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TV On the Radio, Ariel Pink, and Cat Stevens/Yusuf

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TV On the Radio

TV On the Radio


Harvest Records

File next to: Yeasayer, Air Dubai, tUnE-yArDs

Ever since forming in Brooklyn in 2001, TV On the Radio have offered a mix of chaotic sound, exquisite harmonies and R&B vocals unlike anything out there. Despite the death of bassist Gerard Smith, band members have tried hard to stay both upbeat and fresh, though 2011's Nine Types of Light often grew sluggish from melancholy. Seeds suggests an effort to broaden the band's fan-base without compromising a note, and the effort succeeds. The album opens with an a cappella chorus and bursts wildly from there, offering unexpectedly strong melodies in tracks like "Could You" and "Love Stained." The penultimate cut, "Trouble," would serve as a commentary on the Ferguson riots. Returning to innovation and danceable tunes would be enough, but TV On the Radio here offers up the rare commodity of joy. — Loring Wirbel

Cat Stevens/Yusuf

Cat Stevens/Yusuf

Tell 'Em I'm Gone

Sony Legacy

File next to: Iron & Wine, Jim Croce

On his third album in 35 years, Yusuf Islam, once famous as Cat Stevens, has finally returned to his roots. Co-produced by Rick Rubin and recorded almost entirely live, Tell 'Em I'm Gone combines his distinctive take on folk, pop and blues with a surprisingly raw immediacy and muscularity. The album is half originals and half covers, including piano-based versions of Edgar Winter's "Dying to Live" and Procol Harum's "The Devil Came From Kansas." Yusuf gets a guitar assist from Richard Thompson on the opening "I Was Raised in Babylon," and some harp from Charlie Musselwhite on a rambling version of "Big Boss Man" and the driving autobiographical "Editing Floor Blues." The themes are spiritual — Cat Stevens changed his name and converted to Islam back in 1977 — but the message is never heavy-handed or evangelistic. — L. Kent Wolgamott

Ariel Pink

Ariel Pink

pom pom


File next to: Black Dice, Todd Snider

Given Ariel Pink's tendency to have celebrity catfights with musicians like Grimes, one would expect this to be an exercise in vanity. Yes, it's a 70-minute sprawl, but no, it does not take itself seriously, and hence dwells somewhere between Mothers of Invention and The Beatles as a comic masterpiece. Among the magnum opus works of 2014, pom pom has neither the derivative shtick of Prince nor the short attention span of Foxygen. Sure, you'll get little relevance from "Dinosaur Carebears" or "Exile on Frog Street," but Frank Zappa never expected much high praise for 200 Motels, either. Pink has previously gained rhythmic sustenance from the Haunted Graffiti band, which is missing here, as a few instrumentals drag on. Still, he cooks up a raucous psychedelic stew that could almost make one forgive Ariel Pink for his public behavior. — Loring Wirbel

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