Justin Timberlake, “The 20/20 Experience” (RCA)
It’s been six years since Timberlake was identified as a working musician, so his third solo album feels like an attempt to reclaim his space in an altered pop landscape; it makes a play for timelessness at a moment of unabashed ephemerality.
Working again with producer Timbaland, Timberlake, 32, punches up vintage styles with modern touches, as in “Suit & Tie,” which interrupts a lush Philly-soul groove for a breakdown seemingly modeled on drowsy Houston hip-hop.
Other songs boast similarly elaborate structures, like the album’s eight-minute opener, “Pusher Love Girl.” Here Timberlake follows a sweeping orchestral intro with a funky main section and then an extended coda in which he raps with surprising authority; later, “Strawberry Bubblegum” metamorphoses from a chilly electro jam into a warm organ vamp à la Stevie Wonder.
You might interpret these vivid sounds and textures as a sign that Timberlake is grasping at attention spans that have shortened since he was last making records. But the confident, assured way he deploys them— all but three of the disc’s 10 tracks stretch past the seven-minute mark — reflect ambition more than desperation.
Timberlake holds “The 20/20 Experience” together, too, with lyrics that stay resolutely on the topic of romance, be it the sex-as-drug metaphors in “Pusher Love Girl” or the sex-as-interstellar-force metaphors in “Spaceship Coupe.” Several songs suggest he’s been thinking about the changing nature of celebrity, as well. But on an album whose title apparently references the accuracy of hindsight, that deep-read content feels ancillary to Timberlake’s overall idea that love — and old-fashioned talent — can prove everlasting.
Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
Devendra Banhart, “Mala” (Nonesuch)
Banhart started his career making eerily naked albums on shabby four-track recorders. Since then, the warbling vocalist and expressionistic lyricist has made richly decorous albums filled with folk, wild psychedelia, Tin Pan Alley hokum, and the emotionalism of his Venezuelan heritage.
That he and his longtime collaborator Noah Georgeson brought that lustrous diversity to “Mala” (Serbian for small) while returning to the rudimentary confines of home recording gear proves Banhart hasn’t lost his flair for spirited experimentalism. It helps that as a singer, he is one coy romancer. Think Caetano Veloso without the breathiness or Marc Bolan with range.
Whether he’s staving off evil (“Taurabolium”), dancing away feelings of isolation (“Golden Girls”) or wishing the best for a 12th-century Catholic cleric (“Fr Hildegard von Bingen”), Banhart is pure seduction.
Even when his musical arrangements go all over the place — “Fine Petting Duck” goes from doo-wop to hard house — Banhart is the calm at the eye of the storm, a come-hither crooner who makes weirdness ravishing rather than messy.
A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer