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May 1, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST
LILY ALLEN: SHEEZUS (May 6)
Remember MySpace? Lily Allen does. As one of the many acts that got a mid-2000s boost from the site, Allen staked her claim as a new kind of pop star: potty-mouthed, street-smart and fierce. Her attitude matched her sound, and Alright, Still (2006) was one of the best debuts of the year, according to The Guardian. Light Caribbean influences and nods to hip-hop are refreshing next to her Cockney accent, and the results were pop gems “Smile” and “LDN.”
A decade later, Allen believes the pop diva field has become cluttered. She sacrifices some of her original sound, but she has made up for it in sass. From its title on, Sheezus is a knowing jab at the current state of pop. The title track name drops Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Lorde while “Hard Out Here” sarcastically berates a woman for not being skinny or pretty enough.
As witty as she is lyrical, Allen too often relies on the same tricks used by the people she mocks. Clunky autotune and loud, splashy drums, are a step back from Allen’s originality.
LYKKE LI: I NEVER LEARN (May 6)
Ethereal yet quirky, Lykke Li cuts a distinct path. A breakout star in Sweden, she’s never made the jump to commercial success in the States. Although critics fawned over her work, her output is not radio-friendly; no repetitive hooks or beating drums here. Instead, Li enchants with whimsical vocals over clanging percussion and windy sound effects.
I Never Learn, her third full-length album, seems to be more of the same with ever-growing confidence. Lush sounds wrap around strong and compelling vocals. The single “No Rest for the Wicked” is stately with flowing organ reminiscent of Florence and the Machine. She’s also adding some rawness along the edges. “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone” pairs Li’s vocals with an acoustic guitar, but fans of her earlier and fuller sound will still be satisfied with songs such as “I Never Learn.” Unconventional and enigmatic, this is a thoughtful album for those lonely summer nights when the radio just won’t do.
TUNE-YARDS: NIKKI NACK (May 6)
Tune-yards has a sound as dynamic as the collective’s name. New England native and songwriter Merrill Garbus is the responsible for this project. Tune-yards is an energetic blast that smashes together lo-fi rock with afropop. Garbus’ vocals are often mutated and amplified over African rhythms and warm guitar lines that sound like Paul Simon’s Graceland on a serious bender.
Garbus’ sophomore album, Nikki Nack, is only a touch slicker and deepens her original sound. “Wait For a Minute” is a more relaxed and contemplative track than her usual approach. Listeners who want an introduction to Garbus should look no further than “Water Fountain,” a minimalistic pop funhouse full of zooming electronic blips, rhythmic breakdowns and Garbus’ more unhinged vocal spasms. It is music for the 21st century — oddly sincere under the samples and shimmies.