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album reviews

Sleeper Agent

About Last Night RCA/Mom+Pop
7

"I wanna shake some action," these Kentucky alt-rockers holler on their second proper record. The line quotes Sixties garage hippies the Flamin' Groovies, but the track bumps like dance pop, and 21-year-old singer Alex Kandel has some Nashville and a touch of Memphis in her voice. Sleeper Agent make it feel natural with hormone-popping exuberance ("Take It Off"), sharp songcraft and digital-era polish. They can sound like suburban kids banging away in the rec room – even when they&... | More »

Kid Cudi

Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon Wicked Awesome/Republic
6

"It should be in the Bible/Middle finger up to the people who don't like you," Kid Cudi declares on his first release since splitting from Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music. He's a cult hero comfortable enough in his weirdness to keep fans cheering and foes guessing: While inconsistent spacedusted instrumentals coat the first half of this self-produced LP, the back half brings high points from the silky Raphael Saadiq guest spot "Balmain Jeans" to the brooding, acoustic "Trouble... | More »

Karmin

Pulses Epic
3

How did we, as a society, allow this to happen? The post-Glee Broadway-ization of contemporary pop has culminated in this chart-topping duo, whose goofy shtick is to decontextualize sounds from other genres until they're utterly meaningless. On Karmin's debut full-length, singer Amy Heidemann approximates Flo Rida-style pop, appropriates familiar flows from Nicki Minaj and milks two-decade-old hip-hop clichés about getting twisted on Belvedere. Worst of all is "Gasoline," whe... | More »

Future Islands

Singles 4AD
7

Baltimore's Future Islands could be just one more band of Eighties-y synth romantics. The difference is singer Samuel T. Herring, whose intense rasp evokes Broken English-era Marianne Faithfull if she came down with a serious case of Ian Curtis. He pours out sad-ballad syrup ("Seasons change/But I've grown tired of trying to change for you") like he's using it to clog a fresh wound. And sometimes the lyrics are as uncanny as the voice; on "A Song for Our Grandfathers," he calls... | More »

Sage the Gemini

Remember Me Republic
6

Bay Area rapper-producer Sage the Gemini is one of the most instantly rewarding beatmakers in recent memory. His rubbery tracks are a mix of Casio bloops, scribbly synth lines and little else. Appropriately, three-quarters of Remember Me, which is mainly produced by Gemini or his like-minded associate P-Lo, sounds great on iPhone speakers. But the rest of the album is too slow and soggy – a guy who mainly raps about shaking butts trying to show a musical range he doesn't have. Repl... | More »

Kylie Minogue

Kiss Me Once Warner Bros./Parlophone
6

The Australian dance-pop diva recently signed a management deal with Jay Z's Roc Nation, and she's been working with crossover-friendly writers Pharrell and Sia. But if her 12th album sounds a lot like contemporary pop, that's probably just because a lot of contemporary pop bears resemblance to the effervescent club music that Minogue's been making since the Eighties. A cheesy jam called "Sexercize" and an Enrique Iglesias duet aside, most of the production has a resp... | More »

Golden Retriever

Seer Thrill Jockey
7

On their fifth release, this Portland, Oregon, drone duo finally find the perfect balance between Matt Carlson's twinkling, modular synths and the bluesy cry of Jonathan Sielaff's bass clarinet. The album shortens their chain of effects pedals so the clarinet can sound like a woodwind instead of cosmic mush, making Seer more like an ambient-jazz record by Brian Eno pal Jon Hassell than an experimental electro-acoustic composition. Full of church bells, chirping birds, poked pia... | More »

March 20, 2014

The War On Drugs

Lost in the Dream Secretly Canadian
6

The War on Drugs make archetypal road-trip music: shimmering, steady, gritty as pavement and open as the sky. Longer on instrumental texture than songwriting, their third album recasts the blue-collar fantasias of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen as earthy ambient music, better to soak in than to scrutinize. As usual with T.W.O.D., these songs are only as good as their grooves: Seven-minutes-plus songs like "In Reverse" and "An Ocean in Between the Waves" have enough locomotion to go twice as ... | More »

Various Artists

Young Money: Rise of an Empire Young Money/Cash Money
5

The first compilation from this hip-hop powerhouse – 2009's We Are Young Money – featured rising stars Drake and Nicki Minaj. This time out, we're introduced to a charming talkrapper named Euro and not much else beyond some diverse but mundane urban contemporary music dominated by familiar players. Contractually, Drake and Minaj are here; artistically, they've moved on. And the label's flagship genius, Lil Wayne, is ostentatiously bored: "Have my cake and ... | More »

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Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

More Song Stories entries »
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