Every Tuesday, Dan Weiss runs down the week’s new full-length music releases, from charting hits to more obscure depths, the underrated and the overrated, from a critical pop fan’s perspective.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Boards of Canada –Tomorrow’s Harvest (Warp)
The most austere album of the year will surprise Daft Punk fans looking for similar arena-ready posturing in their fancy marketing. For Boards of Canada’s new album, fans decoded messages on mysterious Record Store Day merch and the duo premiered a video in Tokyo the same way Kanye did, projected on a building. But no punches are pulled, not even a Daniel Lopatin-style bricolage. There’s fewer beats, anything looped is seamless, and not one of 17 tracks is songlike. What it is, is the Scottish duo’s most listenable, flowing, mood-enhancing record since their sole classic, 1998′s Music Has the Right to Children, and the sonics on that were far more brittle. This is warm, bittersweet and not twisted in the slightest. You can make out discrete individual instruments, mostly led by untreated synth arpeggios that bring to mind OMD’s Dazzle Ships. Sure, it could use a shot of weird — but what techno couldn’t?
Black Sabbath – 13 (Vertigo/Universal)
Black Sabbath’s been around long enough to date in weird ways. Having seen freaking 40 years of their influence across the board, we get to hear the “dark” opening strains of “God Is Dead?” be the first metal tune to repay Weezer’s debt — believe it or not, “Undone (The Sweater Song)” is unmistakable in there. So even with Ozzy asking the titular question and relishing the chance to revisit his old Satanic-theater role, there’s no way the reality-TV dad is capable of scaring any parents anymore, or leading kids toward animal sacrifice for that matter. Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk sits in for Bill Ward — presumably because they share initials — with a convincing imitation of Ward’s cymbal-splashing thundercrawl. Tony Iommi produces no classic riffs but crunches dutifully, with Geezer Butler thudding ever-so-slightly behind. Ozzy could neither sing nor scream in the first place. So what do even the diehards want from this? Welcome to professional stoner rock, sobered up and devoid of surprises unless you count that Osbourne didn’t already have songs titled “Damaged Soul” or “Live Forever.” Only “Age of Reason” fulfills that caving-in-on-itself barrage you’d want from a new Sabbath album, but it’s hard to imagine getting stoned to it.
Jimmy Eat World – Damage (Dine Alone)
In which the least offensive emo band of all time finds new non-edges to sand off. For those who found Invented or Futures too arena-rock or slick, they take to their own label to unleash titles as self-explanatory as “Byebyelove” for 10 airtight R.E.M.-speed tunes that would have been neither cool nor uncool enough in any era. It doesn’t get more pleasant than “Appreciation,” “How’d You Have Me” or “I Will Steal You Back,” but none has the gravitas of their best late-period song, “Carry You,” much less the older stuff that not even a Pitchforkeditor could hate.
The Lonely Island – The Wack Album (Universal Republic)
The first of Andy Samberg and co.’s too-big-to-fail comedy rap encomia that isn’t pre-sold by SNL, there are far fewer laughs (I’m still not entirely sure I understand the conceit of the Robyn-wasting opener “Go Kindergarten” unless it’s really that basic) and dumber ideas (“Semicolons” and its on-point intro “Spell It Out” are good but one-joke cuts). Justin Timberlake and T-Pain fail to fill neither box nor boat. So the saving grace of this record is a maturity they shroud in air quotes in a recent interview but nevertheless bring out, musically (in “YOLO” and “I F***ed My Aunt,” both sweeter as songs in an album context, they benefit from — rather than versus — the older videos they can’t compete with) and lyrically, with “Spring Break Anthem,” a real stand on gay marriage and “Diaper Money,” a Louie C.K.-worthy boast about grave plots sunk only by the slip that Jorma Taccone’s wife hates him.
Surfer Blood – Pythons (Warner Bros.)
With a three-year wait, major label jump and the singer’s unfortunate domestic violence charges (since dropped), this band’s intense likability was in jeopardy even before they sanded off the elements that won fans in the first place: sunburnt reverb and flights of guitar that could’ve sent Vampire Weekend running for their money. Except, like Vampire Weekend, those weren’t what won fans; it was the expertly hooky songs, unique in 2010s indie for both bands. And Pythons is half an hour of just that, done quite well. If only any of them could match the excellent three-song sequence that opened their debut.
Gold Panda – Half of Where You Live (Ghostly International)
Too often electronica is merely competent, even when its progenitor has already carved out new ground. Derwin Powers’ majestic 2010 single “You” (which has already been co-opted this year for a would-be hit by Charli XCX) turned the Field’s one-note glitch into pop mastery, and the surrounding album Lucky Shiner did Four Tet’s “folktronica” stylings justice, with various bits and kibble cribbed from real instruments and music boxes alike, most spectacularly on “Same Dream China.” The follow-up’s “Same Dream China” is “We Work Nights,” a six-minute confetti explosion of acoustic guitar splashes and Chinese bowed instruments over a lightly glittering 808 pulse.
– Dan Weiss, Radio.com