The best music of the week: Alabama Shakes, Blur, Kathryn Calder and more

By Nicholas Jennings

As music columnist for hellomagazine.ca, each week I’ll bring you my selections for the best and most notable new music, albums you’re going to want to add to your collection plus a five-song playlist to try out. Happy listening!

NOTABLE RELEASES:

Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
Brittany Howard is a force of nature. The singer-guitarist was the best thing about Alabama Shakes’ thrilling 2012 debut, Boys & Girls. But don't simply expect more of the same mix of retro rock and classic soul on the band’s sophomore album - this time around, Howard and her fellow Shakes offer something wilder, woolier and wonderfully diverse. There’s the frantic punk of “The Greatest,” the spacey psychedelia of “Gemini” and the taut reggae of “Guess Who.” Guitarist Heath Fogg still provides plenty of Stax-like riffs, but the group is clearly reaching for new horizons. The biggest change comes with Howard's shape-shifting voice, transitioning from howls and moans to shouts and chillingly unhinged shrieks, sometimes within a single song. The woman sounds possessed, particularly on “Gimme All Your Love” and “Don’t Want to Fight No More.” Alabama Shakes have triumphed by bravely venturing into uncharted waters.

Blur - The Magic Whip
The iconic Britpop band’s first album in 12 years is reason enough to go woo-hoo. Recorded while on tour in Asia, the album explores themes of alienation in the modern world. Frontman Damon Albarn sings of Hong Kong buildings “carved out of grey-white skies” on “New World Towers,” while “There Are Two Many of Us” expresses his worry about population control. There are hints of the dub-side-of-the-moon of Albarn’s side project, The Good, the Bad & the Queen, on “Ghost Ship” and crazy, offbeat electronica on “Ice Cream Man.” But for fans of Blur’s classic ’90s sound, the tracks that will undoubtedly please the most are singsong-sounding “Go Out” and “Lonesome Street,” with Graham Coxon's signature choppy guitar riffs. Mixing elements of classic Blur with thoughtful subjects and influences drawn from members’ solo albums, this is a welcome return of one of England’s best bands. You can stream the album here.

OTHER NEW ALBUMS:

Kathryn Calder - Kathryn Calder
Ever since her Polaris-nominated album Bright and Vivid, the New Pornographers member has been on our radar as a gifted soloist. Calder’s latest album once again shows off her exquisite vocals, gossamer melodies and intimate lyrics, especially on the haunting “Slow Burning” and the cascading “Arm in Arm.”

Calexico - Edge of the Sun
Often pigeon-holed as Tex-Mex, Calexico has always expressed itself on a broader musical canvas. The excellent ninth album from Joey Burns and John Convertino, with guests including Neko Case and Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, is no exception, exploring everything from rockabilly and power pop to cumbia and mariachi music.

Passion Pit - Kindred
Passion Pit’s third album is frontman-turned-sole-member Michael Angelakos’ happiest and most hopeful to date. Sung in his trademark falsetto over breezy synth-pop backing, soul-baring songs like “Lifted Up (1985)” and “Until We Can’t (Let’s Go)” express his cautious, newfound optimism.

PLAYLIST OF THE WEEK:

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