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Ruff (Yep Roc)
TORONTO-BASED Born Ruffians is the kind of band that seems as if it's always been around, making good records, releasing fun singles and receiving plenty of attention from CBC Radio 3 -- all without really stepping forward and demanding people's attention.
Ruff is the album that should change that, as the band has settled into a solid four-piece lineup and worked hard to perfect an upbeat, indie-rock sound that belies frontman Luke Lalonde's bittersweet lyrics (think early Hot Hot Heat meets Vampire Weekend).
Part of the revelatory nature of this record is concision -- there are just 11 songs here and eight of them are less than four minutes -- and part of it is rhythmic precision, as Ruff's best songs are propelled by danceable polyrhythms that propel Lalonde's melodies and herky-jerky lyrics. For full effect, this record is best listened to loud. ***1/2
DOWNLOAD: Don't Live Up, Yawn Tears, Let Me Get It Out
-- John Kendle
Moon Turn Red (Stony Plain)
CANUCK blues-rock hybrid band MonkeyJunk may not yet be a household name, but these Juno Award winners should be at the top of your listening list. With their fourth release, the incendiary Moon Turns Red, the trio throw down an eclectic mix of songs that sets the bar doubly high for any pretenders in the business.
The band's rocking side is evident on powerful cuts such as the jittery, slide-guitar-driven opener Light It Up and the powerful Lucky One. The mix-'em ups here are the real gold for music fans. The Hendrixy reggae-funk of Love Attack and the ZZ Top-esque plaint of You colour with uncommonly vibrant shades of blue. Steve Marriner does triple-plus duty here as lead singer, harp player, keysman and baritone guitarist, yet still manages to leave just enough room for lead guitarist Tony Diteodoro to toss in some blazing licks.
By taking some chances and wandering outside the customary limits of the genre, MonkeyJunk has created one of its best albums to date. ****
DOWNLOAD: Show Me Yours, Light It Up
-- Jeff Monk
Fetty Wap (RGF/300)
FETTY Wap spring-boarded into mainstream success before releasing an album with the Top 10 pop hits Trap Queen, 679 and My Way. With that success, most wondered if the 24-year-old rapper-singer could deliver on a full-length musical project.
He certainly steps up to the challenge on his self-titled debut, showing those hits were not a fluke. The production is solid throughout and his vocal delivery is infectious, though his content lacks some depth.
Wap is not much of a lyricist, but uses the same winning formula of keeping his sound melodic yet grungy on his 17-track album. It works on Couple Bandz and Again, another Top 40 hit, where he attempts to convince a lover he's about chasing money instead of other women.
On RGF Island, Wap brags about spending excessive money with his crew on an island. He introduces a loyal mate to the street life on Jugg, featuring Monty, who makes his presence known on multiple songs on Fetty Wap.
Outside of rapping about selling drugs on Trap Luv and money and cars on Time, there's not much substance on Wap's debut, but this is a musical approach that works for him -- for now. ***
DOWNLOAD: Couple Bandz
-- Jonathan Landrum Jr., The Associated Press
Renée Fleming, Emerson String Quartet
Berg Lyric Suite, Wellesz Sonnets, Zeisl (Decca Classics)
AMERICAN superstar soprano Renée Fleming, known for her eclectic repertoire that includes opera, lieder, art song, jazz and even indie rock, sets her sights on three 20th-century composers not often heard.
This new release presents the sublime artist performing Austrian-born composer Egon Wellesz' Sonnets for Elizabeth Barrett Browning Op. 52, sensitively accompanied by the Emerson String Quartet composed of Eugene Drucker (violin); Philip Setzer (violin); Lawrence Dutton (viola); and Paul Watkins (cello). The string ensemble allows the haunting work's five movements to ebb and flow, never overshadowing the soloist.
The quartet also ably navigates the thorny challenges of Alban Berg's Lyric Suite, six relatively short, densely packed movements. Inspired by Schoenberg's innovative 12-tone technique, the lyrical work includes coded musical references to Berg's clandestine love affair with the married Hannah Fuchs-Robettin. The intimate quartet setting allows for textural clarity, particularly during its third movement, allegro mysterious, and finale, largo desolato, both teeming with idiomatic string effects. Fleming also appears on an alternative track of the latter, with her performance of Baudelaire's love poem adding further emotional layering to its melancholic depths.
Those who prefer their music more tonally inclined will appreciate Eric Zeisl's Komm, süsser Tod; Fleming's molten vocals make this final track, despite its bleak invocation -- "Come, Sweet Death," a musical, if not exactly poetically uplifting, highlight. ***1/2
-- Holly Harris
Same Old Love (Universal)
A breakup appears to be the focus of this low-key electro-pop second single off Gomez's new Revival project. Lyrically, it's mildly intriguing, but that trudging tempo almost makes it sound as if it's being played at the wrong speed. HH 1/2
RUDIMENTAL FEAT. ED SHEERAN
Lay It All On Me (Atlantic/Warner)
The latest track from the U.K. dance outfit's newly released second album, We the Generation, doesn't have the same drum 'n' bass ferocity as previous singles Bloodstream or Feel the Love; instead, it's more of an upbeat R&B number featuring some subtle steel drums vaguely reminiscent of Disclosure and Sam Smith's Omen. HHH
GIORGIO MORODER FEAT. BRITNEY SPEARS
Tom's Diner (Sony)
The don of disco and the princess of pop team up for this amped-up version of the Suzanne Vega classic. Moroder's trademark swirling synths push things much further toward the dance floor than the coffeehouse, and Spears' vocals are surprisingly suitable. HHH 1/2
-- Steve Adams
Updated on Thursday, October 22, 2015 at 10:11 AM CDT: Reorders images