Dig These Discs :: Matmos, Tegan & Sara, Bombshell, Josh Groban, Mount Moriah
Steel yourself, fans of "Smash," for a huge overload of hits from the show. Baltimore’s Matmos releases their part science project/ part record, and Canadian lesbian twins Tegan & Sara drop their much-anticipated album. Josh Groban shows his range with his successful new album, and Mount Moriah lulls us with their twangy country sounds. Love is in the air, so Dig These Discs.
Fans of the hit NBC dramedy "Smash" can now enjoy their favorite tunes from the past two seasons of the series in "Bombshell," a new 22-track release. The collection reflects the tunes created for the show’s musical-within-a-musical by Tony and Grammy Award-winning duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. In addition to songs by lead stars Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee, there are cameos by the superb Bernadette Peters as Norma Jean’s mother. Peters duets in "At Your Feet" with Sophia Caruso, a song that has her living little Norma Jean at the theater with the actors as her babysitters. She also teams up for "Hang the Moon" with Hilty. The collection includes new cuts like a melancholy Debra Messing/ Christian Borle moment, "The Right Regrets." Hilty’s "They Just Keep Moving the Line" is among the top picks, as is her duet with co-star McPhee for "Let Me Be Your Star." In the series, McPhee channels Marilyn Monroe in her platinum blonde glory. In this opening track, the two sing, "When I’m up there on the silver screen, I can make the whole world want Norma Jean/ so I can’t get the love of a single man, but a million or more, that I can." McPhee and Hilty’s voices are well suited together, and one can easily see how the timbre lends itself to a show highlighting the fight to the top of the Great White Way. The theme song "Smash" is at the same time sultry and over the top, an embodiment of the glamour and backstabbing that go hand in hand on Broadway. "I know all the tricks of the trade, even invented a few," they sing in this horn-heavy theme song. Although both women are very talented, each brings a little something special to their sound. McPhee sings tentatively and very sweetly in "Never Give All the Heart," which matches the song’s theme of holding back. In contrast, she lets it all hang out in her ensemble number "The 20th Century Fox Mambo," about snagging that top role. And she belts it out in the Disc one closer, "Cut, Print...Moving On." Hilty plays Marilyn during her romance with Joe DiMaggio in "The National Pastime," hitting all Monroe’s coquettish lows in her ode to Joltin’ Joe. She replicates this in this ’50s-sound ensemble piece, "I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn’t Love to Howl," with Messing, Nick Jonas, Borle, Will Chase, Jaime Cepero and Phillip Spaeth. But her sound is very different in the doo-wop duets with Chase, "History Is Made at Night," and the baby-soft "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," in which they envision being just a regular couple. Christian Borle is a smarmy director in "Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking," with shopworn lines like "Tomatoes like her they’re easy to find, we throw them out as soon as they start squawking." Act Two opens up with an ode to Marilyn, "Public Relations," with reporters peppering Monroe with questions like, "What do you sleep in?" to which she answers, "Well I adore Chanel Number 5, and not much more." Hilty sings about the Monroe Doctrine in "Dig Deep," beginning a four-song run on the album. Her voice has a sad quality in "Second Hand White Baby Grand," but swings sultry, singing, "I try to go the distance, but ’They Just Keep Moving the Line.’" She is kittenish and naughty in "Let’s Be Bad" with the help of the ensemble. The pace picks up in "(Let’s Start) Tomorrow Tonight," by Leslie Odom, Jr. Julian Ovenden thrills in his smoking hot bossa nova "Our Little Secret" and the ensemble joins in to flesh out the tracks. McPhee finishes the collection with the touching, heartfelt, "Don’t Forget Me." After 22 larger-than-life tunes, you won’t soon forget "Smash."
"The Marriage of True Minds" (Matmos)
If you’re looking for some conceptual, artsy pop music comprised of odd, rhythmic sound sources, Baltimore-based electronic duo Matmos is for you. If, on the other hand, you wanted to pop open a cold one and turn on the tunes to chill out, then not so much. You don’t notice it right away, as the slow, funky beginnings of "You" exudes an old Massive Attack vibe, with tap dance sounds overlaid. But soon, Carly Ptak melds spoken word whispers, "Telepathy," a deconstructed cover of Leslie Winer and Holger Hiller’s Palais Schaumberg hit. Matmos said that the album came about after four years of parapsychological experiments with test subjects put into sensory deprivation, and then asked to describe out loud anything they saw or heard within their minds. Those sounds were taped, and became poetic and conceptual scores for Matmos. This is pretty much what the album sounds like. It cuts across a wide swath of musical styles, from electronic pop to chamber music piano to ripples of percussion to doom metal. The Matmos trademark of Jason Willett playing an amplified rubber band also surfaces. "Very Large Green Triangles" lies Gothic pop over a stomping Baltimore club beat, and features a honky tonk piano solo before the drop. It is a challenge to enjoy. "Mental Radio" synchs Latin percussion on top of the sound of water sloshing in a bucket, then a triangle, then fire trucks. It sounds like what happens when you get pool water in your ear. "Rose Transcript" is an amalgam of noise and voices that makes you feel like you have lost your mind, and "Teen Paranormal Romance" melds synth and bass drops with a modular bassline by Matmos collaborator Jay Lesser. The groans and mutters come courtesy of DJ Dog Dick. Dan Deacon sings from his throat in "Tunnel," and a techno stomp gets an overlay of Owen Gardner’s Bob-Diddly-esque guitar. "In Search of a Lost Faculty" investigates the test subject’s recurring visions of triangles, and "Aetheric Vehicle" is a hazy variant on Ethiopian melodies. The album ends with "E.S.P." described as a polyglot deconstruction of the Buzzcock’s song of the same name. At the end, the whole band erupts into riff rock, until M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel (together for the first time in 20 years) harmonize together, "If you’re picking on me, then you’ll know just what to do... So...think." The band describes the album as "an artifact, which is both an art object, a scientific report, a practical joke and a daring pop record." This critic can’t disagree.
(Thrill Jockey Records)
"All That Echoes" (Josh Groban)
Singer, songwriter and actor Josh Groban follows his last four multi-platinum albums with another winner, "All That Echoes." Whether you call him a tenor or a baritone, his powerful voice leaves no question as to his immense talent. He belts out the inspirational single "Brave," singing, "All that you thought is wrong is pure again/ You can’t hide forever from the thunder/ Look into the storm and feel the rain." The tune would have been a natural fit for the recent Disney release of the same name. Groban has great success in melding pop songs with complex string arrangements and percussion, to great critical acclaim. His "False Alarms" has a growing intensity that suits his voice well, and his rendition of the "Falling Slowly" is steady and has a Broadway standard feel about it, as he sings, "I don’t know you, but I want you." A courtly Ren-faire vibe imbues "She Moved Through the Fair," while "Below the Line" is an ebullient celebration of romance, as Groban sings, "And I know just what we’re fighting for, I want to know, do we ask for more?" He finds success in foreign-language tracks, teaming up with Laura Pausini for "E Ti Prometterò," putting forth alluring flamenco flair in "Un Alma Mas" and exercising his Italian in "Sincera." He moves toward a modern country feel in "Happy in My Heartache," painting the scene of a man trying to tell the object of his affection of his feelings. He also has great success with his covers, including Stevie Wonder’s "I Believe" and Jimmy Webb’s "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress." Groban has been at this game for a dozen years already, and fans can expect him to just keep getting better.
"Miracle Temple" (Mount Moriah)
Named after the place where Solomon built the temple, Mount Moriah is a Durham, North Carolina-based duo of Heather McEntire of Bellafea and Jenks Miller of Horseback, with help from bassist Casey Toll and drummer James Wallace. This country-rock outfit tackles Southern topics of red clay land and church pews, with distorted electric guitar riffs. At the same time, they step away from the ragged heartache tales found in classic country, dealing instead with sweeping themes of love and loss. In an early tune, McEntire sings to her mother, asking her to accept that her lover is a woman. This duo has a lot of past history in rock, punk and even metal, but approaches their music carefully, not prone to flashy outbursts, even though the skills to do so are clearly there. In "Younger Days," McEntire twangs through the intro a tune like a younger Dolly Parton, singing, "All this is over, so when are you coming back?" "Bright Light" shows a measured restraint, as does "Eureka Springs," with McEntire singing, "We’ll wade deep into the healing spring but nothing happens," before deciding to head back to Memphis. There’s a real classic country rock feel to it that’s familiar and comforting. Mount Moriah slows things down in "I Built a Town," a sad song about trying to hang on to love. In "White Sands," she sings about being haunted by the memories of children on the beach, of loss and longing. McEntire is soft and country in "Connecticut to Carolina," and lets her punk edges show in "Rosemary," singing, "Nothing was easier than Rosemary, back when your knees were buckled in for me, pretty girls shuffling down Pritchard Street, trying to climb onto those balconies." Classic rock drum-kit sounds meter "Swannanoa," a menacing song with sweeping harmonies and a searing, strung-out riff, which they have been performing since 2011. The darkness pervades in "Miracle Temple Holiness," as McEntire sings, "I seen the darkness take you down with it mama, let it rise, let it rise, let it rise." She slows things down with a tale of a jumper drowned off the "Union Street Bridge," with resonant chords like an old Cowboy Junkies track. Her voice brightens off in "Those Girls," about the pitfalls of love. Mount Moriah finishes things off with the Bellafea cover "Telling the Hour," which they have incorporated into their live performances. McEntire’s vocals are powerful here, especially with the added strings and piano darkening Miller’s guitar licks.
"Heartthrob" (Tegan & Sara)
They’re lesbians, they’re twins and they’re from Canada. Well, two out of three ain’t bad! All joking aside, Tegan and Sara Quin busted onto the U.S. music scene in 1999, and scored big with cameos on "The L Word." They returned to the small screen fame with their stunning, gender-bending cover of the Rolling Stones’ "Fool to Cry" that is amongst the many indie hits on the soundtrack of HBO’s critically acclaimed series "Girls." And on Jan. 31, they performed their first single, "Closer" on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" The tune has a pop sound that makes it perfect for radio play, with quirky electronic flourishes. "All I dream of lately, is how to get you underneath me," the girls sing, flirtatiously. In this new album, the girls move away from their folk-rock roots, to drop to dance synth beats, with deep bass and huge, luscious hooks. This cool ’80s pop sound permeates in their track "Goodbye, Goodbye," and to a more spare effect in "I Was a Fool." An infectious bass beat drives ’I’m Not Your Hero," with vocal highs and lows that catch you unaware with their odd emphasis, like when they sing, "I was just standing in the shadow of a damaged heart." A pounding bass drum moves "Drove Me Wild" and "I Couldn’t Be Your Friend." And a sad story of lost love is behind the very poppy track, "How Come You Don’t Want Me," as the girls sing, "Why don’t you want to win me now, why don’t you want to show me off?" They will head to Coachella to perform among the top-line artists, and have launched a tour including dates in LA and New York before heading back to Canada and the Midwest. They cement their new pop sound in "Love They Say" and "Now I’m All Messed Up," with the sobering intro lyrics, "Stay, you’ll leave me in the morning anyway/ My heart, you cut it out, you never liked me anyway." "Heartthrob" closes with "Shock to Your System," an old-style rock pounder that evokes the ’90s sound of retro-cool bands like Jefferson Starship. The Quin twins have been churning out tunes since they were only 15-years old. "Heartthrob" is their seventh studio album, and they just keep getting better. But don’t get your hopes up, ladies -- both Tegan and Sara are in committed relationships with heartthrobs of their own.
(Warner Brothers Records)