The Flaming Lips — ‘American Head’
THE GOOD: Oklahoma experimental rockers the Flaming Lips release a spaced-out and “stoned AF” 16th.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “American Head” is both a slow burn and wild ride. Wayne Coyne and his crew give us a set that’s more intimate than any of their offerings from the past decade. Not exactly autobiographical but rather deeply personal, songs such as “Mother I’ve Taken LSD” and “Brother Eye” are stirring, gentle and blessed with melodies elegant enough to elicit tears. Layered arrangements turn them into heady ballads where electric guitars, whirring keyboards and even string sections melt into a colorful psychedelic ooze.
And of course, the band throws us a few curveballs along the way. “When We Die, When We’re High” tosses in jazzy lounge overtones. “My Religion Is You” is the Lips’ take on romantic sunshine pop. And Kacey Musgraves is the latest mainstream act drafted into the Lips’ weirdness, adding angelic overtones to three tracks.
BUY IT?: YES!
Jonsi — ‘Shiver’
THE GOOD: Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi returns with his second solo album.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Whenever any band’s lead vocalist makes a solo record, he or she is practically forced to create something at least remotely different than the group work. Jonsi has always set himself apart from Icelandic collective Sigur Ros by making his own albums less cohesive; the individual tracks are more distinct.
On 2010’s “Go,” he let his pop-oriented tendencies shine. He does the same here on “Shiver” while expanding the soundscapes even further. Teaming up with producer A.G. Cook, Jonsi delivers tracks embracing noisy elements and harder beats. Songs such as “Wildeye” and “Korall” would have a difficult time slipping into sedate Sigur Ros sets.
He also collaborates with outside vocalists. Ex Cocteau Twins frontwoman Elizabeth Fraser adds her gentle and familiar tones to the dreamy “Cannibal.” Robyn punches up the already surprisingly fun “Salt Licorice.” “Shiver” never feels like one non-stop journey. Instead, we take a bunch of memorable day trips.
BUY IT?: I would.
Gorillaz — ‘Song Machine, Season One, Strange Timez’
THE GOOD: British “virtual” indie band Gorillaz (still largely the project of ex-Blur frontman Damon Albarn) comes back with its seventh.
THE BAD: Gorillaz’ first three albums — “Gorillaz” (2001), “Demon Days” (2005) and “Plastic Beach” (2010) — were all brilliant, cohesive works. After that, it’s been less about great albums and more about halfway-decent singles compilations.
THE NITTY GRITTY: This new set of tracks from its “Song Machine” video web series features more than a few good songs and a plethora of big-name guest stars. The roster includes Robert Smith, Beck, St. Vincent, Elton John, Peter Hook and a host of others.
But did these appearances occur because Albarn got the people to just show up? Or do these artists bring anything truly exhilarating to the table? It’s a little of both. But once again, Albarn gets lost on his own record. And why bother with a “bonus edition”? Just stick all 66 minutes of music on one CD. “Strange Timez” ends up a somewhat forgettable exercise in excess.
BUY IT?: Your choice.