Paul Simon, "Stranger to Stranger" (Concord)
Given his 4½-decade post-Simon & Garfunkel career, Simon's durability is beyond question. What's more impressive, though, is his enduring ability to surprise. The 74-year-old songwriter's latest is an 11-song set that brings his various world-music proclivities, playful love of language and new interests in digital music-making to bear on a percussion-happy collection alive with rhythmic energy.
"Wristband" cleverly uses a story about being banned from the backstage area as a metaphor for the American dream's being accessible only to elites — "If you don't have a wristband, then you can't get through the door."
Elsewhere on his finest album since 1990's underappreciated "The Rhythm of the Saints," Simon is most interested in sound, as he blends genres skillfully and takes turns reveling in sometimes nonsensical wordplay (as in "Cool Papa Bell," a tribute to the Negro Leagues baseball great) or playing a backward sample of the Golden Gate Quartet on "Street Angel."
Simon performs Tuesday and Wednesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.
dan deluca, Philadelphia Inquirer
Tegan and Sara, "Love You to Death" (Warner Bros.)
The Quin twins, better known as Tegan and Sara, took a gutsy, unexpected turn in 2013 with their "Heartthrob" album, abandoning the guitar-driven, indie-rock sound that had established them as stars in favor of synth-driven pop.
On "Love You to Death," Tegan and Sara refine their sound even further, allowing their ambitious lyrics and vocal deliveries to shine through more streamlined arrangements.
The first single, "Boyfriend," is marvelously glossy, like the Quins hijacked a Lady Gaga song from "Artpop." But the true developments come to close out the album with a bang. "100x" is a gorgeous, simple ballad about trying to find the strength to move on, often delivered with just piano accompaniment. But Tegan and Sara inject the phrasing with hip-hop swagger minus the expected backbeat, creating something both surprising and effective.
"BWU" and "U-Turn" are two approaches to the same theme of negotiating expectations, with "BWU" being straightforward and "U-Turn" being sarcastic, though it's so sly some may mistake it for pure romance. "Love You to Death" is all about the sacrifices we make to keep moving forward together, and those sacrifices have certainly paid off for Tegan and Sara.
Glenn gamboa, Newsday
• Band of Horses, "Are You OK?"
• Brandy Clark, "Big in a Small Town"
• Nick Jonas, "Last Year Was Complicated"
• Garbage, "Strange Little Birds"
• Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle, "Colvin & Earle"
• Fitz & the Tantrums, "Fitz & the Tantrums"