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New Music Friday, Sept. 23, 2016: How to Dress Well, Shawn Mendes, Boxed In

This week's top slots belong to How To Dress Well’s indie-pop breakthrough and the luxurious collaboration between Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam Batmanglij

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September 23, 2016 :: 4:22 PM

How To Dress Well – Care
The internet was abuzz recently when Tom Krell aka How To Dress Well released the video to “Lost Youth/Lost You” wherein, surrounded by gyrating couples in combinations of genders, a shirtless Krell was embraced (and massaged and fondled) by another man. Was he coming out?, we all wondered, thoroughly missing the point of the song completely. The video wasn’t homosexual: it was omnisexual. And the song’s position on love was unequivocally undecided. “I say I think I know what love is now,” he sings, “I think I got it figured out. But the second that I open my mouth I want to change my heart again.Care, How To Dress Well’s joyful fourth record, is a coming out of sorts: against the R&B indie pop status quo, the absence of ecstasy in modern music, the necessity to connect with our own fragility. His previous releases have been steadfast: controlled, beautiful, remote. This one is carnal, human, searching, and romantic. He wastes no time getting busy on the opening “Can’t You Tell,” which could be about his insistent desire or his erection or, absolutely, both; and then, like the ardent lover he essays throughout, he explores everything in between, including the heart (you can’t trust it) the soul (get one and nurture it), and the boundaries of his genre. If his forthrightness is a surprise here (and it is), his sonic command is even more impressive. The percussive arpeggio that breaks through the surface of “Can’t You Tell,” the Prince-ly guitar that dominates the mid-section of “Lost Youth/Lost You,” even the goddamned penny whistle that flutters throughout “Salt Song:” surprises abound. In such a lush and vibrant context, sexuality would be the least of it.

True Widow – Avvolgere
Fourth release from Texas trio fronted by Dan Phillips. They’ve described their own music as “stonegaze,” which is an apt summary of their grunge guitars and echoed vocals and overall hazy vibe though I’m also fond of the Village Voice’s “a more crushing version of The XX, Sabbath, produced by Phil Spector” buzz bite. (“Theurgist”)

Warpaint – Heads Up
This much-loved Los Angeles band reaches a personal best on their third release with brighter melodies and hooks galore. They remind me of Cibo Matto, only not as obsessive or, unfortunately, funny. (“New Song”)

Flock of Dimes – If You See Me, Say Yes
Wye Oak member Jenn Wasner’s breezy, pop-happy side–project. (“Semaphore”)

LVL UP – Return to Love
Herky-jerk alt-rock with a Beatles-esque aftertaste. (“Pain”)

Rationale – Rationale
U.K. songwriter fka Tinashé releases debut under new name: vaguely electro with a viscous vocal style that’s alternately soulful and hard to take. (“Palms”)

Shawn Mendes – Illuminate
Having conquered the hearts of tweens through social media and a quickly recorded debut this young Canadian reaches as deeply as he can to bring in the older crowd. You know, the ones that sustain careers. (“Mercy”)

Passenger – Young As the Morning Old As the Sea
Having had many nasty things to say about Michael David Rosenberg’s unconventional voice, I now have to admit that I kind of like the songs I’ve heard from his seventh record. I still wish the adolescent ache in his pitch would reconcile itself, but I’ve suffered through worse singers with higher voices and more pretensions for less. (“Somebody’s Love”)

Paper Route – Real Emotion
It takes too much effort for me to resist such blatant indie pop, especially when it’s slathered with creamy vocals and grand romantic gestures. And neither should you. (“Balconies”)

Skylar Grey – Natural Causes
Up to now this Wisconsin songwriter has been best known for her songwriting chops and featured vocals with some of hip-hop’s finest artists: Eminem, Dr. Dre, Nicki Minaj, but her third might change all that as she comes more fully into her own. With a tone as unnervingly still as Dido – another Eminem connection – it may take some time for listeners to click with her, but steady on. It’s worth it. (“Come Up for Air”)

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Boxed In – Melt
Oli Bayston’s 2015 debut was a slow grower for many folks, but it wowed me from the start. The English producer, songwriter, and singer approached electro pop with a wide net, taking in post-punk, house, and a slew of other rhythm-based templates to create his own space in an overcrowded genre. I’ve no idea how his follow-up will fare having only heard the pre-release tracks – “Jist” and “Forget” and “Shadowboxing” – which are all good, but I have faith in his talent. That said, many young artists stumble through a sophomore release that comes too soon on the heels of an impressive debut. I’m hoping that’s not the case here.

Beach Slang – A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
These Phillie punks have jumped to the top of their class in record time. Two albums in just over one year and who cares if they can keep up the pace? It’s enough for now. (“Atom Bomb”)

Merchandise – A Corpse Wired for Sound
It’s always been hard to get a bead on these Floridians as their sound encompasses punk, noise, pop, Goth, etc., though all you really need to know is that vocalist Carson Cox channels Morrissey while he pillages the Jesus & Mary Chain. (“End of the Week”)

God Damn – Everything Ever
Heavy Wolverhampton rock trio: loud as fuck, which goes without saying, but also catchy in a grunge-era manner. (“Sing This”)

Taking Back SundayTidal Wave
Album seven from much-loved Long Island rock band; not by me, of course, but somebody out there loves them. (“You Can’t Look Back”)

Elephant Stone – Ship of Fools
Psychedelic Canadian indie rock with an Indian influence and gentle forward motion… (“Andromeda”)

Devendra Banhart – Ape in Pink Marble
Nine albums in and you have to give him this: he follows his own warped muse no matter what the consequences. (“Saturday Night”)

Public Access T.V. – Never Enough
Long-awaited debut from New York rock quartet – insanely catchy, kind of retro, a bit of all right. (“End of an Era”)

Giraffe Tongue Orchestra – Broken Lines
Alt-metal supergroup, of sorts; though thankfully light on the metal and heavy on the hooks. (“Blood Moon”)

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Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam – I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
Leithauser is the famed vocalist from The Walkmen; Rostam is Mr. Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend and now a solo artist and producer. This is Leithauser’s second collaborative effort in the last year (the first, Dear God, with Paul Maroon, was a collection of keening ballads) and the camaraderie suits him. He’s a blowsy performer, often reminiscent of Ray Davies during The Kinks sloppiest period (Muswell Hillbillies, Preservation, etc.), with a devil-may-care approach to singing. He’ll forgo technical perfection to get at the underlying emotion of a track, which meshes beautifully with Rostam’s lustrous musical accompaniment (miles removed from Vampire Weekend’s heady Afro-pop). If this is only a one-off, it’s a good one, though I hope they come together every few years to see where they are – emotionally, intellectually, personally – and create some more worthwhile music of it. (“A 1000 Times,” “When the Truth Is…,”  “In a Black Out”)

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