Innovative Leisure Records
Nick Waterhouse is of his time and someone else’s. He’s 28, a meticulous white Southern Californian, matured in the curatorial age and specializing in a particular kind of American music. It’s from long before his birth, but since he plays it as if its story were still unfolding, let’s write in present tense: It’s a dance-music kind of R&B, with horns and Cubanisms, a music with ears to the Twist and boogaloo that hasn’t yet forked toward Motown and rock ‘n’ roll. If you could reduce him to a single source, it might be Little Willie John’s “Fever,” from 1956, or a few other moody songs written by Otis Blackwell: “My Josephine,” “On That Power Line.”
There’s lots of that around in general terms: sloppier bands from Los Angeles and Brooklyn playing variations on surf and girl-group and garage-punk and R&B. But Waterhouse is much more specific about sound and rhythm and gear and visual aesthetics; he’s also appealingly dry and tense in his lyrics. This is not an either-or situation but a both-and. His work — from the single “Some Place”, in 2010, to his new album, “Holly,” his second — has been slightly insufferable and very good. His singing, with tight vibrato shakes, remains guarded, flat, almost stoic, but there’s life in his guitar playing. He’s got old licks internalized in his hands, and you hear him fighting to only half-remember them, or to trip himself into more intuitive gestures. Most of the time, this works: His solos, haloed with reverb, are rhythmically tight, technically messy, dynamically crafty, almost insightful. All their strangeness matters.
He surrounds himself with strong, if careful, arrangements: congas and shakers, harmonizing backup singers, buzzing tenor saxophone solos, Cuban piano figures on his version of Ty Segall’s “It No. 3.” It’s to his credit that on top of such accuracy, his lyrics sound so weird, almost wrong, unfolding like redacted dream-talk.
— Ben Ratliff, The New York Times
“THE SOUL OF ALL NATURAL THINGS”
Asthmatic Kitty Records
It has been 44 years between albums for singer and songwriter Linda Perhacs. Her 1970 album, “Parallelograms,” which was barely noticed when it was released, became a touchstone for the freak-folk movement. On her second album, “The Soul of All Natural Things,” her aura of mystical innocence is remarkably intact.
At the end of the 1960s, Perhacs was a dental hygienist who lived in the Los Angeles hippie enclave of Topanga Canyon and dabbled in songwriting. One of her patients, film composer Leonard Rosenman, discovered her and shepherded her through recording sessions with top-tier musicians and an experimental streak. Her high, gentle voice, sometimes multitracked into ghostly choirs, floated amid meditative guitars and undercurrents of jazz and exotic percussion; “Parallelograms” itself was layered with electronic sounds. The album was a sweetly psychedelic will-o’-the-wisp.
Perhacs had little interest in stardom or touring; she kept her day job all these years. Prized by a handful of collectors and musicians, “Parallelograms” was reissued in 2005 and again in 2008. Daft Punk used one of her songs in its 2006 film, “Daft Punk’s Electroma,” and Devendra Banhart got Perhacs to sing on his 2007 album “Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.”
When she was coaxed into performing at a tribute concert to “Parallelograms,” she realized how many younger musicians revered the album. With encouragement from fans she has influenced, like songwriter Julia Holter, she began working on new songs, and she recorded them with producers Fernando Perdomo and Chris Price. They keep the music sounding largely organic without making the album a slavish period piece.
Perhacs’ voice is still clear and guileless, and her new songs still ponder peace, love, nature and divinity. All of them swirl together in “Intensity,” which begins with one of her sustained, rippling vocal chorales and works its way up, in gathering wavelets, toward something like funk and then melts back into reflection. “Prisms of Glass” — clearly a sequel to the geometrically minded “Parallelograms” — becomes a round of intertwined vocals, spiraling into itself. “The world is spinning, spinning, spinning like it’s out of control,” she sings, like a lullaby, in “When Things Are True Again.”
The album is brave in its fragility and sincerity; it’s not for the cynical. But it’s not naïve, either. Perhacs’ debut eventually found its following because it mingled its hippie idealism with craft and innovation, and “The Soul of All Natural Things” takes chances of its own.
— Jon Pareles, The New York Times
Def Jam Recordings
The rap world turns, Rick Ross doesn’t. Kanye innovates, Jay Z transitions to dad-rap, and Kendrick Lamar dazzles with technique and narrative. Ross still just wants to be the Notorious B.I.G., so on “Mastermind,” his sixth album, he remakes Biggie’s “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You).”
By doing so, the Miami “bawse” reminds us how singularly lackluster his lyrics and storytelling can be. This is meathead, gangster-fantasy, luxury rap. That’s fine if you really want another 16 tracks of Ross lazily rapping about gated mansions, expensive cars, meaningless murders, and jail cells with Wi-Fi. But not even the guest appearances by West, Jay Z, and Meek Mill make “Mastermind” any less exhausted or routine. This is Ross standing still.
— Elliott Sharp, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Lea Michele has proved on “Glee” that she has one of the best young pop voices around. That makes the biggest challenge for her debut, “Louder,” finding material strong enough to match her voice, a need made even more pressing by all the great songs she has already done on TV.
She certainly starts out strong — with the current single “Cannonball,” the clever dance pop of “On My Way” and the wrenching piano ballad “Battlefield.” The songs get slightly weaker the longer “Louder” goes (she’d be better off doing Coldplay’s “Yellow” than its faded copy-of-a-copy “Empty Handed”), but Michele certainly shows plenty of promise.
— Glenn Gamboa, Newsday