Grand Opening finds the beauty in melancholia
‘Don't Look Back Into Darkness'
The Grand Opening (Tapete)
The Grand Opening is the stage name of Swedish multi-instrumentalist John Roger Olsson, who finds the beauty in melancholia on fourth album “Don't Look Back Into the Darkness.” Always precise and passionate, Olsson has made a heart-felt record , drawing inspiration, in part, from some old photos he found at his grandmother's house. While sad, it is never maudlin. The opening tandem of “Blacker Than Blue” and “False Light” set the tone, and Olsson soars on “There Is Always Hope,” “Target,” “The Living” and “Tired Eyes.”
‘All We Are'
Loves It (Team Austin)
The latest out-of-left-field album to blow me away comes courtesy of Texas country/folk/punk duo Loves It, whose sophomore set “All We Are” figures to earn a spot on my favorite albums of 2013. With Vaughn Walters and Jenny Parrot working the boy-girl singing dynamic to perfection, the 13-track release impresses at every turn. “(Would You Like to Be) My First Divorce” is laugh-out-loud funny, yet still resonates emotionally, and Loves It hits all the right notes on “The Angels Sing,” “Flag,” “Western Swing Murder,” “Choose” and “Appalachian Ballad.” Can't recommend this one highly enough.
‘Walk the Distance'
Clara Hill (Tapete)
If — and it's a very BIG if — you can make it through the tediously ambient instrumental opener “Konkav,” you very well may end up enjoying the latest album from German electro-soul performer Clara Hill. The 10-track album is her first since 2007. It gets off to a rough, rough start, but then things improve noticeably. “Dawn of a New Day,” “Insomnia,” “Nightwork” and the title track merit multiple listens. There's too much experimentation to make this a universally appealing release, but Hill gets points for sticking to her guns.
Jace Everett (Redeye)
Having been dropped by his label just before gaining great acclaim when “Bad Things” was tabbed as the theme song for HBO's “True Blood,” Jace Everett has evolved into one of the more interesting artists around. Latest effort “Terra Rosa” finds Everett pondering the Old and New Testaments over the course of 11 tunes that dabble in everything from blues and country to gospel, rock and boogie. “In the Garden,” understandably, kicks things off and Everett soars on personal favorite “Lloyd's Summer Vacation,” “Pennsylvania,” “The Great Fish,” “Love Cut Me Down” and “Saphira.”
I didn't know what to expect from “Eternality,” the debut EP from Los Angeles-based artists/film composer Cuscino. Yet after multiple spins of the six-track release, I find myself enjoying it. A lot. Whether serving up rhythm-filled instrumentals (“Unfiltered”) or enlisting the powerful vocals of Sarah Magill on EP bookends “A Little Black” and “Walking in the Garden,” Cuscino proves to be an artist worth getting to know.
‘Peace on Venus'
Bardo Pond (Fire)
Over the course of 20-plus years, Philadelphia psychedelic drone rocker Bardo Pond has released a couple dozen records and played countless live shows. Yet it remains a fairly anonymous outfit, even in the band's home state. Latest full-length “Peace on Venus” is a five-track, 39-minute gathering of heavy riffs and soaring vocals that probably is most relatable if under the influence of some sort of illegal substance. Opener “Kali Yuga Blues” is a languid sonic journey that slowly reels you in, and “Taste” is another keeper. Things falter down the stretch with overlong cuts “Chance” and “Before the Moon,” but it's a record that should appeal to psych-rock fans.
‘The Flood and the Mercy'
Ed Kowalczyk (Soul Whisper/Harbour/Caroline)
Even though the band overstayed its welcome by about a decade, York alternative rocker Live soared to great heights in 1994 with its masterful sophomore album “Throwing Copper.” Neither Live nor frontman Ed Kowalczyk ever managed that level of success again, but the 42-year-old vocalist continues chasing the dream. “The Flood and the Mercy” is Kowalczyk's second solo effort (following 2010's disappointing “Alive”) and finds him treading familiar musical turf. There are some interesting tunes (“Seven,” “Parasite,” “All That I Wanted,” “Holy War Tears”) but most of the album sounds pretty dated.
Rickolus (Circle Into Square)
Wow. That's the best way to sum up my reaction to the initial spin of “Troubadour,” the sophomore album from Rickolus, aka singer/songwriter Richard Colado. Rickolus unspools 24 songs over two discs and 88 minutes and as soon as the final track faded away, I eagerly went back to the beginning and listened all the way through again. “Troubadour” is a sprawling, ambitious and never saccharine or boring love letter to his wife and their marriage. Not the hippest subject matter, to be sure, but Rickolus turns “Roy Great Britain IV,” “We Paint the Rocks Gold,” “October 2,” “Hobby Horse,” “Thieves,” “Most of Us” and “Surrender” into true works of art. Wow, indeed.
George Ducas (Loud Ranch)
In the mid-1990s, Texas native George Ducas seemed on the cusp of country music stardom. His first two albums were well-received and even generated a Top 10 single in “Lipstick Promises.” The sky was the limit. But then he decided to take a "recording hiatus” to raise his kids. Ducas continued to write songs for the likes of Sara Evans, the Eli Young Band, Dixie Chicks, Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks, but “4340” is his first album in 16 years. And what a way to return. This is a fantastic gathering of tunes, highlighted by “CowTown,” “Ain't That Crazy,” “This One's Gonna Hurt,” “Breakin' Stuff” and “Amnesia.” Welcome back.
‘All the Locals II'
All the Locals (self-released)
I really hope Atlanta collective All the Locals can find an audience. This talented outfit doesn't fit into any one genre, seamlessly mixing soul, pop, funk, rock, blues and hip-hop into a tasty sonic stew, which could make it difficult for the band to find its niche. That's a shame because latest EP “All the Locals II” is fantastic, showcasing the band's talents over the course of six songs. “Follow Me,” personal favorite “Let Me Go,” “Sweet Summertime” and “Spinning Wheels” are stellar, and even lesser entries “The Way You Move” and “Head Strong” are worth a spin or two. Keep an eye out for ATL.
Pompeya (No Shame)
Russian pop foursome Pompeya, a known commodity in its homeland and throughout Eastern Europe, looks to make a splash in America with U.S. debut “Tropical.” The guys tap into a disco/New Wave vibe on the 12-track release and while there aren't any clunkers, neither are there songs you'll be humming when the CD stops spinning. Highlights include “Slaver,” “Y.A.H.T.B.M.F.,” “90,” and “Power.” Pleasing ear candy.
‘Voices Out There'
[The] Caseworker (Hidden Shoals)
My first exposure to dream pop trio [The] Caseworker was a couple years ago with the release of “Letters From the Coast,” a decent record that I found a bit too mellow and understated for my liking. The band takes a step forward on “Voices Out There.” These songs aren't exactly energetic — what with the drowsy vocals of frontman Conor Devlin — but they don't make me want to drift off to sleep, either. “Ultramarine,” the title track, “Negative” and “Notes From the Summer” are the tunes you'll want to revisit.
When Jess Abbott joined Now, Now (formerly Now, Now Every Children) a couple years ago, the Minneapolis band went from a decent duo to a really good indie pop trio. Abbott's skills extend to her solo work under the Tancred moniker. This self-titled release is her second Tancred effort and finds Abbott blossoming as songwriter and performer. There's no wasted effort on the 11-track, 28-minute release, and Abbott shines on “The Ring,” “Creases,” “In the Night,” “Hard to Leave” and “When You're Weak.”
Art Decade (self-released)
Boston art pop collective Art Decade pulls out all the stops on its self-titled sophomore full-length. The band utilized a 15-piece orchestra for opener and album highlight “No One's Waiting” and the tune smacks of Arcade Fire in the best possible way. The remainder of the 10-track album shows promise before falling just short of must-have status. Keepers include “Walking Together,” “Idle Talk,” “Boredom” and “All That's Left.” I'm thinking the next record could be special.
‘Sun Studio Sessions'
The Howlin' Brothers (self-released)
White felt hat-wearing Americana string trio the Howlin' Brothers enthralled on their “Howl” full-length debut earlier this year, and thankfully we didn't have to wait long for more from the musical — though not blood-related — siblings. Recorded at the legendary Memphis studio, the six-track digital EP “Sun Studio Sessions” is another winner. Featuring four new originals (“Til I Find You” and “Take Me Down” are special), a pared-down version of “Howl” gem “Tennessee Blues” and a cover of Carl Perkins' “Dixie Fried,” this is much more than a placeholder.
Patty Griffin (Ume)
Recorded in 2000 and shelved for more than a decade in the wake of label ownership changes, Patty Griffin's “lost” album “Silver Bell” holds up remarkably well all these years later. Coming just five months after her career-best “American Kid,” the 14-track platter impresses at every turn. Two of the best cuts — “Truth #2” and “Top of the World” — appeared on the Dixie Chicks' “Home” and sound even better in Griffin's hands. Other standouts include “Perfect White Girls,” “What You Are,” the title track and “Driving.” Another sterling effort from one of the greats.
‘The Speed of Things'
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. (Warner Bros.)
“It's a Corporate World,” the ridiculously fun debut from Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., was one of 2011's best indie pop albums and the Detroit-based duo goes to even greater heights on “The Speed of Things.” Even those who don't usually enjoy electronic pop should warm to this remarkable 13-track record. The wistful “Beautiful Dream” starts things off, and the band soars on “Run,” “If You Didn't See Me (Then You Weren't on the Dancefloor),” “Hiding,” “Don't Tell Me” and “Gloria.” Highly recommended.
Cage the Elephant (RCA)
Kentucky rocker Cage the Elephant set the bar incredibly high with its first two albums (2009's self-titled CD and 2011's “Thank You Happy Birthday”), so I didn't know what to expect from third studio effort “Melophobia.” The 10-track slab isn't as instantly accessible as its predecessors, but it grows on me with every listen. There aren't any songs as memorable as “In One Ear” or “Ain't No Rest for the Wicked,” but Matt Shultz & Co. impress with “Come a Little Closer,” “Telescope,” “Take It or Leave It,” “Halo” and “Cigarette Daydreams.” While “Melophobia” isn't Cage the Elephant's best album, it's a worthy addition to their résumé.
Kings of Leon (RCA)
Call me crazy, but I prefer the “Youth & Young Manhood”/“A-Ha Shake Heartbreak” early incarnation of Southern rockers Kings of Leon to the later one that spawned singles “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” and transformed them into arena rock stars. Two years after Caleb Followill famously walked offstage during a show and prompted a lengthy hiatus, Kings of Leon have regained their footing. “Mechanical Bull” still tries too hard to be a U2 album at times, but it's a marked improvement over 2008's “Only By the Night” and 2010's unfocused “Come Around Sundown.” “Supersoaker” kick starts the record, and the guys score with “Rock City,” “Beautiful War,” “Wait for Me,” “Family Tree” and “Coming Back Again.” Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.