Because of less time, part two of my Summer Music Guide has fewer albums. In part one, I reviewed 25 albums. This time, I’ve shortened that number down to 10. I’ve also focused more on albums I actually enjoy, with eight of the albums gaining a B PLUS or higher. Still, I think I made up for the lack of pans with a review of my absolute least favorite album of the year, The Haxan Cloak’s “Excavation.”
Betty Who: “The Movement” (Betty Who) A common story in pop music: musically brilliant girl (in this case, Jessica Newham) meets producer (Peter Thomas) who sees a star in her and, with the help of a few synths, helps bring that star (Betty Who) out. But rarely does it result in a song like “Somebody Loves You,” which opens this EP and may be the most enticing synthpop track of the decade. It’s a hard opener to live up to, but the other three cuts are surprisingly strong, making this one of the best EPs of the year. It’s also a superior alternative to Tegan and Sara’s “Heartthrob,” which was more than twice as long. Grade: A MINUS
Earl Sweatshirt: “Doris” (Tan Cressida/Columbia) If anything, this highly anticipated album from Odd Future’s youngest member is low-key. No moments here bring the sensationalism of Tyler, the Creator to mind, and Earl’s rapping is so restrained that Tyler’s appearance on “Sasquatch” feels completely necessary. Still, in terms of lyricism and production, this tops all of Tyler’s albums, and the fantastic single “Whoa” is what “Domo 23” should have been. A few upbeat tracks would have been nice, but for such a modest album, it’s listenable. Grade: B PLUS
The Haxan Cloak: “Excavation” (Tri Angle) You can’t blame David Lynch for wanting to release an album at a time when copying the “Eraserhead” soundtrack is rewarded with critical acclaim. Grade: D
Little Boots: “Nocturnes” (On Repeat) Hailing from England, Little Boots is Victoria Hesketh, an electropop musician whose music is about as adorable as her stage name. It’s also very addictive. Nearly all of these 10 songs has a moment or two that will refuse to leave your head, and the content is so strong that you won’t mind at all. This may not be an acceptable substitute for Robyn, but it will at least hold you over until the next La Roux album. Grade: A MINUS
Pet Shop Boys: “Electric” (x2) Their previous album, 2012’s “Elysium,” was underrated, but not to the point of being worth fighting over. This is a proper follow-up – it’s overrated, also not to the point of being worth fighting over. I can’t see how anybody would rank either album among the band’s greatest work. Despite occasional moments of excellence, neither one has a “Se a vida é,” let alone a “West End Girls.” Here, they at least get close, with “Love is a Bourgeois Construct” and “Thursday” outdoing any of the key moments on “Elysium.” And although I prefer that album’s subtle melodic style, this one’s danciness means it will probably be more useful. Grade: B PLUS
Britney Spears: “The Essential Britney Spears” (Jive/Legacy) It’s likely that you’ve heard the majority of these songs before, and there are two other worthy Britney compilations, 2004’s “Greatest Hits: My Prerogative” and 2009’s “The Singles Collection.” But here, she gets the compilation treatment she deserves, with 32 tracks that sum up her 15 year recording career terrifically. Her studio albums — especially the last three — are still worth owning, of course. If you prefer your favorite singles to accompany a CD, though, your only other option for “Scream & Shout” is “#Willpower.” This doesn’t seem so useless now, does it? Grade: A MINUS
Superchunk: “I Hate Music” (Merge) The key line on their last album, 2010’s “Majesty Shredding,” was, “Here’s a song about nothing and everything at once.” Summing up indie lyricism perfectly, the line comes from the chorus on that record’s final song. Here, the key lyrical moment comes much earlier, opening the second track and giving the album its title: “I hate music/What is it worth?/It can’t bring anyone back to this Earth.” But on their second successful album in a row — and their second successful album ever — the band is more musical than ever. Continuing their intriguing transition from overrated ‘90s band to one of this century’s greatest indie-rock groups, the songs here are consistent and tuneful. This might even be better than “Majesty Shredding.” Or maybe not. Maybe they’re equal. Ask me again in a year. Grade: A MINUS
Surfer Blood: “Pythons” (Warner Bros.) Last year, lead singer John Paul Pitts was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend. Eventually, people began comparing him to Chris Brown, wondering why Pitts’ assault was so quickly forgotten while Brown has been a public punching bag in the years since his. While it is possible that the racial difference is responsible, for me, it seems it has a lot to do with the public personas of the two. Brown is a celebrity, and thus has a lot of opportunities to make himself look bad and give people more reasons to scorn him. Meanwhile, Pitts is merely the lead singer of a decently popular indie-rock band. It also is likely related to their music. Surfer Blood’s debut was a bit overrated, but they still haven’t released any albums as god-awful as “Graffiti” or “Fortune.” It is true, though. Pitts did an awful thing, and shouldn’t be rewarded for it. So take the grade as critical honestly and know that, while this is a nice album — melodically stronger than their debut, and with superior songwriting — there are plenty of albums similar to it that are as good or better, and several of them were recorded by people who haven’t beaten up their girlfriends. Grade: A MINUS
Robin Thicke: “Blurred Lines” (Star Trak/Interscope) After some hesitation, I’ve accepted the title hit as a good — though not great — single. But the political discussions about it bore me more than anything involving feminism and pop music should. If you love the song, the rest of the album is quite repetitive, and it all focuses on the same basic concept: Thicke wants to do you. With the help of a topnotch production team and a surprisingly awful Kendrick Lamar, he stretches that concept as far as he can until, by the end, you practically need a cigarette. Nothing against sexual music, but why is he so dedicated to creating a club album from the point of view of the creepy guys who touch girls inappropriately? They already think that they’re Robin Thicke without him perpetuating it. Grade: B MINUS
Young Fathers: “Tape Two” (Anticon) In the worst year for hip-hop since I don’t know when (2002, maybe?), these Scottish hookmasters have stood out as a group to root for. In January, they reissued their very good 2011 EP, “Tape One,” and then proceeded to release a sequel that’s even better. Although it’s only 22 minutes, they get as much out of them as Yeezy got out of his 40. And while none of the final eight tracks top the breathtaking opener, a few get incredibly close. Grade: A MINUS
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