Figuring it out: Toni Braxton, Yo La Tengo, and The Breeders

Toni Braxton – Sex & Cigarettes

On a bonus cut on her last album, Toni Braxton played a woman having casual sex for the last time with the husband whom she’ll miss for the rest of her life. Four years later, romance hasn’t gotten any easier: she’s dating a man who crawls into her bed stinking of sex and cigarettes. When her contralto plumbs its rich wine-dark depths, she summons more lust-inflected pain than many singers spend a lifetime realizing, and the songs written by Paul Boutin, Babyface, and Braxton herself are up to it. The profusion of light club beats match an ethos that sees hitting the town as a utilitarian function, and Braxton does more with them than Mary J. Blige did on The London Sessions, in part because when the melodies and beats flirt with the generic (“FOH”) Braxton sounds goofily thick. At times the instrumental bits are mournful garnishes: the organ on “Long As I Live,” the steel drum punching each chorus enjambment in “Missin,’ for example. Length: 30:39.

Yo La Tengo – There’s a Riot Going On

Of course it’s not required – the Hoboken trio stopped recording essential albums a decade ago, maybe longer. But their latest is the most ominously quiet of their career, particularly a middle stretch whose guitars and keyboards undulate too insistently for sleep.

The Breeders – All Nerve

Insouciance is their lodestar. A few letters cunningly arranged separate insouciance and indifference; I saw the latter at Pitchfork Music Festival 2013.

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