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New Releases: Ciara, Jay-Z, Daughn Gibson, Skylar Grey & Thundercat

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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: Ciara – Ciara (Epic)
Not a great sign when the princess of Crunk & B has her boyfriend’s first initial tattooed on her finger and she starts her fifth album saying she “just went through a breakup.” But that’s about the only thing here that bodes ill. Her honorable career from “Goodies” (a great euphemism) to “Like a Boy” (an all-time great, feminist R&B song) sticks to its sex-positive guns for “I’m Out,” where Nicki Minaj celebrates her “big, fat ass,” and “Body Party,” helmed by prince-of-PBR&B Mike Will Made It, where she gives Future what he says he deserves. “Read My Lips” beckons to “bring your appetite” and rhymes “savor it” with “favorite dish,” all while removing the grossness from Destiny’s Child’s “Cater 2 U.” The ebullient “Livin’ It Up” celebrates girls “making up their own rules.” And best wordplay goes to “Sophomore”: “So soft, I got him saying give me more.”

 

Daughn Gibson – Me Moan (Sub Pop)
Gibson’s sampladelic rockabilly is Sub Pop’s answer to Willy Moon, only more durable and almost as catchy. His vocal emulation of choice is Johnny Cash, over more sounds in his “Telstar”-country arsenal than Purity Ring and pre-69 Love Songs Stephin Merritt put together. “Mad Ocean” twists a bagpipe into pretzels while “The Pisgee Nest”’s woodwind evokes more flicker films than Dirty Beaches’ entire two-disc waste from May. “Phantom Rider” claws the deepest into your brain, and for once the bookends have it down to a science: the opener’s fastest and the closer’s prettiest. Barring tUnE-yArDs, the cleverest production/songwriting balance in an indie newcomer since Jens Lekman—who really bloomed on his second album, too.

 

Jay-Z – Magna Carta… Holy Grail (Roc Nation)
The least interesting man in music today was your favorite rapper yesterday, who admired Coldplay’s salable commitment to ambivalence and achieved it on his second career. What’s surprising is its lack of commerciality; having pre-sold to Samsung, there are no hits here even though he leads with Justin Timberlake doing a most ridiculous Adam Levine impersonation over “Where Is the Love?” callback piano. Fortunately, Jigga never again touches that worst first track, with all pleasantly odd beats from there on out, with sort of a peak on the “Heaven”-“Versus”-Beyonce triptych. The R.E.M., Nirvana and Lady Gaga references are far more glaring than J. Cole’s, though, when it comes to pointing out his own inferiority. And when he vows to “f*** up the world,” he sounds like Bono promising to “f*** with the mainstream” right before the tour where he couldn’t escape from a giant, vehicular lemon.

 

Skylar Grey – Don’t Look Down (Kidinakorner)
The “Love the Way You Lie” co-writer and “I Need a Doctor” cipher is obsessed with Eminem. On “Final Warning,” she drives her cheating boyfriend’s truck into a lake, without him in the trunk but not before pulling a knife on him (the exact plot of Em’s “Kim” and “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” combined). And the man himself is an Auto-Tuned caricature on “C’mon Let Me Ride,” complete with a trailer park video where Grey gets all too happy vin-vin-viiiiiiin some beauty queens with a chainsaw. Otherwise she’s a Regina Spektor-Rihanna hybrid you can tell meant to release this album two years ago, and a more engaging Lily Allen manqué than Jessie J on the chamber-pop blues “Wear Me Out.” A (song) doctor wouldn’t hurt.

 

Thundercat – Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)
Flying Lotus’ bassmaster sidekick Stephen Bruner is unlikely to make an album called Until the Quiet Comes anytime soon. In fact, he only gets funkier on his own material, which reaches a new peak on the wah-wobbling craziness of “Oh Sheit It’s X” and proves even rabbit-hole jazz virtuosos like to get as simple as “I just want to party/ You should be here with me.” The jagged beat and harmonized sevenths of “Heartbreak + Setbacks,” “Evangelion” and “Tron Song” are for the thinking-stoner’s pleasure, a few notches meatier than the post-chillwave lounge-disco of say, Toro y Moi.

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