THE STATE OF POP: Tame Impala, The Weeknd and Carly Rae Jepsen Show Off the Genre’s Broadening Borders

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Tame Impala Currents 17 July 2015 INTERSCOPE

Kevin Parker is a helpless man. At least that’s the impression of the mind behind Tame Impala gleamed from a cursory glance at his song titles. 2012’s Lonerism featured a song called “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control,” while the sensational Currents is led by “Let It Happen,” and also contains such tracks as “Eventually,” “The Less I Know The Better” and “Different Person, Same Old Mistakes.” But in reality, Parker isn’t helpless; he just knows how to pick his battles.

Each track on Currents is a potent mix of insatiable pop hooks and deft, lightweight instrumentation. “The Moment” skips with an anticipation for the the moment awaiting Parker. “The Less I Know The Better” has a confident strut, finding Parker changing his motto from “solitude” to “ignorance is bliss.” By album’s end, it is clear Tame Impala is much more than they were when they debuted back in 2011. While Kevin Parker might be as anxious and paranoid now as he was on that debut, he can rest well knowing he’s in complete control of his musical evolution.                      90

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Carly Rae Jepsen Emotion 21 August 2015 604/SCHOOLBOY/INTERSCOPE

Wisely understanding her current circumstance, Carly Rae Jepsen largely forgoes attempting to recreate the magic of the zeitgeist-capturing “Call Me Maybe” on her sophomore major-label effort Emotion. Instead, the Canadian artist carefully curated her list of collaborators, forming a supergroup of forward-thinking pop producers. Critical favorites Dev Hynes (Solange, Sky Ferreira), Ariel Rechstaid (Haim, Charli XCX) and Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend, Discovery) help form the backbone of Emotion, which finds Jepsen fronting some of the best pop earworms of 2015.

“Run Away With Me” sets the tone for this collection of largely upbeat, carefree tracks. While that tone helps some songs stand out – such as the charmingly dismissive “Boy Problems” and the head-turning “hijacking” reference in “Making The Most Of The Night” – in others it makes the songs feel far too safe. The title-track largely concerns itself with one emotion, while “I Really Like You” looks more and more like a carbon-copy of “Call Me Maybe” the more it spins.

But when Emotion hits, it’s among the best albums of the year. “All That” is another one of those cuts that succeeds due to Jepsen’s warm, kind delivery. The sensual production is undercut by her wish to “be your friend,” nothing more. “Your Type” finds her kindness coming back to kick her in the ass, failing to pursue a romantic relationship because she knows she’s “not the type of girl for you.” “Warm Blood” is the one moment where her romantic interest reciprocates her emotions, and the song embodies that flood of emotions that accompany a budding relationship. In large swaths of Emotion, though, it seems as though Jepsen just wants her audience to really, really, really like her. But she proves at times on her second LP that she’s capable of so much more.                                  78

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The Weeknd Beauty Behind The Madness 28 August 2015 XO/REPUBLIC

There wasn’t supposed to be enough room for the Weeknd anymore. Frank Ocean and Miguel appeared to soak up all the critical love among the crop of next-generation R&B singers that boomed in 2012, when Trilogy, channel ORANGE and Kaleidoscope Dream all hit record shelves. While all three received rave reviews, the Weeknd’s sophomore album did not inspire the same enthusiasm. Kiss Land was largely a misfire, with no hit singles and a public seemingly indifferent to Abel Tesfaye’s sorrow and debauchery. The sub-genre had found its 98 Degrees.

Then “Earned It” happened. While Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” was the obvious hit single from the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack, it was the Weeknd’s cabaret-style track that helped define the movie and rejuvenate Tesfaye’s career. Since then “The Hills” has racked up over 100 million views on YouTube and “Can’t Feel My Face” became his first Hot 100 #1 single. And this all happened before his fifth longform release (and second studio LP) – Beauty Behind The Madness – even came out.

What’s made clear from listening to his new record – out this Friday, August 28 – is that his original Trilogy was no fluke. Beauty Behind The Madness finds Tesfaye mastering his persona (on prerelease singles “Often”, “The Hills” and “Can’t Feel My Face”), showing a keen self-awareness of his perception (“Tell Your Friends”, “Acquainted”) and exploring new territory (“Losers”, “In The Night”) alike. Sonically, the album shares little similarities with the anti-social, claustrophobic trappings of Trilogy and Kiss Land.  When some artists make the transition to major label, the pressure of crafting a hit album sinks the endeavor as soon as it embarks. What’s so remarkable about Madness is how natural Tesfaye sounds as an entertainer. “In The Night” – much like “Can’t Feel My Face” – uses his uncanny vocal similarities to Michael Jackson as a strength, and the song moves with a muscular, finesse strut.

“Tell Your Friends” is anchored by a soulful, classic instrumental, which immediately makes Tesfaye’s lyrics – standard fare for him, about a woman who “smokes a pound” – less of a weight and more of a breeze. His voice has always glided over the songs he puts out, yet the success he’s achieved has added a confidence to his vocals that was once lacking. At no other point in his discography could he have sung, “I’m that nigga with the hair singing ‘bout poppin’ pills, fuckin’ bitches” – as he does on “Tell Your Friends” – with as much conviction and pride. And on “Acquainted,” Tesfaye deftly uses the persona he helped build – mostly that part that highlights his distrust in love and women – to maximum effect. “To say we’re in love is dangerous,” he unsurprisingly sings. How he weaves that personal identifier into the song’s title is when he truly shines: “But girl I’m so glad we’re acquainted,” he sings with a wink.

Abel Tesfaye made himself known by his explicit, bleak, largely joyless take on R&B; and for a while it seemed like that’s all we would get from the Weeknd. While he could have maintained a moderately successful career retreading his landmark 2011 mixtapes, this new collection comes with Tesfaye acknowledging that his music would have a greater impact if – instead of shrouding it in darkness – there was a light at the end of the tunnel. If there was a beauty behind the madness.                               84

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