Vampire Weekend, ‘Modern Vampires of the City’
Vampire Weekend puts down the horchata and ponders death without religion and this misguided generation for their junior disc “Modern Vampires of the City.” The affable NYC hip-popsters grow out of the youthfully luminous “Contra,” a sun-kissed triumph released three years ago, and into this wonderfully warped tribute to Manhattan with big-boy ambition, inspired homages and the band’s trademark lyrical mind-benders. “Diane Young,” a slick little homophone (“dying young” – get it?), has a “baby, baby, baby” chorus that in theory sounds crushingly ho-hum; in sound, though, with the pitch-shifting of lead singer Ezra Koenig’s winsome singing into near-Chipmunk highs and Elvis lows, it’s everything but. Weekend sound-whiz Rostam Batmanglij (who hooks up with Ariel Rechtshaid, the first co-producer to oversee one of their projects) paints with the band’s distinguished palette of classically influenced world beats – Afro is out, however – but colors outside the lines: “Unbelievers” debuts their use of a horn section and an accordion, “Ya Hey” works in Bjoerk effects from the “Vespertine” era and “Everlasting Arms” resembles Paul Simon like it’s 1986 all over again. “Modern Vampires of the City” is the quartet at its most sophisticated; corruption, war and the future loom as they confront the end of days and spirituality with curiosity, style and melodies that will live on long after we do. It’s not just their best album; it’s a modern-day classic. Grade: A
‘The Great Gatsby’ soundtrack
The vapid soullessness of Baz Luhrmann’s polarizing adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” extends to the remake’s Jay-Z-produced soundtrack, on which artists du jour try to capture the essence of the Roaring ’20s. Beyonce teams with Andre 3000 for a cinematically lurid take on Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” where Bey sounds sumptuously delicious despite this being a completely unnecessary cover. One of Bey’s biggest hits, “Crazy in Love,” goes to ultra talented British soulstress Emeli Sande, and poor thing sits in the shadow of its originator; this swinging big-band version with the Bryan Ferry Orchestra sucks the life out of the song. Made for Luhrmann’s flashy scenes of party debauchery are the front-decked cavorts on the disc: Jay-Z’s cheap “100$ Bill” awkwardly shoehorns Leo dialogue into the track; Fergie and Q-Tip go Zumba class for the chorus-repeating, LMFAO-esque mess “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)”; and, with Britney-like backup, will.i.am contributes the nearly-as-awful “Bang Bang,” waffling between club trash and brassy jazz like it wants to introduce contemporary beats to the early 20th century. Sia and Florence and the Machine, sad to say, expectedly deliver diva histrionics, though forgettably so. Only Lana Del Rey, with the haunting but lyrically faint languidness of “Young and Beautiful,” truly connects with what’s missing from the rest of this either superficial or super-dramatic soundtrack: passion and heart. Grade: C-
Joshua Radin, ‘Wax Wings’
Joshua Radin’s puppy-sweet serenades have soundtracked CW shows, a J.C. Penney ad and Ellen and Portia’s wedding; no doubt, then, that the Cleveland native’s latest will attract brides-to-be and “Army Wives” producers. That means more of the same innocuous mellowness and softie-soul vulnerability on his delightfully pleasing “Wax Wings,” Radin’s independently released fifth studio album. “Beautiful Day” charms with a life-affirming jingle tailored for window-down driving, and “When We’re Together” – almost Taylor Swift-sounding – will undoubtedly commemorate a mass of summer marriages.
Pistol Annies, ‘Annie Up’
When Miranda Lambert’s girl group Pistol Annies proclaimed themselves “hell on heels” on their 2011 debut, they weren’t kidding. With a slow-burn, the trio – more integrated here as an act – kicks off their follow-up with “I Feel a Sin Comin’ On,” casting them as temptresses out on the prowl in this sexy desperate-housewives ditty. In the fiery spirit of the Dixie Chicks, “Unhappily Married” comically spins a story of a miserable couple over a cranked-up chorus. “Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty” is a witty reveal of the distress of looking good. Sounding this good, though – as easy as them, it seems.
Michael Buble, ‘To Be Loved’
Michael Buble is boyishly handsome. Live, he’s a charmer. It’s just too bad neither really translate to his eighth LP, a cobble of blue-eyed soul, jazz standards and a Reese Witherspoon duet that can only be categorized as a musical abomination. Nothing else on Buble’s latest is “that” bad, thankfully. Not even the uncharacteristically radio-ready original “It’s a Beautiful Day.” It’s just that “To Be Loved,” despite some fine moments (especially on “You Make Me Feel So Young”), plays it safe. And whether you’ll fall for it depends on how you feel about the color beige.