360 Mixtape: Gary Clark Jr., Carly Rae Jepsen, Jordin Sparks, Nick Jonas, The Sword

Each week, Austin360 music writers Eric Webb and Deborah Sengupta Stith listen to a wide variety of new albums and singles and offer first impressions on the Austin360 Periscope account. We put our favorite new songs from the week into the 360 Mixtape. Consider it your new music soundtrack to get you through the week.

Carly Rae Jepsen performs on NBC's "Today" show on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Carly Rae Jepsen performs on NBC’s “Today” show on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

81Daew5kuDL._SY450_Gary Clark Jr. “Church” (single) – Listen on Spotify 

DSS: After Gary Clark Jr.’s ‘Austin City Limits’ taping last night, I’m in full Stan mode, but I already was in love with this track. The acoustic guitar is a nice change of pace for Clark. It sets the stage for his vocals to really shine, particularly when laced with the lovely female vocal harmonies on the chorus. Also, that’s Clark playing harmonica, because the man oozes blues.

EW: This is a softer side of Clark that I think is good to hear. Since he’s arguably the biggest name from Austin’s music scene right now (in a national crossover sense, at least), a departure from the hot-guts blues that he’s made famous also reflects a different side of his hometown. This a beautiful, subdued trip to, well, church.

jonasNick Jonas  “Levels” (single) – Listen

EW: Breaking free of the Disney mold isn’t just for Miley, Selena and Demi anymore. The erstwhile JoBro almost matches the smash success of “Jealous” with this slick club gem. I’m not ready to say that he’s evoking Michael Jackson here, but I am prepared to say that he’s evoking serial-MJ-emulators Jason Derulo and Bruno Mars. Nick is bringing the bedroom falsetto as usual, though filtered through that stuffed-up-nose voice that I might get used to soon. Bottom line: “Levels” pulses with bass-pumping mischief. Going up, please.

DSS: Wait, what’s this weird, uncontrollable twitching in my hips. Head. Won’t. Stop. Bopping. I’m dancing to Nick Jonas. You’re blowing my mind here, Webb.

jordinJordin Sparks “Right Here, Right Now”  – Listen

DSS: I put this album on while I was cleaning this weekend and for the first half I was actively annoyed (and not just because my house was a mess). Most of these songs feel like they are trying so hard to be on the next R&B Radio Hitz compilation. Very generic. By the end, I was less irritated. She has a nice smoky tone on some tracks but even the better songs are still snoozy.

EW: Not bad, just generic. I think there’s a line of sexiness that this does not cross that maybe it should have. But what do I know? I voted for Blake Lewis.

carlyCarly Rae Jepsen “Emotion” – Listen

EW: Finally! The most anticipated album (by me) of 2015 is here! My CRJ enthusiasm has been well-covered in previous new releases blogs, but I’ve got to say that everything you might have read about “Emotion” is true. It’s a better 1980s synthpop tribute than Taylor Swift’s “1989.” It’s a smart, earnest synthesis of the Debbie Gibson/Tiffany sound and indie-friendly production by the likes of Dev Hynes. Jepsen reportedly went out of her way to make a critically acclaimed follow-up to “Kiss” instead of trying to capture “Call Me Maybe” lightning in a second bottle. She succeeds. Seductive ballads like “All That” (which sounds exactly like a Blood Orange track) work a little less effectively than shiny rock candy like “Boy Problems” and “Run Away With Me,” but all in all, this is a drum-machine-skittering, Laffy-Taffy-bass-strumming, earnestly joyful take on all things romantic. Consider that the singles from this album have made little chart traction so far, and wonder why that is.

DSS: I’m not fully sold on this yet, but it’s a lot better than I thought it would be and deserves a full listen. Also, it makes me happy to see how happy it makes Eric.

pandabearPanda Bear “Crosswords” (EP) – Listen

EW: If you like the techno-tropical atmosphere that Panda Bear spins, you will enjoy this companion piece to “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper.”

DSS: I enjoyed “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” and this feels like a good follow up. Look forward to digging into it.

theswordThe Sword “High Country” – Listen

DSS: The Adrian Quesada-produced new album pushes the Austin metal act through psychedelia into some interesting classic-sounding hard rock. Also, the intro is called “Unicorn Farm.”

EW: Driving sturm-und-drang guitars get hitched to a less aggressive Thin Lizzy vibe on the verses, at least on “Empty Temples.” An accessible take on metal that sounds distinctly Austin.

smokebreakCarrie Underwood “Smoke Break” – Listen

EW: I like Carrie Underwood in general, though she represents a religious devotion to the Nashville machine sound, and her big ol’ voice doesn’t always connect to the lyrics the way one might want. Big swells and a story-song template swirl among working-class imagery. Feel free to throw back a Shiner as you listen, but don’t look for any wheel reinvention. But what do I know? I voted for Bo Bice.

DSS: Carrie Underwood is patently inoffensive by design and so is this track.

Spector-Moth-BoysSpector “Moth Boys” – Listen

EW: Forgot to spin this one on Periscope, but I think it’s worth including here. I’m not entirely sold on this British band’s particular brand of uber-dramatic post-punk emoting. “All the Sad Young Men,” at least, makes me feel like I’m running down underground to a dive bar in a West End town. See what you think.

360 First Spins: Pitbull, Jason Isbell, Future, Iron & Wine, Tame Impala, Wilco

Every Friday at noon, Austin360 music writers Deborah Sengupta Stith and Eric Webb hijack the Austin360 Periscope account to talk about the week’s new album and single releases. These aren’t full reviews, but first impressions. Here’s our take on a selection of albums that take you to the booty club, the back porch barbecue and (maybe?) a galaxy far, far away. Listen to music from this week’s show in our 360 First Spins: July 2015 Spotify playlist.

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Pitbull “Dale” – Listen on Spotify

daleDSS: Not a Pitbull fan, but I’m swayed by the fact that “El Taxi” samples one of my (and everyone else’s) favorite dancehall jams, but this is Pitbull doing what he does best, make dance party hits best experienced while sweating through a Zumba class or in the early hours of the morning after one too many fruity cocktails. Also, this is Pitbull’s second primarily Spanish-language album and Pitbull en español  > Pitbull in English.

EW: I’m not going to blame Pitbull for being Pitbull. Shine on, you worldwide diamond.

 

isbellJason Isbell “Something More Than Free” – Listen

EW: Continuing the trend of country music with fewer pickup trucks and bright lights and more working-class grit and sparks of social consciousness, Isbell goes straight for the populist heart on this one. It sounds like dirt-caked hands and tackles everything from hard livin’ to pondering the existence of God. Isbell said before its release that “Something More Than Free” was going to be more of a celebratory record, but all I know is that songs like “24 Frames” and the title track are honest and folk-minded. (Good folk. Not bad folk.)

DSS: One of 2015’s strongest additions to the “new sincerity” country cannon.

 

futureFuture “DS2” – Listen

DSS: The stumbly, mumbly, NSFW soundtrack for your next Percoset-laced trip to the strip club.

EW: Well, he’s certainly got a Southern flow.

 

ironIron & Wine, Ben Bridwell “Sing Into My Mouth” – Listen

EW: Sam Beam has been tending more country and less sparse-folk-in-an-echo-chamber for a little while now. With that in mind, this album of covers (recorded with Band of Horses dude Ben Bridwell) is sun-drenched pleasantry. Taking on tunes from Sade, Bonnie Raitt, Spiritualized and more, the standouts are a prettily languid, break-the-mold version of Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place” on the opener and an album-closing Peter LaFarge cover that’s dreamy and hallucinatory.

DSS: The soundtrack for summertime bonding with your hippie skirted sisters and your bushy-bearded bros.

 


tameTame Impala “Currents” – Listen

DSS: I like that the band’s branching out into a hazy, almost electropop sound at times. Not much on this album really jumps out as unforgettable, but I think they’re likely to play the sunset time slot at Austin City Limits Festival this year and these sounds in the golden light will be sublime.

EW: Dreamy, maybe snoozy, but I foresee many ACL Fest-ers inhaling various vapors quite contentedly to this album.

wilcoWilco “Star Wars” – Listen

EW: This album, a Beyonce-style surprise digital drop, has taught me a very important lesson about myself: I do understand early-millennium white guy guitar rock. This album leaves me blank, with its wavy guitars and indistinct, uninteresting vocals. I would not have someone turn this off if it was on the radio, but I would also ask if they had an aux-cord so I could put on Iron & Wine instead.

DSS: Which galaxy far, far away is run by the fluffy rose cats? #tellmetweedy

 

pePublic Enemy “Man Plans God Laughs” – Listen

DSS: In their mid-fifties, Chuck D and Flav are back to fight the power. Chuck D said sections of the album were inspired by ‘Ye, Run the Jewels and Kendrick Lamar, but most of the record sounds like straight up classic PE, timely and important as ever. But there are a few big misses, including “Honky Tonk Rules,” the PE country song no one ever asked for.

EW: That country song is … jarring. Aside from that, sounds sharp.

Ratatat “Magnifique” – Listen

EW: These Brooklyn bros always bring the rock into their electro-instrumentals, and I’ve been a fan in the past. (“Loud Pipes” was my ringtone in high school.) I was curious to hear how their newest material sounded in a post-Calvin Harris, post-Hudson Mohawke, post-Pretty Lights world of electronic popularity and diversity, and while it sounds like they’re trying to change it up a bit, it’s still distinctly Ratatat. Aside from the shreddy guitars chunks and metallic drones, there’s a lighter touch on songs like “Primetime,” which sounded a little like a Phoenix montage in a Sofia Coppola movie. (Sans lyrics, obvi.) Perhaps not as exciting as they meant it to be, but points for trying.

DSS: An interesting mix of sounds, worth a longer listen.

Quick spins: Singles and EPs

Carly Rae Jepsen “Run Away With Me” – Listen

EW: I love this song with my bones, and I am going to listen to it all summer. I’m a sucker for an “oooh-oooh-oooh” vocal flourish.

DSS: As my homie Eric Webb said during the broadcast, C-Jeps is no Jill Scott, but better than Demi Lovato.

Cee-Lo “Robin Williams” – Listen

DSS: In theory I’m pro-message music about mental health awareness, but this feels awkward, uncomfortable and off.

EW: Too soon, not his story to tell, feels cheap and exploitative. No sir.

Chvrches “Leave a Trace” – Listen

EW: Lauren Mayberry’s voice is at a (relative) full-on growl! Hot dang! This song has fire in its gut, and it’s very reflective of the band’s growth from the neon light show of “The Bones of What You Believe” and subsequent standalone tracks like “Dead Air” and “Get Away.” There’s a glint of darkness in those synths that match the lyrics now. Go get ’em, Chvrches. See ya at Fun Fun Fun.

DSS: While this definitely maintains the distinctive Chvrches sound, it feels like the band is pushing in new directions.

Icona Pop “Emergency” – Listen

DSS: I was all about the single”I Love It” then disappointed by the Swedish duo’s debut full-length which struck me as one-note and, frankly, boring. I’m cautiously excited again.

EW: I have heard this on a commercial. It was not a good commercial, because I did not purchase or remember that product. But if these ladies want to move away from a more traditional Swedish pop sound, I say bully for them. It ain’t bad.