New Recordings: Tom Petty; Amanda X; La Roux
Ratings: ****, Excellent, *** Good, ** Fair, * Poor
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Tom Petty's 13th album with his perennially underrated backup band is being hyped as a jolt of energy in comparison with Mojo, the 63-year-old straw-haired rocker's bluesy, often rambling set in 2010 with the Heartbreakers. That's accurate enough: Hypnotic Eye delivers welcome Petty snarl and always impeccable Mike Campbell guitar work. Without getting too heavy-handed, there's also a fair share of sociopolitical commentary, from the shuddering "Power Drunk," which examines police corruption, to "Playing Dumb," a vinyl-only hidden track that assails the Catholic Church over sexual-abuse transgressions. It's a vital-sounding collection for sure, with concise songs that'll hold their own when heard amid the prodigious catalog TP & the HBs will pull from when they play the Wells Fargo Center on Sept. 15. And if only a handful - the geological metaphor "Fault Lines," the heavy riffing "All You Can Carry," the psych-rock celebration "U Get Me High" - are likely to stand up over the long haul, that's still a pretty impressive batting average at this late stage.
On Amnesia, their debut album, Amanda X create noisy, low-fi songs that revel in contrast. Distorted guitars vie with clear, emphatic vocals; chaos wriggles against control. The Kensington-based trio of guitarist Cat Park, bassist Kat Bean, and drummer Tiff Yoon play with grungy intensity on "Guatemala" and "Tunnels" - think '90s bands like the Breeders or Scrawl. But the unison singing and traded lead vocals sweeten songs such as "Nothing Wild" and "Things Fall Apart," which hint at the Raincoats (the British punk band Kurt Cobain loved).
"I know, baby, you're trouble," begins the chorus of "Trouble." There's a pause before it continues with "But for now I want you to stay," and the tone is more resigned and knowingly conflicted than desperate and naively pleading. The reference points for Amnesia may come from a few decades ago, but Amanda X doesn't sound nostalgic.
- Steve Klinge
Amanda X plays the OK Fest on Aug. 1 and 2 at the Golden Tea House, 40th and Baring Sts. Festival starts 7 p.m. both nights. Tickets: $8-$12 each day. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trouble in Paradise
Everything about Elly Jackson is severe. Looking like a cross between Tilda Swinton and Man Who Fell to Earth-era David Bowie (from whose diverse catalogue she has inherited a few elements), the singing/playing/composing half of La Roux played it ice-cold on the act's 2009 eponymous debut, then sultry-steamy on Trouble in Paradise, its just-released follow-up. On the first album, La Roux's unthawed electro-pop was laced with the type of lyrical personal insecurities any first-timer might share. But Trouble in Paradise is worldlier and sexier, embracing concepts and characters and laughs outside the isolationist self. What's the difference? Well, for one thing, La Roux, once two, is now one: During the creation of Trouble, Jackson rid herself of producing/writing partner Ben Langmaid (he co-wrote some but not all of Trouble) to become the sole surviving Roux.
With warmth comes diversity. Jackson borrows a Grace Jones verbal clip throughout the album. "Paradise is You" shimmers like the best '60s girl groups. Like one of Chic's female singers (or at least a pal of Nile Rogers), Jackson swoons through the disco of "Tropical Chancer" and the angularity of "Let Me Down Gently" while sticking to La Roux's characteristic robot-pop.
- A.D. Amorosi
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On Sale Tuesday
Jenny Lewis, The Voyager;
The Muffs, Whoop Dee Doo;
Various Beck: Song Reader;
Eric Clapton & Friends, The Breeze: (An Appreciation of JJ Cale)