Rock

Chaos And The Calm (CD)

Earnest, big-hearted singer/songwriter material comes to us from James Bay, the U.K.’s latest hot export, who sounds much wiser and better than his 25 years should allow.

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Multi-Love (CD)

Unknown Mortal Orchestra continue their transition into the best funk band from another dimension with Multi-Love. The title track sounds like Stevie Wonder on a space-rock kick, as frontman Ruban Nielson raspily sings of polyamorous affairs over proggy movements and danceable beats. “Like Acid Rain’s” disintegrated R&B dazzles and melts in your ears. “The World Is Crowded’s” lockstep groove accompanies lush soul vocals singing quizzical lyrics, asking “did she blow my brains out?” like a robot waking up from a one-night stand. And “Ur Life in One Night” takes the psychedelic-leaning funk and soul of the ’70s and making it sound truly interstellar, as though Curtis Mayfield and Funkadelic records were transmitted via satellite to an alien galaxy, and this was the responding message. But however proudly UMO wave their freak flag, Multi-Love is still rooted in reality. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” begins on a film-noir opening, with cinematic horns, booty-shaking jungle drums and 007 riffs growing into curious melodies that curl into an earworm chorus on perhaps their best song yet. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s particular universe is perplexing only until you get your footing; then you’ll never want to leave. It’s truly one of the best things we’ve heard all year.

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In Colour (CD)

Producer and member of The xx Jamie Smith has just released a game-changing debut LP. Favoring melody and atmosphere over simply having a nice beat, In Colour is able to wrangle a wide variety of sounds into a living, breathing whole. Tracks like “Gosh” layer found sounds and field recordings underneath appealing synth lines. Mellower tracks like “Sleep Sound” and “SeeSaw” are terrific after-hours jams, like passing out outside a rave and letting the beats pulse through your dreams. The xx member Oliver Sim shows up to lend his narcotic vocals to the noirish “Stranger in a Room,” while fellow xx singer Romy Madley Croft smears black mascara all over the heartbreak beat of “Loud Places,” which makes wonderful use of a sample of Idris Muhammad’s “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” on the song’s rousing chorus. Though it’s a bit jarring to hear rapper Young Thug and dancehall artist Popcaan on the following track “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” the song itself is a worthy hip-hop crossover that enlivens the album as a whole. It may sound cheesy, but In Colour really does prove that trip-hop, post-punk, house and hip-hop can call reside under the same roof, as Smith expertly strings these sounds together into new nocturnal anthems. It’s not too soon to call this a new electronic masterwork.

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B'lieve I'm Goin Down... (CD)

The crown prince of stonery folk-rock and onetime War on Drug returns after breakthrough album Wakin On a Pretty Daze. Big-time production hasn’t dulled Vile’s touch one bit; it’s merely given his stellar songs their appropriate due, as he moves from chatty rockers like “Pretty Pimpin” to Western-tinged tunes like “I’m an Outlaw” and his bread and butter — cerebral, spacey folk songs like “That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say).” Vile’s willingness to switch it up a bit, on the ’70s art-pop-style “Wheelhouse,” for instance, makes for a more dynamic listen. And his surrealist wordplay comes throw more clearly than ever before, revealing evocative imagery within Vile’s Neil Young-ish ramblings — on “Pretty Pimin,” Vile doesn’t recognize his own reflection, singing, “I proceeded to brush some stranger’s teeth/But they were my teeth, and I was weightless/Just quivering like some leaf come in the window of a restroom.” Wherever Vile lands, we’re apt to follow.

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Dark Bird Is Home (CD)

The Tallest Man on Earth aka Swedish troubadour Kristian Matsson can make the most seemingly typical thing—a white guy with an acoustic guitar—sound extraordinary, thanks to his earnest voice and unbridled passion. On his fourth album, Matsson takes another cliché—the road- and world-weary album that follows the breakthroughs and touring—and makes it work like a charm, adding additional players and generous instrumentation to the fold. The full-band sound, with jangling guitars, tambourine, mandolins, woodwinds and ethereal choral harmonies, makes the darker lyrics go down smoothly ("I'm sure I'll sleep when all this goes under/but now, will I sleep alone?" he sings on “Darkness of the Dream”). It’s a balancing act: When Matsson sings of “all this fuckin’ doubt” in a cracking voice on the glorious “Sagres,” declaring “I could drink until I sleep through all the scarier times,” the sentiment is tempered by holiday orchestration that, vice versa, could sound treacly on its own. Matsson’s directness is appreciable; “What if we never see through cryin’?/Tomorrow’s wailin’ alone,” he sings on “Fields of Our Uncertainty,” and though he never answers that question, he seems at peace with the uncertainty. Dark Bird is Home may be lyrically gloomy, but its festive instrumentation and surfeit of passion offer comfort to anyone who takes his words to heart.

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another eternity (CD)

Canadian electronic duo Purity Ring push their dreamy sound outward on their second album, dialing up the hooks and production value for a more straightforward pop release. Songs like “push pull” sound cleaner than the booming tracks of their debut, Shrines, yet they’re still percussively fascinating, possessing the same kind of odd time meters, space, and layered percussive noise that make FKA Twigs such a hit. Megan James’ vocals move further from ethereal to real, particularly on “begin again,” a bass-heavy ode to breaking up and making up. James' lyrics aren’t the kind you parse for concrete detail—dream-R&B ballad “repetition” has lines that make your head spin, like “watchin’ me is like watching a fire take your eyes from you.” But it’s all part of the mesmerizing spell Purity Ring are so adept at casting, utilizing Cocteau Twins-style wordplay and vocal manipulation to seemingly set off digital sirens and synths that shoot like fireworks on “heartsight.” Other than the goth-tinged “dust hymn,” they’ve mostly ditched the witch house thing to dig into a more all-embracing sound. Despite its title, another eternity almost ends too soon, proving that adage that it’s better to leave fans wanting more. It’s a confident sophomore effort that plays up to the band’s melodic and percussive strengths while remaining just elusive enough to keep us as intrigued as ever.

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Dodge And Burn (CD)

Alison Mosshart’s vocals tear down the heavens on the Zeppelin-esque new single “I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)” by The Dead Weather, the supergroup featuring Jack White on drums. That’s just the start of an album that doubles down on its members’ strengths and explores fertile new territory. Guitarist/organist Dean Fertita (QOTSA) and bassist Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs) provide the dueling riffage that sends a track like “Buzzkill(er)” sailing deep into your skull. Mosshart and White wail through a skronky blues stomp on “Let Me Through,” while White raps his way through the sinister “Three Dollar Hat” and takes the lead on the noirish shuffle of “Rough Detective.” Lawrence’s sinister, fuzzed out bass helps set the state for the awesomely bleaked out “Mile Markers,” and Fertita’s organ pulse and serpentine guitar snarls on “Cop and Go” are nothing to mess with. With Dodge & Burn, The Dead Weather remain the most badass arena fillers around, four killer musicians unleashed and doing their thing with abandon. 

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Magnifique (CD)

Brooklyn electro-rock duo Ratatat have brought back the big beats for their fifth album. After a more experimental fourth album, Magnifique finds Ratatat hitting hard with thudding grooves that instantly elecit imagery of late nights that turn into early mornings on tracks like “Cream on Chrome.” Giorgio Moroder remains a primary influence on tunes like “Abrasive,” its arrangement twisting goofily around a four-on-the-floor beat, while “Nightclub Amnesia’s” raunchy synths hit with the irresistible feel of early Daft Punk. Guitar pyrotechnics abound, accenting the grooves on the dancier tracks and acting like little volcanic bursts in the distance of mellower jams like the island-ready, strings-and-piano-laden title track. Curious concoctions still abound, like “Drifts,” which sounds like a Hawaiian lap steel player jamming with a baseball game organist and a baby robot, but Ratatat balance their eccentricities with more straightforward bits, like the Strokesy “Pricks of Brightness.” It amounts to a return to form for Ratatat, who capture their mid-aughts glory with a new album that truly is magnificent.

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Abyss (CD)

On Abyss, Chelsea Wolfe embraces the industrial music and doom metal that have always lurked as influences and adds them as blackened flourishes to her gothy experimental electro-folk. “Carrion Flowers” writhes slowly on a corroded beat that hits like a door slamming beneath her curling and cooing voice. Groaning guitar noise introduces “Iron Moon” as Wolfe’s entrée into the metal world (save for her celebrated cover of black metal band Burzum’s “Black Spell of Destruction”). The eerie, wiry strings and sludgy power chords of “Dragged Out” become a pummeling wash at the chorus, which is reminiscent of Sunn O))), for whom she’s opened in the past. The album’s opening is bold, but echoes of her past work radiate through Abyss, on its strings, which can be achingly beautiful on tracks like “Maw” but wail like banshees on “Crazy Love,” or on the wavering synths of “After the Fall” (seemingly the only thing left over from some of the synth-driven exercises of her last album, Pain is Beauty). The biggest holdover here, besides an overall grim aesthetic, is Wolfe’s voice, which can sometimes get buried but breaks through the din to emote beautifully on “After the Fall” and “Crazy Love.” Some fans might bristle at the changes she’s made, but most will likely find the heavier sound suits Wolfe’s compositions and voice quite well. Besides being great on its own as an album, Abyss hopefully will add another chink in the armor of the seemingly closed-off and overwhelmingly male world of critically respected, heavy guitar-based music.

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Dancing At The Blue Lagoon (CD)

Cayucas make irrepressibly sunny guitar pop that suggests they’re the West Coast’s answer to Vampire Weekend. Their sophomore album may sound like it was engineered by the folks at the Ace Hotel for maximum margarita-sipping vibes, but there’s a cleverness to Cayucas’ arrangements. Single “Moony Eyed Walrus” is an irresistibly catchy tune with guitars that skip like a stone, its emotive strings serving as a nice counterpart to Zach Udin’s vocals, which flip from detached stoner to beach party emcee. They infuse songs like the title track with subtle marimbas and snaking basslines to match their island-hopping guitars, while lyrics about a certain dancing muse give the song the feel of a poolside update on “Hotel California.” Though it can be a bit on the nose when the band sings about Jacuzzi nights and Tahitian blues on “Backstroke,” the song still has a nice Afropop-leaning funk to it and vocal oddities that make the song a pleasure. And “Ditches,” a piano ballad about getting the hell out of suburbia, sees the band stretching its wings. So don’t feel bad about blasting Dancing at the Blue Lagoon all summer; you won’t be the only one doing so.

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