Some intriguingly mid-level reissues, sturdy returns from well-known "name brand" artists, and a batch of mildly OK new albums from artists with questionable longevity make this the most exciting album release week since last week!
Uniformly blessed with decorative covers—all of them, fascinatingly, square in shape—the discs can not only be admired for their looks but, for the adventurous among us, played!
Still, as diverse as this batch of new releases may be, they all share one other thing in common! Were you to play them on your stereo very loudly late at night, call up random people, and then hold your phone up to your stereo speakers, they probably wouldn't enjoy it!
The kicker? I suspect these may ultimately be deemed the best albums of all time!
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Last Of A Dyin' Breed (Loud & Proud) A new album by Lynyrd Skynryd? Featuring a pair of tracks called "Last Of A Dyin' Breed" and "Ready To Fly"? I'm glad irony completely escapes me! But this band's classic evolution over the years certainly hasn't! From iconic Southern Rockers to New Wave popsters to Throbbing Gristle acolytes to unexpected Steve Reich-inspired minimalists to uncredited Britney Spears session players to improbably hardcore rappers, good ol' Skynyrd has changed with the times with near-astonishing regularity, always offering up excellent musicianship, crisp musical interplay, and an unparalleled sense of the bizarre! Plus, they're charismatic dudes! I buy one Skynyrd album a year and feel like I've done my duty—what about you? Buy this today!
The Darkness: Hot Cakes (Wind-Up) Like many who find all of rock music patently absurd—well, except for the Eagles and some Garth Brooks stuff—I am completely enraptured by both the music and the actual concept of Brit band the Darkness! Employing all the clichés of old, tired, played-out and excessive '70s rock, the dudes regurgitate it all, with hooks and sly winks a-plenty—imagine the Black Crowes in a world without hemp!—looking like glorious rock stars every moment! Perhaps more importantly, the band has seen fit to adorn their third album's cover with a pleasant picture featuring three scantily-clad med students perched atop giant pancakes and covered with maple syrup! It still floors me that the Smiths' influence is so pervasive! Buy this today!
Ry Cooder: Election Special (Perro Verde) With its red, white & blue cover, its title of Election Blues and an opening track called "Mutt Romney Blues," you've got a topical, extremely well-played album by one of America's finest artists that makes a statement, is not overly concerned with alienating any political factions, and draws more from the American "tradition" with more legitimacy than nearly any political candidate out there. It's a wonderful, timely collection of music that, even with its Romney references, has as much timeless significance as Cooder's cover of "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?" from his 1970 debut album. A bold, profound set from one of this country's greatest artists. Highly recommended.
Trey Songz: Chapter V (Songbook) The fifth album from R&B's highly popular Trey Songz offers songs that will likely be deemed classics in the years to come—most likely via the marvelous "Panty Wetter," which borrows from the likes of Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Gene Simmons and begs to be covered regularly on today's top reality TV shows! Bolstered by the surprisingly religious "Hail Mary," featuring top role models Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne, Chapter V is pure emotion from start to finish, a roller coaster ride that will take you from the bustling streets to the back of an old antique store in Arkansas, where a can of Sterno can be had for less than half a buck and Omar Khayyam's Rubáiyát serves as comic relief! Only a moron would point out that a guy who specifically named himself Three Songs has now put out his fifth album! Buy it today!
Owl City: The Midsummer Station (Universal Republic) I would have liked to have thoroughly listened to this album, because the dude who made it actually seems like he might be interesting, but unfortunately the label only sent over a link to stream it—which theoretically sounds fine, but for those of us who aren't chained to our computers, or get lots of phone calls, or are always off in meetings instead of having fun surfing the Internet and being clever via social media, we take what we can get and instead listen to what we can, when we can. So lately I've been listening to a lot of reissues and albums by new artists whose albums I can actually download or else simply pick up on Amazon because I find them interesting. Lately I've been picking up the back catalog from Malta's Beangrowers, a band I've really come appreciate, though their albums are hard to find here in the States. That said, this new Owl City album has a really cool cover and will probably sound great if I get around to streaming it!
Bailterspace: Strobosphere (Fire) Now here's an album I have been listening to, and it's quite good! Back in the '80s when I was completely enraptured with New Zealand rock, the Flying Nun label and all of that great, slightly off-kilter stuff, this band, an offshoot of the Gordons, played the expected loud, melodic stuff these bands typically did, and did so better than most. They eventually signed to Matador, moved to the US, disbanded, but returned in 2008 and now sound about as good as they ever did! I just listened to them yesterday! What say you buy this, pretend it's 1994 again, and do that whole pre-law thing?
DJ Khaled: Kiss The Ring (Cash Money) One of the more stunning aspects of today's music business is the longevity certain artists—particularly those who seem less than substantial—can maintain through the years! And when those artists seem to actually evolve—to grow as musicians and bring their longtime fans to new, unexpected places—well, I say, more power to them! Thus this unexpected version of Richard Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen by make-up clad rockers Kiss, narrated by some DJ named Khaled (younger and more photogenic!) and as intense as you might expect from the dudes that brought you a primo cover of Argent's "God Gave Rock 'n' Roll To You"! In some ways like The Elder but a bit more upbeat, this may be the best indication yet that rock 'n' roll continues to surprise well into the 21st century! Buy it today!
Six Organs Of Admittance: Ascent (Drag City) About a year or so ago I spent a week listening to ever album I could by Six Organs Of Admittance, and I liked it! I also like this new album cover and the description that this is "an electric-church kind of ceremony: strapping on guitars & drums & letting rip as a 5 piece full-tilt rock band"! That's because rather than take it at face value, I wonder if the writer was consciously employing phrases once used by Buddy Miles and Janis Joplin and was trying to convince me that this music shared certain qualities and standards that those artists themselves did! Then I wondered if that guy on the album cover should have been wearing a spacesuit! I listened to this album a few times and decided I liked it, and then I started thinking about that spacesuit thing again! Sometimes it's really hard to focus!
Los Lobos: Kiko Live DVD (Shout Factory) An excellent set capturing LA's remarkable Los Lobos celebrating the 20th anniversary of their Kiko album live onstage at San Diego's House Of Blues. Certainly one of their best albums and worthy of a thorough rehearing, Kiko has a timeless air about it that is enhanced by the band's spotless performance all these years later. Filled with typical DVD extras—interviews, etc.—it's a worthy document that yet again illustrates that, however fashionable they may or may not be all these years later, Los Lobos are one very fine band.
Dustin Lynch: Dustin Lynch (Broken Bow) While popular country music has always struck me as having a deliberate sense of humor—where, say, puns serve as actual hooks—irony has always seemed difficult to come by. Thus this set's opening track "She Cranks My Tractor" is something of a stunner, as its subject matter is a woman who literally does crank Lynchs's tractor! And on "Rock You Sweet," the singer unexpectedly expresses his love for a piece of quartz he's found in his backyard! Yeah, that's exactly what he does! It's kind of cool! Buy this today!