AURORA Drops Starkly Gorgeous and Well Executed LP

A Different Kind Of Human is breathtaking take on pop music with a colder, more alienating tone which contrasts well with the undeniably catchy songwriting and mainstream sensibilities.

AURORA is an indie/electropop artist from Stavanger, Norway. She debuted with her 2015 EP, Running with the Wolves which slipped almost entirely under the radar but built something of an underground fan base. It was her full length follow up, All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend, which put her on the radar of the indie pop world, topping the charts in her native Norway and even breaking onto the US charts for a moment after she performed on a few American late night programs. This success kicked off a massive tour which ended with the release of her second EP, Infections of a Different Kind, which landed her a spot in festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella, as well as serving as the first part or “step,” as she called it, in a longterm series of releases. The second “step,” A Different Kind of Human released earlier this week and on it, Aurora is as entrancing as ever.

The album opens with one of AURORA’s fantastic songwriting on full display in the form of irresistible hooks. Tracks like “The River,” and “The Seed,” feature choruses which will catch the ear of even the most casual music listener and stick in their heads for quite awhile. She ties in clear inspirations from artists like David Bowie, for whom she’s expressed much admiration in the past, in putting together some truly fantastic hooks.

Beyond this, her lyricism is even more impressive. On cuts like “Daydreamer,” and “Hunger,” AURORA simultaneously uses a few interesting techniques. On the one hand, she consistently goes against the thematic grain of modern pop music, criticizing our tendencies to live only in the moment and speaking to the importance of living for the future as well. Additionally, she writes with haunting and almost alien imagery that makes for a fascinating experience when trying to dissect her storytelling.

Vocally, AURORA is also quite strong. While she doesn’t quite have the power of an average pop star, she makes up for this in spades with impressive control and an excellent range. Tracks like “Animal,” and “Soulless Creatures,” benefit tremendously from her excellent work as the front woman, her gentle tone providing an intimacy which acts as a strong counterpoint to the bewildering instrumentals.

All this being said, A Different Kind Of Human, as with most great pop music, leans heavily on its production and instrumentation. Most of the instrumentals feature heavy synths and quite a few unique tones but this is nothing compared to the extremely inventive percussion, most of which was performed by AURORA herself. Songs like “In Bottles,” and “Apple Tree,” while already listenable and interesting in their own right, are elevated to entirely new heights by the quirky and unpredictable percussion that drives their rhythms.

The album as a whole, however, just wouldn’t be what it is without some of the most genuinely impressive production of the year. From the intoxicating simplicity of “Dance On The Moon,” to the otherworldly experimentation of the title track, and even the gorgeous but criminally short closer, “Mothership,” the production team gets it right in every way possible on this one. Technically, their mixing and vocal tuning is spot on and creatively, nearly every second of the album is daring and unique, yet still listenable and accessible for all listeners.

Ultimately, A Different Kind Of Human is yet another breathtaking accomplishment for the Norwegian pop superstar. She’s somehow able to blend fearless experimentation with wonderfully accessible elements to create something truly special. The record is cold and distant, yet starkly beautiful in almost every way. If you’re a fan of great, well executed pop music, this is a must listen.

A Different Kind Of Human is breathtaking take on pop music with a colder, more alienating tone which contrasts well with the undeniably catchy songwriting and mainstream sensibilities.

8/10

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Carly Rae Jepson’s Fourth LP Is a Blast!!

Dedicated oozes passion and creativity from every note, and makes up for any missteps with thick, indulgent pop sensibilities.

Carly Rae Jepsen is a pop singer/songwriter from Mission, British Columbia. She debuted in 2008 with Tug of War, released on local, Canadian labels and selling just over 10,000 copies in her home country. She went on to build a respectable local following before signing to Interscope and releasing the mega-hit “Call Me Maybe,” in 2011, which reached diamond certification. From here, her next album, Kiss found strong success in 2012 and Jepsen was set on a path for teen pop stardom. However, with a simple life of one-hit-wonder success laid out, she instead made the admirable decision to challenge herself and her listeners with 2015’s Emotion. The record was a tour de force, jam packed with some of the most danceable pop music in years. This was aided by Jepsen’s decision to make a hard turn toward the indulgent, synth-pop of the 1980’s which had been an obvious inspiration on her earlier work. Dedicated largely picks up where Emotion left off.

From the opening moments, its clear that Carly continues to wear her influences on her sleeve in the classiest way. One of my favorite tracks, “I Want You In My Room,” captures the fearless style of the 80’s pop scene while a later cut like “The Sound,” seems to draw from 90’s artists like Alanis Morissette, particularly in her vocal melodies. Throughout the album, she manages to perfectly toe the line between heavy influence and intentional tribute, never quite settling on either.

Additionally, the production is heavily lifted from the same era, especially in its shimmering synths and start drums. The opener, “Julien,” uses this to fantastic effect and will have even the most heartless listener dancing by the half way point, while “Everything He Needs,” dabbles in spacey, psychedelic elements which I hope to see further explored on a later LP. The mix is so bright and the decisions so daring that every song is a treat.

That being said, the record does fall down a bit when it comes to instrumentation. Simply put, the entirety of this album’s instrumental pallet is made up of synths and drums. While I can generally forgive a narrow pallet on a pop album, Dedicated takes it a bit far. It can often be ignored, but on tracks like “Happy Not Knowing,” and “Right Words Wrong Time,” when the hooks are a bit less impressive or no vocal lines are jumping out, it becomes clear that the instrumentals are actually quite uniform.

On the other hand, the percussion is excellent on this album. The slicing snare on “Automatically In Love,” and the quiet but intricate and heavily effected drums on “For Sure,” are just a few of my favorites, but nearly ever cut on the record carries a strong rhythm section which is both well mixed and lively, despite being obviously recorded on a drum machine of some kind.

Like many pop albums, Dedicated lives and dies by its hooks. This is one of the most singable albums I’ve heard all year, driven by songs like “No Drug Like Me,” “Feels Right,” and “Real Love,” which are genuinely impossible to stop humming throughout the day. This is one element which Carly has had in spades from the beginning of her career and its only gotten better with time.

When all else fails, the album can simply fall back on Jepsen herself and one strong, energetic performance after another. The way she lays it all out on a “Now That I Found You,” or “Too Much,” is just infectiously fun. She’s truly a talent in the world of pop songwriting and performance, evidenced by her ability to elevate every track she touches to an entirely new level.

All this aside, there are a few weak points. As I mentioned, much of the instrumentation is repetitive. Additionally, the lyrics leave quite a bit to be desired and the pacing drags now and then on tracks like “I’ll Be Your Girl,” leaving just a few minutes to feel like rehashed elements from earlier in the album.

Nevertheless, Dedicated is a blast to listen to. Carly Rae Jepsen takes the 80’s-esque style from Emotion and develops it fully on this follow up. While it isn’t perfect, any weak moments are quite effectively painted over by shimmering production, powerful vocals, and screaming synthesizers.

Dedicated oozes passion and creativity from every note, and makes up for any missteps with thick, indulgent pop sensibilities.

7/10

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Miley Cyrus Drops Yet Another Directionless, Hot Mess

SHE IS COMING is a half-baked, hot mess that is fluctuates between boringly safe and confoundingly awful.

Miley Cyrus is country/pop singer from Nashville, Tennessee. She rose to massive fame as the most prominent figure in Disney’s mid-2000’s class of musical stars. Under the Hannah Montana moniker, she released five LPs full of relatively inoffensive pop music alongside three fairly similar releases under the Miley Cyrus name. Having released five albums by the age of 18, Miley seemed to feel a bit boxed in as the character she’d played on Disney Channel. She quite admirably broke this box with her 2013, triple platinum album, Bangerz, which was vulgar and daring, if a bit meandering. This was followed by the horrendously bloated Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz which received a limited release and her much tamer, full scale follow up, Younger Now in 2017. While Miley’s recent work has been commendable in its effort to push boundaries and change her public image, it’s largely felt aimless and thoughtless and virtually never takes advantage of her genuinely impressive vocal abilities. SHE IS COMING is no exception.

The EP opens with “Mother’s Daughter,” which is perhaps the only listenable cut on the tracklist. The trap drums play quite well against the spacey, piano-driven instrumental and Miley’s vocal performance is actually quite strong. The vocal tuning is entirely over the top and the lyrics are atrocious, but the hook is somewhat singable and Miley seems closer to a middle ground between her pop sensibilities and edgy desires than she has in the past.

“Unholy,” follows and a few of the issues with this project start to become apparent fairly quickly. The change in producers from track to track robs it of any possible coherence and Miley’s breathy, hissing vocal is extremely overproduced. The trap drums entirely overpower every melodic element, though none of them are interesting enough to warrant being pushed to the front of the mix. Worst of all, the lyrics on this cut are just awful, and the entire song sounds completely half baked, as does much of the EP.

“D.R.E.A.M.,” falls in the middle of the project and is one of the most disjointed messes of a song I’ve ever heard. While the chorus is admittedly catchy, Miley’s voice is once again breathy and overproduced as she sings over a hokey piano line which could fit comfortably on a High School Musical soundtrack. The only possible saving grace for the track would seem to be the feature from Wu-Tang alum, Ghostface Killah, but instead he phones in a short, unrelated verse on a completely different instrumental which only takes up that 20 or so seconds.

“Cattitude,” is the forth track on the EP and an absolute dumpster fire in musical form. Every single element, from the bizarre and endless RuPaul feature, to Miley’s embarrassing attempt at rapping on the verses, to the horribly vulgar lyrics is simply unlistenable. I can’t fathom how anyone let this song leave the studio’s doors but luckily for the listeners, it seams to be the rock bottom for the record.

“Party Up The Street,” sees Mike Will Made-It taking over production duties for the only well produced song on the tracklist. Swae Lee’s feature is flat throughout the entire track and the instrumentation is boring and uninventive, but a few of the melodies are genuinely well-written and it seems to be the only cut that anyone actually cared about. It serves as a welcome switch up from the aggressively terrible tracks that precede it.

The project closes with “The Most,” which is fairly inoffensive, though it offers little by way of intriguing ideas. The chorus is fairly well-written and features some of the only passible lyrics on the EP and Miley finally gives an impressive vocal performance, which has been lacking from every song thus far. That being said, its still quite overproduced and uninventive and features an irritatingly nondescript synth lead covering the majority of the melody.

Ultimately, this EP is a mess. It somehow finds a way to feel lazy and half-baked yet overproduced and soulless at the same time. Miley’s recent career has been full of spinning wheels without a track, but SHE IS COMING is the worst in this regard. I don’t see any audience for this or even a reason for it to exist.

SHE IS COMING is a half-baked, hot mess that is fluctuates between boringly safe and confoundingly awful.

1/5

Billie Eilish Debuts With a Dark but Fun LP

WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? Is a mostly well executed debut for a very exciting young artist who could easily go on to be something truly transformative for pop music.

Billie Eilish is pop singer/songwriter from Los Angeles. Her meteoric rise to fame has become something of a phenomena. Her 2016 debut single, “Ocean Eyes,” was certified platinum quickly after it’s release and left fans immediately clamoring for more, which Billie delivered. The track found it’s way onto her first EP, Don’t Smile At Me which is certified gold and peaked at number one on the US alternative charts. By 2018, she was opening for Florence + The Machine before headlining her own massive tour the same year. With a multitude of music videos and a remarkably consistent aesthetic throughout, Billie is able to appeal at once to fans of alternative and mainstream pop, and her music itself, while fairly accessible, incorporates more than a few unique, experimental elements. After rising to the top of the industry in just a couple years, she’s finally released her first full length LP, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?

Unlike most modern pop stars, Billie’s music certainly doesn’t live and die by her vocal performance. She does, however, have a few strong showings on this album. On cuts like the softer, “when the party’s over,” or the melodic “wish you were gay,” Eilish’s breathy, haunting lead is an invaluable asset to the arrangement. Overall, while Billie is still certainly not known as a pop powerhouse on the level of an Ariana Grande, she adds to the album in a very unique way.

One can also not discount the value of the aesthetic she has so carefully crafted and continues to grow on this project. The dark but rhythmic flow on the album’s opener and best track, “bad guy,” makes her feel genuinely otherworldly while her lyrics on “all the good girls go to hell,” layered over the chiming church bells and bouncing pianos are almost enigmatic. Over her fairly short career, she’s built what amounts to a fascinating character which bleeds through every second of this album.

This all being said, the true star of this project is Billie’s brother, Finneas, who carries co-writing and production duties on every cut. While I can nitpick a few of the technical aspects of his work, there’s no denying the creative and daring style he holds to. I find myself especially impressed by his willingness to use fairly abrasive sound pallets like the reedy screeches on “bury a friend,” the almost terrifying effects on Billies voice in “8,” or the jarring, twisted keys on “ilomilo,” a track which is entirely saved by great production. Of course, this isn’t a Death Grips record, but for a mainstream pop album, the pallet is quite daring.

Beyond this, his manic energy and meticulous stereo images are absolutely engulfing. The mix of the very clean bass guitar and jazz inspirations with unpredictable vocal effects on “xanny,” makes it one of the strongest tracks on the list, not to mention the wonderful harmonies near the end which also adorn nearly all of the closer, “goodbye,” quite successfully. And of course, the repeated sound bites from The Office on “my strange addiction,” are irresistibly hilarious.

There are a few downfalls on the album however. Most of these pitfalls are due to weaknesses in the fundamentals of the music, namely uninventive lyrics and unimpressive vocals. This is hidden when the full creativity of Billie or Finneas is on display, but that’s not always the case. “you should see me in a crown,” for example, comes off as a fairly bland piece of trap pop, while “listen before i go,” and “i love you,” are back to back snoozers only saved by a strong closer. Essentially, when the production and arrangement is stripped back, the album falters, and while that will likely change as Eilish gains more experience, she does pretty well to avoid that position for the majority of the runtime.

All said, this is a very strong debut outing for Billie. It’s by no means perfect, and at times her lack of experience does shine through, but it’s a fun piece of nocturnal pop that brings something a bit more daring to the mainstream.

WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? Is a mostly well executed debut for a very exciting young artist who could easily go on to be something truly transformative for pop music.

6/10

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The Bouncing Souls Celebrate Their 30th Anniversary with Fun EP3

Crucial Moments is an ultimately enjoyable, if flawed celebration of thirty years of good music.

The Bouncing Souls are a punk rock band from New Brunswick, New Jersey. They debuted in 1994 with The Good, The Bad, and the Argyle, and went on to release four albums throughout the 90’s, each finding some level of underground success. Though their catalog lacks any real mainstream hits, it does show every sign of a hard working, old school punk act with 10 studio albums and 15 EPs since their formation in 1989. After beginning with Chunksaah Records, they left to work with Epitaph for the majority of their output in the 2000’s but they’ve recently returned to Chunksaah for their most recent projects including 2016’s Simplicity, which is one of their best selling albums to date. With their 30th anniversary approaching, they’re adding to their extensive catalog with Crucial Moments.

The EP opens with the high energy title track which kicks off the tracklist in style. It’s essentially a straight forward, pop-punk cut driven by Greg Attonito’s impressively clean vocal. The drum fills are fast and exciting and lead guitar is extremely well played. The pulled back bridge, though quite cliche’d, is enjoyable and the crisp production makes for quite the opener, overall.

“1989” is a much more true blue punk track, all the way down to the terse, 90 second runtime. Instrumentally, there’s no dip in quality to be heard and, in fact, there is the improvement of a very well played bass line on the bridge and an entertaining guitar solo. Unfortunately, Greg’s vocals lack the grit needed to pull off this sound, and the song is at it’s best when he returns to his melodic style near the end. Additionally, the structure of this track is just awkward and it leaves quite a bit to be desired, ultimately.

“Favorite Everything,” follows, driven especially by an ear-worm guitar lead. Lyrically, its a fun love song full of quirky platitudes which are performed quite convincingly. Beyond this, the drums are, once again, excellent, aided by a great rhythm in general. The track’s biggest weak points are the transitions between sections. Choruses just seem to start and end with no noticeable change beyond lyrics, and the track as a whole bleeds together a bit by the end.

“Here’s To Us,” on the other hand, is easily the strongest showing on the project. The instrumental is explosive and Attonito’s vocals are his best thus far. The melody on the chorus is fantastically well written, though the lyrics are a bit juvenile, admittedly. It ends with a soaring guitar solo directly into an exciting passage of doubled vocals. It’s exactly the sound you want to hear out of this band and it’s delivered better here than anywhere else.

The band returns to the traditional punk sound again with “4th Avenue Sunrise,” this time with much better results. Greg defaults to a more charismatic, blues-tinged vocal style which fits the song much better and more importantly, this cut doesn’t feel nearly as incomplete. Each idea is presented and fully fleshed out while the high tempo retains the quick impact they’re going for.

“Home,” closes the album and it’s a relatively enjoyable finish. It features yet another excellent chorus which is very well performed by Attonito. The crunching lead guitars are pure pop-punk and explosive drumming brings the choruses to a head in a very satisfying way. Overall, it’s one of the stronger cuts on the project, not the least of which because of the very strong songwriting.

Ultimately, this is a fun collection of songs, though it’s lacking in more than a few areas. There’s really not a single track that isn’t enjoyable in some way or another. The tracklist is very well paced and the production is slick but full of life.

Crucial Moments is an ultimately enjoyable, if flawed celebration of thirty years of good music.

3/5

Hear the EP

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LSD Supergroup Drops Fun but Shallow EP

No New Friends is a fun, danceable EP, though it falls well short of its potential.

LSD is a recently formed supergroup featuring Australian pop star Sia, American DJ Diplo, and British singer/rapper Labyrinth. Each member has had quite the career in of themselves. Sia is perhaps best known in the US for her smash hit single, “Chandelier,” but she has eight studio albums, one of which is certified platinum, and she’s a highly respected pop vocalist, known for her powerful belting voice. Diplo is one of the most prolific producers of the modern era, having worked with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Justin Bieber, Lil Pump, and many more. He’s best known for his work with hip-hop and pop artists, and he boasts a handful of Grammy awards and platinum singles. Labyrinth may be the least known of the trio as most of his work is done as a producer and cowriter with artists like Eminem, XXXTentacion, and Ed Sheeran. He does have one solo LP to himself, but he’s best known for his work behind the scenes as a well respected writer and producer. Each of these three artists have had quite a bit of success on their own, and now they’ve joined forces for their first EP, No New Friends.

The record opens with the very fun and danceable title track which at once seems to lay bare every success and shortcoming we can expect on the the rest of the project. Sia gives a strong vocal performance and the chorus features a great hook. My main gripe, however, comes on the instrumental. Diplo’s efforts on this track leave much to be desired in terms of depth, as the track is relatively inoffensive, but very noticeably lacks the depth and lusciousness I would expect from such a team.

“Genius – Lil Wayne Remix,” follows and this is the trio’s debut single, updated with a verse from Lil Wayne that adds quite a bit. I can’t say I enjoyed it quite as much as the original version, which appears later on the project, but Wayne gives a typically energetic verse and Sia once again sounds great on the chorus.

“Mountains,” on the other hand, is easily the weakest of the six songs. Here, not only is the instrumental once again shallow and uninventive, but many of the synths that decorate the melodic hook are just abrasive and irritating. The chorus is certainly enjoyable, but without a strong vocal performance from either Sia or Labyrinth, Diplo’s production is just left to flounder as the main attraction.

This is followed, however, by my favorite track, “Thunderclouds.” Here, we’re treated to two excellent vocal leads, predictably in Sia’s commanding first verse, but also in a surprisingly soulful effort from Labyrinth on the second. It’s one of the most singable and endearing cuts here, and the value of the two strong lead singers and their chemistry can’t be overstated.

“Audio,” is yet another misstep and yet again, it really boils down to whether Sia takes a place front and center on track. In this case, she doesn’t, and we’re left with another fairly shallow instrumental with a somewhat catchy chorus. Most of this project is still fun and danceable, but it doesn’t nearly reach the levels it could’ve had Diplo taken the time to fill out the sonic image and get inventive with the instrumental pallet. Driving, nondescript synths over vaguely interesting drum loops can only go so far.

“Genius,” closes the EP and while I question why this track was even included as it had already been released previously and a remix of the same track appears earlier on the project, it does make for an entertaining closer. Labyrinth gives another excellent verse and Sia is, of course, fantastic. The instrumental is actually somewhat interesting, especially the inclusion of heavily processed violins and the grooving beat. It’s not the best cut on the list, but it’s a strong closer.

All told, No New Friends is admittedly a bit disappointing. With three extremely talented artists joining forces for such a short project once would expect a tightly packed collection of hits, but that’s simply not what was created. That being said much of the project is still fairly enjoyable.

No New Friends is a fun, danceable EP, though it falls well short of its potential.

3/5

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My Thoughts on the Return of the Jonas Brothers!!

What could a Jonas Brothers reunion mean in 2019?

The mid-2000’s are often characterized, musically, by the explosion of pop-punk music and the Fueled by Ramen label. As with any music trend, Disney quickly set to work replicating it.

This fell on the shoulders of one of the most talented classes of musicians in Disney’s history, which included stars like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lavato. While the latter’s debut album captured much of the magic of groups like Paramore, the brunt of recreating the Fueled by Ramen sound fell, by and large, to the Jonas Brothers.

While their debut was fairly nondescript and unimpressive, their self-titled sophomore release in 2007 went double platinum and netted them a Grammy nomination for best new artist. This netted them staring roles in the 2008 Disney Channel smash hit Camp Rock, and from here they were absolute Disney Royalty.

They dropped another double platinum record that year and another platinum album in 2009. For those keeping score at home, that means the Jonas brothers had sold roughly five million copies in just three years. Their last two records peaked at number one on Billboard charts and they’d had a multitude of massively successful EP’s, tours, movies, and music videos. In 2012, however, after several delays had plagued work on a new record, the brothers announced that they were leaving Hollywood Records, their tie to Disney, and began a messy, drawn out process of splitting up.

Nick Jonas, who had already done some minor solo work while the band was still together, found quite a bit of success as a solo act. He abandoned much of the pop-punk influences on which he’d cut his teeth in favor of heavily produced power-pop. Tracks like “Jealous,” and “Chains,” did extremely well on the radio and he quickly became a big name in pop music.

Joe, on the other hand, found the well a bit dry with his 2011 solo LP, Fastlife, but in 2015, he debuted as the front man funk-pop four piece, DNCE, and their explosive single, “Cake by the Ocean.” Their self-titled record the same year was quite impressive and may be the best piece of music to come out of any Jonas Brother. The brothers seemed to be set for somewhat impressive careers in their respective projects.

That all changed on February 28th when the trio announced their return with the release of a new track and music video, “Sucker.” The cut is certainly listenable and a bit more mature than their previous outfit. The video is actually quite impressive, with on obviously large budget and a fairly clear artistic vision, but, of course, the questions are swirling. What will a Jonas Brothers reunion look like in 2019?

There are two key questions when it comes to this reunion, the first being what influence the brothers’ solo work will have on this record. With Nick and Joe having found a voice in genres that are quite different than the sound which brought the trio to their commercial heights, there seems to be an inherent conflict arising. The new track seems to suggest that the work they’ve done over the decade since the band’s last release will inform the new album quite heavily and I think that’s an excellent choice. The bubblegum form of pop-punk they made in the mid-2000’s has simply no place in todays scene, but the danceable power pop of a group like DNCE absolutely does.

The second and more pressing question that arrises is one of marketing and fanbase. This reunion is, obviously, an incredible economic opportunity for many people. Similar reunions for groups like New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men have made millions by playing the hits to the same crowds that supported the groups in the first place. This is the route which I would’ve expected the brothers to go, but it doesn’t seem they are for a few reasons. Most noticeably, “Sucker,” sounds absolutely nothing like the hits that made them famous, but another clue can be found in the fact that they’ve signed Republic Records instead of returning to the Hollywood label owned by Disney. It may be possible that the trio is gearing up for a serious push toward creating new and interesting music together under the moniker which once stamped them as property of the Disney Channel.

These questions will likely be answered quickly as Republic will want to strike while the iron is hot, and it is white hot after an ecstatic reception by the internet of the “Sucker,” video and track. One can only hope we’re in for a new and unique experience on their first album in a decade.