Music reviews: Kendrick Lamar, Gary Clark Jr., LCD Soundsystem
Kendrick Lamar “good kid m.A.A.d city”
If you think the whole Compton-based rap album thing has been overdone, then you need to be introduced to Kendrick Lamar. The 25-year-old rapper has worked with Drake, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and a whole host of recognizable names. Now, he finally gets his major label debut, partly produced by Dr. Dre. Lamar offers a vivid snapshot of Compton on “good kid m.A.A.d. city” as told through his songs and even skits. Yes skits – the much-maligned rap album staple is actually used to further an album’s story instead of just being goofy intermissions between songs. Lamar has a unique lyric delivery. It’s a smooth, almost effortless-sounding flow that blends well with the polished beats on “good kid m.A.A.d. city.” Gritty street tales are unfolded with ease instead of being yelled through gruff vocals on songs such as “m.A.A.d city” and “Money Trees.” At the same time, this is in no way an over-produced rap album either. While “good kid m.A.A.d. city” may be steeped in stories of violence, Lamar isn’t adverse to taking on other problems in his neighborhood. That includes the groggy hit “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “First you get a swimming pool full of liquor, then you dive in it,” Lamar sings during the hook. It’s a party song on the surface, but listen closer and you find Lamar struggling to stay away from the booze in the room and any demons that come with it. Not everything is as it seems on “good kid m.A.A.d. city.” Smooth beats distract from stories of violence. A song about alcoholism is disguised as a summer jam. Lamar has delivered a clever rap album that has just enough sugar to help the medicine go down.
Gary Clark Jr. “Blak and Blu”
“Blak and Blu,” guitar wizard Gary Clark Jr.’s full-length debut, contains some songs from his 2010 EP. So this album isn’t a complete surprise. However, Clark does more this time to further his modern-day hybrid sound of blues and soul with a little hip-hop tossed in there as well. It’s a new take on a throwback sound. No matter which route Clark takes on his songs, he still has his guitar-playing ability to fall back on. He wastes no time showing off his superb axe skills on the opening track, “Ain’t Messin ’Round.” The names Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and possibly even Lenny Kravitz will be tossed around when assessing Clark’s ability. “Numb” is soaked in Hendrix-esque distorted guitar noise. On “Travis Country,” he does his best Vaughan impression. While it may be a little early to mention Clark in the same breath as some of those guitar heavyweights, he seems to be on the right track for all three to be fair comparisons.
LCD Soundsystem “Shut Up and Play The Hits” (DVD)
When dance rock outfit LCD Soundsystem decided to call it quits in 2011, they wrapped up their farewell tour with an epic performance that lasted nearly four hours at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “Shut Up and Play The Hits” captures moments before, during and after the show during a 48-hour period. The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year before it was given a limited release in U.S. theaters. The DVD version comes with the complete documentary and three hours of concert footage. The concert is beautifully shot, capturing both the intensity of the crowd as well as tender moments shared between band members on stage. While the two-disc concert alone makes this worth purchasing, the film is where it’s at. Directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace alternate between footage of the concert and an interview with LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy, who just wants to end the band so he can ride the subway without getting noticed. But don’t think the decision to put a stop to LCD Soundsystem is an easy one for Murphy, as we’re taken for a ride on his emotional highs and lows during “Shut Up and Play The Hits.”