Hot New Albums [May 2014]

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Essential Selection by Oliver Clasper

Nas – Illmatic XX

Nas
Illmatic XX

Alongside Notorious B.I.G’s Ready to Die and The Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill this may be the most forceful debut album in rap history. And it’s hard to believe that two decades have passed since the 19-year-old from Queensbridge, New York appeared on the scene. Fittingly, Illmatic has been reissued with a number of remixes (including the excellent LG remix of ‘One Love’) that reiterates just how golden the ‘Golden Age’ really was, while educating younger heads about yester-year. This is soul-inflected hip-hop at its very best, with rhymes and drums that brood and resonate, while Nas’ raspy inflection and tales of hardship on the streets of Queens create a slice of timeless history.

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Mac DeMarco - Salad Days

Mac DeMarco
Salad Days

According to various reports Mac DeMarco’s set at last year’s Clockenflap was somewhat disappointing. Given his slacker sensibilities and hipster status that may not come as much of a surprise. That said, the Canadian rocker has come up with the goods on his second studio album. The title is an expression that refers to an older, youthful time, which is odd given he’s only 23, but perhaps it’s in keeping with the whole retro movement of late. At times he channels John Lennon (at least in his voice), while at other times he comes across as a cooler Jack Johnson. The mood is warm and lilting, bringing to mind hazy summer days – especially on ‘Goodbye Weekend’. If he gets his act together, he could be big.

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HTRK – 9-5 Psychic Club

HTRK
9-5 Psychic Club

For any band to lose a member to suicide is an incomparable tragedy, one that too often results in a parting of ways for those involved. Fortunately the Melbourne-born London-based HTRK (pronounced ‘hate rock’) stayed together after the death of Sean Stewart and have since produced their strongest work to date. Unsurprisingly it’s also their darkest, with only fleeting moments of light. As one reviewer put it, ‘it’s an album that looks back on a time of sadness and struggle, and within that struggle they hope to find humour and love’. From the opening track it’s clear that the album will haunt and linger, with Jonnine Standish’s ethereal vocals remaining defiant over the programmed drums and atmospherics. ‘Feels Like Love’ is the most Lynchian in tone; it’s nightmarish and sensual all at once.

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Todd Terje – It’s Album Time

Todd Terje
It’s Album Time

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the Norwegian isn’t taking things seriously here, and given the propensity for all things ironic and ‘meta’ in the early part of the 21st century this approach has gone down well with critics. Not only that, but since last year’s unparalleled success of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories retro disco/house is now all the rage, not matter how ersatz and derivative. Terje is a fine producer, but for the most part this album grates as much as it pleases. It’s all washed-out strings, squidgy sound effects, and big synths, resulting in it being more Nightrider than Tron. He even has a track called ‘Delorean Delight’. Go figure. It’s camp fun, but for this reviewer’s money you’d be better of listening some Italo-disco.

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De La Soul – Smell the D.A.I.S.Y.

De La Soul
Smell the D.A.I.S.Y.

The Long Island daisy-agers are the gift that keep on giving. Not only have they provided the hip-hop fraternity with oodles of musical satisfaction since the late-80s, but they recently gave away their whole back catalogue (for free), collaborated with Pete Rock and DJ Premier on new material (forthcoming later this year), and then went ahead and released some old material over production by the late, great J Dilla. As the group themselves have said: “Dilla didn’t just produce for us, he was an inspiration, and often a kick-start to many De La albums.” Highlights here are ‘Dilla Plugged In’, ‘Goes With the Word’, and ‘Leave Your Cares Behind’. It’s a mixed bag, but there’s really very little to grumble about. They’ve raised the stakes, yet again.

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Protomartyr

Protomartyr
Under Color of Official Right

This Detroit four-piece is, to use the official term, ‘stick between the cracks’. Are they indie-rock, post-rock, post-punk, garage, or…? Who cares. What we do know is that their second LP is raw, and loud. It’s also honest and rough, but tight too, and considered. The lyrics talk about greed and corruption in the city, as well as bad parenting and being poor. It’s not cheery stuff, but it works, and they have a swagger that’s refreshing for a band mired in so much open pessimism. Their influences may be too obscure for some, but if you like The Clash, Nirvana, The Smiths, and Joy Division, you may just find something here that grabs you. Highlights are the vitriolic ‘Scum, Rise!’ and the oh-so-nearly euphoric ‘Come & See’ with its scattered percussion, twanged guitars, and subtle chord changes.

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BOOMKAT

Various
14 Tracks: Electro

The music site Boomkat serves up another instalment from its commendable 14 Tracks series, this time focusing on electro (not to be mistaken with electro-pop). This is the inter-stellar, extraterrestrial-minded music by artists from cities such as Detroit and Düsseldorf, with the likes of one half of Techno luminaries Drexciya, as well as one of the founding members of Kraftwerk, offering their unique take on ‘computer music’. This is a moody and at times paranoid collection of tracks, and the opener sets the tone: A collaboration between Visonia and Dopplereffekt, ‘Die Riesen’ must be one of the most hypnotic, dark, sultry, and powerful offerings in recent years. The rest of the album holds up well, with the other standout being Lab Rat 1’s impossible to find ‘Lab Rat XI’.

 

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 Asian Essential Selections by Charlie Tamoto

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Stefanie Sun
Kepler

35-year-old Stefanie Sun doesn’t rush when it comes to a graceful progression in her storytelling. After taking a few years adapting to her new role in motherhood, Sun has returned with a warmly resonant album Kepler to coincide with her concert tour. It’s difficult not to be captivated by the Singaporean songstress’ singular voice as she professes a mother’s love in the title track. “I can’t wait for you to be my brightest star. I will lend you my light when you are hanging in the distant sky. I am no longer a lonely star.”

It’s hard to replicate Sun’s style of emotional depth that creates a trusting and ever present listening experience. In the melancholic ballad ‘Angel’s Fingerprint’ she paints love’s pain with wrenching precision and follows through with a piercing tender piece, ‘Misperception’. Though the body of work of this album doesn’t have the same daring attempts as her previous release It is Time, Sun delivers a comforting sound to alleviate those lonely twilight hours.

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2ne1 Crush

2ne1
Crush

In conjunction with their ‘All or Nothing’ world tour, the ultra-swag female quartet 2NE1 is back with their second full length album ‘Crush’ that offers everything from twerk worthy trap to soul-baring piano ballads and straight up hip-hop. Leader of the group CL takes a step forward with her own solo track and composition “MTBD” that melds 90s hip hop with a modern feminine sensuality without compromising the raunchy grind of the southern inspired beats. The song validates exactly why CL is known as ‘the baddest female’ in town. Title track ‘Come Back Home’ offers a whirlwind of emotions from its reggae lullaby to its sudden electrifying dance twist that breaks into sweaty trap and ends in acoustic reconciliation. It’s a rich song full of layered complexities that seamlessly blend together at a euphoric pace. This album is a high-note for the young ladies that are set on hitting the states any day now with an English album. And it’s very possible that they will make it, with their no-nonsense and edgy attitude that branches away from the gushing and often overbearing adorability of bubblegum K-pop.

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Mika Nakashima

Mika Nakashima
Zuttosukidatta All My Covers

Mika Nakashima has taken to a glamorous throwback style as of late for a collection of cover songs off her new album Zuttosukidatta All My Covers. She has brought back classics like Bette Midler’s ‘The Rose’, Ozaki Yutaka’s ‘I Love You’ and Kobuto Toshinobu’s ‘Missing’. Nakashima is at her best when she uses her hauntingly full and rounded voice to evoke a tormented soul on love’s tragic path. Where she falters is in her attempts at soulful English songs where her jarring accent combined with the lack of a powerful upper vocal register reveals too many flaws that can’t be overlooked. If you only listen to her elegant Japanese covers, this album would be superb; however, the awkward injection of American classics leave an unsettling cringe.

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Anthony Wong

Anthony Wong
Below The Victoria Peak

Hong Kong’s chameleon of electro indie pop has recently released a four song EP Below the Victoria Peak that depicts the spirit of Hong Kong in mellow bursts of vibrant colours. Wong never fails to impress with his unique rhythmic groove that’s a cross between old school Shanghai crooning and Boy George bellows. Title track ‘Below The Victoria Peak’ has a charged and energetic beat that’ll have you gyrating to the fluid ripples while the remixes of classics like ‘Strong Grass Fragile Flower’ and ‘Endless Love’ give off an eerily arousing vibe that tickles the spine. And for the highly anticipated upcoming film Aberdeen¸ Wong lends the track ‘Destination’ that lyrically pulls together the contorted feelings of post-handover Hong Kong. It’s amazing that three decades into his career, Wong still remains one of the most progressive and daring artists in Hong Kong.