The Kid marks a new career high for Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, while Kelela’s first proper album feels watered down. These plus Wolf Parade, Liam Gallagher, and more in the week’s notable releases.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, The Kid
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s songs have teemed with the rhythms of the natural world since her 2012 debut, and never have they been as widely celebrated as on last year’s breakout EARS and the Suzanne Ciani collaboration Sunergy. Her sixth full-length, The Kid, reaches a career high as the synthesist and composer ponders her existence, tracing the life cycle through four distinct stages. From the primordial chatter of opener “I Am A Thought” to the bittersweet departure of “To Feel Your Best,” The Kid’s stunning arrangements are as playful as they are emotionally complex, with Smith deepening her sonic experimentation while also crafting some of her poppiest songs to date. The album’s third act in particular holds its boldest statements, focusing on a time in life when you’re finally confident enough in yourself to start giving back to the world. But The Kid is truly an album to experience beginning to end, one with a knack for making you feel—as Smith sings on “An Intention”—“everything at the same time.”
RIYL: Terry Riley. Björk’s Biophilia. Alan Watts. Planet Earth. The planet Earth.
Start here: Smith wrote many of The Kid’s trumpet parts as a challenge to overcome an aversion to the instrument, and yet their presence is always a high point on the album, particularly on the ebullient “To Follow & Lead.” [Kelsey J. Waite]
Cults are in a pretty good mood. The duo, composed of Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, took an extended break after recording their last album, 2013’s Static, rediscovering the joy of songwriting in the process. They return refreshed and optimistic on the new Offering, which retains the retro pop sensibility and breathy, high-pitched vocals of Cults’ earlier work. But the expansive, echoing space that defined those first two records (its self-titled 2011 debut sounds like it was recorded in an empty high school auditorium) is filled here with layers of synthesizer sheen.
Opener “Offering” is a magic carpet ride over hand-clap-heavy canyons of California pop, while lead single “I Took Your Picture” puts a shimmery gloss on Spoon-style retro-rock melodies. Those are just the first two songs, though. And while it rebounds from the drowsy ballad “With My Eyes Closed” with the toe-tapping “Recovery” and the bouncy, keyboard-drenched “Right Words,” Offering’s second half becomes a stoned and fuzzy blur, its overall high settling into a pleasurable yet indistinct haze.
RIYL: Slowdive. The Jesus And Mary Chain. Chromatics. Late-period Dum Dum Girls. Twin Peaks.
Start here: The first track is also the strongest: “Offering” beams down layers of synthesizer sunshine onto its uplifting pop melody. [Katie Rife]
Kelela, Take Me Apart
Across the 2013 mixtape Cut 4 Me and the 2015 EP Hallucinogen, Kelela has established herself as a master of the R&B jam, the sort of post-Timbaland banger that doesn’t sacrifice sexiness or mood for massive, earth-shattering club appeal. Her long-simmering proper debut, Take Me Apart, offers a few cuts that instantly stand among her best. Lead single “LMK” has a slinky ’80s bounce, and opening track “Frontline” is a sinuous, six-minute anthem that climaxes with a syncopated hook that’d fit right in on a late-’90s Janet Jackson record. “Blue Light,” meanwhile, captures the sense of wide-screen, neon noir The Weeknd used to offer, and “Waitin” locks into an easy groove, over which Kelela’s thin, vaporous voice floats like a cloud of smoke. Still, at 14 tracks, the album spreads these moments pretty thin, popping them among many listenable yet ultimately forgettable slower moments. There’s another EP in here that’s every bit as good as Hallucinogen, but as an album, Take Me Apart remains more proof of Kelela’s talent and still-unrealized potential.
RIYL: Björk. Timbaland. Disclosure. Absolute jams.
Start here: Kelela probably deserves better than the video for “LMK,” which somehow manages to make its laser-precise electro seem constrained. [Clayton Purdom]
Wolf Parade, Cry Cry Cry
Wolf Parade’s Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner kept plenty busy with other projects during the band’s five-year hiatus. The former launched the moody, piano-centric Moonface; the latter focused on the synth-heavy Divine Fits and Operators. Unsurprisingly, Wolf Parade’s first record since regrouping reflects influences from these sidecars. On the excellent Cry Cry Cry, compact, ebullient pop moments abound: “You’re Dreaming” is an un-self-conscious new wave pogo with confetti-explosion keyboards. “Who Are Ya” is a Sparks-like glam swoon. And “Incantation” is a dead ringer for the kind of hip-swiveling indie gems favored by Boeckner’s Divine Fits bandmate, Spoon’s Britt Daniel. Even better, Wolf Parade’s usual guitar-driven barnburners—represented here by the stormy “Valley Boy” and its circular, post-punk riffs; and the prog-scorched “Flies On The Sun”—sound especially buoyant and revitalized. Cry Cry Cry is Wolf Parade’s most vibrant, energetic record to date.
RIYL: Smart, adventurous indie rock. Canada.
Start here: “Weaponized” is a multi-part epic that starts with insistent piano and a live-wire backbeat before sprawling into a gnarled, noisy synth-rock meditation. [Annie Zaleski]
Liam Gallagher, As You Were
For his first solo album, Liam Gallagher goes a long way toward establishing himself apart from brother Noel and the rest of Oasis. His most successful tracks here evoke Nashville rather than Manchester, putting a sharper edge on his traditional Britpop through the angry wailing harmonica on “Wall Of Glass” and “Greedy Soul,” or the twangy guitar that drives “I Get By” and “Come Back To Me.” Gallagher dives into familiar orchestral trappings on besotted cuts like “When I’m In Need,” but he truly excels when he slows things down. In the hook-filled “For What It’s Worth,” he even offers an apology for his previous bratty behavior. No one else is likely cheeky enough to rhyme “helter skelter” with “gimme shelter” in the horn-soaked rant “You Better Run,” but on As You Were, Liam Gallagher proves that brashness is justified.
RIYL: Nasally, angry—yet repentant—Brit-rockers. Also, Oasis.
Start here: The politically minded “Chinatown” offers a surprisingly unfamiliar, pared-down version of Gallagher’s sound, backed only by primitive percussion and a few acoustic strings. [Gwen Ihnat]
The Weather Station, The Weather Station
Tamara Lindeman’s fourth album as The Weather Station takes tentative steps toward shedding the “folk” tag by adding some color and shading to her, well, folky songs. She also explores her vocal range more here than in the past, specifically on the slinky “You And I (On The Other Side Of The World)” and the jazzy “I Don’t Know What To Say.” But the—complimentary—elephant in the room remains: Lindeman sounds remarkably like Joni Mitchell, a comparison that extends to both her voice and the beautiful sonic beds she rests it on. (In fairness, Mitchell also experimented with plenty of different musical styles over the years.) There’s plenty to unpack lyrically, too, which makes it ideal for a headphones listen. You know, not unlike Blue or Court And Spark.
RIYL: The simplicity of early-’70s singer-songwriters—one in particular.
Start here: “Thirty” nicely encapsulates the most straightforward aspects of The Weather Station, and it’s also kind of badass. [Josh Modell]
Purchasing via Amazon helps support The A.V. Club.