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.
Aimee Collet Argote has been using the name Des Ark since 2001, and her history with music is as long as ten years will allow — cutting her teeth in queercore bands like Rubeo, hitting a career high with the J. Mascis–produced Loose Lips Sink Ships in 2005, touring endlessly on the DIY circuit for the last few years as she prepared its long awaited follow-up. So while the newly released — and eloquently titled — Don't Rock the Boat, Sink the F*cker sounds like it came out of nowhere, that's only one aspect of its carefully considered charm: This collection shows Argote at the top of her craft, and puts her in the position of being one of the more captivating queer singer-songwriters working today — exploring the dialectics of love and anger, protest and ennui. And yet this is not a political record as much as a record of intimacy: It's about sex and drugs and broken hearts with an eye on redemption and the simple life: "Let's buy some land and start a family, whatever you ain't never had," Argote sings at the album's end before extolling the emotional virtues of "telling stupid jokes and working on our garden." On Don't Rock the Boat, even the banal is transformed into a radical statement.
In terms of underground hip-hop, no one is doing it quite like Das Racist — a New York rap collective whose work is informed by everything from Dadaism and critical theory to Jay-Z and Saved By The Bell. This week, group member Heems (né Himanshu Suri) took to AlterNet for a less whimsical missive about what we've learned — and haven't learned — in a post-9/11 and post-Bin Laden America: "On 9/11, I saw the Towers fall from my classroom window. On 5/2, I discovered that racism against Middle Eastern and South Asian people in America is as alive as ever."
Legendary blues singer Etta James was hospitalized in Southern California earlier this week with "a potentially deadly infection."
The rift between Diplo and M.I.A. just got wider. In an interview with Women's Wear Daily, the producer called Maya out for being politically naive and professionally unreasonable: "She's good in a lot of aspects, but when it comes to diehard, facts-on-the-ground politics, she's at zero." When asked if they were still friends, he added, "No, no, no. Not anymore. No one in my camp talks to her anymore. She's kind of really gone crazy."
Relatedly, French DJ and producer SebastiAn released the second track from his forthcoming album, Total: "C.T.F.O." — or "Chill The F*ck Out" — is a distorted synth banger featuring M.I.A., who doesn't seem to be finished with the electro-noise sound she delivered on last year's /|/|/|Y/|. SebastiAn's debut album will be released on May 30.
According to a post on their Facebook page, Grizzly Bear will return to the studio later this month to commence work on the follow-up to 2009's excellent Veckatimest. "We're really not, like, theme-album people," singer Ed Droste says. "It's not going to be some overarching political message. It's going to be songs of the heart. That's what we do."
The much-loved UK duo Hurts recently turned in a remix for Lady Gaga's "Judas" — which Popjustice called a "gothic popstep triumph." It's basically an articulate way of saying Wow.
Stevie Nicks: "When my album and Lindsey's albums come to a stop, then Fleetwood Mac will gather again."
Beyoncé announced that her upcoming fourth album will be titled, quite simply, 4. Remarkably, the singer delivered a staggering 72 songs to her label in consideration for the album — ostensibly including previously reported collaborations with Sleigh Bells and Odd Future's Frank Ocean. Meanwhile, her former Destiny's Child bandmate Kelly Rowland — whose new single, "Motivation," is currently slaying Beyoncé's "Run The World (Girls)" on the charts — has also announced an album title for her third solo effort: Here I Am is expected to see a summer release.
The full-length debut artist album by Lucy Wainwright Roche, first released in October of last year, gets a rerelease this week. If you missed it last fall, you'll probably want to give Lucy a listen: Rufus and Martha's half-sister serves up a modern folk-pop hybrid every bit befitting of her famous last name and occasionally even transcendent of it. Besides saying something about your own caliber of singing and songwriting, getting the Indigo Girls to serve as your background singers takes nerve. But convincing This American Life's Ira Glass to appear on a duet version of Elliott Smith's "Say Yes?" That's kinda genius.
The Notwist could be one of the most underrated bands going right now: The German pop collective practically created a new language that incorporates indie rock, pop, folk, abstract techno, jazz, and even jungle into one cohesive and often emotionally-wrenching sound. With 13 & God — one of their innumerable side projects — the Notwist team up with Anticon experimental rap crew Themselves, adding hip-hop to their increasingly complex palette. Standouts like "Armored Scarves" and "Old Age" expand the possibilities for both groups, all the while increasing the likelihood that Own Your Ghost will become a sort of cross-cultural, cross-genre denouement.
Ever since the inexplicably beyond-anyone's-dreams success of 1999's Play, Moby has very much taken advantage of the freedom of a man who just sold 10 million records. Destroyed is his first wholly independent release after leaving Mute last year, and it reads like a greatest-hits album of songs you've never heard: "Lie Down In Darkness" returns to the crispy gospel breakbeat of his breakthrough album; "Sevastopol" is an updated take on Moby's "Go"-era. As a collection, however, Destroyed is more often a cold and isolated affair — like a winter album getting ready for a summer release.
Also out today: Franz Ferdinand — Covers EP (Domino), Kate Bush — Director's Cut (EMI), The Elected — Bury Me In Rings (Vagrant), Glasvegas — Euphoric /// Heartbreak: Domestic Edition (Columbia), Austra — Feel It Break (Domino), Tinie Tempah — Disc-Overy (Capitol)
SOUND & VISION:
Alex Winston — "Sister Wife"
Once you get past the fact that certain melodic portions of "Sister Wife" are totally lifted from the Christmas classic "Sleigh Ride," you're likely to discover a pretty perfect pop song here. But the allusions don't end there: Fans of Japanese horror kitsch will definitely find multiple references to the 1977 classic House in this comically creepy clip.
Death Cab For Cutie — "Home Is A Fire"
Just in advance of its May 31 release date, Death Cab for Cutie release the second single and video for Codes And Keys. "Home Is A Fire" finds its muse in the wheat-paste street art scene and features Shepard Fairey as both its star and director for maximum authenticity.
CockNBullKid — "Asthma Attack"
Anita Blay didn't seem to be going for the whole sultry pop star nickname thing when she chose CockNBullKid as her nom d'artiste — and for that matter, choosing to make a line like "Oh London I'll never forget you / You were the one I lost my two front teeth to" a lyrical hook on a single for your forthcoming major label debut isn't something Katy Perry would have done. But "Asthma Attack" has an irresistible quality to it all the same and Blay's charisma still shines through effortlessly, in some ways redefining pop seduction in the process.
Alex Metric & Steve Angello — "Open Your Eyes" (feat. Ian Brown)
The Stone Roses were closely aligned with indie-dance club culture in their day, so it's not surprising that lead singer Ian Brown would collaborate with two of the world's most respected big-room house producers for a song that effectively updates the Madchester baggy aesthetic for 2011. As for the video: It's got boxing robots, y'all.