There are several highly anticipated albums due out in October. Here is a summary of what’s new & cool.
The Mountain Goats release new album Transcendental Youth on Merge Records. It seems like yesterday when they released their commercial breakthrough album Tallahassee, but that was a full decade and seven (yes, seven) albums ago. John Darnielle and crew are nothing if not prolific. Early reports are that the new album finds Darnielle waxing poetic about hopelessness, substance abuse, and the darkness on the edge of town.
I’m now two full decades removed from second-year thermodynamics class, but some of the principles have stuck with me. The second law of thermodynamics postulates that work is irreversible – for instance, heat can never be converted perfectly into useful work. The leftover energy in a closed system, called entropy, is always positive and tends to accumulate over time. This is the basic premise that makes perpetual motion machines impossible. All of this is a strange jumping-off point for rock ‘n’ roll, but thermodynamics informs the new record by Muse. The 2nd Law concludes with two tracks, named “Unsustainable” and “Isolated System”, which seem destined to push the band’s sonic envelope even further than the “Exogenesis” symphonic suite on 2009’s The Resistance album. Muse has made a career out of “us against the world” polemics, so one suspects that entropy might be an apt metaphor for the ever-expanding sense of chaos and disorder and unsustainable growth in modern society. Muse artfully blends the power-trio dynamics of Rush with the fearless epic grandiosity of classic Queen. Based on lead single “Madness”, it seems that Muse has made good on their promise to follow-up the sexy, modern synth sounds first explored on “Undisclosed Desires”. A special edition of The 2nd Law is due out a week later, featuring CD, DVD, and vinyl versions of the record plus posters, wrapped in deluxe packaging.
AC Newman is set to release his third solo set of songs, titled Shut Down The Streets. The New Pornographers front man occasionally steps away from the day job to exercise his power-pop muscles in a different context. Judging by the album cover (admittedly an approach which may or may not be a good idea), expect the new album to be infused by a retro 1970’s singer-songwriter vibe. But will an album supposedly informed by Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” go all out and bring the saxophones along for the ride?
The debut record by hotly-tipped UK quartet Alt-J finally gets a North American release on or around October 9th (reports differ). An Awesome Wave has collected plaudits back home for its artistic bravery, combining elements of Radiohead’s push-pull electronics, Americana’s strong melodies, and a kitchen sink of world music rhythms. Depending on the listener, this Mercury Prize nominated record could be an engaging amalgam of styles, or it could also quite easily be an unlistenable hodgepodge. Your mileage may vary.
Ben Gibbard knows how to keep busy. When being the front man for northwestern indie popsters Death Cab for Cutie wasn’t enough, Gibbard collaborated with the likes of Jimmy Tamborello (as The Postal Service) and Jay Farrar (on the soundtrack for a documentary about beat poet Jack Kerouac). Gibbard has finally chosen to go it alone with debut album Former Lives. While his vocal prowess sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, the man does have a knack for crafting interesting phrases and melodies.
For those that like their alt-rock to be cross-pollinated by sparkling synthesizers, Shiny Toy Guns are back with their third album release. Original vocalist Carah Faye Charnow is back in the band after several years away, which has set the hearts of the many fans of debut album We Are Pilots all a-flutter. Early reports suggest that III will be more electronic than the first two records, eschewing guitars in favour of a slicker synth-pop sound (think Depeche Mode but with a happier West Coast vibe).
The 25th anniversary re-release of hit album So comes as Peter Gabriel’s ‘Back to Front’ tour criss-crosses North America. This is Gabriel’s most accessible (and, not surprisingly, most commercially successful) album, featuring bold and brassy songs like “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time”. The clever videos to promote these songs were MTV staples (side note for the kids – MTV actually used to show music videos all day long. It was pretty awesome. Ask your parents!). “Red Rain”, “Don’t Give Up”, and “Mercy Street” have stayed in Gabriel’s live canon throughout the years. Album closer “In Your Eyes” was made famous by its inclusion in the Cameron Crowe film Say Anything, and remains the best thing Peter Gabriel ever released. So will be re-released in various formats, including a 3-CD set with two discs of live material and a half-speed 180-gram vinyl pressing that is already on my Christmas list.
Lovable curmudgeon Neil Young has teamed up with his Crazy Horse mates to release a second new album in 2012. Psychedelic Pill is the first album of all-new material with the full line-up of Young, Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina, and Frank Sampedro since 2003’s ambitious Greendale project. The lead-off track is a song called “Driftin’ Back” which clocks in at a few ticks shy of 28 minutes. Drugs were taken.
The new release schedule for November and December looks like the usual fourth-quarter crap-a-thon of Christmas albums and greatest ‘hits’ collections. In essence, albums for people that like music but don’t love music. It may be awhile before the Craven Hermit has any new albums to ‘big up’, so in the meantime here is a pair of very worthy bonus releases that slipped through the cracks in September.
Jonny Greenwood, lead guitarist for Radiohead, has built a healthy cottage industry of composing motion picture soundtracks. He has teamed up once again with director Paul Thomas Anderson to write the music for new film The Master. This is the movie that professes to NOT be about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology (yes, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm was NOT about Communism). Greenwood is a master at writing off-kilter, moody pieces of music that seem claustrophobic and dischordant yet still manage to add tension and context to the moving pictures on screen. If you liked his spooked, minimalist work in the film There Will Be Blood, you should also enjoy this new project.
R.E.M.’s fifth record was their last for record company IRS, and its success was perfectly timed. Document broke the Athens, Georgia band wide open, promoting the college indie stars to the upper echelon of worldwide superstars. Singles like “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” and anti-love song “The One I Love” still feature prominently on alternative rock radio today. Deeper cuts, like “Exhuming McCarthy” and “Disturbance at the Heron House” showed that their mainstream breakthrough didn’t come at the cost of the band’s collective conscience. This newly released 25th anniversary edition includes a remastered edition of the original album, plus a cracking & snarling live disc from their 1987 European tour.