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album reviews

EMA

The Future's Void Matador
8

Is EMA's "So Blonde" the most 1994 song of 2014? Erika M. Anderson, a punk-rock daughter of South Dakota, yowls about lost youth in the big city ("Livin' underground like I don't know what to fear/Barely survived my 27th year"), with guitar chords that could give you third-degree grunge burns. Anderson's excellent second album builds on the stark confessional style of her low-fi 2011 debut, Past Life Martyred Saints, exploring piano ballads ("3Jane") and industrial rants (... | More »

April 4, 2014

Kaiser Chiefs

Education, Education, Education & War ATO
7

This record should come with a case of Harp Lager and a picture of David Cameron to throw your empty cans at. Kaiser Chiefs' fifth album is full of frothingly pissed-off working-class British rock, with shades of glam, pub rock, the Jam's lefty-mod broadsides and Oasis at their most soccerhooligan-y. The wry Brit pop of Blair-era hits like "I Predict a Riot" has been displaced by dourness; that's what a few years of Tory rule will do. But the charging stomp of "Misery Comp... | More »

Shakira

Shakira. RCA/Sony Latin Iberia
7

If you're Shakira's ex-boyfriend – specifically, the one who sued her for $100 million in 2012 – you really don't want to hear this record. On Shakira., the Colombian-born singer and hip-shaker rejoices in dissing men who lie and "just want your money," while salivating over a new love's "legs that never end." She pins huge choruses and a mercurial vocal tone to music that's so effortlessly eccentric and omnivorous you'll hardly notice when a banjo (a... | More »

Liars

Mess Mute
7

This globe-trotting trio have an uncommonly diverse dossier: over seven albums, Liars have ranged from dance-punk chants to prog gloom to primal-rock action. They've never made the same album twice – and they've never made a dull one. Here, they reach for a macabre death-disco vibe. The first half has dance beats, even evoking the B 52's in the vintage synth bop of "Mess on a Mission" – the first Liars song anyone could describe as "perky." But the quieter seco... | More »

Manchester Orchestra

Cope Gentlemen/Loma Vista
6

On 2011's Simple Math, this Atlanta band played indie rock full of grand ambitions and experimental loose ends. This album sets lyrics about shaky adulthood to meat-and-potatoes guitar rock (think MMJ via Foo Fighters). There are big, well-crafted hooks on the Oasis-y "The Mansion" and the melancholy slow-burner "Indentions," though they're often stuck in clunky arrangements and muddy self-production. Singer Andy Hull warbles about getting beyond grudges ("Every Stone"), divorce ("C... | More »

Various Artists

Working Man's Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard Broken Bow
5

Merle Haggard is still country music's standard-bearer of blue-collar authenticity, and this collection – part tribute, part label showcase – features hard-partying Nashville heartthrobs like Jake Owen and Dustin Lynch pledging allegiance and hoping to gain some credibility. Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley do a melodramatic arena-rock version of "Pancho and Lefty," and Garth Brooks ("Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down") and Randy Houser ("Ramblin' Fever") fare better play... | More »

April 1, 2014

Leon Russell

Life Journey UMe
7

After 50 years as a session player, producer, songwriter, label owner, rock star and – on 2010's The Union – as Elton John's duet partner, Leon Russell could tell tales strong enough to curdle milk. Instead, the 72-year-old pianist crafts a less slanderous but equally colorful musical autobiography on Life Journey, a wry collection of blues, jazz and pop oldies fleshed out by two Russell compositions, the ribald rocker "Big Lips" and the big-band finale, "Down in Di... | More »

Mac DeMarco

Salad Days Captured Tracks
7

"Macky's been a bad, bad boy," Mac DeMarco declares on his second album. Glance around the Internet, and you can see why: The 23-year-old Montreal indie rocker loves to get naked, smoke and crossdress. It'd be easy to write him off as another product of Generation Selfie. But Salad Days is packed with wry, knowing lyrics and washed-out vocals, like a meeting of Stephen Malkmus and Marc Bolan. On "Let My Baby Stay," he ruminates on relationship paranoia, and "Brother" philosophically... | More »

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Song Stories

“Road to Nowhere”

Talking Heads | 1985

A cappella harmonies give way to an a fuller arrangement blending pop and electro-disco on "Road to Nowhere," but the theme remains constant: We're on an eternal journey to an undefined destination. The song vaulted back into the news a quarter century after it was a hit when Gov. Charlie Crist used it in his unsuccessful 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Florida. "It's this little ditty about how there's no order and no plan and no scheme to life and death and it doesn't mean anything, but it's all right," Byrne said with a chuckle.

More Song Stories entries »
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