The Knife, Shaking The Habitual (Rabid)
Certainly the politics inform everything here - “rewrite history / to suit our needs” is the kind of line that can equally inspire and chill, especially since rewriting history is the rallying call for any number of contemporary professional reactionaries, cultural and otherwise. But what about “sometimes I get problems that are hard to solve,” which handily summarizes why the personal is always the political? Or a crowd-pleasing Salt-n-Pepa nod (“let’s talk about gender, baby”) affixed to their most epically propelling beat? Because maybe it’s actually the beats informing everything here, helping prop up the politics and streamlining the message(s), whether Karin and Olof are making room for Shannon Funchess on a death disco number or slyly name checking Margaret Atwood’s 2003 pandemic treatise. Yet for all the media blather about how these Stockholmers epitomize the “post-human” (because, what, they wear masks sometimes? and prefer digital beats?), this supposedly difficult dance project is hardly a conceptual album - more a series of considerations on gender, inequality, and environmental degradation. That latter topic explicitly informs the most radical track here, “Fracking Fluid Injection,” which lingers on the sampled noise of a squeaking bedspring and Karin’s mannered vocalisms for ten uncomfortable minutes, a downer insomuch as fracking’s rape of the earth is also a downer. Odd, then, how the most controversial number among consumers seems to be the nineteen-minute drone placed midway through proceedings. Mesmeric and ambient after the continental tradition of Ash Ra Tempel’s softer interludes or Tangerine Dream’s Zeit, it’s meant to fill a room, not send your mind racing. Even radical politics needs to take a breather sometimes.
Fantasia, Side Effects Of You (RCA)
The producer’s heavy hand lingers distractedly over several numbers by this toughest American Idol winner’s toughest album, and there’s no ignoring a few clunkers - a brief and useless “Girl Talk” skit, the big old ballad that is the title, an avian transformation number in which Fantasia imagines herself a bird the better to you-guessed-it “fly away,” and the belabored lighthouse imagery on one of the five songs she didn’t co-write (“I’m a lighthouse/ that’s me”). But there’s also plenty to savor on a sexy and gritty album that glides lithely across, like when Kelly Rowland and Missy Elliott drop by and try to keep up over a routine taunting a lover because the sap will never do any better. And I count four great songs here: the reggae/r&b whoomp of “Ain’t All Bad,” the “Fingertips”/Gary U.S. Bonds vibe on beefy horn workout “Get It Right” (in which one may savor Ms. Fantasia’s expert call to “give the motherfuckin’ drummer some”), and two bravura pop steals, one from The Commodores (“Lose To Win”) and one from Whitney Houston (“Change Your Mind”), the latter brandishing a nasty guitar riff as the narrator promises a decidedly lowdown bedroom romp if the wronged suitor would only wander back home to her.
Steve Martin / Edie Brickell, Love Has Come For You (Rounder)
At first, this screamed (well, not screamed, maybe smirked) vanity project, until it became clear that giving the comedian top billing over the singer was the same idea as giving Pat Metheny top billing for Song X - fair enough as far as it goes, yet ultimately misleading. Even if Brickell will never be your singer of choice, her husky and decidedly non-pure-as-a-mountain-stream vocals are one of the major reasons this batch of tunes never sinks into the miasma of well-heeled folkiedom. The other major reason is the comedian himself, who knows enough about the banjo and composition to avoid bluegrass exhibitionism. Plus, “Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby,” a sorta-murder ballad in which nobody actually dies.
Snoop Lion, Reincarnated (RCA)
“Yo, got the fake patois / KRS-One did a fake patois / Miss Cleo got a fake patois / even Jay-Z did a fake patois / Bad Brains had a fake patois / my man Snow had a fake patois / even Jim Carrey fuck with the patois / so you know he come through with the fake patois / patois, got the fake patois / you come through with the fake patois / patois patois patois / fake fake patois.”
will.i.am, #willpower (Interscope)
Do check out “Scream & Shout”. As for the rest, well, I’ll just quote Wikipedia at length: “On August 13, 2012, will.i.am held a “wrap party” in celebration of cease production of #willpower. A flyer, which unveiled a silhouetted variant of the album artwork, invited fans for an open event, which would feature performances from artists who have worked on the new album and others. The party also included a private listening party of #willpower attended by invited guests, and asked listeners to pick the next single, which would succeed as the third American single from the album. There was a rumor that the next single chosen would be “Scream and Shout” featuring Britney Spears, which she later confirmed on Twitter. The party featured a red carpet event, which featured the new album artwork on wallpapers surrounding the event. It features the back of Adam’s head imposed on a white background, imprinted with the words “#WILLPOWER” across. The party also featured experimental light and pyrotechnics which will be used on Adam’s upcoming tour to support willpower. The event was attended by Lindsay Lohan, Meagan Good, Nicole Scherzinger, Steve Aoki, Wilmer Valderrama, Corey Feldman, David Faustino, and many others.”