S.G. Goodman has a distinctive voice that is not conventionally pretty. It serves her alt-Goth country tales of life and love well. Her Tennessee drawl and warbly delivery provide grit to the demonstrative values expressed. Her sentiments come across as nastier and more personal than anthemic.
Goodman’s not preaching on Teeth Marks. She observes the world around her and sees that too many people waste their lives or at least don’t spend their time wisely. The good life would involve centering one’s life around the love of another human being instead of one’s job. Goodman is a queer Southerner who has received her share of abuse because of her sexuality. Her focus on romantic love seems to come as a defense mechanism. She’s enough of a realist to know that it’s not always a positive experience. Sometimes, love hurts, as in the title song “Teeth Marks”. Just because one may love somebody does not mean the other person will love you back. – Steve Horowitz
The eight songs on the Norwegian musician Jenny Hval’s latest album, Classic Objects, are purposely dreamlike. They are more atmospheric and rhythmic than narrative and follow tangents into unexplored places. As both narrator and protagonist, Hval starts in a waking state and then lets the songs float away into unknown territory. The results suggest our primal urges and our conscious thoughts are out of balance. “Life could be a dream”, as the Chords sang us so long ago on “Sh-boom”. But then it wouldn’t be real. Hval implies that we need to find a way to incorporate our dreams into our everyday life but to be wary. Hval’s ethereal voice suggests that her art serves a higher purpose. Her role is that of a doula to help the listeners release their inner selves. The specifics of her experience help ground us. – Steve Horowitz
This Is a Photograph
Kevin Morby‘s This Is a Photograph traces time in both a personal and a cultural way. The personal hits the hardest. Morby has morbid thoughts running through him, recognizing that time runs out on all of us. The album feels guided by an old picture of his father, a reminder of youth and vitality as well as the ephemeral nature of those characteristics. He embraces what he can, his family of origin and his romantic relationship most prevalently. Morby had death in mind, but it only inspires him to embrace the present.
At the same time, he takes a look at an America that exists partly in reality and partly in mythology. Rather than images, sound plays the role of the guide here with musicians from the past providing a focus. These pieces work well in establishing the mental landscape for the album, but the content also highlights the musical flexibility on display. Morby has increasingly drawn from a variety of influences and he remains as comfortable with a big rocker as with a little folk number. Memphis horns can find their place, too. Regardless of style, he makes sure to have every detail exactly in place. With an evocative and emotional mural on a precise scaffold, Morby’s pulled life and history together for his finest album. – Justin Cober-Lake
Vieux Farka Touré & Khruangbin
Ali Farka Touré’s bluesy style of guitar playing is often seen as having been crucial to the worldwide flow of Malian music today. On Ali, his son Vieux Farka Touré pays filial tribute to this legacy with the help of the trio Khruangbin, whose cosmopolitan blend of surf rock, funk, and dub makes for an effortlessly cool and hypnotic set of covers celebrating the late elder Touré. The blend is seamless, a languid show of Vieux’s skill on guitar and vocals laid over the top of Khruangbin’s untouchable sense of style. This is an album with warmth but not overwhelming heat, breezy without a chill, even at its quickest and heaviest. It can still be a party, as on rollicking “Tongo Barra” or wailing “Mahine Me”, but even so, it’s always refreshing. Ali consists of both the musical dexterity and the spirit of celebration its namesake deserves. For both Khruangbin and Vieux Farka Touré, it’s a masterful collaboration. – Adriane Pontecorvo
(XO / Republic)
January’s a notorious dumping ground for releases. With the exception of wider releases for indie Oscar hopefuls, Hollywood usually unloads their bottom-barrel releases during that month. TV series that networks don’t have a lot of confidence in getting aired. Popular music usually follows this trend. So, it takes a special kind of hubris to drop an album as thrilling, adventurous, and flat-out enjoyable as the Weeknd‘s Dawn FM on 7 January.
Coming relatively shortly off of his 2020 excellent After Hours and featuring no other than Jim Carrey as a DJ guiding listeners through purgatory, Dawn FM is the Weeknd’s most open-hearted, brutally honest album. On tracks like “Out of Time” and “Don’t Break My Heart”, Abel Tesfaye flirts with adult contemporary sounds that recall Bill Withers and Donny Hathaway. Dawn FM is a meditative, soulful, and fearless look at how quickly life and love can fade from our view. It was powerful enough to be felt through 2022, and will likely be felt for years to come. – Sean McCarthy
Tears for Fears
The Tipping Point
When Curt Smith sang “it’s been a long, long, long time” on Tears for Fears’ 2022 album The Tipping Point, he wasn’t trying to be cryptic. The Tipping Point truly was a long time coming, close to 18 years to be exact. While that is a ridiculously long wait time in the world of pop music, it shouldn’t overshadow what the British duo were able to accomplish musically after so many years together. Equipped with highlights like the Dylan-esque opener “No Small Thing”, the mortality waltz of the title track, and the breezy dismissal of the patriarchy on “Break the Man”, Smith and Roland Orzabal use The Tipping Point prove that they can work together for the better part of 40 years and still not run out of ideas.
The tracks that aren’t singles carry just as much weight, including the gospel-lite touches of “Rivers of Mercy” and the album’s gentle goodbye in “Stay”. The Tipping Point is more than a break in a dry spell; it’s a superb way to welcome Tears for Fears back to the land of creativity. If we all have to wait another 18 years for the next one, then we have a problem. – John Garratt
Crash is a big slay. Reigning princess of hyperpop Charli XCX has danced around the rims of anthemic pop music ever since her revelatory release Pop 2 (2017). She’s grown acclimated to imbuing her experimental synthpop mixtapes with enough weirdness to keep her mostly out of top 40 radio but flourishing within a community of dance-pop fundamentalists who fancy certified bop-makers with a flair for the freaky—and the cheeky.
On Crash, she merges her aggressive bass-rattling and Auto-Tuned leanings with hooks and interpolations straight out of the best of the 1980s and 1990 synthpop and house. She forgoes her typically stacked roster of featured artists for tracks that firmly place her voice at the center of the narrative (though assists from Christine and the Queens, Caroline Polachek, and Rina Sawayama are all welcome additions). The jams are unceasing, with standouts “Good Ones”, “Beg For You”, “Lightning” and “Used to Know Me” tumbling forward one after another, situating her aesthetic somewhere between the bubblegum of Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia (2020) or the noise pop of 100 gecs.
Charli capped off her nightmarish contract with Atlantic Records, a thirteen-year ordeal fueled with “authenticity” debates and constant image correction, with Crash. Free from the pressure to subscribe her music to the whims of the suits, there’s no telling what she’ll do next. All we can imagine is that it’ll go hard, fast, and be a real scream. – Michael Savio
Ibibio Sound Machine
Hot Chip-produced Electricity sees Ibibio Sound Machine launch their signature London-meets-Lagos electrofunk further into the future than ever before. Sharp, polished beats and grooves make for a lively set of synthpop tracks, though never at the expense of classic musicianship. Eno Williams’ vocals are as strong as ever, and the album is packed full of horns, bass, guitar, and drums; percussionists Afla Sackey and Joseph Omoako add additional texture. Thankfully, the group hasn’t forsaken their flair for the vintage; “Wanna See Your Face Again” is a definite 1990s club throwback, while “Truth No Lie” recalls disco’s finest moments. Electricity, though, is not only past and present but future funk. “Protection from Evil” and “Electricity” sizzle at the start; “Freedom” is a glittering finale full of love and hope. In between, the band simmers, shimmers, and bursts. In a career already notable for frequently changing direction, Electricity is the band’s sleekest and most gripping work to date. – Adriane Pontecorvo
Giving the World Away
Preoccupied with alt-pop sensibilities, indie pop singer Hatchie’s second LP allows for a concrete listening experience scarcely found in the artist’s discography up until this point, especially as she learns to trust her gut and listen to the rhythm within. The album doesn’t necessarily feel like a pandemic record, but the reflections its lyrics explore were most certainly influenced by the periods of isolation that the last few years have brought. Keeping the synths from her first album Keepsake, Hatchie now embraces an image reminiscent of Sigrid or Sky Ferreira.
Needless to say, the record simply goes places its predecessor did not and helps to establish the singer as a voice to watch on the alt/indie pop scene. Although her voice and meaning can sometimes get lost in the dreamlike state she continues to emulate, Giving the World Away comes through the most when the singer lets her anxieties take the lead. Where an ambitious production like this one would cause the deeper messages of other indie artists to get lost in the mix, Hatchie pulls it off by inviting us deeper and deeper into her world with each track, no matter how sleepy or domineering. – Jeffrey Davies
Florence + the Machine
All of Florence + the Machine‘s work is highly conceptual, and Dance Fever is no exception. Using imagery of witchcraft and extrasensory perception, Florence Welch exorcises demons. But here, she is perhaps the closest she’ll ever get to the pop and rock icons who influenced the work, as Welch’s stage presence can only be compared to herself alone. “I’m free when I’m dancing,” she sings, suggesting that perhaps a life ended by dancing it out is better than life standing still.
Dance Fever sounds like Florence + the Machine‘s most conceptual album yet, but in a fashion that allows the most catharsis her work has conjured since “Shake It Out”. Although much more theatrical than the honest but somehow boring High As Hope, this record asks its listener to sit a bit with the noise in our heads that might usually make us so uncomfortable. “I’ve spent my life trying to run away from these big feelings,” she told Vogue, with big feelings representing anything from growing older, to motherhood, to the grand uncertainty of life at large. If our time away from the world taught us anything, it’s that we have to feel it to move past it. And with Welch’s signature brand of theatricality, the group wants us to do just that. — Jeffrey Davies