Jennifer Lopez, A.K.A. (Capitol)
Lurking within this artificial construct’s fifteen-year catalog is a baker’s dozen worth of good tunes, mostly uptempo, from the ones you know (“Love Don’t Cost A Thing”) to the ones you don’t (“Cherry Pie,” her closest approximation of a deep album cut). But aside from the incoherent linguistic contortions of a French Montana-aided “I Luh Ya Papi,” this is fin de siècle record industry product at its limpest, the mirthless crossover exercises of a former superstar turned reality television judge. She deadpans “someone took my emotions / I feel good ‘cause I don’t feel bad” over plaintive piano, struggles to recite “baddest bitch in the world right here” off Youngblood’s cue cards, and allows the likes of Pitbull to purr “you’re booty-ful”. And that’s not mentioning the bizarro Lady Gaga/Britney Spears pastiche “Tens,” in which Jack Mizrahi intones “the ICON Jennifer Lopez” while our diva yelps “eat that runway”.
Papa Wemba, Maître d’école (Orchard Enterprises)
One turns to Papa Wemba for many things - soaring honey-soaked vocals, the swaying rhythms of Congolese rumba, Western pop stylings infiltrating soukous structure. But although cornball synthesizers have been part of Wemba’s arsenal and charm for some time, this is something else entirely. Nylon-string filigrees, wind chimes, synth flute, and soprano sax flurries straight outta Duotones, this brings to mind Hot 100-era Air Supply more often than it does Mwana Molokai. Even as he enters his mid-60s, that voice still rings out with ease, meaning the chintzy settings and Wemba’s own interminable growling intros might be tolerable in a twelve song set. At twenty-five tracks, though, this drags like a red-eye flight from Kinshasa to Paris.
Priests, Bodies And Control And Money And Power (Don Giovanni)
“A slightly more intelligible Perfect Pussy” one fan sez, as if unintelligibility isn’t the only thing Perfect Pussy has going for it. Key lyric: "You are going to die!"
Passenger, Whispers (Nettwerk / Black Crow Records)
So, is this what they mean by the New Sincerity? Mumford & Sons meets Cat Stevens? Drifting atop wimp-folk settings as soft as eiderdown, a tender-hearted breathy rasp imparts mush-headed rhymes. “Only way I can be is to say what I see”. “Hey I’m a fish out of water / a lamb to the slaughter”. “I don’t know what my heart is for,” oh, please.
Chad Vangaalen, Shrink Dust (Sub Pop)
Calgary-based singer-songwriter, having previously distinguished himself as a noted social realist (attend to “Shave My Pussy,” found on 2011’s trenchantly entitled Diaper Island), unloads the soundtrack to an animated sci-fi film of his own devising (dystopian bildungsroman Translated Log of Inhabitants) which also doubles as Chad’s quote unquote country album. What could go wrong?
Chromeo, White Women (Atlantic)
Two goofballs who hope you misremember Prince as a novelty artist brag about worrying whether the guitar riff to "Jealous (I Ain't With It)” was “too Katy Perry”. As if these Toro Y Moi groupies could ever concoct anything half so infectious as “Birthday,” even in this their tenth year of sustained creative output.
L.P., Forever For Now (Warner Brothers)
Nothing wrong with a little pop culture gimmickry (or for that matter selling your songs to Citibank), but Laura Pergolizzi wields a few too many studied eccentricities for a songwriter of such monumental banality. Or maybe those eccentricities are meant to distract? Lots of finger-snapping, bucketloads of whistling, plenty of showy ukelele flourishes, powerhouse vocals scraping up against the karaoke bar ceiling before plummeting back down to earth, this is a bundle of tics masquerading as a persona. And about that banality: she is “Free To Love” on a “Night Like This” in “Your Town”. Ten years ago, her first two attempts at full-length glory vanished quickly. Here’s strike number three.
Future Islands, Singles (4AD)
They probably do stick out in Baltimore, as they would in any decently populated city past its musical prime looking for a little home-grown novelty. Sure hold down those synth chords with skill, too. Not sure why everybody furrows their brow trying to come up with comparisons for showboating vocalist Samuel T. Herring, though. Dude’s Meat Loaf through and through, and I await his frilly-sleeved shirt phase, which will no doubt generate fewer clicks than his strategically positioned Late Night death metal burp.