KISS, Amos top CD reviews

Darryl Sterdan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:01 PM ET

The Rocktober hit parade rolls on, with new albums from KISS, Tori Amos, Ben Gibbard, Martha Wainwright, Coheed & Cambria and many more. Don’t get left behind.

KISS
Monster

You wanted another KISS album, you got another KISS album. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons (plus The Guys Made Up Like Ace and Peter) refire the retro-rockets on this worthy successor to 2009’s Sonic Boom. Balancing ’70s riff-rock, ’80s bombast and ’90s grit, these power-chord cowbell-plonkers and double-entendre party-starters will have the KISS Army shouting out loud.

Download: Hell or Hallelujah; Back to the Stone Age

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Tori Amos
Gold Dust

Another week, another set of re-recorded oldies. This week’s entry comes from piano balladeer Amos, who wisely eschews the Xerox for the orchestral upgrade. Inspired by a 2010 symphonic collaboration, she cherrypicks 14 personal works from early albums and recent releases, subjecting them to lush refurbishing without sacrificing emotional intensity. Deep, dark and beautiful.

Download: Jackie’s Strength; Precious Things

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Benjamin Gibbard
Former Lives

Even a Death Cab can’t take you everywhere you want to go. Not if you’re Gibbard, anyway. On his solo set, the endearing singer-guitarist explores musical roads less travelled over the years, ambling between jangly pop, a cappella ditties, acoustic odes, mariachi country, Lennonesque rock balladry and much more — while playing nearly all the instruments himself. Worth the trip.

Download: Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke); Duncan, Where Have You Gone?

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Martha Wainwright

It’s always personal for Wainwright. And always a family affair. The singer-songwriter’s fourth release follows two life-changing events — the birth of her son and the death of her mother in 2010. Not surprisingly, it’s compelling stuff, relying on her usual mix of direct, unflinching honesty and genre-spanning eclecticism — including a cover of her mother’s final song. Painful and powerful.

Download: Can You Believe It; Proserpina

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Coheed & Cambria
The Afterman: Ascension

Some bands make concept albums. C&C have a concept career. Singer-guitarist Claudio Sanchez and co. begin a new section of their ongoing Amory Wars saga on their sixth disc, examining death and afterlife through the eyes of an astronomer exploring an alternate universe. As always, their mathematical, Rush-like prog-rock is just as complex as the story. And just as geeky.

Download: Key Entity Extraction I: Domino the Destitute; Goodnight, Fair Lady

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Ellie Goulding
Halcyon

These are indeed Halcyon days for Goulding. Her 2010 debut Lights snagged a Brit Award. She’s dating dubsteb king Skrillex. And her second album sidesteps the sophomore slump by setting her soaring, girlish soprano and dynamic anthems against a rich sonic backdrop that merges shimmering electronics with sweeping orchestrations, tribal percussion and chanting. Impressive.

Download: Anything Could Happen; Hanging On

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

GY!BE cannot play by your rules. Nor anyone else’s. The reconvened Montreal post-rock collective’s first disc in a decade — released without fanfare at a gig — makes up for lost time and then some. Fusing everything from Middle Eastern metal guitars and hypnotic beats to tape loops and noise into monumental instrumentals, GY!BE make music for the ages. And the galaxies.

Download: Mladic; We Drift Like Worried Fire

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

John Frusciante
PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone

There’s more than one way to get funky. Red Hot refugee Frusciante continues to walk his own twisted path on his 12th solo effort, mish-mashing sounds and styles — thwacking drum ’n’ bass, sweet synths, blazing guitars, raps and more — into a Zappaesque collage. This time, though, he also includes actual melodies and lyrics. It ain’t pop, but it’s closer than he’s been for a while.

Download: Bike; Mistakes

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Trey Anastasio
Traveler

Phish or cut solo tunes? Singer-guitarist Anastasio no longer has to choose, now that his proggy jam crew is back in business. So, for his first solo rock outing since Phish’s reunion, he’s free to explore other options — like wobbly reggae-rock, Wilco-style alt-roots experiments, noodling jazz-rock workouts, a slow-burn cover of Gorillaz’ Clint Eastwood and more. It’ll make your day.

Download: Pigtail; Valentine

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Pete Seeger
A More Perfect Union | Pete Remembers Woody

The flowers may be gone, but Seeger is eternal. And eternally busy. The 93-year-old folk icon and his banjo are back with not one, but two albums. A More Perfect Union features mellow new originals co-starring VIPs like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Morello and Steve Earle; the two-disc Pete Remembers Woody finds Seeger covering nearly Guthrie classics between reminiscing. Phew.

Download: We are the Boat; 66 Highway Blues

RATING: BOTH: 2 (out of 5)

Jason Lytle
Dept. of Disappearance

Jason Lytle wants to be alone. And no wonder. The sometime-frontman of alt-rockers Grandaddy continues to operate best in splendid isolation on his fourth solo album. Made by himself at his Montana home, it’s a loner’s manifesto, with Lytle gently crooning about solitude, vanishing and the simple life over a dusty mix of spacey electronics and sincere alt-country. Not for parties.

Download: Dept. of Disappearance; Young Saints

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Lupe Fiasco
Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1

Is he kidding with that title? The good news is no. Trouble is, that’s also the bad news. Fiasco definitely raises the bar with his fourth record, unflinchingly tackling freedom, misogyny, politics, racism and other tough topics. But thanks to his relentless scolding — and too many lethargic beats as heavy-handed as his messages — this too often feels like a lecture instead of a lesson.

Download: Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free); B---h Bad

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Metz
Metz

Meet Metz. These Torontonians have made a big noise (literally) locally with their abrasive, cacophonous take on ’80s indie-punk. Now they’re taking their act globally with this Sub Pop debut. Driven by the bashing beats and grinding guitars of Jesus Lizard, topped with Lydonesque yowling, these songs are the sonic equivalent of a baseball bat straight to the noggin. Duck and cover.

Download: Get Off; Knife in the Water

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Iris DeMent
Sing the Delta

It’s been a while since we heard new songs by DeMent — 16 years, in fact. Thankfully, the Arkansas singer-songwriter hasn’t lost her touch. Her fifth full-length feels instantly and reassuringly familiar, as the hickory-twanged vocalist looks back on her religious upbringing and examines her faith over a bed of heavenly country-gospel and earthy Southern soul. A glorious comeback.

Download: The Kingdom Has Already Come; The Night I Learned Not to Pray

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

MGK
Lace Up

Magic? Not by a long shot. MGK stands for Machine Gun Kelly, an angry young Cleveland rhymeslinger under the wing of Sean (Diddy) Combs. Not surprisingly, he comes out blasting on this debut, making an impact with his high-velocity verbiage. But he also shows some surprising versatility by collaborating with the likes of Avenged Sevenfold and KickDrums. Give the kid a shot.

Download: Lace Up; Stereo

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

The Mountain Goats
Transcendental Youth

The Mountain Goats run dark. Singer-songwriter John Darnielle’s 14th outing is another masterwork of intensely bleak beauty, full of impeccably crafted folk-rock laden with melancholy melody, tender vocals, haunting horns and a cast of junkies, dealers, losers and fringe dwellers. Beneath the squalor and struggle, there is a simple goal: “Just stay alive.” And keep striving for the light.

Download: Lakeside View Apartments Suite; Cry for Judas

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

DVDs

Circle Jerks
My Career as a Jerk

Drugs, death and Debbie Gibson: The Circle Jerks’ story has it all. And this 96-minute documentary tells it simply and effectively, utilizing new interviews with all the surviving members and tons of archival footage to chronicle the influential and provocative outfit’s rise from the punk-rock crucible of late-’70s Los Angeles to their currently strained relations. One for all the old punks.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Etta James
Live at Montreux

Even in death, James got short shrift — the late great singer’s tribute at this year’s Grammys was overshadowed by Whitney Houston’s passing. Thankfully, this collection of live Swiss music fest appearances gives the big, bad blueswoman the spotlight she deserves. The 160-minute DVD includes a full hour-long show from 2003, along with excerpts from gigs from 1975 to 1990.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)


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