Sunday, November 29, 2009

New Music : November 24 - 30

Rihanna "Rated R"
Long awaited after such a dramatic year or so outside of the studio, the fourth full-length album from the Barbados-born pop icon is the first since her highly publicized split from Chris Brown, and that ordeal seems to have galvanized the singer. She sounds angry and hurt, and throws around a lot of swear words. She gets plenty of all-star assistance: Ne-Yo wrote and produced the creepy "Russian Roulette"; Slash fires off some generic riffs on "Rockstar 101"; and one of the album's best moments, "Cold Case Love," comes courtesy of Justin Timberlake. What you don't hear much of are the killer hooks that made "Good Girl Gone Bad" so unstoppable; even at its angriest, nothing here approaches "Breakin' Dishes." Despite its title, "Rated R" isn't as edgy as it could be.

Shakira "She Wolf"
Her third English-language album which was postponed so many times that it seemed inevitable the final product would disappoint. Like the hit single of the same name, "She Wolf" offers up a nifty selection of lightweight yet catchy electronic jams, augmented with Latin and dance hall touches. Plus there's the out-of-sync charm of her ESL lyrics, which range from name-dropping Matt Damon ("Men in This Town") to using three-dollar words like "lycanthropy," to heighten her idiosyncratic appeal. She co-wrote and co-produced all but one song, and kept her pool of collaborators small.

Susan Boyle "I Dreamed a Dream"
Shae became a cyber-sensation. First the Scottish singer ignited YouTube, landing more than 300 million hits with her little "Les Misérables" ditty. Now her full-length debut is setting records as the most preordered album in history. In addition to her signature tune, Boyle's 12-song set includes several sacred classics ("How Great Thou Art," "Amazing Grace"), interspersed with unique interpretations of the Rolling Stones ("Wild Horses") and, um, Madonna ("You'll See").

Adam Lambert "For Your Entertainment"
From its Sylvester-goes-New-Wave cover art to the saucy electro-strut of the Lady GaGa-penned "Fever," the Idol finalist's debut offers a welcome reminder that rock 'n' roll is supposed to be fun. Even silly. Just listen to the way he ecstatically tears into the opening cut, "Music Again," written by Justin Hawkins of the Darkness, or Pink's confrontational contribution, "Whataya Want From Me." Lambert's album may not be rocket science, but it sure sounds jet-propelled. "Time for Miracles," a tune from the "2012" soundtrack, is a bonus cut.

Lady GaGa "The Fame Monster" (rerelease)
A case of making a good thing better. Great anthem like club hit, "Bad Romance", has teens cuckoo for bath haus video, but "Video Phone," her duet with Beyoncé, is the tune about to blow up. Breat gesture by GaGa's marketing and record label team for making the eight-song add-on available separately, for those fans who already bought "The Fame".

Other New Releases Worth Checking Out:
(Have not listened to, but please feel free to post a review)

Tom Waits: "Glitter and Doom [Live]"
Wiz Khalifa: "Deal or No Deal"
Tom Petty: "The Live Anthology"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Music : November 17 - 23

Norah Jones "The Fall"
Jones returns with the slow-dances-and-love-scenes café jazz that made her a star. Far from her modest 2nd album, she really experiments with her trademark sound. Working producer Jacquire King (Modest Mouse, Kings of Leon), Jones seems inspired in this new album - check out shuffling opener "Chasing Pirates". "Light As a Feather," a collaboration with Ryan Adams, nails the sweet spot between blues, torch song, and raw country with one of Jones' finest vocals. Additional musicians and co-writers of note include Marc Ribot, Smokey Hormel, Joey Waronker, and Will Sheff of Okkervil River.

50 Cent "Before I Self Destruct"
This is the 4th album from hip-hop's mogul and he is still able to get so much mileage out of the same formula: rhymes about firearms, premium spirits, attitudes toward women that make cavemen seem like radical feminists, and all of the accompaniments of the gangsta lifestyle are still here. Pop-leaning cuts with sledgehammer hooks, and production from heavyweights like Dr. Dre and Polow Da Don. Eminem drops by, making loco fingers around his ears on the wheezing "Psycho."

John Mayer "Battle Studies"
Recorded primarily in his private California home where he lived and worked simultaneously, this 45-minute set features a pairing with Taylor Swift ("Half of My Heart"), his own variation on Robert Johnson's "Crossroads", and the recent singles "Who Says" and "Heartbreak Warfare." Mayer even critique's his own album via Twitter on @johncmayer. Here's a tweet posted from Nov. 10: "It's been extremely uncomfortable at times to stay open and honest, but I feel like 'Battle Studies' may be proof it was worth it."

Leona Lewis "Echo"
After the global success of "Spirit," and its best-selling single "Bleeding Love," the pressure to solidify her status as the Universe's Next Top Diva with her sophomore release must be intense. Despite its title, Lewis' sophomore set isn't a rerun of her first, although ballads like "Don't Let Me Down" (co-written by Justin Timberlake) won't shed those pesky Mariah/Whitney comparisons. Dance floor banger "Outta My Head" comes courtesy of Swedish pop wunderkind Max Martin, while "Love Letter" shoehorns Lewis into a Kelly Clarkson-style rocker with mixed results."Brave," with its subtle Middle Eastern flourishes, displays the nuanced drama of a classic James Bond theme song.

Annie "Don't Stop"
Amidst your big names shines an underground artist who's become synonymous with contemporary pop at its finest, even if she's hardly a household name. Hip kids on both sides of the Atlantic have embraced Norwegian electro-pop artist Annie since her 2004 breakthrough singles "Heartbeat" and "Chewing Gum." After numerous delays, her inventive yet accessible second album finally arrives, spanning a gamut from the mysterious "Marie Cherie" to the drill team stomp of "Hey Annie." In a perfect world, "My Love Is Better," featuring guitar by Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand and giddy production by Xenomania (Girls Aloud), would flood the nation's ears as quickly as Britney's mind-numbing "3" did.

Crooked Vultures "Self Titled"
The self-titled debut from the kick-ass triumvirate of Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, and Led Zeppelin vet John Paul Jones packs a heavy wallop, yet also incorporates plenty of eyebrow-raising weirdness. Hints of glam creep into "Reptiles"; "Caligulove" dives into gut-bucket soul-rock a la Black Keys; and "New Fang" throws down some hard-driving boogie.

Other New Releases Worth Checking Out:
(Have not listened to, but please feel free to post a review)

Kid Sister "Ultraviolet"
Robbie Williams "Reality Killed the Video Star"
Rakim "The Seventh Seal"
Dilana "Inside Out"
Jace Everett "Red Revelations"

Friday, November 13, 2009

New Music : November 10 - 16

Wale "Self Titled"
This Washington, D.C. rapper generated underground buzz aplenty these past few years. "Chillin," the lead single from his debut album. His hit "Attention Deficit" Samples Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye" and taps Lady GaGa to imitate M.I.A. His 14 selections incorporate '70s Afro-funk ("Triumph"), vintage soul mixed with go-go ("Pretty Girls"), sinewy, barely-there electronic squiggles ("Let It Loose") and much more. His mix of producers is equally eclectic: TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, Cool & Dre, the Neptunes, Green Lantern, and Mark Ronson. There are plenty of prominent cameos, too, including K'naan, Chrisette Michele, Jazmine Sullivan, and Pharrell.

Bon Jovi "The Circle"
The New Jersey rockers return to the sort of uplifting, working-class arena rock that initially brought them fame during the 80's Glam Rock Era, and move away from the Nashville influence of their previous full-length, "Lost Highway." Speaking of highways: Having racked up the No. 1 grossing tour of 2008, Bon Jovi will return to the road in 2010, with two years worth of shows in 30 countries already lined up, including a residency at London's O2 Arena.

Britney Spears "Singles Collection"
Her infectious title track, another creation by evil Swedish genius Max Martin (Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Pink), entered the pop charts at No. 1, the first record by any artist to do so in three years. However, if you've downloaded that song already, buying "The Singles Collection" seems redundant; there's nothing else new here, although the inclusion of recent hits like "Womanizer" and "Piece of Me" makes it a much stronger retrospective than 2004's "Greatest Hits: My Prerogative."

Flyleaf "Memento Mori"
The sophomore set from the Texas modern rock quintet is a Latin expression that translates roughly as "remember you will die." Which is a backward way of summarizing the album's message to live life to its fullest. "Each day is a new beginning," says guitarist Sameer Bhattacharya. "It's never too late to become the kind of superhero you imagined you'd be when you were a kid." Singer and lyricist Lacey Mosley has one of those love-it-or-hate-it voices, a la Alanis Morissette. Yet it's hard to deny the melodramatic appeal of these 13 new selections, produced by Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, Papa Roach, All-American Rejects).

Switchfoot "Hello Hurricane"
This band has enjoyed terrific success in the contemporary Christian market. But please don't pigeonhole the San Diego five-piece. New tunes like "Needle and Haystack Life" and "The Sound (John M. Perkins' Blues)" are polished, radio-friendly alt-rock. Those are just two highlights from their seventh full-length. This collection of new tunes is produced by Dr. Dre and Eminem affiliate Mike Elizondo. Switchfoot's good intentions: Throughout their current North American tour, which concludes Dec. 9 in Boston, the band is conducting a canned food drive.

Wyclef Jean "From the Hut, to the Projects, to the Mansion,"
Quite the humanitarian, who over the years has gone to great lengths to assist the people of his native country, via his Yéle Haiti charity. That cultural heritage also colored the material on a new concept record on which he assumes the role of Toussaint St. Jean, a character inspired by an 18th century revolutionary. His comrades-in-arms include Eve, Timbaland, and Cyndi Lauper, plus T.I.'s right-hand man, producer DJ Drama. Although "From the Hut" features 13 selections, it is billed as an EP; a new, self-titled Wyclef album is slated for release next spring.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

New Music : November 3 - 9

Weezer's "Raditude"
A record full of big guitars and radio-friendly riffs. Rivers Cuomo and company dish out nervy power-pop, a la Cheap Trick and the Cars, on "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To," and glam it up for the arena-sized "Girl Got Hot." They get creative with A Lil Wayne collaboration "Can't Stop Partying," and the Bollywood fantasy "Love Is the Answer."

Soundtrack from "Glee."
New selections from the show about an oddball high school choir. "Glee: The Music, Volume 1" collects 17 of them. The best bits are still the arrangements that take risks with classic rock staples ("Don't Stop Believin'," "Somebody to Love"). In addition, Jill Scott's "Hate on Me" or Rihanna's "Take a Bow." Removed from the context of the show, and ingested back-to-back, the music loses some of its impact, but still worth listening to.

Carrie Underwood "Play On"
Since her 2005 victory, she's won four Grammy Awards, racked up 10 No. 1 country singles, and been inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame (right up there with Wanda Jackson and Patti Page). On her third album, Underwood continues writing more of her own material (she has a credit on seven of the 13 songs) and says she opened up lyrically. But there are also contributions from Top 40 pop heavyweights, including Kara DioGuardi, Max Martin, and Mike Elizondo; the latter, a cohort of Dr. Dre and Eminem, had a hand in her attitude-saturated smash "Cowboy Casanova."

Amerie "In Love & War"
The fourth album from this talented, yet underrated r&b diva. Her 2007 release, "Because I Love It," was barely released in America. That's a pity, since the R&B singer's aesthetic is refreshingly difficult to pigeonhole; at her best, she's the kind of wild card pop act Janet Jackson wishes she still was. Something in the breaks, scratches and audible crackles on her underrated summer jam "Why R U" gave it an edge more reminiscent of '90s trip-hop than contemporary Top #40. With a little push from her new label, Def Jam, more folks may discover what sets Amerie apart.

Slayer "World Painted Blood"
The ninth album from the two-time Grammy Award winners, is the first they wrote entirely in the studio, rather than working up material beforehand. Guitarist Kerri King has told press that the disc is a little more eclectic than most of their catalog, likening it to 1990's "Seasons in the Abyss" in that regard. The 11 selections include "Psychopathy Red," the hardcore punk number they showcased on limited edition 7-inch single last spring, and the whiplash-inducing tempo changes of "Hate Worldwide."

Morrissey "Swords"
A collection of B-sides spanning his 2004 return to form "You Are the Quarry" to the present. Pointed selections like "Good Looking Man About Town" and "Don't Make Fun of Daddy's Voice" are strong along with the deliverance of a cover of Bowie's "Drive-in Saturday".