Neon Trees: Pop Psychology (Island/Mercury) There are certain records that seem to arrive at precisely the right time, offering music that resonates, fat-free and without excess, that are fascinating for their absolute purity. And that would be the case for this latest album by Provo, Utah’s Neon Trees, who with their flashy, multi-colored clothes and conspicuous flair for ‘80s-style pop seem slightly out of time—and deliberately so. With its healthy batch of aggressively catchy hooks populating tracks like “Love In The 21st Century,” “Sleeping With A Friend,” and “I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends),” Pop Psychology is buzzing with energy, and with the intelligence of the lyrics throughout—crafted and sung by Tyler Glenn, whose March Rolling Stone interview re his sexual orientation caused a stir—it’s easily one of the year’s sharpest, most delightful surprises. A big step up for a band getting better by the moment.
Bastille: All This Bad Blood (Virgin) Those conscious of how swiftly times change may have noted with dismay or glee that many of this year’s established big names at Coachella—Outkast, say, or rock heavies Bryan Ferry or the Replacements—met less than fully enthused reactions by crowds sometimes unexpectedly small. Word is today’s rock fans were eagerly waiting to see the likes of Future Islands and England’s Bastille, the latter of whom have connected in a major way with their homeland audience and look likely to do the same thing here. This release, a new-and-improved version of their 2013 debut, is a solid bargain for fans old or new, bearing familiar hits “Pompeii” and “Things We Lost In The Fire” and a complete second disc of tunes of comparable quality—which, by traditional standards, means they have now arrived, played to massive throngs at Coachella, issued a deluxe edition of their classic first album, peaked, and are about ready to retire. Professionally speaking, I’m sure glad this EDM thing is happening!
Various Artists: Dunedin Double 2 X 12” (Captured Tracks) I don’t want to get involved in discussions about the ethics of how Record Store Day is systematically penalizing those independent vinyl retailers it theoretically was established to boost—after all, I do own eBay!—but I will praise it for directly causing the re-release of such classics slabs of vinyl as this 1982 2-disc EP featuring New Zealand’s wonderful bands the Chills, the Verlaines, Sneaky Feelings and the Stones, and reigniting interest in the Flying Nun label, to this day a legend. Remastered and reissued as two 45rpm 12” discs by Captured Tracks—who are doing scary good stuff at the moment—this set was just issued in a limited format of 2000 copies and hopefully can be had in some corner of the world for the remainder of the week. This stuff is exactly what Record Store Day needs to celebrate, by the way.
Iggy Azalea: The New Classic (Deluxe Explicit) (Island Def/Jam) Like most blonde Australian beauties born Amethyst Amelia Kelly who moved to the States in 2006 to become a southern hip-hop star—well, like at least a couple of them—Iggy Azelea doesn’t pronounce the word “here” as “hear,” she pronounces it as “Heeeeahhhhhhh,” which is, like most of her music, way too long, derivative, and inauthentic to be much more than a cultural oddity from an extremely attractive model with a funny accent. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Favorites include “New B*tch,” “Rolex,” “F*ck Love,” and a completely inaudible cover of the Bee Gees’ “I Have Decided To Join The Air Force”; guests include T.I., Charli XCX, Rita Ora, Mavado, Timex and the profoundly moving Watch the Duck. Wheel out the Miami Vice logos and get the barbie started!
Black Sabbath: Complete Albums Box 1970-1978 (Rhino) Out last week but well worth noting is this completely fab collection of those first eight Black Sabbath albums featuring the classic original quartet—Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward—and released between 1970-1978. Simultaneously loved and hated by many when they first emerged, mostly for either really rocking intensely or being stunningly dopey, depending on the age of the listener, the band has since become near universally loved. They had a unique, really inimitable sound—let’s call it excessively minimalistic—a batch of unique players, most notably guitarist Iommi and singer Osbourne, and an overall artistic vision that in retrospect truly cannot be denied. Though many call them the progenitors of heavy metal—I’m partial to Blue Cheer, myself—their achievements should by no means be confined solely to that category. Consumer note: Between this set and the recent Rhino boxes featuring the works of Little Feat and ZZ Top, consumers are getting this stuff for top dollar. Get it now while physical objects still exist!
Little Feat: Live In Holland 1976 (CD/DVD) (Eagle Rock) Speaking of Little Feat, the number of albums released by that band actually featuring founder Lowell George—who with pianist Bill Payne founded the group in 1969—was comparatively small. The lamented singer/songwriter/guitarist died in 1979, and this live set, recorded on June 7, 1976 at the Dutch Pinkpop festival, was recorded when the band had yet to release their Time Loves A Hero and Waiting For Columbus sets. Available paired together in audio & video form, this features many of the band’s best-known tunes, and while a tad jam-heavy, it’s a great illustration of how intensely tight and funky this band was in its prime. Like very few others then, they in retrospect helped launch the entire jam-band phenomenon that was to come (and wear out its welcome) decades later.
Kelis: Food (Ninja Tune) With its album cover that looks like an updated version of an old Diana Ross set plastered with four big letters spelling F*O*O*D, tracks with names like “Jerk Ribs” and “Biscuits ‘N’ Gravy,” and a production credit via TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, Food might seem like it aims to be avant-garde as hell—but, in fact, it is about food. Cool! Conveniently, the singer is also hosting a show on the Cooking Channel and introducing a line of condiments called Feast! Capitalism is here and it works! That said, the album spans a range of genres from R&B and rock—“Friday Fish Fry” works for me—and Sitek’s production is consistently innovative. A substantial, strong return for the singer that bodes well for fresh-sounding, deliberately modern R&B.
Keb’ Mo’: BLUESAmericana (Kind Of Blue Music) Tasteful, well-played and sung, and conspicuously respectful of tradition—mostly blues tradition—this new release from the former Kevin Moore is his 12th since abbreviating his name to Keb’ Mo’ 20 years ago and it, like the man himself, is sturdy and reliable. The instrumentation is precise, well arranged and deliberately subtle, and many of the songs echo a description he himself gives one song: “where the blues meets the church.” Inevitably this will turn up in this year’s Grammy nominations—Keb’ Mo’ generally does—and that will not be a bad thing. While he has made a living being all over the place—singing, acting, writing, playing—his music has never lost its core, authentic focus. Which is why “more of the same” isn’t always a bad thing.
Ian Anderson: Homo Erraticus (Kscope) One of the most noticeable aspects of the continuing career of Ian Anderson, the well-known, flute-playing founder of Jethro Tull, is that he—unlike many, many, many of his contemporaries—hasn’t really shown the signs of aging that most of us have taken for granted in our ‘60s-era pop stars. Now 66, the man plays, sings and writes as well as he ever has—certainly as well as he did for much his band’s ‘70s peak—and, as always, his songs remain admirably literate or charmingly incomprehensible. Which means, surprisingly or not, that as albums go, this is quite good.