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The Listening Room: Katy Perry, AFI and more...
Katy Perry has never been "scared to rock the boat," as she maintains in "Roar," the opening track and first single from her third album -- and the follow-up to 2010's double-platinum "Teenage Dream." So it's hardly surprising that on "Prism" Perry tries on new creative flavors, both stylistically and lyrically, still flashing plenty of playful, party girl 'tude on clubby tracks such as "This is How We Do," "International Smile" and "Dark Horse" with Three 6 Mafia's Juicy J but also exploring more serious emotional terrain in the aftermath of her brief marriage to Russell Brand. She addresses that directly in "Ghost," which even references his reported e.mail request for a divorce, as well as its immediate aftermath in the album-closing torch ballad "By the Grace of God," though Perry's recovery and new resolve can also be heard in empowerment anthems such as "Roar" and "Love Me." That makes the general tone of "Prism" certainly more poignant and even a bit world-weary, but hardly dark. "Walking on Air" offers a soaring, 90s house-flavored vibe that, like the upbeat pop/R&B of "Birthday" champions unconflicted sexual salvation, while "Legendary Lovers" blends fast-paced, urbanized vocals with Eastern/Indian flavors and a big pop chorus for a seamless and sumptuous sonic mash-up. There's a lot to grasp in these 13 tracks -- and even more on the three Deluxe Edition bonus tracks, one of which ('Spiritual') was co-written by current Perry paramour John Mayer -- but a team of top-shelf producers (Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Cirkut, Bloodshy, StarGate, Greg Wells) keeps "Prism" focused and on point, and certainly on pair with Miley, Britney, Gaga and anyone else in the upper echelons of pop divadom.
A.F.I., "Burials" (Republic) ***
The four years since A.F.I.'s last album were not easy for frontman and lyricist Davey Havok -- at least that's the impression you get from listening to the spleen-venting 13 tracks here. But the set, produced by Gil Norton (the Pixies, Foo Fighters), is mostly a cathartic ride thanks to charged anthems such as "Greater Than 84," "Anxious," "Wooden" and "17 Crimes," as well as the pop-leaning gem "Heart Stops." The quartet also lends an industrial touch to "The Conductor" and "I Hope You Suffer," while the doomy drone of the opening "The Sinking Night" is nicely countered by the relatively optimistic resolve of the dynamic album-closer "The Face Beneath the Waves."
New & Noteworthy:
Best Coast, "Fade Away" (Jewel City): The Los Angeles garage rock duo follows last year's "The Only Place" with a seven song EP/mini album.
Cage, "Kill The Architect" (Eastern Conference): The underground rapper from New York returns to the label home of some of his earlier triumphs, with help from DJ Mighty Mi.
Brandy Clark, "12 Stories" (Slate Creek): The first solo album by the writer responsible for country hits for the Band Perry, Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves.
Def Leppard, "Viva! Hysteria" (Frontiers): The veteran British rockers commemorate their recent Las Vegas stand on this CD/DVD set, which features a wealth of rarely performed material as well as the entire "Hysteria" album.
Brett Dennen, "Smoke and Mirrors" (F-Stop/Atlantic): The Northern California singer-songwriter pulls back from the bombast of 2011's "Loverboy" for a more stripped-down approach similar to his earlier releases.
DJ Khaled, "Suffering From Success" (We The Best/Ca$h Money/Republic): The Arab-American hip-hopper's seventh album guest list includes Detroit's Big Sean, 2 Chainz, Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa -- the list of who's NOT on it is probably shorter, actually.
Koffin Kats, "Born of the Motor" (Sailor's Grave): The Detroit psychobilly/punk group pays homage to its home town on its seventh album, which the trio recorded in Livonia.
Amel Larrieux, "Ice Cream Everyday" (Blisslife): The soulful singer-songwriter from Philadelphia loads 16 tracks into her fifth studio album.
Wynton Marsalis, "The Spiritual Side of Wynton Marsalis" (Columbia/Sony Classical/Legacy): The trumpet great gathers together spiritually-themed songs he recorded between 1988-2002.
Metal Church, "Generation Nothing" (Body of Work): The first new album by the San Francisco headbangers after their 2012 reunion.
The Mission UK, "Silver" (Slimstyle): A CD/DVD compilation of performances from the British goth rockers' 2011 25th anniversary tour.
Motorhead, "Aftershock" (UDR Music): Lemmy and the boys are back, as loud 'n' proud as ever, with their 22nd studio album.
Najee, "The Morning AFter" (Shanachie): The prolific saxophonist's latest release stays on "The Smooth Side of Soul" he explored just a year ago on his last album.
Ted Nugent, "Ultralive Ballisticrock" (Frontiers): The Motor City Madman's latest live album (and DVD) premieres the new song "I Still Believe" alongside all the usual favorites.
Polica, "Shulamith" (Mom+Pop): The sophomore album from the critically lauded Minneapolis indie rockers features a collaboration with Bon Iver on the track "Tiff."
Anoushka Shankar, "Traces of You" (Deutsche Grammophon): The daughter of the late sitar legend Ravi Shankar is joined on three tracks here by half-sister Norah Jones in musical tribute to their father.
Linda Thompson, "Won't Be Long" (Pettifer): The British singer-songwriter's first new material in six years features collaborations with Ron Sexsmith and Teddy Thompson, her son with ex-husband Richard Thompson.
Various Artists, "Thriller -- A Metal Tribute to Michael Jackson" (Cleopatra): Ever wonder what Jackson's songs would sound like in the hands of members of Testament, Mr. Big, Motorhead, Dio, Guns 'N Roses and others? We didn't, either, but in case you change your mind...
Robin & Linda Williams, "Back 40" (Red House): The husband-wife duo celebrates 40 years of music-making with new recordings of favorites from their own catalog, as well as others'.
Yancey Boys, "Sunset Blvd." (Delicious Vinyl): John "Illa J" Yancey and Frank Nitt offer up a new set of songs built from unheard material by Illa's late brother, the great James "J Dilla" Yancey.
From The Vaults: Backstreet Boys, "The Essential Backstreet Boys" (Jive/Legacy); King Crimson, "USA (40th Anniversary Edition)" "Red" "The Road to Red" (all Discipline US); Van Morrison, "Moondance: Deluxe Edition" (Warner Bros/Rhino); Pavarotti, "The 50 Greatest Tracks" (Decca); Pearl Jam, "The Essential (rearviewmorror 1991-2003)" (Epic/Legacy); Sparks, "New Music For Amnesiacs: The Ultimate Collection" (Lil Beethoven); Donna Summer, "Love to Love You Donna" (Verve); Various Artists, "The Organization of Pop: Music From the First Thirty Years of ZTT Records" (ZTT/Razor & Tie)
Soundtracks: Steve Jablonsky, "Ender's Game" (Varese); "Matilda: Original Broadway Cast Recording" (Yellow Sound/Broadway); Steve Poltz, "Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde" (Arrival)
Holiday Albums: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, "It Feels Like Christmas Time" (Savoy Jazz); Judy Collins, "Christmas With Judy Collins" (Wildflower); Vince Guaraldi Trio, "A Charlie Brown Christmas (Snoopy Doghouse Edition)" (Fantasy); Il Volvo, "Buon Natale: The Christmas Album" (Interscope); Chris Mann, "Home For Christmas: The Chris Mann Christmas Special" (Universal Republic); The Piano Guys, "A Family Christmas" (Sony Masterworks); Marvin Sapp, "Christmas Card" (RCA Inspiration); Various Artists, "Psyche-Out Christmas" (Cleopatra); Various Artists, "Putamoyo presents Putamayo Christmas" (Putamayo)
New Music DVDs: Hugh Laurie, "Live on the Queen Mary" (Eagle Rock)
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