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Review: J贸nsi, Go

Go鈥檚 biggest surprise鈥攖hat shouldn鈥檛 really be a surprise鈥攊s J贸nsi鈥檚 remarkable vocal performances.

4.5

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J贸nsi, Go

The amount of angst I felt as I cued up J贸nsi鈥檚 Go for the first time was, in retrospect, totally inappropriate. But I imagine I鈥檓 not the only Sigur R贸s fan to approach the album with anxiety, maybe even a little resentment. Wasn鈥檛 it good enough for J贸nsi to front one of the most beloved and bizarrely successful rock acts of the last decade? Has 鈥渋ndefinite hiatus鈥 ever meant anything other than a slow-motion breakup? Had Iceland鈥檚 art-rock champions somehow been Yoko-Ono鈥檇 by J贸nsi鈥檚 boyfriend/collaborator, Alex Somers?

All conspiratorial bitterness aside, it feels important to acknowledge the high likelihood that, with Go, the mighty Sigur R贸s has been laid to rest for good. But J贸nsi has given us something better than a consolation prize. Go is a splendid, vibrant, and ultimately necessary record鈥攏ecessary because it gives J贸nsi the chance to channel Sigur R贸s鈥檚 strengths (shifting layers of diverse instruments, dynamic composition, and a meticulous appreciation for detail) in blissful new directions. While it鈥檚 not difficult to draw a line from the poppier numbers on Me冒 Su冒 铆 Eyrum Vi冒 Spilum Endalaust (鈥淕obbledigook鈥 and 鈥淚nn铆 m茅r syngur vitleysingur鈥 are this album鈥檚 closest predicates), Go is simply too bright a record to have ever belonged in the Sigur R贸s discography; the rushing strings and woodwinds on 鈥淎round Us鈥 and 鈥淎nimal Arithmetic鈥 are so radiant that they would have melted the band鈥檚 glacial soundscapes on contact. Where Sigur R贸s鈥檚 albums often glowered, Go simply glows.

For me, it was only two minutes in, when J贸nsi melts into the breathtaking chorus of 鈥淕o Do,鈥 that any residual bitterness over the Sigur R贸s bust-up was completely dissolved. But there鈥檚 plenty here for the less easily converted, and besides, longtime fans who can stomach J贸nsi鈥檚 newly sugary demeanor will find that he hasn鈥檛 left them wholly stranded; Go may eschew the cinematic heft of vintage Sigur R贸s, but that doesn鈥檛 mean it鈥檚 all Saturday morning cartoons either. 鈥淭ornado鈥 and 鈥淪inking Friendships鈥 slowly swell toward their climaxes like and Takk鈥-era ballads rendered in miniature, and atmospheric cuts like 鈥淜olni冒ur鈥 and 鈥淕row Til Tall鈥 add welcome sonic and emotional complexity. Nine tracks of unabashed gushing would have been hard to take, and J贸nsi鈥檚 Technicolor sunshine sounds better when it has some dark clouds to break through.

That said, the record does end on a disappointingly dour note. 鈥淗engil谩s鈥 is a spare and moody sendoff that feels wrong for such an ebullient album. And in its uncanny resemblance to 脕g忙tis Byrjun鈥檚 closer, 鈥淎valon,鈥 it鈥檚 the only track that seems like a calculated pander to Sigur R贸s diehards.

But Go鈥檚 biggest surprise鈥攖hat shouldn鈥檛 really be a surprise鈥攊s J贸nsi鈥檚 remarkable vocal performances. Capable of holding it鈥檚 own against 脕g忙tis Byrjun鈥檚 dense guitar drone and Takk鈥鈥檚 lush orchestral movements, his evocative falsetto proved time and again to be Sigur R贸s鈥檚 most compelling instrument. But something very nearly revelatory about hearing that voice leap nimbly from hook to hook on 鈥淏oy Lilikoi鈥 or layered against itself on 鈥淎nimal Arithmetic.鈥 J贸nsi rarely resorts to the howls and held notes that used to be his calling card; across the album, he sounds energized as he races Nico Muhly鈥檚 lively arrangements and his own brisk, percussive backdrops. For a talented artist striking out in a new direction, energized is exactly the right way to sound. Even if the era of Sigur R贸s is indeed over, J贸nsi鈥檚 solo career contains all the exhilarating promise that a new beginning should.

Label: XL Release Date: April 6, 2010 Buy: Amazon

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Review: Anderson .Paak鈥檚 Expansive Ventura Fuses the New and Old-School

The album serves as a reminder of the magic that can result from looking to the past to inform the future.

4

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Ventura
At the heart of Anderson .Paak鈥檚 music has always been an emotional unburdening of exuberant proportions. It鈥檚 present in the shades of intensity his voice carries between croon and rasp, the luxurious kinetics of his funk-laden instrumentals, and his starry-eyed joie de vivre. On his fourth album, Ventura, Paak alters this blueprint by mastering the equilibrium between exactitude and ease, between vintage soul and new-school fusion.

The salt and sand of the California beach towns where Paak grew up comprise the lifeblood of his albums. Whereas last year鈥檚 insular Oxnard paid tribute to the city of his birth, Ventura is more expansive. Dr. Dre, Paak鈥檚 longtime mentor, served as executive producer on Oxnard, lending that album its heavy-hitting funk-rap skylarks, but on Ventura, Dre allows his prot茅g茅 to take the reins. Paak certainly doesn鈥檛 shy away from the challenge, as the album is awash in golden timbres and spacious, full-blooded textures. It鈥檚 lush yet artfully edited, unforced yet deliberate鈥攁 far cry from the overwrought architecture that got the best of Oxnard.

In many ways, Ventura represents a return to form for Paak, as he channels the neo-soul of 2016鈥檚 Malibu, which was sorely absent from Oxnard. But while Paak was comfortable residing in the clearly defined contours of traditional verse-bridge-verse song structures on Malibu, he allows those boundaries to blur and shift here. The cinematic opener 鈥淐ome Home,鈥 which boasts a particularly nimble and clever verse from Andr茅 3000, unfolds like an overture, anchored by a choir of angelic voices and hair-raising drumrolls. Staccato trumpets puncture the disco glitz of 鈥淩eachin鈥 2 Much鈥 before, in one of the most fabulous transitions of the album, giving way to a chilled-down groove equally fit for a backyard BBQ and a dance floor.

Too many tracks on Oxnard felt as if they were carried by noteworthy features like Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, and Q-Tip, leaving Paak as a supporting character at best. By contrast, Paak is never overshadowed on Ventura, working off a tight and balanced chemistry with his guest artists, and he embraces an endearing transparency when he treats topics as disparate as dealing with a nosy girlfriend (鈥淵ou stay here too much, baby/You know it鈥檚 not your place鈥), reigniting a dormant love (鈥淲hen you take somebody for your own/It can鈥檛 survive on history alone鈥), and uplifting community in the face of racism and poverty (鈥淭he people that you came with? You鈥檙e coming with me鈥). Throughout it all, Paak maintains an optimism that, though some might deem na茂ve, is undeniably infectious.

The foundations of Paak鈥檚 sound鈥攄isco, funk, 鈥70s soul, California G-funk鈥攃ast an air of nostalgia over his music. But he鈥檚 shrewd enough in the design and construction of his music to prevent the amalgamation of these influences from slipping into pastiche or kitsch. Although Ventura is replete with anachronisms鈥攖heatrical strings fit for Earth, Wind & Fire (鈥淩eachin鈥 2 Much鈥), nightclub-ready slap bass (鈥淛et Black鈥), quiet storm (鈥淢ake It Better鈥)鈥擯aak fuses the old school and new school seamlessly, producing a sonic palette that hasn鈥檛 quite been replicated by any of his contemporaries. Ventura serves as a reminder of the magic that can result from looking to the past to inform the future.

Label: Aftermath Release Date: April 12, 2019 Buy: Amazon

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Review: Madonna and Maluma Drop Sultry New Single 鈥淢edell铆n,鈥 from Madame X

The lead single from Madonna’s 14th album is driven by a decidedly unhurried tropical rhythm.

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Medellin
Photo: Interscope Records

Last month, Page Six of the New York Post published an article titled 鈥淗ow Madonna is using younger stars to cling to relevancy.鈥 The infamous tabloid swiftly revised its headline to the marginally softer 鈥淗ow Madonna is using younger stars in hopes to stay relevant鈥 after receiving blowback for what some perceived to be a double standard. But as the gulf between the 60-year-old pop queen鈥檚 age and that of the average radio star has continued to widen, it鈥檚 true that she鈥檚 increasingly leaned on collaborations with younger artists like Justin Timberlake and Nicki Minaj.

You鈥檇 be forgiven, then, for assuming that 鈥淢edell铆n,鈥 the first single from Madonna鈥檚 upcoming 14th album, Madame X, is an attempt to cash in on the ever-growing popularity of reggaton. While the 25-year-old Maluma is a huge star in Latin America, however, he鈥檚 yet to cross over beyond the Latin-pop market in the U.S., so the partnership appears to be a mutually beneficial one. And Madonna has lovingly appropriated Latin culture in her work for decades, as far back as 1986鈥檚 鈥淟a Isla Bonita,鈥 and as recently as her torero-inspired music video for 2015鈥檚 鈥淟iving for Love.鈥 In fact, one could argue it鈥檚 the single most consistent musical theme of her career outside of, say, dance music more broadly.

Co-produced by Mirwais, who was previously at the helm of Madonna鈥檚 Music and American Life albums, 鈥淢edell铆n鈥濃攏amed after the city where Maluma was born鈥攊s a sultry midtempo track driven by a decidedly unhurried tropical rhythm and Madonna鈥檚 catchy refrain of 鈥渙ne-two cha-cha-cha.鈥 The singer鈥檚 inexplicably Auto-Tune-drenched verses are nostalgic and wistful, nodding to the breezy escapism of 鈥淟a Isla Bonita鈥: 鈥淚 took a sip and had a dream/And I woke up in Medell铆n.鈥

Vocally, Maluma does most of the heavy-lifting on the bilingual track, with inuendo-filled verses that reference both Colombia and Madonna鈥檚 hometown of Detroit. But Madonna鈥檚 sugary harmonies, particularly during the song鈥檚 rousing hook, balance out Maluma鈥檚 gigolo routine with a dreamy sweetness.

Listen here:

The music video for 鈥淢edell铆n鈥 will premiere on April 24. Madame X is out June 14 on Interscope Records.

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Review: The Chemical Brothers鈥檚 No Geography Resembles Loving Fan Fiction

The album displays elements of all stages of the duo鈥檚 career yet retains the same playful inspiration found in their best work.

3.5

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No Geography
Photo: Hamish Brown/Astralwerks

To call the Chemical Brothers鈥檚 No Geography a kind of impeccable fan service is to suggest a criticism entirely unintended. If the U.K. duo鈥檚 ninth album resembles loving speculative fiction, it鈥檚 of an urgent, exciting sort that the electronic pioneers have more than earned over their relatively consistent 25-year career. In fact, save for the wonky sequencing choice of front-loading the two most negligible songs鈥攖he boilerplate big-beat intro of 鈥淓ve of Destruction鈥 and 鈥滲ango鈥濃No Geography could easily pass for a collection of epic B-sides to some of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons鈥檚 signature classics.

鈥淢AH鈥 (short for 鈥淢ad As Hell鈥) is a dopamine-surging mash of familiar sounds, its frenzied, vaguely tribal beats and grinding noise reminiscent of 鈥淚t Began in Afrika鈥 and 鈥淐hemical Beats,鈥 respectively. 鈥淕ravity Drops鈥 gives the 808s-on-Salvia drum thunder of 鈥淐ome with Us鈥 a modern production spit-shine, with some additional sprinkling of Kraftwerk鈥檚 鈥淐omputer Love鈥 and Aphex Twin鈥檚 鈥淲indowlicker.鈥 鈥淲e鈥檝e Got to Try鈥 similarly resurrects the hip-hop-based car-stereo thump of the Chemical Brothers鈥 first two albums, and even raises a glass to two of the stronger tracks (鈥淗igh Roller鈥 and 鈥滲usy Child鈥) by their early American counterpart the Crystal Method.

Fans of the Chemical Brothers tend to have their own favorites among the many genre styles the pair use to generate their panoramic sonic palette. If you love the group鈥檚 bouncing, THC-fried detours into crisp, disco-infused pop, singles like 鈥淕ot to Keep On鈥 and 鈥淔ree Yourself鈥 are made to order. For this listener, it鈥檚 the moody dance-floor psychedelia, and in this vein, No Geography thrills as well: 鈥淭he Universe Sent Me鈥 gives 鈥淪tar Guitar鈥 a darker, more meditative spin with its humming baseline, ethereal Liz Frazier-esque vocals, and fire-damaged guitars, and 鈥淐atch Me I鈥檓 Falling鈥 winds down the BPMs while turning up the intergalactic lovesickness. These songs, like the album as a whole, display elements of all stages of the duo鈥檚 career yet retain the same playful inspiration found in their best work.

Label: Astralwerks Release Date: April 13, 2019 Buy: Amazon

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Watch: Madonna Unveils Teaser Trailer for New Concept Album Madame X

The secretiveness surrounding the project isn鈥檛 surprising given that Madonna has been the victim of rampant leaks.

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Madonna
Photo: Instagram

Certain discrete corners of the internet lost their collective minds earlier this month when Madonna鈥檚 Instagram page, alternately littered with posts featuring the singer鈥檚 adopted twin daughters or snapshots of her recent photo and video shoots, was taken over by nine indivudal images comprising a large red 鈥淴.鈥 The typically prolific celebrity 鈥榞rammer remained relatively quiet over the next two weeks, intermittently posting images of the letter X in her stories, and slowly revealing the manifesto for Madame X, her first album in four years:

Madame X is a secret agent
Traveling around the world
Changing identities
Fighting for freedom
Bringing light to dark places
She is a cha cha instructor
A professor
A head of state
A housekeeper
An esquestiran
A prisoner
A student
A teacher
A nun
A cabaret singer
A saint
A prostitute

The album鈥檚 lead single, which could be out as soon as this week, is rumored to be a duet with Colombian reggaeton singer Maluma, but details are scarce. The secretiveness surrounding the project isn鈥檛 surprising given that Madonna has been the victim of rampant leaks since at least the turn of the century. The studio recordings for her last album, 2015鈥檚 Rebel Heart, leaked like a sieve, resulting in the arrest of an Israeli hacker.

This time out, the queen of pop has successfully kept things under wraps, but it seems that Madame X鈥攁 character perhaps inspired by the 1966 film of the same name starring Lana Turner鈥攊s ready for her close-up. Watch the teaser for the new album, directed by Steven Klein, below:

Madonna will reportedly perform new material from Madame X at the Eurovision Song Contest on May 14.

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Review: Craig Finn鈥檚 I Need a New War Soars When It Rises Above the Mire

If there鈥檚 one thing that squarely separates the album from the Hold Steady singer鈥檚 previous work, it鈥檚 the consistent mellowness.

3.5

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I Need a New War
Shervin Lainez/Big Hassle

The artistic growth Craig Finn has displayed over the course of his four solo albums is comparable鈥攊n terms developing a lyrical and production style鈥攖o his progression as a songwriter across the Hold Steady鈥檚 first four albums. The difference is that rather than sketching out narrative party epics set to huge power-and-glory guitar riffs, Finn is now mostly writing tightly focused character studies to go with his largely understated indie rock songs鈥攎usic, in other words, that鈥檚 harder to latch onto and easier to overlook.

Despite its title鈥檚 connotations, I Need a New War鈥攖he third in a retconned trilogy of albums鈥攆inds Finn further entrenching himself in the stylistic hallmarks of 2015鈥檚 Faith in the Future and 2017鈥檚 We All Want the Same Things. The album鈥檚 ties to its two predecessors are, however, largely implicit rather than explicit. Counter to past Hold Steady albums, there are few, if any, recurring characters, and unlike Holly, Charlemagne, and the whole crew of divinely inspired party hounds who Finn sings about with that band, his subjects here are mostly just regular folks doing their best to muddle through their day-to-day lives. It takes one hell of a good writer to turn that kind of subject matter into compelling rock n鈥 roll, and Finn鈥攑ractically in his own category as a lyricist鈥攊s up to the task.

Produced by Josh Kaufman, who also helmed Faith in the Future and We All Want the Same Things, I Need a New War retains many of those albums鈥 sonic traits: watery guitars, pillowy keyboards, and a stuffed-nose Finn singing in a lower, relaxed register. But it鈥檚 also a departure, introducing new wrinkles like silky backing vocals by Annie Nero and Cassandra Jenkins and a liberally employed brass section that gets downright jazzy on the lounge-y 鈥淗er with the Blues.鈥 Several songs, particularly 鈥淢agic Marker鈥 and 鈥淚ndications,鈥 unexpectedly adopt a 鈥50s doo-wop sound, continuing Finn鈥檚 penchant for introducing new stylistic approaches on each of his solo albums that we haven鈥檛 heard from him before.

If there鈥檚 one thing that squarely separates I Need a New War from Finn鈥檚 previous work, it鈥檚 the consistent mellowness. With its dreamy atmosphere and loitering tempos, the album is more reliant than ever on Finn鈥檚 wordplay. This is rarely an issue for a lyricist of Finn鈥檚 caliber, as his eye for detail can turn seemingly mundane scenarios鈥攁 simple favor that becomes hard to repay (鈥淎 Bathtub in the Kitchen鈥), an office drone who daydreams of driving away from a dead-end relationship (鈥淐armen Isn鈥檛 Coming in Today鈥)鈥攊nto resonant vignettes.

At the same time, Finn can get too bogged down in minutiae, such as devoting an entire verse of 鈥淗olyoke鈥 to binge-watching TV shows. But even then, the aside serves the song鈥檚 larger purpose of illustrating the anxiety-ridden narrator鈥檚 vain attempts to distract himself from the omnipresence of death: 鈥淢assachusetts, man, you鈥檝e got a lot more graveyards than we鈥檙e used to/I swear to god they鈥檙e every other mile.鈥

I Need a New War soars when Finn dares to rise above the mire. This includes 鈥淪omething to Hope For,鈥 whose optimistic title is mirrored in its peppy, infectious hooks. And lead single 鈥淏lankets鈥 is Finn鈥檚 most rousing solo effort to date, an account of a desperate search for an old flame that鈥檚 as sweeping and powerful as the 鈥渢hunder in the canyon鈥 that the musician sings about on the chorus. The song鈥檚 concluding thought鈥斺淵ou live your whole life/Just to travel to the place you鈥檙e gonna die鈥濃攊s as bleak and resigned as anything else on the album. But like almost everything that Finn sings, it鈥檚 also invigorating.

Label: Partisan Release Date: April 26, 2019 Buy: Amazon

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The 25 Best Chemical Brothers Songs

To celebrate the release of the duo’s ninth album, No Geography, we ranked their 25 best songs.

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The Chemical Brothers
Photo: Hamish Brown

This week, the Chemical Brothers will release their ninth studio album, No Geography, a notable feat for a group that was first propelled into the mainstream via electronica鈥檚 so-called big bang in the late 1990s. Here鈥檚 how consistently rich the duo鈥檚 vast catalogue has been throughout their near-25-year career: Given the task of choosing our individual favorite tracks, we came up with over 50 contenders worthy of inclusion. As you read鈥攁nd better yet, listen鈥攖o this list, you鈥檒l discover some unexpected omissions (pour one out for one of their biggest crossover hits, 鈥淏locking Rockin鈥 Beats,鈥 which didn鈥檛 make the cut), but also some equally surprising additions that more casual fans may find unfamiliar. Regardless of your level of immersion, though, what you鈥檒l find here are 25 of the most explosive, head-bobbing, ass-shaking anthems in electronic music history. Blue Sullivan

Editor鈥檚 Note: Listen to the entire playlist on Spotify.

25. 鈥淪aturate鈥

The Chemical Brothers鈥檚 2007 album We Are the Night is rightly maligned for containing a few of the duo鈥檚 rare missteps (here鈥檚 looking at you, 鈥淪almon Dance鈥), but it also contains one of their most propulsive house bangers. Built on ping-ponging keys and a bassline so deep and dirty it almost qualifies as subliminal, 鈥淪aturate鈥 builds to a surge of hammering snares that sound like crashing waves. A frequent late-set addition to the duo鈥檚 live show over the last decade, the track is just as deserving of its inclusion here as any of their early classics. Sullivan

24. 鈥淟ife Is Sweet鈥

But is it? Structured as a call and response, 鈥淟ife Is Sweet鈥 first finds the Chemical Brothers radiating in an unambiguously optimistic vibe, to the point you can almost feel UV rays emanating from the speakers. And then, suddenly, everything clouds over and you find yourself dancing in a haze of primal doubt that winds up in a denouement of existentialist angst. Eric Henderson

23. 鈥淟oops of Fury鈥

Best video game soundtrack of all time? WipeOut XL, without a doubt. And the Chemical Brothers鈥檚 鈥淟oops of Fury鈥 was but one of the crown jewels of a compilation that also included Underworld鈥檚 鈥淭in There,鈥 the Prodigy鈥檚 鈥淔irestarter,鈥 Photek鈥檚 鈥淭he Third Sequence,鈥 and Fluke鈥檚 鈥淎tom Bomb.鈥 Even in that company, the relentless 鈥淟oops of Fury鈥 comes about as close as any of them to feeling what it would be like to barrel down an anti-gravity race track at more than 200 kilometers per hour. Henderson

22. 鈥淭hree Little Birdies Down Beats鈥

There is perhaps no other song on the Chemical Brothers鈥檚 1995 debut, Exit Planet Dust, that defined the duo鈥檚 developing sound more efficiently than the unrelenting 鈥淭hree Little Birdies Down Beats.鈥 The track is a torrent of increasingly complex layers: breakbeats, soul samples, and an onslaught of screeching guitars and distorted vocals that would become the group鈥檚 signature over the course of the next decade. Sal Cinquemani

21. 鈥淢y Elastic Eye鈥

Based around a sample of electronic composer Bernard Estardy鈥檚 1973 piece 鈥淭ic Tac Nocturne,鈥 鈥淢y Elastic Eye鈥 sounds at once cinematic and classical, fusing prog-rock and jazz influences, and boldly employing the filtered basslines of French techno and electroclash, which was peaking in popularity around the time of the song鈥檚 release. The result is a m茅lange of styles that cohere into a spooky musical score that wouldn鈥檛 sound out of a place in an Argento giallo. Cinquemani

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Review: Khalid鈥檚 Free Spirit Embraces Self-Inquiry to Hackneyed Effect

The album feels more like an American Eagle ad than a documentation of an authentic transformational experience.

3

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Free Spirit
Photo: Grace Pickering

With his butter-smooth two-octave vocal range, megawatt smile, and candid, sincere commitment to portraying millennial love鈥攔eplete with boozy Uber rides and text-message mind games鈥擪halid has swiftly become a pop fixture, carving out a seemingly permanent place on the Billboard charts. But there鈥檚 a sense of guardedness, an almost antiseptic quality, to the 21-year-old singer鈥檚 produced-to-perfection R&B. And on his sophomore effort, Free Spirit, he can鈥檛 seem to shake that predilection for playing it safe, despite the album鈥檚 calls to lose our inhibitions and be free.

Whereas his 2016 debut, American Teen, played like the soundtrack to teenage romance and misadventure, Free Spirit sees Khalid embracing more mature self-inquiry, albeit to hackneyed effect, as he does on 鈥淪elf鈥: 鈥淚鈥檝e ran away for miles, it鈥檚 gettin鈥 hard for me to breathe/鈥楥ause the man that I鈥檝e been runnin鈥 from is inside of me.鈥 And no less inspired are lyrics like 鈥淪o if you鈥檙e gonna love me/You gotta love all of me鈥 (from 鈥淏ad Luck鈥) and 鈥淟ife is never easy when you need it to be/Try to knock me down, but I get back on my feet鈥 (from 鈥淗undred鈥).

Free Spirit brims with potential radio hits, like the broody, laidback 鈥淢y Bad.鈥 The Disclosure-produced lead single, 鈥淭alk,鈥 is bright and electric, with a galaxy of heavily textured synths underpinning the track鈥檚 buoyant chorus, in which Khalid shows off his seemingly effortless falsetto. A spacey guitar solo from guest John Mayer elevates the grounded groove of 鈥淥utta My Head鈥 into something a little more out of this world. Multiple tracks, however, feature the same reverb-drenched guitar and airy synths, sucked dry of vitality by too-pristine production. For a burgeoning artist still establishing his signature style, Khalid settles into a surprising complacency here, failing to experiment with the template of his debut.

A fleet of 1970s-era vans emblazoned with the Free Spirit logo were deployed to colleges across the U.S. to promote the album鈥檚 release, and a band of disillusioned teens taking a weed-stoked road trip are the subject of a short film that accompanies the album. The title track grapples with the tantalizing and distressing prospects of freedom, but Khalid never seems to reconcile the depths of that freedom throughout Free Spirit. Perhaps it鈥檚 because, at 21, his journey is just beginning. But with all of the lyrical platitudes that abound on the album, the cover art of which depicts the artist overlooking a desert from the top of a dusty van, Khalid鈥檚 coming-of-age odyssey feels more like an American Eagle ad than a documentation of an authentic transformational experience.

Label: RCA Release Date: April 5, 2019 Buy: Amazon

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Review: The Flaming Lips鈥檚 King鈥檚 Mouth Brings the Hooks but Lacks Heft

The album鈥檚 heartwarming melodies set to hit-and-miss lyrics represents at least a partial return to form.

3

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King's Mouth
Photo: George Salisbury/Warner Bros.

Given that Wayne Coyne has spent the last decade mired in increasingly bleak stonerism and aimless neo-psych jamming鈥攏ot to mention the Instagramming and hawking of absurd novelty merchandise鈥攊t鈥檚 reasonable to wonder if he鈥檒l ever return to the starry-eyed philosophizing of The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots that made him an indie-rock icon. Or, for that matter, if Lips multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd will ever go back to writing the sweet pop melodies that made those albums so indelible.

With King鈥檚 Mouth, initially being released on vinyl as a Record Store Day exclusive with a full release to follow, Coyne鈥檚 voice is freed of the alienating reverb of the band鈥檚 recent work, returning to its clear, humanly quavering state in the center of the mix. Unfortunately, the album only contains about an EP鈥檚 worth of solid material, with the rest of the running time devoted to a tedious children鈥檚 fairytale featuring narration by the Clash鈥檚 Mick Jones.

Jones delivers, in intermittent spoken segments, a predictably offbeat yarn about a beloved king whose severed, steel-coated head becomes a totem of inspiration to the children of the kingdom (itself an extension of an art installation by Coyne). Conceptually, this is no less loopy than Yoshimi or any one of dozens of Lips songs that could have originally been conceived in a crayon drawing. But much of the narrative-focused sections of King鈥檚 Mouth lack compositional heft: They鈥檙e mostly sub-two-minute, largely instrumental toss-offs that Jones鈥檚 flat, disinterested narration does little to energize.

Still, as slight as they are, even vignettes like 鈥淔eedaloodum Beedle Dot鈥 and 鈥淔uneral Parade鈥 contain snatches of melody more distinct than nearly anything else the band has done this decade. This renewed melodic emphasis, though, is more appreciable on the album鈥檚 more deliberately composed songs. With their strummed acoustic guitars, pervasive but unfussy electronic embellishments, and Coyne鈥檚 existential musings, these songs sound like the basis of a proper follow-up to Yoshimi even more than the zany At War with the Mystics, did.

Of course, 17 years and numerous musical evolutions and public Coyne episodes later, this does feel a bit like backtracking, especially lyrically. The Coyne of 鈥淲aitin鈥 for a Superman,鈥 鈥淔ight Test,鈥 and 鈥淒o You Realize??鈥 was pseudo-childlike in disposition but also knowing and world-weary, and it was in that synthesis that he achieved genuine profundity. On King鈥檚 Mouth, Coyne too often defaults to just the 鈥渃hildlike鈥 part of that equation, especially on 鈥淕iant Baby,鈥 on which silly refrains of 鈥淵ou鈥檙e the biggest baby/You鈥檙e a giant little boy鈥 render the eventual payoff line鈥斺淎nd it made me understand/That life sometimes is sad鈥濃攎iles less impactful than, say, 鈥淓veryone you know someday will die.鈥 Album closer 鈥淗ow Can a Head鈥 also sounds a bit like a mash-up of things Coyne has said before in less frivolous contexts: 鈥淗ow can a head hold so many things/All our life, all our love/All the songs it sings.鈥

The heartwarming melodies that Coyne and Drozd set these hit-and-miss lyrics to represent at least a partial return to form for songwriters who, in recent years, seemed to have forgotten that melody is what they do best. Songs like 鈥淭he Sparrow,鈥 鈥淎ll for the Life of the City,鈥 and 鈥淢outh of the King鈥 boast sugary yet wistful melodies in the same vein of some of the Lips鈥檚 greatest work, and hearing Coyne sing them is like reuniting with an old friend.

Label: Warner Bros. Release Date: April 13, 2019 Buy: Amazon

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Features

The 15 Best Nirvana Songs

Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl were prolific enough to produce some of the greatest rock songs ever put to tape.

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Nirvana
Photo: Sub Pop

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain鈥檚 tragic death via a self-inflicted gunshot wound. As if that weren鈥檛 a stark enough reminder of our fragile mortality, the band鈥檚 debut album, Bleach, will turn 30 this June. Of course, the massive success of Nirvana鈥檚 1991 follow-up, Nevermind, would help change the course of rock history. The band鈥檚 songs, the vast majority of which were penned solely by Cobain, fused pop, punk, and heavy metal into raw yet relatively digestible scraps of visceral rock poetry that struck just the right balance of accessible and challenging, introducing 鈥渁lternative rock鈥 to the masses, influencing an entire generation of musicians and fans, and鈥攆or better or worse鈥攃hristening a new subgenre: grunge. Though Nirvana only lasted for seven years and three studio albums, Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic, and drummer Dave Grohl were prolific enough to produce some of the greatest rock songs ever put to tape. Sal Cinquemani

Editor鈥檚 Note: This article was originally published on April 5, 2014. Listen to our entire Nirvana playlist on Spotify.

15. 鈥淏een a Son鈥

The first of many collections of scraps tossed out to hungry fans, Insecticide at least revealed a few new sides of the band, ranging from blistering punk assaults to strange slices of jagged power pop. 鈥淏een a Son鈥 proves one of the standouts of these early recordings, a zippy, straightforward ditty that retains only a scant undercurrent of sludge, only hinting at the psychic trauma that other songs made much more evident. Jesse Cataldo

14. 鈥淩ape Me鈥

Emblematic of the band鈥檚 reaction to accusations that they 鈥渟old out鈥 for signing with a major label and softening their early punk sound, the opening guitar lick of 鈥淩ape Me鈥 pointedly and playfully evokes 鈥淪mells Like Teen Spirit鈥 before the track devolves into a crushingly blunt treatise on sexual assault that conveniently, if unintentionally, doubles as a taunt to the media to take their best shot. Cinquemani

13. 鈥淪liver鈥

Rock鈥檚 inherently primal qualities have always been obvious, but few songs have approached them as directly as this one, a charging anthem that boils down to a melancholy tale of a little boy crying for his mother. Originally released by Sub Pop as a non-album single, it鈥檚 another sustained tantrum of a track, a roar disguising a whimper, highlighting the tormented whelp at the center of all that seething rage. Cataldo

12. 鈥淚n Bloom鈥

Pitted with a stream of pithy, sardonic koans that go almost unnoticed under all the noise, 鈥淚n Bloom鈥 imagines a micro-problem (ignorant meddlers of the Seattle scene) that quickly exploded into a macro one, leaving an acidic song retroactively aimed at the huge contingent of fans prizing the band for their muscular qualities, while ignoring the pained sensitivity which produced that intensity. If more people had been listening, maybe we could have avoided the long downward spiral of influence that eventually led to Puddle of Mudd. Cataldo

11. 鈥淥n a Plain鈥

Few things are more selfish, or illogical, than addiction, and the messy, self-focused tenor of Nirvana鈥檚 songs proves the perfect platform to engage that topic. The exacting honesty of tracks like 鈥淥n a Plain鈥 ended up as one of the band鈥檚 biggest cultural coups, pushing the focus of mainstream rock not only from glam fakery to 鈥済enuine鈥 emotion, but from a fixation on surfaces and objects to the intrinsic horrors of being human, the gross weakness of our bodies and the yawning emptiness of discontent. Cataldo

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Music

Listen: Ariana Grande Drops New Single 鈥淢onopoly鈥 with Victoria Mon茅t

Yes, human pop song conveyor belt Ariana Grande dropped another new track today.

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Monopoly
Photo: YouTube

Human pop-song conveyor belt Ariana Grande dropped another new track today. Last week the singer hinted via Twitter that a release of 鈥淢onopoly,鈥 a duet with frequent collaborator Victoria Mon茅t, was imminent after the pair debuted the song live during a stop on Grande鈥檚 Sweetener World Tour. And here we are.

Clocking in at just over two-and-a-half minutes, the hip-hop-inflected 鈥淢onopoly鈥 doesn鈥檛 leave much space for Grande to flex her much-ballyhooed vocal prowess, though she does manage to sneak in a few whistle notes at the end. The track has prompted as-yet-verified rumors that the pop star is bisexual: 鈥淚 swerve both ways, dichotomy,鈥 Mon茅t says before both women put a fine point on it: 鈥淚 like men and women.鈥

The lo-fi video is slightly more successful, with emojis popping up on the screen while Grande and Mon茅t playfully celebrate on a roofop. At one point, Grande swipes left on 鈥渉aters,鈥 鈥渘egativity,鈥 and 鈥淭rump.鈥 (Grande recently started an initiative called #ThankUNextGen to register voters for next year鈥檚 presidential election.)

Watch below:

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