Recordings | Aug. 27, 2014

Three albums we're listening to this month

By Cait Brennan, Aug. 27, 2014.

New Pornographers | Brill Bruisers | Matador Records | 4stars

A. C. Newman assembled the New Pornographers in 1999 like some kind of indie pop New-Pornographers_BrillBruisers_AlbumPackshotsuperfriends, gathering together musicians from a variety of other well-known bands within his native Canada and beyond. Fifteen years and four albums later, the group has reunited for what Newman describes as “a celebration record,” and with joyous pop like this, you may feel like celebrating too.

Newman told Rolling Stone he wanted “Xanadu meets Sigue Sigue Sputnik” — “sparklier and faster music.” He got it in a big way. On the title track, the crashing cymbals and crunchy powerpop hooks are irresistible even to the most jaded soul. Analog synths swirl like mad as Newman sings over a sea of lush harmonies that sound like the love child of Brian Wilson and Cheap Trick.

In “War On The East Coast,” the band radiates ’90s Britpop so cheerily you’ll be counting down to the “whoo-hoo.” The video is particularly priceless, as this notoriously video-avoidant band gets into a down-and-dirty street rumble.

Brill Bruisers is especially helped along by the thunderous wail of former Tucson resident Neko Case, whose own powerhouse solo work is absolutely essential listening in any record collection. She’s probably the greatest single voice in music today, and her stellar work here just burnishes that reputation.

For Fans of: Spoon, Jimmy Eat World and Fun


Sinead O’Connor | I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss | Nettwerk | 3halfstars

The cover Sinead O’Connor’s 10th album is as provocative as its title: the Irish singer, decked S_OConnor_Boss-loout in a black Bettie Page wig and skin-tight black getup — a shock for an artist who’s spent a good part of her 27-year career decrying the sexualization of women in music. But she freely admits it was a publicity stunt never intended for the cover. And the album title, originally The Vishnu Room, changed when O’Connor heard of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” campaign (BanBossy.com).

“How About I Be Me” is a plea for love from a woman who “always gotta be the lioness, taking care of everybody else” and “Take Me To Church” is delivered with the old passion that fired her first two albums. While she’s chalked up these feelings to writing for a character, the video – in which she inhabits and then breaks out of her most iconic image, the “Nothing Compares 2 U” version of herself — could not seem more personal.

It’s also a highly sexual album. Every song is focused on love, sex, or a combination, with a little wry hip-hop braggadocio sneaking in here and there, like on “Kisses Like Mine” where she advertises her prowess with lines like “See, I’m special forces/They call me in after divorces.”

It’s a bold effort from a veteran artist with a lot more to say.

For Fans of: Melissa Etheridge, Tori Amos and Aimee Mann


Banks | Goddess | Harvest Records | 4stars

Last year, Banks wowed us with her sultry four-song debut EP London. Since then, she’s banksgoddesstoured with The Weeknd, played Coachella and Bonnaroo, and made the BBC’s Sound of 2014 list. It’s safe to say she’s on a roll, and her debut full-length, Goddess, is going to bust the doors wide open.

“Something so warm turned out to be something I should’ve known would be the death of me,” she sings on “Alibi.” The desperation is palpable on the distorted, dirty-techno “Waiting Game,” as Banks lays out a tale of a relationship coming undone: “The way you make me feel all sexy, but it’s causing me shame” … “And, if I’m feeling like I’m evil we’ve got nothing to gain.” Like Depeche Mode’s unheralded genius Martin Gore, Banks is extremely gifted at creating dark, evocative atmospherics and weaving compelling tales of lost souls running out of chances. 

Unlike other would-be darkwave divas, Banks pulls no punches, and there are no poses here, like Iris DeMent sang, she’ll take her sorrow straight. But don’t get her wrong: this is contemporary electro R&B at its finest, and it’s always a good listen. Just be glad you’re not one of her characters.

Goddess compiles tracks from her earlier singles and EPs with new material, so it’s an ideal place to start.

For Fans of: The Weeknd, Depeche Mode and Lana Del Rey.


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