"The Good, the Bad and the Queen," the Good, the Bad and the Queen
From one of the same high-concept minds that brought you the virtual band Gorillaz comes "The Good, the Bad and the Queen" -- a dreary, glacial album about the shittiness of modern English society. Yippee! Marginally pop tracks such as "Herculean" and "'80s Life" sure sound interesting, taking as they do bits and pieces from psychedelia, reggae, English music hall and folk, but the effect is as dourly oppressive as the London fog. Mastermind Damon Albarn (ex-Blur, Gorillaz) -- along with former Clash bassist Paul Simonon, ex-Verve guitarist Simon Tong, Afrobeat drumming legend Tony Allen and producer Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley) -- has delivered something akin to a finely detailed lump of coal: admirable in its own weird way, but not something you'd want to hold close. Sample lyric: "Drink all day, because the country's at war."
Favorite track: "Green Fields"
"All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone," Explosions in the Sky
Texas natives Explosions in the Sky provide the chiming, churning music that you hear every week on "Friday Night Lights." The show's producers couldn't have picked a better band, because with their slow-moving, guitar-led instrumentals, EITS does a remarkable job of capturing the natural grandeur and melancholy that lie on the edges of the dusty and football-crazed small towns that dot their home state. The band's new album, its fourth, can feel a little repetitive (sonic storm cloud approaches, sonic storm descends; sonic storm cloud approaches, sonic storm descends), but the quartet still manages to wring some cinematic drama and emotion from that formula. Mood music in the best possible sense, "All of a Sudden" has enough evocative power to trigger some serious synesthesia.
Favorite track: "The Birth and Death of the Day"
"Ash Wednesday," Elvis Perkins
Elvis Perkins' debut album is both more emotionally succinct and musically upbeat than you might expect from a man whose father, "Psycho" star Anthony Perkins, died of AIDS and whose mother was aboard one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center. The album's sweetly philosophical songs are buoyed by guitar, horns and strings that skip along behind Perkins' slightly nasal voice and singsong melodies. These songs have a simple and old-fashioned wanderlust to them, as if they were composed by Perkins as he strolled alongside some lonely train tracks, a guitar in one hand, a copy of "Bound for Glory" in the other.
Favorite track: "While You Were Sleeping"
"Charlie Louvin," Charlie Louvin
You know the drill: Pair iconic musician with younger admirers, put them in stripped-down musical settings, let the hosannas roll in. Reminiscent in tenor, if not tone, of recent efforts by Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles, "Charlie Louvin" pairs the legendary and underappreciated 79-year-old country singer with fans ranging from Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy and Will Oldham to fellow elder statesman George Jones. There's nothing fancy about this plainly recorded and traditionalist album, featuring as it does country gospel tunes like "The Christian Life" and front-porch faves à la "Worried Man Blues," but the expertly played, unobtrusive backing and Louvin's warm, wizened voice carry the whole thing off with grace and charm. Extra marks go to the devastating "Ira," on which Louvin mourns his long-dead brother and best-ever singing partner.
Favorite track: "Ira"