Giorgio Moroder - Déjà Vu

By the time Giorgio Moroder released Déjà-Vu, the world was as ready as it could be for his return. His work on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories was the most vivid reminder of his influence on decades of dance music, but artists such as Goldfrapp and Chromatics ensured that his brand of atmospheric disco and synth pop was nearly as in vogue in the 2000s and 2010s as it was in the '70s and '80s. Despite its name, Déjà-Vu isn't entirely a blast from the past; instead, Moroder splits the difference between making contemporary-sounding dance music and reviving disco. Sometimes he combines those impulses, nodding to his roots while shaping them into 2010s dance-pop: "Wildstar," which features Foxes (who has also worked with Zedd), is one of his best fusions of old and new. He sounds most nostalgic on the album's handful of instrumentals, such as "74 is the New 24," which feels like a time capsule full of vocoders, arpeggiated synths, and windswept drama. However, Moroder spends most of Déjà-Vu collaborating with 21st century pop singers, a move that's both logical and risky. Some of his most memorable music came from working with pop vocalists who had well-established personalities (or personas that he helped create), and that holds true for most of these songs. On "Back and Forth" -- the closest Déjà-Vu comes to greatness -- Kelis' commanding, just-gritty-enough vocals help Moroder recapture and update the glamour and drama of his definitive work. "Diamonds" makes the most of Charli XCX's frothiness on one of the album's most inspired pairings, while Sia and Kylie Minogue's respective contributions on the soaring title track and crystalline disco-pop of "Right Here, Right Now" are just as engaging. Despite its unevenness, at its best Déjà-Vu is an entertaining return from a dance music legend looking to translate his style into something that isn't overly familiar. ~Heather Phares,


Faith No More -- Sol Invictus

While it's more unified and less aggressively eccentric than Angel Dust, 2015's Sol Invictus -- Faith No More's first album since regrouping for live work in 2011 -- certainly captures the same "anything goes" spirit of their best album, and the results capture the feel of their finest work. The band's willfully bent take on hard rock is a bit softened here, thanks to the continuing absence of original guitarist Jim Martin, but Jon Hudson's six-string work is more than up to the shape-shifting attack of this album, and keyboardist Roddy Bottum shines here as the songs swing between the arty and the claustrophobically intense, ambitious in their melodic structures but unafraid to hit hard (and bassist Bill Gould and drummer Mike Bordin bring both the precision and the muscle this music demands). And if you want to argue that Mike Patton took control of the group once "Epic" hit (and you'd probably be right), there's no question that he did some impressive work with the materials at his disposal, and even as Sol Invictus sounds more collaborative than Angel Dust, it shows he had the chops and the crackpot vision to lead this band into strange but remarkable places. From the churning paranoia of "Separation Anxiety" and the distressed funk of "Sunny Side Up" to the blasting impact of "Cone of Shame" and the broadly theatrical closing number "From the Dead," Patton's range is every bit as broad as the band's, and if he hasn't guided Faith No More to a second masterpiece, Sol Invictus is their best and most compelling work since Angel Dust, and the rare reunion album that truly adds to the strength of the group's legacy rather than diluting it. ~Mark Deming,

Neil Young -- The Monsanto Years

Old folkie that he is, Neil Young harbors a soft spot for songs as protest, and The Monsanto Years is full of them. Where he often railed against war, here the purported target is the agricultural company Monsanto, a firm that, among other things, specializes in genetically modified crops, but Young uses that as a pivot to rage against all manner of modern outrages. Apathy among the populace, avarice among corporations, and cultural homogenization provide the throughline on The Monsanto Years, and while the weathered hippie takes some time to lay down his electric guitar and breathe, this isn't a mournful album like Living with War, his W-era missive. This is a raging record and to that end, Young hired the Promise of the Real, a ragtag outfit led by Willie Nelson's guitarist son Lukas, to approximate Crazy Horse's lop-legged lumber. Usually it works: the group roars not with righteousness but with their own glee at making noise. Plus, the Promise of the Real is adept at the softer side, too, so they ably follow Young, laying down the electric and harmonizing in a fashion reminiscent of an unwashed CSN. Young is blessed with a younger, wilier version of his old compadres and that suits his tunes, which feel comfortable yet have a bite. Young uses his sturdy footing to lash out at what he perceives as destructive forces -- to our dinner tables and social fabric -- and if the individual message may wind up fading like yesterday's newspapers, the music will keep The Monsanto Years burning bright.  ~Stephen Thomas Erlewine,

Saun & Starr -- Look Closer

Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan Lowe are the latest homegrown talents to rise to the top of the New York label Daptone, which has excelled with the philosophy of late bloomers and overlooked artists. You certainly can’t argue with the results, looking at the last decade from Charles Bradley or Sharon Jones. And it was with Jones that Saun and Starr cut their teeth and paid their dues, singing backup on most of her recordings and live performances for the last five years. As their video for the title track of their debut, Look Closer cheekily suggests, they’ve simply been waiting, biding their time and preparing to shine on their own. And shine they do, thanks to both an easygoing charm and the star-making support system of the “Daptone family.”
What Look Closer suggests as an album is a more laid-back but aurally similar approach to the Sharon Jones soul formula, filled with a collection of classic, romantic soul ballads in addition to a handful of more up-tempo departures. Tracks such as “Gonna Make Time” or “Sunshine (You’re Blowin’ My Cool)” feature the harmonizing pair breathily making promises to their prospective lovers in a way that would sound familiar on most of Jones’ albums in the last 10 years, and certainly don’t break the mold. If they lack a little bit of Jones’ urgency, commanding diva presence or vocal virtuosity, one doesn’t get the sense that this album is meant to be a star vehicle in quite the same way. This isn’t Jones laying out a challenge and imposingly singing “Retreat!” on Give the People What They Want. Rather, Look Closer feels like a recording for a lazy, relaxed weeknight on the porch with friends rather than a loud, sweaty dance floor. ~Jim Vorel, Paste Magazine


Sun Kil Moon -- Universal Themes

Universal Themes is the follow-up to Sun Kil Moon's 2014 album Benji, which unexpectedly became one of the most critically acclaimed albums of that year. Like that album, Universal Themes is extremely autobiographical, with songwriter Mark Kozelek spinning yarns about friends, family, his childhood, and other life experiences, with frequent references to boxing, music, films, television, and food. Lyrically, Universal Themes isn't as heavily fixated on death as Benji; instead, there are more songs like "Ben's My Friend," wherein Kozelek sings about his experiences traveling and playing shows. Opener "The Possum" does both, intertwining a story about an old dying possum with an anecdote about hanging out with Justin Broadrick before witnessing an incredible concert by his band Godflesh.  There's also plenty of lighter, more joyous recollections, such as Kozelek's memory of receiving his first guitar, and a multitude of stories about the best times of his life spent with family and friends. Most of the album's eight songs hover around nine or ten minutes in length, and there are stretches of spoken monologue rather than singing. Musically, Kozelek plays almost all of the instruments himself, other than drums from Steve Shelley and guest appearances by bassist Alex Schwartz and keyboards by Chris Connolly on one track each. A few of the songs rock out more aggressively than any of Kozelek's previous work, and he practically barks out "With a Sort of Grace I Walked to the Bathroom to Cry." As with all Sun Kil Moon albums, Kozelek produced the album himself, and his arrangements remain inventive and gorgeous; the lengthy songs are layered, multi-part suites that frequently switch tempos, drifting off into ethereal passages or graceful tarantellas before snapping back to the driving rhythm framing the story at hand. Like Benji, Universal Themes is a challenging listen, and some might view it as Kozelek's most indulgent album yet. But his brilliant musicianship and guitar playing combined with his fascinating storytelling skills ensure that his music is as poignant and life-affirming as ever, and the album is yet another success in his remarkable catalog. ~Paul Simpson,

Mikal Cronin -- MCIII

Going big is usually the stumbling block for any artist or band who started off small. Blowing up the arrangements, slicking up the production, or adding scores of extra instruments often does more harm than good, shining a harsh light on a lack of songwriting ideas or just making things seem so huge that the human element gets lost in the shuffle. Mikal Cronin's third album, MCIII, is the result of his efforts to go big, and in his case the gamble pays off big-time, resulting in his most pleasing record to date. MCIII is split into two thematic parts, with the first side being huge, hooky pop songs filled with pianos, strings, earwormy guitar lines, and some of the most straightforward and impressive melodies Cronin has committed to tape yet. Almost any one of them could be hit singles, especially the loping "Made My Mind Up," which has a solid '70s Tom Petty feel, and the stomping "Say." "Turn Around" may not have the same kind of hooks as those tracks, but it shows off Cronin's growth as a songwriter and producer as he crafts a melancholic wall of sound buttressed by some seriously lyrical string lines. The other side tells a coming-of-age story in six parts, with a less produced, more direct approach that harks back to the last album's sound. Balancing paint-peeling guitar rockers ("Gold," "Ready"), jangling pop songs ("Control," "Circle"), and string-heavy ballads ("Different"), the side is an affecting piece of work. Cronin's emotional honesty is bracing and the songs hit hard and stick, much like the first side but with a bit more power. The album isn't a huge leap from MCII, since that album was already very solid, but it's enough of one that it's worth mentioning. Cronin could have just kept cranking out the same album over and over; that he chose to take a risk and go big showed some real guts. That he was able to make it work as well as he did shows some real skill and should make anyone who liked the first two albums really happy. ~ Tim Sendra, allmusic



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