(Columbia *** 1/2)
In what was one of the more bogus faux retirements in the history of showbiz, James Murphy’s angsty funk band LCD Soundsystem are back in business six years after staging a Madison Square Garden farewell concert that was billed as their final show. Quelle surprise, that turned out not to be the case, and the band are not only back with their first studio album in seven years, they’re also on the road on a tour that will come to the Fillmore in Philadelphia for a three-night stand in December.
Is that a bad thing? Certainly not. If anything, the time off has benefited Murphy’s music. Rather than “Losing My Edge,” to cite a song title from the band’s 2002 debut album, the always analytical, self-aware Murphy sounds reinvigorated and freshly focused by the hiatus. Songs like the lead single, “Call the Police,” and “How Do You Sleep?” reflect an sense of imminent crisis familiar in these fractious times as their smartly arranged, twitchy Talking Heads-reminiscent grooves make a move toward the dance floor. The 47-year-old Murphy is funny as well as self-reflective as he grapples with his existential predicament on “Tonite,” at one point exclaiming, “I sound like my mom!” and at another reminding himself that “life is finite, but … it feels like forever.” — Dan DeLuca
LCD Soundsystem play the Fillmore Philadelphia, 29 E. Allen St., Dec. 5-7. Sold out. 215-309-0150. fillmorephilly.com
Iron & Wine
(Sub Pop ***)
On his first album of fresh Iron & Wine material in more than four years, whispering Sam Bush returns to the scene of the rhyme where you first fell in love with his soft-spoken sound: the minimalist yawn, sun-dappled atmospheres, and homespun romanticism that was 2002’s The Creek Drank the Cradle and 2004’s Our Endless Numbered Days. That means a Beast with little to no orchestration or sonic folderol, but rather an emphasis on squeaky-stringed acoustic guitars (e.g. “Claim Your Ghost”), hooky melodies warm to the touch (“Call It Dreaming”), and a Paul Simonish quirk when it comes to hushed, echo-drenched vocals and lyrics with sophisticated emotional tics and surprising — for the usually fatalistic Bush — good cheer.
Guided by such grace and elegance, Bush sings out in a manner that’s still as subdued and weary as in his past, but stronger (“The Truest Stars We Know” is his loveliest go), whether contending with the sway of a country-ish ballad such as “Bitter Truth” or the slow, stewing folk-soul of “Song in Stone.” Bush accomplishes such richly burnished potency only with the aid of an intuitive multi-instrumentalist-filled ensemble that includes Jim Becker, Rob Burger, and Joe Adamik. If you’re going to sound haunted and happy, it pays to have a band that can go either and every way. — A.D. Amorosi
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Echo of Pleasure
(Painbow, *** stars)
On 2009’s excellent self-titled debut, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart were a quintessential record geek band, infatuated with the indie Britpop of the late ’80s that set twee sentiments against crashing, buzzing guitars. The Brooklyn band has since tried on different colors — more Smashing Pumpkins for 2011’s Belong, more Cure for 2014’s Days of Abandon — and band members have come and gone, leaving leader Kip Berman, who grew up in the Philly ‘burbs, as the sole constant.
On The Echo of Pleasure, the band’s fourth album, the singular period worship has diminished, but the love of immediate melodies and sweet vocals hasn’t. There’s chipper new-wave dance pop (the bittersweet “When I Dance with You”), synth pop with densely layered backing vocals (“My Only”), a showstopping showcase for guest vocalist Jen Goma, from Philly’s A Sunny Day in Glasgow (“So True”), and an Echo & the Bunnymen homage (“The Garrett”). Sometimes, the melodies are so inevitable they might benefit from some scruffy friction, but the pleasure is still pure. — Steve Klinge