Buika – La Noche Mas Larga
In recent decades, popular jazz has tended to lean towards the inoffensive, coffee-shop ready kind of music that pleases the ear but never challenges. You may hear Concha Buika’s earlier work in your local Wawee, but her newest effort finds the singer stretching outside the comfort zone of the casual listener, and thus creating her best work yet. The Spanish-born singer has been making strides since her 2005 self-titled debut, blending flamenco and latin jazz on well-chosen covers and crafty originals. On La Noche Mas Larga, Buika’s smokey voice soars on top of rumbling Afro-Cuban rhythms, with pianist Ivan “Melon” Lewis and percussionist Ramon Porrina providing a solid backbone. Songs like “La Nave del Olvido” and “Santa Lucia” start seemingly as ballads, but once they get going, the band and Buika really start to cook. The straight-ahead production is nothing but polished, but the intensity of the performances gives it the feel of a live album.
Sigur Ros – Kveikur
Having taken a lighter, uncharacteristically poppy approach on 2008’s Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust and a return to melancholy atmospheres on 2011’s Valtari, Iceland’s Sigur Rós have re-invented themselves once again. The quiet static of the album’s initial moments send you to the volume control just in time to smash you over the head with a BWAAAMMMP straight from the Inception soundtrack. “Brennisteinn” then settles into a slow, but still noisy groove and makes way for the quiet and lovely “Hrafntinna”. This sort of cinematic sway is not new to the band, but the level of aggression certainly is. So are the almost-danceable beats on songs like “Ísjaki” and “Stormur,” the latter of which greatly resembles Arcade Fire’s most recent work. Sigur Rós smartly balance their massive soundscapes with a handful of accessible, uplifting tunes that make a beautiful, cohesive album – something wonderful and rare in the days of the easily downloadable single.
Disclosure – Settle
Sure to be included in the running for Dance Album of the Year, the debut LP from the UK’s Guy and Howard Lawrence lives up to the hot singles “Latch”, “White Noise”, and “You and Me” that were released over the last year. A sample of “hip-hop preacher” Eric Thomas leads into the bumping “When the Fire Starts to Burn” and it’s a nearly nonstop celebration from there on out. While not bringing much new to the table, Settle doesn’t ever settle stylistically, moving through house, UK garage and late 90s R&B. Nearly every track features guest vocals, such as the excellent “Voices” with Sasha Keable and “Confess To Me” with Jesse Ware, but the true standout track for me is the post-disco “F For You” with Disclosure’s own Howard Lawrence on vocals. Some of the vocal performances fall a bit flat, but the brothers’ tight, yet never overpacked, production keeps the whole album moving along fluidly.