Most debut pop albums strive to give you a promising introduction. But then there are those unique few that just dive right into your consciousness naturally. In his debut, Man at Arms, Jamarcus Henderson, 23, has absolutely produced the latter. Its 11 tracks reflect an emotional vagabond seeking a destination that’s self-determined. The vulnerabilities expressed in this record, the kind that can take most established artists three to four records to get to, signal that Henderson has no time to wait. Read more »
With glowing reviews for Lost in the Dream pouring in leading up to its release on Secretly Canadian Records today — City Paper’s current cover story, Stereogum’s rambling prose, Dan DeLuca’s Sunday Inquirer review, Pitchfork’s 8.8 — it was the first one I read about the new War on Drugs record that struck me. Steven Hyden’s gorgeous piece for Grantland broadly paints the new album as the vehicle propelling them into larger and louder rooms, and gets into a personal space with Adam Granduciel that I don’t recall ever seeing. Specifically, it mentions August 2012 as the starting point for the record’s introspective content, which often broods and borders in the darkness, in spite of generally upbeat tunes.
I spent my own August 2012 in darkness, a personal nadir struggling with a divorce and an ugly employment scene in Portland, Ore., after getting laid off from a longtime job. Sunken in depression and anxiety, and frequently questioning my departure from Philadelphia three years prior, I got a pick-me-up from some familiar faces when The War on Drugs rolled through at Portland’s Pickathon festival. (Dr. Dog, who for years rehearsed in the same building the Drugs do now, was also on the bill.) With a colorful fabric canopy breathing above and Mount Hood in the sunny distance, the band’s layered wall of sound at least temporarily washed away the darkness.
I have a huge problem with Britney Spears’ eighth studio album, Britney Jean, and its name is Will.i.am. The Black Eyed Peas frontman has taken over as executive producer, seemingly hijacking Brit’s emotions on half the record. The end result? An album of fillers that, despite the intimate title, is about as personal as a spot on the Home Shopping Network.
Mr. i.am’s love affair with Brit began when he produced and dueted with her on “Big Fat Bass,” the only misfire on Britney’s 2011 EDM masterpiece, Femme Fatale. The track came and went like Lindsay’s sobriety. In 2012, the duo appeared on Will’s dancefloor romp “Scream And Shout,” which went on to be a huge hit. The outcome was inevitable: Will.i.am announced that he was going to executive-produce Britney Jean, the album that marks Britney’s 15-year anniversary in the music biz. Think of the other divas that made huge comebacks after 15 years: Mariah (The Emancipation Of Mimi), Janet (All For You) and (all hail) Madonna’s game-changing musical masterpiece Ray of Light. In Britney’s case, unfortunately, the 15-year-marker does little to catapult the young singer down the musical runway, instead it furthers her growing reputation as a soulless pop bot.
Before I start my rant on Lady Gaga’s just-released ARTPOP, I need to make one thing clear: I’m no Little Monster. Don’t get me wrong, I lived for Gaga during The Fame–era. The girl had me dreaming of disco sticks for days on end. One of my favorite earlier Gaga songs is “Fashion,” a super gay (and super under-appreciated) track from the film Confessions Of A Shopaholic. It’s hard to believe that was only five years ago. Back then, Gaga’s music felt new and had a fresh sound that had all us gay kids bluffin’ with our muffins. Then things started to go south. I was fine with the meat dress at the VMAs, but that weird egg hatch at the Grammys? Then came Born This Way, which, title track aside, was a long and exhausting production of preach-y lyrics and pranc-y beats. Throw in those weird American Horror Story-worthy faces she makes on stage and her recently announced plans to perform in space, and we have a performer who’s taking this fame-is-art-art-is-fame thing way too far. I find myself longing for the days of sick beats and poker faces and, ARTPOP is none of those. It’s simply too much art and not enough pop.
The first time I listened to Bangerz, I didn’t like it. There was something missing that I couldn’t wrap my brain around … until I saw Miley’s solid turn as host and musical performer this weekend on Saturday Night Live. It was during her opening monologue, when she proclaimed that Hannah Montana was murdered. Suddenly, something clicked. I gave it another listen and fell in love. Bangerz is a wild ride of rock- and hip-hop-infused tunes that showcases an artist taking risks and finally coming into her own.
Before I say anything else about Cher’s first album in more than a decade, a word about my bona fides: The very first album I bought (on vinyl, thank you) was Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves in (gulp) 1971. I was eight years old. How my parents did not have the faculty to pull me aside and say, “We have something to tell you,” I will never understand. Read more »