Sharon O'Connell selects four standout new album releases from Mac DeMarco, Billy Nomates, Lil Yachty & John Cale.Tags: Music,
Five Easy Hot Dogs
Mac’s Record Label
With his jokey demeanour, ’tache and baseball-cap habit, this Canadian singer/songwriter and producer fits the profile of a second-gen slacker to a tee – on paper, anyhow. In fact, his music has always played against type, from the messy amalgam of college rock, glam, psych pop and yacht rock that was his 2012 debut EP, through the thoughtful and often melancholic This Old Dog to Here Comes The Cowboy, his grab-bag from 2019.
Five Easy Hot Dogs is a set of instrumentals along the lines of Some Other Ones, DeMarco’s “bbq soundtrack” and surprise release of 2018. With a title that riffs on the ’70s movie Five Easy Pieces, it traces his road trip from Gualala in California to New York’s Rockaway in 14 short, slow-pop compositions that conjure feelings of languor, boredom and surrender. Softly strummed acoustic guitar, picked chords of an often forlorn nature, delicate piano, gentle keyboard swooshes and woody beats result variously in a gently groovy swing (as on “Crescent City”), jazz-adjacent wooziness (“Portland 2”) and, on closer “Rockaway”, something like bossa. It all fades as soon as it’s played, but that’s no criticism and the ease at work here is effortlessly seductive.
“My spirit guide has jumped from the fifth floor,” claims Tor Maries on “Balance Is Gone”, the opening track of her second album. It’s an intensely vivid metaphor and typical of the Bristol-based artist’s emotional directness, but a claim contradicted by the confident and often defiant nature of the electro-pop songs that follow.
Cacti is far more varied in sonics and sentiment than her self-titled debut of 2020, which leaned heavily toward punk and bulged with socio-political comment. Now, Maries shows off her songwriting and vocal versatility along with her darker, often savagely truthful self. It’s a smart move: her voice recalls Chrissie Hynde’s husky soulfulness and phrasing on both the cantering “Blue Bones (Deathwish)” and “Same Gun”, with its strutting beats and jauntily hammered piano motif, while on “Fawner”, she stretches her country legs, suggesting that she and Margo Price would make a fine duetting couple. Cacti’s pacing guarantees engagement throughout, the odd, funereal beat- and organ-driven “Roundabout Sadness” a mid-way breathing point before the melodic-punk attack of “Spite” and set closer “Blackout Signal”, where, against a fuzzy drum-machine pulse, Maries comes on like an unhinged Kate Bush, burning with conviction as she declares, “I’ll be so happy to see the walls fall down”.
Let’s Start Here
Quality Control Music/UMG
Lil Yachty is so much an outlier that many barely regard him as a rapper at all, though deliberate provocation has never been his style. “Bubblegum trap” (his description) is – a sweet, sometimes silly blend of hook-heavy, often rinky-dink pop tunes, slow-mo R&B and free-wheeling bars. Though he threw a curveball with 2021’s Michigan Boat Boy, a mixtape that was basically a love letter to the state’s rappers, he’s back on form – with extra psychedelic Yachty – for album number five.
He announced it last year as “a non-rap album” but even so, Let’s Start Here surprises. It’s a whacked-out sprawl of psychedelic and heavy rock (think, Pink Floyd and Jeff Beck), dreamy, R&B pop (à la Miguel), Michael Jackson’s smoothly poppin’ ’80s soul and the languid psych-funk of Tame Impala. Features are notably absent, the Auto-Tune is on – mercifully not cranked – and the production is lush and pillow-soft, casting expansive, sun-glazed songs in cavernous yet warm spaces. Across 14 tracks, a sameness does set in but then up pop the likes of “:(Failure(:”, a spoken-word meditation on success with a heavy nod to Prince, and “I’ve Officially Lost Vision!!!!”, which suggests The Weeknd achieving lift off in an evangelical church.
Mercy is Cale’s first album of new material since 2012, though he hardly emerged from mothballs to make it; in the years since, the Velvet Underground co-founder has reworked his own Music For A New Society, teamed up with Marissa Nadler and Kelly Lee Owens, and last summer teased this LP with “Night Crawling”, which alludes to time spent carousing with David Bowie in NYC, in the ’70s.
It’s no nostalgia-soaked indulgence, though, due to the fact that Cale has enrolled a team of much younger talents, no doubt to guard against just that. They include avant electronica artists Lauren Halo and Actress, terrific synth-pop songwriter Weyes Blood, with her magnificently rich and moody voice, experi-pop types Animal Collective and (even) scuzzy UK reprobates Fat White Family.
All of which might suggest a try-hard tilt at relevancy, but after 55 years of adventuring, Cale knows where he’s headed. For much of the set, it’s to the same eloquent and solemnly soulful, sophisto-pop territory as Bowie’s final album, however, there’s something of both Pet Shop Boys and Electronic in the aforementioned “Night Crawling”, while “Story Of Blood” blooms from a piano reverie into a pastel-bright, sumptuous synth ballad and “Out Your Window” comes on like Scott Walker fronting a minimalist Interpol. Full of surprises, still.