You may have already noticed this, but we’re having a big week for new music. It seems weird to think that the big-leap sophomore album from a young, hyped-up Brooklyn ’80s pastiche-artist might fly under the radar, but that’s happening just a tiny bit with Twin Shadow’s Confess. Confess happens to land on the same day as the surprise early release of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange and the non-surprise on-time release of the Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan, two rabidly anticipated and undeniably stunning new LPs. Confess is merely a very good second album from someone who gets better at what he’s doing all the time. But in the past week or so, we already posted breathless endorsements of both Channel Orange and Swing Lo Magellan, and god knows you’ll hear more about both albums in the weeks ahead. So let’s talk a bit about Confess, since Confess deserves to be talked about.
On a very basic level, Confess does what a whole lot of sophomore albums try and fail to do: It builds on its predecessor, further developing its maker’s voice without forsaking any of the virtues that brought its maker to the dance in the first place. 2010’s Forget was gauzy New Romantic balladry as seen through a few layers of fanciful Williamsburg orch-pop frippery. It was nice. Confess is better. Forget’s producer, Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, left exquisitely smudged fingerprints all over it. But George Lewis, Jr. produced Confess himself, bringing it a few levels closer to the music it echoes. Keyboards sigh. Basses pop. Drum machines smack hard. Lewis himself wails and mutters and coos like an old pro. The hooks sink a bit deeper. The melodies bounce around in your head a little while longer. The album builds and subsides and builds again, sounding a bit more like an album and less like a collection of songs. It’s an effective pop music, made by a person who has evidently spent a lot of time thinking about pop music.
Digging a little deeper, though, some interesting contrasts emerge. Lewis is an honor student in the Morrissey school of singing. His voice is a breathy, preening moan, and it carries echoes of fake British accent from time to time. It hovers over tracks rather than plunging in. And even though Morrissey’s great topic is personal estrangement, so many of the singers that have followed in his wake have used that style to send sweaty love notes to various crushes. 10 years ago, when I was in college, the shit was practically epidemic. It’s a vocal style that has come to represent a tremulous sort of romanticism. But that’s not Lewis. He uses it to harder, more sinister ends. Lewis’s great topic is being sort of an asshole — or, at least, a rambling-man player type who’s happy to coldly explain to various different girls that he’s not their boyfriend and he never will be. “I don’t give a damn about your dreams,” he croons. You can’t hear the sneer in his voice, since he’s singing it in a style that was once called emo. But once the words sink in, you know it’s there.
And then there’s the music, which leans retro without quite wallowing in it. The mix is thick and detailed, with lots of beautifully recorded bells and whistles flitting in and out. I’ve seen people compare it to mid-’80s Peter Gabriel, or to the Top Gun soundtrack, and those comparisons make sense. But it reminds me more of some of the first albums I ever loved: Dark, paranoid, catchy-as-fuck late-’80s black pop like Michael Jackson’s Bad, Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel, the first Roachford album. Those were, to be sure, crossover pop records, records that the eight-year-old me couldn’t wait to spend tooth-fairy money on. But they were pretty twisty and complicated and harsh, too. These were albums about being pissed off and desperate and misunderstood and defiant. Confess is like that, too. It’s a good one.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Frank Ocean’s brilliant instant classic Channel Orange.
• Dirty Projectors’ twisty but surprisingly instinctive Swing Lo Magellan.
• Aesop Rock’s knotty art-rap return to form Skelethon.
• Delicate Steve’s lush, composerly Positive Force.
• Swedish punks Holograms’ tense, wired self-titled LP.
• Holy Fuck side project Dusted’s haunted rock album Total Dust.
• Family Of The Year’s bright, shiny power-pop effort Loma Vista.