Morrissey: World Peace Is None Of Your Business (Harvest) There are very few people in popular music more interesting than Morrissey: He is driven, with the Smiths alone he has left a spectacular legacy—and that was long ago—and, whether via scattered interviews or his own autobiography, his every utterance is persistently fascinating. He is also the best song-titler in the business, and between this album’s title track, “I’m Not A Man,” and “Kick The Bride Down The Aisle,” he has not lost his knack in the slightest. His first album in five years, WPINOYB is substantial, predictably quotable (“Wolf down/ T-bone steak/ Wolf down/ Cancer of the prostate” from “I’m Not A Man,” etc.), and just on the right side of being catchy, which is not insignificant for a man whose major talents have historically been penning catchy lyrics, giving good quotes, and occasionally, almost randomly, being unusually profound. Nancy Sinatra and Pamela Anderson didn’t simply appear in this album’s accompanying music videos—he had to ask for them.
Bleachers: Strange Desire (RCA) You can’t help but admire the skills and drive powering Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff, a man who whether with the distastefully punctuated band fun. or his earlier Steel Train has been making consistently appealing and commercial pop music for more than a decade. This new project, which features Antonoff with unexpected guests including Yoko Ono and Grimes, contains the well-known track “I Wanna Get Better” and lots more material equally as appealing. There’s an interesting blend of the contemporary (via the mixing) and gleefully retro, ‘80s-esque stuff going on here that makes Strange Desire a smart and subtle listen for longtime music fans: It’s that perfect blend of hook-filled art that may, as an added bonus, make someone somewhere a lot of money. Imagine that.
Luluc: Passerby (Sub Pop) Anyone who unknowingly picks up this quietly special set by Australian duo Luluc-- Zoë Randell and Steve Hassett—would not be blamed for being reminded in mood and temperament of the sort of subtle English folk Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention pulled off in the late ‘60s. Nothing really English traditional here, but the pair, who caught the attention of famed record producer Joe Boyd—himself an integral part of that very scene—popped up twice on last year’s Way To Blue – The Songs Of Nick Drake tribute, produced by Boyd, and it was a very good fit. Officially Luluc's second album—their debut Dear Hamlyn came in 2008—Passerby is gorgeous and refined through and through, and likely to sound as timeless as all that great stuff Joe Boyd himself produced back in the late ‘60s.
John Hiatt: Terms Of My Surrender (New West) It’s easy to take for granted the work of true professionals like John Hiatt—who’s been at it for years, releasing album after album, building an audience and maintaining it skillfully, and simply doing his job. But it’s worth stepping back and considering exactly how rare artists of his caliber are: Terms Of My Surrender is Hiatt’s 22nd studio album, and while it certainly sounds Hiatt-like—these days that would mean bluesy-leaning and filled with singing a bit lower than the old days—it sounds like an energized, emotional set of compelling songs and playing. And the character that has populated the best of Hiatt’s songs remains: As a writer, singer and player, he’s hard to beat. Pick up the deluxe edition of this and you’ll get a live DVD, shot in 2013 and a reminder of a still very bright and bold talent.
Slow Club: Complete Surrender (Wichita) Back with a third, very strong album, Sheffield, England’s Slow Club are an attractive and talented boy/girl combo who started out cute/folksy, got a tad electro-esque on album two, and now seem divinely inspired by some of the more subtle elements of American R&B of the early ‘70s. Between them—Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson—there’s still a taste of fey, a hint of high-pitched Bolan falsetto at the end of a passage here and there, that gives Complete Surrender a modern edge that demands repeated listening. We will hear more from these people.
The Clean: Anthology (vinyl box, MP3)(Merge) If you are a fan of the modern-day glories of vinyl and influential bands deserving broad recognition, you must pick up this 4-LP set, which duplicates Merge’s 2003 2-CD best of anthology and reveals all that is grand about this pioneering New Zealand group. Formed in the late ‘70s in Dunedin, the punk-rooted combo featured brothers David and Hamish Kilgour and Robert Scott (also of the equally fab Bats) and helped launch the legendary Flying Nun record label, one of the most admired in enlightened pop history. Naturally featuring best-known tracks like “Tally Ho” and “Point That Thing Somewhere Else,” Anthology is a beautifully packaged reminder that really great pop music always, in some capacity, will keep popping its head up. Highly recommended.
Cowboy Jack Clement: For Once And For All (I.R.S. Nashville) If you’re going to launch a new country music label in 2014, who better to launch it with than the legendary Cowboy Jack Clement? Recorded during the last year of his life—he died last August at the age of ’82—For Once And For All is only Clement’s third album, but the cast it features reflects a legacy that goes back years and years. Among those helping out are Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Duane Eddy, Dan Auerbach, John Prine, Dierks Bentley, Leon Russell and…many, many others. It’s a fine, folksy—not folkish—record that evokes the best of country tradition, is utterly listenable, and is maybe the best starting place for newcomers looking to explore Clement’s extraordinary career.
Woman’s Hour: Conversations (Secretly Canadian) Favorite album of the week come via this London quartet’s tasteful and evocative debut set, which with the understated vocals of Fiona Burgess and the spare instrumental backing might remind a few of Young Marble Giants and the Gist. Just barely. But there is a lushness here that looks distinctly and agreeably forward, and Conversations sounds better with each listen. Seek it out.