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: Belle & Sebastian – The Third Eye Centre (Matador)
The long-acclaimed pioneers of twee are finally entering the Yo La Tengo/Stereolab portion of their career, where they get underrated just for sticking around for two decades. But despite the hour-long running time, this “b-sides” compilation is their best in a decade, starting with a Latin percussion and flute remix of “I’m a Cuckoo” stripped of its Thin Lizzy pretensions, and segueing into a new-wavey Suicide Girls tribute that actually rocks. The lovely “Your Secrets” is rescued from the excellent Books EP, as is a not-quite-superior remix of “Your Cover’s Blown” that does the trick anyway. Horns, synths, and the works excite all over the place, check out the frenetic Paul Simon boogie “Mr. Richard.” Don’t even get me started on the piano-soul ballad “Meat and Potatoes.”
Big Sean – Hall of Fame (GOOD Music/ Def Jam)
Nothing’s what it seems in hip-hop, where rappers like “big” Sean and “big” K.R.I.T. are among the genre’s humblest, with our subject going as far as “letting” Kendrick Lamar body the entire class of 2013 on one of his own songs (but at least having the good sense to not include it on his album called Hall of Fame for, right, “sample clearance issues.”) Meanwhile “Lil” Wayne is a massive presence, who showed off his perfected talent for hundreds of songs between 2005-2008 alone in his prime. Makes sense the genre is ruled by a guy named Biggie Smalls.
So what we know about Sean — besides his goofy “oh god” affability — is he’s a catchy nonentity on his own records who inspires the best sex talk from Nicki Minaj available. In 2011 this spawned the blissful, Hammer-sampling “Dance (A$$) (Remix)” and on Hall of Fame she returns for the even more outrageous “MILF,” directed to the kid of the girl he’s banging (“Don’t ask for help with your math/ Ain’t my fault you can’t add”), before Nicki comes in as—who else?—the titular matriarch whose come-hither look celebrates her welfare check. She promptly removes her teeth. It’s foreshadowed by a skit called “Freaky” and loads of worthy guest spots—from Wayne himself, Miguel, Nas—and more hooks than J Cole, Wale and French Montana’s records combined. A rapper interested in entertaining us is the first step towards getting a personality.
Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action (Domino)
Don’t take the bait, Pitchfork. Look at the economy of tune and flow of execution, not the un-critical question “who is this for?” Aging hipsters exist in 2013 no doubt, though how the tide has shifted to the point where the indie contingent can’t believe a good record can have no commercial prospects. Right, Arcade Fire won a Grammy that Kanye West could not. Either way, let’s praise these Franz Ferdinand for waiting until they cared (four years from the particularly strained Tonight and its listless dub companion Blood) and sounding fun again, not like the overrated debut but rather the real masterpiece You Can Have It So Much Better with Franz Ferdinand. As Rhapsody.com writer Linda Ryan points out, “Evil Eye” is a spot-on “This Is Radio Clash” homage, while “Love Illumination” and “Treason! Animals” pillage some hybrid of post-punk and soul that right, has no built-in audience. Good pop doesn’t always.
ASAP Ferg – Trap Lord
The impossible: an attractive hard-rap album. Or a perfect culmination of the ASAP Mob‘s need to shed their passive tendencies (pre-“F***in’ Problems” anyway, which aggressed so nicely) without the overrated and somewhat othering stupidity of Waka Flocka Flame, Chief Keef, etc. Better beats too: “Murda Something” gets something sinister out of what sounds like a Chinese erhu; adds spooky dimension to a threat like “We don’t dial 911/ We don’t deal with cops.” When he bids for a threesome, ASAP Ferg compares himself to dancehall legend Shabba Ranks. The silliness of “Cocaine Castle” is turned inside out by what sounds like a baby crying in the background. But let’s not pretend being adept with straddling different tones makes him attractive enough to survive shooting his hoes on “Dump Dump,” where “Riding around in my city/ Feeling like P. Diddy” is a reminder of how much we hard-rap fans miss content already.
King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath the Moon (XL)
In which King Krule — the would-be indie game Rick Astley — lives up to his rather pretty, ragged “Out Getting Ribs” single as Zoo Kid a couple years ago and makes a full album of back-alley moaning and groaning over rather lovely beats and sighing guitar and all sorts of reverberations that honor the XX’s debut and Burial’s Untrue. Dubby and moody and occasionally songful, as on the included “Ribs” and the new “Boarder Line.” In keeping with Phoenix’s cannot-tell-a-lie title “Oblique City,” the envoi’s entitled “Bathed in Grey.”