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The Listening Room: Damon Albarn, the Pixies and more...
It seems implausible, but this is Damon Albarn's first solo album in a sprawling nearly 25-year career during which he's led an array of excellent bands (Blur, Gorillaz, The Good, the Bad & the Queen) and engaged in bold World Music collaborations. On "Everyday Robots," however, he's more songwriter than stylists -- although there's plenty of style on these 10 songs and two interludes -- offering a restrained, atmospheric and uncharacteristically introspective collection that's every bit as good as what's come before. Whether he's pondering modern communication ("Hostiles," the title track) or broken relationships ("The History of a Cheating Heart," one of two tracks featuring Brian Eno and also the Leytonstone City Mission Choir), Albarn makes pensive sound pretty and melancholy sound like the most satisfying mood in the world. He does take an uptempo diversion the light-hearted "Mr. Tembo," but spectral ambience and spare arrangements -- along with subtle sonic effects -- are the rule here, and on "The Selfish Giant," Natasha Khan (aka Bat For Lashes) is dramatically underplayed yet powerfully present. "Genius" is a term that gets dropped a little too often in pop music, but Albarn has a better claim than most who enjoy the distinction these days.
The Pixies, "Indie Cindy" (Pixiesmusic) **1/2
It's unfair to ask the Pixies' first album in 23 years to be up to the standards of "Doolittle" and the group's other late 80s/early 90s landmarks. But the 12-song set, compiling songs from three separately released EPs, is a welcome return whose best tracks -- the grooving heavy rocker "Madalena 318," the buoyant "Ring the Bell" and "Jaime Bravo," the kinetic "Snakes" and the gentler "Silver Snail" and "Andro Queen" -- shows Black Francis and company still have it. Bassist Kim Deal is certainly missed here, though; the Pixies aren't quite as satisfying as all-boys club for the first time in its recorded history.
New & Noteworthy:
Brigitte DeMeyer, "Savannah Road" (BDM): The bluesy singer-songwriter co-produced this sixth studio album, working with old friends Brady Blade and Will Kimbrough.
Framing Hanley, "Sum of Who We Are" (Imagen): The Nashville alt. rockers' first new album in four years marks the arrival of new bassist Jonathan Stoye.
Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, "Midnight Sun" (Chimera): Sean Lennon and company release their first official studio album since 2010's "Jardin Du Luxembourg."
The Howlin' Brothers, "Trouble" (Readymade): Detroit native Brendan Benson produced the rootsy indie trio`s sophomore outing.
Jackopierce, "Live 25" (Be Music): The duo of Jack O`Neill and Cary Pierce celebrates a quarter-century of distinctive music-making with this concert set recorded in Dallas.
Johnnyswim, "Diamonds" (Big Picnic): The debut by the husband-wife duo (she's the daughter of the late Donna Summer) shows off gorgeous, airtight harmonies and plenty of impressive songwriting.
Ray LaMontagne, "Supernova" (RCA): The singer-songwriter teams with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach for the most upbeat and hard rocking of his five albums so far.
Tommy Malone, "Poor Boy" (M.C.): The second solo outing by the member of New Orleans' legendary subdudes.
Harvey Mason, "Chameleon" (Concord): The album's title aptly represents the wide-range the jazz and funk drummer explores on his latest release.
The Milk Carton Kids and Kenneth Pattengale, "Live From Lincoln Theatre"
Miss May I, "Rise of the Lion" (Rise): The Ohio headbangers brought in well-credentialed Terry Date (deftones, Korn, Slipknot) to produce their fourth album.
The Nels Cline Singers, "Macroscope" (Mack Avenue): The guitar virtuoso switches labels and bass players on the fifth album from his extra-Wilco trio.
Old 97s, "Most Messed Up" (ATO): The Dallas troupe is back in the rowdy, alt.country form of its early albums on this 20th anniversary release.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood, "Phosphorescent Harvest" (Sliver Arrow): The Black Crowes frontman's other band remains as expansive and psychedelic as ever on its third studio set.
Rodrigo y Gabriela, "9 Dead Alive" (ATO): The Mexican guitar duo dedicated each of the nine tracks on its first new album in five years deceased figures who made historical impact during their lives.
Saliva, "Rise Up" (Rum Bum): The Memphis hard rock group's first official album with new singer Bobby Amaru features most of the tracks from last year's limited release "In It To Win It."
Lindsey Stirling, "Shatter Me" (self-released): The title track of the violinist and performance artist's latest features a guest appearance by hard rocker Lzzy Hale.
String Cheese Incident, "Song in My Head" (Loud & Proud/SCI): The adventurous Colorado jam band celebrates its 20th anniversary with its first new studio album in nine years.
Bryan Sutton, "Into My Own" (Sugar Hill): The acoustic roots veteran is joined by luminaries such as Bill Frisell, Same Bush, Ronnie McCoury, Stuart Duncan on more on his fourth solo album.
Ben Watt, "Hendra" (Unmade Road): The second solo album, and first in 21 years, from half of Everything But the Girl includes collaborations with Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and Suede's Bernard Butler.
Whitechapel, "Our Endless War" (Metal Blade): More uncompromising heaviness from this Tennessee metal sextet.
Wye Oak, "Shriek" (Merge): The fourth studio set from the folk- and rock-blending duo from Baltimore.
Yanni, "Inspirato" (Sony Masterworks): The Greek muso's latest finds him working with Placido Domingo and his namesake son, Renee Fleming, Russell Watson and other noteworthy singers.
From The Vaults: Death, "Leprosy" (Relapse); Winery Dogs, "Dog Treats" (Loud & Proud)
Soundtracks: Dave Porter, "Breaking Bad: Original Score from the Television Series Vol. 1" (Spacelab9)
New Music DVDs: Allman Brothers Band, "40th Anniversary Show Live at the Beacon Theatre" (Peach); "The Rise and Fall of the Clash" (Shout! Factory); Toto, "35th Anniversary Tour Live From Poland" (Eagle Rock)
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