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Pixies, John Newman and Bruce Springsteen 

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click to enlarge The Pixies and Ep2

Pixies

Ep2

Pias America

File next to: Sonic Youth, Throwing Muses

The year is 2014, and we find ourselves firmly confronted by a modern-day Pixies, one that features no bassists named "Kim." Kim Deal's departure, Kim Shattuck's dismissal, and the rather tepid Ep1 caused dismay and skepticism in many fans, but the ferocious Ep2 warrants the interest of the faithful. "Blue Eyed Hexe" is an explosive freakout featuring discordant guitars, drummer David Lovering's cowbell-heavy stomp, and, most of all, Black Francis' feral shriek, an element largely missing since the days of "Rock Music" and "Planet of Sound." Most encouragingly, Ep2 feels like an unforced continuation of the "classic" Pixies' omnipresent strangeness. The swaggering, pummeling riffs paired with Francis' high, whispered vocals in "Magdalena" are as unnerving as sliced eyeballs, as are the spidery, contrapuntal guitars in the intro to "Snakes." Meanwhile, "Greens and Blues" appeals to Francis' gentler, spacey/seaside themes. Fear not, fans. Ep2 is weird and wonderful. — Collin Estes

click to enlarge John Newman and Tribute

John Newman

Tribute

Universal Republic

File next to: Fitz & the Tantrums, Elton John

On the string-laden intro to John Newman's debut album, the young British artist recites a long list of iconic musicians from Jackie Wilson onward. Clearly, this is one recombinant soul singer who doesn't have any problem wearing his influences on his sleeve, or, for that matter, on the tracks that follow. "Losing Sleep" brings to mind Fitz & the Tantrums with the Otis Redding turned up. "Out of My Head" evokes the spirit of early Elton John. There are even suggestions of latter-day Manic Street Preachers on the pleading chorus to "Easy." But it's when Tribute expands beyond Newman's individual influences to embrace a broader sound that the artist shows his full potential, and in the case of Northern Soul-inspired songs like "Try" and "Love Me Again," manages to realize it. The latter track is positioned to become one of the year's best hit singles, unless the year turns out much better than expected. — Bill Forman

click to enlarge Bruce Springsteen and High Hopes

Bruce Springsteen

High Hopes

Columbia

File next to: David Rovics, Phil Ochs, Rage Against the Machine

Some music lovers never have warmed to Bruce Springsteen's Lord Byron neo-romanticism. Even many die-hard Brucers will admit that his hope and freedom tales go down best with a side of bitter regret and despair, as evidenced in The River or Darkness on the Edge of Town. The intent with this odds 'n sods collection is to give popular live songs a proper studio hearing, albeit with a frustrating difference: Springsteen seems to think that as 21st-century national troubadour, he should give us the drama of tracks like "American Skin" or "Heaven's Wall" without the hopelessness of Nebraska. It was wise to bring in Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine to accompany him, but this album needs more tactical sadness. In 2010, Springsteen released The Promise, written in 1977 but shelved for 33 years when the world seemed too punk for such melodrama. Maybe High Hopes needed these second thoughts. — Loring Wirbel

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