• In These Silent Days

    In These Silent Days

    Carlile, Brandi

    Brandi Carlile had her breakthrough with 2018's By the Way I Forgive You, an album released 13 years after her debut. Having a rich body of work at the point she became a household name meant she had the confidence to depart from the stately sweep of By the Way I Forgive You when it came time to deliver its successor, In These Silent Days. Working with the same crew as she did on By the Way I Forgive You -- her longtime collaborators Phil and Tim Hanseroth are here, along with co-producers Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings -- Carlile crafts an album that's bolder and brawnier than its predecessor. In These Silent Days has plenty of intimate moments -- it starts quietly, unfolding with just Carlile's voice and piano, the same elements that close the album -- but they're punctuated by brisk melodies, steady-rolling rhythms and dramatic crescendos that capture the full roar of Carlile and the Hanseroths. That power is evident during the spells where they restrain themselves, adding texture and color to Carlile's hushed passion. What separates In These Silent Days from the rest of Carlile's albums is its controlled urgency and tight sense of craft, an aesthetic evident in how the album is as lean and robust as a well-loved record from the '70s. Often, In These Silent Days conjures a specific spirit, as if Elton John cut a collection of Laurel Canyon folk-rock in 1973 without abandoning his yearning to rock. Carlile may tip her hat to Elton and Joni Mitchell here ("You and Me on the Rock" feels like an explicit nod to "Big Yellow Taxi") but as the album alternates between candid whispers and raw catharsis, it is unmistakably the work of Brandi Carlile, who once again proves she's one of the best singer/songwriters of her generation. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine (syndetics)

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  • Happier Than Ever

    Happier Than Ever

    Eilish, Billie

    A subtle triumph in the face of overwhelming pressure and expectations, Happier Than Ever is the sound of an artist coming into their own. Without losing any of the experimental, genre-blurring spirit of her Grammy-conquering debut, Billie Eilish elevates her trademark sound and expands her scope with the assistance of her producer-brother Finneas. In addition to baring her soul with increasingly confessional lyrics, she's also strengthened her delivery and range, taking inspiration from jazz and vocal pop greats of old like Julie London and Peggy Lee, lending a timeless air to tracks like "Billie Bossa Nova" and "my future." With this sophomore set, Eilish steps out of the shadows of When We All Fall Asleep, transforming from the creepy little sibling that freaks out the neighbors into a poised and confident young adult with existential issues aplenty. Growing older (relatively) and wiser in the years following her breakthrough, she processes the flood of experiences that come with a swift ascent in the public eye. Reflecting on the pitfalls of being famous, the introductory "Getting Older" reveals the immense pressure and associated dangers of the limelight, setting her insight and measured optimism to a delicate electronic heartbeat. Later, she charts her struggles in a male-dominated industry and details encounters with predatory men and misogyny on the scathing "Your Power," an indictment of exploitation disguised as a gorgeous acoustic ballad, and on the striking interlude "Not My Responsibility," she confronts critics and toxic opinions atop ominous synths and atmospheric haze before calling out media objectification on the hypnotic "OverHeated." Beyond these emotional trials, Eilish leans into the album's title, realizing her own growth, hope for the future, and newfound feelings of self-love and self-empowerment. The nostalgic Bristol-scene trip-hop vibes of the dubby "I Didn't Change My Number," hit single "Therefore I Am," and the boom-bap-lite "Lost Cause" offer mischievous diversions from the otherwise moody meditations, but a trio of dynamic standouts steal the show. Throbbing to life with deep bass and a thick beat, the lustful "Oxytocin" is a club hit in the making, nailing the pleasure centers like the titular hormone, while the cautionary "GOLDWING" lures listeners in with an angelic hymn before skittering to life with tribal flair like early-era Björk. On the title track, Eilish begins with an old-timey vocal showcase that explodes into a '90s alt-rock rager, complete with cathartic kiss-off lyrics, crashing drums, and jagged riffs. In these moments, Eilish reclaims a bit of herself and hones her perspective, effortlessly playing with a wide range of genres in the process. Delivering on the promise of her industry-shaking debut with confidence and grace, Happier Than Ever has the markings of a big career moment, one that signals artistic growth and hints at even more greatness to come. ~ Neil Z. Yeung (syndetics)

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  • Welcome 2 America

    Welcome 2 America

    Prince

    Prince recorded the 12 songs that comprise the posthumous album Welcome 2 America back in 2010, polished off some mixes, and allegedly completed a sequence, then he set it aside. It's impossible to tell if Prince considered the album finished or if he planned to release it. He did launch the Welcome 2 tour in December 2010 but it was in support of 20Ten, an album given away with copies of the Daily Mirror in the U.K. and never officially released in the U.S., and almost no songs from the Welcome 2 America sessions were played on-stage or leaked from the vaults: the fizzy trifle "Hot Summer" was streamed on the website of local radio station 89.3 The Current but that was it. Few Prince fanatics were aware of its existence until it was unearthed in 2021 as the first release in his estate's deal with Legacy. Complete unreleased albums are relatively rare among Prince's known outtakes, so the appearance of Welcome 2 America was big news. The album itself doesn't quite live up to expectations. Welcome 2 America is essentially the product of Prince giving the rhythm section of bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and drummer Chris Coleman a test run, leading the pair through chord sequences without singing scratch melodies or anything that would give them an idea of a finished song. Prince added his vocals later, along with harmonies and keyboards from Morris Hayes, who is credited as a co-producer on the released product. The results sound every bit as complete as either 20Ten or Art Official Age or any other latter-day official Prince album. It also sounds very much of a piece with the music Prince made toward the end of his life: he moves with ease through the slipstreams separating funk, soul, and pop, using his guitar as the bonding agent between the styles. The opening triptych of "Welcome 2 America," "Running Game (Son of a Slave Master)," and "Born 2 Die" suggests Welcome 2 America may be a thematically weightier album than usual from Prince, but by the time "Hot Summer" kicks in, it's clear this is a trick of sequencing; the rest of the album is fairly standard Prince fare. The sequencing doesn't do the album a lot of favors, as it gets the proceedings off on a slow foot, but the second half has a distinct pulse surfacing on the fuzz-funk of "Check the Record," the sultry "When She Comes," and the jazzy struts "Same Page, Different Book," and "1010 (Rin Tin Tin)." Welcome 2 America is still a latter-day Prince album, so it's filled with vaguely baffling turns of phrase, slick jazz-funk, and covers of 21st century Soul Asylum songs. In other words, it's not a buried gem or a return to form but a snapshot of an excellent musician having a pretty good run in the studio. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine (syndetics)

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  • Springtime in New York: 1980-1985

    Springtime in New York: 1980-1985

    Dylan, Bob

    If Bob Dylan's Bootleg series of archival releases -- now in its fourth decade -- has taught fans anything, it's that preconceived notions about his catalog are often proven erroneous. Entries such as Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) and Vol. 13: Trouble No More 1979-1981 offered substantive counterarguments for the criticism the source albums received. Vol. 16: Springtime in New York 1980-1985 begins with the thoroughly slagged final outing in his Christian trilogy, Shot of Love (1981), and continues through the more warmly greeted albums Infidels (1983) and Empire Burlesque (1985). It reveals the many musical directions Dylan was traveling in simultaneously. Over 57 tracks and five discs, his sometimes radical experimentation with musicians (Sly & Robbie served as the rhythm section on Infidels), material, and production styles posits that he was seeking a way forward not out of restlessness but because he was lost -- he would release the execrable Knocked Out Loaded and Down in the Groove over the next few years. The songs leading to and from Shot of Love are represented on the first two discs. There's a stellar rehearsal version of "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)," and a supercharged Bo Diddley-esque "Jesus Met the Woman at the Well." the scorching garage rocker "Borrowed Time" was created on the spot. There are many covers too. Dylan delivers the yacht rock hit "This Night Won't Last Forever" without irony, as well as Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart," a fine read of the Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain," a swampy "Mystery Train," and an awful "Sweet Caroline." Discs three and four showcase material from the Infidels sessions. There's a (different) gospel-infused read of "Blind Willie McTell" and an alternate mix of "Jokerman" with a prophetic vocal that brings Mark Knopfler's and Mick Taylor's guitars way up front. After two versions of "Too Late," we get a third in the ragged blues "Foot of Pride." Outtakes of "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight" and "I and I" are superior to the album takes. The Empire Burlesque material offers "Enough Is Enough," penned on tour and performed only three times, and a Late Night with David Letterman performance of "License to Kill" with the Plugz. There is also a loose, soulful alternate version of "Tight Connection to My Heart." The squalling, shambolic garage rocker "Straight A's in Love" was previously unissued. One of the two versions of "When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky" contains a disco beat in a rocking context. The 12-minute "New Danville Girl" is fantastic, but eventually became the inferior "Brownsville Girl." Closer "Dark Eyes" (an alternate take) was composed because producer Arthur Baker wanted an acoustic track. Springtime in New York was curated and produced by Jeff Rosen and Steve Berkowitz. They went beyond the call of duty in sonic clarity, warmth, and selection; further, Damien Love's liner notes are detailed, authoritative, and wonderfully enthusiastic. Whether Shot of Love warrants deeper appreciation now is debatable, but this box set wonderfully showcases Dylan's lengthy, complex creative journey that only got rockier as the decade wore on. ~ Thom Jurek (syndetics)

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  • I'll Be your Mirror: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground & Nico

    I'll Be your Mirror: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground & Nico

    When it was initially released in 1967, The Velvet Underground & Nico sounded less like an album ahead of its time than music that had appeared out of time and out of nowhere. There was some context for the sinister but dreamy pop of "Sunday Morning," the tough R&B of "There She Goes Again," and the Teutonic girl group accents of "Femme Fatale," but the dark themes, ferocious attack, and moral ambiguities of numbers like "I'm Waiting for the Man," "Venus in Furs," and "Heroin" were strong meat and without precedent in rock & roll. Brian Eno's famous quote about the album has become one of rock writing's greatest cliches -- "The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band" -- but it does speak to the fact that the few who embraced the album did so deeply and passionately. If time and changing tastes have allowed the record to evolve from a curiosity to a widely acknowledged classic, its style and personality remain unique. Producer Hal Willner, who took the tribute album to the level of an art form with projects like Amarcord Nino Rota, Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films, and Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill, had long planned to pay homage to the Velvets' debut, and it was a project he was working on at the time of his death in April 2020. I'll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground & Nico, doesn't play like a grand conceptual reimagining of the original album's themes in the manner of Willner's most ambitious releases. Instead, he allowed each artist the space to explore one of the LP's songs and find in it what they will, and the strength of I'll Be Your Mirror is how the performances often find a middle ground between the formative vision of the Velvet Underground and the viewpoint of the artist taking their turn with the music. Bobby Gillespie and Thurston Moore's cover of "Heroin" is more of an homage than a reimagining, and Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen approach "Femme Fatale" as if they think they can out-gloom Nico, but Andrew Bird and Lucius offer a remarkable take on "Venus in Furs" that strips away its noise without compromising its tension, Courtney Barnett takes the prettiness from "I'll Be Your Mirror" and makes it sound all the more organic and heartfelt, and Matt Sweeney and Iggy Pop take a deep dive into the maelstrom with "European Son" that actually outworks the original's terminal pulse. More than 50 years after its release, it seems there isn't much new to be said about The Velvet Underground & Nico, and I'll Be Your Mirror doesn't challenge that notion. But it does allow a number of worthy artists a chance to see themselves reflected in these songs, and it's a labor of love that's engaging and from the heart. ~ Mark Deming (syndetics)

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  • Screen Violence

    Screen Violence

    Chvrches (Musical group)

    No matter what musical direction they take, Chvrches go all in. On Love Is Dead, they leaned into pure pop, working with A-list producers like Greg Kurstin to polish their music to perfection. As much as they committed to that choice, it only focused on one aspect of their music. With the self-produced Screen Violence, however, they tap into everything that makes them so special among the legions of bands reinventing synth pop in the 2020s. At the top of that list would be Lauren Mayberry’s voice. She sounds as bright and emotive as ever, and her youthful clarity contrasts satisfyingly with the maturity of her lyrics. Mayberry remains brilliant at expressing complex emotions with eloquently simple words, and every song on Screen Violence feels like a showdown with the Big Bad. Sometimes, it’s herself; “I wish I had been more kind,” she laments over “Lullabies”’ gleaming guitars. Sometimes, it’s a complicated relationship; she’s an expert at saying goodbye even when she doesn’t want to, and on the beautiful failure of “California,” listeners hang on her every word as she captures how hard it is to leave the past behind and how good it feels to leave it there. More often, though, Mayberry confronts the existential horror of being a woman in the 21st century. The feminist synth pop anthem “Good Girls,” is quintessential Chvrches, from its choppy intro melody to its defiant mood (“Killing your idols is a chore/And it’s such a fucking bore” is immediately one of the group’s classic first lines). On “He Said, She Said,” Mayberry responds to the contradicting messages women and female-presenting people hear from the media, marketing, and those close to them (“Look good/But don’t be obsessed”) with a frustrated voice and a breaking heart echoed by the song’s fractured, juddering beats. And on “Final Girl,” she ponders marriage and changing her accent to “make herself more attractive” as the music behind her flickers between hopeful and haunting. Chvrches weave horror movie imagery deftly throughout the album, especially on “How Not to Drown,” where Mayberry and Robert Smith trade notes on self-preservation over music that’s dramatic and gloomy enough to honor the legacies of everyone involved. Later, “Nightmares” folds ‘90s alt-metal into its doom-laden stomp. Screen Violence may not be positioned as a breakthrough album, but it sounds bigger than ever, with plenty of climaxes, codas, and of course, synths. On “Asking for a Friend,” circular arpeggios magnify Mayberry’s heartache before leading into the track’s gigantic choruses. Not only is Screen Violence Chvrches’ finest work since The Bones of What You Believe, it’s also their most purposeful. It feels like they took stock of who they want to be and what they want to say, and these epic songs about letting go but holding onto the ability to feel make for a stunning creative rebirth. ~ Heather Phares (syndetics)

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  • Gold-diggers Sound

    Gold-diggers Sound

    Bridges, Leon

    One doesn't have to be all that familiar with Leon Bridges to speculate with accuracy that the artist's third album, named after the East Hollywood facility where it was made, has nothing to do with mining for instant pop hits. It's coincidental and maybe a little ironic that, just before the release of Gold-Diggers Sound, Bridges collected gold and platinum RIAA plaques for singles off his 2015 debut, but that's emblematic of the singer's knack for creating ephemerality-proof R&B that offers a true alternative to what's favored by urban contemporary radio programmers, yet structurally and sonically rooted in tradition. Gold-Diggers Sound is actually Bridges' most modern-sounding album. The singer and songwriter stretches out with producers and instrumentalists Ricky Reed and Nate Mercereau, his main collaborators on Good Thing, and he brings in an all-star lineup of progressive jazz and R&B musicians. "Born Again" sets the tone with the keyboards of Robert Glasper and brass and reeds from Keyon Harrold and Terrace Martin adding to weary if resolute sentiments like "Feeling joy again/When all else fails, your love will last forever," where Bridges faintly slurs his notes like he's a saxophonist himself. Harrold and Martin later re-appear -- the alto sax of the latter most prominently brings color to the machine-drum pulse of "Sweetness," a touching and personal ballad written in response to the murder of George Floyd. Synth-soul duo We Are King, secret weapon Atia "Ink" Boggs, and percussionist Carlos Niño, among a great number of other musicians, add to a sense of communality. Bridges' writing, however, tends to be as intimate as ever. "Motorbike" envisions a joy ride for two rendered in slow, daydream-like motion. Bridges is enamored in "Details," rustic soul-blues with a touch of Philly sitar and some thump in the low end. "Why Don't You Touch Me" seeks resolution, or just a reaction, with a sluggish sway. Only on a couple occasions does Bridges let loose a touch while in the moment. "Sho Nuff" is yet another ballad, but one full of affection and desire through its Southern groove. "Steam," all easy-rolling romantic escapism, picks up the tempo a bit with a fine threading of blues, funk, and candied background vocals. Even in those moments, there is never an indication that Bridges could possibly lose his composure. The unswerving self-control he has demonstrated across three albums both impresses and mystifies. ~ Andy Kellman (syndetics)

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  • Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan

    Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan

    Hynde, Chrissie

    Bob Dylan's status as the most respected songwriter in rock has been holding firm for decades and isn't likely to be challenged any time soon. No matter how celebrated or venerable you may be, you're probably going to end up singing his praises at one time or another, and 40 years on from the release of the Pretenders' instant-classic debut album, Chrissie Hynde certainly qualifies as celebrated and venerable, even if that description seems a bit stodgy for someone with plenty of creative vitality left. After the release of Dylan's epic-length song "Murder Most Foul" in 2020, Hynde, who was sunk deep in creative doldrums, began revisiting his songbook, and soon she and Pretenders guitarist James Walbourne were passing files back and forth from their home studios, working out arrangements and embellishments for tunes penned by the Bard of Hibbing. This experiment in home recording grew into an album, and 2021's Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan finds her digging deep into nine of his songs. The arrangements are simple, often just Hynde's voice and her and Walbourne's guitars, and the focus is firmly on her voice. Sounding smart, tough, thoughtful, and a little bit sexy, Hynde's vocals have always been strong and evocative, and she knows how to make her delivery work in favor of Dylan's lyrics. The performances here are rarely groundbreaking, but Hynde the Songwriter clearly understands what makes these songs click, and uses that knowledge to take Hynde the Chanteuse through a handful of compelling performances, bringing color and shade to Dylan's imagery and reinforcing the strengths of his wordplay. Hynde's confidence and intuition fill out these songs beautifully, and if the backings are simple, they confirm that while he's most acclaimed as a lyricist, Dylan knows how to write a great melody, and Hynde and Walbourne honor those as well. The lovely interpretation of "In the Summertime" from Dylan's oft-maligned 1981 LP Shot of Love is a valid reminder that even his weakest albums include songs well worth investigating. With just nine tracks, Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan feels a bit more like an EP than a proper album, but Hynde's takes on Dylan's songs are savvy and satisfying, and she's more than done right by one of her acknowledged inspirations. ~ Mark Deming (syndetics)

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  • All Things Must Pass

    All Things Must Pass

    Harrison, George

    In celebration of the 50th Anniversary, George Harrison's album is being celebrated with a suite of new releases highlighted by a stunning new mix of the classic album. Discs one and two include a new remix of the original album. Disc three contains seventeen tracks of demo recordings, session outtakes, and studio jams. (syndetics)

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  • The Studio Albums, 1978-1991

    The Studio Albums, 1978-1991

    Dire Straits (Musical group)

    Formed in 1977, Dire Straits, led by Mark Knopfler, were one of the iconic groups of the late twentieth Century. The album brings together all six of the band's studio albums. (syndetics) (10/15/2021 3:49:55 PM)

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