OK! Here we are! About two weeks into 2014, and the slate of Tuesday new releases is slowly starting to pick up. Not a ton today, but certainly a few you won’t want to miss, including a career-best Sharon Jones record that I haven’t been able to stop talking about. Which feels like a pretty good place to start with this week’s roundup:
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Give the People What They Want: This record is excellent. In every way the definitive Sharon Jones record, it moves past her time-tested template of smoldering R&B, giving it a harder edge, a stronger punch and more intricate, zooming arrangements. I have been playing it non-stop since I received it. It is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Barry Walters says:
Sharon Jones’s latest, Give the People What They Want might’ve been her last: Initially announced last May, the release of her then-completed fifth studio album was put on hold while the 57-year-old singer battled cancer. Now she’s back, and in defiant, fighting form. Leading with a foreboding Spaghetti western flourish of tubular bells, “Retreat!” is her fieriest, feistiest song yet: “Taking you apart is my kinda fun/Count to three and then you better run,” she warns an errant suitor. The brass behind her blast an R&B equivalent of baroque pop, acknowledging that classic soul was at times ornate — check Smokey Robinson, psychedelic-era Temptations and Isaac Hayes for evidence — and proves that operatic and roots-y aren’t mutually exclusive modes.
Bruce Springsteen, High Hopes: The Boss, with a little help from Tom Morello, re-work some odds & ends from the last few years into something like a coherent album. Keith Harris says:
Bruce Springsteen was once a stringent gatekeeper, his archives brimming with unheard recordings of fan favorites that never quite fit on his official albums. But old age has loosened Bruce up: High Hopes, his seventh studio full-length in just over a decade, retools material omitted from those previous six, tacking on a few covers and a pair of noteworthy revisions. The charm of the album is that it’s an almost deliberately workmanlike effort — as though Springsteen, no longer shouldering the burden of delivering a classic each time out, has been freed up to do a job, and do it well.
The Pixies, EP 2: Every new Pixies album at this point might as well be six covers of “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” because the net sentiment is the same. Why are you doing this, guys? You’re killing me.
Blank Realm, Grassed Inn: Boy oh boy, do I love this band! Australia’s Blank Realm is fizzy and fuzzy, burying surefooted vocal melodies in buckets of scuzz. We’ve said it before, but there is something serious going on in Australia, and Blank Realm are just another in a long line of outstanding indie bands from Down Under. This one is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Ausmuteants, 100 Ausmuteants Fans Can’t Be Wrong…100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can: DID SOMEBODY SAY AUSTRALIA? I have been waiting for this record to show up here for a few weeks now, ever since I saw our buddy Zac Camanga write about them on The Styrofoam Drone. It was worth the wait! Ragged, jagged, worked-up, freaked-out post-punk, gilded by whizzing synths and jostled by rudely-elbowing guitars. So good! RECOMMENDED
Cherry Glazerr, Haxel Princess: Burger, Burger, Burger, can’t you see, sometimes your bands just hypnotize me. LA trio Cherry Glazerr bring forth rickety, pinwheel-eyed, droney indie pop, it’s sticky-sweet melodies surrounded by layers of fuzz. Sonically, it’s a little more refined than predecessor Papa Cremp (just barely), and the result kind of summons Warpaint talking in their sleep.
Hiss Golden Messenger, Bad Debt: A stunning early recording from Hiss Golden Messenger, recovered and reissued. Peter Blackstock says:
Bad Debt was neither the first record nor the highest-profile release for Hiss Golden Messenger, but it’s clearly the pivotal point of M.C. Taylor’s artistic identity. Born from the ashes of Bay Area alt-country duo the Court & Spark, Taylor’s present endeavor — more a pseudonym than a band — strips down roots affectations to revealing essentials, especially on this 2010 collection that paved the way for the well-received 2012 and 2013 albums Poor Moon and Haw, respectively.
Death Grips, Government Plates: Another abruptly “leaked” album from Sacramento’s most bat-shit band. Andrew Parks says:
In case you can’t tell by the saw-toothed synths and incessant squeals at the start of Government Plates, yes, this is the second abruptly “leaked” (and subsequently licensed, to the Universal Music subsidiary Harvest Records) Death Grips album in a little over a year. And while it’s still unclear whether we’re supposed to consider it a mixtape, soundtrack (to the film drummer Zach Hill is reportedly directing) or proper LP, there’s no point in deliberating such details with songs that scream for themselves, figuratively and literally.
Roseanne Cash, The River & the Thread: The latest from Roseanne Cash, who’s currently based in New York City, is an examination of Southern music. The songs are warm and rich — oaky and almost alt-country in approach, with taut guitars, weeping lap steel and Cash’s elegant vocal delivery guiding the songs as sure as a boat down a winding river. Guest appearances from Cory Chisel, Rodney Crowell, Kris Kristofferson, Allison Moorer, John Prine, Derek Trucks, John Paul White of The Civil Wars and more round out this exquisite collection. RECOMMENDED
Lucinda Williams, Lucinda Williams: Williams’s 1988 masterpiece, reissued. Holly George-Warren says:
The 25th anniversary reissue of Williams’s 1988 masterpiece brims over with 11 of the Louisiana-born songwriter’s earth-moving best, plus her stirring version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Asked for Water (He Gave Me Gasoline).” Accompanying the original release is a live 1989 set from the Netherlands, featuring the album’s coproducer-guitarist Gurf Morlix and drummer Donald Lindley. (A sub filled in for bassist Dr. John Ciambotti, the former member of Clover who’d quit touring to become a chiropractor.) “YA-HOO,” one spectator hollers just after the blood-drippin’ “Abandoned” — and he’s right: Williams’s emotive drawl backed by the tight combo sounds terrific throughout.
Post Tropical, the Irish troubadour James Vincent McMorrow’s self-produced sophomore effort, is a dramatic musical transformation — a lush, immersive, dramatic set mixing bits of R&B, soul, gospel and the subdued brand of UK dubstep popularized by James Blake. The album nods to D’Angelo as much as to Bon Iver and bears little resemblance to his debut.
Jennifer Nettles, That Girl: Rick Rubin-produced solo effort from Sugarland vocalist Jennifer Nettles is rougher and more pared-down than that duo’s high-gloss country sheen. Most of the songs deal with gossip in one form or another, particularly the title track — a savvy rewrite of Jolene, from Jolene’s perspective.
Painted Palms, Forever: Woozy, kaleidoscopic and strange music from this long-distance duo. Cousins Reese Donohue and Christopher Prudhomme wrote these songs by emailing ideas back and forth, eventually emerging with a record that imagines the kind of album ’60s psych-poppers like The Zombies or the Beach Boys might have made if they had access to synths.
The So So Glows, Low Back Chain Shift: New EP from much-loved Brooklyn band delivers a combination of pouty, shouty vocals and woozy, elastic guitars, making it feel like some collection of lost Television Personalities songs.
Death of Lovers, Buried Under a World of Roses: Spooky, organ-driven goth-rock on Deathwish is a nightmare-come-true (in the best sense) for fans of Faith-era Cure. Consisting of members of Whirr and Nothing (whose own excellent album will be out later this year), this one is a mid ’80s goth-pop dream come true. RECOMMENDED
You Blew It!, Keep Doing What You’re Doing: Florida band mirrors the desperate, anxious yearning of bands like Braid and the Promise Ring, topping turbulent guitars with yelping, frantic vocals. If I wanted to shortcut this blurb, I’d employ the phrase “emo revival,” and — guess what! — I wanna shortcut this blurb, so.
self, Subliminal Plastic Motives: In the future, every record will be reissued for 15 minutes. self’s Subliminal Plastic Motives came out in 1995 and belongs to that weird crew of ’90s records that crammed about a zillion genres together at once so they were kind of grungy but also noodly and “electronic” at the same time. This one never really clicked for me back then, but a lot of people loved it, and I’m not one to argue.