Stephen Malkmus - Wig Out at Jagbags
The title is quintessentially Stephen Malkmus -- a conflation of two slang terms, one dating back to the hazed-out '60s, the other a vulgar remnant of modernity -- and, as it happens, Wig Out at Jagbags also sounds quintessentially Malkmusian. It's elastic guitar rock constructed partially out of cannabis guitar jams and partially out of punk rock squalls, both sides distinguished by wry melodicism and dexterous wordplay, not to mention Malkmus' lingering tendency to hide his accessible inclinations under sheets of six-strings. In the past, the untrammeled Jicks usually pursued one of their twin obsessions -- either riding out a cool, non-funky groove or opening up the skies with guitars, ideally blending the two -- but here, there's a distinct mellowing as the forays into psychedelia and noise skronk are tempered as Malkmus once again finds fascination in colorful, swaying pop. As the Jicks trim their improvisations, they retain a mischievous spirit -- witness the cheery horn stabs of "Chartjunk," which swaggers like prime crossover Spoon and thereby raises the question of whether the song is a piss-take -- which means that even if Wig Out at Jagbags is quieter than, say, 2008's churning Real Emotional Trash, it feels looser than most of the Jicks records; the compositions are tight but the attitude is ragged, which winds up being more infectious and fun than albums where the songs drift but the instruments are tight.
With a charismatic, dynamic, and theatrical lead singer who seems to channel the intensity of James Brown on-stage, a loose and punchy two-man horn section, and a garage band back line that holds everything down, Birmingham, Alabama's St. Paul & the Broken Bones at their best capture a retro-soul sound that echoes nothing so much as the classic Stax and Muscle Shoals sides from the late '60s and early '70s. Lead vocalist Paul Janeway's gospel-inflected soul singing is impassioned to say the least, and he wrings every ounce of sweat and soul out of the tracks included on this, the band's debut full-length album. From the opener, "I'm Torn Up," the stage is set for track after track of slow-burning and heart-wrenching soul ballads, a form that is obviously Janeway's specialty. He croons, and roars, and gasps, and groans, and slides through these songs like the second coming of Al Green, somehow smooth and rough and raw all at the same time, pure emotion tempered with a dose of gospel spark, and there's no denying this is his show.. This debut album is pretty good, and this band shows a lot of heart. With a singer like Janeway, there's no reason to think that things won't just get bigger and better for this band. ~Steve Leggett, allmusic.com
Slowly rising to power over the course of sporadically released albums and years of touring, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings grew into one of the most rock-solid conglomerates of classic soul revivalism, making it look easy as they turned in increasingly exciting albums. With a fifth album of new studio material, Give the People What They Want, Jones and company are in top form, delivering a collection of classic Northern soul, deep funk groovers, and heartstring-tugging balladry. Tracks like "Now I See" and the burning album opener "Retreat!" slink along with a creeping shuffle reminiscent of the more cracked Supremes hits, while the greasy tremolo guitar and handclap-heavy beat of "Long Time, Wrong Time" call on a more swampy Southern soul influence. Jones' voice is the true star of the show, as usual, soaring and coasting with complete command and never sacrificing any character or nuance for the sake of sounding more like any of her '60s reference points.. Jones and her band manage to touch on everything from early-'60s horn-heavy dance-craze soul sounds to the slightly psychedelic flutter of the sublime lazy Sunday ballad "Making Up and Breaking Up (And Making Up and Breaking Up Over Again)." These ten songs sound almost designed to be played on repeat, and keep with the always colorful and ecstatically fun sound audiences have come to expect from one of the best acts going in retrofitted classic soul.
Irish singer/songwriter James Vincent McMorrow turns expectations upside down on Post Tropical, his sophomore follow-up to Early in the Morning. Though his debut attracted listeners with its quirky meld of soft vocals and acoustic and electric guitars, McMorrow shifts gears entirely here. Recorded in a Texas studio between the Rio Grande and Mexico, its production textures are made up of electronic beats, electric guitars, synths, samplers, and piano and other sundry instruments, mostly played by the artist. At the humid center of it all is McMorrow's tender, quietly passionate and soulful falsetto, hovering, haunting and diving into lyrics that are fraught with longing, desire, hope, passion, and sometimes desperation. Post Tropical is, at heart, a poetic soul record, albeit of the 21st century variety -- there isn't anything remotely retro here. The title track opens with a lithe keyboard pulse and a subdued horn arrangement, as drums, fat brass, and a throbbing synth bassline create a sonic maelstrom, but the singer, aided by numerous backing vocal layers, rises to meet them. Suddenly it all drops as the sound of a steel guitar playing a melody reminiscent of Nigerian high life enters to create a sharp contrast and it becomes an intimate, sunny groover. "Glacier" opens as a piano ballad but its handclaps, drums, beats, synths, strings, and choral backing transform it into a nearly jaunty pop number. Its well-crafted songwriting, enigmatic production, and arrangements, around McMorrow's gorgeous voice make Post Tropical a stunner start to finish. Fans of James Blake's Overgrown and Bon Iver's self-titled second album should find this appealing, but this stands apart from both those records. It's not only smart, it's honest, emotionally and musically. ~Thom Jurek, allmusic.com
Nearly eight years after Rosanne Cash last released a set of original songs, 2014's The River & the Thread finds her in a reflective mood, and just as 2009's The List saw her looking back with a set of classic songs recommended by her father, the late country legend Johnny Cash, The River & the Thread is dominated by thoughts and emotions that occurred to her as she was involved in a project to restore Johnny's boyhood home. This doesn't mean that Cash has returned to the spunky, country-accented sound of her most popular work -- this is still Rosanne Cash the mature and thoughtful singer/songwriter we've come to know since the late '90s, and the tone of this album is unfailingly literate. But though this music isn't country, it's certainly Southern, and road trips from Alabama to Tennessee, visits to the Tallahatchie Bridge and Money Street, and vintage gospel music on the radio embroider these songs as Cash immerses herself in the places that were once close to home as if she's reuniting with long lost family. Just as Cash's songs are crafted with a subtle intelligence, her vocals here are superb, getting to the heart of the lyrics without painting herself into a corner, and the production is rich but elegant and to the point. Cash has learned to make every word and every note count, and this album confirms once again that she's matured into a singular artist with the talent and the vision to make these stories of her travels in the South come to vivid and affecting life.
~Mark Deming, allmusic.com
During the time they were making Rave Tapes, Mogwai's flair for soundtracks was being celebrated: the band began 2013 with the release of their brilliant score for Les Revenants, the cryptic French TV show about the undead, and they were just about to play a series of performances of their music for Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait as accompaniment to the movie. All this film-related activity may have inspired Rave Tapes' restraint (the fact that the band had a narrow window of time in which to record the album probably contributed to it as well). For much of the album, Mogwai trades majesty for economy, focusing on a few motifs that they combine and recombine in an almost modular fashion. Barry Burns' bubbling, gurgling synth is chief among these elements, especially on "Simon Ferocious," where it locks in with rolling beats and knotty guitar work with a precision that stops just short of clinical. As impressive as Rave Tapes' rockers are, the album's heart lies in subtler tracks like "Heard About You Last Night," a dreamy prelude that makes the most of the delicacy Mogwai has excelled at since their early days. Rave Tapes takes a while to hit its stride, but it delivers plenty of moments to keep fans intrigued once it does. ~Heather Phares, allmusic.com