It’s looking more and more as though Strange Mercy may be the not only the peak performance of Annie Clark’s young career but also one of the top albums of the year, at least if her first two singles have anything to say about it. On the heels of the stellar “Surgeon” comes “Cruel,” an absurdly lush track that manages to be dark, creepy, painstakingly gorgeous and poppy all at the same time. She pulls out all the stops here, as she did on “Surgeon,” and its clear she’s truly pushing herself on her upcoming release. You can watch the music video for this brilliant track below:
Charlotte Gainsbourg has been keeping busy it seems, as she has both an EP and live/unreleased album due out later this year. First up will be her Terrible Angels EP to be released September 6 via Because/Elektra, which was produced again by Beck (who also helmed her IRM release from a couple of years ago). The title track is a stunner and will likely make the EP worth the price of admission alone. You can listen to it below and also enjoy the mostly awesome music video directed by Nathalie Canguilhem. Second on the Gainsbourg horizon is Stage Whisper, which is an eighteen song collection of live and unreleased music due out on November 18 via Because/Elektra. From that album, Gainsbourg has brought us “White Telephone,” a haunting and mellow piece that should sound a lot more familiar for older Gainsbourg fans. Listen to “White Telephone” below:
Charlotte Gainsbourg – “White Telephone”
Charlotte Gainsbourg – “Terrible Angels”
Charlotte Gainsbourg – “Terrible Angels” video
Unsurprisingly, there are flashes of brilliance on Watch the Throne (what else would you expect when two of the biggest artists in their genre get together?), unfortunately the album is anything but consistent– relying far too heavily on the home run instead of doing more with less.
Release Date: August 8, 2011 (iTunes), August 12, 2011 (Physical Release)
Record Label: Def Jam
The music video for “Otis” sums up Watch the Throne perfectly– like a Hollywood blockbuster, the emphasis is on style over substance. They picked the most venerable video director of all time (Spike Jonze) to film them take one of the most expensive vehicles produced (Maybach), chop it, and drive it around a set lot with random pyrotechnics thrown in for good measure. Combine that with a needlessly expensive sample of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” and you get an idea that perhaps the larger-than-life envelope that Kanye West has always relied on has been pushed too far.
On a purely superficial level, there is a lot to enjoy about the album– West and Jay-Z are always reliable rappers, and with a revolving door of A-list producers, the beats and presentation are both top-notch, but there’s very little to draw you in, and the album consequentially feels a bit cold. That being said, there are flashes of supreme brilliance, especially in the second half of the album, as the opening “No Church in the Wild” is likely the best on the album and features a great guest spot from Frank Ocean. Likewise, the last thirty seconds of “Lift Off” is a fantastic afro-beat laden jam, and even makes Beyonce’s overreaching vocals tolerable. “Murder to Excellence” is a surprisingly poignant political piece, that may be one of the most fully realized socially conscious songs either artist has made. Similarly, “Made in America,” for all of its lyrical misgivings, is a truly tender-hearted piece as well.
As a whole, Watch the Throne is an interesting proposition– it’s not an all out failure the way Best of Both Worlds was, but while it may sonically shape the way of hip-hop to come, it doesn’t consistently deliver to make it as groundbreaking as it perhaps feels like it should be. If you can accept that, there’s a lot to enjoy throughout the album, just don’t expect anything more than over-the-top Hollywood popcorn thrills.
Jay-Z and Kanye West – “Otis”
Jay-Z and Kanye West – “No Church in the Wild”