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The Listening Room: Frank Ocean, Matisyahu and more...
Thanks to his recent admission of a same-sex first level, Frank Ocean has vaulted from respected R&B singer (with Odd Future and a pair of his own lauded mix tapes) and songwriter (for Beyonce, Justin Bieber, John Legend and others) to pop culture sensation of the moment. If the titillation helps bring more people to “Channel Orange,” though, more’s the better. More than anything he’s done to this point, the 17-track set reveals Ocean to be a mature, thoughtful and fearless artist who’s more concerned with weighty self-examination and social commentary than about his libido — although that gets an airing here, too, but in much smaller doses than the average Chris Brown or certainly R. Kelly album. Instead, like a young Marvin Gaye, Ocean’s goal is “searching for a real love” but with a keen awareness of the distractions and obstacle the world presents in finding it. Songs such as “Super Rich Kids” (“My silver spoon has fed me good”) and “Sweet Life” (“Why see the world when you got the beach?”) address the artifice of materialism, while Ocean grapples with challenging (to say the least) relationships in “Lost,” “Monks” and the nearly 10-minute opus “Pyramids,” where his muse is a stripper whose schtick is dressing up like Cleopatra. Ocean gets help from a wealth of guests — John Mayer, Andre 3000, Odd Future cohorts Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt, Lalah Hathaway — but save for the full-on groove pop of “Lost” he keeps things musically spare here. And that’s as it should be; Ocean’s is an original voice that’s best heard with a minimum of sonic distractions.
Matisyahu, “Spark Seeker”(Fallen Sparks Records/Thirty Tigers/RED) ***
It’s a new day for Matisyahu. He’s shaved his beard, cut his hair and generally set aside the role of “Chassidic reggae superstar.” His fourth album is filled with sonic surprises and new directions, though it retains the positivity and spirituality that’s been Matisyahu’s stock in trade since he emerged during the early ’90s. But this time his mix of rap, reggae and dancehall adds some fresh electronic flavors and up-to-date hip-hop techniques, from the street-level muscularity of “Live Like a Warrior,” “Tel Aviv’n” and “King Crown of Judah” to buoyant anthems (“Crossroads,” “Sunshine,” “Fire of Freedom,” “Shine On You”) and the collage of vocoder, synthesizers, Jamaican chants and funky guitar that comprise “Searchin’.” He’s still searching for and serving a higher power, but the “Spark” is coming from some different places this time.
New & Noteworthy:
Baroness, “Yellow & Green” (Relapse): The heavy rockers from Georgia deliver a two-disc set for their third album release.
William Beckett, “Winds Will Change” (self-released): The second in a series of four-song EPs planned by the former frontman of The Academy Is ...
Citizen Cope, “One Lovely Day” (Rainwater/MRI/RED): Clarence Greenwood rides again on his fifth album of evocative songs under the Citizen Cope moniker.
Jimmy Cliff, “Rebirth” (UME): A dozen new songs, plus an alternate version of the single “One More,” form the reggae legend.
Debbie Davies, “After the Fall” (M.C.): The roots singer-songwriter’s latest set of originals is informed by the death of friend and fellow musician Robin Rogers, among other inspirations.
The Farm Inc., “The Farm Inc.” (Warner Bros.): The debut album from the country trio was preceded by the hit “Home Sweet Home.”
The Fixx, “Beautiful Friction” (Kirtland): The first album in nine years from the British group best known for ’80s hits such as “One Thing Leads to Another” and “Saved By Zero.”
John Frusciante, “Letur-Lefr: 2012 EP” (Record Collection): The former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist’s five-track set comes as a preview to a full-length album due in September.
Hellyeah, “Band of Brothers” (Eleven Seven): The third album from the headbanging all-star troupe of Pantera, Mudvayne, Damageplan and Nothingface members.
Missy Higgins, “The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle” (Eleven): The Australian singer-songwriter’s third studio album was co-produced by fellow artists Butterfly Boucher.
Susanna Hoffs, “Someday” (Welk Music Group): The first solo album in 16 years from the Bangles frontwoman.
JEFF the Brotherhood, “Hypnotic Nights” (Warner Bros.): The debut full-length outing by the Nashville rock group led by brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall.
Kidz Bop Kids, “Kidz Bop 22” (Razor & Tie): The Kidz are still alright, this time covering tunes such as “Starships,” “Call Me Maybe” and “Somebody That I Used to Know.”
Milo Greene, “Milo Greene” (Chop Shop/Atlantic): The debut album from the Los Angeles folk-rock quintet whose name references the nonexistent agent the group “employed” to help it get gigs.
Marcy Playground, “Lunch Recess and Detention” (Capitol): The “Sex & Candy” trio returns with a new set that features covers of Procol Harum, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young songs.
Jimbo Mathus, “Blue Light” (Big Legal Mess): A six-song EP from the Squirrel Nut Zippers singer and multi-instrumentalist.
Nas, “Life is Good” (Def Jam): Pals such as Mary J. Blige, Rick Ross, Anthony Hamilton and the late Amy Winehouse give the New York rapper a hand on his 10th studio album.
Old Crow Medicine Show, “Carry Me Back” (ATO): The Virginia string band’s first album in four years sports a dozen new tracks recorded in Nashville with producer Ted Hutt.
Pierce the Veil, “Collide With the Sky” (Fearless): The hardcore rockers switch labels for their third album, which features guest appearances by members of Letlive, Oh No Fiasco” and Sleeping With Sirens.
Phillip Phillips, “American Idol Season 11 Highlights” (Interscope): This five-song EP by the “Idol” champ includes his single “Home” and his rendition of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight.”
Saving Abel, “Bringing Down the Giant” (eOne): The Mississippi hard rockers sing about “Michael Jackson’s Jacket” on their third studio album.
Billy Joe Shaver, “Live at Billy Bob’s Texas” (Smith Music Group): The Texas troubadour’s first album in five years is also his first new live album in nearly 20.
Soul Asylum, “Delayed Reaction” (429): The first new album in six years from the Minneapolis rock stalwarts.
Tremonti, “All I Was” (FRET12): The Detroit native and guitarist for Creed and Alter Bridge unleashes his first solo album, whose dozen tracks were produced by Michael “Elvis” Baskette.
From The Vaults: Be Good Tanyas, “Collection” (Nettwerk); Donny Hathaway, “Live + In Performance” (Shout! Factory); “Sam Phillips, “Martinis & Bikinis” (Omnivore)
Soundtracks: Hans Zimmer, “The Dark Knight Rises” (WaterTower)
New Music DVDs: Duran Duran, “A Diamond in the Mind” (Eagle Rock); Peter Gabriel, “Secret World” (Eagle Rock); Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones, “Live at the Checkerboard Lounge Chicago 1981” (Eagle Rock)
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