After all the hype surrounding the unconventional release of Beyoncé's fifth album, Beyoncé, Jim and Greg give the record a listen after its suprise midnight release. Greg appreciates the musical risks and thinks this album has some of Beyonce's best vocal work of her career. However in his eyes, she still struggles with authenticity. Jim agrees that Beyoncé has a hard time using her words to show us her true self. Is she the a self-empowered, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie-citing feminist of "Flawless," or the domestic sexual creature of "Blow"? Jim admits that, sure, she can be all of them at once, but unfortunately, neither guise has anything much compelling to say. All in all, this earns Beyoncé a double Burn It.
Billie Joe Armstrong & Norah Jones Foreverly
When a jazz chanteuse teams up with a pop punk rocker, what type of music do they make? Folk country, of course! That's the story behind Foreverly, the surprising new collaboration between Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and coffeehouse crooner Norah Jones. The record is a track-for-track reimagining of the Everly Brothers' 1958 album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, a collection of country standards that Don and Phil Everly learned from their father. Greg admires the attempt to pass this music on to the next generation, and appreciates how Jones' vocals introduce a new tension to tracks like "Long Time Gone" and "I'm Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail." But, he doubts that we‘d care about this record had it not been made by a couple of superstars. It’s a Trash It. Jim agrees, deeming the album an“abject failure.”For starters, he wishes they would have picked a better Everly Brothers album to recreate. But, it's Armstrong's harsh vocals, completely unsuited for the Everlys' careful harmonies, that really earn Foreverly a Trash It.
Childish Gambino Because the Internet
Next, Jim and Greg duke it out over Because the Internet, a new release from Childish Gambino, the hip-hop alias of comedian, writer, and "Community" star Donald Glover. Glover has been seen as a dabbler since he first entered the hip-hop scene back in 2008, but Jim thinks that this record cements his status as a bona fide rapper. Jim considers him a versatile lyricist, capable of waxing poetic on the digital era in one moment and spitting Borscht Belt one-liners the next. That makes Because the Internet“a fun ride,”and Jim would Buy It. Greg hears the versatility, but not the fun. The lyrics are clever, he admits, but Glover but comes off as mopey and emotionally uninvested, while saying nothing that hasn't already been said—a total Trash It.
The Warlocks Skull Worship
Psychedelic rockers The Warlocks have undergone numerous shakeups and setbacks over the years, leaving many to wonder if the band would ever release new music. Yet, like a locomotive charging ever forward (a sound Jim likens to their music), The Warlocks just keep coming back. Jim is excited by the group's newest album, Skull Worship, finding its drones and incessant rhythms utterly hypnotizing. And while he admits the Shoegaze sound doesn't break any new ground, he still thinks nobody is doing it better. Jim says Buy It. Greg is less impressed by the album, feeling that the pace is too slow. He admits there are moments of greatness (mainly towards the beginning of the album), but altogether Skull Worship isn't a complete success. Greg says Burn It.
After three years of garnering more attention for her public antics than her music, agit-rapper M.I.A. is back with her fourth studio genre, Matangi. Both Jim and Greg think the effort is a refreshing return to form after her lukewarm 2010 release, Maya. However, Greg isn‘t much impressed by Matangi’s tonal turn away from the political and more towards the spiritual, which he thinks at times comes off as kind of superficial. Jim agrees that M.I.A. doesn't have as much to say this time out, but the music—a blend of western pop melodies and eastern dance rhythms—is still unmatched. Both critics give Matangi a Burn It.
Lady Gaga Artpop
"Anti-diva" Lady Gaga has just released her third album, Artpop. and it's headed for #1. The title is a brazen declaration of its content, but after a few plays, neither Jim nor Greg feel much like the album is“Art”at all. While Jim does think the music is still as groovy as ever, he can't get over the pandering, nonsensical lyrics., especially considering her attempts to empower her fans. So, Jim says Burn It. Greg refuses to step over the threshold, explaining that the music underwhelms with conventional, risk-averse EDM courtesy of big name producers like DJ White Shadow. Lady Gaga has built a career out of twisting the formula, but Greg doesn't hear any reinvention: Trash It.
Arcade Fire Reflektor
Arcade Fire (arguably the most important indie rock band to crossover into the mainstream since Nirvana) is back with its highly-anticipated fourth release. Coming off the heels of last year's Grammy Award-winning album, The Suburbs, this year's offering, Reflektor, takes another stab at some very big ideas. Greg appreciates the band's continued willingness to take risks, but Reflektor's sprawling sound overextends itself onto a second disc that tips the scales unfavorably away from a Buy It. Jim agrees with Greg that the band only hits the melodic and groovy sweet spot half the time (perhaps thanks to co-producer James Murphy). Additionally, the lyrics aim high as they did on previous releases, but, this time around, are just kind of a bore. Jim and Greg both say Burn It.
Lorde Pure Heroine
Move over, Bieber, the newest wunderkind topping the charts is 16-year old New Zealand singer/songwriter, Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor; better known as Lorde. Her debut album, Pure Heroine, is out now, and Jim is a major fan. He likens her lyrics to existentialists like J.D. Salinger and her husky voice and minimal, electronic sound to Bats for Lashes crossed with Lily Allen. The combination of all those elements wins the album a Buy It from Jim. Greg, on the other hand, thinks Jim is smitten by the Kiwi teenager and is being overly generous with those comparisons. He also admires the record's minimal rhythms and drones, but he doesn‘t believe Lorde is quite yet the poet she’s setting out to be. It's a promising start, though, and Greg thinks the album is worth a Burn It.
Paul McCartney New
The end of The Beatles certainly hasn't slowed the output of Paul McCartney. This year, Macca releases his 16th solo album called New. He's teamed up with a stable of pop music super producers like Mark Ronson (Lily Allen and Bruno Mars) and Paul Epworth (Florence & the Machine and Adele). Greg thinks the recording sessions with these hotshot producers brought bits of brilliance to the album. But the other bits are too undercooked and tired to earn the record more than a Burn It. Jim also appreciates the sound of the record. However, lyrically, McCartney has done better. Jim doubts McCartney's team has the courage to tell him, making New a Burn It.
Pearl Jam Lightning Bolt
Grunge rock stalwarts Pearl Jam are back with their tenth studio album called Lightning Bolt. It comes 22 years after their landmark debut Ten. Jim and Greg would happily trade Ten for this tenth release. Nonetheless, Greg does find some interesting experimentation in Lightning Bolt, noticeably on songs like "Pendulum" and "Yellow Moon" which show enough growth in the band's sound to earn the record a Burn It. Jim, however, thinks those same tracks are some of the weakest with their misguided allusions to the U2 and Elton John ballads. He prefers the faster pace of songs like "Lightning Bolt," which combined with a few others, might make for a decent EP. Therefore this LP gets a Burn It.
Kings of Leon Mechanical Bull
Kings of Leon, comprised of the Followill brothers and their cousin (also named Followill!), is back with its 6th release called Mechanical Bull. Greg saw a glimmer of originality when the band first came on the scene in the early 2000's. But, ever since they've pushed the boundaries of bombast and stadium rock excess. Jim never thought it was a good idea to mix U2 with Lynyrd Skynrd. And both critics agree the lyrics on Mechanical Bull's tracks are especially dreadfull. Kings of Leon gets a double Trash It.
Justin Timberlake The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2
This fall is seeing a slew of big new records. First up to bat is Justin Timberlake with The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2. The triple threat has teamed up with one of the producers who helped him make his post-N'Sync debut: Timbaland. But, this time the results are mixed. Jim finds the music lacking punch and wishes the BPM's were upped a bit. He says Trash It. Greg agrees the music needs more pep, but found a few songs worth saving. He goes with a Burn It for JT.
Franz Ferdinand Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
It has been four years since the Scottish quartet Franz Ferdinand released an album. But, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action picks up where the band left off—smart, tongue-in-cheek wordplay meets catchy hooks and dance beats. The album is not as strong as the band's debut, according to Greg, so he goes with a Burn It rating. Jim thinks he's being stingy. He loves this new-millennial Roxy Music and says Buy It.
The Weeknd Kiss Land
The Weeknd, aka Abel Tesfaye, has released his first studio album called Kiss Land. It comes after a series of successful self-released mixtapes. Jim continues to be fascinated by this artist's soulful“ennui”and recommends you Buy It. Greg, on the other hand, thinks Drake's doing this style better. Tesfaye switched producers, possibly in an effort to be more commercial. But what it really is, is less interesting. He says Burn It.
HAIM Days Are Gone
L.A. sisters HAIM have been getting a lot of buzz leading up to their debut release Days Are Gone. Perhaps it's the hair? It certainly can't be because of their allegiance to '80s pop production values. Forget grit and grime, Greg can't find a speck of lint on these glossy songs. Jim hears yet another slick influence: Wilson Phillips. 'Nuff Said. Haim gets a Trash It.
The Roots & Elvis Costello Wise Up Ghost
Some artist's choice of musical collaborators can either be a match made in heaven, or a deal made with the devil. English singer/songwriter Elvis Costello's lengthy career has got plenty of both. Jim thinks Costello's latest album, Wise Up Ghost, with legendary hip-hop group The Roots, is another miss—a clunky exercise in genre busting with Costello too far out of his element. Jim can hardly wait to Trash It. Greg is less annoyed with the looseness of the album, finding Costello and The Roots more or less in sync, and the songwriting strong enough in the first half of the album to keep the whole thing afloat. Greg says Burn It.
Drake Nothing Was The Same
With his third and latest album, it's safe to say actor-turned-rapper Drake no longer needs much of an introduction. Drake's latest album Nothing Was The Same has certainly cemented him as a musical force to be reckoned with, but Jim and Greg don‘t agree on why exactly that is. Greg appreciates Drake’s consistently introspective and candid lyrics, while Jim is a fan of the musicianship on the record. On the other hand, he thinks Drake's naval-gazing verses retread ground already covered on Kanye West's last few albums. But, both hosts agree that it was wise of Drake to stick with his long time collaborator, producer Noah“40”Shebib. Greg says Buy It, Jim says Trash It.
Janelle Monáe The Electric Lady
Janelle Monáe wowed Jim and Greg with her 2010 album The ArchAndroid. Apparently she wowed the likes of Erykah Badu and Prince too, because they are just some of the guest stars on her new release The Electric Lady. But unfortunately, none of these collaborators helped Monáe edit herself. Jim and Greg love tracks like "Givin Em What They Love" and "Dance Apocalyptic," but they also hear some real mistakes. Jim would include some of the non-musical interludes among them. The Electric Lady gets a double Burn It.
Nine Inch Nails Fragile
Ever since he debuted Nine Inch Nails in 1988, Trent Reznor has had a tortured relationship with his one-man-band. He's moved in and out of the major label system, retired, returned and done a number of side projects. He also made a memorable visit to the Sound Opinions studios. Now, Nine Inch Nails is back with its 8th album called Hesitation Marks. A dark title, but an apt one, according to Greg. It feels like a hesitant, tentative album and one in which Reznor wasn‘t fully invested. It’s his quietest Nine Inch Nails release, even going back to the masterful Fragile in 1999. But, there's a lot of filler. Greg says Burn It. Jim is shocked that Greg isn't digging this groovy album full of a sonic palette unlike any other. He says Buy It.
Sam Phillips Push Any Button
If all you know about Sam Phillips is that she used to be married to T. Bone Burnett and that she provided the delightful score to Gilmore Girls, you are missing out. Jim and Greg point to her gorgeous songwriting, expert pop craft and skilled editing. The Brill Building-inspired songs on this latest release, Push Any Button, are concise and add up to only 29 minutes. Phillips always leaves you wanting more. Jim and Greg both say Buy It.
Superchunk Majesty Shredding
Over three decades in rock, Chapel Hill's Superchunk has kept true to the idealistic indie spirit of its era, regularly turning out records even as members Mac McCaughan and Laura Balance started Merge Records (still one of the most successful indie labels in the game). The band's latest album is I Hate Music. On it, Greg says he hears the band questioning the“music is life, life is music”philosophy it's always held onto. Can music still rejuvenate in the face of death, aging, and burnout? For Superchunk, Jim says, the answer is always yes, and you can hear it in those guitars. I Hate Music might not be the exuberant celebration that was 2010's Majesty Shredding, but Jim and Greg agree it's nevertheless a Buy It record.
Trouble The Distortion Field
Call 'em doom metal or stoner rock, the Chicago band Trouble has been bringing the heavy since 1979. The band's new album The Distortion Field reunites original guitarists Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell, and subs in Kyle Thomas for longtime vocalist Eric Wagner. Does the reunited band fare better with the critics than Black Sabbath did recently? Greg says yes, though there are four or five Trouble albums he‘d rank above The Distortion Field. The band hasn’t updated its original sound: an innovative merger of British heavy metal and psychedelia. That's fine by Greg, but he does miss the conceptual heft Wagner gave to earlier Trouble lyrics. Greg gives The Distortion Field a Burn It. Jim agrees. He needed some head-banging this week, and for that The Distortion Field does just fine. Burn It.
Robin Thicke Blurred Lines
Now it's back to the charts, where Robin Thicke's catchy single "Blurred Lines" has dominated for weeks (proving once and for all that music fans want more cowbell). Before he achieved YouTube ubiquity, Jim reminds us that Thicke was just another journeyman blue-eyed soul singer. He'd written hits for artists like Brandy and Christina Aguilera, but failed to gain much recognition for his solo work. He's changed that with Blurred Lines, his sixth studio album. Does the record measure up to its single? Greg says no. He loves the“Blurred Lines”groove, but relents that the album's lyrics are full of“single entendre”idiocy.“This is a dumb R&B record,”he says, "Trash It." Jim agrees that Thicke's lyrics leave a lot to be desired, but gives him credit for crafting the kind of fun danceable tracks we‘d hoped to get from Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience. On the strength of“Blurred Lines”alone, Jim says Burn It.
Run the Jewels Run the Jewels
Last year we got El-P's Cancer 4 Cure and R.A.P. Music, the album he produced for Killer Mike. Now the two come together again to form Run the Jewels. Greg hears the two rappers“blowing off steam.”But that shouldn‘t suggest the album is a blow-off. It’s like breathless, old-school battle rapping with great beats to boot. He says Buy It. Jim admits El-P is a genius producer, but is disappointed by the lyrical content. He hears lazy smack talk about nothing. So while Run the Jewels is free, it's still a Burn It.
Jay-Z Magna Carta Holy Grail
Jay-Z was the first to point out that he's not just a businessman, but a“business, man.”He's sold 50 million records in the past two decades and is valued at almost half a billion dollars. And with this latest album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, he sold a million albums to Samsung before the actual release date. So you cannot argue with Jay's success. But, what about the music? Jim hears a lot of complaining and a lot of bragging. The only reason for his Burn It rating is the terrific sounding production from people like Timbaland and Swizz Beats. Greg thinks Hova is just coasting on this record. There's no emotional depth and no reason you shouldn't Trash It.
Black Sabbath Never Say Die
For the first time since 1978's Never Say Die, three of the four OG's of metal are back in the studio. Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, and Bill Ward practically invented heavy metal in the seventies, Jim says, and on the group's 19th studio album 13, Ozzy, Geezer, and Tony are re-united (Bill's on the outs for business reasons). Do the boys still rock all these years later? Greg's answer is a tentative“yes.”Iommi still brings those ten-ton riffs, and the onset of old age means that for once, Ozzy has something substantive to sing about (death). Most important, Black Sabbath doesn‘t embarrass itself, and for Greg that’s worth a Burn It rating. Jim is not as kind. He faults producer Rick Rubin's over-compression for drowning out Geezer's bass, and whatever the subject matter, Jim insists Ozzy just sounds awful. He suggests Greg take off his rose-colored glasses and see 13 for what it is: a Trash It record.
Mavis Staples One True Vine
Mavis Staples has released her 13th studio album called One True Vine. She tapped Wilco's Jeff Tweedy to produce for the 2nd time, but this time around, Jim says, he is not so awed by her. The material is better and the sparse production showcases her voice more. Jim says Buy It to this dark, quiet record. Greg, who knows a thing or three about Mavis Staples and Wilco, has admired all the singer's recent albums. And he thinks she's achieved one of the greatest second acts in rock history. He gives this“American treasure”a Buy It.
Kanye West Yeezus
For the past decade, Kanye West has been the dominant force in hip-hop - maybe even all of pop, Jim says. And this week he came out with album no. six, Yeezus. West's last solo record, 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, featured rich, radio-friendly production. On Yeezus, West has scaled back the lushness, if not the egomania. Greg says he hears everything from Chicago drill music to industrial influences on this“brutally minimalist”record. Forget the radio audience - Yeezus is about Kanye and his anger. Thematically, that means lots of songs about freedom and control, Greg says, and West's perception that, for all his sucgicess, he is still being denied a place at the“big boy table”where his fellow business and media moguls sit. Potent stuff, but West's downfall, both Jim and Greg agree, is the sloppily racist and misogynistic lyrics he relies. On the basis of the music alone, Jim says, Yeezus is a Buy it, but the lyrics are trash. Yeezus gets a double Burn It.
The Handsome Family Wilderness
Jim and Greg continue the family theme with a review of Wilderness, the 10th studio album from husband-and-wife duo The Handsome Family. Formed in Chicago in the '90s, Brett and Rennie Sparks' Handsome Family has often been lumped in with alternative country. But Greg contends that the band's macabre lyrics and pre-rock influences have always set it apart. Jim says Wilderness proves that more than ten albums into its career, The Handsome Family still represents the "old weird America" better than any group in rock. Who else sings about General Custer and malicious octopi? He says Buy it. Greg agrees; With lyrics that run the gamut from sci-fi to magical realism, and music that draws equally from Stephen Foster and chamber pop, Wilderness sounds completely unique. Double Buy it.
Queens of the Stone Age Era Vulgaris
After six years of silence, Queens of the Stone Age are back with yet another addition to their stoner rock catalogue. As Greg. explains, …Like Clockwork follows a tough period in lead-singer Josh Homme's life: he recently suffered dangerous complications from surgery as well as depression. But Greg takes …Like Clockwork as a hopeful sign for the band, calling it Queens‘ best work in a decade. After veering off into weirdness on 2007’s Era Vulgaris, Greg welcomes the return of strong songwriting and melodies on this record. He says Buy it. Jim can't agree. …Like Clockwork is the kind of record the Try it rating was designed for, he says. Cut the dreadful slow tracks and you've got a decent Queen EP.
The National Trouble Will Find Me
Indie rock band The National has basically had the same line-up since forming in Cincinnati in 1999. But, according to Jim, they've unfortunately also had the same sound with lead singer Matt Berninger expressing the same emotion. There are some fine moments on Trouble Will Find Me, but a little less U2 stadium bombast would be preferred. Jim says Burn It. Greg agrees, although for completely different reasons. He loved their 2003 album Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers. And on this one, he actually wants more bombast. The brooding chamber rock is too subtle. But the result is the same-not enough range…Burn It.
Natalie Maines Mother
In a show dedicated to a country outlaw, how could we not review the new solo album by Dixie Chick Natalie Maines. She's certainly earned a reputation as an opinionated sass. But on Mother, she wants to be taken seriously. Why then, Jim wonders, would she tap Ben Harper to produce? Someone like Jack White could've given her the unique country soul she seeks. As it is, these songs belong as much on Nashville as they do in Nashville. Greg admires covers like Pink Floyd's "Mother," but she's out of her depths with many of the tracks. Ms. Maines gets a double Burn It.
Daft Punk Random Access Memories
After eight years without a proper studio album, Daft Punk - the DJ duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter - is back with Random Access Memories. The robots get an assist on album No. 4 from an impressive roster of live musicians, including disco greats Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder. So what does the biggest act in EDM today think of the dance music boom it's spawned? Greg says judging by Random Access Memories, the robots aren't big fans of modern EDM. This album sees Daft Punk connecting with its roots, Greg says, embracing live performance, disco, and jazz-fusion in an attempt to give computer music some soul. There's no question R.A.M. has major quality control issues, Greg says, but it's an ambitious album well worth a Burn it. Jim agrees. At a time when EDM artists are trying to sound like machines, he applauds Daft Punk's effort to make machines sound human. And it doesn't hurt that they give younger EDM fans a history lesson in the bargain. Jim gives Random Access Memories a Burn it.
Chance the Rapper Acid Rap
A number of Chicago rappers are blowing up right now-Chief Keef, King Louie, Lil Durk. But unlike those“drill scene”artists, Chance the Rapper is the kid next door. Jim loves that this“extraordinary artist”can be both deeply profound and also funny as heck on his new mixtape Acid Rap. He calls "Pushaman" the "Ohio)" that Chicago needs. Greg is also loving the goofy, self-deprecating lyrics and hears a huge amount of growth on this second, deeply moving mixtape. Acid Rap gets a double Buy It, and yet it's completely free!
Savages Silence Yourself
Last year, London-based quartet Savages burst onto the indie scene seemingly fully formed. Jehny Beth, Gemma Thompson, Ayse Hassan, and Fay Milton had been a band for less than a year when the UK music press caught on to "Husbands," the group's debut single. Critically acclaimed performances at CMJ, SXSW, and Coachella followed (In our own SXSW wrap-up, Jim declared he had“seen God”at Savages' set). So do they deliver on their Matador Recordsdebut Silence Yourself? Jim's answer is an unequivocal "Yes!" Not only does he stand by his previous claim that Jehny Beth is the most compelling rock frontperson since Kurt Cobain, he extends the Nirvana metaphor. Just like that legendary nineties grunge band, Savages take familiar ingredients (post-punk and minimalism) and make them fresh. Greg agrees. This is a serious band, he says, with the album cover manifesto to prove it and the songs to back it up. Silence Yourself gets an enthusiastic double Buy It.
Jessie Ware Devotion
UK singer Jessie Ware has slowly been making her way stateside, first with buzz from tracks like "Wildest Moments" and then with a U.S. tour. Now her album Devotion is getting a proper American release with bonus tracks. Greg loves the shadow play of her vocals and chiming keyboards and hears a little reggae in the mix. But for him the key is restraint, with Jessie demonstrating that it's a choice, not a limitation. She can belt it when needed, but overall it's a beautiful, subtle record. Jim loves the new R&B palette and is excited by this trend that also includes The Weeknd and Rhye. Devotion gets a double Buy It.
The Besnard Lakes Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO
Greg counts the 2nd and 3rd releases by The Besnard Lakes (who visited Sound Opinions in 2007) as two of the best of the last decade. How does the Montreal quartet fare on the 4th album? Well, according to Jim, the key words of the record's title Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO are“excess”and“imperceptible.”He is happy to hear more of Olga Goreas‘ singing, but the melodies just aren’t that strong. Jim says Burn It. Greg agrees that this album isn't as strong as its predecessors, but it has its own rewards as well. The Besnard Lakes bring slow, dreamy "shoegaze meets Beach Boys." Greg says go Buy It.
It's been four years since the French electropop band Phoenix dropped by Sound Opinions to play those infectious breakout singles "Lisztomania" and "1901." For most American music fans, those tracks and the band's 2009 breakthrough album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, came out of nowhere (savvy French fans would‘ve known the band’s previous collaborations with Air and Daft Punk). Phoenix's latest album, Bankrupt!, isn‘t nearly so under the radar. But does it measure up to the hype? Greg doesn’t hear a single as strong as“Lisztomania”or“1901,”but insists the album may fare better overall. Frontman Thomas Mars was inspired by his wife Sofia Coppola's 2010 film Somewhere, giving the album a theme. And, more ambient and R&B-inspired tracks show the band is evolving musically. Greg says Buy It. But Jim can't get over the lack of a hits. This is fine bubbly dance pop for summer, he says, but Bankrupt! is only a Burn It.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs Mosquito
During the 2000s, two bands forged a New York garage rock revival: The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Two weeks ago, Jim and Greg eviscerated Comedown Machine, The Strokes' fifth studio effort. This week, they take on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' latest, Mosquito. Is this yet another case of early promise and later disappointment? Jim says“no way.”The album art might turn his stomach, but he's digging Mosquito, which shows the band experimenting with musical styles from gospel to hip-hop. Unlike The Strokes' similar genre experiments, Jim says Mosquito sounds organic, not contrived. Greg agrees. He was a big fan of lead singer Karen O's 2003 song "Maps," so he's glad to hear more of her emotional vocals on this record. Mosquito gets a double Buy It.
Low The Invisible Way
There's a lot to be impressed by when it comes to Low. First, they've consistently made good records for two decades. Second, the two core members, Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk, have managed to do all that while maintaining a marriage and family. On the most recent Sub Pop release The Invisible Way, the band has tweaked the formula a bit, and for the better, according to Greg. Bassist Steve Garrington is playing a lot more piano. And Mimi is singing more. Greg loves her voice, especially on anthems like "So Blue." Professor DeRogatis has always given Low a B+, but Jim thinks The Invisible Way is an A+ masterpiece. The songwriting, and especially the religious imagery, is deeper and more ambiguous giving Low a double Buy It.
The Strokes Comedown Machine
It's been 12 years since The Strokes debuted with Is This It, but they appear to be going back in time rather than forward….to the 1980's to be exact. The new album, Comedown Machine, is packed with references to that era-everything from Flock of Seagulls to Technotronic. The result, according to Greg, is a chilly and overproduced album that sounds more like a Julian Casablancas solo project than that of an actual band. He says Trash It. Jim calls Comedown Machine a“dreadful record,”and wishes The Strokes had been able to parlay their minimalist formula as well as Jack White has. Sad, but true: The Strokes gets a double Trash It.
Justin Timberlake The 20/20 Experience
Over the past few years we wondered if Justin Timberlake had forsaken music for his first profession, acting. But, now he is back with a grand, almost operatic album called The 20/20 Experience. And while it is an experience full of lengthy, ambitious tracks, Greg wonders,“where is the soul?”He credits Justin with being smart and stylish, but misses the emotional investment. The 20/20 Experience is a“snooze,”so Greg says Trash It. Jim is less harsh, and recommends you Burn It, but only out of pure pop curiosity. He believes JT to be a charming entertainer, but doubts he has the darkness to back up this neo-soul experiment.
Bowie The Next Day
Tony Visconti is back with Bowie on the singer's first album in ten years: The Next Day. And both are back in top form, according to Greg. He thinks it's Bowie's most consistent record since the 1980's and again hears that sweet spot between pop music and the avant garde. Jim has always found Bowie something of a charlatan, and can't recommend The Next Day. So the gentlemen are split: Buy It for Greg, Trash It for Jim.
Not much was known about the electro-soul duo Rhye before the group's debut album Woman came out this month. Early reports had that Sade-like voice coming from a woman, but now the truth is out: Rhye is Canadian electronic musician Mike Milosh and Danish producer Robin Hannibal, both men. It's only March, but Woman is already high on Jim and Greg's Best Of lists. Jim calls Woman“mind-blowing”and compares the duo's combination of steamy lyrics and cool accompaniment to Sade's best work. Greg agrees. What gets him is the orchestration. On tracks like "Woman" and "Verse," drawn-out phrasing and evocative water drips underline the meaning of the lyrics. This is music about love and lust, with the flame turned down low he says. Rhye gets an enthusiastic double Buy It.
Atoms for Peace AMOK
After his solo project The Eraser, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke went out on tour with a group that could only be described as "super": Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea on bass, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich on programming, Joey Waronker on drums and Mauro Refosco on percussion. The collaboration worked so well that the group has released an album under the name Atoms for Peace. Greg was impressed with how The Eraser really found its identity live, and he has high hopes AMOK will do the same. But on record, the songs are not as strong as the production, so he can only say Burn It. In terms of his unique voice, Thom Yorke has finally won Jim over. He gets the robotic and alien nature of the voice the electronic musicianship and the dystopian lyrics and says Buy It.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Push the Sky Away
Nick Cave, of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, is a modern renaissance man-novelist, poet, actor, playwright, and of course rocker. Now, with his band, he's released the ensemble's 15th album called Push the Sky Away. Greg is impressed with the scope of the lyrics-from the God Particle to Hannah Montana. This record is more introspective and more minimalist, and Greg says Buy It. Jim is disappointed and wishes the tracks were less monotonous and less quiet. He misses the punk explosion and can only recommend you Burn It.
Richard Thompson Electric
To put it simply: our hosts think Richard Thompson is the most revered guitarist working today. And the fact that he's been doing it and doing it well for over 4 decades is nothing short of a miracle. So yes, that means his latest album, Electric, is a Buy It. Need we say more? (We didn't think so, but just in case, see the footnotes to find Jim and Greg's full reviews.)
My Bloody Valentine MBV
We highlighted My Bloody Valentine in our Shoegaze genre dissection a few weeks ago, and after 21 years of scattered promises, it seemed to be a pretty safe bet that a 3rd MBV album would never see the light of day. But then on February 2, 2013, MBV was quietly released on their website. Is it even possible for the band to escape from the long shadow of their legendary sophomore album Loveless? Greg says not quite. He thinks that the first few songs rehash Loveless‘ glory, but don’t meet its standard. The second half shows the band moving into the future. He anxiously awaits that future, but in the meantime, MBV is a Burn It. Jim thinks the band lost momentum during this two decade hiatus. And while it is no Loveless, MBVis much better than he feared it would be. He gives the record a Buy It.
Beyonce has been making a lot of news, with her lip-syncing and Superbowling, but we're more interested in kid sis Solange. She has a new extended EP out called True, and both Jim and Greg say it's a perfect, mini release. She sounds nothing like Beyonce and has been embracing alt-R&B and indie rock-exactly what you expect from someone who dragged her brother-in-law to a Grizzly Bear show. Greg is excited to hear her expand her sound even more on a full-length album. And Jim compares True to the Scorcese flick After Hours. Solange gets a double Buy It.
New Order Lost Sirens
At the beginning of the New Order review, Greg calls the English band's latest album Lost Sirens almost a collection of“leftovers.”That can‘t bode too well for it. New Order’s music in the 1980's was undeniably influential. There'd be no LCD Soundsystem or Radiohead without their electronic pop innovations. But, Jim doesn't hear anything that evokes their Madchester greatness on this effort. He says Trash It. Greg really liked the tracks "I Told You So" and "Hellbent", so that bumps up his rating to a Burn It.
Parquet Courts Light Up Gold
Who knew Denton, TX was a rock capital? There's Midlake and Neon Indian. Sly Stone was born there! And now we have Parquet Courts. With its 2nd release Light Up Gold, the garage quartet has relocated to Brooklyn and is getting much wider attention. The album is a perfect combination of expert pop craftsmanship and slacker-punk attitude. Jim and Greg grinned through this review, so Parquet Courts gets a double Buy It.
Yo La Tengo Fade
Indie veterans Yo La Tengo started making their version of the Velvet Underground's droning guitar rock in 1984. Jim and Greg have been listening ever since. (Jim - our own“Son of Jersey”- even caught the band's first show at Maxwell's in Hoboken). Over 13 albums, Jim says, Yo La's established itself as a band of impeccable taste. Greg admits their last few contemplative mood records have sounded a bit“samey.”Do they shake things up on the latest release, Fade? Both Greg and Jim say“yes.”The strings and "John Fahey-esque" acoustic guitar are pleasant surprises. As Greg notes, Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley's ruminations on their decades-long relationship give Fade a cohesive feel. It gets a double Buy It.
Bruno Mars Unorthodox Jukebox
Two years ago, Bruno Mars won Jim over with his infectious (and ubiquitous) "Lazy Song." Like its author,“The Lazy Song”was youthful and hard to dislike. Plus, who can resist Bruno's backstory? The pop phenom got his start at age four impersonating Elvis in his hometown of Honolulu before founding top-tier production team The Smeezingtons. Having crafted hits for the likes of Cee Lo Green and Travis McCoy, Bruno released a solo debut, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, in 2011. Late last year we got the follow up, Unorthodox Jukebox. Jim and Greg kick off their review by playing "Gorilla". It's“the stupidest song on the album”according to Greg, though there are some other contenders. Bruno's randy lyrics are nothing to write home about, but even on this record's stinkiest tracks, there are redeeming pop touches - a cool chord progression or a spot-on Prince falsetto. Jim agrees. Bruno Mars may be a lightweight, but his re-workings of Elton John, disco, and Sam Cooke are appealing and melodic. This is appropriation, but it's good appropriation. Unorthodox Jukebox gets a double Burn it.
Big Boi Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumours
We may not have heard new Outkast since 2006's Idlewild, but one-half of that groundbreaking Atlanta hip hop duo has a new record out. Big Boi's first solo album, Sir Lucious Leftfoot…The Son of Chico Dusty, came out in 2010 to positive reviews. Now he's followed it up with Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumours. How does the new record stack up? Well Jim calls it“hip-hop at its best.”Big Boi's been playing the rock festival circuit and he's nothing if not ambitious with his collaborations on Vicious Lies. Everyone from indie band Wavves to more traditional hip-hop guest Kid Cudi makes an appearance on this record. For Jim, the songs succeed or fail on the strength of the guest, which makes this only a Burn It album. Greg agrees. Big Boi's solo records mostly remind him of how much he misses Outkast. Can't those two guys get back together already? Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumours gets a Burn It.