Erykah Badu – New Amerykah, Part Two: Return Of The Ankh
On her fifth album, and second installment of the awkwardly named “New Amerykah” series, Erykah Badu gives us her most commercially viable music of the last decade or so. That’s not to say it’s the kind of glossy, over-emoted sludge that passes for R&B these days – Return of the Ankh goes down easy, but it’s because Badu and her band make these breezy soul grooves look easy. A significant shift from the challenging sprawl of New Amerykah, Part One: 4th World War, Ankh is waiting to be pulled out during the summer months. With the airy funk of “Turn Me Away (Get Munny)” and the slow-burning ode to solo travel “Window Seat” drifting from your speakers, you’ll almost be able to smell the barbecue.
She & Him is such a shamelessly cute premise – gal writes sweet love songs, guy produces ’em to sound like mid-’60s pop singles, and they release them in packaging full of fanciful illustrations – I can’t believe I don’t hate it. The duo’s second album follows pretty much the same formula as its first, with Zooey Deschanel’s songs dripping in hooks that would’ve surely been snatched up by The Turtles and Herman’s Hermits back in the day, and M. Ward’s production fleshing them out without weighing down their inherent preciousness. Their back-to-pop-basics philosophy seems trendy on paper, but on Volume Two, She & Him makes Me happy.
Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak
It took me a while to really give 808s & Heartbreak a chance. I figured Kanye’s “I’m working out my personal issues with Auto-Tune and a TR-808 drum machine as a support system” album would be an interesting, but ultimately forgettable, listen. Lord, was I wrong. West embraces the chilly, impersonal nature of that technology, using it to enhance the feelings of loss, abandonment and unrequited love that dominate these tracks. And he pairs his roboticized voice with beautiful post-punk soundscapes throughout, from the heart-monitor-beep-fueled sexuality of “Say You Will” to the sweeping strings and gnashing drum machines of “RoboCop.” By fusing one of R&B’s lamest trends with the gothic, synthesized pop of bands like The Cure, Kanye West took a wild artistic gamble and created something staggeringly great. I’m just trusting him from now on.