NINE INCH NAILS
Came Back Haunted (Polydor)
Five years between albums seems like a long time, but for Nine Inch Nails, that's pretty typical. Hesitation Marks is due out in September, and if this first single is any indication, Trent Reznor has another masterpiece on his hands. Sleazy techno-funk spars with rough-edged industrial rock as only he can do it. And although he hisses, "I am not who I used to be," this truly feels like a nod to his Pretty Hate Machine origins. Four stars
Grown Woman (Columbia)
If you've seen that Pepsi commercial where Beyonc© has a dance off with herself in the mirrors, you've already heard at least a part of this track. Teasing her upcoming fifth album, the full song has now been released. Featuring a jaunty Timbaland beat, African chanting, and girl power to spare, it's plenty energetic, but not exceptionally memorable. Three stars
PET SHOP BOYS
Vocal (x2 Recordings)
After three decades, you'd think the Pet Shop Boys would sound old and tired. But this stellar single from next month's Electric album sounds fresher than a good portion of the current crop of dance music. Produced by Stuart Price -- who has done tracks for everyone from Madonna to Kylie to the Killers -- this crackles with euphoric synths and Neil Tennant's unmistakable voice. Four stars
-- Reviewed by Steve Adams
POP & ROCK
Matt Epp and The Amorian Assembly
Learning To Lose Control (Independent)
THE handsomely packaged new album from Winnipeg's Matt Epp and his two-man backing band, The Amorian Assembly, is the kind of album you can share with almost anyone you know and expect an assenting response. Epp's wheelhouse is not uncommon. His blend of acoustic guitar-driven, at times moody, folk melodies with a slight dusting of adult contemporary rock is the kind of background music that would soundtrack perfectly to a mid-'90s vintage romantic comedy.
Lyrically Learning... mostly lives up to it's title. Epp is the kind of earnest songwriter who will set many young hearts aflutter with his man/child reveries about life, love and loss. Ice Below the Man offers, "So if you don't trust him girl, better you leave, there's not a man in all the world that loves you like he does." It may not make perfect sense, but with Epp's breathy vocals and Jamie Candiloro's radio-ready guitar riff, somehow it burns into your memory.
Guest vocalists Marti Sarbit (Imaginary Cities) and Serena Ryder also add a bit of honey to the tea on half the tracks here. And so goes most of this set. Epp may not break any new musical or lyrical ground here, and why would he want to? The formula is working and if the lighter side of Matthew Sweet used to make you lose control, then this album is for you. Three stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Learning to Lose Control
-- Jeff Monk
Boards of Canada
Tomorrow's Harvest (Warp)
TOMORROW'S Harvest, the fourth album by Scottish ambient electronic duo Boards of Canada, begins with the sound of an audio logo, a quick "Intel inside"-suggestive mnemonic that vanishes as quickly as it arrives. The tones are followed by a moment of silence, and the effect is not unlike the strike of a bell before a meditation session. Immediately, the listener is transported into another world, one realized on computer but teeming with organic beauty.
Boards of Canada has crafted this kind of mysterious, humid, drenched instrumental music in its studio in Scotland for the last few decades, and the result on Tomorrow's Harvest (its first full-length release in nearly eight years) is another visit down a Brian Eno-inspired wormhole, one in which each tone, though synthetically altered, feels handcrafted.
The snare, for example, in Jacquard Causeway, an ethereal post-trip-hop track, has a sonic footprint unlike any other snare-snap you'll hear all year; it lingers pleasingly, as though the band had it made in a confectioner's shop then placed it gently on the tongue. The humming organ tones on Sick Times are woven with texture with the care of a quilter. The soothing synthesizer harmonies on the drifting Collapse could be swiped from a mid-'80s New Age compilation.
Distant sampled voices stealthily drift through rhythms; some, like Telepath, contain utterances so integrated into the mix that you're not sure if somebody has crept up behind you and is whispering in your ears.
Fans of Boards of Canada won't find many fresh revelations, though, even if the record is gratifying. Any of these songs could have appeared at any point in the group's discography. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. A full-body massage, after all, is just as pleasing the fourth time as the first. Three and a half stars
-- Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
THE title of tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger's third album as a leader comes from the realm of boxing, after the powerful punch. The music on the recording is subtler than the wallop from a haymaker, but is still powerful.
There is an urgency to Preminger's new material (he wrote seven of the 10 tunes), driven in large part by bandmates guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Matt Pavolka and drummer Colin Stranahan, which allows the saxophonist to lay back a bit when needed.
The opener, Morgantown, highlights Preminger's dexterity; on Tomorrow (from Broadway's Annie), he deftly captures the romanticism of the song.
Monder is an ideal front line mate for Preminger, especially on My Blues for You, and Pavolka and Stranahan round out an excellent working band.
Preminger, at 26, has developed his own expressive, mature sound. Four stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Morgantown
-- Chris Smith
The Lonely Island
The Wack Album (Universal Republic)
THE Lonely Island's third studio disc presents an unlikely problem: Nearly eight years after they attained instant comedy-rap stardom with Lazy Sunday, these Saturday Night Live veterans have become better rappers than comedians.
On The Wack Album, Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone rhyme with impressive style and sharp detail over tracks that sound virtually indistinguishable from those on records by Rick Ross, T.I. or any number of other A-list hip-hop acts. Sometimes they're actually rapping alongside A-list hip-hop acts: YOLO features a verse by L.A.'s Kendrick Lamar, and the Bay Area trailblazer Too Short shows up in The Compliments.
Other guests include Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake and, in I Run NY, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong doing a not-bad impression of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
But with songs about nerdy white people (Hugs), gastrointestinal distress (Perfect Saturday) and fraught sexual relations with older women (a slow jam featuring T-Pain that has an unprintable title), The Wack Album feels awfully short on fresh ideas. And though it's churlish to complain about a tune in which Hugh Jackman debases himself so gamely, the raunchy You've Got the Look is a painfully obvious retread of Michael Bolton's self-effacing turn in the Lonely Island's 2011 viral hit Jack Sparrow. Two and a half stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: The Compliments
-- Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times