Dawn Richard Redemption
Dawn Richard has flown largely under the radar for most of her career. Born and raised in New Orleans, Richard got her start in the Diddy-formed girl group Danity Kane in the early 2000s. She eventually became a solo artist, and her new record Redemption is the last in a trilogy of albums. Greg was really impressed by this record and Richard's ability to make meaningful and political electronic music. In addition to her smart lyrics, he commends her vocal ability and impact as a budding artist. Greg gives it a Buy It. Jim is in agreement, he thinks Richard's album shows the best side of thoughtful electronic music. Jim loves that Richard is finally getting to make the kind of music she wants, and gives Redemption a Buy It.
The Rolling Stones Blue & Lonesome
The Rolling Stones have been a band for more than half a cenutry, releasing 25 albums and still sell out stadiums around the world. While the group's popularity has seemingly never waned, some have argued their musical creaitivty fizzled out long ago. Jim had thought that the last good Stones album was 1978's Some Girls, however he absolutely loves their latest record Blue & Lonesome. Jim can hear the passion and heart in this album full of covers of songs by some of their Chicago blues heroes, including Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf and Memphis Slim. He gives it an enthusiastic Buy It. Greg also went into this review with a bit of skepticism, but ended up loving it as well. He points out that Mick Jagger in particular found his love of music again on this record, and is really a gifted blues musician and harmonica player. Greg gives Blue & Lonesome a definitive Buy It.
Emeli Sandé Long Live the Angels
Scottish singer and songwriter Emeli Sandé just released her sophomore album, Long Live the Angels. Sandé first gained worldwide recognition when she performed in the closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics. This release is her first record in four years and features collaborations with producers Mac & Phil and Naughty Boy, as well as with rapper Jay Electronica. Jim and Greg have been fans from the beginning, and Sandé was a guest on the show back in 2013. Greg really enjoys this album, and appreciates that she's taken away some of the overproduction that crowded her debut. He also likes that she takes personal heartbreak (she recently went through a divorce) to generate genuine music ranging from blue ballads to celebratory songs. Greg gives it a Buy It. Jim agrees, and thinks the production on Long Live the Angels sounds great. He points out that Emeli Sandé is giving us the best of both Knowles sisters: the underground sensibility of Solange and the mainstream mood of Beyoncé (but not in a derivative way.) Jim gives this record a Buy It.
Alejandro Escovedo Burn Something Beautiful
Overcoming Hepatits C and narrowly escaping a brush with a hurricane was the backdrop for the new record, Burn Something Beautiful, from Texas-based musician Alejandro Escovedo. With a decades-spanning career starting in punk bands in the 1970s, the 65-year old guitarist is no stranger to the stage (or Sound Opinions). Gregsays this“feedback drenched”album is the audio catharsis of Escovedo's recent struggles. He played this summer's Pitchfork festival and Greg said it sounded like a“19-year old kid with something to prove.”Jim says it can be easy giving an aging artists a pass based on a long-storied career, but Burn Something Beautiful stands on its own.“Vital, vibrant and essential”are all words Jim uses to describe this double Buy It record.
Common Black America Again
Common is one of the many hip-hop talents to come out of Chicago in the last 15 or so years. His masterful free-styling and charisma took him beyond music to an acting career that, at times, took away from his music career. Greg says his latest, Black America Again, is a return to the vitality of his early albums. He hears Common taking on the role of a“spiritual messenger”as he weaves together African-American history with music resulting in a concept album about the continuing struggle for full freedom for African-Americans. It is a Buy It for Greg. Jim wholeheartedly agrees, as Common's mastery of words mixes humor with super serious messages resulting in an honesty to his songs. Black America Again is a double Buy It.
Lady Gaga Joanne
Lady Gaga needs almost no introduction at this point. A solo career that started about a decade ago on the dancefloor and the pop-charts has seen Gaga make some surprising choices in the spotlight (the meat dress) and in the studio (Cheek to Cheek, her duet album with Tony Bennett). Her latest album, called Joanne, finds her jumping across genres with a wide variety of collaborators (Beck, Josh Homme, Mark Ronson). While the album tries to be many things, it ultimately bores Jim. He finds the album scattered and“a mess”using the collaborators to try to find direction instead of using them to bring out her musical best. Jim says it's a trash it. Greg concurs. He thinks all the collaborators and genres are a continuation of her attempt to say“I'm a serious artist”that started with her Tony Bennett project. Instead, Greg says Joanne falls back on“nostalgia mongering”and results in a weak album. It is a double Trash It.
Leonard Cohen You Want it Darker
At the age of 82 singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen is the most prolific he has ever been. Unfortunately, this uptick in recording and touring is a necessity after a manager bilked him out of most of his savings. The upside is he continues to produce quality work and that is evident on his 14th studio album, You Want it Darker. Greg says the album finds the aging Cohen wrestling with mortality, god and religion. All with his patented dry-wit. The album is aided with a flattering production that often sounds like the songs could be set in a church while still emphasizing Cohen's baritone voice. That said, Greg says it is not the best album to introduce people to Leonard Cohen, but if you're a fan (as Greg is) this is a buy it. Jim agrees it is a buy it but disagrees about the accessibility of the album saying he's“never been funnier, nor has he been more talented…this is prime Cohen.” You Want it Darker is a double buy it.
Drive-By Truckers American Band
The Georgia rock band Drive-By Truckers are back with their 11th studio album, American Band. While the southern rock group has been playing together for around 20 years, their latest record is very much in the now, discussing hot button issues like immigration, race relations and gun control. Jim loves this record and he respects the band for still thrilling listeners all these years later. Jim thinks that this album interprets the important issues of today in a way that measures up to what Neil Young and Crazy Horse did at the height of their powers. He gives American Band an enthusiastic Buy It. Greg agrees, and feels the album has a great balance between the band's signature guitar-based anthem rock and introspective, moodier tracks. He likes the record's social consciousness, and thinks it's just damn good music to boot. Greg gives it a Buy It.
Solange A Seat at the Table
Let's just get this part out of the way: Solange is the younger sister of Beyoncé. But that is where the comparisons end. Solange's new album A Seat at the Table is her 3rd studio album was produced by the noted R&B and neo-soul mastermind Raphael Saadiq. This is a protest album addressing elements of the Black Lives Matter movement. While it is an album with a political message Greg says it is a not a knock-out punch, it is much more subtle with a message of being“weary of the world.”While Solange's voice is beautiful and delicate, Greg says her voice is also strong. Jim also hears Solange's weariness and notes how it contrasts to the anger of sister Beyonce's Lemonade. A Seat at the Table gets a double-Buy It.
Bon Iver 22, A Million
Bon Iver, the heart-on-sleeve, confessional music project of Justin Vernon, has received critical praise and a Grammy since its debut in 2007. 22, A Million is Bon Iver's first new album in five years and it is a marked departure with an emphasis on electronics over more traditional folk instrumentation. None of that ‘critical praise’ has come from Jim or Greg, and this album doesn‘t change that. Jim says Bon Iver’s music annoys him“more than fingernails on a blackboard.”He calls this album a“disaster,”with music that is long, slow and without melody. Greg, is only slightly more forgiving. He says Vernon sounds lost and this album is a manifestation of a crisis of conscience. However, that is not something he wants to listen to. If not obvious, this is a double- Trash It.
AIM is the fifth record from Sri Lankan-British rapper M.I.A. She's known for being political with her music and this album is no different taking on weighty issues like immigration and the refugee crisis with songs like "Borders" and "Visa." Greg says that while the album shines at times, it is frustratingly inconsistent. Sometimes falling into a pop sound that undercuts the songs. Jim agrees and thinks the album is“half-baked.”He thinks M.I.A. could have used a producer or collaborators to focus the album. AIM is a double-Try It.
Warpaint Heads Up
Former Sound Opinions guests Warpaint have returned with their third studio album Heads Up. As Jim explains, with the new album comes a new sound for the band. While previous records were heavy on atmospheric moodiness, Heads Up is more of a party record with a euphoric dance vibe. Jim loves this celebratory new direction and awards it a Buy It. Greg agrees that rhythm is at the center of the album, led by the spectacular drumming of Stella Mozgawa and the melodic bass playing of Jenny Lee Lindberg. Greg says this new turn toward a club sound isn't selling out – Warpaint retains their identity with a very personal, experimental take on R&B. Heads Up is a double-Buy It.
Mick Jenkins The Healing Component
Mick Jenkins is a key player in the Chicago hip-hop scene Jim and Greg discussed earlier. After receiving national acclaim on his first mixtapes, the rapper has now released his first official album: The Healing Component. Jim picks up on a message of love flowing through the album. Jenkins calls for love as a solution to the problems of the black community, yet he's not simply being naive and sunny. He references Eric Garner's death and Black Lives Matter throughout, but ultimately is optimistic for the community. Jim says the album is brilliant and that Jenkins is an important new voice. Greg admires that Jenkins is not doing what everybody else is doing in hip-hop. Rather than work with big name producers, he's opted to create his own stoned, abstract jazzy sound. For Greg, this is what art is all about – the album is both community minded and pushing forward culturally. The Healing Component gets a double-Buy It.
Against Me! Shape Shift with Me
Against Me! has been active since forming in Gainesville, Florida in 1997, but 2014 proved to be the pivotal year in the band's history. Its leader Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender and the band released its most successful record to date, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. While that record was explicitly about her transition, Greg says the followup Shape Shift with Me examines her post-transition relationships, trading in some of the anthems for a film noir feel. Greg wishes the production sounded less meticulously layered, but the songwriting is very strong, filled with both sincerity and humor. Jim likes the darker, slower moments on this album, but points out that there is still plenty of rabble rousing anthemic rock. When all is said and done, Jim believes we'll see Against Me! as the true inheritors of the political legacy of The Clash. Although Laura Jane Grace writes personal songs, Jim says you don‘t have to be living her same journey to be able to find inspiration. It’s another double-Buy It for Shape Shift with Me.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree
Australian rock band Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds are back with a new record called Skeleton Tree. The album is particularly dark, even by Cave's standards, and deals with the aftermath of the death of Cave's teenage son. Jim thinks it's a hard listen, even for fans. He wishes that the album had a moment of redemption at the end, but recognizes that perhaps Cave has not yet found it. For those reasons, he gives Skeleton Tree a Try It. Greg agrees that the record is harrowing, meditating on questions of the pointlessness of life and how to carry on after losing a loved one. The way Cave interprets these songs is tragically beautiful, with vocals unlike any he's ever provided, and Greg feels he's working toward the light. While Skeleton Tree may not be something you want to listen to all the time, he gives it a Buy It for its earnest beauty.
Veteran Chicago band (and Greg Kot biography subject) Wilco returns with its 10th album, Schmilco. On this record, leader Jeff Tweedy explores the alienated feelings of his childhood spent as a misfit in downstate Illinois. Schmilco is drawn from the same sessions as the band's previous album, Star Wars, which Greg says was a jarring but welcome departure for the band. Schmilco swaps the noise of Star Wars for an unsettlingly weird folkie vibe à la early Tyrannosaurus Rex. No record in their discography sounds like this one, and Greg feels it's deserving of a Buy It. Jim agrees, noting that for a while it was beginning to sound like Wilco had a formula. These last two records have tossed that up, featuring a rawness and realness you wouldn't expect from a band this far into its career.
Angel Olsen My Woman
My Woman is Angel Olsen's second album for Jagjaguwar, following 2014's acclaimed Burn Your Fire for No Witness. The Asheville-via-St. Louis-and-Chicago singer-songwriter is working now with producer Justin Raisen, known for more pop-oriented work for Sky Ferreira and Charli XCX. But Greg says that rather than introduce a pop sheen, Olsen uses Raisen to bring out the drama in her songs. From touches of goth and glam rock, Greg is hearing moves Olsen has never used before. He loves that her complicated and disconcerting lyrics are brought to the forefront. Jim agrees that Olsen is fantastic at confronting difficult emotions in her lyrics. And he loves the unique ambience of her records – he places Angel Olsen's work in the shortlist for best uses of reverb of all time. It's a double Buy It from both critics.
Frank Ocean Blonde
Who doesn't love a surprise? Frank Ocean surprised fans when he dropped not one but two albums without notice this past week. The R&B singer broke out in 2012 with his album Channel Orange before essentially disappearing. Over the past few months he has hinted about new music and now he has finally delivered: a visual album called Endless and a more traditional album (as traditional as it can get) called Blonde. Was it worth the wait? Jim and Greg both say“yes.”Jim finds that the low-key and moody Blonde takes on some weighty issues, addressing gender-fluidity and a feeling of disconnection from other humans at a time when technology has made communication“easier than ever.”Greg says the album's production sounds like nothing else and“occupies its own universe.”He says that love is the theme to the record – and while that might seem simple, Ocean takes the concept in complex and moving directions. It's an enthusiastic double Buy It.
Ryley Walker Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
Singer-songwriter Ryley Walker hails from the Chicago independent music scene, and puts his complex guitar skills on exhibition in his latest release Golden Sings That Have Been Sung. Many critics have drawn comparisons between Walker and Van Morrison because of his singing and guitar virtuoso talent. Jim first discovered Ryley Walker at South By Southwest and was blown away. Jim cites Walker's production collaboration with Leroy Bach, formerly of Wilco, as something that helped elevate his music to a new level. Overall, he finds that Walker's introspective vocals and guitar playing are the highlights of the album, and gives it a Buy It. Greg agrees, and thinks Walker has evolved on this record, establishing his own modern sound. He thinks Walker blends his complex guitar parts with more unusual sonic elements to perfection. Greg gives Golden Sings That Have Been Sung a Buy It.
Lydia Loveless Real
This week Jim and Greg review the new record by country singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless, Real. Loveless is back at her signature songwriting with themes about small town lives and everyday events. Greg loves that she has stepped up her songwriting and singing to be more refined and honest, and gives this a Buy It. Jim agrees, pointing out that there is a whole range of songs on this record unlike what previous ones had, from pop to sparse acoustic to new wave, but all with her country flair in them. Real gets an enthusiastic Buy It from both Jim and Greg.
Jamila Woods HEAVN
In the last few years, Chicago poet and soul artist Jamila Woods has made memorable cameos on tracks by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Chance the Rapper, Donnie Trumpet, and more. Now, she's breaking out with her debut album HEAVN. Jim loves how Jamila effortlessly blends genres like soul, R&B, and hip hop. He also finds her lyrics to be powerful and effective in painting a picture of her life as a black woman. Jim thinks Woods is elevating the neo soul genre to the next level and gives HEAVN a Buy It. Greg wholeheartedly agrees, and thinks this album is another great release coming from the Chicago hip hop and R&B scene. He greatly respects Jamila's ability to poetically articulate her struggles against society's perceptions of black beauty and womanhood. Overall, Greg thinks this is one of the best albums of the year so far, and gives it an enthusiastic Buy It.
Michael Kiwanuka Love & Hate
British soul artist Michael Kiwanuka first came to public attention after opening for Adele in 2011. Five years later, he's released his second album called Love and Hate. While his first record had a vibe that resembled classic soul folk artists like Bill Withers, he went in a different direction the second time around. Greg loves Kiwanuka's sophomore effort because of his departure from his initial style. He thinks that Kiwanuka has found his voice as an artist, speaking out about his experiences as a "black man in a white world" as he sings in a track with the same name. Greg thought his collaboration with Danger Mouse really elevated his music to another level, he gives this album a Buy It. Jim also thought very highly of Love & Hate. He admires his willingness to speak openly about issues he is passionate about, and appreciates Kiwanuka's melding of different genres. Jim also gives the album an enthusiastic Buy It.
The Julie Ruin Hit Reset
As a pioneer of the Riot Grrrl movement, Kathleen Hanna is comfortable making a bold statement with her music. The Julie Ruin, the current project from the ex-Bikini Kill and Le Tigre member, finds her continuing to make a statement, but a much more personal and introspective one. The new album Hit Reset finds Hanna dealing with issues like illness and abuse. Jim and Greg both have deep respect for Hanna's body of work but are divided on her vocal abilities on this record. For Jim, Hanna's songwriting is top-notch but is undercut by the limits of her singing. He says to Try It. Greg isn't bothered by her voice. He finds the variety of musical styles on the album to be ambitious. The girl group style harmonies, new wave homages, and surprising ballads all make it a Buy It.
The Avalanches Wildflower
For the first time in 16 years, electronic act The Avalanches has released a new album. Wildflower is the follow-up to the Australian group's successful debut, Since I Left You. As on that influential first record, the new album features songs seemingly built on thousands of samples. This time around, though, the group is teaming up with several collaborators. Greg enjoyed Wildflower, and pointed out that he's a fan of The Avalanches' Day-Glo, positive energy. However, he thinks the numerous guest cameos from artists like Biz Markie, Danny Brown, and Ariel Pink are hit-and-miss. Overall, Greg is a fan of The Avalanches' quirky sound, but gives this record a Try It. Jim is a little more excited about this album, and compares it to watching Saturday morning cartoons as a kid. He thinks that this record might not be for everyone, but you should Buy It and see for yourself.
Neo soul artist Maxwell does things his own way and on his own schedule. Over his twenty year career he has put out five albums, sometimes with long periods of time between them. In 2009 he released BLACKsummers'night and announced it as the first of a trilogy. Seven years later, he has finally released part two of that series with the confusingly similar title blackSUMMERS'night. Jim and Greg both say Maxwell's sensitive style on this album is well worth the wait. Greg notes that Maxwell bucks the R&B trend of loading up on guest appearances and star producers. Instead he does it on his own and creates a sound that is unique and complex. And that complexity carries through to the album's“bedroom jams”adding a level of“lyrical density”to the genre. Jim hears echoes of Prince on the album as“gender gets lost in the mix”and notes an overarching respect for love and relationships. blackSUMMERS'night gets a double Buy It.
DJ Shadow The Mountain Will Fall
DJ Shadow emerged in the early '90s as a major figure in the northern California underground hip-hop scene. His debut 1996 full-length Endtroducing….. was one of the earliest and greatest of sample-based albums. But when you make a masterpiece your first time out, where do you go from there? His latest album The Mountain Will Fall features fewer samples, more synths, and more collaborations – notably with rap luminaries Run the Jewels. Jim says the album is not an easy listen – there are tracks that seem frivolous or intentially grating. But after spending time with it, he finds the record a great soundtrack for ominous times and calls it a Buy It. Greg appreciates that DJ Shadow never repeats himself. Instead he's nodding to contemporary EDM, Italian classical music, and old school hip-hop and turntablism. Greg calls The Mountain Will Fall a fine record that isn't as cohesive as Endtroducing….., but still worthy of a Try It.
Singer/songwriters Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs have long admired each other's music from afar but didn't really know each other personally. That changed a few years ago when lang sent an email to Case and Veirs asking if they wanted to collaborate. The result of that email is a new project and album called case/lang/veirs. Greg says he was initially skeptical of this so-called“super group”but the trio really delivers. He says the album sounds like a nod to girl groups and the Laurel Canyon sound and the sum is really greater the parts. Jim finds the three distinct voices elevate each other. The three women harmonize so well you can‘t always tell who is singing. While the record is lowkey, Jim is sure the joyful songs will grow on you and then you won’t be able to stop listening. case/lang/veirs earns a double Buy It.
Paul Simon Stranger to Stranger
After his success with Simon & Garfunkel and as a solo artist, it would be easy for Paul Simon to rest on his laurels. But Simon has continued to push himself with new ideas and rhythms. His 13th solo album is Stranger to Stranger, and it finds Simon using some of the weird home-made instruments of legendary experimental composer Harry Partch, and collaborating with Italian electronic dance artist Clap! Clap!. Greg appreciates that Simon is an artist that continues to innovate. He likes both the humor and the references to mortality (without being morbid) that the now 74-year-old throws into the lyrics. Jim is less impressed, feeling that Simon's work radiates an annoying self-satisfaction. Jim admits that Simon works with rhythms well but believes he is giving the illusion of doing something new, rather than actually doing something new. It's a Buy It for Stranger to Stranger from Greg and a Try It for Jim.
Chance the Rapper Coloring Book
Chicago artist Chance the Rapper recently released his third mixtape, Coloring Book. And while he's at the forefront of the rap genre, he's never actually sold a single album. That's because all three of his mixtape releases, as well as two collaborative albums, can be downloaded for free from the Internet. On Coloring Book, Chance enlists a slew of popular guest stars, from fellow Chicagoan Kanye West to the man of the moment, Justin Bieber. Jim really enjoyed this record, especially Chance's use of gospel music to empower individuals and generate a sense of community in order to combat violence. While he doesn't think it is quite as good as his last release, Acid Rap, Jim strongly believes the music and lyrical insight on this album is equal parts impressive and inspiring. He gives it a Buy It. Greg agrees, saying that Coloring Book is one of the most ambitious records in hip hop right now. He even points out that West's recent album, The Life of Pablo, wouldn‘t be what it is without Chance’s gospel sound influence. Greg appreciates the larger themes of the album and how it connects so well to the music of the Civil Rights Movement. It's a Double Buy It for Coloring Book.
Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool
If there's one band from the '90s alt-rock explosion that's retained its relevance, it's Radiohead. While it's been five years since their last release, Greg argues that the quality hasn't suffered on their new album A Moon Shaped Pool. Multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood seems to have integrated everything he's learned about scoring films into the album. The musical arrangements lift vocalist Thom Yorke to new heights as he contemplates everything from breakups to the environment. Greg got lost inside the record and its ideas of transformation. It took Jim a bit longer to dig what was inside. He laments the under-use of drummer Phil Selway, and the lack of a real fist-pumping save-the-planet anthem. But Jim knows to review what you get, not what you want – and he hears a complex and beautiful chamber pop record reminiscent of Nick Drake. That earns A Moon Shaped Pool an enthusiastic double-Buy It.
After much anticipation, rapper Drake has finally released his fourth album, Views. Over the past six years, the Canadian artist has risen to the top of the commerical rap genre, releasing four albums and several mixtapes, all of which have gone platinum. Jim takes issue with the album's subject matter, with Drake frequently complaining about the perks of his superstardom. Aside from that, he thinks Drake has yet to take his 808s & Heartbreak-inspired music to another level, something contemporaries The Weeknd and Frank Ocean have managed successfully. Greg agrees, though he acknowledges that Drake's earlier material was pretty effective. Ultimately, Greg thinks we‘ve already heard this Drake album and he’s capable of more. That's a double Trash It for Views.
Brian Eno The Ship
If you‘ve ever listened to Sound Opinions, you’ve learned one thing – Jim loves himself some Brian Eno. Eno has worn many hats over his long career, starting as a member of Roxy Music, collaborating with artists like David Bowie, and producing commercial successes for U2, Talking Heads, and Coldplay. His own solo output has varied wildly in style, recording pop albums in the '70s and basically inventing ambient music. His latest work, The Ship, is a concept album about the Titanic and the slaughter of World War I. Greg says Eno is finally merging his pop and ambient music, resulting in one of his best albums yet. He's freed himself from traditional song structures and rhythms to create cinematic images filled with orchestral synthesizer colors. Greg gives it a Buy It, impressed that Eno is still coming up with new ways to express himself. In a shocking turn of events, Jim is less impressed. He thinks that Eno's voice is the strongest tool in his arsenal, yet here he's burying it under the mix and fussing with Vocoders. Jim loves some ambient Eno, but feels he's done it better than on The Ship. But Jim says the doo-wop inflected cover of The Velvet Underground's "I'm Set Free" is amazing, earning The Ship a Try It rating.
Queen Bey is back with her refreshing new visual album, Lemonade. In the vein of her last work, the self-titled Beyoncé, Lemonade was a surprise release. This time, she put out a one-hour visual film of the same name on HBO about enduring infidelity, difficult times and Becky with the good hair. One of the many things Greg enjoys about Lemonade is Beyoncé's ability to become more vulnerable and gritty both in what she's singing about and how she's singing it. He also loves that she's working with unlikely collaborators like Jack White, James Blake and more. Greg thinks this is the best work of her career and gives Lemonade a Buy It. Jim wholeheartedly agrees, calling the album a masterpiece. He encourages listeners to listen beyond the drama of Jay Z & Beyoncé's struggling relationship to the greater picture Bey paints about the mistreatment of black women in America. He loves that she made an artistic record with some serious substance. Jim gives it an enthusiastic Buy It.
Parquet Courts Human Performance
Indie rock four-piece Parquet Courts formed in Brooklyn in 2010 with three of its members originally from Texas. They debuted with a limited cassette release in 2011, but it wasn't until they released Light Up Gold in 2012 that they really turned some heads. The record was reissued on a bigger label in 2013, and after releasing two semi-official albums, Parquet Courts is back with Human Performance.
Greg thinks Parquet Courts have captured what it's like living in New York City—isolating and overwhelming at once. This mood hangs over the whole record, even during what he calls the back-and-forth conversations between Andrew Savage and Austin Brown. Savage writes melancholy break-up tunes, and Brown responds with optimism. Greg thinks that while the record does not reach the masterpiece-status of Light Up Gold, it's a Buy It nonetheless.
Jim agrees that it's a Buy It, loving the jaunty piano, droning organ and sound effects. He recalls Parquet Courts being referred to by critics as slackers on their last album, sparked in no small part by the song "Stoned and Starving," but Jim clarifies that there's nothing lazy about their songwriting and thinks "Dust" is a brilliant track. Jim nods to the dialogue between Brown and Savage, but finds even more compelling the rapport between their guitars.
PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project
English singer-songwriter PJ Harvey's newest album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, drops April 15. This is her ninth album, and Jim and Greg have been following her from the beginning. The self-taught musician came into the spotlight in 1991 and debuted her album Dry in 1992 to critical acclaim. On this new album, Harvey pulls inspiration from her travels to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington D.C., where she observed local politics and infused her thoughts on them into her songwriting. Greg notes that her writing style has changed in the past few albums. It was during her eighth album, Let England Shake that she transformed into a storyteller, and that approach comes through on The Hope Six Demolition Project as well. She's an outsider looking in, but her reporting is still personal. Greg appreciates the emotional core of the record as well as the uplifting melodies that color her bleak accounts. The Hope Six Demolition Project is a Buy It for Greg. Jim agrees, taking note that the theatricality of her third album To Bring You My Love returns in this album. Harvey also introduces an anthemic quality— her passion and anger are audible, and Jim loves it, making The Hope Six Demolition Project an enthusiastic double Buy It.
French electronic band M83 began as a bedroom project in 2001, but its recordings have become increasingly elaborate and lush. Now based in Los Angeles, the band reached a commercial and critical peak with its 2011 album Hurry Up, We're Dreaming and has returned with its seventh album, Junk. While previous records were unified concept albums, Junk is frustratingly all over the map, according to Jim. In interviews, leader Anthony Gonzalez claims to have been inspired by 1970s and '80s sitcoms like Who's the Boss? and Punky Brewster. The result, Jim says, is a few brilliant dance-pop moments, but also plenty of dreck, earning it a Try It. Greg misses the emotional connection that M83 built on Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. He finds Junk in contrast to be cheesy and intentionally slight, with often chintzy-sounding orchestration. But Greg hears just enough worthwhile tracks to salvage Junk as a Try It.
Bob Mould Patch the Sky
Guitarist and singer Bob Mould returns with a new album called Patch the Sky. Mould, previously an integral member of the power trios Hüsker Dü and Sugar, has also maintained a successful solo career. And fans can always expect introspective material about family and relationships. Greg loves Mould's guitar playing, and really appreciates the juxtaposition of the up-tempo rhythms with the dark lyrics. He calls this Mould's mid-career renaissance and gives the album a Buy It. Jim wholeheartedly agrees. He respects Bob Mould for using his music to express his feelings and help alleviate negative energy. It's an enthusiastic Double Buy It for Patch the Sky.
Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression
The "godfather of punk" has released his 17th–and maybe final– album, Post Pop Depression. Jim and Greg are both huge Iggy Pop fans, but Jim thinks outside of a few moments of brilliance with tracks like Lust for Life, The Passenger, and Candy, his solo career is a disaster. Jim's opinion is that while Iggy's first three albums with The Stooges were perfect, the punk legend has never had much to say lyrically. Even Josh Homme's attempts to fire up the album don‘t work, and Jim’s got to call this record a Trash It. Greg couldn‘t disagree more. He’ll concede that Iggy's 80s output was less than stellar, but some of his solo records in the 90s and beyond have had great moments. Post Pop Depression is his best work since The Idiot and Lust for Life. Homme understands Iggy and provides a setting for him to do what he does best. Greg describes the lyrics as poetic and at different times dark, meditative, funny, and rageful. The record also shows off Iggy's underrated singing. Greg says Buy It. If this truly is Iggy's last album, what a way to go out.
Kendrick Lamar untitled unmastered.
Last year, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar released the groundbreaking album To Pimp a Butterfly. Both fans and critics enjoyed the record, and it earned him numerous Grammy awards just a few weeks ago. Now he's back with untitled unmastered., his new album full of“leftover”tracks from Butterfly. To Greg, the polished songs hardly seemed like leftovers. He admires Lamar's fusion of different musical styles and poignant lyrics and says Buy It. Jim is also enthusiastic. While contemporaries Kanye West and Drake have also recently released“unfinished”material, this is a bigger achievement.“Short, but sweet”and a double Buy It.
Mavis Staples Livin' On a High Note
Mavis Staples had a legendary career with her family's gospel and soul band The Staple Singers, which was a major part of the protest movement of the 1960s and scored huge hits for Stax in the 1970s. Mavis reinvented herself as solo artist in 2000s, collaborating on records with Ry Cooder and Jeff Tweedy. For Livin' On a High Note, she and producer M. Ward as a producer asked a variety of contemporary songwriters to write material for her to sing, including Neko Case, Nick Cave, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, and Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs. Jim loves how the best songs bring Mavis full circle by referencing on the Black Lives Matter movement. While the other songs are hit and miss, Mavis Staples is a“national treasure”and her voice is as powerful as ever. Jim is still waiting for her end career masterpiece, but this album is a definite Buy It. Greg – who literally wrote the book on Mavis Staples – points to We'll Never Turn Back as her masterpiece, but says this album is very good too. He loves what she does even with the lesser songs, like Vernon's generic love song, which she transforms into a moving address to her sister Yvonne Staples. In the middle of her 70s, Mavis Staples is doing some of the best work of her career.
Santigold was known as Santogold when she released her debut album in 2008, a combo of reggae and new wave that established her as an artist. On her third and most recent album, 99¢, she worked with TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend, Cathy Dennis, and Patrik Berger. Santigold named the album 99¢ because that's how much she thinks it's worth, and Jim concedes he would pay at least double that for it. But it's not a stellar album from start to finish. The middle of the album is weighed down by a few sluggish tracks, especially the duet with ILoveMakonnen, but combine that with the handful of fun dance pop punk songs, and it's a Try It album for Jim. Greg has always loved Santigold's ability to put smart lyrics inside catchy packages. And on this album, there are a few tracks that do just that. Banshee is one of Greg's favorites. It juxtaposes the darkness of drug addiction against an up-tempo, celebratory sound. Not every track is as successful though, and Greg is ultimately a little let down. 99¢ is a Try It for Greg as well.
TEEN Love Yes
Alt-rock group TEEN is made up of sisters Katherine, Lizzie and Kristina (Teeny) Lieberson and Boshra AlSaadi. But in 2010, TEEN was a mere home recording project by Teeny. TEEN's third full-length album, Love Yes, introduces them to their widest audience yet. Greg has loved TEEN since the beginning because of what they set out to do, but their execution always fell short. In Love Yes, the band has improved at crafting their quirks into tight pop songs. Still, Greg takes issue with the lack of editing here. The album is full of great ideas, but having four tracks end with too-long horn solos is not one of them. Despite that, this is the band's best album yet. Love Yes is a Try It for Greg. Jim thinks Greg is being stingy and gives kudos to TEEN's ambition. They combine shoegaze, funk and soul in a way that really works. Plus Love Yes lays out a new perspective on love, steering clear of sappiness typical of love songs, while still ringing hopeful. Jim goes so far as to call this record a masterpiece and undoubtedly a Buy It.
Bonnie Raitt Dig In Deep
Forget about these young whippersnappers featured on today's show. Bonnie Raitt has just released her 20th album! Called Dig In Deep, it has the blues rock veteran working overtime as artist, producer and label head. But, as Jim and Greg remark, there's nothing tired or stale here, Greg exclaims, "let us all bow down to her slide guitar tone" and gives Dig in Deep a Buy It. Jim goes with a Try It, explaining that while he appreciates the up-tempo tracks, he isn't moved by the ballads.
Julia Holter Have You in My Wilderness
Avant-garde singer-songwriter Julia Holter returns with her fourth studio album, Have You in My Wilderness. Holter is a multi-instrumentalist and composer who is influenced by both folk and electronic experimental music. Her earlier efforts were more abstract and disjointed, however her latest album takes on a more simple, pop demeanor. Greg really enjoyed this record and found its songs to be intelligently catchy. He really looks forward to hearing where she goes next in her musical career and gives this album a "Buy It." Jim agrees, and finds Have You in My Wilderness to be a pure joy. He appreciates her specific and unique interests in classical, folk and electronic music. Jim also compares her artistry to that of Bjork and gives Holter's album a "Buy It."
Kanye West The Life of Pablo
Recently, rapper Kanye West released his highly anticipated follow-up to 2013's Yeezus. It's called The Life of Pablo (well, sort of). After a large-scale fashion show and album presentation at Madison Square Garden, West decided that the record wasn‘t quite ready to be formally released yet. It’s still not available to purchase, but can be streamed on TIDAL and has been illegally downloaded over 500,000 times. This controversial new record pairs perfectly with West's recent antics, Twitter tirades and confusing outbursts. Jim's biggest problem with T.L.O.P. is its misogynistic lyrics - nothing new in hip-hop, but a new low for West. Jim adds, it's a shame because the music is fantastic. He gives it a non-enthusiastic Try It. Greg largely agrees, finding Kanye's disdain towards past romantic and business relationships to be petty and old news. Music-wise, he thinks there are just too many tracks on The Life of Pablo and wishes he had edited more diligently. He gives it a "Trash It."
Lucinda Williams The Ghosts of Highway 20
Less than two years after releasing a double album, Lucinda Williams is back with another one: The Ghosts of Highway 20. The Louisiana-born singer/songwriter delivers an Americana travelogue, using Interstate 20 to document her life growing up in the South. The highway, which runs from Texas to South Carolina, serves as a geographic timeline with which Williams shares her memories, both pleasant and troubling. The ambitious album is comprised of 14 tracks, 11 of which surpass five minutes, and that initially seemed too long for Greg. Ultimately though, Greg was astounded by this album, especially by the instrumentation executed in large part by the guitar work of Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz. The music transports the listener to the South, where, as Greg puts it,“you can practically feel and see the mist rising up out of the cotton fields.”While he would cut a couple tracks from this album, The Ghosts of Highway 20 is overall a Buy It for Greg.
Jim isn‘t bothered by the album’s length. He loves the psychedelic sound produced by Liesz's pedal steel, as well as Williams‘ poignant recollection of good times and bad. There are several songs on the album dedicated to death, but her treatment of the subject is neither with dread nor loathing, but with acceptance. Jim was a skeptic of Williams for many years, but her recent work– particularly this album– has made him a believer. It’s a Buy It for Jim as well.
Pusha T King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude
Virginia-bred rapper Pusha T recently released his second solo record called King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude. This album serves as a precursor to his main event – King Push – set to be released this spring. The rapper promises it will be unlike any hip hop album of the last 18 years.
Greg says if this mysterious upcoming album is anything like The Prelude, he's sold. This record packs a punch with 10 intense tracks marked by Pusha's authoritative voice. He's lived what he's speaking about, and thus he delivers detail that, in Greg's opinion, is a step above that which his peers provide. Pusha offers powerful social commentary with grit and an understanding of the street life, and the album's a Buy It for Greg.
Jim agrees that Pusha is an agile rapper with important things to say, but is disappointed in the album's continued glorification of cocaine dealing. Pusha's coverage of drug dealing doesn't nearly hit the depths that Kendrick Lamar's music does, and Jim tires of Pusha's coke-centric tracks. Finding this album to be half-Buy It, half-Trash It, Jim settles in the middle with a Try It review for King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude.
Savages Adore Life
The post-punk band Savages is back with their second album Adore Life. The group's first album, Silence Yourself, was a big hit with Jim and Greg. And Jim is not disappointed with the new one, which posits that there's nothing silly about love songs. These are twisted, dark and unconventional with none of the band's hellfire sacrificed. Greg agrees, praising this departure and each band member's contribution—from the propulsive rhythm section of bassist Ayse Hassan and drummer Fay Milton to guitarist Gemma Thompson's innovative guitar noise to Jehnny Beth's vocal intensity. Adore Life gets a double Buy It.
David Bowie Blackstar
When music icon David Bowie released the album Blackstar on his 69th birthday, only he and a handful of others knew it would be his last. With his passing, the dark and dramatic album took on new meaning. Jim applauds Bowie for taking risks and trying new things at this point in his career. However, he thinks the album is too much of a downer and at times moves a little too slowly. That being said, Jim has great respect and gratitude for Bowie, and gives this album a Try It. Greg also enjoyed that Bowie took risks and conveyed his own ideas until the day he died. He overall enjoyed the record more than Jim, really cherishing this final album and its added significance. Plus, Greg still maintains his opinion that David Bowie is a true innovator. He gives Blackstar a Buy It.
Coldplay Head Full of Dreams
Over the past 15 years, Coldplay has arguably become the biggest rock band in music. The group returns with their 7th album, A Head Full of Dreams, which lead singer Chris Martin says is the band's last effort. Greg thinks that in the past the group has presented some interesting and layered material, but not in 2016. This is their most pop/danceable album yet Greg feels there's a lack of conviction. Coldplay just didn't take it far enough, and the lyrics are pretty awful to boot. Greg gives it a Trash It. Jim agrees and thinks the Coldplay of yore was a very good band indeed. But the Coldplay of today doesn't go anywhere new. Even bringing in the big guns like Beyoncé and President Obama can‘t save this record. It’s a double Trash It for A Head Full of Dreams.