Carrie Underwood, Noname and More – Rolling Stone


Carrie Underwood, Cry Pretty
The latest album from American Idol‘s first “country” winner is “the next step, a modern country album pivoting into pop and r&b without going full Taylor, while also showing the kind of character more mega-stars should aspire to,” writes Will Hermes. “The songcraft is grade-A mall soundtracking, and credit Underwood’s mighty mezzo-ish soprano with selling even the lesser ones.”
Read Our Review: Carrie Underwood’s Populist Pop Pivot Cry Pretty

Various Artists, Basement Beehive: The Girl Group Underground
Over the last four years, intrepid reissue label Numero Group has been masterfully stepping past the “eccentric soul” that made their label a sampler’s feast, releasing compilations cataloging the shadow histories of proto-metal, yacht rock, exotica and country rock. Basement Beehive is, naturally, a collection of girl group obscurities running behind the pop success of groups like the Shirelles and the Shangri-La’s. Its brassy, swim-ready opener “Will You Be My Love,” by the Four J’s, previously filled out the ample rarities selection on Rhino’s essential 2005 box set One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found. But the crate-diggers at Numero go deep and stay there. Like One Kiss, Beehive is less about an idealized “girl group” genre tag, and more about an early-Sixties explosion of female pop energy. Which means there’s room for the recording debut of then-14-year-old future funk star Lyn Collins (on Charles Pikes & the Scholars’ driving “Unlucky in Love”) and Bernadette Carroll (who sings uncredited background vocals on “My Boyfriend’s Back”) attempting her own Twist-style dance craze on “Do the Humpty Dump,” as well as punk-y, space-y Winehouse Nuggets weirdness from Vickie and the Van Dykes. Floridian all-girl rock band Belles ­cover Them’s “Gloria” for a boy whose name is spelled M.E.L.V.I.N. and sound like the Raincoats on the flipside “Come Back” — a good recalibration for anyone who thinks female punk bands started with the Runaways. Moods range from the haunting (the Mellow Dawns’ “I Don’t Believe”) to the giddy (Judi and the Affections’ “Dum Dum De Dip”) to the sparse (The Shades’ “I Won’t Cry”). Christopher R. Weingarten

Aphex Twin, Collapse
Most Aphex Twin music since 2001’s Drukqs has been some amalgam of Richard D. James’ greatest tricks: the tripping-over-a-drum-machine skitter, the gorgeous piano dirges, the blissful ambience, the squelches of acid techno gone feral. This EP starts with a spasmodic, flickering updates of classic Aphex — opener “T69 Collapse” has the wistful melodies and unpredictable chattering rhythms of 1996’s Richard D. James Album and the accelerated gravity beats of 1997’s “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball.” But it promptly falls down a dank, dubby hole that feels, rhythmically, like his classic drill ‘n’ bass, while texturally resembling modern rumble. The rubbery art-trap of “1st 44” sounds like a Mike Will Made It beat run through a blender; “Abundance10edit[2 R8’s, FZ20m & a 909]” sounds like multiple vintage techno records playing over each other; the wubbing “MT1 t29r2” sounds like mosquitos flitting about a sewer rave; and “Pthex” is acid nostalgia through a cocaine haze. Christopher R. Weingarten

Noname, Room 2
This Chicago MC’s new album refines many of the qualities that made her 2016 debut Telefone such a gem. Noname raps in a voice just above a whisper throughout, like the second coming of Bahamadia; but her voice is noticeably stronger, her diction is clearer, and her wit is as sharp as ever. Importantly, she spends most of this 35-minute suite rapping instead of singing, as if she intends to affirm her lyrical bona fides. “Y’all really thought a bitch couldn’t rap, huh?” she jokes on the dazzling opener “Self,” its understated neo-soul groove allowing her to stack bars on bars. Her emphasis on rhyming in quick, poetical couplets makes those moments when she delves into introspective melody truly stand out, as if spoken words can’t fully express her feelings. Room 25 spans a number of topics, from winning a modest amount of fame to exploring distant locales (namely, Los Angeles) and engaging in random hookups. But what’s remarkable about this finely detailed jewel of an album is how quiet it sounds. Not quite a bedroom project — she’s supported by numerous Chitown guests, including Smino, Saba and Ravyn Lenae — it’s an update of the cool-jazz ethos, full of introspection and wonder at the world that’s expanding around Noname, one that’s eager to embrace her vision. Mosi Reeves

Nao Yoshioka, The Truth
“It’s not every day you find a Japanese singer getting traction on what’s known as ‘Adult R&B’ radio — a catch-all format where artists with interest in pre-Drake R&B can still find a commercial audience. But here comes Nao Yoshioka, who was born in Osaka, climbing the chart with ‘I Love When,’ a finely buffed neo-soul ballad,” writes Elias Leight. “The Truth is shamelessly nostalgic for the year 2000, around the time when Jill Scott released her debut album. But it’s also exactly up-to-date, because a generation of young singers, raised on Scott and the other neo-soul singers of that era, are now every bit as nostalgic as Yoshioka: The Internet, Kali Uchis, Ari Lennox, BJ the Chicago Kid, JMSN.”
Read Our Review: Nao Yoshioka’s The Truth Is Impeccable Neo-Soul

David Nail and the Well Ravens, Only This and Nothing More
After an underappreciated stint as part of the Nashville machine — radio still runs country, and he had just two true hits — the Missouri native split with his longtime label and crafted this LP of heaving, elegiac rock. The drums are pushy and the guitars are fuzzy and high in the mix; country signifiers like banjo and pedal steel are noticeably absent. Nail quietly had one of the strongest voices in Nashville in the last decade, a weary, textured thing that held its own even in duets with the great Lee Ann Womack, and he seems to enjoy wrestling with his booming, emphatic band. “Come Back Around” is a broken relationship post-mortem filled with sheets of electric guitar, crashing drums and a chorus built for stadiums. Country didn’t treat him well; maybe rock can take him in. Elias Leight

Dilly Dally, Heaven
Katie Monks’ lye-dipped voice, a from-the-gut yawp full of bile and rage, helped this Toronto foursome become one of 2015’s more hotly tipped rock acts. But the wear and tear of buzz-bin status almost broke Dilly Dally up — and Heaven takes a slightly lighter, if no less intense approach to Dilly Dally’s sound, with the interplay between Monks’ yowl and guitarist Liz Ball’s grimily melodic contributions shepherding the band toward their gloriously grungy breakdowns. Monks’ voice still slices through speakers, but Ball’s counterpoint riffs to Monks’ cooing give “I Feel Free” a gorgeous cohesion and add inevitably-exploding tension to the latticework verses of “Bad Biology,” while the way Monks sighs the title of the fuzzed-up “Marijuana” turns her bandmates’ clamor into a muck-covered hug. Maura Johnston
Read Our Feature: Dilly Dally Went Through Hell to Get to Heaven

The Goon Sax, We’re Not Talking
This adorable Australian trio’s second LP is one of this year’s most charming indie releases. On its devastatingly great single “Make Time 4 Love,” a jumpy cowbell beat and taught guitar churn unfold into a gushing melody and summery strings as Louis Forster sings “let’s get nervous in your room again,” with the florid charisma and old-world charm of a cardigan-clad Bryan Ferry. Forster’s father is Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens, one of the greatest bands of college-pop’s Eighties golden age, and the Goon Sax have more than mastered the sounds of that era. Songs like “She Knows” and “A Few Times Too Many” recall the Raincoats and Swell Maps; mutedly pretty baubles like ‘We Can’t Win” and “Losing Machine” evoke Young Marble Giants; you can hear twee touchstones the Pastels in their boy-girl vocals and the Feelies in their strummier pastoral moments. It’s pretty accomplished stuff for a band just entering the cusp of their 20s. Jon Dolan

Loudon Wainwright III, Years In the Making
The rarities companion to the king of acid folk’s 40 Odd Years box, this batch of homemade demos, lo-fi live tapes, covers and cameos from ex-wives and kids lives up to its “audio-biography” billing. Over its two discs, Wainwright revisits his dismantling of singer-songwriter tropes (his twisted take on the cloying campfire ballad “I Gave My Love a Cherry”), the often bitter rise and fall of his relationships, his dicey attempts at rock crossover and his begrudging acceptance of dadhood, cult status and senior-citizen status. Not for Wainwright newcomers, but those who dig in will relish his unrelenting candor and a handful of gems — the dysfunctional-family-saga singalong “Meet the Wainwrights,” the definitive, solo “You Can’t Fail Me Now,” and a harsh takedown of his parental skills, “Teenager’s Lament” — that remind you how underrated he remains. David Browne

Low, Double Negative
This Minnesota trio has made a career out of minimalism — slow-moving, beautiful melodies where one subtle change opens up everything into something magnificent. Expect all that and less (in a good way) on Double Negative, a blistery, blustery electronic interpretation of the classic Low sound made with producer B.J. Burton (James Blake, Sylvan Esso). Throughout, they stain and mangle their ruminations on frustration with staticky noise, belly-rumbling bass and effects that make it sound like a radio caught between stations. The grit would be irritating if the music surrounding it wasn’t so gorgeous; it also sets up some of the record’s more poignant tracks. On “Always Up,” Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Rogers allow their voices to shine through pristinely and then enfold them once again with noise; “Dancing and Fire,” meanwhile, contains one of the band’s darkest lyrics yet (“It’s not the end, it’s just the end of hope”). Listening is like looking into another, incredible dimension. Kory Grow

Barre Phillips, End to End
Close to 50 years after founding his legendary jazz and classical label ECM, producer Manfred Eicher is still obsessed with the simple sound of an acoustic instrument in a room. On End to End, that instrument is the double bass as played by Barre Phillips, an 83-year-old master improviser who recorded the world’s first solo bass album back in 1968. Across 13 concise unaccompanied tracks, Phillips explores a striking array of textures — ghostly bowed lines that can sound almost flutelike, percussive tapping of the strings, abstract melodies that unfold leisurely — all captured with disarming intimacy. Phillips says End to End is his final solo album; if so, he couldn’t have hoped for a purer distillation of his genre-transcending art. Hank Shteamer

Dustin Wong, Fluid World Building 101 With Shaman Bambu
In a lateral move from the glitched-American-primitive of his Thrill Jockey solo albums, guitarist Dustin Wong (Ponytail, Ecstatic Sunshine) dives modem-first into the cassette underground, emerging with pointillist ambient music. Take a close listen to these cheery guitar doodles, chattering xylophones and puff-paint scribbles and it’s chiming, confusing, chaotic, cellular, busy; take a step back and it’s a soothing digital rainstorm. As a whole, Fluid World Building exists somewhere between vaporwave, Steve Reich, skipping CDs, distortion pedals that stretch guitar tones into Silly Putty and the distended textures of recent Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. But “Don’t Be Ashamed,” which pairs Spandau Ballet-ish crooning with Black Dice glurb, is an oasis of pop in a swirl of cartoon chaos. Christopher R. Weingarten



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