Atoms for Peace

XL Recordings
The groove is paramount on “Amok,” the first album by Atoms for Peace. It's the band Thom Yorke of Radiohead put together in 2009 to perform songs from his 2006 solo album, “The Eraser,” bringing together Radiohead's producer, Nigel Godrich, with a Los Angeles rhythm section: Flea, the bassist from Red Hot Chili Peppers; the widely recorded studio drummer Joey Waronker; and the Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco, who has toured with the Chili Peppers. Onstage, they made the austere arrangements of “The Eraser” kick like dance music.

Atoms for Peace started recording “Amok” in 2010, with the band building studio jams on Yorke's electronic tracks. Those recordings were then returned to computers and painstakingly dissected for useful ideas, which were then layered and transformed and shaped into songs around Yorke's bittersweet falsetto croon. His endlessly glum lyrics, and an album package with glimpses of Los Angeles, hint at English propriety giving way to California temptations and then regretting it. In “Default,” he sings, “I laugh now/ But later's not so easy/ I gotta stop/ the will is strong but the flesh is weak.”

The music only offers deeper entanglements. By themselves, or in other arrangements, Yorke's vocal melodies could be clearly delineated pop verses and choruses. But his voice doesn't usually float into the mix until other parts are already busily in motion. The songs don't prize catchiness; they're too busy tweaking and interweaving, toying with texture and momentum.

The tracks coalesce out of low, skulking bass lines; ticking, pattering, ratcheting percussion; isolated keyboard motifs and an occasional guitar lick. It's a constantly metamorphosing blend of the physical and the artificial, of the hand-played and the electronic, of loops and sequences, of patterns and impulses. More sounds are heaped on as the songs progress: counterpoint and percussion, buzzes and snickers, wordless vocals, all ricocheting around Yorke's implacably mournful voice.

He's surrounded, even besieged. “You don't get away so easily,” he warns repeatedly in “Stuck Together Pieces.” Yet at the same time, there's sheer exhilaration in the profusion of rhythms.
— Jon Pareles, The New York Times

The Mavericks

“In Time”
The Valory Music Co.
From beginning to end of the Mavericks' reunion album “In Time,” the genre-busting band embodies the very best of the melting-pot experience that's a fundamental component of the American character. Singer-songwriter Raul Malo and his Nashville-based compatriots draw freely, and joyously, from regional cultures spanning North and South America on a collection that will be hard to top as the year's most scintillating pop music outing.

The party begins in the opening track, “Back in Your Arms Again.” A fat, twangy chord from an echo-drenched country guitar shares space with a lilting strummed Hawaiian uke, which are quickly joined by a peppery Tex-Mex keyboard and timbales that ride along as propulsive rhythm section jumps in. Then Malo's soaring tenor arrives, bringing palpable romanticism to a tale about the sweetness of reunion that applies equally to the song's romance-minded protagonist as his band's own return to the spotlight.

The spirit of inclusiveness never lets up, infusing the pedal-to-the-metal punch of “Lies,” the mariachi-spiked breakup celebration in “Fall Apart” and the Tex-Mex fiesta of “All Over Again.” And if there isn't a pop vocal Grammy Award next year for Malo's stunning display on the eight-minute operatic Latin-pop-gospel epic “(Call Me) When You Get to Heaven,” awards overseers ought to just pack it in and say “Adios.”

Malo, whose Cuban heritage comes out in the dance-mindedness of nearly every track, also co-produced the album with Niko Bolas, and they've captured a sound as tangibly uplifting as pop music gets. The Mavericks are back and indeed, just in time.
— Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times

Johnny Marr

“The Messenger”
New Voodoo Records
Johnny Marr has built up so much goodwill over the years — as the guitar genius who gave musical shape to the Smiths, as a sideman with everyone from Tom Jones to Talking Heads — that it feels a bit mean to give “The Messenger” a lukewarm review.

In fact, the 49-year-old jangle-pop master's first proper solo album is pleasant, polished, and full of the clean, understated playing that's been Marr's hallmark for decades. But while Marr makes strides as a front man, whooping it up on the galloping “Upstarts” and telling a coming-of-age tale in “New Town Velocity,” he lacks pizzazz as a singer and lyricist.

For legions of longtime fans, “The Messenger” will be a most welcome arrival. But while he's an adequate singer, Marr's “voice” is most clearly heard in his guitar playing, and none of the songs here leap out and grab the unconverted.
— Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Beach Fossils

“Clash the Truth”
Captured Tracks
In the past, Beach Fossils have been a bit of a one-trick pony, as winsome as its music could be. Under all that conspicuously dated reverb, “Clash the Truth” is a necessary step forward for the group, showing a more-rounded approach as instrumentalists and greater variation in songcraft that will hold it in good stead once the appeal of merely sounding like a low-budget '80s post-punk record loses its drawing power.

Despite the undying retromania, the gimmicky production, and the at-times frustratingly short song times, “Clash the Truth” is tuneful and nuanced enough to warrant repeat listens even after other like-minded travelers are inevitably forgotten in favor of the next musical revival.
— AJ Ramirez,

Various Artists

“Son of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys”
ANTI- Records
It goes without saying that the double disc “Son of Rogues Gallery,” a 36-song compendium featuring Keith Richards and Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Michael Stipe and Courtney Love, Johnny Depp, Macy Gray, Dr. John and many others, is a rambling, shambling affair.

The sequel to 2006's “Rogues Galley,” the current seafaring collection once again has longtime “Saturday Night Live” musical director and professional eclecticist Hal Willner acting as the musical captain of the ship. And while the results are all over the place, they're also remarkably consistent and inspired, a collection of ghostly, doomy, yet full-of-life singalongs.

Unexpected highlights include such only-in-Willnerworld oddities as Anjelica Huston and the Weisberg Strings' “Missus McGraw” and an Antony, Joseph Arthur and Foetus version of “Barnacle Bill the Sailor.” There are also standout tracks from Shane MacGowan, Iggy Pop, and Marianne Faithfull with Kate and Anna McGarrigle.

— Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer