Worldwide stardom hasn't softened M.I.A. one iota; if anything, it's made her resolve to be the planet's most provocative pop star that much stronger. Following the all-over-the-map Maya, by comparison Matangi is laser-focused, utilizing harsh industrial noise much in the same way Kanye West's Yeezus did, though she fuses it with a worldbeat touch and heavy EDM nods. Most of all, Matangi succeeds because it sounds like an M.I.A. album, even if it's been digitally chopped up and reassembled more so than previous releases. Her opening tracks come on hard, dropping names of wartorn nations in the title track amid a digital grenade of atonal sounds, while "Warriors" drills with a minimalist hip-hop beat. "Come Walk With Me" starts like a love song, quiet with a reggae sway, before jumping off the rails with a hyperactive dancehall-house beat. Though these tracks touch on her typical subject matter of empowering the global masses, she's also having a great time, rapping like a cocky hip-hop star and subverting the formula. And the second half of Matangi is loaded with ass-shakers. "atention's" twisted beat makes it one of her sickest dance songs since "World Town." The previously released "Bad Girls" makes an appearance in all its bhangra-beat glory, and "Bring the Noize" is the album's instant classic, unleashing a brutal beat that makes most EDM sound like kid's music as M.I.A. pulls off sounding disaffected while spouting rhymes at an impressive tick. Matangi is a welcome comeback after a troubling period for M.I.A., proving her once again to be one of the most forward-thinking pop music entities around.
White Denim came by Amoeba Hollywood Oct. 30 to slay us with their virtuosic Southern Rock attack. Syncopated beats and intertwining guitars greeted listeners as the band promoted its new album, Corsicana Lemonade (order on CD or LP). On songs like “Come Back,” guitarists Austin Jenkins and James Petralli dueted on harmonic guitar lines that made them sound like successors to the Allman Brothers. Jenkins barely broke a sweat, changing guitar effects and unleashing rapid fire riffs without breaking a sweat, all while wearing the tightest jeans known to man. Bassist Steven Terebecki and drummer Joshua Block were no slouches, either, keeping things grounded while offering their own impressive improvisations, throwing out rubbery basslines and splashy fills, respectively, and keeping things moving with shifting time signatures that prove Dirty Projectors aren’t the only cool modern band capable of pulling off music-theory-nerd tricks. Though they’re basically like a metal band in cowboy boots, it wasn’t all about showmanship, as songs like “A Place to Start” offered picturesque soul. See kids? Practice your instrument, it pays off.
Too much great stuff this week and it’s Halloween!
Dum Dum Girls – “Lost Boys and Girls Club”; Announce New Album
Whoa, what’s going on with Dum Dum Girls? The band, started by singer Dee Dee in San Diego, began as a lo-fi post-punk project, like someone left their Supremes and Siouxsie & the Banshees records in the sun and spun the melted result. From there, they’ve gone more toward Pretenders territory, producing shimmery jangle-pop, but this first taste of their newly announced album, Too True, due Jan. 28 on Sub Pop, recaptures some of their early darkness with their newfound sheen intact, emanating darkness and sensuality with a slow-moving shoegaze pop throb. Uhh, it’s very sexy. Richard Gottehrer (who has produced Blondie and The Go-Go's) and The Raveonettes' Sune Rose Wagner, who both produced the band’s Only in Dreams and He Gets Me High EP, are back behind the boards. And way to go, H&M, for promoting your crappy clothes (which I buy) with actual cool music.
Best Coast – “I Don’t Know How” video
The amazing new album from Arcade Fire proves the band was, and is, worthy of all that damn praise and hype that's been heaped upon the band since its inception. It also proves you can teach an old dog new tricks, as the band largely ditches the orchestral indie rock of their previous releases in favor of lean, mean groove-oriented jams. This isn't to say Reflektor is somehow less complex than their earlier work; the title track alone is a seven-and-a-half minute odyssey that sets the tone for an album that gives listeners a dance song while seemingly satirizing itself at the same time—are they the reflectors, repeating past sounds for the sake of accessibility? Are we the mirrors, reflecting what we want onto our musicians? It poses interesting artistic questions while giving us visceral thrills. Reflektor continues with more pensive groovers. "We Exist" pulls off a "Billie Jean" rip through "Reflektor's" staging of borrowed sounds, yet its also a silky rocker worthy of its own ripoffs, peeling into half-time chorus that that keeps listeners on their toes. The band successfully ventures into dub reggae on "Flashbulb Eyes"—no really, don't roll your eyes until you hear it—which moves into the tribal opening of "Here Comes the Night," making use of the band's many-membered setup for a dynamic, smooth jam that questions the concept of heaven in an accessible way, much as their forebears in Talking Heads did on "Heaven." "Normal Person" is like a response to The Suburbs' "Roccoco," which took hipsters to task for pretentiousness—this Robert Palmer-style rocker asks, "Is anything as strange as a normal person?" Reflektor's second half struggles for the same energy as its first, it offers the kind of sonic exploration the band perhaps hasn't always let itself undergo, like venturing into krautrock on "Porno," and more of the sort of spiritual questioning posed on "Here Comes the Night" pops up on "Afterlife," a much-wanted followup to The Suburbs' "The Sprawl II." It's a lot to take in at once, but you could listen to Reflektor ten times in a row and find a new song or idea to latch onto that you hadn't noticed before. It's the next logical step for a band who has carefully considered each release thus far, and it's also one of the year's best.
Cass McCombs’ wonderful new record, Big Wheel and Others, is a big record, in length (22 tracks), scope and humanity. Ostensibly a folk-rock record, it dabbles in country, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and just about every other genre that can be lumped into the general, overarching term “Americana.” Yet this isn’t a reverent record by any means. Much as his prior records did, such as 2011’s double whammy of Wit’s End and Humor Risk, songs veer into avant-garde atmospherics; lyrics defy their genre’s constraints, such as the country-rockin’ “Big Wheel,” which delves into the manhood country music often stands upon (“the taste of diesel and the sound of big rigs,” he sings, before later undercutting such manly imagery with lyrics like “a man with a man, how more manly can you get? I may be 5-foot-one, but you’re all wet”). Interspersing the tracks are interludes cut from the 1970 documentary short Sean, about a hippie kid who smokes weed, plus two versions of the same song, “Brighter!,” one sung with the late actress Karen Black, with whom McCombs also dueted on the Catacombs highlight “Dreams-Come-True-Girl.” I sat down to ask McCombs about the epic new album.