On his gutsy, double-disc debut studio album, Long Beach rapper Vince Staples introduces the world at large to a tough, world-weary persona who at only 22 has seemingly been through enough drama to fill a book. “My pain is never over, pills ‘n’ potions pick me up” he declares on the gnarled beats of “Pick Me Up.” Atonal sound wails in the background of “Norf Norf” as Staples offers slice-of-life tales of growing up in gritty North Long Beach (“I ain’t never run from nothin’ but the police,” he says tellingly). There’s a nihilistic slant to everything Staples puts to tape, which extends even to more decadent party jams like “Loca” and “Dopeman” and love songs like “Lemme Know,” pairing lyrics like “I’ll be fightin’ for you” with “I love to see you cry.” Everything in Summertime ’06 sounds strangely disembodied and cynical, yet it’s not lacking in energy, as with single “Senorita,” on which No I.D.’s creeping production offers the ideal space for Staples’ grim verses and Future’s motoring chorus before morphing into an ’80s horror film-style breakdown. The album’s second disc is mellower, reveling in No I.D. and Clams Casino’s immersive production work; “Get Paid” and “Hang N’ Bang” are lively highlights. Though it’s a double-disc, Summertime ’06 doesn’t feel the slightest bit overstuffed, and we never lose sight of the man behind the rhymes.
Jaakko Eino Kalevi creates what could be called mystery pop. Like a distant Finish cousin to Ariel Pink, Kalevi’s dreamy tunes pulse with gently syncopated grooves, otherworldly synth bursts and a deeply intoning voice that gives his self-titled album a tinge of 4AD-style goth. Though Kalevi clearly has successfully digested albums by This Mortal Coil and Talk Talk, it’s also clear that he’s taken the time to develop his own sound, drawing from his moody ’80s predecessors, lacquering on some fashionably semi-ironic soft-rock sheen and hints of prog-rock and ’80s movie soundtracks, and coming out as a next-generation pop auteur with tunes as exotic as his vowel-friendly name. You might not know quite what Kalevi’s getting at, but his somewhat intangible nature is part of his appeal. The sultry “Say” and aerobic “Night at the Field” stand out from the crowd, but Jaakko Eino Kalevi is an incredibly warm and inviting listen from the top down. Curl up on Kalevi’s luxury sofa and let the magic happen.
Layers of heavily effected guitar hang loosely as a faded tapestry behind Michael Vidal’s pensive croon on his first release as a solo artist. Formerly the frontman for L.A.’s great tropical-punks-turned-darkwavers Abe Vigoda, Vidal is a modern-day goth romantic with his deep voice and yearning lyrics, the gleaming guitar lines and gently pulsing beat of “Dreams (Come Back to Me)” calling to mind bands like Cocteau Twins and The Durutti Column. “Burn” is the emotional centerpiece, as Vidal’s sensitive lyricism pours over looped arpeggiated guitars on a track that recalls the best of The Cure or Adore-era Smashing Pumpkins. Drizzling instrumental “Mono No Aware” moves into the percolating guitars of “Appraisal,” while “Sky Blue” takes that mechanically layered guitar and gives it a regal flair, evoking its namesake somehow both scientifically and dreamily. The album closes on a wash of guitars so hazily rendered they could to float away. At just seven songs, the album manages to leave its mark, a heavenly set of songs for nostalgic dreamers.
Producer and member of The xx Jamie Smith has finallly released his debut LP, and it feels like a game-changer. Favoring melody and atmosphere over showy beatwork, In Colour is able to wrangle a wide variety of sounds into a living, breathing whole. Tracks like “Gosh” layer found sounds and field recordings underneath appealing synth lines. Mellower tracks like “Sleep Sound” and “SeeSaw” are terrific after-hours jams, like passing out outside a rave and letting the beats pulse through your dreams. The xx member Oliver Sim shows up to lend his narcotic vocals to the noirish “Stranger in a Room,” while fellow xx singer Romy Madley Croft smears black mascara all over the heartbreak beat of “Loud Places,” which makes wonderful use of a sample of Idris Muhammad’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” on the song’s rousing chorus. Though it’s a bit jarring to hear rapper Young Thug and dancehall artist Popcaan on the following track, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” the song itself is a worthy hip-hop crossover that enlivens the album as a whole. It may sound cheesy, but In Colour really does prove that trip-hop, post-punk, house and hip-hop can call reside under the same roof, as Smith expertly strings these sounds together into new nocturnal anthems. It’s not too soon to call this a new electronic masterwork.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra continue their transition into the best funk band from another dimension with Multi-Love. The title track sounds like Stevie Wonder on a space-rock kick, as frontman Ruban Nielson raspily sings of polyamorous affairs over proggy movements and danceable beats. “Like Acid Rain’s” disintegrated R&B dazzles and melts in your ears. “The World Is Crowded’s” lockstep groove accompanies lush soul vocals singing quizzical lyrics, asking “did she blow my brains out?” like a robot waking up from a one-night stand. And “Ur Life in One Night” takes the psychedelic-leaning funk and soul of the ’70s and making it sound truly interstellar, as though Curtis Mayfield and Funkadelic records were transmitted via satellite to an alien galaxy, and this was the responding message. But however proudly UMO wave their freak flag, Multi-Love is still rooted in reality. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” begins on a film-noir opening, with cinematic horns, booty-shaking jungle drums and 007 riffs growing into curious melodies that curl into an earworm chorus on perhaps their best song yet. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s particular universe is perplexing only until you get your footing; then you’ll never want to leave. It’s one of the best things we’ve heard all year.