Rim Shots: The Weeknd, Drake and Franz Ferdinand
So much music, so little time: In an effort to better keep pace with the never-ending slew of new releases—especially those that are particularly worthy of your attention of especially undeserving of it—this blog introduces a new feature called Rim Shots: quick, single-paragraph reviews of albums you need to know about.
The Weeknd, Kiss Land (Universal Republic)
As the follow-up to his widely acclaimed trio of self-released mix tapes in 2011, 23-year-old Toronto singer, songwriter, and producer Abel Tesfaye doesn’t disappoint on his first full studio album, unless you’re unwilling to indulge his quiet, moody, mid-tempo introspection. This can be solipsistic and ugly at times—one gets the feeling his occasional outburst of sexist anger is a little too real—but desperation, loneliness, and ennui can be like that, and with his ear for alternately lulling and alienating soundscapes and a powerful voice that can wow in its falsetto, he’s mining this ground much more effectively than anyone else today, including his mentor Drake, who makes the lone guest appearance.
Rating on the four-star scale: 3 stars.
Drake, Nothing Was the Same (Universal Republic)
And speaking of Canadian rapper, songwriter, and actor Aubrey Drake Graham, the problems on his much-anticipated third studio album, once again largely produced by frequent collaborator Noah “40” Shebib, aren’t musical, though as on album number two, Thank Me Later (2011), all of those languid mid-tempo grooves, somber synthesizers, and moody washes of sound can be too much of a downer if you’re not in the mood to brood (and they still don’t top Kanye West’s pioneering effort in this mode, 808s & Heartbreak). The failure here is lyrical: It just isn’t fun to hear the dude continually whining about the burdens of fame, in between settling scores with old crushes who didn’t appreciate his genius and beauty enough when they had the chance. And what’s more, it’s pretty hard to accept when, even if he didn’t succeed in music, he already had a career thanks to Degrassi: The Next Generation.
Rating on the four-star scale: 1.5 stars.
Franz Ferdinand, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions (Domino)
Blame the lack of excitement about the fourth album from the Scottish quartet on the long wait since its last release—it’s been more than four years since Tonight: Franz Ferdinand—and, after a decade as a band, the utter lack of the shiny lure of the new. But the group once again delivers an irresistible, energizing, and stylish set that is as good as dance-rock gets, and as smart and witty, too. Tear yourself away from the dance floor long enough to really listen to what bandleader Alex Kapranos is singing about and you’ll hear the musical chronicle of an existential crisis—what the songwriter has called “a cynic’s search for optimism and the skeptic’s search for a manual.”
Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.