Jawbreaker – Bivouac [20th Anniversary Edition]
Unlike some of its alt-rock contemporaries (call it emo or whatever, Bivouac is firmly 1991 in sound), Jawbreaker’s Bivouac is ripe for reissue because A) it can’t be found in your average record store, B) it was overlooked during its time and C) it has aged better than your average album of the era. Beginning with the roaring “Shield Your Eyes,” the album still hits hard, thanks to Blake Schwarzenbach razor vocals and the band’s scrappy attack. “Chesterfield King” echoes the boozy swagger of their elders in The Replacements, while “Sleep’s” sheet of guitars and hushed melodies place them as both Husker Du’s heir and as a band making music akin to their shoegazing brethren across the pond. For new listeners, especially those interested in some of the roots of emo, the brutal “Parabola” and the title track, which balances delicate passages with high-octane chunks of ferocious noise for 10 breathtaking minutes, should be elucidating in and of themselves. If only emo had stayed as good as Bivouac, we’d all be better off! The LP has four fewer tracks than the CD (as it did in the original pressing); the Chesterfield King EP also is reissued, including those four tracks (“Tour Song,” “Face Down,” “You Don’t Know…” and “Pack it Up”).
Green Day – ¡Tre!
Some critics have seemed to be befuddled by Green Day’s recent trilogy of albums, beginning with ¡Uno! y ¡Dos! y finalmente ¡Tre! Personally I like the tossed-off quality to these albums, which is not to say the songwriting isn’t top-notch — in fact, it’s the best it’s been since the beloved (but IMO overrated) American Idiot. Fast and furious suits Green Day, and ¡Tre! might be the best of the trio after ¡Uno!, which had some failed pop experiments, and some of the garage-rock posturing of ¡Dos! The album begins with “Brutal Love,” a piano ballad that sets the tone for an album whose loose nature belies the fact that it’s largely indebted to classic rock. “Missing You” is primo Green Day — a few Clash-inspired chords moving into a Pixies-style surge that makes pop-punk seem necessary again. “8th Avenue Serenade” rocks hard on a nostalgic alt-rock riff, while “Amanda” similarly looks to the Pixies for inspiration, but its melody and arrangement are some of the strongest on the record. “Drama Queen” shuffles with a fun, Beatles-esque feel, while “Dirty Rotten Bastards” makes a virtue once again of their Clash worship, charging for a full six-and-a-half minutes without losing an ounce of momentum. It’s a ragtag collection, but for those of us looking for Green Day to give us less concept and more rock ‘n’ roll abandon, ¡Tre! is the ticket.
Bruno Mars – Unorthodox Jukebox
Bruno Mars broke through in 2010 with Doo-Wops & Hooligans, a fine (if safe) debut soul-pop record. Far from a sophomore slump, Mars livens things up with his second record, one that should pull in more than kids and moms but that should still satiate those same kids and moms that fell in love with him in the first place. “I got a body full of liquor with a cocaine kicker and I’m feelin’ like I’m 30 feet tall,” he sings on the electro-funk of “Gorilla,” perhaps the clearest sign that Mars wants to be taken more seriously as an adult musician. Mars needn’t beat his chest, though — the pitch-perfect analog soul of “Locked Out of Heaven” speaks louder, easily his most beguiling track to date. Producer Mark Ronson (of Adele and Amy Winehouse fame, among others) has a hand in that, though he doesn’t appear on the similarly minded but more 80s R&B-influenced “Treasure,” a sign that for all of Mars’ stylistic jumps, he knows the importance of keeping an album cohesive. His clearest influence in this regard is Michael Jackson — Mars shows the same refreshing lack of pretension, eagerness to please and ability to combine R&B, rock, soul, gospel, dance and a number of other influences into an appealing concoction. Knock him if you must, but Mars is the real deal. There just isn’t anyone in the radio pop landscape doing this as well as he is.
The Game – Jesus Piece
From the outset it’s clear that The Game isn’t messing around on Jesus Piece. After the lackluster R.E.D. Album, Jesus Piece begins with Dario Argento film style keys and heavy rhymes by Game and Meek Mill on “Scared Now.” 2 Chainz and Rick Ross lend their vocals to the Kanye West-ish “Ali Bomaye,” moving into the title track, which does feature West as well as Common in a welcome cameo on a skittering track full of reflection and gratitude for his career as well as to Jesus, stating the album’s religious themes. This comes into play on the next track, the cloud rap-style “Pray,” one of several tracks successfully finding Game updating his style to reflect current trends. Occasionally Jesus Piece is too trend-hoppy and riddled with guest spots such that Game himself is a bit lost in the mix, but for the most part Jesus Piece succeeds through its thematic consistency — the bells on “Church,” for instance, producing a fine counterpoint for its lyrics’ conflicted nature — and for its lyrical content, which highlights the hypocrisy in living a gangster lifestyle while attempting to stay true to Christian values. Not only does Jesus Piece proves Game is still relevant musically, it proves he can stay current while having something interesting to say, as well.
The Hobbit Soundtrack
Deluxe Edition CD $22.98
Special Edition Download $17.98-$22.98
Without having seen a bit of the film, I can say The Hobbit’s soundtrack by Howard Shore (who also wrote the music for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film series) musters up the concept of great endeavor, of the struggle and adventure at the heart of The Hobbit the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. This great purpose is given on “My Dear Frodo,” a track full of omen and purpose, featuring choral vocals and booming drums that echo the sounds of epic warfare. The sounds grow lighter and more mercurial on “Old Friends,” painting a vivid picture of The Shire at the story’s outset. The tracks grow more purposeful, with darker tones interspersed, as they continue. Deeply intoned vocals appear in “Misty Mountains,” a beautiful, elegiac song that calls to mind ancient and ritualistic forms of music, consisting only of vocals. Similarly, “An Ancient Enemy” conjures its namesake with deep choral vocals and foreboding strings. Kiwi Singer Neil Finn (Crowded House, Split Enz) appears for the medieval “Song of the Lonely Mountain,” which Finn said he tried to make sound “dwarven.” With its chanted vocals, percussion that clangs like a sword and on the heels of Shore’s epic soundtrack, you’ll want to draw swords against the hordes yourself — at least figuratively speaking.
Metallica: Quebec Magnetic (DVD and Blu-ray)
This Metallica live disc captures the two World Magnetic shows in Quebec City in the fall of 2009. The set list was picked by fans, and all the songs played at those two shows are included on these discs.
Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights [10th Anniversary Edition]
It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since the release of Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights, an album which at first seemed just a member of the pack of rock revivalists but which in time has become seen as a classic of the era. The songs have been cleaned a bit, with the vocals more clearly coming through the deep drive of songs like “PDA,” for instance. This release is also a chance to pick it up on vinyl, if you’re so inclined to have it (I know I am!). A second disc includes “Specialist,” a B-side strong enough to have made the album, plus demos versions of songs from the first and second Interpol albums and one that previously went unreleased songs as well. A DVD includes Interpol’s early music videos and live cuts from the early ’00s. (Release date was delayed a week.)
Local Natives - Breakers
"Breakers" presents a bigger, more textured sound for Local Natives, while retaining the rambunctious energy that made their first album such a delight. It's from their upcoming album Hummingbird (preorder the LP here), which is due Jan. 29.
Big Boi - Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors
Deluxe CD $18.98
Unwound - Live Leaves
The late, great post-hardcore band Unwound culls live cuts from 2001 while touring behind Leaves Turn Inside You.