Best Coast - Fade Away (CD, LP or Download)
Best Coast's new EP marks a confident start to a new era for the band. Their previous album, The Only Place, featured more mature songwriting as Bethany Cosentino grew more confident in her voice, yet Jon Brion's smooth production didn't always jibe well with Cosentino's rough around the edges approach to confessional pop. The first release on her own label, Jewel City, Fade Away takes back some of the reverb and distortion of her early material but keeps the assurance she displayed on The Only Place. The result plays out as the most refined version of Best Coast yet. Cosentino sounds pissed in opener "This Lonely Morning," a rocker about a dude who won't stick around. "I Wanna Know" is one of her best girl-group jams yet, all desperation buried beneath sunshine and "Be My Baby" drums. Several songs take on quarter-life crises ("Who Have I Become," "Fear of My Identity"), while her heartbreak songs are equally riddled with introspection, as on the great Mazzy Star-ish ballad "Baby I'm Crying." One of Cosentino's best tricks is sneaking existential dilemmas into songs and lyrics that are on the surface straightforward and simple. By the end of the seven-song Fade Away, you're emotionally exhausted, as Cosentino gives it her all throughout. With Fade Away, she's given fans more than just a stopgap release, and one that leaves fans hungry for what's next.
Best Coast - Fade Away (CD, LP or Download)
Cass McCombs' latest record is a confident double-length album that shows his growth over seven albums into one of the foremost singer/songwriters of our generation. Big Wheel takes its time to get going, moving gently from one track to another. As such, even with its hour-plus length, it's an easily approachable album with great variety within a pretty straightforward setup. "Big Wheel" is a bluesy rumination on manhood—"A man with a man, how more manly can you get? I may be five-foot-one, but you're all wet" he sings in a memorable couplet. He pairs lyrics of a sexual love affair in "Morning Star" ( "wring my neck under your thighs" he sings suggestively in the chorus) with gentle country-folk that sounds like the first thing you want to hear upon waking. Perhaps the biggest highlight is "Brighter!," a song included twice, the second time with the late Karen Black taking lead vocals for a sweet, sad farewell. Some of Big Wheel's tracks veer into dad-rock territory, but even then there's usually something more interesting than what meets the eye on deeper listens, like the insane horns that pop up in "Joe Murder" and "Satan Is My Toy" or how "Everything Has to Be Just-So" begins gently and breaks apart into avant-garde atmosphere. Big Wheel and Others needs a few spins to sink in, but once it does, the album reveals itself to be an indelible listen.
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.
L.A. sister trio HAIM have seemingly been around so long, it’s hard to believe Days Are Gone is only their debut LP. That’s due to the band trickling out singles throughout the year that that have gotten better and better, all of which are included here. “Falling” moves on an echoing drum pulse and middle sister Danielle Haim’s husky, breathy vocals, falling somewhere between Christine McVie and Fiona Apple, and careful, creeping guitar riffs. “Forever” moves on an ’80s R&B shuffle, while the sisters’ back-and-forth vocal aerobics and harmonies employed Este, Danielle and Alana Haim showcase their greatest strength—the inborn chemistry fostered by playing in a band together since childhood. Their best song yet, “The Wire,” is bold enough to get called a Shania Twain knockoff by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow—they must be doing something right. Its Gary Glitter strut allows Danielle to really vamp and play the relieved ex-lover with glee, while youngest sister Alana steals the show with her swaggery second verse. The rest of Days Are Gone isn’t as strong as that dynamite opening, but even when the songs feel overstuffed, the sisters’ boundless energy makes the entire thing such an entertaining ride that you won’t mind the occasional whiplash. The details really make it worthwhile—the way the guitars pulse like they’re emulating synthesizers on “If I Could Change Your Mind,” the crazy, warped Miami Sound Machine-style vocals on the title track. We haven’t had a pop band like this in years, one with both the smarts and technical capability to call to mind classic pop acts from Fleetwood Mac through Destiny’s Child in one feel swoop. And Days Are Gone will no doubt make young women everywhere ask for guitars and pull their sisters into jam sessions. For that alone, we’re thankful for HAIM.
Drake has gone from sensitive Canadian kid actor to the most popular MC in hip-hop. The worst you can say about him is that he’s not the best pure rapper out there and lacks street cred; that’s still true. But as songwriters go, they don’t get much better. Drake is a new kind of hip-hop star, one less concerned with a hard image than he is with making interesting music. Barring the debatable “Wu-Tang Forever,” this is some of his best material yet. “Started From the Bottom” take a cue from his bud The Weeknd with a relentlessly bleak backdrop and a weary tale of success, like he’s reached the top of the mountain barely breathing—it’s a hell of a way to start a blockbuster album. “Hold On We’re Going Home” has been all over radio, with good reason, like a hip-hop version of Daft Punk’s latest album, all throwback funk and good time vibes, with Drake’s typically lovelorn lyrics. Despite the flak Drake gets for his rapping, Nothing Was the Same features some of Drake’s best rhymes yet, only including a handful of guest spots (2 Chainz and Big Sean add some welcome outside voices on “All Me”) and instead delving deep into Aubrey Drake Graham’s psyche and insecurities. “I hate that mom’s cooped up in her apartment, tellin’ herself that she’s too sick to get dressed up and go do shit” he says on the wrenching “Too Much.” Drake breathlessly delivers “The Language” in triplet cadence and lightens the mood (“She just wanna smoke ‘n’ f*ck, I said, ‘girl that’s all that we do’”). By the time he delivers the line “just give it time, we’ll see who’s still around a decade from now” on epic closer “Tuscan Leather,” Drake’s got little left to prove. If the haters provide fuel for his fire, haters keep hatin’ cause Nothing Was the Same is a beautiful smackdown.