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album reviews

Sia

1000 Forms of Fear RCA/Monkey Puzzle
8

In the four years since Australian powerhouse Sia's last LP, her sound has become ubiquitous, even if her face hasn't. She's written hits for Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Rihanna – the vocal dips and midtempo melancholy of "Diamonds" are Sia's signatures – and this album will likely be just as ubiquitous. Her knack for heart-swelling choruses shines through on a set of tracks you might play while winning a marathon: There's triumph in her tiniest ti... | More »

La Roux

Trouble in Paradise Cherrytree/Interscope
7

Elly Jackson is the best kind of cyberdiva – brassy, hooky, nearly invulnerable. On La Roux's second LP, her vintage synth-pop magnificence (see 2009's hit "Bulletproof") has warmed into the sort of electro-disco drama you imagine the Daft Punk robots blasting as they cruise down Highway 1. "Paradise Is You" is a Phil Spector-ish evocation of Sixties girl-group ache; "Sexotheque" rides wiry Nile Rodgers-style funk guitar. The track that most recalls Jackson's debut w... | More »

July 1, 2014

Old Crow Medicine Show

Remedy ATO
6

On their eighth album, this roots-music party band still acts as if electricity was never invented: In "Doc's Day," street musicians toss their amps and drums after being scolded by an old hillbilly. But every time the group appears to be degenerating into cliché, singer-songwriter Ketch Secor throws a curveball – about the sad state of modern political discourse or the funeral of a soldier friend – and drags Appalachia into the present. And as they did with "Wagon Whe... | More »

June 24, 2014

Mastodon

Once More ‘Round The Sun Warner Bros.
7

"This time, things will work out just fine," drummer Brann Dailor sings in a rare moment of sunshine during the charging second track on Mastodon's sixth headbanging LP. The mercurial metalheads have improved on the lean hard-rock pummel of 2011's The Hunter with lattices of ornate riffs and primal vocals, but those intricacies verge on being too much of a good thing over the course of the album's 11 tracks. The band sounds best when taking cheerful risks, as with the "hey... | More »

Bassnectar

Noise vs. Beauty Amorphous
6

Low-end theorist Bassnectar's tenth LP is his most mature. Known mostly for extremes of sternum-caving bass, the festival star balances out his sound here with ominous strings ("F U N"), an Edge-y guitar line ("You & Me") and a trap-inspired banger that sounds like Dr. Dre's G-funk played on a crystal flute ("Don't Hate the 808"). Bassheads should celebrate too: The drops still sound like robot Pantera. | More »

How to Dress Well

What Is This Heart? Weird World
6

Tom Krell, the velvet voice of How to Dress Well, is at his best when he's most vulnerable. His early recordings were grief-stricken and raw; subsequent releases have expanded and refined his sound without ever quite reaching the same heights. Krell's third LP continues to elevate his R&B-inflected music into sonic clarity, though his emotions remain muddled as ever. The spare, lovely intro "2 Years On (Shame Dream)" puts his multitracked falsetto over minimal instrumentation; o... | More »

Circulatory System

Mosaics Within Mosaics Cloud
7

For two decades, W. Cullen Hart of Athens, Georgia, has been one of indie rock's great psychedelic visionaries – recording two cult-classic LPs with the Olivia Tremor Control in the Nineties, then plunging even deeper into the dream with this band starting in 2001. Circulatory System's third proper album, their best since their debut, is a leisurely suite where kaleidoscopically sweet vocal melodies and folky instrumentation drift in and out of focus, occasionally resolving in... | More »

June 23, 2014

Ed Sheeran

X Atlantic
6

On his second album, X, Ed Sheeran supersizes his romantic affliction: Each new day is a fresh chance for this guy to hit the bar, fall in love, get his heart stomped like a bug – and then dissect the gory remains over a pretty acoustic melody. A pop-wise folkie who's equally comfortable in coffee shops and the Top 40, Sheeran, 23, has written with Taylor Swift and for One Direction, among many others. He went multiplatinum with 2012's +, and it seems like the experience might... | More »

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

More Song Stories entries »
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