The Flaming Lips (Warner)
Wayne Coyne is at a sensational point in his career. With or without his Lips, Coyne has become a professional weirdo, exploiting oddity (releasing albums in gummy-worm skulls, crowd surfing in clear plastic bubbles) in currently airing commercials and collaborations (e.g., Ke$ha).
No matter what brand of experimentalism his neopsychedelic ensemble executes, Coyne & Co. must struggle to top itself. Thankfully, recent albums such as “Embryonic” have been buoyantly bizarre, resistant to any move toward popularity.
Enter “The Terror.” With its nine songs unfurling in just less than an hour, the Lips take their time though densely ruminative melodies and foggy noise-synth arrangements as never before. Through this muzzy, rapt haze, Coyne mulls the grim realities of a society’s toxic future (“Look ... The Sun is Rising”) and the destruction of interpersonal relationships (“You Are Alone”) in a small, broken falsetto.
He sounds like he’s gasping for air through the clutter of “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die” with a Draculian sing-speak Frank Langella would envy. Yet, through the busted balladry of “Try to Explain,” Coyne musters what seems like his final gasp of emotion after having spent his Flaming past stuck out in the cold.
— A.D. AMOROSI, Philadelphia Inquirer
James Blake (Universal)
British songwriter and electronic musician James Blake won much-deserved acclaim for his 2011 self-titled debut. It mixed dubstep DJ moves and surprising, sensitive songwriter skills into a shadowy and soulful cocktail with plenty of kick.
The only trouble was that while Blake’s best songs, like “The Wilhelm Scream” delivered startling emotionalism, the Blake tracks that kept calling you back were the ones he didn’t write, like Feist’s “Limit to Your Love” and the non-album cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.”
On his sophomore “Overgrown,” Blake doesn’t really alter his typically skeletal approach to songwriting, but he effectively refines it. He also rubs elbows with a few illustrious guests, with Wu Tang Clan’s RZA rapping on “Take a Fall for Me,” and Brian Eno producing “Digital Lion.”
But otherwise, Blake is on his own, musically and existentially. The usually quite pretty songs fade in and out, break apart, and sometimes pull themselves back together, as Blake uses the digital tools of his trade to express his timeless loneliness and longing in a manner that’s thoroughly of the moment.
-- DAN DeLUCA
Brad Paisley (Arista Nashville)
With “Southern Comfort Zone,” the lead song and initial hit single from his new album, Brad Paisley neatly manages to both celebrate his native South — the primacy of home is still a resonant theme in country — and acknowledge his need to explore the world beyond the rural and the small-town to fulfill his potential. This qualifies as outside-the-box thinking in mainstream country, but the song is undermined by an overblown arrangement, complete with choir. It’s a sign of things to come.
“Zone” is not the only time Paisley tries to be profound and provocative. He succeeds with “Those Crazy Christians” (again having it both ways) and fails with the trite “Accidental Racist,” featuring a rap by cowriter LL Cool J.
Mostly, however, “Wheelhouse” sinks under an excess of the glib and the clever in both production and writing. Those traits have surfaced in Paisley’s previous work, but here the superstar is producing himself, so there’s no one to keep them in check. The overly long, 17-track set is littered with samples and guests — from Cool J to Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels, Mat Kearney and Eric Idle (?) — and they don’t add much to the proceedings except to deflect attention from the mostly pedestrian lyrics.
Now that Paisley has this self-indulgence out of his system, next time he should call his estimable old producer, Frank Rogers, and get back to highlighting the charm and heart that made him such an appealing talent in the first place, and which are on display only intermittently here.