album reviews

July 25, 2014

White Fence

For the Recently Found Innocent Drag City

Tim Presley, better known as White Fence, has been feverishly producing freaky psych couplets in his L.A. apartment since 2008. For his latest LP, he scrapped bedroom recording for a better studio and brought on his friend (and fellow indie cult hero) Ty Segall as a producer. The result is his finest musings yet. Presley's warbled vocals hearken to Frank Zappa's old, weird L.A. while grappling with his present-day isolation. He lays it all bare on "Fear," singing, "I live in fear of... | More »


Nobody's Smiling ARTium/Def Jam

The last time Common released an album, back in 2011, he got tangled up in a halfhearted beef with Drake. This time he's not making the same mistake: Nobody's Smiling, again produced by old Chi-town friend No I.D., features plenty of younger artists – check rising Cali rapper Vince Staples' blunted musings on the gospel-laced "Kingdom." More important, it has some of Com's tightest storytelling in years. If the bittersweet memory-lane stroll he takes on "Rewind&... | More »

The Jayhawks

Rainy Day Music American/UMe

It took these Minnesota alt-country heroes a few years to recover afteco-founder Mark Olson left in the mid-Nineties. But remaining leader Gary Louris was back on his game on 2003's Rainy Day Music (part of a reissue series with 1997's dour Sound of Lies and 2000's poppy Smile). The Jayhawks returned to their early, easeful prettiness, imagining a better yesterday where CSNY got along and Gram Parsons lived to spend the Seventies filling America's station wagons with AM go... | More »

Trey Songz

Trigga Songbook/Atlantic

Trey Songz's sixth LP skates on the edges of modern hip-hop while remaining true to his R&B Lothario roots. With delivery as cool as "Cruisin' "-era Smokey Robinson and R. Kelly real talk ("Cake's on the menu/Ain't I supposed to eat it too?"), Songz gets a little more intimate with the skittery high-hats of Atlanta trap and the friendly boing of L.A. ratchet (courtesy of producers Mike Will Made It and DJ Mustard). The choruses come from rap circa 1997 – Notoriou... | More »


These Days... Top Dawg

L.A. rapper Ab-Soul comes out of the same Black Hippy collective that's produced platinum star Kendrick Lamar and gritty chart-topper Schoolboy Q. With a rep as the crew's most cerebral member, Ab-Soul works a warm underdog weirdness over heavy-lidded beats on his third album. He rarely strives for the depth of Lamar or the intensity of Q; there's plenty of clever imagery on These Days . . . ("Residue on my debit card/Don't tell my moms," he rhymes on "Ride Slow"), bu... | More »

July 24, 2014

Talking Heads

Stop Making Sense Palm Pictures

Talking Heads' 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense was a shocker at the time: No backstage footage, no stoned interviews, no clichés. Just a kickass nine-piece band burning down the house for 90 minutes of art-damaged space funk. Directed by Jonathan Demme, it's one of the alltime great concert movies – a flick that could always get a theater crowd up and dancing by the third song. And for its 30th birthday, it gets its first-ever digital release. David Byrne starts the... | More »

July 22, 2014

5 Seconds of Summer

5 Seconds of Summer Capitol

It's been 15 years since LFO sang "I like girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch" on a smash single called "Summer Girls." Michael Cliord, Luke Hemmings, Calum Hood and Ashton Irwin were toddlers back then, but whatever the decade, teens sure don't tire of cute boys singing about babes and clothes. These four Aussies with aw-shucks grins and low-slung guitars named themselves after the correct season (summer, duh) and name-checked the right store (American Apparel) for their internat... | More »

July 17, 2014

Die Antwoord

Donker Mag Zef

Four years ago, South African rap duo Watkin Tudor Jones and Anri Du Toit (a.k.a. Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er) announced their plan to record five albums before transforming into a new act. Their third LP, though, finds them plying similar ground to their first two: It's a punishing set of disjointed beats, crass profanities ("raging zef boner") and overstuffed artificial components. There's a stale whiff of déjà vu to their rap-rave dubstep smackdowns, fr... | More »

John Mellencamp

Performs Trouble No More At Town Hall UMe

The war in Iraq was just weeks old when John Mellencamp released 2003's Trouble No More, a collection of blues and folk covers that proved the protest song is just about as old as music itself. This excellent live album documents a show from that year at New York's Town Hall, featuring a complete performance of the album plus a few old favorites – like a radically slowed-down "Small Town," a barn-burning "Paper In Fire" and the inevitable finale of "Pink Houses." Just 11 ... | More »

July 15, 2014
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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

More Song Stories entries »