JTalbumcover.jpgJUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: The 20 / 20 Experience
RCA, 70 minutes

Rating: 4/5

When judging an album, how much emphasis do you place on lyrics? The answer will undoubtedly play into your opinion of Justin Timberlake’s third effort The 20 / 20 Experience, an album full of infectious prog-pop beats, enough hooks to build a slaughterhouse — and lyrics so thin they make James Brown sound like Leonard Cohen.

Do you wanna hear yet another song about how craving pussy is, like, so similar to being hooked on smack? Enjoy “Pusher Love Girl.” Have you ever felt so fly, you compared yourself to a rocket? Blast off with the tortured metaphors of “Spaceship Coup” (“I don’t want to be the one to alien-ate ...” Get it!?) The album’s best songs, the otherwise stellar “Don’t Hold the Wall” and “Let the Groove Get In,” are nothing more or less than extended invocations of dancing.

Most pop lyrics are inane, but the contrast between insufferable wordplay and progessive musicality in The 20 / 20 Experience is striking. Think of how much deeper the skittering, DJ Shadow-esque “Tunnel Vision” would feel if the song was actually about something. How should we reconcile the glistening throwback groove of “Suit & Tie” with groaners like “So thick, now I know why they call it a fatty”? Make no mistake — musically, Timberlake’s The 20 / 20 Experience is one of the finest, most unique pop albums of the past few years. Just don’t pay attention to what comes tumbling out of his mouth.

CaitlinRoseCover.jpgCAITLIN ROSE: The Stand-In
ATO, 39 minutes
Rating: 4/5

Never forget Caitlin Rose’s excellent sophomore effort The Stand-In is a country album. Country music has always been a thing unto itself, but over time it’s become (quite unfairly) increasingly isolated from critical discussion, the bane of anyone who considers him/herself an arbiter of good taste. “I like every genre, except country” is a line I still hear semi-regularly from “serious,” “open-minded” music fans.

So you might spend your time with The Stand-In waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Rose to wink past the slide guitars, honky tonk lyrics and lovesick delivery, to let you know she’s putting on an act. But it never happens. In the wrong hands, “Dallas” and “Old Numbers” could’ve come across as pandering approximations of “old timey” Southern music, but Rose’s impeccable songwriting and warm, fragile voice give them real authenticity.

Despite its crossover success with indie critics, The Stand-In should earn no “alt-country” tags, no suggestions of genre revisionism on the level of ATO labelmates My Morning Jacket and Old Crow Medicine Show. While the steady, haunting build of “Everywhere I Go” owes something to upper-tier indie rock acts like Grizzly Bear or Arcade Fire, there’s nothing here to suggest Rose is afraid of being called a country artist. Her top-50 showing on Billboard’s genre chart is pure validation.

LowInvisible.jpgLOW: The Invisible Way
Sub Pop, 41 minutes

Rating: 3.5/5

While interviewing Low co-frontman Alan Sparhawk two years ago, I noticed he took a few more seconds than most after every question to consider his response. He may have been in a contemplative mood. Or maybe he really does have as much patience as his music suggests.

He and bandmate / wife Mimi Parker have never been in a great hurry to go anywhere. They’ve made 10 albums in two decades, none of which are very anomalous to the signature Low sound — quiet, mid-tempo, with the occasional, surprisingly bitter turn of phrase (“Maybe you should write your own damn song, and move on” Sparhawk suggests, in the most gentle tone imaginable, on The Invisible Way opener “Plastic Cup.”) This has won them wide acclaim — who wouldn’t want to root for the most pleasantly stubborn band in the world? — but makes reviewing a new Low album somewhat redundant; your favourite Low album is probably the first one you listened to.

That’s not to say they've ever run out of ideas, just that their shifts are subtle to the point of being imperceptible. For any other band the use of an acoustic guitar would go unnoticed, but on The Invisible Way it’s downright dramatic, turning Low into the folk band they never quite were. Given the choice of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy as producer it’s not all that unexpected, but in practice kind of surprising; songs that might've been eerie and haunting if done electrically (“Clarence White,” “Mother”) are almost warm and fuzzy. For Sparkhawk and Parker, who seem to give even the smallest details great consideration, going acoustic must not have been an idle decision.

0 Comments | Add a Comment
*Your Name:
*Enter code:
* Comment: