Every week, I’ll share an album or two I’ve been listening to. Feel free to list your favorite recent releases in the comments below.
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This week, two albums are featured: Musician/actor/entrepreneur/comedian/sex icon Justin Timberlake released “The 20/20 Experience,” which features the soulful pop stylings only he can provide. We’ll also take a look at an album that hit me out of nowhere: “Cerulean Salt” is an album by female singer/songwriter Katie Crutchfield, who calls her “band” Waxahatchee. It’s a very good record that critics are calling one of the best of the year so far.
Other notable releases this week:
Notable releases next week:
This is the third studio album from this pop/dance megastar. Recorded during June of 2012 to 2013, Timberlake worked on the album sporadically while working on his movie career. The singles “Suit & Tie” and "Mirrors" were early releases, the former featuring Jay-Z and peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, the latter hitting No. 1 on the U.K. charts.
What the critics think:
Keeping in mind that we’re discussing Justin Timberlake, here is what the critics are saying. The Guardian gives the album 3 out of 5 stars, saying what many of us are thinking about this boy wonder: “The clueless boy band doofus isn't supposed to have any kind of career 11 years after the boy band's split, let alone the kind of career Timberlake currently enjoys: burgeoning Hollywood success, so imperious in his stardom that he can leave a six-and-a-half-year gap between albums.” And yet, here we are. The Guardian, like other reviewers, points out that the problem with this album is not the production (which is flawless); it’s the songwriting: “The songwriting isn't bad—Timberlake can really write a chorus—but nor is it good enough to warrant the sheer length of the songs ... Then there are the album's lyrics, which are awful. It's not that the lyrics are exclusively about sex; it's that Timberlake writes about it in a way that suggests he's desperate to add some kind of musical equivalent of the Bad Sex Award to his six Grammys and four Emmys.” Redeye Chicago says, “... 'The 20/20 Experience,' an album about and not unlike being in love: It's worth falling into and getting caught up in, even when it risks becoming cheesy, clichéd or flawed.” The Chicago Sun Times says that “this album's a grower, not a shower.” The Los Angeles Times suggests this is 32-year-old Timberlake’s way of reclaiming his territory from the Biebers, Swifts and Gagas of the industry. They write, “It makes a play for timelessness at a moment of unabashed ephemerality.”
What I think:
Here I am in 2013 listening to a new Justin Timberlake album. I find myself doing either one of two things: tapping my toes or laughing hysterically. See, that’s the thing about Timberlake. He’s a good pop BEAT writer, but his lyrics are easily the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. And that’s the essence of “The 20/20 Experience”: dancing, laughing and really stupid. Take, for example, the song “Spaceship Coupe,” a song about taking a girl to the moon in a spaceship coupe, having sex with her on the moon and returning safely to Earth. I mean, OK!? And then we have songs that hearken back to the classic soul songs of the '70s. “Suit & Tie” is an excellent pop song. Timberlake can nail that high falsetto soul sound. But again, the lyrics continue to be terrible. The song “Strawberry Bubblegum” is undeniably about a vagina, which is fine—I like vaginas—but it’s also a ridiculous way to describe one. He writes: “And baby, please don't change nothing, because your flavor is so original. And it all started when she said, 'Hey hey hey,' smacking that strawberry bubble gum ...” I just—wow—I’ll never think of bubble gum in the same way again. The reviewer above is correct in saying this album is a “grower.” Most of the tracks are pushing seven to eight minutes in length. They all feature break beats, drop beats, quick changes and a hell of a lot of soul for a 32-year-old white guy from Memphis. You already know whether you’ll like this album. I say you might as well learn to enjoy it. You’re about to hear it on the radio constantly.
This is the second album from Katie Crutchfield, a former singer in P.S. Eliot, and this rock album has thus far received universal acclaim. Many are already considering it one of the best of the year. Comparisons are being made to the music of P.J. Harvey and Liz Phair.
What the critics think:
“It’s that blazingly honest, hyper-personal quality that places 'Cerulean Salt' in the tradition of Elliott Smith, early Cat Power or Liz Phair's free-flowing Girly-Sound tapes—the work of a songwriter skilled enough to make introspection seem not self-centered, but generous,” writes Pitchfork. In a rare glowing review, the famously critical website gives “Cerulean Salt” a whopping 8.4. They say, “Her music is partially about being young and on the road, what happens in those rare cases when teenage wanderlust is not a suburban daydream but an everyday reality.” Dusted magazine calls the album “frank, blunt and vulnerable.” They go on to say, “Katie Crutchfield’s voice is the kind of thing you love for its flaws, for the gusts of breath that blow in when she reaches for a high note, for the earnest crack when she goes for volume, for the catch in her throat that sounds like it hurts a little, though not enough to stop her from confiding, whispering urgently about life and love and obstacles.” Surprisingly, like Timberlake (did I just write that?), this album is also a “grower,” according to Beats Per Minute: “The surface level is seductive enough to catch your attention, to pull you in with the wail of guitars on 'Coast to Coast' or the little intricacies of the sparse bass work on 'Brother Bryan,' but, man, just wait until your 20th spin. Just wait.”
What I think:
I’m certainly not on my 20th spin of “Cerulean Salt,” but like reviewers above, I can see how this album has the ability to snag a hold on your ears and shake you up for a while. The songwriting is intense. “Dixie Cups and Jars” has a driving, almost punk essence, with incredible lyrics about a Southern wedding: “Makeup sets on your face like tar; the champagne flutes, poorly engineered, employ Dixie cups and jars.” What a great line. This album is filled with incredible lyrics and hooks. The comparison to Liz Phair and P.J. Harvey are spot-on. This could be the “songwriting” album of the year so far. Sorry, Josh Ritter. Highly recommended.