The National--Sleep Well Beast

The National are back with their first album in four years, Sleep Well Beast. It serves as the follow-up to Trouble Will Find Me and the band’s seventh full-length overall.

Coming from 4AD, the 12-track effort was produced by the band’s own Aaron Dessner, with his brother Bryce and frontman Matt Berninger. Most of the recording happened at Aaron’s Long Pond Studio in Hudson Valley, New York, with additional sessions taking place in Berlin, Paris, and Los Angeles. Sleep Well Beast finds the band taking a bleak turn from the comparatively optimistic Trouble Will Find Me. Berninger’s lyrics wrestle not only with the anxieties of fatherhood (“I’ll Still Destroy You”) and relationships (“Day I Die”), but with the current political climate (“Turtleneck”, which was written the day after the November election). As our own Sasha Geffen said in her review of the album,

“What’s Obama’s rock band to do in the age of Trump?

Soldier on, it seems, despite the rising tide of stress that’s afflicting this whole country, soaking both our public and private lives. If you can get past all the heterosexuality, The National might be the closest thing America has ever had to The Smiths: a dexterous guitar band with a magnetically morose frontman who’s able to complain about the government and his love life in the same breath with the same eloquence and the same dark humor. Sleep Well Beast certainly takes the air out of the hopeful balloon that swelled on Trouble Will Find Me, but if there’s ever been a time to wallow in lush, masculine melancholy, it’s now. This beast isn’t going anywhere.”  ~Ben Kaye, ConsequenceofSound.net

 

ODESZA-- A Moment Apart

Since forming in 2012, Seattle-based duo ODESZA quickly became one of the most popular, influential indie electronic acts in America. ODESZA may not have invented any of the ingredients of their sound, but their glossy, dreamy brand has become one of the most distinctive of its kind.  Following the success of In Return, ODESZA returns with A Moment Apart. As with In Return, the duo continue to develop their songwriting skills, bringing in a growing number of guest vocalists to clarify the sentiments expressed with their music. ODESZA never seem to tire of cutting up vocal samples into earworm hooks, and they don't need to stop, because they're masters of the art form, and their vocal manipulations are highly expressive. When their songs do have lyrics, they're just as effective, and a bit more radio-friendly. "Higher Ground" appears early on, with featured vocalist Naomi Wild pining for affection and begging for a deeper love. The song is an immediate highlight, and easily this album's equivalent of "Say My Name," the ecstatic hit single from In Return. As A Moment Apart unfolds, ODESZA recruit bigger guest names, such as retro-soul singer Leon Bridges and Russian-American indie folk star Regina Spektor. These songs end up sounding a lot closer to their respective featured artists, although ODESZA make their presence felt through cinematic string sweeps and their signature vocal edits. i is a further expansion of the ODESZA empire, and the duo's most ambitious, widescreen work yet. ~Paul Simpson, allmusic.com

St. Vincent--MASSEDUCTION

If Masseduction is any indication, the success St. Vincent's Annie Clark had with her self-titled breakthrough album -- which included a Grammy for Best Alternative Album, playing with Nirvana at their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a long-running, electrifying tour -- almost led to a breakdown. Fortunately, for an artist as keenly observant as Clark, personal chaos counts as professional field research, and on her fifth album she weaponizes the trappings of her acclaim. Working with an in-demand producer (Bleachers' Jack Antonoff, who has also shaped sounds for Lorde and Taylor Swift) and all-star collaborators including Kamasi Washington, Jenny Lewis, and Mike Elizondo, on Masseduction she creates a pop version of St. Vincent that's bigger and shinier -- but definitely not simpler. In its own way, it's just as complex as her previous album, and as its sound gets more lurid and massive, its songs get more revealing and anxious. "Hang on Me," which begins the album by comparing a relationship to a plane crash, is the first of many songs to go down in flames. On the title track, Clark sounds increasingly unhinged as she repeats the album's mission statement -- "I can't turn off what turns me on" -- over gleaming synths, outlandish guitars, and barely human harmonies. Here and on the deceptively sleek "Sugarboy," where she describes herself as "a casualty hanging from the balcony," she crafts potent cocktails of desire and destruction. Clark also transcends the familiarity of Masseduction's tropes just as skillfully as she subverts pop music's conventions. The perky irony of "Pills"' ode to pharmaceuticals could be clichéd if its speedy verses weren't followed by a narcotized coda featuring Washington's woozily beautiful saxophone. By the time Masseduction closes with the one-two punch of "Slow Disco"'s bittersweet knowledge that it's time to leave "the bay of mistakes" and the glowering self-destruction of "Smoking Section," Masseduction delivers sketches of chaos with stunning clarity. It's the work of an always savvy artist at her wittiest and saddest.~Heather Phares , allmusic.com


JD McPherson--Undivided Heart & Soul


Early in the recording of his third full-length album, 2017's spirited Undivided Heart & Soul, JD McPherson paused the process to take Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme up on his offer to come jam at his studio in what amounted to a kind of creative jump-start -- a way to get the juices flowing again. While it's unclear if anything they played made it onto Undivided Heart & Soul, it certainly sounds like it could have. Rife with gritty R&B tones and a driving punk energy, the album sounds like something QOTSA might have made if they'd come into their own in the '60s garage rock era instead of the alt-rock 2000s. Which means, for longtime McPherson fans, the album feels both familiar and like a conscious attempt to shake things up; not a huge leap off the stylistic cliff, but a dance on the edge nonetheless. Recorded in Nashville's historic RCA studio B with producer Dan Molad, Undivided Heart & Soul once again finds the Oklahoma-born belter joined by longtime bassist and collaborator Jimmy Sutton, as well as his regular touring lineup of pianist/organist Raynier Jacob Jacildo, drummer Jason Smay, and guitarist/saxophonist Doug Corcoran. Cuts like the lushly romantic "Hunting for Sugar" and the driving "On the Lips" somehow touch upon classic Memphis and Chicago soul sides just as much as they evince '80s Squeeze and the edgy garage rock of the Strokes. Furthermore, while there are certainly a handful of well-honed chorus hooks here, tracks like the yearning "Jubilee" and the Tommy James-esque "Under the Spell of City Lights" deftly subvert anticipation with downplayed choruses that come just a hair later than you'd expect. These are subtle shifts that speak to McPherson's ever-growing songcraft. Arty tropes aside, with Undivided Heart & Soul, McPherson continues to pull all of his varied stylistic influences together into his own vibrantly coherent brand of visceral, emotive rock that grabs you by the collar and demands your passion.~Matt Collar, allmusic.com

 

Blue Note All-Stars--Our Point Of View

The debut album from the second iteration of the Blue Note All-Stars, 2017's Our Point of View is an ambitious, highly rewarding double-disc set from the 21st century jazz supergroup. Brought together by Blue Note president and album co-producer Don Was, this version of the Blue Note All-Stars features pianist and album co-producer Robert Glasper, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke, bassist Derrick Hodge, and drummer Kendrick Scott. Each a highly gifted and well-respected solo artist in his own right, together they've come up with an album that avoids the normal clichés of building an all-star supergroup. Rather than play a loose set of well-worn standards, the Blue Note All-Stars focus on original compositions that highlight their own maverick, individualist tendencies. Thankfully, they also play wonderfully as an ensemble and are able to zero in on a sound that works for each member as part of the greater whole. Particularly engaging are the several tracks centered on Loueke, including Hodge's gorgeously lyrical, folk-inflected "Message of Hope," in which Loueke geminates his guitar and voice to haunting effect. nterestingly, the only jazz standard that makes the cut is the group's swaggering reading of Wayne Shorter's "Witch Hunt," in which Akinmusire and Strickland evince the post-bop dynamism of Shorter and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard on the original recording, while also pushing the song in their own idiosyncratic directions. In beautiful recognition of Shorter's storied history with the label, they also bring the legendary saxophonist on board for a lush rendition of his classical-leaning, Rhodes keyboard-steeped composition "Masquelero" (originally off Miles Davis' 1967 non-Blue Note album Sorcerer). Joining him is fellow Blue Note legend pianist Herbie Hancock. Perhaps taking a cue from Shorter and Hancock's own maverick, forward-looking career trajectories, with Our Point of View the Blue Note All-Stars have crafted an album that balances a love for the Blue Note label's history with their own deeply creative and endlessly engaging artistic voices. ~Matt Collar, allmusic.com


Blitzen Trapper -- Wild & Reckless

Described by frontman Eric Earley as both a companion to and extension of their acclaimed 2008 release Furr, Wild & Reckless was born out of Blitzen Trapper's rock opera of the same name, which debuted in their hometown of Portland, Oregon in 2016. A nostalgia-driven cautionary tale of corruption, drugs, heartbreak, and science fiction -- think Bonnie and Clyde meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -- the 12-track set includes seven songs from the musical and five new numbers, all of which brood, shimmy, pine, and shake with the distinctive backwoods Laurel Canyon vibe that became the band's forte upon the release of 2011's American Goldwing. That penchant for mounting classic rock tropes onto a country-folk foundation gets the occasional deviation -- the airy "No Man's Land" and the orchestral "Forever" definitely lean toward the musical theater side of the band's oeuvre -- but for the most part, Wild & Reckless eschews the group's more experimental works like Wild Mountain Nation and Destroyer of the Void. Still, Earley remains an engaging vocalist and lyricist, and it's easy to get swept up in all of the weird roadside Americana imagery, even if it's not often clear where the narrative is going. Blitzen Trapper have always been at their best when the rubber meets the road, so to speak, and highway-ready anthems like "Rebel," "Stolen Hearts," "Dance with Me," and the soaring title cut don't disappoint, delivering a perfect blend of pathos and Pacific Northwest wanderlust, which incidentally is exactly what made Furr so compelling. ~Christopher Monger, allmusic.com

 

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