This week the release schedule continues to pick up the pace as London-based art rockers, Savages release their sophomore effort, trip-hop icon, Tricky drops his twelfth studio album which simultaneously serves as the debut of a new side project, The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg joins forces with Juliana Hatfield as the I Don’t Cares, Ty Segall continues to explore hard-edged, retro-garage-rock sounds and Brooklyn duo Chairlift seem poised for a possible pop breakthrough. We are definitely getting into the swing of things.
|Savages’ “Adore Life” ****|
If you are unfamiliar with Savages, they are a London-based band whose music is as challenging as it is compelling. They formed in 2011, first dropping their live “I Am Here” EP and then their 2013 debut album, “Silence Yourself.” With its visceral backdrops anchored by French-born lead singer Jehnny Beth, who’s often threatening-sounding wail defined the band's sound. Savages’ music is powerful, often coming off like a more metallic feminine answer to post-punk acts like Joy Division and Bauhaus.
The big difference between their sophomore effort, “Adore Life” and its predecessor is that it is much more melodic with flecks of accessibility sneaking into the mix. Mind you, the band’s music achieves this without losing any sense of intrigue. Sure opener and lead single, “The Answer” delivers a rather brutal, mosh-pit-ready pummeling sonic-assault, but as drummer Fay Milton pounds away at her kit while her band-mates create some glorious noise, Jehnny Beth is delivering a defiant, yet haunting-sounding chant and through this mass of sound you get a single that actually drills itself into your skull and stays with you.
Similarly, “Adore” begins in more typically ominous territory as it builds, but then blossoms into a surprising ballad with a booming chorus. However, don’t get me wrong, Savages have not gone soft. This music is still more suited to soundtrack fist fights in back alleys than it is catered for your average pop listener. This is especially true when listening to selections from the album’s second half like “Surrender” and “I Need Something New.” But what is remarkable about this record is the level of which it retains the old tension of the band’s earlier work while also being quite catchy and engaging at the same time. It achieves a key balance.
“Silence Yourself” was a phenomenal record but it was more a potent exercise in sonic force than anything else. This record gives you something you can really grasp tightly.
There is no sophomore slump here. If you are one of the people who thinks rock is dead and that bands are unimaginative these days, “Adore Life” is a hard-edged art-rock tour-de-force that might convince you otherwise. It’s rough around the edges but it delivers quite a lot of punch. This is an aggressively muscular and unpredictable offering.
“The Answer” This is sonic brutality wrapped in a tightly-crafted three-and-a-half-minute package. This album sounds like a threatening rally cry. Guitarist Gemma Thompson and bassist Ayse Hassan both thrash along with a great deal of force as well.
“Adore” The manner in which this song morphs and transforms as it progresses is a real marvel of song-craft and it's striking to hear Jehnny Beth exploring a slightly gentler side. Calling an album that can be as venom-soaked as this one something like “Adore Life” creates some thought-provoking juxtaposition. This song however suits that sentiment and all that such a title implies.
“Sad Person” Like a bomb set to blow, this track builds and explodes with a fantastic aural and adrenaline-soaked payoff. Jehnny Beth’s half-spoken verses give this track a raw, punk coolness.
|Tricky’s “Skilled Mechanics” ***|
Twenty years after his still-stirring third album, “Pre-Millennium Tension,” Tricky is still at it. Now twelve albums in, he remains one of trip-hop’s most intriguingly mysterious figures. Of course, through the years, his albums have ranged from bona fide classics to strange missteps, but you can’t really fault him for that since he seems to be game to experiment with just about any sound he can grip.
“Skilled Mechanics” is really a self-titled album for Tricky’s new project featuring himself, DJ Milo and Luke Harris. But the music also fits in with the rest of his discography pretty well. It’s a guest-heavy set full of interesting grooves and a couple of choice covers. At under 35 minutes, it can seem a little on the slight side, but not as brief as his 2010 offering, “Mixed Race” which clocked in just under a half-hour. This set’s brevity is partly due to tracks not taken to their full potential. “We Begin” for instance features a great performance from vocalist Francesca Belmonte, who has been a regular fixture on Tricky’s last couple of records. This song would be a possible hit or a highlight if it was a little more extended and developed beyond its measly one minute and thirty-six seconds.
As Tricky albums go, this is in the middle of the pack. It has some great highlights, like the slowly funky “Beijing To Berlin,” featuring rapper Ivy, but it also has a few moments that are just merely passably interesting. Every now and then throughout his latter-day discography Tricky drops some amazing bombs that remind you of his legendary status. “Knowle West Boy” from 2008 and “False Idols” from 2013 come to mind as high benchmarks. This album has its share of great tracks, like the startling “Boy,” about his mother’s suicide, but it doesn’t quite keep the consistency of his most solid records.
Still, in hindsight it is pretty amazing that Tricky hasn’t become a bigger figure in the U.S. For more than two decades now, he’s been pushing trip-hop (and the outer-reaches of left-field hip-hop) into new, daring territories. Not all of Tricky’s albums are clear winners, but they are all worth the ride to some extent. If you’ve ever enjoyed one of his records in the past, you’ll find a few great nuggets here as well.
“Beijing To Berlin” (Featuring Ivy) Of all the songs on this record, this one is most likely to get club-banger crossover status. It’s pretty slick. Part of me really wants to see what would happen if this got proper hip-hop radio-play in the States.
“Diving Away” At only two minutes and ten seconds, this track is another one that could be taken further. It’s actually a cover of the Porno For Pyros classic “Porpoise Head.” Tricky has been known to cover other songs and re-title them. It seems to be one of his bizarre signature moves. Each time he does this, however, he gives the track his own, unique spin.
“Don’t Go” This is a surprisingly major-key groove from Tricky even if it still possesses an ominous rumble and his signature whisper.
|The I Don’t Cares’ “Wild Stab” ***1/2|
Juliana Hatfield has been on a roll lately. In 2012 she released a rather tremendous self-titled cover record after a string of impressive releases. In 2013 she joined forces with Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws as Minor Alps and released the album “Get There.” Last year she reformed the Juliana Hatfield Three and released “Whatever, My Love,” an album I ranked as one of the fifty best albums of the year. Now she has joined forces with one of her heroes, the Replacements’ Paul Westerberg. Now that Wasterberg is by her side, the two have emerged as the I Don’t Cares, playing up to the lo-fi, jangly side of both artists’ work. Think of this as a bit of a union of Westerberg’s “49:00” and Hatfield’s “Made In China.” This album feels heavier on the Westerberg side of the equation, but it has an analog rawness that makes you feel the steam coming off the equipment. Drum cymbals crash and bang their way, drastically divided into specific corners of the stereo mix on “Born For Me,” for instance, but throughout the set this feels like a fresh, live experience as if it was just laid down at the spur of the moment. Most of all, Hatfield and Westerberg sound like they are having an absolute blast working together, especially when they are playfully singing the alphabet on the cheekily-titled “1/2 2P.” Westerberg uses his time with Hatfield to re-record some gems from his back-catalog as well. The before-mentioned “Born For Me” was originally found on his 1999 album, “Suicaine Gratification,” while the original version of “Outta My System” was originally heard on the (also previously mentioned) now seemingly out of print “49:00.” This album has a punk edge to it, but it is informed by a bit of rockabilly soul. This almost plays like Westerberg’s Grandpaboy records with Hatfield’s voice thrown into the mix. “King Of America” is steeped in classic heartland goodness, while “Whole Lotta Nothin’” has an insistent drive. “Dance To The Fight” is one of only songs where Hatfield really gets center-stage, but she works the tough groove well. In the end, this record has an appealing ramshackle sound and showcases both performers well, even if it feels much closer to a Westerberg release than one of Hatfield’s records. One hopes these two stay together and make a follow-up.
“Outta My System” This was a highlight when it was on “49:00,” and it is nice to hear it get a fuller, cleaner reading. This track is vintage Westerberg and Hatfield’s harmonies serve as a real asset.
“King Of America” This kind of feels like Westerberg and Hatfield going into John Mellencamp territory. It also wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Replacements record.
“Just A Phase” Hatfield takes the lead here, at least initially and the two playfully explore this pop-ready groove. This track is still unapologetically raw but it is single-worthy.
|Ty Segall’s “Emotional Mugger” ****|
Prolific Orange County garage-rocker Ty Segall continues to make retro-minded records that bring to mind everyone from Blue Cheer to Black Sabbath. There are bits of T-Rex influence still apparent as well. This isn’t surprising considering last year Segall reissued his album, “Ty Rex,” a collection of T-Rex covers he’d released previously as scattered limited-releases.
Segall’s latest offering, “Emotional Mugger” continues to chart those waters with its fuzzy, burning sonic textures that bring to mind hard rock at its dawning moments. But there’s also a funky core to his work. Almost all his tracks have a tight yet slightly off-kilter swagger that sets them apart from the work of his peers. This album feels very much like an offshoot of his 2014 album, “Manipulator,” and its standout track, “Tall Man Skinny Lady.” If you listen to a track like “Mandy Cream,” with its somewhat humorous rhythmic stroll, you could imagine it winding up on a vintage “Nuggets” collection.
“Californian Hills” has a slow, woozy drawl that emphasizes Segall’s psychedelic side while it bounces momentarily (and quite skillfully) in and out of a tempo-shift and “Squeaker” is about as iconic a track he has ever committed to tape.
The only minor misstep here “W.U.O.W.T.S.” This track sounds like two or three different songs playing at once. The resulting cacophonous mess can be a bit trying on the system, but long-time Segall fans will note this kind of exercise sometimes happens in his work. (If you’ve ever heard “Fuzz War” from 2012’s “Slaughterhouse,” you know the drill.)
Even with that fleeting, weak moment, it's hard not to give this album a glowing response. This is raw, metallic and punk-minded garage-rock with a vintage soul. Ty Segall shows that in spite of his young age, he still has an eye for the classics and is game to put his spin on those seminal sounds. With his growing discography, he is becoming a vital musical force in underground hard-rock. He understands how to craft a groove and how to give it just the right amount of fuzz.
“Squeaker” If you’ve never heard a Ty Segall album before, this opening track is a perfect introduction to his sound. It is evident that he was born during the wrong musical era.
“Diversion” Featuring the Melvins’ Dale Crover on drums, this is a supremely driving power-pop song with an ominously grinding crunch. Segall’s deadpan delivery here is also pleasantly unsettling. The track also has a fire-hot guitar solo.
“Baby Big Man (I Want A Mommy)” The ridiculousness of this song’s title combined with its warped sound create a humorous moment. Again this song comes with a unifying backbeat that pleasurably offsets its weirdness.
|Chairlift’s “Moth” ****|
Brooklyn-based duo Chairlift are probably still best known for their 2008 song “Bruises,” which was prominently placed in an iPod nano commercial. It’s been four years since they dropped their last record, 2012’s “Something,” which showed quite a bit of growth from its predecessor, “Does You Inspire You?”
Their third album, “Moth” finds them ready for a massive pop breakthrough. Further developed and radio-ready, this record feels like it takes its cues from the “Something” standout, “Take It Out On Me,” and Caroline Polachek seems destined for pop stardom as she sings songs that sound like they belong in the same slick league as Phantogram next to smooth ballads that bring to mind the best “lite” hits of the eighties. If anything is clear from listening to “Moth,” it is that the music of Chairlift is more versatile and malleable than ever.
“Romeo” is a bombastic party jam while “Polymorphing” finds a middle-ground between dub-step bass-rumbles and some casually funky possible Hall & Oates influence. The smoothness of the latter is no joke.
“Crying In Public” is a beautifully-constructed ballad that blossoms into an enveloping sonic force while “Ottawa To Osaka” is equally dizzying and magnetic with its swirling, digitally-altered bits of sound. Again, Polachek proves to be a real star. Her voice is an impressively flawless, nuanced instrument willing to stretch in a number of different directions.
“Moth” stands as Chairlift’s most assured record to date. The fact that a song like “Moth To A Flame” openly courts a pop audience doesn’t detract from the album’s quality. If music of this variety actually gets significant radio and club traction we will all win.
In short, with “Moth,” Chairlift have delivered a hypnotizing and smartly made pop album. It is a record that deserves your attention.
“Romeo” This track is definitely defiantly bombastic and sugar-coated. It is pep-rally-ready but its chorus shows a musical sophistication not often found in today’s pop hits. This deserves some Top 40 spins. It’s a hit.
“Crying In Public” This has a jazzy sense of cool. It almost sounds like a more spacey answer to Sara Bareilles. Plus it has some really nice synth-work.
“Ottawa To Osaka” Simply put, this is one of the most sonically adventurous songs I’ve heard in a long time. Polachek’s performance here brings to mind Kate Bush and the backdrop has an electronically warped Japanese flavor. The track has a dynamic flow as it goes in a lot of surprising directions over the course of its five minutes.
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