Every Tuesday, Dan Weiss runs down the week’s new full-length music releases, from charting hits to more obscure depths, the underrated and the overrated, from a critical pop fan’s perspective.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll
The title’s a laugh riot for old school fans who will be less than amused by the One Republic-derived melodies and synth strings and Big Sean guest verses. But programmed beats keep them on task. The first two songs pound and growl like very little pop (or rock and roll) these days, and Patrick Stump clearly learned to sing in the off-season, most impressively alongside U.K. singer Foxes on the sexy “Just One Yesterday” and Courtney Love on the explosive album highlight and only true rock-guitar song, “Rat a Tat.” “Miss Missing You” is kaleidoscopic synth-pop that could’ve been on Tegan and Sara‘s new album, while “Young Volcanoes” shapes the chords of Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” into a palatable song after all. But this enjoyable, overreaching band’s best album is here, where Stump finally takes control of the band and overexposed, self-pitying Pete Wentz learns what a bassist actually does. To steal a line from “Rat a Tat,” “It’s never getting better than this.”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito
Since they’ve refused to rock for the last ten years, we can enjoy a song like the title bloodsucker as the throwaway-turned-centerpiece it is. Having foregone riffs for a few years of ballads and synthpop, Nick Zinner dusts off his effects pedals from 2003’s “Rich” for the choir-assisted curlicue “Sacrilege” and kicks off this band’s deepest-grooving album, from more ballads (“Subway” is their foggiest ever, “Despair” their warmest) to inspired weirdness (the dubby “Under the Earth,” Kool Keith’s walk-on rap verse in “Buried Alive”). Besides, refusing to rock is what gives the club-ready “These Paths” its hypnotic beauty in the first place.
Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge – Twelve Reasons to Die
In the tradition of Jay-Z’s American Gangster, here a mature artist invents a plot device to return to the rapping of his irrepressible youth and make titles like “Murder Spree.” The concept has something to do with a comic book, while Adrian Younge’s soundtrack-y backdrops pay tribute to, ha, RZA, who exec-produces. But for all the marketing, this might be Ghost’s most normal album ever, with lots of murder and twinkly pianos crammed into under 40 minutes perfectly suited to score Kill Bill Vol. 3 and 4. Maybe even 5.
Jai Paul – [untitled]
What a thrilling aspect of the downloading age that we can know more about how good an album is than if it’s really an album at all. “Leaked” on Friday on a Bandcamp account selling downloads and claiming to be official, with co-signs from his record label, the fresh-faced and mysterious producer Jai Paul claims this aural funhouse is a fake. But then he claimed the massively acclaimed “Jasmine,” one of only two previously released tracks with his name on it, was a “demo.” That song’s included here, along with “Btstu,” his Beyonce- and Drake-sampled debut salvo, and a cover of Jennifer Paige’s ’90s classic “Crush.” The remaining tracks, all untitled, combine the most dazzling aspects of contemporary R&B, sampladelica and Princely house music at its most cut-up. The sonic vocabulary recalls M.I.A. and Burial; only Skrillex is making albums this packed with sound, yet the use of space and unexpected pauses is brilliant. And make no mistake, this tour de force is pop.
Charli XCX – True Romance
The polar opposite of Jai Paul’s brand of dance-pop is Charli XCX’s less angular attack, with bassy beats, synths with a clear carbon date, and an early Madonna-Lauper fetish filtered through 2013 tricks like the echoing chipmunks that hook “Nuclear Seasons.” With one idea per song, she’s too polite and reverent to her source material (even literally: Gold Panda’s “You” is virtually unchanged as backing music for “You [Ha Ha Ha]”). But the back-to-back irresistible “Take My Hand” and “Stay Away” really are impressive Madonna and Lauper updates, respectively.
The Flaming Lips – The Terror
Possibly the most difficult major label album you’ll hear this year, the Flaming Lips push even further into the same grotesquely distorted direction until the scab pops. This is the burnt leftovers from 2009’s excellent, collapsed Embryonic and they sound even more post-post-apocalyptic than ever, all details buried beneath a smooth veneer of aural soot and motorik repetition. It plays like one long, barely-present song until the perversely tacked-on “Sun Blows Up Today” bonus single makes like Apples in Stereo. But retaining their sense of perversity is how you know they survived the post-post-apocalypse.