PARAMORE, Paramore, Fueled By Ramen
Before the songs make the point, the package does. Taking the self-titled Paramore CD out of the case reveals Hayley Williams — Paramore’s orange-haired, 24-year-old singer and main songwriter — wearing a denim jacket that reads “Grow Up.” The band sets out to do exactly that on Paramore, its fourth studio album and its first since a bitter fissure split it.
Brand New Eyes, released in 2009, was Paramore’s second album to sell more than half a million copies, with brash pop-punk songs in which Williams wrestled with romance, rancor and independence. She had long since emerged from the Warped Tour circuit as a heroine for teenagers struggling with crushes and crises.
But in 2010, after touring for the album Brand New Eyes, the guitarist Josh Farro — who had written most of Paramore’s songs with Williams — and the drummer Zac Farro, his brother, left the band that they had started as teenagers in Tennessee, while Williams stayed with the guitarist Taylor York and the bassist Jeremy Davis as Paramore. Josh Farro complained online about his decreasing role in the band and differences over religious implications in lyrics, and said, “What started as natural somehow morphed into a manufactured product of a major label.”
Could Paramore’s songwriting survive the breakup? Yes, and then some. Paramore includes 17 songs — though three are brief ukulele ditties — and runs more than an hour. York is Williams’s collaborator throughout most of Paramore, and they have pushed the band beyond pop-punk without abandoning momentum or the big, catchy chorus.
The production toys with synthesizers, grunge guitar, even a glockenspiel and a string section in the ballad Hate to See Your Heart Break. It glances toward the yelp and swerve of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the beginning of Now and the Caribbean backbeat of No Doubt in Grow Up, in which the chorus insists, “Some of us have to grow up sometimes/And so if I have to I’m gonna leave you behind.”
That’s hardly the first parting shot in Paramore’s catalog. But it’s easy to hear the band’s recent history in the album’s opening song, Fast in My Car, which has Williams belting, “The three of us were initiates/We had to learn how to deal,” and in Now which warns, “Don’t try to take this from me.” In Interlude: Moving On, one of the ukulele songs, Williams shrugs, “Let ‘em play their own songs/Let `em say what’s right and wrong.”
But Paramore also has songs of joyful, steadfast love, like Still Into You, and invitations to trade vulnerability for commitment, like Proof and Be Alone. Another grown-up side of the album is in Williams’ vocals, which have taken on subtleties beyond her early brattiness and plaints, and in an emerging sense of humor. (One of Those) Crazy Girls, which melds 1960s girl-group pop with overdriven guitar, presents the jilted singer as a stalker: “I pour my heart out to your voice mail/Let you know I caught a bus to your side of town.”
In Interlude: Holiday, Williams promises to “move on to facing big girl problems/No more high school drama.” The reshaped Paramore is ready.
— Jon Pareles, NY Times News Service
HOTEL CALIFORNIA, Tyga, Young Money/Cash, Money/Universal Republic
A couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles rapper Tyga found himself at the center of the culture wars, the target of a protest by Harvard students displeased that he was chosen to headline that university’s annual Yardfest concert, scheduled for this week.“Tyga is notorious for his explicitly and violently misogynistic lyrics,” reads a student-organized petition, and, to a degree, this is true. His biggest hit is Rack City, a monster strip-club anthem, and many of his songs touch on the same material, but far less effectively.
He’s not alone in that, but Tyga’s crimes of small-mindedness and anti-feminism are compounded by artless delivery and unimaginative songwriting. He’s easy to pillory because he’s got so little going for him, no flashes of sui generis creativity to buffer his retrograde subject matter.
Hotel California is his second major-label album, and could inspire plenty of its own petitions. Its crimes are many: the typical unpleasantness regarding women, the typically clunky delivery, the shameless bandwagoneering of trends (as in Molly, about hip-hop’s drug obsession of the moment), and the relentless pilfering of credibility by way of remaking classic West Coast songs (Dope updates Deep Cover, by Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg; It Neva Rains samples It Never Rains (In Southern California) by Tony Toni Tone; Hit ‘Em Up, invokes 2 Pac’s song of the same name, and a version of it, not on the album, also includes lyrics by 2 Pac.)
Throughout, Tyga suggests a kid excited to see what bad words he can get away with saying. He raps enthusiastically, and mostly charmlessly, sometimes approaching Silkk the Shocker levels of awkwardness. To his credit, he has a good ear for production — the savvy minimalist DJ Mustard is here, on Hit ‘Em Up — and he’s flexible enough to try a number of styles, even if the outcomes are often equally dull.
Sprinkled throughout this album are songs that aspire to show some range: the strong Diss Song is about navigating a relationship with a jealous old pre-fame friend, and the bonus track Dad’s Letter shows a beating heart under his icy exterior. But these are exceptions that prove the rule: Tyga earns all the protest.
— Jon Caramanica, NY Times News Service
SHAKING THE HABITUAL, The Knife, Mute
It would be nice to frame this review as follows: a pop entity with a devoted audience and a strong instinct for big melodies declares its right to be as weird as it likes, drives into unmarked land, spends its cultural capital, stretches out into long songs and a double album and ultimately demands a new kind of listening. Because the Knife’s fourth CD, Shaking the Habitual, over two full discs, feels like that: it has the same fresh desire to challenge and confound as Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk or Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.
But it’s not quite the same thing. This record is the logical extension of what came before, and likely won’t seem anomalous in the long run.
Semipopular in Europe and beloved of a certain kind of American critic — its Silent Shout was named album of the year in 2006 by Pitchfork — the Knife is two Swedish siblings: Karin Dreijer Andersson, the singer and lyricist, and her brother, Olof Dreijer, the primary shaper of the music. Andersson remains the band’s changeable focus-point: she writes obscurely politicized lyrics that speak to power relations of all kinds and makes her voice an imperious chant patterned unevenly over the beat, or an aggrieved whine somewhere between Bjork and Kim Gordon; sometimes her brother alters it beyond recognition in pitch or texture.
Typically Dreijer thinks along minimal-techno lines, and even on this, the Knife’s strangest album, there are plenty of clear, trackable rhythms — claustrophobic, subdivided, airy, digital, hand-drummed, whatever. This music has deep weirdness but incredible will and charisma. (If Kesha, say, has not already internalized the contours and textures of this album’s strongest singalong track, Without You My Life Would Be Boring, that may happen soon – despite the fact that it involves a couple of long, loosely harmonized passages seemingly played on wooden flutes.)
In the past the Knife’s music has been profound and funny, spooky and slightly pretentious, but never actually ugly. Fracking Fluid Injections, nearly 10 minutes long, crosses that line: echoed vowels become nasty bleats, bowed metal objects produce screeching overtones. The Knife might lose you there. You will also have to deal with Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized, an immersive, 19-minute, basically effective wordless electroacoustic track with short outbreaks of rhythmic incident. I draw the line at A Cherry on Top — a long, dull stretch of digital sound run backward followed by the tuning of a stringed instrument, and then doggerel, sung in a demented warble: “Strawberry, melon, a cherry on top/Butter, popcorns that I can pop.”
But among indulgences, some extreme, there’s at least half a record for dancers here, with purposeful abandon draped over the thudding beats — a sound that can be stagy or conceptual. In Stay Out Here, which earns all its length and its stubbornness, it’s both. Dreijer sings with a deeper-voiced singer, Shannon Funchess from Light Asylum, in a mixture of freestyle and curdled, corroded electro; the synth tones elongate and distort, growing dark and blobby, but the song never loses touch with club rhythm.
— Ben Ratliff, NY Times News Service