Leonard Cohen, Usher, Willie Nelson and Tokyo Police Club top this week's new music
Leonard Cohen. (Postmedia Network files)
ALBUMS OF THE WEEK
You Want it Darker
If you thought Leonard Cohen couldn’t get any darker … well, you’re probably right. Truth is, despite the title of his 14th album, the 82-year-old singer-poet isn’t changing his tune much here — not that he needs to. His third release since unretiring in 2008 continues his remarkable late-career renaissance, offering another gorgeously shaded collection of slow-pitched, gravel-throated odes to forsaken love, tested faith, impending death and world-weary loss (along with one that probably has nothing to do with the U.S. presidential election, but sure seems like it could). And thanks to the help of son and producer Adam, his philosophical musings and tender mercies come gently wrapped in a tastefully understated and lightly orchestrated mix of postmodern blues, gospel, country, mountain music and more. And don’t be fooled; despite all his talk of snuffed flames, leaving the table and getting out of the game, it’s clear Cohen is still enjoying himself way too much to turn out the lights just yet.
Every Time I Die
Devastation and desperation. They’ve been inspiration for countless artists. But few take it to the extremes of Buffalo’s Every Time I Die and Burbank’s Touche Amore, whose albums coincidentally chronicle horrific events in their singers’ recent pasts. ETID’s Keith Buckley struggles to endure a life-threatening health crisis faced by his pregnant wife, shrieking lyrics like “I saw the end and I was truly afraid” against metalcore tracks whose frenzied intensity parallels his emotional turmoil. Touche Amore’s Jeremy Bolm tries to cope with the death of his mother from cancer, working through his grief, regret and guilt — “Someone you love is gone; it leaves you fractured,” he confesses — while his bandmates temper their post-hardcore gallop and wallop with gloomier and more contemplative elements. In the process, both bands deliver the most intense and meaningful albums of their careers. Punk doesn’t get more real. Or more cathartic and compelling.
NOW HEAR THIS
Hard II Love
“I f---ed up,” claims Usher at the start of his eighth album. Romantically, perhaps. But musically? No chance. The darkly potent Hard II Love marks Raymond’s return to R&B form, ditching dance and pop for classic slow-burn grooves and and sensual lyrics — while still leaning forward with adventurous electronics and production. It’s the best of both worlds.
22, A Million
By the numbers? Not Justin Vernon. The restless Wisconsinite continues his artistic evolution on his third and most experimental disc to date. Moving beyond his indie-folk roots into atmospherically sombre, cryptically titled songs built around synths, samples, itchy textures and his tender falsetto, Vernon continues to defy expectations. And exceed them.
Maybe it’s the new bassist. Maybe it’s the new producer. Or maybe they just needed to scrape off some rust. Whatever the case, Black Francis and his rejuvenated Pixies come closer than ever to conjuring the weird old magic on their energetic, endearing and noisy sixth disc. Sure, at its best, it still sounds like an old Pixies album. What did you expect?
The Divine Feminine
Love does a man good. Just look at Mac. The Philadelphia hip-hopper’s relationship with Ariana Grande has helped him create his sharpest and strongest work — a loose concept album about love, romance, connection and sex, featuring soulful tracks, way more singing than rapping, and VIPs like Kendrick, Ceelo and yes, Grande. Make the commitment.
We’re All Gonna Die
If anybody is trying to carpe their diems to the max, it’s Dawes. The Californians take a massive leap into unknown terrain with their fifth set, downplaying the rootsy Laurel Canyon folk of their previous discs in favour of darkly spacious, ambitiously eclectic indie-rock that’s closer to My Morning Jacket than CSNY or Eagles. Death definitely becomes them.
No, not in the Grand Funk sense. In the patriotic sense — depending on your view. Patterson Hood and his southern rockers mark their 20th anniversary with their most overtly topical and political album, weighing in on race, guns, the Confederate flag and other pressing issues — which only serve to sharpen the edge of their already-potent sound. Salute.
For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price
Willie and Ray went back — the Red-Headed Stranger even played bass for The Cherokee Cowboy in the ’60s. Now, with his old boss and frequent duet partner gone, Nelson pays tribute by applying his tenderly grizzled touch to Ray’s shuffling honky-tonk and sweet countripolitan ballads. Even better: Vince Gill and his Time Jumpers play on half the cuts.
It can be an affirmation. It can be a warning. But in the case of Warpaint’s third album, that two-word title is both. While the disc starts off illustrating the female L.A. psyche-rock quartet’s stated goal of more upbeat immediacy and less overthinking, it slowly but surely loses steam in the back half, fading out in half-formed gauzy swirls. Ups and downs.
Breakin’ Outta Hell
Full points for timing. Mere days after AC/DC wrapped their latest (and perhaps final) tour, these Aussie acolytes return with a fourth full-length of hard-driving, high-voltage odes to sex, booze and rock ’n’ roll played deafeningly loud. Basically, they’re out to write every great song Bon, Angus and Malcolm never got around to — and so far, so good. Dynamite.
Mount Ninji & Da Nice Time Kid
The greatest sin is to be boring. Particularly for a band like Die Antwoord. Just four albums into their career, the South African provocateurs appear to be running out of steam — and out of tricks, based on this batch of cartoonish silliness, half-baked ideas, stunt cameos (including Jack Black and a six-year-old rapper), and molasses-slow tracks. Nice try.
Bridget Jones’s Baby
Some soundtracks focus on new material. Others go for oldies. Much like Bridget herself, the disc to her latest rom-com can’t quite decide. So it has shimmery electro-pop cuts from Ellie Goulding and Years & Years, a stripped-down Ed Sheeran number and more — along with a batch of classic soul singles and a portion of its score. Eminently skippable.
Something old, something new, a little Kid Rock and plenty of Trews. The Nova Scotia Can-rockers finally do the retrospective thing, cherrypicking more than a dozen hits and highlights from their five albums — then topping up the roster with single and EP gems, a couple of rarities, three strong new rockers and more. If you’re a fan, now’s the time.
Tokyo Police Club
Melon Collie and the Infinite Radness (Part Two)
The bad news: They didn’t go with Return of Jafar! as a subtitle. The good news: TPC’s second EP of the year carries on from where its summery predecessor left off, with the same superior and irresistible pop songcraft, but with several cuts that boast a slightly darker emotional vibe, plus a little more noise and dynamic tension. How about a threequel?
Monstereophonic (Theaterror vs. Demonarchy)
Lordi, Lordi. Look who’s getting ambitious. For their eighth sacrilegious studio missive, Finland’s costumed Eurovision champions unleash a two-pronged attack: Threaterror features the grandiose Satanic shock-rock anthems you expect, while Demonarchy stretches its legs with longer, darker and more aggressive fare. Either way: Rakeita Saatana!
Claustrophobia, paranoia, suffocation and psychosis. They might not work for you, but they pay off handsomely for Gonjasufi. San Diego singer-producer Sumach Ecks third disc is a dark fever-dream of psychedelic experimentalism that casts aside traditional structure for freeform excursions to the dark side of his mind (and yours). Don’t turn out the lights.
Five of a kind? Not a chance. Singer-guitarist Rodríguez-López continues to mix it up with the fifth of a dozen biweekly album releases. This time out, psychedelic pop is the order of the day, with delicately breathy vocals, jaunty organ lines, jangling guitars and swirling sonic textures. Nearly halfway home and dude still sounds like he’s getting warmed up.
He’s still gotta be funky. At 82 years young — and more than 45 years after his ribald hit Chicken Heads — R&B vet Rush hasn’t lost his touch. Or his nasty edge. The King of the Chitlin’ Circuit is up to his old tricks on his umpteenth disc, singing the praises and joys of catfish stew, nighttime gardening and yes, porcupine meat. If you know what he means.
ALL THIS JAZZ
Country for Old Men
Western swing? Not exactly. Sure, jazz-rock guitar hero Scofield and his longtime trio tackle country classics by Hank, Dolly, Merle and, um, Shania on his umpteenth album. But the instrumental results — while twangier at times than his usual approach — are still based in his groovy post-bop comfort zone. Still, you don’t have to be an old dude to dig it.
More like Jazzed. After being compared to Billie Holiday for decades, scratchy-throated Gray finally takes the hint and makes her first full-on jazz outing. Cut in a former Brooklyn church over two days, it finds her revamping her own hits (including I Try) into smoky ballads, along with a few new originals and even covers of Marley and Metallica. About time.
Robert Glasper Experiment
Be-bop and hip-hop. Classic and contemporary. Studio and live. Instrumental and vocal. Organic and electronic. Pianist Glasper and his bandmates mix them all — and that’s just the first cut on their third full-length. Add in everything from Vocorder-infused R&B and funk to blazing guitar solos and you have one of the most fearlessly eclectic discs of 2016.
Jazz is what you make of it. And make it out of. For award-winning singer and former backup vocalist Smith, the latter consists of supple R&B, soul and funk grooves, along with revamped covers of songs from Hall & Oates, The Beatles and even Charlie & The Chocolate Factory — all delivered with her fittingly warm pipes and sunny disposition. Sweet.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
What happened? Well, first Liz Garbus made a heralded warts-and-all doc about one of jazz’s most uncompromising artists. Then the 101-minute film aired on Netflix, exposing it to a massive audience. Now it’s returned on DVD and Blu-ray, augmented by 15 minutes of bonus interviews and — best of all — 15 Simone classics on CD. It’ll put a spell on you.
IN THE PIPELINE
Doyle Bramhall II
The Art of Elegance
The Serpent Only Lies
Following My Intuition
The Holographic Principle
Dream Too Much
F E A R
Keep Me Singing
For Better, or Worse
Remember Us To Life
World Gone Mad
Live in San Diego With Special Guest JJ Cale
Machine Gun: Jimi Hendrix The Fillmore East First Show 12/31/1969
These Dreams Will Never Sleep: The Best of Graham Parker 1976-2015
The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones in mono
The Studio Collection
Temple of the Dog
Temple of the Dog (25th Anniversary Reissue)