Maroon 5 (Interscope)
On TV, Adam Levine can be funny, spontaneous, unafraid to come across as the irritating truth-teller, full of feisty repartee with bro-rival Blake Shelton. As the frontman for Maroon 5, the Los Angeles band best known for smash earworms from “This Love” to “Moves Like Jagger” to “Payphone,” Levine is the falsetto-bot who submits to a hitmaking formula that is getting more rigid with every album. It can be a fantastic formula — On V, “Feelings” begins with 1970s wah-wah guitar and a Levine whoop, kicking off a lust anthem that misses the cut for summer single.
Early on, Maroon 5 was a collaboration, drawing power from the partnership between Levine, keyboardist Jesse Carmichael, and guitarist James Valentine. Today it’s Levine, those guys and superhot producers, including Shellback and Benny Blanco, churning out not rock-band chemistry but big electro-beats and odd vocal affectations. Levine’s Rihanna-style “yehs” on “Animals” aren’t the most annoying part of the song — “baby I’m preying on you tonight/hunt you down, eat you alive,” goes the chorus, appending a creepy “maybe you think that you can hide.”
Sometimes, he falls back on his voice — his aahs and oohs and a gospel break are the only interesting bits about nondescript summer hit “Maps.” But he reaches an extra gear on “It Was Always You,” which is like Seal’s “Crazy” with bonus unhinged desperation. When Levine accesses that kind of feeling, it doesn’t matter whether his band is Maroon 5 or Up With People.
— STEVE KNOPPER,
The New Pornographers (Matador)
When the New Pornographers appeared in 2000, they were billed as a Canadian supergroup, but they’re even more “super” now: Not only have the Pornographers established themselves as a reliable force over the course of their five albums, but the three principal vocalists — mastermind Carl “A.C.” Newman, Dan Bejar of Destroyer, Neko Case — continue their increasingly ascendant solo careers. But while their solo work is often tempestuous and introspective, in the Pornographers they’re unreserved, effervescent, and joyfully communal.
After the comparatively restrained Challengers and Together, Brill Bruisers returns to the incessant exuberance of the first pair of Pornos albums. Ecstatic gang vocals, power pop guitars, some newfound interest in vintage synth sounds — these unify the album regardless of whether Newman takes the lead for the propulsive title track or Case anchors the flowing “Champions of Red Wine” or Bejar steps to the fore on the emphatic “Born With a Sound.”
— STEVE KLINGE,
Ty Segall (Drag City)
Ty Segall is so prolific as a solo artist, serial collaborator, and moonlighter in other people’s bands that the buzz on Manipulator is all abut how the Southern California psych-rocker has slowed his roll to spend a whole year laboring on his seventh album.
The added effort pays off in sonic detail — the snarl of the guitars in “Who’s Producing You,” the rhythm-section chug that pushes the breezy “Feel” forward toward a head- spinning guitar freak-out. Segall’s sensibility is still retro — reference points are ‘60s hippie aesthetes like Love and Blue Cheer, and much of what he does would mesh nicely with the original Nuggets compilation — and he still has too many ideas for his own good. But on the 17-track, slightly too long Manipulator — which effectively employs a string section on the tense “The Clock” and two other tracks — he makes enticing garage rock that shimmers and shakes in the present, with his best character-sketch songs showing hidden depth beneath the gleaming surface.
— DAN DELUCA,