(Drag City ***1/2)
Joanna Newsom albums need to come with footnotes. The first single from the luminously talented yet difficult-to-parse indie rock harpist's fourth album - and first since the 2010 triple album Have One on Me - is called "Sapokanikan." What's that, you ask? Why, it's the Native American word for a parcel of land that is now part of Greenwich Village, of course. And it also rhymes with "Ozmandian," a reference to Percy Bysshe Shelley's 1818 sonnet "Ozmandias," which is about empire and decay, among other things, letting you now that Newsom's way of saying "Welcome to New York" is a good deal more intellectual and academic than, say, Taylor Swift's. English professors, take heed, and play the richly allusive Divers for your students. Nabokov is her favorite author.
Which is not to say, by any means, that Newsom's music is first and foremost about the words. Her voice, though less jarring and squeaky and suited to a Renaissance fair than when first heard on the Milk Eyed Mender in 2004, remains an acquired taste. For sure, she's not for everybody. But the 11-song (many of them under 6 minutes!) Divers, recorded in collaboration with helpmates such as popwise classical composer Nico Muhly and Dirty Projectors indie guru Dave Longstretch, is her tightest collection yet. The music is artfully and meticulously composed, and as Newsom explores themes of love and loss with both seriousness and a sense of humor ("The longer you live, the higher the rent," she sings in "Leaving the City"), hooks emerge on songs like the haunting title track to keep you coming back for more. The last song, "Time, As Symptom," loops back into the first, "Anecdotes," confident that the first time through will lead to repeat listenings.
- Dan DeLuca
Joanna Newsom plays at 8 p.m. Dec. 9 at Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St. Tickets: $32.50-$35. Information: 215-232-2100 or www.utphilly.com
She was a Disney girl making TV and film appearances before breaching teenager status, and at 23 years young, Selena Gomez has hit a nice stride as a pop star. Her second record as a solo artist, and her first for Interscope after a multi-disc deal with Hollywood Records, is altogether pleasant and a bit understated. She gets a lot of help, and a big budget lifts Revival within sight of the influences she's cited as inspirations: Christina Aguilera (in Aguilera's album Stripped, specifically) and Janet Jackson. "Good for You," the first single from the album, has a verse with A$AP Rocky and tore up the U.S. charts all summer, peaking at number five. Its emblematic of the rest of the record: chill, slow, slinky, and full of flavors outside her pop princess lexicon.
The most compelling tracks are those in which rhythms, beats, and instrumentations lean toward EDM, house music, and even Caribbean vibes. "Kill Em With Kindness" and "Hands to Myself" are really fun, the latter inciting a cooing Robyn. Toward the back end, "Me & The Rhythm," likely the follow-up single to "Same Old Love," the slow-jam hit currently on FM playlists, smacks of Carly Rae Jepsen or her purported rival, Demi Lovato. But "Survivors" is a real gem, a slow-building track that piggybacks on OMI's "Cheerleader." Surprisingly, the finale track, "Rise,"
is a standout, as are bonus tracks "Me & My Girls" and "Perfect." She's no Adele, but with songwriting support from Sia and production from Hit-Boy, Benny Blanco, and Dreamlab, Gomez is staying relevant and keeping her fans fed.
- Bill Chenevert
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Tim McGraw, Damn Country Music; CeeLo Green, Heart Blanche; Ellie Goulding, Delirium; Billy Gibbons and the BFGs, Perfectomundo