Robert Plant - lullaby and... the Ceaseless Roar

Returning to his native England after an extended sojourn in America, Robert Plant heavily reconnects with his homeland's mysticism on 2014's lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar. Despite the shift in geography, the singer is picking up a thread he left hanging with 2010's Band of Joy. On that album, Plant blurred boundaries between several musical styles, playing covers with a group assembled by producer Buddy Miller, but here he shifts that omnivorous aesthetic to a collection of originals performed with his ever-changing band the Sensational Space Shifters. Certain flourishes sound familiar -- he remains equally enamored of English and Moroccan folk while retaining an enduring obsession with American blues and psychedelia -- but the feel is different, not as robust as Band of Joy or warmly joyous as Raising Sand. The Ceaseless Roar may not get loud -- usually, when it rocks it sounds like a kissing cousin to a folk rave-up; sometimes, as on "Somebody There," it's chiming, crystalline, and bright like the Byrds -- but it is intensely meditative, finding sustenance within mystery. Plant is reflecting on where he's been -- singing "And if the sun refuses to shine" on "Pocketful of Golden," he tips a hat to his Zeppelin past; elsewhere he speaks of getting lost in America -- yet gingerly avoiding questions of mortality and resisting the allure of easy sentimentality. It's possible to hear the weight of his years on lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar -- it is, in the best sense, mature music, dense in its rhythms and allusions, subtle in its melodies -- but he never feels weary, nor does he traffic in false nostalgia. He's building upon the past, both his own and the larger traditions of his homeland, both spiritual and actual, and that gives lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar a bewitching depth. It's an album to get lost in. ~Thomas Erlewine, allmusic

 

Deerhoof -- La Isla Bonita

Deerhoof celebrated their 20th anniversary with the release of La Isla Bonita, another fine example of how the band changes course on almost every album. Like Deerhoof vs. Evil and Breakup Song before it, Bonita is another concentrated burst of whimsy. It's a format that suits Deerhoof, as well as this album's inspiration, the Ramones. The cover of "Pinhead" they played during rehearsals shaped the album's approach, and in many ways, this is Deerhoof's version of garage rock (or technically, basement rock -- the band bashed out La Isla Bonita in Ed Rodriguez's basement in a week). The Ramones influence is clearest on "Exit Only"'s blitzkrieg riffs and bratty beats, though lyrics like "welcome to speech of freedom" are Deerhoof through and through. Elsewhere, they reconfigure punk's guitar-bass-drums approach into fascinating interplay. Rodriguez and John Dieterich's guitars are more active than they've been in some time: "Tiny Bubbles" alone ranges from surf-lounge to intricate, knotty passages and tight, disco-inspired rhythms, while the pair's work on "Big House Waltz" is dense and spacious at the same time. It's a big shift from Breakup Song's fractured electropop -- indeed, there's a surprisingly funky groove behind the winning "Paradise Girls," an homage to "smart girls" who "play bass guitar" with a riff reminiscent of the Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster," and "Oh Bummer," which boasts a taut rhythm section that evokes Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Elsewhere, Deerhoof play off their own history as much as any of their other influences: "Doom," a fuzzy rocker that's more charming than storming, could've appeared on one of their early-2000s albums along with the appealingly herky-jerky "Last Fad," while "Mirror Monster" puts their often-neglected serene side in the spotlight. Even on these songs, it feels more like Deerhoof are coming full circle than looking back; that they've been able to put different but cohesive spins on their sound so well, and for so long, is truly remarkable. ~Heather Phares, allmusic

The Budos Band -- Burnt Offering

It has been four years since the release of Budos Band III, an album that signaled that the group had taken the funky Afrobeat-meets-vintage horn-driven R&B sound as far as it could go. They incorporated new sounds into its mix: Middle Eastern modes, Latin rhythms, a touch of psych, and even Ethiopian jazz. That said, Burnt Offering is a whole new thing, developed as always with an ear firmly planted in the past: just take a look at the mysterious magus on the cover. This music is rooted in late psychedelia, soundtracks, funk, and sword and sorcery metal à la Black Sabbath and Pentagram. This date feels more like a whole group vibe than anything they've previously recorded. Reverb is everywhere, but the live feel is unshakable. "Magus Mountain" is far more funky than anything else here thanks to an abundance of breakbeats. The groove is manic as Afrobeat cadences are contrasted with massive, frenetic guitar vamps. Burnt Offering is aptly yet somewhat misleadingly titled. While the sounds and vibe exotically reflect the more brain-baked hedonistic and dark spiritual indulgences of the '70s, the music is actually more adventurous and sophisticated than anything Budos Band has ever attempted. While the album's roots are deeply embedded in the past, the band has never sounded more present tense. ~Thom Jurek, Allmusic



Flying Lotus -- You're Dead!

An early form of You're Dead! was the length of a double album -- a large mass of brief tracks that, for Steven Ellison, possibly signified nothing more than his fifth Flying Lotus album. As the producer and keyboardist spent more time absorbing and shaping the recordings, the title, initially comic in meaning, gained emotional weight while he was provoked to consider his mortality and the losses he has been dealt, including the deaths of his father and mother, his grandmother, his great aunt Alice Coltrane, and creative collaborator Austin Peralta. The completed You're Dead! consists of 19 tracks averaging two minutes in length that are intended to be heard in sequence from front to back. Its flow is even more liquid than that of Until the Quiet Comes, though the sounds are more jagged and free, with roots deeper in jazz. Previous Flying Lotus releases have their bleak and elegiac moments, but they're central here, highlighted by "Coronus, the Terminator" (an Ellison/Niki Randa duet), "Siren Song" (fronted by Dirty Projectors' Angel Deradoorian), and "Obligatory Cadence." The instrumentals range from playful, as reflected in titles like "Turkey Dog Coma" and "Turtles," to the distressed likes of "Tesla" and "Moment of Hesitation," with the latter two both anchored by Gene Coye's feverish percussion and Herbie Hancock's glimmering/flickering piano. It all plays out in a kind of elegantly careening fashion. It concludes with "The Protest," where Laura Darlington and Kimbra softly sing "We will live on forever" like a defiant mantra. Like his great aunt, and his great uncle John Coltrane, Ellison has created exceptionally progressive, stirring, and eternal art. ~Andy Kellman, allmusic.com

 

Aphex Twin -- Syro

Low on frenetics, Syro is anchored by rotund and agile basslines that zip and glide, and it's decked in accents and melodies that are lively even at their most distressed. It also flows easily, a notion epitomized by the sequencing of "XMAS_EVET10 [Thanaton3 Mix]" and "Produk 29," where a mesmerizing combination of snaking low-end synthesizers (10:31, not 12:24 in length) is trailed by an avant-rap body mover that bears some resemblance to Dabrye's lithe and sprightly early releases. Components of certain tracks, like the squiggled Mr. Fingers spin-cycle bassline in "4 bit 9d api+e+6" and scrambled rhythms of "CIRCLONT6A [Syrobonkus Mix]," make the album seem like a bright progression from the Analord releases. Apart from the straight-ahead slamming drums in "180db_," the most striking aspect of Syro is the funkiness of its synthesizers relative to James' previous output. His playing here is far too fidgety to be grafted onto the likes of "You Dropped a Bomb on Me," "You're the One for Me," and "Just Be Good to Me," though some of the lines in, uh, the title cut, have that grimace-triggering quality. Only a trace of the indiscriminate sequencing and stylistic switch-ups, heard on his previous album Drukqs, remains. It's saved for the end, with a rather elegant, part-drum'n'bass excursion as the penultimate number, followed by a placid piano-only piece in the vein of those heard on the 2001 album. These tracks actually enhance, rather than hinder, one of James' most inviting and enjoyable releases.   ~Andy Kellman, allmusic



Foxygen -- ...And Star Power

With...And Star Power, Foxygen expand outward from their concentrated songwriting style, offering up a stuffed double album that zips from murky FM radio rock to bristling punk and back to cosmic balladry over its 24 tracks and 82-minute playing time. Divided loosely into four parts, the album begins with a chapter titled "The Hits & Star Power Suite." This is a brazen but honest move on the band's part, because the album does indeed begin with four of its strongest tunes. "How Can You Really" taps into the same late-night confessional feel of Todd Rundgren's '70s hits, moving along breezily with a choir of perky background singers, horn sections, and the hookiest chorus of the album. Sludgier but still catchy are soft rock ballad "Coulda Been My Love" and "Cosmic Vibrations," a tune that shifts from a burst of "White Light/White Heat" noise into a morphine-addled reworking of Bob Dylan's "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowland.  The unedited flailing, strung-out production, and half-asleep vibe that permeates much of ...And Star Power is no doubt intentional, and works sometimes. Foxygen's meticulous attention to detail is one of the best aspects of their sound, and even when they're burying decent ideas beneath demo-quality performances on songs like "Cannibal Holocaust" and "Everyone Needs Love," it's clear they're making exactly the album they set out to. Looking to impenetrable, over-ambitious albums like Rundgren’s A Wizard, a True Star as blueprints gives a little context to what may have inspired the often exhausting nature of ...And Star Power. Unfortunately, the final product often feels joyless and manic, and many listeners may give up before sitting through the entire beast.  ~Fred Thomas, allmusic

 

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