Dig These Discs :: Matmos, Tegan & Sara, Bombshell, Josh Groban, Mount Moriah
Steel yourself, fans of "Smash," for a huge overload of hits from the show. Baltimore’s Matmos releases their part science project/ part record, and Canadian lesbian twins Tegan & Sara drop their much-anticipated album. Josh Groban shows his range with his successful new album, and Mount Moriah lulls us with their twangy country sounds. Love is in the air, so Dig These Discs.
Fans of the hit NBC dramedy "Smash" can now enjoy their favorite tunes from the past two seasons of the series in "Bombshell," a new 22-track release. The collection reflects the tunes created for the show’s musical-within-a-musical by Tony and Grammy Award-winning duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. In addition to songs by lead stars Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee, there are cameos by the superb Bernadette Peters as Norma Jean’s mother. Peters duets in "At Your Feet" with Sophia Caruso, a song that has her living little Norma Jean at the theater with the actors as her babysitters. She also teams up for "Hang the Moon" with Hilty. The collection includes new cuts like a melancholy Debra Messing/ Christian Borle moment, "The Right Regrets." Hilty’s "They Just Keep Moving the Line" is among the top picks, as is her duet with co-star McPhee for "Let Me Be Your Star." In the series, McPhee channels Marilyn Monroe in her platinum blonde glory. In this opening track, the two sing, "When I’m up there on the silver screen, I can make the whole world want Norma Jean/ so I can’t get the love of a single man, but a million or more, that I can." McPhee and Hilty’s voices are well suited together, and one can easily see how the timbre lends itself to a show highlighting the fight to the top of the Great White Way. The theme song "Smash" is at the same time sultry and over the top, an embodiment of the glamour and backstabbing that go hand in hand on Broadway. "I know all the tricks of the trade, even invented a few," they sing in this horn-heavy theme song. Although both women are very talented, each brings a little something special to their sound. McPhee sings tentatively and very sweetly in "Never Give All the Heart," which matches the song’s theme of holding back. In contrast, she lets it all hang out in her ensemble number "The 20th Century Fox Mambo," about snagging that top role. And she belts it out in the Disc one closer, "Cut, Print...Moving On." Hilty plays Marilyn during her romance with Joe DiMaggio in "The National Pastime," hitting all Monroe’s coquettish lows in her ode to Joltin’ Joe. She replicates this in this ’50s-sound ensemble piece, "I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn’t Love to Howl," with Messing, Nick Jonas, Borle, Will Chase, Jaime Cepero and Phillip Spaeth. But her sound is very different in the doo-wop duets with Chase, "History Is Made at Night," and the baby-soft "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," in which they envision being just a regular couple. Christian Borle is a smarmy director in "Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking," with shopworn lines like "Tomatoes like her they’re easy to find, we throw them out as soon as they start squawking." Act Two opens up with an ode to Marilyn, "Public Relations," with reporters peppering Monroe with questions like, "What do you sleep in?" to which she answers, "Well I adore Chanel Number 5, and not much more." Hilty sings about the Monroe Doctrine in "Dig Deep," beginning a four-song run on the album. Her voice has a sad quality in "Second Hand White Baby Grand," but swings sultry, singing, "I try to go the distance, but ’They Just Keep Moving the Line.’" She is kittenish and naughty in "Let’s Be Bad" with the help of the ensemble. The pace picks up in "(Let’s Start) Tomorrow Tonight," by Leslie Odom, Jr. Julian Ovenden thrills in his smoking hot bossa nova "Our Little Secret" and the ensemble joins in to flesh out the tracks. McPhee finishes the collection with the touching, heartfelt, "Don’t Forget Me." After 22 larger-than-life tunes, you won’t soon forget "Smash."
"The Marriage of True Minds" (Matmos)
If you’re looking for some conceptual, artsy pop music comprised of odd, rhythmic sound sources, Baltimore-based electronic duo Matmos is for you. If, on the other hand, you wanted to pop open a cold one and turn on the tunes to chill out, then not so much. You don’t notice it right away, as the slow, funky beginnings of "You" exudes an old Massive Attack vibe, with tap dance sounds overlaid. But soon, Carly Ptak melds spoken word whispers, "Telepathy," a deconstructed cover of Leslie Winer and Holger Hiller’s Palais Schaumberg hit. Matmos said that the album came about after four years of parapsychological experiments with test subjects put into sensory deprivation, and then asked to describe out loud anything they saw or heard within their minds. Those sounds were taped, and became poetic and conceptual scores for Matmos. This is pretty much what the album sounds like. It cuts across a wide swath of musical styles, from electronic pop to chamber music piano to ripples of percussion to doom metal. The Matmos trademark of Jason Willett playing an amplified rubber band also surfaces. "Very Large Green Triangles" lies Gothic pop over a stomping Baltimore club beat, and features a honky tonk piano solo before the drop. It is a challenge to enjoy. "Mental Radio" synchs Latin percussion on top of the sound of water sloshing in a bucket, then a triangle, then fire trucks. It sounds like what happens when you get pool water in your ear. "Rose Transcript" is an amalgam of noise and voices that makes you feel like you have lost your mind, and "Teen Paranormal Romance" melds synth and bass drops with a modular bassline by Matmos collaborator Jay Lesser. The groans and mutters come courtesy of DJ Dog Dick. Dan Deacon sings from his throat in "Tunnel," and a techno stomp gets an overlay of Owen Gardner’s Bob-Diddly-esque guitar. "In Search of a Lost Faculty" investigates the test subject’s recurring visions of triangles, and "Aetheric Vehicle" is a hazy variant on Ethiopian melodies. The album ends with "E.S.P." described as a polyglot deconstruction of the Buzzcock’s song of the same name. At the end, the whole band erupts into riff rock, until M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel (together for the first time in 20 years) harmonize together, "If you’re picking on me, then you’ll know just what to do... So...think." The band describes the album as "an artifact, which is both an art object, a scientific report, a practical joke and a daring pop record." This critic can’t disagree.
(Thrill Jockey Records)
"All That Echoes" (Josh Groban)
Singer, songwriter and actor Josh Groban follows his last four multi-platinum albums with another winner, "All That Echoes." Whether you call him a tenor or a baritone, his powerful voice leaves no question as to his immense talent. He belts out the inspirational single "Brave," singing, "All that you thought is wrong is pure again/ You can’t hide forever from the thunder/ Look into the storm and feel the rain." The tune would have been a natural fit for the recent Disney release of the same name. Groban has great success in melding pop songs with complex string arrangements and percussion, to great critical acclaim. His "False Alarms" has a growing intensity that suits his voice well, and his rendition of the "Falling Slowly" is steady and has a Broadway standard feel about it, as he sings, "I don’t know you, but I want you." A courtly Ren-faire vibe imbues "She Moved Through the Fair," while "Below the Line" is an ebullient celebration of romance, as Groban sings, "And I know just what we’re fighting for, I want to know, do we ask for more?" He finds success in foreign-language tracks, teaming up with Laura Pausini for "E Ti Prometterò," putting forth alluring flamenco flair in "Un Alma Mas" and exercising his Italian in "Sincera." He moves toward a modern country feel in "Happy in My Heartache," painting the scene of a man trying to tell the object of his affection of his feelings. He also has great success with his covers, including Stevie Wonder’s "I Believe" and Jimmy Webb’s "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress." Groban has been at this game for a dozen years already, and fans can expect him to just keep getting better.