Listen Up: Frank Ocean, Soul Asylum, more
This week in music
By Elysa Gardner, Jerry Shriver and Brian Mansfield, USA TODAYJuly 16, 2012
Frank Ocean has written for top stars, but on his debut album, he rejects commercial clichés in favor of moody nuance. His starkly sensual tunes suggest the influence of nouveau soul and older iconoclasts such as Prince. But for Ocean, who acknowledged a same-sex attraction, carnal and material lust can have harrowing consequences; his songs haunt more than they provoke.
The challenge for string-band revivalists is to stake out territory that's neither corny nor dogmatic. Now 14 years and four albums down that road, OCMS has an authentic yet fresh approach. The key is the songwriting: Ain't It Enough and Ways of Man are deceptively simple and perceptive; and We Don't Grow Tobacco leaves you waiting for a slyness that never comes. (Or does it?)
On its first album in six years, Soul Asylum sticks to rugged, guitar-driven basics. Few tunes are distinctive beyond Dave Pirner's familiar rasp; and the quirkier tracks — the oddly lounge-y Cruel Intentions; the dissonant, bombastic I Shoulda Stayed In Bed — will only make you grateful that this runaway train didn't veer further off-course.
If Lady Antebellum had trouble deciding whether to be Rascal Flatts or Jason Aldean, they'd sound a lot like this interracial harmony trio. These pros hit their marks, from the schmaltzy balladry of Be Grateful to the country-funk of single Home Sweet Home. But it's hard to take an act seriously that uses its name in two songs.
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