Thu, Nov 20, 2014 - Page 11 News List

CD reviews

Jon Pareles, Ben Ratliff and Nate Chinen  /  NY Times News Service

Broke With Expensive Taste, by Azealia Banks.

Broke With Expensive Taste, Azealia Banks, Caroline

A long public back story shouldn’t eclipse the pleasures of Azealia Banks’ debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste, which she released suddenly online on Nov. 6. Yes, she has been announcing the album since 2012. Yes, she has been signed to and dropped from a major label, Interscope, along the way. Yes, she has gotten into more than enough pointless squabbles on Twitter and in interviews. But for once in an era of celebrity via clickbait, notoriety doesn’t stand in for substance. “I don’t see no limits so I strive and I shine twice,” she raps in “Ice Princess” — a wordplay extravaganza juggling diamonds, cold and coolness — and it’s a boast she earns.

Since Banks made her first splash with the single 212 in 2011 — a song mingling confidence and career worries, which returns on this album — she has shown outsize skills as both a rapper and a singer, hurling breakneck rhymes between sultry choruses. She has also placed herself at a junction of hip-hop and dance music that understands both from the inside. Banks doesn’t merely swap in the electronic dance music beat of the moment behind a hip-hop hook. She also hears the cultures behind them: ambitious, pugnacious, fashion-mad, campy, romantic and polymorphously raunchy. Punky, too.

Most of all, she understands rhythms — house, trap, soul, techno, Latin — and she slings rhymes and melodies that fully engage them. If that carries her, at times, to the far fringes of intelligibility, all the merrier. In Idle Delilah, which breezes through various Caribbean-flavored house grooves, she rattles off: “They loving the mixed flavors, lift ya pink and clink/Something to sip, savor, made ya blink and think./Stay puffin’ the piff, paper-making-hits ain’t cheap!”

Banks leans toward pop on Chasing Time, a trance-tinged kiss-off that has her blithely singing, “I feel like spending my nights alone,” and on Soda, a crisp house song about loneliness — I used to be your girl — and druggy consolations. But she has other concerns scattered through her lyrics: fame, globe-hopping, one-upping her amorous or musical competition, the job market and the designer labels she can’t help mentioning (along with references, in two songs, to Anna Wintour of Vogue). She is also a savvy collaborator, whether she uses a lot of a borrowed track — as in the crisp, jazzy English garage of Desperado, with MJ Cole — or just the right snippets, as she does in the explosive buildup of BBD.

Broke With Expensive Taste (Caroline) culls Banks’ pre-album releases. Along with 212, it includes Luxury from her 2012 mixtape Fantasea; Gimme a Chance, a reworked, merengue-tinged song from an earlier mixtape that has her singing and rapping in both Spanish and English; BBD, a brittle, trap-driven song that mentions both the R&B group Bell Biv DeVoe and what “bad bitches do”; and the brash 2013 single Yung Rapunxel, which stomps and screams and vows, “I wanna be free.” She is.

— Jon Pareles, NY Times News Service

Faith in Strangers, Andy Stott, Modern Love

The flow of information in dance music is bottom-up: dancers, by the millions, are the teachers, and musicians, far less numerous, are the students. That results in strong rules for an art form — not millions of rules, but a much smaller number, consensual and sometimes tyrannical.

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