Music releases

Justin Bieber

“Believe Acoustic”
Island Records
The instincts behind Justin Bieber's “Believe Acoustic” are understandable. Biebs wants to be taken seriously as an artist and as a man. However, applying the same simple acoustic arrangement to the big pop productions of his “Believe” album doesn't help his cause.

The stripped-back takes on “Beauty and a Beat” or even “Boyfriend” are interesting because they differ so much from the originals. But the other acoustic takes quickly become unnecessary since the vocals and tempo barely change.

“Believe Acoustic” feels like a shortcut to seriousness that he didn't need to take. Relax, Biebs, your life is great.
— Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

My Bloody Valentine

Early Saturday evening My Bloody Valentine released “mbv,” its first record in 22 years, on its website, without much warning. Well, there was some: The English-Irish band's principal songwriter and wool-gatherer, Kevin Shields, had been promising a new album — but he had been making those promises for almost half his life.

Unsurprisingly, “mbv” sounds like a sequel to “Loveless,” its much-loved antecedent and highest achievement of the post-punk subgenre often called shoegaze; it builds out from the earlier record, and establishes the same relationship to your ears.

Built into the music's outer layers are distortion and reverb and slow, wavelike applications of Shields' tremolo bar; down below, neutrally pretty and almost disembodied pop singing, by him or the rhythm guitarist Bilinda Butcher, as well as drumming minimized to a floppy stomp or a kick-drum thump. The drones of the Velvet Underground and La Monte Young are in there; so is the sweetness of the Carpenters.

Listening to both records is a deeply interior act, and a safe one. You're inside the music's loud undulations, and also inside your endlessly fascinating self. You are also inside your house, because you are a person of patience and a record collection and it is perhaps not unusual that you stay home on Saturday nights.

The best part of “mbv,” which is a comparatively strong record given the length of the layoff and the almost complete absence of what you might call contemporary urgency, is a minutelong section of “Only Tomorrow.” It is a simple song with kinks, like a lot of Shields' work: the verse comes in nine-bar segments when you expect eight, and repeats twice when you would expect once.

And at the start and end of the long instrumental bridge — or whatever it is — Butcher, her voice echoed-up and edgeless, sings a single note that slowly rises high and disappears.

During that same stretch, Shields' guitar sound intensifies, becoming so overmodulated that it muffles the rest of the band and the track seems to crack into dust.

This is vivid music, with color and texture and perhaps taste.
— Ben Ratliff, The New York Times

Tim McGraw

“Two Lanes of Freedom”
Big Machine Records
“Two Lanes of Freedom” is Tim McGraw's first album since he announced that he gave up alcohol five years ago. It's also his first record for Big Machine Records and he looks hale and hearty in the album's accompanying videos.

It all signals a major new start for McGraw, one of pop-country's bestselling but critically assailed figures. If only the songs on “Two Lanes” were as honed and wiry as their singer. The album should keep him atop the country commercial firmament, but doesn't really advance him as an artist.

The record is brawnier than most of McGraw's catalog, with lead single “One of Those Nights” built on the rock guitar riffing that McGraw and Co. showcased on a recent stadium tour with Kenny Chesney. But the writing is as modern-country-boilerplate as it comes — an ode to drinking away a heartbreak in Mexico (“Mexicoma,” a pun that borders on Nashville-factory camp), a paean to hillbilly life (“Truck Yeah”) that's flagrant in its attempt to coin a party slogan.

“Highway Don't Care,” McGraw's collaboration with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban, is a blowout of a send-off ballad, and we're glad McGraw beat his demons and is looking great. But it's a shame he didn't take the musical chances that can also mark a new beginning.
— August Brown, Los Angeles Times


“Wonderful, Glorious”
Vagrant Records
Fans of the Eels will be surprised to know that the band's frontman, Mark “E” Everett, seems to have been lifted from his melancholy — a sentiment that has inspired the band's previous material. Even the title of the Eels' 10th record, “Wonderful, Glorious,” oozes optimism.

The album's opener exudes funk and sex appeal, thanks to E's unique vocals. The song “Peach Blossom” is melodically interesting, with a pounding, rhythmical drum and angry guitar.

“On the Ropes” does hark back to the indie rockers' original sad sound with lyrics like: “I'm not knocked out, but I'm on the ropes.” It's reminiscent of moments on the band's “Electro-Shock Blues” (1998) and “Blinking Lights and Other Revelations” (2005) albums. While “Wonderful, Glorious” is interesting and good, it doesn't match up to the Eels' previous work. We prefer E's tortured soul.
— Sian Watson, The Associated Press

The Bronx

ATO Records
As its title implies, “IV” is the fourth studio album from this long-running Los Angeles punk band. But that total comes with an asterisk: Following “III” in 2008, the Bronx effected an unlikely transition and released two records — both excellent — as Mariachi El Bronx, an honest-to-Dios mariachi outfit complete with brass and guitarron. Now the group has shed the charro suits and returned to its original sound with 12 serrated hard-core jams about wasted youth and suicide. “We're not here to entertain you,” singer Matt Caughthran snarls in “Ribcage,” “We don't care about your rights.”

That's undoubtedly true. Yet the Bronx hasn't forgotten what it learned in its more agreeable guise. In “Pilot Light,” guitarists Joby J. Ford and Ken Horne weave crisp melodic lines with newfound precision, while Caughthran sings as much as he screams throughout “IV”. “Along for the Ride” could pass for something by Foo Fighters, who invited Mariachi El Bronx to open a string of arena shows in 2011. There's even a kind of power ballad near the end of the album in “Life Less Ordinary”: “I'm not ashamed to say I've lost my mind,” Caughthran croons tenderly over a wash of deep-fuzz electric guitar. Then he audibly clears his throat, wary perhaps of presenting too much beauty.
— Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times

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