Lily Allen, Damon Albarn, and Swans 

Sound Advice

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Lily Allen



File next to: Iggy Azalea, Kate Nash, Skylar Grey

It's ironic that Lily Allen sarcastically name-checks Katy Perry in the opening track of Sheezus, her first album after a five-year hiatus. The brash and sarcastic British vocalist has morphed into a hybrid of Perry and Kesha, with a bit more sarcasm and naughtiness. Allen has said she crafted the album title partially "as a little nod to" Kanye West's Yeezus, but the content of this album can't rise to the comparison. There are a few great songs within, but Allen doesn't take the risks she's taken in the past, and isn't quite sure what to say. Given that she's a mother of two, clothing retailer, and about to turn 30, this might represent something of a midlife crisis — but there's no soul-searching, only superficiality. The album art would suggest a lampoon of the rich celebrity. But the joke is too subtle, or maybe Allen is living her own parody. — Loring Wirbel

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Damon Albarn

Everyday Robots


File next to: Johnny Marr, The Good, the Bad & the Queen

Everyday Robots, the debut solo album from Damon Albarn, is a grey and moody affair dominated by two themes. One is technological isolation ("We're everyday robots on our phones / In the process of getting home"). The other is more personal, as Albarn uses the album to look back at his life and 25-year career, from his early days with Blur on "Hollow Ponds" to his heroin addiction on "You & Me." "Mr. Tembo," about his encounter with a Tanzanian baby elephant, was the result of Albarn's excursions to Africa for his recent world music projects. Its bouncy, ukulele-based sound makes for the liveliest track on an otherwise subdued, smartly crafted collection that has a few hints of Gorillaz glitchiness but no echoes of Blur's Britpop era. Everyday Robots is no party record, but it is cautionary, contemplative and revealing. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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To Be Kind

Young God

File next to: Glenn Branca, Godspeed You Black Emperor, World of Skin

Since reuniting Swans in 2010 after a 15-year hiatus, Michael Gira has been obsessed with majestic extended works, punctuated by overweening percussion from Shearwater drummer Thor Harris. Every album in this epoch has been a double CD clocking in at around two hours. The climax came with 2012's The Seer, packed with guest stars like Karen O, Alan and Mimi of Low, and elusive Swans cofounder Jarboe. On To Be Kind, St. Vincent is the only guest of note, as the band returns to the quiet/loud dynamics of early Swans efforts. Thunderous tracks that range from 15 to 35 minutes suggest this may be Swans' most fruitful period yet. And if the gentle nature of the album's title seems slightly out of character, it's worth remembering Gira's work with Angels of Light — he deals in the sacred as often as in the profane. — Loring Wirbel


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