On the Record

Dear Science
TV on the Radio

Good artists defy easy explanation. Even tied to a particular style (think Rolling Stones or American R&B and blues), they take it in unexpected directions (“Sympathy for the Devil”), ratchet up the intensity (“Gimme Shelter”), or combine with new sounds to make a wholly different style (“Paint it Black”). TV on the Radio is that kind of band, and such a sense of exploration is all over the band’s third disc, Dear Science. Pulling together funky backbeat, jagged post-punk guitars, and elegant strings into a coherent whole, it does so with aplomb. The band’s pummeling post-punk style initially drew me in, but their quieter pieces have kept me coming back. On Dear Science are a number of standout tracks of that ilk, such as “Love Dog” and “Family Tree.” Tying it all together are the signature vocals of Tunde Adebimpe, the whole giving you a rare album that is worth listening from beginning to end, and again.

Die Off Songbird
Maps of Norway

The Twin Cities has many fine bands, but few evoke the feel of Minnesota like Maps of Norway. From icy synths to repetitive post-punk guitars, Die Off Songbird—the quartet’s sophomore release—feels like it comes from the local cold climes. It could be Mike Wisti’s spacious production, which gives the band plenty of room to explore. Or, it could be the players—Jeffrey Ball, Eric Hanson, and Matthew Helgeson—who lay down tracks that sound both energetic and distant, putting a layer of ice similar to past greats like The Cure and Siouxie and the Banshees. Or, it could be vocalist Rebecca Leigh, who gives angular tracks like “Cage the Lions” and “Tyranny is Over” an extra grace. Die Off Songbird is the sound of a band finding not just its way, but also its own singular groove in the crowded post-punk world. They’re coming to The Beat Coffeehouse in Minneapolis on November 1.

Pebble to a Pear
Nikka Costa

If you’re looking for something that sounds and feels authentic, Costa brings the goods on her latest album, issued via Stax, one of the great labels of the soul era. The difference? Costa isn’t trying to imitate any particular artist or album—not even copying the sound of the era. She has gone deeper, searching for the feel of that music. Costa and the band do this in the way they approached the recording and the music. They played live in the studio, giving this a much livelier feel. Costa’s voice is expressive and deep. A longtime veteran, she oozes confidence at every turn. The band stays hot, while Costa kicks out hot funk, raucous soul, and shuffling blues with equal aplomb, swinging for the fences on a number of tunes, including “Keep Pushin’,” “Love to Love You Less,” and the blistering title track. Definitely a keeper. Costa plays at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis on October 30.

Something Else
Robin Thicke

Superstar soulster Robin Thicke likens his latest disc to the politically aware 1970s soul and funk. He does a good job replicating the sound of Marvin Gaye and his contemporaries, but never gets music’s meaning together. Thicke’s voice is perfect for this style of music—silky smooth, reaching the high notes without sounding like he’s trying too hard. The material, however, isn’t always up to snuff. Like an American Idol-related solo album, there’s a lot of meaningless syrup here, like the deadly dull “The Sweetest Thing” and “Tie My Hands.” It’s the straight love songs that suffer the most. When Thicke picks up the pace, and gets down with his funky self, things get better. A powerful disco beat drives “SideStep,” while he comes closest to his Superfly ambitions on “Shadow of Doubt.” But the key issue: Why would I listen to someone imitate Marvin Gaye, when dozens of tracks by the real deal are available?

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