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: Paramore – Paramore (Fueled by Ramen)
Rock and roll’s not dead, it just shifted priorities. Now the universalism and urgency we used to associate with say, Nirvana and U2, belongs to Frank Ocean and Taylor Swift. One rock band who still wants the world is Paramore, a trio led by the explosively ambitious and inexhaustibly friendly Hayley Williams, who is no longer attempting to make anything close to punk. Instead she channels classic sounds from Janet Jackson (“Ain’t It Fun”), Del Shannon (“[One of Those]” Crazy Girls) and My Bloody Valentine (the eight-minute closer, “Future”), tied together with sing-your-heart-out ukulele interludes fit for Broadway. Williams cares about old fans too, which is why “Daydreaming,” “Still Into You” and the excellent “Proof” all sound like Paramore. (You didn’t think a self-titled album would stray that far, did you?)
Brad Paisley – Wheelhouse (Arista Nashville)
This is where country’s nicest guy becomes its biggest mole, bringing LL Cool J in to rap on behalf of citizens offended by the Confederate flag and churning out a single all about leaving the title wheelhouse behind for more unsure pastures. It’s bold and bright and long-winded, probably not Paisley’s best album but pristine evidence that he’s the best in Nashville, always pushing himself to reinvent his wit and re-question his good heart. Too bad he skimped on the dynamite guitar solos this time.
James Blake – Overgrown (ATLAS/Republic)
A weird original, prodigy, wunderkind, all that jazz — James Blake pulled a classic bait-and-switch when, after a few well-received avant-dubstep EPs, his first album proper was a Feist-covering glob of singer-songwriter jazz and the occasional Jamie Lidell-inspired bloop or blip. His sandpaper-y new album is an improvement, with a surprisingly haunting cameo from RZA and a bluesy single, “Retrograde,” that could’ve fit right at home on Radiohead’s The King of Limbs.
Olly Murs – Right Place Right Time (Epic)
The X Factor (U.K.) runner-up’s 2012 album gets its shot in the U.S., and don’t underestimate the commercial viability of having Flo Rida on your single — remember Ke$ha was the “anonymous” hook lady on his annoying “You Spin Me Round” remake. But “Troublemaker” is quite wonderful actually, with brick-walled harmonic emphasis on the right syllables (“I swear you’re giving me a heart attack”). Orchestral Maroon 5 (think “A Fifth of Beethoven”) is the name of the game, and that’s a refreshing 2013 novelty if there ever was one. Somewhere Robin Thicke is squinting, but it definitely beats the last Maroon 5 album.
Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Sunny Daze (Matador)
Vile is Philly’s great hope of the moment; together with his ex-bandmates in the War on Drugs he’s brought heartland rock and indie rock together for a sizzlingly produced, slightly psychedelic pastiche. On his last record, Smoke Ring for My Halo, his laconic presentation was held upright by chord progressions that forced him to use his brain. This sprawling beach chair of an album, not so much. A sunny daze it is, that occasionally sits up straight (more “Never Run Away” please) but mostly falls asleep on the sand and gets burnt.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – English Electric (BMG/100%)
They’re back because everyone’s trying to imitate their synths anyway, so why not make a little money themselves and cash in some of that pioneer cred. They actually sound brighter and shinier than ever — the single “Metroland” is eight minutes of Kraftwerkian bliss. Warm and tuneful, with lush, thoughtfully layered sonics, this is the honest 2013 synth-pop album no mere cool young person could’ve thought up. They’re still square, they’re just deservedly credited for it now.