Mancunian epic rockers Doves often suffer in the indie world’s view for their generic similarities to several derided giants of British stadium rock, but there’s no other lad-rock anywhere that’s quite this dynamic, angular, and haunted. For Kingdow of Rust, Doves shook off the dust from the sonic blueprints for their career-best effort, The Last Broadcast. The final product can sometimes be over-familiar (“The Greatest Denier” and “Spellbound”), but the most evocative moments are undeniably powerful. Opener “Jetstream” is influenced both by Kraftwerk and Vangelis’ Blade Runner score, and expands gloriously on its electronic base. The title track envisions ghostly shapes amidst Manchester’s cooling towers and the Pennine moors. “10:03” begins predictably but soon switches tracks to something more forceful and sinister. The rewarding journey ends with the wonderfully-produced “Lifelines”, their finest ballad since “Caught by the River”. Four albums in, Jimi Goodwin and the Williams brothers continue to restlessly tweak their creative formula, with completely satisfying results.
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Born Like This represents DOOM’s return to rap, with the chrome–domed villain at his sharpest, a menacingly streamlined name and rhymes to match. With no topic beyond his grasp—he highlights the increased homogenisation of of hip-hop since his self-imposed exile, but filtered through the darker realities of war, race, religion, and sexuality. The album’s centrepiece is undoubtedly “Cellz”, which opens with Charles Bukowski’s apocalyptic “Dinosauria, We”. This audacious sample reinforces DOOM’s dark lyrical content, as well as drawing parallels to the work of other American poets who dealt with self-examination and dirty realism. “Can it be I stayed away too long?” croons DOOM on “That’s That”, and after a five year hiatus, you might be forgiven for considering it a possibility, but Born Like This swims against the tide. It builds into a complex and layered work, crafted with a deft touch that proves hip-hop’s villain may have matured into its saviour.
It seems to be the nature of the world to chafe at any spot of contentment in your life, and Born on Flag Day captures that sense of being at odds with your surroundings as well as any release this year. It’s a feeling of conflict that exists in every part of the band’s music: the faster songs feel like they’re about to run off the rails, sharp lyrics lurk in the slower songs just waiting for their chance to cut to the bone, and vocalist John Joseph McCauley conveys it all with an acute, nasally rasp. Born on Flag Day is an album with a lot of stories to tell, and its characters—from the regret-filled grandfather of “Song About a Man” to the slacker lovers of “Friday XIII”—offer insight into the bad choices we make, and why we might be making them.
It’s a music writer cliché to say that something takes a genre from the past and makes it fresh again, but the shoe—or the neon blue shades—fits with LA’s Dam-Funk. His resuscitation of ‘80s R&B and boogie provided for hands down the best music of the summer, instrumentals that glisten and glide with burbling bass and greasy synth solos that in a perfect world would last forever. But what’s best about Dam-Funk is that he’s reverent of his funk heroes without allowing that to bog him down. Instead, he uses their music as the blueprint for an intergalactic strand of instrumental hip-hop that is distinctly his. There is a song here called “Searchin’ 4 Funk’s Future”—it’s nine minutes long and two hours of music come after it. I think Riddick is too humble to realize that he might be it.
Forget 2012. If 2009 marked the apocalypse, Scars would make a fantastic send-off for planet Earth. In their dependably inimitable manner, Basement Jaxx have crafted an album that fuses together beats of numerous styles and orientations. Scars distills a good half-century’s worth of dance music from around the world—ska, Euro-pop, bhangra—and funnels it through the genius of Felix Buxton and Simon Racliffe. Santigold, Yoko Ono, and Yo Majesty lead a motley crew of guests who bring a distinct flavor to each production, which makes singling out one defining track a futile enterprise. However, if today is all we had, and tomorrow ceased to exist, I know I’d want to face my mortality with the voices of Sam Sparro (“Feelings Gone”) and Lightspeed Champion (“My Turn”) leading the way.