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CD reiviews

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The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald, by Jane Monheit.

The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald, Jane Monheit, Emerald City

After 10 years of insular, auteur-ish electronica and plangent post-rock, French musician Anthony Gonzalez, of the project M83, broke through in 2011 with the double album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. It presented his vision most effectively: electronic music that avoided dance tempos and swiped gestures from ‘70s and ‘80s pop, without being too coy and indie about it. (The album may have been the capstone for the dreamy ‘80s-revisionist subgenre that the Internet called chillwave.) His goal seemed to be intensely suburban rite-of-passage emotion rendered in anthemic gestures, music that film and television producers wouldn’t be able to resist, and he got there; his IMDB page, full of licensing information, proves it.

In the end, Gonzalez’s kind of dreaminess wasn’t blurry detachment: It was detail-oriented professionalism. Junk — perversely, knowingly titled — expands somewhat on the strengths of Hurry Up, balancing Italo-disco chill-out atmospheres and calibrated buildups and releases. This happens especially in songs like Go! and Bibi the Dog, the first with a shredding guitar improvisation by Steve Vai, and both with vocals by French singer Mai Lan. But these are just more chic, soggy dreams, with tinctures of moodiness.

What’s really arresting here is the corny stuff. Several songs seem written for imaginary Carpenters albums, or early-’80s television shows, or New Age misadventures. There is some skill here: strong melodies, extra chords, synthesized string arrangements, a tremendously accomplished chromatic-harmonica solo. They are intense.

For the Kids, with singing by Susanne Sundfor and a gauzy saxophone line, has a spoken middle section with a child’s voice saying the weirdest things: “I am the morning dust tickling your neck. I am the wind, mommy.” (The child is Zelly Meldal-Johnsen, daughter of Justin Meldal-Johnsen, who produced the record with Gonzalez.)

Gonzalez knows how to make you tingle; it’s almost too easy. What he seems to be working on now is making you cringe, such that you pay attention to his details and seek out the feeling again.

— NATE CHINEN

Cleopatra, The Lumineers, Dualtone

The Lumineers were never entirely the smiley, foot-stomping folkies they seemed to be on Ho Hey, their inescapable Top 10 hit in 2012. Four years later on their second album, Cleopatra, they put their serious intentions upfront.

The mood is more existential, and the lyrics are often more oblique; some songs are named after Shakespearean women, like Ophelia and Cleopatra. Wesley Schultz’s guitar is almost always electric rather than acoustic, with the amplification opening hollow places rather than harnessing power; it’s joined in bare-bones arrangements by Jeremiah Fraites, on piano and simplistic drums, and Neyla Pekarek, on cello. The comradeship of the first album’s backup vocals has all but disappeared. Now Schultz is all alone, singing tidings like:

I can’t live life underneath it all/ Everyone is older now and gone/ I will not be here forever dear/ So let’s just make this count a lot in here.

Home and distance, longing and mortality are the polarities in the lyrics. The playful college-bar flirtations of the debut album are a distant memory. Instead, the songs lament separations, question their own wanderlust and, at times, envision death as a refuge. Cleopatra is an album by a band that has toured arenas, but it’s more weary and disillusioned than triumphal. “Did you hear the notes, all those static codes/ In the radio abyss,” Schultz sings in Angela.

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