A lot of big names this week! Starting with:
The Flaming Lips, The Terror: Darker things lurk in the cheery public persona the Flaming Lips have offered in the last decade. Dan Hyman says of their latest:
While the Oklahoma-based psych rockers have been moving aggressively in a bleaker direction since 2009′s trippy Embryonic, The Terror may well be their most dour and disturbing display to date. It’s a challenging listen, but an undeniably cohesive one, with each track fusing onto the next.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito: Karen O and co.’s fourth LP is sparse, jagged and impressionistic. Says Ryan Reed:
Mosquito, unlike the band’s first three albums, takes some time to simmer before it eventually clicks. But it does, eventually, click: “Under the Earth” is a clear standout — twitchy electro-pop with bass tones that boom like elephant cries; “Always” is saturated with sensual tension, Karen O’s voice wandering nimbly through ethereal synth mist. But the real breakthrough is “Wedding Song,” which harkens back to the emotional grandeur of early gem “Maps,” referencing the singer’s recent marriage and closing the album with a blissful serenade.
Shuggie Otis, Inspiration Information/Wings of Love: A lengthy collection of dusted-off recordings from a shoulda-been soul superstar. Jim Farber says:
Shuggie Otis enjoyed his widest exposure in 1977 for writing the funky, Top 5 Brothers Johnson hit “Strawberry Letter 23.” Though the indie label Luaka Bop re-released Inspiration Information 12 years ago, Otis couldn’t convince any label to put out the amazing recordings he’d created since. As these dusted-off — and belatedly introduced — recordings prove, Otis’s solo approach to funk utterly rethought the genre. He made it float instead of stomp, abstracting the sound through the kaleidoscope of psychedelia.
Iron & Wine, Ghost on Ghost: Sam Beam’s new LP goes into jazz-fusion, Bee Gees-y territory. Rachael Maddux on why that’s not too terrible of a thing:
Tracing the genealogy of Ghost on Ghost, its plaid polyester vibe even begins to seem a little bit inevitable. Beam’s layering up of anything besides tickled guitar and hushed vocals began two releases in, on 2004′s Our Endless Numbered Days, with some pitter-pat drums; The Shepherd’s Dog, in 2007, introduced a reinforced backbone of percussion, strings and layered vocals not always his own; in 2011 Kiss Each Other Clean brought both noodlier song structures and more distorted instrumentals while aiming not only for radio-friendliness but a certain early ’70s rock/pop pedigree.
Major Lazer, Free The Universe: Without Switch gone, Diplo called on some friends to help make the new Major Lazer record. Bill Brewster says:
On Free The Universe something strange has happened. What seemed like an off-the-wall dancehall collaboration in 2009 has turned into something far poppier, featuring an unlikely line-up of guests including Shaggy, Wyclef, Peaches, Ezra Koening of Vampire Weekend and even Bruno Mars. Yet it still has that oddball edge that follows Diplo’s productions around like a lost puppy.
Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge, Twelve Reasons to Die: Ghostface teams up with the killer funk-soul revue live band Nate Patrin says:
Though his persona draws from comics, true crime and 42nd Street double features, it can still be pretty easy to see Ghostface Killah as simply a skilled amplification of an actual person. That’s why Twelve Reasons to Die, his collaboration with soundtrack composer and psychedelic-soul maestro Adrian Younge, is such a unique addition to his catalog: It’s an elaborate, conceptual attempt to give the Tony Starks-turned-Ghostface identity a fantastical origin story, set two years before his birth and drenched in a sound that uncannily evokes both Ghost’s fictional and real-life come-up years.
Fall Out Boy, Save Rock and Roll: The pop-punk superstars reunite, but this isn’t back to basics. Says Barry Walters:
It starts out with an orchestral flourish on the galloping and flat-out fantastic “Phoenix,” and on the way to its piano-lead and even more symphonic finale, there’s white-knuckled relentlessness: Buzzsaw guitars blare while the zinger-packed songs — now credited to the entire band — pile on the hooks. A proven master at bridging the pop/rock gap, producer Butch Walker pumps even the most delicate filigree to stadium-sized proportions. Fall Out Boy has always been dramatic, but here they sometimes lapse into desperation, as if what they’re truly intent on saving is their fanbase.
The Thermals, Desperate Ground: The Thermals’ Saddle Creek debut is their most rousing and most animated. Stephen Deusner says:
This is the sound of a band girding for a hard fight: “The sword at my side will allow me to be the last thing my enemies see,” sings frontman Hutch Harris on the punk-triumphal standout “The Sword at My Side.” The Thermals have strategized and streamlined their attack, pummeling through these songs as a three-person rhythm section: Harris playing furious rhythm guitar, Kathy Foster adding dexterous melodies on bass, and drummer Westin Glass pounding away like they’ll face the firing squad if any song exceeds three-and-a-half-minute mark. The Thermals sound reinvigorated, but rather than smite their enemies, they rally to remind themselves why they keep waging their own personal battle of the band.
Earle’s oeuvre encompasses country, folk, rock, bluegrass and protest music, and his superb new album represents all these facets with a loose-limbed assurance. Back in the saddle is Earle’s road band, the Dukes, amended to include “the Duchesses,” featuring vocalist Allison Moorer (a solo artist and Earle’s wife) and violinist/vocalist Eleanor Whitmore (comprising half of recording artists the Mastersons, along with Dukes guitarist Chris Masterson). This family affair also boasts Earle’s co-producer Ray Kennedy, for the first time since 2004′s Grammy-winning The Revolution Starts Now.
Various Artists, Way To Blue – The Songs Of Nick Drake:Way To Blue isn’t your typical tribute album, with a few well-known acts and plenty of new names. Peter Blackstock says:
Exquisite arrangements and recording techniques result in a live album that doesn’t sound like a live album; it doesn’t sound like a tribute album either, since the tracks weren’t gathered from disparate studio sessions. It also differs from typical tributes in that the big names aren’t the primary draw. There are a few well-known acts — Lisa Hannigan takes “Black-Eyed Dog” into uncharted territory with eerie harmonium tones, Robyn Hitchcock is well-suited to the lyrically offbeat “Parasite,” and Teddy Thompson approaches the hypnotic lure of Drake’s voice on “River Man” — but newer names make the most memorable impressions.
Born Ruffians, Birthmarks: Canadian indie rockers sound like a whole new band on their latest LP. Ryan Reed says:
Birthmarks is an effusive U-turn: radiating confidence and chemistry where 2010′s Say It so often sagged. “Needle” opens with a startling statement of purpose: Gleaming choral harmonies give way to a springy bass/kick-drum pulse, as frontman Luke Lalonde wraps his chipper croon over shards of staccato guitar. Instead of relying on clumsy lyrical metaphors, as they often did on Say It (see: the awkward puns of “Sole Brother”), Lalonde’s words now pack an emotional sting.
Ghost B.C., Infestissumam: Too Satanic for commercial radio, Jon Wiederhorn says Ghost B.C.’s Infestissumam is “more illuminating than 100 burning Bibles:
Despite its bleak atmosphere and epic structures, the album is ultimately more classic rock (think Blue Oyster Cult and Jethro Tull) and proggy pop (early Genesis and Marillion) than metal. There’s no question it’s far more accessible than Opus Eponymous, featuring only a few riffs that could really quality as headbanger-worthy. That said, there’s plenty here that’s thoughtful, provocative and heavy, and the way Ghost B.C. combine influences throughout Infestissumam is uncanny.
The Haxan Cloak, Excavation: The Haxan Cloak’s Bobby Krlic dwells on the dark side, but Sharon O’Connell argues that his dark and chilly aesthetic goes deeper. She says:
There are echoes of Burial’s cavernous dub and Demdike Stare’s haunted techno in Excavation, but its magnificently maleficent, post-dubstep soundscapes have more in common with musique concrete, Expressionist cinema soundtracks and medieval monastic cantos than so-called witch house or drone metal. Krlic’s sounds are again rooted in acoustics (cello, violin, guitar, vocals) and field recordings, but this time they’ve been heavily processed — magnified, stretched, dissembled, reconstituted and rearranged — to produce nine micro-symphonies of stark beauty and extraordinary menace.
Houses, A Quiet Darkness - An incredible concept to this one; this concept record tells the story of a husband and wife attempting to reunite in the wake of a nuclear apocalypse. Dream-pop with nothing but bad dreams.
The Aluminum Group, Plano – Low-key lovely, late-80s-to-early-90s indie-pop from Chicago on Minty Fresh. Will remind you of The Clientele, who they predate.
Art Brut, Top of the Pops – Compilation of B-sides, unreleased and best-of by the some of the best stand-up-comedy indie rock that the early ’00s saw.
Barn Owl, V – Pitch-dark doom-dub – enveloping clouds of ambient synths and acres of implied space. A good companion, sonically and spiritually, to that Haxan Cloak record.
Dead Can Dance, In Concert – Live album from the beloved, and recently returned, classical/indie folk outfit.
John Parish, Screenplay – Frequent PJ Harvey collaborator brings together all of his soundtrack work.
Major Lazer, Free The Universe – Features-heavy part from Diplo’s Major Lazer alias, featuring Amber Coffman, Ezra Koenig, Beenie Man, Shaggy, Bruno Mars, Tyga, and many many more.
Elvis Depressedly, Holo Pleasures – Elliott Smith melodies, tin-can synth-pop casios, and dream-pop haze.
Various Artists, The Cumbia Beat Vol. 2 – The always-great Vampisoul returns with another platter of shrewdly sourced cumbia, this time from Peru. Grooves for days here.
Zomes, Time Was – Zoning, meditative drone-rock, based on organ, guitar fuzz, and cooing vocals.
The Shouting Matches, Grownass Man – This is Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver)’s latest side project, and it is straight-ahead blues rock.
A bunch of Daniel Barenboim recordings showed up today from Warner Classics – The world-famous pianist and conductor’s shrewd and expansive takes on a treasure trove of repertoire. Here are a few highlights.
Cannibal Ox, Gotham – The legendary New York duo return after untold years with that classic sharp, druggy haze they do so well.
The Blank Tapes, Holy Roller – Strummy, jangling garage-pop single.
Egyptian Hip-Hop, Tobago – Warm, sensual Balearic synth-pop, shades of Cut Copy.
Guided By Voices, Noble Insect – Three-song morsel from the reunited GBV. Title track here sounds pretty good.
Jimmy Eat World, I Will Steal You Back – Emo has been in the slow process of coming back/not coming back for the last three or four years; if it ever does have its moment in the spotlight again, I want these guys to get a little more shine. New single.