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The Listening Room: Keane, Silversun Pickups and more...
Tom Chapin declares at "We dream hard, we shoot high" on Keane's fourth full-length album, and more often than not here the British group hits its marks. After getting caught up in production and tone -- to good effect -- on 2008's "Perfect Symmetry" and the 2010 follow-up EP "Night Train" -- chief writer Tim Rice-Oxley and his mates return to the focus on songcraft that marked the British group's earlier albums. That sense of care is evident in the smooth, swelling majesty of "The Starting Line," the airy restraint of "Black Rain" and the Beatles-flavored melodicism of "Watch How You Go," while "On the Road," "Sovereign Light Cafe" and the pep talk "Day Will Come put some muscle into the proceedings. Co-produced by Dan Grech-Marguerat (the Vaccines, Moby, Scissor Sisters) and introducing touring bassist Jesse Quin as an official member, "Strangeland" also finds Rice-Oxley in a reflective frame of mind, surveying life to this point with a decidedly adult air as he asks "Is there somewhere I'm meant to be?" -- before concluding, of course, that place is exactly where he is, warts and all. Fortunately he has Chapin's firm tenor to voice those feelings, supple enough to convey both heartbreak and the fortitude the lyrics express. The combination of that with Rice-Oxley's top-shelf songs make "Strangeland" a pleasant and even inspiring place to visit.
Silversun Pickups, "Neck of the Woods" (Dangerbird) ***
The Los Angeles modern rock quartet continues the sharp growth trajectory it demonstrated between its first two albums, finding a dynamically sophisticated, intricately arranged wheelhouse that blends slam-bam energy with increasingly accomplished musicality in a place frontman Brian Aubert dubs "somewhat explosive." Producer Jacknife Lee (R.E.M., Snow Patrol, Radiohead) helps guide and shape Silversun's journey through the industrial textures of "Skin Graph" and "Dots and Dashes (Enough Already)," the jazz fusion-style jamming of "Simmer" and the club-worthy electro grooves of "The Pit," while drummer Christopher Guanlo emerges as the star of the show, his nimble and facile playing putting a real pulse into this "Neck."
New & Noteworthy:
Damon Albarn, "Dr. Dee" (Virgin): The Blur/Gorillaz/et al auteur takes another left turn here with an Elizabethan-styled opera piece inspired by the live of British scientist and court adviser John Dee.
ALO, "Sounds Like This" (Brushfire): After making its last album in Hawaii with Jack Johnson, the California jam band kept closer to home, recording its fourth set in San Francisco.
Barenaked Ladies, "Stop Us If You`ve Heard This Before" (Rhino): A collection of rarities and unreleased material, including three live tracks and a remix of the hit "One Week."
DROKK, "Music Inspired by Mega-City One" (Invada UK): Portishead's Geoff Barrow and composer Ben Salisbury join forces on this set of music inspired by the "2000AD" comics series.
Glenn Frey, "After Hours" (Hip-O/UMe): The Detroit-born Eagles singer gets his kicks on "Route 66" and 13 other covers ranging from the Great American Songbook to the Beach Boys and Randy Newman.
John Fullbright, "From the Ground Up" (Blue Dirt/Thirty Tigers): The Oklahoma troubadour offers the same kind of socially conscious folk music as Woody Guthrie, who hails from the same town (Okemah).
John5, "God Told Me To" (Rocket Science Ventures): The latest solo album by the Detroit-born rock guitarist sports cover art drawn by current employer Rob Zombie.
Justin Jones, "Fading Light" (9:30): The fourth full-length album by the Virginia-born singer-songwriter.
Greg Laswell, "Landline" (Vanguard): The California-born singer-songwriter recorded his fourth album in a former church in Maine, collaborating with Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles, Sia and Elizabeth Zinman (without the Catapult).
Marina and the Diamonds, "Electra Heart" (Atlantic): The Welsh troupe recorded its second album with hitmaking producers such as Stargate, Dr. Luke, Diplo, Greg Kurstin and more.
Off!, "Off!" (Vice): The hardcore rock supergroup's first proper album follows four EPs released in 2010.
Orpheum Bell, "The Old Sisters' Home" (self-released) The third album from the Michigan world folk band is its first to include percussion.
The Parlotones, "Journey Through the Shadows" (Sovereign Entertainment): South Africa's biggest rock band brings its act around the world again after making inroads with its 3D rock theater production "Dragonflies and Astronauts."
Arturo Sandoval, "Dear Diz (Every Day I Think Of You)" (Concord Jazz): The Cuban trumpeter pays tribute to Dizzy Gillespie, joined by Gary Burton, JOey DeFrancesco and the Yellowjackets' Bob Mintzer, among others.
Dee Snider, "Dee Does Broadway" (Razor & Tie): From "I Wanna Rock" to "I Get a Kick Out of You," with help from Cyndi Lauper, Bebe Neuwirth, Clay Aiken and others.
Tank, "This is How I Feel" (Atlantic): The Grammy Award-winning R&B singer's shirtless pose on the cover of his fifth album confirms that "Sex Music" is still his chosen genre.
Paul Thorn, "What the Hell is Goin' On" (Perpetual Obscurity/Thirty Tigers): The singer-songwriter takes the covers route this time out, including tunes by Buckingham Nicks, Free, Buddy Miller and others.
San Francisco Music Club, "Love and Freedom" (self-released): The debut outing by the new group formed by members of Marin County's The Edge.
Sara Watkins, "Sun Midnight Sun" (Nonesuch): The Nickel Creek member's second solo album includes guest appearances by brother Sean Watkins, Fiona Apple, Jackson Browne and more.
Rita Wilson, "AM/FM" (Decca): The actress/producer and wife of Tom Hanks makes her recording debut covering personal favorites with a guest list that includes Jackson Browne, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Sheryl Crow, Chris Cornell and Patti Scialfa.
The Wood Brothers, "Live Vol. 1: Sky High" (Southern Ground Artists): A seven-song sampling of the Americana group's live acumen was recorded last year while touring to support its "Smoke Ring Halo" album.
From The Vaults: Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett, "The CBS Television Specials" (Sony Masterworks); Mary Mary, "Go Get It" (Columbia); Liza Minnelli, "Legends of Broadway: Live at Winter Garden" (Sony Masterowrks); Pitbull, "Original Hits" (The Orchard)
Soundtracks: David Arnold and Michael Price, "Sherlock: Original Television Soundtrack Music From Series Two" (Silva America); Danny Elfman, "Dark Shadows: Original Score" (WaterTower Music); Steve Jablonsky, "Battleship" (Varese Sarabande); Nick Jonas, others, "Songs From How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" (Broadway) -- Gary Graff
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