D.C. based dub unit SOJA’s latest release takes a glossier approach to the reggae styling they are noted for. Produced by the multiple Grammy winning Jamaican producer Supa Dupa (Eminem, Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Dirty Heads), Amid The Noise And Haste is full of pop friendly party jams and smooth grooves for 420 enthusiasts. With collaborations from Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Michael Franti, and Collie Buddz, this 13-track full length claims to be the first of its kind to be recorded in its entirety by the engineer. The result is the most polished effort from the band to date. For those who want to hear these songs live, SOJA is currently on the Soulshine Summer Tour in select U.S. and European cities.
After a five-year hiatus, Brooklyn based indie rockers Bishop Allen return with their third full length, Lights Out . Not straying from the mid-noughties formula of previous releases, Lights Out is melodically rich and full of the same breezy rainbow rock fans have come to expect. The lyrical content may be a little bleaker, with lines like “Nothing and nowhere and no one is not a pretender,” the music continues to be sprightly and enhanced by nostalgic boy/girl harmonies that channel the likes of Camera Obscura or Belle & Sebastian. Despite the years it took to put this out, Bishop Allen are not experimenting with anything new, rather, they are becoming more masterful at polishing the sunny pop nuggets of yore.
Led by Ishmael Butler (formerly ‘Butterfly’ of Digable Planets) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire, Seattle duo Shabazz Palaces take hip-hop out of the streets and into the astral plane. Their 2011 debut Black Up was a critically acclaimed space age masterpiece with fragmented beats over dark, hallucinatory soundscapes. The follow up, Lese Majesty , continues where Black Up left off while sprawling into other dimensions of sound and space. Featuring 18 songs grouped into seven suites, the album expands rather than drags, showcasing Tendai’s dilated rhythmic mastery and Ishmael’s inimitable way with words. With a playing time of 45 minutes, Lese Majesty takes us back to an age when musicians embraced the long player format. Each song beautifully melts into the next one to create a mood instead of just another hit. Like a galactic sonic roller coaster, Shabazz Palaces are challenging and expanding the hip-hop landscape, taking it to the moon and beyond.
It’s been over three years since folk darlings (and siblings) Angus and Julia Stone joined forces to put out a record. The two of them have been enjoying successful careers independent of one another and had no intention of working musically together again. That was until legendary producer Rick Rubin (Metallica, Adele, Red Hot Chili Peppers) contacted Julia out of the blue about wanting to work with the duo. The result is their most compelling release to date. Working collaboratively on songwriting for the first time, this new self–titled album is a departure from the siblings' folksy MOR pop of the past. It’s more dynamic and blues influenced. Leading track “Heart Beats Slow” sets the tone for the entire album with sweet harmonies and rich instrumentation while “Death Defying Acts” showcases the powerful fragility of Julia’s voice channeling Billy Holiday.
Drawing from multiple genres ranging from saccharine soft rock to popular hip-hop, Swedish narco-pop duo JJ (all caps now) has always managed to appropriate conflicting sounds to create a unique whole that’s all their own. With their third release, V , they have taken this formula and added bigger production, more drama, romance, strings, and a grandiose sound that shows their growth as musicians and collaborators. While experimental in nature and often shape shifting from tropical house to shoegaze to folk to hip hop, V can feel a bit unfocused at times but when it settles down to relax, it contains some of JJ’s most intoxicatingly dark and ethereal dream pop to date.
In Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch , Dr. John (aka Mac Rebennack) joins forces with the Blind Boys of Alabama, Shemekia Copeland, Bonnie Rait, and other leading vocalists and guest trumpeters to pay tribute to hometown hero, Louis Armstrong. Inspired by a dream in which Armstrong visited Rebennack, the album covers over a dozen classics that bring the essence of Satchmo into the present. Highlights include a funky rendition of “Mack The Knife,” the silky vocal styling of Anthony Hamilton in “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,” and the gorgeously emotive gospel singing of Ledisi and the McCrary Sisters in “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen.” With lively performances and superb trumpeting, Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch will appeal to both fans of Dr. John and Satchmo enthusiasts.
Before the release of the Gaslight Anthem’s fifth full-length, Get Hurt , singer/guitarist Brian Fallon warned fans not to expect the same Springsteen influenced blue-collar punk that made them one of New Jersey’s most popular rock acts. Instead, Get Hurt is a darker and more restrained effort. With a new record label and new producer, this has a more nuanced feel than previous albums. While the anthemic choruses and overwrought rock sensibilities can be found in tracks like “1,000 Years” and “Rollin’ And Tumblin’,” this is very much a cathartic breakup record drenched in experimentation and emotional profundity.
22 year-old New Orleans based guitarist and singer Benjamin Booker’s S/T debut is a bourbon spiked sonic cocktail that mixes swampy New Orleans blues with fuzzy garage rock hooks. The result sounds like a more polished version of the Gories paying homage to Hasil Adkins. Heavily influenced by the Gun Club, T-Rex, and Blind Willie Johnson, Booker sings with a vocal range and intensity beyond his years; enhanced only by his fevered guitar playing and the thunderously caveman drum styling of Max Norton. Together these two have created an electrifying take on blues-haunted punk that blows more seasoned acts out of the miry waters.
It has been over two years since the release of The Rosebuds' very personal and autobiographical break-up album, Loud Planes Fly Low . Since then, duo Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp have spent two years apart on opposite coasts working on other creative endeavors. They came together again last spring to work on their sixth full-length album, Sand + Silence . Produced by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon (who also plays guitar and synth) and featuring Matt McCauglan on drums and Nick Sangborn on bass, most of the tracks were recorded live in Vernon's April Base Studio. This newer approach gives the record a feeling of elasticity that is evident in numbers like "Blue Eyes" (a breezy sonic lollipop) and the darker and more melancholic, "In My Teeth." While each song exudes the same catchy intensity The Rosebuds are noted for, it also showcases the growth of Howard and Crisp's songwriting skills while celebrating that celebratory feeling of new beginnings with old friends.
Delicately balancing melancholy dreaminess with upbeat tempos, Brooklyn based post-rockers Bear In Heaven follow 2012’s I Love You, It’s Cool with the more scaled down Time Is Over One Day Old . Like previous efforts, all the drama of their synth heavy, spaced out sound collages is present here but there is also a certain urgency and exciting dark energy brought on by the galvanizing percussion of new drummer, Jason Nazary. Much like the title suggests, Bear In Heaven are playing with ideas of time and space, each track interweaving with the next one, creating a sort of brooding, timeless celestial soundscape before fading away.
The legendary Smokey Robinson’s anticipated release Smokey & Friends is full of stars but not many surprises. Produced by American Idol’s Randy Jackson and featuring some of Robinson’s biggest hits, each track is reimagined with new arrangements and different vocalists. Most of the renditions here are by the book and feature performances by Elton John, Steven Tyler, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Sheryl Crow and other big names in music. Opening number “Tracks Of My Tears” is enhanced by the nearly unrecognizable but powerful vocals of Elton John while “You Really Got A Hold On Me” showcases a very blues-rock influenced performance from Steven Tyler. Other highlights include Mary J. Blige doing a spirited version of “Being With You” and James Taylor adding some country flair to “Ain’t That Peculiar.”
Finnish folk singer Mirel Wagner creates the kind of dark lullabies that would make Michael Gira of Swans feel right at ease. Using minimalistic guitar pickings and her haunting voice, Wagners’ music is stripped to the bone while lyrically embracing the macabre. Her sophomore release, When The Children See The Light Of Day , continues on the grim and haunting themes present in 2011’s self-titled album. Produced by Finnish electronic musician Vladislav Delay, there are a bit more layers here but Delay is also a master at knowing what to leave out. The result sounds completely timeless. The album’s opener “What’s Underneath The Floor” (spoiler alert: the devil’s tongue) sets the tone for a moody and sexy album that is the sonic equivalent of romantic horror stories being whispered in the moonlight.