Fleet Foxes Get Adventurous, Beastie Boys Misbehave: New CDs

Fleet Foxes
Seattle band Fleet Foxes. The band's second album is "Helplessness Blues,'' that blends Baroque music with Beach Boy-style harmonies and folk. Photographer: Sean Pecknold/Sub Pop Records via Bloomberg

Fleet Foxes’ second album, “Helplessness Blues,” demonstrates even more polish and assurance than its predecessor.

The title is meant as a joke, though there’s serious stuff going on. Songwriter Robin Pecknold’s separation from his girlfriend inspires the eight-minute “The Shrine/An Argument.” The track veers off into free-form jazz.

There’s less of the May Day paeans to birdsong and summer sunshine this time around, while the harmonies remain an inspired mix of Baroque, Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills and Nash. The lyrical sweep is clear from titles such as “Bedouin Dress” and “Montezuma.”

Pecknold used his credit card to pay for the first album’s recording. He was happy if the music pleased just himself and friends. The 2008 disc shone out amid the mediocrity in my review pile and I gave it a top-star rating. This latest CD should please more than a few chums in Seattle -- if you like Arcade Fire, you’ll want it. Rating: *****.

With a name like the Beastie Boys, you may wonder if the trio is ever going to grow up and get manners.

The boys certainly don’t on their eighth studio collection. They urge the world to party hard, make noise, upset the neighbors and rock da house -- the same clarion calls the group has been making for 30 some years.

The record was going to be called “Hot Sauce” until it was delayed by a cancer scare for Adam “MCA” Yauch. Now cheekily retitled “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two,” it has humor. Hip-hop star Nas is featured on a track called “Too Many Rappers.” Ad-Rock declares: “Oh, my God, just look at me/Grandpa been rapping since ‘83!” Rating: ****.

After several years on side projects, producing and soundtracking, members of Brooklyn indie group TV on the Radio have found time to make “Nine Types of Light.”

This is a more accessible affair than 2008’s “Dear Science.” They yell “I’m optimistic, on overload” on the track “Caffeinated Consciousness.”

The band canceled shows after the death last month of bassist Gerard Smith, who had lung cancer. This record is a fine memorial to him. Rating: ***.

Damon Albarn’s group Gorillaz put together an album called “The Fall” over 32 days while touring from Montreal to Vancouver last year. The material was offered to members of the Gorillaz fan club as a download on Christmas Day 2010, and is now a physical release for the rest of us. It’s more inventive than most other records in the charts, yet still not a patch on the exceptional “Plastic Beach.” Rating: ***.

The members of London quartet the Vaccines are frighteningly sure of themselves, titling their debut “What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?”

The 33-minute disc doesn’t sustain the momentum of the riotous single “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” though it’s packed with catchy riffs that sound like imitations of the Strokes. Rating: **.

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Exceptional
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

The Fleet Foxes’ CD is on Bella Union/Sub Pop, Beastie Boys on Capitol, TV on the Radio on Fiction/Polydor, Gorillaz on Parlophone. The CDs are priced from $8.99 in the U.S. and 9.99 pounds in the U.K.

The Vaccines CD is out May 31 on Columbia in the U.S., priced at $13.24. Download fees vary across services.

Information: http://www.tvontheradio.com/splash/, http://www.fleetfoxes.com/, http://www.hotsaucecommittee.com/, http://thefall.gorillaz.com/, http://www.thevaccines.co.uk.

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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