Everyday Robots (Warner/Parlophone)
With his first solo album, U.K. singer/songwriter Damon Albarn has once again reconfigured his sound and pointed himself in a slightly different musical direction. His wildly successful career with '90s-era Brit-popsters Blur put him on a path that led to even greater success with virtual combo Gorillaz and the VIP conglomerate that was the Good, the Bad & the Queen.
Everyday Robots finds the 40-something Albarn mining a creative quietus, one that seems to suit him well. For the most part, the songs are built on toned-down grooves, lit from within by Albarn's mellow croon and ability to craft a rhythm from unusual, sometimes non-musical, repeated found sounds. His collaboration with fellow Brit iconoclast Brian Eno here makes sense -- both reserve the right to bend and shape their version of pop music outside of standard strictures, if only to prove they can do it.
There may be no Song 2 bluster; nevertheless, Albarn sounds more comfortable in his own musical skin than he ever has. 3 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Lonely Press Play
-- Jeff Monk
FAMOUS for his smooth, smoky voice and softly soulful, earnest craft as a songwriter, Ray LaMontagne has now rearranged his brand of Americana with sensual, reverbing psychedelia and the production help of Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach. The result: LaMontagne suddenly sounds as if he's loose and having weird fun. When he sings about wanting his girl on this album's title track, he seems, at last, to really want her -- and not just to talk while sipping coffee.
Auerbach's production should get much of the credit for the independence and sexual power of this recording. He brings to Supernova the same treatment he brought to roots-based artists such as Valerie June. On Supernova, we hear a track such as Drive-In Movies, with lyrics of youthful motives and desires, plus a jaunty, Brit-pop melody -- swathed in dense organ sounds and oozing background voices. Lavender conjures more scents and taste sensations than the herb itself. Pick Up a Gun, an acoustic cut about an emotional dustup, has more key shifts than a Yes album.
Supernova is LaMontagne's most complex statement yet about life, love, and music itself. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Lavender
-- A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer
JD and the Sunshine Band
JD and the Sunshine Band (Transistor 66)
JD and the Sunshine Band is an extension of musical workshops put on by the Solvent Users' Recreation Project co-ordinated by Sunshine House, an inner-city drop-in centre for street-involved and homeless people.
Led by musician J.D. Ormond (Ultra Mega), these workshops have evolved into a full-band project featuring Shelley Marshall, Vince Andrushko, Gilbert and Adrian Spence and a whole crew of drop-in regulars who sing and clap and play percussion and kazoo.
The album's nine original twangy country/roots songs were penned by Ormond, who has taken great care to use the stories, speech patterns and, importantly, the humour of the group. At its best, the album works in the same way visual artists recontextualize found objects. In songs such as At the Sunshine, The Bottle Let Me Down or Saturday Night, Ormond and co. take slice-of-life tales and shine light on their matter-of-fact purity. Other tunes, such as Ile-de-Chenes or Heard That One Before, are laugh-out-loud, Stompin' Tom-type romps.
As J.D.'s mother Margaret (she's special projects manager at Sunshine House) sings on the album's closer: "Life can be so sweet on the sunny side of the street." 3 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Ile-de-Chenes
-- John Kendle
I Never Learn (Atlantic)
SWEDEN'S Lykke Li delivers a full fusion of deep, soul-searching lyrics on I Never Learn, her third studio album and an artistic zenith for this talented singer.
Love Me Like I'm Not Made of Stone is a minimalist guitar-and-vocals-only track. Li's voice strains in all the right places and pleads for love in others, meshing nicely into a raw display of emotion. The title track carries more production sheen, but retains an authentic feel as Li sings about falling too deeply in love.
There are no weak songs here, and the best comes on No Rest for the Wicked. Ghostly piano stabs echo until an avalanche of percussion falls over it all. It's a poignant song about fighting to keep a relationship alive as it tears apart, territory that sounds personal when Li sings it.
In the end, it is love that is at stake on I Never Learn. Li adroitly captures the struggle that one must endure to keep love at the risk of losing it forever.
DOWNLOAD THIS: No Rest for the Wicked
-- Ron Harris, The Associated Press