Music Reviews: Alabama Shakes, They Might Be Giants, Passion Pit, Wire and More

Find out what albums you should be listening to this weekend.

ByAllan Raible
April 26, 2015, 2:13 AM
PHOTO: Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes performs onstage during day 1 of the 2015 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on April 10, 2015 in Indio, Calif.
Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes performs onstage during day 1 of the 2015 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on April 10, 2015 in Indio, Calif.
Getty Images

— -- intro: This week, soul band Alabama Shakes release their second record, legendary Brooklyn alt-rockers They Might Be Giants release their 17th album, electro-glitch-pop project Passion Pit releases a third full-length, Idaho fuzz-rockers Built To Spill make a comeback after a six year break, buzz band Speedy Ortiz make a huge splash, influential art-rock band Wire drop a new album and highly experimental electronic artist Squarepusher continues to push boundaries. There is a lot to be excited about in music at the moment.

quicklist: 1title: Alabama Shakes’ “Sound & Color” ****text: If Alabama Shakes’ 2012 debut, “Boys & Girls” established the band’s awe-striking soulful sound, their second record “Sound & Color” pushes them even further. While their back-to-basics approach still remains a centerpiece of their sound, this record finds them further stretching, blending elements of jazz and psychedelic rock into the mix.

At the center, of course, is front-woman Brittany Howard, who is an undeniably distinct force. Her howl packs the kind of emotion you used to hear classic R&B of the past. With her at the helm, this band often feels like a grungy bar-band update on the sounds that Stax Records made famous. This is earnest soul music and at the same time it goes hand-in-hand with the music of people like Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and Charles Bradley.

While “Boys & Girls” was relatively straight-ahead, “Sound & Color” has a risky and eclectic feel which not only pays off, but also makes the record a bit of a shape-shifting marvel. “Gemini” is some otherworldly, woozy space-funk with some acid-rock edges, while “The Greatest” is a slice of blisteringly raw rockabilly-punk. “This Feeling” and “Guess Who,” on the other hand, are mellow, tender-exercises that somehow find some sort of sonic middle-ground between Minnie Riperton and Macy Gray.

In the end, “Sound & Color” shows this band to be stunningly versatile. Their first album was a mere warm-up in comparison and this record might have some bizarre detours to some, but frankly if they keep going at this level, years down the line they will be considered among the greats. This is a gutsy collection that puts its intentions firmly on the table.

Focus Tracks:

“Gimme All Your Love” This is a beautiful ballad and one of the two songs they performed on their recent appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” At the 2:12 mark the song gets extremely quiet. Watching their SNL performance, you could have heard a pin drop in the studio during this section and the recorded version maintains that sense of integrity.

“I Don’t Want To Fight” This is the other song they performed on SNL and it showcases an extension of the kind of funky soul they exhibited on their first record, except it has a notable, darkly groovy undertone. Howard’s scream at the beginning of the song alone is a truly remarkable display of her power as a performer.

“Dunes” This song is the first true indication that this album is going to be a bit of a departure from their first effort, but it is full of the kind of psychedelic goodness that gives it a classic sound. I want to listen to this song on vinyl.

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