Albums of the week | New records from Jack White, Death Grips, Kool A.D.
Jack White Blunderbuss
Aesthetics mean a lot, if not everything, to Jack White. So can we infer much from his changing his color scheme to black and blue? Blunderbuss is something far less sanguine than the White Stripes and covered in bruises. Tears are shed, knives are shoved into guts, feet are skinned and forced to walk on salt, a monkey hits his head on the floor and dies. Hey, at least Cormac McCarthy has found his new jogging mix. "Sixteen Saltines" is the White Stripest thing here, but it lacks the punch, while the bustling percussive dirge of "Freedom at 21" is the Dead Weather done better. Whenever organs and drums show up, it's a proggy blast, but the record sags with too many country saloon sing-alongs. It needs more struggle. The White Stripes was a wrestling match. The violence of the lyrics could use the instrumental thuggery. Plus, this is a man who wires his windowsills to amplify raindrops. White can nail authenticity, but where's the whimsy?
Kool A.D. 51
Last year, Das Racist dubbed its official debut Relax. The trio could have used its own advice. The uneven album panicked in the spotlight and spent too much time making pop moves, or satirizing making pop moves. It was hard to tell. Whatever the case, it's reassuring to hear the smooth one, Kool A.D., recapture the group's casual, absurdist charm. He got away from Brooklyn, recording this mixtape in Oakland with California producers. (Rap producers. Not chillwave keyboardists.) Perhaps that's why I hear echos of the Hieroglyphics and Dan the Automator in the '90s-style boom-bap. DR's tried and true routines are here, the "call me ____" litanies, the take-a-celebrity-and-chant-his-name-over-and-over bit (see "Manny Pacquiao" and the arcade k-hole of "Damien Hirst"). The lyrics are a blast, and the beats by Amaze 88 finally match.
The album comes free from Mishka, who has already given us incredible rap records this year from Children of the Night and BBU.
Death Grips The Money Store
As I said last week in Tracks, Death Grips remind me of Kimbo Slice fronting Le Tigre. MC Ride produces bucketfuls of bile and spittle over bass and grind. Yeah, it's on Sony, but so what? John Lydon sang, "Anger is an energy," and that's all it is here. Pure, teeth-clenching energy. But what are we supposed to be angry at?
Allow me to turn it over to the iTunes user reviews:
"So raw. It's a death classic." —So hyped , so stoked
"The instrumentals are crazy but i [sic] didnt [sic] hear a single word that was said on the entire album." —Nas Escobar II
Amen, Nas Escobar II. Can we get an instrumental version?
Ah, nevermind, scratch that order for an instrumental Death Grips. I can get my meditative doom fix from Actress. In the face of brostep and electro house, Darren Cunningham's Warp-like tranquil IDM is downright quaint. Hiss drizzles in the distance like rain in the Zen-garden minimalism of "Jardin," "Raven" and "Caves," recalling the chamber dub of Autechre's mesmerizing Oversteps. An underwater calliope spins through "N.E.W." If you're dying to dance, "Marble Plexus" and "The Lord's Graffiti" provide the oomph, but you're grooving to someone else's party through the walls.
Electric Guest Mondo
Danger Mouse does his buddy Asa Taccone a solid and produces this debut. The record serves as a Danger Mouse sampler, all colorful dork-soul with whimsical bells and whistles. Gnarls Barkley DNA lies in the groovy go-go of lead single “This Head I Hold.” Elsewhere are echoes of Broken Bells’ psych-hop (“Awake”) and the Euro-cinematic swoop of Rome (“American Daydream”).
Taccone comes off like an introverted bedroom-pop savant whose million-dollar dream has come true. He sings high in falsetto, with Hall & Oates gusto, and does an awkward white-man dance. At gigs, Taccone even throws in a Wham! cover. It’s important to note that he co-wrote “Dick in a Box.” He brought the blue-eyed R&B sincerity.
The Neptunes produced the latest single from the granola-soul songstress, "Live Your Life." It's the most seductive thing I've heard from Pharrell. Tasty. Sequential songs: "Island" and "Travel." That should give you a sense of the breezy vibe here. The Malaysian songbird oozes mellow positivity. She dips into crystal cool coffeehouse folk, but it's the globetrotting grooves that show her impressive mutability. There's a gypsy lilt to "Fading Flower." Other highlights include the Massive Attack glide of "Lullabies," the cabaret thump of "See You Go" and, my favorite, the ukulele reggae of "Bad Idea." Yes, I used "ukulele reggae" in a positive sense. That tells me the 25-year-old's really onto something.