Capsule Reviews: Major Lazer, Isaiah Rashad, holychild

The latest from Major Lazer, TDE newbie Isaiah Rashad, holychild, the Men, Fanfarlo and more.

Major Lazer, Apocalypse Soon EP
Diplo's Major Lazer project lends itself to the EP format. Its spastic, booty-shaking, dancehall-tinged music is best in brief doses, and it usually struggles when it is tasked to maintain momentum and attention for thirty-plus minutes. I'm disappointed, then, that Apocalypse Soon struggles to keeps things interesting over its modest seventeen minute run. At least Major Lazer have maintained their habit of delivering one exceptional song per release (see: 2009's "Pon De Floor" and 2011's "Get Free"). "Aerosol Can" may just be another trophy on Pharrell's increasingly cluttered mantle, but the song ranks among Major Lazer's catchiest. Still, even the novelty of its bom-bom-bom-bom hook loses a bit of its luster with repeated listens. Its saving grace is that its the only song on this set that doesn't seem to believe that an out-of-nowhere crescendo, followed by a loud, dumb DROP is the answer to everything. That's what's problematic: Apocalypse Soon is always propulsive, but never thrilling. It seemed like not too long ago Diplo was the guy setting trends in the global-minded dance music scene. Now it looks like he's in the crowd that's chasing them. C

Isaiah Rashad, Cilvia Demo
It's been said over and over, but the fact remains that we are firmly in the era of TDE in the history of hip hop. From the undercurrent rumblings from Southern California of the Black Hippy crew over the past couple of years to the ascension of Kendrick Lamar's instantly classic Compton opera, the California crew is poised for a 2014 coming out party. Alongside ScHoolboy Q, Chattanooga transplant Isaiah Rashad is the first out the gate this year for TDE. His debut Cilvia Demo blends Black Hippy's post g-rap seamlessly with his own inspirations form the South's rich rap history. The album is as smooth as it is contemplative, as Rashad's public catharsis, running through family issues and girls and the streets, weaves in and out of a haze of jazz and groove akin to a quiet day at Soulquarian headquarters. Rashad effortlessly raps with an aplomb unexpected from such a young artist, and shows lyrical capabilities that undoubtedly rise from his southern heroes. Through and through, Rashad never forgets his roots, as Cilvia Demo works just as well as a tribute to those who inspired him; "RIP Kevin Miller" warps Master P endearingly, and "West Savannah" shouts out Oukast in the best cruising track out this year. With Cilvia Demo, Rashad proves his place in the Californian crew's lauded lineup, and TDE show their own versatility on the cusp of hip hop takeover. [Dorian Mendoza] B+

holychild, Mindspeak EP
Just about a year ago, Holychild premiered their first single, “Best Friends,” right here on PMA. We hailed it as the “jam of the summer,” and rightfully so – the song is a thunderous, shimmering display of pop-rock brilliance (it’s impossible to find on SoundCloud or Spotify anymore, but here’s the music video). Now they’re at it again, giving us four more hard-hitting summer jams a few months early. The cover of Mindspeak features a perfectly round chocolate glazed donut covered in dotted rainbow sprinkles, and it’s the best possible representation of Holychild’s sound – colorful, sweet, and in-your-face. All four songs are a sugar rush, bursting with endlessly catchy high-pitched choruses, popping with head-bopping percussion. It’s music as pure pleasure, bringing to mind the manic energy of Passion Pit’s Manners. Sonically, it’s loud and aggressive, but never in a way that obscures the catchy hooks – think Sleigh Bells, but less rough around the edges. With the entire EP so loaded with energy, it’s possible that by the time you get to “Pretend Believe” the sugar high will have faded away, and the sound might risk repetition. Hopefully, holychild will figure out how to differentiate and spread out their sweet sound when they make a full-length album. For now, save these four anthems for pool parties and barbeques, when this lingering winter cold finally gives way to warmer weather. [Adam Offitzer] B-

Fanfarlo, Let's Go Extinct
In the middle of such a massive music month – with releases from heavy hitters like Pharrell, Beck, St. Vincent, Kid Cudi, and plenty more – this little band from London has been overlooked yet again. They’ve been criminally underrated since their debut in 2009, tossed aside by many as a poor man’s Arcade Fire. But Fanfarlo deserves your attention. Let’s Go Extinct, the third album from the four-piece band, is a great collection of orchestral rock with catchy hooks and grand themes – lead singer Simon Balthazar is obsessed with science, evolution and the “big questions.” In particular, “Myth Of Myself” is a thrilling, epic anthem for those who work too hard and endlessly wonder about their purpose in life (all of us, right?) – “Cause I work, around the clock, and I’m always tired,” goes the refrain, repeated until it leads to a cathartic cymbal crash and a burst of flailing horns. Throughout the album, Fanfarlo fuses together elements of pop, new wave, psychedelic rock, disco, and world music to create a sweeping, eclectic sound. Let’s Go Extinct isn't the breakthrough that will earn them that big wave of new press, but it’s good enough to warrant some recognition. [Adam Offitzer] B-

The Men, Tomorrow’s Hits
We’ve come a long way from Leave Home, but whether or not that’s a positive development I leave to the individual listener’s good judgment. Once one of the most punishingly unhinged rock bands this side of hardcore, on 2012’s Open Your Heart the Men did just that, going full vintage and paying no attention to rock history outside of their rigid 1965-1995 nostalgia bracket. They grew warmer and more pleasant in the process but not necessarily more fun. Tomorrow’s Hits carries on the classic rock torch, for better or worse. Their idolatry results in eight good songs with gorgeous hooks (“Settle Me Down”) and kissed with a swinging looseness that’s part blue-eyed soul (the brass-boosted ”Another Night”), part country (“Sleepless” fades out on a harmonica solo), and all Rolling Stones. Yet as effective as the Men’s nostalgia can be at times, an unruly cut like “Pearly Gates” – which surprisingly converts piano and brass to the band’s former eardrum-busting hard-rock cause – inspires a different kind of wistfulness in this listener, for the not-so-bygone days when this band wasn’t the tamest, safest act on the Sacred Bones roster. [Samuel Tolzmann] B-

Rosanne Cash, The River and the Thread
Awash in all-too anonymous, all-too vague Americana sonics, The River and the Thread pleases as it plays, but fails to leave a lasting impression. Sure, well-written lyrics abound (e.g., “When the Master Calls the Roll” and “Modern Blue”) and Cash delivers some very fine vocals, indeed. But all such formal successes are undercut by a fatal conceptual flaw — simply put, this record has no teeth. [Jerrick Adams] C

Damien Jurado, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son
Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son is long on atmospherics, but woefully short on songs. Don’t get me wrong, ambience is all well and good. Some of my all-time favorite records derive a great deal of their power from gauzy mixes and studio enhancements. But such tactics sound like sheer gimmickry if they don’t support strong material. There are some interesting rhythms at play here, and the tracks certainly do cohere. Still, I’m not so sure that this carefully-worked sonic cohesion actually signifies much of anything. [Jerrick Adams] C+