Music Reviews: From Andrew Bird to Lily Allen

Andrew Bird, Noble Beast (Fat Possum) – On his eighth long-player, this acclaimed Chicago-based eccentric virtuoso fully transforms into the glorious anachronism he’s always verged upon, balancing astonishing performance with consummately literary singer-songwriter craft. In his new material, Bird restrains his violin mastery and one-man-band sleight of hand to concentrate on making the complex architecture of his songs seem effortless. Bird’s chamber-pop comes off as intelligently manicured, to a fault at times. When preciousness threatens to overcome the proceedings, however, he introduces an artful new musical gambit, jolting listeners back to square one with witty, unexpected dissonance. —Matt Diehl

Franz Ferdinand, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (Epic) – As Dostoyevsky’s Kirilov observed in The Possessed, “If you shoot yourself, you’ll become God.” Of course, it’s hanging around and remaining cool that’s the hard part. Just ask the members of Franz Ferdinand, who plummeted from the highest of hipster pedestals to the creative skids in a blinding flash. But cagey gents they are, and on their third studio album they’ve decisively relocated their mojo. Balancing moments that are suavely literate with charming rants about how much boys and girls don’t understand each other (they really don’t), the Glaswegian quartet whip up some of the wickedest, most artfully angular grooves this side of a Gang of Four convention, peppered with dub and Teutonic synths. Heaven can wait, then. — Ken Scrudato

Lily Allen, It’s Not Me, It’s You (Capitol) – Unlike her doppelgänger who likes kissing girls, Lily Allen comes off as thoughtful and free from the tedium of irony on her sophomore effort. It all begins quite morosely with “Everyone’s At It,” a bleak overview of a society strung out to the rafters on meds; and it’s followed by the aching, existential despair of “The Fear.” (Been hanging about with Jarvis, have we?) The oft-piercing lyrics don’t get much cheerier from there, but in one distinctly amusing moment, chirpy piano play becomes a sneering anti-bigotry rant (titled, brilliantly, “Fuck You”). It’s Not Me… distinctly recalls Britpop-era Blur, effortlessly shifting styles while holding on to the melancholy synonymous with Englishness. — Ken Scrudato

Matt & Kim, Grand (Fader) – In 2006, Chicago-based deejays Flosstradamus remixed “Yea Yeah,” the infectious single by Brooklyn synth-pop duo Matt & Kim, giving birth to the best blog banger ever. So good was the remix, in fact, that the original track was rendered blah. So, with their second album, Grand, some advice for the best musical couple since Sonny and Cher: Don’t let Floss touch this! Your tracks are bouncy and synth-ridden enough as is! Matt, your cowabunga vocals begin to grate around track five, but the two of you seem so damn happy and fun-filled that it can’t help but rub off. And don’t ever break up, okay? — Ben Barna

M. Ward, Hold Time (Merge) – In our digital age, Ward remains an analog talent. On his latest album — the follow-up to his 2006 breakthrough masterwork Post-War — this iconic indie bard steadfastly maintains a human pulse, always anchored by his grizzled, otherworldly moan. Resonating with the sound of plucked strings and wide-open spaces, Ward’s latest effort evokes olde-tyme country radio broadcasting hazily from a distant universe. But just when his penchant for expressive Americana borders on Dust Bowl classicism, he throws in a Krautrock texture, say, or some other sonic eccentricity that signals he belongs to no age but his own. — Matt Diehl

Obi Best, Capades (Social Science Recordings) – On her debut solo album as Obi Best, Alex Lilly stumbles into the spotlight as the Miranda July of postmodern quirk-pop. Best known for her soaring and stinging back-up vocals with The Bird and the Bee, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter forgos irony in favor of painfully earnest saccharine fare that recalls influences as diverse as Metric’s Emily Haines and ’70s helium addict Melanie. Clinking piano chords echo like silver spears tapping champagne glasses on “Nothing Can Come between Us,” while towering falsettos create walls of sound as whimsical as they are melodic on “What It’s Not” and the relatively dark “It’s Because of People Like You.” — Nick Haramis

Mr. Oizo, Lambs Anger (Ed Banger) – On Lambs Anger, he of the Banging Eds peppers his third full-length with references to Flat Eric, the puppet character that Mssr. Oizo bestowed upon the world via a series of offbeat Levi’s commercials back in the 1990s. But this latest collection of songs is a dance-track galaxy away from his early pop beginnings. The French electronica wunderkind — née Quentin Dupieux — ebbs and flows through heavy techno-laden tracks (“Hun”), trance-like funk (“Cut Dick”) and bubbly female vocals (“Steroids,” featuring Uffie) to produce a stocked bar of fist-pumpers with heart. Plus, how could anyone deprive himself the jouissance of a song called “Bruce Willis is Dead”? — Eiseley Tauginas
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