New releases from Danny Brown, Lambchop and Bell X1 

Sound Advice

click to enlarge Danny Brown
  • Danny Brown

Danny Brown

Atrocity Exhibition

Fools' Gold/Warp

File next to: Vince Staples, ASAP Mob

In his home state of Michigan, Brown is considered the sly literary underminer in the hip-hop scene, and the dual references to J.G. Ballard and Joy Division in this album's title show he is conscious of that role. Brown's ability to move from high baritone to a yowling cartoon voice, while caroming among a wealth of rhythm styles, is indicative of an artist who never sits still. On this fourth album, he brings in friends like Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, and Kelela for vignettes that are by turns hilarious and terrifying. While all this may invite comparisons to Lamar's 2015 Butterfly masterpiece, Atrocity Exhibition operates more on a tactical street level, similar to much of Sweatshirt's output. The best tracks here, "Ain't It Funny" and "Pneumonia," rank among Brown's finest, though Atrocity Exhibition doesn't necessarily stand as his finest overall. — LW

click to enlarge Bell X1
  • Bell X1

Bell X1


BellyUp Records

File next to: Talking Heads, Crowded House

Dublin band Bell X1's ninth album, Arms, embraces a wide array of styles that can sometimes come across more like a mixtape than a proper album. "Fail Again, Fail Better," for example, sounds like a half-finished collaboration between Paul Simon and David Byrne, while the electronically textured "Bring Me a Fireking" is somewhat reminiscent of Neil Finn's solo work. Meanwhile, "The Upswing" places Paul Noonan's melancholy vocal against an understated instrumental arrangement, while "Out of Love" sounds like a lost Sting tune circa Ten Summoner's Tales. Elsewhere, hints of trip-hop and world music find their way into the mix. And yet somehow these disparate styles work together as a welcome addition to Bell X1's idiosyncratic pop catalogue. — BK

click to enlarge Lambchop
  • Lambchop



Merge Records

File next to: Bill Callahan, Spiritualized

With his revolving set of Nashville backing musicians, Lambchop's Kurt Wagner has spent 25 years startling listeners with unexpected styles, from ragtime to German light opera. But few could have guessed FLOTUS (For Love Often Turns Us Still), the band's first album in four years, would take a heavy turn toward electronica. The 11 tracks feature some very long compositions, and each lists beats per minute as well as running time. Wagner is making a political point with songs like "JFK" and the title track (reinforced by the album's election-week release), but few can say with certainty what that point might be. "In Care of 867-5309" stands as the only track that provides any hints of the country-ish Lambchop of yore, while closing track "The Hustle," which clocks in at 18 minutes, allows dance beats and AutoTune to overrule paranoia. At least for the moment. — LW


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