“This Is Country Music”
Calling an album “This Is Country Music” is rather clever in its simplicity, decisively answering a hotly debated topic before anyone else has a definitive say. What is country music? Well, Brad Paisley will tell you: There’s a lot of banjo and steel guitar, a few songs about love, and obviously, Clint Eastwood is involved.
And if someone’s going to define the genre, why not Paisley, he of the soothing voice and utterly adorable love songs? His success over the years, thanks to twangy guitar skills and irresistible hooks, qualifies him for the task as much as anyone.
“This is real, this is your life, in a song,” Paisley tells us on “This Is Country Music,” the title track of his ninth studio album and first single, which rocketed up the Billboard country charts this year. And when he implies country music is simply people’s lives in song form, Paisley’s not kidding. In the 15-song album, he attempts to cover anything that could possibly happen to anyone . . . ever.
Topics include the ultra-serious — a child with cancer in “One of Those Lives” and hell-on-Earth scenarios in “A Man Don’t Have to Die.” But skip a few tracks, and there’s “Working on a Tan,” about college girls lying out on the beach and the frat guys who ogle them, and “Old Alabama,” the infectious ode to country living featuring Alabama band members themselves.
Of course, no one does it’s-the-little-things-in-life love songs better than Paisley. Carrie Underwood lights up the ballad “Remind Me,” in which a couple reminisces about the good old days when they had torrid make-out sessions in public.
While it’s an enjoyable listen, there are no real surprises — at this point, Paisley knows what works. And by the time the western actor shows up to guest-whistle his way through an instrumental track appropriately called “Eastwood,” it’s clear that Paisley has tackled so many topics and sounds that he thinks country music is . . . well, pretty much whatever you want it to be.
— Emily Yahr
Recommended tracks: “Old Alabama,” “Remind Me”
MMG Presents: Self Made Vol. 1
What to make of Wale? Washington’s onetime Great Rap Hope has spent the last few years suffering through an identity crisis and a scuffling career. Is he a DMV traditionalist who makes go-go a focal point of his big tent sound? An Internet sensation who solicits hipsters with his “Seinfeld”-referencing mix tapes? A pandering, wannabe superstar whose lead single off his underwhelming debut album featured vocal contributions from Lady Gaga? The answer is a little bit of all of these, but he may have finally found his perfect role: supporting voice in a stable of rappers.
Maybe it’s not his ideal landing spot, but by delivering the most impressive moments on “MMG Presents: Self Made Vol. 1,” it’s a reminder that when he’s not trying to be everything to everyone, the 26-year-old emcee is still a mighty fine rapper. This new album is a showcase for the newly formed crew fronted by gangsta glorifier Rick Ross, someone who has built his entire career on self-mythologizing, making this foray into brand-building inevitable. The big man is content to hang mostly in the background, offering a few gruff verses, a handful of hooks and some of his trademark grunts, not wanting his larger-than-life persona to overshadow his assembled “dream team.”
Each member fills a specific niche — Philadelphia’s Meek Mill is the feisty, shrill trash-talker who sounds best when contrasted with Ross’s bellowing sloganeering on “Tupac Back.” Atlanta’s Pill is the rough-throated street urchin with the most raw talent but a tired take on the familiar drugs and women themes. Wale goes for broke on most of his verses, sounds his most natural dropping pop culture references over horn-blasted beats (“Self Made,” “Running Rebels”) and even acquits himself nicely on “600 Benz,” the kind of thumping, synth-driven banger that Ross has made his forte. “Self Made” becomes a bit monotonous thanks to a few too many of those types of songs, but as Wale’s reclamation project, it works well.
— David Malitz
Recommended tracks: “Self Made,” “Tupac Back,”
It’s no secret that Sonic Youth’s albums have recently gotten more leisurely, as the band has eased into boho middle age. But Thurston Moore, the band’s frontman, resident guitar-playing demigod and occasional solo artist, has been making gentle, grown-up pop records for years.
It’s not for nothing that his latest solo project, “Demolished Thoughts,” was produced by fellow lite-folk deconstruction enthusiast Beck: It’s so delicately strummed, so finely wrought and lovely, they might as well have called it “Mellow Gold.”
“Demolished Thoughts” is of a piece with Moore’s 2007 slightly more experimental solo disc “Trees Outside the Academy,” except it’s more serious and less weird. Consisting largely of acoustic guitar-based folk songs supplemented by harp and violin, “Demolished” has the whispery solemnity of a Bon Iver album. And like a Bon Iver album, it has an open-air feel, as if it were made in a cabin in the woods. (It wasn’t.)
Most of the tracks here are more than soundscapes, if sometimes less than traditional, verse-chorus-verse songs. For every song that ends in a squiggly sound collage, there’s something straightforward and lovely, such as the opening ersatz ballad “Benediction.” “Demolished Thoughts” may be the most constructed work Moore has ever made. Its best moments, such as “Circulation,” with its juxtaposition of breezy vocals and angrily sawed strings, suggest that Moore is more interested in hooks and less interested in feedback than anyone might have guessed.
— Allison Stewart
Recommended tracks: “Benediction,” “Circulation,” “Blood Never Lies”