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First Listens

Monday, September 17, 2012

G.O.O.D. Music's Cruel Summer: A First Listen

Posted By on Mon, Sep 17, 2012 at 10:48 AM


Kanye West has officially become the bad guy, people. He's rich, he's rude, he's entitled, he's a rock 'n' roll legend who's awaiting a legit artistic backlash any year now, and he's also a smart businessperson. After Taylor Swift-gate and record sales of his third Pazz & Jop-winning "masterpiece" forced him to take sanctuary in Katy Perry financially, he knows he should lay (relatively) low for a minute. So while I (we?) loved all six of his albums, it's time to back off and let his crew do the talking a little. Too bad they're not as good at it -- hopefully Jay-Z and Ghostface's names in these too-long-for-Winamp artist credits will balance out Big Sean et al.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Carly Rae Jepsen's Kiss: A First Listen

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2012 at 9:01 AM


Normally I do these things on Radiohead or Bruce or Madonna, but my editor cleared one for Carly Rae Jepsen, who was a complete unknown a year ago. That's how big the biggest hit of the year is. Problem is, it's that mass-mass appeal that I think keeps me from all the way enjoying it. It's a cute song, but one that I suspect is going to be more fun in retrospect -- as nostalgia, as a segue on a Girl Talk album, as bar mitzvah fare. Since it's so big and Jepsen's personality appears so small, she's already been kind of deathmarked as a one-hit wonder, even though her Owl City duet is currently dominating digital sales or some shit. But now she has an album and I think it's safe to say we're all genuinely curious if she has any bullets left in the revolver. So this will be less of a review and more of me playing A&R odds.

"Tiny Little Bows"

She plays the Kylie card: Opens with twisted-disco strings and aluminum slap bass, and I'm straining to find the significance of the title image, the first concrete image I can associate with her music (does the implied phone in "Call Me Maybe" count?). But I can't parse this chorus at all: "How do you think it goes with those tiny little bows/ You're the one I want/ You're the one I know/ And everywhere you are/ is a place I wanna go."

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bob Dylan's Tempest: A First Listen

Posted By on Wed, Sep 5, 2012 at 4:00 AM


Bob Dylan is 71. Always-strong critical showings from such septuagenarian contemporaries as Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, and Tom Zé still don't even come close to his towering impact. After all, they weren't presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He's probably the only musician in America from whom people await yet another classic at such an age. From no less an authority than Rolling Stone, the early buzz on Tempest is that it's his first masterpiece since Love and Theft -- which was an unfathomable 11 years ago. Let's see if they're right.

"Duquesne Whistle"

Tempest's first single has already been compared to Louis Armstrong -- maybe because Dylan spends so much time talking about blowing (and don't think he's not flaunting the entendre possibilities: "Blowing like she's at my chamber door"). But also his voice, which David Bowie once likened to "sand and glue," sounds like gravel and cement. Nonetheless, this is his happiest-sounding melody in years -- only Love & Theft's "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum" matches it for sheer gallop, combined with the gorgeous ragtime chords of Modern Times. Huge starting point. And huh, it's pronounced "du-cane."

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Animal Collective's Centipede Hz: A First Listen

Posted By on Mon, Aug 20, 2012 at 8:51 AM


I'm not an Animal Collective fan. I like Strawberry Jam a lot, and I cherish a few individual songs elsewhere, particularly "Summertime Clothes" (not least because it sounds just like the theme from Snoopy Come Home, which I loved as a kid). But their rhythms are so clumpy, melodies so soupy, and "innovations" so overpraised (they sampled the Dead and Frankie Knuckles! Eclectic!), that I can't wait for them to at least plunge from their outrageously high indie perch -- either that or make a truly great album. Two of the last releases from their camp, Avey Tare's (usually my pick songwise) Down There and the whole group's Fall Be Kind are two of the worst records I've ever heard in my life.

Judging by the hideous title, cover and single, Centipede Hz may well be the moment people realize these dorks don't know what they're doing. So watch if I end up loving the stupid thing and defending it for the rest of the year. (For the rest of today, you can stream the album here and see what you think.) Now let's have a listen.


Album kicks off with big horror-movie-cum-LL Cool J stabs in an odd time signature, which develop a metallic feel. Just as abruptly, Avey Tare's moaning singsong kicks in. This has more than Animal Collective songs typically do. More words stuffed in, more chords changing, more beats -- it all sounds like it's coming from inside a trash compactor. Speeds up and gets real psychedelic halfway through -- albeit in that annoying Of Montreal way. This should be epic, but it comes off a bit strung together. By the finish they're ad-libbing hummed noises and it's the catchiest part of the track. Might be their fastest song, though I'm not downloading Animal Crack Box to check. Interesting. Not much of a song, but interesting.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dirty Projectors' Swing Lo Magellan: A First Listen

Posted By on Wed, Jul 11, 2012 at 8:48 AM



Out this week is Swing Lo Magellan, the third full-length from arty Brooklyn six-piece Dirty Projectors. Given the heaps of both acclaim and disdain inspired by the band's last effort, Bitte Orca, we're interested to see if this new one continues the polarizing pattern. Let's give it a spin and find out.

"Offspring Are Blank"

A careful layering of instrumentation -- just crisp handclaps at first, followed by three or four tracks of David Longstreth's baying vocals, followed by those lusciously precise "oohs" and "aaays" -- introduces a tone of sparseness to the album. That sparseness is diddled around with for about one and a half minutes, then skewered by Dirty Projectors' other sonic identity: restless, off-kilter fuzz rock. Pulled between these two extremes, the song takes on the sort of manic intensity you'd see if you strapped a jet engine to a go-kart and asked a caffeinated chimp to take 'er for a spin around the block. To detractors, this is already strong evidence that Dirty Projectors have released yet another, hyper-white weenie rock album disguised as "Art." For the rest of us, it's a positively bitching start.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Justin Bieber's Believe: A First Listen

Posted By on Tue, Jul 3, 2012 at 3:30 AM


Like my colleague Andrew Stout, I have mostly managed to avoid Justin Bieber for what I'm pretty sure are good reasons. He's a typical "innocent" white male singer trying to represent universality to nonwhites and nonmales. Then there's his musical blandness: bits that crept through my defenses of "Baby" and "One Time" sounded credible but unremarkable; that is, the Norah Jones to Usher's Nellie McKay. Which calls into question how much credibility the world needs in the first place. Give him the No. 1 album in America because he can quietly fake the mildest distillation of his medium. Let's get this over with.

"All Around the World"

Dancier than I was expecting, but then I don't know what I was expecting. I do know this: teen idols' Mature Second Moves have grown a lot more calculated in the interim since Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds. It's serviceable. But from the stutter-edit AutoTune to the Eurohouse synths to the off-tune dubstep-vaccuum-cleaner breakdown to the Luda cameo, I'm officially sick of half the elements making up this track. And if the leadoff is "People want to be loved/ They're no different from us" to make up for his PR snafu about taking the wrong side on gay marriage, well, it would sound more convincing from someone not trying to shove his new disco-friendly direction down our throats.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Usher's Looking 4 Myself: A First Listen

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2012 at 3:30 AM


For some reason, I've always managed to ignore or miss Usher. "You Make Me Wanna..." is a classic, of course, but I managed to resist the supposed charms of "Yeah!," "Burn," "Love in This Club," and "Lil Freak." This year the Diplo-produced "Climax" stopped me dead in my tracks. So I'm willing to believe in this new album as a Pop Event. But we shall see.

"Can't Stop Won't Stop"

The Autotune-Eurosynth hybrid that's steamrolled everything in R&B's path ought to work in Usher's favor, and it does. Certainly better than Lil' Jon's budgeted single-note synth skeets, anyway. greases this one with sawtoothed dubstep verses, and no one wants to admit he really is good at that sort of thing. Good intro, slowly reveals itself to be less generic than it first seems.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel: A First Listen

Posted By on Tue, Jun 19, 2012 at 8:17 AM


There are a lot of cool things riding on Fiona Apple. For one thing, she hasn't been chewed up and spit out by a desperate, dying industry. She's still on a major label despite not having posed for a racy photo or released anything capable of being a hit in years. In fact, despite not releasing anything in years. Her style -- baroque piano theatre that circles around "pop" more than it hits the sweet spot -- has deviated little over four albums in 16 years. Oh, and her new album The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (yup) is already receiving Best Album of 2012 nominations. Let's see if there's some truth to them.

"Every Single Night"

Apple has one of those voices where you don't entirely realize she's singing until the melody's already well underway. She kind of murmurs up to a peak, in this case a rousing "hey-hey-HEY-hey-hey" circular refrain that sounds like some kind of Turkish bathhouse meets the Flying Monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. It's good start. Crawling and gradual, yet sprightly and tight. This is the one with the video where there's a dead squid on her head, btw.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

A First Listen to The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, Feat. Ke$ha, Erykah Badu, Bon Iver and More

Posted By on Mon, Apr 23, 2012 at 8:37 AM


I loved, loved the Flaming Lips' Embryonic, and find The

Soft Bulletin to be a pretty magical cornucopia. Pretty big fan of 1995's

Clouds Taste Metallic as well. Yet I've never considered for even a second if

the Lips could be one of my Favorite Bands. They might've struck gold three-ish

times, but they've made about four times that many records, and they're such

junkies for typical gotcha bullshit that it's hard to trust that their

bottomless propensity for novelty won't permeate their record writing. Records

like this one, that is, released especially for Record Store Day with a

legitimate other famous guest on every track. My mind is telling me no, but my

body's saying yes.

"2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)"

The best thing about Wayne Coyne is he takes dares very

seriously. So in order to top his previous records, which were released inside

gummy skulls and fetuses, his new album opens with the distinct voice of Ke$ha

vying with abrasive tones unheard in major-label music since Aphex Twin's ...I

Care Because You Do. She fits in this jungle-clash cacophony perfectly, which

is either a testament to her versatility (hey, I believe in Ke$ha) or the

amorphousness of the Lips' music circa 2012. Other than the drumbeat, I don't

hear the currently-being-cited Stooges' "1969" though. The synths sound like

someone dialing a phone through an overfed amplifier.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jack White's Solo Debut, Blunderbuss: A First Listen

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 7:36 AM

For some reason, like the Craig Finn solo album, I'm kind of

dreading this. Jack White's one of my generation's greatest, which is partly

the reason I'm always worried about when he'll Clapton out. Without his cro Meg-non

secret weapon on drums (well, drum, singular -- as in one at a time), he came off

painfully normal alongside Brendan Benson in the Raconteurs, and tantalizing but anonymous in his

third billing with Alison Mosshart in the Dead Weather. No telling what impact this all will have

on the modestly-announced debut album under his own name, but let's rock this.

"Missing Pieces"

Ha, kind of a funny in-joke in the music here; it's like a

lounge-organ version of the oft-repeated "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground"

riff, as if he knows fans are expecting a complacent rundown of his usual

style. But the song's immediate and catchy, and you're in the middle of it

before you know it, sharing a cell with a mild shitstorm guitar solo. One of

the most normal ways to open a solo debut I think I've ever heard, despite the

Meg/breakup bait, "Sometimes I want to control everything about you."

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    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"