Paradise Valley (Columbia Records)
EVEN those of us who have yet to date and break up with John Mayer may find Paradise Valley unlikeable. Kids are apt to spend some time with the hummable tunes before moving on to more fulfilling relationships.
Predictably, Mayer's in love-'em-and-leave-'em mode. "Sure was fun being good to you," he sings. And, "I was made to chase the storm." And, "Some nights I throw it all away." On Who You Love, Katy Perry weighs in, singing, "Some have said his heart's too hard to hold."
Best is the summery Waiting On the Day, which layers lovely vocal harmonies over a reggae pulse, and Paper Doll, a gentle shuffle with darting guitars. Elsewhere the songs are slow and slower fizz and froth and there's nothing here to make us think, laugh or understand Mayer better.
Don Was co-produced Mayer's sixth effort, which makes the hodgepodge arrangements a surprising disappointment. There's a bit of flute here, some pedal steel there, and a tiki-bar mood that neuters Mayer's guitar playing, usually his strong suit. On the most bluesy song, the JJ Cale-esque Call Me the Breeze, Mayer's solo is just building steam when it's oddly interrupted mid-verse.
Mayer can still write a pretty melody and his singing's fine following treatment on his vocal cords, but nearly half the songs include wordless vocals, probably because on Paradise Valley Mayer doesn't have much to say. **1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: Waiting on the Day
-- Steven Wine, The Associated Press
I Hate Music (Merge)
SUPERCHUNK'S Mac McCaughan isn't kidding when he declares, "I hate music. What is it worth? Can't bring anyone back to this earth." But that dose of realism simply makes the band's I Hate Music that much easier to love.
Throughout the album, McCaughan moves between trying to keep the importance of music to a normal adult in perspective -- especially in Me & You & Jackie Mittoo and Void -- and getting carried away by its potential beauty (Trees of Barcelona) and its overwhelming fun (FOH). What makes I Hate Music such a treasure, though, is the way the fiery, post-punk guitars and raucous rhythms make each song even more intense. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: Void, FOH
-- Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Endangered Species: The Music of Wayne Shorter (Mot©ma Music)
THIS 12-piece mini-big band led by trumpeter and arranger David Weiss tackles a huge project -- reimagining the music of the great saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter.
It takes a stellar lineup -- saxophonists Ravi Coltrane, Marcus Strickland and Tim Green; pianist Geri Allen; bassist Dwayne Burno; trumpeter Jeremy Pelt; and drummer E. J. Strickland -- but they manage to properly pay due tribute to Shorter, who celebrates his 80th birthday on Aug. 25.
This six-track disc covers about five decades of Shorter music, with the added vitality of being recorded live, capturing the interplay of this pack of all-star musicians. Weiss's arrangements give his bandmates the opportunity to highlight their own talents.
This is an homage that is experimental, not fawning; that showcases a great band and treats Shorter's music as it should be -- ever evolving. ****
DOWNLOAD THIS: Prometheus Unbound
-- Chris Smith
Tawk Tomahawk (Flying Buddha/Sony)
MAYBE it's the weather, the location, or both, but for the most part bands from the colloquially monikered Down Under seem to add a little something special to their music that separates it from their North American counterparts. Melbourne quartet Hiatus Kaiyote spin around in a blue haze of funky beats and modernist soul/jazz that doesn't quite defy description, but comes close.
This short 10-tracker (plus one bonus track featuring A Tribe Called Quest main man Q-Tip) shreds the rulebook on this kind of music and stakes a claim to a unique hybrid of sound. Singer Nai Palm burbles and meows like a drunken Bjork (at times her penchant for running words and syllables together gets a wee bit annoying), but as an instrument, woven into the weft of these busy grooves, it works. You'll need the lyric sheet to understand her wild words and expect tasty tidbits such as, "Lace skull that once hung low on it's humble thrown awoke arose, awoke a rose," to titillate as well as perplex.
The poetry and polyrhythm mesh well, though, and with spirited champions like Erykah Badu and Questlove in their corner, this band's take on progressive R&B combined with the beats and vibe of hip-hop may take some getting used to, but shows extra promise after each listen. Challenging, diverse and even a bit late-summer groovy. ***1/2
CHECK OUT: Malika
-- Jeff Monk
A few years ago, Lady Gaga's Born This Way rather famously "borrowed" from Madonna's Express Yourself. Looks like she's at it again, because Applause sounds structurally very similar to Madonna's Girl Gone Wild. Originality aside (the cover art is also a pretty obvious nod to David Bowie), this first single from her upcoming ARTPOP album is fun, frenetic electro-pop that sees Gaga in full-on Fame mode, and is more or less exactly what all her little monsters have been waiting for. ***1/2
Your Life is a Lie (Columbia)
It's almost unbelievable how much psychedelic cynicism is jammed into this barely two minute long paradoxical pop gem. Somewhat recalling Talking Heads' Once in a Lifetime (this is not your beautiful wife, your friends aren't really your friends), the simultaneous dreariness and cheeriness is only amplified by the must-watch acid trip of a video. ****
From his forthcoming eighth album, and featured in the new Call of Duty: Ghosts trailer, Slim Shady's latest is an appropriately aggressive fusion of fast-paced raps and distorted rock guitars that comes across like a more militant version of Love the Way You Lie. The chorus, courtesy of newcomer Liz Rodrigues, tends to get a little grating after repeated listens though. HHH
-- reviewed by Steve Adams