June 9Phoenix, “Ti Amo”With their sixth album, Versailles rockers Phoenix are poised to once again capture the heartstrings of a generation. The first single, “J-Boy,” starts with an almost foreboding synthesizer chord before exploding into a bacchanal of warm tones and colors, dreamy vocals delivering lines that flow excellently with the melodies of the keys and guitars. It reminds me of this prevailing trend in indie rock to embrace almost new wave vibes in the keyboards and lo-fi vocal delivery. Great for those summer days with storms in the middle of them, with a perfect balance of dark and light.
Chuck Berry, “Chuck”Controversy aside, one cannot take part in discourse about popular music without acknowledging the contributions of Chuck Berry. The man basically invented rock ’n’ roll. Berry was never one to linger on the idea of albums, he was more of a singles man. “Chuck” is his first album after almost 40 years, and it comes a few months after his passing. Luckily for us, and surprising the skeptics, the man still had it at 90 years old. It’s not all ripping rock songs either, though solos are out in spades. Some of the better cuts on the record are the slower blues tracks, or my personal favorite, “Dutchman”, which is old-school bayou swamp storytelling blues, and it nails the atmospheres.
Cigarettes After Sex, “Cigarettes After Sex”If you add the “ambient-” genre qualifier to pretty much anything, I will most likely check it out. That’s how Brooklyn ambient-pop group Cigarettes After Sex got my attention a few years ago. If Phoenix is the happy side of this sound, CaS is the melancholy aspect. The guitars are put through so many effects to become shimmering, luminous beings beyond their neck and strings. Bass and drums cut through the blur, adding an almost elevator music quality to it, in the best way. I know there are fans of Slowdive and Mazzy Star in this town; don’t be afraid of checking out new bands.
Kronos Quartet, “Folk Songs”Kronos Quartet is the reason I appreciate classical and chamber music now, where, when I heard a classical arrangement, they seemed too “soundtrack-y” to be of interest. But when I heard Kronos Quartet play George Crumb’s “Black Angels,” it melted my spirit into a charred and blubbering heap of emotion. That spurred a secret love affair with contemporary classical recordings centered on the musicians of Kronos Quartet. This record is a collection of interpretations of traditional folk songs like “The Butcher’s Boy.” The amount of gravitas and emotional weight carried through by the string performances (and a mighty rendition of the vocals by Natalie Merchant) transcends the kitschy, older renditions in a way that only Kronos could.
Suffocation, “Of The Dark Light”Metal music has been going through an artistic renaissance over the past five years or so, with no genre immune. But somehow, some bands persist, and when so many death metal bands nowadays feel the need to add saxophones, Suffocation stands tall as the no-nonsense death metal titan they have been since 1988. It’s fast, it’s groovy, it’s got an angry guy gurgling sand while shouting to the heavens about death. These guys always bring the good stuff, though this record has a little bit cleaner production than some death metal does, so be prepared for that if you usually listen to stuff that was recorded in a cave with ’90s cellphone.