Arcade Fire is anticipating the release of its latest album Reflektor on October 29 and have already released the title track and lead single. Yesterday, they posted a lyric video for the new track "Afterlife" which is cut over scenes from the 1959 classic Brazilian film by French director Marcel Camus, Black Orpheus.
The early word on 4 indicated that Beyoncé was moving into some uncharted territory: Reports surfaced of a recorded collaboration with Diplo and the Brooklyn noise-rock duo Sleigh Bells. The underperforming lead single "Run the World (Girls)" seemed to confirm a forward-thinking direction of some sort, sampling Major Lazer's "Pon de Floor" and pairing fidget-house pioneer Switch with R&B stalwart The-Dream on coproduction duties. And Odd Future's Frank Ocean got the call to write and produce. In the end, some of those things made it onto the album, but "forward-thinking" is not quite the right word for the outcome — in fact, just the opposite. Beyoncé's fourth album is, by and large, a record guided by the rearview, and the bulk of its material — downtempo, occasionally sullen, grasping for timelessness — ends up in some sort of mid-'80s R&B limbo. When they're there, the hits are forceful and definitive: "I Still Care" boasts an incredible urgent vocal delivery over a beat-driven, ambient soul track and "Countdown" is a midtempo open-letter-to-the-ladies empowerment song as good as any Beyoncé's ever given us. Unfortunately, the misses are just as pronounced — whether it's the Bruce Hornsby '80s rock-lite of "Best Thing I Never Had" or the grossly anachronistic "Love On Top," time-stamped by Shalamar in 1982 — and by album's end, the difference between 4 and its predecessors is a psychic one. Beyoncé says that she became "focused on [these] songs being classics, songs that would last," but in doing so, she tempted a well-known artistic truism: Longevity is achieved with time, not intent.
Stereogum compiled a list of reactions to last week's passage of the Marriage Equality bill in New York, including notes from LGBT artists like Kaki King, Justin Bond, Tegan & Sara, JD Samson, and Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij, as well as allies like Ted Leo, The Decemberists' Colin Meloy, Best Coast, and Passion Pit. But the most personal reaction came from Grizzly Bear's Ed Droste: "As a gay man in a 7-year relationship getting married later this year, I can't tell you how thrilled I am about NY marriage equality!"
Missy Elliott has been largely out of the public eye since The Cookbook was released in 2005, and recent revelations might explain the gap. This week, Elliott revealed to People magazine that she's been suffering from Graves' disease — an autoimmune disorder better known as hyperthyroidism. "I couldn't write because my nervous system was so bad," she said. "I couldn't even use a pen."
Hunx & His Punx recently stopped by the KEXP studios in Seattle to share their brand of queer retro-rock. A full performance stream is available for listening now.
A profile in the Guardian this weekend revealed two little-known facts about the ongoing rise of Nanna Øland Fabricius — or Oh Land to you and me: For one, the Brooklyn-via-Copenhagen singer had been originally tapped to open for Shakira at Madison Square Garden. (She declined.) But more perplexing, a random meeting in a London studio led Rihanna to request that Fabricius write a song for her. That never happened, she said, because "I got so intimidated that I didn't give a proper response."
This week's premiere listens are plentiful: Björk's "Crystalline" is our first full taste of her forthcoming Biophilia, Wilco's "I Might" is the lead single from The Whole Love, Gold Panda released a new and unreleased track for download called "MPB" in advance of his forthcoming U.S. and European tours, and my personal favorite track of the week goes to Bombay Bicycle Club, whose upcoming third album A Different Kind Of Fix promises to be a rhythmically-oriented follow-up to last year's largely acoustic Flaws. The first single is called "Shuffle."
Following up on a cameo for the new Beastie Boys album, Brooklyn's Santigold is hard at work prepping her second full-length album with help from friends like Karen O and Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On The Radio and Jane's Addiction member Dave Sitek, and even Jay-Z — who called the album so far "epic" and "important." You can also expect to see Santi in an upcoming movie starring opposite Community's Donald Glover.
In support of his just-published memoir, Bob Mould sat in with The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon this week — and tackled a kind of awkward version of Sugar's "If I Can't Change Your Mind" in the process.
Arcade Fire will be releasing a deluxe edition version of The Suburbs on August 2, which will also feature Scenes from the Suburbs — a Spike Jonze-directed short film inspired by the album. The movie is currently available to watch, free of charge and in its entirety, from the indie film site Mubi.
Patrick Wolf's long-awaited Lupercalia is an album about love, and on "Bermondsey Street," he makes it clear that this is a love that dares speak its name. He sings: "Love knows no boundaries / Sees beyond sexuality / And holds the sun in the palm of its hand / And laughs down on the cynical man." On some level, Wolf is singing from an autocritical standpoint: His fifth album is a kiss-off to cynicism and a love note to the idea that romanticism and realism are not as far apart as many might suggest. To that end, there are countless images of space ("The City," "House") and time ("The Future," "Time of My Life," "Slow Motion"), but none more vivid than the 51-second long ode to his fiancé, also named "William," in which Wolf counts his blessings, and asks, "Oh William, will you be my conqueror?" It's a far cry from the title track to his last album, The Bachelor, where he swears "I'll never marry at all," but it's also a much better look: Whereas Morrissey seems intent on staying miserable forever, Patrick Wolf is finally ready for joy. It really does get better.
Taking Back Sunday have had more ex-members than they've had records, so the line-up for their self-titled fifth album seemed like kind of a big deal: For the first time in almost ten years, the original members behind their breakthrough debut Tell All Your Friends were reuniting for an all-new set. Of course, recreating the past is more boring than inventing a new future, and on Taking Back Sunday, the band does a little bit of both. Lead single "Faith (When I Let You Down)" is an all-grown-up version of the band that filters a clever lyrical conceit through church organs and a choir-like middle-eight, while "Sad Savior" mines the past with an unflattering tribute to Weezer's Blue Album and an outro heavily lifted from Braid's "Never Will Come For Us." But if Adam Lazarra has any one gift, it's the one that allows him to sing simple things like "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, come back" with a sympathetic pathos that easily forgives its own lack of profundity.
The fourth UK single from CocknBullKid gets a video this week and gives new evidence to establish Anita Blay's unique position in the pop music canon: The bells and whistles and glittery outfits worked fine for Beyoncé at Glastonbury, but the first thing Blay does in the video for "Yellow" is take the bells and whistles off — choosing instead to rely on simple sets, an exultant everyman cast, and the best song Sugababes never wrote.
Darren Hayes — "Talk Talk Talk"
After four years away, Darren Hayes returns with the lead single from his upcoming Secret Codes and Battleships. A collaboration with Swedish producer Carl Falk, who is currently riding high after a UK #1 single for Nicole Scherzinger, "Talk Talk Talk" pits Hayes' pensive delivery against a silvery club track — and, so far in 2011, I'm hard-pressed to recall a more confident comeback.
Anna Calvi — "Desire"
She's got the co-sign from Brian Eno and the producer of PJ Harvey behind her, and that right there says a lot about what to expect from Anna Calvi. "Desire" is at once widescreen and soft-focus, with Calvi's unmistakable voice as its deep and expansive anchor. Like Harvey, you get the idea that we're really only scratching the surface of her depth.
Wynter Gordon — "Til Death"
Honesty time! When I first got the link for "Til Death" a few weeks ago, I passed on it. A club track about partying "til death" and a tautological video of people at a party gave me the impression that, somewhere along the line, somebody ran out of ideas. But this weekend, while I was clearing out some of the promos on my desk, I threw on Wynter Gordon's With The Music I Die EP for a second-chance listen, and — maybe I was under the influence of this week's Pride festival — but this damn song really grew on me! I'm not one to believe in guilty pleasures, but OK: I might feel a little bit guilty here.
Introducing your new record by citing later–era Talk Talk as an influence — like Wild Beasts did earlier this year— is a somewhat tenuous set-up: Albums like Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock were nonpareil for their time; it can be safe to assert that Talk Talk was the only band from the 1980s to follow up three well-received synthpop records with two albums of free-jazz inspired orchestral ambient music — and artistically succeed. The parallels in this case, then, are more psychic than anything: Smother is an album that revels in creating environments and moods, and — like Talk Talk — singers Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming find meaning in the space between the notes, their androgynous falsettos becoming as much a part of the tapestry as the band's deliberately sparse and uneasy arrangements. But while Wild Beasts are certainly easy on the ears, Smother is not quite easy listening — and in that sense, the band has adopted the most crucial ethos that ultimately validates the preemptive comparison: Beauty teems from this elegant tension, and you are unlikely to hear anything else like it this year.
The first documentary film about the life of the late Elliott Smith screened in Los Angeles over the weekend, and its coup is the participation of Smith's last girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba, who is speaking about him for the first time since 2003, when the singer-songwriter died of a self-inflicted knife wound. Despite the cries of conspiracists who believe Chiba actually killed Smith — and the objections to her participation by Elliott's family — director Gil Reyes insists her contribution is crucial to the film: "Here you can actually look in her eyes and determine for yourself if she's telling the truth or not."
Following a month where we lost Poly Styrene and TV on the Radio's Gerard Smith to cancer, it has been announced that Decemberists keyboard player Jenny Conlee has been diagnosed with breast cancer. "There are still a few unknowns out there concerning my cancer," she writes in a message posted to the band's site, "but I am thinking positive and hope to be back on the road soon."
Before he was Vin Diesel, he was Mark Sinclair — an aspiring rapper and breakdancer in New York City. In itself, that's not too bizarre! But this week, the story got stranger: In 1986, Captain Beefheart collaborator Gary Lucas discovered the young Sinclair rapping on a West Village street and teamed him up with legendary disco and experimental rock musician Arthur Russell for an aborted recording session bankrolled by Rough Trade Records. Now, thanks to Lucas, there is MP3 evidence.
After 25 years of performing and producing, legendary Chicago house DJ Derrick Carter finally gets his due in the gay press. The Advocate ran a feature interview with Carter this week, where the artist explained his under-the-radar status: "[These days], a lot of gay audiences want to hear pop remixes. That's fine if they want to hear that, but that's not what I do."
Nomi Ruiz made her mark as a featured vocalist with Hercules & Love Affair; today, she is prepping her debut album with Jessica 6 for the esteemed Peacefrog label. Our first taste of See The Light is "Prisoner of Love" — a nu-disco, proto-house duet between Ruiz and Antony Hegarty. The track is currently available as a free download HERE.
Arcade Fire reprised their cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" at this weekend's New Orleans Jazz Fest, but this time, Lauper came out to own it. She also stuck around to add vocals and lapsteel for a gorgeous version of Arcade Fire's "Sprawl II."
In an interview with the New York Times over the weekend The Lonely Island described themselves as "Real Beats, Fake MCs," but that's only half-true — an album like Turtlenecks & Chainssimply would not work if these guys couldn't actually rap. The "real beats" help, too: "Shy Ronnie 2: Ronnie & Clyde," for example, could have been a legitimate radio single if Rihanna wasn't singing about "boner alerts." Unfortunately, the album lands on a flat note with "No Homo" — a well-intentioned skewering of the ridiculous hip-hop disclaimer that devolves into I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry territory. It's not that such a song couldn't be funny; it's more that it just isn't.
The production trio of Magnetic Man — Benga, Skream, and Artwork — are probably best known at this point for introducing Katy B to the world, but their self-titled full-length artist album tells a more varied story: Dubstep may take its centerstage, but notes of drum-n-bass, UK garage, and even commercial pop add a more complex sense of dimension to the record. There's also a payoff at the end: Hearing John Legend's vibrato over a near–industrial dubstep track is more than vaguely pleasurable.
If there's anything disconcerting about Move Like This — the first new studio album from the Cars since 1987 — it's just how short these songs makes the last 24 years feel. Hearing "Keep On Knocking" for the first time is like taking "My Best Friend's Girl" out of cryogenics; "Free" does something similar for "Just What I Needed." Whether or not this reads as a good thing or a regressive misstep probably depends on how hard you've clutched onto your copy of Candy-O all these years.
I originally planned to include Star Slinger in last week's unsigned artists rundown, but I'm glad I held off: Check out the UK producer's euphoric take on Gold Panda's "Marriage" — from last year's excellent Lucky Shiner — and then download more of his hip-hop inspired laptop techno, some of it free, from the official Star Slinger Bandcamp page.
Lykke Li — "Sadness is a Blessing"
The third official single from Lykke Li's Wounded Rhymes finally gets the suitably upsetting video that a song with lyrics like "Sadness is my boyfriend / Oh, sadness I'm your girl" totally deserves! In addition to playing the foil for Li's unbearable sadness in this clip, Stellan Skarsgård is also currently starring in Thor. Which makes very little sense as I write it.
Cold Cave — "Villains of the Moon"
Earlier this year, New York's Cold Cave released Cherish the Light Years, their second album for Matador, to critical acclaim. Lead single "Villains of the Moon" — which gets a video this week — moves further away from the experimental leanings of the band's debut and shifts into a tense, gothic pop that would make a "Cuts You Up"–era Peter Murphy super proud.
Austra — "Lose It"
Immediate comparisons have been made to Florence + the Machine, and I'm not gonna lie: Austra's Katie Stelmanis shares some of Florence's eccentric art-pop tendencies. But stick it out with "Lose It" and you'll find something increasingly unique about the way Stelmanis' opera-trained vocal affectations elegantly float over this track's icy new wave exterior. It's a bona fide grower.
Big Freedia Scion A/V Presents: Big Freedia EP (Scion A/V)
New Orleans bounce star Big Freedia opens her first national release with a moment of gratitude. "I wanna thank all my fans and all my haters for making me famous," she says, and for a moment, it's easy to forget that Freedia is not technically famous. She is, of course, widely renown: For well over 10 years now, Big Freedia has become one of the more recognizable faces in "Sissy Bounce" — an unapologetically gender-queer strand of hip-hop best known for its rapid-fire lyrical flow and instructional song titles like "Walk Wit A Dip" or "Make Ya Booty Go" — and on Scion A/V Presents: Big Freedia, she resists the pull to transcend genre, preferring instead to stake her innovative claim. In that sense, "Almost Famous" is a self-defining bounce moment for Freedia — her relentless staccato vocal as aggressive as its beats — while the humorously titled "It's A Shame (Crazy Big Dunkey)" is essentially "Azz Everywhere" for 2011, paying homage to the "crazy big dunkey, oversized dunkey, itty bitty dunkey" that she commands you to shake. Not that music this carnal should preclude a sharp self-awareness: It probably isn't lost on Freedia that the very act of someone with a baritone not unlike that of Public Enemy's Chuck D calling herself "the Queen Diva" redefines existing notions of radical hip-hop without any need for S1Ws.
Former 4 Non Blondes frontwoman-turned-superstar songwriter Linda Perry has formed a new band called Deep Dark Robot. The recently released 8 Songs About a Girl is, according to the singer, a collection of deeply personal tracks surrounding a relationship gone bad: "Basically, I fell in love with a woman and really quick it turned into an emotional tsunami," Perry explains. "She ended up being an incredible muse."
The always ebullient Matt & Kim quite brilliantly added a decent share of hip-hop to their already genre-bending style on last year's Sidewalks, and the risk is paying off: Outkast's Big Boi recently signed off on the collaborative "CameraBuggin" — an edit of their singles "Cameras" and "Shutterbug" — to be featured on the soundtrack for Morgan Spurlock's forthcoming documentary, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
Following up on the release of his triumphant new single and video for "The City," Patrick Wolf has announced details for his upcoming fifth album, titled Lupercalia. The album will be released on May 30.
Ladytron's Best of: 00-10 just came out last week, but a new album is already in the can: Gravity the Seducer will be released in the U.S. on September 12. According to the band's chief songwriter Daniel Hunt, the album is "more of a jump than the last album was, more ethereal and melodic, a touch more abstract in places than we've gone before."
The Red Hot Organization have announced the line-up for Red Hot + Rio 2, the foundation's latest charity compilation to raise money for HIV/AIDS education and relief programs around the world. Due out on June 28, this year's installment includes contributions from Beck, John Legend, Bebel Gilberto, Dirty Projectors, Of Montreal, Seu Jorge, and Beirut — whose version of Caetano Veloso's "O Leãozinho" has already leaked. Next level alert: Zach Condon tackles the cover in Portuguese.
After the dismantling of the Promise Ring — a band whose next-big-thing status was perpetual and seemingly never-ending, but barely redeemed — there was a sense that singer/songwriter Davey von Bohlen was having a hard time trying to figure out how to do something new without completely divorcing himself from the band he helped establish, the band that helped establish him. Four records in with Maritime and he's finally figured it out: Human Hearts is somewhat of a spiritual successor to the final Promise Ring album, but where that album was dedicated to the heartland music that inspired them, this one makes for a more interesting, integrated affair. You'd think that Americana, '90s indie rock, and latent New Romanticism wouldn't make much sense on the same album — much less the same song — but, apparently, it's not only possible; it's shamelessly pleasurable.
The Submarines' biggest pop cultural moment came in 2006, when the cast of Nip/Tucklip-synched a version of their "Brighter Discontent" during the show's season finale that year, but even that's not their most fascinating trivia: One-half of the duo, singer Blake Hazard, is also F. Scott Fitzgerald's great granddaughter. Regardless, on their third full-length, Love Notes/Letter Bombs, the Los Angeles couple — who fell in love, broke up, and then got married when they realized all their songs were about each other — adopt a slightly harder edge to their otherwise gentle pop, focusing more on the tension than the bliss. There's also a welcome initiation for the band into electronic music: With all respect to Kanye, the arresting techno-pop of "Tigers" is probably what being heartbroken with an 808 drum machine really sounds like.
The brainchild of Spank Rock's XXXChange, Win Win — his collaborative effort with Chris Devlin and video artist Ghostdad — released the clip for their self-titled debut album's lead single "Interleave" this week. Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor handles vocal duties and gets pixelated for this vintage digital homage.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart — "Heart In Your Heartbreak"
One of the less aggressive songs from the Pains' excellent sophomore release, Belong, gets a playfully bellicose video about theft, bondage, and rock 'n' roll. But mostly, it's just awesome to see keyboard player Peggy Wang in that bizarre kindergarten school teacher outfit.
The Dø — "Too Insistent"
They're French and Finnish, but they sing in English: You can't accuse The Dø of not being a worldly bunch. "Too Insistent" is the new single from Both Ways Open Jaws — which is as elegantly understated and sophisticated a pop record as you're likely to hear all year. Fans of Lykke Li, take note.
Diamond Rings — "It's Not My Party"
Toronto songwriter John O'Regan released Special Affections — his debut album as Diamond Rings — to great critical acclaim last year, and since then, there's been a slow but steady groundswell of devotion for his androgynously glam alter-ego. This week, one of the album's standout tracks gets a desolate, but empathetic visual treatment. "You would cry too if it happened to you," goes the lyric, and the graphic images make the case: There is no schadenfreude here.