Which is not to say Wallinger is merely a mimic. Instead, he has astutely absorbed classic pop and rock influences, along with touches of country and folk, to create his own vision, and it's one that holds together compellingly across this sprawling and disparate collection. 8— Nick Cristiano
Valtari (XL sssd )
On its last album, 2008's Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust [With a buzz in our ears we play endlessly], Sigur Rós began to harness its sui generis brand of brooding and cathartic abstractions into comparatively accessible structures. Lead singer and guitarist Jónsi Birgisson, he of the wondrously angelic voice, went further down that path on his joyous and giddy solo album, 2010's Go. On Valtari, however, the Icelandic band takes a different path. It's the group's most ambient album, one that relishes quiet beauty and somber meditations.
While little here is as cathartic and startling as the crashing crescendos and soaring epiphanies that made 1999's Ágætis Byrjun [Good Beginning] a classic, Valtari can still startle. The songs just move more slowly and gradually toward their gorgeous heights, and those heights are softer and gentler, with more emphasis on quiet electronics and percussion, and less on Jónsi's bowed guitar and Orri Páll Dýrason's thunderous drums. It's music to dream to, to get lost in.
— Steve Klinge
Sigur Rós plays at 8 p.m. July 29 and 30 at Skyline Stage, the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, 5201 Parkside Ave. Tickets for July 29: $47.50; July 30 sold out. Information: 215-893-1999, www.manncenter.org.
(Grand Hustle ssss )
Except for Lil Wayne, no rapper has incubated under the surface to such terrific effect as Killer Mike. His narrative's typical. He appeared on some high-profile OutKast singles, couldn't sell his own records, and returned from years of unmarketability as an underground legend, a vicious and thoughtful political rapper on mix tapes. But no one expected an album with indie king El-P, much less his towering best. R.A.P. Music grabs hold from the first Rick Rubin-style stab of "Big Beast" and peaks in the center with the fearsome triad of "JoJo's Chillin," "Reagan," and "Don't Die." El-P's sour beats pull no punches, and Mike improves on his stylistic forebear Ice Cube's AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted by cramming his rage full of facts, research, and feeling, rather than provocations.
— Dan Weiss
Country / Roots
(MCA Nashville sssd )
On his first four albums, Josh Turner proved to be more than just a contender. He was a resolute champion of traditional country with occasional knockout power, while winning by decision on the commercial side: four No. 1 hits and more than five million albums sold.
With Punching Bag, Turner continues to fight the good fight (the title song is actually a fast, lively number that's more defiant than defeatist). You won't find any schmaltzy power ballads or songs about getting it on in a truck — not that the South Carolina native doesn't have a lighter and fun side. The love songs are delivered with Turner's usual warmth — and in the case of "Deeper Than My Love," an irresistibly swampy groove. And faith comes to the fore again with the stirring, bluegrass-flavored gospel of "For the Love of God" (with Ricky Skaggs).
With his distinctive baritone, however, Turner is most likely to flash that knockout power on ballads. With two standouts here — "Cold Shoulder" and "Pallbearer" (the latter with Iris DeMent and Marty Stuart) — that's just what he does.
— Nick Cristiano
All Over the Place
(Heads Up sssd )
Much of guitarist Mike Stern's career is embedded here. The fusion chops that launched him with drummer Billy Cobham still predominate on these 11 tracks. The time he spent with Miles Davis emerges on "Blues for Al," which sounds like an updated "Freddie Freeloader." And lots of past collaborators come for the party, from the Philly area's Randy Brecker on trumpet to Cameroon-born bassist Richard Bona.
Stern throws in some world music on "Cameroon" and invites in two of the best saxophonists in jazz, Kenny Garrett and Chris Potter, to weave their derring-do. Then he gets all funky on "Half Way Home."
The reliance on electronic keyboards gets somewhat tiresome. And some of the 11 originals sound more mathematical than melodic. But some choice moments prevail. Stern can soar with the best of them, and bassist Esperanza Spalding's blissful vocals on "As Far as We Know" are not to be missed.
— Karl Stark
Symphony No. 9 Berlin Philharmonic, Simon Rattle conducting
(EMI sssf )
Symphony No. 5 Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado conducting (Accentus Music, DVD, sssf )
Both of these new Bruckner records enjoy special status: Simon Rattle's Ninth is a completed, four-movement version, and Abbado's is a DVD of a live August 2011 performance that quickly acquired legendary status. But in both cases, their appeal is not what you'd think. Rattle's fourth movement is the Samale-Phillips-Cohrs-Mazzuca edition, which is said to be one of the more conservative attempts to define the intentions behind the composer's sketches. Though it's reasonably convincing, I can take or leave it, but will return to this recording's standard three movements because they show Rattle at his intense, probing, thunderous best.
As with so many Abbado performances, you love this one partly for what it doesn't do. Tempos are a shade fast, giving the piece a songfulness that assures it will never bog down in its own turmoil. The playing isn't always as meticulous as one might expect with an orchestra of this caliber, but that's never a problem in light of the longer-term vision and emotional intensity of the performance. Photography is intelligent and well-lighted. — David Patrick Stearns