Record Release Rundown: The Latest From Ingrid Michaelson, Nas, Jason Derulo and More

What you should be listening to this weekend.

ByAllan Raible
April 20, 2014, 9:00 AM
PHOTO: Nas performs onstage at the Opening Night Concert during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival at The Beacon Theatre, April 16, 2014 in New York.
Nas performs onstage at the Opening Night Concert during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival at The Beacon Theatre, April 16, 2014 in New York.
Larry Busacca/Getty Images

April 20, 2014 -- intro: This week Aimee Mann and Ted Leo join forces as The Both, Ingrid Michaelson delivers her most pop-driven album to date, Nas repackages his signature work, Jason Derulo offers up his fourth collection of dance and pop-flavored R&B, the Afghan Whigs return after a 14 year absence, Jessica Lea Mayfield shows a surprising rock side, Ziggy Marley plays around while simultaneously echoing the past and former Semisonic leader Dan Wilson delivers his latest solo album. There is a lot of music you need to hear this week.

quicklist: 1title: The Both’s “The Both” ****text: The Both is the duo formed by Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. On the surface, this union seems both unusual and fitting. Going back and listening to their separate respective work with ‘Til Tuesday and Chisel it might not seem like a likely match, but if you listen to Mann’s solo work and Leo’s work with his band’s the Pharmacists, it is easy to see that they are both aiming for a power-pop middle-ground. On this, their debut album, they complement each other nicely with interplay similar to that of A.C. Newman and Neko Case on the New Pornographers’ records.

They temper each other. It is nice to hear Mann get a bit of Leo’s crunch behind her. She has a few rockers on here that show a side of her not heard since 1995’s “I’m With Stupid.” And at the same time, her cerebral approach has rubbed off on Leo as well, giving him a nice sophistication. So, Mann’s energy is turned up and Leo’s energy is turned down, meeting at a pleasing middle-ground.

Ted Leo to me has always come off like an even cross between punk-era Joe Jackson and Freedy Johnston. He can rock with a snarl and then sing you something sweet. Mann has continually and winningly forged her own way to become one of the key modern figures in the “Adult-Alternative” genre. Ever since she contributed to the soundtrack of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia,” she has continued to move forward in an extremely distinct way. Her often deadpan delivery is always thick with implied subtext. Leo has channeled hardcore roots into a pop-punk concoction. If you don’t believe me, check out his standout single, “Me & Mia” or his vital take on Tears For Fears’ classic, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” which he recorded for The A.V. Club’s web segment, “A.V. Undercover.”

In the end, The Both is a meeting of minds that I wouldn’t have necessarily expected. Once you hear the results, it seems pretty obvious why these two decided to record together. I hope they have more records to come.

Focus Tracks:

“Milwaukee” A key power-pop gem of a single, with the chorus, “It’s the nucleus burning inside of a cell.” Like much of the album, this song finds the two singers eagerly trading off on the verses. The production is sharp and Leo’s guitar soloing adds the right amount of jam-rock roughness, creating a nice sense of tension.

“Hummingbird” This acoustic number plays like an out-take to Mann’s 2002 album “Lost In Space.” It’s like a sequel to her song “The Moth.” She and Leo both find tenderness in the rich tune, harmonizing together quite well. In addition, with its lyrical mention of “protesting on Monsanto,” the song shows itself to be subtly politically and environmentally aware. This is a beautiful track and it deserves to be a single.

“No Sir” This song has more of Mann’s signature stamp than Leo’s, showcasing the late-Beatle-esque, sweeping waltz-driven swagger that has become her bread-and-butter. It builds nicely and again Leo provides an appropriately ragged-sounding solo that compliments the tune quite well.

“Bedtime Stories” This track is a perfect mix of Mann’s and Leo’s styles, with a thunderous punky intro, giving way to some mid-tempo new-wave power-pop. The song has a really nice chorus where the two switch off sections. It will stick with you. Again, this is another strong single contender. As the song ends, the duo makes excellent use of an echo effect, as if driving the song further into your consciousness.

“Honesty Is No Excuse” This is an excellently executed Thin Lizzy cover that fits in with the duo’s originals quite well. It sounds more celebratory than the original with its use of hand-claps but still the gravity of the song’s lyrics remains intact.

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