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MUSIC NEWS: Britney Spears, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Ladytron, Human League, Bon Iver, Hunx & His Punx, Big Freedia

Britneyspears2011

NORMAN BRANNON

Guestblogger Norman Brannon is a pop critic, musician, and author based in New York City. He presents a weekly music update here on Towleroad and writes regularly at Nervous Acid.  

Follow Norman on Twitter at @nervousacid.

EXTENDED PLAY:

Britney-Spears-Femme-Fatale Britney Spears Femme Fatale (Jive)

The big Britney breakdown of 2007 is mostly a memory four years later, and Femme Fatale is, on some level, her first post-skinhead album to really escape that ghost — which is to say that, gratefully, Britney Spears has just gone back to being Britney Spears. But what exactly does that mean? It begins with the early assertion that Spears wanted to make a "fierce dance record" — and that is, for the most part, what she delivers: The album's first two singles have set the tone with their loyalty to the filtered rave-synth, whose prominence persists throughout. "Trip To Your Heart," for example, transforms that harsh filter into a skillfully gentle club track and "I Wanna Go" plants a subtle nod to "Blue Monday" before giving in to the album's overall Euro-club aesthetic. But as true to her stated objective as it may be, listening to Femme Fatale still begs the question: Is this an album that only Britney Spears could have made? That's harder to assess. A song like "Big Fat Bass" says more about producer Will.I.Am than it does about Spears, who plays Fergie's role in what sounds like a jettisoned Black Eyed Peas track. And for all the positive accolades surrounding the rather spectacular dubstep break in "Hold It Against Me," it seems the credit is somewhat misplaced — unless we are to assume that it was Spears who introduced Magnetic Man to producer Dr. Luke. (Possible, but improbable.) So while Femme Fatale is technically Britney Spears' strongest album ever, it's still not likely to carve any new niches for the 29-year-old elder stateswoman — and, in that sense, her best album yet is also something of a missed opportunity: The album's executive team, Dr. Luke and Max Martin, already wrote and produced pretty much every major pop single from 2010, and by staying on that course, Spears chose to be contemporary over innovative. It's good. But she could have had it all.

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart Belong Album Cover The Pains of Being Pure at Heart Belong (Slumberland)

The 2009 self-titled debut by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart was at once universally acclaimed and backhandedly derided; notions of the band's sound as "collegiate" or "twee" were meant to describe their sincerity, but in context, also came off as a critical shrug. How could it not? As part of a Brooklyn landscape that seems to value irony and detachment, the band's dissonant diary confessionals provided resistance to the stone-faced standard. Unexpected to everyone, then, this was rewarded when even Pitchfork said they "could be the most promising indie pop group around." This week's release of the Pains' follow-up album makes good on that promise in similarly unexpected ways: If their first record was a reticent launch, then Belong marks a noisy return from the outset of its sensitive, but sinewy title track — using a wall-of-guitars approach borrowed from '90s American indie bands like The Swirlies and Velocity Girl — to the more Anglophilic "Heart In Your Heartbreak" and "My Terrible Friend," which take some cues from The Primitives and The Cure, respectively. The approach is thoroughly modern: By refining the occasionally maudlin execution of their first record with a more tempered sentimentality, Belong is — in so much as an album with lyrics about "waking up at your parents' place" can be — refreshingly heartfelt.

THE DISPATCH:

BonIver Road After a year in which Justin Vernon's name became less associated with pastoral indie folk and more entangled with Kanye West, he's finally ready to step out of the hip-hop shadows: A new album by Bon Iver will be released in June, and Vernon's collaborative forays have seemingly affected the tone. "I brought in a lot of people to change my voice," he says, adding, "not my singing voice, but my role as the author of this band."

Road Virgin Records passed on David Bowie's 23rd solo album, called Toy, back in 2002. It's been missing for almost ten years now, but unsurprisingly, the Internet has found it.

Road If you're anything like me, a new Depeche Mode album is as exciting for the new influx of remixes as it is for itself. This week, Mute Records announced a June 7th release date for a triple-disc set called Remixes 2: 81-11 — spanning 20 years of reinterpreted Depeche Mode tracks including work by UNKLE, M83, Trentemøller, Vince Clarke, Röyksopp, and super-producer Stuart Price under his Jacques Lu Cont guise.

Owen+Pallett Road Final Fantasy's Owen Pallett — whose other job as a string arranger has him working with Arcade Fire, Duran Duran, and Grizzly Bear, among others — recently called out Morrissey in the press as "the best example of someone I really admire but align myself in opposition to." His reasoning: "[Morrissey has] allowed himself to stay in the closet, or at least be ambiguous for so long as if it's not a big deal," Pallett explains. "Basically, I decided early on that I was always going to be candid in interviews."

Road LCD Soundsystem's final performance ever will take place this coming April 2 at Madison Square Garden. The show sold out almost instantly, but the band has green-lighted a live webcast of the show.

Road As Adele's insanely successful new album continues to rule, her peers are lining up to sing praise — literally. This week John Legend released an angelic acappella version of "Rolling In The Deep," available HERE as a free download.

Road Hot on the heels of his inexplicably Auto-tuned New Order charity single, George Michael tweeted details for a follow-up single called "Every Other Lover In The World" — produced by openly gay Sydney-based producer Stereogamous. It's a "full on house track," he warns.

COMING OUT:

Ladytron – Best of 00-10 (Official Album Cover) Out March 29 Their early association with electroclash didn't hurt, but Ladytron certainly outlived the trend: Always more than just an '80s throwback, the Liverpool-based group has been incorporating elements of disco, krautrock, and art pop into their sonic palette for ten years now, and today marks the release of their first anthology. Best of 00-10 includes early analog synthpop like "Playgirl" and "Seventeen," as well as practically synth-free classics like 2008's "Ghosts." But what's most memorable about this collection is the fact that even in its stylistic diversity, there is a singular, but familiar identity that clearly emerges. As it turns out, in the province of modern pop, Ladytron's influence may be underreported.

The Human League - Credo (front) It's kind of impossible to listen to Credo, the ninth official full-length album by the Human League, without conjuring up some memory of their celebrated past — from the dark German-influenced electro of their '70s output to their ubiquitous, and frequently sunny 1980s chart anthems — but in fairness to the present, their latest record only warrants such recall in brief flashes: The kind of irrepressibility they once mined with, say, "Open Your Heart" does not reemerge here, and even more confusingly, the album's current single, "Never Let Me Go," rescinds the Human League's actual futurist credo with a decidedly present-day Auto-tuned pop vocal. You almost get the feeling that their recent admissions of depression and desperation have seeped into the record — if not in its lyrics, then certainly in its psyche — and that works in some places, to be honest. But this probably won't be the prodigal album they were hoping for.

Too_Young_To_Be_In_Love-Hunx_X_His_Punx_480 Considering that this project was originally conceived with a Svengali–like desire to assemble a teenage girl band, Too Young To Be In Lovethe first proper full-length by Hunx & His Punx, featuring former Gravy Train!!!! member Seth Bogart — finds a gritty lo-fi aesthetic surprisingly elevated by its reverence for Phil Spector and the American vocal group. Bogart's self-admitted strategy of singing tales of female teenage heartbreak through a gay man's lens renders a real sweetness to these songs that resists irony; the unfeigned sentiment of songs like "If You're Not Here" and "Lovers Lane" nearly transcend the trope-cum-campiness of it all.

Also coming out: Radiohead — The King Of Limbs (TBD Records/XL), George Michael — "True Faith" Single (Aegean), Broken Bells — Meyrin Fields EP (Columbia), The Mountain Goats — All Eternals Deck (Merge), The Sounds — Something To Die For (Side One Dummy), Peter, Bjorn & John — Gimme Some (Almost Gold), Yelle — Safari Disco Club (Downtown)

SOUND & VISION:

Big Freedia — "Y'all Get Back Now"

If you have yet to run into the Sissy Bounce scene from New Orleans, a quick synopsis: The sound originated back in 1998 in a New Orleans housing project with a transgendered woman (and former prostitute) named Katey Red, went on to somehow infiltrate the city's straight hip-hop clubs, and is finally going national with the recent success of gender-bending Big Freedia — whose latest video precedes a self-titled EP sponsored by Scion A/V.

Maritime — "Paraphernalia"

The post-Promise Ring project of Davey von Bohlen and Dan Didier, Maritime are set to release their fourth album, Human Hearts, on April 5. Until then, it seemed like a good idea to take advantage of one of the snowiest winters ever by filming the video for lead single "Paraphernalia" outdoors — in the middle of a snowstorm. It's like nature's special effects.

Alex Clare — "Too Close"

For all Alex Clare's being touted as London's next great soul singer, "Too Close" is a lot more Jamie Lidell than Sam Cooke. But that might have something to do with the fact that Diplo and Switch — the producers behind Major Lazer and much of the first two M.I.A. albums — are behind the boards for this churning, dubstep-tinged track. Clare is also Amy Winehouse's ex-boyfriend, so read into his lyrics at your own risk.

Mr. Fogg — "Answerphone"

The third single for Mr. Fogg's forthcoming debut album, Moving Parts, is a modern electronic interpretation of the pop anthem — a song that draws from stadium groupthink and bedroom isolation in equal measure. It's appropriate, then, that Fogg would allow this dichotomy to exist throughout this one-take, self-made video; its soundtrack is also the best new song I've heard this week.


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Comments

  1. Can we please stop pretending that Britney Spears actually was conscious and present when her new album was recorded?

    It's probably a sound-alike if not just a computer program with "britney" selected from the drop-down menu. What we're most likely seeing is a Frances Farmer half-human-half-zombie staggering around the stage and kinda lip syncing to songs she heard for the first time when the album was finished and Fed=Exed to her father.

    Posted by: jasun mark | Mar 29, 2011 5:33:24 PM


  2. The sad fact is that ANYONE could have made this Britney Spears album. She hasn't a single songwriting credit (not that anyone should believe she writes anyway), and her voice is once again autotuned beyond recognition.
    The producers and marketers are the real artists here, and to infer that Britney had any real hand in crafting Femme Fatale undermines your credibility as a music critic.

    Posted by: RJ | Mar 29, 2011 5:58:45 PM


  3. YES! Get Back is one of my favorites!! :D Freedia rocks. I lover her. I can't believe there's a video! AAaa! this makes me so proud! NOLA Love <3

    Towleroad, I really think ya'll should feature Sissy Bounce. NYTimes Mag already did, with Freedia as the center piece. Also, give Sissy Nobby some time!!

    Posted by: Coffee&Chicory | Mar 29, 2011 6:44:30 PM


  4. Totally agree with Coffee&Chicory. Big Freedia is amazing a towleroad piece on "Sissy" Bounce would be awesome.

    Didn't know there was a vid either!

    Posted by: Rude Boy | Mar 29, 2011 6:58:58 PM


  5. Love the blurb about the new Depeche Mode collection. However, if you were anything of a writer, you would have realized that the simple math that 1981-2011 is 30 years, not twenty.

    Also, if you were really, truly excited about it, and would have wanted to excite DM fans everywhere, you would have noted that one of the remixes on the three disc collection is by Alan Wilder. THAT should have more of a cause for more excited speculation than anything.

    Seriously.

    Posted by: JonQPublik | Mar 29, 2011 9:08:54 PM


  6. It's pretty funny to listen to (the album) "... Baby One More Time" now because it's got a few big pop hits -- what we now think of as the quintessential Brit Brit song -- surrounded by all these vague, mopey tweener ballads, like what I imagine the crappiest Taylor Swift filler sounds like. A decade ago, that was what passed for pop-tart acceptability; nowadays, thanks in large part to Spears, every album is wall to wall dance pop with maybe a hook-influenced ballad or two, and maybe not all of it is of the same quality, but you don't have to skip past all that unlistenable treacle.

    Posted by: Atlanta Roofing | Mar 29, 2011 10:01:10 PM


  7. The fact that anyone believes that most of the 'pop' 'artists' write any of their own music is really amusing to me.

    I used to work for a company (yes a company does this), that writes music and sells it on to the pop market. Pretty much every female artist out there in the pop frame right now has had hits written by them, even a large number of the male R&B artists use other peoples songs and rewrite them as R&B, or more accurately have them rewritten as R%B by a producer.

    VERY few write their own songs, most of the writing credits they get are just for being in the room when others were doing the work.. really.

    Posted by: Rovex | Mar 30, 2011 7:11:38 AM


  8. Atlanta Roofing.. No now you have to skip past the whole album. 'Femme Fatale' is absolutely awful from start to finish. At its best its embarrassingly bad, at its worst its a crime. No one wants to write for her any more, the stuff she gets is reject quality thats then overproduced to try and make it serviceable.

    There are 3 types of 'recording artists' in the industry...

    Those that have no creative input whatsoever and sing and dance according to someone else's say so, examples are Spears and Kylie in her early years.

    Those that make choices about who they work with and over what they get. They do have some creative input, but its normally nothing more that guiding the writing process rather than actually writing the songs themselves. Examples are Rihanna, Beyonce, xtina etc.

    There are those who actually write their own stuff, it may be done with someone else, but the other person is largely there in an advisory role. They have complete creative control of their own production, even if it is often done by others. Examples are Adele and Winehouse (who works largely with Mark Ronson who produces) etc

    Posted by: Rovex | Mar 30, 2011 8:00:52 AM


  9. Britney Spears didn't make anything still worth listening to before Toxic. Blackout was her best album, Circus was half good and half trash, and Femme Fatale never gets as good as Circus at its best but is overall more consistent. Britney Spears is still making better music than she ever did when she was considered at the "height" of her career, even if her dancing sucks. And the top notch production and voice alteration is exactly why.

    Don't try to make a Mozart from a Milli Vanilli.

    Posted by: Wes | Mar 30, 2011 9:28:37 AM


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