CD Reviews

Ashes & Fire, Biophilia and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming


Ryan Adams Ashes & Fire (Pax-Am/Capitol)

Despite “retiring” in 2009, Ryan Adams continued to generate product—vinyl-only metal records, poetry collections via Akashic Books—even while supposedly honeymooning with wife Mandy Moore and fighting hearing loss from Ménière’s disease. Last year’s reunion disc with backing band the Cardinals was adequate (and recorded in ‘06), but his new solo album is superior, rekindling the embers from his bonfire of a stripped-down-to-acoustic-guitar debut, Heartbreaker. Speaking of Heartbreakers, Tom Petty’s piano man Benmont Tench provides subtle keys on overcast-afternoon ballad “Dirty Rain.” Also, British producer Glyn Johns (The Eagles) allows eloquent string and vibraphone touches during the soft folk-pop of “Rocks.” Overall Ashes & Fire hardly rocks; instead it hovers in the listener’s mind like a ghost, attractive in its quiet power. These are Adams’ most romantic lyrics in years—“Storms are brewing in your heart/I don’t want to waste it,” he sings in “Chains of Love”—and he’s burned down his massive talent to its essential, superheated core. ★★★★☆


Björk Biophilia (Nonesuch)

Before shuffling off this mortal coil, Apple honcho Steve Jobs gave us one last parting gift. No, I’m not talking about the new iPhone 4S, but rather “the world’s first app album,” partly recorded with an iPad and released as a series of applications with help from the Mac people. Novelty/tech-marketing bullshit side, this is yet another outstandingly bizarre pop album by an Icelandic chanteuse who refuses to repeat herself sonically, visually or intellectually. A bit more minimalist than her previous work, 2007’s Afrotronica-kissed Volta, Biophilia is obsessed with macro-scientific phenomena like, as the title makes clear, “Dark Matter,” an eerie, chromatic, wandering harmonium-and-vocal piece that would make experimentalists Arnold Schoenberg (classical) and Diamanda Galás (noise-rock) blush with pride. For all her strangeness and reliance on unusual time signatures (I could swear Chinese mandolin-plucked “Solstice” is in 6/4 time), Björk’s iconic voice endures, a confident light shining upon this cold world’s pain, chaos and shrouded purpose. ★★★☆☆


M83 Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute)

French dream-popster Anthony Gonzalez, who makes music under the name M83, moved to L.A. before recording this double-album, driving into Joshua Tree National Park and the illuminated spectacle of the Vegas Strip for inspiration. He found it: Dreaming absolutely dazzles. M83’s previous effort, 2008’s Saturdays=Youth, demonstrated Gonzalez’s John Hughes fascination with synth-pop hooks aplenty, a hard turn from the earlier apocalyptic style he’d established with Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts (’03) and Before the Dawn Heals Us (’05). The dark soundscapes are back, but never overwhelm, a perfect soundtrack for adolescent longing, this time shot through with the insight that life is random, cruel. Indeed, Gonzalez seems intent on conjuring the Rapture: “My Tears Are Becoming a Sea,” full of crashing, continent-erasing synth waves, will move you to tears, while “Midnight City,” which boasts a vintage-’80s sax solo, will leave you drained in a neon gutter. Overall, Dreaming makes me want to fantasize forever. ★★★★☆

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Concert Review


Lead singer Brandon Boyd performed to a sold-out crowd with enthusiasm and hypnotic energy reminiscent of the 20-year-old band’s most popular years in the early 2000s. The five-piece outfit satisfied old and new fans with songs from their summer album If Not Now, When? and classics “Privilege,” “Drive” and “Wish You Were Here.” With an extended jam session, a stellar light show and psychedelic visuals, it seemed as if Incubus’ goal was to take the audience on an out-of-body experience.



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