Cold Specks, Ace Frehley top this week's new music

Cold Specks

Cold Specks

Darryl Sterdan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:11 PM ET

ALBUMS OF THE WEEK

Cold Specks
Neuroplasticity


With Cold Specks, you take what you get. Fortunately, what you get is tremendous. And getting bigger and better. For her tellingly titled sophomore album, pseudonymous singer-songwriter Al Spx ups the ante (and the volume) considerably, exponentially expanding her haunting debut disc’s stark, self-described doom-soul with heftier beats, deeper grooves, fuller arrangements, a richer instrumental palette and a sharper sonic edge — while simultaneously broadening her gospel-rich stylistic horizons with elements of psychedelia, prog, indie-rock and synth-pop. Coupled with a slate of emotionally powerful lyrics preoccupied with exit plans, broken memories and doubt — “I’ve got an unrelenting desire to fall apart,” are the disc’s fitting final words — it reinforces her status as a truly enigmatic and compelling artist in a time when mystery and secrecy are in woefully short supply. Get it.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Ace Frehley
Space Invader


Ack! Ace is back. Again. And back in the same groove. Again again. Three decades after leaving KISS (for the first time, anyway) and six albums into his underwhelming solo career, the Spaceman continues to belie his enthusiasm for all things futuristic by cranking out another disc of plodding retro-rock — with the same lyrical mix of sci-fi, self-mythologizing and self-help he’s spun since getting sober. This can only mean one of two things: A) Frehley has discovered space-time travel and is whizzing through the galaxy and the ages, planting a series of similar-sounding albums that will echo throughout history, eventually creating a harmonic vibration that rings across the cosmos and ushers in an eternity of peace and enlightenment; B) He’s just another creatively bankrupt wastoid who’s stuck in the past and lazily recycling the same shtik for the umpteenth time. Either way, told you so.

RATING: 2 (out of 5)

FKA Twigs
LP1


If you want people to hear you, raise your voice. If you want them to listen to you, lower it. It’s not a new lesson; but it’s one the British artist Formerly Known As Twigs (and concurrently known as Tahliah Barnett) has clearly taken to heart. And, more vitally, one she’s put an interesting spin on with her full-length debut. Far more imaginative and memorable than its utilitarian title would suggest, LP1 artfully showcases Twigs’ ethereal layered vocals — which effortlessly glide from a breathy whisper to a bird-like falsetto — by underpinning them with elegantly stark electronics and slow-moving grooves midway between trip-hop and alt-R&B. The combination has already earned her breathless praise and comparison to Björk, Massive Attack and The xx. All of that is fair — but make no mistake, one listen is all it takes to understand she’s more innovator than imitator. And to convince you that LP1 is something to shout about.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Bahamas
Bahamas is Afie


What’s it all about, Afie? If Toronto singer-guitarist Afie Jurvanen hopes the title of his third album will make folks stop calling him Alfie, good luck — even the company distributing his music got it wrong on the digital file they sent me. If, on the other hand, it’s a reminder of the singular vision and talent behind his music, well, fair enough. Though that’s hardly news. As usual, the former Feist sideman is essentially a one-man band here, playing most instruments and tastefully decorating and expanding his breezy indie-folk meditations and lazy alt-country ruminations with lush backup vocals and distinctive orch-pop flourishes like a bedroom-bound Brian Wilson. By any name, it’s a keeper.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

NOW HEAR THIS

Billy Corgan
AEGEA


Try ZZZZZ. The sometimes-great Pumpkin twiddles knobs, pushes pedals, moves faders and generally noodles about for 85 monotonous minutes of meandering meaningless that makes Metal Machine Music sound like MmmBop. No songs, no lyrics, no structure, no point. Cue the infinite sadness.

RATING: 1 (out of 5)

Michael Cera
True That


Yes, that Cera. Arrested Development’s George Michael. Thankfully, that’s not his only musical credential — along with performing in a couple of movies, he played bass in indie-rockers Mister Heavenly and played on Weezer’s Hurley. Not that they have much to do with the idiosyncratic indie-folk, whimsical experiments and nostalgic piano instrumentals of this home-made debut.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Various Artists
Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Mötley Crüe

You’d think country and Mötley Crüe couldn’t suck any harder than they already do. You’d be wrong. Every bit as wrong as whoever thought it would be a good idea to enlist folks like Rascal Flatts, Florida Georgia Line and LeAnn Rimes to add down-home twang to Crüe’s Sunset Strip sleaze. Aside from a few inventive exceptions — like The Mavericks’ Tex-Mex take on Dr. Feelgood and Lauren Jenkins’ menacing Americana version of Looks That Kill — this is essentially the soundtrack to the worst redneck-bar karaoke night in history. Don’t go away mad. Just go away.

RATING: 1.5 (out of 5)

Smokey Robinson
Smokey & Friends


Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery. But self-flattery is never the most satisfying tribute. Soul legend Robinson proves that by becoming the latest icon to have VIPs like Elton John, John Legend, Mary J. Blige and Sheryl Crow sing his praises and harmonize on his hits (though having Brit-pop fluffsters like Jessie J and Gary Barlow is stretching the definition of friendship). Results range from the respectfully benign to the screechingly malignant — we’re looking at you, Steven Tyler — but like most of these affairs, this just makes you want to listen to the originals.

RATING: 2 (out of 5)

Buckcherry
F**k EP


Just call them F***cherry. For their EP, Josh Todd and co. follow a simple rule: Every song has an F-bomb — from the riff-rocker Somebody F***ed With Me to the funk-metal of I Don’t Give a F*** to Say F*** It, a cover of Icona Pop’s I Love It. Why? Because they’re classy. And because they’re Buckcherry. But if you don’t get a chuckle out of it, you’re taking it too f***ing seriously.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Wiz Khalifa
Blacc Hollywood


Too much slack and mellow, not enough Black and Yellow. Dope-loving rapper Khalifa’s fifth full-length has its highs and lows — the former when he sticks to his winning formula of slow-burning and irresistibly hooky odes to weed, women and the club, and the latter when he tries to get thoughtful or starts crooning like some skinny-ass version of Drake. Puff, puff, pass.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Corrosion of Conformity
IX


Crowbar
Symmetry in Black


There’s more than one way to feed your Sabbathy Southern metal jones this summer: 1) With the stoner-boogie jams and thrashy outbursts of fittingly titled ninth album from the Pepper Keenan-free power trio COC; 2) With the meatier, more muscular and malevolent doom-sludge of singer-guitarist Kirk Windstein and Crowbar’s 10th rugged release. Or you could play ’em side by side and wait for your brain to detonate.

BOTH: RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

BOX SETS OF THE WEEK

Elvis Presley
Elvis: That’s the Way It Is Deluxe Edition

Here’s the way it was: In August of 1970, Elvis Presley packed up his white jumpsuit and headed to Las Vegas for a series of casino concerts that were filmed for the 108-minute documentary That’s the Way It Is — and recorded for an album of the same name (that, in Presley’s usual laissez-faire fashion, also incorporated recent studio tunes). Naturally, as with all things Elvis, much of the voluminous archive of live material has been doled out in various reissues and releases over the decades. In 2001, Turner Classic Movies even had the documentary restored and re-edited. And, in keeping with the completist nature of recent Presley boxes like Elvis at Stax and Young Man With the Big Beat, it’s all been gathered together in this mammoth 10-disc set, released earlier this month to mark the 37th anniversary of his death. Naturally, you get the original album, along with a handful of singles and outtakes — but not the dozens of studio leftovers from previous versions. Instead, this box focuses on the live shows. You get complete recordings of all the performances taped for the film — six similar but slightly different shows comprising more than 100 songs, including more than 20 previously unreleased cuts and multiple versions of more a dozen Presley classics from Blue Suede Shoes to In the Ghetto. The eighth and final CD contains 20 previously released rehearsal recordings from the days before the shows. Along with all that audio, there’s also some video: The original 1970 documentary; the streamlined and superior 2001 cut that excises superfluous fan interviews for more performance footage; a 10-minute making-of featurette, and over half an hour of bonus live and rehearsal fare. Most of it is typical of Elvis at the time — everything is loose and freewheeling, with Elvis goofing around between (and during) songs, smooching with the women down front and punctuating the band’s driving arrangements with air kicks and karate moves. Finally, there’s an 80-page softcover book of interviews, reminiscences, photos, essays and a chronicle of every song recorded for the film and where it was ultimately released. Granted, at $180, the price is fairly steep — especially for a box with so much repetitive and previously released content. But hey, with Elvis, that’s the way it is.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Allman Brothers Band
The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings


Even greatness can be made greater. The ABB’s 1971 double-album At Fillmore East is already acknowledged as one of the finest live albums of all time. And naturally, since it was condensed from several shows, other songs from the shows have been sprinkled into various reissues. But finally, for the first time, here’s the whole enchilada. The full Filmore. All the Allmans, as it were. Or at least as close as we’ll likely ever get. This six-disc set contains the complete versions of all five gigs that contributed to the original album — more than six hours of epic ABB jams and incredible slide work from the one and only Duane Allman. Among the 37 tracks (of which 14 are previously unreleased) you get multiple (but unique) performances of Statesboro Blues, Whipping Post, Hot ’Lanta and In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, plus early renditions of Mountain Jam, One Way Out and Trouble No More, along with a spin through Midnight Rider and an Elvin Bishop cameo on Drunken Hearted Boy. It’s a peach.

RATING: 4.5 (out of 5)

MORE LIVE ALBUMS

Lucero
Live From Atlanta


Rowdy. Cathartic. Messy. And inebriated. That’s Lucero on a good night. And their first live album captures the Memphis road dogs on a great one, as gasoline-gargling frontman Ben Nichols and co. condense their mighty back catalog into a sprawling two-hour performance for a crowd of revellers who know all the words. Crack the bourbon and crank the volume.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

NRBQ
Live at My Father’s Place


It’s a blast from the past as the classic NRBQ lineup bounce between originals and left-field covers in this typically freewheeling 1978 bar show. So-so sound quality is the only fly in the ointment.

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Joni Mitchell
Live at the Second Fret 1966


The precise dates of these long-bootlegged solo coffeehouse recordings are up for debate. But the magic of hearing a chatty young Mitchell play early versions of classics like Both Sides Now and The Circle Game is indisputable.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

13th Floor Elevators
Live Evolution Lost


They had levitation. Not to mention an electric jug. And both are on full display on this 1967 live recording from Roky Erickson and his pioneering Texas psychedelicists. Along with an 11-track set of hits and highlights recorded in Houston — supposedly the only full live recording of the band — you also get a second disc of freewheeling jams. Quite the find.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)


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