Mastodon--Emperor of Sand

Mastodon set the bar high with Emperor of Sand. It was written in difficult circumstances emotionally and creatively. Like their first three albums (and unlike their last two), this is a concept album. Its dominant theme is of time running out, and its 11 tracks offer an allegorical story of a man handed a death sentence by a desert sultan. To escape, he flees into the expanse of the geography's emptiness, but the further he goes, the more lost he becomes in the sand as an unrelenting sun begins to claim his energy and ultimately his body -- think radiation poisoning. Desperate, he attempts to communicate telepathically with tribes of various races and historical periods to make rain fall and stop that progression.
Unlike their other conceptual endeavors (i.e. Leviathan) Emperor of Sand's narrative is relatively simple. While the conceptual framework harkens back to the early trilogy, the songwriting on this date is more reflective of the integrative styles on The Hunter and Once More ‘Round the Sun. "Sultan's Curse," "Roots Remain," and the anthemic "Clandestiny" all roar with the bone-quaking riffery and roiling drum grooves, offering dynamic harmonic breakdowns, great solo spots, and plenty of fire. Elsewhere, such as on "Show Yourself," "Ancient Kingdom" (both suggesting the influence of late-era Hüsker Dü), and "Andromeda," the focus shifts to hooks and melody first; the punishing riffs and monstrous drum fills are there, but are subservient. The guitar interplay between Brett Hinds and Kelliher is, as usual, flawless, and the spastic drum and basswork of the rhythm section remains some of the most expansive in metal.  ~Thom Jurek,


Laura Marling-- Semper Femina

Semper Femina, a Latin phrase borrowed from Virgil translating roughly to "always a woman," was tattooed on Laura Marling's body long before it became the title of her sixth album. Like her adopted motto, this striking set gives the impression of a concept that was left to simmer a while before revealing itself in song. Initially intended as an exercise in writing about women from a male's perspective, Marling soon found that the feelings she was expressing were, in reality, her own, and Semper Femina became the work of a woman writing intimately about women. Crafted in her adopted home of Los Angeles and produced by Blake Mills (Alabama Shakes, Jim James), it's a wonder of musical subtlety, backing off from the cinematic electric desert-scapes of 2015's Short Movie and approaching the acoustic delicacy of earlier albums from a newfound perspective. A classic confessional songwriter, the British expat has found here the perfect balance of wounded introspection and confident observation, getting to the core of the matter with poetic candor on standouts like "The Valley" and the masterful "Next Time," the latter of which is easily one of the strongest cuts of her career. As with much of Marling's work, especially during her California period, the ghost of Joni Mitchell -- another transplanted flower who bloomed in Laurel Canyon -- can be heard on the richly melodic yet beautifully sparse fingerpicked ballad "Noell.". Having entered the limelight early, the 27-year-old singer/songwriter has now settled into a comfortable groove to on this finely honed career highlight. ~Timothy Monger,

Jesus & Mary Chain--Damage and Joy

It’s been nearly 20 years since the last record from Jesus & Mary Chain, and working with producer Youth, the brothers called on drummer Brian Young and a bevy of backing vocalists (Isobel Campbell, Sky Ferreira, sister Linda) to help craft Damage and Joy, a record that revisits just about every sound the JAMC did post-Psychocandy. It would have been a mistake to try to recapture that once-in-a-lifetime event, so instead they touch on the drum-machine blues-punk of Automatic on "All Things Pass," the stripped-down pop of Darklands on "The Two of Us," and quite a bit of the weathered and torn acoustic balladry that dominated Stoned & Dethroned. Both "Always Sad" and "Song for a Secret" quote almost directly from that album's big hit, "Sometimes Always"; the former even lifts the guitar solo note for note. The rest of the album sounds like a dead ringer for 1992's Honey's Dead, which was heralded as their return to the noise and nastiness that made them a sensation. Anyone expecting anything new from them will have to be content with the big ballad "Los Feliz (Blues and Greens)," which adds strings to the arrangement while borrowing from Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'." Otherwise it's business as usual, from the time-honored melodies to the questionably rebellious lyrics, wrapped in grungy guitars and topped by Jim's suitably snarling vocals. ~Tim Sendra,

Paul Weller --A Kind Of Revolution

There's gentleness at the heart of the title A Kind Revolution, a suggestion that Paul Weller is getting softer as he approaches the age of 60. In 2017, he's still a few years away from that milestone but he's letting himself take things a little slower, absorbing the spaciness of 2015's Saturn's Pattern and reviving the sculpted soulful grooves of Wild Wood. This combination means A Kind Revolution feels straighter than any record Weller has released in the past decade -- in other words, anything he's done since he started his collaboration with Simon Dine, who acrimoniously parted after 2012's Sonik Kicks -- but where As Is Now hit hard, this has an easy touch even when the events kick off with the raver "Woo Sé Mama." This isn't the only time guitars are cranked on A Kind Revolution -- "Satellite Kid" descends into an extended jam -- but soul is Weller's guiding star on this record, leading him to the well-manicured upscale Boy George duet "One Tear" and the sharp funk of "She Moves with the Fayre," which features a cameo from Robert Wyatt. These guest appearances, particularly Wyatt's, suggest how Weller isn't content to settle into a familiar groove -- the lovely vocal harmonies on the closing "The Impossible Idea" are further indication of that -- but A Kind Revolution nevertheless feels cozy, a record designed to provide nothing but comfort and that's an unusual twist for Paul Weller.~Thomas Erlewine, allmusic


Woods--Love Is Love

Recorded in the two months following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Woods' tenth album is a laid-back call to arms that delivers the simple message embodied by the title, Love Is Love. Taking up where their last album, 2016's in the City Sun Eater River of Light, left off, the six songs here are imbued with psychedelic funk, Ethiopian jazz, inner-space explorations, and gently strummed acid folk jams. The saxes and horns take an even larger role, the rhythms are even more limber (check the opening title track for some proof of that, plus some hefty guitar soloing), and Jeremy Earl's lyrics have all the weary, defiant grace that the situation calls for. The album may be on the short side at only six songs, but it didn't need to be any longer. The running time of just over half an hour is the perfect length for a short jolt of sonic warmth and friendly reassurance. Plus, an honest look at the feeling many people had in the wake of the election's results. A nightmare vision of a world turned upside down, "Lost in a Crowd" is handled gently by the band (in very Band-like fashion) with tinkling keys, thrumming organ, and lovely vocal harmonies helping to sugarcoat the message just a bit. Add in a spooky, trippy instrumental ("Spring Is in the Air") and a sprawling psych-folk hymn ("Hit That Drum"), and it's another fine release from the band. Created out of sadness and unease, the album turns these negatives into something more positive. To Woods' credit, they don't look for easy answers, and Love Is Love is a thought-provoking, intensely felt album, full of all the warmth, frustration, and alternating bouts of despair and hope that half (or more) of the United States felt at the time the record was recorded. ~Tim Sendra,

New Pornographers -- Whiteout Conditions

Calling the New Pornographers' music smart pop almost underestimates the group; there's smart, and then there's these folks, whose cleverness suggests their tunes got their undergrad degree at Yale and did their master's at Harvard. But A.C. Newman and his crew that includes Neko Case and Dan Bejar of Destroyer, have a keen understanding of the mind/body conundrum -- they want their music to be as intelligent as they are, but they also want it to feel good. They've once again hit that mark all but perfectly on 2017's Whiteout Conditions. Full of gleaming surfaces dominated by drums and keyboards, this album suggests a new wave dance disc of the '80s that had the chance to mature and do a lot of reading, and this music is mature while still encouraging the listener to crash the party and dance. Electronic keyboards and percussion dominate the arrangements, but the results sound admirably organic, as if there's a healthy pulse beneath all the electronics, and Newman made clever use of his vocalists, as voices glide over the music that's constructed in part from samples of their own singing. And if there's a healthy portion of cynicism in these songs, that's one of the reasons Newman and his Pornographers sound warm and realistic, without succumbing to a false optimism common to this sort of music. If North America has a better and more insightful pop group than the New Pornographers, don't tell them, or they'll start on a new reading program to beat the competition. Whiteout Conditions shows they're already brighter and more satisfying than just about any of their peers. ~Mark Deming,





Check out our EM blog baby!