Black Skinhead (Universal)
While technically not a single -- Kanye has said he won't be releasing any of the songs from his latest album Yeezus as singles -- Black Skinhead is definitely one of the standouts. Allegedly co-produced by Daft Punk, it opens with a thunderous, Gary Glitter-inspired beat, before adding glitchy, distorted effects, primal screams, and some very angry raps about race and religion. Intense, innovative, and controversial... so, basically everything you want in a Kanye track. Four stars
Ooh La La (RCA/Sony)
With a title like Ooh La La, you might expect Britney's latest to be a grimy, oversexed club romp. You'd be wrong. It's actually a very G-rated slice of pure cotton-candy pop cheese. Doused with a bag of sugar. From the Smurfs 2 soundtrack. Your five-year-old will love it. Two stars
Call These Boys (Atlantic)
Best known for her classy 2008 hit American Boy, British R&B singer Estelle returns in somewhat puzzling fashion with this belligerent dance track, demanding that you "call these boys (so she) can turn them into men." The obnoxious synths and constant hand-claps are only a few steps away from Nicki Minaj's Stupid Hoe. Which is not a flattering comparison. Two stars
-- Reviewed by Steve Adams
POP & ROCK
SO now, kind, old-school metal head, we have the result, finally, of the fabled reunion of the original Black Sabbath, a.k.a. "the Beatles of heavy metal."
Well, sort of. First off, we only have three-fourths of the lineup, as it was deemed unnecessary to carry initial drummer Bill "Thumper" Ward into the fold -- something about his not receiving a "signable contract" or some other not rock 'n' roll reason. We do have the Butler-Iommi-Osbourne three-headed snake to contend with (along with capable drummer Brad Wilk), but after manifold listenings, one can safely say this isn't your daddy's BS, though 13 does hit enough of the requisite devil's interval notes to satisfy even the staunchest only-the-first-four-Sabs-albums-matter iconoclast.
At eight tracks, 13 is economic to a fault, yet somehow the listener is left wanting more. The album offers plenty of what anyone would consider standard issue Sabbath-isms: Osbourne mewls wonderfully on-key and Iommi's riffs are as familiarly simple as ever. By using producer Rick Rubin, the aforementioned "first four" Sabbath sound has gone from murky and diabolical to radio-ready -- and with that, the unadorned sonic evilness of their classic low moan has been rather neutered. Butler's bass in particular has been altered from its original growl to the annoying sound of rubber mallet on piano wire. Osbourne and Iommi go through the motions but somehow 13 is just another bend at the waist at the gods of nostalgia and cash. Evil? Hell, yeah. Three stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: God Is Dead
-- Jeff Monk
Olympia (Paper Bag/Domino)
TORONTO'S Austra was once the midi-based solo project of Katie Stelmanis, a one-time "obsessive classical music kid" whose operatic training has made her voice -- and her unique phrasing -- her signature.
These days Austra is a full-blown band and Olympia sees it progress beyond the icy rigidity of previous efforts, including its breakout album, Feel it Break. The cool synth-pop and soaring vocals (once the sole humanistic element of the music) are still here, to be sure, but they're wrapped in the real-world groove of Dorian Wolf's understated bass, Maya Postepski's beats, gorgeous vocal interplay with Sari and Romy Lightman and organic flourishes such as cello, flute and acoustic piano. As such, it's a new take on modern dance-pop, with fully fleshed out lyrics as a bonus.
Standout track Home might be an apt microcosm of the album (and would also made a great '80s MTV clip). It begins with an OMD/Human League-ish swell of digital keyboards but the song is soon taken over by a sweet pop melody and a lyric of romantic longing. It reaches its crescendo with an orgiastic flurry of percussion and vocals that may remind some of Parachute Club. Four stars
Download this: Home
-- John Kendle
Sound the Alarm (Stax)
THE recent reactivation of Stax Records has brought organist-producer Booker T. Jones back to the label that featured his sound on so many great recordings of the 1960s and '70s, including those by Otis Redding and Sam & Dave as well as his own albums, fronting Booker T. & the MG's.
This album, produced chiefly by Jones and/or the Avila Brothers, has the hallmarks of those great Memphis sessions of yore -- sultry organ work, a lithe rhythm section and lots of meaty horn accents -- with touches that bring it comfortably into the 21st century.
Jones draws several guests into the spotlight -- singers Estelle, Anthony Hamilton, Mayer Hawthorne, Luke James, Jay James and instrumentalists Gary Clark Jr., Raphael Saadiq, Sheila E. and the retro rock-R&B band Vintage Trouble.
66 Impala, which features a guest turn from Sheila E., lets Jones explore the Latin-rock corner of the R&B universe, while Your Love Is No Love is the closest thing to a lost Redding track on the album, a potently insistent gospel-soul track. The instrumentals Fun, Feel Good, Austin City Blues and, spotlighting Jones' guitar-wielding son Ted, Father-Son Blues mark a welcome return to the timeless sound of the MG's.Three and a half stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Your Love Is No Love
-- Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times
Shooter JenningsThe Other Life (eOne)
THE Other Life may start out with a Harry Nilsson cover that sounds like an outtake from Pink Floyd's The Wall but that's where the weird ends. The rest of Jennings' sixth studio album is classic Shooter, drenched in solid old-school country that skews alternative.
A Hard Lesson to Learn rocks out in a swampy, CCR sorta way. Wild and Lonesome is a '70s-era two-step beauty graced with the angelic voice of Patty Griffin. Tracks like The Outsider and The Gunslinger are somewhat autobiographical.
The highlight is Outlaw You, a tale of his father's perseverance and hard-won success but is also a biting statement addressed to the self-described "outlaws" coming out of Nashville who "couldn't hit country with a baseball bat."
He may refer to himself as The Gunslinger, but Shooter is an outlaw just like his daddy. The apple hasn't fallen far from the tree.
Shooter Jennings headlines Dauphin's Countryfest tonight with Justin Townes Earle and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. Four stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Outlaw You
-- Bruce Leperre