M.I.A – Matangi (N.E.E.T Recordings; 2013)
Matangi is the fourth studio album by English-Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A. and is an inconsistent mess that’s actually pretty satisfying. “Karmageddon” starts the album off with a bass-heavy sound that kind of lugs its way through the title track, an incoherent dribble of beats upon which is laid a pretty fierce South-Asian influence. “Warriors” is where the album drops the experimental shenanigans and really kicks into first gear with a sleek set of sounds and a trance-inducing chorus.
“Come Walk With Me” is the closest thing to a mainstream pop song the album has to offer — and it works. A heavy contrast is conveyed in “Bad Girl,” a straight-shot anthem for badass women.
It definitely takes a few listens to get into the Sri-Lankan influenced bits, but the bass-heavy tracks and quasi-pop single save the album. This is definitely a purchase only longtime M.I.A. fans should consider making.
Trial Track: “Y.A.L.A”
Jhené Aiko – Sail Out (Def Jam; 2013)
Jhené Aiko has soul. And if you have yet to hear her voice, it’s time to get on it. Dropping her seven-song EP Sail Out, ., the beautiful Los Angeles native proves she has mad talent. Writing each one of the tracks herself, she approaches every line with a ‘no-holds-barred attitude.’ From getting too faded and losing all control, to her brother’s recent death, to making love in the afternoon, and calling out guys of the past; you feel every word of her powerful, sultry verses.
Not only are the lyrics gripping and undeniably genuine, her sensual tone is dreamy. With each song, Jhené gives us a glimpse into her highs and lows through vivid, emotional accounts of her reality. While the first four songs feature Vince Staples, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul, Jhené grabs her listener’s attention in its entirety for the last three tracks. “There’s no place quite like here, there’s no better time than now,” and right now, it’s Jhené’s time.
Trial Track: “The Worst”
Lady Gaga – ARTPOP (Streamline, Interscope Records; 2013)
Lady Gaga has once again given us an electro-pop drenched album but this time with a hint of space rock and rap: the perfect recipe. Although most of the tracks on this record are strictly for the dance floor, Gaga manages to incorporate some fast-paced rock beats into her songs “Manicure” and “Fashion!” and reserves two other songs of hers, “Jewels N’ Drugs” and “Do What U Want,” for the rap and R&B listeners out there. Gaga flaunts her strong operatic voice in “Dope,” a heartfelt ballad about love and drug addiction.
This leaves us with 10 pop-electronica filled songs like “G.U.Y.” and of course her famous hit singles “Applause” and “Aura” that exposes her as a true pop artist. ARTPOP is the vehicle that lets her enter different genres, or worlds, of music; if you have never listened to Gaga before, you can start now.
Trial track: “Dope”
Tennis – Small Sound EP (Communion Records; 2013)
This five-track EP hails a sea of change for the Denver-based husband-and-wife duo, Tennis. Not only did the group change producers, enlisting the aid of Richard Swift (The Shins, Foxygen), they have also left Mississippi record label Fat Possum for London-based Communion Records.
The shift seems to have added a layer of depth and maturity to the indie-pop duo. Vocalist Alaina Moore stated that the new material is “a bit darker overall, maybe a little weird,” a stark contrast to the band’s sugary-sweet debut, Cape Dory, and a natural progression from their sophomore release, Young & Old.
If Small Sound EP is a sample of what’s to come for Tennis, we can expect a decidedly higher production value, with a soulful Motown-inspired sound, building on the duo’s established pop formula.
Trail Track: “Timothy”
– Paul Traunero