Since Danny Brown launched from relative obscurity to stardom with his excellent mixtape XXX, it follows that his sophomore release should see the rapper sand the edges of his sound from his Internet-rap roots. Not so fast. Danny Brown’s Old doesn’t curb the weirdness that made XXX such a delight; it doubles down on it. The same highwire delivery and tight jeans that made 50 Cent balk at signing the dude are still going strong, though the humor of his previous work is turned down in favor of more straightforward storytelling—and as if in a bit for seriousness, Brown even includes “Side A” and “B” interludes to signify the break between the more laid-back first half and molly-addled crazy second half. Of course, Brown has just learned how to incorporate his wit into the songs more—“Wonderbread” is only slightly more horrifying than funny, about the perils of even going out for bread in the Detroit ghetto where he grew up, whereas the mind-bending “Lonely,” which features a sample from obscure French artist Morice Benin, sees Brown claiming his identity brilliantly (“Hipster by heart but I can tell you how the streets feel” he says, subtly reffing his childhood, selling drugs and time in prison without boasting). Brown’s collaborators—from the indie-minded Purity Ring to fellow rapper Schoolboy Q and especially the grime-influenced wunderkind Scruffizer, on the awesome “Dubstep”—aid in making Old a multifaceted affair. Producer Oh No (of Stones Throw duo Gangrene) helps set the stage for some of Old’s most striking tracks, like the Radiohead-ish “Gremlins” and manic “Red 2 Go,” though Brown at least shares the producer’s chair on each song. He offers some turn of phrase or stellar bit of production on every song, keeping you hooked on Old and hitting the replay button even after 19 tracks.
Jesu’s latest release is an immersive opus of noise and emotion. Call it post-metal, post-rock, whatever, just don’t pre-judge Jesu based on misleading labels. From the outset, the Welsh band’s fifth full-length is only concerned with making you literally feel its sound. “Homesick’s” direct melody and heartfelt delivery wouldn’t be out of place in a U2 song, yet its deep, sonorous guitars chug underneath it like a freight train while bent, brittle notes dance overhead like an aurora borealis. “Comforter” at first sounds like Sigur Ros’ recent, similarly heavy album, with digitized, embryonic vocals and plinking pianos, but where Sigur Ros goes high and heavenly, Jesu tend to dig down into their guitars, dropped down to some ungodly note. Epic centerpiece “The Great Leveller” in its first half gets as close to black metal as the band will allow, though in delivery in spirit, Jesu are more akin to shoegaze or slowcore. Then the track grows more and more faded, its guitars wavering like a warped record, while strings provide the life preserver in the song’s rough waters. Epic guitar record fans: The new Jesu album awaits you.
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