Another week, another crop of new albums. This time, we’re not looking at any platinum sellers, but instead some debuts from impressive young acts and new releases from punk heroes. If you’re looking for a way to move past that Lana Del Rey album, this week may just be your opportunity, pal!
Common – “Nobody’s Smiling”
Common was quickly becoming basic. Following the 2008 release of “Universal Mind Control,” the Chicago rapper went from a Grammy-winning hip-hop zealot to a running joke. “Nobody’s Smiling” marks the unlikely recovery of Common’s career. The record is a smartly composed series of vignettes of 42-year-old Common’s hometown, painting a bleak, often-jarring portrait of Chicago. Producer No I.D. takes cues from “Yeezus” with this project, adding a experimental vibe to “Nobody’s Smiling” that softens the campier qualities of Common’s verses. Like J Cole’s “Born Sinner” last summer, “Nobody’s Smiling” is an intelligent, grounded record that doesn’t try to rewrite any rules, but does well in following them. Tracks like “Kingdom” and “No Fear” actually might make listening to Common cool again. No promises to be made there, but at the very least, “Nobody’s Smiling” ended this summer’s dry-spell in hip-hop.
Sounds Like: “Late Registration” if “Late Registration” was slightly slathered with Big Sean’s amoeba juices
Joyce Manor – “Never Hungover Again”
Clocking in at a swift 19 minutes, SoCal punks Joyce Manor make every second of their new album count. “Never Hungover Again” is a pop-punk record with a backbone and intelligence behind it, not just catchy hooks. The band’s songs have a biting sincerity and emotional resonance to them. With lyrics like “You always fell in love the way you’re supposed to/at the Target inside of the mall/fear of what you weren’t exposed to,” you’ll be having flashbacks to suburban summers and shows at the VFW hall. If this is what the pop-punk revival sounds like, we’re in. More please. Catch these kids headlining at The Sinclair in September.
Sounds like: Tiger’s Jaw, The Front Bottoms, that band you had in high school for a few months to impress girls but with people who can play their instruments…
La Roux – “Trouble in Paradise”
La Roux began as a duo, consisting of singer-songwriter Elly Jackson and producer Ben Langmaid, most famous for the hit single “Bulletproof.” For La Roux’s second album, “Trouble in Paradise,” it’s all Jackson, one of the most singular voices and personalities working in pop music today. The album glides and shimmers along, effortlessly flowing from song to song. Along the way, it touches on ideas of love, lust, wealth, and 20-something angst, moving from new wave to synthpop to disco and more in the process. And yet, while Jackson is such a striking figure, and the music makes for a solid, entertaining listen, “Trouble in Paradise” doesn’t really seem to break any new ground. The album surely has some interesting things on its mind, and the play with gender roles is refreshing, but, in the end, it feels like it could have gone further.
Sounds like: Stevie Nicks seen through a neon filter; a mainstream-friendly, toned-down version of Chromatics
Liam Betson – “The Cover of Hunter”
Soaked in ether, the brilliant solo effort from Liam Betson (formerly Liam the Younger) comes in movements. The swings are dramatic and tied directly to the heart. Where Betson’s voice begins as a muted specter on most songs, gusts of guitars soar into the third act,”Tie My Hands” being the most graceful example. The former Titus Andronicus guitarist makes good on the bounce jams, crafting a surprisingly palatable album of summer songs you’ll want to feed to your car stereo every spritely evening, but more satisfying is the way Betson pairs emotional dissonance and refrain. It’s moments like “The Primordial Will”‘s upbeat, repetitious bridge of “there’s nothing wrong with you” that show what an adroitly human album “The Cover of Hunter” is.
Sounds like: Bright Eyes with smiles on, Sharks Keep Moving, your first ever road trip around 2:30 a.m. on the first night
In 2012, Best Coast released its sophomore album, “The Only Place” and it was a huge disappointment. “Alvvays,” the eponymous debut from the Toronto quintet is what the follow-up to Best Coast’s “Crazy For You” should have sounded like. It has lo-fi charm and California slacker vibrance, but still finds ways to make strides forward from the most primitive bedroom pop. While sugary surf rock has gone out with the tide after a moment of huge indie resurgance a few years ago, this album could click with the more mainstream listeners– encompassing a sound you’d associate with Instagram haze or Coachella sunglasses. “Alvvays” has potential to bring the acquired tastes from bandcamp of yore and ease them into the palates of of the less savvy. In other words, it’s a good album, and while it doesn’t quite bring anything new to the table, it’s digestible enough to be huge.
Sounds like: Tennis (the band, not the sport), what Bostonians think California sounds like all the time, Haim with a suntan, a simpler version of Warpaint.
White Fence – “For the Recently Found Innocent”
Garage rock mainstays White Fence are back with a new album this summer, even though it’s only been a year since we all jammed the fuck out to “Cyclops Reap.” And lucky for us, Tim Presley again solicits the musical know-how from fellow lo-fi king, Ty Segall (remember the killer album, “Hair,” from two years ago?), to co-produce and play some drums. With Presley and Segall back together again on “For the Recently Found Innocent,” we’re left with a culmination of fuzzy pop jams, whose live drums and crisp instrumentation give each track a new sort of zeal and an irrepressible energy that has always simmered under the surface of White Fence’s previous albums. From “Like That” – a charging rocker of a tune – on which Presley takes on a charming falsetto, to “Paranoid Bait”, a song full of guitars every bit as tense as the title implies, the album boasts a slew of flower-power harmonies and the pair’s signature acidic garage sound.
Sounds like: The boozy hiss and lo-fi whirring you heard coming from the record player in your friend’s garage when the two of you took acid and just sat there trippin’ on the crusty couch.