Print Edition: November 16, 2011
Humor Risk is DIY folk/pop vagabond Cass McCombs’ second LP this year and works well as a companion piece to his first. Unlike the hushed, chamber pop melancholy he explores on April’s achingly brilliant Wit’s End, McCombs is loud, fuzzy and surprisingly happy in this new one. The pair of albums boldly invert the usual sad-eyed, acoustic autumn release, vibrant and electric spring release paradigm it seems most record labels strictly adhere to. On Humor Risk, McCombs re-casts the reverb-laden, rough-edged acoustic rock aesthetic of Kurt Vile’s 2011 release Smoke Ring For My Halo through the lens of his exacting pop perfectionism. It’s compelling, upbeat and weirdly funny, but McCombs also plays it atypically straight; his long-awaited return to more electric territory occasionally feels like he’s going through the motions. Yet McCombs’s formidable musical talent still makes it a worthy listen. A misstep by his standards could be a career-making turn for another artist. While Humor Risk is a solid, consistent addition to McCombs’ growing catalogue of remarkably strong albums, it doesn’t quite match up to the understated grandeur of Wit’s End.
For those who spend more of their time watching television than listening to newly released rap music, you may know Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) better for his role as Troy on popular sitcom Community. Childish Gambino has previously released three albums and a couple of mixtapes which are all available online, but Camp is his first commercially released album. Aside from a chorus that can be heard in a few songs, Glover is the only artist featured on the entire album which is both uncommon and difficult to do without getting boring. Thankfully, Camp is anything but boring. Upon listening to the first few songs of the album one has the impression that Childish Gambino is “rap music lite,” but this impression will be short-lived because “Bonfire” (quite possibly the best track on the album) gives Kanye West a run for his money. Glover also infuses his lyrics with a variety of references, from folk music singers to French New Wave films, which are incredibly amusing if you can catch them.
I always want to like Los Campesinos! more than I actually ever do. This album is no different – for some reason I had high hopes, and although it is serviceably catchy, there were really no songs that stood out for me. Possibly the most entertaining aspect of the Los Campesinos!’ work is the fact that they are a Welsh band – and their accents are endlessly amusing. Unfortunately this detracts from their lyrics, as the listener tends to hear only the accents instead of what the band is actually saying. Los Campesinos! remain on my put-on-at-a-party-as-background-music list since they’re both solid and upbeat, but unfortunately I am still waiting for the album that will fully encourage my love for them to flourish.
A Creature I Don’t Know
Being only 21-years-old, it’s hard to imagine that Laura Marling knows much about the world of love and loss; however, the British folksinger’s display of wisdom and intelligence on her newest release resembles that of fellow young “old souls” like Cat Power, Joni Mitchell and PJ Harvey during her reign of the 1990s. Marling emerged from the prevalent London folk scene that produced the likes of Mumford and Sons and Noah and the Whale. Yet unlike her contemporaries, she continually strives to produce a unique British folk sound rather than indulging in conventional folk lyrics and inevitable musical build-ups. Having already knocked out two notable albums, Marling sings A Creature I Don’t Know with the kind of sincerity and openness fundamental for a convincing confessional folk pop record. Overflowing with life, flourishing guitars, a smoky voice and coveted secrets of desire, riches and death, Marling’s songs resonate with you long after the album is through.