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

 

Deerhoof -- La Isla Bonita

Deerhoof celebrated their 20th anniversary with the release of La Isla Bonita, another fine example of how the band changes course on almost every album. Like Deerhoof vs. Evil and Breakup Song before it, Bonita is another concentrated burst of whimsy. It's a format that suits Deerhoof, as well as this album's inspiration, the Ramones. The cover of "Pinhead" they played during rehearsals shaped the album's approach, and in many ways, this is Deerhoof's version of garage rock (or technically, basement rock -- the band bashed out La Isla Bonita in Ed Rodriguez's basement in a week). The Ramones influence is clearest on "Exit Only"'s blitzkrieg riffs and bratty beats, though lyrics like "welcome to speech of freedom" are Deerhoof through and through. Elsewhere, they reconfigure punk's guitar-bass-drums approach into fascinating interplay. Rodriguez and John Dieterich's guitars are more active than they've been in some time: "Tiny Bubbles" alone ranges from surf-lounge to intricate, knotty passages and tight, disco-inspired rhythms, while the pair's work on "Big House Waltz" is dense and spacious at the same time. It's a big shift from Breakup Song's fractured electropop -- indeed, there's a surprisingly funky groove behind the winning "Paradise Girls," an homage to "smart girls" who "play bass guitar" with a riff reminiscent of the Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster," and "Oh Bummer," which boasts a taut rhythm section that evokes Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Elsewhere, Deerhoof play off their own history as much as any of their other influences: "Doom," a fuzzy rocker that's more charming than storming, could've appeared on one of their early-2000s albums along with the appealingly herky-jerky "Last Fad," while "Mirror Monster" puts their often-neglected serene side in the spotlight. Even on these songs, it feels more like Deerhoof are coming full circle than looking back; that they've been able to put different but cohesive spins on their sound so well, and for so long, is truly remarkable. ~Heather Phares, allmusic

The Budos Band -- Burnt Offering

It has been four years since the release of Budos Band III, an album that signaled that the group had taken the funky Afrobeat-meets-vintage horn-driven R&B sound as far as it could go. They incorporated new sounds into its mix: Middle Eastern modes, Latin rhythms, a touch of psych, and even Ethiopian jazz. That said, Burnt Offering is a whole new thing, developed as always with an ear firmly planted in the past: just take a look at the mysterious magus on the cover. This music is rooted in late psychedelia, soundtracks, funk, and sword and sorcery metal à la Black Sabbath and Pentagram. This date feels more like a whole group vibe than anything they've previously recorded. Reverb is everywhere, but the live feel is unshakable. "Magus Mountain" is far more funky than anything else here thanks to an abundance of breakbeats. The groove is manic as Afrobeat cadences are contrasted with massive, frenetic guitar vamps. Burnt Offering is aptly yet somewhat misleadingly titled. While the sounds and vibe exotically reflect the more brain-baked hedonistic and dark spiritual indulgences of the '70s, the music is actually more adventurous and sophisticated than anything Budos Band has ever attempted. While the album's roots are deeply embedded in the past, the band has never sounded more present tense. ~Thom Jurek, Allmusic



Flying Lotus -- You're Dead!

An early form of You're Dead! was the length of a double album -- a large mass of brief tracks that, for Steven Ellison, possibly signified nothing more than his fifth Flying Lotus album. As the producer and keyboardist spent more time absorbing and shaping the recordings, the title, initially comic in meaning, gained emotional weight while he was provoked to consider his mortality and the losses he has been dealt, including the deaths of his father and mother, his grandmother, his great aunt Alice Coltrane, and creative collaborator Austin Peralta. The completed You're Dead! consists of 19 tracks averaging two minutes in length that are intended to be heard in sequence from front to back. Its flow is even more liquid than that of Until the Quiet Comes, though the sounds are more jagged and free, with roots deeper in jazz. Previous Flying Lotus releases have their bleak and elegiac moments, but they're central here, highlighted by "Coronus, the Terminator" (an Ellison/Niki Randa duet), "Siren Song" (fronted by Dirty Projectors' Angel Deradoorian), and "Obligatory Cadence." The instrumentals range from playful, as reflected in titles like "Turkey Dog Coma" and "Turtles," to the distressed likes of "Tesla" and "Moment of Hesitation," with the latter two both anchored by Gene Coye's feverish percussion and Herbie Hancock's glimmering/flickering piano. It all plays out in a kind of elegantly careening fashion. It concludes with "The Protest," where Laura Darlington and Kimbra softly sing "We will live on forever" like a defiant mantra. Like his great aunt, and his great uncle John Coltrane, Ellison has created exceptionally progressive, stirring, and eternal art. ~Andy Kellman, allmusic.com

 

Run The Jewels -- 2

There are those Jagger/Richards, Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis, or DJ Jazzy Jeff/Fresh Prince-styled collaborations that always seem fruitful. The music created by Killer Mike and El-P easily falls into this category, and is closest to that of Jeff and Prince's, not just because the duo fall under the same category of "hip-hop" but also because Run the Jewels 2, like its predecessor, comes with some joy baked in. It's a broken, ironic, and underground kind of joy as the hard-hitting "Oh My Darling Don't Cry" shows its pimp-hand with "You can all run naked backwards through a field of dicks" and also shows its business card because "You're in luck, it says I do two things: rap and fuck." This sophomore effort keeps the slanted spirit of the original, as mixing the attitude of N.W.A. with the weirdness of Adult Swim is both comfortable and fertile ground for the duo, but the "album" does try harder in the "serious" department. Paranoid androids like "Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1" benefit, as if Run-DMC embraced El-P's compressed beatmaking and dropped the F-bomb whenever possible. "Early" is deadly serious with Killer Mike pleading "I apologize if it seems I got out of line sir, cuz I respect the badge and a gun/And I pray today ain't the day you drag me away right in front of my son," and that's right before things turn grave. "All Due Respect" with Travis Barker enters Death Grips' territory with punk, techno, and vicious rhymes all crawling up the spine, but this rebel music can still come with a smirk, as a stuttering Zach de la Rocha offers the infectious and weird hook on the wonderfully titled highlight "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)." If the first album was the supernova, RTJ2 is the RTJ universe forming, proving that Mike and El-P's one-off can be a going, and ever growing, concern.  ~David Jeffries, allmusic.com



TV on the Radio -- Seeds

Arriving three years after the mellow Nine Types of Light -- and the death of bassist Gerard Smith, who succumbed to lung cancer just days after the album's release -- Seeds has a palpable sense of moving on for TV on the Radio. Sonically, it's crisper and clearer than ever before; songs like the beautiful ballad "Test Pilot" use this clarity to prove, once again, that TV on the Radio fuse indie and R&B more genuinely than many of the acts that sprang up during their hiatus. Though they rein in their trademark lushness ever so slightly, it doesn't diminish their sound's magnitude; instead, it adds an urgency that feels even more pointed after Nine Types' hazy reveries. Similarly, that album's philosophical tone continues on Seeds, with the band confronting loss directly on the album's first half and accepting it on the second. TV on the Radio are often at their most compelling when they're grappling with something, and album opener "Quartz" -- on which Tunde Adebimpe asks "How hard must we try?" -- showcases them in all their frustrated glory. Likewise, that songs as emotionally opposed as "Could You," where Kyp Malone wonders about being able to love again, and "Happy Idiot," where Adebimpe willfully numbs himself to the pain, are both triumphs is another testament to the band's complexity. Seeds' first half is so strong that it's not surprising that it sags by comparison a little later. To be fair, it's harder to write uplifting and empowering songs that don't sound trite, and TV on the Radio manage more than a few: the anthemic "Ride," the fired-up "Winter," and the furious rocker "Lazerray" all deliver far more than platitudes. Just when it feels like things might be too relentlessly positive, the band injects some welcome ambiguity into "Trouble"'s refrain of "Everything's gonna be OK," letting it teeter between reassurance and uncertainty. By the time the title track closes the album with the promise of rebirth, TV on the Radio's reinvention as survivors is complete. At its best, Seeds is a fine tribute to Smith and the sound of enduring unimaginable loss. ~Heather Phares, allmusic.com

 

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