D'Angelo Black Messiah
The enigmatic neo-soul revolutionary D'Angelo is back after 14 years underground with the surprise year-end release of Black Messiah, the follow-up to his triumphant 2000 album Voodoo. Greg couldn‘t be happier to utter the words“new D’Angelo album,”as the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter is truly an R&B visionary. Black Messiah sounds like no other music out there. D‘Angelo’s meticulously layered and sensuous grooves aren‘t afraid of a little dirt and grime, which fit the record’s two overarching themes of love and war perfectly. Jim credits D'Angelo for being able to connect the dots within, and across, musical genres bringing the past into the present and pushing the present state of R&B into the future. The only problem either critic has with the album is that it came out after they made their best albums of the year lists, because Black Messiah is easily a contender for number one. An absolute Buy It for both Jim and Greg.
The Preatures Blue Planet Eyes
While Greg discovered Protomartyr at the 2014 SXSW Music Conference, Jim came back from Austin raving about The Preatures. The Australian quintet's new album is called Blue Planet Eyes, and both Jim and Greg think it's the warm, upbeat salve we need during these blistering months. The album was produced by Spoon's Jim Eno, and Greg can hear his taut, syncopated touches all over it. And while Preatures singer Isabella Manfredi is being compared to New Wave divas like Blondie and Chrissie Hynde, Jim adds another joyful influence:“Walking on Sunshine”by Katrina & the Waves. If you're making your list for Santa, add Blue Planet Eyes—a double Buy It.
TV on the Radio Seeds
For TV on the Radio, its 6th album Seeds marks a musical departure from past work and has Jim and Greg at odds. TVOTR has been a consistently interesting band, emerging from the same scene as groups like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Strokes. However many people wondered whether they would make a new album after their bassist, Gerard Smith, died in 2011 of lung cancer. Greg notes that he has greatly enjoyed TVOTR's past albums but found himself missing the“weirdness”on this one. He found the record to be very linear and melodic, and noted the group lost the elements of texture and surprise in these new tracks. Jim couldn't disagree more! He argues there are plenty of surprises with a mix of mourning and hard grooving tunes. Jim even thinks the track "Happy Idiot" is a thinking-hipster's response to Pharrell's "Happy." Greg gives it a Try It while Jim thinks he's just being grumpy and strongly gives Seeds a Buy It.
The New Basement Tapes Lost on the River
Who knew that one summer in a basement in upstate New York in 1967 would become such a big deal? But fans of Bob Dylan and The Band are still poring over the material that came out of those musicians‘ one-take, slapdash recording sessions, decades later. It’s amazing considering that those Basement Tapes weren't even supposed to go public. Now, more lyrics from that time have surfaced and have been turned into new music produced by T. Bone Burnett and performed by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons. The result is Lost on the River by The New Basement Tapes. Greg particularly admires the bluesy, pre-rock sound contributed by Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. But, for the most part, he doesn't hear any of the magic of The Basement Tapes. And that's not surprising considering it was a contrived project with the manufactured setting of the basement of Capitol Records in L.A., not rural New York. He can only say Try It. Jim thinks Greg is being kind. He doesn‘t think you can separate Dylan’s lyrics and poetry from Dylan's music and voice. This collaboration is nothing like the successful Wilco/Billy Bragg/Woody Guthrie project Mermaid Avenue. He says Trash It.
Stevie Nicks 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault
The "Welsh Witch", Stevie Nicks, is back with her eighth solo studio album called 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault, and as the title suggests, the record features new recordings of old songs Nicks has kept locked away since the late 1960's. To reimagine the decades-old tracks, she's enlisted the help of a squeaky clean Nashville backing band and squeky clean pop stars like Lady Antebellum and Vanessa Carlton. Jim is not a fan of these choices. He misses the old Stevie's Celtic folk feel and her ethereal voice, which is now starting to show its age. Jim knows the Stevie Nicks-faithful will still want to try the album, but its mediocre songs and altered star make it a Trash It for the rest of us. Greg also misses Nicks‘ distinctive personality and tires of the album’s inability to turn her meandering ideas into more shapely pop songs. Greg credits Nicks' former love and Fleetwood Mac bandmate Lindsey Buckingham for helping her achieve that in the past, but he's nowhere to be found on this record; except in many of the song's lyrics, which provide a sometimes uncomfortably voyeristic window into the couple's storied relationship. That said, the stripped-down piano and "Landslide"-like vocals on the song "Lady" are impressive, so Greg gives 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault a conditional Try It.
Bob Seger Ride Out
When you hear the name Bob Seger, it's fair to picture your kooky aunt dancing to“Night Moves”at the last family BBQ. But, Jim and Greg say there's more to this Detroit rocker. Now with his 17th album, this elder statesmen is having a real impact in terms of influencing sounds for his neighbors to the south in Nashville. Think Zak Brown and Travis Tritt. So, what do we hear on Ride Out? In addition to some noteworthy covers of songs by Steve Earle, Woody Guthrie and John Hiatt, he really lets his personality shine through on his own material. But, while this artist deserves the respect of you youngins, this isn't a must-own according to Jim and Greg. They say Try It.
Weezer Everything Will Be Alright in the End
Alternative heroes Weezer are back with a new album, but Greg says you'd be forgiven if you thought it was 1994 all over again. Back in 2010, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo sat down with Jim and Greg to defend his material against claims of pandering to fans. Greg respects Cuomo, but that doesn‘t change the fact that he thinks the singer is doing it all over again on Weezer’s latest, Everything Will Be Alright in the End. Greg encourages Cuomo not be bothered so much by what he thinks his fans want more of: emotional guitar riffs and faintly wise musings on life and love. Instead, he should just stick with what he does best: crafting pleasurable pop melodies and hooks that feel good and aren't out to change the world. Everything Will Be Alright in the End is a Try It for Greg. Jim isn‘t as bothered by Weezer’s obvious pining for the past. Yes, you should probably ignore the record's reaching thematic bent (an exploration of Cuomo's relationship with fans, females and his father), but don‘t discount the song’s genius hooks and offbeat subject matter. Everything Will Be Alright in the End is just plain fun, and the best Weezer album since 2000's The Green Album. Jim says Buy It.
Prince Art Official Age
More than fifteen years after a dramatic falling out with Warner Bros. Records, Prince and the WB are once again reunited. To celebrate the occasion, The Purple One has released not one, but two full-length studio albums. Jim thinks the first record, Art Official Age, is a bloated, science fiction-tinged concept album that borrows too liberally from artists like Led Zeppelin, Janelle Monae, and even Crosby, Stills and Nash. Fans of Prince will probably love it, but Jim's finds it to be mostly filler from a once brilliant artist: Trash It. Greg disagrees, as he thinks this is some of Prince's best material in 20 years. On Art Official Age, Prince creates a rich, layered world of sound where he's free to embody a variety of eccentric and electric musical personalities. And despite Prince being 56-years old, the album's energy stands up next to contemporary R&B auteurs like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. Greg says Buy It.
3rdeyegirl & Prince Plectrumelectrum
The second Prince album, out the same day as Art Official Age, is Plectrumelectrum, a collaboration between Prince and female funk band 3rdeyegirl. Of Prince's two albums, Jim prefers this one, which features a hard-hitting sound from the band and some fine psychedelic guitar playing from Prince. Although he admits no one's doing any real heavy lifting in terms of innovation, the record is still fun and worth a Try It. Greg concurs. Unlike Art Official Age, Greg feels like Prince is coasting a bit on this record by having picked a backing band that doesn‘t challenge him in any real way. Mediocre songwriting means the songs range from simply OK to good, but nothing’s so bad as not to recommend you Try It.
U2 Songs of Innocence
Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen, Jr. and Adam Clayton have certainly made headlines with their free iTunes release Songs of Innocence. It seems not all music fans want everything for free. But not as much has been said about the album content itself. So, Jim and Greg are here to give it a Buy It, Burn It or Trash It rating. Greg doesn't pull any punches. He says "This is what a dinosaur does in its last days"—trying the same old moves in an effort to survive. The soft rock album lacks originality and spirit, a fact made more galling by nods to music greats like Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer. And don't forget about all the pretension, Jim adds. U2's Songs of Innocence gets a double Trash It.
Interpol El Pintor
Jim and Greg didn't expect to hear anything new from icy rockers Interpol after the band essentially broke up in 2010 after the release of its forth studio album. But, only a few short months after reuniting (now minus longtime bassist Carlos Dengler), the band who made a splash back in the early 2000's alongside other New York bands like The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV On The Radio, is back with a new album called El Pintor. Jim notes that the album's title is an anagram of the bands name, which he sees fitting as the record sounds like a simple shuffling of the band's familiar formula: lots of droning and moaning over updated Joy Division-like guitars. Jim's not impressed with El Pintor or any of the band's previous albums (he barely remembers them, honestly) so he says Trash It. Greg couldn't disagree more. While he admits the Joy Division comparisons are apt, Interpol has crafted their own distinct sound that's tense and atmospheric and shows real innovation - a credit he gives to the band's recent hiatus. The first essential Interpol album since their debut, El Pintor is a Buy It for Greg.
Lucinda Williams Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone
Lucinda Williams has never been known as a prolific alternative country singer-songwriter. At 61-years old, she's always taken her time crafting her albums, and her latest in three years, Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone, is no exception. However, Williams surprises Jim and Greg with her newest, having not just one, but two discs full of over 100 minutes of new material. Greg thinks she should have pared the track listing down a bit, but overall, he enjoys the album's loose vibe and shaggy instrumentation. The sprawling album is worth getting lost in in order to unearth the best of William's sincere, passionate - and sometimes seething - songwriting. Greg says Buy It. Jim seconds Greg's rating, saying if you can warm up to William's slurred vocals and the album's decidedly un-cheery tone, you‘ll be rewarded with an intimate look through the life and times of one of music’s great pioneers.
Karen O Crush Songs
Yeah Yeah Yeah's frontwoman Karen O has always been a galvanizing perfomer with a presence that's both feisty and introspective. Recently, she's been dabbling in solo recordings, releasing songs for films like Where the Wild Things Are and Her, but she hasn't released a full solo studio album until now. Crush Songs takes its name from a time in Karen O's life when she was thinking a lot about love and would compose simple and silly songs in private. It's those bedroom recordings from years ago that now comprise the entirety of Crush Songs. However, in a baffeling move to Jim and Greg, she does not update much of anything about the songs, resulting in a poor, clumsy sound, intentional or not. Both critics feel this collection of what could be Yeah Yeah Yeahs demos should never have been released. Crush Songs gets a double Trash It.
Leonard Cohen Popular Problems
Leonard Cohen is one of the great names and voices in music, and now at 80, the Quebec has given us even more to love: his 13th studio album called Popular Problems. Cohen is primarly known as a poet and songwriter, with "Hallelujah" being a highlight. But don't discount his performance. Jim doesn't hear anything as good as "Hallelujah" on this album, but tthere are at least 9 songs on the album that are better than anything he has done in over a decade. Jim applauds the rawness of the production and Cohen's wicked sense of humor. He says Buy It. Greg agrees that the sense of humor is as sharp as it has ever been. No one writes songs about people who are marginalized quite like Cohen, says Greg. Go Buy It.
The New Pornographers Brill Bruisers
The New Pornographers, a Canadian supergroup composed of folks like AC Newman, Neko Case, Dan Bejar and more, have a new album out called Brill Bruisers. The band, which always relies heavily on melody and hooks, have amped it up even more according to Greg, making this album their most energetic to date. Greg loves the fact that AC Newman shares the spotlight with Dan Bejar and has almost every member leading a song. He says, no doubt, Buy It. Jim agrees. He had been growing tired of The New Pornographers because of all the many offshoot solo albums. But, he found himself really loving the uptempo nature of this album, particularly the keyboards of Blaine Thurier and the singing of the band's unsung hero: Kathryn Calder. It's hard to be a vocalist next to Neko Case, but she more than holds her own and helps give this album a Buy It rating from Jim.
FKA Twigs LP1
FKA Twigs is the debut album from Tahliah Debrett Barnett, an English singer-songwriter. Barnett started making music at 16, and at 17, she became a well-known backup dancer, appearing in videos by Kylie Minogue, Ed Sheeran, and Taio Cruz. Her first album, LP1, has garnered a great deal of attention from the likes of Pitchfork and The Fader for its mix of avant-garde soundscapes and R&B vocals. Greg thinks this album is a grower, but what it's growing into is one of his favorites of 2014. He says Buy It. Jim gave the album plenty of time to grow, and it really never kicked in. He calls FKA Twigs a poor Kate Bush imitation and complains about the music's lack of movement, emotion, soul and energy. Therefore, Jim says Trash It.
Ty Segall Manipulator
Prolific San Francisco garage rocker Ty Segall has released an abundance of material during his 27-year lifetime. From cassette tapes to EPs to singles, rarely does a year go by without the songwriter starting a new band or collaborating with another. Occasionally, though, Segall does step into the spotlight with a solo release, and his latest, this month's Manipulator, is a real stand-out. Jim thinks all 17 tracks on the album are uniformly great with their refined blend of lo-fi psychedelic pop that harkens back to the best of San Francisco's 1980's psych rock revival. Greg loves it, too, notably for Segall's precise production and successful expression of all his musical personalities. Manipulater is a sprawling album full of loving melodies, great guitar playing, and contemplative lyrics; both critics say Buy It.
Robert Plant lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar
For over half a century, Robert Plant has been making music and pushing the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll. But despite being known as the Golden God of Led Zeppelin, most of those years were actually spent doing solo work and special projects, many of which incorporate wide range of American and international folk sounds, from Appalachia to the Middle East. Now he's back with his backing band the Sensational Space Shifters with the release lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar. Again you can hear West African poly—rhythms, Southern blues tones, and country music influences, proving that, as Jim put it,“Plant does whatever he wants.”Despite his respect for Plant's never-ending pursuit of the new, Jim wonders how much of this adoration should be credited to the 17-year-old Zep fan version of himself. So he says Try It. Greg, on the other hand, truly enjoyed the contemplative and quiet side of the“more tender Plant”displayed on this record and gladly prescribes a Buy It.
Sinead O'Connor I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss
Despite assertions that she wouldn't be making more music, Irish iconoclast Sinead O'Connor up and did it anyway. Her 10th studio album I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss is out this month, and Jim and Greg aren't terribly surprised by the move as the singer-songwriter has a history of marching to the beat of her own drum. She's ventured unexpected territory before with her reggae album and a release of“sexed up”Irish folksongs. And Jim is enthusiastic about this latest pop experiment because underneath the fun rhythms and catchy hooks is the same old Sinead—unapologetically opinionated. I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss is a Buy It for Jim. Greg finds less to love about this latest laissez-faire output from O'Connor. The first half of the album puzzled him as it lacks her usual feistiness. The second half picks up steam with songs like "Harbour" and "The Voice of My Doctor," which put O‘Connor’s attitude ahead of the "adult pop" production, so Greg can say Try It.
Spoon They Want My Soul
Next to Yo La Tengo there isn't a longer-running, more reliable indie rock band in business today than Spoon. This year marks twenty years and eight albums for the band, which has had success on both independent and major labels, thanks to a signature sound that only seems to get tighter with each outing. Spoon's latest, They Want My Soul comes four years after the group's previous release and features the same economical and emotional music fans and critics have come to love, but with a subtle twist that Greg feels makes this album more fragile and beautiful than past records. Jim agrees… They Want My Soul is now his second most favorite Spoon album after 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, and he's quick to point out this new album also makes a great dance record thanks to the rhythmic contributions of drummer Jim Eno. Eno's grooves opposite frontman Britt Daniel's vocals have always been the band's secret sauce, and it's still as good as ever. Both critics say They Want My Soul is a Buy It.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Hypnotic Eye
Dizzying cover aside, Tom Petty is back in fine form with Hypnotic Eye. He's once again with The Heartbreakers, but, while Mike Campbell, Ron Blair, and Steve Ferrone are reliably on-point, Greg notes that the album as a whole is tighter and more concise than 2010's Mojo. Jim finds Petty to be pleasantly cranky, expressing frustrations with the thwarted“American Dream”and those who remain down-and-out. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers earn a double Buy It for Hypnotic Eye.
Jenny Lewis The Voyager
It has been 6 years since California folk-rock siren Jenny Lewis released her last solo album, and Jim and Greg have been chomping at the bit to see what her most recent release has to offer. The former child actress turned indie songstress lived through some turbulent stresses during that time, including the death of her estranged father, a bout of insomnia and the break-up of her band, the power pop group Rilo Kiley. All of this made its way onto The Voyager, a slow syrupy overflow of calming soundscape reminiscent of California's late 60's/early 70's Laurel Canyon sound. Greg was taken by its deceptive smoothness. His only critique points toward the balmy sweetness of the music. However, that sound provides a great foil to the complicated lyrics. He says Buy It. Jim agrees, though he's less of a fan of Lewis' obvious inspiration (Fleetwood Mac to name one). But, he describes the album as brave and seconds the Buy It.
Morrissey World Peace Is None of Your Business
After releasing nine solo studio albums, a best-selling autobiography, and making several retirement announcements, you'd think the former frontman for The Smiths might be running out things to say, but Morrissey's dogged disdain for much of the world marches on with the release of latest record, World Peace Is None of Your Business. After hearing the albums' lyrics, Jim and Greg would prefer Morrissey didn‘t speak up as much, with both critics disappointed by Morrissey’s words dipping into misogyny and inexplicable weirdness minus any of the wry wit he's typically known for. Musically, there are some pleasant surprises on World Peace Is None of Your Business, like erupting guitars, sentimental oboes and even a didgeridoo, but overall the album isn‘t Moz’s best and gets a Try It from Jim and Greg.
Karl Hyde & Brian Eno Someday World
Pop/Rock icon (and enabler of the Sound Opinions drinking game) Brian Eno boasts a tremendous library of groundbreaking work, as well as a long history of rich collaborations, including joint projects with artists such as the Talking Heads, David Bowie, U2, and Coldplay. Most recently, Eno joined forces with electronic Underworlder Karl Hyde. The partnership produced two albums, Someday World and High Life, both released in rapid succession this year. Jim believes the that the two albums must be considered together, with the latter, High life, simply an extension of the first and former Someday World. That one was a“poppier”album, mostly comprised of Eno's previously unfinished pieces bolstered by Hyde's intervention. From Jim's perspective, the duo's attempt to combine Phillip Glass-minimalism with afro-beats is“not the greatest in the world”(a staggering response from the "unofficial president of the Brian Eno fan club). And most importantly it fails to provide Eno fans with what they truly want: more singing Eno. That said, an ever-faithful student, he asserts a Buy It stance for himself and a Try It for the rest of us.
Unlike Jim, Greg argues that these two albums must be viewed as two distinct entities—separate endeavors each with their own merits and shortcomings. Although he dishes out a borderline Trash It rating to the patchwork Someday World, he remarks that“the duo really hit their stride,”with this second, more experimental attempt and gladly jumps on board Jim's Eno train to give High Life a Buy It.
First Aid Kit Stay Gold
The Swedish duo First Aid Kit has released its 3rd album and its major label debut, Stay Gold. The band mixes 1970's folk rock with pop and country. Greg says this record is the darkest in their catalogue, but it's not despairing. They make the pain sound bare able. He says they are not doing anything new sonically, but its a tight, efficient, beautiful album. That said, their best record is yet to come. Therefore he gives Stay Gold a Try It rating. Jim thinks Greg is not giving this release enough credit. He loves hearing this foreign take on American roots music and says Buy It rating.
Mastodon Once More 'Round the Sun
At the peak of its popularity, the Atlanta metal band Mastodon has just released its sixth album Once More 'Round the Sun. The band is favored by hardcore and mainstream fans alike, with its melding of influences including progressive rock, classic rock and classic metal. Jim thinks the success streak continues with Once More 'Round the Sun because the hooks and riffs are prominent and irresistible. He gives the album a Buy It rating. While still a Mastodon fan, Greg, wonders if the band has watered down its approach in order to read a mass audience. He likes the Once More, but misses the inventiveness and cohesiveness of the previous 5 albums. Greg says Try It.
Bob Mould Beauty and Ruin
10 solo albums later and former Hüsker Dü frontman (and friend of the show) Bob Mould still shows no sign of slowing down. The alt-rock pioneer adds another album to that list with his latest, this month's Beauty and Ruin. Jim and Greg celebrate the release as a return to form for Mould, who has often taken creative detours away from his rock trio past—one that paved the way for bands like Nirvana, Green Day, Nirvana and more. On Beauty and Ruin, Mould returns to that influential sound and reaches deep both into the din of his instrumentation, and into his personal history, to meld huge melodies with emotionally resonant lyrics. Greg loves the honesty and says Beauty and Ruin is a Buy It. Jim agrees the album is worth purchasing, but doesn‘t think it lives up to Mould’s previous album, 2012's Silver Age, in terms of killer hooks and levity. Jim says pick both up if you can.
Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence
Lana Del Rey has come a long way since her dismal performance on Saturday Night Live in 2012. While critically polarizing, her release Born to Die went on to sell 7 million copies worldwide. Then a remix single, "Summertime Sadness," became a Top 10 hit. And she was tapped to contribute to the big Disney release Maleficent. Now she's back with a full-length record called Ultraviolence. If Jim and Greg were grading Del Rey on acting or performance, she might get an A. But, this show is about music. And with tired lyrics, a drugged-out vocal style and dragging tempos, Ultraviolence can only get a Trash It.
Jack White Lazaretto
Jack White has just released his second solo album, Lazaretto. Jim and Greg both loved the previous solo album Blunderbuss, because it distinguished White's solo work from his other various projects like The White Stripes, The Raconteurs & The Dead Weather. Jim thinks that Lazaretto is very similar to Blunderbuss, and that's a good thing. The hooks are there, the melange of genres; garage rock, blues, gospel are there, and his guitar playing is as good as ever. Jim gives Lazaretto a Buy It rating. Greg thinks the album is very good as well, but wishes there was more of a departure sonically from Blunderbuss. He thinks Jack White has more sounds up his sleeve wishes he showcased them more on Lazaretto. As a result, Greg gives the album a Try It rating.
Sharon Van Etten Are We There
On her latest album, Are We There, indie songstress Sharon Van Etten trades in the quiet guitar and occasional backing band of her previous albums, for a fuller, more baroque sound that takes both Jim and Greg by surprise. Greg loves the pairing of Van Etten's biting lyrics opposite the music's lush strings and horns arrangements. He says that Van Etten has finally come into her own making Are We There her most accomplished work to date. Jim isn‘t as goo-goo eyed as Greg is over Van Etten’s move away from her simpler singer-songwriter days. Are We There's eclectic instrumentation occasionally stumbles over itself, but on less busy tracks when Van Etten's vocals can really shine through, all of the album's musical faults are forgiven. Both critics say Are We There is a Buy It.
Neil Young A Letter Home
Neil Young is living in the past. Over the last few years, he's released several box sets, a memoir, and a 2012 album called Americana stuffed with vintage folk tunes. Now, on A Letter Home, his 35th album, he's again stepping back in time, revisiting the songs he loved as a teenage folkie in Toronto. For bonus nostalgia points, Young recorded the entire album on the 1947 Voice-O-Graph at Jack White's Third Man studios. Jim points out that the record was literally recorded in phone booth, so it's not an easy listen — but the unrefined sound is somehow fitting for Young (despite the artist's hi-fi evangelism). For Jim, A Letter Home is a fascinating look at the influences of a musical treasure, and he'd gladly Buy It. Greg predicts that some listeners will be turned off by the "sub-lo-fi" quality, but advises them to reconsider, and to take this album for what it is: the scrapbook of a young Young, equal parts warm and spooky. Still, while it's nice to hear that inspiration brought to life, Greg doesn't consider it essential Neil, and only suggests you Try It.
Michael Jackson Xscape
Is Michael Jackson back from the dead? It seems like it lately, with the Thriller star moonwalking from beyond the grave, and his second posthumous release debuting at #2 this week. Xscape features eight hitherto-unreleased tracks, each in two forms: Jackson's original demos, plus new versions spiffed up by producers like L.A. Reid, StarGate and Timbaland. Greg finds it interesting that they included the demos — as he puts it, there was a reason Jackson left those behind. And while the production team did a good job reworking the tracks, Greg doubts that the Prince of Pop would have been satisfied with this album. Jim ponders the bizarre tracklist, which includes an update of America's "A Horse with No Name," a Paul Anka collaboration, and a song titled "Do You Know Where Your Children Are" that Jim finds simply“disturbing.”While Xscape isn't as awful as other posthumous releases (Tupac and Jimi Hendrix come to mind), neither host thinks fans will keep listening once the hype dies down. It's a double Trash It.
Coldplay Ghost Stories
In 2011, not even Jim and Greg's disapproval could keep Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto from taking the band to new heights of arena rock success. Three years later, Chris Martin and his plaintive falsetto are back for more with Ghost Stories, the band's sixth studio album. Initially, Greg appreciated Ghost Stories's move away from the anthemic sing-alongs of Mylo Xyloto into a more sparse musical landscape, not unlike the band's melodic debut Parachutes. Ultimately, though, Ghost Stories never quite reaches the same heights as that album, with both critics put to sleep by Martin's (newfound) heartbreak-filled lyrics set to somber music that's molded in part by EDM producer Avicii and hip hop Timbaland. Jim and Greg both say Trash It.
The Black Keys Turn Blue
The Black Keys have grown from an underground band from Akron, Ohio to an act filling arenas across the country. The sound has changed as well. On Turn Blue, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have evolved from a Zeppellin-esque blues stomp to something more nuanced, orchestrated and keyboard-based. Jim thinks the band is mainly successful when it channels psychedelic blues. But, he wants more stomp and says Try It rating. Greg is even less enthusiastic about Turn Blue and thinks that some of the experimentation is“half-baked.”Still, he likes the high points, and there are enough of them to warrant a Try It rating, as well.
Lykke Li I Never Learn
Swedish singer/songwriter Lykke Li blends acoustic rock with electronic elements and heartfelt lyrics. Her latest album, I Never Learn, was eagerly anticipated by Jim and Greg, as both were fans of her last release Wounded Rhymes. Jim thinks this latest effort is just short of a masterpiece. He's particularly drawn to the juxtaposition of the emotional lyrics and the spare arrangements. Buy It, he says. Greg is as so spellbound. He's let down by Lykke Li's lyrics and wishes she went back to a slightly more orchestrated style to mask her discomfort with English. He gives the record a Try It rating.
tUnE-yArDs Nikki Nack
Merrill Garbus, the creative force behind tUnE-yArDs, is back from Haiti with adventurous new rhythms and a whole lot to talk about. The result is her third album, Nikki Nack. Expectations for this release were high for Jim and Greg, who lauded 2011's W H O K I L L, and were wowed by the band's live performance on Sound Opinions. But Garbus has outdone herself on Nikki Nack. Greg loves the unconventional Haitian percussion tapping underneath as Garbus 's voice, an instrument in its own right, explores deep, dark themes with a soaring“ecstasy.”Jim agrees, only taking issue with the cannibalistic interlude, "Why Do We Dine on the Tots?," a quirky skit adapted from Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" that lets Garbus showcase her puppeteer training. Otherwise, Jim admires the empathy for women and the poor that comes through in these experimental pop songs, and thinks that Garbus got more out of her Haitian visit than Arcade Fire did. Both critics will Buy It.
Damon Albarn Everyday Robots
Since founding the Britpop group Blur, frontman Damon Albarn has bounced from project to project – writing and singing for Gorillaz, collaborating with African artists on Mali Music, and even composing an opera called Dr Dee. But only now, at age 46, has Albarn finally released a solo album. Everyday Robots is a deeply personal debut, with Albarn boldly exploring his dark past, existential crises and struggles with heroin. But the constant brooding is too much for Greg. He insists that Albarn's work with Gorillaz was just as personal, yet more upbeat, and with hooks you could dig into. Robots, on the other hand, is a Trash It. Jim couldn't disagree more. He considers the album a masterpiece, with Albarn baring his soul over“heartbeat percussion”and stripped-down instrumentals, and would absolutely Buy It.
Singer (and Cooking Channel personality) Kelis Rogers has just released her sixth album, called, appropriately, Food. Kelis was huge in the UK in the early 2000s, but her 2003 hit "Milkshake" was the first (and last) time that American audiences paid her much attention. On Food, Kelis is again blending the creative and the culinary — not only does the album have songs titled "Breakfast" and "Jerk Ribs," but she also uses cooking to signify themes of love and family, notes Jim. He's thrilled to see Kelis creating energetic neo-soul again. Greg hears“layers of flavors”on the album, and appreciates that producer Dave Sitek took care to showcase her voice, which comes out as sultry, ragged, and honest. Food is some of the best music Kelis has made, and our hosts gobble it up. It's a double Buy It.
The Afghan Whigs Do to the Beast
After almost 16 years, Greg was genuinely excited to learn about the return of Greg Dulli and The Afghan Whigs. He always loved the Jim Thompson-like storytelling in the songs, and the R&B exuberance of Dulli's on-stage persona. But, Do to the Beast is a somewhat mixed return to form. The Whigs are missing their original guitarist and drummer. So Greg says Try It. Jim is not so kind. He was never as taken with Greg Dulli's“schtick”and thinks the record is a poor imitation of other great R&B-tinged albums. He gives Do to the Beast a Trash It rating.
The Both The Both
Unlike other collaborations, Jim and Greg have reviewed in recent memory, the coming together of two of indie rock's most esteemed stars, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, finally feels like a collaboration that works. Mann is probably best known for her Grammy and Academy Award nominated songs in director Paul Thomas Anderson's film Magnolia, while Leo has been the leader of the Ted Leo and The Pharmacists for the past fifteen years. Known collectively as The Both, the two singer-songwriters have released a record that Greg thinks does a remarkable job of creating a sound all it's own instead of just sounding like Leo and Mann took at the wheel of every other song. Leo's impressive guitar playing perfectly underscores Mann's emotional melodies throughout, making The Both a Buy It for Greg. Jim thinks the potential to bring together Mann's penchant for heartbreak and Leo's political idealism is there, but the two eschew all of that in favor of an album that amounts to just a decent collection of pop songs. Jim expected more, but likes enough of what he hears to recommend listeners Try It.
The Hold Steady Teeth Dreams
Minneapolis-born, Brooklyn-bred Beat-rockers The Hold Steady have undergone a few changes since their 2009 visit to Sound Opinions. The band took a break after the departure of keyboardist (and moustache idol) Franz Nicolay, while frontman Craig Finn put out a solo album. Now the boys are back, with an extra guitarist, Steve Selvidge, and a sixth album called Teeth Dreams. It's their first venture with producer Nick Raskulinecz (best known for his work with Foo Fighters, Rush, and Evanesence), and as Greg points out, their sound is“slicker”than ever. Perhaps too slick — while the band can still rock, the album is bogged down with slow, melodramatic experimentation. Greg has to say Try It. Jim scoffs at the lyricist's literary bent — with Finn so obviously ripping off Raymond Chandler and Jack Kerouac, this host has to wonder if it's parody. Regardless, Jim prefers The Hold Steady live, in their bombastic, Springsteen-ian element — as for Teeth Dreams, it's a Trash It.
Black Lips Underneath the Rainbow
The incendiary live shows and southern punk sound of Black Lips have been hallmarks of the band for over a decade. With their latest album, Underneath the Rainbow, the Atlanta, GA rockers take a turn for the mature. Patrick Carney of The Black Keys and Thomas Brenneck of The Dap-Kings were recruited to take turns producing, and Jim notices the difference. The sound is cleaner than previous Black Lips outings, but still retains the same killer garage rock melodies. Underneath the Rainbow wins a heartfelt Buy It from Jim. Greg thinks cleaning up is the last thing the band needs to do. They're at their best when they are raw, loud and are not playing nice. Greg hears the compromises Underneath the Rainbow, and says Trash It.
Nick Waterhouse Holly
Neo-soul singer and guitarist Nick Waterhouse made a big impression on Greg during a performance at SXSW in 2012, but unlike a lot of acts that passed through the annual music conference, Waterhouse had staying power. On his second album, Holly, the retro-rivalist deftly channels the likes of Ray Charles and pianist Mose Allison. Jim finds the occasional grittiness of the album appealing, but mostly it's too sterile and formulaic to warrant anything more than a Try It. Greg disagrees, saying Holly nails the snap-and-swing feel of old R&B records while tossing a Raymond Chandler, L.A. noir vibe into the mix. Waterhouse's first album was good, but Greg says Holly is even better: Buy It.
Pharrell G I R L
For a long time, baby-faced Pharrell Williams was better known as a producer for artists like Jay-Z and his own N.E.R.D. But in 2006 Pharrell stepped out more as a vocalist, releasing a lukewarm solo album and increasing his guest appereances on other artist's tracks. In 2012, two of those tracks, one with Robin Thicke and the other with Daft Punk, launched him to new heights of stardom. And with that momentum, Williams is back with a second solo album. G I R L's slick combination of disco and R&B sounds make the record an instant Try It for Jim. He would‘ve gone Buy It if it weren’t for Pharrell's tired lyrics about women. Greg also sighs at the empty lyrics, adding that Williams should stick with what he does best: producing. His ability to channel dancable rhythms from the likes of Prince and Stevie Wonder is his greatest asset and ultimately the only thing earning G I R L a Try It.
The War on Drugs Lost in the Dream
The Philadelphia band The War on Drugs straddles the line between indie singer/songwriter and psychedelic rock. It was originally founded by Kurt Vile and Adam Granduceil, but Vile has since left to pursue a solo career. Granduceil continued as The War on Drugs, releasing a moderately succesful record called Slave Ambient in 2011. His new album, Lost in the Dream, is his best, according to Jim. Working out the songs on the road created a wonderful live atmosphere. It's perfect headphone music, says Jim: Buy It. Greg likes the record as well, but wishes some of the more meandering tracks were better edited. He gives Lost in the Dream a Try It rating.
Oscar Songs 2014
When it comes to movies, Jim and Greg defer to the Academy. But, when it comes to music, they aren't as casual. 2014 has been a banner year for pop music in the movies, with three of this year's Best Original Song nominees topping the charts. In fact, this kind of crossover hasn't happened since 1984, when all five nominees hit #1. First, there's Idina Menzel's ubiquitous "Let It Go," from the animated Disney hit Frozen. Written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez of Book of Mormon fame, it's a flashy show tune—the "Diane Warren power ballad" of Greg's nightmares—that fails to impress our hosts. Not so with "The Moon Song," from the film Her. Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who co-wrote the song with director Spike Jonze, has since released a duet with Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend. This quiet, intimate tune wins Jim's statuette, even if it's too low-key for the Academy.
Greg's giving his award to "Happy" from Despicable Me 2. While Mr. Kot admits to living under a rock when it comes to kids' movies, he considers Pharrell's single, with its layered vocals and handclaps, a pop masterpiece (despite the mediocre lyrics). Jim isn't as happy and thinks that Pharrell phoned this one in. Meanwhile, U2 took a break from ending world hunger to record a new song for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. While the film got little attention in the U.S., "Ordinary Love" has something else working in its favor: the media empire of Harvey Weinstein. His aggressive promotion already won the song a Golden Globe for Best Song, and could similarly sway the Academy…but not our hosts. Despite the noble subject, Jim and Greg just hear standard U2 flag-waving.
Lydia Loveless Indestructible Machine
At just 23, Lydia Loveless already has three albums worth of romantic troubles, documented with amazing emotion. The latest, Somewhere Else, might be the best yet, according to Jim and Greg. Greg enjoys the way she arranges the songs in a slightly melancholic country style. He was blown away by her last release, Indestructible Machine in 2012 (especially the songs she performed in our studio). But this album is a step above. Greg says Buy It. Jim hears Loveless going all over the pop spectrum, name dropping Tommy Tutone and pulling out a great cover of a song by the underrated '90s artist, Kirsty MacColl. And throughout it all she maintains her own identity. He seconds the Buy It.
Beck Morning Phase
It has been nearly 8 years since Beck released a new album, and there have been quite a few life changes in that time. He's married with a child, and has moved from Interscope records to Capitol Records. His new album, Morning Phase, is a contemplative, introspective slow-moving record, akin to his 2003 record Sea Change. Beck also makes this record a family affair by having his father, David Campbell, arranging many of the string sections on the record. Greg didn't enjoy the album initially, but grew to appreciate it by listening with headphones at night. He gives it an enthusiastic Buy It. Jim, on the other hand, thinks the material is slightly lacking substance lyrically and wishes Beck had more to say. Still, the music arrangements are beautiful, and so he gives Morning Phase a Try It.
Angel Olsen Burn Your Fire for No Witness
From Missouri to Chicago and now Asheville, NC, singer/songwriter Angel Olsen has been quietly making a name for herself. Now, with her second full LP, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, she's being compared to Leonard Cohen and Patsy Cline. Jim and Greg agree that this release is a huge step forward, combining wan, contemplative lyrics with truly rock ‘n’ roll backing band. While she may not be a Leonard Cohen just yet, both Jim and Greg think that Olsen's lyricism alone deserves your cash: Buy It.
Against Me! Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Against Me! has gone through some changes since forming in the late 1990s, but none more radical than that of the group's founder and front person Tom Gabel. In 2012 he announced that he would be identifying as a woman named Laura Jane Grace. This transformative experience made an impact on the group, and the result is Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Greg finds the record a harrowing document, akin to a diary entry. The stripped-down, acoustic production matches the raw content of Grace's lyrics perfectly. But those lyrics fall down when she tackles other topics like geopolitics. That said, it's a Buy It. Jim doesn‘t think Greg fully appreciates Grace’s intellectual heft the same way he does the anthemic music. The album's commentary on issues such as rape culture and death are just as provocative as the songs about Grace's personal life. He hails Transgender Dysphoria Blues as the first great album of 2014 and is happy to strongly second Greg's Buy It.
Broken Bells After the Disco
The term supergroup is often overused, but the duo Broken Bells might fit the bill. The Shins' James Mercer and producer Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse came together for a 2010 self-titled debut. Now they're back for round two with After the Disco. Greg enjoys its chilled moodiness, noting Mercer and Burton's skill at layering complex and beautiful melodies. But, the effect eventually begins to wear thin, so Greg can only say Try It. Jim thinks Greg is being too harsh and argues the record is more soulful than chilled. Mercer's strong vocals paired with Burton's crisp yet dark sound creates a sustained mood throughout that's introspective and worth repeat listenings. Jim says Buy It.
Los Angeles space pop quartet Warpaint is back with a self-titled sophomore record. Formed in 2004, Warpaint spent years refining its sound and lineup before dropping its debut LP, The Fool, in 2010. By that time, founding members Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg, and Emily Kokal had brought onboard gifted Aussie drummer Stella Mozgawa. Jim enjoyed The Fool and had high-hopes for the follow-up—but when he saw super-producers Flood and Nigel Godrich behind the board on this album, he prepared for bombast. What he found instead was subtle music that rewards close listening. It's a strong soundtrack for household chores and Valentine's Day alike, and Jim would definitely Buy It. Greg is impressed with how this band has evolved, with Mozgawa's drums perfecting the give-and-take between all four instruments. Although this record has fewer rock hooks than their debut, he salutes Warpaint for infusing ambient music with unexpected harmonies and“shimmy.”You might have to dig deep to find the groove, says Greg, but if you invest the time, Warpaint is a surefire Buy It.
Bruce Springsteen High Hopes
It's that time again - to Bruce or not to Bruce? The age-old Sound Opinions debate continues with the release of Bruce Springsteen's 18th studio album, High Hopes. Greg is generally more favorable to Bruce, but felt that the last two decades of records have been letting him down with overproduction and a lack of energy. He thinks High Hopes continues that trend and gave Bruce a Try It rating on our new ratings scale. Jim says he really wants to like Bruce, but is once again let down by lyrical cliches and bad production. Jim gives High Hopes a Trash It rating.