“Here I Am”
Kelly Rowland spent about five years as Beyonce’s handmaiden in Destiny’s Child and almost twice that long trying to establish a successful career of her own. Conventional wisdom has held that Rowland was a charisma-challenged nice girl destined to forever be a musical bridesmaid.
Her third solo album, the perfectly likable, club-centric R&B outing “Here I Am,” won’t convince anyone that Rowland has a personality, but luckily for her, she no longer needs one: Call it the Attack of the Rihanna Clones, but these days killer beats and a flat affect trump all. Rowland, free of the need to actually be interesting, makes the most of it.
“Here I Am” favors low-octane, nondescript tracks such as the Big Sean-assisted “Lay It on Me,” on which nobody seems to be trying particularly hard, especially Big Sean, who sounds like he’s spitting his verse with one eye on the door. Rowland jettisons her dignity (has there ever been a club diva who has found hers helpful?) on the Lil’ Wayne-starring “Motivation,” a modest banger with an air of damp, aggressively debauched Weezyness.
The less awkward “Commander,” a collaboration with French producer David Guetta, is a sequel of sorts to their ’09 hit, “When Love Takes Over,” the dance-floor powerhouse that changed the course of Rowland’s moribund career. A relentless electro jam as anonymous as it is good, it’s a girl-power anthem written by three men, but you can’t have everything.
— Allison Stewart
Recommended Tracks: “Motivation,” “Commander”
Swedish indie darlings Little Dragon have teamed up on recordings with notables such as Gorillaz and Raphael Saadiq. They also count Erykah Badu among their admirers. These associations might lead some to peg their lush, insistent electronics as neo-soul or alternative hip-hop, but their music is really just rhythmically dynamic pop — genre-spanning body music at its most effervescent and alluring.
Pressing yet vulnerable, the title track on the new “Ritual Union” sounds like an electro-tweaked update of the sleek Holland-Dozier-Holland-produced hits of mid-’60s Motown. “Little Man,” meanwhile, is techno-pop with hooks galore. “There’s something missing in your smile / Something missing in your soul,” chirps Swedish-Japanese frontwoman Yukimi Nagano. These lines might be true of the guy on the receiving end of that negative assessment, but they couldn’t be less apropos of the soulful Nagano, especially on “Brush the Heat,” on which, singing in a lower register than usual, she rides a sultry undertow amid a maelstrom of skittering breakbeats.
“Seconds,” an atmospheric ballad, recalls the dreamy reveries of British alt-dance troupe Saint Etienne, while “Precious,” with its fetching singsong vocals and yawning groove, is built upon wet snare drum and washes of keyboard. Impelled by pulsating off-beats and quivering synth sustains, “Please Turn” is reminiscent of post-punk Welsh minimalists Young Marble Giants at their groove-intoxicated best. Jittery beats abound here, but introspection is present in equal measure and nowhere so much as in “Summertearz,” a haunting ballad — that is if it makes sense to call such a lovely but kinetic workout a ballad.
— Bill Friskics-Warren
Recommended Tracks: “Ritual Union,” “Please Turn,” “Summertearz”
Will the real Horrors please stand up? Or is there a real Horrors? With its third album, the British group enters its third phase. It’s not so much a reinvention as yet another appropriation.
After an occasionally fierce and often gimmicky debut that was deeply indebted to the goth-punk fury of the Birthday Party and a stellar follow-up steeped in the shoegazing sounds of My Bloody Valentine, the quintet has now set its sights squarely on the 1980s. It’s as if the band members listened to the Echo and the Bunnymen compilation “Songs to Learn and Sing” and took the title literally.
But they sure learned them and sing them well. The Horrors have yet to forge their own identity, but they continue to be plenty convincing and enjoyable with whatever sound they choose. “Skying” is appropriately titled, a collection of songs that regularly achieve anthemic liftoff, thanks to widescreen dynamics and singer Faris Badwan’s classic U.K. croon. There is no tentativeness. Each of the 10 songs shoots for epic, and the majority pull off the feat. As the influences shift from bands as noted for songwriting as aesthetic, the Horrors have raised their game to keep up.
Things mostly stay at lighter-waving speed, with the casual shuffle of “You Said” and “Still Life” boosted by layers of guitars, keyboards and horns. Attention to detail is one of the band’s strengths; effects are doled out efficiently, so songs build up steam and crescendos never feel forced. A few more guitar-fueled steamrollers such as “I Can See Through You” and “Endless Blue” would have been welcome instead of a pair of wandering eight-minute tracks that bog down the second half of “Skying,” but maybe the band is saving up that sound for its next album.
“Skying” will be released Aug. 9 but is streaming now on the Horrors’ Web site, www.thehorrors.co.uk. The band performs at the Black Cat on Sept. 30.
— David Malitz
Recommended Tracks: “Still Life,” “Endless Blue,” “You Said”