Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Lil Wayne’s long-overdue Tha Carter V, plus High On Fire and more in this week’s music reviews

Lil Wayne (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartMedia); Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power (Photo: Eliot Lee Hazel); and High On Fire (Photo: Jen Rosenstein)

Lil Wayne’s long-delayed Tha Carter V has enough highlights to carry it through, while metal vets High On Fire offer one of their most ass-kicking albums yet, and Philly DIY rockers Swearin’ return restless and reflective on Fall Into The Sun. Plus, we look at the third LP from Death Valley Girls, Darkness Rains.

And in case you missed it, read our featured review of Cat Power’s Wanderer, out today, right here.


High On Fire, Electric Messiah

[Entertainment One Music]
Grade: A-

High On Fire has been spitting out monstrously awesome meat-and-potatoes stoner metal for two decades now—long enough, in fact, for everyone to start taking its reliably kickass sound for granted. But no fan of giant, blistering guitar rock should sleep on Electric Messiah. The band’s eighth studio album towers alongside its best work, offering both peerless, full-speed-ahead blitzkriegs (like the title track, dedicated to late Motörhead frontman Lemmy, a kindred spirit in grizzled delivery and powerhouse shredding) and slower, heavier epics like the 10-plus-minute “Sanctioned Annihilation.” Matt Pike, who earlier this year supplied a holy mountain worth of blazed, blazing ax work for his other seminal metal outfit, here piles the beefy and catchy riffs sky high, while coughing out every lyric in a guttural, blood-choked bellow. Meanwhile, the rhythm section of Des Kensel and Jeff Matz gives these nine stellar ragers extra heft—a thunderous rumble to accompany Pike’s pure lightning. It’s no daring new direction for High On Fire. But why reinvent the wheel when you can still flatten the living hell out of everyone with it?

RIYL: Smoking dope. Dopesmoker. Blowing out your speaker system. Whiplash from head-banging along to “Fury Whip.”

Start here: The two-part “Steps Of The Ziggurat/House Of Enlil” combines the best of Electric Messiah’s two modes, riding a lumbering groove before picking things up for the galloping, soloing siege of its final couple minutes. [A.A. Dowd]


Lil Wayne, Tha Carter V

[Young Money Entertainment]
Grade: B

It’s easy to forget that the “Lil” was once literal: Dwayne Carter began rapping at 15, achieved his artistic peak around 23, bottomed out in his late 20s, and announced his retirement at 29. (He’s 36 now.) Tha Carter has been his flagship series throughout, cataloguing each stage of the emcee’s evolution with a cleaned-up, expensive pop explosion, and its fifth installment accurately enshrines late-stage Weezy. He’s introspective, approachable, overly generous, and occasionally flashing that old manic, extraterrestrial charisma. Like any fifth installment in a series, you’re going to need to care about those early entries to care about this one, and, at 90 minutes, it’s way more than anyone needs. But the highlights are so many—Mannie Fresh reunion “Start This Shit Off Right,” gonzo Kendrick collab “Mona Lisa,” the mixtape-style freakout of “Let It Fly,” heartbreaking coda “Let It All Work Out”—that you sort of give him a pass on the duds. Kobe may’ve taken 50 shots in his final game, but he still put up 60, you know?


RIYL: Tha Carters I through IV.

Start here: On “Uproar,” Weezy rides a Morse-code beat for three minutes without ever changing his rhyme scheme; also present is Swizz Beatz, shouting “Damn!” and “Let’s work!” with an exuberance that only he can muster. [Clayton Purdom]


Follow The A.V. Club on Spotify, where we’re sharing weekly playlists of the songs we can’t get out of our heads.


Death Valley Girls, Darkness Rains

[Suicide Squeeze Records]
Grade: B

Death Valley Girls take their name very seriously. Born of the same L.A. scene as such practitioners of the dark, female-led garage-rock arts as La Luz, L.A. Witch, and Dum Dum Girls, the five-piece—for now; outside of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Bonnie Bloomgarden and guitarist Larry Schemel, the lineup rotates with each album—embraces the doom-laden side of the California mythos on its new album, Darkness Rains. Lyrically, that translates into chant-along choruses about eating brains, occult powers, and how “from now on I’m only wearing black.” Musically, the group’s sound is looser and more ferocious than some of its contemporaries, embracing atonal saxophone à la X-Ray Spex and swaggering scuzz-rock riffs along with the psychedelic guitar, sinister organ, and heavy, pounding drums you’d expect from a garage-rock revival band.


RIYL: All of the bands mentioned above, plus Black Sabbath through broken speakers, Girls In The Garage comps, and worn-out VHS copies of The Craft. 

Start here: Lead single “Disaster (Is What We’re After)” is a Bikini Kill-style empowerment anthem whose kitschy take on classic punk can be pretty much summed up by its music video, an unbroken four-minute shot of Iggy Pop eating a hamburger. [Katie Rife]


Swearin’, Fall Into The Sun

[Merge Records]
Grade: B

The first Swearin’ album in five years finds the indie-punk band (vocalist-guitarists Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride, and drummer Jeff Bolt) in a reflective, restless mood. The grungy, harmony-laden opening track, “Big Change,” reminisces about an old life, and then describes leaving it behind; the stripped-back, acoustic “Anyway” is a laser-sharp dissection of what it feels like to move on (and away) from a relationship; and the seething ’90s indie throwback “Stabilize” examines the curious situation of actually getting what you want. Swearin’ pairs these ruminations with vivid imagery (“The past rests neatly over us like oil”) and asks questions with no easy answers: “If I never left home, would you still feel alone? / If I never left home, would you still feel like you’re alone?” Throw in self-assured arrangements that underscore the band members’ collective musical growth, and the result is that Fall Into The Sun feels like a triumphant return.


RIYL: All other Crutchfield-related projects. Nostalgia for the past. That Dog. Rilo Kiley.

Start here: “Grow Into A Ghost,” a stirring punk-pop surge with bee-stung guitars that’s full of romantic uncertainty and the kind of free-floating anxiety that causes emotional paralysis. [Annie Zaleski]


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