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

 

FKA Twigs -- LP1

FKA Twigs' early EPs were such jewel-like statements of purpose, delivering songs full of sensuality and heartache so economically, that an album almost seemed superfluous. None of these songs appear on the simply titled LP 1, a bold move that extends to the rest of the album. Tahliah Barnett opens up her sound by working with a host of producers: along with previous collaborator Arca, indie darlings Paul Epworth and Dev Hynes contribute their sound-shaping skills, along with Emile Haynie, whose contributions to Eminem's Recovery earned him a Grammy. They help give LP 1 a lusher sound that's more accessible, and more overtly R&B, than FKA Twigs' earlier work but maintains its ethereal sensuality. It's an approach that shines on the lead single "Two Weeks": the flipside of songs like "Papi Pacify" and "Water Me," where pain was suffused and eclipsed desire, it finds Barnett powerfully in control of her sexuality, rooting out doubt and infidelity over the verses' underwater beats and soaring on the ecstatic choruses. Elsewhere on LP 1, she excels at broadening her emotional palette as well as her musical one. She glides from the album's lows to its highs, juxtaposing pitch-black tracks like "Numbers," where chopped-up breaths, beats, and horror movie strings channel panic, loss, and anger, with radiant ones like "Closer," the poppiest FKA Twigs song yet (and one that Barnett produced herself). FKA Twigs' music was already so fully realized that LP 1 can't really be called Barnett coming into her own; rather, her music has been tended to since the "Water Me" days, and now it's flourishing. ~Heather Phares, allmusic.com

Pallbearer -- Foundations Of Burden

Expectations run high for Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer's sophomore full-length. On their 2012 debut, Sorrow and Extinction, the Arkansas doom quartet established itself by bringing something back to the genre that had been missing -- at least partially -- since Black Sabbath: innate lyricism and dynamics rather than simply volume-centric, plodded-out variations on A-minor. Produced by Billy Anderson (Sleep, Agalloch), Foundations of Burden expands upon its predecessor's approach. Here, vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell has learned to control his high-register instrument. Also welcome is the rhythmic invention of more agile new drummer Mark Lierly. Here, Pallbearer more seamlessly weave together the different schools of doom (classic, stoner, funeral, epic, black, etc.). Devin Holt's melodic guitar riff on "Worlds Apart" is the signal for Campbell to open the gates of sung emotion that fall in waves. Anderson's layered chorus approach to vocals is fantastic. Joseph D. Rowland's bass is on stun; the guitars rumble and twist. They illustrate the grief and loss in Campbell's voice. "Foundations" is crustier. Stacked guitars, basslines, and the crash cymbal's bell deliver a weighty intro. A knottier melodic vamp comes dangerously close to prog metal, but doesn't go there. The long instrumental intro on "Watcher in the Dark" is almost abstract. In sum, Pallbearer's rather singular -- and possibly commercially viable -- doom is based on the tradition's tropes, not the music of their peers. Requisite darkness is all over Foundations of Burden, but it isn't the only shade of emotion here. There's the hint of a glimmer in each song that other doom bands can't conceive, let alone get to. The album and its production make catharsis part of an evolutionary process, not an end in itself.  ~Thom Jurek, allmusic.com



Ryan Adams -- Ryan Adams

A eponymous album released well into a career suggests a rebirth, and that's somewhat true of Ryan Adams, which largely ditches the Dead obsessions, ragged country-rock, and occasional noise squall for precision-tuned audio straight out of 1981. He still finds space for the spare "My Wrecking Ball," an intimate piece of acoustica that recalls the spartan Heartbreaker, but not unlike Jenny Lewis' The Voyager, which Adams also produced, craft is the order of the day here, from the expertly carved bones of the songs to the fathomless shimmer of the album's surface. Unlike Love Is Hell, which wallowed in murk, or the self-styled dazzle of Gold, Ryan Adams is designed for comfort, placing as much import on the rolling aural waves as what lays within a song. This suppleness is quite alluring: Ryan Adams is a record that can slip into the background, providing the soundtrack to anything from heartbreak to a lazy Sunday morning. If Ryan Adams was merely sonic candy, it would've been enough, but this is also one of Adams' cannily constructed records, one that runs deliberately lean. Whenever the soft shimmer of his Yacht Rock resurrection yields, it's to draw attention to his vulnerability: "My Wrecking Ball" and the Springsteen rockabilly homage "I Just Might," the bittersweet twilight coda "Let Go," all seem stronger because they're departures from the purposeful polish. These songs puncture the gloss, so they make the greatest first impression, but that glimmer remains the reason to get lost within Ryan Adams: his blend of song and studio craft turns this eponymous album into the equivalent of a substantive, new millennial version of the Eagles' Long Run. ~Thomas Erlewine, allmusic

 

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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