Ozzy Osbourne -- Ordinary Man

A decade passed between metal icon Ozzy Osbourne's 2010 album Scream and its follow-up, Ordinary Man. His 12th solo studio effort is charged with an unexpected crackle of life that hasn't graced an Ozzy album in a long time. In the time since his last solo endeavor, Osbourne reunited with Black Sabbath for touring and the recording of 13, the first Sabbath studio album he'd sung on since 1978. Possibly rejuvenated by his time back at the helm with one of the most foundational metal bands ever, there's a new level of heaviness throughout Ordinary Man. There have been Sabbath-isms scattered throughout much of Ozzy's solo output, but rarely as blatantly as the sinister riffing and cosmic metallic breakdown of songs like "Under the Graveyard" and the demented "Straight to Hell." Ozzy even goes so far as to reprise the "Alright now!" first heard on Sabbath's 1971 pro-pot anthem "Sweet Leaf" to open "Straight to Hell." Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, Guns N' Roses alum Duff McKagan, and guitarist Andrew Watt (who produced the album after first working with Osbourne during his cameo on a Post Malone song in 2019) serve as the backing band, and turn in powerful performances that move from full-force metal attacks to quickly shifting grooves. The album recalls the raw power of Black Sabbath, but also channels Black Album-era Metallica on the creeping, oozy "Today Is the End" and the unhinged punk thrash on the Post Malone-assisted "It's a Raid." Despite a few weaker spots, Ordinary Man contains some of Ozzy's best solo work in years. ~ Fred Thomas allmusic.com

 

Wire--Mind Hive

One of the great joys of Wire's music in the 2010s and beyond is how brilliantly they reinvent their enduring strengths in equally timeless and timely ways. On Mind Hive, the band's legendary skill at writing concise songs filled with layers of meaning comes to the fore. Even its title is compact yet complex, flipping a statement of shared knowledge -- and perhaps conformity -- into one of restless intelligence. Wire don't waste any of the album's terse 35 minutes; instead of the ruminative approach they took on Silver/Lead, they immediately spring into action. They're still unrivaled at capturing crisis points in their music: Wire's time-tested flair for cloaking ominous moods in irresistible tunes shines on Mind Hive, particularly on a string of incisive pop songs in the vein of Chair's Missing. It's still thrilling to hear Colin Newman proclaim "discard new litanies" over sparkling guitars and keyboards on "Cactused," and if the grinding groove of "Primed and Ready" sounds surprisingly upbeat, "Off the Beach"'s lilting melody and uneasy imagery ("CC cameras/Knives and hammers") reinforces the overall mood of justified paranoia. Later, when Wire revisits the more expansive style of albums such as Silver/Lead, it's just as purposeful as what came before. Crucially, when they touch on their own past, it never, ever sounds complacent (of course, it never sounded complacent back then, either). The issues Wire grapple with are evergreen, and as they persevere in the face of stupidity and apathy, Mind Hive's unflinching, poetic songs prove maturity is a weapon they wield just as deftly as outrage. ~Heather Phares, allmusic.com

Leonard Cohen -- Thanks For The Dance

2019 posthumous release from the late singer/songwriter. Produced by Leonard's son Adam, and engineered and mixed by Michael Chaves, the duo also worked together with Leonard on the 2016 album You Want It Darker. Thanks for the Dance is not a commemorative collection of B sides and outtakes, but an unexpected harvest of new songs, exciting and vital, a continuation of the master's final work. This remarkable album was made in many places. Javier Mas, the great Spanish laud player who accompanied Leonard on stage for the last eight years of touring, flew from Barcelona to Los Angeles to capture the artist's spirit on Leonard's own guitar. In Berlin, at a musical event called People Festival, Adam invited friends and comrades to lend their ears and talents. An unexpected harvest of new songs, exciting and vital, a continuation of the master’s final work. Leonard’s son Adam Cohen invited friends and comrades to lend their ears and talents. Damien Rice and Leslie Feist sang. Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire played bass. Bryce Dessner of The National played guitar, the composer Dustin O’Halloran played piano. The Berlin-based choir Cantus Domus sang, and the s t a r g a z e orchestra played. In Montreal the famed producer Daniel Lanois dropped in, beautifully enriching sparse arrangements. The Shaar Hashomayim choir, who played such important part of the sound of the last album, contributed to a song, and Patrick Watson brought his inimitable talent as co-producer to a song. Back in Los Angeles Jennifer Warnes, one of the keepers of Leonard’s flame, sang background vocals, and Beck contributed on guitar and Jew’s harp. Michael Chaves, who elegantly recorded and mixed ‘You Want It Darker’, did the engineering and mixing.

 

Hana Vu -- Nicole Kidman/Anne Hathaway


A self-producing indie artist, Los Angeles' Hana Vu first started sharing her songs as a young teenager in the mid-2010s. By the arrival of her label debut, the 2018 EP How Many Times Have You Driven By, she was on the radar of the indie-music press and acts like Soccer Mommy and Sales, who invited her to open shows. In the months that followed, she graduated from high school and decided to pursue music full-time. Presented as a double EP, her first full-length is the intriguingly titled Nicole Kidman/Anne Hathaway. Less mercurial than her Luminelle debut, it homes in on a rich, dreamy, subversively grimy indie pop accompanied by simple beats, with occasional diversions into post-grunge ("Order") and a Cure-derived dance-rock that lands somewhere in between ("Outside," "Passenger"). The set opens with "At the Party," a disco-infused jam with lush atmospheres that complement Vu's naturally sonorous, surly delivery. Its self-conscious lyrics address an object of affection before ultimately deciding "I'll never be good enough." It's one of several tracks that touch on notions of social status and celebrity as reflected in titles like "Actress" and "Insider." On topic, the spare guitar ballad "Fighter" includes the line "I want to be a big star, and I want to have everything." Thoroughly discontented and often infectious, Nicole Kidman/Anne Hathaway closes with "Worm," a track whose minimalist arrangement of acoustic guitar and low-grade synth hum puts all focus on Vu's quirky, yearning melody. Her voice is eerily triple-tracked on the song, slimming down to double-tracking for the record's final words: "You don't cry for me/But I want you to/I don't fly away/But I wanted to." By the end, it establishes Vu as an intriguing artist with a distinctive tone rather than merely one to watch.~ Marcy Donelson

 

 

Robert Cray -- That's What I Heard

Robert Cray was hailed as the man who saved the blues from commercial extinction when his album Strong Persuader became a breakout hit in 1986, and blues fans are still the bedrock of his following. But anyone who has been paying attention can tell you that vintage soul and R&B have always had more to do with his best music than standard-issue 12-bar blues. Cray sounds comfortable with this material, and how well his unfussy but passionate vocal style, narrative lyrical stance, and exciting but never overdone guitar features blend with the soul grooves generated by Cray's band and the guests brought in for the occasion. "You're the One" is a smooth R&B number with a strong Sam Cooke vibe, "This Man" is powered by a groove that's lean but full of funk, "Hot" is an uptempo workout that pulls out the stops, "Promises You Can't Keep" is a slow and sorrowful testimony to a romance on the rocks, and "Burying Ground" is an effective detour into gospel. Cray wrote five of this album's songs, and it's telling that they blend so seamlessly with the vintage soul and R&B tunes that share space in the set, and though he stretches out more on guitar than the average soul man, he has both the chops and the taste to make that work for him. Cray generally isn't one to deal in politics, but the metaphor of "This Man" is clear and well-chosen. At a time when deep Southern soul isn't doing a whole lot better than the blues in the marketplace, Robert Cray is an effective cheerleader for both forms, and That's What I Heard shows that after 40 years of record-making, he's in no way tired or short on ideas and inspiration. ~ Mark Deming all music.com


Soccer Mommy-- color theory

 

Though Soccer Mommy's Sophie Allison generated buzz as early as 2015 with her introspective, then-self-recorded tracks, the project made its official debut three years later with Clean, a critically lauded set of hooky, heartbroken songs with lyrics that were notably vulnerable and relatable. That more hi-fi release was produced by Gabe Wax, known for his work in the studio with acts like the War on Drugs, Cass McCombs, and Frankie Cosmos. The pair reunited for the follow-up, color theory, Soccer Mommy's Loma Vista debut. The title comes with a thematic key code; the album is divided into three sections represented by blue, yellow, and gray, each with its own associated topics and emotions (sadness, mental and physical sickness, and darkness). Her terminally ill mother is a major presence on the record. Importantly, however, knowledge of the thematic design isn't necessary to connect with the material here.  Setting its heavy lyrical poignancy aside, with a production design partly inspired by the idea of coming across an old cassette tape, Allison has described color theory as sounding to her like "the music of my childhood distressed." Though the songs here aren't quite as immediately infectious as Clean, its combination of deceptively warm surfaces, alluring melodies, and subtly distorted textures reward repeat listens with that sense of discovery.   ~Marcy Donelson, allmusic.com

 

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