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: DJ Rashad – Double Cup (Hyperdub)
Chicago’s “footwork” movement can deny its debt to drum ‘n bass all it wants. All that matters is that it’s producing artists as capable of releasing a glorious hour of music as drum ‘n bass was, and indeed the much-hyped DJ Rashad delivers a start-stop cyclone almost every bit as entertaining as say, Plug’s criminally ignored Back on Time last year. Substituting 808s and all sorts of Luger-ized hats/snares where there used to be upright bass and breakbeats, Rashad speeds up Burial’s movement of pitched-up samples and gets meatier content than the Field from skipping CDs. The fusion-y jazz motifs, sax stabs, endless reams of cut-up chipmunks and weird tricks (“Show U How” and “Leavin’” want you to know just how funny the human voice can be while dancing), while rappers pop in and out and the occasional anthem (especially “She a Go,” or even better, “Drank, Kush Barz”; say it with me: “We got bars in this bitch!”) as a resting place from all the new-and-old shish kabobs of DJ pyro. With quality comebacks from Four Tet, Boards of Canada and the Knife, this is a great year for electronics in general. But this guy’s the rare beast that can satisfy both those who crave excitement and those who count four albums by the Field as essentials.
Omar Souleyman – Wenu Wenu (Ribbon)
This Syrian wedding singer is the king of dabke, making some of the most exciting body music on the planet, prematurely noticed by such less-danceable craftsmen as Bjork and Four Tet, the latter of which produces Wenu Wenu, his first stateside-available album recorded in a studio. Any Souleyman album is worth hearing, especially last year’s live tour de force Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts. The title track here is as intense and exciting as anything Souleyman’s ever done, though the flatness of Four Tet’s studio affect makes the overall party feel drier than necessary, lacking in spontaneity. Doesn’t help that it slows down toward the end. But if you’ve never heard him before, this is as great an introduction to his instantly likable sound as any.
Brandy Clark – 12 Stories (Slate Creek)
Up until “Accidental Racist,” this looked to be country’s year, with monster offerings from Kacey Musgraves, the wondrous Ashley Monroe and her quite good Pistol Annies encore, and even Paisley himself had the excellent, riskily comedic domestic-abuse revenge fable “Karate” overshadowed. But many of my colleagues are calling Brandy Clark‘s 12 Stories the album of the year, and it’s not hard to see why. Her Miranda-style stuff, like the hypothetical prison takeover “Stripes” (“The only thing saving your life/ Is that I don’t look good in orange”) and the astonishing “Crazy Women” (“are made by crazy men”), name-checks not just PMS but BPD, are some of the funniest, most incisive songs you’ll hear in any genre. The cheater’s romance “What Will Keep Me Out of Heaven” expounds on her gift for setting up a title with a punchline, and “Take a Little Pill” examines “crazy” in less comic terms. But she’s Captain Obvious on “Illegitimate Children” and “The Day She Got Divorced,” which should be funnier, and coming from the author of Musgraves’ bouncy “Follow Your Arrow,” faster. In fact, about halfway through you start wondering how much livelier this album would be if she actually went to jail.
Katy Perry – Prism (Capitol)
Katy Perry‘s first album was better than you’d think (the excellent “Fingerprints” and “Waking Up in Vegas” were too pop for rock radio and too rock for oh well) and her second was worse (“Let me see your peacock, peacock!” went the sendoff into ballad hell). Splitting the difference a little too neatly until you remember how much money is tied into her, this third one’s exactly the anchor you’re expecting , all surprisingly pretty-good hooks like the Olympics-ready “Roar” and the funky “Birthday,” with a Juicy J duet that feels surprisingly low-key and almost tasteful compared to the uproar of Miley’s race-baiting antics. “International Smile” even has a surprise vocoder solo, just in time now that your dad knows who Daft Punk is. What, you couldn’t guess that a Christian-rocker turned gay-baiting cheesecake would become 2013’s most agreeably wholesome household name? Trying to please everyone — the blessing, the curse.
AFI – Burials (Republic)
We had no way of knowing how silly these ’90s standard punks AFI were until they became ’00s substandard radio flotsam masquerading as goths. But goths have a flair for arrangement, and not just massed choirs and booming handclaps reverbed to sound like giants’ footsteps. Hits like “Miss Murder” and “Girl’s Not Grey” sucked where My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy’s shone, revealing humor and hooks where they’d only hinted before. Belatedly, AFI does that here, having finally discovered that even goths loved the Smiths for Johnny Marr’s jangling guitar rather than Morrissey’s, um, views. Old fans won’t care and might even snub, but the belated use of twin guitar leads and flecks of tack piano come the closest they ever have to thrilling a normal person. Dead punks return to life as pop zombies, won’t their makeup artists be proud?
Best Coast – Fade Away EP (Jewel City)
Like her boyfriend in Wavves’ best record, Life Sux, proven talent Bethany Cosentino uses the deceptive nonchalance of the EP format to test her arena-rock chops, as a way of not fully committing to challenging her fickle fanbase (really, anyone who thinks The Only Place isn’t as excellent as Crazy for You needs to sit still and listen) while sneaking out some of her most Clear Channel-friendly work yet. Paramore’s already written her a love letter/homage called “(One of Those) Crazy Girls” this year, and the excellent “Who Have I Become” here matches their stadium-pop expertise hook for hook. “I Don’t Know How” is to Cosentino what “I Never” was for Jenny Lewis, an R&B period piece as a vehicle for her previously unheard soul chops, and “Fear of My Identity” is more of what we’ve come to expect only crunchier. If the other four strong tracks here matched those three, she’d be on her third great record and first to cross over. But chances are this is the appetizer and she’s got some dynamite locked away for that.