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Fiery eighth album from Chicago punk stalwarts.
Rise Against's furiously politicised punk means there's always fodder for their meaty chops, and now's as good a time as any with a psychotic narcissist in the White House. So the muscly punk of "Mourning In Amerika", "How Many Walls" and "Welcome to the Breakdown" tackle the rampant divisive dipshittery of Trump's America, while the charging title-track ought to accompany a clip of el Presidente and his disgusting cronies distorting into nightmarish animals devouring humanity. Best, though, is "Bullshit", a fiery punk-rock torch song examining political apathy and moral hollowness in contemporary society.
Geordie bard returns with epic, history-spanning concoction.
This first post-Brexit album from Richard Dawson continues the glorious distortion of traditional folk forms and exploration of community and culture that made 2014's Nothing Important such a visionary work. Peasant is a coruscating, occasionally unhinged masterpiece using a lyrical framework based on the Early Medieval kingdom of Bernicia. Yet his ire is opaque, his social commentary glimpsed through oblique narratives. The de-tuned nylon guitar remains his weapon of choice, which when joined by children's choirs and ritualistic handclaps produces a relentless cacophony that testifies to Dawson's singular genius.
Four-way concept album about the solar system is a strange trip.
A concept album based around the solar system, with a track for each planet along with shout-outs to the moon, black holes and Halley's Comet? It sounds like something Muse would come up with after a few too many edibles. Stevens pushes his vocals through vocoders and autotune to sound like a lonesome robot, while Muhly's orchestrations, McAlister's beats and Dessner's guitar washes combine to suggest Philip Glass, Vangelis and Giorgio Moroder are on board the spacecraft with them. The proggy electronic/symphonic trip is atmospheric but meandering, with the odd shooting star.
British progsters show no signs of slowing on 11th album.
Since forming in 1990, Liverpool sextet Anathema have progressed from death metal act to a post-progressive group that deal in the same sort of grand, gorgeous sonic landscapes as latter-day Marillion. Their 11th album has a loose thematic tie to 2001's A Fine Day To Exit, exploring what happened to the character who disappeared on that record. The album is at its most affecting in its sweeping, piano-based moments, vocalist Lee Douglas's voice soaring ("Endless Ways"), and sees them incorporating elements of electronica and even jazz-noir into the film score-like compositions. Anathema's restless creative urges remain intact.
Brooklyn indie-folk band spread further on sophomore LP.
There's no shortage of creative curveballs on Big Thief's second effort. The unfurling transformation of "Coma" from demo to all-absorbing hypnosis; the looped banjos of "Object"; the sparseness of Gaelic sermon "Mary"; the sharp shift between bright pop momentum on "Shark Smile" and the heavy-plods of chaser "Capacity". However, it feels more competitive than complimentary, serving as a noble attempt to counterweight the looming presence of vocalist Adrianne Lenker. Her astute observations and harrowing hushed delivery remain a constant centrepiece, striking such prominence that the songs end up sounding quite similar.
Star navigates a less bombastic pop universe on fifth full-length.
After steadily charting nine Number One hits since 2008, anthem-roarer Katy Perry is stumbling through the fog and strobes of a less bombastic pop universe. Fourth album Witness surfs on gentler throbs of house music and lets ballads smush into art-pop soup. It's all a perfect fit for a Hot 100 dominated by the subtle, nuanced, EDM-informed music of artists like Halsey, Camila Cabello and Troye Sivan. But subtle and nuanced was never the calling card of the artist behind songs like "I Kissed a Girl." Perry has replaced the eye of the tiger with the heart of a contemporary night owl, making an album of mostly moody, dreamy, reserved music – and one double-entendre-filled, AC/DC-ready food fight in "Bon Appetit." In turn, a pop icon blends into the rest of the radio.
Working with super-producer Max Martin and a list of modern cool kids (Duke Dumont, Jack Garratt, Corin Roddick of synth-pop band Purity Ring), Witness is a mish-mash of electronic-leaning pop: the currently trendy revival of British 2-step ("Witness"), a dancehall/disco smash-up ("Chained to the Rhythm"), fake Sam Smith ("Save as Draft") and a look back on vintage early-Nineties house music ("Swish") that jacks the same Roland Clark sample that Fatboy Slim did in 2000. Throughout, Perry is less like the so-unusual, candy-coated Cyndi Lauper of "Teenage Dream," and is more an anonymous disco crooner, a breathy moderator leading us through passionate but muted songs of longing and empowerment.
A brassy voice that once held long notes and sang lines like "I am a champion" is now devoured in effects and reverb, rarely reaching the excited joy of punkier electronic-poppers like Robyn, Charli XCX or even recent singles from Lorde. The exceptions are "Roulette," an explosive EDM Eurythmics update (produced by Martin and Shellback), and the gospel-choir-assisted "Pendulum," which brings a vintage Perry vocal performance to some late-Eighties filigrees by Kanye producer Jeff Bhasker. But her advice in that song doubles as a criticism: "Don't try and reinvent your wheel/'Cause you’re too original."
The true king bids adieu with effortless wit, riffs and wisdom.
In the wake of his March passing, Chuck Berry's first studio album in 38 years is obviously more than a face-value proposition. The all-in guitar boogie of the opening track, "Wonderful Woman", is both a broad embrace to all who cherish his signature duck-walking style and a profoundly personal celebration as three generations of the Berry family trade licks between lusty verses about love gone by.
"Big Boys" mines the same timeless feelgood rock & roll vein. It opens with yet another variation on that trademark "Johnny B"/"Beethoven" riff, then tumble-turns through a tale of wide-eyed youth that manages to uncork the exuberance of the eternal teen like – well, like Chuck Berry on a roll.
It's hard to feel quite so involved in his slow-stomping cover of Tinpan Alley standard "You Go To My Head", or in the sentimental croon of his own "Darlin'", but it's harder still to begrudge a couple of last, slow-dancing duets with his daughter, Ingrid.
A live Tony Joe White nugget and a fond bookend to history in "Lady B. Goode" pad a soft mid-section, amply redeemed in the last two tracks. In the enigmatic spoken-word fable "Dutchman" and the breezy closing wisdom of "Eyes of Man", the gracefully departing pioneer displays an undimmed gift for the loaded conversational rhymes that founded the reference library of rock & roll.
British ambient pop trio play it safe on uneven sophomore record.
It's hard to imagine Jamie "xx" Smith much likes London Grammar being compared to his band. He'd have reason to groan, too – while London Grammar's first album enjoyed the rare combination of critical acclaim and huge international sales, their second is less impressive, a dirge-heavy collection that lacks the colourful counterpoints of its predecessor – and certainly the boundless imagination of Smith's work.
Hannah Reid's vocals are undeniably arresting – she's got lungs to match Florence Welch's – but the songs lack the range of her clarion alto. Lyrically, too, Reid stumbles – "follow your dreams" on repeat in "Wild Eyed" is hard to stomach, and her reminder that "Maybe what we are and what we need, they're different things" (shock horror!) cripples "Non-Believer", an otherwise palatable track about her scepticism of a friend's new lover.
Some songs work, among them "Big Picture", produced by Jon Hopkins, with lovely arpeggiated guitar chords rippling under an equally pretty chorus; close relative "Who Am I"; and "Everyone Else", Dan Rothman's guitar imparting a lilting lightness over Dot Major's mannered percussion. But producer Paul Epworth, old hat at making mighty-voiced women (Adele, Florence Welch) sound ever more grandiose, fails to guide his young charges towards much new or exciting – unlike, say, the beat-driven "Metal and Dust" or bongos-laced "Flickers" from their debut – and the album suffers for it.
In a celebratory mood, Callinan collabs with international friends.
Album two sees Sydney's enfant terrible parlaying more of his shit-stirring persona into his music. "Night on the piss, the shit hits the fan," he deadpans in his laconic drawl on "My Moment", a creeper that culminates in garish EDM sirens, while "S.A.D" is a balls-out electro-ballad... about drugs. This is Callinan's dance record, filled with typically wry lyrics, amusing cameos – Jimmy Barnes lends his howl to "Big Enough" – and Callinan's cool cronies (he counts Connan Mockasin, Weyes Blood and Jorge Elbrecht among his friends and fans). The power-ballad finale, though, is more self-aware than silly, as Callinan admits, "it was all bravado".
Ultra-bubbly love songs that don't linger long.
From the stadium-sized sparkle of opener "J-Boy", it's clear Phoenix are playing it straighter than on 2013's subversive Bankrupt!. In fact, the Parisian quartet celebrate much of the luxury they skewered last time. They also embrace gushing romance, with frontman Thomas Mars professing love in multiple languages on the title track before cooing "We're meant to get it on" amid "Fior Di Latte". While still mingling swanky and sleazy impulses, the band tap the high-gloss euphoria of the Bee Gees and ABBA with these synth-licked, dance-slanted songs. But for all its streamlined craftsmanship, Ti Amo suffers from a certain weightlessness, trafficking in pleasures most fleeting.
Massive retrospective features previously unreleased concert recording, remixes, B-sides, outtakes and a book of photography by the Edge
The Joshua Tree, released in 1987, is U2 at their biggest: 11 sweeping, aching anthems to self-doubt, humanity, hope and America-focused anxiety – all straightforward and pop-savvy enough to propel them from arenas to stadiums. It was the fastest-selling album in U.S. chart history when it topped Billboard in 1987, and currently sits at 10 times platinum, an album so huge that the band is playing the record in its entirety on an arena tour 30 years later. The second retrospective box set (the first appeared in 2007) is a giant, four-CD (or weighty seven-LP) collection that features the pristine-sounding original album, a previously unreleased concert recording from New York, new remixes, B-sides, never-before-released outtakes and a book of photography by the Edge.
The band sound energised and even playful on the Madison Square Garden performance (fans may recognise the gospel-tinged "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" with its Bob Marley outro from 1988's Rattle and Hum). Bono does his best preacher impression on "Bullet the Blue Sky," while the Edge plays soaring, Led Zeppelin-y slide guitar. The ominous meditation on a psycho killer, "Exit," features a snippet of Them's "Gloria," à la Patti Smith. Bono yells, "Fuck it up, Edge" before the solo in "In God's Country," and he calls the "Trip Through Your Wires" "sort of a love song" that he dedicates to himself. It's a brilliant snapshot of the band, even if it omits the cover of the Beatles' "Help" and their own "Bad" and "Spanish Eyes," all played that night. (A concert film of this show, or any other on the original Joshua Tree tour, is the only missing ingredient in the box.)
It's notable that the band chose a recording from New York for this set, as Joshua Tree plays like a bittersweet love letter to the U.S., from the angsty "Bullet the Blue Sky" to the uneasy "In God's Country." "As the album was being recorded, we consciously tried to evoke the landscapes of America with our music," the Edge wrote in an essay accompanying his photos. "This mythical America or 'Amerika' – described for us in the movies of Scorsese, Coppola, Wim Wenders, in the music of the blues, and by the authors we were reading at the time ... was a place of fascination for us. The promised land, both brutal and beautiful." Imbued with their own distinctly Irish viewpoint (captured most notably in "Red Hill Mining Town," written a few years after the U.K.'s mining strike, and "Running to Stand Still," about a heroin-addicted couple in Dublin), it's a note they never struck quite the same way again. But it's rich enough to resonate in new ways decades later, especially in the some of the LP's attendant deep cuts.
The previously unreleased Steve Lillywhite alternate version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" presents the song as more of a straight-ahead rock song with acoustic rhythm guitar and almost funky rhythms. Co-producer Brian Eno's "One Tree Hill Reprise," made this year, presents a more impressionistic and altogether Eno-esque take on the album standout, adding swelling string sounds before fading away like a river to the sea. The rest of the outtakes and B-sides, which appeared on the 20th anniversary box set in 2007, provide looks at the streets with no name the band daren't not travel, including the original version of "Sweetest Thing," the moody "Wave of Sorrow," springy "Rise Up" and ambient "Race Against Time." "Drunk Chicken/America," which features an Allen Ginsberg poem, is also weird enough to show they knew how to cut loose.
The only dicey part is an uneven disc of six remixes: some provide new insights, others fall flat. Jacknife Lee's "Bullet the Blue Sky" presents the hard-rocking track as something of a slamming Nine Inch Nails industro-rocker with a cleaner take on Bono's vocals; and co-producer Daniel Lanois turns "Running to Stand Still" into a sweet crooner. Worst are a pair of exercises in restraint: a decidedly minimalistic "With or Without You," for which Lanois has removed all vestiges of the Edge's guitar, and a downright bizarrely muted, unenjoyable interpretation of "Where the Streets Have No Name," which mostly sounds like you're hearing the tune through your neighbour's wall, courtesy of longtime U2 collaborator Flood. But these are mostly curiosities packaged in a wealth of material. With three other discs and a book of the Edge's moving black & white portraits of the band in the California desert, the box is a thorough portrait of a band on the verge, ready to burst into the arms of America and the rest of the world.
Newcomer pushes to the front of the pack with punchy pop debut.
She's got hooks that rank with Lady Gaga's best, a husky croon reminiscent of Amy Winehouse and the sultry insouciance of Charli XCX, and if her debut album's anything to go by, 21-year-old Dua Lipa might just be the breakout star of 2017. A mix of hip-hop, power ballads, tropi-synths and traces of EDM, the one constant throughout is Lipa's smokey vocals – poured over plinking synths and a propulsive beat on the glorious "Be the One", and saucily convincing on "IDGAF" and the cockney-chorused "Blow Your Mind (Mwah)". It's not quite "dark pop", as Lipa calls it, but it's real, diverse and assured – a rare triple threat in pop.
Three-year wait over for second album from New Orleans rocker.
"It's like everything I touch is gold," sings Booker on opener "Right On You", and you can forgive the boy for such a line in the wake of his superb self-titled debut of 2014. On this follow-up the 28-year-old has moved away from robust garage-blues towards a more reflective, melodic statement. With the earworm "Truth Is Heavy", the gospel-inflected title track and the string-laden "Believe", Booker exhibits an expansive and sensitive talent with an acute understanding, and a highly distinctive interpretation, of the soul tradition. While there is nothing as electric as "Violent Shiver" from his first LP, he is maturing beautifully.
Former Pink Floyd man sounds a fiery return.
Roger Waters has been both one of Pink Floyd's biggest critics and best ambassadors, which is easy to do when you've been touring The Wall and haven't released your own rock originals since 1992. So it's refreshing that his return to the studio is both familiar and angry. The raw, spacious production by Nigel Godrich brings to mind Dark Side of the Moon, eschewing digital studio trickery in favour of analog synths, live instrumentation and tape loops. Fuelled by Trump-era outrage, Waters' venomous political barbs have never sounded so relevant. Like Bowie's Black Star, this is an exciting, career-defining record from a man in his 70s.
Electro-pop debut offers plenty of style but little substance.
UK singer/guitarist Pixx (born Hannah Rodgers) has given her debut LP a title that hints at an examination of our fractured modern era, but the content within tells a different story: there are songs about waterslides ("Waterslides"), not wanting toes to be stepped on ("Toes"), and having a desire to dance like the rest of the girls ("The Girls"). Pixx may not dive deep, but she has art-school style to burn and a reasonable feel for Grimes-esque warped electro-pop. The problem is that Pixx isn't idiosyncratic enough to intrigue (her polite, over-enunciating voice is fine but undistinguished, like a Gen Y Dido) or able to create pop earwormy enough to endure.
English suburbia provides unlikely inspiration for UK pop trio.
Taking inspiration from the tidy towns and dull suburbs that surround London sounds like a fool's errand. But this English trio has long known how to sprinkle some sparkle on the ordinary. Their ninth album is another boot sale of pop ephemera, throwing in Latin disco-pop ("Dive"), Italo-pop ("Underneath the Apple Tree") and Stereolab-style Kraut-pop ("Magpie Eyes"). And in "Out Of My Mind" they've created a dance-pop earworm that could be a hit if handed to Kylie. The concept stretches over 19 tracks, before Sarah Cracknell recites train station names and explains the allure of the home counties on "Sweet Arcadia".