Sinéad O’Connor: I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss (Nettwerk) In another world, it might be easy to deflect the emotional baggage Sinéad O’Connor brings to any musical discussion by going for the easy out—perhaps by making a cow/Bruce Springsteen joke as regards the album title—or playing the sexist dullard and noting that there really is a profound letdown to be had when the gorgeous vixen singing “Take Me To Church” boldly removes her wig at the 1:54 mark in the music video of the same name, but why go for the cheap joke? There’s some seriously interesting stuff to be had here, O’Connor’s in fine voice, most of the music is creatively arranged, and if it weren’t for the indelible image seared into various psyches of Ms. O’Connor ripping up a photograph of a former pope, it might be a tad easier to perceive “Take Me To Church” as an earnest invitation rather than a subtly ominous threat. If she were a brand new artist, many would be raving.
Porter Robinson: Worlds (Astralwerks) If today’s best and most creative DJ’s devote themselves to crafting smooth, rhythmic and uplifting sonic environments—and many maintain this is exactly the case—let’s give a special hand to young Porter Robinson, who with this, his first studio album, has really put together a sophisticated and appealing piece of art. Textured, varied, subtle, the album furthers the arguments put forth in various reviews that Robinson is “post-EDM’s greatest hope” and allows music writers like me to see quotes like the Fader’s “’Sad Machine’ sounds like how it would feel to discover the sun” and spend considerable time thinking about them not just as pieces of actual music criticism but as literally literal concepts! Great record, bodes well for the future, all dance, recommended, et cetera!
Nils Lofgren: Face The Music (Fantasy/Concord) One of the most impressive and ambitious box sets in recent memory, Face The Music is a remarkable achievement: 1) It is lengthy—169 tracks on 9 CDs and 1 DVD featuring 20 video clips; 2) It is comprehensive, featuring guitarist Nils Lofgren from his earliest days in the late ‘60s with Grin, on his own, and well into a career that featured celebrated associations with Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen among others; and 3) It is consistently good, non-repetitive, and irrefutable evidence that rock ‘n’ roll’s very best artists only get better with time. Between those very good, slightly under-heard albums Lofgren recorded with Grin and his more popular early solo albums for A&M in the ‘70s, the man really created a powerfully appealing rock ‘n’ roll persona that this welcome collection again reminds us of: While all this E Street Band success has likely been great for him, the dude responsible for “Keith Don’t Go” and many, many more great tracks deserves a major re-hearing. Kudos to the people responsible for putting this set together, because this is exactly that. So highly recommended it hurts.
[Related: Nils Lofgren turns attention to his own work]
The Rosebuds: Sand + Silence (Western Vinyl) If everybody’s got a favorite little indie band of their own, mine might as well be the Rosebuds, the North Carolinian combo featuring Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp who return here for the sixth official set. While it lacks the emotional depth of its sometimes harrowing predecessor Loud Planes Fly Low—which seemed almost Rumours/Fleetwood Mac-ian in its lyrical subject matter, but bleaker—it’s got the Rosebud essentials: haunting melodies, understated arrangements, and songs that simply sound better and better each time you hear them. Some Bon Ivers and Sylvan Essos are involved and yes, it is indeed the height of bold and independent tastefulness. Which in this case means you should hear it, and soon.
SOJA: Amid The Noise And Haste (ATO) If you’re like me you might’ve been unaware of SOJA—a long-lived combo based in Virginia that has been described as a “reggae and dub” band and who, per their bio, have played more than 360 live dates in the past year-and-a-half. They are the sort of group that has appeared onstage with the Dave Matthews Band and O.A.R., who are enormously popular in concert, and who, as an American band playing reggae, are entirely credible, high-charting rocking dudes. This new set, their fifth, features guest appearances by Michael Franti, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley and Collie Budz, is produced by hipster Jamaican Supa Dups (Drake, Bruno Mars), and will likely win friends, influence people, and make this country a better place. It’s hip!
Ethan Johns: The Reckoning (Three Crows) Already out in Europe and seeing U.S. release this week, this conspicuously tasteful set features production by Ryan Adams and 10 very fine songs by Johns. The pair go back a long way, and this switching of producer/performer roles appears to have worked to everyone’s benefit: There’s a certain rawness and emotion evident on most of these songs that is the antithesis of the general notion of “production”—and capturing it here, allowing the songs to stand on their own and be appreciated, was not a timid move. Though Johns is better known as a producer, and for the work of his famous engineer/producer father Glyn Johns, the time he’s spent with talented people has had an impact on his own career as a writer/performer—and The Reckoning is very good indeed.
Ziguri: Ziguri (Bureau B) Fascinating stuff here, especially to those who’ve been following German music since the glory days of ‘60s psychedelia—or, as some gleefully call it, krautrock. A trio featuring Günter Schickert, Udo Erdenreich and Dieter Kölsch, this band merges the space-rock suggested by the echo-guitar records made by Schickert in the early ‘70s with the sort of pounding rhythms later popularized by Hawkwind’s early excesses or, for that matter, punk rock. And it’s great! The work of a reunited band—they stopped playing in 1997 and only started again in 2011—this album is refreshingly odd to American ears in the same way that, say, Amon Duul II or Guru Guru were back in the ‘70s: There is a certain conviction here that is unmistakable, entrancing and strangely…off. Highly recommended.
Peggy Lipton: The Complete Ode Recordings (Real Gone) A quick nod to the Real Gone label for their continued laudable work in the field of unexpected reissues. Most humans of a certain age who watched the original Mod Squad during its late ’60s run might’ve seen this album in record store racks at the time, but very few likely heard it. Had they purchased it, they’d have heard a completely serviceable vocalist backed by a top-notch batch of L.A. session players, some fine original material, and covers of familiar tracks by Laura Nyro (“Stoney End”)and Carole King (“A Natural Woman”). In two words, good stuff. This new edition features four previously unreleased tracks—including Brian Wilson’s “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”—that only increase this set’s overall appeal. More, please.