SLEIGH BELLS “Reign of Terror”
On Sleigh Bells’ delectable 2010 debut “Treats,” the car-crash pileup of Derek E. Miller’s overdriven guitars and gargantuan drum-machine beats laid a violently explosive foundation for charismatic front woman Alexis Krauss to coo over sweetly. It worked so well, in part, because there were discernible melodies beneath the maelstrom of noise. For the most part, that’s still true on “Reign of Terror,” though Miller’s production strategy of intensely compressing the sound before turning it all the way up to 11 can create barriers to entry quite difficult to overcome, as on the well-titled “You Lost Me.” And while the whole of “Reign of Terror” gleefully blasts away with a wall of noise to make the Jesus & Mary Chain blush, the concise, essentially pop architecture of the arrangements turn initially abrasive tunes like “Comeback Kid” and “Road to Hell” into earworms.
LYLE LOVETT “Release Me”
Iconoclastic Texas song stylist Lyle Lovett has spent his entire career recording for one record label, and with this, his 11th album, he fulfills his contract and sets himself free. That’s the joke of the title track — the often-recorded Engelbert Humperdinck and Esther Phillips hit, here done as a duet with k.d. lang. The joke extends to the cover photo, which features the dapper, high-haired troubadour wound tightly with rope as if he were a damsel in distress. The contents of the 14-song album are by no means a joke, but it is slight by Lovett’s standards, including only four originals, and incorporating a three-song Christmas EP he released last year. Lovett is an impeccable craftsman and an underrated singer; it’s satisfying to hear him have a go at songs by Chuck Berry, Townes Van Zandt and Martin Luther (!) — the Protestant hymn “Keep Us Steadfast.” But mainly “Release Me” whets the appetite for more of the finally-free Lovett’s new material.
MOUSE ON MARS “Parastrophics”
Mouse on Mars has been around since 1993. Pretty good for a German post-everything duo that once specialized in trendy niche stuff like jungle. The only thing more remarkable than this pair’s endurance in an ever-shifting electronic universe is how restless, warm, and consistently inventive Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner have been.
After genre experiments that found MoM dabbling in future-funk (“Glam”), electro-pop (“Radical Connector”), and noise-techno (“Varcharz”), “Parastrophics” is more of a giddy pastiche, one that finds the duo rummaging through the diverse fields of electronic music, past and present, while creating melodies that stay strong and certain. There are dense, tense moments, as in the stormy weather-house music of “Polaroyced” and the drone of “Syncropticians.” “Parastrophics,” however, leans more toward blips, beeps, and Kraftwerk-ian pulses to make its point through the Polynesian lilt of “Baku Hipster” and the joyfully jumpy “They Know Your Name.” For Toma and St. Werner, electronic music is far from cold and calculated. Their sound is messily fleshy and crowded, fuzzy rather than fussy. To quote its electronic godfathers the Human League, Mouse on Mars is only human.