Dig These Discs: Depeche Mode, The Shins, Frances, Milky Chance, Zara Larsson
English band Depeche Mode releases their 14th studio album, a dozen tracks produced by James Ford. American indie pop/rock band The Shins release their fifth studio album, "Heartworms." Multi-platinum German duo Milky Chance release their second full-length studio album, "Blossom." Swedish singer/songwriter Zara Larsson returns to the U.S. charts with her second studio album, "So Good." And British indie pop newcomer Frances releases her debut album, and this red-haired spitfire will wow you with her fine voice.
Depeche Mode (Spirit)
English band Depeche Mode releases their 14th studio album, a dozen tracks produced by James Ford. Despite the decades that have passed, Dave Gahan on lead vocals, with Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher on instruments, have busted out another excellent album. "We have not evolved/ we have no respect, we have lost control," they sing in the opening track, "Backwards." The chorus devolves into the repeating phrase, "we feel nothing inside." The song seems as relevant today as it is rooted in the '90s. He's been kept down, pushed down, and lied to, in the intense cut "Revolution," leaving him asking, "Where's the revolution? Come on, people, you're letting me down." Echoed electronica opens "Worst Crime," which blames "misguided leaders... apathetic hesitation and uneducated readers," for the mess they're in. The grotty instrumentation of "Scum" matches its message, and it meshes nicely into the following track, "Move," about "temptation knocking at my door" and the life they could have had. "The air is so cold here, it's so hard to breathe... will you 'Cover Me,'" sings Gahan in one excellent old-school track; and in "Eternity," he's promised to protect you and surround you with his love -- as well as any man could. It's time to break out in the pounding, "Poison Heart," and they look for "So Much Love" in the following cacophonous cut. The pointed cut "Poorman" shuffles slow as he pushes his heavy load in a song about the corruption of corporations to the detriment of everyday folks, with Gahan asking them to "tell us just how long it's going to take for it to trickle down?" They end the album very strongly, with the gritty lost love track, "No More" and in the final track, the teetering "Fail," their souls are corrupt and their "minds are messed up." It's another strong release from a group that has been keeping us stomping in glorious, justified anger around dance floors for three decades. Depeche Mode heads out on their Global Spirit Tour on May 5, playing to 1.5 million fans in 32 cities across Europe.
"Heartworms" (The Shins)
Portland-based indie pop/rock band The Shins release their fifth studio album, "Heartworms," a self-produced and recorded effort with a whole new musical lineup. It's the first in five years, and critics are already calling it the most hermetic LP he's released since 2001's "Oh, Inverted World." And the new lineup now consists of James Mercer on vocals, Jon Sortland on drums, Mark Watrous and Casey Foubert on guitar, Yuuki Matthews on bass and Patti King on keyboards. Mercer is still churning out his fussy arrangements; the 11 tracks kick off with "Name For You" is an encouraging piece for Mercer's three daughters to fight against the name calling, body image issues, and the trap of motherhood. Mercer sings, "They've got a name for you girls. What's in a name?/ They got a name for everything -- all of the clothes that you wear, and all of your bits and pieces, yeah." The Shins shout their brains out in the grooving, thumping "Painting a Hole," and pair thumping bass beats with springy keyboard effects in "Cherry Hearts." The following track, "Fantasy Island," also benefits from these gritty keyboard effects. Mercer sings about returning to the U.S. in the rollicking "Mildenhall," which hearkens back to his "Chutes Too Narrow" album. The fancy echo keyboard effects turn "Rubber Ballz" into a facsimile of the weirdest sitcom intro song ever. "I took the drugs, but the drugs won't take," they bemoan in "Half a Million," and churn through the sing-song "Dead Alive" with lots of effects. The title track, "Heartworms," deals with a woman whose affection is waning, with the lyrics, "I feel them wriggling in my blood, gonna do me harm. For now, I'd rather lose this losing feeling that came on when you cooled off, started treating me in this friendly way." Excellent drums by Jon Sortland move "So Now What" along, and the album wraps up with "The Fear," worrying about all the time he's wasted, and wondering, "Can we hit rewind on somebody's magic bong?" Don't we all wish it were so... The band will embark on a five-month tour through the U.S. and England to promote the album, and, as seen on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert," are holding a contest to gift their custom tour van "Big Red," to whoever sends in the best cover of their new songs. "Make us fall in love with you, and you get the van," says Mercer.
"Blossom" (Milky Chance)
Multi-platinum German duo Milky Chance release their second full-length studio album, "Blossom." The album features 14 tracks of upbeat acoustic guitars, electronics and soulful vocals (with an additional six acoustic versions of his tracks included at the end). They kick things off with the growing intensity of beats in the title track, "Blossom," a pleasantly herky-jerky cut. The track "Ego" is a bouncy cut with a tropical backbeat. The errant bongo beat adds intrigue to the opening of the intense "Firebird," and the complicated electric guitar riff of "Doing Good" pairs well with the rhythm. "Clouds" opens on a crowd scene, before riffing off into funky drums and electronica as they sing, "always want you to stay, just don't leave me alone." "Cold Blue Rain" employs bouncy acoustic chords and funky horns to get to its destination, as they sing, "I know we'll be forever, forever together, forever as one." The strummer "Stay" delves into painful memories, and Izzy Bizu lends her fine, high voice to the poppy "Bad Things," which starts with the lyrics, "getting through to you, that's what I'm aiming for." He wants her with him in "Cocoon," singing, "let me bleed instead of you." The poppy "Losing You" piles on the effects, from clap tracks to electronic distortion, as they sing, "They say I'm 'bout to lose ya; tell me why?/There's been a lot of confusion, still you try." The track "Peripeteia" keeps chugging along, good as its name, with some harmonica thrown in toward the end. "Alive" is peppered with tambourine and bass drums, and the spare "Piano Song" evokes some sadness. He finishes with the fast-moving Spanish guitar stylings (via electric guitar) of "Heartless." It eventually evolves into a dance track. Milky Chance is on tour through March 18, but don't even sweat it; every single show except Denver is already sold out. After that, you can only catch them in Australia until they return to the U.S. in June.
"So Good" (Zara Larsson)
Swedish singer/songwriter Zara Larsson returns to the U.S. charts with her second studio album, "So Good." The album was delayed numerous times, and so she's already released five singles. Her latest radio-friendly R&B single, "So Good" has 19-year-old Larsson singing, "My love is more potent than anything in the cup that you're holdin'/ One little taste will have you open." It features a vocal break from rapper Ty Dolla Sign, with his naughty lyrics bragging how, "Girl you know you 'bout to get that thang beat up, When I pull up, you know what I came for/ Dolla lay the pipe, keep some dope D for you, Put your body straight to sleep." It uses the backing track from the 1979 cut, "A Little Bit of Love." Larsson made her mark on the music scene early, winning "Talang," the Swedish version of "Got Talent," at the age of 10. Her 2015 pop EP "Uncover" was a pop-alicious six songs that let Larsson test the waters, priming the pump for her latest release. Now she's back with 15 sugary pop songs steeped in honesty. Her album kicks off with the layered pop ballad, "What They Say," with Larsson promising, "don't believe what they say; cause' they don't believe in you like I believe in you anyway." Clunky electronica percussion opens the toe-tapper "Lush Life," with the lyrics, "I live my day as if it was the last, live my day as if there was no past./ Doing it all night, all summer, doing it the way I wanna." In the club track, "I Would Like," she admits that she didn't realize how much she liked you, until she saw you with someone else. Now, she'd like to get to know you, to "get under your sexy body." "I don't like playing nice, I pick a side without warning," she warns in "Too Good For Me." The syncopated "Only You," is a love letter to someone who loves her like she loves herself. MNEK is featured in "Never Forget You," a piano-anchored tune about regretting the end of their relationship. Wizkid helps out in "Sundown," with its reggae beat and urgings to 'gather ye rosebuds while ye may' -- why even wait until sundown? "Don't Let Me Be Yours" benefits from excellent percussion, and crazy distortion opens "Make That Money Girl," the de rigueur 'sisters are doin' it for themselves' track about making your own money and your own choices, with lyrics like, "why you so hesitant; you could be the next female president." A Middle Eastern belly-dancing vibe makes "Ain't My Fault" musically interesting, as Larsson rap-sings about not being responsible for you being so irresistible. She counts down the steps of her love in the bass-heavy slow jam "One Mississippi," and says goodbye with the hope that all your wishes come true, burying her "heart six feet under" in "Funeral." "I Can't Fall In Love Without You" is a bittersweet piano track that shows the timbre of Larsson's voice. She ends the album on a high note, literally and figuratively, with "Symphony," featuring Clean Bandit. The young firebrand has already attracted attention for taking a stand against sexism, responding to accusations that she's a man-hater by saying, "It doesn't really hurt men if I hate them."
(EPIC Records/TEN Music Group)
"Things I've Never Said" (Frances)
British indie pop newcomer Frances releases her debut album, and this red-haired spitfire will wow you with her fine voice. She opens singing a capella with her track "Don't Worry About Me," which was released as part of Channel 4's Stand Up to Cancer fundraiser. It's all about enduring life together, the lows and highs. A minute into the song, piano and harmony is added, as Frances sings, "If I fall, you fall, and if I rise, we'll rise together." It doesn't take much more than a few piano keys and Frances' voice to create a song that truly gels, like her excellent second track, "Love Me Again," as she sings, "and do you need a little time just to understand your mind?" Just cause she's broke, don't mean she's useless, sings Frances in "Drifting," which keeps time with brushes on the cymbal. Sometimes, her songs are a little akin to stage music, like the piano ballads "Sublime," "Cloud" and "Under Our Feet," with its lyrics, "If the sky flew under our feet, would you keep it all the same?" Frances shows off her vocal range in the pop-tinged cut "Let It Out" singing, "is it just my own heavy head that's making me so cold in your bed?" This pop sound carries into the next track, the bouncy cut "No Matter." She works her way up and down the high range with only a few piano keys for company in "Grow," and adds some funky bass to the impassioned "Say It Again." She pours her heart out in "The Last Word," a song about two people who know it's over, but can't end it, with lyrics, "you say the last word; I would if I could." Frances even adds some funky R&B to her album, enlisting the help of Ritual to sing on her track "When It Comes to Us," harmonizing on the chorus, "It really shouldn't work, but it does, when it comes to us." The extended album includes for more tracks, including the excellent piano tune, "It Isn't Like You," and the dramatic story-song "Cry Like Me," in which she wonders why her love isn't crying like she is, as she sings, "show me that you care, that you care for me." Her extra track "Borrowed Time" is slow, but with a disco backbeat, and she ends the album with "The Smallest Thing," in which she reproaches herself for being blind to the people around her who were in need. With "Things I've Never Said," Frances puts it all out front for our scrutiny -- and comes up not lacking a thing.