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: The Dismemberment Plan – Uncanney Valley (Partisan)
After a dozen-year hiatus, the world’s greatest band makes their catchiest album, which must mean it’s their poppiest. Like Carly Rae Jepsen’s Kiss or R.E.M.’s Out of Time, the overwhelmingly sweet effect is hard to process on the first couple listens, which will also be the listens where the color will fall from fans’ faces over the low drum mix, lack of 14/16 time signatures, punk divebombs or any other link to their anxiety-ridden past. Instead we get cocaine/computer jokes worthy of They Might Be Giants, Peter Buck-style guitar jangle, Devo keyboards, sampled violins, roller-disco jams, and “Lookin’,” as plainspoken and sweet a love song as indie-rock has ever produced.
The Avett Brothers – Magpie and the Dandelions (American)
“Morning Song” collapses into a multi-tracked of coda of voices pleading that The Avett Brothers “have to find that melody alone,” as good a reason as any that this beats The Carpenter, their inchoate last album culled mysteriously from these same sessions. But even after the best tune “Skin and Bones” drops a killer couplet like “How much longer can you live in shame/ Drop a lifelong curse on your own last name,” they struggle to find the simplicity of their best, first Rick Rubin-helmed album I and Love and You. Listen to the somnambulant “Never Been Alive” on its own and you might forget they made the tighter stuff in the first place, until it flows into the upbeat “Another Is Waiting.” The good tunes are home runs, but the bad ones—i.e. “Bring your love to me/ And I’ll hold it like a newborn child”—make you wonder how they got to the playoffs in the first place. Then a banjo hook comes in to justify the whole mess. Beware the melody, long live the melody.
Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt (Monkeywrench)
Ten albums ago, Pearl Jam’s debut Ten was surprisingly original but we had no way of knowing that then. Lumped in with grunge, it was closer to classic rock with funk pretensions, easily the cleanest-produced and least gritty-crunchy band of the Seattle boom, with loads of reverb and attention to rhythm (the swampy “Even Flow,” the bass-propelled “Why Go”). It had a uniformity among its oceanic ballads and wah-wah-dripping rockers, but it had openings and attachments and places to go. Fast forward to 2013, and Lightning Bolt does not. It’s more listenable on the whole than 2006’s Pearl Jam (the “avocado” one) and 2009’s front-loaded Backspacker, but it may be the band’s most basic, blocky album ever, in a career that once opened up with shambolic possibility (especially 1996’s Neil-damaged No Code and 1998’s McCartney-flecked Yield). The hyperactive single “Mind Your Manners” is pleasant, possibly the worst thing you can say about a comb-edged punktoon that thinks it’s a razor. And the best, most daring thing here is “Sirens,” a six-minute power ballad. Maybe they’ve been listening to Miley’s “Wrecking Ball” over Springsteen’s.
Paul McCartney – New (HearMusic)
For sure, it’s weird hearing McCartney gulp like Anthony Kiedis about witches and snitches on the jaunty “Queenie Eye,” but he’s been batting eyes at this indie-rock generation since Nigel Godrich forced him to play all the instruments in 2005. On 2007’s Memory Almost Full, he successfully made an album about aging, inverting Hot Hot Heat’s anxious bounce on “Ever Present Past” and the dissonant whomp of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” on the amazing “Nod Your Head,” both looking death square, if whimsically in the eye. He’s starting to get the hang of this past-digging, as the best thing on New is the folksy, petulant “Early Days,” which he wants us youngsters to know he lived through. There’s nothing as good as “Coming Up” on this surprisingly strong power-pop album, but the harpsichord shuffle “New” and um, McCartneyesque “Save Us” successfully if predictably bridge the gap between his mastery of his own invented phrasing and recent updates like say, Spoon. Weirder is the industrial pound of “Appreciate,” which sounds like Andy Partridge from XTC guesting on a recent Pet Shop Boys album. Old people, amirite?
Four Tet – Beautiful Rewind (Text)
A techno legend so low-key that most would have to think about that designation for a moment, Kieran Hebden’s been rumored to be avant-dubstep/trip-hop revival progenitor Burial for so long that he’s gone ahead and followed his brilliant, beautiful, mature collection Pink with his greatest studio album, which you can damn bet is informed by his phantasmagoric rival. The beautiful “Unicorn,” pirate radio smash-up “Kool FM,” unspooling stutter of “Parallel Jalebi” and opening ghostly-vocal homage (to who else? Burial) “Gong” cut to the chase too quick for buildup-and-climax buffs that prefer past glitch peaks like Rounds and 2010’s sappy, simplistic There Is Love in You. But it’s the rare electronic album that’s over too fast, which in a world of too much music, is just enough.
Cults – Static (Columbia)
For some reason, the internet is surprised by this fuzz-soul indie duo’s “out-of-nowhere success,” i.e. a debut album that reached no. 52 with a Pitchfork bullet on a major label. The new one will sell more, and Pitchfork’s already rated it lower. The goodish, forgettable music remains static. “When I go forward/ You go backwards/ And somewhere we will meet,” once warned Thom Yorke. Cults indeed.
The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still (Sub Pop)
A more earthbound success story than Cults, these six NPR-friendly folkies sold 10K by themselves during the same Mumford-“Ho Hey” boom that launched the Avetts into Rick Rubin’s orbit, but they hewed closer to Fleet Foxes’ “timeless” mountain-echo feel and won a deal with the Foxes’ label. They make more than they break, with the tugging school-shooting elegy “Another Story” between strong openers “Homecoming Heroes” and “Summertime.” Their harmonies are welcome, they’re saving nothing, and it’s not hard to imagine Kings of Leon using their template if they ever decide to grow up.
Fall Out Boy – Pax Am Days (Island)
Thirteen minutes of low-rent, Ryan Adams-produced punk have been appended to the no-longer controversial title Save Rock and Roll. Not a bad separation—when you’re as normal as these suburban Chicago misfits, it can be cleansing to see how far pop you can go (and appearances from Elton to Big Sean proved Fall Out Boy had sensibilities to stretch), and then how punk they can possibly get. Patrick Stump’s a goofy fit for fake early-Replacements hardcore like one-minute tantrums like “American Made,” but the anthemic “Caffeine Cold” at 2:41 helps justify that “Midwestern emo revival” thing you might have intentionally ignored.