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.
After a five-year hiatus, Basement Jaxx has returned with their seventh studio album, Junto . The album opens with the words, “Lords, ladies and lowlifes, welcome to the world of Basement Jaxx!” While the intent is noted, the music that follows seems more suited for lords, ladies and the bourgeois. Heavily Latin flavored, each track on Junto combines styles ranging from tropicalia to trap to dancehall. Even though Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton are still genre hopping and focusing on catchy party anthems, there is a feeling of maturity and sincerity to this work that separates it from its younger contemporaries.
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.
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.
Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis gives us a taste of his softer and more vulnerable side with his third solo release, Tied To A Star . Stripped down of the fuzzed out guitars and wall of noise that envelops him in Dinosaur Jr., this album emphasizes Mascis’ skills as a songwriter and guitarist. Acoustically driven, the melodies manage to be both loose and intricate, giving the record a quiet beauty that brings out the fragility of Mascis’ falsetto vocals and the mastery of his fast paced finger picking skills. Features guest appearances by Chan Marshall, Pall Jenkins, Ken Maiuri, and Mark Mulcahy.
After extensive touring and the success of 2012’s four-track Heart of A Lion EP, Sydney’s indie-pop darlings The Griswolds have finally released their first full-length release, Be Impressive . Fans of overproduced sonic candy will find this effort quite impressive. Formulaic in nature and bright as the sun, The Griswolds stick to the tropical, percussive, and happy pop hooks that have gained them popularity. Despite the upbeat nature of the record, there are some slightly more melancholy moments in tracks like “Beware The Dog”, “Thread The Needle” and Live This Nightmare.” If you enjoy sugary pop with a little darkness within, this debut is the sonic equivalent to getting to the center of a Tootsie Pop.
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.
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.
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.
Influenced by “nature, birds, and sunrise,” the title of Rustie’s sophomore release Green Language can be translated as the language of birds ; a mystical, divine and magical language used by birds to communicate to the initiated. According to Rustie’s press release, Green Language refers to “a language that’s non-dualistic, that speaks to you directly to your emotions without the mind interfering with the message.” It’s a fitting title considering the dizzying and often times disjointed feeling of the record. Expanding on the Day-Glo electronic maximalism of his 2011 debut Glass Swords , there are elements of trap, bounce, R&B, hard house and synthetic prog-rock mixed in as well as contributions from Danny Brown, Gorgeous Children, and D Double E. The result can feel a bit unfocused at times but Rustie’s electronic experimentation and mastery at ambience makes this a solid contribution to glitch hop.
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.
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.”