It's not exactly a coincidence that Versions sounds strangely familiar upon first listen. Five of the album's nine tracks appeared on Zola Jesus' most recent LP, Conatus, here trading in the 2011 offering's electronic pulse for a positively gorgeous smattering of violins and cellos. For my money, Nika Roza Danilova's songs are far more impactful in this orchestral setting, the opening surge of Hikikomori gaining immediacy since we last heard it, the crescendo of Fall Back nearly blowing the roof off.
So I was a little exuberant on my initial review of Wakin On A Pretty Daze; sue me, why don't you? In my defense, the highs of Kurt Vile's latest are deliriously high, from the jam-session bookend of Wakin on a Pretty Day and Goldtone, to the gleeful self-depriciation of Shame Chamber, on down to the moody-as-can-be Girl Called Alex. Perhaps Daze isn't as much of a track-by-track triumph as I'd initially alluded, but the album still contains many a track to get lost in, and Vile himself is an absolute virtuoso on that six string.
The only thing that I don't really love about A$AP Rocky's major label debut is... well... A$AP Rocky. The guy's not exactly a stiff, but he's in some pretty damn fine company, rapping atop stellar production from the likes of Hit-Boy and Clams Casino, trading verses with Kendrick Lamar and Drake, bouncing off hooks sung by Santigold and Florence Welch. It may be empty calories, but it's delicious, catchy as hell, and far and away the best Stupid Party Rap album of the past year.
Yeah, I know, you stopped listening to Franz Ferdinand around five years ago, but seriously, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action rocks! An unmitigated dose of the surging, fun-first, everything-else-last approach that garnered the band attention in the first place, RTRWRA serves as a a chunky, catchy return to form. Employing the, 'album as concert,' conceit championed on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Franz's latest ushers you straight up to the front row, inviting the affections of all on Love Illumination, sending bodies into motion with Evil Eye's creepy groove.
James Blake's self-titled debut was a classic on arrival, fusing dubstep with R&B and pop, all presented with beguiling nocturnal minimalism. Needless to say, Overgrown had its work cut out for it, but on tracks like the swirling, enveloping Digital Lion, or the love-ballad-from-another-planet Retrograde, the British wunderkind actually manages to do himself one better. Overgrown confirms what we should have known all along; Blake is no fluke, and he's here to stay.
On the second album of his Blood Orange project, Dev Hynes serves more as of a curator than anything else. Chairlift's Caroline Polachek features on the album's lead single, Dirty Projectors' Dave Longstreth croons on No Right Thing, Samantha Urbani snags the albums' juiciest hook on It Is What It Is, yet Hynes remains the protagonist. Cupid Deluxe is his vision; kinetic, emotive, and unnervingly honest through-out all of its almost-ready-for-the-dance-floor runtime.
Hey, everybody; I found José González! The soulful Swede, who hasn't crafted an LP in his own name since 2007's In Our Nature, has found a new home in his (apparently pre-exiting?) band Junip, and while previous releases under the moniker showed promise, Junip steps it up a notch. Check out the muscles on seemingly subdued Your Life Your Call, and while you're at it, get bowled over by the grandeur of Line of Fire and So Clear.
If you're looking to get another Kids or Time to Pretend out of MGMT's self-titled latest, you'll be sorely out of luck. Where their previous disc, Congratulations, toiled in an uncomfortable middle ground between their famed twee pop and the boys' more psychedelic inclinations, MGMT lets its freak flag fly, and might just be the best album of the band's career. Willfully loony and filled with tiny oddball flourishes, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser's 2013 offering has no apparent interest in scaling the pop charts again; when you can take listeners on wierdo trips to space and back again in under 45 minutes, hit singles must seem boring.
The Arctic Monkeys have never sounded so plodding, and somehow, I mean that as a big compliment. Trading in their fleet-of-foot dance rock in favor of billowing power chords and a chunky rhythm section, AM is a rollicking 40+ minutes that's far more ready for bobbing heads than moving feet. Almost everything here sticks, from the sordid opening trudge of Do I Wanna Know? to the chant-and-stomp of Knee Socks; these guys know how to throw a party, gyrating hips be damned.