With all the noise about the NFL season starting and the fall television preview, I had to push back this past week’s latest in music. That’s fine, though, as there’s plenty to catch up on this week as well! Let’s dive in:
LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
James Murphy, like all good auteurs, went through a period of time where he claimed he was retiring. Just like Steven Soderbergh, Michael Jordan and Cher before him, Murphy couldn’t resist the pull of creating new music. Lucky for us, he’s come back to us with one of the slickest productions he’s crafted to date. Amidst homages to David Bowie (“Black Screen”) there are some of the most unnerving electronica tracks that Murphy has ever presented to us. An album that begs to be run to, or driven to, or danced to, it’s the album we all needed to close out the summer.
Key Tracks: Other Voices / tonite / How Do You Sleep?
The Mynabirds – Be Here Now
After The Mynabirds had one of my favorite albums of 2015, I expected the follow-up would be a bit of a decline. Surprise! The newest from singer-songwriter Laura Berhernn is a complete delight, albeit a bit political. Written in the aftermath of this past November’s presidential election, Berhenn wrote up a flurry as she participated in the Women’s March and lived in the shadow of the negativity as she lives in Washington D.C. In particular, the first single “Golden Age” directly calls out the current “president” – namedropping the inhumane Muslim Ban, saying she “could punch a Nazi in the face”. It gets pretty blatant her stance on things when she claims “we got some real villains to stop / before they kill us all”. Even though my favorite album of theirs will likely remain 2015’s Lovers Know, I’m ecstatic that she could come up with another album so beautiful yet also artistically integral to boot.
Key Tracks: Golden Age / Wild Hearts / Shouting at the Dark
Taylor Swift – “…Ready for It?”
After all the hot takes have fallen by the wayside, you can dive into the second straight single from the queen of controversy, the one whose own poptimism has been overshadowed by all the criticism thrown at her over the past decade, as well as even better musicians being perfectly genuine. Given her new narrative, this is a much more palatable song, something like darker version of last album’s “Wildest Dreams”. Lyrics such as “But if he’s a ghost, then I can be a phantom” imply that there’s at least some effort behind her bitterness, even if that’s been done in enough songs that we don’t necessarily need it again here. Eh, take or leave her, I’m satisfied so far with what she’s given us. I’m ready for the album though.
Tori Amos – Native Invader
I don’t know how I’ve missed out on Tori all these years – but I’m glad I discovered this. The odd thing is that it excites me more to dive deep into past works than listen to this again. Just getting past the sluggish opening track is a chore, but there’s some gems to delight in, including the one we reviewed just two weeks ago, “Up the Creek”. Folk rythyms are the order of the day, and in “Cloud Riders” Amos talks of the thunder gods as she regales us with a tale of lost love on the edge of a cliff. Much of the album sounds intensely personal, and clearly that’s worked well for Amos here – which is why I can’t wait to go back and drink in all that’s she served us before.
Key Tracks: Cloud Riders / Wildwood / Up the Creek
The National – Sleep Well Beast
I was ready to think that The National had peaked a few years ago, back when “Bloodbuzz Ohio” revealed that their pastiche was really just a stuttered version of their hit single “Fake Empire”. However, much like some of the best bands, they’ve returned with a handful of tracks that highlight the best of those tracks – Matt Berninger’s low rumble of a roar, the equalizing bass of Aaron Dessner and the striking drum work of Bryan Devendorf – the best of which is right off the bat in “Day I Die”. Fans will be soothed by the sameness of some of the songs, but there is also an experimental branching out with much of the music here.
Key Tracks: Day I Die / The System Dreams in Total Darkness / I’ll Still Destroy You
U2 – “You’re the Best Thing About Me”
For the past fifteen years, U2 has been synonymous with out-of-touch. Their duet with Green Day only fueled the latter band’s descent into oblivion with the younger crowd. Suffice it to say, it seemed like the group would never craft a song this good again. Instead, “You’re the Best Thing About Me” is a light-hearted throwback that I’m glad to say is the best song they’ve written since they figured out how to dismantle an atomic bomb. It’s nothing innovative, but the chorus will get to you, and certainly not overwhelm or underwhelm you like much of their last two albums did. The Edge is as sharp as ever with his guitar work, and Bono steps aside to let the rest of his bandmates shine. If the rest of their upcoming album works like this, perhaps a revival is in store.
Kelly Clarkson – “Love So Soft”
This earwormed into my head so quickly I didn’t even notice it came on directly after the U2 song. I went to play this only to notice it was the song I’d just listened to. I want to say that’s a bad thing, that I didn’t even register the song, but it’s perhaps perfect background music. It’s the right thing for Kelly Clarkson to re-emerge with, an understated ballad that you can drive along to, or have on at a party with a few close friends. Clarkson slowly grew on me over the years, but I hold her to one of the highest standards of musicians working these days, and I would have to say was one of the better singles of the past month (I’m looking at you Taylor).
Next week sees only one big new release – Foo Fighters’ Concrete and Gold. Beyond that there’ll be new stuff from The Killers, Fergie, Demi Lovato and much more. I’m sure there may be a handful of singles to peruse, but don’t be surprised if I slip forward with the Foo Fighters and wait until the last week in September to discuss more music, including perhaps my picks for the best of the summer!