It's hard to stay on top with music styles mutating so fast. Maroon 5 has apparently accomplished this via some sort of Faustian pact, trading in the soul that made its 2007 CD "It Won't Be Soon Before Long" such a joy for the machine-tooled dance-pop of last year's comeback single, "Moves Like Jagger." "Overexposed" has a couple of similar electro-rousers, "One More Night" and "Payphone," that are catchier than a computer virus. But far too much of this album sounds lazy, calculated, and, yes, even strident. I'm looking at you, "Lucky Strike."
Whether punching or being punched, Chris Brown is a magnet for controversy. There's always some scrape he is in the middle of, whether it involves a woman (Rihanna) or a rival (Drake).
Luckily, the 23-year-old R&B singer with the elastic baritone is capable of souped-up modern soul far bolder than any headline. With each record since 2009's "Graffiti," the charismatic Mr. Brown, a onetime prince of pop-hop, has become increasingly dependent on techno-trickery and sleek sequenced beats. The result of such electronically induced revisionism is an AutoTuned erotica of sorts, with the mature Brown as the ultimate RoboRomancer on the Eurocentric likes of "Strip."
Motor-driven machismo and steely sexuality aren't all Mr. Brown's thinking about. While dance-club life gets its due on the clunky "Bassline" and the slinky "Turn Up the Music," hanging at the strip club and getting "medicated" is the subject of "Till I Die." With military electro-beats behind him and rappers Big Sean and Wiz Khalifa, "Die" races at an up-tempo clip until hitting upon "Said she wanna check the poll/I said OK Sarah Palin." If this is Mr. Brown hitting up political controversy, he may have another fight on his hands.
With 2009's "Bitte Orca," Dirty Projectors established themselves as one of today's most adventurous and significant indie-rock bands. Helmed by singer-guitarist David Longstreth, the band merged avant-garde conceptual structures, West African-influenced guitar lines, and leaping female harmonies in songs that were as knotty as they were uplifting. It was the Projectors' most accessible album.
"Swing Lo Magellan," the much-anticipated successor and the band's sixth overall, uses similar elements, but it's looser, less dense, and less immediate. The songs are full of startling bursts -- a blast of Jimmy Page-like guitar in "Offspring Are Blank," the bleat of women's voices in "Gun Has No Trigger" -- amid Mr. Longstreth's elongated vocal lines. Moments of relative simplicity (the acoustic title track; the easygoing "Impregnable Question") contrast with complexly layered, more challenging pieces (the skittering, electronic "See What I See"; the communal, clattering "Unto Caesar"). "Bitte Orca" is still the best gateway to Dirty Projectors' complicated rewards, but "Swing Lo Magellan" often distills the band's strengths.
-- Steve Klinge, The Philadelphia Inquirer
NEW THIS WEEK
The English Beat, "The Complete Beat": In America they were known as the English Beat from the start. Though they released only one single on the 2 Tone label, the band belonged to the same British ska revival that gave us the Specials, Madness, black and white checkerboard patterns, and that little "Rude Boy" button Prince wore on the cover of "Controversy." The English Beat stood apart, though, thanks mostly to Dave Wakeling's first-rate songwriting. He was a sharp observer and turner of phrases in the Elvis Costello mold, and he wrote to his band's particular strengths as precisely as Pete Townshend did for the Who. Two new compilations, the five-disc box set "The Complete Beat" and the 16-track "Keep the Beat: The Very Best of the English Beat," document the Beat's career transformation. It started off a ska band with pop instincts, and ended up a pop band with reggae cred. (Josh Langhoff)
Twin Shadow, "Confess": George Lewis Jr. is an honest man. He's been refreshingly upfront about his adoration for his much-maligned home state of Florida, the superiority of Puerto Rican hairdressers, and his voracious appetite for drugs and women while on tour. His 2010 debut as Twin Shadow, "Forget," followed a very real breakup with a breakup record and was as personal as it was polished. His much-anticipated follow-up, "Confess," pushes his candor further. Like "Forget," it forges an amicable compromise between INXS, Don Henley, and the Cure, but Lewis has foregone that album's collaborations and extensive revision this time around in the interest of expressing himself exactly how he wants. The outcome is looser, flakier, and more grandiose; Lewis sings every anthemic chorus to the cheap seats with aching abandon. Maybe it's inevitable that "Confess" wants for the discipline of its predecessor, and yet Lewis's ultra-confident, high-gloss sincerity is pretty hard to resist, anyway. (Benjamin Aspray)
Woody Guthrie, "Woody at 100: Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection": July 14, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie's birth -- a date that seems remarkable not because it's so distant, but because it's so recent. Listening to "Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection," the new box set from Smithsonian Folkways, you can hear the distance between Guthrie's time and ours in the sound of the needle moving through the grooves of the records that serve as its source material. But beneath the pops and crackles you can also hear words and music that might have been written this morning. Amazingly, given how many Guthrie sets there have been to date, the folks at Smithsonian Folkways have found some new songs that make their first appearance here. (Jeff Schwager)
Other notable releases this week: Aesop Rock, "Skelethon"; Zac Brown Band, "Uncaged"; Duran Duran, "A Diamond in the Mind: Live 2011"; Jimi Hendrix, "Jimi Hendrix Experience Live at Berkeley"; Marina and the Diamonds, "Electra Heart"; Mission of Burma, "Unsound"; P.O.D., "Murdered Love"; Serj Tankian, "Harakiri"; Rhonda Vincent, "Sunday Mornin Singin"; Hank Williams Jr., "Old School New Rules."
NOW HEAR THIS
This past week, Blur premiered two new songs, "Under the Westway" and "The Puritan," via a London rooftop performance. You can catch both over at the band's website (www.blur.co.uk). They will be officially released as digital singles Aug. 6, but you can watch the live performances all you want until then. Blur has also just released a new video of a live studio performance of "Under the Westway." (Sarah Zupko)
Green Day just released the last trailer for its ambitious triple album project. Three new albums from the band will be coming out this year. "¡Uno!" is expected to be out Sept. 25 with first single "Oh Love" available July 16. Meanwhile, "¡Dos!" will be released on Nov. 13 and "¡Tre!" will arrive early next year, on Jan. 15. Rolling Stone magazine recently spoke with Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong to discuss working with producer Rob Cavallo and the sound of the album trilogy. "The first one is power pop. The second is more garageKITTY PRYDE "Haha I'm Sorry" (self-released, • • • • ).
The first words on Kitty Beckwith's second EP are "Get out of my room!"; on the next track she proclaims herself the "rap game Taylor Swift" before guest weirdo Riff Raff drops in to rhyme "rhinoceros" with "immaculate." The most laconic voice-of-her-generation candidate ever condenses a few years of New York Times-recognized microgenres (chillwave/ witch house/swag rap) into a happy, sluggish universe that culminates in turning 2012's biggest breakout hit, "Call Me Maybe," into the hypnotic-horns giggle "Give Me Scabies." The Floridian, a Claire's employee and unlikely rap star, spends "Haha's" other 10 minutes prizing 3 a.m. drunk dials, taking Adderall to stay thin, and bragging that she's ruining hip-hop. She's smarter than indie-rockers five years her senior, not least because she won't tell us how old she actually is. (Dan Weiss)