REVIEWS ON THE FLY: Ciara, I’lls, Smith Westerns and more

I'lls
I’lls

Time to catch up on some albums in stores and digital outlets now. This week’s installment includes Ciara’s latest attempt to attract a global audience, Smith Westerns’ refreshing return, Thundercat’s FlyLo-assisted new album, as well as Nico Jaar and Dave Harrington’s reworking of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and the debut EP from I’lls.

Ciara artwork
Ciara artwork

ARTIST Ciara

ALBUM Ciara

LABEL Epic

RELEASE DATE 9.7.2013

6.5 | 10

At one point, Ciara’s star was so bright she was considered by many as the biggest up-and-comer in pop. That was in 2004, when she released Goodies, featuring Petey Pablo (remember him?), Missy Elliott, and Ludacris (way before Justin Bieber hopped on that train). Since then, she’s released moderately successful songs, although none have capture the attention much like her debut.

The album cycle got off to a strong start with the release of “Body Party,” one of the quintessential slow jams of 2013. “We can take it slow now, tell me what you want,” asks Ciara, aiming to please. And on some instances, she does, bringing out the best in Nicki Minaj in album opener “I’m Out,” while getting dirty in the backseat on “Backseat Love.” Overall, though, the album feels like a half step too late for the once-pioneering R&B act. Some songs are hampered by less-than-legit production, while others fail to resonate due to the lack of strong melodies, or anything that really differentiates Ciara from the rest of the lot.

Random Access Memories Memories artwork
Random Access Memories Memories artwork

ARTIST Darkside

ALBUM Random Access Memories Memories

LABEL self-released

RELEASE DATE 21.6.2013

8.0 | 10

Nico Jaar has been in the foreground of expansive, minimalist electronica ever since he bust onto the scene in early 2011 with the excellent Space Is Only Noise. Since then, he’s recorded with Demi Moore and Bruce Willis’ daughter Scout as well as Steven Spielberg’s daughter Sasha. While he preps work with Blue Ivy and North, he teamed up with pal and frequent collaborator Dave Harrington on a complete reworking of Daft Punk’s recently released Random Access Memories.

Jaar and Harrington alter the tracklisting to fit their needs, creating a listening experience just as satisfying as that of the original. The duo toy with the infectious melody of “Get Lucky,” so by the time they bring that aspect of the track out, it’s as if you’ve just won the lottery. Elsewhere, Darkside turn “Fragments Of Time” into a five minute trance-out, while keeping the best parts of “Instant Crush” and bludgeoning you over the head with them. So in some ways, it’s the album some people wish Daft Punk would have made.

Apocalypse artwork
Apocalypse artwork

ARTIST Thundercat

ALBUM Apocalypse

LABEL Brainfeeder

RELEASE DATE 9.7.2013

8.2 | 10

Stephen Bruner’s musical alias Thundercat recently released his Flying Lotus-produced sophomore LP Apocalypse, and the pairing between the bass playing virtuoso and the critically acclaimed producer pays dividends for both artists. For Thundercat, FlyLo’s expertise behind the boards gives him the freedom to take his music in any direction. As for FlyLo, working on a much more structured affair than his excellent string of solo LPs allows the producer to take chances he might otherwise refrain from taking.

“Heartbreaks + Setbacks” is one of the singles of the year, with its piercing synthesizers, and Bruner’s forlorn vocal performance recalling the cyclical nature of love. Elsewhere, the spastic and thrilling “Lotus and the Jondy” ends with a fantastic instrumental interlude by all parties involved make it one of the best musical moments of 2013.

A Warm Reception artwork
A Warm Reception artwork

ARTIST I’lls

ALBUM A Warm Reception

LABEL Yes Please

RELEASE DATE 17.6.2013

7.8 | 10

Australian band I’lls provide another glimpse into the wonderful things coming out of Australia in the indie rock scene, with the latest albums from Tame Impala and Jagwar Ma delivering the goods. Where does I’lls fit into the frame? Their melodies are more in line with Tame Impala, as well as the whispy vocals, while the group take the production risks one would associate with Jagwar Ma.

Another prominent inspiration appears to be Radiohead, whose In Rainbows comes to mind throughout A Warm Reception. Simon Lam’s vocals recalls Thom Yorke’s at his most delicate. Album highlights include “Plans Only Drawn,” as well as “To: All The Blurred,” with its increasingly chaotic structure. A Warm Reception is the type of EP that will no doubt fascinate many, as it appears Simon Lam and company have a few tricks up their sleeves that they have yet to part with.

Soft Will artwork
Soft Will artwork

ARTIST Smith Westerns

ALBUM Soft Will

LABEL Mom + Pop

RELEASE DATE 25.6.2013

7.7 | 10

The new album from Smith Westerns is a largely inoffensive album. That’s the good and bad of it. While the group’s ability to hit melodic gold doesn’t go unnoticed, the rather pedestrian way they go about reaching their goals puts a damper on the festivities. A song such as “3AM Spiritual” remains a highlight, with it’s gorgeous shift midway through ultimately lending itself nicely to comparisons of The Flaming Lips‘ “Do You Realize??” With Smith Westerns, you won’t see a train wreck, but their pragmatic approach to songwriting ultimately removes the magic.

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