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The Listening Room: Matchbox Twenty, Animal Collective and more...
It's been a long minute since we've had fresh music from Matchbox Twenty -- depending on how you count it, a decade since "More Than You" and five years since "Exile on Mainstream," the compilation that featured six new songs. The good news for fans of the once multi-platinum group is that little has changed during the interim; crafted, melodic, decidedly mainstream pop-rock is still the quartet's stock in trade, with Rob Thomas' vocals serving as the star attraction on each of "North's" 12 tracks. There's variety within that formula, however: the first single, "She's So Mean," is a spirited groove-rocker that's as much an infectious "hot mess" as its subject; "Radio" touches on rockabilly; "Our Song" sounds like an 80s club mix while "Put Your Hands Up" does disco ala Maroon5; "The Way" has a midtempo ebb and flow that would work well in country; and there are plenty of soulful, lovelorn paeans such as "Overjoyed" and "Like Sugar." On the more ambitious tip are "I Will," gentle, wistful and sparse tune ala Paul McCartney," while "Sleeping At the Wheel" makes some social commentary and "English Town" is a melodramatic aural epic that builds from airy ambience to swelling choruses and ends with brassy orchestrations. "North" doesn't stray in a markedly different direction than what we've heard before, but Matchbox Twenty's earnestness remains convincing enough to make this a satisfying return.
Animal Collective, "Centipede Hz" (Domino): [3 stars]
With the return of Josh "Deakin" Dibb, the experimental New York by way of Baltimore collective is a quartet again for the first time since 2007, and it doesn't exactly crawl into its ninth album here. Rather, the opening "Moonjock" gets going with a percussive tattoo pounding above a rhythmic, synthesizer-infused melody and sentimental memories about childhood road trips spent listening to the radio. From there Animal Collective keeps things typically textured and adventurous, layering its soundscapes with the kind of sonic ornamentation that makes headphones (not ear buds, kiddies) required equipment. The group makes lyrical reference to "bionic hee haw," which is certainly served up on tracks such as "Today's Supernatural," "Wide Eyed," "Pulleys" and "Monkey Riches," while "Father Time" passed by in smoother fashion. It's an aural circus, but with three full rings and plenty of sideshows that are worth stepping up to hear.
New & Noteworthy:
Azure Ray, "As Above, So Below" (Saddle Creek): The dream pop duo from Athens, Ga., continues the reactivation it started with 2010's "Drawing Down the Moon."
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, "Rattle Them Bones" (Savoy Jazz): The modern big band swing group comes back with its own tune stack three years after a winning tribute to Cab Calloway.
Cat Power, "Sun" (Matador): The rockin' Atlanta singer and songwriter (aka Chan Marshall) makes a welcome return with her first new album in six years.
Chick Corea and Gary Burton, "Hot House" (Concord Jazz): The piano and vibraphone masters interpret the work of some of their favorite composers, including Art Tatum, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Paul McCartney.
Deerhoof, "Breakup Song" (Polyvinyl): The San Francisco trio describes its 12th album as "noise jingles for parties." In other words, be ready to play it loud.
Melissa Etheridge, "4th Street Feeling" (Island): The veteran singer-songwriter worked with contemporary producers Jacquire King and Steve Booker on this nostalgic and autobiographical release.
Ian Hunter, "When I'm President" (Slimstyle): The former Mott the Hoople frontman takes a socially conscious path on his latest solo album, with son Jesse singing along on "I Don't Know What You Want."
Imagine Dragons, "Night Visions" (KIDinaKORNER/Interscope): The first full-length album from the Las Vegas modern rock troupe follows the well-received "Continued Silence" EP.
Korn, "The Path of Totality Tour: Live at the Hollywood Palladium" (Shout! Factory): This CD/DVD set finds Korn joined onstage by several of the DJs -- including Skrillex, Datsik and Excision -- who guested on the studio album of the same name.
Mono, "For My Parents" (Temporary Residence): The sixth album from the experimental Japanese band -- whose four members all play glockenspiel, among other instruments.
Bob Mould, "Silver Age" (Merge): The former Husker Du and Sugar frontman keeps things rocking hard on first new album in three years.
Brian Setzer's Rockabilly Riot, "Live From the Planet" (Surfdog): The Stray Cats frontman chronicles the concert adventures of his latest outfit, which included two upright bass players and two drummers.
Smash Mouth, "Magic" (429): The "Walkin' on the Sun" guys get back in the spotlight with a little help from MC J-Dash.
Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, "Men Without Women/Live 7-2-11" (Leroy): The New Jersey soul-rock stalwarts recreate the Little Steven & the Disciple of Soul's fabulous but under-exposed 1982 album in an energetic concert setting.
Dave Stewart, "The Ringmaster General" (Weapons of Mass Entertainment/Surfdog): The former Eurythmics member and all-star producer duets with Alison Krauss, Diane Birch and Joss Stone on another set of songs from his prolific Nashville sessions.
Tanita Tikaram, "Can't Go Back" (Eagle Rock): The German singer's seventh studio album is a two-CD set sporting 10 new songs and eight acoustic versions of her past hits.
Tarja Turunen, "Act One" (Eagle Rock): A CD/DVD concert set from the former Nightwish singer includes a cover of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera."
Two Door Cinema Club, "Beacon" (Glassnote): The Irish indie rock trio recorded its sophomore album in Los Angeles with producer Jacknife Lee.
Two Gallants, "The Bloom and the Blight" (ATO): The first new album in four years from the rootsy San Francisco guitar-drums duo.
Young Guns, "Bones" (Wind-Up): The British hard rockers' second album comes out on these shores after hitting the U.K.'s Top 20 in February.
From The Vaults: Tommy Bolin, "The Ultimate Teaser" (429); Judas Priest, "Screaming For Vengeance: Special 30th Anniversary Edition" (Columbia/Legacy)
Soundtrack: "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: Encores Cast Recording" (Sony Masterworks)
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