New Albums: 'La La Land' soundtrack, The Notwist, Brian Eno

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La La Land soundtrack

Various artists
La La Land: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
(Interscope ***)

You can't have a visually arresting modern movie musical without an aurally dazzling set of songs. So for every fantastical bit of film energy from La La Land writer-director Damien Chazelle, there's an equally rousing tune to go with it from the flick's composer, Justin Hurwitz, with lyrics from musical theater's hottest team: Justin Paul and Philadelphia's Benj Pasek.

The tale of two stardom-hungry showbiz kids (Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling) in various stages of love and support for the other in Los Angeles is guided, at first, by a let's-put-on-a-show razzle-dazzle of brass and reeds. When fragile-but-lovely vocalist Stone and gal pals Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno, and Jessica Rothe get to singing "Someone in the Crowd," it's a fresh-faced stomper in the tradition of West Side Story's "I Want to Live in America."

As the Gosling portion of La La Land involves his frustration with being a deep jazz pianist in a pop jazz world (the latter represented, oddly enough, by John Legend and his slick fuzak "Start a Fire"), numbers like "City of Stars" have a cool Cali-jazz feel à la Bobby Troup. The upbeat piano prance of "Another Day of Sun" sums up La La Land handsomely: "a Technicolor world made out of music and machine / It called me to be on that screen." – A.D. Amorosi

The Notwist
Superheroes, Ghostvillains & Stuff
(Sub Pop, ***1/2)

Superheroes, Ghostvillains & Stuff documents a single 2015 show in the Notwist's native Germany, but it serves as both a greatest-hits primer for the uninitiated (fans of Radiohead and Stereolab, take note) and a vibrant expansion of the band's meticulous studio versions.

The Notwist formed in 1989 as a hard-core band, but they hit their stride in 2002 with Neon Golden, a perfect and prescient melding of thoughtful guitar rock and glitchy electronics. Superheroes focuses on that album and the subsequent two, but with an expanded six-piece band that amps up the intensity, the noisiness, and the range of textures.

Songs like "Pick Up the Phone," "Gloomy Planets," and "Kong" take on new power and clarity. The sense of live interplay and adventure - especially on tracks like "Pilot" and "Run Run Run" that stretch to eight or more minutes - make this live album essential. - Steve Klinge

 

Brian Eno
Reflection
(Warp ***)

With 2016 the overcomplicated, vicious mess it was, it is charming, wise, and necessary that one of the first new albums of the new year be calm, cool, and something of a palate cleanser: Brian Eno's aptly titled Reflection. That this is his most recent in a series of atmospheric ambient albums (1973's dusky Fripp & Eno was the start) shows faith in the aged form as well as restless experimentation. Especially considering that, in its app, Reflection can be witnessed not as a single, staid work, but one that is, according to Eno, "endlessly changing."

Additional "generative" editions for iOS and Apple TV allow Eno's mood music to blossom from its origins as a 54-minute electronic piece that rings like holy chimes and shifts like hot sand on a windy night.

As in all Eno ambient recording since 2000, Reflection throbs like a nerve and is deeply textural - the fuzzy edge to a bell's tones, the splintered woodiness of its pastoral highs, and languid, breezy melodies that gather silt along the way. - A.D. Amorosi