Robert Glasper-- Black Radio III

In almost equal measure, Black Radio III is both different from and similar to Robert Glasper's first two natural syntheses of R&B, jazz, and hip-hop carried out with his fluctuating gang of singers, rappers, and instrumentalists. In one way or another, each selection is either a love song in the traditional sense or at least filled with love. Interpersonal ballads are most common. "Better Than I Imagined," a Grammy-winning 2020 single, is a meeting between a distressed H.E.R. and seductive Meshell Ndegeocello that smolders. Jennifer Hudson struts and shrugs through "Out of My Hands," a midtempo thumper that rates with her "Spotlight" and "Angel." No more than a foot behind them are the vocal duo that bobs through "Why We Speak," a bolt of sunshine. Glasper's stink face-inducing electric lines set up luminous Esperanza Spalding, singing mostly in French with a dizzying mix of percussive and elongated notes -- reminding "not to sell our soul" -- and Q-Tip somehow finds a seam to further brighten the song without getting in the way. There are also some harder-hitting moments, such as a poignant opening with unwavering Amir Sulaiman poetry leading to a pro-Black summit with Killer Mike, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Big K.R.I.T. The unexpected touches, such as Glasper's own drunk-funk drums on "Shine" and the Theo Parrish-like beatdown house gait of "Everybody Love" (featuring Musiq Soulchild and Posdnous), are as welcome as the familiar ones. Speaking of which, the Lalah Hathaway-fronted cover here is a slow-swaying update of Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" is killer. ~Andy Kellman,


Beach House--Once Twice Melody

Beach House's style is so distinctive that it's a small miracle Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally continue to find ways to keep their music fresh. In its sheer size and musical inventiveness, Once Twice Melody recalls all of these projects while changing things up once again. Beach House also self-produced the album, and that may be why the sounds and moods they explore flow so seamlessly, especially when compared to 7's discrete experiments. If that album expanded the idea of what Beach House could sound like, then Once Twice Melody fills in that idea with colors both familiar and new. The album begins with one of the most impressive strings of songs in their discography. "Once Twice Melody" kicks things off with the washy synths and tinny drum machines of the duo's early days, then swells into strings that add some symphonic '60s pop majesty to the feeling of floating through space that Beach House always conjure so brilliantly.. Another standout, "Pink Funeral," suggests a collaboration between Bernard Herrmann and Cocteau Twins as it teeters between loss and bliss. Though Once Twice Melody is unapologetically lush even by Beach House's standards, the duo use space creatively to express the beauty in sadness. Equally comforting and creative moments like this give Once Twice Melody the heart to match its ambition, and the way different songs stand out on each listen reaffirms that Beach House's consistency is the opposite of predictable .~Heather Phares

Sarah Shook-- NIghtroamer

Sarah Shook is a songwriter who has never been afraid to speak their mind, and they've has had some new stuff to talk about since their last album, Years, in 2018. In 2019, Shook went into treatment to deal with a heavy dependence on alcohol and drugs, and after years of identifying as a bisexual, they came out as non-binary, not a common occurrence in the alt-country community. Shook has never shied away from sharing the realities of life as a single mom dealing with tricky relationships and times when there's more month than money, and the changes they've gone through since Years certainly inform 2022's Nightroamer.  If what Shook has to say sometimes reflects their new realities, that hasn't changed the way they say it for the most part, and that's a good thing. Shook's sensibilities have always been half in the honky tonk and half in a writers' group for confessional poets, and Nightroamer makes the most of both sides of that formula. "It Doesn't Change Anything" is an unblinking look at the appetites that feed addiction, "Please Be a Stranger" is a firm but loving kiss-off to a toxic relationship, "No Mistakes" is a high-stepping plea for a second chance, and "Talkin' to Myself" is an inventory of the stuff going on all around them and inside their head. It's never precious, but it's always smart in its own streetwise way, and Shook's vocals are as unflinchingly real as the day is long. The Disarmers know just what to do with these songs, blending a strong honky tonk swing with a powerful helping of no-frills rock & roll attitude, and Eric Peterson's lead guitar and Adam Kurtz's pedal steel hit the balance between the two. If Sarah Shook has evolved a bit as a person on Nightroamer, as an artist they're as articulate, as fearless, and as smart as ever. ~Mark Deming,

Aimee Mann--Queens of the Summer Hotel

Not long after Aimee Mann released Mental Illness in 2017, she agreed to provide the songs for a musical adaptation of Girl, Interrupted, the 1993 memoir by Susanna Kaysen that was turned into an Oscar-winning film by James Mangold in 1999. The theatrical production was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Mann decided to turn her compositions into Queens of the Summer Hotel, her tenth solo album. Working once again with producer Paul Bryan, Mann turns these theatrical tunes into a richly textured record, one that is deep in feeling and controlled in execution. Queens of the Summer Hotel does proceed with the deliberate momentum of a play, opening with the hushed hurry of "You Fall," winding its way through brief interludes and asides, reaching an emotional peak partway through with the stark, resonant "Suicide Is Murder," then settling on the bittersweet denouement of "I See You." Much of the album is given supple, sympathetic orchestrations that feel as intimate as the occasional number containing little more than a piano and voice, the two complementary arrangements giving the album the air of confessions being shared in confidence. Despite its contemplative nature, Queens of the Summer Hotel looks outward -- these were songs designed for the stage, after all. The combination of the airiness of the arrangements and the warmth of Mann's performance is wistfully hopeful, turning Queens of the Summer Hotel into a record that soothes and consoles during moments of uncertainty. ~Stephen Thomas Erlewind

Hurray For The Riff Raff-- Life on Earth

Life on Earth perhaps could be seen as a nod to how The Navigator, the 2017 album from Alynda Segarra, aka Hurray for the Riff Raff, owed a slight debt to David Bowie, the patron saint of interstellar rock & roll. Segarra used Ziggy Stardust to navigate their way back to their Puerto Rican heritage in the Bronx. Reconnected to their roots, Segarra feels free to leave them behind on Life on Earth, a restless record that swaps the sinewy rock & folk of their previous albums for an atmospheric yet urgent modern rock. Working with producer Brad Cook, who previously has helmed albums by Bon Iver and Waxahatchee, Segarra moves firmly into the uncertain present, addressing the turmoil of the 2020s with the tools and signifiers of its era: retro analog keyboards, urgent melodies, spacious sparkling vistas alternating with stripped-down raw guitars, the intimacy of close-mic'ed vocals, and allusions to the past that play like continuations of eternal themes, not mere nostalgia. Segarra transitions easily from "Rhododendron" -- a fast-talking slice of swagger that conjures the ghosts of both Bowie and Lou Reed -- to the open-ended "Jupiter's Dance," a song that hangs suspended in the air. Segarra's determination to write about the people and perils of 2022 -- "Precious Cargo" ends with a chant against ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- places them firmly within the tradition of the Clash, not to mention Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Woody Guthrie. By melding that tradition with a fashion-forward sound that suits their time, Segarra has wound up with a distinctive album, one that operates equally skillfully on an emotional and intellectual level. ~Stephen Thomas Erlewine,

Jarvis Cocker- Chansons d'Ennui Tip-Top

 Chansons d'Ennui Tip-Top, a tie-in to the soundtrack for the 2021 Wes Anderson film The French Dispatch, offers 12 cinematic covers of classic French pop songs, some with ties themselves to other films from Pulp front man Jarvis Cocker.  A collaboration with Anderson, the record closes on the larger-than-life "Aline," Cocker's version of the hit '60s ballad by Christophe that he recorded for The French Dispatch soundtrack and which inspired a full album of like-minded covers. Steeped in echo, thundering drums, harpsichord, and a weave of strings and soaring backing vocals, it's guided by Cocker's spoke-sung vocals as they rise from sultry whispers to tortured pleas. Generally using the dramatic, stylized arrangements of the originals as templates throughout, he opens the album with "Dans Ma Chambre" and, loyal to the Dalida original, a quote of the famous opening to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which recurs during the song. A highlight for its quirky theatricality, the space-age "Contact," a Serge Gainsbourg tune made famous by Brigitte Bardot, is a fairly spot-on cover by Cocker, who has Bardot-like vocal support on the choruses. Speaking of guests, Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier is featured prominently on another Dalida entry, "Paroles Paroles," the singer's seductive 1973 duet with actor Alain Delon. Intriguing from beginning to end, Cocker's lush, emphatic takes should delight fans of vintage French and Baroque pop. ~Marcy Donelson










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