It happens rarely and with much anticipation, some artists slave over a second or third album for years, this spring however saw the release of new albums by practically all my favorite musicians. So in honor of their efforts to make my summer playlist buzz with freshness I will attempt to discuss each album’s inspiration, highlights, innovations and missteps.
Artists up for thought:
LCD Soundsystem with This is Happening,
This album affirms the 40 year old’s prowess in the electro dance genre, gently pokes fun at the global hipster scene, and interestingly blends the genuine poetic monologue more common to folk music with inspired electronic beats. Each song is playable and unique, not an easy feat for a 9 track album with most songs lasting between 5 and 9 minutes.
My favorite songs are “I can Change” a heartbreaking profession of love to a whimsical beat similar to that of 80s dance hit “She Blinded me with Science.” My second pick “Dance yrself clean” kicks the album off and although the song has been accused of starting slowly and simplistically the lyrics are touching and clever and at 3:10 when the electro beats blasts in I’m not sure who could resist some serious head-bobbing. Pick three would have to be the dance track named simply enough “Pow Pow.” With a beat reminiscent of Hot Chip hits and lyrics that our both cool and profound, especially when spoken, slurred and chanted by James Murphy this track transcends the dance hit genre without taking itself seriously. If this truly is to be LCD’s final release he is ending on a high note and needless to say I love it all. This album is easily the best release of the year.
Cocorosie with Grey Oceans
This third album sounds more produced and sadly less bizarre then Cocorosie’s prior works. Someone must have asked for more listenable harmonies and less scratchy wailing backed with children’s toys sounds, however the outcome is unsure and sounds forced and slightly incoherent. That being said, Cocorosie has always been more about two or three amazing songs then a complete coherent album and this release is no exception.
Songs of interest include: “Hopscotch” a mix of drum and bass, alternated with a vaudeville chorus about hopscotch from Bianca, “Undertaker” a baroque piano-led lament featuring a sample of Bianca and Sierra’s mother singing in her native Cherokee. This sample was recently found by the sisters who accredit their mother for their haunting and unique voices. We even are given elements of trance (“Fairy Paradise”) and gospel (“Here I Come”)
My favorite two tracks on the album however would have to be “The Moon Asked The Crow” and “Lemonade” both songs with melancholy lyrics that impressively incorporate beats and themes from disperse music genres. “The Moon Asked the Crow” is a surreal mixture of classical tinkling on the Joanna with jabberwocky lyricisms from Bianca, all accompanied by a juddering hip-hop back beat. “Lemonade” however is my favorite track on the album with a nakedly autobiographical yet dreamy depiction of the sisters’ early childhood, a hook that sounds like it belongs in a 20s musical and an intriguing music video the song permeates the soul. Although this album will probably not be a huge commercial success, it stays true to Cocorosie’s unique style while impressively incorporating classical piano, trance, hip hop, drum and base, vaudeville and gospel elements.
MGMT with Congratulations
Following three Grammy nominations, props from Rolling Stone Magazine, and let’s not forgets an amazing album in Oracular Spectacular is not an easy feat. To stack the odds further MGMT’s second album was partially leaked on the internet a month before first singles were set to be released, and reviews of the leaked material was not favorable. The band responded wisely by releasing the entire album on their website and gamely starting the touring route. However, musically Congratulations has not created the stir of MGMT’s prior.
In fact, band member Goldwasser went so far as to apologize for the new albums lack of radio hits. As Goldwasser would go on to explain to Spinner, Congratulations is something of a reactionary statement dismissing the rapid rise to fame that the band has experienced. “We’re trying to come to grips with that world. It’s not our world. We don’t feel comfortable in it. But we didn’t want to make that typical second album either, about fame. So we’re definitely observing it, as opposed to reveling in it.” And in discussing the release with NME, Goldwasser explained how the band views the release in contrast to their past successes, “There definitely isn’t a ‘Time To Pretend’ or a ‘Kids’ on the album.” He continued, “We’d rather people hear the whole album as an album and see what tracks jump out rather than the ones that get played on the radio—if anything gets played on the radio!”
The lack of electro beats and pop influences and the plethora of cowbells and organ chords define this crazed and eerie take on surf music. If you are a big fan of the Flamming Lips, Of Montreal and Radiohead (which admittedly I am) you will like some of the tracks on this album, it just takes some time to get into.
The Gorrilaz with Plastic Beach
Their prior album, a combination of dub, hip-hop, Brit-pop and electronic music successfully danced between the border of pop and concept art, providing something novel yet coherent. The group, which formed in 1998 by Blur front man Damon Albarn and comic-book artist Jamie Hewlett, tries to push the limits on this album however despite a medley of genres and impressive roll call the lack of cohesion and hits is affronting.
Plastic Beach is a genre-bending collection of club beats, 70s sounds, hip-hop grooves, brass synthesizers and strangely Asian and Arabic tinged harmonies. Much of this diversity can be explained by the vast number of collaborators Albarn was able to draw into working on the album. The original musical lineup, as of the 2001 era Gorillaz, blended Albarn with Canadian DJ Kid Koala, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori and Tom Tom Club’s Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. Soon, with the follow-up album Demon Days, Gorillaz’s expanded to include producing genious Danger Mouse, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, hip-hop legend De La Soul and singer Martina Topley-Bird. Plastic Beach attempts to continues this expansion, with Snoop Dogg, Bobby Womack, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of the Clash, Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys, Little Dragon, and even The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music.
However despite the impressive cast list too many of the 16 tracks sound like studio goofs recorded by Albarn and his impressive circle of celebrity pals as a joke. I really had a hard time finding a hit with bizzare medleys such as “White Flag” which pairs U.K. rappers Bashy and Kano with hypnotic Middle Eastern strings and “Stylo,” the album’s disco lead single, makes great use of Bobby Womack’s growly soul vocals but does not containmuch of a hook. Nothing on the album is intrinsically catchy and halfway into Plastic Beach the album begins to melt into a long jam overly dependent on vintage-synth and guest appearances.
Think I was too harsh, too soft, missed a few key albums? leave a comment