Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin' (4/5). R&B singer Raphael Saadiq's Stone Rollin' pulses with energetic retro rock and soul flourishes. It reminds me a bit of Plan B's excellent retro soul offering from last year, The Defamation of Strickland Banks, although Saadiq's retro sound derives from a much broader range of styles. "Go to Hell" builds its sound with horns, strings and female backup singers, and "Over You" goes for wall-of-sound with its layers of guitar, keyboard, drums and vocals. Then the title track follows, with a simpler, bluesier approach. "Radio" reaches back to the 1950s, with a lo-fi recording style to match its guitar rhythm. "Day Dreams" sounds '50s-ish too but with a much faster, joyful tempo. "Movin' Down the Line" has a great groove, as if it reaches back to the sounds that would later inspire elements of Michael Jackson's Off the Wall and Thriller sounds. This is a solid album, although not necessarily the kind of thing I'd see myself going back to again and again. Definitely worth checking out though. Best: Go to Hell, Heart Attack, Movin' Down the Line, Just Don't.
The Kills - Blood Pressures (3/5). I first learned of Alison Mosshart of The Kills when she joined up with Jack White to form The Dead Weather, which has been my least favorite Jack White group so far. I like her better here, although I can't say I'm in love. On Blood Pressures, the group's fourth album, they churn out pretty consistent moody, raw, bluesy sort of indie rock. Opening track "Future Starts Slow" has bold drums and a prominent bass. It's restraint creates tension and teases of more to come. Closing track "Pots and Pans" delivers on that promise, with its dramatic build up, vibrating bass notes and clever lyrics with a culinary take on the challenges of romance ("I can't find enough pots and pans--let alone knives--in my kitchen to keep you cookin'"). The restrained tempo works in the favor of songs like "DNA," which sounds very southern, and on "Damned If She Do," whose languid beats come so slow as if to sound like the song is in danger of defaulting on its own tempo. Generally, I like the more tuneful, upbeat stuff like "Nail in My Coffin" and the raw and rough "Heart Is a Beating Drum," which has a great guitar solo that's probably longer and even better live. It's all very cool and generally likeable, despite the obvious posing. Best: Pots and Pans, Nail in My Coffin, Future Starts Slow.
Raveonettes - Raven in the Grave (3.5/5). Compared to The Kills, Danish duo Raveonettes are more my style. From the opening track, "Recharge & Revolt," it's clear what you'll get: strong melodies that effectively blend chilly synths and raspy electric guitars in a package that nods to the '80s but isn't consumed by them. "War Is Heaven" is darker and dramatic, interrupting its guitar melody with some airy vocals and then a decent bass line. Bass is prominent too on hopeful "Forget that You're Young," contrasting with the moodier "Apparitions," with its great '80s beat. "Summer Moons'" sweet melody feels a bit too slight against the mostly darker tracks, but I like its minimalism. "Evil Seeds," in contrast, pushes its foreboding synths to the fore, crowding out the receding guitars. The album doesn't get too gloomy though, as evidenced by the more upbeat tunes like "Ignite." Although closing the album with an elegant slow-dance of a song like "My Time's Up" may be a cliché, it's one that almost always works. Best: Recharge & Revolt, Apparitions, My Time's Up.