RICHARD THOMPSON - "Electric"
Folk-rocker Richard Thompson is at that point in his career where he could be called an elder and, as such, the accolades have poured in during recent years to reward him for that stature. "Electric" is a fine testament to a revered musician, one that simply puts a seal on a long and storied career. It isn't particularly revelatory, nor does it boast a classic number along the lines of a "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" or even a "Beeswing." But the material is generally fairly strong, and it showcases Thompson's out-of-sight guitar chops, the kind of thing that makes him a perennial favorite of Rolling Stone. - Zachary Houle
FRIGHTENED RABBIT - "Pedestrian Verse"
Over their first three records, Frightened Rabbit has made some big changes. We've all but forgotten about the angular, taut rock of "Sing the Greys," since it was followed by the excellent songwriting and acoustic-driven, jangle-pop bent of "The Midnight Organ Fight." But "Winter of Mixed Drinks" didn't expand that so much as crushed it under the foot of some serious maximalist rock moves. That's not to say it didn't work, but old, old-fashioned warmth of "Midnight Organ Fight" became something larger as, well, the band's shows also became something larger. So now they're a big honking rock band, with a major-label deal to boot, but "Pedestrian Verse" does not, smartly, continue to stretch those limits. - Matthew Fiander
EELS - "Wonderful, Glorious"
Eels' albums, by and large, fall into two categories: good and great. "Wonderful, Glorious" sits comfortably and contentedly in the former. If you've enjoyed Eels before you will find much to enjoy again here. It's a solid reminder of "We are Eels, this is what we do." "Glorious" is consistently captivating if perhaps a lighter serving of Eel, marginally missing the masterful, cathartic storytelling and haymaker knockout punch of their finest work. That aside, a good Eels' record is still a "Wonderful" thing. - Matt James
THE STEELDRIVERS - "Hammer Down"
In many ways, bluegrass music in general and the sound of the SteelDrivers seems antithetical to modern times. Everything about it is old fashioned and out of date. Its continued popularity, however, reveals this is not the case. John Henry may have died fighting the good fight against mechanization and for the dignity of human labor, but the SteelDrivers continue the battle to create music without the aid of automated assistance. They know that mothers may neglect their children and fathers may beat them (check out "Burnin' Down the Woodshed" for an unromantic treatment of family life). The music on " Hammer Down" energetically exemplifies the human contributions necessary for making life inherently valuable. - Steve Horowitz
TOSCA - "Odeon"
We can only hope "Odeon" is not a harbinger for what's to come musically in 2013. It's a very dark record - darker than anything Tosca has done before. They've always been downtempo and comatose-chill, but without ever dipping too far into the gloom pool. On this record they're drowning in it. The phat, punchy breaks that are signposts in a Tosca records are replaced here with subtle, at times ambient instrumentation and bluesy, soulful vocals. - Darryl G. Wright
Other notable releases this week:
Avant - "Face the Music"
Coheed and Cambria - "The Afterman: Descension"
Jim James - "Regions of Light and Sound of God"
Tim McGraw - "Two Lanes of Freedom"
My Bloody Valentine - "mbv"
Roxy Music - "The Complete Studio Recordings"
Ron Sexsmith - "Forever Endeavour"
Wayne Shorter - "Without a Net"
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down - "We the Common"
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - "II"
NOW HEAR THIS
Fake Shark Real Zombie - "Get Weird" (video)
It was Hunter S. Thompson who famously said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." This still rings as true today as when he said it in 1974, especially in light of the newest video by Vancouver's Fake Shark Real Zombie. Directed by Cole Walliser (Katy Perry, Pink) and choreographed by Lindsey B of Cee-Lo Green's "F**k You" video fame, "Get Weird" sees the freak-pop group hit Venice Beach with zombies, an army of blonde tie-dyeds aping lead singer Kevvy Mental, and anyone who happened to walk by and was willing to sign a release form. There's as much humor in the video as the song, which was taken from their upcoming album "Liar." Due Feb. 19 on Light Organ Records, "Liar" boasts such disparate guest stars as Henry Rollins and Adaline, showing how deeply their weirdness runs. This stuff won't rot your brain, but it might eat it. - Alan Ranta
Nicolette - "Fascination" (video)
The one-time Massive Attack vocalist serves up this slice of electronic-pop as she prepares for her fourth solo release. A chilled layer-cake of flexible, vivacious beats, stiff sour funk and brass-section acrobatics, Nicolette offers a slipstream romance of the merits of positive thinking and fantasy on "Fascination." The UK artist has been working steadily and quietly on new material since the uplifting sunburst of 2005's "Life Loves Us," an album of chopped beats and melted funk that was infused with the juice of high, carefree energy. "Fascination" seems to tread the same path of full, frothy fun; the trampoline beats inciting an oceanic stir in the low tremors of the brass-section. The singer's baby coo of a voice (once described by Massive Attack as "Billie Holiday on acid") is the sweet and sour sauce over the pop-sugar cake. Check out the first single (a mix by Michael Fakesch) from Nicolette's new EP, "Modern Stories," a taste of what's to come later this year. - Imran Khan
Autre Ne Veut - "Play by Play" (video)
With Frank Ocean and The Weeknd dominating R&B in a huge way in 2012, expectations are high for any artist attempting to step up to the mic that's shared with artists as immensely talented as those two. It won't be long, however, before Arthur Ashin - the man behind the Autre Ne Veut moniker - rises successfully to this challenge with the release of his sophomore album "Anxiety," out on February 26th for the Mexican Summer label. The record - an almost impossibly rich and multilayered work of avant-pop and R&B - makes one even question if the term "sophomore slump" has any relevance; "Anxiety" is such a considerable improvement over his 2010 self-titled debut that at times it's hard to believe it's the same artist performing. - Brice Ezell
Kat Candler's "Black Metal" is a perfectly timed release
Though the past decade saw black metal enter into the mainstream, most media discussions of its roots and effects remain shallow. The present debate about a correlation between media violence and real-world violence provides a natural opportunity to examine this popular form. Having premiered at the just-wrapped 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Kat Candler's short film "Black Metal" arrives right on time. In less than 10 minutes, the film provokes more serious thought on its subject than "Until the Light Takes Us" or other similarly uncritical/self-satisfied analyses of recent years. - Thomas Britt
R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" in a major key (video)
When I first noticed that something professing to be R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" in a major key was making the rounds on the Internet, I assumed it was some sort of joke at the expense of "Shiny Happy People." Not so. In fact, it's a digitally reworked recording of the iconic song by a Vimeo account called "Major Scaled," which has given similar treatment to songs by Metallica, the Doors, and a few others. If you've heard the original song, it sounds - well, weird, upbeat, and more than a little off. You don't have to be a music theory expert to spot the difference. If you haven't heard the original song? I'm not sure there's anyone alive who can share that perspective. - Zach Schonfeld
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