How To Destroy Angels
“An Omen" EP
One of the prettiest songs of the year, How to Destroy Angels' “Ice Age" was in part crafted by an artist best known for his tense discomfort. Trent Reznor, whose early career was spent in a testosterone swirl of machine-gun rhythms but who over the years developed a way to wallow in a slower, creepier kind of misery, has let in some sunlight.
“Ice Age" is one of six songs on the group's fantastic new EP, and it stands out for singer Mariqueen Maandig's wisp of a voice. Known around L.A. as the former vocalist of West Indian Girl, her work throughout “An Omen" offers a brand of texture otherwise unavailable to deep-voiced Reznor. But that stands to reason: How to Destroy Angeles is its own beast, a collaboration among Reznor, Maandig (who is Reznor's wife), Atticus Ross and Rob Sheridan.
Taken together, “An Omen" draws on turn-of-the-century trip-hop — slow, syrupy rhythms with space for breathing and post-hip-hop beat — as well as the 1980s electronic experiments of Throbbing Gristle and its many offshoots (“How to Destroy Angels" is the title of a Coil song). “Hold It Together" is a feast of synthetic frequencies and rubbery beats, warm with energy despite voices whispering, “I don't believe in anything." And “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters" feels like a 1970s experiment in synthesizer programming, like Conrad Schnitzler or Tangerine Dream taken to another realm.
— Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
“Take Me Home"
This quintet is the only act from the United Kingdom ever to debut at No. 1 on the charts with its first album. That's right — not The Beatles, not the Stones, but the Simon Cowell-created boy band One Direction. The group's popularity has translated into massive tours sold out well into next year, as well as a new album, “Take Me Home," that has plenty riding on it.
But the only way their rocket ride to stardom will continue is if they keep things fun. So that's what they go for on “Take Me Home."
The fizzy single “Live Like We're Young," with its co-opting of The Clash's “Should I Stay or Should I Go?" for its opening and its poppy, sing-along chorus, is right on target. They strike again with “Heart Attack," which grooves like Miley Cyrus' “Party in the U.S.A." and has loads of goofy “ow!" screams and vocal tics. And when they really let loose on the playful, jangly guitar party “I Would," only the hardhearted would be able to stifle a smile when they declare, “I can't compete with your boyfriend; he's got 27 tattoos!"
Sure, it's a manufactured good time, but their target demographic doesn't know any better, and who wants to ruin that party before it's necessary? One Direction is harmless fun — the musical equivalent of one of those cute kitten videos. Nothing wrong with that.
— Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
“The Amsterdam Concert — December 1960"
First Hand Records
You might call this “The Road to Carnegie Hall Part 2." After a near-death experience from hepatitis late in 1959, Garland decamped to London, where a series of recording sessions and concerts led up to her return to New York in her famous “Live at Carnegie Hall" concert and album. This live set was recorded by Dutch radio four months before New York with Garland in excellent voice and sounding incredibly relaxed and playful.
The repertoire is close to “Carnegie Hall," but tempos are less driven. After an uncertain beginning, there are superior readings of such songs as “You Go to My Head" and “Come Rain or Come Shine." During the latter, she runs out of breath on the final note (as at Carnegie Hall) but later explains how she usually disguises such things. It's all very candid and homey, especially during encores.
— David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Warner Bros. Records
What a difference a year — and an onstage outburst — make.
Near the beginning of 2012, the commercial rock world was abuzz with news of Green Day's forthcoming trio of studio albums, called “Uno!" “Dos!" and “Tre!" What once felt like the beginning of a new Green Day now seems like something it just wants to get over with.
Into this chaos comes “Dos!" The good news is that it's a far better record than “Uno!" In fact, it's an excellent Green Day album — one of its best — a catchy, revealing work that surprises with its willingness to explore ideas that the band members may not have invented, but which, fed through Green Day's filter, become theirs.
The adventure on “Dos!" is great news, considering that when “Uno!" was released on Sept. 25, it landed with a thud. The record felt like a bottle rocket when we were promised Roman candles, a work whose biggest surprise was how unsurprising it felt.
If “Uno!" seemed to be a closed system, with Green Day working to flex its '90s punk muscles, on No. 2 the group has gone open-source, allowing in a much wider range of sounds and styles.
All the songs might sound a little like something else, and the result is a record that jumps around like a mixtape of undiscovered hits. And unlike its predecessor, which just wasn't all that fun, the chords on “Dos!" levitate Billie Joe Armstrong's personality while pushing Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool in surprising directions.
— Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
Is Brian Eno's ambient music pure bliss or pure tension? You can definitely hear it as tension — not so much music's usual tension of harmonic relationships, of development and resolution, but the listener's tension of taste and judgment, between recognizing what is beautiful and what is vapid.
This is my problem, or yours, but probably not his, because “Lux," his new album — one 75-minute track with 12 sections, and Eno's first ambient record in seven years — is complete in itself. It is killingly beautiful, and doesn't do any more than it sets out to do, which is, in a sense, very little.
“Lux" can be background music, yes, especially for an activity you aren't invested in. It can be foreground music, too, perhaps until you lose patience with it. Eno is interested in any means of perceiving music outside of how it is normally consumed: We tend to look for controlled narrative, clear hooks and signposts and signifiers, and some sort of emotional path to learn more about its creator, whereas he likes to suppose that none of this matters.
There are moments of tension in each section of “Lux" — possibly accidental in composition, probably intentional in postproduction. But these sounds are ravishing: piano notes rich in reverb and overtones with hail-drop hammer strikes and deep burgundy finishes; ice-pop synthesizer tones; and, at points, a strangely distressed and chipped-up little sound, like air whistling through a keyhole, or a furious and quiet violin pizzicato. It's hard to tell if it's real or digital.
— Ben Ratliff, The New York Times