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New Releases: Lorde, Haim, Nelly, Danny Brown, Justin Timberlake, Oneohtrix Point Never

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(James K. Lowe for Lava Records)

(James K. Lowe for Lava Records)

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: Lorde – Pure Heroine (Universal)
While it’s tempting to peg the smartest woman in pop as the positive role-model version of the death-obsessed Lana Del Rey, there’s so much more going on with “internet-raised” Ella Yelich-O’Connor, aka Lorde. With Lorde, it’s lots of Regina Spektor, Joni Mitchell, even tUnE-yArDs. Her lyrics need polish—I thought she was singing “It’s a new iPhone” not “it’s a new art form” because both would’ve fit “Tennis Court”’s weird general revolution, though “we’re so happy/ even when we’re smiling out of fear” nails it. The smash “Royals” has so much melody that the drums and minimal basso orchestral synth stabs underneath barely even register. It’s also the best piece of class-conscious pop since Ke$ha threw back the half-finished drinks you left behind at the bar. What you’ll notice in the best-in-show “Ribs” isn’t the Broken Social Scene reference or the fear of getting old (she’s goddamn 16) but the sawing melody that pokes up through the pin-drop house beat. Later she distances herself from “white teeth teens.” All over she chooses minimal, surprising music that never goes wanting.

Haim – Days Are Gone (Polydor)
What — we’re supposed to believe indie-rockers mining the 1980s for Unused Sounds have progressed from Neon Indian’s bedroom murmuring into masters because clear production values and verse/chorus/verse have just become That Rare? You don’t need to hate M83 to buy that bull. Instead, even us smug poptimists can’t recall who to compare the Haim sisters to because the gimmick here as usual, is they’re album artists with a capital A who sound like dozens of singles bands. I can give you Wilson Phillips, who were too late for these Linndrums, and the Roches, who weren’t all that pop. This album’s even more “pop” than it is “song”—the attraction of the twin rhythm-oriented openers is how lead singer Danielle is able to punch and kick her voice through their stuttering syncopation, even double and triple it. In rap, this is a mandate. In indie, it’s news. Not just rhythm but ecstatic soul carries the music here—you’d never know the brooding Jessie Ware has a thumbprint on some of it—which is why it genuinely sucks to point out there’s only three pop classics on it, all in a row: the sly gallop of “The Wire”, “If I Could Change Your Mind” defining funk-lite, and the folksy, loving “Honey & I.” The indie-rock returns for the stomping “My Song 5,” the only hint here of what they’d be without the 1980s. It sounds like St. Vincent.

Nelly – M.O. (Republic)
Nelly remains the nicest, sweetest, most melodic guy in rap, with a flow so assured that he can sell a line about Google Music without making you reach for your clothes. You have to love how the man with the slow-drawling singsong takes his time; how many years ago was the “My Chick Bad” that “My Chick Better” responds to? Retro isn’t a concept here, not with Pharrell topping the charts ten years after “Hot in Herre” and helping out the lead “Get Like Me” with a classic Neptunes clackety-percussion beat updated and fit for Queen Minaj. Rare thing, a 2013 rap album whose biggest disappointment is pronouncing “Idgaf” non-phonetically. Don’t miss the deluxe edition, which includes first single “Hey Porsche,” a country-teenpop love song to his car.

Danny Brown – Old (Fool’s Gold)
Perfectly competent on its own terms after the frequently thrilling XXX stirred up more concrete emotions than “stoned,” “crawling,” “obscurantist” and “psychedelic,” Old is Danny Brown — one of 2013’s better rappers  – succumbing to everything that sucks about 2013 rap. No guests here should surprise: Purity Ring, Charli XCX and A$AP Rocky are all from “different” genres moving toward the same goal—namely the four scare-words listed above. Earl Sweatshirt and Mac Miller did the same thing, without offering a “Fineshrine” or “F**kin’ Problems” or “Take My Hand” as a respite from the constancy, which cumulatively involves the whole year’s worth of rap that fits those descriptors. The exception is when he makes like 2 Chainz in the second half and gets all “won’t smack a b***ch but I’m like a pimp” over Timbo beats on Missy-styled “Handstand.” Despite his proven charisma (which is roughly twice that of the skillful Earl and five times the inflated Miller), he left off the hit, “Grown Up,” so the best song here is called “Lonely”: “Don’t nobody know me really,” he laments. When he wakes up from “Kush Coma” he’ll tell us.

Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience (2 of 2) (RCA)
Hard to tell if this will send the message that Justin’s act is stale. He already owns the best-selling album of the year whether “Mirrors” singlehandedly carried it on the radio or not. And Robin Thicke sure took most of the rap for that “Take Back the Night” gaffe. But The 20/20 Experience remains the safest “experimental” franchise of recent pop vintage. The songs are long, which doesn’t make them groove, or make him D’Angelo. The peaks are lower and the valleys are shallower than the first volume, which means there’s nothing as insulting as “Suit & Tie” either. Tough choice; I might prefer it to Vol. 1 if it didn’t leave such a bad taste in my mouth. There’s nothing more for this incarnation of Justin to prove, except that “Take Back the Night” could be the best track on something.

Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven (Warp)
Daniel Lopatin made the best album of 2011 with Replica, and he hasn’t come close before or—on this evidence—since. The randomized nature of the Oneohtrix Point Never project is pretty lightning-strikes-once, as the symphonic intro turned bitmapped baseball game organ that begins R Plus Seven couldn’t be further from the meditative breathing and stuck-needle TV loops from his masterwork. Everything that was subtle and warm there is forced and distant here, without many attempts to build a sensation that doesn’t pull the rug out from under you. It’s hard not to compare when you’re personally hurt: Replica’s richest moments recalled Jon Hassell and Brian Eno, and Seven sounds like the Books if they had Max Tundra’s hacksaw approach to discipline. Not a bad album, just a good one that’s been broken into pieces so small that they’re impossible to glue back together.

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