Music reviews for Jan. 9, 2014

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Peter Gabriel, “And I'll Scratch Yours”

In 2010, Peter Gabriel released an album of covers called “Scratch My Back,” featuring his take on songs by Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Lou Reed and others, and intended to follow it with an album of those artists covering his songs.

Well, it took nearly four years to gather what he needed to keep his promise, but much of “And I'll Scratch Yours” is certainly worth the wait.

Paul Simon's version of “Biko” is more tender than Gabriel's original, lamenting the death of anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko with acoustic guitars and sweet string sections. Where Gabriel is defiant, Simon is more fragile and emotional.

Joseph Arthur's reworking of “Shock the Monkey” is haunting and desperate, removing the telltale synth riffs and dramatic rhythms and replacing them with a layer of rumbling guitar that puts all the focus on the lyrics and Arthur's yearning delivery. Reed turns the wistful “Solsbury Hill” into a stomping, snarling piece, filled with guitar roar.

It's that combination of a new artist's work and Gabriel's original ideas that makes “And I'll Scratch Yours” so interesting, though some of the compilation's artists do well by simply moving the songs to the artistic ground they normally mine.

Arcade Fire's take on “Games Without Frontiers” places the Gabriel song in the same retro-dance vibe of their album “Reflektor,” while Bon Iver's “Come Talk to Me” could have come from “Bon Iver, Bon Iver.”

Though some of the inventions don't quite match the originals, most of “And I'll Scratch Yours” keeps Gabriel's experimental spirit.

—Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, “Wig Out at Jagbags”

Stephen Malkmus has always been an enigma, both in the pioneering indie-rock band Pavement and with his band The Jicks.

On “Wig Out at Jagbags,” Malkmus might seem more straightforward, but trying to follow his winding logic will still get you lost. On the first single, “Lariat,” he declares, “We grew up listening to music from the best decade ever—talkin' 'bout the Eight-ti-ties,” after admitting, “We lived on Tennyson and venison and the Grateful Dead.” In “Rumble at the Rainbo,” he waxes nostalgic about moshpits over jangle rock and a reggae breakdown before getting to some punk.

Luckily, he keeps the trip entertaining.

—Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

Lil B, “05 F— Em”

Bowie might have started 2013's most worthwhile album trend—no massive prerelease buildup—with Beyoncé following in hot, top-selling pursuit, but Lil B has exceeded even these superstars with his own massive F-bomb.

On Christmas Eve, sans any advance warning, the controversial (remember 2011's “I'm Gay (I'm Happy)?”), Twitter-savvy rapper/producer dropped “05,” a mixtape of 101 new tracks, free, in the spirit of the holiday.

No hype could prepare you for almost six hours of music, let alone Lil B's spaced-out atmospherics and cutting, sung-spoken flow, with lyrics often critical of the hip-hop game and the cliché of rap's violent subject matter.

The eerily operatic “Praying 4 A Brick,” the airily soulful “Rob the Jeweler,” and the loopy “Cocaine Option” allow Lil B to sound off in menacing, echo-heavy manner. But tracks such as “I Own Swag” and “Bloggers Anthem” are somewhat sillier. Then again, you're never quite certain whether Lil B is serious or sarcastic. That's part of the intrigue. You're unsure what he's griping about during the driving “Bar Mitzvah,” but its fluid bass and celebratory Sound of Philly-style strings are worth sitting through 100 other songs to get to.

—A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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