— -- intro: This week, Faith No More returns after an 18 year break, The Killers’ Brandon Flowers drops his second solo record, EDM artist Zedd releases a new album, BBC America’s “Orphan Black” gets both a soundtrack and score, vintage folkies The Milk Carton Kids record their third album in a live setting and Taylor Swift is joined by Kendrick Lamar for the single version of her song “Bad Blood.” This holiday weekend has a lot of interesting new musical offerings.
quicklist: 1title: Faith No More’s “Sol Invictus” ****text: It’s been 18 years since Faith No More dropped its last record. After 1997’s “Album Of The Year,” it looked like there might not be another Faith No More album, but to all the band’s loyal fans, your prayers have been answered with “Sol Invictus.”
During the off time, Mike Patton participated in variety of recordings, including his own side project, Peeping Tom. He also contributed vocals to Bjork’s “Medulla” album and grew his label, Ipecac Records. All the other band members kept busy, as well. The most visible besides Patton was probably keyboardist Roddy Bottum, who continued with his side band, Imperial Teen.
Here, the band is back in full force, wide awake and ready to dominate. Mike Patton is in top vocal form seesawing from low growls to operatic yelps -- although, for the most part, he pretty much sticks to the former, giving the album a metallic bit of menace. The opening title track sounds like Tom Waits in spots, as does “Motherf*****.”
At its core, “Sol Invictus” is a muscular beast that bounces from the heavy riffing of “Separation Anxiety” to the bellowing pop of “From the Dead.” It should come as no surprise to any past fans that this band maintains its eclecticism. After all, this is the same group that delivered the Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque “Epic,” and then, a few years later, dropped a very straight-ahead, loyal cover of the Commodores’ classic “Easy.”
On “Sol Invictus,” Faith No More proves its resilience. This is the album you have probably been waiting to arrive. Let’s hope this is a new beginning for the band and not just a one-off regrouping. We need Faith No More to make more records.
“Superhero” The ping-ponged vocal, “go, go go!” shouts give this track an elastic energy and the ominous breakdown that brings forth the piano riff and brings to mind classic Faith No More. Patton also still maintains the manic energy from his Mr. Bungle work to some degree. If you are wondering if you’ll like this album, this is the track you should hear first.
“Rise of the Fall” There’s an unusually spaghetti-western energy to this track, which is punctuated by Patton’s death-metal growls over the chorus section.
“Separation Anxiety” This song somehow captures a peculiar brand of madness and its beat remains a constantly moving force. Patton’s throaty whispering of the song’s title is wonderfully off-putting.
quicklist: 2title: Brandon Flowers’ “The Desired Effect” **1/2text: I’ll be honest. I really loved the first Killers record, “Hot Fuss.” Ever since then, from the disastrous “Sam’s Town” onward, following the band’s career has been nothing but a letdown. Lead singer Brandon Flowers’ second solo album, “The Desired Effect,” actually leaves me with the warmest feeling since that landmark debut, but at the same time, it is truly a unique offering, all the way down to the bizarre half-awake action photo of Flowers that graces the cover.
Partly what makes this album so weird is that it lurks in a murky sonic universe. This album sounds very much like it was recorded around 1987. But it’s not the kind of album from 1987 that you would’ve still been listening to by 1991. “Can’t Deny My Love” sounds like something that would’ve scored an episode of “Miami Vice” or even “Knight Rider.” “Still Want You” is overpowered by overzealous and hotly mixed background singers. “Digging Up The Heart” has a messy beginning that sounds like a mix between Springsteen at his most populist and the version of John Fogerty that brought us “Centerfield.”
Really, this record sounds like what usually happened in the '80s, when rockers tried to adapt to synth-heavy pop. There are shades of the '80s Steve Winwood that gave us hits like “Valerie” and “Higher Love,” throughout -- although, in Flowers’ case, he’s not quite the same level of songsmith as Winwood. “Dreams Come True” has a truly lazy chorus, even if it does sound like a bigger, synthier answer to Ryan Adams without the intelligent lyrical insight.
“The Desired Effect” is not a bad record, by any means, but it also isn’t very satisfying. I didn’t leave it feeling positively or disappointed. It left me feeling utterly indifferent. That being said, it is still Flowers’ most substantial work since “Hot Fuss.” Sadly, that isn’t saying much. Flowers has potential to excite, but he obviously needs some guidance.
“Can’t Deny My Love” Even though this song is cartoonishly busy and a bit over the top, it is still easily the best song on the record and it makes Flowers’ outrageous ambitions clear.
“The Way It’s Always Been” This is an unusual slice of digital gospel. It is also one of the more appealing pop moments on the set.
“I Can Change” This is a spacey piano ballad and is a possible single.
quicklist: 3title: Zedd’s “True Colors” ***text: Russian-German DJ Zedd is actually a classically trained musician from a very musical family, and flecks of that show in his music, because every now and then he journeys out of the bounds of cookie-cutter EDM. While his second album, “True Colors,” has its share or achingly standard-sounding moments, it is full of enough surprises to keep it on the captivating side.
Zedd, himself, brings some interesting sonic elements to the table, even if there are hints of boilerplate, formulaic pop rave-ups. Really, when this album hits a couple sore spots, it is some of the blander guest-spots that are to blame.
The focus is obviously on hits. In an aim for the charts, Zedd gives us “Beautiful Now,” on which guest vocalist Jon Bellion gives us the chorus, “We’ll light up the sky. / We’ll open the clouds. / ‘Cuz baby tonight, we’re beautiful now.” That is pretty much as deeply as this record goes.
Similarly, on “I Want You to Know,” Selena Gomez sings, “I want you to know that it’s our time. / You and me bleed the same light.” In other words, Zedd and company are trying to make the perfect dance song to capture the attention of the class of ’15 at this year’s senior prom.
Technically, Zedd is actually miles ahead of the standard fare of, let’s say, David Guetta. He has a glitchy and dubstep-influenced style that puts him in front of a lot of the rest of the pop crowd. So if you are wondering why this album has a favorable rating, it is because of Zedd’s level of skill. That, and songs on the second half like “Papercut” and “Straight Into The Fire” more than make up for the weak bits in the first half of the set.
Yes, this is an uneven album, but it is thankfully back-loaded with some real gems. Zedd may be charting often-traveled waters, but he does so using his own methods. There are countless other EDM DJs who seriously lack this level of skill.
“Papercut” (Featuring Troye Sivan) This is a surprisingly musically sophisticated number for a dance-pop record and it is a beautifully expansive cut that makes the most of its seven minutes and change. This song alone makes this album worth recommending. Nineteen-year-old South African vocalist Troye Sivan does Zedd’s backing track justice with his nicely understated performance.
“Straight Into the Fire” (Featuring Julia Michaels) There’s a strange vocalist class system going on here. Not all the guest vocalists get side billing on the back credits. You have to read far into the credits of the booklet to know that Julia Michaels sings this song, and the fact that all the guest vocalists aren’t treated equally isn’t right. Especially since Michaels makes a star turn here, out-doing some of the more hyped guests. She deserves credit. I gave it to her above.
“Daisy” (Featuring Julia Michaels) This is another uncredited Michaels appearance, and this this is a warm dose of EDM-flavored pop.
quicklist: 4title: “Orphan Black” - Original Soundtrack ***1/2 “Orphan Black” Original Score ****text: If you haven’t been watching “Orphan Black,” BBC America’s epic ode to human cloning, you are missing something amazing. Tatiana Maslany plays multiple roles with such effortless ease that her work should be seen as a master class in acting. It is a wonder why she has been denied a well-deserved Emmy. This week, the show released both its soundtrack and its score on separate discs.
The soundtrack features commercial music used throughout the three seasons of the show. This includes classics like the Troggs’ “Love Is All Around” and Tears For Fears’ “Head Over Heels” mixed with lesser-known gems like The Ettes’ punked-up “It Ain’t You” and The Belle Game’s “Blame Fiction.” Meredith Brooks’ omnipresent 1997 hit, “Bitch,” makes an appearance and it is still a mildly humorous pop hit. Daniel Romano’s country number, “When I Was Abroad,” possesses an uneasy quirkiness that is served with a wink and a nod. Like most soundtrack compilations, this is a mixed grab-bag of tunes with a wide range of sounds.
The score, on the other hand, is a pretty steady dose of well-constructed, semi ambient experimental cues from composer Trevor Yule. These tracks really bring forth the essence of the show, whether it is the screeching mechanical sounds of “We Meet Helena” or the soft, understated beauty of “An Honour.” Even at its most subdued and serene, Yule’s music possesses an unsettled undercurrent. Yule somehow finds an even balance that recalls a combination of the Dust Brothers’ score for “Fight Club” and Nine Inch Nails’ instrumental work. His work has that level of depth. And yet, there is an old-school orchestral element at work here, as well.
If you are a fan of this show, both of these discs are worthy additions to your collection.
“Orphan Black Theme” (Two Fingers) This is the one cut that is on both discs and, at a mere 37 seconds, it makes an impression and sets a tone. Compared to Two Fingers’ other studio work, this is profoundly straight ahead and accessible. You will wish for a longer version, but somehow this still does the necessary job.
“West End Sky” (Elliott Brood) On the soundtrack, Canadian Band Elliott Brood’s 2012 track “West End Sky” is an appealing slice of banjo-plucked folk.
“Blame Fiction” (The Belle Game) Another Canadian band, the Belle Game offers up this jumpy, tempo-shifting bit of appealing indie-rock.
“Alison Kills” (Trevor Yule) From Yule’s score, this song perfectly captures the series at its most intense.
“Kira’s Cue”(Trevor Yule) Again, taken from the score, this captures Yule’s work at its most delicate.
quicklist: 5title: The Milk Carton Kids - “Monterey” ****text: “Monterey” is the third release from the acoustic guitar duo, The Milk Carton Kids. It was recorded in a live context, giving these quiet, yet intricately crafted songs a freshly immediate energy. Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan each play vintage acoustic guitars and sing tight, sweet harmonies, bringing to mind everyone from Simon and Garfunkel to the Kings Of Convenience. Truth be told, this doesn’t feel like a current record. Like the duo's previous two records, this sounds like a long-lost gem from the folk heyday of the late '50s and early '60s and “Getaway,” for instance, showcases a classical level of serenity. This is a mellow, yet refined offering. This is soft folk and yet it never feels like it has been reduced to elevator music.
The fact that this music is anchored in a timeless musical tradition gives it a built-in sense of authenticity. The title track, with its ever-so-slight Latin tinge brings to mind a relaxed sunny morning.
If you are looking for something with a strong amount of rocking punch, this isn’t your record. This is easygoing, country-tinged folk music built off of a blueprint you may have thought no longer existed. This is new, vintage folk -- if such a thing exists.
“Ashville Skies” This five-minute opener captures the mood of the disc perfectly, and it is a good indicator of what is to come. Traditional folk influences get mixed with a slightly Spanish flare. Really, this album, on the whole, possesses some truly impressive acoustic guitar work.
“The Secrets of the Stars” This is a plaintive ode to existence that sounds like it documents its protagonist’s thought process at the moment of death. It sounds grim on paper, and it is. But it is also kind of beautiful.
“Shooting Shadows” This is a meditation on the death of the grandfather of a friend. Again, this sounds on the depressing side, but it works thanks to its expert-level craftsmanship. Again, Simon and Garfunkel comes to mind at the first bit of vocal harmony between Pattengale and Ryan.
quicklist: 6title: Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar’s “Bad Blood” (single version) ****text: Last year, “Bad Blood” was the most obvious standout single to me on Taylor Swift’s immensely popular “1989” album. I have to admit, it is a killer pop song. Its single version debuted during last week’s Billboard Music Awards, with a crazy, celebrity-filled music video from director Joseph Kahn. Of course, if I have to tell you this, you probably don’t listen to pop radio and haven’t been paying attention to the Internet over the last week.
For the remix, Swift found an unlikely collaborator in Kendrick Lamar, to whom she showed love by posting a video of herself lip-syncing to his stand-out track, “Backseat Freestyle,” a few months back. The love between the two is surprisingly mutual, considering that Lamar has publicly stated how much he loves Swift’s “Shake It Off.”
If you were a fan of Swift’s verses on the album version, they are now gone in order to make way for Lamar to drop not one but two lyrical verses. In one of those verses, he borrows a line from “Backseat Freestyle” as if nodding to Swift’s earlier video post.
Lamar’s presence makes this song much cooler than the standout album version. He pushes this song to a whole other level. A few years ago, when Swift was a “country” singer, this would have been a really strange pairing, but what is truly remarkable listening to this track is how well Swift and Lamar bounce off of each other. As someone who used to think Swift was a bit overrated, I find my love for this track (and particularly this remix) to be quite an interesting turn of events.
I didn’t dislike “1989.” I only passably liked it. But as time goes on, I think in some ways Swift may be slowly winning me over, to some degree. If she can continue to make pop this undeniably catchy and keep getting collaborators with Lamar’s level of skill and presence, she will continue to impress and she will continue to get people in her corner who never imagined listening to her albums.
“Bad Blood” is a very simple song. It isn’t challenging or complex in the least, but on a bright, appealing pop level it works quite well. When Swift sings, “Band-Aids don’t fix bullet-holes. / You say sorry just for show,” during the bridge, somehow her sentiments have more isolating resonance on this new mix. Somehow, this track offers an improvement on a song that was pretty decent in the first place.
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