My Bloody Valentine - mbv
One of the greatest guitar bands ever finally delivers a new album after 22 years of false starts and promises. If you're looking for another Loveless, move on. mbv is its own beast. It's an acquired taste, just like the rest of their records, starting with a familiar, melodic first third; turning to a more ethereal and beat-driven middle third, featuring Belinda Butcher's ever-heavenly vocals; and finishing with a punishing, noise-rock final third that explores the extreme scope of Kevin Shields' mangled-guitar sound. Within this scope, mbv delivers as many moments that will challenge its cult following as well as delight them. Opener “She Found Now” is as classic My Bloody Valentine as the album gets, with a soft focus wash of guitar sound, a gentle pulse of drums relegated to the background and whispered vocals lapping overhead, achieving a similar feel to Loveless’ “Sometimes.” “Only Tomorrow” aims for the gut, with chainsaw guitars not unlike those found on Isn’t Anything, which in retrospect rivals Loveless for innovative sound. The songs aren’t exactly poppy, but they offer new, thrilling hooks — the way the guitars halt like a bullet train at full speed suddenly stopping in “Only Tomorrow” ranks high in the band’s moments of pop mastery. “Who Sees You” rounds out the album’s first third with scenic, shiver-inducing guitars that shame any followers in their wake — plenty of bands have dissected the My Bloody Valentine guitar sound, but few have been able to wield it in the unconventional, multidimensional ways Shields does, turning odd directions, doubling back and somehow coming together in a way that can’t be fully comprehended at first, but is eminently intoxicating. The record gets progressively more difficult from there, but fans will grow to love songs like the watery “If I Am” and especially the bouncing “New You,” a shoegaze pop song in the proud tradition of Loveless’ “Soon” with a heavy fuzz-bass thud that knocks you flat. “In Another Way” grinds its guitars into a blender of sounds that emerges with a sweet, instrumental portion that sends the song sailing. “Nothing Is” loops brutal, chugging guitars with a heavy jungle beats that doesn’t relent for three-and-a-half minutes, leading into closer “Wonder 2,” which sounds like the inside of tornado. With spiraling arrangements that draw you in on multiple listens, mbv is subtly rewarding and offers new revelations with each listen.
David Bowie - The Next Day
Deluxe CD $15.98
LP $32.98 [out 3/26]
From the first moments of The Next Day, on its blistering title track, you know this is classic David Bowie. Longtime producer Tony Visconti helps get Bowie back on track after a 10 year absence from making new music with a sound that references classic Bowie albums, from the skronky Berlin-era guitars on “Dirty Boys” to that album cover, which crosses out Bowie’s iconic Heroes cover with a bold white box. That album cover is interesting — The Next Day doesn’t run from Bowie’s past and attempt leaps into electronic music, as did his late ’90s albums, but it doesn’t completely revel in old sounds. Particularly, on first single “Where Are We Now?” Bowie sounds relaxed as he explores a sound that touches on his own work on albums like Station to Station, the sort of early post-rock fashioned by Bowie subjects Talk Talk, and modern-day dream pop. Nothing about “Where Are We Now?” comes off as stale, though; it sounds like his logical next step artistically, and suggests that even at 66, on his 30th album, Bowie has new sounds yet to uncover. While Bowie hasn’t lost much of his swagger, his voice carries a new weariness that causes it to break beautifully on spectral ballad “Valentine’s Day,” though he pulls out the stops for the experimental weirdness of “If You Can See Me,” which hurtles into strange directions and time signatures as Bowie belts like Bono before getting guttural and processed like The Knife; and he gets back to his glam-rock roots on songs like the scorching “(You Will) Set the World on Fire.” If anyone has made an album that shows how a legendary artist can grow old gracefully while retaining the adventurousness that catapulted him to artistic heights, Bowie has done it with The Next Day.
Girls Names – The New Life
The Girls Names story is a little like reading a DIY 101 for bands — frontman Cathal Cully formed the band to support Wavves at a 2009 show, despite having never been in a band, and enlisted friends who had to be taught their instruments. But their debut, Dead to Me, was a scrappy delight of post-punk influenced lo-fi dream pop, and their sophomore album, The New Life, is such a mature, assured affair, their humble beginnings are all but forgotten. Instead of going for the jugular, Girls Names songs build slowly with eerie, echoed chords, vocals just out of reach and an insistent, primal beat driving the whole thing. Songs like “Drawing Lines” gently unfurl but aren’t boring — the song’s fuzzy surf-rock riff in its final portion surprises but feels earned. “Hypnotic Regression” does forebears Echo & the Bunnymen proud with cleverly layered guitarwork, built on a strong and simple frame, and Cully intones “this is my last confession” with new confidence. When you wish they’d stop moping a bit and rock out, they do, on the exciting last portion of the otherwise dreamy “Occultation” and in the epic title track. Smiths, Talk Talk and Cure fans can rejoice that one of those bands’ followers has really gotten it right on The New Life.
The Delfonics - Adrian Younge presents the Delfonics
For the first Delfonics album in many years, the legendary soul band’s singer, William Hart, teams with producer Adrian Younge (Ghostface Killah, Venice Dawn), who writes dreamy compositions with era-appropriate production for the group, now in its 80s. Just as the group once performed iconic songs like “La-La (Means I Love You)” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time),” becoming sampled by the likes of The Fugees and Missy Elliott and being used notably in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, Younge presents Hart with songs which could have been released in the ’70s, during the group’s prime. Amazingly, Hart’s unique, high-register drawl is intact. He warbles emotively through the darkly beautiful “Stop and Look (And You Have Found Love),” which I’ll stop short of calling a new classic for the band (but if it isn’t, it’s damn close). Younge and his band give the Hart a nasty, surf-soul ballad to croon over in “Lost Without You,” which starts like a 007 theme song before panning out into psychedelic soul, with stirring drum breaks, horns and subtle sitar. It’s touches like these that keep Adrian Young Presents the Delfonics from being merely a nostalgic trip or way for a producer to work with one of his heroes; Younge truly understands Hart’s voice, what works and what doesn’t, and he successfully adds new shades to the classic Delfonics sound while honoring their classic era. Hart croons like a man a quarter of his age in the touching “Silently”; he drops a register to sing out of falsetto on “To Be Your One,” the result equally alluring; and when he teams with a female vocalist on “Just Love,” they emerge with a gorgeous funk-soul ballad you could hear adding choice ambience to Jackie Brown 2. To say it’s seductive listening would be an understatement.
Devendra Banhart - Mala
Though Devendra Banhart coos “get on the dancefloor” on the brief opener “Golden Girls” of his eighth album, Mala, the album is a more subdued affair than some of his previous work, preferring summery acoustic strums and hushed vocals. What cuts through on Mala are his lyrics and melodies. On “Your Fine Petting Duck,” a light, ’50s pop arrangement is undercut by atonal female vocals and Banhart’s self-deprecating diatribes (“If he ever treats you bad/Please remember how much worse I treated you”). He’s certainly toned down the vocal tics that made him come off like Marc Bolan’s long-lost son on albums like Rejoicing in the Hands, instead relegating them to subtle coloring on songs like the lovely, electro-tinged “FÃ¼r Hildegard Von Bingen.” Banhart’s focus seems to be on making an emotional impression, either through his lyrics or gorgeous arrangements — “Never Seen Such Good Things” has such a warm, good-times vibe to its beachside folk that you almost miss how elegantly put together the song is, starting with a skittering two-chord verse and moving into a beautifully layered chorus that makes the most of swimming electronics and reverbed guitar without overdoing anything. Mala is occasionally too subtle for its own good, and you miss some of Banhart’s antics. But he hasn’t totally mellowed with age, delivering some of his trademark strange vocals on album closer “Taurobolium” that waver in competition to oscillating synths in the background. Banhart sings that there’s “so much desire left in me,” and you’re left wanting to listen to Mala all over again to experience its warmth and catch its nuances.
Various Artists - Sound City: Real To Reel
A heavenly cast of musicians (Stevie Nicks, Trent Reznor, Paul McCartney, current members of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Queens of the Stone Age and former members of Nirvana, to name a few) help Dave Grohl pay homage to Sound City Studios and its analog recording console, the Neve, for this soundtrack to Grohl’s documentary on the studio, Sound City: Real to Reel.
Spencer Day - The Mystery Of You
The jazz singer gets some inspiration from a recent heartbreak and film noir and Spaghetti Western soundtracks on his fourth album.
Biffy Clyro - Opposites
The sixth album from the Scottish trio is a double album, featuring a poppier first half and heavier second disc.