• Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Preserve Their Legacy on 'Hypnotic Eye'

    Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Preserve Their Legacy on 'Hypnotic Eye'

    Tom Petty would like you to know he's been doing this shit forever and likely will after the seas consume coastal cities. "I've got a dream/ I'm gonna fight till I get it right," he coos on Hypnotic Eye's opener, "American Dream Plan B," after a volley of distorto-riffs and singing in that patented whine pitched between Roger McGuinn and Mr. Rogers. Will he be your neighbor? Will he let you be his? He won't back down. "My success is anybody's guess," he'll brag to anyone in earshot.Hypnotic Eye is Petty's 13th studio album with the Heartbreakers, a prototypical clutch of reactionary attitudes emboldened or sweetened or if we're lucky mitigated by Mike Campbell's inexhaustible supply of riffs and Petty's devotion to the chorus. Even in his salad years not much save platinum sales separated the petulant Hard Promises from the anything-goes Let Me Up (I've Had Enough).

  • Owen Pallett's Avant Chamber-Pop Plumbs New Depths on 'In Conflict'

    Owen Pallett's Avant Chamber-Pop Plumbs New Depths on 'In Conflict'

    Owen Pallett's Best Score nod for Her ranked with Elliott Smith's among the bigger Oscar surprises of recent years. Toiling in the background as an arranger for the likes of Arcade Fire, Mountain Goats, and Pet Shop Boys, he has also released well-regarded solo albums, all of which boast a tune or filigree of note but are smothered by tentativeness and modesty. Hearing a violin sawing away at one note while Pallett sings over deluxe strings, "I am not afraid, she said, of the non-believer in me," on "I Am Not Afraid," comes as a most welcome shock. Warm, often inscrutable, positing adulthood as the necessary product of a fantasy-rich childhood, In Conflict is Pallett's most realized album.

  • Aussie Rapper Iggy Azalea's 'The New Classic' Is a Stone Cold Dud

    Aussie Rapper Iggy Azalea's 'The New Classic' Is a Stone Cold Dud

    She's a singer and a rapper, the first white woman to appear on the cover of XXL, and an uninformed expert on Aborigines. She has scored three U.K. Top 20 hits but endured the delayed release of her debut album, the optimistically titled The New Classic. Iggy Azalea, in short, understands the vagaries of third tier stardom in the 21st century. "Have you ever wished your life could change?" she asks on "Change Your Life," a collaboration with former label mate T.I. Eleven tracks later the question lingers. Zippy, squeaky, and context-free, The New Classic establishes the Australian artist as a competent rapper with a decent ear for hooks, but that's about it.The fustiest part of the album is helmed by Norway's The Messengers, the duo responsible for the stuttering, whirring, processed beats and manipulated multi-track harmonies for the likes of Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, and Pitbull.

  • Drive-By Truckers

    The Drive-By Truckers' 'English Oceans' Gets Stuck Between a Groove and a Rut

    Drive-By Truckers began as a great band that wrote good songs, and have turned into a good band that wants to write good songs. Destined to convert no one who stopped caring after co-frontman Jason Isbell left following 2006's fraught A Blessing and a Curse, the Alabama crew have kept on truckin', as gnarly and rotgut as the sympathetic grotesques in their songs.

  • Angel Olsen / Photo by Zia Anger

    Angel Olsen's Stark, Fraught 'Burn Your Fire for No Witness' Is Equal Parts Heat and Smoke

    Angel Olsen buries a thesis statement at the end of her third album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness. On "Window," over a barely audible kick drum and the sparsest of chords, she sings, "We live our shadows down / It's how we get around," pushing her voice up to the limits of her register; for hymnal resonance, an organ accompanies the subsequent order, "Open a window sometimes / What's so wrong with the light?" In case no one misses the point, the full band supports the track's crawl toward an uncertain clarity.She could be addressing a lover or a friend. Herself, too. Unyielding and stalwart in its devotion to the verities of confessional, folk-tinged balladry, No Witness is a difficult album to play unless you're ready to accept Olsen's self-questioning pinpricks.

  • One Direction / Photo by Getty Images

    One Direction Pour Some Sugar on You on the Audacious, Priapic 'Midnight Memories'

    When the cheering stops, pay for more cheering. It's what record companies do, even in this age of corporate thrift, and that's why being in a boy band is the shit. As soon as the label recoups its advances, you and your mates underwrite your senescent years with the songwriting credits that your backers now allow you to claim. And according to the evidence, the credits matter this time for One Direction: On Midnight Memories, I can hear what influences make them beautiful. Maybe Louis Tomlinson — whose name dominates the credits — has a hair-metal playlist in which Def Leppard dominates. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.Which is a relief. In 2011, I couldn't believe friends preferred 1D's inaugural hit "What Makes You Beautiful" to the Wanted's "Glad You Came," which put over its brain-dead single-entendre with an accordion and the dudes' slavering 1-900-LUST vocals.

  • Cass McCombs in Los Angeles

    Cass McCombs Lets It Roll With the Spooky, Overstuffed 'Big Wheel and Others'

    Big Wheel and Others has an awful lot of songs. Big whoop. Cass McCombs released an awful lot of music in 2011, too: two albums' worth. When Elvis Costello pulled that same trick in 1986, the Nick Lowe-produced Attractions record Blood and Chocolate came second, as if to remind anyone wary of the proto-roots rock King of America that he could still write cantankerous stuff if you put a quarter and a dime in the machine. But McCombs' sensibilities are closer to Conor Oberst's, who released two Bright Eyes albums in 2005: Commensurate with their affinities for the knottier climes of the American singer-songwriter tradition is a penchant for man-on-the-mountain philosophizin'.In 1975, McCombs' seventh album likely would have gotten the gatefold treatment, not to mention the praised-to-the-skies-by-Jann-Wenner treatment.

  • MGMT, 'MGMT' Review

    MGMT's Muddled Third Album Will Leave You Just as Confused as They Seem to Be

    Among the things for which we should be grateful to Spandau Ballet: the blood-simple guitar hook anchoring their 1983 global hit "True." Hip-hop and R&B act PM Dawn sampled it in 1991 for their own hit, "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss," infusing the original's creamed corn with the right strain of remembrance-of-things-passed wistfulness. It’s not one of those déjà vu things: "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss" is better art than "True."Inspired cross-pollination also anchors Frank Ocean's "Nature Feels." The final track on his debut 2011 mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, stands out as its one true erotic moment, with Ocean drawling, "I've been meanin' to fuck you in the garden" while a coiled, rubbery bass riff, rhythm strums, and a high synth line evoke blissed-out pastoral splendor. Give MGMT's "Electric Feel" credit: Ocean and his producers grafted it wholesale.

  • Pet Shop Boys, 'Electric' (x2)

    Pet Shop Boys, 'Electric' (x2)

    Being boring suits Pet Shop Boys as poorly as Bruce Springsteen covering one of their songs. Fortunately, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have addressed the former problem and reversed the latter hypothetical. Their 12th studio album is their most beat-savvy (and beat-heavy) since 1988's Introspective, a boon for fans of "Love Comes Quickly" and "Two Divided by Zero" who long for the early sleaze: The syncopated electronics here subsume the ardor that Tennant has spent too many years indulging.A synth-pop act recognized for top-drawer tunes who've lately sounded as if they'd outgrown clubs, Pet Shop Boys have spent most of the new millennium buying and selling their history. 2009's Yes and 2012's Elysium fell prey to Tennant's singer-songwriter tendencies; meanwhile, second-tier hitmakers like Xenomania garnished retreads in the dowdiest way possible.

  • Matt Berninger and Aaron Dessner of The National / Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty

    The National, 'Trouble Will Find Me' (4AD)

    Anatomies of melancholy in modern music rarely come with skeletons as complete as the National's. Their audience continues to expand — hell, I heard "Fake Empire" in a Publix supermarket two months after its 2007 release. From the beginning, the Brooklyn-via-Ohio band's craftsmanship complemented their rumpled, aging preppy chic, and on their aptly titled, once again self-produced sixth album Trouble Will Find Me, they add expansive filigrees: a thicker mix, subtle synth washes, more guitar, and a convincing performance by lead singer Matt Berninger. For listeners coming to all this late, the album makes a splendid introduction — they've never sounded so comfortably numb.

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