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: Pixies – EP2 [EP] (self-released)
Whatever their problems with female bass players (Kim Deal probably did the right thing cutting out before that discomfiting “Bagboy” video) or the growing pains of a 30-year on-off relationship that were well-documented as a mess on EP1, we always knew these were the type of bandmates to fire someone via fax. So it’s a relief on EP2 that Pixies get their bearings and play their guitars like they never grew up, either. On this four-song continuation they open with a strut that welds the shrieks of Chris Cornell with the riffs of “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” and close with a dark ‘n wiry Polvo homage—if Polvo could harmonize a chorus as explosive as “Snakes.” In between, “Magdalena” adds this newfound crunch to the chilling space of 1990’s “Ana” and “Greens and Blues” has Frank Black admitting “I said I was a human but I know I lied.” As long as the corpse of this rotting band continues to rock like a three-limbed zombie, that will be beside the point.
Beyoncé – Beyoncé (Parkwood/Columbia)
The stupendous middle stretch lives up to everything you’ve read: rolling up the “Partition” so the limo driver won’t see Yoncé on her knees in back, reminiscing with an ex in “Jealous,” and imploring Jigga to “Rocket” till the water falls in a champagne fountain of connubial bliss juicier and smarter than Justin Timberlake’s, with whom she shares both indulgent track lengths and a cadre of indie admirers who fancy themselves too sophisticated for Skrillex.
“Blow” earns its funk and “Drunk in Love” its corny wooze, and the slowwwwww arrangements are more varied than they first seem: designated radio driver “XO” has a mechanized choir worthy of “Ya Hey” while “Superpower” puts a congested Frank Ocean over some doo wop/Maxinquaye hybrid. But it’s the words that matter here, even the crucial marriage axiom she puts in Drake’s mouth (“stop making a big deal out of the little things”) and especially the feminist sermon from Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche in “***Flawless.” The world’s biggest rapper as doting straight man is more of a brilliant Yoncé invention than a co-identity like Watch the Throne, whether he’s present and having her breasteses for breakfast or implied as she sits her ass on him. The whole clip-for-every-song-huge project peaks when she enunciates to him twelvefold, “I’ve been a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad girl.” Now what you gonna do about that?
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Wig Out at Jagbags (Matador)
With Malkmus’ sixth album following in the soul-infused footsteps of Stereolab’s Chemical Chords (their ninth), Belle and Sebastian’s The Life Pursuit (also their sixth) or latter-day Yo La Tengo, why do you think bored indie masters of their own style turn to R&B for inspiration? Since these guys are the cream of the crop, they’ve rarely been accused of lacking soul but they’ve sure had some straight-faced irony to iron out. Since they’ve all been fantastic songwriters at one point, why not turn to America’s richest music to find that muse again in their 40s? With Malkmus’ two brightest albums his least Jicks-y, here he finds an outlet for his jam band tendencies that leaves space for studio sculpting—check out the Burt Bacharach breakdown in “J Smoov,” the Thin Lizzy guitar licks every which way, the occasional phrase you wish he polished into a hook. He’ll never make you dance and you’ll never make him sing, so revel in his most comfortable album ever in a slow month and put it away until it’s time to compare the next one to it.
Angel Haze – Dirty Gold (Island/Republic)
Like Beyoncé, this furiously talented 22-year-old stunt-premiered because Angel Haze was told that hits wouldn’t be its way in. And true, it’s as exhaustingly “market-tested” as Paramore, in the sense that every single track has its own melody, hook and unstoppable, sometimes numbing rhymeflow. So it can be almost as daunting to navigate its bounty of tunes as Beyoncé’s boycott of them. But from “your skin sounds like my favorite vinyl” to Sia’s perfect Rihanna impersonation, you’ll only escape happier with each play. And if you don’t think “Planes Fly” has all the drift and beauty of a ragged Anthony Kiedis ballad, she finishes lopsided with the old clapper “New York” so you remember where she comes from.
Burial – Rival Dealer [EP] (Hyperdub)
Don’t assume a guy who operates anonymously doesn’t know his way around Media Manipulation 101, imbuing the draggiest and sappiest record of Burial‘s still-young career with an impossible-to-resist PSA against bullying. Since he’s one of the few musicians who consistently understands the transformative possibilities of emotion on a track (as opposed to his sometime partner Four Tet, whom we prefer rough ‘n tumble), it only takes the usual four plays to let the damn sunshine in. The hilarious gated drums that turn the glistening “Hiders” into a power-pumper, the back-to-business jungle he drags through the usual mud on “Rival Dealer,” all of it is very much still him and he is very much still showing us what he—hell, what music—can do. Still, nothing on the back-to-back-to-back perfection of Untrue, Street Halo/Kindred or Truant/Rough Sleeper is as manipulative with the heartstrings as thirteen minutes of “Come Down to Us.”