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New York post-hardcore legends' long-awaited third LP.
Quicksand's first two albums, 1993's Slip and (to a lesser extent) 1995's Manic Compression, were trailblazing post-hardcore records that sustained the band's legacy for decades. From the opening notes of this surprise third album, Interiors could be the work of no other group. The deep, cold grooves of "Illuminant" are a trademark, the dreamy melodies of "Cosmonauts" a wonderful 2017 update on the band's early-Nineties sound. The second half of Interiors isn't quite as enthralling, the ideas not as fully formed as the opening onslaught, though "Normal Love" sends things out on a high, a stirring combination of tightly wound riffing and intricate melodic interplay.
Sydney electronic stalwarts aim for pleasure centres on album six.
With the release of lead single "Chameleon" last year, Pnau made their intentions clear – the trio (Sam Littlemore has joined his brother Nick and Peter Mayes) want to once again ignite festivals with tunes as party-starting as those on their 2007 self-titled smash. While the energy levels are understandable after a spell in wishy-washy synth-pop, there's a sameyness to much of Changa, its strong afrosoca flavour led by vocalist Kira Divine, who features heavily. Diversions are welcome – Vera Blue's Sophie Ellis-Bextor channelling turn on "Young Melody", the straight-outta Madchester "Control Your Body" and a moment of cool restraint on "La Grenouille".
Slowcore songs writing cheques the voice can't cash.
In Lo Carmen's parched country ballads, pedal steel is the foundation stone, wistful guitars the framework, and brushed drums and lugubrious bass the permeable walls. Men and women walk in here alone, leave alone, and Bonnie "Prince" Billy is almost jaunty light relief when he turns up in "Sometimes It's Hard". Carmen and friends get the style pretty well right but rarely break out of a monochromatic palette. A bigger problem is Carmen's limited voice not being able to make the few colours striking. Mood is one thing, but carrying us through asks for more than her quarter-speaking/half-reaching/quarter-missing style.
On star-studded sixth album, band are still deftly navigating the pop moment.
On the sixth Maroon 5 LP, Adam Levine nuances a role he plays well: the Top 40 old-soul navigating whatever the pop-music moment throws his way. He works well alongside young talent, trading playful "hey now, baby"s with SZA over crisp brunch funk on "What Lovers Do" and ascending into falsetto sunshine with Julia Michaels on "Help Me Out." Kendrick Lamar provides a high point simply by showing up for "Don't Wanna Know." Whether skating over house beats on "Plastic Rose" or cruising through a ballad like "Denim Jacket," Levine proves himself a pliant star of Jacksonian ease and Stingly self-assurance.
Bootleg box set travels deeper into songwriter's gospel phase.
The arguments of this edition of the Bootleg Series are familiar — a disparaged period in Dylan's career (in this case, the gospel years) was better than you think; the studio recordings don't tell the story as well as the live shows; he was so busy chasing the moment that he left some of the best stuff in the vault.
And, yes. The first two CDs, lovingly assembled from live tracks spanning 24 months and 19 cities, showcase a band that could bend toward tradition without losing any of the brute force that defined rock in one of its last moments at culture's center stage. A 1981 version of "Gotta Serve Somebody" in Bad Segeberg, Germany turns the song from a shuffle into a power-chord stomp, before opening space for gospel shouts at the end. It's followed by a 1979 performance of one of 14 unreleased songs, "Ain't No Man Righteous, No Not One," that opens with guitar boogie before sliding into a soul-drenched reggae groove. It's a moment of jubilation, full of lubricious spirituality. Such moments are not in abundance across the eight CDs in this box set. Enjoy this one.
So also, no. There are treasures aplenty here, among them a rehearsal take on "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking" that seems to find the band jamming on the Rolling Stones' "Bitch" and two very different versions of "Caribbean Wind," an epic full of lust, divinity and a mystery that he never resolved. But there's also bitterness and stridency, as the restless spirit of "Like a Rolling Stone" stops dead on the Biblical literalism of "Solid Rock." Dylan had traded songs that asked questions for songs that insisted on answers. It was a test of faith, his and ours. It still is.
Cat Empire members' collab with Indigenous choir shines.
A song-cycle exploring the striking rhythms of the Pilbara, traditional and industrial, Spinifex Gum finds Felix Riebl and Ollie McGill (Cat Empire) showcasing Cairns-based Indigenous choir Marliya. Peppered with treated field recordings, it invites comparison with M.I.A.'s Kala: see the penetrating title track, with its rapid-fire chorale, fractured industrial samples and sand-rattling beat. But it's the tracks that grapple with the more precipitous issues facing Indigenous Australia – the frankly devastating "Miss Dhu", and 'bomb-track' "Locked Up", featuring Briggs in full-flight – that most thrill with essential fervour.
Sisters enlist pop contemporaries to mark album's 10th anniversary.
In celebrating 2007's The Con, Tegan and Sara hand the reins over to some special guests. On paper, the album should be a 5- star instalment with the likes of Hayley Williams ("Nineteen") and Bleachers ("Burn Your Life Down") in the mix, but as a collection, The Con X: Covers doesn't land as meaningfully as intended. Songs are stripped back and sometimes given a more warped, breathy electronic feel (Shura, "The Con"), and unfortunately lose the emotional core that founded the original. Mykki Blanco, PVRIS and Ryan Adams are examples of the album's diverse approach; unfortunately, it doesn't quite stick as a whole.
U.K. crooner makes his lonely hours feel universal on second album.
Sam Smith's breakout moment as a deep house don on Disclosure's "Latch," arguably the sexiest club banger of 2012, was a feint. Sure, dude could sing. But given the digital-chipmunk high notes and other effects, the jam gave little indication of his full power. His debut LP, In the Lonely Hour, clarified matters, racking up ridiculous stream and sales numbers, plus four Grammys. Now, doubling down on his magnificent, gender-nonconforming voice while pushing his songcraft forward, Smith's second LP knights one of the mightiest, most expressive vocalists of his generation.
Where Lonely Hour led with beats, Thrill of It All opens on lonely piano chords and Smith's whispering high tenor, which sweeps up to falsetto on the pre-chorus, soon echoed by a choir and handclaps. The song, "Too Good at Goodbyes," has gotten over 120 million YouTube plays since its release as a single, and establishes the ruling formula for album, one which Smith laid out on his biggest hit "Stay With Me" – an aching lover pleading with a paramour against slow-building gospel-pop rapture. He mixes up. "One Last Song" adds choral muscle and Memphis brass to a doo-wop strut that echoes Amy Winehouse, as does "Baby You Make Me Crazy" (Smith's live version of the late singer's "Tears Dry on Their Own" is worth searching for). On the tortured "Burning," which begins with a haunting a capella, Smith confesses despondency, flying up and down his vocal range, each switchback escalating the drama until yet another churchy choir raises the roof. "No Peace" is a showpiece duet with up-and-comer Yebba, a Harlem-based singer via West Memphis, Arkansas, whose full breakout moment must be close at hand.
But the drama here peaks with the breathtaking "Him." Until now, Smith has largely kept his identity as a gay man out of his songwriting. Here, he addresses a "Holy Father," appearing to conflate spiritual and biological patriarchs, confessing he's "not the boy that/You thought you wanted," and declaring "it is him I love," bottoming out his register on the final word. It's intense, and by the time Smith describes walking hand in hand with his lover through the streets of Mississippi – a state whose famous intolerance was immortalised by kindred torch singer Nina Simone in her 1964 single "Mississippi Goddam" – it's clear Smith has forged a civil rights anthem no less visceral and no less committed.
"Him" elevates a set of brilliantly-sung songs into a potent concept album that universalizes heartbreak from a distinctly LGBTQ point of view. Yes, the magic beats of "Latch" are missed. But here's hoping for a house remix of "Him" that will raise the roof in clubs gay and straight for years to come.
Illustration by Sam Spratt for Rolling Stone.
Glimmering debut from Adelaide songwriter/producer.
Following the subtle 2015 Flux EP, Timberwolf (Christopher Panousakis) has exploded his tender folk into genre-dodging soundscapes of conceptual, confessional indie-psych-electro-folk. Íkaros brims with sweeping, expansive melodies that combine with Panousakis' vocals to create an enveloping intimacy. The gentle surge of "Washed Out" and "Hold You Up" floats on a bubble of George Harrison's gospel-psych, ELO's sparkling pop nous, and the wonky prog-funk of Steely Dan, making for memorable, tender songs worth the price of admission alone. "Why Won't You Love Me", meanwhile, feels like a lost Jeff Buckley B-side. A stirring debut.
Massachusetts punks return with brutal ninth album.
Across nine albums, Converge have evolved as one of heavy music's most uncompromising and reliably primeval forces. Here their whirlwind hardcore is honed to a fine machine-edge, a piston-powered industrial guillotine of riffs expunging and expelling pain, bitterness and anger in an exorcism led by Jacob Bannon's throat-shredding vocals and Kurt Ballou's twisting guitar. There's body-rending ferocity in the stalking attack of "Trigger", but when they soften the raining of blows with slowburning ruminations ("The Dusk In Us") it provides a balance to a record that threatens to split you from top to tail.
Tormented Vermont emo-rapper highlights hip-hop's post-modern evolution.
Vermont musician Joe Mulherin, a.k.a. Nothing,Nowhere., lies at the intersection of hip-hop's evolution into post-modernism: emo-rap and SoundCloud trap, self-righteous bitterness and self-pitying opiate blues, melody and harmony emphasized over sharp-witted bars and tricky rhyme schemes. There's precedent for his uniquely tormented work, whether it's Yelawolf's cathartic country-rap tunes on 2015's Love Story and Eminem's choruses on "Not Afraid" and "Cleaning Out My Closet"; or, more recently, XXXtentacion's emotionally stunted 17 and Lil Peep's narcotised Come Over When You're Sober. However, Nothing,Nowhere. doesn't require an antagonist – a wayward ex-girlfriend, a pernicious drug addiction – to prompt his agonized, suicidal feelings. His anger seems largely internalized, and directed at himself – at least most of the time. "I hope you choke in your sleep," he sings angrily on "Clarity in Kerosene," a track from his new album Reaper. "I'll be the last that you see."
Reaper, his first album for Equal Vision and Pete Wentz' DCD2 finds him tonally evoking the glory years of 2000s emo-punk without necessarily replicating it. There are no churning guitars and pummelling drums à la Taking Back Sunday, just a laconic, atmospherically picked guitar line or two. The skittering, drill-like percussive patterns of "Houdini" will ring familiar to Zaytoven fans, while the billowing laptop cloud washes that hover throughout are a hallmark of producers like Blue Sky Black Death and Clams Casino. On "Houdini" he sings verses in a half-bounce flow before breaking into an echoing squall on the song's bridge. But on "Funeral Fantasy," he raps hard, and spits bars like, "Give a fuck about a SoundCloud rapper/Give him two years and the cloud won't matter/And I hate it so I'm working in the shadows/See you rocking Gucci but you look like an asshole." Despite his own success on that platform, he wants to separate from what is quickly become a scorned industry cliché: the anti-musical, "lean"-addicted SoundCloud rapper-misogynist-doofus.
Nothing,Nowhere. isn't a revelatory rapper or singer, but seamless blend of the two that makes Reaper stand out. He tends to flick between the two like a light switch, shifting from bars to anguished singing on "Black Heart" as he cries, "You're just another reason why I stay inside/Just another reason why I hate this life." There's a cameo from rapper Lil West, who drenches his "REM" vocal in Auto-Tune. More importantly, emo elder Chris Carraba of Dashboard Confessional appears on "Hopes Up" to lend his imprimatur and let us know that, yes, this is the real thing.
Velociraptor frontman turns up the charm on solo debut.
The knockabout charisma of Jeremy Neale informs every nook of this impressively self-assured solo debut, his tilt at the title of Australia's foremost wonky indie pop impresario backed by an album brimming with power pop and hooks. Stretching across endearing everyday-life vignettes are the skinny-tie-indie shadows of Elvis Costello ("All My Life") and Nick Lowe ("No Fun"), but the depths alluded to in the synth-heavy "Loose Cannon" are particularly poignant. Darkness lurks behind the bubblegum bounce of "Dancin' & Romancin'", but Neale's pop magnetism means it's served with impressive panache.
Landmark metal album turns 21 years old.
After the breakout success of 1993's Chaos A.D. (reissued last month), Brazilian metallers Sepultura were poised to take the step into the big leagues with their sixth record, Roots. They'd probably have pulled it off too, had frontman Max Cavalera not split with the band acrimoniously in late-1996. Prior to the blow-up, Roots represented the quartet's most ambitious album to that point, foregoing the thrash/death focus of their past and incorporating elements of nu-metal (Korn helmer Ross Robinson produced the album; Mike Patton and members of Korn and Limp Bizkit were guests), as well as the music of their Brazilian heritage on songs such as "Itsari", which they recorded with the Xavante tribe. Dubbed "tribal metal" thanks to the pummelling rhythms which pervade the album, at the time Roots represented a brave new frontier. Twenty-one years on it doesn't feel quite as seismic, songs such as the lumbering "Straighthate" failing to age as well as the blistering "Roots Bloody Roots" and "Attitude". The bonus tracks – demos, instrumental and live versions – will please collectors and completists, but are hardly essential.
Rebuilt 'Burdens' rethinks the singer-songwriter's hit 1996 debut with help from some pals.
Tracy Bonham's 1996 debut The Burdens of Being Upright turned Gen-X jitters and Berklee-honed chops into alt-rock gold. 20 years later, Bonham has re-imagined the album, pulling its songs apart and inviting a few pals (Belly's Tanya Donnelly, Letters to Cleo's Kay Hanley, the New Pornographers' Kathryn Calder and more) to help put them back together. The radio hit "Mother Mother," originally a frayed-nerves blast through early-adulthood angst, turns into a blues-tinged mosey through 2017's magnified anxieties ("Trump is trending," she laments); "Navy Bean," originally a punky corker, stretches out its spindly lick over stomping drums; "The Real" gets a lift from rich harmonies (courtesy of Speedy Ortiz's Sadie Dupuis) and swirling distortion. Modern Burdens is a lovingly penned postcard to Bonham's past self, and a fascinating look at where she's at right now.
Passionate if generic debut from Sydney metalcore crew.
If Polaris bring anything to the world of modern metalcore, it's passion. There is an urgency in their delivery that is thoroughly convincing. This is a band with a genuine conviction for their music that is unfortunately overshadowed by a lack of individual identity. This is reflected in the generically typical overuse of Amity-style growled/clean vocal transitions and generally unimaginative songwriting. The Fallujah-like "In Somnus Veritas" offers some respite from the all-too similar bludgeoning and regurgitated tropes on display, exhibiting a small degree of risk-taking that Polaris should embrace further if they don't want to end up as just another metalcore band.
Jet frontman gets reborn on fuzzed-out rock-soul debut.
Nic Cester may have lost his head in the overnight whirlwind of Jet but he's found his soul on this slow-brewing solo debut. While the Melbourne rocker's retro sensibility remains unrepentant, his seasoned Italian band the Calibro 35 brings a more weighty range of feels to the party.
"Sugar Rush" signals the descent into vintage psych-r'n'b smoulder with a jazz-waltz beat, fuzz bass, electric organ and wah-wah. "Lead me to a higher place, fill my soul with love and grace," our reborn journeyman pleads, and, by Otis, he's halfway there already.
The timewarp envelops like an echo chamber as flutes and phasers lead us deeper, to the instant neo-psychedelic classic "Psichebello", the mellow brass undertows of "Hard Times" and the prog-synth fanfare of "Strange Dreams".
There's more of an Eighties funk feel to "Who You Think You Are", then a deeply melancholy orchestral interlude titled "On Top of the World" that shows a sense of humour blessedly intact.
"Is it all down to bad luck that I'm worn to the core?" he bawls in the bodice-ripping pitch of the album's string-sawing epic, "God Knows". It's one of several lyrics that might be interpreted in the light of a prematurely wasted rock star, but Cester's ear for classy production, his fuel-injected singing and brilliance as a songwriter consistently prove he's anything but.