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Playboy's 2014 Music Guide
  • April 04, 2014 : 19:04
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Because the Lumineers are literally the worst band in the world right now and Mumford & Sons aren’t far behind, we remain skeptical of folk groups wielding banjos and songs about mountains. But we have found a happy exception: Hurray for the Riff Raff, a New Orleans band that is led by Alynda Lee Segarra, a Puerto Rican in her 20s who grew up in the Bronx, and features a transgender violinist. Now that’s Americana! Small Town Heroes showcases Segarra’s understated voice, which has a soft ache but also expresses resilience and strength. On “The Body Electric,” she flips the traditional murder ballad around and vows revenge on the bastard who shot Delia down.

Sorry, Skrillex, but today’s fiercest electronic music is being created by a middle-aged Syrian wedding singer. Wenu Wenu, Omar Souleyman’s latest album—he has made at least 500 of them—updates dabke, working-class Arabic folk music, by transposing it to synthesizer, on which drone notes are wildly bent and twisted, then speeding it up to the tempo of techno. Pray that your own wedding is as ecstatic and unpredictable as Souleyman’s remarkable music.

The men in country music seem to sing about nothing but trucks and boots. Lately, women are making all the best music in Nashville: Ashley Monroe, whose “Two Weeks Late” views an unwanted pregnancy with grim humor; Miranda Lambert, who has a nervous breakdown with the whole town watching in the rowdy “Mama’s Broken Heart”; the sin-loving Pistol Annies—a trio of Monroe, Lambert and Angaleena Presley; the pro-weed, pro-homosexuality, free-thinking Kacey Musgraves (pictured); and Brandy Clark, who sings about cheating, pill addiction and the causal relationship between booze and pregnancy in “Illegitimate Children.” Guys, you have a lot of catching up to do.

To solve the mystery of how so much great R&B came out of a tiny Alabama town, the beautiful documentary Muscle Shoals carts out devoted experts: Bono, Aretha Franklin (pictured), Keith Richards. But the story’s turbine is producer Rick Hall, a stubborn SOB who grew up poor and motherless and turned rejection and tragedy into determination. On the origin of the Muscle Shoals sound, he’s blunt: “I take the credit for starting it.”

Ghettoville, Darren Cunningham’s entrancing fourth full-length album as Actress, could be the soundtrack of a dystopian movie. Three hundred years from now, a survivor of the apocalypse finds a cassette tape of electronic music that’s been buried in a graveyard, where crust and decay have turned it into barely audible clues to the far-distant past. Cunningham says the music is inspired by the drug addicts and homeless people who populate his South London neighborhood, and though tracks are almost catchy (“Corner”) or funky (“Rims”), his preferred mood is distinctly slow and inky—like a muffled voice, or footsteps heard in the distance.

Girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl does cocaine at a party and tearfully phones newly married boy to confess her despair. Lydia Loveless, 23, raised on an Ohio farm, places her whirlwind voice in stormy songs that add a tang of twang to bruising rock and roll. Somewhere Else includes “Head,” which she calls the first “really sad song about oral sex.”

Chappelle’s Show co-creator Neal Brennan and sidekick Moshe Kasher quiz jocks, comics and actors on their podcast The Champs, but the best guests are rappers: Big Daddy Kane talking about throwing tampons into the crowd, or Too $hort recalling dealers who sprayed insecticide on weed. Please, Lord, let The Champs book Kanye as a guest.

“You could be laughing 60 percent more of the time,” sings John Grant, a recovering addict with a dazzling ability to calmly mix malice and comedy in his elegant 1980s-influenced electro-pop. If you’re not scared by a guy who uses the words supercilious and callipygian in the same song, start with his recent album, Pale Green Ghosts, and “GMF.” It stands for “greatest motherfucker,” which Grant claims to be.

“I want you to feel distressed and think, What’s going on?” singer Kelela Mizanekristos explained recently. Mission accomplished. On Cut 4 Me, the L.A.-based daughter of Ethiopian immigrants delves into the elastic, alien quality of synthesizers, coolly giving voice to the vagaries of desire—“Please bite me” or “You’re begging me / I won’t do it again”—over tracks made by a select group of underground bass music producers, including Kingdom and Bok Bok. Deliberately cold, clinical and cut up, these metallic commotions are as complex as anything Yes or King Crimson ever did.

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read more: entertainment, magazine, music, issue april 2014

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