(Shady / Aftermath ** ½)
Is Kamikaze, Eminem's new surprise-release follow-up to last year's dismal Revival, as much of a dud as its predecessor? No. For one thing, it's a tighter and more disciplined effort, with only 11 songs (not counting the two phone call recording interludes with manager Paul Rosenberg) and livelier beats overseen by executive producer Dr. Dre. In announcing the album, the rapper tweeted that he "Tried not 2 overthink this 1," and his 10th album (and ninth to top the Billboard charts) does benefit from an immediacy and sense of purpose that's largely lacking since his turn-of-the-century glory days.
Unfortunately, Kamikaze's immediate purpose is to lash out at everyone who put down Revival for the bloated failure that it is. Anyone who thinks artists don't care what critics say should watch the video for "The Fall," where Em works himself into a snit by reading his own press on his phone. The opening track "The Ringer" rages about journalists "panning my album to death." Kamikaze also picks fights with next-generation artists like Migos and Earl Sweatshirt, hitting a low point by attacking Tyler the Creator with a homophobic slur.
The 45-year-old rapper's vaunted technical skills haven't diminished: Kamikaze's lyric sheet is full of interior rhymes and intricate switching up of rhythmic meter. But it's also loaded with complaints about trends that have overtaken hip-hop since his heyday, from trap music to AutoTune. Kamikaze is the rare Eminem album that sounds better if you don't pay attention to the words. When you focus in, it sounds more like a get-off-my-lawn old man rant. But here's the thing: It's not his lawn. — Dan DeLuca
British composer/multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Devonté Hynes likes to mix things up. Call it boredom, curiosity, or aesthetic zeal. The avant-soul man worked with Philip Glass and wrote for Kylie Minogue and Travis Scott. He's now teamed with trans activist Janet Mock, experimental saxophonist Steve Lacy, and Diddy for a new album exploring what Hynes/Orange calls "the corners of black existence, the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of color."
Against a bank of detuned guitars, skittish rhythms, and softly sleek synths, "Charcoal Baby" asks the magic question, "No one wants to be the odd one out at times … can you break sometimes?" While Hynes/Orange uses gently swaggering, breathy vocals to pose that query, the singer's British accent slips out pointedly, while expressing a desire "to go back to being unknown," in the quietly jazzy "Jewelry." Though the album uses much of the same windy, sonic palette (save for the open, free jazzy "Out of Your League" with Lacy), Hynes isn't posing one solitary side of depression or tension. Instead, he demands his lover to "tell me what you want" on the billowy pillow-talking "Chewing Gum," and looks toward the disgust of a society that eats and kills the innocent on the intimately epic "Orlando." — A.D. Amorosi
Blood Orange appears Thursday, Sept., 27 at the Fillmore Philadelphia, 29 E. Allen St., $28-62.71, thefillmorephilly.com
(Verve, *** stars)
Madeleine Peyroux has been an expert interpreter, mining the seams of jazz, blues, and pop with a melancholy ache indebted to Billie Holiday. Anthem, the singer's eighth album, focuses on original compositions, composed with a band that includes producer Larry Klein, guitarist David Baerwald, keyboardist Patrick Warren, and drummer Brian Macleod. The songs grew out of Peyroux's reactions to the 2016 election, and they're full of disillusionment, frustration, and resilience. "You know the law's on sale when you're too big to fail / and every congressman comes with a price / and the streets are a jail for the weak and the frail — a predator's paradise," she drawls in the light and funky "Brand New Deal."
Although the songs come from a bleak place, the overall tone is reassuring, advocating mitigated relief in dancing and escapist substance use, and pure pleasure in dancing and thoughtfully arranged music (sometimes laced with horns, harmonica, and pedal steel). Or, as Leonard Cohen wrote in "Anthem" (one of the album's two covers), "There's a crack in everything / that's where the light gets in." — Steve Klinge