The Strypes: Snapshot (Island/Def Jam) This week sees the release of the debut set from Irish quartet the Strypes, a young, tight and exciting combo of the sort that arises every few years and excites the hell out of generations both young and old. Rocking with stunning precision, with attitude to spare, a charismatic lead vocalist, and nary a wasted note, the band boasts an efficiency and power that can’t help but impress younger music fans; older music fans, on the other hand, might be reminded of the glory days of Dr. Feelgood, the Inmates, or just about any ‘60s band that featured a well-dressed lead singer wearing sunglasses. Having caused a significant buzz at the recent South By Southwest confab and excited nearly every generation of rock fan to be had there, the Strypes will likely continue to make noise until their novelty inevitably thin--and it becomes obvious that the most significant difference between much of this music and the first few Fabulous Thunderbirds albums may be the waist size of the players’ pants.
Foster The People: Supermodel (Columbia) Something of a shocker from the way the music biz lately tends to work: After a flashy, strong-selling debut album with 2011’s Torches, LA’s Foster The People don’t return with a slightly similar set that attempts to duplicate its predecessor but instead have upped their game substantially. Excellent songs, all bearing sophisticated and varied arrangements—and while perhaps there’s nothing here as insanely catchy as “Pumped Up Kicks,” there’s enough subtlety and intelligence on display to make repeated listenings an absolute necessity. It's not supposed to work this way. Great stuff.
Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs: The Dukes Of September Live (Blu-Ray) (429) Who could not feel insanely comfortable by the warmth, soothing familiarity and character of the three men who make up the Dukes Of September--filmed here in late 2012 and evoking nearly every shade of blue-eyed soul and pop to be had? Originally shot for the PBS Great Performances series, this 90-minute set features the collective familiar hits--“What A Fool Believes,” “Lowdown,” “Reelin’ In The Years”—alongside era favorites like “Who’s That Lady” and “Them Changes” and makes any viewer glad to be alive, kicking, and hopefully growing hair, albeit it now gray. Skilled musicians, familiar but not overly so tuneage, and while not particularly challenging, being challenged wasn’t exactly the idea here in the first place. Amazon consumer review excerpts: “Awesome!” “A must have!” You get the idea.
The War On Drugs: Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian) And of course, amid this week’s release of brand new albums, the very best comes from the comparatively unheard War On Drugs, whose 2011 album Slave Ambient was close to that year’s best, and whose latest—their third—carries on that tradition and more. Really the work of Philadelphia’s Adam Granduciel, WOD itself evokes a batch of familiar sounds (Tom Petty, Neu!, Brain Capers-era Mott The Hoople) hyped up with wicked hysteria, sentimental longing, reverberated Dylanesque vocal tremors, and a man completely convinced that he is conveying something important, however vague it might be. Really good, artfully imprecise and impressionistic, and about the only way good rock ‘n’ roll can be taken at this late date without gulping its own tail.
Perfect Pussy: Say Yes To Love (Captured Tracks) An exciting, completely compelling and naturally uplifting statement here from this search engine-able, Syracuse-based rock combo. As the follow-up to the rip-roaringly titled I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling EP, this album is an extreme success: hardcore and loud, balanced to an almost oddly art-rockish degree, the album oozes passion, feeling, and exactly everything that isn’t clinical in today’s rock ‘n’ roll. Really good, invigorating stuff.
George Michael: Symphonica (Island) Those who’ve forgotten how relevant and simply all over the place George Michael was at one time will be nudged in a very good way via his return here with Symphonica, a live orchestral set captured during his 2011-2012 tour, co-produced by Michael and the late Phil Ramone, and filled with ballads, crooning, and standards the likes of “Brother Can You Spare A Dime,” “Feeling Good” and “Wild Is The Wind.” The musicianship is impeccable, Michael himself is in wonderful voice, and the 18-track deluxe version even features a cover of “Roxanne.” A few more upbeat pop hits would’ve made this significantly better as a career statement, but for what it is—a superbly recorded document of a world-class winger with orchestra—it’s hard to knock.
John McLaughlin: The Boston Record (Abstract Logix) It may be something about the album cover, which at first glance might well be offering up the words CREAM, TEN YEARS AFTER of COUNTRY JOE & THE FISH, but there’s a pleasant sense of psychedelia to be had in this live recording by renowned jazz guitarist McLaughlin. Heard with his current band the 4thDimension playing live at Boston’s Berklee School Of Music, the Brit guitar legend offers up material from some recent albums as well as a cover of The Inner Mounting Flame’s “You Know, You Know,” all the while sounding as fiery and electric as he’s ever been. It’s a strong set, and a reminder that at his best, he pretty much rules the electric guitar.
The Pretty Reckless: Going To Hell (Razor & Tie) I would imagine that many people know that the Pretty Reckless is a band featuring Taylor Momsen, a young lady who apparently was featured in the popular TV show Gossip Girl and now—according to a clip I just read that cleverly called her music approach “Joan Jett-lite”—is back and better than ever. Speaking as one who has never seen the show, is unclear if he’s heard the band’s first record, and is drawn to albums solely on the basis of their cover picture, I think this is quite a good rock n’ roll record, I think whatever image Ms. Momsen is attempting to evoke here is a memorable mixture of aggression and vulnerability, and I also think the tunes are dandy. Also, albums about "going to hell" generally rock.
Taking Back Sunday: Happiness Is (Hopeless Records) One of the hallmarks of being a skilled music critic is cultivating the ability to use other people’s words as your own without exactly plagiarizing them! For example: It says in their bio that “Taking Back Sunday are a band who truly need no introduction,” and that’s true! They already know each other! It also says, “Taking Back Sunday are back with their sixth studio album and their first since joining Hopeless”—and if that stuns you, as it did me, you’ll be happy to learn that, at least in this case, “Hopeless” is a record label and not a synonym for “Providing no hope,” “beyond optimism or hope, “ or “desperate”! In the words of our good friends who shop at Amazon: “I am not a fan of this album,” “Snoozeville of a record,” and—tellingly—“Overall a great album.” Between you and me? Let’s go get some clams!