Oct 2017

Thrum (CD)

Joe Henry’s gift for sparse, lovely American-tinged songs is front-and-center on his latest, Thrum. The songs are languidly paced, rooted in another slower time, where bluesmen rambled country roads and made deals with the devil to become artistic greats. This is the lineage from which Henry seemingly descends. Yet, there’s a complexity to his songs, both lyrically and melodically, that gives his work real staying power. Thrum is a quietly lovely gut punch.

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Ken (CD)

"Sky's Grey," the opener of ken, the 12th album by Canadian indie outfit Destroyer, starts with an anxiety ridden, clave-like beat that immediately fills the listener with both unease and curiosity. Soon a lazy piano starts playing sporadic chords, punctuated by loose bass drum hits. Singer/frontman Dan Bejar, who is also known as a guitarist and vocalist for The New Pornographers, begins the first verse with a road worn sentimentalism straight out of the beginning of a Broadway show tune. The lyrics are surreal, yet detailed enough to evoke an atmosphere, an intention, and an attitude. "Give up acting? Fuck no, I'm just starting to get the good parts," Bejar narrates, evoking a "show must go on" perseverance against a backdrop of gloom, and riding a fine line between optimism and delusion. Halfway through the song's four minutes a laid back drum fill signals the rest of the band to come in, filling out the sound, covering up the dread of the anxious opening rhythm and ultimately leading to a rich, instrumental outro of dripping, shimmering guitars. Pulsating waves of synth and a coolly muted guitar matching a deep bass line give "Tinseltown Swimming in Blood" an undeniable and hypnotic groove. With vocals that sound like a breathy Leonard Cohen played at the wrong speed, and Cure-like guitar tones, the songs feels like an old friend, while still feeling fresh and current.

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All American Made (CD)

All American Made is all killer and no filler. With her rich voice, brilliant melodies, and raw lyrics, Margo Price announces herself as the latest in a long lineage of hard-hitting female country singers. Listen to this album and you’ll see: Ms. Price may not be surrounded by legend (yet) in the way her predecessors have been, but she sure does seem to carry around that undefinable “it” that marks an artist as a future classic. All American Made is a rich tapestry of life in hardscrabble modern America.

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Colors (CD)

Much has been made of Beck’s Grammy win for Album of the Year with 2014’s Morning Phase, his downcast collection of folk-rock slow burners and spiritual successor to Sea Change. Yes, it can be agreed upon that the award seemed ludicrously overdue for one of the most creative and influential forces in all of pop music from the '90s onward. But did that album truly merit the distinction, over Beyonce no less? Did Kanye West have a point after all? Do you even care about the Grammys?

 

Beck is nothing if not consistently (re)inventive, and true to chameleonic form, abandons both the style and substance of that wildly successful album completely. You won’t find any ruminative folk dirges or melancholy Americana here. With a sound that matches its title, Colors is a collection largely made up of upbeat, party-minded pop music, produced with a 21st century sheen that would easily slot any of these tunes between radio favorites such as Maroon 5 or Foals. Even the song titles reflect Beck’s unselfconscious sense of jubilance: “Up All Night,” “I’m So Free,” and, quite simply, “Wow.” Yet this isn’t some spur of the moment sugar rush by the 47-year old songwriter. Colors has been gestating for quite some time now, with sessions beginning as far back as 2013; lead-off single “Dreams” was released in June of 2015, just a few months removed from that would-be contentious Grammy win.

 

“Dreams” serves as the album’s clearest sense of purpose, with sharp electric guitar stabs, a propulsive dance beat, and an almost millennial whoop-y wordless refrain. Beck glides between his natural register and capable falsetto over an unabashedly crowd-pleasing melody, yet at five minutes long, incorporates plenty of sonic quirks and studio wizardry into the mix. The neon dance floor-ready exuberance hinted at here is increased on “Up All Night,” elsewhere the Beatles-by-Britpop bounce of “Dear Life” is contrasted to the downright goofiness of “Wow,” which melds nonsensical slack-rap to sunny Coachella-rock choruses, and functions as the most audacious Beck song since “Hell Yes.” Colors is a complete left turn from Morning Light, sounding a little like previous releases while simultaneously sounding like nothing he’s ever put out before. In short, it’s the most Beck-like Beck album you could expect.

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Queens Of The Breakers (CD)

Sibling duo The Barr Brothers set a richly atmospheric tone on their third LP, Queen of the Breakers. These well-constructed folk songs venture into indie, Americana, and southern rock territory, each track building off the previous one. It’s perfect road trip music, suited to restless souls and wandering hearts. This is the sort of album that slowly worms its way into to your heart and stays on your record player for months.

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Pinewood Smile (CD)

The Darkness create a type of hard rock we desperately need. Instead of the garage scene that takes their aesthetic and sound from the world of beat-up, proto-punk 45s found in discount bins, The Darkness are the mixed-up and unholy spiritual successors to both Cheap Trick and Iron Maiden with songs that are poppier and catchier while splitting your head in two. Their fifth album, Pinewood Smile, might be their most polished album yet with pitch-perfect production by Grammy-winning producer Adrian Busby, but they still don't sacrifice any of their fiery energy. To have an album this bold and loud in 2017, as music has gotten calmer and softer, feels like a reaction to the current state of pop itself. Lead singer Justin Hawkins even says that the album was made deliberately chaotic and wild, otherwise "the last bastion of cultural sensibility will fall and our airwaves will be polluted by meaningless pop purveyed by arseholes and morons." Though "All The Pretty Girls" has the elements of a classic, there's something beautifully reckless and ear-shattering that adds a dimension of insanity to the track. At its core, the song is pure power pop, like what your parents could've listened to, but in today's musical landscape it feels like a middle-finger to the establishment. Justin Hawkins screeches into a mic so powerfully, especially during the chorus, that it would even give Bruce Dickinson's legendary howl a run for its money. "Solid Gold" feels more like '70s AM Gold than rock from today, which is probably due to the addition of Rufus Taylor, son of Queen's Rod Taylor, who bangs on the drums like he's in a Foghat cover band. But it feels like an authentic callback to the '70s, not some weirdo novelty act. The Darkness is the real deal that makes rock feel like ROCK, down to the banging electric guitar solos and riffs to pound beer to. Drop this on your turntable, spark one up, and get in for the ride this album is going to take you on.

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Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights (CD)

White Buffalo returns with Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights, a slow and sad but ultimately intriguing new LP. Lead single “The Observatory” hits all the right notes, opening with a simple strummed guitar melody and frontman Jake Smith’s timeless, deeply-timbered voice, his lyrics exploring themes of common ground and disconnection. The album treads similar territory, delving into topics of relationships, loss, and transcendence. It’s a strong, evocative record and a wonderful showcase for Smith’s incredible voice that seems to leap off the LP and into the room.

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As You Please (CD)

Citizen’s As You Please is a welcome throwback to the golden era of emo and alt-rock. Missing the aggression, melancholy, and dark melodies of the best of the genre? Sick of upbeat poppy choruses that sound tailor-made for the Hot Topic webstore? This album is for you. Forceful, intense, but extremely enjoyable, As You Please hits that sweet spot between nostalgia and innovation.

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Take Me Apart (CD)

On Take Me Apart, Kelela proves once again that she’s at the forefront of new, dark, and dreamy R&B. The album is lush, heady, and captivating. In short, it’s got that unique Kelela stamp. Although it’s her show, the songstress has also assembled a dream team for this one; some of the songs are co-written by The xx’s Romy Madley Croft and production duties are split between Arca, Kingdom, Jam City, Bok Bok, and Ariel Rechtshaid. Filled with deep grooves and an alluring atmosphere, Take Me Apart will be in heavy rotation.

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