I’ve talked about Michael Tatum before, but that Kitty song compels me to cite this marvelous Tatum sentence, about Skrillex: “…any hairstyle that resembles a palomino’s hindquarters when viewed from an elevated height commits cosmetological crimes so outrageously grotesque they could send Korn’s Jonathan Davis into a raging fit of trichotillomania.” I mean, that is why I love the English language.

Rhye: Woman


Polydor, 2013 [BUY]

Indie veteran Robin Hannibal and classically trained cellist Mike Milosh have supposedly crafted an intimate tribute to the mind-blowing sensations of falling in love for the first time, but all it’s done is further convince me of how suffocating packaged romanticism can be. It’s often very pretty, the production gleams, and its overall effect is that of weepy moaning.

Harmonically, their main frame of reference is easy-listening lounge-jazz, which is why their melodies stick in your head faster than most other trance groups. It’s also their frame of reference in terms of ambience, and when your record is this slow, unobtrusive, and generally listener-proof, it’s downright rude to add cheesy harps and synthesized strings for those who pay attention. Contra the hype, Milosh’s resonant contralto doesn’t at all sound like a woman singing. It sounds like a scarily self-alienated man trying to pass himself off as a woman. This type of denial suggests why he chooses to repress and inflame his romanticism further with smotheringly beautiful electronica rather than releasing its full-on rock-&-roll style.

Plenty of authenticity freaks believe they can make music that expresses true sentiment, as if such a thing were possible, and plenty of sensitive idealists believe that sex is only acceptable when it expresses true sentiment. Combined, it’s the type of functional aesthete-music heard in waiting rooms and dentists’ offices, quietly reeking of naked, cloying desperation.

Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience


RCA, 2013 [BUY]

Anything would be a disappointment after his last two albums, which both stand as two of the most magnificent pop statements in recent memory, and having heard the rumors that this was where the elegant sensationalist declared his “serious” “maturity”, I expected the worst. Instead I was greeted with ten instant-classic pop songs. Timberlake’s suave falsetto continues to hold fascination in a period filled with newly emergent neosoul singers, and he’s still sneaking his silly experiments onto the radio and confusing the hell out of people.

This album tends towards the exploratory; as a result there’s nothing as stylishly hedonistic as “Cry Me a River” or as unbearably sexy as “Summer Love” here. But he’s always harbored a secret desire to turn into Prince, and now he’s finally admitted it. Though he may be white, not to mention a sane human being, you forgive him these shortcomings. Never before have his sonic constructions been so intricate — “Don’t Hold the Wall”‘s slow exotic-dancing groove, “Tunnel Vision”‘s bubbly synthesizer rush, “Strawberry Bubblegum”‘s bleeping percussion. Yet again, he’s put his fame to good use and found himself the coolest, most pristine hooks in the biz, all unified by sleek quietstorm backup that fits him like a tight velvet jumpsuit.

A good half of this record qualifies as ornate, bloated indulgence for sure. But so did My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and I’m not so puritanical I’ll deny that sometimes celebrities really are more talented than everybody else.

Kitty: D.A.I.S.Y. Rage



The self-proclaimed “little white girl ruining hip-hop” is also saving indie hip-hop, as few if any alternative rappers have made so much out of their own insecurity. From what I can tell, Kathryn Beckwith is a normal suburban girl, having just moved to New York from Florida, only she raps, and here’s the kicker, about normal suburban things. Crazy no one ever thought of it before, right?

Half academic-scientific vocabulary, half citations from the Comprehensive Lexicon of All Popular Culture, Kitty’s free-associative metaphors are usually funny and always fun to unravel (for those having trouble, seek out her Rap Genius videos, where she explains her songs line by line). What really drives the record, though, is her rhythmic signature, her sped-up trochaics. Rushing through the more complicated verses, pausing delightedly before her sickest rhymes smack you upside the head, she’s definitely licensed to ill. With her girly little voice and petulant delivery adding a dainty musicality to the chunky-chintzy Greedhead beats she raps over, she’s breaking in on a nominally street genre partly because it’s the wordiest genre around, partly because she envies its capacity for personal redefinition, partly because of a self-proclaimed crush on Tyler the Creator I hope she gets over. Puns like “You’re a Kardashian’s ass, you’re astroturf you’re not real grass” and especially “Why you wanna fuckin undercut me like I’m Skrillex hair?” are as hilarious and nasty as the free-associative mode gets.

While she’s hardly a one-joke artist, to claim there’s more to her than novelty would be beside the point. I say this is a full-fledged, brilliant novelty record. And though ten years ago her like would have been another Liz Phair imitator, expressing emotions and ideas in a conventionally melodic way, there’s nothing conventional or melodic about Kitty.

Telekinesis: Dormarion


Merge, 2013 [BUY]

One regrettable side effect of indie pluralism is that while entire scenes may be formidable indeed, their individual parts get smaller each year. There used to be a million identical garage-rock collectives, now we have a million nearly-identical garage-rock one-man-bands (with a drummer and a guitarist as backup, of course, but they have nothing to do with the sacred personal vision), and Telekinesis’ Michael Benjamin Lerner is the most insular of them all.

The type of fun, lighthearted power-punk Lerner appropriates from his heroes – everyone from Fall Out Boy to Dr. Dog, and they all owe huge debts to eternal pranksters Blink-182 – has long functioned as a front for gloriously immature emotions, the official musical form of slackers and frat boys for at least a decade running. By contrast, Lerner operates in confessional mode, treating even his upbeat ditties like places to let loose what burdens his heart. Hence his overall affect is bratty and/or clingy despite writing catchy, accessible tunes and enunciating so clearly you think he has something to say even when he doesn’t. Here he stands before you, candidly exposing all his insecurities, freely admitting his vulnerability, and to what purpose? No wonder his conventionally dynamic guitar excursions simply don’t rock hard enough. The adenoidal nasality of his vocals can’t help much, either.

Occasionally he harnesses a riff so loud it obscures the whiner behind the microphone. But the slow acoustic love song in the middle reveals him as essentially a casualty of alternative rock and its auteur fetish, its conviction that honestly expressing your feelings equals automatic artistry. What if your feelings are boring? What if your feelings do the music a disservice?

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