Few things in recent popular music are as beautiful as the opening track, “Montezuma,” as vocalist Robin Pecknold launches his voice above the mix, making the (absolutely gorgeous) music seem superfluous. It’s four minutes of folk-rock perfection, but—amazingly—no real letdown through the remaining 45 minutes of the Seattle band’s sophomore album. They even come close to topping those moments later on the album’s stunning showpiece of a title track. The band’s thoughtful, well-played music is part of the equation, as is Pecknold’s gorgeous voice. The overall vibe can’t be ignored, either. The album doesn’t feel like a collection of discreet pieces, but rather, a unified whole—the pieces sound like they can only exist surrounded by their musical friends.
Hmm, so what does the question mark mean, J-Lo? Unsure what love is now? Or, if you read the cover typography the right way, unsure of your identity? Maybe it’s the latter, as Lopez sometimes seems like a guest on her own album, with big-name guests (Pitbull and Lil Wayne) and plenty of producers to make sure the beats are perfect for all to hear. That means any sense of personality—which J-Lo has in spades—is lost beneath the layers of overproduced bubblegum. Even the gilded touch of Lady Gaga can’t save this from boredom, as the previously unreleased “Hypnotico” sounds like just another dance-floor thumper, with none of the off-kilter energy that sets the good Lady apart from the pack.
Move Like This
Bands reuniting after a long layoff don’t exactly have a great track record, with recent records by Blondie, Duran Duran, and the Stooges landing on the figurative scrapheap. The reconvened Cars—minus bassist/vocalist Benjamin Orr, who passed away—aim to avoid that trap. The key is finding the right balance between what worked (bouncy catchy songs and unique sound) and what brings the band forward to the 21st Century (sharp production, avoiding dated drum and synth sounds). It turns into a quick, heady mix that quickly marches past the missing quarter-century and back to the band’s prime, anchored by Ric Ocasek’s vocal chirps and Elliot Easton’s bright, poppy guitar. Move Like This isn’t the second coming of Candy-O, but it’s a bright reminder that rock isn’t dead yet.
Theft of the Commons
No Bird Sing
Like other regional styles, Twin Cities hip-hop embraces the musical traditions of its home. Considering our melting pot of influences, it’s not surprising the acts are as likely to reference Fugazi as Funkadelic. On their sophomore release, No Bird Sing meld their beats and lyrics with songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a postpunk compilation. Harsh guitars rip over the beats (all played by the band—no samples are used), while a general sense of malaise and fear permeates the proceedings. Tracks like “Night Lights” (where “no birds sing”) or “Guns for Planes” could be the sound track for a burned-out, ashen-gray landscape. It’s not devoid of joy, but Theft of the Commons shows a band thrilled to be living between musical worlds.