Classic | Excellent | Good | Fair | Poor
Banjo players transcend novelty to craft compelling debut.
This new project from Sydney's Dave Drayton and New York-based Nick van Breda sounds a bit lightweight on paper: two old friends team up to write a handful of sing-a-long emo songs on a couple of banjos. But the result is anything but throwaway. Their interlocking banjo lines are sophisticated and precise, recalling the guitar work of emo heroes American Football; and van Breda's low-key, conversational vocals create an intimate mood. Various guests – including Blueline Medic's Donnie Dureau – drop in to sing, clap, and drum, while cello parts from Gus Gardner lend gravitas to key tracks. Wholly endearing and quite affecting.
Steady third LP is positive but lacking potency.
His last album may have been titled Born Sinner, but North Carolina’s Jermaine Lamarr Cole is a nice guy – the intro has Cole ruminating on being happy and free; he’s more interested in praising his peers than igniting beefs; and is comfortable professing love for his mum. His positive outlook and likable persona stand out, even if his rhymes (alternately uplifting and corny) and passable-but-unremarkable beats often don’t. There’s a politeness to proceedings that rounds off any rough edges, and a general sense that Cole may be a competent enough MC, but isn’t quite capable – at least not yet – of being ranked among the hip-hop greats.
The hip-hop royal puts together a grand statement full of hard raps, shiny pop and personal detail.
The Pinkprint is Nicki Minaj's busting-out-all-over magnum opus, a love letter to her supernova star power and hip-hop radicalism, her teeming brain and her body electric. Minaj's previous album, 2012's Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, was dominated by psycho-glam role-playing. Now, as the Blueprint-referencing title implies, she's more Hov than Gaga. She talks about taking off her mask on "Feeling Myself," a wild ego-trip throwdown with Beyoncé. The realness she reveals is genuinely dazzling.
There are ridiculously dirty tracks like "Anaconda" – but there's also raw-boned introspection on songs like "All Things Go," a slow, searing confessional addressed to an ex ("Ten years ago, that's when you proposed/I looked down: 'Yes, I suppose.' "). Minaj puts on incinerating lyric displays (check her Biggie-tinged flow on "Four Door Aventador"), dabbles in victory-lap pop ("The Night Is Still Young") and drops stormy goth-R&B ballads ("The Crying Game"). The best tracks have a bit of all these things: Riding diabolically hot beats from producers like Mike Will Made It and Hit-Boy, she breathes fire and oozes soul every time she touches the mic. This is a rap royal in full flex. We're lucky to watch the throne.
Brisbane trio revisit their scrappy pop origins.
Hastily recorded under self-imposed time restraints, Dream Team finds the Grates shifting back to their formative reliance on contrast – where glimmers of unmistakable pop poke through chaotic makeshift punk structures. It's a stylistic flashback that'll undoubtedly divide their fanbase, with those hoping for refined radio-ready material, as per 2011's Secret Rituals, undoubtedly thrown by the underdone offerings. Those still holding on to the excitingly non-linear scraps that led to break-out singles such as "Suckerfish" and "Trampoline", however, will not only receive a surprise dose of nostalgia, but will also find pleasure amidst the group's rediscovery of their creative freedom.
The soul master has lost none of his touch on surprise release.
After a 14-year hiatus, the "R&B Jesus" returns with minimal fanfare and a record that perfectly captures his unique amalgamation of effortless delivery and emotional struggle. A continuance of its equally unrestrained predecessor – 2000's Voodoo – Black Messiah is defined by the seemingly improvised jam sessions led by the Roots' Questlove, compositions that willingly become tangled amidst D'Angelo's mix of indecipherable croons and passionately-delivered, pain-laced sporadic exhales. Undeniably organic and timelessly soulful, this is an album that showcases an uninhibited artist delivering on his own terms. Definitely worth the wait.
The U.K. singer reinvents pop punk on her loud, fun, ridiculously catchy new LP.
You've gotta hand it to a 22-year-old who, on the brink of pop mega-stardom, opens her latest LP with a chant of "Fuck you, sucker!" But allow Charlotte Aitchison some cockiness. The writer and singer behind one of the decade's most irresistible pop jams (Icona Pop's "I Love It") as well as one of its biggest (Iggy Azalea's "Fancy"), she clearly patterned her second LP on the Debbie Harry and CBGB-scene pinups on her Instagram – see "London Queen", a song about tripping on America that channels Joey Ramone's fake British accent through a real one and even swings a baseball bat.
But Sucker is no retro gesture: Charli runs the album's rock & roll guitars and attitude through enough distressed digital production and thumb-type vernacular to make this the first fully updated iteration of punk pop in ages. It's also a fitting cap to a music year often defined by powerful young women. Aitchison understands that the difference between a big dumb song and an awesome big dumb song is often just a tiny bit more groove and musk. A clever guitar riff and synth hiccup work alchemy on the boilerplate bling-worship of "Gold Coins", and "Break the Rules" gets incredible mileage from rhyming the title with "I don't want to go to school".
Like so many of the pop pleasures here, it's a sentiment that just never gets old.
A great soul album (and much more).
Thanks to ace albums by the Cactus Channel and the Bombay Royale, Melbourne label HopeStreet is now Australia's closest equivalent to a Daptone-style funk/soul powerhouse. This team-up between vocalist/songwriter Emma Donovan and crack band the PutBacks seals the deal, topping off its snappy throwback appeal with bluesy laments and blistering psych freakouts. Donovan can front a well-oiled soul band in her sleep, but she hits another level entirely on opener "Black Woman" – think Nina Simone at her most seething – and with the palpable loneliness of the Bill Withers-worthy "Mother". The PutBacks step it up on their side too, stirring disparate genres into one fiery brew.
Billy Corgan embraces his melodic side on new effort.
For a man well versed in the art of the complicated – exhibit A: Monuments to an Elegy is actually part of the "super album" Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, which was started in 2010 and will conclude with next year's Day for Night LP – Billy Corgan really can write beautifully simple, soaring songs when he so chooses. Only one of the nine songs on this, the Pumpkins' eighth studio album (featuring drums by Tommy Lee), exceeds four minutes, with the rest alternating between pure pop ("Run2Me"), giant riffing ("Tiberius") and all points in between. Throughout, swathes of synths add a futuristic bent to an album built on the classic Pumpkins sound of old.
Odds 'n' sods collection a frantic, fuzzed out blast.
Not content to let a calendar year go by without releasing at least two LPs, prodigious garage rocker Ty Segall has followed up August's Manipulator with this collection of singles, B-sides and covers recorded between 2011-2013. Whereas Manipulator was laboured over in a professional studio, $ingle$ 2 is the scrappy, mongrel younger brother that lets Segall indulge his passion for fuzzed out, quick & crazed face-melters (the Stooges-like "Mother Lemonade" and "Hand Glams") and psychedelic freak-outs ("Children of Paul"). As you can imagine with an album that contains a song called "Fucked Up Motherfucker" and a ball-tearing cover of "Femme Fatale", this is a must for Segall's many acolytes.j.j.
At The Drive-In alumni deliver surprisingly catchy rock tunes.
The most striking thing about the new LP from Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala is just how conventional it sounds. Given the bizarre terrain the duo have covered in recent years, it's unexpected – and refreshing – to hear them play a relatively straight-forward set of rock songs, albeit ones coloured with shades of punk, prog, and heavy metal. Opener "4AM" sets the tone, with a driving bass line from Red Hot Chili Pepper Flea (who is featured throughout) and anthemic vocals from Cedric that are more reminiscent of hair metal than hardcore. The album moves briskly, with only the eerie "Providence" and slow-building "Ride Like the Devil's Son" providing respite from the rock.
Blink and NIN men shoot for the stars on fifth album.
Blink-182 guitarist/vocalist Tom DeLonge has never been shy about his ambitions for Angels & Airwaves – he once predicted the band's 2006 debut, We Don't Need To Whisper, would change the face of rock & roll. Today, his goals remain as lofty, with The Dream Walker to be accompanied by an animated short film, a comic book series, novels and a live action film. Alongside multi-instrumentalist Ilan Rubin (NIN), he's created the best album in A&A's career, the band's U2-sized ambition matched by the enormity of their hooks and melodies. Overly earnest it may be, but the potent mix of post-hardcore, electro and arena rock means songs such as "Bullets in the Wind" are utterly compelling.
Singer-songwriter delivers new album, with a little help from his friends.
The idea, Paul Kelly explained in July, was to make a series of soul 45s ripe for compilation on a multi-artist LP come Christmas. You know, like in the old days. It's hard to believe the master storyteller didn't have a crafty unifying arc in mind though. Bookended by Linda Bull's ominous simmer through "Smells Like Rain" and the hand-clapping gospel finale of "Hasn't It Rained" is an album every bit as cohesive as 2012's Spring and Fall.
The soul thread frays in several directions between a smoking remake of "Sweet Guy", ramped into the red by Vika Bull, and Dan Sultan's tender croon through the breezy tambourine-shaker, "Don't Let a Good Thing Go". The simplicity of the mostly lovesick lyrics cops a curveball in the cliffhanging intrigue of "Righteous Woman": a sketchy tale of a showgirl and a stalker that Kelly relishes in sinister voice.
Though the Bull sisters feature on five of the 11 tracks, it's Clairy Browne who emerges as his most devastating muse, slamming and panting through the hands-down highlight of "Keep On Coming Back For More", then fuming fit to combust in the torch song intensity of "Where Were You When I Needed You".
But it's the way the songs talk to each other – in the recurring motifs of rain and leaving; in the happy-go-lucky bloke in "Thank You" spooning beside the creeping insecurity of Kira Puru's slave to love in "Don't Know What I'd Do" – that makes Kelly the real star of this variety show.
Melbourne quartet take a look at their hometown scene.
With Cut Copy's popularity overseas considerably outweighing their local attention in recent years, their curated mix of rising Melbourne electronic stars seemingly serves as the band's self-addressed invitation to reconnect with their hometown scene. But, alongside the expected endorsement of acts like Roland Tings, Andras & Fox and Worlds End Press, there's some real surprise treasures, including Coober Pedy University Band's "Kookaburra” with its sample of the native bird's iconic laugh, as well as Speed Painters' "Total Person” and its mix of hypnotic sparsity and random horn injections. This compilation is a decent ride, but a few sharp turns short of being a truly memorable journey.
Landmark release celebrates hero of the Canterbury scene.
This challenging selection of rarities and collaborations from one of prog's greatest bards, released to coincide with an authorised biography, is a delight. Disc one explores his own work, from the formidable 19-minute Soft Machine song "Moon In June" to his 1974 cover of "Yesterday Man" to the beautiful "Cuckoo Madame" from Cuckooland. Of the collaborations, tracks with Hot Chip, Bjork and the lovely "The Diver" with Anja Garbarek stand out. The lasting impression is of the gentle but constantly innovative nature of Wyatt's songwriting and arrangements, and his inimitable, child-like vocals. Two and a half hours drift by before you realise, in a breathtaking exercise in unassuming magnificence.
Master of suave croaks through twilight hours.
Doesn't Avonmore sound like Avalon, but moreso? Doesn't "Loop De Li" sound like it's looping back to Roxy's "Same Old Scene"? And surely that cover portrait is, er, circa 1974? Not being one for slap-dash choices, Ferry frames his 14th solo LP in the light of a distant past. Opener "Loop De Li" stands up to the comparison, and his interpretation of Robert Palmer's "Johnny and Mary", with DJ Todd Terje, is truly masterful. Elsewhere it's almost like he's hoarsely fading into the trademark tapestry of moonlit funk woven by Johnny Marr, Nile Rodgers and other old accomplices, with passing references to wrestling demons, advancing shadows and yet one more "One Night Stand". Bry, you old dog.
Prolific yet laconic David Lowery releases double concept album.
This is the first Cracker album since 2009, but band leader David Lowery hasn't been slack. In the interim he made two albums with re-formed U.S. college rock icons Camper Van Beethoven and released his first solo record. Plus Berkeley to Bakersfield is a double album made with two different line-ups. The Berkeley disc is shaggy rock, with Lowery's droll, wry lyrics matched by his droll, wry delivery, as he parodies the rich ("March of the Billionaires") and laments gentrification ("El Cerrito"). The Bakersfield half works more in the "countrypolitan" genre, with clucking electric guitar, rolling piano and sighing pedal steel colouring the songs, which feature less barbs and more melancholy.