Reviews of new pop music releases
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The New Pornographers “Brill Bruisers” (Matador 3 stars)
When the New Pornographers appeared in 2000, they were billed as a Canadian super group, but they’re even more “super” now: Not only have the Pornographers established themselves as a reliable force over the course of their five albums, but the three principal vocalists – mastermind Carl “A.C.” Newman, Dan Bejar of Destroyer, Neko Case – continue their increasingly ascendant solo careers.
But while their solo work is often tempestuous and introspective, in the Pornographers they’re unreserved, effervescent, and joyfully communal. After the comparatively restrained Challengers and Together, Brill Bruisers returns to the incessant exuberance of the first pair of Pornos albums.
Ecstatic gang vocals, power pop guitars, some newfound interest in vintage synth sounds – these unify the album regardless of whether Newman takes the lead for the propulsive title track or Case anchors the flowing “Champions of Red Wine” or Bejar steps to the fore on the emphatic “Born With a Sound.”
Ariana Grande “My Everything” (Republic 3 stars)
Grande, kiddie sitcom clown turned pluperfect pop star, delivers a follow-up to 2013’s Yours Truly that is far more assured, albeit not as much fun.
There’s great stuff here, especially “Break Free” with EDM wizard Zedd, “Break Your Heart Right Back,” which features rapper Childish Gambino and cleverly quotes Diana Ross, and (on the deluxe edition of the album) “Bang Bang,” her collaboration with Sister Sledgehammer – Jessie J and Nicki Minaj.
Grande’s voice is a wonder: all the power and range of Mariah Carey with a more seraphic tone. But there’s only one track here, “Hands on Me,” with rapper A$AP Ferg, on which Grande seems to abandon herself to the music the way she frequently did on her debut.
Everything else here sounds calculated. Impressive, but calculated.
Ty Segall “Manipulator” (Drag City 3 stars)
Ty Segall is so prolific as a solo artist, serial collaborator, and moonlighter in other people’s bands that the buzz on Manipulator is all abut how the Southern California psych-rocker has slowed his roll to spend a whole year laboring on his seventh album.
The added effort pays off in sonic detail – the snarl of the guitars in “Who’s Producing You,” the rhythm-section chug that pushes the breezy “Feel” forward toward a head- spinning guitar freak-out.
Segall’s sensibility is still retro – reference points are ’60s hippie aesthetes like Love and Blue Cheer, and much of what he does would mesh nicely with the original Nuggets compilation, and he still has too many ideas for his own good.
But on the 17-track, slightly too long Manipulator, which effectively employs a string section on the tense “The Clock” and two other tracks. He makes enticing garage rock that shimmers and shakes in the present, with his best character-sketch songs showing hidden depth beneath the gleaming surface.
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