Karen O, Ryan Adams, and Robert Plant 

Sound Advice

click to enlarge Karen O

Karen O

Crush Songs

Cult Records

File next to: Kimya Dawson, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Scout Niblett

Karen O's persona with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs has usually involved overstatement, so her subdued solo movie-soundtrack scores surprised many fans. On Crush Songs, her first proper solo album, she goes one enormous step further, offering bedroom tapes so lo-fi they bring to mind outtakes from Daniel Johnston or Guided by Voices sessions. There are 15 songs squeezed into a mere 26 minutes, replete with guitar miscues, cute yowls, and amateur touches that could be referred to as the Kimya Sound. It's hard not to like little snacks like "NYC Baby" or "Native Korean Rock." Even so, Crush has the same problem as Eddie Vedder's ukulele works and Neil Young's sound-booth recordings with Jack White: They're all commendable, valiant and unusual artistic efforts, but they're also tough to listen to repeatedly. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

Blue Note

File next to: Jason Isbell, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Old 97's

Over some 16 albums since leaving Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams has shifted from attempts to out-Wilco Jeff Tweedy to becoming the chameleonic embodiment of everything from '70s Southern California rock to '90s alt-country. Some skeptics argue the pursuit of so many styles makes it hard to discern the real Adams, but this carefully crafted self-titled album arrives just as nostalgic twang is reaching its peak. Adams has rocked much harder in his work with The Cardinals, but these 11 songs are meant for a riff-conscious radio environment — even if that universe no longer exists. The best tracks, including "Am I Safe" and "I Just Might," are pop gems that will stand the test of time. Even when he veers to predictability ("Stay With Me"), Adams still displays more substance than acclaimed nostalgia hipsters like Ty Segall. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Robert Plant

Robert Plant

lullaby and ... The Ceaseless Roar


File next to: David Gilmour, Richard Thompson, Issa Bagayogo

Some fans of post-Zep Robert Plant may not forgive him for bailing on a second studio session with Alison Krauss, but all would agree that his last decade of solo work has been surprisingly fruitful. Where the Krauss and Band of Joy efforts had a country-bluegrass veneer, lullaby and ... The Ceaseless Roar features original songs with his band the Sensational Space Shifters, who play such instruments as djembe, kologo and bendirs. The result carries suggestions of West Africa and Indian raga, and scarcely a trace of Zeppelin-style vocals. While Plant's last album featured appearances from Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller, the only guest vocalist here is Julie Murphy, on the remarkable "Embrace Another Fall." The album only flags when Plant tries to add conventional rock rhythms. Otherwise, this may be Plant's finest life-stage yet. — Loring Wirbel


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