“King of Hearts”
After years of B-list toil, Atlanta soul singer Lloyd has come up with The Song — the career-maker, the one that isn’t just a future smash, it’s a meme.
“Dedication to My Ex (Miss That)” is the highlight of Lloyd’s fourth release, the perfectly nice if otherwise indistinct “King of Hearts.” A homage to Lloyd’s ex, or, more accurately, one of her unprintable Womanly Parts, it’s horribly wrong, incredibly offensive and ridiculously earwormy. It’s Lloyd’s “Hey Ya!” (and not just because Andre 3000 is on it, although that doesn’t hurt), his “Forget You,” and he sings as if his career depends on it, which it might.
“Dedication” isn’t the first song to reduce a woman to a body part, although it’s the only track in memory to repeat the name of that part over and over and over until it sounds almost like a prayer. And it’s the first and only track on “King of Hearts” to inspire any kind of strong reaction at all. The rest is up-tempo, guest-star-heavy R&B that equally references Michael Jackson circa “Off the Wall” and Raphael Saadiq circa two months ago.
Lloyd holds his own against guest stars such as Chris Brown (on the messy electro-R&B track “Luv Me Girl”) but runs up against the brick wall of pathos and self-pity that is R. Kelly on “World Cry.” It’s slow and obvious (“I hate to see the whole world cry,” goes the chorus; would anyone actually like to see the whole world cry? Or even just some of it?), but purposeful, a future telethon ballad waiting for its disaster to happen.
— Allison Stewart
Recommended Tracks: “Be the One,” “Dedication to My Ex (Miss That)”
Describing an album as a slog is usually an insult, but there’s really no way around it when talking about the debut from Austin’s Pure X. The trio creates songs that are happily stuck in constant slow-motion, lumbering dirges that pile on the layers of echo, reverb and delay, which make the musical fog even thicker.
“Heavy Air” — the band is not one for subtleties when it comes to titles — opens the album with gurgling guitars, a drumbeat that just downed a handful of codeine, and distant, wordless moaning from singer Nate Grace. Plenty of bands set the stage with similarly atmospheric openers, but with Pure X the scenery never changes. It’s one crawl through the quicksand after another.
The band’s unwavering commitment to a single, specialized aesthetic doesn’t present it with the widest audience possibilities, but those who think music should be listened to in total darkness and under the influence of something you need a prescription to obtain (or something stronger) will surely approve. A few songs show some vital signs. “Dream Over” offers some clear skies, stripping away some of the excess effects while keeping the plodding pace. “Dry Ice” speeds things up ever so slightly before eventually being swallowed by its own swirling sonic goo.
But on most of these tracks, it’s hard to detect much of a pulse. “Pleasure” leaves listeners stuck in a pretty place, but stuck nonetheless.
— David Malitz
Recommended Tracks: “Dream Over,” “Easy”
“The Grant Theatre Vol. 2”
Over the course of eight studio albums and a handful of great live recordings, the Old 97s have rendered one of the finest catalogues of any band in recent history. Rarely straying from their formula of twanging hard-luck tales, bullish barroom rockers and lovelorn 3 a.m. valentines, frontman Rhett Miller and company have evolved into something like America’s answer to the Pogues: wry and poignant chroniclers of life on the edge, with all its attendant rhapsodies and regrets.
Their energetic new album, “The Grand Theatre Vol. 2,” continues a long winning streak with the sort of cavalier excellence that makes the arduous sound easy. Highlights abound. “The Actor” is a Stonesy, three-chord stomper that dissects the psychology of an insecure performer with typically caustic insight: “He sews a button on his favorite shirt / Because he feels like that’s what his character would do.”
On the Faces-style shuffle “No Simple Machine,” Miller wraps his beautifully strangled warble around the opening lines: “He said ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ / What he meant was ‘Can I buy you?,’ ” managing to sound at once indignant at the fraudulence of this pickup gambit and jealous that it might work. It’s not surprising that the narrative nearly ends in a fistfight.
The lovely, resigned ballad “Manhattan (I’m Done)” sounds like the morning after, a farewell to a doomed love affair with a desperate romantic’s touch: “I believe in tuxedos / blue moons and early Beatles.”
Nearly 20 years in, the Old 97s are in fine fighting form, demonstrating none of the creative attrition common to acts of a similar vintage. Long may they brawl.
— Tim Bracy
Recommended Tracks: “The Actor,” “No Simple Machine,” “Manhattan (I’m Done)”