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.
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.
Nick 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.
Jordin 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.
Carly 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.
Panda 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.
The 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.
Carrie 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 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.