Jason Isbell, Southeastern (Relativity)
A survivor’s album, certainly, laden with forgiveness, sexual exhaustion, and thoughts on the man he used to be. And those who’ve followed this songwriter since his raucous tenure with the Drive-By Truckers may slump against the gentle folk-rock informing most tracks, even if the closer hints at Springsteen and “Songs That She Sang In The Shower” conjures memories of Willie Nelson sipping yesterday’s wine. But it’s also an album chronicling the unsexy ways addiction wrecks the body and drains the soul, a story Isbell the recovering addict would probably note he’s very much in the midst of writing. And few survivors boast Isbell’s poetic eye. Skirting 12-step bullet points and (for the most part) sentimentality, he lingers over the mouthfeel of place names (Fond du Lac and Ybor City), misses the rush of cocaine and the swirl of Seagrams in a coffee cup, finds easy rhymes for Pedialyte and benzodiazepine. And he can be prickly: unable to make the moves on a stripper even if he wanted to, both glad and guilty he never slept with the friend facing down terminal illness, readying his Weatherby against a rapist father, staring from the plane’s window only to see the hard labor of slavery days below. These sketches might not lift your spirits. But he still asks that flight attendant where the liquor cart is, and DBT die-hards should note a scorcher buoying some hard-earned wisdom: “don’t want to die in a Super 8 motel / just because somebody’s evening didn’t go so well”.
Kanye West, Yeezus (Def Jam)
Ugly stuff, and quite often in the best way - musically, these forty minutes subsume drill, industrial, ragga, and house bleat into one inharmonious whole, the auteur repurposing Gary Glitter on an irrepressible “Black Skinhead” and finding practical use for Hungarian prog, Kenny Lattimore, Ponderosa Twins, and Asha Bhosle. But more than half of this is lugubrious, swamped with auto-tuned codas and Justin Vernon moaning “star fucker”. His cultural signifiers betray a limited curiosity (300, Adam Sandler, luxury cars). And while perversity can thrill, what some hear as ironic distance mostly registers as a hermetic hauteur as charmless as it is fame-fueled, a fury wholly appropriate for a Chicagoan watching his inner city teeter on the brink if only there weren’t as many references to facials as to Chiraq. Really, he knows when he’s on shaky ground (“time to take it too far now”). He knows filling a vagina with his black power fist pushes all sorts of buttons, some pleasurable. He knows sitting apart from your mistress at a Knicks game isn’t apartheid. And - this is key - he knows that as dicey as it is to lard “Strange Fruit” with complaints about alimony, it’s equally distasteful when white liberals tsk tsk black men for mishandling black history. So allow this white liberal to back away from West’s muddled thematics. Maybe this is one unapologetic nightmare traipse through the Yeezy id, shit from old notebooks, somebody blowing up America, contradictory and neurotic, right up until the moment Brenda Lee saucily yanks our savior back to earth. Only note how West caps that final fuck against the sink: cumming in her face and asking for a threesome. Sounds like it could be fun. But as dark fantasies get overshared, don’t be surprised when some get turned off.
The-Dream, IV Play (Def Jam Records)
It’s nice when sex albums come along claiming zero pretensions, so long as they also come bearing hooks. Which means it’s too bad Terius Nash didn’t buckle down crafting a few more choruses capable of getting under your skin the way he gets into your pants. At any rate, his priorities are straight - first you make love, then you get high, and before all that you “fuck a love song” in order to proceed directly to the booty (strong words coming from somebody with previous albums Love/Hate, Love vs. Money, and Love King). He’s even enough of a gentleman to request “are you ready to put it in your mouth”? And he’s got three real good ones: the coy-and-sultry “Michael,” the surprisingly effective Gary Clarke, Jr. blues of “Too Early,” and the relatively faster thrusts of “Slow It Down,” a plea for dj’s to cool it with the IDM so he can grind against his lady friend.
Action Bronson, Saaab Stories (Vice)
There’s enough old-school groove and goofy-ass set pieces within this EP to tempt fans casual and otherwise to overlook the noxious cover art as a dumb act of provocation - joints rolled like croissants, baby clams from Montauk tossed with “linguistics,” stoned and naked playing Sega on the balcony, moving away from a courtside Spike Lee after he gets sloppy with the Hennessy, Marty Jannetty and Dikembe Mutumbo dropkicking and wagging, respectfully. But here we go again: “finest vaginas / demolished by my dick,” “stop talking / just go down, baby,” street walkers with pussy as weapons and skanks servicing whole basketball teams. Bronson does allow how he’s “sickened by my thoughts”. The first step is admitting you have a problem.