Rihanna & Chris Brown Graffiti
Last week Jim and Greg reviewed Rihanna's new album Rated R. This week they look at her former boyfriend Chris Brown's new album Graffiti. The R&B star's third album is being released only months after he pleaded guilty to assaulting Rihanna, and Jim and Greg hear more of a botched public relations attempt than a good record. The songs might have been innocuous had Brown not addressed the violent incident, but he does and seemingly without much remorse. To Greg it's a taudry he said/she said game. To Jim it's bad experimentation, not to mention creepy. Either way, it's a Trash It.
Rihanna Rated R
Jim and Greg review two new albums-are they triumphs or turkeys? First up is Rated R, the 4th album from Rihanna. The pop singer blew up in 2007 with her song "Umbrella." She was recently in the news for an incident with boyfriend Chris Brown. While Brown was being sentenced for felony assault, Rihanna began working on Rated R. The result, for Greg, is surprisingly a record of substance. While Rihanna didn‘t write the songs, they are haunting and seem to directly address her abusive relationship. He never expected to say it, but Greg thinks this is one of the best records of the year. Jim agrees. He won’t go so far as to compare the pop star to the towering voices of Mary J. Blige and Aretha Franklin, but Jim thinks Rated R is a record of empowerment. It gets a double Buy It rating.
The Strokes debut Is This It was recently named the best album of the decade by NME. Now the band's lead singer Julian Casablancas has released his first solo record, Phrazes for the Young. This is a left turn for Casablancas, and rightly so, according to Jim and Greg. It wouldn‘t have been a good move to try to do a Strokes album without the band. But, none of the experimentation panned out for Jim. He really wanted to like this album, but it ended up being a real turkey. Greg agrees-the songs just aren’t there. And neither is the tension between a strong rhythm section and Julian's dream vocals. Phrazes for the Young gets two Trash Its.Go to episode 209
Norah Jones The Fall
Norah Jones has a new album out called The Fall. It's the 4th release from the successful pop-jazz artist, and for this one she's tried to juggle the formula. Jones parted ways with her former boyfriend/collaborater, and for The Fall she turned to producer Jacquire King and songwriters Ryan Adams and Okkervil River's Will Sheff. The change is subtle, according to Greg. He admires her understated approach, but wishes Jones were more adventurous. He gives this record a Burn Itrating. Jim acknowledges that Jones has beaten the dreaded Best New Artist Grammy Curse, but was completely bored by Jones' sleepy crooning. He recommends listeners Trash It.
Them Crooked Vultures Them Crooked Vultures
The heavily-hyped new supergroup Them Crooked Vultures finally released their self-titled debut. The band consists of Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters/Nirvana and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. So how super is it? Jim was truly blown away by the trio's live performance this past summer. But, with the record the experience is less visceral and more intellectual. The rhythm section is obviously still impressive, but for Jim the songs don't cut it. He gives Them Crooked Vultures a Burn It. Greg thinks Jim hasn't been this off the mark all year. The more he listens, the more he is excited by this sensual, twisting, hard-rocking record. He gives it an enthusiastic Buy It.
15 years after its debut album, Weezer is back with a new record, Raditude. The band has always been defined by Rivers Cuomo's personal songwritng, mirrored with heavy guitar riffs. But, last year's self-titled release was a controversial one for Jim and Greg. Jim loved the naïve, heart-on-sleeve recording, but Greg felt the lyrics were adolescent and patronizing. Now they can agree. Both Jim and Greg find Weezer to be making smart, heart-felt pop music. And the highlight is an amped up version of "Can't Stop Partying," co-written by Jermaine Dupri and featuring a cameo by Lil Wayne. Greg even compares this loss of innocence record to Pet Sounds. Raditude gets a double Buy It.
Slayer World Painted Blood
Completely shifting gears, Jimand Gregturn their attention to one of the cornerstone metal bands of the past two decades: Slayer. The band has consistently pushed the limits of the genre, and now they are back with their 10th studio album World Painted Blood. When they first emerged, Slayer was full of shock value. Now that some of that has worn off, it's all about the sound. Greg hears more texture added to their trademark speed and aggression. Vocalist Tom Araya is even singing more. It's another fine Slayer album to Greg, and he gives it a Buy It. Jim agrees, and encourages listeners to go see Slayer live. He thinks everyone needs that kind of intensity at least once in their life.
Air Love 2
As discussed earlier, there'd be no Phoenix without Air. So what better time to review their new release Love 2? The French production duo first made waves with their 1998 debut Moon Safari, and with each subsequent release the challenge has been to top it. Jim doesn‘t think they’ve succeeded with Love 2. He loves their psychedelic, spacey sound, but hears the band losing steam. Jim was hoping to hear something different and can only give the album a Burn It. Greg is surprised to hear this review. He thinks this is their strongest album since Moon Safari. They are at their best when they keep it sparse and simple; in other words, when Air sounds like air. Greg gives Love 2 a Buy It.
Bob Dylan Christmas in the Heart
After thirty-four studio albums over a career spanning decades, Jim and Greg didn't think that Bob Dylan could still surprise them. This week, he did. Dylan has released an album of Christmas classics called Christmas in the Heart. Both Jim and Greg preface their review with praise for the American folk icon. Greg calls him“the most important artist of the past fifty years.”For Jim, Dylan is a“living American treasure.”But, at the risk of sounding like Grinches, both critics agree Christmas in the Heart is abysmal. The arrangements are awful, the delivery bizarre, and nothing sounds like anything you‘d want to play for the family. It’s a double Trash It.
Muse The Resistance
For a while, it seemed like chart-topping U.K. band Muse was a purely British phenomenon. They sold over 5 million copies of their last two records and sold out back-to-back shows at Wembley Stadium. But now their new album The Resistance has debuted at #3 in the States. Musically, Jim and Greg certainly understand the appeal. The arrangements are ambitious and the songs are full of melody. But it's with the lyrics that Muse loses the plot. Jim and Greg both wish lead singer Matthew Bellamy had more of a sense of humor. He tries to channel Freddie Mercury, but forgets that Mercury never took himself too seriously. Both hosts give The Resistance a Trash It.
Death For The Whole World To See
The final review this week is a reissue from Detroit punk band Death. …For The Whole World To See took thirty years to see the light of day, but now Chicago label Drag City has resurrected the album, and Jim and Greg are thrilled. It was groundbreaking for three African Americans from Detroit to play punk and garage rock instead of soul and R&B. Listening to this album Jim can easily picture the group on a bill with Iggy and The Stooges and the MC5. Greg admits the music is somewhat primitive, but finds it aggressive and packed with ambition. …For the Whole World to See gets a double Buy It.
The Flaming Lips Embryonic
The Flaming Lips are back with their 12th album, Embryonic. The band has been around for three decades now, which some people wouldn't expect from a bunch of psychedelic rockers from Oklahoma. Jim, who wrote about the band in his book Staring at Sound: The True Story of Oklahoma's Fabulous Flaming Lips, has been waiting for them to return to their roots. They are rocking out again on Embryonic, and while they've done this sound before, and better, he gives the album a Buy It. Greg agrees that they are moving in the right direction. The fans may wonder where the pop songs are, but he's fascinated to hear them attempt the jazzier material. Greg applauds the ambition, but finds the execution lacking. He gives Embryonic a Burn It.
The Gossip Music for Men
Next up is a review of Music for Men, the major label debut from The Gossip. The underground trio is fronted by Beth Ditto, whom Jim describes as a feminist and gay activist, as well as a "Fat-Activist." Her onstage persona caught the attention of superstar producer Rick Rubin, who brought the band to Columbia. Unfortunately, as Greg relays, Rubin did the band no favors. The drumming sounds crisp and precise, but Ditto's voice has been stripped of its bluesy passion. A disheartened Jim agrees. If he weren‘t married, and Ditto weren’t gay, Jim says he'd want to marry her. But you get none of her life force on this album. Both critics give Music for Men a Trash It.
Pearl Jam Backspacer
Jim and Greg kick off their record review roundup with Backspacer, the ninth album from Pearl Jam. The band is back with producer Brendan O'Brien, but the mood has certainly changed. They are sounding a lot more optimistic, and, as Greg explains, more energized. They kick up the fast-paced punk more on this album, but still have a couple of noteworthy ballads. Greg gives Backspacer a Buy It. Jim wishes he heard something new from the Seattle rockers. He agrees that the slower songs are great, but feels he's heard the rest of the album before. He gives Pearl Jam a Try It.
Basement Jaxx Scars
Scars by British producers Basement Jaxx is the group's fifth album. The duo is known for their inventive dance collages and unique guest vocalists. This time around they are joined by Kelis, Santigold, and Yoko Ono. But despite the appearance of outsiders, the sound is distinctly their own, according to Jim. He describes the album as“relentlessly melodic”and gives it a Buy It. Greg loved their earlier album Kish Kash, but hears them trying to be songwriters rather than producers on this album. And when they abandon the party grooves for more nuanced efforts, they lose him. He gives it a Try It.
Mariah Carey Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel
Mariah Carey's new album is more than just a collection of songs. It's a corporate multi-media experience. Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel comes with an ad-filled mini mag, but lucky for Jim and Greg, they only need to worry about the music. Carey has never been Greg's favorite vocalist, but he applauds her choice to base the record around slow-jam R&B. It's not cluttered with mega-guest producers, and Greg thinks it's her best record yet. He gives it a Buy It. Jim is shocked. He describes the songs as empty and hollow and gives it a Trash It.
Monsters of Folk Monsters of Folk
Jim and Greg talked about supergroups a few weeks ago on the show, and now there's a new one on the scene named Monsters of Folk with their eponymous release, Monsters of Folk. Jim James of My Morning Jacket, M. Ward, and Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes have joined together to form a band, and Greg is reminded of the Traveling Wilburys. It's a fun, affable project where no one is taking himself too seriously. Jim thinks a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young comparison is more apt, but both critics agree about the album's consistency. Some of the songs are good, some unremarkable, and others awful. That adds up to a Try It from both hosts.
Kid Cudi Man on the Moon: End of the Day
Kid Cudi's debut record Man on the Moon: End of the Day rounds out the reviews this week. The up-and-coming hip hop artist shows a lot of musical ambition. Both Jim and Greg are put off by a lot of the lyrics, but hear great innovation in the production and instrumentation. They both give Man on the Moon a Buy It.
Anvil This Is Thirteen
Jim and Greg end the show with a review of This Is Thirteen by the Toronto metal band Anvil. Anvil is influential in the speed and thrash communities, but hasn't received much mainstream attention until now. The reason for the increased exposure is the release of the critically acclaimed documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil, which chronicles the band's tough road. Jim calls Anvil a“meat and potatoes”metal band, but hears the conviction and heart in their music. He gives This is Thirteen a Try It. Greg loves their sound. They aren't on the Motorhead level of fame, but have a similar hard, no-nonsense style. The drummer really kicks it into gear for Greg, and he gives Anvil's new record a Buy It.
Jay-Z The Blueprint 3
Hip hop's top entrepreneur Jay-Z has a new album out called The Blueprint 3. It's the third in the rapper's Blueprint series. For the first he worked with then unknown producer Kanye West. Then for the second he invited a slew of big name guest stars. Now he splits the difference–West is back in the studio, as are guests like Timbaland. Greg finds the result split; half the tracks are good, half show the rapper on autopilot. Jim was also disappointed to hear that Jay-Z didn't really explore his life as a business man and celebrity husband in any unique way. But, the voice is still wonderful. It gets a double Burn It.
For two decades the jam band Phish has held a massive fan base. But, as Jim and Greg explain, most of these“Phish Heads”aren‘t all that interested in the band’s studio records; it's all about the live experience. Now, after a five-year hiatus during which lead singer Trey Anastasio battled drug addiction, the band is back with a new record called Joy. As always, the goal is to create songs that are successful on record and stage. With the exception of a couple of tracks, Greg doesn't think the songwriting holds up. He can only give Joy a Try It. Jim wishes the band would abandon its efforts at jazz and funk fusion and go back to its progressive roots. He loves the 13-minute suite "Time Turns Elastic," but gives the rest of the album a Try It.
Vivian Girls also have a new release called Everything Goes Wrong. The title might be referring to the year the band had following their successful self-titled debut. Not only did they lose their drummer, but guitarist/songwriter Cassie Ramone also went through a bad breakup. As Greg states, their pain is our pleasure. He loves this follow-up and hears a lot of musical growth. Jim agrees, adding that the Vivians' take on female sexuality is much needed in our culture. Everything Goes Wrong gets a double Buy It.Go to episode 197
Whitney Houston I Look To You
She was the queen of pop in the '80s and '90s, but for the past few years she's mostly been a punchline. Now Whitney Houston is back with a new record called I Look To You. Clive Davis has spared no expense on this comeback effort-pulling in big names like Swizz Beats, Alicia Keys and Diane Warren. Greg wishes those big names brought something bigger to the table. With the exception of "Million Dollar Bill," the one track where Greg hears Whitney getting“frisky,”she's mostly straight-jacketed and robotic. Greg gives the album a Trash It. Jim actually likes that the production keeps things focused on her voice. And he finds that voice still powerful and full of emotion. He gives I Look to You a Buy It.
Arctic Monkeys also have a new album out called Humbug. For their 3rd release the UK band traveled to the California desert to work with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age (and now Them Crooked Vultures) fame. Jim loves the result. It has all of the charm and wit of their breakout debut, but with a dark ambience inspired by Nick Cave or Scott Walker. He gives the record a Buy It rating. Greg applauds them for trying to change the pace with this release, but he doesn't think the songwriting is as strong. To Greg the melodies and exuberance have been replaced with texture and ambience. He gives Humbug a Try It.Go to episode 196
Yacht See Mystery Lights
DFA duo Yacht have a new album out this week called See Mystery Lights. Jona Bechtolt has been making music and art for a number of years now, but now he's partnered with vocalist Claire Evans, and Jim explains they are reaching their biggest audience to date. For both hosts, this is not undeserved. The electro-pop tracks really make you feel like you are floating in space, or are haunted by the paranormal. It's a perfect bridge of dance music and psychedelia, and both Jim and Greg give the record a Buy It.
Them Crooked Vultures
Last weekend Jim and Greg experienced three days of music at Lollapaloozain Chicago. But, one of the best shows of the weekend actually happened in a small club across town. Jim, Greg and other lucky attendees saw the debut of new "supergroup" Them Crooked Vultures. The band features Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age on guitar and vocals, former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl on drums and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones on bass. Jim and Greg both found the performance heavy and thrilling and agree that on drums is where Grohl belongs. There's no album release date yet, but our hosts highly anticipate it.Go to episode 194
Mos Def The Ecstatic
Mos Def first gained attention as a member of Black Star with fellow rapper Talib Kweli. He went on to have a successful solo career, but these days more people might recognize him as an actor than a musician. Now he is back with The Ecstatic. Jim and Greg both thought his rap career was all but over, so this record was a welcome surprise. Jim heard it more like an unfocused mixtape than an album, but he loved Mos Def's energy and the work of his producers. Greg found the rapper more engaged on this album and calls it a triumphant return to form. The Ecstatic gets two Buy Its.
Vancouver duo Brian King and David Prowse of Japandroids have released their third album called Post-Nothing. Jim notes that everyone seems to be a duo these days, but Japandroids rises above the pack. Amid the sea of noise are tuneful alientation anthems. He gives it an enthusiastic Buy It. Greg was impressed and energized by the two musicians at the Pitchfork Music Festival. And while he doesn't agree with Jim about the strong songwriting, he loves the textured guitar-playing and gospel-like crescendos. Post-Nothing gets two Buy It ratings.
Regina Spektor Far
Regina Spektor had some very prestigious help on her new album Far. Her big-name producers include David Kahn, Jacknife Lee, Jeff Lynne and Mike Elizondo. Were they worth it? Greg wanted to like this album, normally he appreciates strong, idiosyncratic personalities, but with Spektor, cute has become cutesy. He finds her weird for weird's sake and was driven crazy by the record. Greg gives Far a Trash It rating. Jim thinks Greg is just being mean and explains that he learned to stop worrying and love the Regina with this album. While he admits some lyrics are precious, most were poignant. Jim gives Far a Buy It.
The Fiery Furnaces I'm Going Away
In just six years the brother-sister duo The Fiery Furnaces have released eight albums. But, as Jim points out, being prolific doesn't make you infallible. He admires lead singer Eleanor Friedberger's Lou Reed singing style, but otherwise was put off by their newest album I'm Going Away. Its hyper-literary and overly orchestrated songs gave Jim a headache, and therefore prompted a Trash It rating. Greg couldn't disagree more. He calls I'm Going Away one of the great pop albums of the summer. He admits that much of their previous work was a little obtuse, but he thinks The Fiery Furnaces have channeled their energy into a less frantic, more melodic record. Greg calls it art rock on a budget and gives it a Buy It.
The Dead Weather Horehound
Another year… another Jack White project. After The White Stripes and The Raconteurs comes The Dead Weather. This time White has a more behind-the-scenes role as drummer and producer. Alison Mosshart of The Kills is the lead vocalist. Jim was let down by the second Raconteurs record, but he was blown away by the knockout, raw garage rock on Horehound. He gives it a Buy It rating. Greg is surprised to hear this. While he likes the sleezy, b-movie sound and vibe, he needs great songs to go with it. Greg looks forward to seeing the group live, but on record it's a Try It.
Moby Wait for Me
Moby has a new album out called Wait for Me. The musician has spent a decade trying to follow up the success of his 1999 album Play. And if his last record was a night out on the town, this is the comedown for Greg. He recorded it at home, and you can hear that sense of isolation. Greg's only quibble is the length, so he gives it a Buy It. Jim agrees. He hears the newly independent artist connecting with his roots, again taking inspiration from David Lynch. Moby gets a double Buy It.
Cheap Trick The Latest
Rockford, IL's own Cheap Trick have been making music for four decades. So, you wouldn't expect much from them now, right? But, as Jim says, these“geezers”are fierce. He calls them one of the hardest-working bands in show business, and says they still have the goods on stage and in the studio. He gives The Latest a Buy It. Greg hears Cheap Trick taking risks again, and states that any band with Bunny Carlos as drummer is great. He also gives the album a Buy It rating.
After breaking out of the neo-soul movement along side Lauryn Hill and D'Angelo, singer Maxwell took an almost decade-long hiatus. Now he is back with BLACKsummers'night. Greg likes that he doesn‘t hear anything trendy on this record. It reminds him of artier soul albums from the late ’70s. The hooks aren‘t in abundance, but it’s got grit. Greg gives Maxwell a Buy It rating. Jim wishes he could be as enthusiastic. There are a couple of great songs, but for the most part he found the album sleepy. He wishes Maxwell threw a little more fire into BLACKsummers'night and gives it a Try It.
The Jonas Brothers Lines, Vines and Trying Times
Only in the Sound Opinions universe can we move from Nine Inch Nails to The Jonas Brothers. But the sibling trio has hypnotized young listeners and will no doubt be a major presence on the chart this summer. Lines, Vines and Trying Times is the sibling trio's 4th album, and as Jim points out those teen fans have graduated from Harry Potter to the Twilight series. The Jonas Brothers are trying to mature as well, but Greg hears clearly that they aren‘t ready for adulthood. He didn’t mind their juvenile power pop, but thinks they've lost their pep and are trying too hard. Jim goes further and states that he hates the Jo Bros. Despite public vows of chastity, they present contradictory messages about women in the songs. And what was once just annoying is now annoying and pretentious. Lines, Vines and Trying Times gets a double Trash It.
The Black Eyed Peas The E.N.D.
The Black Eyed Peas are hard to miss these days. After releasing a slew of hit albums and singles, they are back with The E.N.D. and its hit song "Boom Boom Pow." Jim was concerned that Will.I.Am had lost his touch after producing a number of failures for other artists. But the self-professed fan is happy to hear that the raps and beats are as silly as ever. He calls The E.N.D. a great summer album and gives it a Buy It. Greg compares the songs on this record to other frothy hits like "Who Let the Dogs Out." He admits the bubblegum formula is successful, but would never want to listen to an entire Black Eyed Peas album. He gives The E.N.D. a Trash It.
Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Another new summer pop album is by the French band Phoenix. Their fourth album is called Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. That title and their song "Lisztomania" may give listeners the impression that this is a cerebral record. That impression would be wrong, however. For Greg this is a perfectly sequenced, filler-free pop record that combines disco with new wave. For Jim it's an entrancing album from start to finish. Both hosts give the new Phoenix a Buy It.
Dave Matthews Band Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King
Summer concert kings the Dave Matthews Band have a new album out called Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King. The title comes from a nickname given to the band's late saxophonist LeRoi Moore. The shadow of Moore hangs over this album, and his death almost prevented its release. Not that the DMB needs to release albums — they make over $40 million a year from touring alone. But, Jim has always preferred the band on album to in concert. He doesn't love their rhythms or Matthews' lazy vocal style, but recommends people Try It… if that's their thing. Greg thinks the Dave Matthews Band have finally given us a record worth hearing. It's much more rocking and robust than previous releases. It actually“rocks pretty hard,”so Greg gives Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King a Buy It.
Sonic Youth The Eternal
Rock veterans Sonic Youth have released their 16th studio album, The Eternal. With a lineup shuffle and label change, they have returned to form according to Jim and Greg. Neither critic hears anything groundbreaking or new, but the urban surf grooves are back in a big way. Jim hasn't enjoyed anything the band has done in 17 years, but finally hears some truly great songs. The Eternal gets a Double Buy It.
Wilco Wilco (The Album)
Just as they are dealing with the news of Jay Bennett's death, the members of Wilco are preparing to release their seventh studio record. Wilco (The Album) features "Wilco (The Song)," one of their best according to Greg. Jim agrees, but doesn't think the album breaks any ground for the band. He calls it a summing up, albeit a perfectly executed summing up. Greg wouldn't argue, but did hear a few more surprises. Either way, both hosts give Wilco (The Album) a Buy It.
Grizzly Bear Veckatimest
The final album up for review is the third release from Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear. Veckatimest, named for an island off the coast of Massachusetts, is already getting hailed by many as one of the top albums of the year. Jim hears a lot of similarities to what bands like Fleet Foxes and Blitzen Trapper are doing, but with the addition of synths, Jeff Buckley-style vocals, and lo-fi production. In other words, it drives him crazy. A few moments of beauty, but he gives it a Try It. Greg loves how the band creates its own space in the album. He can picture the room they made it in. The record is not accessible, but when you are in the right mood to be shut in, Veckatimist will hit you. Greg gives it a Buy It rating.
One of hip hop's most successful artists is Eminem. After a five-year wait, he's back with a new album called Relapse. The Detroit rapper has again sought help from producer Dr. Dre, and is again relying on violence and misogyny to shock and entertain listeners. The problem-it's not so shocking anymore. Both Jim and Greg were bored by this record, and Greg hears boredom in Eminem's own voice. Perhaps Em should try a little good taste for a change. He gets a double Trash It.
Passion Pit Manners
The next album up for review is Manners, the debut from Boston-based Passion Pit. The electro-pop quintet is helmed by Michael Angelakos. It's his falsetto that dominates the album, in addition to the lush, swirling synths. In fact, the music is a little too lush and sugary for Mr. Kot, who wishes there were a few more moments of calm. He gives Manners a Try It rating. Jim was certain Greg would be all over this record. He hears the music as a successful, indie take on '80s disco and gives the album a Buy It.
Green Day 21st Century Breakdown
After releasing the blockbuster album American Idiot in 2004, pop punk band Green Day is back with their 8th album 21st Century Breakdown. This album was over 4 years in the making, and the result is an 18-track rock opera produced by Butch Vig. Lead singer Billie Joel Armstrong is rallying against the establishment as always, but for Jim, he's not rallying as effectively. He hears a lot of Queen-like bombast. Jim thinks half of the album is amazing, but because of the other half, he gives it a Try It rating. Greg explains that this record deserves a number of listens, in sequence, something he says about very few albums these days. He thinks the bombast is actually reigned in pretty tightly, and believes 21st Century Breakdown is the best work they've done yet. Greg gives the album a Buy It.
St. Vincent The Actor
One of Greg's favorite acts at this year's SXSW was St. Vincent, also known as Annie Clark. After performing with the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens, she's released her 2nd solo album Actor. Greg finds this sophomore effort to be a big step up. Clark wrote and produced the material all on her own, and the arrangements blow Greg away. He thinks it's one of the year's best records so far. Jim agrees, noting that while Clark may look like a Disney heroine, her songs are full of dark, subversive images. Actor gets a double Buy It.
Bob Dylan Together Through Life
Another rock icon, Bob Dylan, has a new album out this week called Together Through Life. This is Dylan's 33rd studio release, and for this effort he's enlisted some help including David Hidalgo of Los Lobosand lyrics writing partner Robert Hunter. The release of this record took Jim and Greg by surprise, and to Greg it feels a bit tossed off. The lyrics especially don‘t feel as important as what you’d expect from this legendary wordsmith. Greg calls the album“mid-tier”Dylan and gives it a Try It rating. Jim admits that the lyrics aren't full of gravitas, but to hear the rocker jamming for pure joy at the age of 68 is wonderful, especially with the squeezebox stylings of Hidalgo. He gives Together Through Life a Buy It.
Leonard Cohen Live in London
74 year-old rock poet Leonard Cohen has gone out on his first tour in 15 years. He's also released a concert album Live in London. Jim thinks the record is one of those rare live gems that's more than just a souvenir. He found most of his studio albums overdone and really appreciates hearing this authentic performance. Jim gives this live album an enthusiastic Buy It rating. Greg has a few reservations about this record, including some of the instrumentation and backing vocals. But, for one stop Leonard Cohen shopping, this is a great pick. He also gives Live in London a Buy It.
The Handsome Family Honey Moon
The Handsome Family has a new album out this week called Honey Moon. Like the title, many of the songs on the album relate nature to love. Love songs are a dime a dozen, but both Jim and Greg are hugely impressed with what the husband and wife duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks do with the topic. Brett has mastered their home studio, bringing their alt-country sound to a more pop one. And, according to our hosts, Rennie is one of the greatest songwriters working in rock today. Both Jim and Greg give Honey Moon a Buy It, and Jim also encourages listeners to go back to the duo's 1998 masterpiece Through the Trees.
Booker T. Jones Potato Hole
Multi-instrumentalist Booker T. Jones also has a new album out called Potato Hole. It's a rare solo release from the man behind much of the Stax Records sound. This time around he's joined up with Neil Young and the Drive-By Truckers for a more guitar-centric record. That was problematic for Jim, who wished there was more of a focal point. He gives Potato Hole a Try It. Greg was impressed when he heard about the project's esteemed line-up. But, for him it didn‘t translate to the music. Greg didn’t hear anything persuasive and thinks Booker T. should stick to soul. He gives the album a Trash It.
Bat for Lashes Two Suns
Now onto something you might want to buy at a record store. Jim and Greg first review the latest album from Natasha Khan, aka Bat for Lashes. The British artist's first album was nominated for a Mercury Prize. Now she is back with Two Suns. Jim and Greg hear a lot of heavy subtext in the songs, half of which are sung from the perspective of Khan's alter-ego Pearl. Greg thinks these tracks are the most interesting. The melodies and hooks aren't that insistent on this record, but listeners who pay attention will hear some really complicated stuff. For ambition alone, Greg gives Two Suns a Buy It rating. Jim admits that this album will not be everyone's cup of tea. But, that's what he loves about it. He also gives Bat for Lashes a Buy It.
Asher Roth Asleep in the Bread Aisle
Next up is Asleep in the Bread Aisle, the debut album from rapper Asher Roth.“The bread aisle”refers to Wonder bread, and part of the marketing push behind Roth is that he is not just a rapper, but a white rapper. Comparisons to Eminem are inevitable, but Jim thinks that comparisons to The Beastie Boys and The Streets are more apt. He appreciates Roth's honest, mundane storytelling, as well as the great grooves and gives the record a Buy It. Greg hates to say it, but believes that if Asher's race wasn‘t a story, no one would be paying attention. He calls Roth’s frat rap mediocre at best and gives Asleep in the Bread Aisle a Trash It.
Neil Young Fork in the Road
One of rock's greatest lyricists, Neil Young, has a new album out this week called Fork in the Road. Young is not only a talented songwriter, but a quick one, and this album is another one of his fast and dirty social statements. For Greg this sounds like recycled Neil. He wishes the musician had put more time into refining the lyrics, as well as the music. It breaks his heart, but Greg gives Fork in the Road a Trash It. Jim can‘t go that far. He agrees that the lyrics are not impressive, but he is inspired by Young’s energy and passion. He gives the album a Try It rating.
The next review is of Metric's new album Fantasies. This is the fourth release for the Toronto quartet. Vocalist Emily Haines and guitarist Jimmy Shaw might be best known for their work in the Broken Social Scene, but it's on this album that they really shine. Jim calls the songs "pure pop pleasure" with lots of sex appeal. Greg hears a lot of growth in Haines‘ songwriting and thinks this is Metric’s best ablum yet. Fantasies gets a double Buy It.
John Parish & PJ Harvey A Woman A Man Walked By
PJ Harvey has a new album out with longtime collaborator John Parish called A Woman A Man Walked By. John Parish was like a mentor to Polly Jean when she was starting out, and as Jim and Greg explain, that relationship allows her to feel comfortable enough to really let loose. Greg wishes there was more consistency to the songwriting, though. For him some of the tracks are nothing but experimentation. He gives the album a Burn It. Jim is shocked and describes A Woman A Man Walked By as PJ having fun. He predicts a mid-life career surge and gives the record a Buy It rating.
Amadou and Mariam Welcome to Mali
The second album up for review is by Malian duo Amadou and Mariam. The blind couple broke through to Western audiences with their 2005 album Dimanche a Bamako. Now they are back with Welcome to Mali, and are joined by Damon Albarn and K'Naan on a couple of tracks. Jim describes the album as a constant source of sunshine and gives it a Buy It. Greg agrees. He calls Amadou a master guitarist with a modern sensibility. Welcome to Mali is a double Buy It.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs It's Blitz!
It was only eight years ago that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs appeared at SXSW. Now, they have their third record out called It's Blitz! Jim and Greg agree that lead singer Karen O is a stage performer like none other. But, she's only 1/3 of the band. Drummer Brian Chase and guitarist Nick Zinner also have a major impact on the band's sound. So, as Jim points out, it's remarkable that they‘d want to“mess”with the two other important elements. Chase’s drumming is less frenetic, and Zinner has added synths to his repertoire. Jim thinks the change is not only courageous, but successful and gives It's Blitz! a Buy It rating. Greg not only hears a shift in sound, but a new sense of introspection. He is reminded of the band's emotional 2003 single "Maps." Greg also gives the Yeah Yeah Yeahs a Buy It.
The Decemberists The Hazards of Love
With their new album The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists are poised to reach their biggest audience to date. And neither Jim nor Greg think listeners, old or new, will be disappointed. The songs are typically fanciful and epic, but rock harder than ever. In fact, Greg thinks keyboardist Jenny Conlee deserves an award for her Deep Purple stylings. Both he and Greg give the album a Buy It rating.
Mastodon Crack the Skye
And just when you thought we couldn't rock any harder, Jim and Greg get to their review of heavy metal band Mastodon's latest release Crack the Skye. The quartet also faces bigger exposure with this album, and the question in fans' minds is if they can do it without selling out. Jim and Greg's response: definitely. For Jim, Crack the Skye is dark and disorienting, as metal should be. But, producer Brendan O'Brien helped keep the music melodic and on course. Greg believes the songs‘ emotions will help draw more people in, but without sacrificing Mastodon’s hardcore metal roots. Crack the Skye gets two Buy Its.
Chris Cornell Scream
Former Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell has a surprising new solo album out this week. Scream was not produced by someone from the alternative rock world, but by hip hop super-producer Timbaland. The result is less than super, however. Jim even wonders if Cornell is playing a massive joke on everyone. It's sexist, insulting, and ten steps below a Trash It to Jim. Greg thinks the album is worth hearing once just for the shock factor. But he notes that it might be the worst album ever reviewed in Sound Opinions history. Scream gets a double Trash It.
Cursive Happy Hollow
Omaha band Cursive has a new album out this week called Mama, I'm Swollen. Jim and Greg got a sneak preview of some of the songs on this album when they talked to the band last year. Now that it's out, they can say whether or not it lives up to the high point of Happy Hollow. Greg thinks lead singer and songwriter Tim Kasher is one of the most brilliant songwriters of the past decade. He hears him wrestling with a lot of issues on this album and wouldn‘t be surprised if this is the last Cursive release. Unfortunately, it’s not their best. Greg gives the album a Try It rating. Jim thinks Greg needs a little more time with the album. He thinks Kasher is asking some really important questions about his generation. He gives Mama, I'm Swollen a Buy It.
Kelly Clarkson All I Ever Wanted
America's first“Idol”Kelly Clarkson has a new album out called All I Ever Wanted. Clarkson's last release was a stinker even by label head Clive Davis' standards, so this was her chance at redemption. Did she succeed? Jim likes a lot of feminist pop punk, but he's mystified by Kelly Clarkson's appeal. That said, half of this album is undeniably catchy pop rock. He has no use for the other half, however, which is full of soggy ballads. Jim gives the album a Try It. Greg can see why fans are taken with the singer. She has an endearing personality and a great voice. But her conservative production choices overshadow any good ideas Clarkson might be trying to get across. All I Ever Wanted is far from what Greg wants; he gives it a Trash It rating.
Next up Jim and Greg review the second album from rapper K'Naan. In his songs K'Naan describes the tough streets he grew up on. And we believe him. Before settling in Ontario, K'Naan lived in Mogadishu. You can hear his African roots in the music, along with reggae and hip hop beats. Greg finds this hybrid really fresh. But, the record falls down when he tries to be too diverse. Greg gives Troubadour a Try It. Jim wonders if he's just in a better mood today. He agrees that some of the diverse cameos like Adam Levine and Kirk Hammett are totally unnecessary. But K'Naan has a strong voice and his songs have a strong sense of melody. The record gets a Buy It rating from Jim.
U2 No Line on the Horizon
Irish super rockers U2 have a new album out called No Line on the Horizon. It's the band's 12th album, and after a brief stint with producer Rick Rubin, they've returned to working with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Greg was pleased to hear that after a couple of“U2 by numbers”albums, they‘ve returned to emphasizing sound. They’ve restored the sense of mystery and atmosphere on a handful of tracks. But, Greg wishes the entire album was like that. He doesn't feel they quite pulled it off and gives No Line on the Horizon a Try It. Jim is shocked to hear himself say it, but he disagrees. Bono was wrong to suggest this record is the band's best, but Jim thinks they are definitely still relevant. And he finds the good tracks so extraordinarily good that they overshadow the bum ones. Jim gives the new U2…a Buy It!
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
After getting a lot of notice from their singles and EPs, Brooklyn quartet The Pains of Being Pure at Heart has released their full-length, self-titled debut. Jim admits the band has a formula – equal parts jangly pop and heavy bottom. But for him, it's a great formula, especially when combined with some of the twisted lyrics. He gives the album a Buy It. Greg is surprised to hear Jim say this. He doesn't hear anything fresh or unique here, and thinks there are better bands using this formula today. Greg gives The Pains of Being Pure at Heart a Try It.
A.R. Rahman Slumdog Millionaire
The Oscars air this Sunday, and one the nominees up for a number of awards is A.R. Rahman, the man behind the soundtrack to Slumdog Millionaire. Rahman is a giant in the Bollywood world, and now many people are comparing him to mainstream giants like Bernard Herrmann and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Jim wouldn't go that far. He thinks there are a number of intoxicating tracks that incorporate sitar, African drumming and techno. But he doesn't find the soundtrack to be a beginning-to-end success. Jim gives the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack a Try It. Greg agrees that some of the songs are too melodramatic, but because of the tremendous rhythms, he thinks they work. He recommends the album as a perfect introduction to Rahman's music and gives the Oscar-nominated soundtrack a Buy It.
Morrissey Years of Refusal
Morrissey is back with a new album, Years of Refusal, and an old attitude. The songs on his last release Ringleader of the Tormentors showed a softer, happier side of the Irish rocker. But, as his fans know, Moz is best when he is miserable. Greg compares his newfound mid-life aggression to that of Nick Cave. The quips aren't as witty as some of Morrissey's best, but the music is as good as ever. Greg gives it a Buy It. Jim agrees. This is some of the best work Morrissey has ever done. He also gives a Buy It rating.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss won the top prize at last week's Grammy Awards. It was one of many awards handed to artists from independent labels. One such musician is British singer Adele, who took home the often dubious Best New Artist award. But, while this title doesn't often lead to career longevity, Jim and Greg believe Adele will go on to make more great music. They both recommend her album 19 as a Buy It.
Lily Allen It's Not Me, It's You
After exploding out of MySpace and into the mainstream with her debut, Lily Allen is back with a new album cheekily named It's Not Me, It's You. Jim and Greg were both fans of Allen's first album Alright, Still, and were impressed with the sassy attitude displayed in their conversation with her on the show. But Jim was skeptical that Allen would be able to recover from such an over-hyped, over-exposed year. He was pleasantly surprised to hear that she still has novel insights and great stories to tell. Greg agrees, noting that the wisecracks and jabs at ex-boyfriends are still all over the songs, but so are authentic emotions. Both Jim and Greg give It's Not Me, It's You a Buy It.
Titus Andronicus The Airing of Grievances
New Jersey rockers Titus Andronicus also have a new album out this week called The Airing of Grievances. Both Jim and Greg were wowed by the band at last year's Pitchfork Music Festival. And, the recorded songs are proving to be no less exuberant. As Greg explains, the title of the band is a nod to their mix of high art and low art. Titus' lyrics cover such lofty topics as love, death and disease, but they are all sung in the context of rude, three-chord punk songs. He gives The Airing of Grievances a Buy It. Jim admits the lead singer can‘t sing, but backed with his friends and the exuberant music, it’s definitely a Buy It.
Heartless Bastards The Mountain
Next up Jim and Greg review The Mountain, the third album from Heartless Bastards. The heart and soul of the trio is singer, guitarist and chief songwriter Erika Wennerstrom. As Greg explains, the songs on this album are the result of Wennerstrom's break up with the band's former bassist, as well as her move to New York City. He thinks Wennerstrom has never sounded better, and also admires Mike McCarthy's production. Greg gives The Mountain a Buy It. Jimwishes he could be more enthusiastic. He loves a handful of the songs that are packed with Crazy Horse“stomp.”But he can only give the album a Try It.
Bruce Springsteen Working on a Dream
Bruce Springsteen has released his 16th album called Working on a Dream. Debates about The Boss are notorious on Sound Opinions, but with each new album the slate is wiped clean. So has this record made Jim a convert? Not exactly. He hates the half of the album that contains one warm and fuzzy, inspirational song after the next. And he hates the other half, full of monumentally failed experiments, even more. Jim gives Bruce a Trash It, and that's no surprise to our listeners. What is a surprise is Greg's take. He is, for the most part, a Springsteen appreciator. But, he isn't hearing great songwriting on Working on a Dream. Musically, it's okay, but lyrically, it's disappointing. Greg gives the album a Try It.
Andrew Bird Noble Beast
The next album up for review is by fellow American songwriter Andrew Bird. Bird has a new album out called Noble Beast. In addition to writing songs, Bird tackles singing, violin playing and even whistling–an odd, but winning combo that has brought the musician flocks of fans. Greg thinks this fifth album has a more mainstream-friendly sound because of its strong melodies. But, he has a problem with the loss of momentum at the end of the album. For Greg, Bird lost steam by the last third, so he can only give Noble Beast a Try It. Jim can‘t even go that far. He was bothered by the obtuse wordiness of the lyrics, and couldn’t locate any emotional core in the songs. Jim gives Andrew Bird's release a Trash It.
Franz Ferdinand Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
Scottish indie rockers Franz Ferdinand have a new album out called Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. It's the third release for the New-New Wave band, and after a terrific debut, and a so-so follow-up, Jim and Greg were eager to see what the quartet had to offer. Greg hears a reconfiguration of their original sound. The dance element is more up front, making the rhythm section the most important one. Greg keeps waiting for lead singer Alex Kapranos to step up to the Bryan Ferry level, and until he does Greg gives Tonight: Franz Ferdinand a Try It. Jim doesn‘t think it’s fair to compare any mere mortal to Bryan Ferry and thinks Kapranos does a terrific job. He calls the group's routine“winning”and gives this album a Buy It.
Animal Collective Merriweather Post Pavilion
Has the first great album of 2009 come upon us? That's the question Jim and Greg answer in their review of Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective. This is the 9th album for the experimental indie rockers, and one that is inspired by the concert venue in Maryland. Their goal was to make an album worthy of such an outdoor arena, and both Jim and Greg think that Animal Collective was successful. Previously Jim has felt that they veer too much towards the jam band spectrum of things, but with Merriweather, he's won over by the fresh melodies and dense harmonies. Greg explains that the songwriting is much stronger on this album. He calls it an“ecstatic dance record,”one that is a perfect antidote for the gloom of winter. Both critics give Merriweather Post Pavilion a Buy It.
Common Universal Mind Control
One of the big new releases this month is from rapper Common. Universal Mind Control was initially supposed to be released over the summer, and Jim and Greg wonder if the party atmosphere would have been better suited for the warmer months. But, even the sunshine can't improve this disappointing album. Both Jim and Greg have lauded the Chicago native for years, so it breaks their hearts to see him reduced to what Jim describes as a“horrible, sexist, derogatory empty”album. With 2008 being such a landmark year, particularly for African-Americans, Greg thinks Universal Mind Control was a missed opportunity for the usually thoughtful rapper. Both critics give Common's record a Trash It.