A Place To Bury Strangers, Worship (Dead Oceans Records)
These latter-day noisemakers have so distinguished themselves from their ostensible peers that an initial spin of this slightly tempered full-length and its immediately preceding EP left me disappointed - were their always-detectable 80s influences becoming more overt? Were they falling in love with their synthesizers in order to better indulge a goth fetish once buried beneath white-hot walls of sound? Well, no and no, although paring the band down to a functioning duo means vocals placed higher in the mix, which is not to say crisp in either resolution or meaning. What differentiates these guys from all the other interchangeable nu-gazers of note and otherwise remains firmly in place - excessive volume, commitment to distortion, better beats, in-your-face production, and a traceable lineage to a punk past all but imperceptible among the competition, unless you think the Silversun Pickups would risk the archaism of prime Tommy Ramone the way Robi Gonzalez does in the opening seconds of “And I’m Up”. So while the slow-building “Fear” flirts brazenly with the ludicrous extremes of batcave echo and gloom, “Worship” brandishes a guitar line that hums and bleeds where others might have fallen back on a prettified keyboard line. Experiments in atmosphere, slow majesty, and upbeat chime (ie. the multi-part structure of “Dissolved”) offset the full frontal assault of “Mind Control” or the cacophony of “Why Can’t I Cry Anymore.” They mount such a convincing argument that their chosen sub-genre was conceived as a committed approach to rock and roll bar category, you wonder why hardly anybody else thinks the same way.
s / s/ s, Beak & Claw (Anticon)
18 minutes of artsy noise-glitch “hip-hop,” featuring storyteller Serengeti, indie boy-king Sufjan Stevens, and Anticon-based sonic terrorist Son Lux. Reports the singer merely takes up space simply don’t wash, unless hooks and choruses drift by you unawares - from “we are recovering” to “hey!!”, the often auto-tuned Stevens exploits the robotic weirdness of his technology, casting a distanced pall over proceedings to which Serengeti’s droll recitations add human warmth, all while Son Lux staggers and creeps, crafting fuzzy crescendos, tossing in jew’s harp and harmonica, or simply deploying a haunting synth line to propel “Beyond Any Doubt”. But while Serengeti might insist “look at us / artsy craftsy,” there’s nothing abstract about the lyrics and tales told herein, all of which rely upon concrete details specific enough to satisfy any social realist with an interest in post-collegiate American culture. Coming up short on cash for the water bill, taking Jamaican vacations, working out of your home, pondering doubt in all its simplicity and complexity, yet still having the time of their lives going to the prom with the octomom, this is never obscure so long as you pay attention. Once the hooks sink in, you can even let your mind wander a bit.
Chris Brown, Fortune (RCA)
It says something about the character of this pandering lightweight that his crimes against both fellow human beings and his art such-as-it-is extend beyond beating the shit out of Rihanna. Vocally, Brown lacks any distinguishing characteristics. Production-wise, he’s got nothing aside from the de rigeur club garbage of flaccid opener “Turn Up The Music”. Thematically, he leans hard on his own erect dick, an instrument featuring prominently in many an observed set piece involving specifically-identified-as-such bitches getting their pussies knocked out - “can you feel my submarine?” he leers, going deep the only way he knows how. Lyrically, he quotes fellow woman-beater Charlie Sheen in what one hopes even the auteur realizes stamps him with a clearly legible expiration date. So say all you want about second chances and rehabilitation. I’d note that a line like “girl, you’d better not change your mind” sounds more threatening than sexy coming from somebody with a domestic abuse charge on their record. And if you’re going to trot out a tired line like “Don’t Judge Me,” don’t pen a lyric that goes “pimps up / hoes down / ass up / nose down.”