The Cold and Lovely, Ellis Bell
Release Date: Sept. 24, 2013
If You Like: My Bloody Valentine, Garbage, Silversun Pickups.
I'm weary of the so-called 'Supergroup'. They're frequently overrated and tend to under-deliver. But, when I heard Meghan Toohey (The Weepies, Lenka, Schuyler Fisk, and producer of Toronto's Vivek Shraya's 2007 release), Nicole Fiorentino (The Smashing Pumpkins, Veruca Salt, Spinnerette) and Patty Schemel (Hole, Imperial Teen, Juliette and the Licks) were playing together, my dormant 90s soul lit up. In come The Cold and Lovely. Their EP, Ellis Bell, features 6 slick alt-pop tracks mixed and mastered by Dave Cooley (Silversun Pickups/M83).
Toohey delivers a clear vision of nu-gazey sardonic pop. "Doll", the opening track, releases sweet waves of warm vocal harmonies over polished drums and a propulsive bass groove. From fuzz-drunk one moment to clean the next, "Bring It" conveys a measured yet sexy brash confidence, reminiscent of PJ Harvey. "Ellis Bell", the title track, builds from a shroud of ambient noise to a spectacular lush chorus. "Red Eye" is a soft, introspective ode to the road. You can't help but empathize with Toohey's melancholic refrain echoed in the outro. Contrast with "Blue In Green Again", an uplifting jangly bright track; and "Repetition", a crunchy song complete with wispy 80s-dance drama and an almost anthem rock-like respite. Ellis Bell delivers with idiomatic flair. Sometimes three pros get together and it's easy.
K.Flay - What If It Is
Release Date: out now.
If You Like: Atmosphere, Kid Cudi, MC Lars
When Icona Pop's tour was postponed due to illness, openers K.Flay and Sirah still wanted to party. They hosted DIY pop-up gigs all over the U.S., including a performance under a bridge in LA. Releasing the mixtape West Ghost in February 2013 and EP What If It Is in August 2013, K.Flay is a prolific songwriter, fusing electronic, hip-hop, rap, and indie.
"Rawks'" loop under K.Flay's signature angst-y ennui lyrics teeters on the edge of licentiousness and penitents. "Hail Mary" features Danny Brown, whose hyperactive, lunatic-wail I can't get enough of. Part-bad seed part-genius, "Hail Mary" is an in-your-face yearning for a simpler time. Never a stranger to a sweet pop hook and clever vocals, "Starf***cker" explores the glorious mess and frivolousness that is New York City celebrity. "So What" an unapologetic anthem to female chauvinism is immediately followed by "The Cops", a lovesick bent cry to the object of unrequited love. K.Flay, a walking paradox, isn't afraid to be vulnerable.
Die Antwoord - "Cookie Thumper"
South African Rap-Rave.
Enough Said. Shit's outta control.
Delicate and mildly eccentric pianist Patrick Watson has built his reputation on gauzy, beautiful and slightly cracked compositions, and "Lighthouse" from his Adventures in Your Own Backyard album is probably the most perfect realization of this. There's a cinematic, magical realist tone to Watson and his band guiding us through the dark of night on a search for a lighthouse in the woods. You'll know when they find it. That's when the trumpets, strings and drums blind you with their light. — Aaron Brophy
A Tribe Called Red's story is worth merit on its own -- the Native Canadian DJ trio has matched traditional powwow drumming and chants with various EDM sub-genres to create some new and unique. None of which would matter it the experiment sucked — but it doesn't and "Look At This" best exemplifies Tribe's signature sound. Though they're connected to the Mad Decent crew, this isn't something trendy for hipster idiots walking around Coachella in headdresses. What Tribe are doing is tapping into a thousand years worth of primal beatmaking and the resulting music is something worthy of that heritage. — Aaron Brophy
In 2011, Abel Tesfaye announced himself as one of the era's most exciting artists via three online mixtapes, capped off with the late-December release of Echoes Of Silence, which included this typically dark-hued rumination on his sudden success. Like an avant-R&B Icarus, The Weeknd's voice soars high, dodging dubby handclaps and druggy sonics as he tries to prepare himself for the inevitable collapse. Oh, and even if his narrator sounds unreliable, claiming "I ain't scared of the fall," Abel won't be facing it anytime soon considering his major-label re-release Trilogy went Top Five despite having already been doled out for free. — Joshua Ostroff
While much of Neil Young and Crazy Horse's Psychedelic Pill album is made up of simple jams designed to please the wake 'n' bake crowd, the 16-plus minute confessional "Walk Like A Giant" is much more. Outwardly disguised as yet another Neil guitar epic, he uses the song to evaluate the hippie dream and his contribution to it. The uncomfortable conclusion that Young comes to — as the song slowly fades out with four minutes of noisy globs — is that he hasn't done nearly as much for the world as he'd hoped. — Aaron Brophy
Rap's mope king D-Sisive has capped his appropriately cult-worshipped Jonestown album trilogy with "When We Die We Die Together," which might be his most moving song in a discography full of them. This narrative tale of helpless children and lonely widows subverts the uplifting la-la-las found in Of Monsters and Men's "From Finner" and uses them to create the ultimate lost-hope singalong. D-Sisive lays it out plain — it sucks for all of us — but for four and a half minutes we can at least share each other's pain. — Aaron Brophy
Deadmau5 has often been accused of phoning it in, something he's encouraged with his just-press-play interviews and >album title goes here
Metric are known for either soaring electro-pop, stadium rock or a combination thereof — which is why Synthetica centerpiece "Dreams So Real" stands out so starkly. Riding a distorted modulating synth line, Emily Haines reveals a rare vulnerability, questioning her achievements this far: "Thought I made a stand," she sings, sadly. "Only made a scene." But then Jimmy Shaw's guitar chimes out and you realize that her worry that "the scream becomes a yawn" is unfounded. Her scream became a whisper, one that simply pulled us in closer to hear. — Joshua Ostroff
When people defend pop as a genre, this is a masterclass in why. The failed "Canadian Idol" contestant certainly benefited from boarding the Bieber express, but Jepsen's already-released, pretty-much-perfect song was what got her the ticket — and it won Team Biebs over the same way it won over the rest of us. Its cotton-candy lightness is given substance with violin stabs, subtle beats and an all-time-classic hook, earworming its way onto the playlists of every archetypal "Breakfast Club" clique, even the too-cool Judd Nelson one. — Joshua Ostroff
Rufus spent several years delving ever deeper into the first half of his baroque-pop one-man-genre, but on this title track he finally gets back to the pop part. This is not to say that you'll be confusing Wainwright with Rihanna — in fact, tsk-tsk lyrics like, "does your mama know what you're doing?" could very well be referencing pop's current queens. But producer Mark Ronson, well-schooled in working with retro-infused artists, imposes a pop structure upon Rufus that, ironically, makes him feel perfectly contemporary. — Joshua Ostroff
"Oblivion" is one of those songs with lyrics completely removed from the music itself. Montreal avant-pop auteur Grimes' vocal chirps are a perfect match for the bubbly electro beats. That is, until you realize that she's chirping about breaking your neck (or perhaps having her own broken) and that the beats are way weirder than you first realized. Though the guerilla video of her dancing at a football game helped the song go viral, "Oblivion" was simply the purest distillation of her ability to turn some of the year's strangest music into some of its most accessible. — Joshua Ostroff
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