Category: Recent Releases

Duran Duran: All You Need Is Now

duran_duran_-all_you_need_is_now Mark Ronson got it.

Duran Duran’s producers on its last four albums didn’t, none more spectacularly than Justin Timberlake. But Mark Ronson, being an avid fan of the band, did. What did he get? The understanding of what constitutes a Duran Duran album.

Many articles and reviews have already paid lip service to Ronson’s goal of making All You Need Is Now, Duran Duran’s 13th studio album, the never-recorded sequel to Rio. So too does this Johnny-come-lately review.

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Alarm Will Sound: a/rhythmia

When I was studying music in college, the history course emphasized the evolution of harmonic language, from the dominance of the perfect fifth in the Middle Ages to the unresolved cadences of Richard Wagner.

Then in the 20th Century, the harmonic language broke down. Dissonance was in, and at the time, it seemed that history would be rebooted to chart the evolution of dissonance.

It’s ten years into a new century, and it’s too soon the determine what the 20th Century really contributed to that continuum. The general sense seems to indicate dissonance was a dead end. If the 20th Century rebooted anything, it was the approach to rhythm.

Alarm Will Sound understands this idea, and the ensemble dedicated an entire album exploring it. a/rhythmia sounds like a total mess, and yet, the musicianship required to navigate through its rhythmic right angles is supernatural.

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Natalie Merchant: Leave Your Sleep

As far back as her days with 10,000 Manaics, Natalie Merchant sought a more catholic (note the small "c") approach to her writing. But within the confines of her alt-rock star persona, these gestures tended to come off as awkward.

(You can’t convince me "Jealousy" is a convincing soul performance.)

But on her first album in seven years, Merchant finally does what she should have to achieve that more eclectic sound — ditch rock entirely.

Leave Your Sleep is a sprawling collection of poems set to Merchant’s music, which veers from reggae to klezmer to Celtic music and beyond. Employing more than 100 musicians, Merchant lets the needs of the verses dictate the direction of the music, not the other way around.

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Rufus Wainwright: All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu

This album is one Rufus Wainwright needed to record — and not because of all the upheaval in his life at the moment.

Between launching an opera and dealing with the illness of his mother Kate McGarrigle, Wainwright was probably not in the position to craft an album with a grand production.

All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu is Rufus Wainwright unplugged — just him and piano. Even without the demands on his time and attention, the downsizing of his sound is a much-needed reaction to the trajectory of his previous work.

If his albums continued to swell, one of them would eventually burst.

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Jónsi: Go

Hold on … is that a backbeat thumping behind Sigur Rós singer Jónsi? And not just a backbeat, but a dance beat?

That was my first reaction when I heard "Go Do", the opening track of Jónsi’s solo album Go. Sigur Rós’ previous studio album, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, featured some uncharacteristically up-tempo moments but not enough to stretch an entire album.

Jónsi goes further than Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust ever did, piling on thick beats, whimsical orchestration (courtesy of Nico Muhly) and stuttering samples in a beautiful mess of music, buoyed by his distinctive falsetto.

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Tokyo Jihen: Sports

Tokyo Jihen has something of a perception problem.

Shiina Ringo said she was ending her solo career to focus on the band back in 2004, giving the impression that solo Ringo and the group would be creatively independent. But with Shiina taking on the lion share’s of the songwriting — and of course, serving as front woman — it’s tough not to think of Tokyo Jihen in terms of its origin: a touring support band.

Then there’s Shiina’s solo work with which to contend. How could a band live up to the towering legacy of one of its members? Otona was nice and all, but it was no Shouso Strip.

What, then, can Tokyo Jihen do to escape the shadow of Shiina Ringo? Sports offers a pretty good answer: Nothing. Just keep doing what they do best.

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Department of Eagles: In Ear Park / Grizzly Bear: Veckatimist

Try as I might, this review of the Department of Eagles’ In Ear Park can’t help but also be a review Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimist. An overlap in membership also results in an overlap in sound, and most of what I think about the Department of Eagles is based on what I think about Grizzly Bear.

In particular, Veckatimist was one of the most overrated albums of 2009.

The Department of Eagles consists of singer Daniel Rossen and guitarist Fred Nicolaus. They were a unit before Rossen joined Grizzly Bear and eventually took Nicolaus with him. After Grizzly Bear released Yellow House, Rossen and Nicolaus resumed as the Department of Eagles and recorded In Ear Park.

Rossen’s distinctive voice has since become emblematic of Grizzly Bear, and the eclectic sound of his adopted band spills over into In Ear Park. More than that, actually — this album is what Yellow House should have been. (Yellow House is another album that seems to get better reviews than it should.)

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Sade: Soldier of Love

Among the pundits contemplating the fate of the recorded music industry, the idea of the economics of scarcity has come under scrutiny. The Internet provides such fast access to content that providing more material sooner is becoming the conventional wisdom for newer artists.

All this talk of business, however, doesn’t factor in a fairly persnickety detail — the muse.

Just because you ought to hose listeners with content, content, content doesn’t mean you should. Or even can.

Sade is the extreme opposite example of such emerging conventional wisdom. Back in the ’80s, it was easy to feel Sade fatigue because she and her band produced prodigiously from 1985 to 1988. The lag set in with 1992’s Love Deluxe, and after that … nada.

Eight years passed before Sade resurfaced with Lovers Rock and another ten before Soldier of Love.

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Wendy & Lisa: White Flags of Winter Chimneys

I have a TV blog. It’s dead. The one-two punch of TiVo and the writer’s strike from a few years back killed it.

It didn’t help the shows that came in the wake of the strike’s conclusion sucked — nothing on the level of The West Wing or Gilmore Girls (shut up), Battlestar Galactica and Friday Night Lights not withstanding.

Perhaps the one good thing to come out of the strike was a new album by Wendy & Lisa. The former members of Prince and the Revolution became film and television composers in the late-’90s, and the strike put them out of work when productions shut down.

The duo’s previous album, Girl Bros., was released in 1998, and the decade of work since then greatly expanded the pair’s sonic palette. White Flags of Winter Chimneys bears little resemblance to their post-Prince solo work.

Simply put, it’s the rock album they always had in them.

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Onitsuka Chihiro: DOROTHY

Onitsuka Chihiro set a pretty high bar with her 2000 debut, Insomnia. Subsequent albums haven’t quite achieved the same level of focus and consistency. (This Armor didn’t even come close.)

So it was easy to assume Insomnia would be the unmovable obstacle, the peak by which everything will be compared and none surpassed.

Well, she just might have done it.

Midway through the decade, Onitsuka sought to free herself from the balladeer confines in which her management — and perhaps her audience (myself included) — wanted to keep her. The first effort of this make-over, 2007’s LAS VEGAS, was more admirable for its effort than for its execution.

DOROTHY, however, finally brings Onitsuka to the point she’s been fighting to reach for the last few years — as an artist of breadth.

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