It’s a good week for females in music, as we see top releases from tUnE-yArDs and Lily Allen (as well as Sarah McLachlan and Natalie Merchant), but if you’re not into those, be sure to peep new albums from Atmosphere and Papercuts.
|Lily Allen – “Sheezus”|
If “Sheezus” indicates one thing, it’s that Lily Allen wants to be judged solely on her music. That’s cool and all, especially since we’ve had nothing else to judge her by the past few years other than the various small controversies she seems to have a tough time avoiding. Unfortunately, “Sheezus” doesn’t seem to dazzle in capacity. Allen earns some merit by attempting to make important social statements through her latest tunes, but they have difficulty holding up over uninspired musical vehicles. It’s one thing to call out other various pop stars for their inauthenticity, but when it’s backed by a weak effort that sounds like a lesser version of what people like Iggy Azalea are doing, it just doesn’t hold any weight. That’s exactly the problem with “Sheezus.” It seems forced. While older tracks like “Smile” made more tongue-in-cheek jabs, all of the edge of this record is dulled from being for too blatant and lacking cleverness.
|tUnE-yArDs – “Nikki Nack”|
Pop music really is in an interesting spot, but if it really wanted to be something special, it would start taking notes from tUnE-yArDs. No aspect in the craft of “Nikki Nack” seems to have been taken for granted. Every scrap of percussion, every layer of vocal harmony, every passionate wail from lead gal Merrill Garbus, is done so with meticulous accuracy and the utmost attention to detail. While there’s a level of precision rock to the equation, there’s also a beautiful element of release to the record, with all roads once again leading back to the unique vocal style of Garbus. It’s a dance album, it’s a pop album, it’s a think album. It’s such a melange of styles and influence that it must be heard multiple times to be understood.
|PAWS – “Youth Culture Forever”|
Glasgow trio PAWS emerged in 2012 with a notable debut, “Cokefloat!,” riding the waves of the grunge revival, but nonetheless producing a likable album. The new wave of grunge continues to hold up, and PAWS seems to be up to the challenge, following up with a more polished sound. The band doesn’t completely ditch its lo-fi aesthetic, but everything seems to be a bit more on-point, whether it be tightened percussion, or production methods that seem to make the band’s sound a bit more dimensional. While the hooks don’t jump out and grab like they did on “Cokefloat!,” the newer tunes are a slower-burning kind of endearing, experimenting with verse-structure, and finding ways to still incorporate some pop charm.
|Papercuts – “Life Among The Savages”|
San Francisco orchestral pop project Papercuts, better known as the project of songwriter Jason Robert Quever, makes an enormous sound for just one person on the project. Now on his sixth album, Quever only grows his majestic sound on “Life Among The Savages.” There’s almost a celestial, dream-like quality to the songs on this record, resonating like a chamber pop album to the likes of GEM CLUB, but maintaining an adventurous pace, similar to the artistry of acts like Grizzly Bear. At times, it can almost seem a bit too baroque, maybe riding the “wall of sound” aspect a bit too far, but for the most part, “Life Among The Savages” is a pleasantly peculiar listen.
|Atmosphere – “Southsiders”|
With every album, it makes more and more sense that Atmosphere is a product of the Minneapolis music scene. The duo of Slug and Ant have encompassed the alternative perspective of hip-hop for the greater part of two decades now. While some might categorize it as intellectual hip-hop (and they wouldn’t be wrong), Atmosphere is more accurately a product of an eclectic and diverse scene of musicians, having risen from the same hotbed that produced everyone from The Replacements to Prince. This shuffle of influences is more apparent than ever on “Southsiders,” the band’s seventh full length. Goofy anthems like “Kanye West” are balanced out by introspective thinkers like “Bitter,” showcasing the idealogy of Slug, and the stylistic muscles of the group as a whole.