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Muse, Moby and Karen Dalton 

Sound Advice

click to enlarge Muse
  • Muse

Muse

Drones

Warner Brothers

File next to: Radiohead, Queens of the Stone Age, Kasabian

If nothing else, Muse deserves acknowledgment for attempting two sequential political concept albums: 2012's The 2nd Law, on entropy and environmentalism, and Drones, the new album on robotic warfare. The fact that the band has more of a hard-rock System of a Down sound than an oversynthesized prog-rock base makes the message more palatable. Let's face it, a drone diatribe would sound pretty pompous if Muse sounded like Yes. When the beat is solid and the message of programmed living and programmed war is clear, as in "Reapers," the album could be used in a drone opposition campaign. But Muse's problem, as always, lies in its unconstrained melodrama. By the time the faux-Gregorian chants close the title track, the listener will beg for less angst. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton
  • Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton

Various Artists

Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton

Tompkins Square

File next to: Diane Cluck, Judee Sill, Josephine Foster

Peter Walker, manager of the estate of Karen Dalton, has played a role akin to Nora Guthrie's when she invited Wilco and others to comb through Woody Guthrie's notes to find songs worth creating. Dalton was a fixture of the early '60s folk revival, but only released two proper albums, both consisting of other artists' songs, before dying of AIDS in 1993. Walker recruited 11 women to set Dalton's lyrics to music, and the resulting Remembering Mountains is one of those rare jewels without a weak cut. Standout artists range from the relatively mainstream (Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, Belle & Sebastian's Isobel Campbell) to freak-folk outliers (Diane Cluck, Marissa Nadler). But in truth, every singer here rises to the occasion with a breathtaking work. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Moby
  • Moby

Moby

Hotel: Ambient

Little Idiot

File next to: Brian Eno, The Orb

Brian Eno once described ambient music as the aural equivalent of wallpaper; it's designed to be experienced passively rather than attentively. It does what it does, and you do what you do. The most characteristically effective ambient music, then, floats by unobtrusively. But that's not at all what Moby's 14 instrumental tracks do on this 3-LP vinyl reissue of his 2005 album. The beats are alluring, and draw the listener into Moby's sonic washes of sound. The music doesn't actually go anyplace; that would be completely anathema to the genre. But somewhat perversely, it's also too, well, interesting to serve as truly ambient music. "Real" instruments such as piano coexist nicely alongside synthesizer pads and what in places sound like actual drums. Ambient or not, Hotel is an engaging way to spend your time. — Bill Kopp

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