Might “American Idol’s” slide into irrelevance be a boon for its talent? That’s one takeaway to be drawn from the surprisingly strong debut by Candice Glover, who last year won the televised singing competition amid historically low ratings.
A big-voiced soul belter, Glover ended a lengthy stretch of victories by white-guy guitar strummers — reason enough to celebrate her win. But she’s also made a better record than the last few “Idol” champs, one that doesn’t sound like its quirks have been ironed out in an attempt to satisfy the show’s once-enormous audience.
There are signs of individual life here: the palpable regret in “Damn,” about falling in love “with someone else’s man”; the old-fashioned sass suffusing “In the Middle”; the tension between desire and virtue in “Passenger,” with a characteristically woozy beat by producer Mike Will Made It. And, reprised from the show, there is Glover’s powerful rendition of the Cure’s “Lovesong,” which may go down as the final must-see “Idol” performance. TV’s loss is music’s gain.
— Mikael Wood,
Los Angeles Times
Guided By Voices
Three songs into “Motivational Jumpsuit,” we get a song titled “Writer’s Bloc (Psycho All the Time).” This is a pretty weird title from Robert Pollard, a guy who put out six records with different projects last year, who is known, really, for putting out six records in any given year. If you’re considered prolific as an artist, the comparisons inevitably turn to Pollard.
And yet, in this song, he claims “that last recording nearly killed me” and “it’s taking me too long.” There’s humor in this because, in all likelihood, that “last recording” is something that has yet to see the light of day. But more importantly, it gives us an organizing tension for “Motivational Jumpsuit.”
As artists get older, it’s easy to read some subtext of mortality into their work. Here, Pollard seems not so much concerned with that as with his reputation and his creative drive. If Pollard is not putting out six records a year, “Writer’s Bloc” seems to ask, then who is Robert Pollard? If he can’t keep up the impossible pace he’s built, what happens then?
With that in mind, “Motivational Jumpsuit” becomes the most fitful and impatient and exciting album since the “classic” Guided By Voices lineup returned. It subtly shifts away from the order of the past few records and into territory that is hardly new but feels fresh. Pollard knocks out quick pop gems, and Tobin Sprout once again succeeds as his gauzy counterpart. It’s a set that finds cohesion in forgetting all about being cohesive.
The production and playing here suggest a move away from lo-fi songs written for the arena, something we’ve seen so many times before from Guided By Voices. Perhaps it’s the time away from the stage, but these feel more like songs written in and for the garage, the bedroom and the basement. So there’s immediacy to even the power-ballad feel of “Save the Company” or the moody charge of “Difficult Outburst and Breakthrough.” This slight shift also reveals not so much the differences between Sprout and Pollard but rather the similarities. Sprout’s “Some Things Are Big and Some Things Are Small” feels sonically tied to Pollard’s “A Bird With No Name,” and the melting tones of Sprout’s “Shine” set the table for the more muscled but no less smudged guitars of Pollard’s “Vote for Me Dummy.”
— Matthew Fiander,
“COLE SWINDELL ”
Warner Music Nashville
Cole Swindell got his big break in show business while he was selling T-shirts at Luke Bryan concerts for three years. But his debut, “Cole Swindell,” is so accomplished that it’s clear he took good notes while Bryan was onstage.
His first single, “Chillin’ It,” is cool and clever, while keeping everything laid-back and likable. That’s a considerable part of Swindell’s regular-guy charm, which he rolls out in stories about concertgoing, hanging out at the bar and breakups.
However, detail-filled tales like the well-crafted “Dozen Roses & a Six-Pack” show Swindell is set for country stardom.
— Glenn Gamboa,
Loma Vista Records
Annie Clark got her start as a guitarist in the large ensembles of the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens before launching her solo career as St. Vincent. She’s an inventive, often noisy, guitar player, but on her fourth record, her guitar often takes a secondary role to heavy electronic grooves. It’s an album full of disruptions, lyrical and musical.
Even relatively quiet songs get upended: “Huey Newton” starts as a softly sung, beautiful keyboard ballad and then shifts, abruptly, to a distorted, heavy-metal guitar trudge punctuated with angry screams. “I Prefer Your Love” is a grand, reach-for-the-heavens proclamation, but there’s friction when she completes the title phrase with “to Jesus.” Clark’s last project, “Love This Giant,” was a collaboration with David Byrne. “Rattlesnake” and “Digital Witness” possess the playful, artful mix of groove and noise of Talking Heads’ “Remain In Light.” But mostly, “St. Vincent” is brash, bold, and deliberately uneasy.
ON TOUR: March 24 — McMenamins Crystal Ballroom, Portland; www.cascadetickets .com or 800-514-3849.
— Steve Klinge,
The Philadelphia Inquirer