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Spears Falls Short of Glory

Pop has changed. Over the course of the last decade or so, what was once an outlet for one-dimensional electronic ballads such as Spear’s Top 10, Toxic, has become one that allows expression of the complexities of more than simply romance, artists are expressing the intricacies of their lives. Pop has come to encompass a great deal of music as well. Suddenly, Adele, Ed Sheeran and Britney Spears are all in the same category. That being said, in many respects, the pop bar has been raised in just the last 10 years.

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TEST SPIN: Glass Animals — How To Be A Human Being

Glass Animals’ sophomore album, How To Be A Human Being, presents a bold expansion from the intimate and smooth vibes in 2014’s ZABA. The band has had a distinctive sound since they released their first EP, Leaflings, in 2012. That sound has carried with them through their second self-titled EP and first album. Unlike the cryptic lyrics on ZABA that better communicated feelings than messages, each track on this album tells a story inspired by hundreds of recorded conversations with real people that the band met on tour. These conversations were distilled into the 11 fictional characters featured on the album artwork.

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TEST SPIN: Carly Rae Jepsen — E•MO•TION: Side B

The great CRJ may be the only person in history who can give you a one-year anniversary gift made entirely of last year’s leftovers and leave you feeling blessed beyond belief. Released on August 26 almost exactly one year after the release of its first part, E•MO•TION: Side B is actually a short and sweet compilation of the songs that didn’t make the cut for the former album. It drips with simple pop and cascades into a kind of positive despair at the difficulty of relationships which culminates in the standout “Store” which — oh, oh, we need to have a chat about “Store.”

I remember not wanting to like her music when she came out with her earlier albums; they felt vapid, they had empty lyrics and a spaced-out ’90s background that felt like some selection of music chosen from a deflated volleyball. I mean, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy/Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry/Sunshine on the water that is so lovely/Sunshine almost always makes me high” is not groundbreaking lyricism; neither is “You talk so sweet and it’s dribbling like honey/It’s just one taste/I see what your tryin’ to do, oh oh, yeah yeah/It’s hot, stakes are getting higher.” But at some point I decided that there’s something in there, some strange Krabby Patty secret recipe that hits you with that dopamine and makes you crave the replay button. To be fair, the Krabby Patties weren’t cooking too well in her first Album, Tug of War.

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TEST SPIN: Frank Ocean — Blonde

I have a difficult time describing Frank Ocean’s music. Perhaps it’s a surreal introspection of the most morose and neurotic reactions to something tragic, like the loss of love and the painful journey that follows it. Maybe it’s a conceptual project of youthful hope and fervor in a world that is far less than ideal. Maybe it’s just sad. Regardless, Ocean’s new album Blonde is brilliant.

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TEST SPIN: Katie Dey — Flood Network

Who the fuck is Katie Dey stealing from? I’m scratching my head and listening to Flood Network over and over and over again, but I just can’t figure it out. At first glance it seems like there’s no way an album so steeped in internet culture, electronic beats and that post-ironic brand of savvy melancholia which has come to define bedroom maestros the world over could possibly have sprung into itself sounding so brashly little like anything else in the world. But — excepting Dey’s first EP, asdfasdf — it does. It’s an album to itself, and a remarkable, confusing, comforting, vulnerable, terrifying, difficult one at that.

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TEST SPIN: The Avalanches — Wildflower

The last time The Avalanches released a full-length album, George W. Bush was just elected president, the internet was still in its infancy compared to the totalizing social presence it ballooned into in the mid-naughties and Sept. 11 hadn’t happened yet. Since I Left You, the group’s debut, is as danceable as it is radical in form. The Avalanches methodically overlaid 3,500 samples to create a funky, rich album that is easily playable at a party, yet also deeply rewarding to listen to while alone. Released initially to moderate success in their native Australia, the album has since grown internationally to be revered as among the sharpest examples of contemporary plunderphonics, a genre of samples-based music.

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TEST SPIN: Allen Toussaint — American Tunes, Robert Glasper — Everything’s Beautiful

In late May, Robert Glasper released his Miles Davis tribute album Everything’s Beautiful, and several weeks later Nonesuch Records issued the late Allen Toussaint’s American Tunes. Glasper and Toussaint are both prolific jazz pianists, and the two albums are distinct depictions of their creators’ vastly differing musical styles. Yet, American Tunes and Everything’s Beautiful share a complementary sense of profundity in their thematic questions and inspirations. In American Tunes, Allen Toussaint explores a number of styles that exist within jazz and covers songs by various other influential artists, including Duke Ellington and Bill Evans. The first two tracks of the album, “Delores’ Boyfriend” and “Viper’s Drag,” are jovial, possessing a New Orleans Jazz quality.

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TEST SPIN: Death Grips — Bottomless Pit

I’m no Death Grips stan (à la Anthony Fantano), but I am someone who has genuinely liked all the music they’ve put out. After every release, though, there’s a little voice in the back of my head that wonders if MC Ride, Zach Hill and Andy Morin are fucking with us. Do they really believe their abrasive industrial x noise x hip-hop hodgepodge is good music, art or both? Or are they sitting in Sacramento, laughing at their legions of hyperdedicated fans for falling for their joke? Either way, they’re smarter than all of us.

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TEST SPIN: Inspiraling — Resolve Yourself

Released with minimal hype by Electric Buffalo Records at the end of a blustery April, Resolve Yourself, the first release from Inspiraling (aka Gil Israel ’16), seems far divorced from landlocked Ithaca. The album occupies a beachy vein that tenuously falls under the surf-rock heading, but mostly rides its marriage of keyboards and hazy guitars into a nebulous realm. Few of Resolve Yourself’s tracks channel powerful momentum. Rather, they slowly drift along like musings from a lazy, sun-drenched afternoon. Resolve Yourself resembles early releases from slacker-rocker Mac DeMarco.

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TEST SPIN: Drake — Views

Drake has become the kind of generational figure that comes along once or twice a decade in pop music. Part of why he’s pulled it off is because, like Johnny Cash or a young Jay-Z, he communicates exclusively in a relatable, easy-to-understand way. Given a few seconds of a Drake song, the listener can identify that it’s Drake, decide if they relate to what he’s saying and make up their mind about it. He has mastered personal musings that seem like grand statements, journal entries aimed at a crowd. He kicks off Views with another one of them: “All of my let’s-just-be-friends are friends I don’t have anymore,” on “Keep The Family Close.” If this sentiment seems familiar, it might be because you’ve heard versions of it all over his past few albums. Don’t expect much innovation on Views, since it sticks to the themes that Drake has turned into a cottage industry: failed relationships, wistful nostalgia and the occasional chest-thumping taunt.