If Led Zeppelin sold their souls to Satan for an immutable place in the rock pantheon, then Robert Plant is the only one who got a decent deal. Bonzo died young after a lifetime chasing the bottle, while Page and Jones have meandered aimlessly in the rocanrol forest ever after. Plant, however, continues to surprise and astonish. Though his days as “a golden god” have given way to gray locks and statesman-like wrinkles, latest effort Lullaby and... The Ceaseless Roar proves he struck a good bargain with Old Scratch. His vocal range has noticeably diminished since he and the boys went out through the in door, but he can still croon effectively on tunes like “Somebody There” and “Rainbow.” Moving effortlessly from genre to genre, Plant still has it going on. But one wonders at what point Beelzebub will appear and zap him back to the eighth circle.
Dark and stormy, it gathers speed and tension like a thunderstorm that extends outward from Cleveland and covers most of the continental United States. In the preceding sentence, “it” is Pere Ubu's new release on Fire Records, Carnival of Souls, and it beckons the listener to come ever closer, even as sirens wail and lightning abounds. Ubu prime mover Dave Thomas leads his not-so-merry band of pranksters on a rainy, howling mission that includes unforgettable sonic discharges like “Road to Utah” and “Golden Surf II.” Carnival of Souls also explores musically nuanced insanity on the deceptively simple but yearning and ultimately enigmatic track “Irene.” Pere Ubu has always worn its musical influences like theatrical costumes, constantly ready to transform via the apparatus provided by quick-change booths littered with the accoutrements of punk, musique concrète and arcadian paranoia. Their latest work is no exception.
Karen O's work with Yeah Yeah Yeahs is listenable and often even remarkably sparkly. Her collaboration with The Flaming Lips on their 2009 effort Embryonic—“I Can be a Frog” and “Watching the Planets”—added a level of overbearing incomprehensibility to a band already listing in the rocked-out maelstrom wake of their late-career success. Luckily, her new solo album Crush Songs places O back where she belongs, singing eccentrically lilting, plaintive songs. The music on this release—recorded seven and eight years ago—in many ways contradicts the songs she made with Wayne Coyne and company three years later. While at times extra-planetary, O uses this record to focus her vocal strength on human concerns like longing and love. “Rapt,” the first single from the album, demonstrates all the cool qualities one imagines Coyne sought out when recording her voice via telephone for the Lip's first really bad album.