Dr. Dre, Mac DeMarco, Chelsea Wolfe and The Mynabirds Music Reviews

How good is Dr. Dre's first album in more than a decade?

Snoop Dogg’s guest-spot on “One Shot One Kill” is not only notable because it re-teams a mentor and a protégé but it also marks a rare time when Snoop raps above his usual, soft, smooth drawl. It is refreshing to hear him tackle the mic with the ferocity of a near-shout.

The beats heard on “Compton” are also a highlight. If you are looking for the G. Funk of hits like “Nothin But A ‘G’ Thing” or “Dre Day,” you will be in for a bit of disappointment. The record is full of soul and rock edges and doesn’t quite possess the post-George Clinton-esque funk that served as one of the true hallmarks of “The Chronic.” It’s a much more modern and produced record. Some will no doubt take issue with this, but “Compton” as an album is its own unique beast.

The beats on here are particularly cool. The anti-gravity bass and drum pairing on “Genocide” stands out as a particularly stunning example of jaw-dropping excellence. Each beat on here is quite impressive. Where this album loses some points is the over-abundant and heavy-handed use of auto-tune. Putting a digital coating, however slight, over Jill Scott’s hook on “For The Love Of Money” is a colossal mistake. Autotune is used here and throughout the album as a modernizing tool, and is perhaps used to reflect on some level the Zapp & Roger-esque vocoder effects of the past, but really whenever the effect appears, it tends to rob these tracks of their genuine authenticity in some way. They’d be better without the gloss.

Is that word Eminem utters that is blurred out near the 3:30 mark of “Medicine Man,” “rape?” There are plenty of rough passages of this record, but the fact that Eminem appears to think that abuse of women is funny when he’s been repeatedly called on it, is still troubling.

With examples like this in mind, if you even have the slightest inkling that these tales of struggling in the midst of a climate thick with inescapable unrest and violence isn’t for you, you should steer clear of this album.

Nonetheless, for the most part, Dr. Dre’s “Compton” satisfies and virtually lives up to the hype. As an album, it will no doubt carry even more resonance when listened to after a screening of “Straight Outta Compton” once the movie hits theaters on Friday.

Focus Tracks:

“Genocide” (Featuring Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosius and Candice Pillay) Again, the crazy beat on this song makes it stand out.

“Issues” (Featuring Ice Cube, Anderson.Peak and Dem Jointz) So great to hear Cube and Dre on the same track again. I wish Cube’s verse was longer.

quicklist: 2title: Mac DeMarco’s “Another One” *1/2text: Mac DeMarco is seemingly taking the indie-rock world by storm with his sensitive songs. “Another One” is the Canadian song-smith’s fourth album and like its predecessors, this album is brief and quite wispy in nature. The problem with “Another One” is that it sounds like the work of a band playing the second dining room on a cruise ship while people eat a sad brunch. This material is listless. The guitars sound slightly out of tune and the keyboards sound dated and similarly off-key as if someone is trying to murder a vintage Casio.

The lounge-driven feeling of the title-track is undercut by the woozy keys that give the song its signature, while “No Other Heart” sounds like the sedate work of a band that really thinks they are onto something, but instead are delivering pretty horrid “Lite Radio” Muzak. (In other words, this is not the 70s-style pop gold it aims to emulate.) In this song, DeMarco actually utters the words, “Give this lover-boy a try. / I’ll put the sparkle right back in your eyes.”

And then there’s DeMarco’s singing. He barely ever goes above a whisper or a nasally coo as he sings the most basic of love songs. Why is this so popular? Why does he have such a devoted fan-base? I’m honestly not sure. “Just To Put Me Down” for instance actually sounds like the kind of “chill-axing” lightweight anthem that Jack Johnson often wrongly gets accused of making.

This is also not an album. It is a 23-minute EP priced like a full-length album. And even at 23 minutes, it has some undeniable filler. Album closer, “My House By The Water” is probably meant to be some sort of artistic statement, but let’s be honest. It’s merely some loud seashore sounds backed by some keyboard noodling. Such a track definitely would fit as a better closer if this album were over fifty minutes, but the fact that this lame experiment is put on the end of this album to make the album more than 20 minutes is just insulting.

As I’ve said, DeMarco has a large fan base, so no doubt, many of you who are reading this will disagree. His formula to some degree is working. But to be honest, “Another One” is a rather awful, phoned-in excuse for an album. If you aren’t a die-hard fan and you spent your hard-earned money on this, it is difficult not to feel taken by this record. And even if you love DeMarco’s work, it is hard not to feel robbed by this collection’s brevity. There is extremely little to like here.

Focus Tracks:

“I’ve Been Waiting For Her” This track has a bit of a silver lining in the way that it shows that perhaps with some guidance and some better arrangements these songs could be turned into something more pleasing. But just because something is “lo-fi” and ramshackle-esque in tone doesn’t necessarily make it cool.

“A Heart Like Hers” Part of me thinks this sounds like a woozy, Bizzaro-style reflection of “Playground Love,” Air’s theme to Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides,” without that song’s tuneful, cinematic pull. Still this song has a slight retro cohesiveness thanks to its synth chording.

quicklist: 3title: Chelsea Wolfe’s “Abyss” ****text: Chelsea Wolfe deserves a lot of credit. With her clear voice, she could have easily gone a simpler pop or even “dream-pop” route, career-wise, but she chose to go an artier direction by spiking her wonderfully moody music with elements of industrial metal.

Wolfe’s fifth album, “Abyss” should be mandatory listening for anyone who enjoys dense layers of guitar texture. Wolfe’s voice is often at a hush and when paired with loud, hefty sonic overload, the contrast can sound wonderfully threatening and exciting. On “Dragged Out,” for instance, she sounds like Portishead’s Beth Gibbons fronting an assaulting sludge-rock band. Wolfe finds beauty in dissonance.

Even an orchestral-leaning number like “Maw” is draped in a pleasurable layer of fuzz that threatens to burst through your speakers at its peak. Wolfe still feels like a secret talent in the indie-rock world and a track like “Survive” on this record shows that she would fit well beside the likes of Torres, who released he fantastic album, “Sprinter” earlier this year.

“Abyss” is a dense, highly Gothic collection. It’s the kind of album that reveals its charms slowly. One can imagine hearing new sounds deep within the mix twenty listens in. Chelsea Wolfe is one of those artists who definitely charts her own path without taking anything close to the easy route. This visceral, often stunning collection packs quite a lot of intensity. It’s also a record that takes many chances and comes out on top. If you love melodic albums with thick guitar-work and pummeling drums, this is definitely your album.

Focus Tracks:

“Maw” This song is so gentle…. Until the guitars fuzz things up and gloriously break the silence.

“Iron Moon” The opening and chorus to this song are about as heavy as one could ask for while Wolfe’s verses have the softness of a hushed church choir. When the song goes full-throttle, she belts out a soulful chorus. The loud/quiet/loud formula wins again.

“Crazy Love” This ethereal folk song maintains the album’s intensity even during its quieter moments. The Doppler-Effect style string-work that backs the chorus proves that Wolfe’s obsession with unusual sounds is no doubt an asset.

quicklist: 4title: The Mynabirds’ “Lovers Know” ****text: Singer/songwriter Laura Burhenn’s third album from her project The Mynabirds maintains the strong folk influences in her previous records, but has an icier, more electronic feel than her previous album “Generals.” Signed to Saddle Creek Records, Burhenn fits in with other artists like Maria Taylor who merges folkier influences with pop. Saddle Creek if you may not know is the label founded by producer Mike Mogis and his friend Justin Oberst and is the home of Oberst’s brother Connor’s records under his Bright Eyes moniker, so they have a long reputation of supporting indie-rockers with eclectic tastes.

If you’ve never listened to The Mynabirds before, the first thing that comes to mind is how much Burhenn’s earthy, throaty, rasp resembles that of Chan Marshall (of Cat Power fame.) But this album really embraces the electronic side with all out gusto, from the drum-machine and synth bass that keep coming in and out on “Shake Your Head Yes” to the slamming electro backbeat that anchors “Wildfire.” It is clear from the start that with this album Burhenn wants to further hone her musical craft while simultaneously making in-roads as a potential left-field, wild-card pop contender. That isn’t a bad thing in the least. While this may be the Mynabirds’ more pop and electronically-charged record to date, Burhenn remains a classically-toned songwriter with the musical and lyrical literacy of an older time. Even when she sings a shiny piece of dream-pop like “Say Something,” she tackles it with the intensity previously reserved for singers of Am Radio-era country ballads. Again, Cat Power comes up as an apt comparison. Particularly her last album “Sun,” where Marshall found a similarly unique balance.

At the same time, with the song, “Orion,” Burhenn finds a similar brand of gentleness found on Phantogram’s song, “Bill Murray,” which was a standout on their last album, “Voices.” What this points to is the fact that Burhenn is in good company and while she may not be a known name to a large segment of the population, with her act The Mynabirds, she is crafting some eclectic indie-rock gold.

Focus Tracks:

“Semantics” This song sounds like an electro-leaning slice of alt-country. In spite of the heavy synths it still maintains a rootsy core.

“Shake Your Head Yes” This track is lulling and thoroughly hypnotic.

“Velveteen” This plays like a haunted love-ballad with the breathy background vocals that come in and out throughout the track giving it a feeling not dissimilar from the theme to “Psycho.” The song progresses and gets more beautiful and enveloping. When that section comes back in, it creates some nice tension.

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