Matt on Music: Sleigh Bells, Lady Gaga, Miranda Lambert, Hamilton

Editor’s note: From 2012 to 2014, Matt Rice wrote the music column Matt on Music for The Eastern Echo, the student newspaper for Eastern Michigan University. We are proud to announce that Matt will now be relaunching his column on The Young Folks, beginning this month.

In an effort to start writing more again, I’m making Matt on Music a weekly column. Three to five short reviews a week, with a single of the week at the end. I’ll try to tie the reviews together with a theme most of the time. This week, these are simply albums I’ve been listening to a lot.


Sleigh Bells: Jessica Rabbit (Torn Clean) They’re not bad, they’re just drawn that way. A truly sonic-centric band, Sleigh Bells is one of the exceptions to my preference of tune over musical dexterity. With this record, it seems like they finally agree, as they utilize the songs as an enhancive tool for the noise and not the other way around. There’s no “Rill Rill,” “Comeback Kid,” or “To Hell with You” here. But as Alexis Krauss uses her voice in a way their previous releases never hinted she could, the hooks do show up–“Pop Rocks and Coke make your head explode,” “Knocking off heads with your military tactics,” etc. But like good avant-jazz, they’re mostly beside the point. Also like good avant-jazz, when you finally do suss them out, it’s highly rewarding. A


Lady Gaga: Joanne (Streamline/Interscope) The critics’ dance-pop queen has somehow gained less respect in the rockcrit world as she’s become more respectable and, er, rockist. People should revisit Artpop eventually, which has grown to be my favorite album of her career. After they do, they can go back to this one and be entranced by the heaviness of songs like “A-YO” and the three-song punch of “John Wayne”-“Dancin’ in Circles”-“Perfect Illusion.” I initially thought it was her weakest (not counting Cheek to Cheek, obviously) because of the change of style, but that’s grown on me fine. Now I think it’s her weakest because it’s just not as consistent, which makes it all the more impressive that about nine of the 11 songs on her shortest album since The Fame Monster have been on rotation for me. Soft rock? Maybe to an extent, and I’d be more concerned if the softest cut, “Joanne,” wasn’t the most infectious. A MINUS


Miranda Lambert: The Weight of These Wings (RCA Nashville) You can’t say she’s messy in her inconsistency. Disc 1, titled “The Nerve,” is a sequel to 2014’s Platinum in sound and ideas, highlighted by the groove-country cut “Highway Vagabond,” the devastating “Vice,” and the beautifully melodic cover “You Wouldn’t Know Me.” Disc 2, titled “The Heart,” opens with the trite “Tin Man” (noticing a theme?) and only reaches the first disc’s strength on the Dolly-esque “To Learn Her.” The latter, the first disc ever to have a Lambert songwriting credit on every track, is inarguably the more personal of the two. This, alongside Lambert’s tendency to overstuff her albums, places this on the level of Four the Record and Annie Up as opposed to Crazy-Ex Girlfriend and Hell on Heels. All in all, as a divorce album, it’s no Lemonade. But Blake Shelton’s no Jay Z, either. A MINUS


The Hamilton Mixtape (Atlantic) It was hard for Hamilton fans and R&B/hip-hop fans alike to not get their hopes up for this. A tribute of sorts to the greatest work of art of my lifetime, featuring artists like The Roots, Usher, Dessa, Chance the Rapper, and more, the list of artists alone positioned it as a major release. As tracks started rolling out, a sad truth was revealed: this record has no idea what kind of tribute it wants to be. Instead, it throws everything at the wall and sees what sticks, which is approximately half of it. The straightforward covers of Hamilton songs are mostly expendable, with the exception of a gorgeous “Dear Theodosia” from real-life parents Chance the Rapper and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The highlights are the demos and new recordings of songs cut from the musical (Dessa’s “Congratulations” and a third “Cabinet Battle” about the slave trade), interludes (“Take a Break (Interlude)”), and original rap songs that use Hamilton as a jumping off point. The first two songs, “My Shot (Rise Up Remix)” and “I Wrote My Way Out,” even had me prepared for the best Roots album since How I Got Over. But even Rising Down couldn’t survive the forced silliness of Jimmy Fallon singing “You’ll Be Back.” B

Single of the Week – Nicki Minaj: “Black Barbies” (EarDrummers/Interscope)

Matt is 23 years old, and lives in Ypsilanti, MI. He recently graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a double-major in Journalism and Women’s and Gender Studies. He is a pop culture geek, obsessively consuming music, film, and T.V. Since he was 16, he has wanted to be a cultural critic, and he spends most of his free time listening to music, watching films, researching, and writing. Tumblr: