“Father, Son, Holy Ghost”
Christopher Owens, lead singer for Girls, has a lot of problems with, um, girls. “They don’t like my bony body / they don’t like my dirty hair / or the stuff that I say / or the stuff that I’m on,” he sings on “Honey Bunny,” which opens “Father, Son, Holy Ghost,” the group’s second album. Owens and partner Chet White broaden their scope — especially sonically — from their much-praised 2009 debut, “Album,” but they never fail to return to the pains of love. And listening to their anguish proves a sumptuous experience, one that comes close to justifying the group’s critical hosannas.
Much has been made of Girls’ musical evocation of the Beach Boys, but this thoroughly listenable record leaps off from a host of recent scintillating guitar-pop touchstones: “My Ma” and “Alex” evoke Blake Sennett’s side project the Elected (give “Me First” a spin), while “Saying I Love You” and “Magic” shimmer and whoosh like Teenage Fanclub.
While you could play spot-the-influence all night with “Father, Son,” there is an emotional edge in Owens’s singing that infuses these songs with a gripping buzz. Attribute that to his personal background, but the band’s real magic happens when his voice latches on to a glimmering guitar chord and takes off in tender flight.
“Father, Son” suggests that Girls may have just scratched the surface of its explorations. Where “Album” felt like a glorified demo tape, these tracks are thoughtfully polished, with intros and codas as savory as their juicy choruses. Here’s hoping Owens doesn’t settle down, straighten up and find the right girl anytime soon.
— Patrick Foster
Recommended Tracks: “Honey Bunny,” “My Ma,” “Magic
Trombone Shorty is the nom de guerre of Troy Andrews, a 25-year-old prodigy from New Orleans with a pedigree to match his dizzying talent. A younger brother of New Birth Brass Band leader James Andrews and grandson of Crescent City legend Jessie Hill, Shorty has become a leading light for the revival of New Orleans’s music post-Katrina. Following a Grammy for his 2010 release, “Backatown,” and a number of appearances on HBO’s celebrated New Orleans-themed drama, “Treme,” Shorty verges on becoming a household name. His new album, “For True,” appears carefully calculated to vault him from regional success story to international icon.
To this these ends, Shorty has recruited a cavalcade of stars to abet him on his new release, ranging from the sublime (Ivan and Cyril Neville) to the ridiculous (Lenny Kravitz and Kid Rock). Though no doubt contrived to maximize commercial appeal, the results of these collaborations are predictably uneven. When Shorty is making common cause on “Then There Was You” with R&B chanteuse Ledisi, it sounds like a soul standard that could have been sung by Etta James. “The Craziest Thing,” produced by legendary Southern rock producer George Drakoulias, could be an outtake from Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book.” On the other hand, “Mrs. Orleans,” which begins as a promising soul-inflected funk jam, starts to resemble warmed-over Red Hot Chili Peppers as soon as Kid Rock arrives.
On balance, “For True” confirms Trombone Shorty’s reputation as a youthful flag-bearer for America’s unrivaled musical wellspring. But the artist is notably at his best when he lets his outsized ability speak for itself rather than be drowned out by the bleating exertions of relative lightweights.
— Elizabeth Nelson
Recommended Tracks: “Then There Was You,” “The Craziest Thing,” “Nervis”
Consciously or not, N.Y.C.-by-way-of-Wesleyan outfit Das Racist has modeled itself after the Beastie Boys, another alt-minded hip-hop group that started out with a joke rap hit (“Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” in Das Racist’s case) and went on to make smart, dense, socially conscious albums that simultaneously celebrated and skewered the genre’s most closely held conventions.
“Relax” is Das Racist’s first album after two well-received mix tapes. In Beasties terms, it’s their “Paul’s Boutique,” though the Beasties never had to try this hard to make a point. “Relax” has a lot to say about race, about hip-hop, about America in 2011, though it’s too bogged down by its own cleverness, its outsize sense of self-satisfaction, to say much of anything.
Its greatest track, the cranked-up, unfocused “Michael Jackson,” isn’t about the late pop star. The singsongy “Middle of the Cake” (with a cameo from Yeasayer’s Anand Wilder) is one of the few tracks with a discernible interest in beats. It’s twisty and brilliant, it encapsulates everything Das Racist can do when the group really wants to and it holds the couplet of the year (“RapGenius.com is white devil sophistry / Urban Dictionary is for demons with college degrees”), whatever it means.
“Girl” is a queasy love song that seems to have wandered over from an alternate universe ’N Sync album, complete with cheesy lyrics (“To me I’m just me / Whatever that may be / And I know that you’re just you / So let’s do what we came to do”), “Infinite Jest” puns and a vaguely date-rapey vibe. Other than that, it’s kind of sweet.
— Allison Stewart
Recommended Tracks: “Michael Jackson,” “Girl,” “Middle of the Cake”