New music

Reviews of this week's CD releases


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/09/2015 (2646 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.



What Do You Mean? (Universal)

If you can put aside all your pre-formed opinions about Justin Bieber and just enjoy the song, this first single from his upcoming fourth album is actually quite good. With some surprisingly mature vocals, ticking-clock effects and a freshly chilled, tropical house vibe not unlike Kygo’s Firestone, this track shows the young Canadian has certainly come a long way since Baby. ***1/2

CP Nick Jonas



Sugar (Warner)

Still flying high on last year’s remixes of Mr. Probz’ Waves and Lillywood’s Prayer in C, German producer Robin Schulz teams with Canadian up ‘n’ comer Francesco Yates for this smooth dance track that heavily samples Baby Bash’s 2003 hit Suga Suga. Simple but very effective. ****



Levels (Universal)

Sporting some springy, swaggering funk and falsettos galore, the latest from Nick Jonas sounds a bit like it might have been a leftover from Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds album. And that’s definitely a good thing. ***1/2

— Steve Adams




Poison Season (Merge)

ALTHOUGH Vancouver’s Dan Bejar, as Destroyer, has made a two-decade career of releasing stylistically diverse albums, 2011’s Kaputt was still a shock.

Bejar, who is also one of the songwriters in the New Pornographers, set aside the extroverted and verbose styles he explored on such albums as 2000’s glam-rocking Streethawk: A Seduction and 2004’s synth-based Yer Blues in favour of the smooth adult-contemporary tones of Roxy Music’s Avalon or Van Morrison’s Avalon Sunset. The suave trappings suited Bejar’s enigmatic songs well.

Like Kaputt, Poison Season is also restrained — in part. It swings, sometimes abruptly, between conspiratorial ballads built on complex string and horn arrangements (Hell, Girl in a Sling) and bright, soul-rock tunes whose sax solos recall David Bowie’s Young Americans era (Dream Lover, Times Square).

Somehow, it all hangs together, and Poison Season is yet another fascinating, impressive Destroyer album. HHHH

— Steve Klinge, The Philadelphia Inquirer


Frog Eyes

Pickpocket’s Locket (Paper Bag Records)

WHEN last heard from in late 2013, Carey Mercer (who, along with his wife, drummer Melanie Campbell, basically is Frog Eyes) was dealing with the double-barrelled shock of being diagnosed with throat cancer and the death of his father. Mercer has described Claxxon’s Lament, from the album Carey’s Cold Spring, as the last tune his father ever heard. That record, and especially that song, which was dark, brooding and far more muted than much of Frog Eyes’ earlier, almost manic work, seems to have informed much of Pickpocket’s Locket. Mercer says he wrote this record’s 10 songs on a vintage Martin acoustic guitar left to him by his dad, and the result could almost by described as Frog Eyes Baroque.

Frenetic tempos are nowhere to be found and what little electric guitar can be heard accentuates rather than drives the songs. Piano, strings, synthesizer and saxophone (courtesy of likes of Spencer Krug and Jesse Zubot, among others) dominate this album, allowing Mercer’s dramatic vocal delivery to hang on his simple, affecting melodies and his eloquent waterfall of expressive lyrics. HHH1/2

DOWNLOAD: Two Girls (One for Heaven and the Other One for Rome); Death’s Ship; Joe with the Jam

— John Kendle



Sugar Brown

Poor Lazarus (Independent)

A PROFESSOR of East Asian history isn’t the first person that comes to mind when you think of a dirty, incredibly authentic roots-blues performer.

Following up his extraordinary 2014 release, Sad Day, Ken Kawashima proves sophomore slumps are for chumps. Using vintage instruments and recording in, at times, eerie monophonic sound, these 14 tracks bleed authenticity, whether it’s via Kawashima’s rough and tumble vocals, his uncomplicated guitar work or cohort Bharath Rajakumar’s reverberating harmonica solos.

The title track, originally recorded early in 1911 and set as a folk song to reflect the pain of U.S. racism at the time, is used by Kawashima as a way to refocus attention on this topic in the wake of police activities in Ferguson, Mo. Toss in a two-part rewrite of Bo Diddley’s Diddley Daddy, using lyrics gleaned from a quasi-psychedelic Lewis Carroll poem, and you have an album that delivers from every angle.

Blues music as an art form benefits broadly from Kawashima’s dedication to keeping the genre bona fide as hell and magnificently entertaining. ****1/2

DOWNLOAD: Poor Lazarus, Get Behind the Mule

— Jeff Mon



Jimmy Lopez

The Norwegian Radio Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi)

PERUVIAN composer Jimmy Lopez teams with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra (Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor) to showcase four orchestral works.

The award-winning composer’s eclectic music is underscored by folk-music influences from his homeland, including a (mostly) seamless integration of traditional Peruvian instruments within a classical European form, showing his deft hand at masterful orchestration.

Peru Negro, inspired by Afro-Peruvian music, features particularly strong, driving percussion. Symphonic tone poem America Salvaje (Wild Americas) opens with a ritualistic call to ceremony performed by pututu, an Andean ceremonial instrument, before building to its own thundering climax. More contrast between individual movements in Synesthesie would have made this whole greater than the sum of its five interdependent parts.

The sweet spot is cello concerto Lord of the Air, inspired by the majesty of the Andean condor. Soloist Jesus Castro-Balbi performs the descriptive four-movement work with unflinching conviction, realizing Lopez’s creative vision that includes a full exploitation of the instrument’s range.

Lopez’s bold artistic voice is one to be heard. ***1/2

— Holly Harris

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