• Carnage

    Carnage

    Cave, Nick

    Given the spare, textural soundscapes of 2016's Skeleton Tree and 2019's Ghosteen, it was not hard to wonder just how much Nick Cave still needed the Bad Seeds to bring his visions to life. 2021's Carnage suggests he may not need them at all outside of his longtime collaborator Warren Ellis. Cave and Ellis collaborated on Carnage while they were in lockdown thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, and in most respects it's of a piece with Skeleton Tree and Ghosteen, with Cave's dour, doomstruck lyrical meditations taking center stage while the musical accompaniment hovers in the background. This puts it in a very similar stylistic place to those two albums, though it also manages to sound more diverse, and also more emotionally upfront. This music came out of a time of fear and uncertainty, and much of Carnage reflects those emotions, yet there's a sense of fractured, gospel-informed hope in "White Elephant" and a glorious epiphany of love and life's possibilities in "Balcony Man" that's as close to unguarded optimism as one could ever imagine coming from Cave. This music is rooted in mood rather than melody, as one might expect, though Cave and Ellis have given it a far livelier pulse than they did on the Bad Seeds albums that immediately preceded it. The tight focus of the bass patterns and the growl of the violins and guitars on "Old Time" and the percussive effect of the vocal loops on "Hand of God" recall the well-crafted menace of the Bad Seeds' peak years; while ultimately this music has nothing to do with rock & roll, it is intense and deeply felt, and will draw in nearly anyone who meets it on its own terms. There is greater sense of spontaneous energy in Carnage than in much of Cave's music of this period, and that doesn't blunt the craft of this album. It's the work of two collaborative artists who are in the midst of a later-period renaissance that has spawned powerful, evocative music that speaks to its time without being confined to the crises that sparked its creation. ~ Mark Deming (syndetics)

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  • Native Sons

    Native Sons

    Lobos (Musical group)

    Los Lobos named their debut album Just Another Band from East L.A. back in 1978, when they were still primarily playing acoustic music. While the title was meant to be tongue in cheek, their hometown is clearly a major part of who they are and what they do. It's hard to imagine another city giving them the fertile ground to create their trademark fusion of rock, blues, folk, Latin, R&B, and Tex-Mex that manages to be more than the sum of that remarkable list of parts. Los Lobos pay tribute to the Los Angeles musical community and the songs that inspired them on 2021's Native Sons, which features a dozen songs originally written and recorded by artists from L.A., along with one new original. The covers album is often a risky proposition, as it suggests the artists may have run out of fresh ideas of their own, but if Los Lobos didn't write most of the songs here, they make them their own with the imagination, spirit, and commitment of their performances, not to mention their impressive chops and the incredible feel that comes from more than four decades of working together. They open the set with "Love Special Delivery," a classic side from the East L.A. R&B act Thee Midniters, who fittingly were stars in California without breaking big anywhere else, and while it's mostly faithful to the original, the band tears into it with the fervor of true fans. They show a special joy in putting their stamp on material from hometown heroes like Lalo Guerrero Y Sus Cincos Lobos ("Los Chucos Suaves"), Willie Bobo ("Dichoso"), Don & Dewey ("Farmer John"), and the Jaguars ("Where Lovers Go"), though they can also tackle Buffalo Springfield (their arrangement of "For What It's Worth" expands greatly on the menace of the original), the Beach Boys (a emphatic performance of "Sail On Sailor") and War (a jazzy exploration of "The World is a Ghetto" with guest vocals from Little Willie G. and Barrence Whitfield) with an individual style. And the impassioned plea of the title cut sounds just like one of the dusties that inspired them in the first place while also feeling fresh and totally like them. Native Sons is a tribute that manages to be more than a set of covers -- it shows what the band learned from these songs, as well as showing us where their long musical journey has taken them. It's essential listening from one of America's greatest bands. ~ Mark Deming (syndetics)

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  • Daddy's Home

    Daddy's Home

    St. Vincent

    The sixth album from St. Vincent is the latest facet of an ever-evolving artist regarded by many as the most consistently innovative and intriguing presence in modern music. (syndetics)

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  • McCartney III Imagined

    McCartney III Imagined

    McCartney, Paul

    Take note of the title. This is McCartney III Imagined, not "re-imagined." The difference may be slight, but the implication is clear: this collection of remixes, covers, and interpolations from Paul McCartney's 2020 album McCartney III by a variety of guest stars isn't a revision of the original, but rather an album that exists on its own parallel plane. McCartney's presence naturally looms large on McCartney III Imagined, as he provided the essential foundation for the record, not only through its songs but the original instrumental and vocal tracks. His vocals float in and out in the remixes, the apparent aging of his voice standing in striking contrast to the sleek, seamless electronic expansions. These remixes are interesting, but the most compelling moments on McCartney III Imagined arrive when artists cut their own version of one of the album's tracks: Phoebe Bridgers finding the sweet, spectral pulse on "Seize the Day," Beck singing along to his funkified version of "Find My Way," and Josh Homme treating "Lavatory Lil" like a Desert Sessions jam. These moments help elevate McCartney III Imagined into something a little more than a curio. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine (syndetics)

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  • The Golden Casket

    The Golden Casket

    Modest Mouse (Musical group)

    Modest Mouse is back with their first new album since 2015's Stranger to Ourselves. Here, frontman Isaac Brock explores themes ranging from the degradation of psychic landscapes and invisible technology to fatherhood. (syndetics)

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  • Pressure Machine

    Pressure Machine

    Killers (Rock group : 2001- )

    When the pandemic stopped their touring plans, the Killers began work on a brand-new album. It is inspired by lead singer Brandon Flowers's hometown of Nephi, Utah. (syndetics)

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  • Now That's What I Call Music! 79

    Now That's What I Call Music! 79

    The third Now That's What I Call Music installment for 2021, Now 79 veers closer to streaming playlists than mainstream radio, featuring a handful of certified smash hits bundled with a bulk of favorites with younger crowds. From the major leagues, familiar Now faces such as Justin Bieber ("Peaches"), Maroon 5 ("Beautiful Mistakes" with Megan Thee Stallion), Ariana Grande ("pov"), Olivia Rodrigo ("deja vu"), Billie Eilish ("Your Power"), and Imagine Dragons ("Follow You") find competition with fresh hitmakers Masked Wolf (on his globe-conquering rap earworm "Astronaut in the Ocean") and Riton (on "Friday," their 2020s update of Nightcrawlers' enduring '90s house anthem "Push the Feeling On"). Meanwhile, Nelly and Florida Georgia Line help spread the genre coverage, reuniting for another country-rap crossover anthem, "Lil Bit." Other superstar combinations include Marshmello and the Jonas Brothers on "Leave Before You Love Me" and Doja Cat and SZA with "Kiss Me More." As always, there's enough here to warrant a listen (if for no other reason than checking out what was popular at this point in time) and maybe discovering something new (like in the NOW What's Next! segment, where up-and-comers like Florida R&B songman Q and fellow Sunshine State artist Aiden Bissett stake their claims for future Now inclusion). ~ Neil Z. Yeung (syndetics)

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  • If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power

    If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power

    Halsey

    In a bold and unexpected move, Halsey seizes their artistic crown on the creative triumph If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power. Teaming with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, they pack a lifetime of emotions into a ticking time bomb of angst buffered by the Nine Inch Nails duo's unmistakable production, which deftly serves Halsey's whims and allows the artist to outshine not only them, but a team of famous faces from the NIN orbit. When the project was first announced, the combination of global-pop-star-plus-industrial-wizards seemed a bit incongruous. However, they've succeeded in bringing out the best in each other, with Reznor and Ross setting the stage for Halsey to finally indulge in her alternative rock side, and Halsey giving the guys an excuse to flex their mainstream pop fancies. If I Can't Have Love... isn't simply "Halsey singing over NIN songs," but rather a true artistic union, where familiar NIN touchstones -- ominous atmospherics, minor-key piano tinkling, techno glitches, and distorted riffs -- support Halsey's visceral explorations of pregnancy, childbirth, life, and death. Along the way, they delve into the sacred and profane, face mortality, and reconcile vulnerability and empowerment. No strangers to the darker side of the human experience, Reznor and Ross match the self-loathing, regret, and pain coursing through Halsey's soul with production that stirs tension, frustration, and rage. From the opening piano waltz "The Tradition" to the sparse guitar thrumming of the morbid ode to her daughter "Ya'aburnee" (an Arabic phrase meaning "You bury me," as in "I'll die first so I don't have to live without you"), it's clear that this is a purposefully un-pop version of Halsey. Delivering on the promise of the rock-leaning 2019 single "Nightmare" and the explosive collaboration with Bring Me the Horizon from the Birds of Prey soundtrack, "Experiment on Me," Halsey launches headfirst into pop-punk (the bouncy "Honey"), industrial (the thrillingly cacophonous "Easier Than Lying"), and distorted sludge (the gothic horror showcase "The Lighthouse," an engrossing tale featuring whispered vocals from Reznor). Additional standouts include "Girl Is a Gun," which features neon synths and bubble-pop beats courtesy of Meat Beat Manifesto's Jack Dangers, and "Bells in Santa Fe," a gorgeous showcase of Halsey's poetic lyricism, commanding vocals, and the studio sorcery of Reznor, Ross, and the Bug's Kevin Martin. The album's big moment lands toward the end with the enthralling showstopper "I Am Not a Woman, I'm a God," a throbbing culmination of the core trio's power as a sonic unit. Throughout, Halsey maintains full control of this cinematic concept album, reducing all-stars such as Lindsey Buckingham (on the "Landslide"-esque acoustic break "Darling"), Dave Grohl ("Honey"), Pino Palladino and Kerriem Riggins (on the rhythmic "Lilith"), and Dave Sitek (on the '90s alt rock affair "You Asked for This") to mere studio hands. With Reznor and Ross supporting such a weighty artistic vision, Halsey takes a huge leap forward with this course-changing opus, a revelation that finally presents their most authentic representation of self. ~ Neil Z. Yeung (syndetics)

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  • The Best of Bond-- James Bond

    The Best of Bond-- James Bond

    A compilation featuring celebrated theme songs from the longest-running franchise in the history of cinema. (syndetics)

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  • The Ballad of Dood & Juanita

    The Ballad of Dood & Juanita

    Simpson, Sturgill

    Following quickly on the heels of his two-part bluegrass excursion Cuttin' Grass, The Ballad of Dood & Juanita finds Sturgill Simpson continuing his retreat to the olden days. A cinematic country & western concept album, The Ballad of Dood & Juanita is set during the Civil War and follows a military veteran called Dood as he tracks down his kidnapped bride Juanita. It's an old-fashioned tale told in an old-fashioned way. Using many of the musicians he did on Cuttin' Grass, Simpson plays an augmented version of bluegrass, taking the time to wander into Latin music and making nods to cowboy tunes. Listen closely and it's possible to discern some progressive politics -- the central figure has left the war between the states to marry a woman who at the very least bears a Latina name -- but The Ballad of Dood & Juanita isn't designed for intense inspection. Written and recorded in a week, it's as swift and easy as a cool summer breeze, its 28 minutes zipping by as Simpson and his Hillbilly Avengers spend as much time picking as they do singing. Its brevity means that The Ballad of Dood & Juanita can initially seem a bit slight, yet it's ultimately quite sturdy, an album that gains its strength from Simpson's dogged dedication to the concept -- there's nothing extraneous in his songs here -- and the impeccable execution of the band. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine (syndetics)

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