Two albums quickly come to mind as comparison points for Beck’s first studio album in 6 years: Beck’s previous departure into folk, 2002’s Sea Change, and the ultra-specific and ultra-personal Benji from Sun Kil Moon. Morning Phase in many ways acts as the sequel to Sea Change, with Beck shedding his chameleon coat for a straightforward and earnest singer/songwriter record. Sea Change happened following a breakup, and while it was beautiful at points, the overall tone of the record was reflective and sober. On Morning Phase, is similarly beautiful, but takes more of a turn towards the euphoric than the brooding, catching a glimpse of the beauty of life. Benji acts as the antithesis in many ways Morning Phase. Where Benji is hyper-specific and includes deeply personal accounts of Mark Kozelek’s experiences with death, Morning Phase is a very simplified and impressionistic look at life, allowing the viewer to read their own experiences into the words. They also work as a comparison since they are the two best records so far in 2014, masterful at the disparate approaches they take.
Nearly two years after the release of “Bad Girls”, one of M.I.A.’s biggest singles to date, as well as a slew of three additional pre-releases, we now finally have the mother album to go with these albumless tracks, Matangi. After the non-success of her last album, MAYA (which I personally thought to be great) M.I.A. hit a creative wall, in which she was not only struggling with studio execs pressuring her to make another Kala, but was also suffering from some mild writers block. The good news is the frustration between artist and studio didn’t seem to have too much of an effect on the overall outcome of the album. After a trip to India she found inspiration from her Hindu roots in the goddess Matangi, the Hindu Divine Mother that governs music, knowledge and art. Fairly fitting I’d say, and her inspiration has led to yet another solid effort from our favorite English-Sri Lankan dub/electronica/world/hip-hop artist.
The Marshall Mathers LP2
Since I am the first one weighing in on Eminem’s MMLP2 I’m going to have to do some preemptive work to dispel the strong feelings against the album I’m sure Wes (and to a lesser extent Todd) are going to have against it. Wes doesn’t like Eminem for who he is. Eminem is unapologetically crass, emotionally raw to a terrifying degree, and cares much more about getting as many thoughts onto a record in word form than flashy production techniques. MMLP2 sticks to these tenets, and much like his previous record, Recovery, this all comes across with varying levels of success.
The Arcade Fire
The Arcade Fire are a band that have universally been lauded by critics and hipsters alike, but the Montreal arena rock band have left the other two LxL contributors a bit cold, and while I myself would call myself a fan, I don’t bow at the knee of Win Butler and company like many music fans. I had particular intrigue with their latest album, Reflektor, though considering it being produced by LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy in his first big project after LCD Soundsystem broke up. Reflektor contains some of the magnetic dance hooks that Murphy once brought to LCD Soundsystem, mixed in with big, guitar-driven Arcade Fire sound to make a good album that just falls a bit short of anything special, leaving me a bit cold yet again.
Sir Paul got lambasted last year on this blog for his dreadful valentine album, Kisses On The Bottom, landing as our biggest disappointment of 2012. But the most enduring singer rock history doesn’t rest on his laurels, but instead hit the road last year, with fellow LxLer Todd and I seeing a show of a lifetime this summer as MACCA headlined Bonnaroo. Now, the legendary Beatle releases New, an album giving new modern twists on McCartney’s tried and true musical strengths, my favorite album from Paul since the early 70’s (not that I was alive then, or have heard every album in between).
What makes New so fresh is a combination of Paul playing to his strengths and challenging himself with new sounds. With the help of Mark Ronson, title track “New” toys around with jaunty Beatles sounds from songs like “Penny Lane” and “We Can Work It Out” with a little more buzz and reverb to make this a fresh take on a nostalgic sound. “Queenie Eye” takes Paul’s famous sound of heavily punctuated piano pop and adds an air of mystery and a growing symphony of sound. On songs like “I Can Bet” and “Everybody Out There”, Sir Paul sounds 40 years younger, full of energy swinging along some folk-tinged pop with a funky edge. “Turned Out” is reminiscent of the best Traveling Wilbury’s tunes, except Paul doesn’t need three other legends: his charismatic presence fills the room plenty. “Get Me Out Of Here” is Paul doing his old playful lonely dog blues.
Giles Martin, longstanding Beatles producer George Martin’s son, produced the lion’s share of these songs, and it’s clear that he understands what it takes to Paul to step out of his shell but still get the most of what has made him the most enduring artist of all-time. Remove “On My To Work” and “Road” which are minor letdowns, this album his remarkably consistent and memorable for a 71 year old, or even a 31 year old for that matter. For a guy that has accomplished everything under the sun, it’s wonderful to see such a legend continue to push himself artistically.