Kendrick Lamar’s breakthrough second album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, left such an impression that hype for a follow-up has been through the roof. So forgive the Compton rapper if he kind of Beyonce’d To Pimp a Butterfly, teasing singles before announcing a release date and suddenly putting it out a week early. Pulling the rug out from hype and inevitable backlash, it gives us a change to all hear To Pimp a Butterfly at once, in all its glory. Butterfly doubles down on the idiosyncracies of good kid, eschewing club-friendly tracks in favor of those that cast a light on Lamar’s pure skills as a rapper and wordsmith—always celebrated, yet perhaps distracted by stellar production and good kid’s concept-album style—as well as his ability to put together a layered and compelling album. Tracks like the “For Free” interlude are showcases for Lamar’s dexterity, while “u’s” desperate, verge-on-tears delivery find him at his most vulnerable —Drake’s never done anything like this. The production across To Pimp a Butterfly, courtesy of such luminaries as Flying Lotus and Thundercat, like those artists’ work (and similarly to D’Angelo’s recently released Black Messiah), effortlessly melds hip-hop, R&B and jazz on excellent tracks like the off-kilter “Institutionalized” and gorgeous “These Walls” to exist in some mystery middle space, without drawing attention away from Lamar’s star power. While headier tracks dominate the album, Lamar unleashes a couple of huge singles at the album’s closing. At first, “i” could come off as Lamar’s “sell out” track, catchy enough to sit alongside Pharrell’s “Happy” as a crowd-friendly that sands off his rough edges, but it serves as a bit of a breather here, dressed up in The Isley Brothers’ unstoppable “Who’s That Lady,” though Lamar’s lyrics remain deeply dark, exposing his own depression, and a spoken word passage that delves into a discussion on racial slurs adds context. Following the reclaiming of racial stereotypes on the absolutely killer “The Blacker the Berry,” To Pimp a Butterfly ends ultimately feeling conflicted yet triumphant. It’s a deep, complicated work, yet not one that feels the slightest bit overstuffed or overwrought. Kendrick Lamar successfully defies all expectations yet again, on what’s sure to be one of the year’s best albums.
Best Coast – “Heaven Sent”
Best Coast’s upcoming third album, California Nights (due May 5), sounds like a fantasy meeting between The Verve and The Bangles, judging by its first two singles. “Heaven Sent” is more upbeat and melodic than the hazy title track while retaining its full-bodied guitar sound, like some sunkissed lost Lush song. Check out the karaoke-style lyric video below:
What’s with the song title of Mikal Cronin’s new song, you might ask? The power-pop songsmith’s upcoming new album, MCIII (due May 5), includes a six-song suite on its B-side, of which this is the second part. It’s furiously loud and melodic, as we’ve come to expect and enjoy immensely from Cronin, but also has a surprise climax with Cronin jammin’ on the Greek tzouras. Color us intrigued. He’s at S.F.’s Independent April 22 and L.A.’s Eagle Rock Center for the Arts May 1.
Defunct British duo Broadcast has most of their catalog reissued this week, including Tender Buttons. The band’s haunting third album is undoubtedly their high-water mark. Released in 2005, it slowly but surely raised the band’s profile, landing on several year-end best-of lists, drawing more attention to their previous albums and putting them at the upper echelon of independent artists, before their career was tragically cut short by the death of singer Trish Keenan.
I first heard Broadcast while perusing said year-end lists. (Also, wow to a list of albums so good that this is only No. 22; the early-to-mid-2000s are more than due for a resurgence.) But Broadcast’s tasteful oddity of an album somehow outlasts any other record made that year.
The key to Tender Buttons’ (and Broadcast’s) continuing endurance is how unassuming it is. Fourteen trim tracks (save five-minute noise piece “Arc of a Journey”) that actually sound like they were made by two people, using instruments that sound like they were found through a year’s worth of estate sales, Tender Buttons avoids sounding pretentious because it never really claims to be more than it is, Gertrude Stein references and all. It’s a record that remains mysterious even though all of its elements are basically at the forefront. Keenan’s vocals remain clarion despite getting plenty of the reverb treatment, thanks to her erudite British diction. All those moogs that sound like they’re falling apart, stitched together by James Cargill’s web-like guitarwork and pumping basslines, even those roaring in the background, you can pretty much hear it all, yet it feels like facing mirrors stretching to infinity, given the sense of space their layering allows.
Fucked Up fans might be surprised to learn the band’s guitarist, Ben Cook, hides a secret power-pop fetish. Ripe 4 Luv is full of gleaming guitars, tinny drum machines and immediate, Big Star-inspired melodies. Cook still lets the guitars rip on songs like the irresisitable “Crawling Back to You,” but they’re in service of spaced-out love songs rather than post-hardcore epics. So even if the Ariel Pink-ish “Aquarius” is about as far from Fucked Up as you can get, it proves Cook can wear multiple hands and do it quite well. Ripe 4 Luv is a sterling piece of charmingly lo-fi power-pop that burns brightly over its snappy eight songs.
The singer/songwriter/producer and Spacebomb Records founder returns with a second album that re-creates the American songbook D.I.Y.-style, moving from classic R&B (“Take Care My Baby”) to country-soul (“Rock & Roll Is Cold”) to gently orchestrated romantic indie pop (“Fruit Trees”), showing a master’s touch throughout.
Here’s a list of records to check out that are currently scheduled for release in 2015 (dates/releases subject to change).
This touted Australian singer/songwriter writes anxiety-ridden screeds over catchy garage-rock on her breakthrough record.