So my plan was this: two green lights, two yellow lights, and a snarky red light to wrap things up.
Then I unexpectedly started to hear what everyone around me already appreciated about Sharon Van Etten’s new album. Last minute conversions like that are why I do this.
Dawn – New Breed
Nothing like an artist entering the home stretch on an album you love by righteously declaring “It’s not a compliment when you doubt my success in a polite way” to make you doublethink the way you phrase your reservations about its admirable predecessors, eh? So let’s breeze past how appreciatively daunted past albums from the Dannity Kane alum turned Afrofuturist auteur fka Dawn Richard left me and skip straight to the infinitely and intimately unfolding pleasures of New Breed. Dawn's ideas are less streamlined or simplified than compacted. Where once her tracks sprawled architecturally, here their components–a trap beat fading like an exorcised ghost, a Roy Ayers synth gliding in like a childhood memory–click together to fill up smaller spaces, shadowy yet luxuriant spaces, her rhythmic logic unpredictable in ways that come to feel inevitable. And whether she’s feeling nostalgic (“the nine”), dirty (“sauce”), petty (“jealousy”), or righteous (“we, diamonds”), the lyrics come correct and direct. We all deserve the good sex and supportive community and basic respect Dawn demands. Only difference is, she’s artist enough to make anyone who’d deny her any of themlook like a dope. And I do mean that as a compliment. GO
The Delines –The Imperial
Willy Vlautin’s main band, Richmond Fontaine, has always creaked a little bleakly for my taste, but here singer Amy Boone navigates the one wrong turn after another his lyrics steer her toward with a mild relief that at least she hasn’t hit a dead end yet, Call it existential soul music, stripped of any solid belief but tenuously rescued from despair by a gentle exertion of will, an indiscriminate extension of empathy, and some subtly supportive instrumentation: piano or Fender Rhodes, decorative pedal steel, and a spare drumbeat with just the hint of funk. The women Vlautin sketches and Boone inhabits don’t seek out damaged men, they’re just making do with what’s available, and when the lyrics shift to third-person, the bouts of alcoholism and petty crime are observed rather than celebrated or judged. (If anything, Boone undersells the cheap thrills of temporary escape.) Understated singers usually let you hear the pain simmering and contained beneath the surface; Boone’s gift is to allow it to rise up but never engulf her. That persuasive illusion of spontaneous transparency makes her the ideal interpreter of the second thoughts, passing observations, and unchecked impulses that run through Vlautin’s lyrics. When she warns a depressed pal “You’re using up all your vacation days” on “Cheer Up Charley” or ends a platonic rendezvous with a former lover just out of prison by insisting “Hold my hand under the table before I leave,” she’s singing his words but he’s speaking her language.GO
Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
“Sitting at the bar I told you everything/You said ‘Holy shit’” is a helluva lede, and what’s most bracing about Van Etten throughout this album is her willingness to deadpan a heavy revelation for dramatic effect then chase it with a sour rush of hooky adrenaline, like someone sharing her darkest secret just as the roller coaster you’re both sitting in is about to barrel downhill. Producer John Congleton’s electronic sound effects—the forlorn boom-bap that shows up uninvited to “I Told You Everything,” the synthfuzz horns traipsing with mockery through “You Shadow,” the distorted detonations that threaten to make “Hands” into Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”—offer much more than background, but Van Etten herself is always the foreground. She shrouds her vowels in dark gauze on “No One’s Easy to Love” then loops unexpectedly upward to add a third dimension to the titular truism. She doesn’t even have to specify that the romance of “Malibu” ends badly—you can hear it in her voice. And the way she invests “Seventeen” with the swing-for-the-fences thrill of Arcade Fire first going arena rock is undeniable. GO
Future – Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD
Even if Future’s lyrics ever make good on his professed desire to mature out of his drug-sodden supervillain phase, the pleasures and pains he offers will remain the same: the Auto-Striated wail of a man struggling to choose agony over numbness matched with a single-minded determination to milk every last nuance from a simple assault on language. He locks in on a word or three, uncovers some narrowly circumscribed melodic and rhythmic potential concealed within, and then he works that shit to the breaking point. Slight variations reinforce the repetition—sometimes the delivery of the same phrase shifts, sometimes the rhythm remains and rhymes come tumbling out: “I designered my sneakers, yeah/I done fucked my teacher/Talk shit like a preacher” goes my favorite example here. Sure, after ten years of this, the returns are diminishing, but only in proportion to how much you got from him to start. Me, I can’t always stand the way he sings but I still love to hear him talk. SLOW
James Blake – Assume Form
But don’t presume content—not with lyrics that could be the results of a predictive text game. And while Travis Scott. Rosalia, and Andre 3000 all make something of Blake’s baroque glitchery, his fussy limitations as a trackmaster show through whenever he himself snatches the mic to Jeremy Bearimy his vaunted non-toxic vulnerability all over the room. There’s no grace to his complexity, no focus to his delivery, so his swoops and swandives and curlicues register not as virtuosity but as insecurity, like if stops to catch his breath we’ll question the depth of his sensuality. I think “needy” is the word I want here? NO
Go Slow No is a weekly survey of new and overlooked album releases. The rating system is pretty self-explanatory: GO means listen to this now, SLOW means check it out when you get a chance, and NO means run screaming from the room if you hear so much as a note of it.