On the Record

Elvis Perkins in Dearland

Popular culture is packed with the progeny of the famous, but Elvis Perkins sidesteps it all on his second album. Freely mixing a ton of influences—from chamber pop to folk to New Orleans jazz and blues—Perkins and his band craft one of the most beguiling albums I’ve heard recently. While his debut, Ash Wednesday, was an intimate solo piece, this collection highlights Perkins and his backing trio in a set of road-tested tunes that showcase a band playing at a high level. The real centerpiece here is “I’ll Be Arriving,” a five-minute dirge accented with a growling trombone solo. The unusual instrumentation—solo horns and harmonium in place of electric guitars or more modern keyboards—gives the set a timeless quality, while the music is sophisticated enough to never sound dated.
Lily Allen: It’s Not Me, It’s You

Lily Allen mostly avoids the sophomore slump on It’s Not Me, It’s You. The in-your-face Brit brings another collection of brash and bracing pop, putting most of her American contemporaries to shame. Maybe it’s British cheekiness, or perhaps just that she is as tired of plastic pop as the rest of us, but a subversive undercurrent runs through all of It’s Not Me, It’s You. Even a softer love tune like “Who’d Have Known” has weariness to it—as if the seemingly happy and lazy relationship being described may be on its last legs. In general, Allen has progressed here, showing more maturity, both in music and lyrics, than on her bright debut, Alright, Still. Let’s hope this means we’ll have more albums of this quality from her in the future.

P.O.S.: Never Better

The best rapper ever to come from Hopkins continues to merge his interest in hip-hop and hardcore punk on his third solo album. As in the past, P.O.S. uses dense, almost discordant, production to bring the punk spirit to the music. That’s also evident in the tight songs—no sprawling six- or seven-minute epics, loaded with mediocre guest verses by flash-in-the-pan talents. Instead, the songs get right to the point, such as the barely two-minute “Savion Glover.” In place of endless pieces about sexual conquests, owning material goods, and being shot multiple times to build street “cred,” P.O.S. instead takes us through his life. He spends more time reflecting than boasting, either about how music affected his life, or his worries regarding the world being left for his son.

Anni Rossi: Rockwell

Some albums grab you right away. Rockwell didn’t. In fact, I wasn’t sure what to make of Rossi’s eccentric take on pop music. It took listening a few times before the music truly got under my skin, but once there, it’s hard to shake Rossi’s spell. This classically trained Minneapolis expat (based in Chicago these days) merges a striking voice and spare musical backdrop—mainly viola, cello, and percussion—on this 10-song collection. At times, Rossi seems like she is going to spiral completely out of control, but that energy—along with typically clear production from Steve Albini—helps to drive the songs along. Sometimes, the songs scream for a bit more noise to elevate them to the next level, but even that unreleased tension provides for some musical thrills.

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