New Releases: A Great Big World, Dum Dum Girls, Hospitality, Actress

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A Great Big World (Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)

A Great Big World (Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)

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: A Great Big World – Is Anybody Out There (Epic) Splitting the difference between fun. and Fountains of Wayne, these cornballs A Great Big World are sincere about their dopiness, beginning with audacious piano and even more audacious high-pitched onomatopoeia and an “I was born to be a rock star” credo that makes one wonder what a rock star even entails in a post-Riff Raff age. The chord changes know the Elton John from whence they came, and the surprise synths, Auto-Tune and hair metal solos do their label budget justice.  And surprisingly, they do justice to the directness of titles like “Everyone Is Gay” and “I Don’t Wanna Love Somebody Else.” Easily an improvement on fun., their tunes make strides toward Fountains of Wayne. If they only had a brain.

Dum Dum Girls – Too True (Sub Pop) High-generic. Kristin Gundred’s made at least three records better than her third full-length as Dum Dum Girls: the whirlwind Chrissie Hynde tribute Only in Dreams, the brief arena-scale glory of He Gets Me High and, in one of her many former guises, Grand Ole Party’s Humanimals, a jittery triumph of garage-soul produced by ex-Rilo Kiley axe architect Blake Sennett that beats anything Beth Ditto’s ever made. Those are where the jams are. Too True has no bad songs, and also none worth mentioning, unless you count the wrap-around hook of “Rimbaud Eyes”, the bite of the way she sneers “You got!” before the inexplicable title comes ‘round again. Nice names like “Trouble Is My Name,” “Little Minx” and “In the Wake of You” support as well as they can, beneath the mildly cavernous echo of the world’s driest Cure album.

Hospitality – Trouble (Merge) Maybe it’s not Hospitality’s intention to sex up the Merge roster (especially after an Arcade Fire album was wrongfully accused of lacking in conjugal matrimony), but Amber Papini ought to work that undervalued angle. Her classic rock has grit, on the lopsided Moe Tucker yelp of “I Miss Your Bones” and the swampy thrust of “Nightingale,” which sounds like a Cocteau Twin attempting a Robert Cray song. And her synths bend without brittleness on the chillwave “Rockets and Jets” or Nick Zinner-like buzz of “Inauguration.” Like Dum Dum Girls, part of the appeal is the constant dress-up, the search for musical identity as musical identity. Her exclamations and arch tone massage the open spaces in ways she maybe didn’t intend, and that’s a good thing. But she’s too buttoned. If you spend all your time with your guard up, you’ll never land a hook.

Actress – Ghettoville (Werk Discs) “[Darren] Cunningham’s scope is already wider than producers like Burial,” went one rave review of Actress’ previous album, R.I.P., which wasn’t true in 2012 and certainly isn’t now. This is one of those electronic guys who essays a tabula rasa each time out, with Splazsh allegedly your first reason to have an opinion (I didn’t), R.I.P. the one worth actually hearing (if any) and Ghettoville his alleged swan song, both darker and more varied than his usual mildly harsh, boxed-in electronic scraping. The mixed-upfront “Corner” will remind deep-diggers of an unmastered Muslimgauze item but has a tune, while notes land within “Our” like pixelated drops of H2O. As he frequently uses steam as a percussion element, it’s remarkable that people buy his bull about making “R&B concrete” (it didn’t need any help) and don’t call him the king of industrial. The one called “Rap” is kind of a ballad.

Various Artists – 2014 Grammy Nominees (Atlantic) Leading with Bruno Mars over “Blurred Lines” would tell you everything you need to know, and we now know Kendrick Lamar’s omniscient “Swimming Pools (Drank)” not only sticks out like a sore massively talented thumb, but also didn’t win anything. Even the good stuff’s corn city: Kacey Musgraves’ small-town satire dampened by “Round and round and round she goes/ Where she stops nobody knows” and Macklemore/Ryan Lewis/Mary Lambert’s overanalyzed “Same Love,” which found its niche in the Rachel Ray demo, a world few gay rappers have interest in courting. Non-GRAMMY voters know Pink and Taylor Swift have better, faster songs. But we’re not so sure about Justin Timberlake these days. And by the way, did you notice Sara Bareilles was nominated for Album of the Year?

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