Alicia Keys Girl on Fire
Since sweeping the Grammys in 2002 with her debut album, Songs in A Minor, some things have changed for piano pop star Alicia Keys. She's married to producer Swizz Beatz and has a young son named Egypt. Alicia might be a“Brand New Me,”but on her fifth studio album, Girl on Fire, she's out to convince us that she's still“red hot.”Does she succeed? Unfortunately, Greg says there's no spark here. While there's no questions Keys has chops, and she's heavily involved in the songwriting, album number five still doesn't let us in on who this pop diva really is. He adds that Alicia reminds him of a talented pro-athlete who, when faced with an interviewer, spouts mindless clich'es. Jim agrees-there's no soul here. Girl on Fire is a piece of pop product circa 2012, and it gets a double Trash It.
Reigning pop/R&B queen and hook-singer du jour Rihanna is back with a new release called Unapologetic - her first to top the Billboard albums chart. The 24-year-old Barbadian singer has been all over the news in recent weeks, though not necessarily for her music. By dueting with the man who assaulted her in 2009 (fellow R&B singer Chris Brown) on“Nobody's Business,”Rihanna ensured her seventh studio album would be everybody's business. So how's the music? Jim calls the upbeat dance-pop fare on the first half of the record“pure pop pleasure.”But when things get sappier and slowed-down on side two, her limits as a vocalist become clear. Greg agrees with Jim that Rihanna's Chris Brown collab is pure“button-pushing.”He points to her 2009 album Rated R as a more ambitious and successful exploration of that troubled relationship. While he appreciates that the singer is moving in a more serious direction, he laments that the pop hooks just aren't there. Unapologetic gets a double Burn it.
Soundgarden King Animal
"Been Away Too Long" is the first single off Soundgarden's new album, King Animal. As Jim points out, the title is an understatement. The grunge godfathers have been away for 16 years, ever since conflict between the group's two big egos - lead singer Chris Cornell and guitarist Kim Thayil - tanked the band. Jim and Greg haven‘t looked kindly upon Chris Cornell’s solo career. Has this former turkey redeemed himself on Soundgarden's latest? Jim and Greg say no. Greg was heartened by the album's first three tracks, but he says King Animal quickly devolved into a Chris Cornell solo album with backing band. As far as Jim is concerned, Soundgarden can stay away. He was never a fan and has no use for this record. Soundgarden gets a double Trash it.
The Coup Sorry to Bother You
Jim and Greg have their fingers crossed that Sorry to Bother You, the sixth album from Oakland-based hip-hop group The Coup, isn't a turkey. This band has been making consistently good agit-rap records since 1991, Greg says, but they remain best known for an unfortunate incident involving their cover art. Does the band deliver on Sorry to Bother You? Jim says yes. He wouldn't blame you for mistaking "The Magic Clap" for a new OutKast party anthem. The Coup has verged dangerously close to Rage Against the Machine self-righteousness in the past, he says, but on Sorry to Bother You, the band's got the“party to politics”ratio just right. Greg agrees and calls it the best Coup album yet. Sorry to Bother You gets a double Buy It.
Tame Impala Innerspeaker
The Psychedelic era might've predated the boys in Tame Impala by about half a century, but it's the major musical influence on this Australian band. The brainchild of Perth's Kevin Parker, Tame Impala was discovered on MySpace. The band's debut, Innerspeaker, was mixed by longtime Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann. Fridmann was also on board for the band's latest, Lonerism. As its name suggests, Lonerism is about someone who doesn't fit in. But Greg says Parker cannily avoids solipsism by cloaking his melancholy songs in uplifting (and obsessively detailed) pop production. It's a Buy It record for him. Jim agrees. Tame Impala delivers psychedelic transcendence while remaining Britney Spears-catchy. Lonerism gets an enthusiastic double Buy It.
Neil Young Psychedelic Pill
It's been a busy 2012 for Neil Young. Not only has he given us a memoir, Waging Heavy Piece, he's also given us two albums. This spring we got the antique folk romp Americana. Now we have Psychedelic Pill- an epic three records' worth of psychedelic guitar from Neil and the band he was born to play with, Crazy Horse. How good a prescription is Psychedelic Pill? Greg's the first to admit there's a lot of flab on this record. But standout tracks like "Ramada Inn" (about an affair gone sour) and "Walk Like a Giant" (in which Neil reflects on the hippie dream) make this record a worthwhile, if lengthy, listen. Greg says Burn It. As much as it pains him, Neil's #1 fan Jim DeRogatis has to disagree. Never has he heard worse lyrics or more self-indulgent guitar from Neil. This record is sprawling in a bad way. Jim says Trash It.
Kendrick Lamar Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
At 25, Kendrick Lamaris shouldering some pretty heavy expectations for his major label debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. The Compton rapper caught the attention of Dr. Dre and rap tastemakers with his independent debut Section.80. Does Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City live up to all the hype? Jim acknowledges Kendrick's skill as a lyricist - he says his rhymes are almost novelistic - and he understands he is taking on characters in his songs. However he's troubled by the gangsta clichés. No amount of self-awareness, Jim says, makes it OK to indulge in 50 Cent-style misogyny. Jim gives Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City a Trash It rating. Greg couldn‘t disagree more. He thinks Lamar has yet to meet the rap cliché he couldn’t upend. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is wrestling with Compton's legacy in a way that eludes sound bites and lyrics-quoting. Greg says it's a Buy It record that requires close listening.
Converge All We Love We Leave Behind
How could we not end the Halloween special with a band from Salem, Massachusetts? Metal group Converge has a new album out called All We Love We Leave Behind, and it continues their successful two-decade run. Converge is often referred to as“smart metal,”but Jim thinks“ambitious metal”is more apt. This especially applies to the drummer's range of almost jazzy rhythms. Greg says few bands combine aggression with virtuosity better than Converge. The soundscapes are dreamlike and the guitar bursts mind-boggling. All We Love We Leave Behind gets two Buy It ratings.
Miguel Kaleidoscope Dream
Kaleidoscope Dream, the new album by Miguel debuted at #3on the Billboard chart. But he's still an unfamiliar name to most people. The R&B singer and songwriter had moderate success with his first record and has penned songs for Mary J. Blige and Usher. And with this sophomore effort, he really goes all out. You can hear influences from all over the map - from Marvin Gaye to The Zombies. But it's his unique spin and musical chops that make Jim and Greg give the album an enthusiastic double Buy It.
Grizzly Bear Shields
Jim was a fan of Grizzly Bear back when the band appeared on Sound Opinions in 2009. But something was missing from their album Veckatimist. Who knew that“something”was a little Coldplay? The harder rocking stomp and grandeur on this year's Shields fits perfectly with their beautiful harmonies and baroque-pop craftsmanship, according to Jim. He says Buy It. Greg loves Grizzly Bear's take on chamber pop, and especially the drumming on Shields. But he's missing a sense of immediacy on the songs. So Greg goes with a Burn It.
Wanda Jackson Unfinished Business
Wanda Jackson, Queen of Rockabilly since 1954, is out with a new album. Unfinished Business - like last year's The Party Ain't Over - is produced by a young fan. This time, Jim explains, it's Justin Townes Earle, not Jack White, at the helm. Neither Jim nor Greg was a fan of the Caribbean-flavored, White-produced The Party Ain't Over. Does Earle fare better? Greg says yes. You have to remember, he says, that in addition to being rockabilly royalty, Jackson has a background in country and gospel. She sounds perfectly at home covering artists like Freddy King and Etta James. Greg gives Unfinished Business a Buy It. Jim agrees that Earle played it smart by keeping Wanda in her comfort zone and allowing her feistiness to shine through. But he says there are three or four other Jackson albums he'd recommend over this one. He gives Unfinished Business a Burn It.
Mumford & Sons Babel
Mumford & Sons' sophomore album Babel has done gangbusters on the album charts, but how will it fare on Sound Opinions' Buy It, Burn It, Trash It scale? Mumford & Co. emerged from London's thriving folk-rock scene in 2009 with a breakout album Sigh No More that landed them a slot performing with Bob Dylan at the Grammys. With their vests, beards, banjo, and dobro, the band sticks out in the mainstream rock scene, but as Greg explains, the difference is only skin deep. The boys' folky instruments and wardrobe are just signifiers of folk. At its base Mumford & Sons are a sadly conventional arena rock band. Jim could not agree more. The band's lyrics are vague and bland-the complete opposite of the biblical stories that they claim as inspiration. Babel gets a double Trash It.
Lupe Fiasco Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album
Next up is rapper Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album . It wasn‘t too long ago in 2006 that Jim and Greg reviewed Lupe’s debut, the original Food & Liquor. It was a standout album in a wave of conscious hip-hop coming out of Chicago at the time. Now at age 30, Lupe is a veteran of the rap game. What does he have to offer on Food & Liquor II? According to Jim, plenty of food for thought. Lupe is rapping about issues like misogyny, economic exploitation of the poor, and native American rights that Jim says no one else in hip-hop is tackling. And if Lupe sometimes gets a little preachy, he also leavens his critiques with humor. Greg agrees, but he wishes the greatness of Lupe's lyrics were matched by consistently great production. Despite those production flaws, Food & Liquor II gets a double Buy It.
Green Day !Uno!
As a band Green Day is so firmly rooted in the adolescent mindset, it's easy to forget how much history they have. As Jim points out, Green Day predates the nineties alternative era. They started out as an East Bay band riffing on the Ramones and playing VFW halls. Today they have a musical, American Idiot, and nine studio albums to their name. The ninth, !Uno! is just out. Billed as a“back to basics”record, Greg says !Uno! really samples from several of Green Day's eras - from the teenage sneer of Dookie, to the "Time of Your Life" balladry of Nimrod. What's missing on !Uno!, he says, is the ambition of the band's later records, American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. For Greg, Green Day's harkening back to its teenage self (particularly in its foul language on this record) feels like a step backward. He gives !Uno! a Trash It. Jim agrees !Uno! is a big disappointment. The only thing that saves it from the garbage heap is the great Dookie-era production of Rob Cavallo. Jim gives !Uno! a Burn It.
The xx Coexist
Jim and Greg close out this week's show with a review of the sophomore album by The xx. This trio of London art students enjoyed a rapid rise after the release of their self-titled debut. Not only did The xx win Britain's Mercury Prize for the best record of 2009, they performed on Sound Opinions! The hype for their follow-up has been intense. Coexist debuted at No. 1 in the UK and No. 5 in the U.S. Jim says if you liked the first record, chances are you‘ll like this one too. The band has talked in interviews about stripping back its already minimal sound, and Jim agrees. This is a spare, intimate bedroom recording. He gives The xx an A+ for sonic mood, but admits he didn’t find the tunes to be as memorable this go-round. He says Burn It. Greg disagrees. He thinks the interaction between Sim and Romy Croft's vocals are the heart of this record, giving it a surprisingly soulful feel. The tunes are there, he says, for those who listen hard. He gives Coexist a Buy It.
Bob Dylan Tempest
Jim and Greg wrap up the show with a review of Bob Dylan's 35th studio album Tempest. After fifty years of recordings, do they even have to introduce the inimitable Robert Zimmerman? Tempest is Bob's first album since 2009's widely panned Christmas in the Heart, and it continues the trend of him producing his own albums. So what do we get on Tempest? Dylan's voice, Greg notes, has always been unconventional, but fifty years has added considerable gravel and dirt to it. Nevertheless, it's the voice, Greg says, the really carries this album. It's perfect for the spur-of-the-moment, rough and rowdy honky-tonk feel Dylan is going for. Greg gives Tempest a Buy It. Jim agrees. Dylan has always been interested in pop culture figures - he's sung about everyone from Rubin“Hurricane”Cater to Joe Gallo - so he wasn't too surprised to hear a Leonardo DiCaprio cameo on Tempest's title track. What can he say? Bob's still got a sense of humor. Tempest gets a double Buy It.
Divine Fits A Thing Called Divine Fits
Jim and Greg are generally dubious of supergroups. Too often they're not the sum of their parts. But Off!'s visit last week had them feeling hopeful about the debut record from yet another indie supergroup, Divine Fits. Divine Fits is composed of songwriters Britt Daniel of Spoon, Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade (and Handsome Furs), and drummer Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks. The combination of Daniel and Boeckner, Greg notes, is an interesting and potentially troublesome one. Whereas Daniel is cool and reserved, Boeckner is intense and in your face. So does A Thing Called Divine Fits live up to its lofty pedigree? Greg says it does. Daniel and Boeckner might bring different personalities to this partnership, but the two are kindred spirits when it comes to production style. Both embrace a minimalist, stripped-back approach to recording that Greg says makes listeners hyper-aware of musical details like the occasional castanet or maraca. He gives A Thing Called Divine Fits a Buy It. Jim can‘t echo Greg’s enthusiasm. He says Divine Fits fails by abandoning the most successful elements of its members‘ previous groups. Divine Fits has all the angularity of Spoon, for example, but none of its driving intensity. It has all Handsome Furs’ electronic edifice, without any of the sensuality that made that group compelling. Jim gives A Thing Called Divine Fits a Trash It.
Cat Power Sun
And now for something completely different. Indie darling Chan Marshall, who goes by the stage name Cat Power, has a new album out called Sun. Sun is not what one generally associates with Cat Power. Over eight solo albums Marshall has developed a dusky, lonesome sound whose pure melancholy is often intensified in concert (she's been known to curl up in a fetal ball onstage, so overcome with anxiety that she is unable to continue playing). Marshall wrote Sun as she was breaking up with her actor boyfriend Giovanni Ribisi, so one might ask, how sunny can Sun possibly be? Jim says it's all relative, but he likes this album better than Marshall's previous efforts. Instead of wallowing, Chan seems to be in self-help mode, reminding herself in "Ruin" that some people "don't have s* to eat." And Jim likes that she's traded in the dirgy guitar and piano for more upbeat synths on this record. He gives Sun a Burn It. Like Jim, Greg has found Marshall hard to take on previous albums, but he's come to appreciate Sun. Chan, he says, is in a dancier mood here - she's even got a fun little pop number in "3,6,9" - so he gives Sun a Buy it.
Bob Mould Silver Age
Next Jim and Greg review the new solo album from an artist they affectionately call "Uncle Grumpy": Bob Mould. If you were a music-loving kid coming up in the alternative '80s, Jim says, Mould's band Hüsker Dü, was a revelation. The band imploded too early to cash in on the nineties alternative gravy train, so Mould founded another band, Sugar, in 1992. He also put out a prolific series of arty solo albums. Lately, Mould's moved away from music to pursue writing. He published an autobiography See a Little Light last year (and discussed it on Sound Opinions). He says writing about his life inspired him to make Silver Age, a record he's called dumb rock fun. Is that true? Jim says Uncle Grumpy's just putting the critics off the scent. Like Mould's book, this record is all about dark and light, highs and lows. It's also got a wicked sense of humor.“Star Machine,”he says, is one of the most vicious eviscerations of the corporate rock machine he's ever heard. Jim gives Silver Age a Buy It. Greg agrees. He says Mould can be a bit meticulous and fussy in his solo work, but here he's letting it fly. Plus, he's got Superchunk's Jon Wurster playing drums on his record. So how could it be bad?
Dead Can Dance Anastasis
Next Jim and Greg review Anastasis, the first new record in sixteen years from longtime 4AD band Dead Can Dance. This duo began thirty years ago in Australia. Guitarist Brendan Perry got his start in punk circles, but turned in a more experimental direction after meeting vocalist Lisa Gerrard. Greg says in the eighties, no one sounded quite like Dead Can Dance. The band melded the ancient sounds of Gregorian chant and renaissance music with au courant ambient pop. Since splitting up in 1997, Gerard and Perry have pursued solo careers (Gerard composed the music for Gladiator), but recent brushfires in Australia brought the two together long enough to produce a new album, Anastasis. Are the dead still dancing in 2012? Jim says not nearly enough. He finds Perry's serious, intoned lyrics laughable and Gerrard's compositions plodding and overdramatic. He says Trash It. Greg admits to being a Dead Can Dance diehard back in the day, but even he admits the band's slow tempos on this album aren‘t doing them any favors. Not only are Perry’s lyrics annoying, he says, but they don‘t seem to have anything to do with Gerrard’s beautiful, atmospheric vocals. He gives Anastasis a Burn It on the strength of Gerrard's voice, but calls Anastasis second-rate work.
Yeasayer All Our Cymbals
Jim and Greg review Fragrant World, the third album from Brooklyn band Yeasayer. Yeasayer started gaining buzz in the indie underground shortly after their 2007 debut, All Our Cymbals. Critics praised their inventive merging of shoegaze and world rhythms. Fans couldn't get enough of the hooks. Fragrant World promised to be something a little different: band members said they were inspired by Aaliyah's work with Missy Elliot. Fragrant World would be their take on R&B. Greg says the new album isn‘t as immediately hooky as past efforts, but when it comes to taking R&B to an alien landscape, Yeasayer succeeds big time. It took him a road trip with the record to be won over, but now he says it reminds him of Bowie’s alien soul and funk in the seventies. Jim was a convert on first listen. The hooks are there, he says, but what really gets him is how the band downplays the novelty of their Eastern and African-tinged percussion, folding those drums seamlessly into electronic grooves. Fragrant World gets a double Buy It.
Jim and Greg close out the show by reviewing the new, self-titled album from Brooklyn afrobeat band Antibalas. This is the fifth studio album from a group whose sound is largely the product of one man - Nigerian saxophone player and afrobeat inventor Fela Kuti. Kuti forged afrobeat from American jazz, African highlife, and tribal music, infusing the mix with potent political commentary. Antibalas are devotees of Fela, and recently played in and arranged the music for Fela! on Broadway. Jim's verdict: if you don‘t get an itch to start dancing listening to this music, you don’t have a pulse. Antibalas aren‘t slaves to Fela’s legacy. They too are political, but they're singing about modern day issues like the economy and immigration. Greg also observes that unlike the autocratic Fela, Antibalas is a democracy. There are some fine solos on this record, but what's really thrilling is how the band works together. Antibalas gets a double Buy It.
Redd Kross Researching the Blues
Jim and Greg review Researching the Blues, the new record from California rock veterans Redd Kross. Adopted as the“little brothers”of L.A.'s hardcore punk scene when they first formed in 1980, Redd Kross always tended more Beach Boys than Black Flag in sound. Their 1990 record Third Eye was a harbinger of later alt-era successes (Nevermind for one), but the band itself never achieved Nirvana-level success and went on hiatus in 1997. Researching the Blues, the band's first new record in 15 years, reunites the“classic lineup”of Jeff McDonald, Steve McDonald, Robert Hecker, and Roy McDonald. Both Jim and Greg agree they're glad to have these boys back. Redd Kross have cut all the fat, Greg says. They get in, give you a great guitar solo and some killer harmonies, and then get out. Past records have been rife with seventies pop-culture references. Greg thinks Redd Kross are taking themselves a bit more seriously this time around, though Jim points out there are still enough kitschy references to Dracula and Frankenstein to keep things light. Researching the Blues gets a double Buy It.
Mission of Burma Unsound
Next up, Jim and Greg review Unsound, the new record from Boston post-punk pioneers Mission of Burma. Mission of Burma in its first incarnation was sadly short-lived. Guitarist Roger Miller's tinnitus ended the band pre-maturely after just one album and one EP of avant-garde noise and pop melody. The reunited Burma has already produced four times as much material as the original, most of it - to fans' delight - just as good as the old stuff. Does the trend continue on Unsound? Jim says absolutely. Four albums into their reunion, Burma has proved itself the equal of contemporaries Wire. The songs on Unsound are consistently good, and band members continue to experiment by switching up the instrumentation. Key for both Jim and Greg is that the members of Burma still seem to be having fun. Unsound gets a double Buy It.
Passion Pit Gossamer
Michael Angelakos, the laptop wizard behind electropop band Passion Pit, first made a splash on MySpace in 2008 with the hit "Sleepyhead." He released his debut album, Manners, the next year. Since then we haven‘t heard much from him. Passion Pit’s new sophomore effort, Gossamer, was in the works for some time, and Angelakos recently posted on the band's website that he was calling off performances in July in order to deal with mental health problems. Mental health issues, the stresses of maintaining a marriage, and economic decline all make up the rather dark background of Gossamer, an album that masquerades as a lighthearted dance record. For Jim and Greg, that contrast of light and dark is all too good. Jim says Angelakos's lyrics wouldn't be out of place on a soul album. He includes Passion Pit as part of a movement of weird soul geniuses (Frank Ocean and The Weeknd are also among them) making heart-felt epics in their bedrooms. Both Jim and Greg agree this is a deep record worth spending some time with. Another double Buy It.
Frank Ocean channel ORANGE
Speaking of musicians who put their sexuality out there, rising R&B star Frank Ocean recently made the news when he wrote on his tumblr that he‘d fallen in love with a man when he was 19. That’s a bold statement coming from an artist linked to the outwardly homophobic hip-hop collective Odd Future. The buzz surrounding Ocean's major label debut channel ORANGEwas already intense given the success of his mixtape, last year's nostalgia, ULTRA. Does it live up to the hype? In short, yes. Jim thinks Ocean's a contender to be the next Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye. Not only is he bringing new sounds into R&B, but he's writing about money, sex, and class in a way that's honest and gimmick-free. What's getting him riled are those interstitial skits and snippets of conversation. They break the flow of the record and make channel ORANGE a Burn It for him. Greg echoes Jim's praise but isn't as bothered by the skits. For him this record is all about a singer telling emotion-packed stories. He gives channel ORANGE a Buy It.
Emeli Sande Our Version of Events
Not long ago, Scottish R&B singer Emeli Sande was studying neuroscience at Glasgow University. Writing and performing music was a side gig. That changed in 2009 when she hooked up with British hip-hop producer Naughty Boy and the two put out the successful single“Diamond Rings”with Chipmunk. It's been a swift rise for Sande ever since. After working as a songwriter for artists like Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle and Tinie Tempah, she's put out her first solo record, Our Version of Events, on a major label. So is Sande the next Adele as some in the British press have prophesied? Jim says not quite. While the quality of Sande's voice is undeniable, he's disturbed by the submissiveness in her lyrics (there's something uncomfortable, he says, about a 25-year-old woman referring to a lover as "daddy.") Sande's cited both Nina Simone and Massive Attack as influences, but when it comes to merging those sounds, Jim says Sande's got a ways to go. What social consciousness there is on this record is generic and uncompelling. Greg agrees. In trying to show Sande's breadth as a songwriter, he suspects her producers spread her too thin. Still, the voice is there, and Greg predicts Sande will go on to make better records than this one. Our Version of Events gets a double Burn It.
Hot Chip In Our Heads
Also hailing from the UK is Hot Chip, a group some have called England's answer to LCD Soundsystem. Composed mainly of songwriters Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard, the electro-poppers are out with their fifth studio album In Our Heads. On their last album One Life Stand, the band moved away from the happy-go-lucky party tracks that established them into decidedly more emotional territory. Does In Our Heads continue the trend? Greg says unfortunately, yes. He's always relished Hot Chip's dancier tracks for they way they compress the history of electronic dance music into three minutes. On In Our Heads the band continues to wear its influences on its sleeve, cribbing from the likes of Prince, The Talking Heads, and Luther Vandross. But for every killer single like "Let Me Be Him," there are more than a few drippy ballads. Jim agrees. For him, Hot Chip is essentially a singles band. When they're on, they're on, when they're not, they're not. On the strength of the few great singles on this record, Jim and Greg give In Our Heads a Burn It rating.
Patti Smith Banga
In the past weeks Jim and Greg's inboxes have filled up with new records. This week, they award buy it, burn it, and trash it ratings to five of them. First up, punk godmother Patti Smith. The poetess behind Horses and Radio Ethiopia is back with her eleventh studio album, Banga. Recorded off and on between gallery showings and book readings, Banga, Greg says, is a meditation on the call of art. It's also a tour of global music styles.“We were going to see the world,”Smith intones in the leadoff track "Amerigo," and she doesn't let us down. Different tracks draw inspiration from free jazz, do-wop, celtic folk, and blues. Greg says Buy It. Jim agrees. This album is up there with Patti's best work, not the least because, Jim says, she seems to really be having fun. Double Buy It.
Bobby Womack The Bravest Man in the Universe
Like Patti Smith, Bobby Womack's got a storied musical history. He played with Sam Cooke in the sixties, was a session musician for Aretha Franklin and Sly Stone, and finally made a name for himself as a solo artist with classic R&B albums like Communication and The Facts of Life in the seventies. Unfortunately addiction dragged him down and by the nineties Womack was a musical nonentity. With The Bravest Man in the Universe, Womack announces his comeback. He's cleaned up and is working with producer Damon Albarn of Blur. Womack and Albarn have played it smart, Jim says, by not living in the past. The electronic soul tracks Albarn's created for Womack don't sound vintage in the slightest. The themes might be familiar - Womack sings from the point of view of a man who done wrong - but the music is challenging and fresh. Greg agrees. While he wishes Albarn and Womack hadn't turned over quite so many tracks to guests like Lana Del Rey, he's loving Womack's sandpapery voice. Double Buy It.
Ty Segall Slaughterhouse
Ty Segall may have made a name for himself as a low-fi bedroom recording artist, but don't mistake him for the moody quiet type. This California garage rocker is loud! Slaughterhouse is his first release with his own band, and both Jim and Greg agree: this is a ferocious dirty record. It's hard, Greg says, to find artists who do both noise and melody well, but Ty is one of them. On Slaughterhouse, extreme noise and melody battle it out for half an hour. The ten-minute track of fuzzed out drone that ends the record reminds Greg of surveying a battlefield. Jim agrees. Ty might call this“evil space rock,”but for him, it's masterful garage rock overlaid with Brit pop melodies. Another double Buy It.
Best Coast The Only Place
Also from California - and proudly so - is Best Coast. The band's debut album was the much buzzed about Crazy For You, a hit fueled as much by Beach Boys pop as it was by lead singer Bethany Cosentino's intense homesickness (she was in a band in New York for a time). Jim says that Best Coast's sophomore album, The Only Place, might come under fire for being simply more of the same. That might be true, if by“same”you mean it's another album of indelibly catchy pop. But he also points out the darkness of Beth's lyrics this time around. She's singing about her desire to be loved for who she is, and as Greg points out, she's doing so sincerely and movingly. Both Jim and Greg agree this is summery pop at its best. They say Buy It.
Neneh Cherry The Cherry Thing
For their final review, Jim and Greg turn to Neneh Cherry and her collaboration with Norwegian/Swedish jazz band The Thing. While Cherry's best known for her hip-hop inflected single "Buffalo Stance," jazz is in her musical DNA. Her stepfather, Don Cherry, was a renowned jazz trumpeter, and Neneh's first band, Rip Rig + Panic, attempted to merge free jazz with a punk sensibility. Still Greg admits, it was hard to imagine how Cherry's voice and Mats Gustafsson 's freewheeling sax could work together on her latest album, The Cherry Thing. He was pleasantly surprised. Cherry's voice is a versatile instrument. She samples hip-hop and trip hop styles and channels everyone from Billie Holiday to Yoko Ono. Still Jim says this album is unquestionably Cherry's, a feat even more impressive considering the material is almost all covers. This is a woman who can sing Iggy Stooge's“Dirt”and make it her own. Jim and Greg both say Buy It, making this an especially feel-good episode of Sound Opinions.
Fiona Apple The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
The title of Fiona Apple's latest album The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is certainly a mouthful (though it doesn‘t hold a candle to her sophomore album title). It’s only her fourth release since Tidal put her on the map in 1996, but this time around Jim notes she's taking a slightly different tack. Apple declined production help from friend Jon Brion and worked instead with her touring drummer Charley Drayton. The result, Greg says, is admirably stripped down. The album reminds him of seeing Apple live at her LA home stage, Largo. The vocals in particular are front and center. She's never pushed her voice this far, singing in a high falsetto one minute and scatting the next. Even better, there's plenty of hooks. Greg says it's the best album of her career - a buy it all the way. Jim on the other hand, is reaching for the Excedrin extra strength. While he admires Apple's ambition, he says listening to this needlessly complicated album is a chore. The last track "Hot Knife" epitomizes everything that's wrong: rolling timpani, scatting, a bridge that goes nowhere, and ululations that drive him bonkers. Trash it.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse Americana
Despite rumors that the perennial collaborators would never work together again, Neil Young and Crazy Horse are back with a new album. The combination that produced Rust Never Sleeps, Zuma, and Greendale just released Americana, which takes its inspiration from the American folk vernacular. Think "Jesus' Chariot" sounds familiar? You might know it better as "She‘ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain." So what can we expect when Neil Young and Crazy Horse take on the elementary school songbook? According to Jim, Crazy Horse is the vehicle Neil Young was meant to drive. It might be a cliché, but they could do a musical version of the phone book and kill. They give new life to these songs by unearthing original verses too dark to have made it to the school recital. Though the tempos are a bit slow, these tracks have a groove, and Young rides it masterfully. Jim says Buy It. Greg thinks of Neil Young as music's answer to Howard Zinn. Both are alternative American historians. Just like Neil Young classics "Cortez the Killer" and "Pocahontas," these new songs are about the price paid for the conquest of this country. The album works, Greg says, because of the hunger the band brings to songs we take for granted. It's a Buy it for him too.
Garbage Not Your Kind of People
It's been awhile since we heard from Garbage - seven years in fact. Now the alt-rockers are back with a new studio album, Not Your Kind of People. At this point, Jim points out, Garbage is a nostalgia act. They first made a splash in the mid-nineties, convincing grunge kids to don Goth makeup and get out on the dance floor with singles like "Stupid Girl," and "Only Happy When It Rains." Some might say Garbage was also a cash-in project, with lead singer Shirley Manson and alt-era producers Butch Vig, Duke Erikson, and Steve Marker content to ride the grunge wave. But even Jim admits, you couldn't help tapping your foot to those singles. What has Garbage got for us in 2012? According to Greg, Not Your Kind of People offers singles just as good as any Garbage recorded back in the day. But after a seven-year hiatus, that's not enough. He never was much of a fan of Garbage albums, and that, along with the band's sound, hasn't changed. Jim agrees. Shirley Manson is still a compelling front woman, and who couldn't use a little goth dance music in their life? But ultimately, this is a Burn it album.
Beach House Bloom
Baltimore duo Beach House has released a fourth album called Bloom. And fans can expect more of what they love about the band: Victoria Legrand's beautiful, but deadpanned voice and Alex Scally's shimmering keyboards and muted drums. Greg likes this sound, but feels like he's on a merry-go-round with the band. They seem afraid to go anywhere further. So he says Burn It. Jim explains that even hipsters need make out or chill out music. This is no Cocteau Twins or Nico, but a great addition to your collection if you are looking for something quiet. If you are going to get one Beach House album, Bloom is the Buy It.
Killer Mike R.A.P. Music.
Killer Mike made his debut with a great cameo on the 2000 Outkast record Stankonia. Now he's released his 6th album called R.A.P. Music. Jim admits this is a "gangsta rap" record, but it manages to rise above all the clichés you associate with that. Killer Mike goes back to black music's earliest influences, and his belief in the power of music is nothing short of inspirational. Greg agrees, calling R.A.P. Music a hip hop classic. He and producer El-P are celebrating hardcore rap, while spanning a huge range in terms of subject matter and sound. Killer Mike gets a double Buy It.
Norah Jones ...Little Broken Hearts
Norah Jones also teamed up with Danger Mouse for her 5th album called …Little Broken Hearts. She's sold 40 million albums, won a ton of Grammys, and gained fans with her jazzy, laid back vocals. But it's too laid back for Jim's taste. He accuses Jones of bringing Danger Mouse down, and is irritated by her utter lack of passion. Unless you are looking to doze, Trash it. Greg understands Jim wants Jones to shout, but that's never been her thing. And subtlety is undervalued these days. Not everything works well, but Greg finds Little Broken Hearts a nice left turn and says Burn It.
Santigold Master of My Make Believe
After wowing many people, including Greg Kot, with her 2008 debut Santigold, Santi White (now Santigold), is back with a new album called Master of My Make Believe. She's working with a number of new producers including members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio, and she's expanded her sound palette substantially. But, thankfully, the songwriting is as strong as ever. Greg admits that she's not the most impressive vocalist, but he appreciates that in this era of over-singing. He says Buy It. Jim is especially taken with Santigold's exuberance, humor and spirit. He says it's a great contrast to the Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.'s of the world. Master of My Make Believe gets a double Buy It rating.
Jack White Blunderbuss
A blunderbuss is an antique gun that shoots scattershot-the perfect name for an album by Jack White. It's a nod to the old, something The White Stripes front man favors, but also references how wide in scope the album is. On his solo debut, the singer, guitarist, producer and label head incorporated lots of piano and stringed music. Greg is as impressed by this variety as he is by the story the songs tell. Jim doesn't hear as many departures. But he does get another set of extraordinary anthems. So both hosts give Blunderbuss a double Buy It rating…but for different reasons.
Spiritualized Sweet Heart Sweet Light
Jason Pierce, the force behind Spiritualized, isn't shy about returning to his inspirations, album after album. There's the noise/melody combo of the Velvet Underground, German art rock, gospel music and free jazz. But melding those elements together well is no small feat. He does it again on Sweet Heart Sweet Light, which Greg says is good, but only 2nd tier. He‘d refer listeners back to 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. The new one is just a Burn It. Jim is forced to bite his tongue when he hears this, as he sees Sweet Heart Sweet Light as Spiritualized's most optimistic album to date. Pierce has battled a lot of pain and fought liver disease, and the musical result is a masterpiece. Jim says Buy It.
Nicki Minaj Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
She may be hip hop's answer to Lady Gaga. Nicki Minaj has the hair and costumes, and now chart success to boot. Her new album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded has gone to #1, taking down fellow diva Madonna. It's a follow up to 2010's Pink Friday, which Jim thought had an interesting and unlikely combination of diverse elements including Missy Elliott's eccentricity and Lil Kim's provocation. But now she's added pop to the stew, and things aren't melding as well. Jim criticizes the sub-American Idol balladry and her awful singing. But most offensive is her harsh language about women. Greg agrees Minaj is a frustrating artist. He's fascinated by some of her work and her alter-ego Roman Zolanski, but she falls into some terrible clichés. Roman Reloaded gets a double Trash It.
Willis Earl Beal Acousmatic Sorcery
The story of Willis Earl Beal is unlike any other. The Chicago native only took to music to curb loneliness after moving to Albuquerque, N.M. He had no training, but a desire for emotional connection that eventually led to some press and an eventual signing to XL Recordings. Now he's got a new debut album out called Acousmatic Sorcery. Jim compares his sound to that of alternative hip hop artist Divine Styler. It's a kind of“Martian blues”with a lo-fi, folk edge. The production needs some work but Jim says Buy It. Greg admits Beal can‘t really play much, but his percussion, and especially his voice, are quite strong. This is the kind of stuff Alan Lomax would’ve dug. Greg doesn't know if Beal has another album in him, but he gives Acousmatic Sorcery a Buy It rating.
No other dance pop artist has been at it successfully for as long as Madonna. With a career spanning 30 years and 300 million albums sold worldwide, she's earned the title "Queen of Pop." However, with royal status, should come different expectations. No longer is Madonna on the cutting edge, as critics of her new album MDNA have complained. But that's okay, says Greg. She's still able to bring personality, especially on the songs produced by William Orbit of Ray of Light fame. But Orbit only tackles half the record, so Greg gives MDNA a Burn It. Jim knows Greg thinks it's foolish to criticize Madonna's lyrics, but her music used to have conceptual strength in addition to pop power. Now she just goes on about being a bad girl…and at the age of 53. Jim says Trash It.
Dr. John Locked Down
In the late ‘60s and early ’70s, nobody sounded quite like Dr. John. And now on Locked Down, Mac Rebennack has returned to that psychedelic, voodoo, Gris Gris, gumbo vibe, thanks in large part to producer Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Jim loves the use of bass and African drums, and never has the farfesa organ sounded dirtier or better. Greg agrees, noting that the Dr. is best when he's in the zone and almost speaking in tongues. For new or old fans of Dr. John, Jim and Greg give Locked Down a Buy It.
Shins Port of Morrow
After working on side projects like Broken Bells, Shins front man James Mercer has retooled the band and released a new album called Port of Morrow. Fans will continue to appreciate Mercer's sense of melody, but, like Greg, they may be turned off by the broader, more polished production courtesy of producer Greg Kurstin. Jim thinks the production adjustments are successful, and prefers The Shins‘ brand of twee more than that of Andrew Bird. So that’s a Burn it from Greg and a Buy It from Jim.
Sinead O'Connor How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?
Sinead O'Connor debuted in the late '80s with two commercial and critical hits: The Lion and the Cobra and I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. But since she infamously burned a picture of the Pope on SNL, the Irish singer-songwriter's career has been as much about her personal troubles as her music. Through four marriages, drug addiction, and mental illness, she's remained prolific, releasing albums as diverse as 2002's Sean-Nos Nua (a tribute to Irish folk music) and 2005's Throw Down Your Arms (drawing on Rastafari traditions). Her latest, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? is a characteristically personal album, Greg says, but with a pop spin. She's poking fun at herself, and most importantly, doing it within the context of some surprisingly melodic songs. But Greg still can‘t buy into the more political tracks. She’s confusing rants for songs, so he has to give How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? a Burn it rating. Jim thinks that's a bit harsh. The new record is brilliant, he says…Sinead's best since 1994's Universal Mother. The political material doesn‘t overshadow the record, which is first and foremost about love and the meaning of commitment. Sinead’s voice stands undiminished, and her witty, lighthearted lyrics don't hurt either. Jim says Buy it.
Andrew Bird Break It Yourself
Andrew Bird is back with his 7th studio album called Break It Yourself. The singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist recorded the album in his barn in western Illinois, and Greg's favorite track is "Near Death Experience Experience," which tells the story of people on a plane about to crash. It has a tango groove, emotional intensity and quirkiness. He can't say the same about the rest of the record, unfortunately. Greg respects Bird, but finds these tunes demonstrate great musicianship, but not great songwriting. So, he says Burn It. Jim also appreciates how he isn‘t a cookie cutter conformist, but you have to get past a lot of hurdles to like Bird’s music, including whistling, violin and a love for $20 words. While much of that has been pared back, he still isn't drawn into these songs and says Trash It.
Kid Cudi made a name for himself first as a protégé of Kanye West, then as an innovator of a unique emo-rap sound with Man on the Moon Parts One and Two. And now he's picked up a guitar. With WZRD, his project with Dot da Genius, he is fusing elements of hip-hop and rock, and to great effect according to Jim. He admires his cockiness (covering Where Did You Sleep Last Night?) and his sense of experimentation, especially when compared to unsuccessful fusion efforts like Lil Wayne's Rebirth. Jim tells you to Buy It. Greg only needs to describe WZRD in two words: Amateur Hour. If he didn‘t know Cudi was behind this album, he’d instruct these kids to go back to the drawing board, learn to play guitar and learn to sing. Sorry folks, this one's a Trash It.
Bruce Springsteen Wrecking Ball
Get ready for another classic Sound Opinions Bruce Springsteen debate. Historically, Greg is in the pro-corner, while Jim is in the con. But, there have been exceptions. And on this 17th release Wrecking Ball, which is like a soundtrack to Occupy Wall Street, Greg says you lose the songwriter's sense of urgency and anger because of the glossy production. The album goes straight for stadium anthems, so he can only give it a Burn It rating. Jim thinks he's letting The Boss off easy. He compares the performance to that of a bad Irish bar band and says Trash It.
Mark Lanegan Blues Funeral
Whether it was with the Screaming Trees, dueting with Isobel Campbell or on his own, Mark Lanegan has a tremendous voice. And on his new solo record, Blues Funeral, he goes for a rootsy sound, but also experiments with more digital production. You might think this would mask his signature“whisky soaked”vocals, but Jim loves this rainy day mood record and would recommend you Buy It. Greg, on the other hand, would take any of Lanegan's other records over this one. He thinks he's gone too far out of his comfort zone and questions some of the clich'ed lyrics. Of Blues Funeral, Greg says Trash It.
Sleigh Bells Reign of Terror
After an acclaimed debut, Treats, Sleigh Bells is back with Reign of Terror. Greg assumed this two-person noise pop band was just a one record wonder. So he was pleasantly surprised to hear that they‘ve twisted their abrasive, pop-filled sound. There’s an unexpected dark, art punk vibe that Greg surmises is due to travails in guitarist Derek Miller's personal life. So E for Effort…Greg gives Reign of Terror a Burn It. Jim, on the other hand, never loved Sleigh Bell's noise + melody formula. On Treats, the melodies weren‘t that melodic and the noise not that original. And he doesn’t hear much progression on this second release. So he gives Sleigh Bells a Trash It.
Van Halen A Different Kind of Truth
After a revolving door of frontmen rivaling only cast changes in a soap opera, original lead singer David Lee Roth is back with Van Halen. And the band has a new album out-its 12th-called A Different Kind of Truth. Jim admits he's never been a Van Halen fan, though he appreciates Roth's sense of humor. But lusting after soccer moms, rather than teachers or teens is not a big step up. He also hates Eddie Van Halen's guitar style and Alex Van Halen's drumming. All that adds up to a Trash It. Greg explains that if you're not a Van Halen fan, this album isn‘t for you. But they’re giving listeners exactly what they want-a big, dumb, fun record. He defends Eddie's guitar playing and gives A Different Kind of Truth a Burn It.
Lana Del Rey Born to Die
Whether you've been watching Saturday Night Live or reading the Wall Street Journal, you have heard of Lana Del Rey. She's been a lightening rod for a number of conversations about marketing and feminism. But Jim and Greg are happy to look past all those debates and focus on the music. Unfortunately, this self-proclaimed“Gangsta Nancy Sinatra”isn't wowing them on her new release Born to Die. Jim describes Del Rey as a combination of Julee Cruise and Lily Allen, however she doesn't have the vocal chops or the sense of humor of either. Worse than her narrow range, however, is her lack of passion and believability. Jim says Trash It. Greg loves the production by industry veteran David Kahne. But the songs are very“samey”and full of cliches. He also can't abide by her passive nature, so Greg can only say Burn It.
Leonard Cohen Old Ideas
Leonard Cohen is another music vet featured on today's show. But in his four plus decades career, he's only released 12 studio albums. This means his quality control is pretty good. The issue with some of his albums, Greg explains, is not with the songwriting, but with the production. On Old Ideas he has cleared away the clutter and allowed the poetic lyrics to be at the forefront. Greg is also impressed that despite being a man of a certain age, Cohen's songs are full of life and humor. Greg gives this tragicomedy of an album a Buy It. Jim is still put off by the production choices and can only give Old Ideas a Burn it rating. The record has a“yuppie cabaret vibe.”And rather than be an English major rock critic and parse each lyric, Jim will wait until the inevitable stream of Cohen covers present his songwriting in better form.
Craig Finn Clear Heart Full Eyes
Craig Finn has achieved a fair amount of mainstream success with his indie band The Hold Steady. So why would he venture out on his own at this point? According to Jim and Greg, Finn wanted to go a little less rock, a little more country on his solo debut Clear Heart Full Eyes, inspired, of course, by Friday Night Lights. He also went for less bombast and more mature lyrics. Those lyrics deserve an A+, says Greg, but the music falls flat. He says Burn It. Jim doesn't understand why Finn is stepping outside of The Hold Steady, which is a perfect vehicle for his songs. The lyrics are strong when they are funny, but otherwise this is a Trash It record.
The Weeknd Echoes of Silence
Canadian musician and producer Abel Tesfaye, otherwise known as The Weeknd, is emerging out of the underground after the release of three acclaimed mixtapes. Those free albums earned him a Polaris nomination and the support of fellow countryman Drake. Jim includes The Weeknd in the great tradition of unnerving strange R&B (Marvin Gaye, D'Angelo). He is an interesting vocalist, but on this recent free mixtape Echoes of Silence, the real reason to listen is the music, which blends R&B with industrial and trip-hop influences. Greg agrees, noting that Echoes is not the best of the 3 releases, but certainly worth a listen. He uses his voice to play against type and really draws you into the dark lyrical content. Both Jimand Greg say Buy It, but luckily, you don't have to.
Amy Winehouse Lioness: Hidden Treasures
Amy Winehouse fans didn't have to wait long for her first posthumous release. Lioness: Hidden Treasures is a collection of covers and a couple of original works. But the title is completely misleading according to Greg. Are these really the late singer's treasures? If so, that's sad. Greg calls out the people curating Winehouse's estate for allowing this material to be released-material that features Winehouse blurry and slurry. Jim calls the album grave robbing, pure and simple. Lioness gets a double Trash It.
Common The Dreamer/The Believer
After taking a few years to focus on his acting career, rapper Common is back with a new album called The Dreamer/The Believer. He reunites with producing partner No I.D. and subsequently with an earlier sound. Jim is impressed with Common's ability to rap from the heart and be honest about his personal failings. He had no great expectations for this record after the“turd”that was Universal Mind Control, but now he's happy to recommend listeners Buy It. Greg hears The Dreamer/The Believer as a reconciliation record-both with hip hop and with his former style. It's so“90s”that some listeners might dismiss the album. But, while it's not a masterpiece, Greg calls it a strong return. He concurs: Buy It.
Guided By Voices Let's Go Eat the Factory
Eight years after the band broke up, Jim and Greg are listening to a new Guided By Voices record. Let's Go Eat the Factory comes to us from GBV's 1993“classic lineup”including the band's main songwriter Robert Pollard and guitarist and songwriter Tobin Sprout. Back in the ‘90s this prolific indie band rode the alternative wave, finding mainstream success with their brand of Brit-pop inspired post-punk. What’ve they got for us this time? No surprises here, Greg says. This is a classic GBV record with the band's trademark mix of arty experiments and proto arena rock. There are a lot of songs here, and they're not all good, but the great ones are really great. Greg credits Sprout and says Burn it. Jim agrees; there are a few good songs on this album, but he's tired of wading through all the filler and failed experiments to get to them. It's about time GBV started self-editing. He says Trash it.
The Black Keys El Camino
Hard rockin' Ohioans The Black Keys are back with their seventh studio album, El Camino, a collaboration with hip hop producer Danger Mouse. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney signed to Mississippi's bluesy Fat Possum label a decade ago, but Greg notes the duo's since expanded their sound. Jim never thought he‘d say it, but this record is“a masterpiece.”He’d never been a fan of the band's live performances and called them“White Stripes wannabes”on record. But suddenly here they are with an exquisite wall of sound with the songs to match. He says Buy It. Greg always enjoyed the band's jammy live performances but never thought they quite captured it on record. He credits the band's collaboration with Danger Mouse for tightening up their songwriting on El Camino. The emphasis is on the break beat, the choruses come faster, and hooks abound. Greg seconds the Buy it.
The Roots Undun
After over a decade of music-making, Philadelphia quintet The Roots have earned a reputation as the best live band in hip hop. They've put out ten studio records, backed artists like D'Angelo and Erykah Badu, and rule the airwaves every night as Jimmy Fallon's house band. Has this caused the quality to drop off on the group's latest release Undun? Greg says not a bit. He named the record his second favorite of 2011 and he's not backing down. He especially wants to call out DJ Black Thought for some overdue props; Greg ranks him up there with Jay-Z. He says Buy it. Jim agrees, but unlike Greg, he's not loving the four-part classical suite that closes the album. It's beautiful, but out of place. In fact, the self-consciousness of the whole story underlying Undun - the rise and fall of a street kid - puts Jim off. It's a Buy It album, but not the band's best.