Mumford & Sons, Babel : This breakout folk act returns with their follow-up to 2011′s stratospherically successful Sigh No More. To hear Kevin O’Donnell it, they’re reaching even higher this time around:
It’s fitting that the Mumford & Sons have titled their new album Babel, a Biblical reference to man’s attempt to build a structure to reach the heavens. In just three short years, Mumford and Sons have gone from a quaint roots-rock group from London to one of the biggest new bands on the planet with 2011â€²s Sigh No More, and their follow-up attempts to match that ambition by outdoing that album’s already sprawling, epic roots-rock tunes. The disc is loaded with more big, important, grab-you-by-the-collar anthems.
Dum Dum Girls, End of Daze EP: Dee Dee of the Dum Dum Girls has been steadily amping up her charisma and pop-song craft over the course of the band’s two albums and EP, and with End of Daze, she hits a new plateau. “Lord Knows,” “Season In Hell,” and the Strawberry Switchblade cover “Trees and Flowers” — all are last-call-at-the-New-Wave-prom slow-dance perfect. This one is Highly Recommended. Mike Powell has more:
Sporting black leather jackets, bright red lipstick and hangdog poses, Dum Dum Girls resemble high-school dropouts from another time – the ’50s, maybe; or maybe it’s the ’60s; or maybe it’s the ’80s. Whenever it is, it’s not now. But no assembly of retro references, however clever, will get you to sing with a voice as bold, outsized and sad as Kristin Gundred, nor will they get you to write melodies as instantly indelible as she can either. Over the course of two albums, and now two EPs, her band has gone from playing misfit little garage songs punctuated by “bang-bang”s and “la-la”s to dark, glittering music exploring resignation, regret, and other big subjects that sound surprising coming from a band calling themselves “Dum Dum Girls.”
Melody’s Echo Chamber, Melody’s Echo Chamber Kevin Parker, of psych-rock A-listers Tame Impala, lends the dusty, overdriven psych-rock; Melody Prochet provides the air-dusted French-pop vocals. It’s a perfect citrus twist on the Tame Impala sound, and a record that will remind you of Broadcast and Elephant 6 in all the right ways. It’s Highly Recommended. Matthew Fritch writes:
Produced by Prochet’s boyfriend/Tame Impala leader Kevin Parker and featuring backing instrumentation from members of his Australian psych-rock outfit, Melody’s Echo Chamber initially seems to live up to its sounding-board imperative. It’s easy to ferret out the Spacemen 3 simplicity and static bursts on “Crystallized,” the bright, girl-group chorus and Bandwagonesque outro guitar shredding of opener “I’ll Follow You,” or the Stereolab-quality vintage-organ loops of “Quand Vas Tu Rentrer?” (Prochet sings in both English and French). But the album gets denser and weirder as it progresses.
The Soft Pack, Strapped: Super-solid garage-rock band makes super-solid second record after an extended break. Austin L. Ray writes:
The Artists Formerly Known As Muslims fall into the thankless category of white dudes making consistently solid indie rock – the kind of guys who can sing, “If it’s time you’re looking for, I got that time and so much more,” and sound effortlessly cool. Indeed, privileged though they may be in certain respects, in a world of next big things and exotic young esoterics, it’s easy to gloss over what is, at the end of the day, just another damn good rock band.
Glenn Campbell and Jimmy Webb, In Session: A classic appearance from two veterans who hit their highest peaks working together. Peter Blackstock writes:
Though Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb each had huge successes outside each other’s company – Campbell’s biggest hits included Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” and John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind,” while Webb songs became pop smashes in the hands of Donna Summer and the Fifth Dimension – their most lasting legacy remains the work they did together. In Sessionâ€¦, compiled from a TV appearance in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1988, finds the two revisiting some of the highest points of their partnership (“Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”) while also taking turns down less-familiar avenues.
Lupe Fiasco, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. I: Lupe takes it back to basics for his latest studio effort. Per the title, it’s the most grounded and effortless he’s sounded since the first F&L, although only Lupe would have the audacity to release a record that’s both a “Part II” and a “Part One” at the same damn time.
No Doubt, Push and Shove: The first new No Doubt record in years! Somehow, they haven’t lost a step with the sound of radio, proving the hypothesis that I just arrived at this morning that No Doubt were way more forward-thinking than anybody realized. Bill Murphy writes:
It’s been more than 10 years since No Doubt’s last studio album (2001′s Rock Steady), but the band has always insisted the hiatus was never a breakupâ€”even after Gwen Stefani’s solo turn, spurred by the viral success of “Hollaback Girl,” elevated her to Madonna-like status. Push and Shove finds the crew jostling for a renewed sense of solidarity, and as the title track makes clear, the chemistry is still strong. Stefani can still tap at will into her sassy rebel persona, which leaps out of the dance-pop fog machine of “Looking Hot” and the bouncy “Settle Down,” but she also tones it down for the reggae-spiced confection “Sparkle” (a throwback to the mellow vibes of UB40) and the Madge-worthy ballad “Undone.”
Witchcraft, Legend: Swedish stoner/doom metal mainstays keep refining the potency of their formula. Jon Wiederhorn writes:
That Swedish band Witchcraft formed 12 years ago just to record a tribute song for their heroes in Washington, D.C. – Black Sabbath worshippers Pentagram – is interesting enough. That they’ve since evolved into one of the most heralded bands on the psychedelic doom circuit is even more intriguing. But the fact that Witchcraft have survived the departures of three members and returned with their strongest and heaviest album to date is reason to believe in a higher (or lower) power. Five years have passed since the band released its third record, The Alchemist, and while Witchcraft still summons the darkened atmospheres of Pentagram, the mystical rural feel of Jethro Tull and the bluesy swagger of Led Zeppelin, they’ve expanded their sonic horizons even further on Legend, and improved their songwriting in the process.
Murs & Fashawn, This Generation: West Coast indie-rap scene vets team up for a collaborative record that feels like love at first sight. Nate Patrin writes:
There’s 10 years, a couple hundred miles and not much else that separates L.A. underground vet Murs and Fresno phenom Fashawn. Both MCs specialize in a West Coast indie-rap classicism that prizes personality first and scene-setting lyricism a close second. And that makes This Generation one of those super-duo team-ups that winds up feeling like less of a crossover blockbuster and more like an inevitable pairing of like-minded compatriots. It’s strongest when they’re swapping verses directly – the candid point-of-pride sessions “Yellow Tape” and “Slash Gordon” make their back-and-forth mid-line mic trades sound like they’re finishing each others’ thoughts.
Chris Cohen, Overgrown Path: On Captured Tracks: Wide-eyed, wobbly psychedelic pop shot through with California sun rays and a sense of gentle wonder. RIYL: early Cass McCombs, Robert Wyatt, pastoral Neil Young. Highly Recommended
Alan Gilbert, Nielsen: Symphonies 2 & 3: The conductor of the NY Philharmonic makes his bid to reclaim the Danish composer Nielsen from obscurity with this impassioned recording of the man’s second and third symphonies. Daniel Felsenfeld writes:
Alan Gilbert, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, is on a mission. He wants to be The Voice on behalf of a neglected composer, as Leonard Bernstein was for Mahler, and he’s chosen one Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) from Denmark. Nielsen is ripe for rediscovery: an unfortunately marginalized artist who writes big, sprawling, quirky symphonies that speak to the Scandinavian condition, but are cast in a high Germanic mold, much like his contemporaries Mahler and Sibelius. In such capable and expressive hands the Carl Nielsen revival is well – and thankfully – underway; future generations will have other neglected fish to fry.
Levek, Look a Little Closer: I first got wise to Levek via their great single “Look on the Bright Side” for the Father/Daughter label a few years back. It was smoky and soulful, a kind of indie update on Curtis Mayfield. On their full-length, they evolve yet again, this time into something like billowing AM Gold, but cooler and sleeker and more focused. It’s Recommended for sure. Also, if you guys haven’t already, this would be a good time to start keeping an eye on Father/Daughter in general. Between this and Pure Bathing Culture, they seem to be the label that Gets There before anyone else gets there.
R.E.M., Document: 25th Anniversary Edition: BIRTHDAY PARTY CHEESECAKE JELLY BEANS BOOM. R.E.M.’s commercial breakthrough spawned one of the world’s meanest love songs and proved that it was possible to smuggle talk about the proletariat, McCarthyism and old blues singers into the mainstream. A formidable rock record that’s Highly Recommended
Rosco Bandana, Time to Begin: Rollicking roots music sure to appeal to fans of Steve Earle an Ryan Adams. Their take on Blur’s “Tender” is a revelation. Recommended
Unnatural Helpers, Land Grab: On the outstanding Hardly Art label, this is a batch of tightly-wound minimalist punk — kind of Wire-y, if Wire were bigger boozers. The lines are clean, but the attitude is reckless. Recommended
deadmau5, >album title goes here< : I’m sort of convinced that if I type the phrase “EDM,” I’ll be invoking a hex on members of my family. So let’s just call this bright-n-shiny techno with a Gerard Way cameo and call it even.
Frightened Rabbit, State Hospital EP: Our beloved Scots swing the heartache on their major label debut EP. Lots of slow-builds and tear-rimmed eyeballs, lots of yearning and lots of loss. Oh, Frabbits. I love you so.
Black September, Into the Darkness, Into the Void: Heaving, pitch-black, 400-ton heavy metal from this brutal Chicago band. Kind of in the blackened thrash variety, with some seriously demonic lead vocals.
Caspian, Waking Season: Slow, twinkling instrumental post-rock that starts small and gradually builds to those roiling crescendos we all love so much. Caspian are more deliberate and calculated than most — there’s an eeriness beneath even the tranquil parts of their songs that makes for a genuinely unsettling feel over all.
7even Thirty, Heaven’s Computer: New one from our buddies at Mello Music, this one has a Kool Keith/Lost in Space vibe to it — spacey, glittery productions and driving delivery.