The Julie Ruin, Run Fast (TJR / Dischord)
Although all participants and most reviewers cite Kathleen Hanna’s reentry into the pop marketplace as her life-affirming referendum on healing and recovery after a debilitating illness, it’s also smart to heed the words of bassist Kathi Wilcox when she cites UK indie lifers Comet Gain and non-ye ye girl French 60s pop as crucial influences for this ramshackle album. Not that either signpost is audibly obvious or anything - it’s more the mood, the way Ms. Hanna once again leads by example rather than by instruction or dogma, the way she beats back the decades with a youthful verve that never once seems less than sophisticated, all the one-note guitar solos and Ronnie Spector swipes and yummy bass lines adding up to one big house party as act of radicalism / retrenchment. There are intimations of dread, storms up ahead, dire lines like “I think I’m gonna die”. But her philosophy remains buoyant, and Cookie Road sounds like even more fun than Party City: “Sing it on the beat / in the new girl style”. Along the way, Hanna concocts an update to Ari Up’s “Typical Girls” which chases away gender assumptions via nonsense lines as silly as the assumptions themselves (“girls like us invented jazz,” “eat salt for breakfast,” “burn our hands”), and casts a warm eye on the young upstarts infiltrating precious NY real estate. “There’s still a lot to say,” she allows, and she’s right.
Robin Thicke, Blurred Lines (Star Trak / Interscope)
Surrounding an undeniable hit with well-crafted filler is something Marvin Gaye excelled at, too, which is really the only Gaye/Thicke comparison to be made without sounding facile, no matter what the Gaye estate or a million title-track-spawned think pieces lazily claim. Shifting between obvious disco throwbacks and rather rote contemporary dance, Thicke comes off as a slight vocalist who’s perpetually overeager to both please and pop that pussy. He pursues the latter objective with goofy charm, begging to shop for one lucky lady’s underwear even though a few songs later he’s warning another “fancy shoes and handbag / can’t help you when you’re sad”. In other words, he’s pretty shallow for thirty-six years of age. So give Thicke credit for publicly allowing as to how this career-defining release is his “least personal album”. And give extra credit for the one track that does seem personal: “4 The Rest Of My Life,” a love letter to his wife which freely admits that he wasn’t really the shit back when he was a twenty-something horndog.
Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana (Carpark Records)
Alt-rock formalists, rhymes with formlessness - claiming to lope like Stockton’s finest, they prove only that nicely spiky distortion and laconic vocals are more easily parodied than mastered. A few things Sadie Dupuis and co. have mastered are middling tempos and a deeper level of self-pity than Malkmus and co. ever dared, a hangup marring even the sweetly-edged summer anthem “No Below,” which keens “you never saw me / interred in the ice”. And when it comes to witty obscurantism, Dupuis and co. are barely parodists: “Hiding from the witch / I’m stalking through the dark forest”. Sometimes we oldsters catch ourselves thinking that the kids just don’t get it.