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D'Angelo stages return with 'Black Messiah'

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Fourteen years after his last album, Voodoo, D’Angelo looks to be ready to return with Black Messiah.

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Parquet Courts live up to the hype at Manhattan's Webster Hall

Ten-dollar beers, rigid set times, and impersonal festival circuits: Modern music sometimes lacks spontaneity. Although Manhattan’s Webster Hall sold beers for eight bucks Thursday night, Parquet Courts—a group that nostalgically sang about “the last classic rock band’s last solid record” earlier this year—made live music thrilling again, rattling off a 24-song set that barely resembled 2014. People even kept their phones in their pockets.

Since rock fans rushed to praise New York’s early-aughts garage explosion—the one championed by Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the Strokes—they’ve thought twice about preemptively labeling artists rock ‘n’ roll saviors. Did you listen to the solo records Karen O or Julian Casablancas put out this year? Those groups weren’t built for longevity.

With Parquet Courts, that rock savior mentality has started to creep back. The band has released two stellar records—2013’s Light Up Gold and this year’s Sunbathing Animal—as well as one under its barely-pseudonym Parkay Quarts, October’s Content Nausea. These 40 songs, clocking in at just under two hours, are a blend of squalling distortion, barreling power-punk, and slow-burning, Southern-fried rockabilly. With the precision of the Strokes and the looseness of the Stones, some have wondered if Parquet Courts are “the last great New York band.”

“Last”? Hopefully not. But at Webster Hall, Parquet Courts certainly lived up to the rest of the hype. Dual frontmen Andrew Savage and Austin Brown, buddies since attending Denton’s University of North Texas, alternated between singing and lead guitar. With poofy hair, and a short-sleeved, button-down shirt tucked into navy slacks, Savage played the nerd. Brown, with his bargain-bin sweater and long, blond hair, was Savage’s cool guy foil.

They have natural chemistry. “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth” doesn’t initially require Brown’s slide guitar ornamentation—so he lit a cigarette, popped a bottle of wine, and swigged and smoked until he balanced the still-smoldering butt in his strings to play his part.

Afterward, Brown observed the audience’s reaction: “If a bottle of wine gets about half the applause that a song gets… we could just sit up here and drink bottles of wine all night?”

Perhaps—but that would’ve been a shame. Parquet Courts slipped into a rootsy groove on Content Nausea tracks “Southern Myth” and “Pretty Machines,” bolstered by guest musicians on saxophones and a Hammond organ. They also decimated their signature frenetic cuts. “Ducking & Dodging” masterfully updated the Pixies’ loud-soft dynamic, while the raucous crowd boiled over during main set closer “Sunbathing Animal.”

In the past, the centerpiece of a Parquet Courts set was their best song, “Stoned & Starving,” which they’d morph into a wild guitar assault. They don’t play that track live anymore—it attracted too many “Joe College” types, says Savage—so the night’s crowning moment came mid-set, with two-minute rager “Borrowed Time.” It’s an infectious cut that could fit equally well in a punk club or a car commercial, despite its melancholy core.”It seems these days I’m captive in this borrowed time,” Savage sings, nailing youthful malaise.

Like many great New York bands, Parquet Courts understand the existential troubles associated with young, urban living. Maybe self-awareness explains Savage’s early warning not to “do the Evangelical hand in the air” because it “bummed him out.” But if Parquet Courts keep turning in performances like Thursday’s, he should get used to that type of devotion.

Total Heels frontman talks Copenhagen garage rock scene

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Garage rock records are currently a dime a dozen, but something sets transatlantic quartet Total Heels apart. Earlier this year, the band released its self-titled debut, a fusion of sardonic glam, thumping post-punk, and sleazy guitars.

Singer Jason Orlovich’s vocal delivery conjures Johnny Rotten’s sneering apathy, but still can hold a tune. It’s one of Total Heels’ defining qualities. Orlovich chatted with EW about the Copenhagen DIY scene—check out his answers and the menacing “It Starts With a Bang” below. READ FULL STORY

Robin Thicke's 'Paula' is the weirdest album of the year (and maybe the worst)

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Robin Thicke’s seventh album felt off from the moment word got out that he was making it. When an untitled Thicke album showed up in Interscope’s release schedule, it seemed like an error, since he was still promoting his incredibly successful Blurred Lines LP from the year before. Thicke confirmed the new record was real when he announced that he was naming it after his estranged wife, Paula Patton, and that it would be an album-length attempt to get her back. It even had a lead single called “Get Her Back” —just to make things unmistakably clear.

The setup was intensely weird. But the album itself, when it finally came out, elevated the situation to fully bizarre. That it was even released in the first place is a testament either to Thicke’s industry heft or his label’s blind faith that after “Blurred Lines” people would buy anything he recorded. Paula sounds rushed at best, unfinished at worst, and confused throughout. At times, it’s as brooding and meditative as you expect a breakup record to be—but there’s a manic, delusionally hopeful tone to some of the songs. Its inability to stick to one influence—from Marvin Gaye slow jams to Neptunes-lite hip-hop—for more than a couple minutes doesn’t help Paula cohere. The album’s perplexing qualities are handily summed up in the “Get Her Back” video, where Thicke pleads for the forgiveness of a wife who won’t even speak to him while simultaneously getting felt up by models.

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Hear indie-folk outfit Seagulls cover Big Star's 'Thirteen' -- exclusive

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Big Star’s “Thirteen” is one of the prettiest and most tender compositions in pop history. Rolling Stone put the version the band recorded for their ironically entitled 1972 LP #1 Album at No. 406 on their list of the best 500 songs ever, but if they were ranking them by their ability to evoke a uniquely sweet and nostalgic flavor of heartache, it would easily take the No. 1 spot.

Philly indie outfit Seagulls, who intriguingly combine folky textures and electronic sounds, tackled the song during the recording session in a secluded West Virginia cabin that produced their upcoming LP Great Pine, due out in February on Yellow K Records. Their version wisely sticks close to Big Star’s version, and like the original, it’ll get you right in the feels.

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Nas dishes real talk about his career at screening of 'Nas: Time is Illmatic'

Last night Time Inc. chief content officer Norm Pearlstine hosted a screening at the Time-Life building of the new documentary Nas: Time is Illmatic, followed by a conversation between Nas and venture capitalist and unlikely rap fan Ben Horowitz. The film recounts the rapper’s rise to fame with his earth-shaking 1994 debut, Illmatic, from his childhood in Queensbridge through Illmatic‘s runaway success, and examines the ways it still reverberates through hip-hop culture.

After the movie Nas took the stage with Horowitz, where he admitted that he wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the film project at first, but warmed to the idea over time. He also revealed some candid thoughts on stardom (“You never really get used to it, but there are worse things that can happen”), being compared to Walt Whitman (“It kind of goes over my head”), and whether or not he still thinks hip-hop is dead (“The spirit is still alive, but things need to die so new things can take over”).

Nas: Time is Illmatic is available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, and Vudu, and it airs tonights at 9 p.m. on Showtime.

Beyonce celebrates 1-year anniversary of surprise album with short film

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A year after Beyoncé dropped her self-titled album without warning and blew up the internet, she’s unexpectedly released another project: a short film celebrating that album.

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Nicki Minaj releases Nazi-free, live-action 'Only' video

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The thing about Nicki Minaj’s “Only” is that it’s a weird single. There’s the beat, which takes the trend for minimalist rap beats to such an extreme that parts of the song are practically a cappella. And there’s the complicated interplay between Nicki and her guest stars and Young Money labelmates Drake and Lil Wayne, which twists the usual pop-song sexual dynamics into kinky new shapes with a passing resemblance to the dominatrix-slave relationship. And then there’s all the strangeness that the song has acquired since it was released at the end of October, including its seemingly Nazi-themed animated lyric video and the guest star Chris Brown’s very messy, very public breakup with girlfriend Karrueche Tran for apparently Drake-related reasons.

“Weird,” then, is a fitting theme of the official live-action “Only” video, which is piled high with music video shorthand for bizarreness. Here’s a bunch of injured dudes in wheelchairs! There’s Chris Brown in the kind of creepy colored contacts that juggalos love! Dominatrixes! Eyes Wide Shut masks! Superfluous metal shelving!

The other thing about “Only” is that it’s straight fire, and even if the video tries a little too hard to seem “edgy,” it also has Nicki propped up majestically on a pair of crazy heels doing Nicki things. So it still gets an A.

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Here are the Cam'ron emoticons you never knew you needed

Who amongst us hasn’t found ourselves mid-text with a friend, swiping through a limited library of woefully inadequate emoticons and thought, “Damn, I could really use a Cam’ron emoticon right now!” No? Not you? READ FULL STORY

Microsoft is giving away a whole lot of good music for free

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Streaming music may be more popular than ever, but it does have its drawbacks—your favorite artist might one day decide to pull their catalog from your service of choice, and then there’s those rare, terrifying times you don’t have Internet access. Owning music still has plenty of perks, and now you can get some for free. READ FULL STORY

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