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Icky Thump

3 Stars

Jack and Meg White make solid albums full of studio experimentation unleashed by the characteristic wildness of live performances. Icky Thump is no exception with respect to its musical quality: lots of blues-driven grandeur that scores high on the toe-tapping and head-scratching charts. (Was that a bagpipe?)

For any other band, the album would be a colossal achievement. But the creative arc established by the White Stripes makes the album something of a letdown. The title track would be wonderful if it had not been so long available. "Conquest"? Yes, if previous covers of Marlene Dietrich and Dolly Parton did not make such a battle-of-the-sexes song expected. "300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues"? Yes, if we did not already know of Jack's love for Bob Dylan.

The album is as good as anything else they've done, undeniably. That level, however, no longer feels like enough.


DOWNLOAD: "Rag and Bone"


Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner

4 Stars

Without hearing last year's eponymous release, listeners to the latest release from British Columbia superstars Shapes and Sizes may be left scratching their collective heads. Again, the band's angular guitars rip apart the varied time signatures of individual songs; again, the vocals seem competitive rather than contributive; again, it sounds like one big mess. Tracks like "The Long Indifference" might sound like a more apt description of the band's musical aesthetic: chaotic, jarring and alienating. The title might hint, with a wink, at the personal hazards of listening.

Fear not. Experimentation is the norm here. The discordant musical and vocal sounds do coalesce into a kind of dangerous magical din. Ultimately the joy comes from two unavoidable facts: 14 tracks sound like 40; 50 minutes feels twice that length. Start with "Highlife" and "Alone/Alive" before venturing into the stupefying waters of "The Horse's Mouthy Mouth." A triumph of ambition.


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