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Reviews of new albums from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Iron & Wine and Willie Nelson
Reviews of three albums coming out on Record Store Day, April 20, 2013: the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Mosquito”; Iron & Wine’s “Ghost on Ghost”; and Willie Nelson and Family’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”
Every time we run a story about a great new CD box set, we get calls from folks who say, “Wow! Where can I buy that?”
Come again? Records are sold in — duh — record stores. But apparently a lot of people under 30 have never been in a record store and many older folks assume these relics of the past no longer exist.
Well, they do. If you haven't dropped by one lately, the sixth annual Record Store Day — Saturday — might be a good time to do so. Most stores are offering promotions, and record companies have released tons of specialty material, including a cool new vinyl/digital compilation from Seattle’s own Sub Pop, “Sub Pop 1000.”
If you’re thinking about a purchase, here are reviews of three albums coming out on Record Store Day. For a list of participating stores: http://www.recordstoreday.com/Venues
Paul de Barros, Seattle Times music critic
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Mosquito” (Interscope)
When New York’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs arrived at the turn of the millennium, few could’ve predicted they’d stretch their combustible, street-wise art-punk into a decade-plus career.
But on 2003’s “Fever to Tell,” guitarist Nick Zinner, drummer Brian Chase and charismatic leading lady Karen O redefined themselves as pop-music innovators, scoring crossover success with quixotic smash single “Maps.”
The trio’s fourth LP, “Mosquito,” follows 2009 synth-fest “It’s Blitz!” Though its hideous cover art suggests a return to sleazier, low-budget beginnings, its 11 soulful songs mix grit, glamour, past, present and future.
From the mutant gospel of “Sacrilege” to the yearning, “Twin Peaks”-like “Always” and roots-reggae “Under the Earth,” “Mosquito” is a cross-genre blowout.
While subterranean life is the album’s overarching lyrical theme, “Area 52” looks heavenward. Borrowing the melody from the Stooges’ three-chord classic “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” revising its chorus to “I wanna be an alien” and adding beam-me-up guitar effects and death-march percussion, the band delivers campy, cosmic amusement.
Hip-hop eccentric Kool Keith’s surprise drop-in on “Buried Alive” is oddly pedestrian, yet his mere presence reflects Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ chameleon nature and far-reaching credibility.
Iron & Wine, “Ghost on Ghost” (Nonesuch)
On Iron & Wine’s 2002 breakthrough “The Creek Drank the Cradle,” Sam Beam’s hushed incantations fit his gentle acoustic guitars like a warm autumn sweater.
With 2004’s “Our Endless Numbered Days,” the bearded Southern songsmith solidified his place as a modern-day Cat Stevens or James Taylor, summoning older listeners’ nostalgia for simpler times and providing indie kids perfect make-out music.
A decade later, Beam’s laid-back lilt still soothes, but the out-of-character “Ghost on Ghost,” in stores today, isn’t a folk record so much as adult-contemporary, blue-eyed soul.
Worldbeat-inflected opener “Caught in the Briars” borrows liberally from mid-’80s Paul Simon, while “Lover’s Revolution” and “Desert Babbler,” despite tasteful use of strings, horns and upright bass, achieve little that Van Morrison didn’t already on 1968’s “Astral Weeks.”
The elegant, up-tempo “Grace for Saints and Ramblers” fares much better, yet it remains debatable whether this material benefits from such slick production and ornate arrangements.
While one can’t fault Beam for celebrating Iron & Wine’s five-album milestone by changing his approach, there’s a pervasive sense throughout “Ghost” that he might be running out of ideas.
Charlie Zaillian, Special to The Seattle Times
Willie Nelson and Family, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (Legacy)
This album is not only timed to the release of Willie Nelson’s 80th birthday (which he’ll celebrate April 30), but also commemorates 40 years of recording and touring with his backing band Family (which features his son Micah on percussion, and his sister Bobbie Nelson on piano; other familial connections include brothers Paul and Billy English, on drums and electric gut-string guitar, respectively).
The album reaches deep into the American songbook, going all the way back to the ’20s (“I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” which made its debut in the 1928 New York show “Blackbird Revue”), with most songs predating 1960. It’s a laid-back ramble down memory lane.
Nelson matches his warm, mellow voice to songs as if they’re old friends he can’t wait to introduce to someone new, bookending the album with the contemplative title opener (by Irving Berlin) and finishing off the show with a lively closing cover of Spade Cooley’s gently chiding “Shame On You.” “Matchbox” is a nod to rock’s roots, but on the whole the album takes a slower pace, as Nelson looks back with pleasure at a time when love was as simple as “Walking My Baby Back Home.”
Gillian G. Gaar, Special to The Seattle Times