Welcome to New This Week--the exciting blog which details the week's hottest new releases, points out which ones are worth purchasing and which are worth ignoring, and does so in a friendly, highly readable format.
While this week seems better than the norm--and seasonally, it's to be expected during this Back To School month--it does have one major failing.
But on the bright side: The playing field is level, and true quality can be our guide.
Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson: Break Up (Atco/Rhino) This unexpectedly delightful pairing teams Yorn, a respected singer/songwriter, with actress/singer Johansson, whose prior solo album of Tom Waits covers took a few critical blows unjustifiably, in my opinion, and comes up a complete winner. The duo harmonize well, Johansson sings in a slightly higher register than was the case on her last album, and the informality of the session--juiced by clever musical arrangements and excellent songs--completely clicks. Topped by an unexpected cover of Chris Bell of Big Star's "I Am The Cosmos" solo single, Break Up is an intelligent pairing, a great showcase for both Yorn and Johansson, and something created for love rather than money. That means it's good.
Big Star: Keep An Eye On The Sky (Rhino) Speaking of Big Star--the Memphis band of the '70s that's attained legendary status long, long after the fact--this deluxe 4-CD collection of tracks, mixes, demos and live performances showcases more "fresh" content than longtime fans ever thought might be possible. In the course of three albums, the band--featuring Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummell--crafted the roots of what would later be called power pop, showed extraordinary contemporary taste by covering the likes of Lou Reed, Loudon Wainwright III, Marc Bolan, Gram Parsons and Todd Rundgren in their scattered live shows, and generally were never less than impeccable. Cynics might expect this box set to be an exercise in record collector-fanboy excess, yet it's anything but.
Drake: So Far Gone (Cash Money) The arrival of this newly remixed mixtape by Drake, one of the brightest new stars in hip-hop, will surely set the stage for a larger career to come. Featuring guests Lil Wayne, Bun B and Trey Songz, the comparatively brief set includes "Best I Ever Had," "Housatlantavegas," and five additional tracks likely to compel the curious to check out what all the buzz is about.
Muse: The Resistance (Warner Bros.) Many people contend that Muse is Britain's finest band of the moment, and this new album won't be proving them wrong. Following a high-visibility slot on the MTV Video Music Awards show--in which they apparently opted to perform live rather than to track--this release is likely to be the one that brings the band the same superstar status Stateside that they already enjoy in most other civilized territories. Dynamic, well-played, well-sung music,
The Resistance showcases a premier band in its prime.
Nelly Furtado: Mi Plan (Universal Latino) It shouldn't surprise anyone who's seen singer Furtado's star rise on international levels that she'd go all out and do this--create a full new album completely sung in Spanish. Mi Plan--meaning "my plan" in English--boasts 11 tracks including first single "Manos al Aire" ("Hands In The Air"), is catchy, pop-filled, and in the words of one captivated Amazon consumer, "If you like Shakira, you'll love this." We'll have to catch the video.
Kid Cudi: Man On The Moon: The End Of The Day (Dream On/G.O.O.D./Motown) Sure to be very well received, this new disc from the young artist who co-wrote four tracks on Kanye West's 808s And Heartbreak shows a disciplined sophistication that bodes well for his future. Featuring guest appearances by West, Snoop Dogg, Common, and--unexpectedly--Ratatat, the album includes his hit "Day 'N' Nite" and spotlights a wide array of sounds aiming to appeal to fans of a multitude of genres. Timely, well-performed stuff.
Porcupine Tree: The Incident (Roadrunner) An exciting new venture from one of the few bands out there playing "progressive rock" without sounding the least bit retro--and that's kind of an occupational hazard--The Incident features Brit band Porcupine Tree in top form. A 2-CD set, highlighted by a 55-minute, 14-segment "song" called "The Incident," the new disc is yet another triumph for band founder Steven Wilson--and will be enjoyed even by those who feel "prog rock" came and went years ago with Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
David Sylvian: Manafon (Samadhi Sound) Speaking of arty rock, you may find the latest album from David Sylvian--founder of former glam-band Japan, collaborator with Holger Czukay, Robert Fripp and Kenny Wheeler, and man who clearly has been following his private muse for over two decades--a thoroughly delightful listen. Low-keyed and often deliberately ambient, the album features musical contributions from ultra-hip UK free jazzers Evan Parker and Keith Rowe, an inner sleeve featuring a portrait of Sylvian holding a dead rabbit, and a lot of pensive, moody stuff. First rate.
Sunny Day Real Estate: Diary, LP2 (both Sub Pop) Two timely reissues from Sub Pop of the enormously influential--some call them the first Emo band--and now reunited Sunny Day Real Estate, these disc are remastered, surprisingly crisp, and, frankly, sound as if they might have been recorded last week. If these reach that younger segment of the audience who grew up loving Weezer but never actually heard Sunny Day Real Estate, things could get very interesting indeed.
John Mayall: Tough (Eagle) You've got to love this long-lived British bluesman if only because this new set is his 57th studio album. The music's tough and bluesy rock, and Mayall's voice has held up remarkably well--considering that he sounded like a 75-year-old man back on his very first album in 1965. Stay at it, newbie!