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. ~allmusic.com

 

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, allmusic.com

Makaya McCraven--In These Times

One of the greatest traits for jazz as a musical pursuit is its ability to accommodate many other sounds, approaches, and even genres under its umbrella while renewing itself in the process. In These Times, by beatmaker/drummer/mixing desk wizard Makaya McCraven, is an excellent new chapter in this evolution. Here he relies on more than a dozen collaborators recorded in five studios and four live performances; McCraven's extensive post-production assemblage happened at home. The title track has an orchestral frame thanks to a string quartet, Joel Ross' marimba, and Brandee Younger's gorgeous harp. It shifts tempo and dynamics, crossing sheeny chamber soul and funk to prog rock as guitars, double-timed drums, and a soaring alto and synth cascade around a baby sitar. With its long gestation period, In These Times accumulated an arresting abundance of ideas, sounds, textures, and styles. The album is its own jazz labyrinth, and as such is destined for repeated listening and startling discovery.~Thom Jurek, allmusic.com

Joe Strummer--Joe Strummer 002

Two decades after his untimely death at the age of 50, Joe Strummer is still synonymous with the Clash, a band that notoriously dissolved in 1986 leaving behind one of rock's most influential legacies. Joe Strummer 002: The Mescaleros Years box set makes the case that at the time of his death, he was making some of the most vibrant music of his career. In the late '90s, a newly invigorated Strummer had fallen in with a younger crowd that included acid house producer Richard Norris. The lawless nature of Britain's rave culture meshed with Strummer's own ideals and a project began to take shape that fused the roving campfire scene he'd been promoting with the spirit of the electronic underground.  Writing with renewed purpose and playing with youthful vigor, he was about three-quarters of the way through the third Mescaleros album when a heart attack suddenly ended his life in December 2002. Core bandmates Martin Slattery and Scott Shields were left to finish the album from the existing sessions. Far from being a posthumously assembled curiosity, Streetcore is, in fact, magnificent, a fiery and cohesive collection widely considered to be Strummer's best work since London Calling. In hindsight, going out in such a blaze of glory seems an almost inevitable outcome for one of rock's greatest firebrands and his legacy has only benefited in the years hence. Joe Strummer 002 box set is worth its weight simply for containing remastered versions of all three Mescaleros albums, but the copious liner notes, ephemera, and bonus disc of demos and rarities make it essential. ~Timothy Monger, allmusic.com

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, allmusic.com


Moor Mother- Jazz Codes

Moor Mother (aka Moor Mother Goddess or MMGz) is the solo outlet for Philadelphia-based artist Camae Ayewa. Moor Mother's music combines social issues with a visceral blend of hardcore electronics and her intense poetry, taking influence from punk, hip-hop, jazz, soul, and numerous other genres. Moor Mother's second release for Anti-, Jazz Codes, is a companion to her 2021 album Black Encyclopedia of the Air, which was a bit more accessible than her other works, yet just as fearless and genre-defying.  Jazz Codes had its genesis in a book of poems about several iconic blues and jazz artists and performers. Her lyrics reference the entire history of revolutionary Black music, celebrating the legacies of important artists while keeping a focus on the road ahead. Opener "Umzansi" features Ayewa's Black Quantum Futurism partner Rasheedah Phillips, namechecking John Coltrane and chanting "Quantum, Black in the moment" over a footwork pulse elevated by Mary Lattimore's gentle harp plucks  Melanie Charles and Orion Sun guest on abstract neo-soul songs with slow, knocking beats and mellow keys, lyrically evoking Mary Lou Williams and Ella Fitzgerald. Of the more overtly hip-hop tracks, Akai Solo and Justmadnice trade forceful guest verses on "Rap Jasm," and "Real Trill Hours" starts with Ayewa's trippy, pitch-shifted verse in front of Yung Morpheus' calm, confident rapping. On the outro, Thomas Stanley reflects on the word jazz's origins as a term related to sex, and suggests that it hasn't fully lost its older meaning, as jazz is a living music.~Paul Simpson, allmusic.com

 

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