Michael Jackson, "Xscape" (Epic)
On the second posthumous collection of new Michael Jackson material, big-name producers — primarily Timbaland, plus StarGate, John McClain and Rodney Jerkins — try to revive eight leftovers from the superstar's archive. The 34-minute set is fleshed out with demos of the original performances, thus illustrating how much surgery was required to contemporize these tracks. Though Jackson's vocals are generally strong and the producers try mightily to refresh the mostly stale beats, the songs still fall short of his peak moments. Timbaland works wonders on the tough-to-resist chorus of the star-struck ballad "Loving You." "Blue Gangsta" loses some of its originality when Jerkins erases its tango rhythm in favor of a clipped, more radio-friendly foundation. "Slave to the Rhythm" is persuasive social commentary about a woman stuck in soul-crushing routine. On the title song, Jackson longs to run away from it all — his voice breathless, quivering, a touch desperate. It's paranoia that you can dance to.
Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
Pain and humor are juxtaposed in indie-rock heroine Sharon Van Etten's minimalist musing "Every Time the Sun Comes Up," featuring a crotchety TV horror-show host and an animated version of the singer. http://tinyurl.com/ldqtcr2.