Frontman James Mercer, now an astonishing 41 years of age, has finally returned from a four-year-long hiatus during which he collaborated with Brian Burton in their tag-team project Broken Bells. Then, with much anticipation, Mercer released Port of Morrow’s first single, “Simple Song” and its B-side “September,” on Record Store Day. Fans knew immediately that the wait was worth it. The video for “September” featured the song’s lyrics scrolling whimsically across inanimate objects, remaining true to Mercer’s indie mastery. Fusing bossa nova rhythms, unidentifiable white noise, quivering guitar and a simple complexity, with quite possibly the most poetically romantic lyrics that have ever crossed Mercer’s lips, the B-side outshone its A-side. Featuring both new and old cast members, the entire album has got to be one of the best of 2012 with its multi-instrumentality, layers of acoustic and electric guitars, spot-lighted strings, low-fi snippets, and of course, Mercer’s emotionally-infused vocals.
Trial track: “Port of Morrow”
– Allie Mason
UK duo The Ting Tings planned on releasing their second album in 2010, but scrapped most of their songs because they sounded like “everything else on the radio.” Two years later, they’ve released Sounds from Nowheresville, and despite comprising of only 10 songs—a total track time of less than 35 minutes—the album should satisfy fans who enjoyed their previous effort We Started Nothing (2008). The band says they took influence from Berlin’s electro-scene, which is obvious on songs like “Hands” and “One By One,” the former only appearing on the album’s deluxe edition. Vocalist Katie White shows her softer side on the song “Day to Day,” which brings a welcomed change from her usual in-your-face punchy singing style. Unfortunately, the album’s final three songs are its weakest, and leave us feeling very underwhelmed—too bad for an otherwise great album.
Trial track: “Give It Back”
– Natasha Taggart
Indie-folk stars The Decemberists have released their live album We All Raise Our Voices to the Air (Live Songs 04.11–08.11), available as a double-album or triple-vinyl set. Lead singer and songwriter Colin Meloy and his merry bandmates take listeners through hits such as “This is Why We Fight,” “The Bagman’s Gambit,” “Oceanside,” and “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” recorded during their 2011 North American tour. What seems to lack the most on the album is something different. Usually, live albums, like concerts themselves, are supposed to add an extra dimension of awe-inspiring musicianship. Instead, the Portland, Ore. band seem to simply play their songs, and while they are not played poorly, they leave listeners wanting more. Nevertheless, the collection of fiddle, guitar, vocals and other instruments is sure to entertain.
Trial track: “Down by the Water”
– Andre-Joseph Cordeiro
Listen up, cool cats! Recorded in 1958, Moanin’ is an impeccable hard-bop classic by the legendary Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. This essential piece of musical history is easily one of Blakey’s most accessible and widely adored records, partly due to its fresh and melodic sound, and its all-star lineup. The sensational Lee Morgan delivers some stunning trumpet solos. Benny Golson not only plays a mean tenor saxophone, but is also responsible for composing the majority of the songs on this album. Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merritt keep the rhythm in check on the piano and bass, but who can ignore Art Blakey and his insane mastery of the drums (in my opinion, one of the greatest drummers of all time)? Moanin’ is the perfect introduction to anyone who has an interest in jazz music. This sophisticated, modern jazz record with a bluesy influence is essential to any music lover’s collection.
Trial track: “Moanin'”
– Paul Traunero