Bruce Springsteen Born to Run
Here, Jim and Greg look back on their top album choices over the years. Overall, they still felt very confident about their picks. They also discuss some Sound Opinions "white whales," aka artists they would love to have as guests that weren't able to appear on the show in the past.
The pair also address the biggest point of contention between them, Bruce Springsteen. They listen to and relive their argument about Born to Run from episode 3.
Pop powerhouse Adele recently made her highly anticipated return to music with her third album 25. In typical Adele fashion, she ended up selling almost 3.4 million copies of 25 in one week, breaking a previous record held by NSYNC's 2000 album No Strings Attached. Something else noteworthy about this new record is that is was produced by the biggest names in music, with songs by Ryan Tedder, Max Martin, Greg Kurstin and Bruno Mars. Greg has to admit that he is disappointed with the album. While he enjoyed songs like "Million Years" and "Miss You," he thought Adele could have challenged herself more. Greg isn‘t hearing any new terrain being mined, and even though Adele has moved on in real life from that infamous relationship, musically she’s still "living in 21 land." He gives 25 a Try It. Jim is far more incensed because he was a big fan of Adele's first album, 19. The lyrics are beneath her. And without more interesting, unique songs, he has to say Trash It.
Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings
Music fans around the world never thought people they would be able to hear Kurt Cobain's work as a solo artist until now, but it certainly isn't how Cobain intended it. Recently his widow Courtney Love and daughter Francis Bean authorized a documentary called Montage of Heck. It focused on his life and featured old home movies, audiotapes and present-day commentary from Kurt's friends and family. The soundtrack album is called Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings, and many of the tracks are simply Cobain strumming on his guitar or messing around with his tape deck. As a big Nirvana fan, Jim compares the release as was grave robbery. He gives it a massive Trash It. Greg agrees, and notes the whole thing sickens him. The“album”never should've seen the light of day. Cobain sounds stoned, distracted and bored, not at all like how he lit up a stage with Nirvana. Greg says Trash It, as well.
Canadian electronic artist Grimes recently released her fourth album called Art Angels. She came from the underground music scene and rose to popularity with her 2012 album Visions, and was later signed to Jay Z's management company Roc Nation. Although Grimes is a talented singer and multi-instrumentalist, she's best known for the electronic dream pop sound that Art Angels is full of. At first, Greg was concerned that Grimes would lose her edge by putting out a more mainstream pop record. However, he is happy to report that Art Angels contains some elements of mainstream music but the entire album is done on her terms. Greg gives it a Buy It. Jim agrees; he not only enjoys the sonic components but also the powerful and feminist lyrics. He loves the record most because it's both energizing and fun. An enthusiastic Double Buy It for Art Angels.
The Chills Silver Bullets
If you aren't familiar with The Chills, chances are you aren't entrenched in the New Zealand indie rock scene –not to mention this is first full-length album the group has put out in nearly two decades. The Chills are credited for popularizing the kiwi pop sound that emerged in New Zealand during the 1980s. It was a marked departure from the indie rock that was prevalent in the U.S. at the time and an original sound altogether. Greg was unsure what to expect from The Chills, as he hasn't heard a full-length album from them since 1996s Sunburnt. But he's happy to report singer/songwriter Martin Phillips is back. As a result of battling drug addiction and illness, Phillips‘ lyrics are dark and introspective. The album conveys a sense of urgency to appreciate life’s good things, and to Greg, Phillips sounds like a man renewed. Jim also likes the subtle touches of violin, timpani roll and chiming guitar. The song "America Says Hello" makes a political statement that is more direct than anything else Jim has heard from The Chills, so it's an enthusiastic Double Buy It for Silver Bullets.
Billy Gibbons Perfectamundo
If your only knowledge of Billy Gibbons is through his band ZZ Top's cartoonish videos, you may be surprised to find he is a gentleman, scholar, and connoisseur. He was also one of the first guests ever on Sound Opinions. Through his father, a bandleader in the Houston area, Gibbons was able to meet and apprentice under the famed Latin percussionist Tito Puente. On his first solo album Perfectamundo, the Texas guitarist is exploring those Afro-Cuban roots. Jim admits that Gibbons doesn't have much to say lyrically, but finds the record deep culturally. Gibbons manages to unite the blues and Latin music and has a great time doing it. For Jim, the album is a complete and utter joy – it gets a Buy It. Greg, however, disagrees. He likes the combination of the Hammond B3 organ with the Afro-Cuban polyrhythms, but finds there are too few of those moments. Gibbons makes a failed attempt to update his sound with guest spots from Houston rapper Garza, and his songwriting is underdeveloped with inane lyrics. Greg is forced to give Perfectamundo a Trash It.
Protomartyr The Agent Intellect
Detroit post-punk band and former Sound Opinions guests Protomartyr earned a lot of notice for its second album Under Color of Official Right. It also placed high on Greg's Best of 2014 list. Now they've returned with a new record titled The Agent Intellect. Jim lauds vocalist Joe Casey's ability to write very smart yet moving lyrics, powerfully exploring his mother's battle with Alzheimer's. The band's musical approach, which reflects both the bleakness and the pride of contemporary Detroit, places them among the all-time great bands of the Motor City. Jim particularly points toward the propulsive yet sleek drumming of Alex Leonard. Greg agrees, saying that against expectations, Protomartyr improves with each album. Casey's lyrics fall in the literary tradition of a Nelson Algren or Charles Bukowski, but are filled with emotion rather than pretention. The band doesn't waste any notes, instead delivering precise jabs. Greg even goes so far as to call Protomartyr one of the“Great American Bands”who are resurrecting the entire art form. Both critics give The Agent Intellect an enthusiastic Buy It.
Joanna Newsom Divers
Performing on a huge orchestral harp, singer/songwriter Joanna Newsom has stood out since she arrived on the scene in the early 2000s. Divers is the fourth album of her career, and the first since the 2010 triple album Have One On Me. Greg has always been intrigued by Newsom's work, viewing her as a complete original. But although he admired the musicianship on Have One On Me, he found it an exhausting listen. Divers, by contrast, is relatively accessible. She still peppers in obscure literary references, but lyrically she is much more direct in creating an emotional connection for the listener. For Greg, this is the album that Newsom's skeptics should dive into – he gives it a Buy It. Jim, however, is baffled. He scoffs at Newsom's faux-Shakespearean sentence constructions. He finds the album's lyrical concept, in which Newsom reflects on mortality after marrying comedian Andy Samberg, to be bloated. Jim is usually a big fan of pretentious prog rock, but musically he thinks Divers is sodden and lacking hooks. And he's extremely irritated by Newsom's voice, hearing it as the affected voice of an eleven-year-old girl. According to Jim, there's nothing at all to like here, so Divers gets a Trash It.
The Dead Weather Dodge and Burn
The Dead Weather formed in 2009 as a supergroup of sorts, sporting a lineup of Jack White, Alison Mosshart of The Kills, Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age, and Jack Lawrence of The Raconteurs. Now the band has returned with its third album, Dodge and Burn. White is taking a literal and figurative back seat here as he remains behind the drum kit, and Greg is grateful for the showcase of Mosshart's excellent vocal talents. He also cites Fertita as the band's secret weapon, using distorted guitars and keyboards to bring an element of pure nastiness to the record. Despite a couple of missteps, including the odd closing piano ballad "Impossible Winner," Dodge and Burn is a Buy It for Greg. Jim concurs – the dirty blues garage rock may be nothing new, but its swampy, southern Gothic flavor is perfect for Halloween season. It's a Buy It for him, too.
Janet Jackson Unbreakable
For the first time in seven years, Janet Jackson has released a new album called Unbreakable. At the beginning of her career, she faced the challenge of stepping out of the shadow of her older brothers, which she did with the help of Minnesota songwriters and producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. They worked together creating her signature rhythmic pop sound on many of Janet's most famous albums, including Control and Rhythm Nation 1814, and teamed up again for Unbreakable. Greg thinks Jackson's last record, 2008's Discipline, was probably her worst ever but she rebounded with a solid mid-career album. He appreciated that Janet stopped wasting her time with weak and overtly sexual material, and instead made music that is more true to her authentic self. Greg especially enjoyed the track "BURNITUP!," featuring one of his all-time favorite artists, Missy Elliott. He gives the record a Buy It. Jim agrees and highlights the strengths of Jam and Lewis' electronic, modernized sound. He thinks Janet is as confident and talented as ever. It's a double Buy It for Unbreakable.
With their 2013 release Settle, the British electronic duo Disclosure seemed destined to take EDM and mainstream pop by storm. They certainly pushed Sam Smith into the stratosphere. Then came a successful collaboration with Mary J. Blige on 2014's The London Sessions. But, Jim and Greg were disappointed to hear the new album Caracal is something of a let down. It's more song-focused, but also more star-focused with guest vocals by Lorde and The Weeknd. Jim and Greg have heard better from Howard and Guy Lawrence and these guest stars. Caracal gets a double Trash It.
Keith Richards Crosseyed Heart
Keith Richards is, at times, more of a myth than a man. His riffs are legendary, and his ability to survive his own rock lifestyle is almost supernatural. But his new solo effort, Crosseyed Heart, is an opportunity to show the real Keith, grit and all. The bare-bones production style is admirable, as are personal tracks like "Amnesia," which references his 2006 brain surgery. But, for the most part, this is Keith-by-numbers, nothing great. So Greg says Try It. Jim thinks he's being kind and can't understand why anyone would need to sample this record, let alone own it. He notes that The Rolling Stones, solo and together, have been letting us down three times longer than they were good! When they were good, they were very good. But this record ain't that. Trash It, says Jim.
Blackalicious Imani Vol. 1
Sacramento rap duo Blackalicious has had a huge influence on hip-hop over the past twenty years, crafting a more psychedelic Northern California sound than their LA counterparts. Imani Vol. 1 is their first album in a decade and, to Jim's ears, they haven't lost a step. Jim praises the complex, philosophical rhymes of Gift of Gab as he explores themes of perseverance and faith. Producer Chief Xcel continues to bring in sounds from across genres to create dense but accessible backgrounds. Greg appreciates that Blackalicious is picking up where they left off, not making a forced attempt at modernizing their sound. The record maintains the optimism and spirituality always present in their music, while also addressing the continuing struggles faced by African-Americans. Both critics are glad to have them back and give Imani Vol. 1 a Buy It.
Low Ones and Sixes
Duluth, Minnesota trio Low has been making hushed, minimal music since 1993, leading critics to dub their sound "slowcore" over the band's objections. (Low stopped by the studios back in 2011). For their eleventh album Ones and Sixes, the band headed to the Eau Claire, Wisconsin studio of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. Greg cringes when people think of Low as mellow and soothing – the music may be quiet, but it's also disquieting, often reaching into dark, even apocalyptic, places. He loves how the band consistently finds new directions to take its sound even while working within the same palette, this time adding texture with electronic static and quaking bass lines. Ones and Sixes doesn't have the same amount of dynamic contrast as some previous records, so it took a while for Jim to warm up to it. But after repeated listens, he now counts it as one of his favorite Low albums. That makes it an enthusiastic double-Buy It from both critics.
The Weeknd Beauty Behind the Madness
Canadian R&B artist Abel Tesfaye spent several years as a mysterious underground phenomenon, releasing acclaimed EPs for free under the name of The Weeknd. After guesting on songs by his friend Drake, he's now become a star, selling out arenas behind his new album Beauty Behind the Madness. The Weeknd is a major voice in the new wave of neo-soul along with Frank Ocean, FKA Twigs, and Solange. Jim thinks his musical ability is undeniable, particularly in the moments when he is reinterpreting the sound and vulnerability of Michael Jackson. Yet on the more R. Kelly-inspired half of the album, Jim feels The Weeknd crosses the line from sexiness into lewdness, so he can't give the album more than a Try It. Greg agrees the sexual content of the lyrics is troubling, but believes Tesfaye is self-aware and ultimately critical of the attitudes his character expresses. The album represents a huge step forward musically, thanks in part to master pop producer Max Martin who managed to add hooks without watering down the darkness. Greg says Beauty Behind the Madness is a Buy It.
Yo La Tengo Stuff Like That There
Yo La Tengo's live sets are famed for including covers of obscurities from the rock canon. Their 1990 album Fakebook was filled with surprising unplugged covers alongside acoustic reinterpretations of songs from the band's own catalog. Now on their fourteenth LP Stuff Like That There, the indie veterans are revisiting that concept. Greg admires the group's mission to direct listeners' attentions to neglected records they revere, both deep cuts from the distant past as well as songs by their underrated peers. But Greg wishes there was more variety in the hushed sound, so he gives the album a Try It. Jim has always loved the acoustic side of YLT since the band formed in his hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey. Jim finds the interplay of Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan's vocals to be lovely and is happy to see the return of guitarist Dave Schramm. It may be a surprise for fans of the noisier Yo La Tengo, but for Jim, Stuff Like That There is a Buy It.
Titus Andronicus The Most Lamentable Tragedy
The New Jersey punk band Titus Andronicus recently released their fourth album, The Most Lamentable Tragedy. The thematic nature of the record is about lead singer Patrick Stickles‘ battle with manic depression. It’s a rock opera, complete with five different acts, a silent intermission track and even a couple of covers. For Greg, every note oozes with importance and passion. He thinks the album as a whole is definitely overwhelming and opulent but ultimately a distinctive piece of work. He gives it a Buy It. Jim agrees and says that the music can overtake the listener, but one doesn't have to follow the somewhat complicated story to enjoy it. He thinks Titus Andronicus does a good job mixing a Celtic lilt with traditional punk sound and even thinks the album is on par with Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade and Fucked Up's David Comes to Life. The Most Lamentable Tragedy receives a double Buy It.
Dr. Dre Compton
Dr. Dre's Compton is the hip hop legend's first album since 1999, released as a companion to Straight Outta Compton, the new biopic of his former group N.W.A. Dre has been one of the most influential figures in hip hop, equally due to his own albums, his production work for artists like Snoop Dogg, and his history of grooming new talent like Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. Jim always thought Dre was overrated as a producer and is disgusted by the misogny in much of Compton's lyrics, which takes away from some of the more interesting political tracks. For Jim, it's a clear Trash It. Greg, on the other hand, praises Dre's production work, noting that by collaborating with younger producers King Mez and Justus he is reentering the conversation as a relevant figure. But Greg agrees that some of the lyrical content is stomach churning. Still, there are enough brilliant tracks to earn it a Try It rating.
Vince Staples Summertime ‘06
The year 2015 has been a prosperous time for rap and hip hop, with Fetty Wap, Wiz Khalifa, A.$.A.P. Rocky, and Silento dominating the charts. However, a new and different kind of artist has emerged with the debut album Summertime '06 from California rapper, Vince Staples. An ode to growing up in his native Long Beach, Greg finds Staples to be very talented in both writing and articulating his perspective. He compares Summertime '06 to early works by gangster rappers like N.W.A. and likes how he gives a lens into a culture that no one else is really talking about right now. It's a Buy It from Greg. Jim agrees and says that gangster rap can easily become misogynistic and pro-violence sounding, but that's not really what Staples is interested in doing. Jim compares him to artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper, but wishes that Vince would write more about the sense of community and positivity in the neighborhoods like Kendrick and Chance do. However, he believes Staples is a very important voice and give Summertime '06 a Buy It.
Wilco Star Wars
The Chicago-based band Wilco, led by Sound Opinions guest Jeff Tweedy, released a surprise album, their 9th, last week called Star Wars. The band then proceeded to play the ENTIRE album as the headliners of the Pitchfork Music Festival. Jim thinks this album is a return to form, finding Tweedy and company returning to the style of music following Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Summerteeth. He loves the melodic nature of the album and gives it a Buy It. Greg agrees and thinks this is their best album since A Ghost Is Born. He really enjoys the mix of pop sensibility and studio manipulation and distortion. He feels like the band is as loose and engaged as ever and also gives Star Wars a Buy It.
Tame Impala Currents
On the heels of their 2013 appearance on Sound Opinions, listeners will hear a new sound with the new Tame Impala album Currents. Lead singer Kevin Parker has taken the band in a new direction laden away from classic psychedlia and towards sounds that previous albums didn't touch upon, namely Soul and R&B. Greg thinks this change in sound along with more pointed, introspective lyrics has led to a step forward for the band, especially in a live setting. He gives the album a Buy It. Jim agrees and compares Parker to another pop auteur, Brian Wilson. Jim thinks that the album displays Parker's ability to take different elements across the musical spectrum and make them orchestral and moving. He too gives Currents a Buy It rating.
Miguel Wild Heart
Wild Heart is the third studio album from cutting edge R&B singer and songwriter Miguel. Miguel who is of both Mexican American and African American heritages, has always had a different approach to the R&B genre. While his first album was tinkered with by A&R folks, his last record was his coming-out party; displaying his affection for multiple genres and subject matter of an adult variety. On this third album, Wild Heart, Miguel continues his exploration into genre and sexuality. Jim thinks he comes from the school of thought of Marvin Gaye and D'Angelo, artists whose avant garde nature scared traditionalists. He gives this album a Buy It rating. Greg agrees and says the orchestration and the honest lyrics make this album one of his favorites of the year. He gives it a Buy It as well.
Bruce Springsteen Born to Run
Here, Jim and Greg look back on their top album choices over the years. Overall, they still felt very confident about their picks. They also discuss some Sound Opinions "white whales" aka artists they would love to have as guests that weren't able to appear on the show in the past.
The pair also address the biggest point of contention between them, Bruce Springsteen. They listen to and relive their argument about Born to Run from episode 3.
Richard Thompson Still
Still is the 25th solo album from folk rock guitarist, Richard Thompson. The former Fairport Convention musician collaborated with Wilco frontman and producer Jeff Tweedy. Greg wasn‘t exactly disappointed, but a little let down after Thompson’s ferocious 2013 album, Electric. In Still, he explores some darker and more serious themes like loss of faith in humanity. However Greg was happy he balanced those tracks with lighter and more humorous songs like "Guitar Heroes." He gives it a Buy It. Jim actually found“Guitar Heroes”cheesy. He also doesn't think Tweedy added much in his production. But because of wins like "Josephine" and "Long John Silver," Jim says Buy It.
Review: Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment Surf
Out now is a debut for the new collective Chance the Rapper and the Social Experiment. Surf smoothly combines rap, soul and pop as well as it seamlessly blends its different musicians. Chance's childhood pal Donnie Trumpet fronts the band. Although Chance is the big name, he appears on fewer than half the tracks. That's not a problem for Greg. He thinks the record's sonics showcase a variety of sounds, musicians and friendships. Greg is even inticed by the fact they have big name rappers laying down rhymes over a harp. He gives it a Buy It. Jim agrees, adding that Surf showcases light and positivity present in neighborhoods where violence is all too prevalent. He calls it“inspired and brilliant,”and says Buy It.
Florence + The Machine How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
With the release of their third studio album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Florence + The Machine have entered into their introspective phase. The album, produced by David Lynch collaborator and stadium rock creator Marcus Dravs, was a product of a dark period lead singer Florence Welch had in her life after a breakup. Greg thinks the songs that are introspective and address her personal life show real growth among the stadium rock songs. He gives this album a Try It rating. Jim on the other hand, hates this album. He doesn‘t appreciate Florence’s propensity for musical bombast and wishes more of the album had the big rock propulsion that the introspective songs lack. He gives the album a Trash It rating.
Mumford and Sons Wilder Mind
Mumford & Sons has had a "Judas!" moment with the release of their new album Wilder Mind…they‘ve gone electric. That’s right, no banjos or accordions on this album. Jim and Greg both feel this was a step in the wrong direction. Greg thought that the band's initial albums and live shows hinted at something interesting with their thoughts on life, love and religion. However with this new album, Mumford has become more generic. Jim has never liked Mumford and feels this album is in the vein of Springsteen and U2…not a good thing. They both give Wilder Mind a Trash It.
Alabama Shakes Sound & Color
Alabama Shakes has the sometimes difficult task of topping a great debut album. With its new release, Sound & Color, Jim and Greg both think Shakes cleared the hurdle with flying colors. Greg says that the band has really utilized the studio to offer a multitude of soundscapes and Brittany Howard's deeply personal lyrics are a great compliment to the sound which mixes soul, rock and blues. Jim thinks the sound of this album is kaleidoscopic, and, like Greg, gives this album a Buy It rating.
Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan Stevens has developed a huge fanbase of people who love his orchestral compositions and plaintive lyrics. However Jim and Greg have never counted themselves among those people. With the release of his new album, Carrie & Lowell, he seems to have converted Greg. Mr. Kot was deeply moved by Stevens's frank talk about the death of his mother and compares the album to that of the late great Elliot Smith. He gives the album a Buy It rating. Jim, however, has not changed his mind. He thinks Stevens is boring musically and wishes he wrote short stories and poems rather than releasing albums. He gives Carrie & Lowell an emphatic Trash It rating.
Van Hunt The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets
Atlanta multi-instrumentalist Van Hunt has flirted with mainstream R&B success, but his genre-hopping tendencies have kept him from a wider audience. Jim thinks that's a shame, as his latest album The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets confirms that Van Hunt is one of the most innovative voices in neo-soul music along with Kendrick Lamar and D'Angelo. Jim sees both depth and joy in the record. The lascivious, erotically charged moments are naughty, yet never offensive. Van Hunt's musical prowess is on fine display, as he plays every instrument himself. Greg hears The Fun Rises as more narrowly focused than the previous album What Were You Hoping For? in a good way, showcasing a more uniform trippy funk style. For Greg, it's a record that works equally well for headphone listening as for dancing. Both critics give Van Hunt a Buy It.
Shamir was first brought to our attention by the one and only Mr. Greg Kot as one of his favorite artists from this year's SXSW in Austin. The 20-year-old singer defies categorization on his debut album Ratchet in so many ways: vocal style, presentation and sexuality. Jim and Greg both love the way he uses all the musical influences of his own past including country rock and brings in things like Chicago House, which embraced pan sexuality and ambiguousness along with killer danceable hooks. Shamir really impressed Jim and Greg with this debut; he earns a double Buy It rating.
Passion Pit Kindred
Frontman Michael Angelakos of the indietronica act Passion Pit has come a long way since "Sleepyhead" became a MySpace hit in 2008. He's now returned with a third album of shimmery electronic pop, Kindred. Jim is amazed by how Angelakos, who suffers from bipolar disorder, finds catharsis in making irresistible dance pop. Although he addresses his pain in Kindred, Angelakos never mopes but rather celebrates life. Electronic Dance Music rarely has real soul like this. Greg is also pleased to find this record more optimistic than the previous release, Gossamer. Angelakos has a knack for making commercial music that avoids pop cliches through his brilliant symphonic keyboard arrangements. According to Greg, it's a great pop record with finely honed songs from beginning to end. Both critics give Kindred a Buy It.
Blur The Magic Whip
After a 12-year hiatus, English rock band Blur returns with its new album, The Magic Whip. Graham Coxon and Damon Albarn formed the group in 1989 where they gained success in the UK. While critics always embraced them, they never quite achieved commercial success in the U.S. outside of the track "Song 2." Greg likes the record and appreciates its honest lyrics and overall strength. He believes this effort is better than the members' solo work. The Magic Whip exceeded his expectations and he gives it a Buy It. Jim considers himself a Blur superfan. He argues that there are a few really great songs but the rest range from lukewarm to bad. Jim thinks Blur is starting to slow down a little but still gives the record a Buy It.
Modest Mouse Strangers to Ourselves
After making fans wait 8 years, Modest Mouse is back with Strangers to Ourselves. The Washington band graduated college rock and had a brief taste of big time success with "Float On." But, disappointingly for Greg, they haven‘t used this extended break to make any sonic shake-ups. It’s more of the same - almost like lead singer Isaac Brock has been sleeping these past years and woke up just prior to recording. He says Trash It. Jim wonders why all the shade, Greg?! True, Modest Mouse does one thing, but they do it really well. The album is admittedly a few tracks too long (especially the track "Pistol"), but Jim thinks the band really succeeds at giving listeners a lilting, wistful, psychedelic sound that also delivers pop hooks. He says Buy It.
Death Cab for Cutie Kintsugi
Alternative rock mainstay Death Cab for Cutie has been going through some tough times lately and it's reflected in their latest record. Kintsugi is all about lead singer Ben Gibbard's divorce from actress Zooey Deschanel. Plus founding member, guitarist and producer Chris Walla announced he would be departing from the band in 2014. Greg thinks that the turmoil within the band makes this feel like a solo record and the new producer didn‘t make much of an impact. While the album had the potential to be melodramatic, it luckily wasn’t. The band just needed to get this record out of its system and Greg gives it a Try It. Jim enjoys Kintsugi more than Greg, and likes how the band has brought in more electronic sound and keyboards. He finds it to be another fine collection of songs and gives it a Buy It.
Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett has garnered attention over the last few years on the strength of a few buzzed-about EPs. She made a big splash at this year's SXSW and now has a proper album out called Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Greg loves how Barnett takes everyday details and turns them into incisive songs filled with fleshed out characters. She's also a fantastic guitar player with a distinctive rhythm/lead style. It's one of the best collection of songs Greg has heard in years. Jim compares Barnett to Kurt Cobain in her ability to mix the power of rock with the intricacy of pop melodies. Like Greg, he proclaims it one of the best albums of the year so far. Both critics give Courtney Barnett a Buy It.
Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly
In terms of combined critical and commercial success, Kendrick Lamar may be the most important rapper to emerge this millenium since Kanye West. On To Pimp a Butterfly, the followup to his 2012 breakthrough Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, he's teamed up with high-profile producers like Pharrell Williams and Flying Lotus. Greg is floored by the album's macro-level themes, depicting the world as a kind of prison and engaging with racism, injustice, and black history in general. Equally stunning is the album's diverse musical range. Greg thinks Lamar is driving the sound of hip-hop forward while also looking back to the deepest roots of African-American music. Despite a few missteps, like a pretend interview with Tupac, Greg finds the ambition and execution flawless. Jim concurs. While he felt that Lamar didn't bring enough to the characters he played on his previous album, he now believes that Lamar is providing them with proper depth and context. He calls the record a musical smörgåsbord with its jazz underpinnings and its bevy of unexpected samples. To Pimp a Butterfly is a double-Buy It.
Cannibal Ox Blade of the Ronin
Back in 2001, Cannibal Ox put out one of the best rap albums of the decade called The Cold Vein. It was produced by Run the Jewels rapper and recent Sound Opinions guest, El-P. Since then, Ox members Vast Aire and Vordul Mega embarked on lukewarm solo careers. But now they are back for the group's second album, Blade of the Ronin. For Jim, the two MCs are better together than they are apart. The album has elements of psychedelia and Wu-Tang Clan's style, but for Jim it feels old. It's not as good as Run the Jewels but better than most, so he gives it a Try It. Greg is a huge fan of the duo, but thinks that the merger of futurism, sci-fi and ancient Egypt is nothing new. While he enjoys the record, it's no classic. Greg also says Try It.
Madonna Rebel Heart
In the early '80s, people questioned whether pop diva Madonna was just a girl of the moment or here to stay. While her music has been the soundtrack to our lives, her work in the 21st century has received mixed reviews. Plus in the Internet age, Madge experienced issues when she was forced to release her 13th studio album, Rebel Heart, early after tracks leaked online. Greg thinks that Madonna is at her best when she's being introspective, like on 1998's Ray of Light. The more experimental and honest tracks on the latest record outshine the dance pop numbers that are usually her specialty. He argues that Rebel Heart is half of a good album and gives it a Try It. In Jim's opinion, Greg is being kind to the Material Girl, and thinks "Holy Water" is probably Madonna's worst song ever. He perceives the confessional songs as inauthentic and her attempts at provocation as tawdry. He gives Rebel Heart a Trash It.
Screaming Females Rose Mountain
Coming out of the DIY scene of suburban New Jersey, Screaming Females has built a dedicated following over the last decade behind the strength of force-of-nature singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster. For their 6th album, Rose Mountain, they've turned to a big name producer for the first time in the form of Matt Bayles, best known for his work with Mastodon and The Sword. The result is a catchier and more melodic record than ever before. But Greg thinks that comes at a cost: the conventionality has masked Paternoster's powerful emotions. While it's a great stepping stone album for new fans, Greg suggests the three previous records better show off her personality. He gives it a Try It. Jim, on the other hand, sees the changes in the sound as a real step toward maturity. You can only be a raging 16-year-old for so long, after all. The lyrics are intense and the catharsis comes out in Paternoster's amazing guitar solos. For Jim, Rose Mountain is an enthusiastic Buy It.
Drake If You're Reading This It's Too Late
Drake's release of his latest opus If You're Reading This It's Too Late was a complete surprise, à la Beyoncé — though there's debate whether to classify it as a mixtape or a proper album. The Canadian superstar is once again working with producer Noah“40”Shebib. Greg credits Drake and Shebib for creating a uniquely atmospheric aesthetic for his introspective rap. But the minimalist beats make this feel half-finished: there are no hooks or pop hits, and the record never picks up steam until the end. Jim won't even concede any originality in the production. He says, Drake has been ripping off Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak his entire career. To Jim, Drake is incredibly hard to like, as he continues to whine about his petty personal problems. If You're Reading This It's Too Late gets a double Trash It.
Pops Staples Don't Lose This
Reviewing a posthumous release is a tricky thing. You want to honor a great artist with a glowing review, but inevitably there's always something lacking. Jim and Greg agree on this when it comes to Pops Staples' final album, Don't Lose This, released 15 years after it the music was recorded and after the artist died. Having Pops on record so late in his life is like a gift to music fans, but Jim hears his voice deteriorating and compares it to Johnny Cash's recordings with Rick Rubin. Greg agrees that this isn‘t Pops’ best work or the place to start with The Staples Singers. But, both critics hear standout songwriting moments that still resonate today. Indeed:“Don't Lose This.”The album, produced by Jeff Tweedy, gets a double Try It.
Father John Misty I Love You, Honeybear
Like Phil Collins and Dave Grohl before him, Josh Tillman started a drummer for the indie band Fleet Foxes. In 2011 he went on a mystical, west-coast odyssey (drugs were involved) and returned with a new solo artist persona named Father John Misty. In his latest album I Love You, Honeybear, Misty chronicles falling in love with his wife with some unconventional love songs. Greg argues that it's not easy to write love songs that don't sound sticky, and commends Misty on the humor in his lyrics. But, he wishes the record was more musically flamboyant and gives it a Try It. To say Jim disliked this album is putting it mildly. He compares the listening experience to having an allergic reaction to bee stings. He doesn‘t hear the humor in Misty’s lyrics, but rather something more misogynistic. So he says Trash It.
Bob Dylan Shadows in the Night
One of Bob Dylan's strengths is his ability to reinvent himself, especially in the '90s when he became his own producer under the pseudonym Jack Frost. Now in his seventies, he consistently takes his touring band into the studio every few years, giving his career a new surge of energy. So it's with that goal that he gives us Shadows in the Night, which is built around songs recorded by Frank Sinatra. Jim recognizes that while Dylan and Sinatra are two of the most important voices in the last half-century, they don't go well together. Dylan is great when he sings songs that suit him (folk, country) but it just doesn't work here; he gives it a Trash It. Greg believes that the production of this album and the choices Dylan made saved the record. He said if you care for Bob Dylan at all you should take a listen, giving it a Try It.
After experimenting with various multimedia projects, Icelandic avant-garde powerhouse Björk is once again focused squarely on songwriting. Her new album Vulnicura is a heartbreak album, candidly addressing the end of her relationship with artist Matthew Barney. Greg loves how she finds universal themes within her personal struggles. As always, Björk uses brilliantly unconventional beats, augmented now by beautiful string melodies. Jim misses the poppier vocal style of her early albums, but still finds it her best effort in a decade. Both critics give Vulnicura a Buy It.
Lupe Fiasco Tetsuo & Youth
Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco was written off by some after battling his label for years and earning notoriety for his outspokenness on Twitter. According to rumor, it even took threats from hackers for his new album to be released. But according to Jim, Tetsuo & Youth is Lupe at his lyrical best. The deft pop culture references are wonderful, of course. But ultimately it's the tragic evocation of life in poor black communities that moves Jim to tears. According to Greg, the density and poetry of Lupe's rhymes is matched by the adventurousness of the music, filled with unconventional jazzy rhythms. He calls it the rapper's best work since his debut. That makes it a double double-Buy It in a single episode.
Sleater-Kinney No Cities to Love
For as long as Sleater-Kinney has been a band, they have been a divisive subject on Sound Opinions. Greg is a fan and Jim is (usually) not. Now, ten years after their indefinite hiatus, we get their latest album No Cities to Love. The band, Portlandia's Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss, has returned with something to prove, according to Greg. About half the songs of the album are some of the best they have ever done and while the second half isn't quite as good. Despite that, he gives the album a strong Buy It rating. Jim is still on the fence with Sleater-Kinney. He wishes Brownstein and Tucker's vocals had more melody to them, and he isn't hearing much new. Therefore, he gives No Cities to Love a Try It.
The Decemberists What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
Portland folk-rock band The Decemberists has steadily ascended the ranks of rock stardom over their career, even hitting #1 on the Billboard charts with their previous album The King Is Dead. But it's been four years since that record dropped, and in the intervening period the band has developed a new diversity in their sound. Their new album What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World experiments with a variety of pop styles not found in previous records, while still featuring the trademark hyperliterate lyrics of leader Colin Meloy. Greg is happy to hear the band in top form, nicely complemented by the harmony vocals of Rachel Flotard and Kelly Hogan. Jim loves how they manage to flirt with the prog rock sounds of Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer without a hint of pretentiousness, all thanks to Meloy's self-deprecating sense of humor. Both critics give it a Buy It, with Jim going so far as to call it the first masterpiece of 2015.
Divine Styler Def Mask
R&B singer D'Angelo wasn't the only artist to emerge from an extended hiatus last month. Brooklyn rapper Divine Styler also returned with a surprise album in December. Def Mask is his first new dose of radical hip-hop in almost 15 years. The album steers clear of Styler's previous pseudo-psychedelic rhymes and rhythms. Instead, it charts a course for the stars joining the ranks of prominent musical Afrofuturists like George Clinton and Janelle Monae in creating a dense, sci-fi-laden sound. Styler's impressive wordplay takes a leery look at today's technology obsessed culture, but despite its dark, neo-noir tone, the album is able to maintain a certain amount of optimism throughout. Def Mask is an ambitious undertaking that is at times both unsettling and uplifting and it marks a celebrated return for Divine Styler. Both Jim and Greg say Buy It.