Dig These Discs: The xx, The Flaming Lips, Kehlani, Joshua Radin, Erik Hassle
The English indie pop band The xx releases their third studio album, and The Flaming Lips release their 14th, a spacey trip through fairytale land. Swedish soul-pop artist Erik Hassle releases his new album, a dozen hits that chronicle his first time exploring Los Angeles. Oakland artist Kehlani is out on her own with "SweetSexySavage," and journeyman musician Joshua Radin brings his feel-good acoustic story songs together in his self-produced album, "The Fall." You'll have to shovel yourself out of the pile of great songs in this edition of Dig These Discs!
"I See You" (The xx)
The English indie electro-pop band The xx releases their third studio album this month -- the first in more than four years. Following up their sophomore release "Coexist," the album is a tight 10 songs that allows every member's talents to shine. The taciturn trio consists of school chums Jamie Smith nee xx, the openly gay Oliver Sim, and Romy Madley Croft, their lesbian frontwoman. The album is also a lot more dependent on hooks, like the Hall & Oates sample in the band's breakout single "On Hold," and is more given to big brass and vocals than earlier, more spare releases. Deep bass and electronica beats open the album with the track "Dangerous," a powerful cut peppered with horns. It's followed by the cacophony of "Say Something Loving," with Madley Croft singing, "Your touch stays on my skin. I feel it start sinking in. Here come my insecurities; I almost expect you to leave." The otherworldy "Lips" emerges as one of the album's best cuts, as Madley Croft whispers, "My name on your lips, your air in my lungs, drowned in oxygen." In the electronica cut, "A Violent Noise," Sims asks, "Am I too high, am I too proud, is the music too loud for me to hear?" "Performance" is about keeping up appearances, with Madley Croft asking if you'll even be able see through her disguise, ultimately determining that "the show is wasted on you." "Replica" features a spare, acoustic arrangement, like the band's earlier stuff, and "Brave for You" is a lovely tribute to Madley Croft's late parents -- though it could easily be a message for any who feel down and out. Sims is intoxicated, enraptured from the inside in the '80s-throwback, drum-fueled "I Dare You." They end the album with a complicated, challenging track: "Test Me," they say. "See if I break." They won't.
"Oczy Mlody" (The Flaming Lips)
It's hard to believe that The Flaming Lips first formed in Oklahoma City way back in 1983. Their psychedelic rock sounds with the multi-layered arrangements and wild song titles -- not to mention their elaborate live shows -- have entertained us for decades. They spent some time recently helping Miley Cyrus record and promote her "Dead Petz" album (she returns the favor by singing on one of their new tracks, "We a Famly"). Now, they've released their 14th studio album, "Oczy Mlody," (translated to "eyes of the young") a dozen quirky songs for your spaced-out enjoyment, inspired by a Polish translation of Erskine Caldwell's "Close to Home." As leader Wayne Coyne told Rolling Stone, it's a "childlike fairytale world and it could be full of adult drugs and freakiness at the same time." The album brings forward faeries, wizards, unicorns, and demon-eyed frogs over a scrum of beats, synth, pounding bass and snappy hooks. It kicks off with the title track, an instrumental intro, before it cedes to "How," a moody, spacey tune with the lyrics, "White trash rednecks, earthworms eat the ground, legalize it, every drug right now." Comedian Reggie Watts does a vocal outro on "There Should Be Unicorns," where Coyne sings about wanting the unicorns with purple eyes, not the green eyes. The wacky lyrics go, "There should be Day-Glo strippers, ones from the Amazon... And if the police show up we'll bribe them into helping us steal the light of love from the rainbow sluts that live next door." "Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)" has a "Pet Sounds" Beach Boy vibe, if it were put through Auto Tune. Deep bass drums move "Nigdy Nie (Never No)," a mostly instrumental track. Beats and synth open "Galaxy I Sink," with echoing vocals, "How can the stars really know me now, when I fear their light will burn me up?" Sounding like an aural depiction of an LSD trip is "One Night While Hunting for Faeries and Witches and Wizards To Kill," with Coyne singing about hunting mystical creatures who put up a force field, sending his own bullets back to blind him. Then they cure him, and he "awoke in a strange room with new eyes and that's when I saw her." What? "Do Glowy" is just as nutty, but with some chimes thrown in. Frog sounds open "Listening to the Frogs With Demon Eyes," with its funky bass instrumentals laid over lyrics about watching people die with your demon eyes. "The Castle" puts forward a sing-song patter as they sing about a girl whose "face was a fairy tale/it has a poison apple. Her skull was a mighty moat/her brain was the castle." The intense "Almost Home (Blisku Domu)," is a song about returning home, and revenge. Miley Cyrus brings the otherworldly closing track "We a Famly" up a notch, as they sing about Jesus and the spaceships coming. (Seriously, what kind of drugs are they on?) The album is solid, however, if not as good as earlier hits like "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," and it will be a treat for their tripster fans.
(Warner Bros. Records)
Just a few years ago, Kehlani Ashley Parrish was homeless. Now, she's one of the hottest new singers on the rise. This Oakland girl was part of the teen group Poplyfe, finalists on "America's Got Talent." But lately, this 21-year-old singer has come into her own, and even boasts a song "Gangsta" from the movie "Suicide Squad." She sings about her personal struggle with depression and suicide in "Keep On," singing, "Cause I ain't been the best that I coulda been, I ain't do the shit that I shoulda did/ But every time I crawl in on my knees, you're there, and you just keep on taking me back," and mixes R&B and electronica in "Everything is Yours." She opens the album with a spoken word poetry intro. She's busy -- she deals with shit on the daily -- but hopes you can work it out in "Distraction." Her R&B cut "Piece of Mind" finds her trying to forget the unnecessary bullshit and get back to the things she loved. Kehlani meshes an acoustic intro with a traditional pop sound in "Undercover" and blends acoustic with R&B in "Escape," warning, "I can't let you lose yourself looking for me." She breaks bad in "CRZY," singing, "Everything I do, I do it with a passion/ If I gotta be a bitch, I'ma be a bad one!" In the next song, she advises you not to take it "Personal." She reminisces of being young, "cracking 40s by the seaside" in "Not Used to It," and wallows in her sad times past and present, wondering if you know her worth, in "Everything is Yours." The instrumentation on "Advice" is the catchiest on the album, and brags on her sexual prowess in "Do U Dirty," singing, "swear you see the good in me, but that don't beat the hood in me." She's "Too Much" of a badass bitch to put up with your cheating, and you're the only one she "Get Like" this for, in another cut. She samples New Edition's "If It Isn't Love" in the catchy track "In My Feelings," and relies on a simple acoustic arrangement for "Hold Me By the Heart." She offers up a "Thank You" for all those who've helped her in the final track. The album also features two Bonus Tracks, "I Wanna Be" and "Gangsta." Prefacing most of her songs with some kind of spoken word intro, Kehlani is a new girl on the scene, with something to say. Listen up.
"Innocence Lost" (Erik Hassle)
Swedish soul-pop artist Erik Hassle releases his new album, a dozen hits that chronicle his first time exploring Los Angeles. "Stockholm is pretty small comparatively. Most of the songs were written quickly, because I was just so in the zone. It was therapeutic and emotional," said Hassle. He starts out strong with the funky vibes of "No Words," with its catchy refrain, "All we got is here and now." His moody, bass-heavy "Pathetic" finds Hassle taking his momma's advice to "look out for yourself" -- at least until a girl gets his head spinning. Vic Mensa lends a hand with a rap break in the bass-electro heavy "Talk About It." A classical piano intro marks "Breaking the Waves," and echo-effect keyboards add an otherworldly vibe to "If Your Man Only Knew." The understated track "TKO" is among the album's best, metered but passionate. Fellow RCA recording artist Tinashe gives Hassle a hand with the title track, an epic jam about that girl he'll never get over. "You shun my love every time I'm getting get close, well fuck that! You hurt me when I leave my heart open," he sings in "Silver & Gold." Gorgon City lends a hand on "FTPA" -- fuck the pain away -- a song full of hurt and horns. Hassle takes a look six years later at his childhood sweetheart, pleading in high falsetto to give me "All Of You All Over Me." He pours his heart out in "Minnesota," singing, "Ain't nobody lovin' like us." Hassle ends the album with the cacophonous "Missing You," reminiscing about a lost loved one. Who knew Swedes were so passionate?
(Record Company Ten/RCA Records)
"The Fall" (Joshua Radin)
Journeyman musician Joshua Radin brings his feel-good acoustic story songs together in his self-produced album, "The Fall," 10 tunes that share Radin's personal trials and tribulations. He starts with the shuffling acoustic guitar cut "Diamonds," singing, "So when the night it seems your last, just think back on your past, it's buried and gone now/ All the lies you've been told seem to strip away your soul, and change into diamonds, diamonds and pearls." He shows off his deep vocals and fingerpicking prowess in "High and Low," about a love that will weather any storm. Sonorous piano chords open "Falling," a heartfelt ballad where Radin wonders if you'll fight for the two of them. "Don't fear the dark, cause I'm the dawn," sings Radin in his throaty cut, "Enough For You." He tries to get rid of the one who darkens his days, in the moody, intense "Higher," and strums with the band in the sprightly "Song For You," singing, "I thought the plans I drew were carefully drawn, but alas I'm just a fool/ Now I'm drowning in my sorrow, like when a builder blames his tools." He begs you not to let him go it alone in "Waiting," and complicated finger picking keeps the instrumentation of "Keep the Darkness Away" moving fast, as Radin sings about the only one that saw his raw potential. His earnest love song "When I'm With You," juxtaposes dying flowers with the healing rain that falls when they're together. He ends an excellent album with his fast-moving, upbeat strummer "Still Spinning." If you're looking for an artist that cares so much about maintaining the integrity of his work that he produces it himself, Joshua Radin is the man for the job. Catch him touring the East Coast before he heads to Europe.