Like him or not, there is no denying that Harry Styles is the latest to make the leap from boy bands to solo superstardom.
You have to give it to the charismatic singer; for all of his high-wattage personality, he matches it with earnest songs.
"Fine Line" is a very sleek, sensual and danceable album. Many of the songs are built on a fairly dynamic midtempo pulse. "Adore You" is breathy late-night Pop.
"Lights Up" is surprisingly serpentine jam built around large backing vocals and Styles' powerful voice breaking restraint, while "Watermelon Sugar" is John Mayer-esque soulful confection that works despite its light lyrical content.
"Fine Line" is all Styles trading the ‘70s swagger of his debut for an ‘80s sheen that will have them lining up around the block for years to come.
Compendium of Weird!
(LP) (Damaged Goods)
Bands breaking up can cause strange occurrences in the universe. When the Scottish punks The Rezillos ("Top of the Pops") split, the nucleus of vocalists Eugene Reynolds and Fay Fife amped up the kitsch and rockabilly attitude and became The Revillos.
Entering the Eighties, they adapted a New Wave-ish sound but always maintained their ‘50s twang and ‘60s garage ideas. "Compendium of Weird" digs into their vault for some scintillating cuts colored with Joe Meek-esque production ("Hellbent") or some serious slapback echo ("Rollerskatin.').
The whole album is structured to be a blast from the past, mixing blazing covers ("Cool Jerk") and unkempt wildness ("Rockin' Goose").
(LP/CD/DVD/BLU-RAY (Evil Teen/The Orchard)
Haynes has long been the grizzled soulful voice and burning guitar player in the Allman Brothers Band and Govt Mule. Years ago, Haynes quietly organized a benefit concert for Habitat For Humanity.
Sixteen years later, this is his tradition and the South's own Christmas Jam.
For the CD and vinyl, Haynes brings out Americana supergroup Hard Working Americans, jams with friends Oteil Burbridge and Jackie Greene, and rolls out Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit.
The video release goes even deeper, adding more songs from all the aforementioned artists as well as several Grateful Dead jams from Bill Kreutzmann and The Kids.
The Pacific Northwest is fertile ground for crunchy off-tempo Alt.Rockers. The quartet, The Chain, needs just 14 minutes to convince you that guitar Pop should erupt in fits and starts.
Out of the gate, the abstract "Sailor's Song" exposes their unique ideas as it spirals up and then slows down.
Usually, tempo changes are jarring. In the Chain's capable hands, they take on the element of elongating their elliptical thoughts.
"February" is a masterfully compact epic. Harmonious and layered with another even more dramatic build-up/slow-down, its three minutes draw you into their world. Elsewhere, The Chain subverts Indie Rock cliches and brings out a lot more Built To Spill and Pavement. A promising debut from these Portlanders.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Box Redux: Complete Henry Cow
(BOX) (ReR Megacorp)
Avant-Garde Rock emerged from its flirtations with Jazz, Classical and Experimental music in the 1970s. Part of the second wave of Cambridge bands, Henry Cow burst out of the Blues clubs in 1968 with music that felt Prog in structure but was largely more Jazz oriented.
These seven CDs tell the definitive story of just how the Cow walked far outside of Rock's boundary lines.
After taking a backward path to a contract (the band had already played with all of Prog's wiggy big guns and recorded a Peel Session) with Virgin, "Leg End" (with its iconic cover whose variations will grace all their covers until their fourth album) was captured in just two weeks.
The guitars were jazzy streams of notes, while the dreamlike organ kicked up a Prog squall with oboe and flute. Elsewhere, saxophones wail and bassoons blare over abstract but listenable Rock.
"Unrest" is where the band solidified around the wiry guitar of Fred Frith and tight woodwind figures that set them apart.
They break down the Yardbirds ("Bittern Storm Over Ulm"), flutter wildly adding vibraphone to the exploratory chord changes on "Ruins," and find the beauty in long, lush organ chords layered over violent cacophony.
1975's "In Praise of Learning" has the world catching up with them as "War" is droning and massive while new vocalist Dagmar (from the group Slapp Happy who they literally absorbed into their band) makes the lengthy King Crimson-esque "Living in the Heart of the Beast" sound like an operatic piece.
By the mid-Seventies their music had grown more political and challenging (leading some to label it "Rock In Opposition.") As usual with so much blossoming creativity and the constant pursuit of a thematic and artistic goal, the band first separated happily into Slapp Happy and Henry Cow. Then, when the live concert feel of improvisation just would not transfer to tape struggled with either the "songs" or the "instrumentals" that graced "Western Culture." As a result, the album lay unreleased until 1979.
Bands always grow and expand, but the plethora of live material from nearly every tour over those 10 years reveals a group that treated their performances like classical concerts mixing with relentless jamming. 1977's "Stockholm and Goteborg" features pieces that appear from thin air. While the more composition-oriented portions start to incorporate Jazz (1978's "Jackie-ing" is ignited by a Thelonious Monk lick.) Avant-Garde music (especially Rock) is always worth a passing glance. However, once you learn to juggle this band's Rock - you may discover that it deserves thorough examination.