More pummeling country-fried Southern garage boogie from Walston & co., on this, their sixth album. Glimpses of the Faces or Ziggy Stardust appear here, with pounding tense-knuckled piano and wailing falsetto background vocals driving narrative stompers through fuzzed-out swamp territory, equal parts elegant gleaming white plantation columns (there's a healthy dose of scraggle-voice rock dandy here, a la Mott the Hoople) and occasionally Sabbath-indebted sludge-riffage oozing from the foundation. An impressive example of what a band can do with just their own hands, minds, and butts, Essential Tremors is a romantic throwback to an era where not just art-rock got to be ambitious, but when a winking undercurrent of concise and theatrical glitter beneath a layer of down-home dirt was just as subversive and difficult as something more explicitly academic.
The word "pleasant" can be used in a negative connotation when discussing music. However, in the case of Midlake, their music is pleasant in the truest sense, creating an immediate pleasure with their trance-inducing soft rock. The arrangements roll through comfortably, intricate yet never feeling contrived, making tasteful aesthetic references of Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd, while their manly harmonies make all of the band's psychedelic touches go down smoothly. Yet because of that quality, Midlake's songs can sneak up behind you and knock you flat when you least expect it, like how "The Old and the Young" builds from a soft thump to spine-tingling choruses, or how "Corruption" moves from billowy to ominous and back in a breath. Antiphon doesn't shake you by the shoulders but rather whispers in your ear, getting under your skin before you even know it. Give it a listen and it just might do the same for you.
Solange Knowles’ bud and producer Blood Orange (aka Dev Hynes) helped her make the True EP, one of the finest R&B releases in recent memory, and now he’s got his own album, Cupid Deluxe , to keep the smooth vibes going. In truth Hynes has been plugging away for years, first as Lightspeed Champion and as part of Test Icicles, but his recent production work has drawn more attention to him than ever before. And with good reason: everything Hynes touches seems to be impossibly smooth, channeling memories of ’80s synth-funk and classic soul into something that feels undeniably modern. “Chamakay” utilizes vibraphone and jazzy bass to set a nocturnal stage for Hynes’ breathy delivery, akin to The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye. “You’re Not Good Enough” is good enough to have been a single for any of his various collaborators, riding on a slinky funk riff and heartfelt dueting vocals. Everything comes together gorgeously on “Chosen,” a sultry ballad with Disney-quality vocals, floating horns like something out of Roxy Music’s Avalon and loads of sexy atmosphere. Remember Cupid Deluxe come Valentine’s Day—it’s a deal-closer of a record.
Jake Bugg may be a wee 19 years of age, but he seems to be plugging along at twice the clip of his contemporaries without a care of what other artists are doing around him. On his second album of the year, the Rick Rubin-produced Shangri La , the handsome young Brit digs hard into Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and a bunch of other not-particularly-hip-right-now influences to come up with a poppin’ folk-rock sound that is both contemporary and blows a lot of other radio sludge out of the water. “Slumville Sunrise” is positively twangy, with Bugg delivering a nasally load of words over a country chug before it explodes into a gloriously ragged rockabilly solo. “What Doesn’t Kill You” dispenses with quick punk riffs, while “Me and You” is an acoustic jangler that traces the steps of his heroes, but Bugg comes up with a masterful tune of his own (it’s here that he’s most reminiscent of another, once young and prolific troubador, Ryan Adams). He’s still got a ways to go before he’s as distinctive as his forebears, but for now, Bugg has mastered a balance of grit and grace that makes Shangri La an incredibly appealing listen.
You don’t have to be a fan of Britpop greats The Stone Roses to appreciate Made of Stone , the documentary film about the band’s 2012 reunion after a 16-year silence. But it doesn’t hurt, either—anyone who grew up spinning the band’s self-titled 1989 debut record, an instant classic of madchester-infused jangly guitar pop, should find kinship in those interviewed when the band announced reunion shows in their hometown of Manchester. Fans leave their jobs midday to receive free tickets to the band’s first show in more than a decade, their teenage excitement peering through the responsible, middle-aged veneer most of them have cultivated, and that energy is contagious as viewers wait to see them pull off the seemingly impossible—reunion shows and a tour. Archival footage gives a nice sense of history as a refresher or for those new to the band, and we’re whisked away on tour with the band as they struggle to keep it together. Plenty of live shots, including complete songs, make Made of Stone a must-have for fans, even if they sap up the running time. By the end, you’ll be singing along in your seat and cheering for Ian Brown and his mates to blow people away at Manchester’s Heaton Park. It’s the next best thing to having been there.
It may seem odd on paper, but Erasure’s twinkling synthesizers, skyward melodies, optimism and elegant soundscapes have always been akin to holiday music. Snow Globe collects some new originals by the duo, plus Erasured versions of holiday classics. The album’s opening tracks mostly roll through as any new Erasure album would, making it of interest to any fan of the band. “Bells of Love’s” synths move gracefully, while Andy Bell subverts the holiday song format—“I don’t believe in your religion, I only know what I can see,” he sings declaratively, before putting a positive spin on things, singing “so many sad, so many lonely, it’s only love that sets us free.” “Make It Wonderful” gives us a big, synthy anthem in the vein of classic Erasure hits, while “Loving Man” brings in a disco beat for a song about being grateful and giving—deftly incorporating holiday sentiment while Erasure stay true to themselves, singing “I’m a boy, I’m a girl who has everything.” Meanwhile, the covers are reasonably faithful—“Silent Night” retains its icy beauty; “The Christmas Song” has a jaunty electro beat and squirting synths to give a new wave spin; and “White Christmas” is sung over raindrops and tones that fall like snow. Yet Erasure also realize the holidays are complicated, and all the emotions they bring out aren’t always nice, which is why the album’s second half features tracks with not so happy-go-lucky titles like “Bleak Midwinter,” “Blood on the Snow” and “There’ll Be No Tomorrow.” However, save for the pretty stark “Blood on the Snow,” even these songs carry a beauty unique to Erasure that will endear them to longtime fans, and the covers will make a nice album to play around grandma and the kids, while the darker stuff should go over their heads. For a balanced holiday album you can actually stomach, shake things up this season with Snow Globe .
The inscrutable James Ferraro returns with one of the strangest of his 70+ releases to date, a Britten meets RnB pastiche dedicated to the underbelly of America's toughest city. It's uneasy listening. On "Fake Pain," he deploys a male diva sample as a drum and bass producer would, but throws things off with his own autotuned improvisations. "Stuck 1," "2" and "3" are interludes presenting the city as quicksand. "Cheekbones" focuses on unhealthy young love while "Nushawn" is inspired by the grimmest of half-remembered news stories. In Ferraro's NYC , somber figures amble under an elevated train platform in a stasis of permanent midnight.
It's been a busy year for Archy Marshall, the young Londoner formerly known as Zoo Kid who has now blown up globally as art-damaged pseudo-soul crooner, King Krule. This busy-ness is due, of course, to the crushing weight of his ultra-heavy debut, 6 Feet Beneath The Moon , a combination of deep sea aquatic trip hop, dungeon jangle croonery, and a spacious soulful jazz that has more in common with the pioneering delicacy of Talk Talk's late-period post-rock than it does with music played on bandstands. Exceptional, beautiful, strange, haunting, a massive debut.
Lissie’s in a precarious position. Her cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” helped make her an Internet star, sampled brilliantly on Schoolboy Q’s “Hands on the Wheel,” yet her bread-and-butter is pop-oriented folk-rock. Back to Forever successfully mashes her personas, starting with the shuffling, radio-friendly “The Habit,” which sounds like The Killers fronted by a county chanteuse. She channels “Stand Back”-era Stevie Nicks on “Further Away (Romance Police)” and even kind of tries her hand at rapping on “Shameless.” But Lissie’s a country girl at heart, and her ballads, like “They All Want You,” are real tearjerkers. The girl’s got it all—listen to Back to Forever and hear for yourself.
The Basher has cleaned up his act. Heck, he's even releasing a Christmas album. Lowe, who, for the better part of the nineties-and-on, has reimagined himself as a dapper and earnest songwriter with a crewcut (nearly full circle to his Brinsley Schwarz days), plays Santa in his delivery of this elegant album of Christmas standards, originals, and odd secrets unearthed by Lowe's own ever-twisted mind, buried just beneath the smell of freshly shampooed hair. Expect folk and countrified gentle swing, recalling a shimmering snowy rockabilly guest appearing on a Rat Pack special, where the Rat Pack gets tied up by aging power-pop royalty.
Following up her much-lauded and Mercury Prize nominated debut, the UK's current premier art-rock export releases One Breath , another collection of tense and intricate songs centered around Calvi's own remarkable guitar work. Sounding something like a cross between Julia Holter's recent output (albeit less jazzy), the Dirty Three, and more rock-oriented 20th century polyrhythmic minimalists like Branca & Chatham, Calvi churns out a record that is distinctly "pop-rock" in its directionality (there's little reason why this shouldn't appeal to adventurous fans of Arcade Fire or St. Vincent) while being almost utterly boundless in its scope and ambition. Like Holter, Calvi is an instrumental and compositional prodigy, adapting methodologies of classical music and chamber-jazz to produce New Rock that still sounds like New Rock, distinguished by its compositional ambition and instrumental virtuosity. That is to say, compostional ambition, here, does not mean a power ballad with a few key changes, and instrumental virtuosity does not mean finger-tapping or sweep-picking. Not to say that these methods are in any way less dignified, they're simply not what Calvi's doing. What Calvi IS doing is beginning to carve out a niche for her experiments to come. Despite just how good it is, I do not believe that One Breath will be Calvi's best or even second best record. The ambition latent in all of her music is astounding and watching it unfold is the kind of narrative music fans dream of, deserve, and so rarely get.
Follow up to the classic, preposterously dense and playful sci-ri rap opera concept album Deltron 3030 , released in the year 2000 by an alternative hip hop supergroup consisting of Del the Funkee Homosapien, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala. Event II finds the group basically picking up where the last album left off, telling paranoid tales of a future world gone corrupt and insensitive, again loaded with guests of all shapes and sizes, looking like a scene from the Mos Eisley cantina. At one point David Cross asks, "You gonna finish that hover sandwich?" Once again, the trio is spinning an entire world, and again, shockingly, the results are incredibly cohesive, and the world is totally immersive. Zach De La Rocha, Lonely Island, Damon Albarn, Black Rob, and Mike Patton all stop by to play various weird characters. Unlike the first Deltron record, Del is the primary rapper, with most of the guests this time around being singers or more narrative performers, giving the record a more consistent narrative voice and not the sprawling city map of 3030 .