A (quick) critical rundown on three recent albums.

By Alex Suskind and Leah Greenblatt
October 16, 2020 at 12:31 PM EDT
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Credit: Scott Legato/Getty Images; Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images; Nasty Little Man

Occasionally, Entertainment Weekly publishes short reviews on some of the best records of the month. Today's edition tackles the latest from Jónsi, Sharon Jones, and Gorillaz.

Song Machine: Season One – Strange Timez — Gorillaz

Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett founded Gorillaz — a group of four cartoon musicians who poke fun at the pop/rock-star industrial complex — as a kitschy antithesis to slick-sounding boy bands. Two decades on, they’re still following the thread, fusing genres and collaborating with a rotating mix of artists. Their latest is a compilation of one-offs from the group’s narrative-less music video project. But there is still a through-line across these 11 songs (17 on the deluxe edition) — a maximalist approach to songwriting that was missing from 2018’s The Now Now. Electroclash opener “Strange Timez” has the Cure’s Robert Smith meandering through the dark, while ’80s pop anthem “The Valley of the Pagans,” featuring Beck, delves into the hedonistic joys of Los Angeles. Though lovelorn anthem “The Pink Phantom,” with 6LACK and, yes, Elton John, doesn’t quite mesh, it still makes for an intriguing listen. For a better pairing on a song about romantic loss, there’s “Désolé,” which sees Albarn trading verses with Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara. Snags aside — “The Lost Chord” sounds bloated, and bonus cut “MLS” sands the edges off JPEGMAFIA — Strange Timez (out Oct. 23) adds a delightful new chapter in Gorillaz’s ongoing tale of cross-pollination. BAlex Suskind

Shiver – Jónsi

If your idea of Iceland is a sort of umlauted Narnia inhabited entirely by twee tiny woodsprites, at least some part of that is owed to Sigur Rós — the Reykjavík band whose crystallized soundscapes Jón Þór Birgisson, a.k.a. Jónsi, has fronted for nearly 25 years. Because his voice is so synonymous with Sigur, it would also be easy to presume more of the same from Shiver, his first solo studio album in more than a decade. And on the surface, it’s all there: the eerie instrumentation and frosted falsetto, an entire moodboard of elfin tundra and midnight suns. But the songs show their differences as it unfurls: “Cannibal,” a dreamy high-altitude duet with Liz Fraser of Cocteau Twins, segues into the glitchy, throbbing “Wildeye”; Swedish pop goddess Robyn drops by to honk the dance-floor horn on “Salt Licorice,” trading sly lines about blue-eyed blondy boys and Scandinavian pain. Moments later, the mournful “Hold,” a sad robot’s hymnal, comes in. On those tracks and elsewhere, Jónsi — who has been quietly but openly out for many years — offers a new kind of glimpse into his private world, singing intimately (and almost entirely in English) of desire and raw vulnerability. Maybe that’s why Shiver feels as liberated as it does: the sound of an artist in mid - stream, still discovering how far his voice can go. B+Leah Greenblatt

Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Rendition Was In) – Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones' voice could move mountains. Aching and guttural, swaggering and sincere, the sound she honed — with her band the Dap-Kings — fit so comfortably alongside previous R&B icons that it was easy to confuse her songs with ones that had been made decades earlier. This posthumous release of covers (Jones passed away in 2016, from pancreatic cancer) looks to further that work. “Here I Am Baby,” a 1968 single from the Marvelettes, subs ’60s pop and a vibraphone riff for Jones’ slow drawl and a choppy guitar. “What Have You Done for Me Lately” flips the drum-machine sheen of Janet Jackson’s hit into cacophonous funk. Even otherwise perfunctory re-creations of well-worn classics — like Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” and Dusty Springfield’s “Little by Little” — sees the artist breathe new life into their vocal arrangements. As a singer, Jones didn’t get her due until she was in her 50s, and her death occurred right as she was beginning to experience commercial success. That makes Rendition (out Oct. 23) more than just a covers album. It’s a living document and continued legacy of a once-in-a-generation talent. B+ AS

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