This Week’s Best Albums: March 12, 2013

This Week's Best Albums: March 12, 2013

Each week, editor-in-chief Chris Force and music editor Scott Morrow choose ALARM’s favorite new releases for This Week’s Best Albums, an eclectic set of reviews presenting exceptional music.

David Bowie: The Next Day (Columbia)

"The Stars (Are Out Tonight)"

To describe David Bowie’s sound is impossible. Arguably, no one has reinvented their sound — or themselves, for that matter — more times than Bowie. From piano-laden balladry to glitzed-out space musings, big-bang glam rock, funk-fueled pop, and techno-infused franticness, the only consistency Bowie has maintained in his career is the ability to keep listeners guessing. He is consistently inconsistent — changing his approach, his genre, his themes.

And The Next Day, his 24th studio album, is the latest chapter in Bowie’s ever-evolving repertoire. Having recently turned 66, he continues to push the envelope. The album is suffused with swaths of up-tempo, hook-filled, off-kilter rock gems, and it asserts why Bowie is so different — and, in many cases, better — than his contemporaries.

While most of his peers from decades past are content to regurgitate hackneyed versions of their former selves, Bowie has never been one to rest on his laurels. The Next Day shows he’s able to move above and beyond, becoming a true master of showmanship and vision. And with songs like “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” and “(You Will) Set the World on Fire,” The Next Day is Bowie sounding wiser, not older.

- Michael Danaher

Sound City Players: Sound City – Real to Reel (Roswell / RCA)

"Cut Me Some Slack"

Sometimes the old ways are best.

Take, for example, the saga of Sound City Studios. Founded in 1969, it was the location of many legendary recording sessions, from Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush to Nirvana’s Nevermind. Sound City was a special place to those who used it, right until it closed its doors in 2011.

When that happened, Dave Grohl bought the Neve 8028 Console through which so many of these records had passed. And last year, when he was working on his Sound City documentary about the studio, he assembled a star-studded original soundtrack that was recorded in his Studio 606 on that very console, with guests that included Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks, Trent Reznor, Rick Springfield, Josh Homme, and more.

The result is a solid tribute to the annals of rock. Despite some of the album's "friendlier" guests, the music is a little edgier than one might expect, with standouts that include the humorously punk-infused "Your Wife is Calling" (f. Lee Ving of Fear), a pair of tracks led by Homme and Alain Johannes of Queens of the Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures, and the final two Grohl-led songs (the last of which features Grohl, Homme, and Reznor harmonizing together). There are a few misses, which is natural for such a diverse bill, but the melting-pot approach alone makes this worth hearing.

- Lincoln Eddy

Wild Belle: Isles (Columbia)

"Keep You"

Siblings Natalie and Elliot Bergman (also of Nomo) are the duo behind Wild Belle, whose sultry, funky dub pop picked up buzz after the band’s stint at last year’s SXSW.

Isles is the group’s major-label debut, and it’s a dose of cross-pollinated pop goodness. Though Elliot mostly leaves behind his horn, which is integral to his other endeavors, he does jam a few grooves on his baritone sax. Generally, though, he spends more time on the keys — and even leads a song vocally — as the band keeps it steady for Natalie’s airy vocals and lovelorn lyrics.

- Scott Morrow

Honorable Mentions:

Arkona: Decade of Glory live album (Napalm)

Brandt Brauer Frick: Miami (!K7)

Devendra Banhart: Mala (Nonesuch)