Happy Fall from the Fraudsters! It’s been a while. Another Monday brings another batch of new releases. Here’s a rundown of some of the hot new drops from the last two weeks. Some of them are hot like fire, and others are hot like fresh dog shit. I’m here to sort the wheat from the chaff like a good harvest metaphor.
The Used – The Canyon
What the fuck is this album cover? That’s a mountain, not a canyon. It appears The Used’s knowledge of canyons is about as deep as their knowledge of good music. This atrocious 79-minute monstrosity is like that friend who keeps pulling the same bad prank and you keep falling for it. I’ve come to understand that Bert McCracken, who sounded appropriately tortured on the band’s 2002 debut in the way that only a rebellious white suburban kid can (which is to say, insufferably unless you’re also a tortured rebellious white suburban kid), is actually just a terrible singer. 15 years later he is 35 years old with nothing to say, despite being consistently propped up with a platform like someone who has never been told no in his life. Making a 17-song record is always a presumptuous gamble. Making one that has not a single interesting or memorable song on it is downright criminal. By the time McCracken starts rapping on “The Quiet War,” I quietly wished for death. Take a shower, you fucking turd.
Yo Gotti – I Still Am
It’s bad when Gotti sings, which he does on the very first track of I Still Am. Fortunately, this Cartesian philosopher fares better elsewhere, as most of the tracks here are marked by great beats and perfect flows. Trap music often suffers from a general sense of being languid; this record, despite being occasionally lyrically dumb, sounds lively. Plus “Rake It Up” has a great guest verse from Nicki Minaj in which she uses the phrase “thick vagina.”
Kelly Clarkson – Meaning of Life
Kelly Clarkson has always kind of justified the existence of American Idol, even if the show never produced anyone half as talented over the next fourteen seasons (Ruben Studdard? More like Ruben’s career sputtered, amirite?). This eight album showcases Clarkson as the vocal powerhouse she is, and the songs are generally pretty good, but mostly Meaning of Life works because Clarkson feels so simultaneously effortless and comfortable. It’s a record that sustains its energy with a calibrated roster of potential hit after potential hit. “Move You” is as good as a power ballad gets. “Meaning of Life” is a kind of glorious soul pop anthem that keeps on upping itself over four minutes with horns and a gospel choir. “Whole Lotta Woman” is a fun as hell feminist country-funk jam with a killer bass/horn section, even though it’s basically just “Lady Marmalade.” And “Cruel” is a down-tempo track with a little doo wop flair. With Beyoncé completely doing her own thing and Ariana still coming into her own, Kelly Clarkson might be the best pure pop diva we have right now.
Majid Jordan – The Space Between
Toronto R&B duo Majid Jordan got their break on Drake’s 2013 hit “Hold on I’m Coming Home,” before they had even released their own record. Now on The Space Between, their second full-length, they bring more of that “Toronto sound” beats-driven R&B that is great for night listening. With this record, they’ve taken that sound and refined it into something of their own. It’s a sound that, apropos of the album’s title, finds a sweet spot between comforting warmth and cold alienation, loneliness and romance, down-tempo groove and up-tempo dance-worthy beats. As The Weeknd becomes more of a pop star—albeit a great one—, it’s nice to see Majid taking up the neo-R&B mantle he’s leaving behind, and doing it so well.
Gord Downie – Introduce Yerself
Even in death, Gord Downie is a trickster, titling his goodbye album with a nod to introductions. Introduce Yerself isn’t quite Bowie’s Blackstar or Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, in that it kind of feels like just a solid Gord Downie record more than a grand meditation on death. I’m quick to rail against long albums for being self-indulgent, but in this case the 23 tracks and 73 minutes feel justified just by the fact that they’re the last output we’ll get from Downie. It’s less cryptic and more direct—and personal—than we’ve been used to seeing him. Downie was a performer who spent his life giving, but Introduce Yerself feels like a way to thank significant people in his life for everything they gave to him. And while not every song here is a classic, some are, and they’re all good. And production by Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew rounds out the sound of the songs just the right amount without backgrounding Downie’s vocals. Standout tracks include the piano-driven “Bedtime,” the sparse “Coco Chanel No. 5,” the BSS-inflected “Ricky Please,” and the album’s closer, “The Road,” a dedication to the Indigenous peoples who became so much the focus of Downie’s final months. This record is a quiet treasure.
Weezer – Pacific Daydream
Rivers Cuomo is way too old to be writing these kinds of songs, and it’s frankly embarrassing to watch him continue to try to live in his early 20s when he’s almost 50, like he’s a non-ironic living embodiment of that Steve Buscemi “how do you do, fellow kids?” GIF. Just the other day, he tweeted:
. . . and I can’t tell if he’s trolling us or if he’s just an asshole. On Pacific Daydream, an album that is clearly summer-themed but inexplicably is being released in October, he rhymes “Beach Boys” with “get moist” and that’s only like the fifth-worst lyric on this record. I actually thought track 4, “Happy Hour” was sweet and groovy in a fun way until he sings “I need happy hour on sad days” as the chorus. No. Like 90% of Weezer’s post-[Green Album] output, this is bad.
Converge – The Dusk in Us
Is a Converge record ever disappointing? This one definitely isn’t. Amid squealing math rock and metal, The Dusk In Us emerges a kinetic and purposeful work. It’s accessible—and fun as hell—but breathless, slowing down only for the 7+ minute title track that feels like a moody blend of near-whispered Deftones vocals and Godspeed-esque post-rock. It’s an ironic request to “rise above the noise” in an album full of it, but just what’s needed 15 minutes in as a breather to set up the record’s last seven bangers.
Grace VanderWaal – Just the Beginning
Grace VanderWall sounds like Sia tried to clone herself, got scared by the result and locked her in a dungeon where she survived on a diet of Jack Johnson records and bad poetry—”you don’t play with fire but you’re already burned.” Anyone playing a ukulele who isn’t Hawaiian is probably an asshole, and these are bad songs. But VanderWaal is also apparently like 13 years old, so I’m not sure what else one should expect. She’s definitely a talented singer, I’m just old enough to be a parent of her target audience so this sounds like dreck to me.
Sam Smith – The Thrill of It All
There’s a certain degree to which I think Sam Smith is only music for people who hate themselves, because it’s so goddamn sad. Smith leans into heartbreak to the point that it becomes tiring. But then there’s an inherent joyousness in touches like the use of a choir on the album opener “Too Good at Goodbyes” and elsewhere. The opener and closer—the Timbaland-produced “Pray” with its epic gospel fervour—are particularly strong tracks. In between there is a solid slate of songs that occasionally feel like Smith is coasting. The Thrill of It All doesn’t reinvent Smith’s sound over his debut record, but it does feel more polished, with slick production that doesn’t distract from Smith’s powerhouse voice.
Maroon 5 – Red Pill Blues
Assuming Maroon 5 aren’t trying to low-key tell us they’re MRAs, this record is fine, I guess. I enjoyed it while it was playing, and it has some solid guest spots from SZA and A$AP Rocky. I have also completely forgotten about it the moment it ended, which is maybe not a great sign for a pop record. There’s no “Sugar” here. For some weird reason they go full experimental Latin jazz on the album’s 11-minute closing track, “Closure.” I want to say that’s fun, but it’s more likely it’s just ridiculous.