R.E.M.’s new album is my first candidate for album of the year. It offers a breath of fresh air rising from the stagnant water of pseudo-electronica the band had been drowning in for the past 10 years.
Accelerate rings with an energy and vigor that has eluded the band since the 1988 opus Green. “Until the Day is Done” feels like a lost gem from the Automatic for the People sessions. On the mid-’90s-style alt-rocker “Horse to Water,” Michael Stipe heaves lyrics that may mean nothing but somehow feel like they’re saying everything all at once. Do not die without hearing the explosive closer “I’m Gonna DJ.”
Stipe’s voice has aged, but it is more confident and less despondent than it has been in years. Peter Buck and Mike Mills no longer get lost in ambient noodling behind Stipe’s narcissistic self-loathing, a role they’ve been stuck in since the band’s dreadful 1998 warble and bleep-infused Up. In truth, Accelerate doesn’t break any new ground for the band; at no point does it sound like something they’ve never done before. It does, however, remind us of everything we loved about R.E.M. in the first place. —Brent Owen
Consolers of the Lonely
(THIRD MAN/WARNER BROS.)
How do you like your Jack? That’s really what this disc asks. Never mind the minor-league brouhaha over the quick and direct release without anyone hearing advance copies.
The second Raconteurs album is simply another chapter in the artistic sojourn of Jack White. If you like that singer-guitarist to make the biggest possible splash, then you’ll prefer White Stripes releases, where he has to give only a bit of spotlight away to a quirky sidekick drummer. But if you want White to be challenged to maintain self-discipline (somewhat) in a band with a worthy second focal point (Brendan Benson), then enjoy how the Raconteurs have grown. On the downside, White can still pull his three bandmates into meager supporting roles, with results resembling diluted White Stripes. The story-songs “The Switch and the Spur” and “Carolina Drama” somewhat earn their place, but they’d benefit from an editor. But to the positive, the many rocking conglomerations of time changes, shout-along choruses and fuzztones here are infectious yet substantial. —T.E. Lyons
Pictures of a Changing World
The Photographic is an all-instrumental duo from Louisville who follow in the tradition of groups such as Mono, Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, as well as minimalist forefathers Steve Reich and Philip Glass. At times an undercurrent of teen heavy metal love (trying to be restrained) can also be detected.
The music of The Photographic most resembles the sounds of the waves, crashing against the water and the bodies, struggling against what is natural and what is necessary to survive. The struggle is always necessary and, even in death, important. So to Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, Eddie Vedder and all the other open-toe sandal-wearing bummeroos who aren’t content to merely surf; who blemish every surf DVD, skate video and college radio station you get near with your unrighteous neo-James Taylor frat boy slow jamz: Bros, please start soaking up the rays from these Kentucky cave-dwellers instead. —Peter Berkowitz
Walk It Off
Tapes ‘n Tapes
After the success of 2005’s The Loon, Minnesota-based Tapes ‘n Tapes found themselves with more time and studio resources to devote to their sophomore effort, Walk It Off. They put both to sound use.
Walk It Off brims with the percussion and keyboards that previously seemed more like afterthoughts. The new instrumentation is layered nicely over the more traditional guitars, and when they all come together on “Hang Them All” and “Conquest,” the payoff is lo-fi bliss. It’s clear that most of their extra studio time went toward crafting the songs themselves. The new tracks lack the energy of “Insistor” but make up for it in complexity.
The compositions here have a greater sense of movement than anything the band has tried before. “Lines” starts off with a thoughtful guitar and ends in a barrage of bass and crashing cymbals. Walk It Off might not make many converts, but its maturity certainly edifies the faithful. —Justin Keenan
With a dynamic sound rooted in his homeland of Benin, Africa, guitarist Lionel Loueke is having a positive impact on the current jazz environment. His Blue Note debut, Karibu (Swahili for “welcome”), is an appropriate invitation to his unique virtuosic guitar playing and vocals.
Karibu spotlights Loueke with longtime collaborators — drummer Ferenc Nemeth from Hungary and Swedish-Italian bassist Massimo Biolcati. Their simpatico relationship is definitely heard on the title track, an infectious number that is filled with improvisation and West African rhythms.
Distinct lyricism is found in Loueke’s retelling of the 1940s hit “Skylark” by songwriters Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. The music of Africa bookends the famous tune, as the trio explores the melody-producing music that is recognizable yet original. Throughout, Loueke delivers new world scatting, while Nemeth and Biolcatti not only add support, but also their voices/instruments to the animated and visceral music.
Two very special guests, jazz legends pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter (also Loueke’s mentors), contribute on three tracks. Their most dynamic moments occur when they are together with the trio, on the 10-minute abstract improvisation “Light Dark.” Karibu is a new chapter for Loueke, an outstanding artist whose music transcends boundaries and reconciles differences. —Mark R. Bacon
Keep It Simple
Lost Highway Records
RANDY: Yo, dog, so check it out. It was good for me, dog, you know, because, YOU ARE VAN THE MAN. Not only that, you’re Van the Man in the twilight of his career. Step back, tell us what you’ve learned, dude, a little pensive. It was a little pitchy for me at times, but it’s real nice, too. All in all, that was a pretty good joint, dog.
PAULA: Yes, Van, Van, Van, you could sing the Emancipation Proclamation and I’d swoon. I like your blues thing. Harmonica — woo!
SIMON: What Paula means is that there’s something classic about you. You’re not writing the radio hits anymore, you’re just playing your music. It’s all a little mellow, but I get it. There’s only so much time.
PAULA: Did I say Emancipation Proclamation? I meant Declaration of Independence. I wish you’d go back to your old stuff, like “Allison” or “Watching the Detectives,” but I could listen to you sing all night long.
SIMON: Oh. Dear God … Van, since you’re into the self-help thing, can I offer you a Coca-Cola™? —Cary Stemle