Rim Shots: Justin Timberlake, MGMT & Ty Segall

A round-up of new releases

October 2, 2013

In the digital present as in the now-distant physical-product past, fall remains the busiest release season of the year. So much music, so little time! Rim Shots are quick, single-paragraph reviews of albums you need to know about, either because they’re well worth your attention, or quite the opposite.

Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience—2 of 2 (RCA)

“If I’d had more time, I’d have written you a shorter letter,” Mark Twain often is quoted as saying, though the actual source is up for grabs. (It’s been attributed to at least a dozen other writers.) Regardless, the point stands: Concision and self-editing are valuable commodities, more so perhaps in pop music than in any other endeavor. Yet while the first installment of his sprawling, two-part third album was extremely disappointing—The 20/20 Experience—1 of 2 qualified for one of my turkey shoots earlier this yearpart deux is even worse, with fewer energizing moments (“Take Back the Night” is a decent Michael Jackson turn) scattered among the overly long, lugubrious, ennui-drenched, and purposely ornate missteps. That is to say, the lows are lower, too, from the Queen-like choruses in “Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)” to the orchestrated “Amnesia,” which at least pegs the condition of those of us trying to remember any of the scarce melodies here.

Rating on the four-star scale: 1 star.

MGMT, MGMT (Columbia)

Though it made quite the splash in 2007-2008, spawning a handful of hits and quickly marking the band that Benjamin Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden formed at Wesleyan University as a staple on the festival circuit, Oracular Spectacular left me cold with its mix of dance-floor grooves and psychedelic tomfoolery. Congratulations (2010) was the thumb-your-nose backlash-to-success record, heavier on the tomfoolery and far lighter on the catchy hits, while the self-titled third album is the one nobody cares about. Yet, confounding expectations, it’s the one I like most. Working again with Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann, the sonic pranksters seem to have stopped making noise for anyone but themselves, gleefully reveling in twirling the knobs and working the pitch-shift wheels on their analog synthesizers, dialing up the effects until the needles are in the red, and letting the drum machines run rampant with runaway grooves that are relentless even if they aren’t always comprehensible. Meanwhile, the ghostly vocals echo early Pink Floyd and subsequent solo Syd Barrett—sort of what “Bike” might have sounded like if the madcap had been produced by the Aphex Twin.

Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.

Ty Segall, Sleeper (Drag City)

And speaking of Syd Barrett, we’ve heard Orange County’s prolific, hyper-energetic, and indefatigable garage-rock noisemaker Ty Segall in his quiet, introspective, wiggy bard mode before, but never so movingly or melodically. Dealing with the death of his adopted father, the nadir of a period of family strife he calls “a weird, intense time,” the singer and songwriter found catharsis where he always has: in the studio. Whether he just had more emotion to purge this time around, or he simply gets better and better every time he goes before the microphones, Sleeper ranks near the top of his rich and lengthy discography.

Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.

Follow me on Twitter @JimDeRogatis or join me on Facebook.