Paramore, Paramore (Fueled By Ramen)
A joyous raspberry in the face of anybody deluded enough to doubt the vital signs of widescreen pop, this emo-no-more Tennessee trio shakes off the sting left by vindictive ship-jumping bandmates and delivers a stylistic tour de force the simple (and hard) way - chorus after verse after bridge of hooks glorious hooks. Hayley Williams has the kind of expressive big voice that can’t avoid going heart on sleeve, the type of singer unwilling to distinguish between humdrum reality and epic grandiosity, partly because she believes humdrum reality serves as the foundation for every epic. Which means her song about daydreaming betrays all the subtleties of a car chase, her crazy girl number peaks with breaking into somebody’s closet to sniff their wardrobe, and her Jam/Lewis move involves both a kalimba and an assembled gospel choir taunting “don’t go crying to your mama / ‘cause you’re on your own in the real world”. It’s all certainly a bit much. Yet Williams gets the details right when she needs to, like identifying a slowly moving clock on the classroom wall as a signifier for lives too bursting with life to submit to bored authority. And the band backstory lends gravitas to the unfolding drama(s), placing all those encomiums to weathering on and the scary freedoms of maturity into a proper context, right where they belong next to the Robert Smith guitars, ukelele interludes, and something called “Anklebiters,” which sounds like nothing less than a Minor Threat/Cyndi Lauper pastiche that beats both at their game. So allow Hayley and company the privilege of sprawling out, even if they take eight unnecessary minutes to close proceedings and even if they melodramatically claim in “Last Hope” that the feel of blood pumping through their veins is all that’s keeping them alive. You can recoil from the sentiment even while hoping it gives somebody who needs it some solace.
Khat Thaleth, Third Line: Initiative for the Elevation of Public Awareness (Stronghold Sound)
You do need the lyric sheet with translation to grasp the context of these twenty-three tracks of contemporary hip-hop selected from across the Middle East, because the unifying factor here isn’t so much geography as it is political truth-telling in the Arab Spring’s uneasy aftermath. Boroughs represented: Ramallah (Rami GB), Tripoli (El Rass), Damascus/Homs (LaTlaTeh), Bizerta (Armada Bizerta), Amman (El Far3i), Ba’albak/Hermel (Touffar). Themes under discussion in colloquial Arabic: poverty, refugees, international borders, brutality, electricity, running water, forgiveness, The West, religious extremism, intolerance. But the big reason you need the lyric sheet is because the music alone won’t transport you, not if you’re familiar with American hip-hop circa 1991 or the Stones Throw aesthetic - despite the obvious nods to Arabic tones, mid-tempo loping beats plus a few scratches equals nearly zero surprises. Still, the need for the contributors to speak and be heard is palpable. Or, as Nasser al-Din and Jaafar of Touffar put it, “We do not rap because this is a cool thing for others to listen to without being disturbed. If our work is not annoying, we regard it as a failure. We would have to reconsider our entire project”.
Maxmillion Dunbar, House Of Woo (RVNG Intl.)
Behind the grandiloquent sobriquet lies Andrew Field-Pickering, a genial DC-area music blogger, record label founder, and bedroom electronica adherent, and the love he espouses for r&b would seem to be genuine - those buoyant squiggles and that synth bass do reflect the bright tones of somebody’s idea of 80s boogie. Still, it’s hard to nail down exactly how cheesy he means for all this gorgeous sound to be. Something like “Kangaroo” seems a pointless exercise in squelch, whereas “The Figurine” demonstrates his admirable ability to leave well enough alone. It goes nowhere, but that’s hardly the point. More troublesome is “Ice Room Graffiti,” esoteric electro-funk no less danceable for its studiousness, synth lines intertwining melody and bottom end in rather delightful fashion. Then he fucks with it midway through, dragging the beat down just to prove he’s in control. Oh well.
Jaimoe Brown, Transcendence (Motema Music)
At the heart of these relatively brief and unremittingly solemn excursions into modality lies the rural African-American community of Gee’s Bend, a Alabama settlement known for its luminous quilting tradition and here honored with field recordings and spirituals woven into the electric jazz mix. Brown’s both leader and drummer, bowing to JD Allen’s tenor sax and Chris Sholar’s electric church guitar to carry the melodies, yet also folding his own family (father, mother, sister, daughter) into the mix. Inviting East Indian vocalist Falu to soar wordlessly over stormy chords will no doubt please global pantheists. I’m more partial to Geri Allen’s piano spot on “Power Of God,” lingering meaningfully on a bare minimum of chords after the vocals fade away three minutes in. But the slow and severe drift of these sketches reflect just one side of the often-joyous spirituals Brown means to showcase. Transcendence or the weary blues? Langston Hughes knew how to combine the two.
Marbin, Last Chapter Of Dreaming (MoonJune Recordings)
Israeli jazz/rock fusion group now based out of (where else?) Chicago, and the Israeli heritage is detectable via melodies often literally as well as figuratively Balkanzied. And it is also loathsome. More bluesy than Weather Report, and more earnest, too, this is virtuosity as its own fetid reward, from the gay Paree nonsense of “Cafe De Nuit” to the horrid construction that is “Breaking The Cycle,” which marries “Kashmir” chords to third rate-Warren Haynes slide and plops a dollop of Herb Alpert’s “The Lonely Bull” over the top for good measure. You Dixie Dregs believers will eat it up.