The Black Eyed Peas
“The E.N.D.” (Interscope)
With both will.i.am and Fergie releasing solo albums since BEP’s “Monkey Business” in 2005, perhaps “The E.N.D.” isn’t the greatest choice of titles. But in this case, the title stands for “The Energy Never Dies.” Frontman will.i.am says it’s his model for a project that will be living and frequently updated throughout its designated cycle.
What it does appear to mark is the end of the album as we know it. After all, it’s hard to unspool a concept over the course of a dozen songs when listeners can opt to pick up only Tracks 3, 7 and 9.
Or, as will.i.am has colorfully put it: “What is an album when you put 12 songs on iTunes and people can pick at it like scabs?”
BEP has found another way to attract buyers to its album. The standard version of “The E.N.D.” has 15 tracks, while a two-disc set available only at Target includes a bonus disc with four new songs, six remixes of previously released tunes and exclusive videos, a total of 25 cuts. That should entice those who like to cherry-pick their music.
So, economics aside, how does BEP’s fifth album stack up against those that came before?
Well, the dance-pop-oriented hip-hop is still prevalent. But it also throws punk, world and techno into the mix as well. There are samples evident throughout, some credited, others just little snatches enough to intrigue the listener.
Unlike past hits such as “Pump It,” “My Humps” or “Let’s Get It Started,” there doesn’t seem to be a breakout track that sticks with the listener. Yet there are still plenty of interesting, high-energy things happening here.
Most importantly, it seems that will.i.am, Fergie, Taboo and apl.de.ap still enjoy making music together. “The E.N.D.” shows that the Black Eyed Peas is a project that will continue to evolve as its members develop new strengths to bring to the turntable.
– DALE McGARRIGLE
“Bitte Orca” (Domino)
The Dirty Projectors’ fifth album is by far its most accessible, its most memorable and signals the band’s entrance into the indie rock pantheon of heroes. But if you’ve heard anything from David Longstreth and the array of talented musicians that make up his band, you know that “accessible” is a term used quite liberally.
Where the band’s previous albums traded in a fractured kind of rock music — soaring melodies interspersed with jagged, atonal guitar work — “Bitte Orca” finds the perfect medium between those two poles. At once intoxicatingly catchy and totally bizarre, the Dirty Projectors are a kind of cross between Paul Simon and Fugazi — or Joni Mitchell and Sonic Youth.
The introductory guitar licks on album opener “Cannibal Resource” recall “Physical Graffiti”-era Led Zeppelin, while “Stillness Is the Move” is kind of funky, with Afro-pop riffs and an instantly catchy melodic refrain from the phenomenal vocalists Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman.
“Bitte Orca” somehow remains both difficult and accessible, in the way that the Velvet Underground did, or Animal Collective continues to do. It’s challenging, intelligent and progressive — avant-garde pop, if you will. It might be the best indie rock album of the year, which is kind of funny, because it doesn’t really seem like an indie rock album at all. It’s something else, and that’s what makes it such a magnificent recording.
— EMILY BURNHAM
“Slice O Life” (Rounder)
Bruce Cockburn’s prolific and consistently strong output over the last four decades has featured two live albums, “Circles in the Stream” (1977) and “Live” (1991). Both featured some solo performances, but the new “Slice O Life” captures Cockburn’s solo acoustic show in total, a surprisingly full soundscape, thanks to his virtuoso fingerpicking work on guitar.
Unlike some of his contemporaries among singer-songwriters, Cockburn’s voice has improved with the years, taking on a rich, smoky quality, though there is some evidence here of his 60-plus years.
The repertoire on this two-CD set draws from a broad range of Cockburn’s career; two songs from the 1970s and a new track bookend tunes from the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Even though the songs span nearly 40 years, consistent themes emerge, which is one of the enlightening things such live collections offer. Cockburn has been a wide traveler in the Third World, using a journalistic, documentarian approach to capture images that speak of poverty and injustice, but also of hope and love.
A couplet from 1983’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” included in this set, sums up Cockburn’s take on all he sees: “One day you’re waiting for the sky to fall/The next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all.”
Along with songs that take the listener to Nepal and Central America, there are explorations of the inner landscape as well, such as the reflective “Child of the Wind,” and “Pacing the Cage.” The collection also features Cockburn’s witty storytelling and rapport with his audience.
For those who haven’t experienced Cockburn’s wonderful solo live shows (he performs in Maine every few years), “Slice O Life” is a fine substitute.
— TOM GROENING
Looking for a band that combines the ’70s folk-rock classicism and sweet harmony vocals of Fleet Foxes with the electronic flirtations and experimental bent of Radiohead? Well, Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear is here to save the day.
The group’s new album, the oddly titled “Veckatimest,” is poised to become an indie rock touchstone for 2009, much like Animal Collective’s similarly stellar “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” and the comparisons don’t end there. Both albums have a couple of instantly accessible, insanely catchy singles that will lure you in (Animal Collective’s “My Girls,” Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks”), but as you dig deeper, you find many more subtle pleasures that can take time to reveal themselves.
Album opener “Southern Point” is the perfect showcase for what Grizzly Bear does best: a pastoral acoustic guitar chug gradually gathers momentum before bursting into a multilayered chorus, with a squelchy bass joining the interlocking vocals of singer Daniel Rossen and his bandmates, before the whole arrangement takes off in a couple of unpredictable but stunning directions and then resolves itself demurely by returning to a simple acoustic guitar figure.
Other album highlights, like the swaying “Cheerleader” or the gorgeous “Ready, Able,” follow a similar pattern, building and growing as the band adds more ingredients to its sonic stew. As with the best work of the aforementioned Animal Collective or Radiohead, Grizzly Bear’s songs often require repeated listens before the unusual arrangements and delicate, intertwined vocals begin to really make sense.
Fortunately, the band’s innate sense of melody keeps the quirkiness from becoming a drag on the album, and ensures that you’ll return to “Veckatimest” time and again, finding something new to enjoy every time.
— TRAVIS GASS