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New Releases: Isaiah Rashad, Phantogram, Angel Olsen, Bayside, Guided By Voices

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(Courtesy TDE)

(Courtesy TDE)

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: Isaiah Rashad – Cilvia Demo (Top Dawg)
Couldn’t have said it better than Pitchfork’s Nate Patrin: “Cilvia Demo is as much a revelation as labelmate Kendrick Lamar‘s breakthrough Section.80—only this time, there’s also a good kid, m.A.A.d city to look up at and aspire to.” The throaty, lusty Isaiah Rashad threatens to steal the spotlight from his labelmate Schoolboy Q next week by stealing Kendrick’s cool and simplifying it, on “R.I.P. Kevin Miller” into weed ‘n’ money, bi—es ‘n’ blunts, and flutes ‘n’ drums. “Webbie Flow (U Like)” interrupts one of the most beautiful beats in some time to ask for some oral, while the open-sky rattle of “Menthol” suggests how songful the Earl Sweatshirt album could’ve been if he didn’t 180 jaggedly away from “Chum.” Like Chance the Rapper’s blowup Acid Rap last year, this is only a “demo” so its target audience can thrill to the illusion of discovery. The rest of us will catch its Digable-style breeze and weed-coughed tough.

Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar)
The kind of solo artist that people describe as more desolate after she records with a band, this former Will Oldham sidewoman’s two-minute single has the grungy guitar to make amnesiacs cry “Breeders.” But Angel Olsen‘s real bait-and-schtick has more to do with Cat Power and Oldham himself: vague melodies that resist folk and country descriptors, well-sung and nothing special. Unlike Chan Marshall, she can lilt her way out of a seven-minute torch ballad (“White Fire”) and unlike Oldham she can spin real twang from a pile of sound effects (“Hi-Five”). But in order to make one care to dig out the lyrics, she’d have to swing, bound, thunder, rock, roll, laugh or write a chorus. And therefore she’s unlike the Breeders as well.

Bayside – Cult (Hopeless)
Anthony Raneri is that rare thing, an emo frontman who’s not even remotely annoying, a double miracle when his vocal signature most resembles Ben Folds. Maybe it helps that he’s from Queens, a weird place to cut one’s teeth on nasal hooks and pop-punk dynamic shifts. But six records in with Bayside, he nails a full-length listen as above-average as “Boy” or “The Ghost of St. Valentine,” complete with flamenco-metal solos and an opening pair of tunes that worries about beyond-the-scene stuff like canons and rock and roll legacies. And if he could give his most dissonant guitar hook a more distinctive lyric than “I hate you and baby you hate me,” I promise he’ll get his shot at one.

Phantogram – Voices (Republic)
Introduced by their listless contributions to the last Big Boi album, I figured Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel for another generic voice ‘n’ synths outfit like Chairlift or CHVRCHES. And if you count song-by-song, Voices’ best offering “The Day You Died” has nothing on “I Belong in Your Arms” or “Gun.” But Phantogram understand beats a little better, with lots of twisted horns and trip-hop and rich crate diggings on 2010’s Eyelid Movies it turns out, with more guitar and the requisite Carter vocal that isn’t actually filler—“Never Going Home” is one of the more distinctive songs here, with the good taste to bite both Radiohead’s “Knives Out” and Arcade Fire’s “Ocean of Noise.” But the road from low-generic to high-generic isn’t long.

Guided by Voices – Motivational Jumpsuit (Guided by Voices)
The casually interested should check in at their peril, as any given Robert Pollard album is liable to follow-up one you didn’t even know existed. This — Guided by Voices‘ 20th LP — is distinctive because the first line on the album is “Gonna have a lot of fun,” and indeed the titles are their funniest that I can remember: “Vote for Me Dummy,” “Littlest League Possible,” “Go Without Packing,” “Some Things Are Big (And Some Things Are Small).” The songs are still short, but there’s room in these for some drone and sustain, sometimes switching between chords a la garage rock rather than cycling through the whole book a la the British prog Pollard idolizes so much. It amazes me how many times this guy can recycle basic song structure without ever say, arranging in a banjo or stringing together a ten-minute suite—note the slightest homage in the trancelike “Jupiter Spin” and its “this is dancing, this is dancing” similarity to the John Lennon of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” As someone who last checked in for the best-of, the disowned sellout Do the Collapse and the R.E.M.-channeling Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, this one’s slightly more charming than you should expect from a random. There’s a Valentine’s Day miracle any barfly can relate to.

Let’s Wrestle – Let’s Wrestle (Merge)
Few Merge releases escape the spotlight these days, but where were you when Steve Albini helmed these Brits’ explosive Nursing Home in 2011? No indie-rock in the three years since has even tried to match the realistic fury of “Dear John” (“How were you well-liked in the first place?”) or the elementary glee of “In the Suburbs” (“I feel so safe here”) or the purely juvenile “I Forgot” (“I couldn’t come help you out”). This band doesn’t attempt to escape to its childhood—it tries to convince us it never left. And they did as good a job as Art Brut or the Coathangers until those guys they cleaned up their sound. “Rain Ruins Revolution” is as tuneful as anything they’ve done, but sets the twee tone free of distortion pedals, that continues through a ballad called “Codeine and Marshmallows.” Only the wonderful “Pull Through for You” invokes the old snarl: “I’ve got the potential to feel bad for you but I don’t.” Per usual, beware the self-titled non-debut.

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