Deafheaven's 'Sunbather' an instant hit
‘Antenna to the Afterworld'
Sonny & the Sunsets (Polyvinyl)
You can always count on Sonny Smith and his revolving cast of Sunsets to mix things up from record to record. After two albums of psychedelia-tinged guitar pop, last year's country platter “Longtime Companion,” which chronicled the dissolution of Smith's marriage, was a radical departure. For fourth full-length “Antennas to the Afterworld,” Sonny & the Sunsets ruminate on death and the afterlife in a collection of tunes set to new wave synth and post-punk melodies. It's a noble experiment, though not as effective as “Longtime Companion.” The songs “Mutilator,” “Palmreader,” “Girl on the Street,” “Death Scene” and “Void” are quite good, but I'm hoping Smith and his mates pick some happier subject material next time out.
‘Mama: Acoustic Recordings'
Emily Wells (Partisan)
While there's no denying her abilities as a producer and arranger, Emily Wells has a voice that, to be kind, is an acquired taste. I found last year's “Mama” to be one of those records that left me cold initially, only to grow on me a little more every time I spun it. So when “Mama: Acoustic Recordings” came across my desk a couple months back, I was anxious to hear Wells' reimagined versions of those now-familiar songs. Truth be told, I like the unplugged version a little better — especially the renditions of “Darlin',” “No Good,” “Johnny Cash's Mama's House,” “Mama's Gonna Give You Love” and “Dirty Sneakers & Underwear” — as it makes for a record that's more accessible than the original.
‘In a Manner of Sleeping'
Safety Scissors (BPitch Control)
I've made a conscious effort to embrace electronic music in recent years and, much to my surprise, have found myself enjoying the work of some artists that I'd never have given a second thought to before. Sadly, the same can't be said for Safety Scissors. The one-man project from Matthew Curry, Safety Scissors have been making records for more than a decade, but “In a Manner of Sleeping” isn't one I'm likely to revisit. It's not terrible, per se, and I liked “The Floor,” “Gemini” and “My Best Ideas,” but too much of the 12-track release ranges somewhere between weird and boring.
And speaking of electronic music .... Rob McAndrews' Airhead fare slightly better on “For Years,” the debut album from the acclaimed producer and accomplished touring musician. Though a little too odd to earn an unqualified recommendation, the 10-track release has some really nice moments. Among the highlights are “Mikola Bottle,” “Callow,” “Pyramid,” “Autumn,” and my personal favorite, set closer “Knives.” Electronic music is enjoying its time in the spotlight right now, and Airhead do nothing to diminish that.
Alison Moyet (Metropolis)
As both one half of influential synth-dance duo Yaz and a solo performer, British songstress Alison Moyet's career has spanned more than 30 years. “The Minutes” is the soon-to-be 52-year-old's eighth studio release and can stand alongside the likes of “Hoodoo” and “Hometime” as career highlights. An emotive, bluesy voice remains Moyet's calling card and she puts it to good use on set highlight “Changeling,” “When I Was Your Girl,” “Love Reigns Supreme,” “A Place to Stay” and “All Signs of Life.” Moyet still can deliver the goods.
‘Woody Guthrie at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center'
Various Artists (Legacy)
The Kennedy Center celebrated the centennial of Woody Guthrie's birth last fall with an all-star roster of performers coming together to perform many of the folk icon's classic songs. “Woody Guthrie at 100!” is a fantastic CD/DVD set that captures the magic of that Oct. 14 concert at the noted Washington venue. The 19-track CD is highlighted by performances from Old Crow Medicine Show (“Howdi Do,” “Union Maid”), Donovan (“Riding in My Car”), Lucinda Williams (“House of Earth”), Judy Collins (“Pastures of Plenty”), Tom Morello (“Ease My Revolutionary Mind”), Jackson Browne (“You Know the Night” ) and John Mellencamp (“Do Re Mi”). The DVD features the entire 22-song concert, plus some unexpectedly interesting bonus features, highlighted by all the participants gathering on stage to close the show with “This Train Is Bound for Glory” and “This Land Is Your Land.” Happy birthday, Woody.
Open Air Stereo (Goomba)
Being featured prominently in the third season of MTV pseudo-reality show “Laguna Beach” put rockers Open Air Stereo on the map, but I can't help but think it also stripped them of some street cred. It's taken seven years for a full-length debut to surface and “Primates” is a respectable (if not memorable) collection of 11 radio friendly alt-rock tunes. Open Air Stereo don't do anything we haven't heard before, but songs like “Marauder,” “Love Is Blind,” “Give Me Everything” and “Hung Over You” are worth a few spins.
‘Playlist: The Very Best of Restless Heart'
Restless Heart (RCA Legacy)
For a half dozen years or so in the mid-1980s and early '90s, Restless Heart were fixtures on the charts with their appealing brand of country/pop. “Playlist” compiles a dozen of the band's biggest hits — which included six No. 1 singles — and a pair of previously unreleased songs into an enjoyable career retrospective. Restless Heart's best-known tune, the saccharine ballad “I'll Still Be Loving You,” anchors “Playlist,” along with “That Rock Won't Roll,” “Wheels,” “Why Does It Have to Be (Wrong or Right),” “A Tender Lie” and “The Bluest Eyes in Texas.” The new songs (“Memphis Rain” and “Home”) are OK, but you'll be listening to “Playlist” for the older stuff.
‘Biography of Heartbreak'
This Century (self-released)
Those who like the emo pop of bands like Cobra Starship, Neon Trees and Panic! At the Disco probably will find the synth-fueled tunes of This Century quite appealing. The Arizona outfit's sophomore slab should raise their profile considerably thanks to infectiously lightweight keepers “Slow Dance Town,” “Bleach Blonde,” “Tip Toe,” “My Weakness,” “Forbidden” and the title track. Any (or all) of those could wind up on the radio at some point, as they provide a frothy soundtrack for the dog days of summer.
Escape the Fate (Eleven Seven)
Las Vegas screamo outfit Escape the Fate have been remarkably consistent over the course of their career and fourth album “Ungrateful” is no exception. Neither bad enough to dismiss out of hand nor good enough to rise above the limitations of the genre, ETF are the very definition of an OK band. While I wouldn't go out of my way to listen to their stuff, I also wouldn't change the station if one of their songs came on the radio. This 11-track release has a handful of terrific songs — “Live Fast, Die Beautiful,” “You're Insane,” “Picture Perfect,” “Risk It All” — surrounded by a couple tunes that range from so-so to kinda lame. Escape the Fate fans should enjoy “Ungrateful” and the rest of you won't hate it.
Demi Lovato (Hollywood)
Former Disney kid Demi Lovato surprised many (including me) when she outshined Britney Spears last year as a judge on Fox's “The X Factor.” The 20-year-old has rebounded from her problems with cutting and an eating disorder just two years ago and looks to build on her success with the release of fourth album “Demi.” It's a by-the-numbers collection of modern pop that should appeal to her core demographic but doesn't really demonstrate any growth as an artist. That said, there are some catchy tunes here — lead single “Heart Attack,” “Really Don't Care” (with Cher Lloyd) and “Something That We're Not” — and Lovato seems destined for pop stardom.
‘Ver La Luz'
Scott Tournet (self-released)
“Ver La Luz,” the third solo album from Grace Potter & the Nocturnals guitarist Scott Tournet, is a nice change of pace for the talented musician. There's a laid-back vibe — and one that sounds unlike any of the GP&N releases — to Tournet's first offering since 2006's “Everyone You Meet Is Fighting a Hard Battle,” and Potter even shows up for a first rate duet in “The Longing.” While that's my favorite of the 11 songs, Tournet also scores with “Not Too Late,” “Treasure,” “Stand By You” and “Here in the Morning.” Good stuff.
The Reflections (Arc)
Dreamy indie pop newcomers the Reflections (not crazy about the band name, fellas) make a nice first impression on full-length debut “Limerance.” There's a pleasing retro feel to the top-heavy gathering of 10 tunes that mix the sun-kissed Laurel Canyon sound with a healthy helping of Britpop. The best stuff comes early on with “Disconnected,” “Summer Days,” “Daydreamer,” “On and On” and “Ruthless” before “Limerance” starts to lose momentum. Still, this is an accomplished first effort and bodes well for the future of the band.
‘No One in Control'
Snowden (Thirty Tigers)
It's been six years since we last heard the dreamy, droning vocals of Snowden frontman Jordan Jeffares on the band's 2006 debut “Anti-Anti” and he's back for another go with “No One in Control.” Having bounced all over the country since “Anti-Anti” dropped, Snowden have tweaked their sound a bit, but I remain unable to fully embrace the band. The 11-track release gets off to a middling start with “No One in Control,” “So Red” and “Anemone Arms” before Snowden inject some much-needed life with personal favorite “The Beat Comes.” They also hit all the right notes on “Keep Quiet” and “This Year,” but there are more hiccups than I expected along the way.
American Fangs (In De Goot/RED)
Hard-driving rock quintet American Fangs have been staples on the Houston music scene and are looking to build their audience beyond the confines of the Lone Star State with the release of this self-titled debut. It's evident from the outset that these guys know what they're doing but I'm not sure they have a distinct enough sound to emerge from a crowded pack. Most of the 11-track release is worth the investment, with American Fangs taking a bite out of keepers “Riot Food,” “Gimme Gimme,” “Le Kick,” “Man in the Sun” and “Sorry.”
Little Mix (Syco/Columbia)
Four-piece girl group Little Mix skyrocketed to stardom in 2011 by winning Britain's “The X Factor” and subsequently released their debut album in Europe and the United Kingdom last fall. Infectious debut single “Wings” has been a fixture on the American charts and now “DNA” is getting its stateside release. It's a slickly-produced and well-executed gathering of 12 radio-ready pop tunes that should allow Little Mix to extend their 15 minutes of fame a little longer. Among the highlights here are the aforementioned “Wings,” the title track, soulful ballad “Always Be Together,” “Pretend It's OK,” “How Ya Doin'?” and “Madhouse.” A fun summer listen.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor at Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1952 or firstname.lastname@example.org.