Absence makes the heart grow fonder, the aphorism goes. For Boards of Canada, their absence from releasing music over the past seven years has left their fans rabid for something, anything from the band. Then it came — a series of codes released through various media that, when entered into a website, revealed the release of the duo’s fourth studio album. The long wait for new music and the duo’s willful obscurity about its release isn’t manipulation; it’s warranted, as part of the greater mysterious appeal of Boards of Canada, and for the fact that Tomorrow’s Harvest features some of the band’s greatest work yet. It begins sounding like the opening of a science film on “Gemini,” pointing to their early influence from Canadian nature documentaries, but “Reach for the Dead” directly follows with more epic, ominous tones. Boards of Canada have always been able to imbue their wordless music with just enough suggestion that listeners can invoke their own meaning from the music, and as such, one can’t help but think of countless awful news stories or meaningless status updates when listening to a track like “Sick Times,” which strings ghostly recorded samples of voices speaking in the background behind minor-key tones that hint at global dread. Tomorrow’s Harvest isn’t all doom and gloom, though. Even with a name like “Cold Earth,” it still the strong scent of nostalgia that carried their In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country to great heights, and their cut-up beatwork on tracks like “Jacquard Causeway” entrances. Tomorrow’s Harvest is long and loaded with great tracks, like the scenic “Nothing is Real” and pulsating “New Seeds,” which both appear in the album’s final stretch, making it the kind of record you want to spin again immediately when it’s over to let its finer points sink in. With luck we won’t have to wait as long for another Boards of Canada release, but Tomorrow’s Harvest is the kind of record you can pore over for years, rich enough to rank highly with the rest of the band’s estimable catalog.
One of Austin’s best kept secrets, Bob Schneider is the rock star who never happened, a Ryan Adams / Jack White / Tom Petty troubadour who’s still just a cult favorite to his hugely devoted cult of fans. He’s got the looks, the operatic pipes, the soulful sensitivity and the expressiveness but somehow he’s eluded the stratosphere. Perhaps Burden of Proof will change that: his best album yet, a wondrously dreamy, strummy set where the love songs are funny, the funny songs pierce your heart, and the bummer songs make you want to go out and change the world. Get into these tunes and enjoy him while he’s still on the hush-hush.
The L.A. indie-disco powerhouse duo of Sebu Simonian and Ryan Merchant blows up an ammo dump of trash-house beats and Weezer-worthy stoner lyrics on their majestic full-length debut. It sounds destined for the big time and it already IS the big time, making its way onto commercials and dancefloors the world over. Not hard to hear why upon first casual listen; it’s hilarious, body-rockin’ party music, with slammin’ drums, pulsing bass, freaky synths and everyman lyrical awesomeness. Shades of MGMT and LCD Soundsystem, but the CC are partying on their very own planet of fun. I think my favorite is the song about Farrah Fawcett’s hair, pieced together from snippets of NPR commentators and Andre 3000 listing things he likes. Occupy yr Capital Cities tonight!
Despite the departure of guitarist Adriano Cintra last year, Brazilian party-rock band CSS soldier on. And perhaps because of his absence, fourth album Planta is a more electronically based album, eschewing some of the post-punk guitarwork that the band combined with chintzy electronics to great effect on their early material. Over glittering disco, the band seems to address their lineup change on one of the album’s strongest tracks, the Icarus-reffing “Into the Sun”: “Driving away into the sun, I’m looking forward, f*ck everyone/Leave him alone, starting a new day.” It’s a bold restatement from the band, who with the help of producer David Sitek (TV on the Radio), churn out catchy electronic pop across Planta. Rancid’s Tim Armstrong (who’s also worked with Pink, among others) co-writes single “Hangover,” which brings ska horns into the mix, doing a better No Doubt than No Doubt did on their last album. Singer Lovefoxx continues to be a driving force for the band, her accented delivery helping to carry the otherwise unremarkable “Honey,” and she shows she can actually sing pretty well behind the sass on the dreamy “Girlfriend,” channeling ’80s heroines like Cyndi Lauper and Siouxsie Sioux. And the band comes in for a good ol’ fashioned new-wave raveup on “Dynamite.” When the band is able to balance its newfound reliance on electronic shades with the charisma and energy of their early work, Planta truly shines.
The minions are back and so is Pharrell Williams, once again lending his knack for absurdly bouncy pop to the blockbuster sequel. While Steve Carell's Gru gets yanked out of retirement to help the Anti-Villain League battle a nefarious new evildoer, Pharrell and Heitor Pereira whip up a technicolor froth of party beats and joyful soul, most notably Pharrell's delightful pop tune "Happy" and the explosive Cee-Lo vehicle "Scream". Pharrell is the perfect soundtrack for a kid's movie -- he's so hyperdanceable and chipper, he's like Brenton Wood, the Monkees and the Jackson 5 rolled into one. If they weren't stuck on this soundtrack, some of these tunes could even give his Daft Punk star turn "Get Lucky" some serious competition.
Finally breaking out of Beyonce's shadow long after the breakup of Destiny's Child, Kelly Rowland uses her captivating voice and her uninhibited sexuality to bring it on home on her fourth full-length. Working with David Guetta convinced her to dive into dance music, which she does with a passion. But the standout track for those who want to know exactly where things stand with Ms. Kelly and Bey is "Dirty Laundry", a weighty, razor-sharp slow jam drama on which Rowlands professes love, envy and schadenfreude for her ex-soul sister in equal measure. Let's face it, she's the Joker to Beyonce's Batman, the poor stepchild to Beyonce's little rich girl, and none of Mrs. Jay-Z's world-dominating exploits can be enjoyed in full without hearing the other side of the story from Ms. K. Talk a Good Game stands on its own as a powerful, well-written, sultry modern soul throwdown and equally as a real-world counterbalance to the zillionaire fantasies of her better-known sis.
Finnish extreme metallers Children of Bodom were beloved in the ‘90s for their ferocious double-riffing attack and pitch-black evilosity. Their past few albums veered offroad into flailing high-velocity thrash, nonplussing many of their original fans. Fortunately their eighth full-length Halo of Blood marks a return to the solid, focussed melodic black metal sound of their early work, which will surely bring smiles and laughter to their dark fanbase. Epic, soaring riffs, blasting cannonade and evil, roaring vocals will make first-wave black metal fans feel young again. Rediscover these extreme metal pioneers as they deliver the murderous goods.
Classic rockers rejoice: Andrew Stockdale, onetime frontman of Aussie spaceblasters Wolfmother, has gone solo and taken his riffs and his wailing vocals into outer orbit! This is a tasty set of Stonesy rockers, that wastes no time in getting to the hooks: every song is instantly catchy and rides a chunky riff and a whomping groove straight back to the heavy ‘70s. Need I add, he is personally keeping the classic rock afro in circulation, in the grand tradition of Rob Tyner, Phil Lynott and Lenny Kravitz. Hitch a ride with Andrew in the Keep Moving van, it’s headed for a monster desert party from sunset to sunrise.
“I’m too black for the m*thafuckin’ underground/The white fans barely tolerate my black ass/If I embrace them, I catch a backlash from the black fans,” Murs states plainly on “Black N White Revisited,” from his collaboration with Bad Brains guitarist/singer Darryl Jennifer and editor/artist Sacha Jenkins. For artists caught between worlds, The White Mandingos is a brilliant foray into musical freedom, combining Murs’ cerebral underground hip-hop with the hardcore ferocity of Bad Brains. Jenkins’ guitars cut, shred and destroy on tracks like “Warn a Brotha,” with a great line from Murs — “f*ck the Rolling Stones, and f*ck you, too.” As with any collaboration that slams together and creates serious sparks, some of it doesn’t work — “Wifey” and “King of New York” are a little hokey, for instance. But for a risky collaboration in a straight-up rap-rock band — how un-2013 is that? — The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me feels strikingly relevant. It’s a shame Murs should even have to say it, but his words still ring true: “Does this sh*t sound black/does this sh*t sound white/Can it just be sound?”
Small Black’s lush Limits of Desire proves there’s more to the Brooklyn band than the limiting chillwave genre would suggest. Much as chums and genre-mates Washed Out and Toro y Moi did with their sophomore albums, Limits of Desire finds them significantly upping the ante, coming across like vintage U2 after taking muscle relaxers on opener “Free at Dawn,” with all of the epic melodicism and none of the melodrama that that implies. “Canoe” is brilliantly catchy with a high cooed melody and battling synths, bearing some resemblance to M83 but, you know, chilled out. “No Stranger” introduces a light dance beat, pushing the vocals further toward the front of the mix and giving Small Black one of their best singles yet. The reason it works is that while a song like “Sophie” might be your perfect poolside jam for the summer, it doesn’t aim to be just that. Particularly in the way “Sophie’s” romantic sophistication dissolves into whispered nothings that lead into the danceable “Breathless,” Small Black have a knack for elegant pacing and delivering the jams, while making it all sound effortless. Limits of Love is putting in an early bid for the perfect summery pop album of 2013.
The prequel to Monsters Inc., this finds the Monsters taking on higher education, with Billy Crystal's Mike Wazowski majoring in scaring and battling John Goodman's "Sully" Sullivan for top honors in the field. Grand old man of L.A. Tin Pan Alley Randy Newman lays down a classic soundtrack full of tunes wry, wondering, sentimental and delightful, taking a break just long enough to let the Swedish House Mafia guys blast off a tune appropriately titled "Roar". It's a good thing those Pixar films are suave and snappy enough to live up to a soundtrack this classy.
A soul singer's soul singer, that is, a sensuous diva par excellence respected by everyone from Stevie Wonder to Nancy Wilson, Maysa Leak has the range, the heart, the expression and the silky soul magic that make even fellow musicians lose their cool. She's sung with everyone from Wonderlove to Incognito, but her tenth solo record, Blue Velvet Soul, might just be her best. This finds her at the top of her game and she knows it, crooning everything from breakup to makeup tunes and a little sexy disco while she's at it ("Put It On Me"). Her voice can manipulate you up and down the emotional spectrum, pleading, praying, seducing, telling it like it is. If you don't wanna waste time with the amateurs, and you want to get straight to the finest, most luxurious soul technique around, the queen of that game is Maysa, and her newest one is serious plush.