METRIC 'Synthetica' (Mom & Pop)
4 stars = Outstanding
Think of a band like Fleetwood Mac, which had a semi-career's worth of blues-rock behind them -- and then unveiled a poppy blockbuster like "Rumours." That's the size of the jump the band Metric makes in "Synthetica," an album both new and full, in effect, of greatest hits; it trumps the band's entire career up to this point.
Only "Gimme Sympathy" off their 2009 album "Fantasies" hinted at this entire record of nervy songwriting perfection. Emily Haines has never before lined up hooks this way, one after another, like the Gary Glitter stomp of "Youth Without Youth," girl-group pop of "The Void," sly bounce of "Lost Kitten," and atmospheric-anthemic "Breathing Underwater." "Clone" is a dead-on Death Cab rip followed by "The Wanderlust," which is aided (literally) by Lou Reed.
Indie is rarely this imaginatively encyclopedic and slickly pop at the same time.
-- Dan Weiss, Philadelphia Inquirer
Ed ED SHEERAN '+' (Elecktra)
3 stars = Good
This album has been available as a chart-topping import for under a year, but now that the time has come to release it full and proper in the States, slick-soul songsmith Ed Sheeran couldn't just do it quietly. His "+" (as in "Plus") jumped into the Billboard/ SoundScan album chart's Top 200 at number 5, the highest debut for a U.K. solo artist's first full-length since 2009. The only thing more impressive is the dippy craftsmanship that got him there.
Mr. Sheeran's sound is folksy, with a good helping of soul man (young soul man: he's 21); heart is worn on sleeve in many lyrics. In a voice like a baby Boz Scaggs and/ or a mushy Damien Rice, Mr. Sheeran riffs to his peer group about computer games, Shrek and couch surfing.
Some of his debut features big-dumb-kid stuff like the treacle of "Kiss Me." Mostly though, "+" highlights the very best R&B elements of the boy band craze from the '60s through the present (Mr. Sheeran wrote or co-wrote tunes on "Up All Night," the 2011 smash album by U.K. boy gods "One Direction") with the likes of "Grade 8" and "The City" oozing new jack swing, to say nothing of its airy, contagious choruses. Better still, if that's possible, is the heartbreak beat of "The A Team," with Mr. Sheeran's effortless crooning. Swoon.
-- A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer
PAT METHENY 'Unity Band' (Nonesuch)
3 1/2 stars = Very good
Thirty years have passed since guitarist Pat Metheny last recorded with the guitar/tenor setup of "80/ 81."
Here the mighty tenor saxophonist Chris Potter assumes the role Michael Brecker and Dewey Redman played on that earlier CD, and the "Unity" session ranges from beautiful to adventurous to sublime.
Mr. Metheny melts into his airy zone, achieving a free sound that is both accessible and hard to categorize. Mr. Potter is ever churning new ideas, while a new collaborator, bassist Ben Williams, joins with longtime Metheny drummer Antonio Sánchez to create the high-end rhythm section.
"New Year" is one of the most gorgeous Metheny intros ever, with its Spanish tinge. For "Signals," he breaks out the orchestrion, the electronic gizmo that dominated his last recording, for a piece that segues from modernistic to smart and subtle. "Then and Now" is luxurious and happy, while Mr. Metheny's solo on "Come and See" makes for a persuasive climax.
-- Karl Stark, Philadelphia Inquirer