Music Reviews: The Latest From Eminem, MIA, Avril Lavigne and More

PHOTO: Eminem performs on stage on Day 2 of Reading Festival 2013 on Aug. 24, 2013 in Reading, England.
Joseph Okpako/Getty Images

This is about as heavy a release week as one gets with anticipated new albums from Eminem, M.I.A., Avril Lavigne and James Blunt. In addition, we will listen to buzzed-about singer Sky Ferreira, Luscious Jackson's first album in 14 years, plus new albums from indie acts Melvins, Midlake and Cut Copy. If that's not enough, we'll also talk about the newly released album capturing Jimi Hendrix's 1968 performance at the Miami Pop Festival. Indeed, there is a lot to cover this week. (There are ten reviews in all!) Buckle up and get ready!

PHOTO: The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (Deluxe Edition)
Aftermath
Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" (Deluxe Edition) ***

Naming his new album as a sequel to what many would say was his career-defining set was a shrewd move on Eminem's part. It's a move made as if to immediately evoke an idea that this is one of his "classic" records. And, yes in the case of the clever, Beastie Boys-sampling, old-school send-up, "Berzerk," Mr. Mathers obviously has "the classics" on his mind.

After the utter-ugliness of 2009's "Relapse," Eminem issued the far superior, "Recovery" a year later. This album is thankfully closer to that album than the former, although Eminem's ugly side does show itself quite a few times, most notably in the much talked about "Rap God," where he throws around numerous homophobic slurs. Em may say that he's "not referring to homosexuals" all he wants, and point to all his gay friends and collaborators, but people obviously are still going to be offended. This is 2013 and he's been warned about this before, so his insistence to continue the practice is unquestionably an attempt to bait people and to get attention.

Such slurs are all over the record on the whole. He's smart enough to know he's pushing people's buttons. While the track has questionable taste as always, and it begins on a rocky note, it ends with some of his most rapid-fire lyricism to date. Even people who have issues with his content are hard-pressed to say that he doesn't possess technical skill. It's that imbalance that can make Eminem a frustrating artist.

In "Bad Guy," he even recalls "Stan" by having himself killed by a fan named "Matthew Mitchell," who is apparently Stan's brother. He raps both sides of the conversation, essentially talking to himself in the trunk of a car. He points out the fact that they have the "same initials." Either Eminem is trying to build his own Superman/Bizarro myth or this is a manifestation of some sort of self-hatred.

At 41, having a successful career, it seems like the man should be having more fun, but he comes off as utterly tormented. He can't be still this worked up and this angry -- can he? Of course the other perception is that this is "Slim Shady," the character and not Marshall. Again, identity issues and the notion of battling one's self. And of course, there are also still issues of misogyny, as exhibited in the tirade on "So Much Better." Whether this is a character or not, this persona is getting tired and calculated. It seems like he's angry now because he knows that's what people expect of him.

He's at his best when he is his most introspective and less vitriolic. His Rihanna-assisted track " The Monster" is a career highlight, recalling the two's last meeting on "Love The Way You Lie." The reason why it works is because it marries Eminem's drive, flow and energy with a beautiful pop-sense. This is a personal rhyme about his history, like "Lose Yourself." These authentic moments are so much more rewarding than the bravado-laden battle-raps where he usually uses his considerable lyrical skills to go in the darkest directions possible. This honest, candid side is on display as well on "Legacy."

Elsewhere, there's an almost new-found sense of breeziness here on "Rhyme Or Reason" where he samples The Zombies' classic "Time Of The Season." This is a very sample-heavy record, recalling hip-hop classics of the past. "Berzerk" samples Billy Squier, "So Far…" samples Joe Walsh. This sample-heavy old-school hip-hop approach can be attributed to Rick Rubin's involvement. He produced a lot of the tracks and co-executive-produced the record with Dr. Dre. Placing Eminem over his well-crafted sample-based beats, Rubin has forced out Eminem's more playful side. This is something that you wouldn't find on Dre's darkly minimalist "G-Funk"-influenced beats. In spite of his successful forays into other styles, hip-hop is still Rubin's best field. After all, as a part of Def Jam Recordings during the early years, he and Russell Simmons helped initially define the genre.

On "Love Game," rapper Kendrick Lamar joins Eminem over a sample of Wayne Fontana's "Game Of Love." Of course, that song was used to better effect in 1991 on De La Soul's track, "My Brother Is A Basehead." But then again, that De La track was a Prince Paul production, and he's a true artist when it comes to sampling. In any case, "Love Game" ends up being a highlight nonetheless because it again plays to Eminem's goofier side. And Lamar's rapid-fire assault shows why he is one of the most talked about newer figures in the rap game.

Guests are all over the place throughout the record. Fun.'s Nate Ruess appears on Eminem's song about his mother, "Headlights," Sia lends her distinctive voice to "Beautiful Pain" and Skylar Grey a friend and frequent collaborator appears in various places, including "Survival" and "A__hole."

It should be noted that in response to all the homophobic remarks on the record, Sia is donating what she earns from this collaboration to the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

As troubling as this record is, in Eminem's discography, this may be one of his least controversial and most well-balanced records. At this point, you know what you are getting when you get one of his records. There are still plenty of surprises.

If he shocks for the attention, he needs to stop. If he wants real "Rap God" status, he needs to drop the persona more often. At this point, the forced anger is too easy. Pushing people's buttons is too simple. After all these years, he has proven that he's got the lyrical skill but needs to move on. Believe it or not, "The Marshall Mathers LP 2," like its predecessor, "Recovery," makes baby-steps towards a brighter future. Nagging ghosts from the past still remain, however, which may not be quite the intension of the backwards-looking title. As much as this album recalls Eminem's classics and classic hip-hop in general, it also brings up some of his worst tendencies. Nevertheless, it definitely is a loaded listen which will promote discussion.

PHOTO:  "Matangi"
Interscope Records
M.I.A.'s "Matangi" ***1/2

There's little doubt that M.I.A.'s first two records, "Arular" and "Kala" are both genre-defying records. These were dangerous party albums that played with noise in an inventively fun way, bending samples into new context and finding a cross between dancehall-reggae and a Bollywood-infused style. She stumbled a bit on her last album, "MAYA," which ended up more on the unlistenable clunky side, with only tracks "XXXO" and "Born Free" serving as highlights.

"Matangi" is her fourth album, and it suffers from some of the same problems, but shows a bit more clarity, so it plays more like a challenging answer to "Kala." That's a good thing. If there is one thing that the mainstream needs, it is challenging records. And "Matangi" is definitely it. "Come Walk With Me," seems to borrow its tune liberally from Blur's "Charmless Man," a funny move considering t M.I.A. also sampled their song "Tender" on her recent, non-album track "Unbreak My Mixtape" and the fact that she originally rose to fame by designing an album cover for Damon Albarn's former girlfriend, Justine Frischmann's band Elastica, back in 2000.

You know, "Bad Girls." The song has floated around for almost two years now, being licensed for television in everything from "Orphan Black" to "The Mindy Project," and in films from "Identity Thief" to "The Bling Ring." This is a classic M.I.A. track.

Other than a home for "Bad Girls," what "Matangi" offers -- that should please some and frustrate others -- is some chaotic sampler-play. There are more high-speed samples looped into the mix than ever before. "Attention," "Warriors" and the title track all contain rapid-fire, high velocity sonic freak-outs. The kind of freak-outs that with the wrong crowd could easily clear the room. "Bring The Noize" creates a wall by looping M.I.A.'s rapidly executed lyrics. Casual listeners not knowing what to expect, may be taken aback by this and consider it noise. Those of us who appreciate sonic experimentation, will enjoy it. This is by no means a conventional or safe record. It has guts. It isn't without its missteps, though. "Lights," is a mess and doesn't have much of a tune. In fact, it sounds like M.I.A. herself is a little lost on the track, herself. This is a b-side at best, but the rest of the record makes up for this track's weakness.

She's more of a rapper here than ever before. Consider the infectious "Boom Skit" which should've been fleshed out into a full-fledged track and not left as a mere interlude, or the previously-mentioned "Bring The Noize," where she claims to be "an overweight, heavyweight, female Slick Rick." While that may be over stating things, she is showing more interesting lyrical power than before.

The fact that she names a track, "Y.A.L.A," no doubt as a tongue-in-cheek response to Drake's "Y.O.L.O" is pretty hilarious.

The album has a few smoother moments, too, like "Know It Ain't Right" and her track with the Weeknd, "Exodus" and its bonus remix "Sexodus."

It may have its peaks and its valleys, but "Matangi" is a risky record for a major label to release into the otherwise bland-pop atmosphere. This is going to have as many fans as it does detractors, but ultimately, it is a record you need to listen to at full-blast with the lights turned off. It is a whiling mix of sound, tossing an electro-punk attitude against a dancehall backdrop. It sounds like your most adventurous art-school friends suddenly switched their medium from visual to audio. The result is a visceral collage. You've been warned.

PHOTO: "Avril Lavigne"
Epic
Avril Lavigne's "Avril Lavigne" *1/2

It has been 11 years since Avril Lavigne's debut album ruled the charts, and it hasn't aged well. In truth, there are only three songs worth going back to, and no they aren't "Complicated" or "Sk8er Boi." "I'm With You," still plays surprisingly excellently, as do the rockers, "Losing Grip" and "Mobile." The latter cut wasn't even issued as a single. A video was made and it is on YouTube, but it is listed as having never been released. In truth, her best pop song to date is probably still "My Happy Ending," from her second album, "Under My Skin." Ever since then, she has mostly been lost in some sort of cheerleader-mode.

Back in 2002, critics often made note that at 17, she seemed much younger due to her bratty image. She just turned 29 and nothing has changed. She's still sporting the image of a brat. On the opener, "Rock N Roll" over a faux-rock dance beat, she sings, "I'm a mother______ng Princess," and declares that we should all be "putting up a middle finger to the sky" to "let them know we're still Rock N Roll." Is Avril taking her cues from propaganda films from the fifties, explaining to parents the dangers of "rock music?" It's ridiculous. While the song is catchy, it is horribly written and she should've progressed way beyond material like this years ago.

But the album continues in this vein with the single, "Here's To Never Growing Up" which, frankly hits the problem a little too hard on the nose. The song's verse portion even recalls "Complicated." It seems desperate to rehash the past. And her repeated lyrical refrain of "singing Radiohead at the top of our lungs," makes you wonder if she's actually ever listened to Thom Yorke and his crew or if she just decided to toss in the reference just to "let us know" that she's "still Rock N Roll."

And the nostalgia trip continues with the polished pop of "17." This album plays like someone looking at thirty and craving for a lost sense of youth, which honestly is a sincere reaction. Of the opening three tracks, this one has the most gumption, but it still is a rather weak grab.

And then there's "Bitchin' Summer," a song about being out of school and "hanging out in front of the liquor store," complete with an auto tuned rap break. This is as sad as it is calculated. But this would have been just as sad if she'd released it when she was "17." "Let Go," and "Under My Skin" at their weakest had infinitely better material than what can be heard here. She's been stumbling through her last few albums fueled by an empty-pop sugar-high. It really should not have gone this way for her.

She finally gets a decent song on "Let Me Go," but her husband, Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, comes in and cheeses it up. But who can blame him? The guy co-wrote most of this album with her. Of course he is going to want in on one of the best songs. He unfortunately brings it down.

As the tempos slow, things get less juvenile and slightly more interesting. "Give You What You Like" begins with the words, "Please put your drunken arms around me." (At last, darker material!) This is a rather sleazy song, but it is way more interesting than the shallow stabs at teen pop. At least there is some sort of grit. It's not just a middle finger.

But from there, things get worse, from the groan-inducing growl and strut of "Bad Girl," to the horrible attempt at dubstep on "Hello Kitty." "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" is a mid-tempo rocker about the excitement of life, as is the nauseatingly auto tuned, "Sippin' On Sunshine." The latter sounds like the worst kind of pop single. Seriously, Avril once more potential than this record lets on.

"Hello Heartache" has a better song buried beneath all the over-production and posing. "Falling Fast," like "Give You What You Like" shows promise, in fact maybe even besting the previous song. This should've been the blueprint Avril followed instead of the youth-chasing mayhem.

Closer, "Hush Hush" solidifies that Avril is better with softer songs. The ballads here are better written and don't have the sincerity of a bumper sticker, like the up-tempo numbers. The album on a whole fails because the bubblegum attempts lack any sort of grounding. They are all attitude without any sort of real grit. Listening to the ballads, this could've been a very different record. Maturity isn't all bad, and Avril needs to grow up. Once she embraces her age, stops the bratty posing, takes the zealous production down a notch and gets better songs, she might have a decent album. That may sound like a lot, but she has a really clear voice when it isn't drowned in effects, and over the years she's proven she can handle material with edge. Not faux-"edge." I believe she can handle the real stuff. The team who helped her make this record didn't do her justice. There comes a time to leave the kids' table and join the grown-ups. It doesn't mean you have to stop having fun.

PHOTO:  "Moon Landing"
Atlantic
James Blunt's "Moon Landing" **1/2

It's too easy to write James Blunt off as singer-songwriter fluff. He could be this generation's Christopher Cross, igniting both the award community and lite radio a few years back with his omnipresent hit, "You're Beautiful." As a protégé of Linda Perry, he has been at the cornerstone of an industry of marketable cheese, and yet there is something vaguely interesting about him that is only seen upon closer inspection. After all, in 2006, the man released covers of the Pixies' classic "Where Is My Mind?" and Crowded House's "Fall At Your Feet." He's apparently got good taste. A few turns to the left and he could be in the same grouping as Damien Rice or David Gray. So, while on the surface his lean towards heartfelt love songs, his polarizing, nasally voice that sounds like that of a long-lost Gibb brother and his tendency to chillingly, unnervingly stare at the camera (see the album cover above) may turn some people off, there may be a decent songwriter when one just examines the music.

When opener, "Face The Sun" rocks out a little in its middle section, it is a surprise – a little hint of edge. And while "Satellites" sounds as if it was crafted with pop-radio in mind and like a shinier, sleeker banjo-infused answer to Ed Sheeran or Mumford and Sons, you can imagine that if the production were taken down a few notches and the song was stripped down to its essence, it might sound better. It even possibly overcomes Blunt's call to lonely souls, when he sings the lines, "It seems like everyone we know is out there waiting by a phone / Wondering why they feel alone in this life." It's a little sickeningly saccharine, but it isn't without merit. Maybe Blunt stands out as an oddity because his kind of sentimentality isn't heard as much these days. He seems like he's from an older singer/songwriter model. His brand of song-craft would've done better in the AM radio world of the '70's where acts like Bread and Stephen Bishop thrived. That's the feeling one gets listening to "Bonfire Heart."

"Heart To Heart" again shows a slight hint of edge, but the track would sound better if the slight auto tune effect was removed from his voice and if the guitars were pumped up to make it burst as the heavier power-pop song it really wants to be. Again, with the handclaps and the "whoa-oh-ohs" in the chorus, he hits you over the head that this is meant to be radio gold, but there is a real song in there, so these flourishes don't distract. "Miss America" is where Blunt actually shines. It is available in both a regular and an acoustic version on the record and it is a moving piece of songwriting written about a celebrity who is watched at afar from a fan's perspective as she takes a downturn and circles the drain. Somehow, Blunt's work seems to frequently (and perhaps accidentally) approach this stalker-ish terrain, but such tales of voyeurism may be his forte. They definitely draw the listener in. This track is a better example of his work than "You're Beautiful," even if he never lives that song down.

The rest of the album is full of heartbroken characters, from the apologetic and jilted groom in "The Only One," to the accepting and still apologetic protagonist watching his ex move past him on "Always Hate Me." Blunt's biggest enemy is probably his tendency to lean towards the larger anthems. Like "Satellites," "Bones" aims for some sort of universal, inspirational expression of pain and loneliness. It doesn't work as well as the earlier track. And "Postcards" comes off like Jason Mraz or Train at their most syrupy and insipid.

But ultimately, "Moon Landing" shows Blunt as a scattered artist with potential. When he shines, he beams. When he sinks, he does so with a thud. He seems to favor empty sentimentality when his songs that tell a story showcase his work better. Blunt plays both sides of that fence, which can make him a frustrating writer. If you look beneath the surface, his writing sometimes pays off. It's an uneven, but promising record.

PHOTO:  "Night Time, My Time"
Capitol Records
Sky Ferreira's "Night Time, My Time" ****1/2

First off, the fact that Sky Ferreira chose to put a nude picture of herself in the shower, in a dimly-lit, bathroom on her album cover is odd. The picture itself is bothersome. It's not alluring. It's the opposite of glamorous or sexualized. She looks more sad and vulnerable than anything. But, it's an arty move on her part and frankly one I'm amazed her label, Capitol agreed to.

Considering the 21-year old has been gaining buzz for years based on her EPs, it is remarkable that "Night Time, My Time," is actually her official debut album.

She grew up around the spotlight, being a family friend of Michael Jackson. Much has been made of that association, but although her album is full of eighties pop references, none of them recall Michael in the least. Her sound is closer to an eighties electro-pop glory of groups like Pretty Poison or T'Pau with a slightly bummed-out shoegaze sheen. It's shiny pop with a darker undercurrent. Fans of current acts like Chvrches, Haim, Phantogram and The Knife should take notice.

Over her brand of synth-pop, layers of guitars add some texture, making her an interesting bridge between pop and indie rock. Indeed, if Miley Cyrus was trying to create a "Miami Vice"-like backdrop on her album, "Bangerz" this album easily bests her feeble attempt. But songs like "24 Hours" and the infectious single, "You're Not The One" not only recall the eighties, but they also come out of a world after the "Drive" soundtrack made the eighties-pop-influence cool again.

But this isn't necessarily a straight-ahead pop album either. It has enough fuzz to place in the alternative and indie-rock realm. "Nobody Asked Me (If I Was OK)" is a whirling mass of sound, as if someone took a dance song and funneled it through a buzz-saw.

Ferreira is set apart from others in the pop world because she can actually sing. As affected as the instruments are, her voice is out in front of the mix. "I Blame Myself" is an excellent, upbeat ballad where she shows her vocal range. When she sings, her lyrics seem honest. This doesn't play like a pose.

With all the retro influences combined, I don't think I've ever quite heard anything quite like "Omanko" before, where Ferreira sings about a "Japanese Jesus" over a thrilling whirlwind of sound. It's a shame that this has only come out digitally so far, I'd love to blast this through my stereo speakers in a lossless format. The sound is like an electronic vacuum.

"Heavy Metal Heart" is a hit waiting to happen with its big synths, big guitars and even bigger chorus. But yet, unlike most pop songs of the moment, it doesn't wink at you with its sense of formula. It's not engineered to be infectious. It just is.

Towards the end of the record, things get wonderfully odd. "Kristine" is a droney, industrial pounder. It is the one moment on the record when melody doesn't seem to be the real focus. It's an environmental dose of sonic whiplash. Is it weird? Indeed. But it's also unlike anything you'll hear this year.

"I Will" is a shiny, jagged new-wave romp, while "Love In Stereo" is takes a slightly ska-inspired guitar line and pairs it with a dance beat and blips from what sounds like a broken "Speak'n'Spell." Then there's the slow building ambient dirge on the closing title track. It goes from a whisper to all out noise. It is perhaps meant to be as unsettling as her expression on the album's cover.

What makes "Night Time, My Time" such an amazing album is that it doesn't seem engineered. It seems like a statement, no doubt, but its intensions aren't transparent. Sky Ferreira has created an album that perfectly balances a pop-sense with an unnerving brand of artistry. The pop songs are buried, but they are still accessible. The weirder moments surprise but still belong within the context of the whole. It's the kind of record one hopes will explode in popularity in a big way. It could potentially start the kind of fuzzed-out revolution pop radio needs. It's the perfect marriage between eighties pop and nineties experimentation, and yet at points it sounds like it is from the future. Well played, Ms. Ferreira, you have got our attention.

PHOTO:  "Magic Hour"
City Song
Luscious Jackson's "Magic Hour" ****

Luscious Jackson's first album in 14 years is called "Magic Hour." That title may be a little bit of a misnomer considering it actually clocks in at a few seconds over a half hour, but they got the "Magic" part right, so what is there really to complain about?

The set's brevity with its ten tracks, as well as its stripped down sound don't recall the band's major hits, Sound-wise, it is closer to their first EP, "In Search Of Manny" from 1993.

Fans on "Naked Eye," "Here" or "Ladyfingers" shouldn't worry. If you loved their more commercial period, not much is different. Jill Cunniff and Gabby Glaser still have their signature vocal interplay and Kate Schellenbach is still behind the drum-kit, but this set, like their earliest work, sounds like it was homespun on dingy analog equipment, giving their brand of funk a hand-made fuzziness. This is the reunion of three friends, returning to what they love.

Keep in mind, that Luscious Jackson were the secondary band signed to the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal label and that Schellenbach was the Beasties' original drummer when they were a hardcore punk band, so the two groups share a lot of the same sensibilities. You can hear the same influences on "You And Me" and the dub-flavored"#1 Bum" as you can on much of the Beasties' instrumental work. The fact that Grand Royal now no longer exists and that Adam Yauch is no longer around to see his friends come back together makes this a little bitter-sweet. But maybe Yauch's untimely (and unspeakably sad) passing played a role in these women's return to making music together. Life is too short. The union between the two groups is still strong, though. Adam Horovitz co-produced the space-funk track, "So Rock On."

"Are You Ready" is vintage Luscious Jackson, albeit with a blistering fiery flare. You feel like the mic is propped up right next to the amp speaker when the wah-wah pedal goes into action. This is the amazing kind of out-of-the-box disco-funk that was missing from a Luscious Jackson-less world.

There's a wonderful alt-rock fuzz to the ballad "We Go Back." They were never a grungy band, but you can feel their punky roots seep through when the chorus kicks off. With its lyrics about lost youth and Cunniff's repeated line of "still feels like you're here," one cannot help but think of Yauch. His spirit remains in the friends he left behind.

"Magic Hour" is a back-to-basics record that reminds us what we were missing. The women of Luscious Jackson reduce their sound to its absolute essence and in the process produce a beautiful bit of hip-hop and rock influenced funk. Let's hope this isn't a quick, one-off return. The world needs more records like this one. Welcome back!

PHOTO: "Tres Cabrones"
10 SPOT
Los Melvins' "Tres Cabrones" ****

Having been together for 28 years now, it should come as no surprise that the Melvins (here credited jokingly as "Los Melvins') have their patented sludge-rock down to a science. They also have been quite prolific as of late, given that "Tres Cabrones" is their second album of 2013 after their covers set, "Everybody Loves Sausages" in March.

Buzz "King Buzzo" Osborne still can bellow with the best of them and Dale Crover's drumming still packs a distinctive thwap. Their sense of humor remains intact as evidenced by their off-the-wall, minute-long rendition "99 Bottles of Beer" and the downright silly "In The Army Now."

The opening trilogy of "Doctor Mule," "City Dump" and "American Cow" proves that group members have nicely maintained their signature core. "American Cow," for instance sounds like the kind of bulked-up riffage their friend Kurt Cobain used to specialize in. In fact, if you've never heard the Melvins before, imagine Nirvana at their most madcap and fuse it with a touch of Primus. It may not be the stuff hits are made of but it is the kind of thing that gets you much respect and a firmly-driven cult fanbase.

The nine-minute jam, "Dogs and Cattle Prods" contains an epic feedback-assisted solo before it virtually turns into a blues number. The tail-end of the track is a prime example of the Melvins at their best. Buzzo and company are known for their fits of sonic insanity, but every now and then, moments of utter clarity sneak into the mix. The second half of this track wouldn't sound out of place on a heavy Foo Fighters record. "Psychodelic Haze" delivers the kind of grunginess its title suggests, "Walter's Lips" is a blistering punk assault, and "I Told You I Was Crazy" sounds like what would happen if Tom Waits fronted a sludge-rock band and liked to play with electronics.

"Tres Cabrones" may not be for everyone, but it shows that after all these years, the Melvins still can deliver some momentous surprises. The fact that this is also one of the best and most accessible albums the band has released in recent years speaks volumes.

But, novices please remain aware. This is some ultra-heavy material and it may not be suited for those unprepared for its tremendous heft.

PHOTO:  "Antiphon"
ATO Records
Midlake's "Antiphon" ****1/2

Fans of the bands Junip and Grizzly Bear should find much to appreciate on Midlake's fourth album, "Antiphon." The Texas band shares a knack for ominous, earthy, bass-driven grooves with the former and an old-timey classic appreciation for fine orchestration with the latter.

On the whole, "Antiphon" stands as a continuous mood-piece, from its semi-psychedelic opening title-track to the "Dragging The Line" bass-line borrowing on "The Old And The Young." This sounds like the kind of rock record bands used to lock themselves in the studio and effortlessly and tirelessly craft in the early seventies. It's the kind of rock that has a timeless quality. Like an American answer to A Band of Bees, these guys are set to craft something beautiful. "It's Going Down," for instance sounds like a sad lament for fallen Autumn leaves, whereas "Vale" goes from an ethereal orchestral number to dissonance.

It seems like a straight ahead record, but it encompasses a feeling of an approaching menace. It feels like the chilled calm before the storm and yet there is a sense of serenity and warmth in these ominous, moody pieces. "This Weight" has blends gorgeous vocal harmonies with a few acid rock flourishes. Deep in the mix, you can hear woodwinds and added guitar parts. (Is that a harp???) This is a meticulously made record. Attention to detail is key.

As "Corruption" sinks you into its minor-key melody, lead vocalist Eric Pulido's words effortlessly float over the track. The amazing thing is, this is Pulido's first album as the band's lead singer, after the departure of former lead singer Tim Smith. Pulido does a bang-up job and the shift shouldn't upset fans of the band's earlier work. On "Antiphon," the members of Midlake deliver a thought-provoking, stirring set of songs. It's the kind of record you want to get on vinyl and listen to while sitting right next to the speaker.

PHOTO: Free Your Mind"
Loma Vista/Republic
Cut Copy's "Free Your Mind" ****

Melbourne, Australia's Cut Copy hit both artistic and pop perfection on their second album, 2008's "In Ghost Colours." Their brand of electro-pop somehow sounds both timeless and current, while evoking classic memories of groups like New Order and the Pet Shop Boys. On their 2011 album, "Zonoscope," they let in some psychedelic rock touches, as heard on the standout track, "Where I'm Going."

"Free Your Mind" returns them to a similar realm as "In Ghost Colours." It's like a soundtrack to the happiest, most upbeat rave you've ever attended. From the bright day-glow colors of the packaging, it is evident that this is going to be quite a party. The title track and its following track, "We Are Explorers" are both dance-floor hits waiting to happen.

As with a growing and surprising number of 2013 releases, this is yet another album that further explores the glee-driven energy of 1980's pop. "Let Me Show You Love" sounds like an even cross between Yaz and "Violator"-era Depeche Mode.

But there is also a good bit of experimentation throughout, from the spoken-word trance-euphoria of "(into the desert)" to the woozy, tripped-out "Wall Of Sound" groove of "Dark Corners & Mountaintops." The house-music jam, "Meet Me In The House Of Love" demands to set off a party, while "Take Me Higher" explores a more ethereal, sedate side before it builds and blasts off. On "Walking In The Sky," the band takes an airy rock detour, while still maintaining the psychedelic energy.

Throughout "Free Your Mind," the members of Cut Copy have condensed the last 35 years of electronic music and its evolution into a thoroughly satisfying party-driven set. This is electronic music at its most celebratory and blissful.

PHOTO: "Miami Pop Festival"
Sony Legacy
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – "Miami Pop Festival" ****

For a guy who died after a really brief recording career at such a young age, Jimi Hendrix sure did leave a lot of good music behind. The fact that more than 40 years after his death, recordings are still being unearthed is an amazing testament to not only his level of output but his impact as well. Of course, most of these left over recordings are live versions or alternate takes, but still, every bit is worth archiving.

The latest release from the Hendrix vault is his May 1968 performance at the Miami Pop Festival. If you have all the other live albums that his estate has released over the years or are just a passing fan, this performance might not be a mandatory purchase, but the fact is, it shows Hendrix in his explosive, rock prime. He rocked harder and louder than just about anyone else from this period.

Longtime producer, Eddie Kramer cleaned up these recordings and they sound excellent, from the explosive chords that set off "Hey Joe" to the "slow blues" of "Hear My Train A Comin'." You can hear every burble and every bit of hiss coming from Jimi's amp.

This is a live performance, so you might complain that you can't really hear the background vocals on "Fire," but those little bits of imperfection come with just about every live performance. They are part of the experience -- no pun intended.

Your speakers will throb at the mammoth sound of "Purple Haze," reminding you why collections like this exist. Jimi didn't live long enough for a lot of us to actually get to see him live and for most of us, this is the best we are going to get. For those lucky enough to be in attendance that day, this collection will stand like an almost forgotten but treasured memento.

Next week: We'll explore Lady Gaga's "Artpop" and listen to the Beatles' second volume of BBC recordings.

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