Godspeed You! Black Emperor
“ALLELUJAH! DON’T BEND! ASCEND!"
One way to listen to “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!," the noisily underwhelming new album by the Montreal band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, is to disable the higher brain functions and let its spookiness wash over you.
There was a time, in the late ‘90s, when this band had new energy and a mysterious cabalistic power. It was a large, loud, instrumental cooperative; its powerful drones sounded like a mode of resistance against the game of popular music, an endurance test, maybe a torrential moan.
The (band’s new) album is less symphonic and textured than earlier efforts, and feels like a stopgap — more a memento from a current show than a fully blown new work. It includes two 20-minute songs that the band performs now and had also played on tour before its hiatus — “Mladic," with an Eastern European folk bounce at the center, and “We Drift Like Worried Fire," moving from ballad to dirge to stomp — as well as two shorter pieces, around six minutes, new and moody and far less shaped.
The album wears thin in totality, but has isolated moments. One comes 15 minutes into “Worried Fire," when a march rhythm moves into a slightly faster 4/4 groove and the whole song lifts, giving you a pretty solid 90-second high before the repetition lets you down again. And there’s another on “Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable," one of the shorter tracks, where a feedback tone like an ice burn, bolstered by a low-end rumble, suddenly disappears at 4:32, leaving behind weird, echoey, warped-sounding loops. It’s dark and suggestive music: You can almost see it as physical shapes.
— Ben Ratliff, The New York Times
Big Machine Records
A platinum artist many times over, singer Taylor Swift at 22 seems to be on top of the world. She’s earning millions and has touched the lives of generations with her delicate lyrical sensibility and songs of love. She’s a near-constant hot topic on the Internet whose existence is more closely watched than just about anyone’s on the planet. And on “Red," she’s easing into this role.
“Red" is Swift’s fourth album since her breakout debut in 2006, and it’s the most consistently surprising of the lot — even if it reveals an artist whose success has most definitely gone to her head. Completely aware of the scope of her fame, Swift is more often the teacher than the student in her new songs, and in this role she’s offering lessons on the importance of musical versatility while continuing her laser-beam focus on the emotional workings of her heart.
“Red" is a big record that reaches for importance and occasionally touches it, filled with well-constructed pop songs Taylor-made for bedroom duets. If “Everything Has Changed," a powerful collaboration with British singer Ed Sheeran, or the mandolin-driven romance “Treacherous," were automobiles, they’d be parked in an Audi or BMW showroom — sleek, solid and built for comfort. There are no bumps on “Red." Only clean, perfectly rendered American popular music.
But to toss one of Swift’s better similes back at her, the pop fodder on “Red" at its worst feels “like driving a new Maserati down a dead end street."
Whether it’s the harder rock of “State of Grace" or the Hallmark-ready treacle of “I Almost Do," at times Swift resembles a flawless mannequin upon which any number of fashions look fabulous.
In this context, to call Swift’s sonic expansion a brave move is to credit her with accomplishing something more artistically significant than simply shifting toward the center of her demographic. By setting rural music alongside more “urban" sounds of the moment, Swift is arguably just responding to a pop world in which country singles might please her base, but certainly doesn’t expand it.
But that’s the cynic’s view, and Swift on “Red" has little time for cynicism. Rather, she’s striving for something much more grand and accomplished.
— Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
Donald Fagen has never lacked for any words of discouragement when it comes to love. Years of touring with the snarky Steely Dan and his all-star Dukes of September cover band have sharpened the vocalist/composer’s shtick (to say nothing of his feel for slick soul grooves) in the ruined romance department.
With his wriggling voice, icy dry wit and sensual way with ticklish electric piano play, Fagen is still a coy seducer. His album’s brass and reed arrangements are more sophisticated than a Noel Coward play. The vibe is noirish, no doubt.
Only this time, the feel is lighter than previous outings as a solo artist or a Dan — an early dusk rather than a midnight mood. Along with a slinky take on Isaac Hayes’ “Out of the Ghetto," Fagan’s own melodies ooze through cool-headed lyrics like hot caramel dripping onto ice cream. The grumbling blues of “Weather in My Head" and the swinging “Memorabilia" are dashing.
Lyrically, Fagen’s in fine fettle, playing both the wise old man (“The New Breed") and the jovial jilted lover (“I’m Not the Same Without You"). When he squeaks “I’m evolving at an astounding rate" on the latter tune, you believe him.
— A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Temporary Residence LTD
Pinback is either the quietest rock band working, or the loudest pristine pop band working. Whichever it is, the fact that Rob Crow and Zach Smith derive so much muscle and power from so little reliance on volume has always been remarkable, and that amazing restraint has reached an impressive new peak on “Information Retrieved."
As the band’s albums become more ornate, or rather more glossy in their texturing, it’d be easy for them to fall into either toothless sheen or blaring day-glo decibels.
On the new album, they do neither. Instead, they continue the slow growth of their sound, but this time it’s just a little different.
— Matthew Fiander, PopMatters.com
Tony Bennett, on a never-ending quest to improve his voice and delivery, is always searching for new inspiration. The 86-year-old legend finds it for his new “Viva Duets" album by teaming up with Latin music’s biggest stars, including Shakira, Thalia and Marc Anthony.
The new duet partners often draw something new out of Bennett, especially in the playful, bilingual back-and-forth with Thalia on “The Way You Look Tonight" and the jazzy virtuosity he shares with Christina Aguilera on “Steppin’ Out With My Baby."
The crowning achievements, though, come with the drama of faceoffs with Romeo Santos (on “Rags to Riches") and Gloria Estefan (on “Who Can I Turn To?").
— Glenn Gamboa, Newsday