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The Listening Room: Miley Cyrus, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and more...
"I'm a female rebel...can't you tell," Miley Cyrus informs us on her fourth album, and her first since end of her Disney Channel series Hannah Montana. Of course, that's hardly news to anyone who's been paying attention. With her twirking exploits at MTV's Video Music Awards and the provocative "Wrecking Ball" video, Cyrus is determinedly and defiantly leaving any vestiges of her clean-cut Disney image in the rearview mirror in favor of a libidinous, hip-hopping pop tart who can hang with the Rihannas, the P!nks, the Katys, the Gagas and the Britneys -- who guests on the gimmick laden "SMS (Bangerz)" here. Cyrus certainly sounds comfortable in her new mode, swaggering through "4x4" with rapper Nelly, slinking around "Love Money Party" with Detroit's Big Sean, visiting the Dirty South on "Do My Thang," having some dumb fun on "We Can't Stop" and dipping into the blues on "FU" with French Montana, slinging plenty of urban slang along the way and name-checking primary producer Mike WiLL [cq] at nearly ever opportunity. But at her heart here Cyrus emerges as diva with a (mostly) broken heart, torching her occasionally Auto-Tuned way through gentler tracks such as "Adore You," the "Stand By Me"-sampling "My Darlin' " with Future, "Maybe You're Right," "Someone Else" and, of course, the string-laden "Wrecking Ball," whose merits are largely obscured by the furor over the video. Though it's more assured than skeptics or Cyrus haters might be willing to acknowledge, there's little here to distinguish her from her peers; interestingly the two Pharrell Williams-produced bonus tracks on the Deluxe Edition -- the smooth soul-pop of "Rooting For My Baby" and the fierce 'n' funky "On My Own" -- have more moxy than anything on the regular version of "Bangerz," which, if nothing else, is a good lure for the more extensive set.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., "The Speed of Things" (Warner Bros.) ***
Since its inception three years ago the Detroit duo of Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott has been an eyebrow-raiser, not just because of its name but also its utterly unique approach to pop music -- an odd union of the Beach Boys and Flaming Lips with plenty of other references slipping in and out of its songs. Following this year's "Patterns" EP, "The Speed of Things" is another winning trip through DEJJ's sonic playground, with notably more focused and developed songwriting bolstering the polyrhythmic "Run," the buoyant "Hiding," the stuttering "Mesopotamia" and the lush disco of the single "If You Didn't See Me (Then You Weren't On the Dancefloor)." And "Beautiful Dreams' " shimmering synthesizers and airy harmonies offer sumptuous ear candy that really comes to live over headphones.
New & Noteworthy:
Alter Bridge, "Fortress" (Roadrunner): The fourth studio set by the Creed + Myles Kennedy troupe is the group's third with producer Michael "Elvis" Baskette.
The Answer, "New Horizon" (Napalm): The latest release from the Irish hard rockers features the last cover artwork by the late Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin designer Storm Thorgerson.
Randy Brecker, "Brecker Brothers Band Reunion" (Magenta): Trumpeter Brecker brings together a crew of luminaries -- including David Sanborn, Mike Stern, Will Lee and others -- to revisit the style he and his late brother Michael pioneered together.
Danny Brown, "Old" (Fool's Gold): The Detroit rapper's latest sports guest features by A$AP Rocky, Charli XCX, Freddie Gibbs and more.
Cage The Elephant, "Melophobia" (RCA): The Kentucky indie rockers' third album Alison Mosshart of the Killers and the Dead Weather on one track.
Electric Six, "Mustang" (Metropolis): Suffice to say that "Adam Levine" from the Detroit dance-rock group's new effort is note something "The Voice" will use in its promotions.
Patty Griffin, "Silver Bell" (UMe): Singer-songwriter Patty Griffin's great "lost" album was rejected by her label in 2000. Then the Dixie Chicks recorded a couple of its songs. Oops...
Joe Grushecky, "Somewhere East of Eden" (Schoolhouse): Another solid outing by the former Iron City Houserockers leader and good pal of Bruce Springsteen.
Lyfe Jennings, "Lucid" (10 Spot): The fifth album from the Toledo R&B singer comes after a guest turn on rapper Wale's new album.
Korn, "The Paradigm Shift" (Prospect Park): The first album in a decade with Brian "Head" Welch turns the group back towards the heavy aggro rock on which it staked its reputation.
Amos Lee, "Mountains of Sorry, Rivers of Song" (Blue Note): The critically acclaimed singer-songwriter took his road band to Nashville for his latest release.
Lissie, "Back To Forever" (Fat Possum): The sophomore outing by the award-winning folk-rocker from Illinois.
Steve Nieve, "ToGetHer" (429): Elvis Costello's longtime keyboardist goes solo again, with help from Costello, Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook, Sting, Laurie Anderson and others.
Joe Nichols, "Crickets" (Red Bow): The country singer returns from a (relatively) protracted absence with this whopping 16-track set.
Panic! at the Disco, "Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!" (Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen): The first single from the Las Vegas group's new effort is "Miss Jackson," but it shouldn't be confused with the OutKast's song of that name.
Parquet Courts, "Tally All the Things That You Broke" (What's Your Rupture?): The Brooklyn indie rock group expands its sound on this five-song between-albums EP.
Cassadee Pope, "Frame By Frame" (Republic Nashville): The Hey Monday singer and third-season winner of "The Voice" recorded her debut album with a blend of established pop and country hitmakers.
Pusha T, "My Name is My Name" (G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam): The Clipse member goes solo with help from Rick Ross, Detroit's Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, Kelly Rowland, 2 Chainz and others.
Lee Ranaldo & the Dust, "Last Night on Earth" (Matador): The Sonic Youth guitarist brings his touring band into the studio for nine lengthy, stretched-out art rock tracks.
Kenny Rogers, "You Can't Make Old Friends" (Warner Bros. Nashville): The American singing icons first country album in eight year features duets with Dolly Parton and Buckwheat Zydeco.
St. Lucia, "When The Night" (Neon Gold/Columbia): The third full-length from electronic artist and remixer Jean-Philip Grobler.
William Shatner, "Ponder the Mystery" (Cleopatra): Capt. Kirk (or, if you prefer, Denny Crane) tries his hand with progressive rock, getting help from a who's-who list of that genre's musicians.
Sleigh Bells, "Bitter Rivals" (Mom + Pop): The Brooklyn duo's third album is another set of stripped-down, occasionally dissonant noise pop.
Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington, "High Rise" (13Star): STP re-emerges with a five-song EP to establish new singer Bennington, from Linkin Park, in the fold.
Vertical Horizon, "Echoes From the Underground" (Outfall): The 90s hitmakers new, semi-comeback album features Rush drummer Neil Peart on two tracks.
From The Vaults: Tony Bennett, "Live at the Sahara: Las Vegas 1964" (Columbia Legacy); Alex Chilton, "Electricity By Candlelight/NYC 2/13/97" (Bar None); Bing Crosby, "Le Bing: Song Hits of Paris" (10 Spot); (hed)p.e., "The Best of..." (Suburban Noize)
New Holiday Albums: Gretchen Wilson, "Christmas in My Heart" (Redneck)
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