Albums of the week: New records from Leonard Cohen, Lana Del Rey, Django Django and more
Leonard Cohen Old Ideas
Cohen’s a legend, but his last couple of records have been cheap and churchy. Poetry alone was not enough to carry his tired, plastic jazz, all nylon guitars trickling over the shoop shoop of antiseptic soul singers. And that was in 2004. Now that he’s nearing 80, what vivacity would be left? Quite a bit, it turns out. Those polite lounge sounds remain, but some subterranean sleaze steams through the cracks. Old folks have better stories to tell.
This Merge Records debut has me completely smitten. The trio’s Anglophilic and utterly adorable sugar-songs are in love with old sounds, old films, old books. Amber Papini splashes in the puddles of what should be melancholic retro-pop, wrapped in a hand-knit scarf of horns and violins. But her rush of knotty lyrics and her giddy vim add an injection of B vitamins into Belle & Sebastian’s bookishness.
Imperial Teen Feel the Sound
Imperial Teen's debut, Seasick, is a hidden gem of the '90s. Years and year later, this impeccable boy-girl pop maintains that bubblegum and bite. Roddy Bottum was in Faith No More, which seems rather unlikely in hindsight. I'll take these weakling singalongs any day over Mike Patton's gypsy grunts. Sound's dictionary-definition indie and underdog love songs are charming as heck, and as teenage as ever.
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour Out of Frequency
Yeah, yeah, the girl with the nasally voice from the Heineken commercials. The giddy grooves in Asteroid's Danesploitation funk reminds me why I miss the Cardigans so damn much. A wonderfully stupid and fun bundle of campy spy themes and European lounge music.
Reissue of the week:
Guelewar Touki Ba Banjul: Acid Trip from Banjul to Dakar
Some crate-digging label is releasing a rare platter of African highlife every week. It's tiring to keep up, and too much of it tries to get by on its exocitism alone. But even in the overwhelming heap of compilations of Benin freak-outs, Malian garage rock and Togo psychedlia, Guelewar's heavy, heavy jams stand out. He makes acid rock at its most loose and cosmic.
Stinker of the week:
Lana Del Rey Born to Die
So many stones have been thrown at Del Rey, but somehow I underestimated just how awful this album is in my recent piece on her soul-crushing persona. Cringe at her schizophrenic warbling on "Off to the Races." Wince at the painfully passe hip-hop grafts. And the lyrics always drag it down even further. She calls herself a "harlot," and in "Lolita" fails to realize that it was Humbert Humbert who was the predator, not the girl. The whole mess has the icky air of artificial strawberry scent and despair that can otherwise only be found on Toddlers & Tiaras.