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The Listening Room: Ellie Goulding, Kiss and more...
At 25, Ellie Goulding has a more balanced and mature perspective on relationships, particularly the broken one, than some performers and songwriters twice her age. She's a realist, in other words, which makes the second album from the British singer -- you know her for her 2010 hit "Light" and for single Elton John's "Your Song" at Prince William's wedding -- a far more intriguing listen than the mate-smashing tirades or woe-is-me laments that are the stock in trade of many of her peers. And if the "Lights" was defined by its more uptempo fare, "Halcyon" is more measured and a bit darker. It has its moments of upbeat energy, particularly on the sentimental single "Anything Could Happen" and bonus tracks such as synthy Calvin Harris co-write "I Need Your Love," but Goulding spends most of her time amidst the ambient arrangements of "Don't Say a Word," "Hanging On" and "Atlantis," most of which build their way to big, dramatic choruses, while "Joy" has a soulful, jazzy cadence that lets her show off her higher register and "Explosions" has an operatic drama and a declaration from Goulding that "it's OK to be afraid." Her most affecting performances, meanwhile, can be found in some of "Halcyon's" most stark tracks -- "I Know You Care," on which she's accompanied only by piano, and "Dead in the Water," which cocoons Goulding's voice amidst strings and ethereal backing vocals. It may not be as immediate as its predecessor, but after plenty of "next Adele" comparisons, "Halcyon" establishes Goulding on her own terms.
Kiss, "Monster" (UMe) ***
One thing's for sure about Kiss; the veteran group knows exactly what it is and what it's fans want. Produced, like 2009's "Sonic Boom," by the group's Paul Stanley, "Monster" is a lusty conflagration of big beats, meaty guitar riffs, singalong choruses and declarations of love for women and rock 'n' roll -- in that order. Mostly it reminds us that once upon a time Stanley and co-founder Gene Simmons were fans of '60s and early '70s rockers like the Yardbirds, Humble Pie, Status Quo and fellow New Yorkers Mountain, whose influence holds sway on tracks such as "Eat Your Heart Out," "Long Way Down," the Southern-flavored "All For the Love of Rock 'n' Roll" and the psychedelic-tinged "Outta This World." "Back to the Stone Age," meanwhile, shows Kiss was paying attention to the world of the MC5, too. You can choose whether or not to believe Kiss can still rock 'n' roll all night and party every day, but "Monster" certainly proves "the hottest band in the land" can still shout it out loud.
New & Noteworthy:
The Acacia Strain, "Death is the Only Mortal" (Rise): The Massachusetts death metal quartet's sixth album takes us from "The Mouth of the River" to the "House of Abandon."
All Time Low, "Don't Panic" (Hopeless): The Baltimore modern rockers move to a new label for their fifth album which includes guests from Bayside, Hey Monday and Acceptance.
August Burns Red, "Sleddin' Hill" (Solid State): The Pennsylvania hard rock troupe issues, of all things, a Christmas album, though you can get there's a little bit of blood on the sled path.
Between the Buried & Me, "Parallax II: Future Sequence" (Metal Blade): The North Carolina headbangers build on the themes of its 2011 EP "Hypersleep Dialogues."
John Cale, "Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood" (Double Six): The Welsh muso and former Velvet Underground member joined forces with Danger Mouse for one track on his latest solo album.
Coheed and Cambria, "Afterman: Ascension" (Hundred Handed/Everything Evil): The arty hard rockers begin a two-part concept piece ("Decension" is due in February) with these nine tracks, welcoming back drummer Josh Eppard.
Converge, "All We Love We Leave Behind" (Epitaph): The hardcore group from Massachusetts delivers its eighth studio album.
Don Felder, "Road To Forever" (Rocket Science): The former Eagles guitarist gets help from pals in CSN, Toto, Styx and others on his first new album in 29 years.
Robert Glasper, "Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP" (Blue Note): The adventurous jazz pianist revisits songs from his last studio album with remixes by ?uestlove and Black Milk of the Roots, Pete Rock, Solange Knowles and others.
Wanda Jackson, "Unfinished Business" (Sugar Hill): Justin Townes Earle produced the latest effort from the rockabilly veteran and groundbreaking female rock 'n' roller.
Kaki King, "Glow" (Velour Music Group): The singer, songwriter and guitar virtuoso strips down a bit from 2010's band-oriented "Junior."
Jeff Lynne, "Long Wave," "Mr. Blue Sky: The Very Best of ELO" (Frontiers): The ELO mastermind goes to town on this pair of albums, covering favorites on "Long Wave" and re-recording his band's biggest hits on the latter.
MGK, "Lace Up" (Bad Boy/Interscope): The Houston rapper's long-awaited debut features guests such as DMX, Bun B, Waka Flocka Flame and members of Avenged Sevenfold.
Maria Muldaur, "..First Came Memphis Minnie" (Stonly Plain): The veteran singer helms this loving tribute to a forebear, with Bonnie Raitt, Ruthie Foster, Phoebe Snow and many others joining the party.
Nonpoint, "Nonpoint" (Razor & Tie): The Florida heavy metal troupe recorded its seventh studio set in Chicago with producer Johnny K (Disturbed, Chevelle, Staind).
The Script, "#3" (Epic): The Irish melodic pop trio's third album has already hit No. 1 in its homeland, and No. 2 in the U.K.
Rick Springfield, "Songs For the End of the World" (Gomer): Despite the dour title (and lyrics), the veteran heartthrob goes decidedly uptempo on his latest release.
Barbra Streisand, "Release Me" (Columbia): The superstar diva digs into her vaults for 11 previously unreleased songs, including an outtake from "A Star is Born."
Suzanne Vega, "Close-Up 4: Songs of Family" (Amanuensis): The singer-songwriter closes out her series of song revisits with the folkiest of the bunch, including renditions of the first two songs she ever wrote.
The Wallflowers, "Glad All Over" (Columbia): Jakob Dylan and company return with their first new album in seven years, featuring the Clash's Mick Jones on two tracks.
Wednesday 13, "Spook & Destroy" (self-released): A pair of new songs joins two remixes and other goodies on this EP from the shock rock member of Murderdolls.
Zedd, "Clarity" (Interscope): The first artist album from the German electronic producer features guest appearances by Ellie Goulding and Ryan Tedder.
From The Vaults: Beach Boys, "50 Big Ones," "Greatest Hits" (Capitol); Glen Campbell & Jimmy Webb, "In Session" (Fantasy); Destiny's Child, "Playlist" (Columbia/Legacy); Old 97's, "Too Far To Care: 15th Anniversary Edition" (Omnivore); Mindy Smith, "The Essential Mindy Smith" (Vanguard); The Supremes, "I Hear a Symphony" (Motown/UMe); Various Artists, "Athens, GA -- Inside/Out" (Omnivore); Various Artists, "The Best of Bond..James Bond" (Capitol/EMI)
Soundtracks: The Fresh Beat Band, "Vol 2.0: More Music From the Hit TV Show" (Legacy)
New Holiday Albums: Edie Adams, "The Edie Adams Christmas Album featuring Ernie Kovacs" (Omnivore); Alvin & the Chipmunks, "Chipmunks Christmas" (Capitol); Anthony Burger, "The Christmas Collection" (Spring Hill); Celtic Woman, "Home For Christmas" (Angel); Vince Guaraldi Trio, "A Charlie Brown Christmas (2012)" (Fantasy); Katherine Jenkins, "My Christmas" (Decca); Mandisa, "It's Christmas" (Sparrow); Kenny Rogers, "Amazing Grace" (Spring House)
New Music DVDs: The Who, "Live in Texas '75" (Eagle Rock)
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