If Wiz Khalifa were a British electro-rapper with a fondness for references to the MTV show “The Hills,” he would be Tinie Tempah, the U.K. sensation whose American crossover stardom seems all but certain.
Tempah’s official debut, “Disc-Overy,” is a fluid, quick-witted, commercially minded offering that embraces dance pop, grime (the arena whence Tinie came), R&B, techno-accented hip-hop and all points in between.
“Disc-Overy” was a No. 1 smash in Britain, but Tempah (born Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu), perhaps mindful that British rappers tend to go the way of Dizzee Rascal once their albums are released stateside, ensures that it’s a repository of American cultural references circa late 2009, conjuring up everyone from Kelly Clarkson to Heidi Montag to Elizabeth Arden. Tempah also surrounds himself with American hitmakers such as Khalifa, who shows up for the Wiz-like “Til I’m Gone,” and the hit-minting team Stargate (Norwegian, but still).
Tempah’s subject matter is the least interesting thing about him: He likes clubs and girls, and girls in clubs. Like many rappers, he complains about things reasonable people would enjoy, such as having too much fancy clothing or being famous. Tempah grouses about his celebrity a lot, something most Americans, who just realized he existed last week, might find incongruous: “Questions, you’ve asked me hundreds,” he grumps to an interviewer on “Let Go.” “Now can you grant me some rest / . . . I’m living out my dream / And I’m tired from it.”
He might want to get used to it. “Disc-Overy” is packed to the gills with hits and would-be hits, such as the synth-pop stunner “Pass Out” and the club banger “Frisky,” though nothing can best “Written in the Stars,” equal parts electro-hop, Horatio Alger analogies and ’80s pop-metal lighter ballad.
— Allison Stewart
Recommended tracks: “Intro,” “Til I’m Gone,” “Pass Out”
Thee Oh Sees perch comfortably atop a vibrant Bay Area garage-rock scene. It’s a spot they’ve earned for a number of reasons: seniority (the band has been bashing since 2005, and head Oh See John Dwyer fronted primal pounders the Coachwhips before that); an inhuman prolific streak (being an Oh Sees completist is like being a member of a fabulous record-of-the-month club); and the simple fact that the band is one of the best live acts on the West Coast, East Coast or anywhere in between, delivering a blur of hip-shaking, revved-up mayhem every time it’s onstage.
Many bands in today’s indie world would take this combination of factors and attempt to capitalize on it with a breakthrough album that cleans up and streamlines all of the elements working in their favor. Thee Oh Sees are not many bands. “Castlemania” is a whimsically absurd collection that has more in common with British avant-garde weirdos Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band than garage-rock standard-bearers the Sonics. Anybody looking for propulsive fuzz-and-chug, well, try the concurrently released “Singles Vol. 1 and 2” compilation. But if you want to hear a band happily expand its sound to include giddy, oompah romps (“Corprophagist”) or orchestral odes to swinging London (“Corrupted Coffin”), then “Castlemania” is your bag.
Maybe it’s a conscious effort to create distance from the increasingly generic garage tag, or maybe the band was just in the mood to rip it up and start again. Listening to Thee Oh Sees is always fun, but “Castlemania” is actually funny. You might find yourself chuckling at the chirpy call-and-response of jaunty opener “I Need Seed” or the goofy growling and haphazard harmonica of “AA Warm Breeze.”
“Castlemania” might not be the easiest entry point into Thee Oh Sees’ catalogue, but worry not — another album will be along in just a few months.
— David Malitz
Recommended tracks: “I Need Seed,” “Corprophagist,” “Corrupted Coffin”
“Cosmic Ocean Ship”
Languorous, warm and sensual: Neo-folk singer Mia Doi Todd’s new album is the perfect summer record, which isn’t to say that its lingering 10 tracks are lightweight. “Bare feet / in the sand / Take a walk / up the ancient path,” she bids, backed by lightly stroked congas and filigrees of nylon-string guitar, in the bossa-nova-inflected “Paraty.” No mere stroll on the beach, the path Todd goes on to describe turns out to be more adventurous, taking those who follow it through a literal and metaphorical jungle overrun with “leaves and vines and roots.”
This mix of buoyancy and gravitas is among the album’s hallmarks as Todd blends sensuality and spirituality as innately as Van Morrison and Madonna. Hers is definitely an Eastern mystical bent, albeit one that comes across as more grounded than ethereal. In “The Rising Tide,” a somber tone poem in which she urges us to “face a changing planet,” she asks: “Can we fix it with our love? Can we rise above?” It’s not just sentiment or emotion; the love in question is akin to a force of nature, a moral impetus the singer believes can repair the environmental and geopolitical havoc wrought by human folly.
A global perspective is likewise evident in the record’s Spanish and Portuguese overtones, both musical and linguistic. The arrangements are unhurried and spacious, effectively serving Todd’s mesmerizing soprano. Her intonation and phrasing is, at times, reminiscent of the majestic austerity of British folk singer Anne Briggs.
— Bill Friskics-Warren
Recommended tracks: “Paraty,” “My Baby Lives in Paris,” “The Rising Tide”