Vampire Weekend, “Father of the Bride” (Columbia)
Six years is a long time between albums for any artist. But for Vampire Weekend, it seems like a lifetime. Nearly the only thing that the band’s new album has in common with 2013’s “Modern Vampires of the City” is Ezra Koenig’s distinctive voice.
The band’s worldbeat influences are gone, as is co-founder Rostam Batmanglij. Koenig, who now lives in California with girlfriend Rashida Jones and their son, has replaced them with his twist on sunny classic rock and several duets with Danielle Haim.
It’s jarring to hear Koenig’s voice in such soothing, laid-back surroundings. “Harmony Hall” sounds like he was dropped into the “Let It Bleed”-era Rolling Stones. In “Stranger,” he may have joined the Band circa “Northern Lights-Southern Cross.” At least “This Life” has a Paul Simon feel to it, though more Art Garfunkel rather than his Ladysmith Black Mambazo collaboration that inspired so much of Vampire Weekend’s earlier work.
However, Koenig makes it all fit together. And his duets with Haim give the album a strong backbone. The best collaboration is “We Belong Together,” which, like, “Married in a Gold Rush,” works as both a straightforward ballad and something a bit edgier, with bits of electronic bloops and bleeps.
It’s what the album does again and again, establishing a new timeline for Vampire Weekend rather than picking up where it left off.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Jade Bird, “Jade Bird” (Glassnote)
It takes a couple of songs for Bird’s debut album to reveal its reason for being. The low-key “Ruins” boasts a pleasant chorus and “Lottery” underlines this British singer-songwriter’s debt to Nashville, even as it settles for the kind of corn that passes for cleverness in some country-pop hits. But Bird hits a nerve with “I Get No Joy,” a live-in-the-moment declaration delivered with raspy ferocity.
When Bird gives cuteness and craftsmanship a swift kick in the shins, “Jade Bird” takes off. The 21-year-old singer carries a dash of Dolly Parton’s trill, pledges allegiance to the let-it-all-hang-out ’90s creations of Alanis Morissette, and blurs the boundaries of soul, country and folk. As a songwriter, she sometimes succumbs to clichés.
Yet most of the time she powers through by turning even the slightest of songs into something more. There’s not much nuance in “Uh Huh,” a tale of an ex getting his comeuppance at the hands of a three-timing femme fatale, but there’s no denying the snarl in Bird’s vocal. On “Love Has All Been Done Before,” she ratchets up her discontent with romance until she sounds like she’s shouting for survival.
With relatively strain-free production that sprinkles orchestral textures across folk-rock tunes, Bird also shows an affinity for lifting the emotional temperature at lower volume levels.
A poetic expressiveness emerges on “Good at It ”to subtly shift the mood, by turns accusatory, resigned, bittersweet. On “17,” a plea for forgiveness, exudes dam-busting power without resorting to histrionics, the strongest hint yet of the type of transcendent artist she could become, no gimmicky songs required.
greg kot, Chicago Tribune
• Ciara, “Beauty Marks”
• Mac DeMarco, “Here Comes the Cowboy”
• Mavis Staples, “We Get By”
• Shaggy, “Wah Gwaan”
• Sammy Hagar, “Space Between”