Bruce Springsteen -- "Wrecking Ball": Bruce Springsteen continues his remarkable resurgence with a crackerjack set of ticked-off folk, gospel-influenced rock and rambunctious, "Seeger Sessions"-style Americana. Springsteen romantics want to get their bearings with a new Bruce album right away, and as "wild" and "experimental" as the new album was purported to be in advance, the musical direction of "Wrecking Ball" isn't much of a surprise given the Boss's musical instincts of late. "Wrecking Ball" is about hard times, just as "Darkness on the Edge of Town" was about Carter-era hard times and "Nebraska" was about Reagan-era hard times. If "Wrecking Ball" is "angrier" than either of those albums, as has been much reported, it's in the new record's relative overtness in its handling of its subjects. -- Steve Leftridge
Andrew Bird -- "Break It Yourself": Andrew Bird is one of the great pop visionaries of the past decade but, for the second album in a row, it sounds like he's still trying to figure out his next step. The best parts of this record recall Bird at his finest, tweaking his sound just enough to freshen it up, but unfortunately they're surrounded by too many songs that end up as pleasant background music. And so it is with "Break It Yourself," an album with a solid first half, that restores the energy and vitality of Bird' musical vision, and then slowly and steadily leaches that energy back out of it. -- Matthew Fiander
Xiu Xiu -- "Always": Xiu Xiu, a decade into its career, returns with another album of songs utterly possessed of Jamie Stewart's unique creative voice. Stewart doesn't make music intent on polarization as its primary goal. Rather, he writes songs in a voice so distinctive and unusual that it can't help but seem too strange -- or too convinced of its strangeness -- to some listeners. Stewart is the rare artist who hews as closely to his creative impulses as possible, letting them take him to places both uncomfortable and inviting, depending on the moment. If nothing else, this is a sort of fearlessness, and that's worth your time. -- Corey Beasley
Bowerbirds -- "The Clearing": Folk outfit Bowerbirds' third album flirts with jazz and rock without clouding the rustic simplicity that first put the band on the map. Although the record not exactly a big budget production, it's impossible to miss the signs of the band's growing resources; pianos, strings, horns and percussion surface in the sort of lush arrangements not found on the bands' first two LPs. However, despite the unmistakable change in their approach, Bowerbirds pass the test with flying colors; their buffed up sound never obstructs the careful beauty of their melodies. -- Emma Sundstrom
Ceremony -- "Zoo": For its first LP for Matador, this California punk five-piece is quite comfortable eschewing extremes of excellence and awfulness (not to mention its hardcore roots) to be unambitiously average. Don't let the artsy post-punk aesthetic of the band's record artwork fool you: "Zoo" is unaffected, meat-and-potatoes garage rawk, through and through. Even considering that, "Zoo" fulfills a hunger while offering only the bare minimum of flavor. If Ceremony's music is truly meant to represent modern punk's vanguard, I think the world ought to be concerned about the genre's current health. -- AJ Ramirez
Other notable releases this week:
- Balkan Beat Box -- "Give"
- Blues Traveler -- "25"
- Bill Frisell -- "Floratone II"
- Good Old War -- "Come Back as Rain"
- Julia Holter -- "Ekstasis"
- Kaiser Chiefs -- "Start the Revolution Without Me"
- The Magnetic Fields -- "Love at the Bottom of the Sea"
- The Men -- "Open Your Heart"
- Miniature Tigers -- "Mia Pharaoh"
- Mona -- "Mona"
- Nite Jewel -- "One Second of Love"
- Todd Snider -- "Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables"
- White Rabbits -- "Milk Famous"
TUNES ON THE TUBE ... MUSIC ON TV THIS WEEK
"Late Show with David Letterman" (CBS): Yelawolf w/ Kid Rock (T), Joseph Arthur (W), The Airborne Toxic Event (Th).
"The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" (NBC): Joe Perry (T), Cee Lo Green (W), Chiddy Bang (Th), Estelle (F).
"Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" (NBC): Wale (T), "Anything Goes" on Broadway (W), Young Jeezy and Ne-Yo (Th), "Sister Act" on Broadway (F).
"Last Call With Carson Daly" (NBC): Kylesa (T), Laura Marling (W), Foster the People (Th), The Horrors (F).
"Saturday Night Live" (NBC): The Shins (Sa).
"Austin City Limits" (PBS): Steve Earle and Kris Kristofferson (Sa).
"Conan" (TBS): WZRD (T).
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
"Charles Bradley: Soul of America" doc set to debut at SXSW
It's been a banner year for Charles Bradley. And with a past as turbulent as his, checkered by childhood abandonment, homelessness, illness, poverty and family deaths, he couldn't deserve it more. Now 63, Bradley began his career at 14, by doing covers of James Brown. After dedicating multiple decades to that pursuit, he decided to take a chance at finding his own voice. The gamble paid off, with the public embracing his soulful sound, and Bradley soon found himself opening for soul / funk singer Sharon Jones. Through continuing patches of adversity, Bradley managed to achieve his dream and put out his own album in January 2011, titled "No Time for Dreaming." The critical success of the album was astonishing.
His latest labor, however, comes in the form of a documentary-style film, titled "Charles Bradley: Soul of America," directed by Poull Brien. Brien first encountered Bradley's music while working on a construction site in the summer of 2010, and was moved enough by what he heard to send an email to Bradley's label offering his services as director for a low budget music video: he believed in the idea so strongly he even offered to do the project for free. Two months later, pre-production began on what is now "Charles Bradley: Soul of America," an intimate portrait of the singer that touches on his turbulent past and focuses on his astonishing rise to fame. The documentary, which clocks in at 74 minutes, will make its debut at this year's upcoming SXSW Film Festival, which begins March 9. -- Comfort Clinton
Lost Lander -- "Wonderful World" Video (PopMatters Premiere)
Earlier this year, PopMatters described Lost Lander's latest record "DRRT" as "an album of honest and affecting songs that seamlessly combine elements of folk and pop with an innovative use of loop-based production techniques. ... The instrumentation is inspired and gorgeous throughout." That perfectly sums up the tune "Wonderful World," which has new colorful, abstract video, which is designed to interact with "DRRT"'s album art to create something of a mini art installation. "DRRT" is a small planetarium of sorts and you can watch this video on your iPhone, placing the phone inside the record's artwork, which will then cast a light show on your ceiling when you flick the room's lights off. Pretty clever. -- Sarah Zupko
Girls release new video for "My Ma"
The third video off the San Francisco band Girls' release "Father, Son, Holy Ghost" debuted Feb. 27 via the Team Coco website. Its plaintive lyrics are sweetly sung by songwriter Christopher Owen, who wrote the tune along with Chet "JR" White. Owen's background includes an upbringing in the Children of God cult (which he escaped by following an older sister from Slovenia to Texas at age 16) and recent heavy drug addiction, so his rich delivery has a harried history behind it. The video doesn't show any band members, but depicts an elderly couple out living out in the wilderness. It was directed and edited by Aaron Brown (Focus Creeps). At least the group can be seen soon on Conan March 22 and along a West Coast tour which includes Coachella. The band also announced the release of a 7-inch single of "My Ma b / w Love Life" on May 22, a one-time pressing of 1,000. Per usual, Owen has designed the artwork for this special edition. -- Jane Jansen Seymour
NOW HEAR THIS
Beach Fossils cover "Allison" by Slowdive
The title of this short post pretty much says it all -- except that the cover is gorgeous. If you're looking for something that mixes up Slowdive's original cut, this is not your cover. Beach Fossils play things pretty straight here, performing "Alison" quite faithfully. There's a little less flange throughout, and, certainly, Rachel Goswell's gorgeous harmonizing is absent. Nevertheless, this cover is just as comforting as a freshly laundered blanket. Go ahead. Curl up in it. -- Joseph Fisher
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