This is the first in a series of columns in which Matthew Aquiline reviews new and noteworthy music. Entries will range from albums, singles, performances, reissues and anything in between that maintains a connection to music. The goal of this venture, he says, is to “promote an enduring renaissance of music criticism and appreciation within the modern times of my generation.”
1. Lucinda Williams, “Ghosts of Highway 20” (Highway 20 Records)
An all-American highway is the symbolic epicenter on alt-country veteran Lucinda Williams’ new album. Williams evolves a highway’s freewheeling notion into a stark facet – both figuratively and literally – of her life. Through flirting with mortality, love and desperation, she becomes aware of her resilience to fend off the weighing effects of death in her life. But perhaps the most powerful contributor to this album is her voice: a sultry drawl that tugs you in and compels you to listen to every ounce of pain she has been through.
2. Iggy Pop, “Gardenia” (Loma Vista)
The veteran punk rocker has emerged from the hole his recent efforts dug him into with new inspiration, finesse and guidance. Paired with the surprise announcement of his Josh Homme-produced new album, “Post Pop Depression,” Pop tamed fans’ elation with the single “Gardenia.” The track sounds like an extraction of an unused idea Pop and David Bowie left behind in Berlin – which for Pop is a great thing. And in true punk fashion, Pop revisits his drugged-up starving artist persona to draw on over his longing to “tell Gardenia what to do tonight.”
3. Death Grips, “Hot Head” (Third World)
The experimental hip-hop group Death Grips is back with a raucous new single titled “Hot Head.” The song is a one-stop shop for all the reasons the elusive trio is put on such a high pedestal in the music community: their continual effort to push the envelope of music with aggressive rhymes spit at breakneck speed, hell-shaking drum beats and mind-warping synth patterns.
4. Pepsi Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show
The performance lived up to its expectations. Well, it lived up to my expectations – which were set at the lowest of the low, bordering on nonexistent. The root of my disdainfulness stemmed from Coldplay’s dilution of U2’s style that secured its lasting reign over middlebrow music. Sedated by Chris Martin, I had to build up strength to roll my eyes when James Brown-wannabe Bruno Mars regurgitated a dance-oriented version of the mindless-hit “Uptown Funk” for the umpteenth time. Finally, Beyoncé arrived, and I had thought she would flex one strand of individuality to rescue the snooze-fest, but she fell flat. While credit is due for her nonconforming nod to the Black Panthers, her new single “Formation” lacks any real commitment to the cause. Add this performance to the growing list of less-than-stellar Super Bowl halftime shows.
5. Elton John, “Wonderful Crazy Night” (Mercury)
It’s good to hear John having a good time and singing with a voice free from producer T Bone Burnett’s high-gloss studio sheen, but an album consisting of tunes dedicated to reliving the glory days of cheap booze and trashed hotels seems counterproductive. Promising at conception, flawed in execution.
Matthew Aquiline is a senior at Lancaster High School.