Brian Wilson, Waxahatchee, Blues Traveler and More Music Reviews

What albums should you be listening to this weekend?

ByABC News
April 11, 2015, 1:17 AM
Musician Brian Wilson performs onstage during Brian Fest: A Night to Celebrate the Music of Brian Wilson at Fonda Theater, March 30, 2015, in Los Angeles.
Musician Brian Wilson performs onstage during Brian Fest: A Night to Celebrate the Music of Brian Wilson at Fonda Theater, March 30, 2015, in Los Angeles.
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

— -- intro: This week longtime Beach Boy Brian Wilson returns with a guest-filled solo album, singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield releases her third record under the Waxahatchee moniker, the members of Blues Traveler collaborate with many unexpected guests, Todd Rundgren continues his electro-slide with his latest, globally conscious record, Iowa City rockers Younger pay tribute to the “RIOT GRRRL” past, hip-hop producer Mr. Green combines street musicians with famous hip-hop artists and Frank Black and The Catholics re-release every song they have ever made. It’s another really busy week.

quicklist: 1title: Brian Wilson’s “No Pier Pressure” (Deluxe Edition) ***text: If Brian Wilson’s new album, “No Pier Pressure” proves anything, it is that he has not lost his knack for pristine vocal arrangements. As someone who thinks the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” is quite possibly the best album ever made, it is hard to deny Wilson’s power. Of course, on this album the material in general isn’t as strong as it was during the height of his Beach Boy fame, but that kind of lightning is hard to sustain.

“No Pier Pressure” is a guest-filled love letter of sorts to Wilson as a writer and an arranger, even if it is new material. It does get a little sleepy at times and it does offer a few awkward surprises. The Sebu-assisted “Runaway Dancer” with its flanged-out synths and house beat sounds a bit out of place, especially so close to the beginning of the record, but She & Him sound right at home on the bossa nova-flavored “On The Island.” Zooey Deschanel was meant to sing this brand of sunny, retro lounge music.

It’s nice to hear Wilson work with fellow original Beach Boy Al Jardine along fellow Beach Boys from other eras David Marks and Blondie Chaplin. One can’t help but take the inclusion of these three as a response to Wilson’s often stormy relationship with Mike Love, who as expected, is nowhere to be found.

Wilson even sounds at home singing alongside country singer Kacey Musgraves and Fun.’s Nate Ruess.

While this album is not particularly astounding, it proves that more than 50 years after he first hit the big time, Wilson remains one of pop’s most reliable craftsmen. If you appreciated the 2012 Beach Boys’ reunion record, “That’s Why God Made The Radio,” you should appreciate this album. It has the same echo-drenched, retro charm. It does sound a tad over-produced at times, but it still has its share of winners.

Focus Tracks:

“On The Island” (Featuring She & Him) This quick bit of martini-ready bit of sonic relaxation wouldn’t sound out of place on a She & Him record as Wilson takes a backseat to Deschanel vocally.

“The Right Time” (Featuring Al Jardine and David Marks) This collaboration with fellow Beach Boys Al Jardine and David Marks is a warm and welcoming slice of soft-rock.

“Our Special Love” (Featuring Peter Hollens) Wilson’s collaboration with a cappella expert Peter Hollens is notable because of its vocal harmonies. When the instruments come in, they are a tad over-compressed, but still this song captures that classic Beach Boys sensibility.

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quicklist: 2title: Waxahatchee’s “Ivy Tripp” ****1/2text: Singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield had a heavy task following up 2013’s masterpiece, “Cerulean Salt,” an album which held the number one spot on my annual list for that year. Thankfully, “Ivy Tripp” does not disappoint. It’s a completely different animal, but it shows the same kind of spark as its predecessor.

She’s moved up in the world, too, making her debut on the hugely respected Merge label. This album finds her upping the production values, while keeping the ramshackle appeal somewhat intact from her first two Waxahatchee records. Compared to just about anything on “Cerulean Salt,” “Under A Rock” sounds like a really bold, potential single, and “Poison” sounds downright massive. Still, many of these songs stay brief, as if momentary exercises in sound. As Crutchfield goes back and forth between stripped-down songs and ones with a full band, things remain interesting. The drum-machines and synths on “La Loose” for instance come as an interesting surprise, even coming a few songs after the opener, “Breathless,” which is firmly anchored by a heavily distorted organ.

Crutchfield fully believes in the power of the two-minute pop song. “The Dirt,” for instance sounds like a fuzzed-out answer to early-sixties jangle-pop, while “Stale By Noon” plays like a morose call-and-response lullaby.

“Cerulean Salt” may be still a better album, but only by a tiny hair. “Ivy Tripp” proves that that album’s effortless greatness was no fluke by nearly matching it. If you have never listened to Waxahatchee before, Crutchfield has now provided you with yet another collection you should hear. She’s one of the brightest voices in indie rock at the moment.

Focus Tracks:

“Bonfire” Like she did with the “Cerulean Salt” closer, “You’re Damaged,” Crutchfield saves the best track on the album for last. Beginning with a dose of radio static that morphs into guitar noise, the song quickly switches gears to become a softly stomping bass-led builder. It has a strong melody and it is highlighted with some shoegaze-esque bits of guitar distortion. At just under five minutes, it is also the longest track on the set.

“The Dirt” On this album, Crutchfield has a budding country twang in her voice on a couple tracks and even though this is a pretty straight-forward fuzz-pop song, there is a rockabilly core seething just underneath the surface. It almost sounds like a modern, grungy, post-Throwing Muses response to Tommy Roe’s 1962 hit “Sheila.”

“Air” This song has an anthemic kind of climb without trying. It maintains its rock roots and doesn’t sound much like what gets played on pop radio these days, but with its warm energy and its appealing chorus this is this album’s most perfect potential crossover single. It should at least get some play on Triple-A format radio stations.

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