Band of Skulls Sweet Sour (Vagrant)
Indirectly marketed as a poor man’s White Stripes stand-in, this raucous sophomore effort by Spin mag darlings Band of Skulls certainly works on that level. But the British trio is significantly more musically advanced than Jack and Meg White, resulting in broader, metal-flirting dynamics. The sexily intertwined vocal harmonies of guitarist Russell Marsden and bassist Emma Richardson give buoyancy to amps-cranked, tricky time-signatured “Wanderluster.” The blues-dusted stomp of “The Devil Takes Care of His Own” recalls heavy psyche-rock legends Royal Trux—or, more recently, the late, great Verbena. Indeed, the Skulls’ debt to classic-rock radio grows increasingly evident throughout, so that by the sixth track, “You’re Not Pretty But You Got It Goin’ On,” one expects ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons to throw in a guest solo. But it’s only with the haunting melody and cosmic-sounding guitar arpeggios of album closer “Close to Nowhere” that Sweet Sour lives up to its title’s sonic recipe. ★★★★☆
Andre Williams Hoods and Shades (Bloodshot)
Recorded in the apocalyptic husk of Detroit by esteemed producer Don Was (Bob Dylan), Hoods and Shades finds street hustler and longtime punk-blues musician Andre “Mr. Rhythm” Williams, whose recording career goes back to 1955, in fine form. Much of it has to do with a solid cast of supporting musicians (like, say, Cat Power’s Jim White), but overall these are Williams’ loosest cuts to date. Billed as his “psychedelic-folk” album, this nine-song effort sounds like the soundtrack to a lost Shaft film, especially wah pedal-powered instrumental “I’ve Got Money on My Mind,” wordless save for Williams’ encouraging grunts. Lyrically, he sticks to hard-luck narratives and portraits of gutter life as he walks among the damned of downtown Motor City, everyone confused and ripped apart by their own poisonous desires (liquor, drugs, women). But corruption doesn’t just lie with the less fortunate. “Everywhere you go/There’s hoods and shades,” observes Williams, from Wall Street to Skid Row. Point taken. Best Album Cover of the Year So Far, too. ★★★☆☆
Imagine Dragons Continued Silence EP (Interscope)
Frontman Dan Reynolds promised me his commercial entanglement with Interscope Records and slick producer Alex Da Kid (Eminem, Rihanna) would not soften his Vegas-born band’s rock-based attack. Sadly, Reynolds lied. Just as I expected, the Dragons sound entirely different now, and not for the better. Lead track from their major-label debut EP, “Radioactive,” is heavily processed, inert, disposable pop that’s a million miles from the anthemic, Coldplay-grade, guitars-up-front format that made their 2010 EP It’s Time a pleasure to spin repeatedly. Things worsen with each successive track so that when I reach the Peter Gabriel-meets-Jpop collision of “On Top of the World” (please don’t borrow song titles from the Carpenters, guys), all I want to do is reach the bottom of a container of Advil. Watching a once-great local band commit artistic suicide is always painful. Thank God the journey from respected indie synth-rockers to club-DJ iTunes fodder was a brief one. ★☆☆☆☆ Imagine Dragons perform live at Hard Rock Café on the Strip 6 p.m. March 2.