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

Albert Hammond Jr.’s Stroke of Genius

Five minutes until I interview Albert Hammond Jr. Turn on his new album. Como Te Llama? is great. Variety, clever lyrics. Squeeze an unlit cigarette between my fingers. I wonder if he smokes? Marlboros probably. No, focus on the new album. Ask about the name. I already know the answer — an artistic roundabout approach to combating questions about the Strokes, I’m sure. Still, ask anyway. Two minutes until interview. I’m so hungry. I wonder what he’s had for lunch, and if he and fiancée Agyness Deyn ate lunch together. Shit, one minute until interview. His dad, Albert Hammond, was just inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Albert Junior, do you have similar aspirations? How mundane. I bet he’s been asked that question a thousand times. What hasn’t he been asked? Are the Strokes breaking up? Do not ask that question. What’s your favorite color? Boxers or briefs? Fantastic idea, let’s scare him a bit and ask nothing relevant to him as a musician. Albert, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Let’s discuss. What a great way to lose my job. The phone is ringing, deep breath, act professional …

Albert, so good to talk with you today. Hey, how are you?

Great, thanks. I know you’re pressed for time today; you’re doing a bunch of press, and then you are off to Europe. I’m off to Europe with my girlfriend [now fiancé Agyness Deyn] and then we’re going to Australia.

Are you looking forward to the opportunity to perform the new material from the new album? You know, it just gets better and better. I’m just excited at what happens when you play is much different than when you’re recording.

Your father, Albert Hammond, has just been inducted into to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Indeed he was.

Do you feel as though you share this affinity with him? Were you influenced to create while you were growing up? Well, as my father, yes. If you’re asking music-wise, then it’s much different. I feel like the biggest influence I had when I was young was my mom because she taught me the beginnings of music. And when I figured out that I wanted to do that and for some reason believed that I could, I never really compared it to what my dad was doing.

What drives you? I have to write songs. There’s just no other way. I have to do it. Even if I wasn’t putting more records out, and I had to get a job, I would still make records just because I can’t explain it. I play my guitar every day just because I have too. I love doing it. But what really drives me is trying to reach the ultimate goal, which is to create a song that has that universal appeal. That’s the hardest thing to.

Your first album, Yours to Keep, was created without the prior knowledge that you were going to put out a solo album. Yeah, I went in and recorded a song and then two months later went and recorded another one. Then it was in like two weeks and then over a period of a year and two months.

But on Como se Llama?, you set up a resolute schedule for putting out the album. A strict five-week recording deadline, right? Yeah, five weeks.

Does it feel different this time around? It feels great, very stressful. Everything I wanted to achieve I did, and more. So I’m very proud of what I finished and did. When you’ve finished something, you don’t really know where your next step is going to be, because you’ve been focusing on what you’re doing. And then a few months afterward, like a few weeks ago, I started writing these new songs in a whole new place, a whole new direction, and a whole new reason to do it. I have a purpose again.

You’ve said you feel like you’re sometimes pushed into being the overall spokesperson for the Strokes. Yeah I’ve said that … I’m not the bandleader in the Strokes. I grew up in the band, but it gets tiresome sometimes to have to tell people that we’re not broken up or when we’re going to get back together again. I don’t really know what is going to happen, and no one believes me when I say it, but to be pretty honest I wouldn’t be hiding anything. I could go on wondering why the band hasn’t come to a conclusion and just make a statement or something like that. I don’t mean to complain about it. It can get annoying, but I’m also very lucky to be where I am right now. So, it comes with the good and the bad. I take it as it comes.

You and your fiancée Agyness have been in the tabloids quite a bit lately. How does it feel to have your relationship profiled like this? I don’t think about it as a profiled relationship. I just see it as, for me, I fell in love with a beautiful woman and I feel lucky to have found her. So, anything else is just on the outside. When you’re with someone, it’s like all that matters is how you feel for each other, and everything else doesn’t exist. You see a photo, but it’s nothing that I think about.

image Hammond Jr. and Deyn in New York.

What’s your favorite track on the album? Well they change. For awhile it was “Victory at Monterrey” and “Borrowed Time.” And before that it was “Bargain of a Century,” but it changes all the time.

What’s your favorite bar in New York City?

I don’t go out anymore. I used to go to my friend Nick’s place, Bar on A and Bowery Electric, which is the same owner of Black & White. So, those three bars are places where my friends go. But I don’t really go out. I don’t drink.

Your favorite place to people-watch? Well, I like to ride my bike with Agyness. So, when you just stop and look around, the whole city is really a great place for people-watching. It’s filled with interesting things. So any place, if you just walk for two hours, you’ll have many stories to tell.

What are few things on your summer playlist? Summer playlist. I’ve just really been listening to this new artist A.A. Bondy. I saw him play at the bookstore. He has this song called “Lovers’ Waltz,” and his album is amazing, and I can’t stop playing that album or that song. Even though it doesn’t sound really summery, it’s just become my summer record because I play it all the time. So, I guess for the rest of my life it will just remind me of summer.