Music reviews

Jan. 31, 2014

A Great Big World

“IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?”

Epic Records

Considering how unexpected A Great Big World’s breakthrough success with the wrenching ballad “Say Something” has been, it seems only fitting that the duo’s debut “Is There Anybody Out There?” is filled with even more surprises.

Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, who teamed up when they were both at NYU, shot to the top of the pop charts after they memorably performed “Say Something” with Christina Aguilera on “The Voice,” the raw breakup song becoming even more poignant as a duet between Axel and Aguilera.

However, those looking to place A Great Big World into a small, acoustic balladeer box will be shocked by how eclectic “Is There Anybody Out There?” is musically and lyrically.

How it all fits together is probably a mystery to everyone but A Great Big World, but they approach it with such passion and joyfulness on “Is There Anyone Out There?” that you end up going along for the wild ride and enjoying it.

— Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

Matt Wilson Quartet + John Medeski

“GATHERING CALL”

Palmetto Records

You can’t talk about drummer Matt Wilson without talking about swing, that pulse of jazz that’s been his specialty on more than 250 recordings as a sideman. Reconvening his longtime quartet, Wilson again shines with some unexpected help in keyboardist John Medeski.

Often lumped into some jam-band ghetto for his ventures with the avant-funk trio Medeski Martin and Wood, Medeski’s talents have long been harder to pigeonhole, including a contemplative solo record in 2013. Here, he’s a precisely moving part on an album that should be mandatory listening for traditionalists and jazz-curious Phish-heads alike.

— Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times

Bill Callahan

“HAVE FUN WITH GOD”

Drag City Records

A companion to last year’s acclaimed “Dream River,” Bill Callahan’s new “Have Fun With God” is a remix record that reimagines each of the eight tracks as though channeled through Kingston, Jamaica. This is Bill Callahan in dub: bass-heavy, echoed examinations of “Dream River” songs that have been stripped of much of their structure to create something else altogether.

The practice was common in 1970s reggae, when artists such as Burning Spear and Peter Tosh offered both studio recordings and “versions” of the same song. The most influential producers, most notably King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry, helped give birth to remix culture.

“Summer Dub” samples the phrase “I painted…” and loops it among psychedelic atmospherics, reverb-drenched flute and percussion. At one point the track nearly consumes itself with echoes of echoes.

As a stand-alone entity, “Have Fun …” is a mesmerizing, and utterly strange, listen. Though hardly essential for anyone but hardcore fans, it’s a solid stab at the subgenre.

— Randall Roberts,

Los Angeles Times

Young the Giant

“MIND OVER MATTER”

Fueled by Ramen

Young the Giant surprised the rock world with its smashes “Cough Syrup” and “My Body” in 2010, unusual anthems that connected with huge audiences. When it came time to follow up the successful debut, though, the California band froze for a bit.

“Mind Over Matter” is their post-writer’s-block effort, and it feels oddly unsure and confined. There’s clearly some worry they’re trying to shake off, especially in the single “It’s About Time,” where they discuss paralysis and lurch into Incubus territory.

— Glenn Gamboa, Newsday