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Inside Music: New This Week
Common, 'Nobody's Smiling'
Rating: Our Rating
Common noted that this album's title references Eric B. & Rakim's "In the Ghetto" -- more specifically, the song's recurring sample from the duo's "I Ain't No Joke." More symbolic, if beneath the surface, is the use of Curtis Mayfield's grim and pointed "The Other Side of Town" on album opener "The Neighborhood." While "Nobody's Smiling" was inspired by the tragic condition of Common's hometown of Chicago, its incorporation of a relevant-as-ever song from 1970, recorded by a Chicagoan in Chicago, is an acknowledgment of how inner-city struggles are a constant, not a trend. The rapper/actor's geographic and economic distance can be cited as a reason to approach "Nobody's Smiling" with a cocked brow. Common, to the contrary, once again works closely with fellow Chicago native No I.D., and he also makes room for a clutch of local artists -- including Dreezy, Lil Herb, and Malik Yusef -- who are also shown throughout the booklet, along with other Chicago figures, cast in the same slight light as him. Likewise, through character sketches and an otherwise grounded perspective, Common places himself on their level instead of acting as a sage. Fervent throughout, Common deals out some of his hardest and heaviest rhymes. No I.D. strengthens his partner's work with rigid, reverb-heavy productions -- from the mechanical pings of "Speak My Piece" to the juddering drums and probing keyboards within the title track -- without approaching the harshness of the "Yeezus" tracks to which he contributed. On "Kingdom," something like a weathered "Jesus Walks," the rapper and the producer are at their most moving, with the protagonist attending a funeral and plotting revenge, unable to connect with the concept of faith: "My whole life I had to worry about eatin'/I ain't have time to think about what I believe in." Common places the most directly biographical track, "Rewind That," at the end of the album's standard edition. The second half, where he traces his friendship with J Dilla, involves some brilliant storytelling, and perhaps the only moments during the album's sessions when Common cracked a smile while recording. It's a touching finish to the rapper's best album since Be. -- Andy Kellman, All Music Guide 

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Kaskade, 'I Remember'
Rating: Our Rating
Thank Kaskade for all the emotional but tasteful progressive house he's released on the Ultra Music label, or thank the U.S. producer for making his discography so easy to navigate. "Easy," that is, once one figures that "I Remember" is a best-of compilation, since there's nothing mentioned on the album artwork, a willing oversight left over from his 2006 comp "Here & Now," which rounded up his years on the Om Music label. "I Remember" covers his years on Ultra, or 2008-2014, kicking off with "Move for Me," the producer's first number one on Billboard's Hot Dance Airplay Chart, and also a collaboration with like-minded producer Deadmau5. The Mau5 is also here on the "Strobelite Mix" of the album's title cut, a dreamy, sunny, pre-vacation number that brings warm reminders of Nalin & Kane's "Beachball" or Kaskade's own earlier hit "4 A.M.," the latter coming with less of a thump and more of an indie spin. Collaborators like Neon Trees (influencing Kaskade to go punchy and electro on "Lessons in Love"), Dragonette (helping to make the snaky "Fire in Your New Shoes" very crazysexycool), and Alex Gaudino (prog-house bliss meets the EDM tension-building drop on "I'll Never Dream I'm in Love") are all here and broaden the dance numbers, while Skylar Grey is on board for "Room for Happiness," which drops the beat and proves Kaskade can also deliver indie-influenced pop tunes. All of these names appear in the liner notes and not on the album artwork, but if Kaskade doesn't give up the helpful bits for curious shoppers, his "doesn't say 'best-of'" best-ofs don't hold back on the hits. Put this next to his other excellent milestone marker, "Here & Now," and write: "more plush and subdued" on that one while marking this "more slick and ambitious." -- David Jeffries, All Music Guide 

5 Seconds of Summer, '5 Seconds of Summer'
Rating: Our Rating
If one could draw a Venn diagram with Southern California punk-pop giants Green Day on the left and British boy band sensations One Direction on the right, the circles would most likely intersect to create Australia's 5 Seconds of Summer. A four-member ensemble of youthful, guitar-wielding, Christian College grads from Sydney, 5 Seconds of Summer make an utterly populist brand of power pop that has way more to do with the member's spikey-cute hairdos, skintight jeans, and twenty-something-year-old libidos than it does any kind of actual punk-inspired mischief. Which isn't to say there aren’t plenty of songs to enjoy on the band's eponymous 2014 full-length debut. If 5 Seconds of Summer learned anything from touring with One Direction (as they did in 2013), it was probably how to style their hair. However, if they learned two things, then the second was clearly how to write a catchy chorus; a talent the band and their producers display throughout most of the album. Primarily, "5 Seconds of Summer" delivers track after track of gargantuan pop/rock, packed with immediately hummable melodies that anyone over 30 will probably feel slightly guilty for remembering. Cuts like the lead-off, "She Looks So Perfect," and the equally wide-eyed "Don’t Stop," are pure sugar, guitar-rock candy that will appeal to anyone who still has a sweet tooth for Sum 41. It also doesn't hurt that the band seem to have, if not exactly a sense of humor, then a silly exuberance for their brand of teen rawk. In fact, cuts like the campy,'80s dance-rock of "English Love Affair," and the driving, "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me," bring to mind the similarly rambunctious '90s punk-pop of blink-182. Ultimately, 5 Seconds of Summer have crafted an album of songs that stick in your head like neon bubblegum on a hot summer sidewalk. -- Matt Collar, All Music Guide

Anberlin, 'Lowborn'
Rating: Our Rating
In January of 2014, Anberlin announced their intentions to split and that they were working on their farewell album with longtime producer/engineers Aaron Marsh, Matt Goldman, and Aaron Sprinkle. As with 2012's "Vital," the band's seventh and final studio album, 2014's Lowborn, finds the Florida-based outfit delving even deeper into an electronic-tinged, heavy metal-infused sound. In many ways, this move toward a heavier, more intense aesthetic has been Anberlin's trajectory since 2009's ebullient, anthemic "Dark Is the Way," "Light Is the Place." Where that album found the group delivering a handful of melodic anthems that brought to mind the joyous guitar uplift of U2, subsequent releases revealed a band that had more in common with the arch alt-rock wickedness of Muse, AFI, and Blessthefall, than Coldplay, Switchfoot, or any of the other post-U2-leaning bands they might have previously been compared to. Which isn't to say that Anberlin sound like any of the aforementioned bands on "Lowborn." On the contrary, lead singer Stephen Christian has always had his own baritone, gravitas-laden take on how to be a rock frontman and Lowborn is no exception to that. Backed with the band's ceaseless muscularity and sustained sense of drama, Christian soars through a handful of stand-out numbers like expansive, apocalyptic "Armageddon," the driving and romantic "Velvet Covered Brick," and the yearning "Atonement." If there is a heaviness -- an emotional weight that seems to be bearing down upon Christian and Anberlin throughout "Lowborn" -- chalk it up to a band nearing the end of an almost 15-year career. However, despite this heaviness, Anberlin have crafted an album of deeply emotive and, one imagines for longtime fans, cathartic songs. As Christian sings on the elegiac album closer, "Harbinger," "I don’t want to go now, but I've got to/For you to remember me." -- Matt Collar, All Music Guide

La Roux, 'Trouble in Paradise'
Rating: Our Rating
Naming her long-awaited second album "Trouble in Paradise" might have been tempting fate if La Roux's "Elly Jackson" hadn't endured plenty of hardships between 2009's self-titled debut and its follow-up. Writer's block, the departure of collaborator Ben Langmaid, panic attacks that left Jackson unable to sing, and extensive recording sessions all delayed her return to the point that "where are they now?" stories seemed more likely than a second album. However, the lasting impact of La Roux's whip-smart synth pop -- which became a template for countless other '80s-worshiping acts during Jackson's absence -- proved her music could still be relevant five years later. She wastes no time reminding listeners of her charms with "Trouble in Paradise's" opening tracks: "Uptight Downtown" (which borrows starkly echoing guitars from David Bowie's "Let's Dance") and "Kiss and Not Tell" offer more of "Quicksand" and "Bulletproof"'s cleverly bouncy pop, minus some bite. Elsewhere, Jackson downplays the stiff electronics that made such an intriguing contrast with her emotive singing and lyrics on La Roux. She trades them for a warmer, disco and reggae-inspired sound that shines on "Tropical Chancer"'s electro-calypso hybrid (which also evokes Bananarama's similarly sunburnt and heartbroken "Cruel Summer"). Jackson also uses this softer sound to explore more vulnerable songwriting territory: much of "Trouble in Paradise" teeters between independence and codependence, whether it's "Cruel Sexuality"'s stifled desire or the boundary setting of "Let Me Down Gently." Jackson's feisty side doesn't resurface until "Silent Partner," where the relentless bassline and expansive length seem to nod to the success La Roux's singles had as dance remixes. With songs like this, "Trouble in Paradise" proves Jackson is still better than many of her contemporaries when it comes to making fizzy electro-pop. -- Heather Phares, All Music Guide

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