TAKEN BY TREES "Open Field" 4 stars out of 5
Sweden's indie pop septet the Concretes and their secret weapon, vocalist Victoria Bergsman, doled out two albums of sweet, densely layered ditties over the course of a decade. Bergsman parted ways with the group last year and wasted little time striking out on her own - a lilting cameo on Peter Bjorn and John's whistle-happy "Young Folks" and now "Open Field," the debut album from Bergsman's newest project, "Taken By Trees." Comforting like a drowsy winter's nap, Bergsman's glassy alto filters through oblique, lovesick lyrics and sets a very chilled mood.
It's a disc ideal for downshifting from summer into fall.
Download this: "Lost and Found"
BLACK FRANCIS "Bluefinger" 4 stars out of 5
While you twiddle your thumbs waiting for that new Pixies record to materialize (don't worry, it's probably right on the heels of "Chinese Democracy"), listen to Frank Black (performing as Black Francis) shake off the country-folk stupor of his last few solo efforts and rip into 11 punk-streaked tracks supposedly inspired by the late Dutch musician and artist Herman Brood. Savagely melodic and imbued with an energy noticeably absent from Black's recent catalog, "Bluefinger" pops out of the speakers like music on a mission. That recent Pixies reunion must have reinvigorated Black more than he let on - this is one a dirty, frayed, fantastic record.
Download this: "Lolita"
- Preston Jones
MANU CHAO "La Radiolina" 3 stars out of five
Franco-Spanish world-music star Manu Chao offers his most eclectic, politically charged set on the dizzying "La Radiolina," his first disc of new material in six years. In fact, it may be too eclectic as he races from punk to ska to Afro-pop and back again, though overall there's more of a rock feel this time around. That, combined with the fact it's 21 tracks long, makes this disc ultimately less satisfying than previous efforts like the more mild-mannered "Clandestino." Still, at its best, "La Radiolina" is a knockout.
Download this: "Rainin in Paradize"
ANN WILSON "Hope & Glory" 2 stars out of 5
When artists decide to pay tribute to their influences, it's a hit-or-miss proposition. Few musicians can adequately capture the emotion or, more importantly, the style of whatever songs they select.
Ann Wilson, the bombastic core of classic rock combo Heart, pulls the usual suspects off the shelf (Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan) and proceeds to dilute almost every song, thanks in part to producer Ben Mink's insistence in swaddling tracks like Elton John's "Where to Now St. Peter?" in mushy, late-'90s pop clothing. There are a few amusing detours - the hillbilly-zydeco reading of "Bad Moon Rising" with Gretchen Wilson is just goofy fun - but too many tracks drown in earnestness.
Download this: "Immigrant Song"
PINBACK "Autumn of the Seraphs" 3 stars out of 5
Let's cut to the chase: Pinback makes melodic guitar pop for those who love melodic guitar pop. The San Diego duo has been doing it for three albums (and numerous side projects), and on "Autumn," they haven't changed their formula. That's hardly a bad thing. While "Autumn's" dynamic ranges from fragile ("Walters") to charging ("Blue Harvest"), it tends to be in the more subdued vein of their earlier albums. In that respect, it's hard to forget the whooping punch of 2004's "Summer in Abaddon," which is captured only briefly here.
Download this: "Good to Sea"