We’ve been waiting for Freddie Gibbs’ new album since his gritty vocals graced last year’s Pinata, his dynamite collaboration with Madlib. And he doesn’t disappoint—Gibbs’ latest is a contender for underground rap album of the year. Over a digital bounce, Gibbs establishes his powerful presence early on with “Fuckin’ Up the Count” (“Gangsta shit in my DNA, I just can’t explain that/Even if I die tell my enemies I remain that”). His collaboration with Black Thought proves inspired on “Extradite,” as Mikhail’s beat blends ’70s soul with “Twilight Zone” organs while Gibbs and Black Thought’s words spill out like rolling dice. Like similarly great albums released this year by Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples, Shadow of a Doubt is grim but enlivening—seek the hard-hitting “Packages” as proof. Gibbs is the quintessential thirtysomething rapper who’s toiled in the underground only to see younger guys get the glory—if there’s any justice, Shadow of a Doubt should make that a thing of the past.
After three years and a false start, Grimes aka Claire Boucher has returned with the follow-up to her breakthrough, Visions, and it’s a brightly colored collection of artpop magical realism. The drumline beats and sunny guitars and melodies of “California” and the title track could almost pass for something on mainstream radio, if not for Boucher’s clarion voice cutting through. Similarly, the nimble “Flesh Without Blood” might not be the most original song Grimes has put to tape, but it’s the catchiest and is damn near irresistible. Yet in between those songs we get “Scream,” which has none of the safety of her more accessible tunes, between Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes’ twisting flow and Boucher’s curdled screech. The previously released “REALiTi” throws fans of her more straightforward electro-pop a bone, though it continues with the posi vibes and influences of K-pop and early ’90s house that flow through the rest of the album. Meanwhile, “Venus Fly,” her spacey hip hop duet with Janelle Monae, is a pure delight, coming off like a futuristic art-school version of the Spice Girls, and “Kill vs. Maim” has the feel of the drama kids taking over a pep rally with Boucher’s yelp simultaneously spirited and demented. Boucher has no use for genre boundaries and is seemingly allergic to negativity, all of which gives Art Angels an unbeatable all-embracing energy. The biggest change from Visions is that Boucher’s personality is more front-and-center; whereas that album could be more cold and cerebral in its in-between tracks, Art Angels is entirely engaging, and even its most digitized moments are stained with blood. (Art Angels will be released on LP and CD Dec. 11.)
Joanna Newsom’s first album in five years finds the musician lending her ornate songcraft and magical imagery to an album that at its plainest, examines relationships and the effects of the passage of time. “Anecdotes” begins the album with woodland noise and shortly reintroduces Newsom’s piano, harp and uncommon croon, her lyrics painting slices of life of a soldier laying land mines and returning home, summing up the sentiment it portrays with the line, “Anecdotes cannot say what Time may do.” Newsom’s lyrics are as inscrutable as ever—“Sapokanikan” refers to a Native American village that once stood where Greenwich Village now lies and references Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem about a fallen Egyptian pharaoh, “Ozymandias”—but they’re in service of her central theme, as she sings, “the records they left are cryptic at best, lost in obsolescence.” The arrangements by Newsom, Nico Muhly, Ryan Francesconi and Dave Longstreth (Dirty Projectors) tickle the songs with orchestral brushes and lend rock pulse to songs like “Leaving the City.” Shorter songs appear, like “The Things I Say,” a downtrodden, countrified piano ditty with lyrics both direct (“I’m ashamed of half the things I say”) and fanciful (“When the sky goes thinkin’ Paris, France, do you think of the girl who used to dance when you’d frame the movement within your hands”) that ends in a rain of beaming guitars. These serve to as breathers before sinking into epics like “Divers,” which gives Newsom’s harp and malleable voice room to roam as she intones, “How do you choose your life? How do you choose the time you must exhale and kick and writhe?” Like Newsom’s previous work, Divers demands close attention. Her albums are the antithesis of instant gratification, which is perversely likely why she’s become so popular as an out-of-time balladeer despite sounding more medieval than millennial—her songs beg that you drop what you’re doing, lest you miss one of her witticisms or whimsies. It’s a strangely soothing effect, harkening back to the time of following lyric sheets and sitting to listen to music as a solitary activity. Despite being seeped in melancholia, Divers ends on the somewhat positive note of “Time As a Symptom.” Newsom cries about the “joy of life” as owls hoot and birds chirp in the background, declaring, “the moment of your greatest joys sustains.” Divers may be concerned with the fleeting nature of time, but it’s a convincing bid at artistic permanence.
Right at the turn of the aughts, the nebulous genre known as “chillwave” was all the rage, and Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo was its poster boy. On the excellent Psychic Chasms, he took chintzy beats and funky lo-fi synths to psychedelically chilled out heights, while the underrated follow-up, Era Extrana, looked further into the underbelly of ’80s pop for a nighttime pop album worthy of Donnie Darko. Now years later, Palomo has his work cut out for him as EDM rules the summer fest circuit. Somehow, Vega Intl. Night School manages to remind you of the bets bits of chillwave while successfully moving forward. For those in the know, “Annie” was the banger of the summer, flowing new agey flutes into a digi reggae bounce that sounds like a reconfigured synth-funk memory. The old school hip hop vibe of “Street Level” and synth R&B smear “Smut!” seem to drip acid, coming at you and receding simultaneously. “Slumlord” and “Techno Clique” really let Palomo venture into his classic house fetish, naturally extending the sound he’s cultivated thus far into a rewarding new direction. By far his longest and most complete album, Vega ends on a few lightly tossed off tracks—“C’est La Vie” is an italo disco-inspired splatter of color, “61 Cygni Ave” sounds like two Men at Work and Cameo tapes were left in the sun and melted together, and “News From the Sun” ends things on a straight up Prince homage. Detractors might still find fuel since Palomo primarily mines well-worn ’80s pop influences. However, his ability to render those inspirations as alien forms makes him as relevant as ever, bleeding tracks into one another in a perfectly packaged, post-Internet free-for-all that sets your pleasure sensors on overdrive.
Gun Outfit – “Dream All Over”
L.A. dream-rockers Gun Outfit have released several great tracks already from their upcoming fourth album, Dream All Over, which is due Oct. 16 on Paradise of Bachelors. The title track builds on droning guitars that split the difference between Morricone and The Velvet Underground, painting imagery of a moonlit California sky with tangled guitar thunder. Check out Dream All Over when it comes out next week.
Drab Majesty – “The Heiress” video
Defiantly gothy synth-pop of the highest order comes to us from L.A.’s Drab Majesty on “The Heiress.” It’s the latest single and video from their album Careless, out on Dais. Get lost in their halls of purple neon and digital waves via Tiny Mix Tapes. They’ll be at Oakland’s Santos Studios Nov. 6 and L.A.’s Complex Nov. 7.