Alakaline Trio, "This Addiction" (Epitaph)
For an album that takes most of its imagery from foil-darkened heroin dens, "This Addiction" feels more like a sugar high than an opiate. The goth-tinted punk band, credited for better or worse as one of emo's progenitors, long paired sly, cartoonishly bleak lyrics with downright chipper melodies. "This Addiction" is its clearest distillation of that formula in years, and will remind a lot of prodigal fans about singer Matt Skiba's songwriting strengths.
Alkaline Trio has never been as evil as it imagined, and its obsidian sheen has sometimes bogged down its tunes. Not so here: "Dead on the Floor" imagines Buddy Holly's sock-hop rock as a delicious romance-is-murder ballad, and "Eating Me Alive" drags up '80s-era Cure synths that could run your mascara from 100 yards away. "Dine, Dine My Darling" is a witty Misfits homage, appropriate for a band built on two-minute pop tunes about suicide and vampires.
The album is a pointedly minimal production, though -- most tracks are simple guitar-bass-drum affairs with a few tasteful harmonies that put the surprisingly durable hooks up front. Alkaline Trio may have a mouthful of purloined pills here, but Skiba's tongue is perfectly in cheek on his band's best album in years.
AUGUST BROWN, LOS ANGELES TIMES
Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté, "Ali & Toumani" (Nonesuch)
This is the third collaboration between guitarist Touré and kora player Diabaté, both from Mali, ending a process that began with 2005's Grammy-winning "In the Heart of the Moon." It's the final recording for Touré, who died in 2006, and the great Cuban bass player Orlando (Cachaito) Lopez, who died last year.
Full of slow-paced grooves and subtle modal melodies, "Ali & Toumani" balances Touré's deep, bluesy acoustic guitar with Diabaté's trebly, pointillistic harp on a set of traditional African melodies. It's a quiet, moving, peerlessly beautiful album. While many tracks include bass, percussion and/or brief vocals, it comes across as an instrumental duo recording. Yet it's so colorful and articulate that it never risks disappearing into background music: It's as easy to get lost in telepathic interplay between Touré and Diabaté as to let the songs wash over you in shimmering, transcendent waves.
STEVE KLINGE, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER