Johnny Cash, "American Recordings V: A Hundred Highways"
Less than two months after the arrival of "Personal File," the flood of Johnny Cash material continues unabated with "American V: A Hundred Highways." This new album contains the last music Cash recorded before he died. Not surprisingly, it makes for a heavy listen.
The album is such heavy going that critics have no choice but to focus on the its melancholy gravitas, but they've turned out a largely favorable batch of reviews. The Village Voice's review, grandly titled "The New Johnny Cash Album Will Tear Your Soul Apart," refers to "American V" as "one of the most depressing albums" the critic has "ever heard." Rolling Stone (rating: 4 stars) follows suit, writing that the album "feels like a deathbed benediction."
The album may not be easy listening, but it has its rewards. The Pitchfork review (rating: 7.8/10) gives some indication as to why: "[The album] is a satisfying and often moving final chapter to Cash's life and career, one that rejects self-pity and remorse in favor of hopefulness and even celebration." The L.A. Times also spotlights some of the album's lighter moments, but noted that even the levity was the result of "a man smiling in the face of death."
In the end, PopMatters (rating: 7/10) explicates what many other reviewers only imply, writing that "it's impossible to listen to this record without placing it in the context of its creation," and that as such, the album "stands as a fitting, gentle coda, a farewell from a major talent."
TV on the Radio, "Return to Cookie Mountain"
TV on the Radio made a bit of a splash in the indie-rock community with the release of their debut album, "Young Liars," in 2003. The next year's "Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes" made enough of an impression that the band was picked up by Interscope, the label on which the Brooklyn, N.Y., act has just released the highly praised, if unfortunately titled, "Return to Cookie Mountain."
The band has been lauded for the intelligence of its music, which draws on influences from art rock to doo wop. As the Guardian (rating: 4 stars) puts it: "'Return to Cookie Mountain' is largely a delight -- an experimental album with a pop heart that avoids self-indulgence." The band's eclecticism was also praised in a Rolling Stone feature, which described "Cookie Mountain" as being evocative of both "My Bloody Valentine's noisy dream pop and Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On,' with songs that effuse pastoral beauty as they take off into uncharted territory."
The online response has been even more positive, with Drowned in Sound (rating: 9/10) attributing a zeitgeist-capturing power to the album, breathlessly calling it "a party soundtrack for a fucked-up generation and an opus that inhabits the midpoint between scarcely conjoining circles of eclecticism and enjoyability whilst maintaining consistency throughout."
Not bad for a band the Observer Music Monthly (rating: 4 stars) singled out as being "one of the few groups who could toss a word like 'unconjoined' into their lyrics without sounding like tossers."
-- David Marchese