Teenage Fanclub, “Here” (Merge)
In the early ’90s, Teenage Fanclub floated its three-part harmonies and unabashedly Big Star-like melodies atop guitars that closed the gap between “fuzz” and “noise” on the feedback gauge. The Scottish band was a contender.
Two decades later, the formula hasn’t changed much. On “Here,” the band’s first album in six years and 10th overall, the front line of Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Raymond McGinley once again trades songs (four each) and lead vocals, over sturdily constructed pop-rock arrangements. But the band has taken some subtle evolutionary turns.
This album doesn’t punch, it purrs. The vocalists sing with understated pleasantness. A few subdued orchestral touches surface — strings bring a little light to “The Darkest Part of the Night” and horns pepper “Live in the Moment.”
These welcome shots of texture enliven a song cycle designed not to disrupt your next dinner party. Words of encouragement flow, aimed at midlife survivors consumed with regret and worry. As a mood piece, “Here” has its uses. “Steady State” is a long, slow fade spread over four meditative minutes. “With You” undulates over a fragile guitar figure. It’s all about shimmer and sighs, and then it’s gone.
GREG KOT, Chicago Tribune
Against Me!, “Shape Shift With Me”
This album finds the veteran punk band reveling in singer Laura Jane Grace’s newfound freedom with hard-hitting results. Grace, who came out as a transgender woman in 2012, made a powerful statement about identity with the band’s 2014 album, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues.” With this album, she is once again balancing the personal with the political, but with a bit more subtlety and humor.
On “Delicate, Petite & Other Things I’ll Never Be,” Grace demands, “I wanna know how you stay you” over a sleek, danceable bass groove that wouldn’t have fit on previous Against Me! albums. They take gloom over the top on the Bauhaus-influenced “Dead Rats.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Against Me! has lost its political edge, as shown in the ferocious “ProVision L-3,” a protest song about American surveillance named after an airport security scanner.
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
• Shawn Mendes, “Illuminate”
• Bruce Springsteen, “Chapter and Verse”
• Idina Menzel, “Idina”
• Kristin Chenowith, “The Art of Elegance”
• Passenger, “Young as the Morning Old as the Sea”
• Devendra Banhart, “Ape in Pink Marble”
• Dwight Yoakam, “Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars ... ”