Plenty of important albums have been released since earlier in the year, when I was panicking over whether all the best music would be techno or not — Kanye West, Deerhunter, Vampire Weekend, Major Lazer. But nothing could distract me from this month’s certified kitsch de résistance. I mean, major albums come and go.
Chelsea Light Moving: Chelsea Light Moving
Matador, 2013 [BUY]
Having dissolved Sonic Youth and broken up with his bassist wife Kim Gordon a year and a half ago, Thurston Moore forms a new band with various other alternative-rock auteurs and releases his newest batch of songs. On the whole, they’re in his relaxed-restrained mode, kind of like a terser Washing Machine, only beneath his mature tranquility he sounds agitated, like he’s disturbed about something.
More than Gordon, the musical presence I really miss is guitarist Lee Ranaldo, and not just because the record is short on crazy solos and anarchic breakdowns. The amazingly synergetic collaborative partnership between Moore and Ranaldo was more than just a neat trick, it was what defined the band’s form, style, tone, and song content. Approximating his old sonic environment, a big fantasyland of clanging, metallic, industrial explosions and throbbing drums, with only his guitar for company, Moore sounds lonely. It’s still a rich environment, and he has a lot of fun running around in it. But if the static-filled alienation ingrained in the music means anything, it’s that he’d love to have his old friends back to run around with him.
Dominated by songs about marginality and songs about ’60s bohemia, this album could be Moore’s most explicit statement yet about the indie outsider culture that worships him. Characters include Darby Crash, Frank O’Hara, William Burroughs, Roky Erickson, former moving company bosses Philip Glass and Steve Reich, and the murdered hippie couple Groovy & Linda. So why should he be feeling like an outsider? I wonder.
Rotana, 2013 [BUY]
The hit that launched Yemeni princess Balqees Fathi onto Arab radio was a nice, schlocky if restrained love ballad, albeit one with a hilarious music video. Now that she’s been named Best Young Arab Talent of the Year by L’Officiel, she’s free to make the tougher music she always wanted to. Spikier, faster, more uncompromising, this is a glorious bubblegum sellout, and let’s hope it sounds like one to an American audience.
Screaming and expostulating and crooning with palpable delight, Fathi blends the inherent grandiosity of most Middle Eastern music into her high-speed electric Europop, and the product just soars. Accelerating its liquid, streamlined rush until the riffs fly through the air, the synthetic plasticity only heightens the nervous tension of the rhythms — the way the beat stops, sputters, goes bang, then charges back to life again on the title track, say. Melding feverish guitar figures and those high tacky lounge keyboards mimicking violins or flutes or any other instrument worth mimicking, Fathi’s stylishly superficial gloss models suave exoticism. Although she sings in her local dialect, her voice also reflects the sharp clarity of the educated upper-middle-class all over the world. She’s a pop aesthete, and proud.
Most likely this certified kitsch masterpiece will sell only in the Arab world. But for hook fanatics everywhere, Fathi speaks the universal language: disco.
Brad Paisley: Wheelhouse
Arista Nashville, 2013 [BUY]
For Brad Paisley’s name to symbolize “contemporary country” in the music biz is a little unfair, because most contemporary country sentimentally longs after classic rock and the forgotten age it accompanied, whereas Paisley makes actual classic rock for everyone to enjoy. However, he keeps tripping over himself here, trying to make epic statements about Southern culture and liberal politics.
Paisley at his best is smart, fun, good-natured, big-hearted — his grand, passionate songs always play up if not apotheosize commonly shared feelings, making them not only palatable but absolutely cathartic. His positive, hooky country-rock overflows with killer guitar riffs, pretty pedal steel adding flavor, and melodies so hummable and obvious you’ll instantly remember each musical detail. Nevertheless, I’m scared he’s turning into the country-rock Macklemore, an ambitious moralizer whose preferred mode is the self-aggrandizing power ballad. Despite his evidently moderate politics, he falls for all the standard reactionary mistakes here: compensating for dumb ideas with sincerity, hiding his confusion in middlebrow inanity, sledgehammering on and on as he preaches to the choir. All that’s missing is a tribute to the golden days of yore.
This record has more filler than Paisley’s standard, and it’s defined by its most overreaching songs, specifically the paternalistic, patronizing, deliberately racist “Accidental Racist,” which pretends white Southerners are as oppressed a “minority” as urban African-Americans and implies that hip-hop bling is just as bad as the iron chains of slaves. That’s not the Paisley who recorded “Welcome to the Future.” Then again, “Accidental Racist” was probably some hired Nashville song doctor’s idea.
Tyler the Creator: Wolf
Odd Future, 2013 [BUY]
Revealed as a normal human being, not the murderous sociopath he loves pretending to be, Tyler the Creator makes an even duller album than 2011’s Goblin. Admittedly, he does sound like a real rapper here, an inch closer to Eminem the way he always wanted rather than some inane clown parodying all of hip-hop. This makes his parody sound all the more unintentional.
Fundamentally, this is more of the same. Tyler barks lyrics whose vulgarity by now is more presumed than actual; unlike last year’s “Real Bitch” or Goblin‘s “Bitch Suck Dick,” there’s nothing here your average middle-school student hasn’t heard or said before. If you’re angry at a vague, ill-defined idea of the outside world, you might respect a grown man with so much bitterness to burn he makes himself say nasty things about women, men, black people, white people, his own fans, and himself to let it all out. Otherwise, you’re left with his echoey, minimalist keyboard beats and his deep, throaty growl, a sonic signature so crude it can only aggravate the hostility that draws listeners to it in the first place.
Tyler’s not homophobic, as proven by Frank Ocean’s generous guest appearances, yet he still loves punctuating his sentences with the word “faggot.” Coincidentally, the attack song on his absentee father is the most convincing moment here. He’s compensating for the lack of a strong masculine presence in his childhood, in public so everyone can hear, on an album everyone can buy — there are better places to air your daddy issues.