Neil Young with Crazy Horse
Neil Young has often found ways to push forward while looking back, whether writing nostalgic songs as a young man (“Helpless”), exploring American history (“Pocahontas”), or periodically reconnecting with his longtime pals in Crazy Horse, as he does on “Psychedelic Pill.”
He's been playing with guitarist Poncho Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot, and drummer Frank Molina since 1975, and they're still a lumbering, powerful, intuitive force, as they proved earlier this year on “Americana,” their rewardingly idiosyncratic take on old folk songs.
Even more than that album, “Psychedelic Pill” is a Crazy Horse-lovers dream, a two-disc set that alternates three-to-four-minute garage stomps with four epic tracks that stretch from eight to nearly 28 minutes and allow plenty of time for Young to dig deeply into his distortion- and feedback-drenched guitar solos.
It's a companion piece, in a way, to “Waging Heavy Peace,” Young's new autobiography, with first-person songs about channeling his rage (including his frustrations with recording technology), about his admiration for Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead, about being “Born in Ontario,” about the failed (or foiled) dreams of the '60s.
— Steve Klinge, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Bat For Lashes
“The Haunted Man”
A picture might be worth a thousand words, but the stark NSFW cover of Bat for Lashes' “The Haunted Man” says much more than that about the music contained in the album. While any written description of the artwork can't quite capture what's going on in it, suffice it to say that the black-and-white photo of Natasha Khan, “au naturale,” with a naked male body draped over her shoulders, is as exposed and intimate as the songs on “The Haunted Man” are.
More than anything else, the photo makes a strong impression that signals there's a change in tone and approach to Khan's latest effort, as she tamps down the hippy-dippy elements of her earlier discs and goes for something more immediate and gripping.
— Arnold Pan, PopMatters.com
Gary Clark Jr.
“Blak & Blu”
Warner Bros. Records
Gary Clark Jr., the 28-year-old guitarist from Austin, Texas, has been killing it with regularity out on the road for the last couple of years, from the South by Southwest festival in his hometown to Made In America in Philadelphia to the White House, where he shared the stage with Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger and President Obama.
Though the former teen prodigy has released independent albums before, “Blak & Blu” is both his major label debut and chance to properly introduce the range of his talents to the non-festival-going public.
He makes the most of the opportunity. Opening with the aptly titled “Ain't Messin' Around,” Clark has already showed off his Jimi Hendrix/Stevie Ray Vaughn chops by the time the second song, “When My Train Comes In” has arrived. From there, he demonstrates various and sundry moves, from the pop hooks of “Travis County” to the hip-hop flavored beats of “The Life” to the doo-wop woo pitching of “Please Come Home” and still more impressive contemporary soul of “Things Are Changin'.”
Anybody who's seen Clark on stage knows he's already a devastatingly good live act. “Blak & Blu” makes it clear the guitar slinger can back it up in the recording studio.
— Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Titus Andronicus has a theatrical streak that works because it never drifts from the pure pleasures and volatile energy of rock music.
The band's new album, “Local Business,” tries to move away from the larger narratives of “The Monitor” towards something more contained. Its best parts retains the band's taut energy, but aside from lacking the interstitial speeches of its predecessor, the band hasn't really pared back much here.
“Local Business” has lots of fascinating things to say about control but sometimes it gets lost in its own unruly order. It doesn't repeat, necessarily, and actually argues for Titus Andronicus's records not as separate parts but more as connected chapters in the band's story.
— Matthew Fiander, PopMatters.com
Swedish House Mafia
Like a snippet of a hit song in one of their fast-moving DJ sets, the dance-music megastars of Swedish House Mafia are leaving us almost as soon as they arrived. Today, the Stockhom trio launches its so-called One Last Tour, a global trek scheduled to play the 35,000-capacity Los Angeles State Historic Park next March.
You can understand the group's early retirement as a going-out-on-top maneuver. (Surely that's how Swedish House Mafia understands it.) But might Axwell, Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso be going out too early? “Until Now,” their second full-length, comes just as a growing crew of dance producers are moving successfully into pop.
And nothing about this vocal-heavy set suggests an aversion to pop. In “Calling (Lose My Mind)” Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic works his sensitive-dude falsetto over surging synths, while a remix of Coldplay's “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall” somehow boosts that tune's earnest effervescence. “Don't You Worry Child,” featuring John Martin, is even more immediate, with a throbbing keyboard riff and a lyric about meeting “a girl of a different kind.” It sounds more like a beginning than an end.
— Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
“Good kid M.A.A.D city”
Dr. Dre's most promising protege since Eminem differs from the hazy Illmatic-ATLiens hybrid he invokes in some key ways, with an Occupy Wall Street-worthy understanding the most obvious: “We're living in a world that come with plan B/ A scapegoat cuz plan A don't come free.”
From the Gil Scott-Heron quote about “people living their life in bottles” to “You moving backwards if you suggest you sleep with a Tec,” no rapper this loving and calm has ever had this much cred, much less hailed from Compton, Calif.
His affinity for women and sex is a relief, the Nas-conjuring “The Art of Peer Pressure” says it all about his gang acquaintances, and on the big battle showcase “Backstreet Freestyle,” he compares himself to both MLK and OJ.
— Dan Weiss, The Philadelphia Inquirer