& the Axe Murderer
A Real Fine Mess (Independent)
On their third full-length album, Vancouver's Shawn (The Harpoonist) Hall (vocals, harmonica) and guitarist/beats provider Matthew (Axe Murderer) Rogers have set an innovative high-water mark for two-person combos. On these 14 fabulous tracks, the pair loops wonderful musical shapes into their basic, soulful blues sound.
Even describing the music as "blues" shortchanges it. Rogers and Hall contort the sound of their main instruments, and the addition of superlative female backing vocals, a horn section and more intensifies their familiar approach.
Feel Me Now starts off as hard blues and migrates into a soul-scorcher, driven by Hall's righteous falsetto paroxysms. In and Out of Love tumbles along to a sideways Bo Diddley beat, while Closer to Death has Motown-meets-the-Mississippi, sing-along charm. See for yourself when the band plays the BBQ & Blues Festival in August. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Tea For Two
-- Jeff Monk
Counterfeit Blues (New West)
Corb Lund's new album with his band the Hurtin' Albertans is ostensibly a greatest-hits package, but there's an unexpected twist: rather than reissue the original songs, Lund re-recorded these fan faves at legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn.
Recorded live off the floor in two days, Counterfeit Blues will please longtime fans and may even pique the interest of those searching for unembellished roots-rocking goodness. Lund and his able trio are playing songs that are practically part of their musical DNA, yet the energy level matches the historical gravitas of the recording location. Guitarist Grant (Demon) Siemens is in fine form, twanging and sliding to his (and the listeners') heart's content. Lund's golden songwriting touch is on full display, and tracks like Truck Got Stuck, Five Dollar Bill and Hurtin' Albertan sound more like Canuck country classics than ever before.
This revitalized retrospective will more than fill the time waiting for Lund's ninth studio album, set for release in 2015. 3 1/2
DOWNLOAD THIS: Good Copenhagen
THE Antlers' breakthrough came with 2009's Hospice, a visceral, emotionally fraught song cycle about a doomed and tumultuous relationship. It was an intensely personal work for vocalist-guitarist Peter Silberman, and the first Antlers album to feature a full-time band. Hospice trafficked in tense, whisper-to-a-scream dynamics that at times recalled, in good ways, both Neutral Milk Hotel and Sigur Ros. Familiars is a different kind of good: It's slinkier, more soulful, more subtle.
The keyboards are lighter and the tempos slower than on Hospice or 2011's Burst Apart. Several songs use graceful trumpet lines to buoy Silberman's wide-ranging tenor. Familiars has themes, if not a narrative: the pensive songs contemplate doppelg§ngers, changes in perspective and misapprehensions. "We have to make our history less commanding," Silberman sings in Surrender. He could be scolding the bitter protagonist of Hospice, although the trio has made an album that's no less commanding than that one. 4 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Surrender
-- Steve Klinge, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Animal Ambition: An Untamed Desire to Win (G-Unit/Caroline)
Eleven years after Get Rich or Die Tryin', much of what made 50 Cent provocative and new is gone. In his early recordings, his swaggering voice was matched by spare, sure arrangements. His voice, and that sound, are still central in Animal Ambition: The broke-beat Irregular Heartbeat, the creepy, Euro-discoid Smoke, the hypnotic and minimalist Hold On -- these tracks show off his looming presence and patented brand of diabolical hip-pop.
There is, alas, bad news, most of it lyrical. 50 Cent has dropped most of the gangsta-rap content, as he had to do if he were to move forward. The problem is, he hasn't found a workable replacement and is fumbling for words to match his flow. His guests are second-rate (Jadakiss? Yo Gotti?). The music oozes toward tedium.
So Animal's good, not great. It's definitely not Street King Immortal, the supposed 50 Cent masterpiece that still goes weirdly unreleased. Make it soon, Fiddy. 3 stars
DOWNLOAD THIS: Hold On
-- A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer
The first single from their upcoming album V (due out in September) uses familiarity to its benefits on a few different fronts -- borrowing from their own catalogue, while also seemingly paying homage to the Police. If you can imagine Payphone meets Message in a Bottle, you'll have the gist of it. And that's not a bad thing either. 3 1/2 stars
Following up the incredibly Timberlake-esque Sing, Sheeran continues to tease his soon-to-be-released second album X with a darker song involving infidelity (rumoured to be about his ex, Ellie Goulding, cheating on him). Funky, rhythmic and sporting a grungy R&B vibe not unlike Serena Ryder's Stompa, this one's a winner. 3 1/2 stars
PAUL VAN DYK FEAT. SECOND SUN
Crush (Las Salinas Remix) (Vandit)
Back in 2003, German DJ stalwart Paul van Dyk unleashed one of his best tracks ever, a blinding trance workout titled Crush. Eleven years later, it gets a more contemporary electro makeover courtesy of Israeli duo Las Salinas. It's got a much chunkier bassline, but they keep the core elements intact and make great use of the vocal. 3 1/2 stars
-- reviewed by Steve Adams