The Vaccines find a familiar groove on the exuberant Combat Sports, while The Voidz are painfully misguided on the parody-ready Virtue, and, by contrast, Jean Grae & Quelle Chris’ Everything’s Fine crackles with fury and frustration. These, plus Czarface & MF Doom and Frankie Cosmos in this week’s notable new releases.
And look for our review of The Weeknd’s My Dear Melancholy, released last night, soon.
The Vaccines, Combat Sports
On their excellent fourth album, Combat Sports, The Vaccines fall back into a familiar groove: exuberant, no-frills indie rock suitable for the dance floor and headlining festival slots. That’s a welcome change from the U.K. band’s previous album, 2015’s English Graffiti, an uneven effort that buffed up their usual razor-honed rock with sleek synthesizers. Such polish isn’t entirely absent this time around—keyboards add a shimmering underbelly to the Britpop throwback “Your Love Is My Favourite Band”—but Combat Sports possesses a loose vibe that’s much more welcoming. Falsetto vocals buoy the racing power-pop highlight “Out On The Street,” while the laissez-faire rocker “Take It Easy,” a song (correctly) said to be indebted to Tom Petty and Dwight Twilley, is a cheeky ode to playing it cool: “I want to fly you to the moon, but don’t want to pay for gas.”
RIYL: Britpop and mod dance nights. The mid-’00s dance-punk revival. Early Arctic Monkeys. No-frills indie rock.
Start here: The ecstatic fuzz-rock stomp “Nightclub” captures the exhilarating experience of falling for someone wild and untamable. [Annie Zaleski]
Czarface & MF Doom, Czarface Meets Metal Face
Czarface has long served as a refuge for turn-of-the-millennium underground hip-hop nostalgists. The collaboration between 7L & Esoteric and Wu-Tang’s Inspectah Deck wrapped itself in comic book extravagance and drew in modern rappers looking to keep it ’98 for a few bars. It’s always been pretty fun, though the returns have diminished across four albums, a trend that continues with their new MF Doom collaboration. There’s a somnambulance to the production, full of meandering drums and film-clip interludes, that the seemingly random sequencing exacerbates. You’re a full six tracks in before you get to hear Doom really rip on “Captain Crunch”; a lot of his other verses almost seem pieced together in post-production. Inspectah Deck and Esoteric aren’t exactly reaching for the skies here. “We rain fire like Khaleesi’s pets,” Deck raps on “MF Czar,” which is about what you’re getting here across the board. The late-album highlight “Captain Brunch” is a little weirder and more characterful, a hint at what a bolder, tighter collaboration between all these immensely talented artists could sound like. The rest is fine, but for fans only.
RIYL: Any of the many, many other things that these men have created that sound exactly like this.
Start here: Single “Nautical Depth” is a fine indicator of what you’re getting here, full of on-the-nose comic book references and Saturday-morning sound effects. [Clayton Purdom]
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The Voidz, Virtue
Virtue’s handful of protest songs are the sound of a white guy who’s led a privileged life trying to find anything to say at a time when artists, understandably, feel obligated to say something. But here, Julian Casablancas is less the iconoclast he fancies himself to be and more a caricature of a stoner philosopher, foisting the most shallow of political and cultural insights on listeners he seemingly assumes are idiots. On “We’re Where We Were,” he astutely reinforces the point already made in the song’s title by singing, “What are you blind / We’re in Germany now, 1939.” On “Permanent High School,” he gifts us sheeple with the advice that “Just because something’s popular / Don’t mean it’s good”—an axiom built into the band’s sound, rebelling against popular concepts like genre, song structure, and listenability. For every adequate Strokes throwback or Radiohead soundalike, Virtue antagonizes you with two formless freak-outs cobbled together from influences as wide-ranging as ’90s R&B, Arabic chants, “Monster Mash,” and a shocking amount of nü-metal. Some of these weirder tracks, like “Qyurryus,” achieve the ugly chic for which Casablancas strives, but more often than not, Virtue is just ugly.
RIYL: The Strokes (but only if you listen to a handful of these songs). Auto-Tone. ’90s kitsch. Falsetto that occasionally verges on physical assault.
Start here: “Pink Ocean,” which complements the Auto-Tuned falsetto Casablancas picked up from Daft Punk’s “Instant Crush” with a funky bedrock of synthesized bass, is a highlight among the album’s few songs that don’t sound like Fred Armisen would be singing them on a musical episode of Documentary Now! [Matt Gerardi]
Jean Grae & Quelle Chris, Everything’s Fine
[Mello Music Group]
Some albums feel as much like aural art exhibitions as records. Such is the case with Everything’s Fine, the collaboration between real-life partners Jean Grae and Quelle Chris that crackles with the fury and frustration of contemporary black life, but refuses to fold itself neatly into easily consumable beats and hum-along refrains. The closest comparison would be one of Prince Paul’s old concept albums, as Grae and Chris incorporate sketches (including an opening track that plays like a dystopian nightmare version of the game show that kicks off De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising), numerous unexpected guests (Hannibal Buress, Nick Offerman, Michael Che, etc.), and a withering sense of satire and scorn. The beats range from hollow minimalist rhythms to throbbing Death Row-style bass to jittery jazz-inflected syncopation, but all within a framework of washed-out production and tag-team verses from the rappers, covering everything from police shootings to breakfast foods and often sending up the narcotizing effects of popular culture—including via ironic repetitions of the title phrase. It’s a sprawling and intentionally distancing record, but never less than fascinating.
RIYL: Jean Grae. Quelle Chris. Old-school, concept-album hip-hop. Surrealism.
Start here: The lengthy, withering “Gold Purple Orange” captures the ambitious nature of this multi-tiered project. [Alex McLevy]
Frankie Cosmos, Vessel
Frankie Cosmos (née Greta Kline) makes her Sub Pop debut with her third album, her sweet, ethereal voice delivering a new batch of alterna-pop love songs. Vessel offers a collection of breathy snapshots of twentysomething life in Midtown Manhattan, like hanging out with “Jesse” (“Me and Jesse stayed up until 2 / We talked about dreams, we talked about you”). Some of her ditties don’t even top a minute, as in the appealing piano plinks of “Ur Up,” and some of her rhyme schemes can get a bit laborious (“I’m living in a condo / It replaced your favorite movie theater though”). But she bookends this multitude of shorter songs with longer tracks like album opener “Caramelize,” an apt verb to describe the deepening of a relationship, and the poignant title-track closer, which offers an old-soul wistfulness that belies its slight, poppy setup.
RIYL: Post-teen angst. New Girl. Kevin Kline movies. High octave ranges.
Start here: “Caramelize” kicks out of Kline’s trademark breathiness to offer a toothy attitude (and guitar line) a few of the other tracks could have used as well. [Gwen Ihnat]
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