Dig These Discs :: Justin Timberlake, The Strokes, Dido, Rocket To The Moon, Depeche Mode
Justin Timberlake shows he's all grown up, with his first album in seven years. Julian Casablancas gets the team back to square one with a classic Strokes album. Dido breaks our heart with her fine, sad songs, Depeche Mode releases an ambitious new album, and Rocket to the Moon keeps classic rock and roll alive. These new hits are just too good to pass over!
"The 20/20 Experience" (Justin Timberlake)
A long time has passed since Justin Timberlake showed off his dance moves with boy band ’N SYNC. And even though JT hasn’t released an album since 2006’s "Future Sex/Love Sounds," he has not shied away from bringing sexy back. The years have only made Timberlake better, as evidenced by his five-time hosting star turn on an early March episode of "Saturday Night Live." With his new album, "The 20/20 Experience," Timberlake looks to be moving toward a more mature manifestation of his talents. JT teamed up with Jay-Z during a performance on "SNL," and the American Godfather will join him this summer for the twelve-city Legends of the Summer stadium tour. In keeping with his grown-up image, Timberlake has put aside childish things in favor of a tailored tuxedo and a big-band look and sound, with just enough edge to let you know that this is the next big thing. His opening track, "Pusher Love Girl," unveils a full string symphony to usher in his grown-up sound, before he launches into his trademark blend of light rap and song. Timberlake performed this track on "SNL," and it went over like gangbusters. He compares love to a drug, singing, "You gave me a taste, now I know that there’s no getting off you, I never wanna get down off this cloud of loving you," he sings. Timberlake pushes boundaries from the get-go, with this first track clocking in at a mammoth six-plus minutes. He keeps the élan going with his sexy "Suit & Tie," which again launches into JT’s rapid-fire rap and song routine. "Lemme show you a few things about love," he sings in a break that is punctuated with a horn flourish, and later, with a rap by Jay-Z, lyrics of which include, "This is trouble season, time for tuxedos for no reason." Best of all, this grown-up Timberlake sound does not sacrifice that infectious dance vibe for which he is known. This sound turns dark in "Don’t Hold the Wall," a percussion-laden rap with Indian undertones and electronic vocal distortions. A deep male voice lays down the "dedicated to you, pretty lady," opening in "Strawberry Bubblegum," making Timberlake’s upper registers sound ladylike themselves, as he sings, "tell me you wanna get close somewhere far away." This song, with its mature treatment of a juvenile subject (a pretty girl poppin’ her strawberry bubble gum) is a perfect barometer of where JT’s work now sits. "Tunnel Vision," with its girly intro of "I know you lied" balanced against Timberlake’s slightly desperate lyrics, embodies this new face. He goes all love and flowers in the slightly dippy "Spaceship Coupe," and reaches for the nightclub act vibe in "That Girl." Timberlake seems to be shooting for an R&B Motown sound in this album, and he pretty much hits the mark. An Afro-Cuban beat rocks "Let The Groove In," with lots of hand drums to complete the effect. His track "Mirrors" benefits from a catchy beat, and "Blue Ocean" closes things up with a slow, electro vibe. It is clear to see that "The 20/20 Experience" will be a huge hit, but with the bulk of his songs running well over five minutes, all that remains is to see what kinds of cuts the tunes will need to fit into radio-format length.
"Wild and Free" (A Rocket to the Moon)
Massachusetts-based rock band A Rocket to the Moon teams up lead singer and guitarist Nick Santino, guitarist and backup vocalist Justin Richards, bassist and backup Eric Halvorsen, and drummer Andrew Cook. They follow up their 2009 debut with this new collection of 13 songs that showcases their growth. Early critical acclaim has arisen for their mid-tempo single, "Ever Enough," a schmaltzy declaration of fidelity forever, with a rootsy, humble nod to Nashville. "We wrote it about the past and the future," said the band in a press statement. "Not knowing what’s next is the most exciting yet terrifying thing in life. Remembering to enjoy what little time we have here and remembering to live without regret or worry. That is what it is to be ’Wild & Free.’" Rocket’s songs are largely broken down into categories of love, friendship and getting wasted. "First Kiss" is a sweet rock love ballad about a girl who "moves in close and takes my breath away," who after so long together, makes it still feel like the first date. "If I’m Gonna Fall In Love," is an acoustic rocker about long-distance love and the real thing. A little bit of lovin’ beats a whole lotta ’Nothing At All,’" they sing in one track, and as long as there is "Somebody Out There" to love you, it’s better than someone who doesn’t know how to treat you right. An enduring love is the thing in "I Do," and "Wherever You Go." In "You’re My Song," a man who loves the Beatles falls for a girl who loves The Stones, and it’s a matter of a little bit country meets a little bit rock and roll. "Lost and Found" tackles a heartbroken girl finding a new love. In "Going Out," the gang is "partying like it was ’99, howling at the moon." The song is a classic rock tune, with acoustic guitar, stellar drum kits, and harmonizing, all about going out and getting tipsy with your best buddies. "Whole Lotta You," combines love and partying, as they sing, "let’s get out get lit get loose tonight/ drinks on ice, stars in our eyes." In this everything-gimmick age, it’s nice to find a simple rock outfit dedicated to preserving the classic themes and sounds of good old American rock and roll.
(Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic Records)
"Girl Who Got Away" (Dido)
London-based singer/songwriter Dido backs up her platinum 2009 release with her fourth album, "Girl Who Got Away," and critics are calling it her finest work yet. Her fine, high voice harmonizes with strumming acoustic guitars in her opening track, "No Freedom," singing, "No love without freedom/ no freedom without love," a simple message but one that resonates. Dido is known for her catalog of memorable songs, and revels in creating soundscapes of sumptuous beats. This album doesn’t break that mold; the talented artist continues to crank out songs that are touching and emotional. The majority of the songs were written and produced by Dido and her brother, Rollo Armstrong. "It was an incredibly fun record to make," she said. "There was no pressure on me at all. It’s all been so natural and easy. On every other record I’ve made, there have been really tricky days, but there weren’t any like that on this one." She wrote and recorded the majority of the album in 2011, before she got pregnant, and finished it up after a year spent focusing on motherhood. "I wanna move with the season, go with the flow, take it easy, let stuff go," she catalogs in the title track, with the hum of strings surrounding her. "It’s one of my favorite songs on the record," she said. "But I guess it also sums up the last few years for me. Taking a step back from it all and going off to have the whole happy adventure of starting a family and making an album that I really am so proud of. And now I just can’t wait for people to hear it." The song is a perfect representation of the optimism that shines through this release. It resurfaces in tracks "Go Dreaming," "No Freedom" and the driving, relentless "Let Us Move On," with somewhat middling rap breaks by Kendrick Lamar. Dido shines with this optimism in the folksy "Sitting on the Roof of the World," an autobiographical tune. "End of Night" pairs an upbeat electronic sound with a harsh subject matter: a vicious break-up. "Blackbird" is harsh, thrilling study in percussives, with Dido’s voice breaking in staccato-like, flash-fast bursts. In the slow, high "Girl Who Got Away," Dido tells the story of a girl wandering mountains, "looking in windows and playing songs and knocking on doors/ I wasn’t scared, just enjoyed the sights, kept myself to myself." She captures a pop sound in her rhythmic "Love to Blame," among the best of the lot. "Another summer coming to an end, and I’m still walking on without a care," she sings to stick percussion and wild hand drums backing on "Go Dreaming." Dido has a reputation for singing about heartbreakingly sad topics, and "New Year’s Eve" is no exception, as she sings about donning her jewels for a party that she knows she will end up alone at. She walks through the snow, drives by the office, takes a train to the shore... all knowing that this relationship has only one side -- hers. "Loveless Heart" is a spare, lonely song, with nice distortion effects. Chirping birds and bubbling creek sounds open "The Day Before We Went to War," with a keyboard lead that is all the more foreboding with Dido’s spectral lyrics. No matter how many hope-crushing messages she couches hidden in her deceptively fragile songs, one can’t hate Dido for it. Her voice is lovely, high and fine, a tender trap we are eager to fall into.
"Comedown Machine" (The Strokes)
New York City outfit The Strokes are back with their twangy, choppy guitar licks and pounding drum breaks that have made them so well known. Julian Casablancas drones through lead vocals, with Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr., on very ’80s-vibe guitars and backing vocals, Nikolai Fraiture on bass and Fabrizio Moretti on drums. This highly anticipated fifth studio album reportedly contains some of the leftovers from their 2011 album, "Angles," but if they are warmed up, no one will be the wiser. "All The Time" is their fast-moving, ’classic Strokes’ (and somewhat unremarkable, except for a stunning electric guitar break) lead single, with the free download "One Way Trigger" following it. With its fast pace and nod to Latin music, "Trigger," becomes an interesting set piece. Better still is their grooving "Welcome to Japan," a toe-tapping new rock piece with strumming guitars and a big sound. Their title track "’80s Comedown Machine" is a maudlin electronic piece with Casablancas mumble-coring like The Cure’s Robert Smith on lithium. They start cooking with gas in the banging "50/50," singing, a fast-moving, drum-banging, guitar-shredding hit. And the discordancy of the track "Slow Animals" is a nice bookend, evoking the oddities of ’90s electro-rock, with fine percussion by Moretti. An unusual fusion sound arises in "Partners in Crime" that sounds like Steely Dan fed through a sausage grinder. "I do not wait up for you anymore so you can ask me if something is wrong," Casabalancas howls in "Chances," a moody song that among the best of the album. They finish things up with the rapid-paced "Happy Ending," which hearkens back to early Erasure hits, and "Call It Fate, Call It Karma" is an enjoyable romp. After a long break, fans of The Strokes will be glad to see them hit the streets with this new collection of tracks.
"Delta Machine" (Depeche Mode)
English electronic band Depeche Mode has been churning out reliable hits since way back in 1980, with twelve top 10 albums in the UK, and a ranking by VH1 as one of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time." In their ambitious new release, they teamed up with Ben Hillier and Martin Gore to record 17 hot new tracks (via the Deluxe Version) that fine-tune their classic sound while taking some new risks. Vocalist Dave Gahan launches the album with a dark song, meshing dubstep bass drums and angry guitar, paired with the lyrics, "Welcome to my world," singing, "Al the drama queens are gone, and the devil got dismayed/ he packed up and fled this town, his master plan delayed." His bluesy electro dirge "Angel" moves between different time signatures with a very gritty effect. Among the best songs on the album is "Heaven," a slow, synth-heavy song that gives Gahan a chance to try out some wicked vocal harmonies. Another top pick is "Should Be Higher," in which Gahan shows his chops, from a high falsetto to deeply yearning bass. Sex is on the menu in the sultry track, "Slow," with the salacious lyrics, "Slow, slow as slow as you can go, I want my senses to overflow," and the refrain, "That’s how I like it." A deeply foreboding sound dominates "Broken" and a pitiable state emerges on "Soft Touch/Raw Nerve" and "Alone." Who knew being an English electro rocker was so unforgiving? "Here I am king, I decide everything/ I let no one in," chants Gahan over a very metered Berlin techno vibe in "My Little Universe," and an untried sound is tested on "Secret To the End," that is like a mesh between Depeche Mode’s ’80s hits, with a twist. A similar sound surfaces on "The Child Inside," a mid-tempo track about drowning children and graves, and in the layered vocals of "Soothe My Soul." Breaking totally from tradition is the blues country intro for "Goodbye," a solid song that evokes old Elvis tunes. The band even teamed up with Frank Ocean to lend him a hand with electronics and synth in a track from his upcoming album. Depeche Mode will launch their next world tour on Apr. 5 in France, and whether you love them for classic tracks like "People are People," or are more interested in their newer works, they are as tried and true now as they were during their heyday.