Albums Reviewed by Alex Bieler and Ben Speggen
And now for your listening pleasure, four albums reviewed.
Who's Feeling Young Now?
Leave it to a group of virtuosos to make an album sound so effortless. For a progressive bluegrass band made up of immense individual talents, "Who's Feeling Young Now?" displays The Punch Brothers meshing together without problem, creating an album that sways between breathtaking ("Movements and Locations") and bouncy ("This Girl"). With Chris Thile and his mandolin centering the group, each member adds their own piece to the puzzle – a few strains of Gabe Wichter's violin here, some plucks of Noam Pikelny's banjo there – to give each song just the right blend of the quintet's expert talents. The band even throws in a pair of disparate instrumental covers, giving Väsen's "Flippen" a traditional bluegrass feel while remaining extremely faithful to Radiohead's "Kid A," possibly the album's biggest jaw-dropper. Cover or not, "Young" packs quite a punch throughout.
Reign of Terror
Mom & Pop Music
Two years ago, Sleigh Bells burst onto the scene with their debut LP "Treats," and they weren't quiet about it. The boy-girl duo of Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss eschewed the trend of folkie indie darlings like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, instead pairing thunderous guitars with sweet vocals that grabbed critics by the collar. The volume is still there on "Reign of Terror," but the party seems to have calmed down. Stepping away from "Treats" hip-hop beats, "Reign" strips down enough to give Krauss more of the spotlight. While "You Lost Me" and "Crush" employ the right blend of breathy vocals underscored by 80s style metal power chords, the quieter approach doesn't always work, such as on the forgettable final two tracks. Still, "Demons" and the fantastic "Comeback Kid" hit hard enough to keep the party going long into the night.
Fifteen years into his musical career, Damien Jurado continues to pump out consistently good albums. On "Maroqopa," his latest release, Jurado teams back up with producer Richard Swift to push some sonic boundaries on the albums ten folk-driven tracks. Each song is based in Jurado's echoing vocals and plaintive guitar, but the duo seems to try a different experiment on each track. With a dash of soft psychedelia here and sparse slow-burners there, the album flows between tones quite easily. Swift's production enhances each track without becoming overbearing, adding without distracting, such as the gentle rainfall throughout the title track. Jurado remains contemplative throughout, pondering throughout the album. Appropriately, "Maroqopa" seems like a soundtrack meant for an inquisitive dreamer staring out into a downpour. Strip away the gospel singers and other touches, and you're left with a man and his thoughts.
Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan
Eighty musicians cover The Man's catalogue to celebrate Amnesty International's 50th Birthday, and is the case with any massive completion—this weighing in at four discs—some facepalms abound and surprises delight. Some artists put their personal touches on the songs while others play close to the original sheet. Maroon 5 adorns "I Shall Be Released" without overdoing it and the plunky piano of Jack's Mannequin gives "Mr. Tambourine Man" a clean feel, retaining the original simplicity. My Chemical Romance, albeit a live performance, over-energizes "Desolation Row," stripping the song's original punch, and Michael Franti makes "Subterranean Homesick Blues" laughable. The stripped down interruptions standout, with one of the best coming from, yes, Ke$ha, who delivers a beautifully breathy and hauntingly simple "Don't Think Twice It's All Right" that actually proves she can sing. You've already heard these songs; here the excitement of the experience comes from hearing them revisited and renewed warts and all.