album reviews

July 29, 2014

Eric Clapton and Friends

The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale Bushbranch/Surfdog

In the early Seventies, after the implosions of Cream and Blind Faith, Eric Clapton found profound influence in the California grooves of reclusive songwriter JJ Cale – who supplied Clapton with two of his biggest solo hits ("After Midnight" and "Cocaine"). Clapton repaid his debt to Cale once with their 2006 collaboration, The Road to Escondido, and he takes that idea a step further with this tribute album, conceived at Cale's funeral last year. Clapton's renditions can be a ... | More »

Jenny Lewis

The Voyager Warner Bros.

Former Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis gave her Rolodex a workout while making her third solo album, tapping a Wrecking Crew's worth of backing musicians: Beck, Ryan Adams (who co-produced seven of the 10 tracks), Lou Barlow and a slew of other pals. The result could have been a muddle, but The Voyager hangs together as a loose yet polished California-pop travelogue of Lewis' endlessly messy life. Her songs are sometimes more revealing than deep ("All those times we were making lo... | More »

Shabazz Palaces

Lese Majesty Sub Pop

Few rap crews are as far-out as Seattle's Shabazz Palaces, whose 2011 breakthrough LP, Black Up, cloaked deep verses and sneaky pop sense beneath plenty of weirdness, with beats and rhymes that sounded like they'd been fed through a fish-tank aerator. On their second LP, ex-Digable Planets MC Ishmael Butler builds even grander spaces to space out in. "Huey beats and Malcolm flow/Intimacies I doubt you know," he posits on "Ishmael," part of a keystone suite that flashes back to ... | More »

Hooray for Earth

Racy Dovecote

"Hey, little one/I'm going to find you," singer-guitarist Noel Heroux promises in "Hey," pressing through a wall of black fuzz and spires of harmonic distortion in a yearning, boyish voice, like a less-nasal Billy Corgan. That intimate desperation, scored with the manicured-guitar heft of Smashing Pumpkins and the chrome-keyboard gleam of the Cars, runs through Racy – the second LP by Heroux's Brooklyn band and a fine new-model blast of classic, alternative rock. There is litt... | More »

July 25, 2014

White Fence

For the Recently Found Innocent Drag City

Tim Presley, better known as White Fence, has been feverishly producing freaky psych couplets in his L.A. apartment since 2008. For his latest LP, he scrapped bedroom recording for a better studio and brought on his friend (and fellow indie cult hero) Ty Segall as a producer. The result is his finest musings yet. Presley's warbled vocals hearken to Frank Zappa's old, weird L.A. while grappling with his present-day isolation. He lays it all bare on "Fear," singing, "I live in fear of... | More »


Nobody's Smiling ARTium/Def Jam

The last time Common released an album, back in 2011, he got tangled up in a halfhearted beef with Drake. This time he's not making the same mistake: Nobody's Smiling, again produced by old Chi-town friend No I.D., features plenty of younger artists – check rising Cali rapper Vince Staples' blunted musings on the gospel-laced "Kingdom." More important, it has some of Com's tightest storytelling in years. If the bittersweet memory-lane stroll he takes on "Rewind&... | More »

The Jayhawks

Rainy Day Music American/UMe

It took these Minnesota alt-country heroes a few years to recover afteco-founder Mark Olson left in the mid-Nineties. But remaining leader Gary Louris was back on his game on 2003's Rainy Day Music (part of a reissue series with 1997's dour Sound of Lies and 2000's poppy Smile). The Jayhawks returned to their early, easeful prettiness, imagining a better yesterday where CSNY got along and Gram Parsons lived to spend the Seventies filling America's station wagons with AM go... | More »

Trey Songz

Trigga Songbook/Atlantic

Trey Songz's sixth LP skates on the edges of modern hip-hop while remaining true to his R&B Lothario roots. With delivery as cool as "Cruisin' "-era Smokey Robinson and R. Kelly real talk ("Cake's on the menu/Ain't I supposed to eat it too?"), Songz gets a little more intimate with the skittery high-hats of Atlanta trap and the friendly boing of L.A. ratchet (courtesy of producers Mike Will Made It and DJ Mustard). The choruses come from rap circa 1997 – Notoriou... | More »


These Days... Top Dawg

L.A. rapper Ab-Soul comes out of the same Black Hippy collective that's produced platinum star Kendrick Lamar and gritty chart-topper Schoolboy Q. With a rep as the crew's most cerebral member, Ab-Soul works a warm underdog weirdness over heavy-lidded beats on his third album. He rarely strives for the depth of Lamar or the intensity of Q; there's plenty of clever imagery on These Days . . . ("Residue on my debit card/Don't tell my moms," he rhymes on "Ride Slow"), bu... | More »

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Song Stories

“Love Is the Answer”

Utopia | 1977

The message of the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" proved to be a universal and long-lasting one, which Utopia revisited 10 years later on this ballad. "From a lyrical standpoint, it's part of a whole class of songs that I write, which are about filial love," Todd Rundgren explained. "I'm not a Christian, but it's called Christian love, the love that people are supposed to naturally feel because we are all of the same species. That may be mythical, but it's still a subject." Though "Love Is the Answer" wasn't a hit, a cover version two years later by England Dan & John Ford Coley peaked at Number Ten on the Billboard singles chart.

More Song Stories entries »