Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Solos & sides


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With the release of her debut solo disc Change (Kill Rock Stars), Cindy Wilson is the third member of the legendary B-52s to record a solo album. Fred Schneider led the pack back in 1984 with an album that didn't drift too far from the B-52s' path. He changed all that with the punk assault of 1996's Just Fred . Kate Pierson followed suit almost 20 years later with 2015's Guitars and Microphones, displaying another side to the singer-songwriter. You shouldn't expect to hear the Cindy Wilson you remember from B-52s songs "Give Me Back My Man," "Legal Tender" or "Love Shack" on Change . Closer in mood to the subtle soul drama of "Ain't It a Shame" from 1986's underrated B-52s platter Bouncing Off the Satellites, the songs on Change introduce us to a more soft-spoken Wilson, who sings 10 songs (two of them covers) in a breathy belt. The disc opens with "People Are Asking," a potential activist anthem. With an appreciation for a good beat, Wilson invites us to "dance this mess around" on "No One Can Tell You," "Stand Back Time" and the title track. She takes an unexpected experimental turn on "Brother," her interpretation of a song by Athens, GA band Oh-OK.

Even if you don't consider yourself to be a Led Zeppelin fan, there's no denying that the band's former lead vocalist Robert Plant has had a fascinating solo career. His first two albums were well-received. A late-career collaboration album with Alison Krauss, 2007's Grammy Award-winning Raising Sand, marked a new creative period for Plant, including 2014's excellent Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar. Plant's new album Carry Fire (Nonesuch) finds him working with his band the Sensational Space Shifters, and features guest appearances by Chrissie Hynde ("Bluebirds Over the Mountain") and Seth Lakeman (title cut). Songs "Carving Up the World Again," "New World" and "Bones of Saints" find Plant making political statements, but most of the tunes are heartfelt love songs.

Collaboration is key on several new releases. Lotta Sea Lice (Matador) is an album by out singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett and ex-War on Drugs guitarist Kurt Vile. This disappointing album feels so low energy as to almost be sleep-inducing. Part of the problem is the similar quality of their voices, although Barnett's is more expressive. Songs "Over Everything," "Continental Breakfast" and "Peepin' Tom" prevent the album from being a total loss.

Filthy Friends is the kind of band they used to call a supergroup. Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5), Bill Rieflin (King Crimson) and Kurt Bloch (The Fastbacks) teamed up to record an album, Invitation (Kill Rock Stars). Tucker's distinctive voice steals the focus on "Faded Afternoon," the R.E.M.esque "Any Kind of Crowd" and "Makers."

Karen and Ryan Hover, formerly of Candy Claws, are joined by Jacob Graham (ex-The Drums) along with Ben Phelan and Derrick Bozich, to form the band Sound of Ceres. The Twin (Joyful Noise), their second album, is a dream pop reverie, combing influences ranging from Cocteau Twins to Air. "The Trance," "Mercury's Moods" and "Solar Mirror 9" keep listeners busy on the dance floor. Languorous songs "Humaniora," "Gemini Scenic" and "Eden V" sound like they're meant to be listened to in an altered state of being.

Virtual/animated group Gorillaz, led by Blur's Damon Albarn, returns after seven years with the dance-oriented Humanz (WB/Parlophone). Potential club-bangers include "Strobelite" (featuring Peven Everett), "Momentz" (De La Soul), "Andromeda" (D.R.A.M.), "Sex Murder Party" (Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz) and the Prince-ly "We Got the Power" (Jehnny Beth and Noel Gallagher). Collaborations with Grace Jones ("Charger") and Mavis Staples ("Let Me Out") don't hurt.

More than 20 years ago, electronic music legend Moby detoured into rock music on Animal Rights. The trip was short-lived, although Moby continued to incorporate rock elements into his music. The politically-minded Moby thought he could get his message across in a harder rocking format, and that there aren't many reasons to dance. The 2016 debut album by Moby & The Void Pacific Choir was titled These Systems Are Failing, and the second album More Songs About the Apocalypse (Mute) maintains the mood on "All the Hurts We Made" and the more dance-oriented "In this Cold Place."

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