The Pet Shop
Boys are quietly enjoying a Hall of Fame career. Who among the duo’s synth-pop,
techno-pop, or new wave peers have been as consistent? Even Depeche Mode and
Erasure have stumbled. Full of vibrant, lush, and lavish dance epics, Hotspot, is another triumph for Chris
Lowe and Neil Tennant. The playful opening track, “Will-O-the-Wisp,” is certain
to fill clubs, while the surreal “Dreamland,” featuring Olly Alexander, just
might be the dance hit of 2020.
“special editions” that feature instrumental versions of the entire album, Hotspot is not merely for DJs and raves.
“Monkey Business” is Kraftwerk meet seventies disco, while the anthemic “Happy
People” has television-commercial soundtrack potential. Two other standout
tracks are the romantic “You are the One” and “Wedding in Berlin,” which are
destined to be wedding reception staples for years to come.
GUIDED BY VOICES
(Guided by Voices, Inc.)
ultra-prolific Robert Pollard is back with yet another version of Guided by
Voices and another new album, Surrender Your Poppy Field. Like the band’s most recent offerings, this disc
is both a trip down eighties and nineties indie rock and alternative pop memory
lane, as well as a bold look into the future. With decidedly lo-fi recordings and
fully produced pop songs, this disc has something for everyone.
by “Volcano,” “Queen Parking Lot,” and “Man Called Blunder,” this album is yet
another winner for Guided by Voices who released three albums in 2019 and are
set to release another two later this year. Let’s hope that Pollard’s creative streak
does not end anytime soon.
“play Slayer in Hell”? Comedian, actor, and metal enthusiast Brian Posehn
doesn’t believe so as he muses during “Satan is Kind of a Dick.” That’s just
one of 13 skits and farcical songs on the spit-take hilarious Grandpa Metal. The title track teases his
chief collaborator Scott Ian (Anthrax) about the grumpy guitarist’s reluctance
to embrace new metal bands. Performed in Posehn’s “aw, shucks” trademark
delivery, “One-Quarter Viking, Three-Quarters Pussy” parodies Amon Amarth, while
“Big Fat Rock” is barely veiled double entendre.
Why is the
music on this album so incredibly strong? It’s the impressive list of guest
performers, which, besides Ian, includes Exodus’ Gary Holt and Zetro Souza,
Testament’s Alex Skolnick and Chuck Billy, and Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, to
name but a few.
metallic comedy gold, however, is Posehn’s rendition of A-Ha’s sappy eighties
pop staple “Take on Me.” It’s not only the best cover in years, but it’s
certain to illicit laughter from metalheads for generations to come.
DEMONS & WIZARDS
Demons & Wizards third effort is a
rare example where the results are greater than the mere sum of its parts. A
side project featuring Iced Earth guitarist Jon Schaffer and Blind Guardian
vocalist Hansi Kursch, Demons & Wizards’
III is superior to the
recent output of either artist’s fulltime band. Why? The duo’s first new album
in nearly 15 years is a case of drawing outside the lines. Stylistically and
creatively unrestrained by the parameters of Iced Earth and Blind Guardian,
both Schaffer and Kursch have chosen to embrace their influences and explore
new sounds. “Final Warning” sounds as if it was written by Iron Maiden. The
epic “Timeless Spirit,” a classic in the making, is the result of veteran
talents working while not under pressure to rush out new, half-baked music.
Still, let’s hope it doesn’t take this pair until 2035 to release a fourth
(Seasons of Mist)
known for their experimental approach to extreme music, Tombs’ Monarchy of Shadows is pure, old school black metal. Raw, brutal, punishing,
and uncompromising, each of the EPs six tracks would have fit nicely among the classics
recorded by original Norwegian black metal artists like Mayhem, Darkthrone, and
Emperor. Titles “Once Falls the Guillotine” and “Necro Alchemy” only hint at
the musical bludgeoning that awaits brave enough listeners. This Brooklyn-bred band
are certainly one to watch out for, especially when so much of today’s extreme
music has become bland, soulless, and passé. And I certainly can’t wait to
experience this band live.