Duo expand protest-rap palette on latest call-to-arms album.
Run the Jewels 2 was the rare sequel that topped the original, as the skull-busting tag team of Atlanta street intellectual Killer Mike and Brooklyn indie-rap veteran El-P synchronised their punches with the aggro precision of a brilliantly choreographed superhero fight sequence. The third instalment, which dropped digitally weeks ahead of schedule on Christmas Eve, thrums with similar urgency, but a lot's changed since 2014. Mike spent the summer bro'ing down with Bernie Sanders, moonlighting as a CNN talking head, and his no-nonsense anti-racism is increasingly the language of black activism. Meanwhile, El-P's cyberpunk-tinged premonitions of dystopia sound more like straight-up journalism every day.
Run the Jewels reorient themselves accordingly. Rather than slamming into action, Episode Three opens with the ruminative prelude "Down," Mike glancing backward at the drug-pushing life he evaded and joining fellow Atlantan Joi for a melodic hook. El-P's production, aided as before by Little Shalimar and Wilder Zoby, still centers on a bassy throb and squelch, but now his drums twitch in nervous anticipation as often as they land like pavement-pulverising Hulk stomps. "2100," written with Beyonce producer Boots, is laced with wiry guitar arpeggios, Kendrick Lamar collaborator Kamasi Washington blows a sax on "Thursday in the Danger Room" that's by turns soulful and frantic, and the tracks make room for the distinct styles of several guest MCs – Danny Brown's anxious yelp, Zack de la Rocha's say-it-and-spray-it flow, Miami rap queen Trina's effortless filth.
Lyrically, there no lack of muscular skill-flexing. On "Talk to Me," Mike calls out an easily ID'd devil who "wore a bad toupee and a spray tan" while El-P boasts self-abasingly "I'm dirt, motherfucker/I can't be crushed." And El-P's still got just as many absurdist boasts ("I do pushups nude on the edge of cliffs") as Mike has pithy slogans ("We are the no-gooders, do-gooders"). But tracks like the simmering "Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)," with eerie vocals from Boots and TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe and a clip of MLK intoning "A riot is the language of the unheard," mark an evolution of the duo's sound and sensibility. Run the Jewels can still detonate rhymes like a Molotov cocktail lobbed into a pharmacy, but now they're strategising for the long war ahead.
Indie-dance luminaries return with a more mindful trip.
Cut Copy's fourth LP was called Free Your Mind, but some argued the band had lost theirs with the unashamed Summer Of Love throwback that offered little new. Haiku From Zero reverts to the broader palette of 2011's Zonoscope; from cowbell-helmed highlight "Standing In the Middle of the Field" to "Airborne", a mildly annoying jam until it lives up to its name around the four-minute mark. Characteristically pat lyrics are hitched to music sophisticated enough to impart profundity, from the E-rush of "Stars Last Me a Lifetime" to the polymorphic, David Byrne-indebted "Memories We Share". It's not vintage Cut Copy, but it's a return to form.
Melbourne grinders unleash pure insanity on third album.
Ugly by name, ugly by nature, King Parrot have truly upped their game in all levels of extremity while simultaneously lowering the bar in depravity. Album number three is a sordid, nasty grindfest of crazed riffing, inhuman time-keeping and ridiculous yob anthems about binge drinking, low standards and being a straight-up dickhead, delivered with a schizophrenic vocal roar/shriek that teeters on the brink of insanity. Smashing blazing hardcore into furious thrash metal with the impact of a high-speed collision, Ugly Produce is a visceral ball of fury wrapped in sarcasm and grime that's both terrifying and hilarious at the same time.
The Vampire Weekend auteur channels his worldly vision into an excellent debut LP.
After putting in work on Frank Ocean's Blonde ("Seigfried," "Ivy"), Solange Knowles' A Seat at the Table ("F.U.B.U.") and various collaborative projects, ex-Vampire Weekend MVP Rostam Batmanglij has finally gotten around to releasing a proper solo LP of his own. And, admirably, he's refused to choose between his former group's Ivy League-aesthete indie rock and modern vernacular electro-pop, opting instead to cherry-pick the best of both worlds.
The resulting 15 tracks are, fittingly, all over the place. "Bike Dream" is sexy voice-boxed art pop; "Thatch Snow" is chamber music with a multitracked choir; "Wood" is a widescreen Bollywood daydream, complete with layered hand drums and orchestral strings; "Hold You" is a hungry robo-soul slow-jam with ex-Dirty Projectors vocalist-bassist Angel Deradoorian as an earthy diva.
Batmanglij has a boyish, intimate tenor, charming when not overdoing the breathy, verge-of-a-giggle delivery. Ultimately, though, it's the gorgeously inventive tracks that steal the show. Maybe the most telling is "Don't Let It Get to You", built around a machine-gunning sample of the samba-drum battery from Paul Simon's curveball 1990 banger "The Obvious Child" – a modern equivalent to Patti Smith repurposing Velvet Underground tunes. Here's to the bright future of another New York whiz kid.
You watched it being recorded, now listen to the results.
Workshopped in front of an online audience every Friday for a month, recorded in a night (also streamed live over the net) and released a week later, Out of Silence has a back story worth noting, but not worth lingering over. More usefully, it's a solo album – Finn's first since 2014's Dizzy Heights – full of group sounds, from a full band and strings to massed backing vocals, and a duet with brother Tim. Which makes it even starker how lyrically and tonally it's an album of isolation, with characters lost on the edges of relationships even as they're cushioned by harmonies, and wondering if love can ever be known while carried on another typically attractive Finn melody.
Prog rockers get deep on expansive look at art.
The latest album from these Brisbane progressive prodigies is a sprawling, labyrinthine opus exploring the very nature of artistic endeavour. Using the thematic device of four unrelated but conceptually similar stories, the band veer from sweeping epics like "Graves" to spoken word rants, melodic rock, wistful acoustics and driving metal tracks with stunning alacrity, displaying a dynamic range and genuine emotion that other prog rock bands can lose in their quest for virtuosity. Following 2015's excellent Bloom might have seemed tough, but In Contact is a further example of the group's growing creative power, deep, multi-layered and idiosyncratically cerebral.
A spirited release from London based Mercury Prize nominee.
Nick Mulvey's sophomore release positions the songwriter at potentially his most comfortable; the lyrical use of metaphor highlights Mulvey's developed writing ability ("Myela"), while the sprawling nature of the soundscapes encapsulates the strength of the musicians Mulvey surrounded himself with. Mulvey's lyrical scope takes a look at the world currently turning off its axis; in a time of uncertainty, music can serve as an emotional anchor, an anchor Mulvey aims to deliver. His writing is evocative without preaching. Balancing rhythmic eccentricities with irrepressible groove and electronic production throughout, Wake Up Now serves its title well.
Sydney producer brings fun retro club vibes on party-ready debut.
Visions' gaudy neon cover art – featuring Michael 'Touch Sensitive' Di Francesco in a turtleneck, gold chain and manicured mo' – is the perfect distillation of his debut LP. "First Slice – Intro" (which samples his 2013 hit "Pizza Guy") sets the Eighties-cocaine-dealer-pulling-up-to-the-nightclub-in-a-Ferrarai vibe, kicking off an album of ebullient house ("Lay Down"), Nineties R'n'B ("Veronica") and Italo disco-influenced club bangers. Arriving in the spring, Visions plays like the perfect warm weather party soundtrack, whether you're drinking champagne spritzers on a yacht or hitting the local discotheque in your finest pair of slacks.
English band lacks vision on fifth album.
"Are we hologram? Are we vision?" sings Faris Badwan over roiling synths and an electro-clash beat. Perhaps he should be asking "Are we Gary Numan tribute act?", because that's what it sounds like. The Horrors have tried on a number of outfits over five albums, arriving as goth-clad garage rockers and transitioning through psych-rock and dream-pop before going for arena anthems with 2011's Skying. V finds them stranded somewhere between melodramatic Eighties synth-pop and contemporary Coldplay-esque stadium-fillers. In either mode they offer po-faced lyrics and a lack of adventure. To sum up, then: the answer to "Are we vision?" is no.
Las Vegas rockers hit targets with affecting, arena-built anthems.
Brandon Flowers has grown up a little. He's now big enough to poke fun at himself in "The Man", the fruitiest Killers track ever made, and willing to let his guard down lyrically and make some pretty vulnerable songs about his wife's childhood abandonment ("Wonderful Wonderful"); depression ("Rut"); and affairs of the heart ("Some Kind of Love"). Pairing with longterm producer Stuart Price and Jacknife Lee (U2, Taylor Swift) has paid dividends – soaring anthems like "Run for Cover" and "Tyson vs Douglas" are shamelessly emotive, yet undeniable. While they haven't eclipsed their earliest work, the Killers are ageing gracefully.
Seattle's golden boy of indie-folk delivers third studio LP.
With White Noise, Noah Gundersen continues his journey away from the rather anaemic acoustic balladry of old. This is a step up in songwriting, production and emotional heft that, with its touches of synth and Gundersen's occasional swooning falsetto, warrants favourable comparison with Perfume Genius's excellent recent albums. "After All" and especially "Sweet Talker" best exhibit this new ambition, though less successful are some banal attempts at sparse Josh Ritter-ish folk that sit awkwardly on an album that, thanks to Gundersen's sonic imagination and maturing sense of songcraft, otherwise succeeds.
Wolfe's sixth studio LP is her best and heaviest to date.
If Chelsea Wolfe's last album welcomed us into her abyss, Hiss Spun plunges headfirst into its apocalyptic epicentre, a bewitching brew of chaos and beautiful darkness. Where the California-born artist once lingered among eerie melodies and folk guitars, she holds nothing back on her heaviest, doomiest album yet. Thunderous drums ("Spun") and guitars, distorted to oblivion ("Welt"), offer catharsis through violence. Even its lightest moments ("Two Spirit") are far from frail or thin. It's this balance that makes Hiss Spun so arresting; cataclysmic walls of noise perfectly ballasted by Wolfe's rich, spellbinding vocals.
Guy from the Beatles wants to keep going. Is there a problem?
"Got up this mornin', packed my bags/Headed for the studio to finish this track." He's not complicated, our Ringo, but he's not calling stumps either. Would you? That's Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter and Steve Lukather stoking the rock & roll engine room of "We're On the Road Again". Peter Frampton pops up on "Speed of Sound", Dave Stewart helps him indulge his love for cornball country on "So Wrong For So Long", and he gets to pay a mawkish reggae tribute to Bob Marley in "King of the Kingdom". And say what you like about old guys with their home ProTools studios, but he's never sung more tunefully.
Wyclef Jean's narrative skill remains undimmed.
The third instalment in Wyclef Jean's 'Carnival' series proves the hip-hop icon hasn't lost his knack for bending and fusing genres. Stark contrasts are struck as Carnival III moves between sonic tone; the upbeat reggae-funk of "Fela Kuti" is sandwiched between the more introspective "Borrowed Time" and "Warrior". Collaborations with Emeli Sandé and Lunch Money Lewis are solid, and on his first album in eight years, Jean has made a sound that exists not simply as a new statement, but as the continuation of an approach to music that celebrates diversity and encourages musical discovery and emotional response.
Folk gems from former Old Crow Medicine Show singer.
Willie Watson's much-loved Folk Singer Vol.1 worked so well partly because he and producer David Rawlings allowed a certain unkemptness, a muddiness, to drive both performance and production on its renditions of songs from the American folk canon. Vol.2 is the same. The sparseness of these interpretations, along with Watson's winsome vocals, produces an overall sound startlingly similar to Dave Van Ronk. At the same time, some inspired instrumental choices from Rawlings bring gorgeous new dimensions to well-trodden ground. For song selection, sincerity and passion, Watson has nailed it again.