Feb. 2 Justin Timberlake, “Man of the Woods”No one can honestly claim to be completely ignorant of the work of Justin Timberlake. The man helped define what modern pop music is, while simultaneously transcending the limits he put on the genre to become something even more than pop. It has been eight years since his last studio album (not including contributions to the soundtrack of “Trolls 2”), and it doesn’t seem like the break has dulled JT’s instincts, songwriting, or vocal chops in the slightest. A few weeks ago he released a little teaser, teeming with rustic Tennessee vistas, horses, beard scruff, and flannel. And then the first single, “Dirty,” released with a video of Timberlake playing a sexy Steve Jobs, with a beat made of dubstep-lite asking, “what are (we) going to do with all that meat?” Color me thematically confused. Maybe the second single will have that twang that was missing. Or maybe it’ll be a post-apocalyptic hellscape with Autotune and a hip-hop beat, complete with Pharrell ad-libs. I would be lying if I didn’t find the music video compelling but I was still confused. Especially when Justin stared at the camera with the wide-eyed intensity of a crack addict talking about how he could “be (my) generator, just turn (him) on when I need electricity.” Then, finally, came a single, “Say Something,” featuring country star Chris Stapleton, which actually captured the energy that the album announcement had. It has that country bent to it without crossing over into the pop-country territory of, say, Rascal Flatts and the like. Surprisingly, I actually found myself listening to this track while not just writing for this review. But don’t tell anyone – I don’t want to ruin my street cred. Overall, “Man of the Woods” is a good pop record. I found myself hoping for a little more exploration of the unconventional side of the sound, or maybe a little bit more knowledge of the growth that pop music has had over the past few years. Imagine a Timberlake album with the old soulful funk sound that Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love” had. Now that would be something.
Awolnation, “Here Come The Runts”I am not too familiar with the back catalog of Awolnation. I’ve heard that “Sail” song, and that’s about the extent of my experience. It, and “Here Come The Runts,” strike me as those records that everyone seems to insist is rock music for some reason, but has always struck me as something more incomplete. The couple songs I have heard from “Here Come The Runts” read more like acoustic music made with all the instruments of a rock band, that sometimes builds and breaks into a rock section. The track “Seven Sticks of Dynamite” is a good example of this. For the first few minutes, it’s the quiet vocalist and very minimal guitar lines, slowly building into some riffs that would sound at home on a Weezer record. It’s entirely possible that I’m just missing the point. I feel like if you like “Sail” you’ll probably like this new record. It just isn’t for me.