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album reviews

April 17, 2014

The Both

The Both SuperEgo
7

The Both are a singer-songwriter collaboration that sound precisely like you'd hope. New Wave heartthrob and master songcrafter Aimee Mann gets welcome vocal and guitar snarl from Ted Leo, a post-punk heartthrob in his own right whose unfussy attack benefi ts from Mann's melodic and harmonic touch. Anyone following their aesthetic courtship on Twitter could've predicted the lyrical sparks. Alongside a tight, contrite cover of Thin Lizzy's "Honesty Is No Excuse" is the gent... | More »

Jessica Lea Mayfield

Make My Head Sing... ATO
7

Six years ago, Jessica Lea Mayfield was a precocious teenager singing simple, sullen country songs about hitting rock-bottom. On her third LP (and first without the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach producing), she's grown into a world-weary alt-rock dreamer. The set opens with the grungy "Oblivious" and its grown-up passive aggression: "I could kill her with the powers in my mind/But I'm a good humanitarian." Elsewhere, between tremulous indie textures and slow-core plucking, Mayfield ... | More »

Sohn

Tremors 4AD
7

"I died a week ago/There's nothing left": So begins "The Wheel," a standout on the first full-length album from hoodie-loving Vienna-via-U.K. singer-songwriter-producer Sohn, a.k.a. Toph Taylor. Like a soulman version of OG selfie pioneer Cindy Sherman, Sohn casts his falsetto in blues-worthy scenarios – a one-man band balancing songcraft and heady post-dubstep production better than James Blake or Rhye, two inevitable comparisons. Yet Sohn, who has remixed Disclosure and others, i... | More »

Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey

Going Back Home Chess
6

Guitarist Wilko Johnson, who foreshadowed U.K. punk with Seventies pub rockers Dr. Feelgood, was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year. So he and his friend Roger Daltrey have recorded vibrant, legacyburnishing versions of 10 Johnson songs backed by his sturdy touring band – brawling tunes steeped in vintage rock & roll, with Daltrey setting his maximum-R&B yowl on full bluster against Johnson's slashing attack. There's tender regret in the album's one slow num... | More »

Protomartyr

Under Color of Official Right Hardly Art
7

The Detroit guitar boys in Protomartyr totally nail the sound of youthful melancholy. Joe Casey sings every line like he's the drunkest guy in the bar, fighting to keep on his feet for one more round. All over their superbly funny second album, Protomartyr chase the post-punk guitar buzz of classic American bands like the Dream Syndicate, while also evoking raincoat-clad Brits like the Wedding Present. "Maidenhead" could be the Smiths, except with an even more miserable singer. In "... | More »

Iggy Azalea

The New Classic Def Jam/Grand Hustle
5

Iggy Azalea grew up in Australia, but you'd never know it from her accent – a curiously affected drawl that could come from Atlanta, Houston or nowhere at all. Once, such weirdness might have disqualified her from rap stardom, but that was then. Iggy swaggers through her first LP with all the zero-fucks-given zest of the Nineties baby she is, trumpeting her story on underdog anthems like "Work" and "Don't Need Y'all." Savvier still, she dresses them up in the kind of sham... | More »

Toni Braxton and Babyface

Love, Marriage & Divorce Motown
7

With its marital arguments, dramatic plot reversals and luxurious exteriors, this collaboration between two accomplished R&B sensualists is like a musical adaptation of Real Housewives of Atlanta. Both singers have been through failed marriages, and they know what it sounds like when love goes sour: "I hope she gives you a disease," Braxton seethes in the piano ballad "I Wish." The story bounces between rage and hopefulness before ending (spoiler alert!) in divorce. Few records have descr... | More »

April 16, 2014
April 15, 2014

Duck Sauce

Quack Fool's Gold
8

Like the takeout goop they're named for, turntablist-turned-label honcho A-Trak and filterhouse master chef Armand Van Helden aren't about haute cuisine. But their sample-storming full-length debut is undeniable – squarely in the tradition of stoned dance-floor hitmakers from decades past like Deee-Lite, Fatboy Slim and M|A|R|R|S. Five years' worth of primo one-off singles are here, including "aNYway" – a flip of Final Edition's 1979 latter-day disco gem "... | More »

April 8, 2014
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Song Stories

“Road to Nowhere”

Talking Heads | 1985

A cappella harmonies give way to an a fuller arrangement blending pop and electro-disco on "Road to Nowhere," but the theme remains constant: We're on an eternal journey to an undefined destination. The song vaulted back into the news a quarter century after it was a hit when Gov. Charlie Crist used it in his unsuccessful 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Florida. "It's this little ditty about how there's no order and no plan and no scheme to life and death and it doesn't mean anything, but it's all right," Byrne said with a chuckle.

More Song Stories entries »
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