Erasure — ‘The Neon’

THE GOOD: Legendary British synth-pop duo Erasure (keyboardist/producer/songwriter Vince Clarke and vocalist/songwriter Andy Bell) releases its 18th album.

THE BAD: No. But don’t expect any surprises.

THE NITTY GRITTY: Like their surviving ‘80s counterparts, Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys, Erasure gives us a good record every few years. It’s reliable. And regardless of commercial highs and lows, the duo has never stopped since its 1986 debut. Some albums are fantastic, some merely serviceable. However, NONE are bad.

“The Neon” is bubbly, beat-driven and catchy. Tracks such as “Nerves of Steel” and “Diamond Lies” almost recapture the glory days of 1988’s “The Innocents” and 1989’s “Wild.” Almost. But the pair aren’t movers and shakers anymore. They’re elder statesmen of the synth-pop world.

The two could easily ride the nostalgia train and tour every year. However, Clarke and Bell are better than that. They still churn out gorgeous melodies. Bell’s voice remains strong. Clarke still knows how to create liquid beats and work those analog synths. Erasure isn’t done yet.

BUY IT?: Yes.


OHMME — ‘Fantasize Your Ghost’

THE GOOD: Chicago indie rock duo Ohmme (singer/songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart) dodge the sophomore slump and expand their sound on “Fantasize Your Ghost.”

THE BAD: Nope.

THE NITTY GRITTY: The two women bring together dissonant elements and somehow make the music work. Most songs revolve around two extremes — layered, noisy chaos and sparkling pop harmonies. The two voices blend perfectly. The noise underneath is a healthy juxtaposition, keeping the tunes from sounding too safe. Toss in some weird time signatures and left-of-center funk, and the slightly bizarre picture is complete.

“Selling Candy” is catchy at first but later explodes into bedlam. “Ghost” rides an inescapable groove that cuts through the din. “Twitch” builds its momentum slowly, with violins plugging in and overshadowing the guitars. And eventually, the record wraps up by displaying Ohmme’s two distinct musical worlds. “Sturgeon Moon” is structured noise that leads directly into the insanely infectious “After All.” You can tell Cunningham and Stewart are equally comfortable in both settings.

BUY IT?: Surely.


Tricky — ‘Fall To Pieces’

THE GOOD: British songwriter/rapper/producer Adrian Thaws (Tricky) gives us his 14th solo album.

THE BAD: Pacing. Eleven cuts blow by in 29 minutes. Just when a song’s groove completely engulfs you, the track ends. Much of “Pieces” feels like a missed opportunity.

THE NITTY GRITTY: Musical shortcomings aside, the record is a blunt powerhouse lyrically. Tricky wrote the album while dealing with the recent death of his daughter, Mazy. There’s palpable pain and angst running through these short compositions. Songs such as “Hate This Pain” and “Chills Me to the Bone” don’t melt into the background. They force you to acknowledge what our humble host feels.

Vocal collaborators this time include Marta, a Polish singer Tricky found while on tour, and Danish singer Oh Land. Both women bring a warmth to the proceedings. But even the instrumental bits aren’t as cold as usual; Tricky fleshes out the electronics with stings of piano, cello and horns.

BUY IT?: Your choice. “Pieces” works. I only wish there was more of it.