Album reviews: The War On Drugs, Lou Adler, Woo, Rick Ross, Sisyphus

 

The War On Drugs Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian)

Following the critical success of 2011’s Slave Ambient, Lost in the Dream may shift The War on Drugs from cult to mainstream status. It retains their signature blend of folk-rock songcraft and miasmic guitar-drone textures, but in a more purposive manner, particularly on the nine-minute opener “Under the Pressure”. A nagging piano motif, guitar and soaring ambient swirl driven along by chunky drum pulse, it combines the Dylanesque drawl of singer Adam Granduciel with the hooky appeal of Coldplay and Snow Patrol, a potent combination. The skirling throb of “Red Eyes” is another crossover blend – sort of Big Country meets Springsteen. The rest of the album is more gauzily hypnotic, but its unified vision should appeal to fans of My Bloody Valentine and Neil Young alike.

****

Download: Under the Pressure; Red Eyes; Disappearing; Eyes to the Wind

Lou Adler A Musical History (Ace)

Through the Sixties and Seventies, Lou Adler was the musical Duke of Los Angeles, a mover and shaker successful in a variety of roles – writer, producer, label owner – across a range of styles, from soul  to surf, folk to pop. He began his career writing and producing hits for such as Sam Cooke (“Wonderful World”) and The Everly Brothers (“Crying in the Rain”), before catching the waves of both protest and flower power with Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” and Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco”. But when McGuire introduced him to The Mamas & The Papas, he achieved successes that would only be superceded by his subsequent helmsmanship of Carole King’s globe-girdling Tapestry, the definitive singer-songwriter document. 

*****

Download: Wonderful World; Eve of Destruction; San Francisco; California Dreamin’; It’s Too Late

Woo When the Past Arrives (Drag City)

The brothers Mark and Clive Ives have been making music as Woo for over three decades now, a peculiarly English form of meditative lo-fi folk-jazz instrumental music in which their affinity for natural tones and timbres, winds and strings plucked, bowed and blown, is allied to an appreciation of how effects like delay can be applied to draw the most compelling sounds from them. This first new release in 20 years is culled from home recordings made in the Seventies and Eighties, and sustains the same magical mood as their 1982 debut, Whichever Way You Are Going, You Are Going Wrong, a genuine forgotten classic. The nine-minute “Satya” is exemplary, a pan-continental piece mingling island-flavour ukelele with accordion, clarinet and synth pad, simultaneously Caribbean, Balkan and Parisian.

****

Download: Satya; 1001 Decisions; Teddy Bears; Life So Far; The Garden Path

Rick Ross Mastermind (Def Jam)

With last year’s drive-by attempt on his life followed by the adoption of Puff Daddy as mix overseer of this sixth album, it’s almost as if burly Rick Ross were deliberately trying to step into The Notorious BIG’s shoes – a perception underscored by a reworking of Biggie’s “You’re Nobody (’Til Somebody Kills You)”. But its conflicting anti-gangsta sermon points to the problems of Ross’s questionable drug-dealer persona, learnt while serving as a correctional officer in a Florida prison: his bland cocaine narratives lack the compelling authenticity of Nas’s. Jay Z, Jeezy and Kanye pop up on a few tracks – the latter’s inventive “Sanctified” putting the other producers to shame – but the most interesting collaboration pits Ross’s blunt delivery against The Weeknd’s pleading tone on “In Vein”.

***

Download: In Vein; Sanctified; Blk & Wht

Sisyphus Sisyphus (Asthmatic Kitty)

Sisyphus is a collaboration between Sufjan Stevens, Son Lux and rapper Serengeti, a blend of indie, electronica and hip-hop comparable to Minneapolitan collective Gayngs. Though the elements don’t always hang together, there’s no shortage of intriguing ideas. Opener “Calm It Down” modulates over six minutes from dry, bumping rap, via a typically touching Stevens counter-melody, to a lonely conclusion of quiet piano chords; while “Rhythm Of Devotion” and “My Oh My” alternate punchy, sparse hip-hop with quirky wind arrangements. Closer “Alcohol” develops a relentless power, but Serengeti’s sullen, deadpan delivery lacks emotional magnetism. Stevens is ethereally vulnerable on “Hardly Hanging On” and the lovely, lovelorn “Take Me”.

****

Download: Calm It Down; Take Me; Rhythm Of Devotion; Alcohol

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