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,

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,

Tricky -- Adrian Thaws

This grooving, shifting, murky mix of menace and darkness borrows from the current landscape of pop as few earlier albums do, and borrows with love and admiration, as the bubbling techno of "Nicotine Love" and the A$AP Mob-style beats of key cut "Lonnie Listen" ("I work out everyday and I'm still not fit/My kids are hungry and I ain't got shit") feel all the way live and vital. On the other hand, "I Had a Dream" with Francesca Belmonte is elegant, reserved, and a traditional type of beautiful, slinking across some downtown loft with looped-piano riffs and gruff whispers making it identifiably Tricky. Other songs are identifiably him because of their lazy sway, and yet the Deluxe Edition's closing cut, "Different People," pops with a light funk beat, while the cover of the reggae favorite "Silly Games" -- featuring the album's sweet secret weapon, singer Tirzah -- ain't reggae, but ska, just at an acceptable trip-hop tempo. Lyrically, disgust and disgrace are always close at hand, with sentimental and wistful bits pulling things toward the positive, and if ever there seemed a Tricky album designed for variety night, it's this one, as the second half embraces indie, funk, R&B, and various strains of electronic dance. If False Idols was the return, Adrian Thaws is the great diversification, and if being disappointed with your universally accepted classic inspires greatness like this, then Maxinquaye be damned (but only in Tricky's presence). ~ David Jeffries, allmusic


The Gaslight Anthem -- Get Hurt

There's always been something a little nostalgic about the earnest, rust belt rock of the Gaslight Anthem, and it wouldn't be unfair to say that the band has been looking to the past with a laser focus on the rugged songwriting of New Jersey's favorite son, Bruce Springsteen. On Get Hurt, the fifth studio album from the Garden State rockers, the band expand their influences to create what might be their most unique album to date. Exploring the rock sounds of the '70s, the band show off their versatility as they take listeners on a guided tour of the LP bins of the day. Opening with a droning riff culled straight from the annals of classic stoner rock, the first track, "Stay Vicious," makes it clear that something very different is happening here. Given their past work, the last thing anyone would expect from the band is to open up their album with dirty, fuzz-covered guitars, but somehow they make it work. Further in, the searing leads and yearning vocals of "Helter Skeleton" feel like an homage to the starry-eyed power pop of Cheap Trick. No matter what sound they're using for a framework, though, the Gaslight Anthem always find themselves returning to these little moments of quiet honesty, stripping away the swagger to expose the emotional core at the center of their music. Delicate tracks like "Underneath the Ground" reveal that the real essence of the Gaslight Anthem's sound isn't sonic so much as it is emotional. Get Hurt shows that so long as they're passionate about their music, it doesn't matter where the band are getting their inspiration from, because genuinely caring about something is always compelling. ~ Gregory Heaney,

Shabazz Palaces -- Lese Majesty

Launched in a shroud of mystery, hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces were much more forthcoming while promoting the release of this sophomore effort, coming clean that former Digable Planets member Butterfly -- now Palaceer Lazaro -- and instrumentalist Tendai "Baba" Maraire were the men behind the music. Good thing too, as otherwise Lese Majesty would be an almost unidentifiable object, falling into the genre of "left-field rap" by default because "Basquiat-styled broken boombox boom-bap" isn't available. The murkiness of cloud-rap, the off-kilter rhymes of Danny Brown, and the weird, spacy humor of Kool Keith all have their influences over this avant transmission, and while the opening "Dawn in Luxor" suggests the launch of a Deltron 3030-type journey, there's something utterly unique and artistically rich going on with this combination of soul poetry and intergalactic funk. Throughout the LP, catch phrases and hip-hop lingo mix with elevated ideas and scribbled notes from Philosophy class, and even if the minute-long interludes are generally scattered sound pieces or dark snippets of what sounds like Sunn 0))), Maraire makes purposeful music that will woo most open-minded listeners. With Lazaro frequently falling back on his warm and welcoming Butterfly-era flow, the album balances the avant with the approachable in a manner few others would even attempt. It's a shame that such a vanguard effort is weakened by a few clever and jokey interludes that don't warrant a return, but that just leaves Shabazz Palaces room for a proper masterpiece as the brilliant Lese Majesty is so very close. ~David Jeffried,


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