NEW YORK (Billboard) - Neil Young’s latest solo effort, “Le Noise,” is something of a capsule dive into the influential artist’s stream of consciousness. Producer Daniel Lanois (for whom the album is named) surrounds Young and his electric guitar with a reverberating dreamscape, free of percussion or secondary instruments. But the eight songs are layered in sustained distortion and electronic effects and feature heavy delays on Young’s recognizable tenor. A vocal loop of the word “angry” is its own instrumental line throughout “Angry World,” and round, titanium bell tones engulf Young’s guitar on “Peaceful Valley Boulevard.” Some of Young’s lyrics have a first-draft quality, like premassaged brainstorms (“You’re scared of the way it goes sometimes in the night,” he sings on “Someone’s Gonna Rescue You”; and rashly he rhymes “I want to” with “Toronto” during “Love and War”). But this impulsiveness attends the subconscious environment of these introspective tracks. The melodies are equally humble, but songcraft isn’t the focus here. “Le Noise” is about exactly that — raw musing about love, injustice and self-doubt, submerged in ethereal, electric sound.
ALBUM: NO CHOCOLATE CAKE (429 Records/SLG)
The Gin Blossoms continue to concoct melodic hooks framed by a mix of jangly alternative pop-rock on the band’s newest album, “No Chocolate Cake.” While its 1992 breakthrough, “New Miserable Experience,” was powered by the pen of co-founder Doug Hopkins, who died the following year, the Gin Blossoms have since primarily showcased the songwriting of members Robin Wilson and Jesse Valenzuela, revealing an uncommon depth to the group’s talents. The new uptempo track “Miss Disarray,” which is bubbling under Billboard’s Adult Top 40 chart and features writing and production assistance from Danny Wilde (the Rembrandts), ushers in the band’s second album since 1996. The group needles its past on “Dead or Alive on the 405,” where Wilson sings of jamming with an unnamed fellow act once ubiquitous at radio. (“You play your hit from ‘89, I’ll play mine from ‘95.”) And the band summarizes its perseverance on the set’s buoyant closer, “Goin’ to California,” where Wilson offers, “I’ve got to warn ya that I may never leave again.” The Gin Blossoms’ loyal fan base undoubtedly hopes the sentiment translates to a promise kept.
ALBUM: THE AGE OF ADZ (Asthmatic Kitty Records)
Listeners who fell in love with Sufjan Stevens for his rustic Americana sound, Christian undertones or ambitious “50 states” project are in for a rude awakening with his latest album, “The Age of Adz.” Having delivered what is arguably one of the best albums of the ‘00s, 2005’s expansive folk journey “Illinois,” Stevens has created one of this year’s weirdest albums: “The Age of Adz” is introspective, offbeat and swamped in electronics. The song “I Walked” matches Stevens’ hushed songwriting with crinkled beats and echoing vocals, while “Vesuvius” builds a wall of blips and brass notes around a straightforward piano line. Stevens sounds most comfortable in his latest aesthetic when his fragile voice isn’t drowned out by unruly instrumentation, as heard on the gorgeous opener, “Futile Devices,” and the woozy “Bad Communication.” “The Age of Adz” pales in comparison to Stevens’ past acoustic masterpieces, but considered on its own terms, the set offers an intriguing take on electro-folk.
ALBUM: SEAL 6: COMMITMENT (Reprise Records)
With roots in Britain’s house music/rave scene, Seal has also migrated into pop and dance during his career. Then, in 2008, the singer-songwriter detoured into R&B on the uneven album “Soul,” turning his husky baritone loose on such classics as “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Reuniting with “Soul” producer David Foster, Seal delivers a more engaging and satisfying addition to his repertoire with “Seal 6: Commitment.” The title says it all as Seal mines the various forms of commitment — to love, family and self — on original songs that are both melodic and eloquent. Opener “If I’m Any Closer” is an uplifting, Sting-reminiscent anthem that brings the album to life, as does the soaring “Weight of My Mistakes.” Still a romantic at heart, the man behind “Kiss From a Rose” rekindles that heat-seeking emotion on the lushly stringed “Secret” and the tender yet emphatic “You Get Me.” Taking subtle command over rich orchestrations that might overshadow another singer, Seal deftly showcases his still-formidable skills as a writer and vocalist.
ALBUM: THE DISSENT OF MAN (Epitaph Records)
Every two or three years you can count on a new batch of high-energy, politically minded punk tunes from these Southern California kings, and “The Dissent of Man” delivers what Bad Religion fans have come to expect. During the track “The Resist Stance,” singer Greg Graffin describes the proper way to nourish “seeds of rebellion,” while the 87-second opener “The Day That the Earth Stalled” skewers the salad-days nostalgia that bogs down many of Bad Religion’s compatriots. Yet among these 15 tunes lurk signs of fresh adventure, like the country-fried pedal steel on “Cyanide” or the rockabilly swagger of “Won’t Somebody.” None of the new spice here is likely to change anyone’s mind about who Bad Religion is or what the band does. But you have to admire these guys’ determination to keep things tasty.
ALBUM: THE APPEAL: GEORGIA’S MOST WANTED (1017/Bricksquad/Asylum/Warner Bros. Records)
Less than a year after releasing his major-label debut, and just a handful of months since being freed from jail, Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane is back with new album “The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted.” The set — which features guest appearances by Bun B, Swizz Beatz, Ray J, Nicki Minaj, Pharrell, Wyclef Jean and Estelle — finds Gucci unapologetically laying claim to his undying ties to the streets. The rapper taps his inner Tony Montana on the track “Lil Friend,” where he raps, “Could’ve been a doctor, should’ve been a lawyer/I go to court so much I coulda been my own employer/Imma die a dopeboy.” With police sirens heard throughout, “Trap Talk” is another ode to his drug-dealing past. But Gucci shifts focus on tracks like “Making Love to the Money” and “Dollar Sign”; the songs don’t express his love for the illegal lifestyle but rather recount the financial benefits of taking that path. In usual hip-hop fashion, “The Appeal” also offers something for the ladies (“Remember When,” featuring Ray J) and the club-goers (the Swizz Beatz-produced “Gucci Time”).
ALBUM: HALCYON DIGEST (4AD Records)
It’s no coincidence that “Halcyon Digest,” the fourth album from Atlanta indie-rock act Deerhunter, was partly produced by Ben Allen, who also had a hand in Animal Collective’s 2009 album, “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” On its past two efforts, Deerhunter has followed Animal Collective’s lead in transitioning from a rootless indie obscurity into a hook-filled songwriting force. Following 2008’s enjoyable “Microcastle,” “Halcyon Digest” is Deerhunter’s most straightforward and best collection of songs: The melodies here are fully formed but don’t sacrifice the band’s hazy tones. The song “Revival” shimmies over guitar fuzz and frontman Bradford Cox’s elastic vocals, while the “whoa-oh” chorus and extended instrumental breakdown of “Desire Lines” leave the listener wanting more despite its nearly seven-minute running time. Having defined its gauzy sound on previous albums, Deerhunter expands it here with knockout results.
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