can grouse all we want about the misguided motives of the
modern music industry—did you hear about Atlantic putting
out a call for fan-funding for one of their artists’ new recordings?—but
once in a while, the big labels actually throw their money
behind something that’s truly worth hearing, commercial potential
be damned. I’d like to think that was the line of reason behind
green-lighting a new Hole record. But it’s more likely
that Courtney’s dedicated line lit up and Universal immediately
started cutting checks for her.
Ms. Love’s decision to return to the name of her old band
without returning to any of its members is a bit misguided,
more a marketing angle than a mission statement. In theory,
Love is going back to her roots; technically, Nobody’s
Daughter is no more a Hole record than her disastrous
2004 solo debut, America’s Sweetheart. (Half of the
songs were reworked from sessions for a second solo record.)
But it’s a better record.
True to recent form, Love sounds disconnected and breathless
singing the title track, barking out clipped syllables in
an increasingly uncomfortable-sounding lower register. (Pitchfork’s
observation that she sounds like Bob Dylan is harsh, but not
without merit.) On the acoustic ballad “Honey,” she sounds
positively ravaged—when she goes for one of those old-school
blood-curdlers near the song’s end, it’s less like an exorcism
than a strangling.
Love has to reconcile on a song-by-song basis her aspirations
to be a pretty pop star with the reality that she’s best when
she’s shattering glass with her voice. So this otherwise solid,
safe alt-rock album draws lives and dies on Love’s voice,
which ranges from Dylanesque to ballsy, sometimes on one song
(“Someone Else’s Bed”). “Skinny Little Bitch” is a strong
single, albeit generic; the best track, “Samantha,” has a
kick-ass chorus that is doomed by the appearance, more than
20 times, of the F-word. Just for a moment, during “Loser
Dust,” it feels almost like you’re at Lollapalooza—but then
the album closes with “Never Go Hungry,” an ac oustic rocker
that doesn’t help with the Dylan comparisons. Nobody’s
Daughter is far from a total wash, but also far from essential.
Recommended if you’re a Hole fan.
Maybe Hole felt like a sure thing for the people at Universal,
but if you were able to put your chips on one album this month
I’d say you’d be safe with This is Happening, the third
full-length from New York’s LCD Soundsystem. This one
carries particular weight as James Murphy’s one-man band struck
the hipster zeitgeist with 2007’s still-fresh Sound of
Silver, which has been called one of the best albums of
not only the decade but the last quarter-century. So there’s
nowhere to go but down, right?
for Murphy. LCD Soundsystem broke on the strength of a few
great, deadpan-funny singles, and that’s still the specialty—but
it’s to be appreciated that he uses the album format so well.
Like its predecessors, This is Happening is an excellent
record, not just a mix tape—and that’s a feat for an album
that sounds even more like it was recorded in a bedroom than
those that came before. Murphy, a DJ at heart, is an expert
at controlling the pace, so when the slightly brown synth-bass,
cowbell (an LCD staple) and drums kick in after three minutes
of “Dance Yrself Clean” he’s already worked up considerable
Often sarcastic to the point of cheek-piercing, Murphy’s tongue
is less snarky than usual here, with the majority of the joking
kept to “Drunk Girls” (this album’s “Daft Punk is Playing
at My House,” with a bridge that’s like a cloud). The majority
of Happening is a dark trip through the sad disco of
Murphy’s mind, where Bowie-esque guitars, surf-rock ooh-la-las,
and unhinged analog synths share a chillout room (on “All
I Want,” this album’s “Someone Great”). Hard to say now if
Happening will have the same staying power as Sound
of Silver, but it won’t be surprising to see Murphy’s
name in the best-of discussions again at the end of the year.
back to that thing about labels backing something actually
worth listening to: It’s been a long time since Brooklyn duo
MGMT recorded their debut single “Time to Pretend”—originally
recorded in 2005, it wasn’t a hit until 2008, setting off
the band’s string of strangely psychedelic, beat-driven hits.
Even on their debut album, Oracular Spectacular, you
could hear the tastes shifting toward something more organically
odd. And on Congratulations, MGMT, now a five-piece
band, go straight-up weird. As if they’re out to be the Strawberry
Alarm Clock of the throwback ’60s-psych-pop movement, they’ve
made an album that references Roxy Music, Love, and numerous
bands from the Elephant Six collective. “It’s Working” sounds
like Gnarls Barkley playing a Zombies tune; “Lady Dada’s Nightmare”
sounds like Ween doing Dark Side of the Moon. Congratulations
is capped by “Siberian Breaks,” a terrific 12-minute suite
of miniature tunes—even the part that seems to rip off Hall
and Oates, and especially the part that sounds like the intro
from Nova as played by Van Halen circa 1984. It’s not
“accessible” by many standards but it’s full of pretty darkness,
rambling but never shambolic. I wonder what Brian Eno thinks.
Speaking of re-making Dark Side, Shooter Jennings
set out to make The Wall with his latest record,
Black Ribbons (credited to Shooter Jennings and Hierophant).
It’s a 70-minute magnum opus on paranoia, imagined from a
world where big-brother is just about to apply the clampdown.
Stephen King adds voice-overs as Will of the Wisp, a disc
jockey on the last free radio station, spinning his favorite
records as his last hour passes. Jennings almost entirely
ditches his country-rock past in favor of branching out every
which way: There’s Sabbath-influenced sludge metal, a bit
of light punk-rock (“Fuck You I’m Famous”), and something
that sounds like a mashup of Pink Floyd, the Steve Miller
Band and T-Pain (“Lights in the Sky”), in addition to the
soulful Americana of the title track. It’s wide-ranging and
at times deeply strange, but if you want to hear an artist
really let it all hang out, look no further.