I Am…Sasha Fierce (Columbia)
Pop’s foremost hit-making juggernaut takes a turn for the decidedly goofy with I Am…Sasha Fierce, a sort-of concept album spread out over two discs (despite containing a single disc’s worth of running time), with one half dedicated to by-the-numbers Beyonce balladry and the other filled with more “aggressive” material meant to represent the diva’s eponymous stage persona. Opener “If I Were a Boy” works best due to a heartfelt delivery of a strong song, but the “Sasha” side never disappoints from a hilarity standpoint, as Beyonce tries to sound hard with silly tracks like “Diva” and “Single Ladies Put a Ring on It.” If it’s not as embarrassing as Chris Gaines, it’s not for lack of trying.
For their third full-length, Deerhunter have opted to temper somewhat their experimental noise rock leanings and focus on the melodicism apparent in some of the material on their last album, Cryptograms. In several cases, as on “Strange Lights,” the band has done away with its usual jerky dance rhythms in favor of comparatively straightforward, vaguely trippy psych-pop. Frontman Bradford Cox has certainly honed his songwriting skills in the interim between albums, as evidenced on pretty much every track, including the mellifluous “Never Stops.”
“Loud” from Cosmic Universal Fashion (Roadrunner)
Easily Sammy Hagar’s biggest fan in the under-25 set, I have to say I had no idea my red-headed hero was releasing a new disc, LET ALONE his 11th studio album (ahem, not too shabby), not to MENTION……… Okay that’s it. BUT, c’mon, the guy is 60+ now and still as awesome as ever. How awesome, the haters might ask? Amazingly awesome. While his former bandmates toured the world last year on their charms of the past decades looking tired and still bickering amongst themselves, Sam the Man was writing new tunes, playing sold-out shows to his legions of loyal fans (the Redheads—proud one, right here), scoring a new record label and prepping this album. The debut single is classic Sammy, all about the fast cars (16 year old Sammy’s “dream machine”) and pretty ladies (multiple quotes abound, all semi-inappropriate for print). Sammy reminds us that he lives his life “at full volume” and “cranked to 10,” and darnit if I can’t say at the age of 60, I’d love to be having half as much fun as Mr. Hagar.
Strange House (Loog)
Although they met with instant success in their native UK, Horrors have thus far been roundly dismissed in the States as style-heavy garage-punk posers—a tag they mean to do away with as they release their first full-length album on this side of the pond. They’ve certainly listened to their fair share of 60s UK freakbeat: Menacing vocals, swirling organs and fuzzed-out guitars abound, and in general any semblance of melody is tossed aside in favor of a sustained audio assault. Much of the material on the album has been previously released on singles and EPs, and perhaps their most effective song remains their alternately creeping and blistering cover of Screaming Lord Sutch’s “Jack the Ripper.”
Perfect Symmetry (Island)
After two albums’ worth of piano-driven ballads, Keane have decided to take an unexpected left turn into synth-heavy dance-rock. Of course, they missed the Killers boat by a couple years, but their strong songwriting carries them through, and the opener, “Spiraling,” is an effectively hook-heavy, retro synth-laden rocker. The second track, “The Lovers Are Losing,” sticks to more familiar ballad territory, despite some synthy production bits. If the style change comes off as a tad forced, at the very least they seem to be having a good time with it.
“Human” from Day and Age (Island)
Is there anything I loathe more than a new Killers single that makes me once again grapple with the fact that I outwardly HATE this band but inwardly CANNOT IGNORE THE FACT THAT THEIR MUSIC MAKES ME HAAAAAPPPYYY? Uh, no.
New Zealander Ladyhawke, AKA Pip Brown, has joined the likes of Ting Tings and CSS as a canny female-driven purveyor of updated 80s synth-pop. Named after the great anti-classic fantasy film of the decade in question, Ladyhawke may actually be the purest imitator of 80s sounds currently around; one could be forgiven for assuming that intensely catchy tracks like “My Delirium” and “Back of the Van” are freshly exhumed Kim Wilde outtakes. In fact, if Pip has one downfall, it may be her insistence on using slick, AOR-style retro production to compliment the hooks—a conceit that can come across as a bit lifeless in comparison with the work of her more well-known peers.
LOS FANCY FREE
Nevergreens Volume 1 (Silicone Carne)
Woah woah woah! Los Fancy Free, currently residing in Mexico City of all surprising places (singer, composer, producer Martin Thulin was also born in Sweden), is winding, bending, grooooooovy guitar work, set against lulling yet guttural vocals. Never one for this brand of the ‘60s set, I find myself returning to this album often over the past few days. Thulin claims to have wanted to make an album that was like “a journey by train,” and he’s done it—Vol 1 takes the listener through a variety of places, all underscored by a simplicity of movement that feels familiar, and welcoming. Tours through the states appear rare for the band, so take the opportunity and don’t miss this album.
Two Years (Loveless)
These high-schoolers out of Port Townsend, WA have crafted an extremely mature album of Interpol-and-Franz-Ferdinand-esque dance-rock that belies their youth. Lead singer/guitarist Nico turns in innovative, angular guitar work while belting catchy, nervous melodies in his distinctive baritone, while drummer Conor and bassist Kyle sound like a veteran, road-tested rhythm section. Their formula of low-key, danceable verses that give way to huge choruses serves them well throughout the length of the album, especially on the excellent “Ms. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “My Alarm.” World domination seems easily within their grasp—after graduation, of course.
Chemical Chords (4AD)
The perennial torch-bearers of space-age pop return with a new album of relatively concise and consistent material. Their apparently encyclopedic knowledge of 60s easy listening records has come to the absolute forefront this time around, and they make more use of brass, strings and other acoustic instrumentation than ever before. It makes for a welcome addition to their usual battery of old-school synths. It seems at times as though they threw the entire 1960s output of A & M records (home of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Claudine Longet and the Baja Marimba Band) in a blender and transposed the results. They also seem to be more pop-focused than ever, as bubbly confections such as “Neon Beanbag” demonstrate.
TEN MILE TIDE
Riverstone grows on you. Sometimes the hooks and melodies show spirit and rich talent, and other times they’re fairly simple and whimsical. I fear the shuffle feature on MP3 players reduces good albums, and dilutes bands that don’t categorize neatly. For some reason, I just kept returning to Riverstone so I could glean more from the rolling lyrics. “Heartbeat of San Francisco” is the best on the disc and a crowd-pleaser, but “Train Rolls” and “Riverstone” pack a punch. And, if you have ever found yourself laughing at Jimmy Buffet lyrics, consider “You and Me Gonna Get Drunk Tonight.”