Save the Planet Tohpati Ethnomission
Moonjune

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

It’s Indonesian, but it’s not gamelan. It’s rock but it has no lyrics. It’s jazz but it’s also rock. It has a wooden flute and hand drum as well as electric guitar. In short, it’s fusion. The songs are inspired by the planet earth and our drive to save it. The music of “Rain Forest,” seems to flit from one animal to another, in a green haze of guitar, bass, flute and drum solos. “Let the Birds Sing” does, indeed, sound like a bird song, with long melodic lines that form a cohesive, beautiful rhythm only after several seconds of listening.

The eight-minute “Ethno Funk” lives up to its name, with influences from experimental jazz as well as traditional Indonesian music. Indonesian music is knows for its intricate rhythms, and between this and the other world influences incorporated into Save the Planet, you will see why talent and creativity are at their very best when used in combination.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Country Girl 101 Leah Seawright
SkyTone

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Country Girl 101 plays like a proper lesson in sexy country girl music. The album opens with the title song, in which Leah Seawright gives lessons in how to please a country girl. Immediately following is a detailed description of her ideal man in “Southern Boy.” Despite how literal these songs sound, they are entertaining, feel-good songs. Further, she makes herself out to be a strong woman who knows what she wants and won’t settle for less.

The album continues with humorous takes on the details of life. Songs like “Don’t Take My Lexus” and “Soft Abs Hard Arteries.” Keep in mind that she is strongly entrenched in southern country culture. The music reflects this as well. But if you’re okay with that true Harley-riding, six-pack-drinking, God-evoking style, check her out for a fun and funny country album.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Originality Mina Cho
Blink Music

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Jazz pianist and composer Mina Cho and her band take us on a jazz trek with her interpretation of Venezuelan and Brazilian rhythms. She explores traditional rhythms, asking, “Can I break down the…pretty moment and explore the confusion and complication?” and is inspired by unexpected correlations (Chick Corea and Korea; turtles, Venezuela and Boston; waltz rhythm, bass ostinato and her big white dog).

This is not your run-of-the-mill piano jazz, nor it is off-the-wall experimental. Rather, it is inspired, original jazz music full of play and emotion. She also hops things up with gospel and swing influences. Tension and release, and dynamic changes in theme within a single song will keep you listening the whole way through.

Artist to Watch

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Hand-Sewn Lullabies Dejah Leger
Hearth

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

It’s not every night that a music reviewer hears lullabies. Usually, by 12:30 a.m., it’s Megadeth or some off-the-wall hipster wingnut knob-tweakers. But a music reviewer could get used to this crooning… Yawn…

No, that yawn isn’t because the album is boring. Au contraire. It’s just doing its job. A collection of lullabies, both traditional and modern. Some of the cuts were actually written by Dejah Leger herself. All of the selections are spot-on, and they are diverse enough to be interesting to adults as well as soothing to children. Songs from New Brunswick, Sweden, the UK, France, and of course, the U.S., are not limited to the English language.

All songs are performed on simple acoustic guitar, by Leger alone, and she somehow gets away with making even “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” sound like a uncommon gem. A well-done work by an obscure artist who focuses on French-Canadian music.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Dare to Live Melanie Denard
Star Path

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Melanie Denard is a country rocker along the lines of Melissa Etheridge. She strives to inspire and clear a path for new life to grow out of hard times. She isn’t a good girl, particularly, but she isn’t saying anything too badass. She focuses on love and its trials and tribulations.

Full guitar rock style backs her up, although a fiddle is ever present as well. Denard seeks consciously to empower women who have been through tough times with her understanding lyrics and upbeat tunes. While it’s not anything out of the ordinary, since we know that the personal is potitical, we can see that Denard is making an important point.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Invitation Keith Chagall
Master / KCA

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Ok, Mr. Chagall, you are definitely bring us the spirit of a tropical beach with Invitation, and we would like to drink a Piña Colada right about now, but do you really need to plaster your album art with winking girls in bikinis? Now that the beef is out of the way, it’s safe to say that this is a fun album that really will transport you to a sunny, flower-filled reality, where Latin beats meld with crooning jazz.

Chagall may not succeed in seducing all the women he reminisces about here, but he’ll show you rollicking, carefree beach music, with talented playing and pleasant lyrics. The Spanish guitar and the easy rolling rhythms are the highlights of the album. Romance is sweet, and we all crave it once and a while, so we might as well give in.

Download from iTunes

Rust in Peace Live CD and DVD Megadeth
Shout! Factory / Roadrunner

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Rust in Peace Live is a March, 2010, recording of Megadeth playing their iconic 1990 Rust in Peace at the Hollywood Palladium. The show, which included the return of their beloved original bassist, is played with seeming indefatigable energy. Guitar shreds sear your ears, still burning even after transferal to digital recording. Drums attack, vocals lust and the coordination between the band members is a great argument for communism.

Don’t fear the metal. Be the metal. It is more your style than you think, especially a fail-proof classic like this. Megadeth demonstrates the jazz in rock, the enlightenment in the unholy and the golden age of thrash.

Editor’s Note: Formed by guitarist Dave Mustaine after he was forced out of Metallica, Megadeth represents the dark and nasty side of USA thrash. With the manic precision of Mustaine’s riffage, which unlike most thrash bands locked perfectly with the machine-gun pulse of the kick drum and the inspired cynicism of his song-writing, Megadeth perfectly captured the mood of those metal fans who thought the world was going to hell, and frankly didn’t give a shit.

Late But Great

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Where the Other Wild Things Are: Live in Minneapolis Steve Vai
Favored Nations / Light Without Heat

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

It’s taking the fantastical path through the land of rock and roll. Synth-encrusted and weird enough to raise and eyebrow or two, Steve Vai and his band bind you up with experimental instrumentals and original riffs. The focus is clearly on his guitar playing, as vocals on the album are quite limited.

However, effects are plentiful, and the fact that Vai got his start with Frank Zappa makes everything fall into place. Other Wild Things uses guitar to be as expressive as any lyrics could be, making it a worthwhile adventure. However, you need to be buckled in for a trip in a time machine. Place: Outer space. Time: 1980s. Engage!

Single of the Week: “Earthquake Sky”

Editor’s Note: One of the most talented musicians to survive the fret-shredding guitar explosion of the 1980s, Steve Vai is a virtuoso instrumentalist whose ability is to meld artistic sensitivity with heavy metal chops, which have placed him among the most sought-after studio musicians in the business, as well as an extremely popular solo artist.

If You Love Music, You'll Love This!

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Dark Night of the Soul DJ Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse
Capitol / EMI

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

The “dark night of the soul” is a time in one’s spiritual life when one experiences loneliness and desolation. This new Danger Mouse album reflects this meaning, rather than having much to do with the kind of funky soul that he took on with Cee-Lo as part of Gnarles Barkely. On Dark Night, he continues along the path he began with James Mercer, the indie rocker from The Shins, in Broken Bells.

The collaboration between Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse is only one part of a project that also includes artwork by David Lynch, a really cool website and work with numerous other musicians. Guests are on every single track of Dark Night of the Soul, and include James Mercer, Iggy Pop, Frank Black of the Pixies, and Scott Spillane of Neutral Milk Hotel. These guest appearances speak volumes about the album, but if it must be characterized: it’s dark rock with clever production, intelligent lyrics, and a fuzziness around the instruments. Occasional old-timey samples dress up the music, while a delightful sarcasm wraps itself around the whole thing. Perhaps it speaks for the dark night our generation’s soul.

Single of the Week: “Daddy’s Gone”

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

No Guts. No Glory. Airbourne
Roadrunner / Warner Bros.

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Long-haired, lady-loving and party-ready, Airbourne’s second albums brings us more of their goof-ball metal. It’s impossible to take seriously, but that’s why they write it – it’s easily digestible, a real treat in this cynical world. It sounds like it could be from the 1970s or 1980s, and really there is nothing original on the entire thing. But hell, once you find a formula that works, why not stick to it?

It’s a feel-good listen, making you want to polish up your motorcycle and go for a ride with your babe clinging to you, her bleached hair flying in the breeze. It’ll make you want to drink a light lager. Of course, if you are self-serious and only like music with meaning, you aren’t going to like Airbourne at all. Perhaps Airhead would make a better band name for the quartet.

Mighty, Mighty!

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

D.O.B. Busy Signal
Turf / Juke Boxx / Planet Reggae / VP

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Busy Signal reaches far and wide in order to build up his dancehall with the very best stimuli for your ears and booty. He and his various beat producers reach toward Africa, Latin America and of course, the Caribbean for their clips and inspiration. The sound vacillates between lushly melodic and sparsely mature. Busy Signal himself sounds like he is dancing through the whole album, and his personal magnetism shines through his voice, making the whole listening experience a delight.

Busy Signal speaks of puffin’, lovin’, dancin’ and money. He has his gang song but also his peace song. He raps, sings and chants. It’s a diverse album, held together with the thread of Busy Signal’s character. There is a sappy love song or two, but overall, D.O.B. is a party must.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Stories of Survival Authority Zero
Viking / Hardline / Suburban Noize

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Now this is a decent punk band. They may be edging toward pop-punk in sound, but their lyrics are good 'n’ radical. No cheesy love songs here. Of course, their one reggae songs aren’t really necessary, but every band has to have its pet sound.

The lyrics are all quite easy to understand, which is a benefit in case of Authority Zero. They strive to inspire, rather than just tell us what we already know (that the world is screwed up). From “Movement”: There’s a movement/An underground affair/Underneath the surface/A network aware. It’s good to know that there are still punks committed to the movement. Don’t let them get buried by that hetero-normative bull that is streaming out of electric guitars these days.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Don’t Let the Devil In Les Copeland
Earwig / Burnside

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Now this is some transcendent slide guitar. Never have the blues been so relaxing to the worker while at the same time so absolutely fascinating to the music connoisseur. You’ll pick out traditional finger-picking blues licks, flamenco melodies and almost transparent snatches of jazz.

But who is Les Copeland? He’s a little-known from British Columbia. Sure, a couple of the songs are hokey, or a bitty scrappy still from the recording session. But it’s about time that he was heard. The fact that the familiar-sounding tracks on Don’t Let the Devil In are originals will take you by surprise. So all you Americana collectors and old-time blues lovers, get something new on your shelf and make it Copeland.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Perfume Perfume Genius
Turnstile / Matador

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Naked piano, soft yet interesting voice, great song-writing and weirdo lyrics give Perfume Genius a successful debut recording. Kind of spooky, with double layers of keyboard and piano, but no drums or extraneous instruments, the sound of Learning takes you inside the head of its creator, Mike Hadreas. The lyrics cover suicide, abuse, God and addiction – some heavy stuff. But the album somehow makes it all more bearable, as if musically manifesting realities, doubts and fears is the first step to moving through them, to transforming them.

Perfume Genius leaves us to wondering what his next albums will be like. After one album, he is not trapped by any particular sound, and if this album was cathartic, will his future music be less teary? There are lots of directions he can go with his ethereal and pleasingly chord-heavy piano playing. Surely whatever he comes up with will be just as poignant as Learning.

New Album of the Week

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

The Things We Left Behind, 2 CDs Blue Rodeo
Telesoul / RedEye

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

They look pretty clean cut in their photos, and the piano, which is Blue Rodeo’s lead instrument, is extremely well-groomed, but don’t let all that fool you. With harmonies straight out of the British Invasion and a seductively entrancing pace, Blue Rodeo is a catch. It is typical alterna-country rock. But it’s certainly at the top of its genre.

This is the kind of stuff that your friends and you mom will like: it’s non-offensive, understandable and pretty. When you pop The Things We Left Behind into your player, the thing to do is sit back and let the (Neil) Youngian vocal harmonies sweep over you. Their voices are the best part of the music and will carry you away, whether or not you are sober.

Single of the Week: “Don’t Let the Darkness in Your Head”

Editor’s Note: Blue Rodeo’s style has drawn comparisons to a number of pop and rock icons. They improve markedly with each passing effort. With the right attention, they could even turn on a few USA listeners. Here’s hoping.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Maya M.I.A.
N.E.E.T. / XL / Interscope / Universal

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

M.I.A.’s astute recording Maya critiques the wreck that is media today, forcing us awake with grinding industrial sounds arranged into intelligent rhythms and political lyrics less mysterious but just as interesting as on her past albums. She is not wordy. As usual, she uses repetition or chanting to get her point across. And sometimes, it’s up to the music itself to give us her message about the broken media system. Her musical collaborators are very much present on this album.

M.I.A. is a musical revolutionary as well as a revolutionary musician. Her work has always been startlingly original. Maya also forms a fantastic response to Lady Gaga culture. What is sexualized by Lady Gaga is honestly laid out by M.I.A. While Lady Gaga’s famous theatrical music video features many minutes of her dancing around in a bikini before breaking out of prison and poisoning a diner full of people, the video for the Maya single “Born Free” doesn’t show M.I.A. once, instead blasting us into the reality of the U.S. Military’s racist, disturbing violence against civilians. She doesn’t have the easily consumable pop appeal of Gaga, but M.I.A. is one musician to pay attention to.

Single of the Week: “XXXO”

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Revolutions Per Minute Reflection Eternal: Talib Kweli + Hi-Tek
Blacksmith / Warner Bros.

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Effing praise the Lord, Reflection Eternal is back. Hi-Tek’s sparse beats are the best. The spaces he leaves between drums hits and sampled noises only built up your desire to hear the beat go on and on and on. It’s like eating extremely spicy potato chips. You always need to eat another one to quench to that burning left in the chip’s wake. Hi-Tek adds old rock and soul samples and lovely vocal clips just to take it to the fourth dimension.

As for Talib Kweli, he’s on top of current issues, hot politics and modern taste. None of his lyrics contain filler. His rhymes are clever and his flow stylish. Kweli is telling it like it is, with revolutionary consciousness and a careful critique of what’s going on in capitalism today. Nothing is trivial on this one, and it covers sex, work, music and the movement. Revolutions Per Minute is Reflection Eternal’s second album, and it comes 10 years after their first. Happily, even though their new album strongly recalls the hip-hop of the early millennium, it is still among the best of conscious hip-hop.

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

The Drugs I Need Austin Lounge Lizards
Blue Corn / ADA

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

Funny and on-point, the Austin Lounge Lizards combine folksy sounds with narrative lyrics to capture our attention. And once they have us, they assess the screwed-up medical industry, the pharmaceutical industry, monotheism, credit card debt, huge oil corporations and more.

It’s funny rather than moody. It’s heavily sarcastic and always on your side. It’s production is centered upon making the lyrics pronounced. However, instrumentation is not left by the wayside. Sometimes country-banjo twanging and other times almost Irish, the Lounge Lizards are talented musicians as well as truthsayers. Get this one for your friend who’s feeling alone in a Republican world – people from Austin know how it feels.

Single of the Week: “The Drugs I Need”

Editor’s Note: Regarding their name, Austin Lounge Lizards’ guitarist and founding member Conrad Deisler said: “It was a slang term I’d heard my grandmother use to describe gentleman of easy virtue who hung around in bars. When we started out, that’s just what we were doing doing – hanging out and playing for beer and tips and stuff like that.” This album has more that its share of great moments.

Political Album of the Week

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Various Artists
ABKCO / Universal

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

The movie Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World features a 22-year-old kid in a garage band – not the kind of band that plays “garage” rock, but rather the kind that features young indie-rockers who must practice in a garage. The soundtrack is formulated using songs from the kid’s band (Sex Bob-Omb) and songs written by real-life bands to fit the story of the movie, including Frank Black, T-Rex, Crash and the Boys and even Beck.

The songs are all raw indie rock, the kind that make you want to play electric guitar again for its sheer emotive fuzziness. Overall, the collection sounds like a theme album that had a movie made for it. It’s quality and focused, a good way to make a successful soundtrack.

Single of the Week: “Under My Thumb” by The Rolling Stones.

So Nice Gotta Do It Up Twice! (as spoken by the original NYC D.J., Jocko, 1955)

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Live in Istanbul, Turkey, CD and bonus DVD John Lee Hooker, Jr.
Steppin’ Stone / Jazzhaus

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

John Lee Hooker, Jr. lets edginess ride throughout his live Istanbul performance, capturing real shapshots of modern life and ensnaring musical tricks. Crack, McDonalds and cell phones mingle with the traditional blues themes of work, love and living down and out. Yet, as with all good blues, his songs will leave you feel much better than when you pressed play; he has the charisma that soothes the soul.

Hooker, Jr.’s energy is contagious, and you can hear the crowd between songs. Intertwining funk into his blues, Hooker, Jr. is anything but conventional. And thank goodness. Electrified blues could use a lift, and Hooker, Jr. is leading the way.

Single of the Week: “People Want a Change”

Let the Good Times Roll

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes

Mojo Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Reprise / Warner Bros.

Author:
Sophia Strosberg

“Mojo” has been praised as an album that was recorded without much studio fussing, with the band facing one another and recording songs in one take. “Mojo” is able to capture the feeling of a live performance, Tom Petty’s signature vocals floating above the bluesy rock. Washing, melodic guitars echo Petty’s voice, leaving us with a post to ring our mood around even when he isn’t singing.

 

The sound of “Mojo” is indeed personal. There’s nothing overproduced about this one. It’s melancholy, thoughtful. It isn’t stacked with radio hits. Instead it’s a baring of the soul too searching and honest to leave behind after a three-minute single. Be ready for the blues, and the continuing mojo of our long-time friend Tom Petty.

Single of the Week: “First Flash of Freedom”

Editor’s Note: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have picked up their old extraordinary sound on “Mojo.” His folk and country songs are well-served by his simple production. His dark and desperate sound is his greatest style, sorrow and regret and anger and pointed outward at the corrupt modern record industry. The man has truly managed to cross over into middle age with dignity. 

Best Album of the Week

Purchase from AmazonDownload from iTunes