September Music Reviews: Laura Marling, Beirut, Grace Jones

Laura Marling, A Creature I Don’t Know (Ribbon) After being showered with praise from The New York Times and Spin for her debut and sophomore albums, each of which was nominated for a Mercury Prize, expectations couldn’t be higher for Laura Marling’s latest elease, A Creature I Don’t Know. Fortunately for the 21-year-old British singer-songwriter—who already snagged the Best Female Solo Artist prize at the 2011 Brit Awards—the record is a triumph. Building on the strength of her previous two efforts, Creature boasts a folksy, wistful feel, but it’s her voice—at times light and subtle, at others bold and deep—that makes her music so unforgettable. —Sharon Wu

Tinariwen, Tassili (Anti-) Tinariwen, a revolving band of Touareg (nomads from northern Mali) musicians, recorded the songs that appear on their fifth album, Tassili, under the stars of the southeastern Algerian desert. They collaborated with TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone on reticence-free rhapsodies against the glow of nightly campfires, and the result is as back-to-basics as their open-air recording studio. Tinariwen’s signature assouf guitar style (which some suggest is a distant relative of blues music) goes acoustic with subdued percussion and handclaps so hypnotic they almost make translation—the group sings in Tamashek—unnecessary, even though their lyrics tell impassioned tales about a group of wanderers struggling for survival. “Tenéré Taqqim Tossam” is an ode to the Saharan spirit: “Oh jealous desert, why can’t you see you are a treasure?” —Tricia Taormina

The Kooks, Junk of the Heart (Astralwerks) After leaving no stone unturned on their multi-continental Konk tour, the Kooks are back with their signature, seemingly indefatigable enthusiasm—and matching guitar rhythms—but this time with the confidence to experiment with a sadder sound. Junk of the Heart, their third record, was recorded in the English countryside beginning in 2009. As infectious as their debut, Inside In/Inside Out, it delivers the Kooks’ classic pop-rock sound and impassioned lyrics, which are reminiscent of a road trip with the windows rolled down. More sedate tracks (“Taking Pictures of You”) may come as a bit of a surprise, but fear not, Kook-heads: singer Luke Pritchard follows through on his proclamation, “If it doesn’t make you feel good, what’s the point?” Point taken. —Rosa Heyman

CSS, La Liberación (V2/Cooperative Music USA/Downtown) Nothing gets the party started quite like São Paulo–based, adolescent-giddy pop-rock crew CSS (an abbreviation of Cansei de Ser Sexy, Portuguese for “tired of being sexy”), and their fourth album La Liberación is no exception. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from the group, who released their raucous self-titled breakthrough in 2006, and it was worth the wait. Jam-packed with one dance-floor anthem after the next, La Liberación delivers tracks like “City Girl,” a surefire rump-shaker punctuated with refreshingly petulant lyrics like “Nothing hurts in the big city.” (If only that were the case.) “Hits Me Like a Rock,” the album’s first single, is about listening to your favorite jam over and over, and it’ll have you doing just that. —Lorenna Gomez-Sanchez

Beirut, The Rip Tide (Pompeii) Whereas The Flying Club Cup, Beirut’s second album, sounded like a zeppelin tour of the world, the Zach Condon–helmed music collective’s third full-length, The Rip Tide, looks for exoticism in the personal. There’s still an instrumental and stylistic fluency on the record, represented by exotic strings, last-call accordions, and a horn section that feels equal parts mariachi and polka, but the overall effect is sparer than Beirut’s previous efforts. Recorded in upstate New York, Brooklyn, and New Mexico, Rip Tide’s tracks began as melodies teased out on Condon’s ukulele or piano before his band would layer in ornate studio accompaniments, only to be distilled and refined again by Condon. Pompeii Records is owned and controlled by the indie darling himself, but that doesn’t stop standout track “Santa Fe” from sounding a bit like a pop song. —Megan Conway

A.A. Bondy, Believers (Fat Possum) A. A. Bondy, the founding member of Verbena, a ’90s rock outfit from Alabama, struck out on his own with two albums that garnered praise from the likes of Conor Oberst and Bon Iver. Now comes Believers, which was produced by Los Angeles–based impresario Rob Schnapf (Elliot Smith, Beck). Deviating from Verbena’s harder sound, Bondy’s individual style is melancholy and deeply soulful. Like many of the languid rhythms for which he’s become known, the quirky instrumentals and rock-rooted melodies on Believers are spartan, simple, and sincere. —Sharon Wu

Grace Jones, Hurricane (Pias) Forget what you know about Grace Jones. No, actually don’t. After nearly two decades out of the limelight, the music and fashion icon has blown into town with her fifth studio album, Hurricane, proving she’s just as bizarre—and genius—as ever. Making full use of her growly pipes, Jones steps away from the Studio 54 beats of her past and veers into a synthesis of nü-metal, dub, and dancehall—which makes sense, given that she collaborated with everyone from Brian Eno and Tricky to reggae producers Sly and Robbie. Jones’ eclectic team gives her music depth, but while it bursts out of the gate at super-speed (“This is Life”), the record loses steam midway through (“Well Well Well”), sputtering to an abrupt halt (“Devil in My Life”) instead of accelerating across the finish line. —Hillary Weston

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