New Music Friday Vol. 4
This week, my head might explode with good music from deservingly-adored superstars. It’s almost too much. The proverbial embarrassment of riches.
Robert Plant - Carry Fire
If you listen to some of the things he used to do in his Led Zeppelin days, you could be forgiven for wondering how Robert Plant is still able to sing at all. His approach these days is gentle and intimate rather than the screaming freneticism that could color his voice in his youth. I'd say that's appropriate and wise. His vocals now rely on close microphones and intimacy, but the color and intrigue are still lurking beneath the surface.
By all accounts, a deeply personal album, exploring his return to England after an extended stay in the U.S., his last record, lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar, was a moody mix of styles that seems to have become a signature of his.
The few tracks available from Carry Fire, however, indicate a return to some of the excitement and energy of his youth. He's still not letting it rip quite like he could decades ago, but there are clear echoes of a seasoned and wise Led Zeppelin that I'm delighted to hear more of.
St. Vincent - Masseduction
St. Vincent is the musical moniker of indie-pop artist Annie Clark, and I’ve marveled at her albums since her debut, Marry Me; though she got started before that, playing with indie-chamber-pop leaders like Sufjan Stevens and Polyphonic Spree. Clark is one of rock ’n’ roll’s strongest guitarists who is dead-set on making her electric guitar sound increasingly less and less like a guitar and ever more like a wild, chunky synth.
St. Vincent’s first couple of records were stuffed with orchestration and peppered with her rhythmic, motivic guitar-playing, her second record, Actor, remaining one of my favorites of hers. By the third album, Strange Mercy, the strings and chorus were mostly abandoned in favor of synths and some light electro-beats.
She followed Strange Mercy with an artsy duo project with art-rock pioneer David Byrne that augmented a normal rhythm section with complicated, full, percussive horn sections, which had a clear influence on her successful fourth and self-titled solo record. Dense with unconventional, heavily processed guitar and bass lines, this record was energetic and esoteric in sound and lyric content.
Clark’s lyrics have often been esoteric. sometimes simple, sometimes poetic and often exploring relationships, commenting on culture, society, and painting absurd scenarios. Her latest, Masseduction, appears to be no exception. The pre-release singles and accompanying videos are intriguing. The tracks, themselves, are ever-so-slightly poppier and accessible, while the videos dive ever-deeper into that esoteric, artsy aesthetic side that clearly amuses her. “New York” is pretty simple and has her reeling from an erstwhile relationship, and she clearly has some thoughts about the vane consumer culture of LA (and a few more thoughts about that New York relationship?) in the lovelorn, aggressive “Los Ageless.”
I have grown to like these songs more without their visuals, and I am curious to see what direction the rest of the album takes.
P!nk - Beautiful Trauma
I’m going to be honest; I don’t listen to a lot of P!nk. I recognize her as a true super-badass, and I have enjoyed her powerful and often empowering tracks whenever I’ve encountered them. I haven’t often sought them out. My wife’s appreciation for P!nk's general badass-ery has put her back on my radar, and that has me excited to see what this truly fierce woman is up to.
In advance of this release, I thought I’d go back and listen to her last album, The Truth About Love. It's not life-changing, and it is produced as well as any other pop album. What separates P!nk from the rest of pop music is the strength of her voice, which is basically pure rock 'n' roll, and her willingness to write straightforward and honest lyrics.
After 17 years, she's still making solid pop music, and her voice is as powerful as ever. The video below is a poignant track asking a question it feels like populations all over the world have been asking recently.
Beck - Colors
Beck. Man, that last album! Understandably controversial for its GRAMMY win over Beyoncé’s self-titled album, Beck's Morning Phase knocked me out. I love this record. It is moody and gorgeous and has received regular rotation on my turntable.
What else do I say about Beck? He has released such vastly diverse albums, some of them straight up fun, some of them deep, most of them entertaining and with a high degree of exploration and artistic integrity. When I first heard that he’d spent longer on his new album, Colors, than usual because it was so thick with ideas and sound that he needed to figure out how to cram it all in there (I’m paraphrasing), I nearly jumped up and pointed at my screen and said, “I want to listen to THAT.”
That’s all I really have to say about this. I want to listen to that.
This track recently had me dancing in my airplane seat: