insular timbre.
Considering how many of the songs on I Am Easy to Find are leftoversâmostly from the sessions for 2017âs Sleep Well Beast, though âRylanâ dates back as far as 2010âitâs remarkable how much of a piece it feels. That said, one does eventually feel the albumâs length, with the stretch of songs in between âYou Left Your Soul with Youâ and âI Am Easy to Findâ feeling comparatively pedestrianâthe sounds of a band treading more familiar ground before really staring to take chances. But once they do, the sprawl quickly begins to justify itself, revealing some of the most ambitious music the National has ever made.
Label: 4AD Release Date: May 17, 2019 Buy: Amazon
Review: Vampire Weekendâs Father of the Bride Is Generous with Its Rewards
Thereâs still darkness flitting around Ezra Koenigâs consciousness, but itâs more of the âmiddle-aged malaiseâ variety.3.5
A lot has changed in the world of Vampire Weekend since the band released their last album, Modern Vampires of the City, in 2013. Most significantly, frontman Ezra Koenigâs main songwriting partner, Rostam Batmanglij, announced in 2016 that he was leaving the band. Approaching the release of their fourth album, Father of the Bride, with apprehension, then, would be a reasonable stance. Fortunately, itâs unfounded, as Father of the Bride is overstuffed with the pristine production, sickly sweet melodies, and audaciously off-the-wall genre-bending thatâs sustained the band long enough to remain arguably the most commercially relevant of the popular 2000s indie bands that are still standing.
Modern Vampires of the City was nothing short of a quantum leap for Vampire Weekend, possessing a seriousness of purpose and lived-in musicality that made everything the band had done prior sound trite by comparison. Six long years later, one hardly expects Koenig to still be grappling with the same existential dilemmas he did on that album. But absorbed back to back with Modern Vampires of the City, the shift in tone on Father of the Bride is jarring.
Thereâs still darkness flitting around Koenigâs consciousness, but itâs more of the âmiddle-aged malaiseâ variety than the crisis of faith he teased out last time around, and even then the music is so relentlessly sunny that Koenig rarely sounds anything less than content. (Itâs telling that the albumâs most arresting, confrontational lineââI donât wanna live like this/But I donât wanna dieâ from âHarmony Hallââis recycled from 2013âs âFinger Backâ.) On âThis Life,â even as he asks, âOh Christ, am I good for nothing?â he sounds like a millennial Jimmy Buffet, pondering the question from the comfort of a sonic hammock composed of beachy guitars and effortlessly breezy harmonies. Thereâs nothing wrong with Koenig achieving this state of mind, of courseâin fact, itâs comfortingâbut if he were a character on a TV show, it would feel as though we missed a few crucial stages of character development.
Taken on its own terms, however, Father of the Bride is generous with its rewards. The resplendent âHarmony Hallâ is Vampire Weekend firing on all cylinders; its sparkling guitar arpeggios, sun-drenched chorus, and baroque piano break are all entirely familiar elements within the bandâs oeuvre, but theyâve never coalesced so irresistibly before. And while a certain sense of over-familiarity does pervade some of the albumâs lesser tracks (like the white-bred funk trappings and use of Auto-Tune on âHow Long?â), others are as inventively irreverent with genre conventions as any of the bandâs past work, such as the bluesy finger-picking married to Disney-like orchestral lines on âRich Man,â or the early-1970s Cali-rock vibes interspersed with jazzy scatting on âSunflower.â In this anything-goes context, even the appearance of country and folk elements on tracks like âHold You Nowâ and âBig Blueâ that otherwise might be considered conventional feel quietly bold.
In the near-total absence of Batmanglijâheâs listed as the co-writer and producer of one song and the co-producer of anotherâKoenig turns to HAIMâs Danielle Haim to find a new foil. Sheâs game, singing with Koenig and playing three very different kinds of paramours on âHold You Now,â âMarried in a Gold Rush,â and âWe Belong Together.â The latter of these has the melodic construction of a beginner fiddle tune and the rhyme scheme of a childrenâs song and yet remains maddeningly infectious. But she canât fill one role that seems to have slipped beyond the bandâs grasp: editor. At 18 tracks and 58 minutes, Father of the Bride is by far the longest release by a band whose brevity was once one of their best characteristics. This results in a not-insignificant amount of bloat, including at least one or two songsâlike the lounge jazz disaster âMy Mistakeââthat should have been left in the outtakes pile.
But Koenig is clearly in no mood for compromise. Heâs not shy about putting all this new material out there, or about confronting his critics in the process. Lyrics like âIâve been cheating my way through this life/And all its sufferingâ (on âThis Lifeâ) and âOne rich man in ten has a satisfied mind/And Iâm the oneâ (on âRich Manâ)ânot to mention the title, if not the content, of âUnbearably Whiteââseem designed to provoke the authors of the slate of circa-2010 think pieces about Vampire Weekend, appropriation, and white privilege. He doesnât much seem to care if his words piss you off, as he seems to be feeling pretty good regardless.
Label: Columbia Release Date: May 3, 2019 Buy: Amazon
Review: Mac DeMarcoâs Here Comes the Cowboy Is Weighty and Understated
DeMarco has a knack for composing simple yet alluring melodies that feel weighty and timeless.3.5
Over the course of his seven-year career, Mac DeMarco has proven his songwriting prowess to be both transportive and alchemic. With his fourth album, Here Comes the Cowboy, he once again invites us into his idiosyncratic, hazy world but grounds the album with concrete ruminations on longing and remorse that are sonically stripped down and understated. DeMarco embodies the solitary and resilient figure of the cowboy throughout, divulging moments of clarity and vulnerability alike with an unshakeable stoicism.
DeMarco has a knack for composing simple yet alluring melodies that feel simultaneously weighty and timeless. But while his previous work suggested a flair for embellishment and dramaâlike the lavish âChamber of Reflectionâ and otherworldly âMoonlight on the RiverââHere Comes the Cowboy is decidedly more reined in. The forlorn âHeart to Heartâ simmers with tension, its restrained use of synths entwining carefully around DeMarcoâs plaintive vocal: âTo all the days we were together/To all the time we were apart.â
Throughout the album, spare arrangements foreground DeMarcoâs lyrics and vocals. On âK,â his voiceâs proximity to the listener is as palpable as the crystalline plucking of his acoustic guitar. At several points, DeMarco relinquishes control over his voice, sacrificing pitch precision for ardent expression, like when he lets out an animalistic howl on âFinally Alone.â
For all its reflections on regrets and love lost, Here Comes the Cowboy also exhibits DeMarcoâs eccentric sense of humor, which has been sorely absent in his recent work. On the closing track, âBaby Bye Bye,â his playful falsetto is accompanied by a zany slide guitar before bursting into crazed laughter and a funk breakdown that recalls the spirit of David Bowieâs âFame.â In spite of the albumâs earlier solemnity, DeMarco bids a tongue-in-cheek farewell as if to assure us that he hasnât lost touch with the slacker rock goofball of his âOde to Viceroyâ days.
A handful of tracks scan as underdeveloped or incomplete. The three-minute title track plods along sedatelyâthe only lyrics being its four-word titleâwith DeMarcoâs deadpan delivery scanning as more vapid than charming. On âChoo Choo,â heâs lithe and energetic, but without a breakdown, the numbing funk groove peters out. Although elsewhere the album benefits from his light-handed instrumentation, the structural one-dimensionalities of these tracks harbor too many empty, open spaces, yielding songs that flatline. Like 2017âs This Old Dog and 2015âs Another One, the album doesnât represent a progression so much as a broadening of what DeMarco has already proven himself to be capable of as a songwriter.
Label: Royal Mountain Release Date: May 10, 2019 Buy: Amazon
The Nation of âElectric Youthâ: Debbie Gibsonâs Bonkers Teen-Pop Hit Turns 30
Looking back at the song 30 years later, what stands out most is its bonkers musical arrangement and video.
In 1991, when Debbie Gibsonâs underrated third album, Anything Is Possible, stalled at #41 on the charts, the New York Times printed a full-page obituary for her relatively brief career titled âThe Perils and Perishability of a Teen Idol.â In just a few short years, Gibson had gone from Americaâs sweetheartâanointed the youngest artist to write, produce, and perform a #1 hitâto being declared a pop casualty by the nationâs newspaper of record.
Only two years earlier, the Long Island teen had scored her biggest hit, âLost in Your Eyes,â the lead single from her sophomore effort, Electric Youth. The album was arguably the weakest of Gibsonâs four Atlantic releases, largely eschewing the sleek dance-pop and of-the-moment freestyle and hi-NRG stylings of 1987âs Out of the Blue in favor of ostensibly more mature piano ballads and Motown-lite, which zapped her music of the exuberance that made her debut so charming.
The sole exception was the title track, a peppy call to arms for âthe next generation,â released as Electric Youthâs second single in the summer of 1989. Before Beckâs âLoserâ and Ben Stillerâs Reality Bites defined Generation X as a bunch of disaffected slackers, âElectric Youthâ dispatched a completely un-cynical, preemptive defense of Americaâs now-neglected âmiddle child.â Looking back at the song 30 years later, though, what stands out most is producer Fred Zarrâs bonkers musical arrangementâa frenetic mix of faux horns, âPlanet Rockâ-inspired lasers, spooky sci-fi synths, and squealing electric guitarsâand its even more batshit-crazy music video.
The clip, co-directed by Gibson (seen awkwardly wielding a giant prop camera throughout), finds the singer leading a troupe of young dancers dressed in floral prints, acid-washed denim, and vestsâlots and lots of vests. The group assembles in front of what appears to be Castle Grayskull and proceeds to blow through the entire canon of â80s dance moves, from the cabbage patch to the running man to what can only be described as an early fusion of the Macarena and voguing.
Halfway through, the video inexplicably cuts to shots of Gibson performing in concert, old men in Kangol hats dancing near a wooded area, and a pedestrian signal (recklessly!) urging Debbie to âRUN.â During the trackâs instrumental break, the band is seen floating across the screen before the clip cuts to both a shot of Gibson giddily crumbling a piece of paperâher former managerâs contract, perhaps?âand a random photo of Michael Jordan. And just when you think it couldnât get any damn weirder, a fortuneteller summons Debâs face in a crystal ball, portending that the future is âelectric.â
Despite the videoâs copious blue laser beams and unnecessary foliage, âElectric Youthâ was nominated for Best Art Direction at the MTV Video Music Awards, sensibly losing out to Madonnaâs iconic âExpress Yourself,â which was directed by David Fincher. (Notably, a few shots of Gibson striking a pose in silhouette recall similar set pieces from Fincherâs distinctive videos for Paula Abdul and Jody Watley from earlier that year.)
âElectric Youthâ spawned a perfume of the same name, hawked to mallrats across the country, but the single just missed the Top 10 and would be Gibsonâs last major hit. Since then, the boomers have poisoned both the planet and politics, millennials have self-medicated on social media and â80s nostalgia, and Gen-Xers are sitting on the front porch, popping CBD gummies, and quietly watching it all burn. Electric, indeed.
Review: King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizardâs Fishing for Fishies Lacks for the Oddball
The album fails to yield anything truly novel within the scope of blues-rock.3
Thereâs something gleefully bizarre about King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizardâs pairing of lyrics about environmental doom with spirited blues rock on Fishing for Fishies. Purveyors of sludge-heavy psych-rock and tongue-in-cheek wordplay, the Australian seven-piece is prone to trying different genres, like surf rock, stoner metal, and jazz, before then pulling them apart at the seams. But whereas the bandâs most successful forays into genre-bending benefited from their delight in warping styles out of shape, Fishing for Fishies suffers from by-the-book derivations and a shortage of their usual oddball instincts.
As the albumâs cover of a cartoon robot fishing in a hellish lake of fire suggests, King Gizzardâs main concern is environmental and social degradation in the digital age. The band amplifies the perils of our world, envisaging an apocalyptic landscape marked by plastic-choked oceans, wildlife extinction, and millennials deprived of meaningful human interaction. They underpin this subject matter with muddy blues guitar, intensifying the sense of doom by emulating the jeremiads of the blues traditions, and with shuffle boogie rhythms. The âboogieâ motif that threads through the album juxtaposes the celebration and dance of boogie music with sobering lyrics. âDeath will come from plastic/Death will come from people,â singer Stu Mackenzie chants on âPlastic Boogieâ as a crowd claps and cheers over a blazing guitar lick.
For all of its attempts at unconventionality, though, Fishing for Fishies fails to yield anything truly novel within the scope of blues-rock. âPlastic Boogieâ and âThe Cruel Millennialâ sound like discarded B-sides from ZZ Top and Ten Years After, respectively. This derivative treatment of blues-rock makes the album one of the bandâs most accessible to date, but devoid of their trademark absurdities (eerie soliloquys, road burn-inducing walls of sound, and jigsaw-like song structures), whatâs left is arid and unmemorable.
With the introduction of electronic elements and musings about a dystopian, cyborg-dominated future, the tail-end of the album recaptures some of its initial vigor and intrigue. âThis Thingâ opens with another ZZ Top-influenced guitar lick, but in this case, the track transitions into a strange psychedelic brew of flute, harmonica, and synth drones. The use of microtonal tuning on âAcarineâ lends it a disorienting feeling thatâs supplanted by a moody house outro. The closing track, âCyboogie,â returns to boogie rhythms but features zany Auto-Tuned vocals and a cyborg as its protagonist. Certainly, the shift from the humanity and warmth of blues-rock to the synthetic robotics of electronic music is intentional, but the album ends too abruptly for one to clearly discern the full extent of its significance.
Label: Flightless Release Date: April 26, 2019 Buy: Amazon
Review: Pinkâs Hurts 2B Human Peddles Boilerplate Angst and Introspection
The album settles into a torpor of self-examination that never rises above 120 beats per minute.2.5
Pinkâs eighth album, Hurts 2B Human, finds the singer peddling the same boilerplate pop-rock songs about self-empowerment and existential angst that have defined her career for almost 20 years. The album opens with two decidedly upbeat numbersâthe brassy âHustle,â featuring Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, and the Auto-Tune-heavy â(Hey Why) Miss You Sometime,â produced by Max Martin and Shellbackâbefore quickly settling into a torpor of self-examination that never rises above 120 beats per minute.
The albumâs expectedly earnest lead single, âWalk Me Home,â reunites Pink with co-writer Nate Ruess, who lends the song his signature brand of rousing, if nondescript, pop pathos. Co-penned by Sia, âCourageâ is another power ballad in a bizarrely enduring genre seemingly based entirely on Pat Benatarâs âWe Belong.â The understated âMy Atticâ is marred by an on-the-nose metaphor, while tracks like âCircle Gameâ and âHappyâ drown in self-help platitudes that attempt to mask self-pity: âI had a hard day, and I need to find a hiding place/Can you give me just a second to make it through these growing pains?â Pink pleads on the former.
From Khalidâs socially conscious ruminations on the schmaltzy title track to Chris Stapletonâs raspy bellyaching on the â80s-indebted âLove Me Anyway,â the contributions of a litany of guest artists largely fail to add much more than mere texture to the proceedings. The sole exception is singer-songwriter Wrabelâs Vocoder-enhanced harmonies, which, in a nod to Imogen Heapâs âHide and Seek,â give the minimalist â90 Daysâ a stirring, otherworldly quality. The albumâs closing track, âThe Last Song of Your Life,â is a similarly poignant acoustic ballad with reverb-soaked vocals reminiscent of early-â90s folk and a contemplative performance from Pink that transcends the rest of the albumâs turgid introspection.
Label: RCA Release Date: April 26, 2019 Buy: Amazon
Review: Taylor Swift’s “ME!” Is an Ebullient, Eye-Popping Fantasia
The pop singer drops her new single and music video, featuring Panic! At the Disco’s Brendon Urie.
Earlier this month, Taylor Swift posted an Instagram story with a countdown to the launch of her next musical era. Swiftâs 2017 album Reputation and subsequent stadium tour were both sonically and aesthetically darker than anything sheâd done before, and the reception was mixed at best, resulting in the lowest-selling album of her career. So it was, perhaps, inevitable that the singer would move away from the combative tone and hard, hip-hop-influenced beats of singles like âLook What You Made Me Doâ and ââŠReady for It?â
Swift first hinted that a shift in tone was imminent viaâwhere else?âher Instagram account, which, over the last several weeks, has been populated with decidedly softer imagery than usual for the singer, including sequins, butterflies, jewel-encrusted hearts, and fluffy-faced kittensâall bathed in creamy pastel tones. Youâd be forgiven for thinking she was preparing to launch a tween apparel line and not the next phase of her global pop domination. But if Reputation taught us anything, itâs that Swift is nothing if not committed, and her new single, âME!ââwhich features Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Discoâis a full-tilt 180.
Produced by Joel Little, best known for his work with Lorde and Broods, the song plays like a piss take on the bright and shiny pop of hits like âShake It Off,â with marching-band drums, stadium foot-stomping, stately brass, and a cartoonishly ebullient hook: âHee-hee-hee, hoo-hoo-hoo!â Swift may be one of the most self-aware pop stars alive, so itâs impossible not to view everything about âME!â as a calculated response to her last album, right down to the songâs effusive title (Reputation precedes âME!ââget it?). Even her signature self-deprecationââI know I went psycho on the phone/I never leave well enough aloneââis given a self-reflexive twist: âI promise that youâll never find another like me.â
The music video, co-directed by Dave Meyers and Swift, begins with a shot of a pink snakeâa nod to the singerâs supposed reputationâslithering across rainbow-colored cobblestones before bursting into a kaleidoscope of butterflies, pointedly marking the end of an era. She and Urie are seen arguing in charmingly stilted French accents, setting the stage for an eye-popping, effects-laden fantasia of a make-up session that includes antagonistic clouds, Easter egg-colored pantsuits, liquid dresses, and a 1960s-style variety show.
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