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Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Cool It Down

Over the years, Karen O has also become a more accomplished and varied vocalist, and she brings more colors to her Cool It Down performances than on Yeah Yeah Yeahs' previous albums or even Lux Prima. "Burning" is a driving showcase for all her skills; as the song builds into a soulful inferno, her wails and whispers are forces of nature, and her comparisons to meteors and the river Styx are completely apt. "Fleez," the record's brightly funky midpoint, pairs spoken-word verses that hark back to the early gem "Art Star" with a groove that's tautly danceable even if the band doesn't break a sweat. Songs such as this and "Wolf," a piece of shimmering electro-pop seduction where squiggly synths echo O's vibrato, borrow some of It's Blitz!'s chrome-plated sleekness and commanding beats and showcase Dave Sitek's production. Sitek often felt like Yeah Yeah Yeahs' unofficial fourth member, and his chemistry with them remains strong on tracks like the lushly layered "Blacktop." For a band who seemed so impulsive at the outset, Yeah Yeah Yeahs' reflection and deliberation has been a surprising strength that's only grown with time. They may never lose all their restlessness -- nor should they -- but it's undeniable that Cool It Down is one of their most consistent albums.

Alex G - God Save The Animals

Returning to a densely layered, otherworldly, highly manipulated sonic approach, Alex G.’s ninth album God Save the Animals is Alex G's most disjointed, eerie, and dynamic outing yet -- descriptions that could also be applied collectively to the core songs. Ranging from spare and rustic to druggy and impenetrable the album's artful mixing which explores left-right balance as well as distance and volume, is another distinctive element of its off-kilter sound. Even a tuneful, organic entry like "Runner" plays with what ultimately sounds like multi-tracked instruments as well as vocals. After setting the stage with "After All," a mix of raw acoustic timbres and ghostly, distorted vocals (by Jessica Lea Mayfield, who, with vocal effects of her own, is nearly indistinguishable from Alex G's sped-up or pitched-up vocals elsewhere in his catalog), he eases listeners in with "Runner" and the likewise guitar-based "Mission" before diving deeper into surreal songscapes. The demonic (or god-like?) vocals of "S.D.O.S.," the warbled, off-pitch tones and insistent whispers of "Ain't It Easy," and the juxtaposition of synths, manipulated voice samples, and banjo on "Immunity" are just some of the components in what comes next. The album ends with the pairing of "Miracles" and "Forgive," an anguished, ruminative folk-rock jam that slowly fades out to close an album that, if challenging, successfully mixes religious motifs with a balance of tactile, earthbound textures and hypnotically dreamy, alien atmospheres.  ~Marcy Donelson,

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Fred Hersch/Esperanza Spalding - Alive at the Village Vanguard

Alive at the Village Vanguard captures pianist Fred Hersch and vocalist Esperanza Spalding in an intimate yet inventively expressive duo performance. On first glance, the combination of Hersch and may seem like an odd pairing. Yet there's an unconventional, somewhat maverick, streak running through both artists, one that balances a core respect for the jazz tradition with a desire to draw inspiration from other mediums like art, poetry, and literature. It's that vibrant combination that Hersch explored on his Walt Whitman-inspired Leaves of Grass album and one which Spalding brought to her own poetry-driven concept albums like Emily's D+Evolution. That adventurous, poetic spirit also drives Alive at the Village Vanguard. Recorded in 2018 at the storied Greenwich Village club, the album finds the duo communing over a well-curated set of standards that they bend to their boldly expressive improvisational will. Together, they seem to magically stumble into unexpected flights of fancy, as when Spalding expounds upon the lyrics to "But Not for Me," analyzing and reframing lyricist Ira Gershwin's Shakespearean word choice with a gleeful sense of irony, singing "'Oh, 'Alas,' I get that one, 'hi-ho,' not so much." Much more than simply a lively jazz standards album, Alive at the Village Vanguard captures these two jazz kindred spirits in joyous, creative play. ~Matt Collar,

DOMi & JD Beck - NOT TiGHT

This keyboard and drum jazzy duo covered Thundercat, Flying Lotus and MF Doom and soon joined Anderson.Paak's creative circle. Their debut NOT TiGHT on Paak's new label APESHIT via Blue Note Records-is an unclassifiable mix of hip-hop & R&B that seems to be the future of modern jazz. The album features Mac DeMarco, Paak, Snoop Dogg, Herbie Hancock, & Thundercat. The musicianship of DOMi & Beck throughout the album is incredible, and the energy between the two is magnetic. Both began playing music from a young age: DOMi studied at the Conservatoire de Paris and Berklee College of Music in Boston. JD BECK cut his teeth around Dallas before logging time with Erykah Badu. IYL Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, Thundercat


Rina Sawayama - Hold The Girl

Hitting while the iron was hot, Japanese-English pop star Rina Sawayama made a quick turnaround after 2020's breakthrough Sawayama thrust her to the forefront of the pop scene, refining her vision and making leaps in artistic maturity with Hold the Girl. Like similar moves by contemporaries Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish, Sawayama's drastic growth between albums -- both in sonics and emotional awareness -- is a thrill to behold. Shooting for the rafters straightaway, "Hold the Girl" launches listeners into this world without boundaries where swelling strings, a skittering beat, country-inspired twang, and a massive club chorus somehow sound like they always belonged together. Riding that energy, Sawayama drops listeners into "This Hell," an '80s-leaning gem inspired by Shania Twain that could have been a Gaga track, singalong chorus, electric guitar solo, and all. "Catch Me in the Air" -- are those seagulls and Titanic-esque flute flutterings? -- channels the Corrs and breezy Y2K-era guitar pop, flying through the clouds atop Sawayama's vocal acrobatics.. This is one of those albums where each of the vastly different songs could be a hit and, no matter how many times it's been spun, a moment of pause is needed to fully absorb just how good it really is. Besting the already star-making Sawayama, the triumphant Hold the Girl is the sound of an artist taking their rightful place on the pop throne. Sawayama was born for this. ~Neil Z Yeung,

Belle & Sebastian - Late Developers

The long stretches between albums that had become standard for indie pop heroes Belle and Sebastian made their 11th studio LP, Late Developers, even more of a surprise, as it was released without much lead-up just eight months after 2022's A Bit of Previous. Recorded during the same self-produced sessions, Late Developers feels like a companion piece to its predecessor, reaching just as inspired heights and continuing the band's inspection of aging and existential dread that always comes wrapped in soft, reassuring melodies. Late Developers is a sturdy collection on its own, but it takes on new depth when paired with A Bit of Previous. Absorbed as pieces of a connected statement, the two albums show Belle and Sebastian deep into their career but still in a state of artistic flourishing. Even the inclusion of an older tune somehow doesn't feel like they're content to stay cycling through past ideas. If anything it serves as a stark example of just how far they've come since those timid, mawkish early days, and the rest of the songs give a glimpse of how far they might yet go.~Fred Thomas,

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