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New Singles

Justin Timberlake

TKO (RCA/Sony)

The second single from next week's 20/20 Experience 2 of 2 release features some very vintage Timbaland production (imagine a zippier, modernized Cry Me a River) and our man Justin carrying on about a girl so fine she puts him down for the count. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it's definitely got the classic vibe some longtime fans thought was missing when they shrugged off Suit & Tie. Is there some unwritten rule though, that all of JT's songs have to be over seven minutes long? HHH1/2

 

Katy Perry feat. Juicy J

Dark Horse (Capitol)

While Roar continues to tear up the charts, we've already got a second single from Perry's soon-to-be-released Prism album. The appropriately titled Dark Horse is a real shot from left field -- a brooding, borderline sleazy trap-pop excursion that comes across like a stripped-down version of E.T. mixed with Grindin' by The Clipse. Unexpected, unconventional, and unstoppable. HHHH

 

Michelle Williams

Fire (E1)

The latest from the lesser-known Destiny's Child diva's upcoming Journey to Freedom album is a bit of an anomaly. The beat would imply a pelvic-pulsing R&B club track. The lyrics would imply a religious awakening. Is it a mid-tempo dance number? Or an uptempo slow jam? Is it something you should be praying along with on Sunday morning? Or something you should be moaning along with on Saturday night? It's pleasant, just a smidge confusing. HHH

-- Reviewed by Steve Adams

 

MGMT

MGMT (Columbia)

Leave your preconceptions at the door -- the new self-titled MGMT album is worlds apart from the group's debut Oracular Spectacular and 2010's Congratulations.

Gone are the days when the Connecticut boys sing of models and drugs. MGMT is dark. The melody on the record's debut single, Your Life is a Lie, is uplifting, with cowbell added to up the tempo. But the lyrics are cutting. "Count your friends on your hands, now look again, they're not your friends," lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden sings with an Eels-esque sardonicism.

Lead-off song Alien Days is as close to the old MGMT material as you're going to get. It opens disconcertingly, with strange female vocals, and then drifts into a lazy, slow drum beat and guitar strum. VanWyngarden wryly distorts his voice when singing, "I love those alien days."

The album has weird moments: A Good Sadness sounds like computer glitches before VanWyngarden's voice creeps in and under, and a cover of Faine Jade's Introspection has an interlude of what seems to be a whistle, juxtaposed with drums and synth, all building up to the chorus.

If you're expecting pop music like Kids or Electric Feel, you won't find it here. But spent time with MGMT and you'll find it's an interesting concoction.

DOWNLOAD THIS: Alien Days

-- Sian Johnson, The Associated Press

 

The Weeks

Dear Bo Jackson (Serpents and Snakes/Dine Alone)

The first reason you should buy this album from Jackson, Miss., quintet the Weeks is for the cover. Front and centre, there it is --an extreme closeup of our provincial insect, a blood-filled female mosquito. Second, the Weeks deliver on the promise represented by being signed to Kings of Leon's boutique label, delivering a solid mix of old-school southern soul-rock, lightly dusted with enough indie-alternative bluster to keep the live-gig opportunities rolling in.

The album's 11 tracks are buoyed by the band's ability to slip in some pretty cool references while creating something of a new vibe. Singer Cyle Barnes, sporting a tall, lean, long-haired Southern hipster look, has the kind of voice that is jumping with barely contained energy. He sounds like he means it when he sings these songs; laden with enough steel guitar, swirling organ and funky guitar stops to make you start digging into your Stax classics record pile again.

Fully the first half of the album is unique enough to get one's heart pumping positively in joy for what could be a jump-start to the Southern rock cadaver. Three songs in the middle of the record ruin the vibe substantially when the band goes completely dopey and begins to sound like a Pearl Jam cover band. (Barnes' voice sounds enough like Eddie Vedder's as it is without the band following suit musically.) They almost pull it back by the album's end, but the side trip isn't worth the proverbial gas it takes to get back on the main road.

Thankfully, sometimes not half bad can almost be good enough. HHH1/2

DOWNLOAD THIS: King-Sized Death Bed

-- Jeff Monk

 

Stereophonics

Graffiti on the Train (Stylus Records)

English soccer star Wayne Rooney is Stereophonics' biggest fan. He's even got one of the band's album titles -- Just Enough Education to Perform -- tattooed on the inside of his right arm.

Just as Rooney did 10 years ago, the 'Phonics burst onto the world stage with a bang. The group's first two albums were statements of intent and its third (the aforementioned J.E.E.P.) entered the U.K. charts at No. 1 -- a swaggering guitar-rock album that proved that, while Stereophonics would never break new ground, the band could create fun, singalong rock songs.

Since that high point, ragged-voiced frontman Kelly Jones and his ever-changing lineup of bandmates (bassist Richard Jones is the only original) have been a disappointment. They've hit the heights, they still fill stadiums, but the sum of their recorded output has been... somewhat underwhelming.

That trend continues on the group's ambitious eighth album, Graffiti on the Train, on which Jones and Co. mistake grandiose, overwrought production for depth and confuse meandering, half-hearted tempos with feel. Only Catacomb hints at the brightness and effervescence of the group's earliest material, while the faux-blues-bar vibe of Been Caught Cheating is, at best, a soundcheck jam that comes across as embarrassing filler.

It might be time for Stereophonics to take a cue from its most famous follower and focus again on what it used to do best. HH

DOWNLOAD THIS: Catacomb

-- John Kendle

 

Ladies of the Canyon

Diamond Heart (Warner)

After a solid country/roots debut a couple of years back, Montreal's Ladies (named for a Joni Mitchell album) return with one less vocalist and a drummer. With producer Mark Howard (the Tragically Hip, Lucinda Williams), they've crafted a more rockin' electric and eclectic sound while maintaining a rare warmth and raw beauty.

You and Your Famous Friends is a high-spirited rocker. The Change and Let's Take the Night both owe a debt to classic Fleetwood Mac (not a bad thing!). Dear John is a sweet '60s soul detour. People of the Sun is a gorgeous ballad that bleeds passion. What We Had is a Laurel Canyon-inspired country-inflected duet with the Arkells' Max Kerman. They even execute a haunting cover of Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You approved by Robert Plant!

Diamond Heart is a sonic trip back in time you'll want to experience again and again. HHHH

DOWNLOAD THIS: What We Had

-- Bruce Leperre

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2013 ??65532

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