Monday, November 25, 2013

Fall Albums, Part 2

"Shangri La," Jake Bugg.  Jake Bugg doesn't turn 20 until next February, but with the release of "Shangri La," he's already got two outstanding albums under his belt.  There probably isn't a single track on the new album that equals the amazing "Lightning Bolt," but there are definitely subtle advances, which shouldn't come as a surprise given that Rick Rubin handled the production duties.  The album is more consistent, with the biggest advance coming on the slow to mid-tempo tunes.  The best song on the album just might be "Simple Pleasures," and it's a song I'm not sure he was capable of writing a year ago.  On the debut the slower songs came across as earnest if a bit sappy, while on Shangri La they have as much verve as the fast tunes (of which there are plenty).  In fact, there isn't a weak track on the entire album, and Bugg is beginning to sound like one of those artists who comes across once in a generation.  Right now, the sky is the limit, not unlike a rookie of the year in baseball whose second season is even more impressive than the first.
"Reflektor," Arcade Fire.  Right now I'm still having trouble getting my arms around this one.  There's no question that at it's best (the title track, "Normal Person" and "Joan of Arc," for example) this is the most exciting music released all year; however, it's not entirely clear yet whether the entire album meets that lofty standard.  The band deserves a lot of credit for pushing itself out of its comfort zone (although after four albums, it's a little hard to tell exactly what that comfort zone is), but there's something about the entire enterprise that feels a little cold, a little calculated.  The last two Arcade Fire albums were my favorites in the years that they were released, and this one still has a chance, but I'm not quite ready to make that claim yet for "Reflektor."
"Lightning Bolt," Pearl Jam.  Solid and dependable, a perfectly fine Pearl Jam album that will satisfy longtime fans but which is unlikely to reach a crossover audience.  A good example of a veteran band doing its job well.
"Days Are Gone," Haim.  As they made pretty clear on Saturday Night Live last weekend, Haim is more than a slick pop band, although being a slick pop band would be just fine with me.  Songs like "Falling," "If I Could Change Your Mind" and "Don't Save Me" are about as good and hard-edged as great pop gets.  And this is great pop, catchy and intricate in a way that never comes across as overly sappy.  At times, reminiscent of someone like Todd Rundgren at his best.
"Magpie and the Dandelion," The Avett Brothers.  It always worries me when I read that an impending album is comprised of songs that were recorded at the same time as the previous album.  That really worried me in this case, because I was a little disappointed in the "The Carpenter," especially on the heels of the brilliant "I and Love and You."  Fortunately, my worries were unfounded, because "Magpie and the Dandelion" is definitely a return to form, with songs that are true to the "Avett sound" but without the slickness that marred a good part of "Carpenter."  Opening the album with "Open Ended Life" was a masterstroke, because starting off with a fast song reminds people right off the bat that the brothers are about more than just ballads.  And there are plenty of the latter, as well.  Good show.

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