For the Record: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Bonnie 'Prince' Charlie Dawn McCarthy

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Records are rated on a scale of one (awful) to four (classic) stars:

Rock

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 'Push the Sky Away' (Bad Seeds Ltd.)


3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

"And some people say it's just rock 'n' roll," Nick Cave cautions on the title track, "Oh, but it gets you right down to your soul."

The 15th album by the Bad Seeds is far too restrained to be considered a rock 'n' roll record, but getting down to your soul is a real possibility thanks to Mr. Cave's dark poetry and menacing delivery.

This is the Bad Seeds in transition as longtime Cave sidekick and multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey (going all the way back to the Birthday Party) has moved on. "Push the Sky Away" is sonically minimal, bearing little resemblance to the Bad Seeds' last album, 2008's "Dig Lazarus Dig!," or his garage-y side project Grinderman.

The songs throb with slow-moving minor chord loops created by Grinderman stringman Warren Ellis. Mr. Cave rides on top, lacing together midnight imagery in a weary, haunted croon. "Higgs Boson Blues," in particular, sounds like Neil Young's "Revolution Blues" in the hands of a goth-poet attuned to Jim Morrison. It reads like a fever dream that somehow mixes Robert Johnson and Miley Cyrus.

Nightmares also run through the coupling of "Jubilee Street" (a incriminating tango with a prostitute) and "Finishing Jubilee Street," in which he describes a dream of marrying a girl "very young": "Last night your shadow scampered up the wall, it flied/It leaped like a black spider between your legs, it cried/My children, they are lost to us."

In "Water's Edge," an otherwise innocent scene of girls primping for boys at the beach, becomes a dark meditation for a unseemly narrator who crows, "But you grow old, and you grow cold."

Over nine songs, "Push the Sky Away" grabs you and pulls you down into this subterranean journey like only a Bad Seed could do.

-- Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy & Dawn McCarthy 'What the Brothers Sang' (Drag City)


3 1/2 stars = Very good
Ratings explained

The brothers in question here are the Everlys, who have been an enormous influence -- in one way or another -- on just about any folk/pop singers who put their voices together.

The duo burst onto the pop and country charts starting in 1957 with "Bye Bye Love" and "Wake up Little Susie" and scored more than two dozen Top 40 hits over the next half-decade.

Indie icon Bonnie "Prince" Billy and sometime vocal partner Dawn McCarthy, who favor using Everly songs as encores, steer clear of the greatest hits in favor of deeper tracks and b-sides. As the Everly Brothers were primarily a covers act, most of the songs are covers of covers from the likes of Kris Kristofferson, the Beau Brummels' Ron Elliot, and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant.

Like the brothers, Bonnie and Dawn are no slouches in the vocal department, or in the arranging. The harmonies are gorgeous throughout, and the songs sound traditional but hardly dated. The Everlys push Bonnie (aka Will Oldham) to show more range than he normally does on a given record: a lilting country ballad in "Breakdown," '60s psych-folk on "Empty Boxes," jaunty folk-rock on "Milk Train" and "Devoted to You" and "So Sad" as simple '50s ballads.

It's a beautiful tribute and a must-hear whether or not you're familiar with either of these heavenly duos.

-- Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette

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Iceage, "You're Nothing": Iceage's stunning sophomore effort, "You're Nothing," builds on what members established on their bracing 2011 debut "New Brigade," honing their chops and expanding a remarkably focused vision of how they want to execute their music. What's most impressive about "You're Nothing" is how Iceage adds layers of complexity and a subliminal catchiness to its sucker-punch blasts without attenuating the unflinching intensity that the group made its name with on "New Brigade." That newfound depth is something you notice even on the bashed-up singles "Ecstasy" and "Coalition," which surge with taut bass, careening drums, and breakneck guitars, yet open up with enough room to breathe and find a release. (Arnold Pan, Pop Matters)

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