Tyler, The Creator has always been an artist and persona as divisive as he is undeniably talented, so why expect (or want) that to change? Sprawling tracklist, angry, occasionally homophobic lyrics and all, Goblin was affecting in its ugliness. The Wolf builds on the Odd Future kingpin’s sound with more manageable beats and R&B touches, but he’s the same troubled joker at heart. The Wolf’s opening title track is a slowed-down, reverbed-out R&B track not totally unlike something Frank Ocean or How to Dress Well might produce, provided they told everyone and everything to fuck off for the entirety of the song. “Jamba” finds Tyler teaming with Hodgy Beats for a good ol’ fashioned angsty, nasty Tyler track as he raps about cussing out Siri and Hodgy Beats raps about getting his scrotum on the news, saying “you can drink piss and eat a dick in a few.” However, Tyler has a knack for slipping in heartbreaking detail into his songs (“brain cancer ate my granny up” he says with razor precision near the opening of the deep, dark “Cowboy”). It may not hit with the same menace as previous single “Yonkers,” but Wolf’s “Domo23” gives Tyler the chance to display his wit (and ability to manipulate his audience), taking haters and admirers to task, rapping “came to Pitchfork with a couple Jada pickett signs and said I was a racist homophobic, so I grabbed Lucas and filmed us kissing” in a jumpy cadence that drops the machismo. It’s a brave move, given hip-hop’s glacial pace on the subject, though it doesn’t quite explain the frequent f-bombs, especially given cohort Frank Ocean’s coming out; he gets more sympathy from the funny tirade against the father he never met, “Answer.” Musically, The Wolf gets funkier the further it goes, on tracks like the lush, dirgey medley “Partyisntover/Campire,” featuring Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, combined with “Bimmer” featuring Ocean, in a seeming bid to rival Ocean’s epic “Pyramids” that intrigues for its strangeness, even if it doesn’t fully come together. Tyler’s angry love song “IFFY” (“I fuckin’ hate you”) gets props for having the worst way to tell someone you like them (“The sky is fallin’, bitch let’s try to catch it”), with Pharell’s soothing presence confounding Tyler’s threats of strangulation. Overall, The Wolf is slightly bloated with a few too many experiments and random guest spots that don’t work; when it does, you’re thankful for Tyler’s abrasive presence in the hip-hop world. For instance, “Trashwang” starts with forty seconds of gunshots and screams that continue to interrupt the proceedings and undercut an otherwise seemingly straightforward hip-hop crew track, with Tyler declaring “I want the black kids to like me for this one.” That loaded statement speaks to part of what makes Tyler both divisive and special. His refusal to capitulate to norms of any kind, societal or hip-hop, are a large part of his appeal. You might not celebrate everything Tyler says or attempts musically on The Wolf, but he never feels less than brutally honest and enormously expressive.
Sisters Jennifer and Jessie Clavin have a knack for blending tough-girl image with sweetness, buzzing guitars and f*ck-all attitude that makes Ride Your Heart a subtly addictive listen. Whether they’re coming off like the next Runaways (the chugging beer in your garage feel of “Looking for a Fight”) or the next Bangles (the unexpectedly melodic four-chord pop of “Dead in Your Head”), the Clavins play with girl-group image but aren’t beholden to it — there’s certainly little of that in the charging surf-punk of first single “Next Stop.” Even when they play into classic girl-group desperation in “Waiting By the Telephone,” there’s a sense that they’re taking that back — you feel like the Clavins are waiting for their guy to call so they can virtually strangle him with the cord, given the explosive guitars that open the song and how they go into Courtney Love-style demonic harmonies for the “he’s my guy and I won’t let him get away” part. Some of the album’s closing tracks suggest a desire to trade in some of their roots (the Clavins formerly led combustible punks Mika Miko) for more affable, if still scuffed-up pop; if they keep writing songs like “Searching Through the Past,” re-recorded after being released a year ago and still their best song, an enormously replayable lovelorn ode drawing a through-line from Patsy Cline to the Shangri-Las to X, Bleached will be touted as much for their songwriting as their energy. It’s to the Clavins’ credit that they’re able to maintain their underground cool even while clearly trying to write bigger, better songs and become better performers, and it’s impossible not to admire their trajectory on Ride Your Heart. Cool can’t really compare with singing along to every word of “Searching Through the Past” for the millionth time.
If Slowdive had stayed together and become a more pop-oriented band, they might have sounded like IO Echo, who combine the sonics and forlorn melodies of classic shoegaze with electronics and pop hooks. Frontwoman Ionna Gika’s booming voice resembles a more girlish Zola Jesus, singing boomingly over “Shanghai Girls” while guitarist Leopold Ross offers guitar squall and Japanese-influenced synths. New waver “When the Lillies Die” allows the band to get flirty with a Bangles-ish melody, whistles and handclaps. The title track offers goth glory in its chorus that knocks you flat with its bombast but keeps you listening with its unexpected depth. They even name one of their catchiest songs “Tiananmen Square.” Though IO Echo’s blend of pop melody and guitar noise is familiar, it’s no less intoxicating for that fact.
Cold War Kids go more stratospheric on fourth album Dear Miss Lonelyhearts. Check back soon for photos of their April 1 performance at Amoeba Hollywood!
Austin’s Black Angels broke through to modest success with 2010’s Phosphene Dream and its slow-burning jam “Bad Vibrations,” used in the video game Spec Ops: The Line. Indigo Meadow mines the same sort of ominous psychedelia as their previous records, but there is more of an emphasis on melody here, playing the other side of the psychedelic coin as well.
If Charles Bradley’s Victim of Love sounds beamed in from the Golden Age of soul, that’s with good reason — the sexegenerian is a former James Brown impersonator and is signed to the Daptone label, specializing in neo-classical soul, making him sort of the male-voiced counterpart to Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. You don’t need to know that the man met his mother at the age of 8, or that his brother was murdered, or that he was once homeless; you can hear the pain in his voice, the sign of a great blues singer. Bradley’s story is told in the film Soul of America, which has won accolades at film festivals around the world. Check out the film, and dig the classic soul of Victim of Love.
The Dynamites play faithful to classic soul and funk but have a few tricks up their sleeves — namely, Charles Walker’s gospel-tinged voice, which can go from boom to soaring, high-end vibrato in seconds.
U.K. producer Bonobo produces smoothed-out electronica that doesn’t skimp on complexity even as it offers a work- or drive-ready mix of amiable tunes.
Thankfully, this farewell, odds-and-eds collection it’s more than an assortment of tossed-off tracks and low-quality demos; many of these songs rival those found on the band’s four studio albums.
Michael Benjamin Lerner produces wide-eyed power-pop with hooks and heart to spare as Telekinesis. Spoon’s Jim Eno lends crisp production that allows for Lerner’s moments to land correctly, such as the acoustic build to sudden fuzz-rock blast in “Power Lines.”
Bluegrass-tinged indie pop band Hem's latest can’t help but feel like the band is saying goodbye; if that’s the case, they’ve left us with a remarkable set of work, capped off the gorgeous Departure & Farewell.