Arts Post
Posted at 10:47 PM ET, 01/07/2013

Critic’s Notebook: Ashley Monroe, Wale, Burial and Skrillex

Notable recordings from the world of pop music.

Ashley Monroe

You don’t need to know Shania from Mariah to love ABC’s “Nashville.” But will the beloved music biz soap opera actually turn its millions of viewers into real-life country music fans? Real-life Nashville appears to be prepping for that possibility, with new albums from new-ish faces — Kacey Musgraves, Kelleigh Bannen, Kristen Kelly — promised in the months ahead.

The most auspicious in that bundle is a March release from Ashley Monroe of the Pistol Annies. The album’s first two singles, “Like a Rose” and “Used,” are real breathtakers. Like Dolly Parton, Pam Tillis and Lee Ann Womack before her, Monroe sings with a wounded grace that makes it hard to keep your tears in their ducts. Don’t bother trying to keep your jaw off the floor.

Wale

He raps in a defensive crouch. He gripes in 140 characters. He won fame on blogs, then radio, then Twitter, where the attention — there was never enough — turned him into a whiner. But does anyone remember 2007? Back when Wale was an unknown D.C. rapper with poise, humor and the ability to flip syllables around like so many pancakes?

Thankfully, Wale does. “Folarin,” his most vital mixtape since 2007’s “100 Miles and Running,” finds him taking a deep dive into his iPhone contacts to produce spry duets with his label boss Rick Ross, locals Lightshow and Fatz, and a rowdy, roaring Trinidad James. And no one sounds like they’re having more fun than Wale. A first! And a very welcome one.

Burial and Skrillex

Most Americans know dubstep as the brand of outlandish bass contortionism popularized in recent years by Skrillex, but wiser Brits know the sound was forged more than a decade ago under South London’s drizzly skies.

As Burial, U.K. producer William Bevan took the genre to disorienting heights in 2007 with “Untrue,” a spare and seductive album that he’s come closest to eclipsing with his new EP, “Truant/Rough Sleeper.” Both tracks drift for more than 10 elegant minutes, marked with church organ melodies, rain-on-rooftop percussion and contemplative pockets of dead air.

As for Skrillex, it’s hard to tell whether his new “Leaving” EP was designed to shush his critics or shake up his faithful. He’s mellowed beyond recognition with a title track that pantomimes Burial’s blurry vocal samples and pitter-pat rhythms. But he remains a pop guy at heart, ultimately unable to abandon corn syrup hooks for atmosphere, mapping out a sweet limbo all his own.

By  |  10:47 PM ET, 01/07/2013

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