Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life (2017) – B-
She’s not a good singer and her songs all put the focus on her. Compound this over 70 minutes and we have another album of Instagram-filtered melancholy that’s best served for the background. Her love for vintage music is sometimes distracting: quoting the Angels on a song that begins with a Ronettes’ beat that tries for Shangri-Las’ melodrama; referencing “Stairway to Heaven” on “Coachella – Woodstock on my Mind”; referencing Bob Dylan and Elton John (and Scott Fitzgerald) on a song whose title references the Beatles. (The lattermost itself ain’t much, but listen to how happy she is to be “singing with Sean” when she sings “whoa” right after!) But some of the tunes are memorable, even if I think how might a stronger singer handle the chorus of “Love”; even if I think how good a more contrasting voice would be to duet with her on “Lust for Life”; even if I think how good it might be if they trusted the melody of “God Bless America – And All The Beautiful Women In It” and didn’t enlist Metro Boomin to fire gunshots in the middle to get your attention. (Question: has there ever been a good hook built out of gunshots that didn’t sound cheesy?) Some other details of note: the drum-rolls in “Cherry” (with some interesting glitchy magic in the choruses), the drum programming and light horn touch in “White Mustang” (otherwise one of the more forgettable songs, especially because of its cloying choruses), hearing her harmonize with Stevie Nicks on “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems”; the sheer prospect of finding freedom atop fire escapes (“God Bless America – And All The Beautiful Women In It”) or the first empty beach in overpopulated America (“13 Beaches”), to say nothing of the title of “When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing” (just the title). Truth be told, after the diminishing returns of Honeymoon, I wasn’t going to bother, and I’m happy that I eventually did for a few quality tunes or moments. And the reason I did – her smile on the cover! It’s so inviting! I wish the music could match that smile.
Arcade Fire – Everything Now (2017) – C
What once was vague but earnest musings that warned against technology (“We’re so connected, but are we even friends”) have become steeped in irony (“Infinite content / We’re infinitely content”, sung in a fucking lullaby-ish sweetness on the second one); melodies are gnat-like, if they exist at all (“Signs of Life”, “Electric Blue”). Regine barely sings lead again, and the song-writing’s pretty non-existent (“Good God Damn” has a nice bass-line and…?); excepting “Everything Now”, they trade orchestral build-ups and textures for instant-impact sounds that don’t make any of these songs worth hearing past the first chorus, if you make it to that checkpoint in the first place. There isn’t a single song here that I’d miss if I never heard it again (“Put Your Money on Me” is apparently a highlight, but I can’t hear that synth-line without wanting to hear Jessy Lanza’s “Giddy”), including ones that I actually wish I never heard in the first place – it’s hard enough making a good alternative dance record in fucking 2017, let alone one that’s so detached from reality. (How can pretentious dance music be a thing?) Reviews from Pitchfork, Tiny Mix Tapes, Pretty Much Amazing all covered it already; David Foster Wallace’s tirade against irony falls on dead ears to people who probably have read Infinite Jest.
Jack DeJohnette et al. – Hudson (2017) – B+
I was super-excited about this: Jack DeJohnette (best known for drumming during Miles Davis’ fusion years) delivered one of last year’s best albums, jazz or otherwise, in In Movement (with Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison). On Hudson, he collaborates with Larry Grenadier on bass (best known for his work with Brad Mehldau), John Medeski on keys (whom you might recognize for his work with John Zorn) and John Scofield on guitar (who also worked with Miles Davis, but during Davis’ late period). And it did not disappoint: Hudson is a generous collection of 11 songs over 70 minutes, leveraging Scofield’s melodic guitar lines and Medeski’s psychedelic explorations over Grenadier’s acoustic bass and DeJohnette’s unmistakable drum-work across an array of styles. Just listen to the two vastly different approaches of the two Bob Dylan covers: the band set “Lay Lady Lay” to a reggae groove and emphasize one of Dylan’s most direct tunes. And I was surprised that they would dare cover a lyric-heavy song like “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, especially one that I can’t imagine being sung by anyone except Bob Dylan. So they go for a different approach, trying to capture the apocalypse in the instrumentation instead. (I’m also pretty sure that Scofield quotes “Tennessee Waltz” at the end; it certainly sent me straight to Sonny Rollins’ cover, which DeJohnette played on). Elsewhere, they focus on the R&B elements of Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” while DeJohnette resurrects “Dirty Ground,” originally from 2012’s Sound Travels and originally sung by Bruce Hornby, opting to perform vocals himself. His older vocals do the lyrics more justice than the first take. And John Medeski elevates both Scofield’s original “El Swing” with his solo (notice how it’s pushed forward to climax by DeJohnette and Gernadier) and “Up on Cripple Creek,” with an intro that captures the spirit of the Band. The surprises don’t end there: bringing in woodwinds, tribal drums and vocals to round the album on “Great Spirit Peace Chant.”