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By John Brodeur

We can grouse all we want about the misguided motives of the modern music industry—did you hear about Atlantic putting out a call for fan-funding for one of their artists’ new recordings?—but once in a while, the big labels actually throw their money behind something that’s truly worth hearing, commercial potential be damned. I’d like to think that was the line of reason behind green-lighting a new Hole record. But it’s more likely that Courtney’s dedicated line lit up and Universal immediately started cutting checks for her.

Ms. Love’s decision to return to the name of her old band without returning to any of its members is a bit misguided, more a marketing angle than a mission statement. In theory, Love is going back to her roots; technically, Nobody’s Daughter is no more a Hole record than her disastrous 2004 solo debut, America’s Sweetheart. (Half of the songs were reworked from sessions for a second solo record.) But it’s a better record.

True to recent form, Love sounds disconnected and breathless singing the title track, barking out clipped syllables in an increasingly uncomfortable-sounding lower register. (Pitchfork’s observation that she sounds like Bob Dylan is harsh, but not without merit.) On the acoustic ballad “Honey,” she sounds positively ravaged—when she goes for one of those old-school blood-curdlers near the song’s end, it’s less like an exorcism than a strangling.

Courtney Love has to reconcile on a song-by-song basis her aspirations to be a pretty pop star with the reality that she’s best when she’s shattering glass with her voice. So this otherwise solid, safe alt-rock album draws lives and dies on Love’s voice, which ranges from Dylanesque to ballsy, sometimes on one song (“Someone Else’s Bed”). “Skinny Little Bitch” is a strong single, albeit generic; the best track, “Samantha,” has a kick-ass chorus that is doomed by the appearance, more than 20 times, of the F-word. Just for a moment, during “Loser Dust,” it feels almost like you’re at Lollapalooza—but then the album closes with “Never Go Hungry,” an ac oustic rocker that doesn’t help with the Dylan comparisons. Nobody’s Daughter is far from a total wash, but also far from essential. Recommended if you’re a Hole fan.

Maybe Hole felt like a sure thing for the people at Universal, but if you were able to put your chips on one album this month I’d say you’d be safe with This is Happening, the third full-length from New York’s LCD Soundsystem. This one carries particular weight as James Murphy’s one-man band struck the hipster zeitgeist with 2007’s still-fresh Sound of Silver, which has been called one of the best albums of not only the decade but the last quarter-century. So there’s nowhere to go but down, right?

Not for Murphy. LCD Soundsystem broke on the strength of a few great, deadpan-funny singles, and that’s still the specialty—but it’s to be appreciated that he uses the album format so well. Like its predecessors, This is Happening is an excellent record, not just a mix tape—and that’s a feat for an album that sounds even more like it was recorded in a bedroom than those that came before. Murphy, a DJ at heart, is an expert at controlling the pace, so when the slightly brown synth-bass, cowbell (an LCD staple) and drums kick in after three minutes of “Dance Yrself Clean” he’s already worked up considerable excitement.

Often sarcastic to the point of cheek-piercing, Murphy’s tongue is less snarky than usual here, with the majority of the joking kept to “Drunk Girls” (this album’s “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” with a bridge that’s like a cloud). The majority of Happening is a dark trip through the sad disco of Murphy’s mind, where Bowie-esque guitars, surf-rock ooh-la-las, and unhinged analog synths share a chillout room (on “All I Want,” this album’s “Someone Great”). Hard to say now if Happening will have the same staying power as Sound of Silver, but it won’t be surprising to see Murphy’s name in the best-of discussions again at the end of the year.

Going back to that thing about labels backing something actually worth listening to: It’s been a long time since Brooklyn duo MGMT recorded their debut single “Time to Pretend”—originally recorded in 2005, it wasn’t a hit until 2008, setting off the band’s string of strangely psychedelic, beat-driven hits. Even on their debut album, Oracular Spectacular, you could hear the tastes shifting toward something more organically odd. And on Congratulations, MGMT, now a five-piece band, go straight-up weird. As if they’re out to be the Strawberry Alarm Clock of the throwback ’60s-psych-pop movement, they’ve made an album that references Roxy Music, Love, and numerous bands from the Elephant Six collective. “It’s Working” sounds like Gnarls Barkley playing a Zombies tune; “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” sounds like Ween doing Dark Side of the Moon. Congratulations is capped by “Siberian Breaks,” a terrific 12-minute suite of miniature tunes—even the part that seems to rip off Hall and Oates, and especially the part that sounds like the intro from Nova as played by Van Halen circa 1984. It’s not “accessible” by many standards but it’s full of pretty darkness, rambling but never shambolic. I wonder what Brian Eno thinks.

Speaking of re-making Dark Side, Shooter Jennings set out to make The Wall with his latest record, Black Ribbons (credited to Shooter Jennings and Hierophant). It’s a 70-minute magnum opus on paranoia, imagined from a world where big-brother is just about to apply the clampdown. Stephen King adds voice-overs as Will of the Wisp, a disc jockey on the last free radio station, spinning his favorite records as his last hour passes. Jennings almost entirely ditches his country-rock past in favor of branching out every which way: There’s Sabbath-influenced sludge metal, a bit of light punk-rock (“Fuck You I’m Famous”), and something that sounds like a mashup of Pink Floyd, the Steve Miller Band and T-Pain (“Lights in the Sky”), in addition to the soulful Americana of the title track. It’s wide-ranging and at times deeply strange, but if you want to hear an artist really let it all hang out, look no further.


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