The Killers

Imploding the Mirage

(Island ***)

The Killers have perfected the moment when a song explodes into an anthem, and Imploding the Mirage, their sixth album, is a master class in those visceral hooks. It’s relentless and a bit campy — throwback rock that draws on mid-’80s Springsteen and MTV synth pop in a way that risks pastiche but usually ends up thrilling.

At this point, the Killers are singer/keyboardist Brandon Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci, plus helpmates, especially producers Jonathan Rado (of Foxygen) and Shawn Everett, who has worked with Philly’s War on Drugs. (The band’s Adam Granduciel guests on “Blowback,” although “My Own Soul’s Warning” sounds even more like a War on Drugs song.)

Lindsey Buckingham contributes a wild guitar solo to end “Caution,” k.d. lang duets on “Lightning Fields,” and Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering sings on several tracks.

But the focus is on Flowers, his dramatic vocals, and those strategically dropped dynamic shifts. Imploding the Mirage is full of driving, wide-screen songs about breaking out of town or pledging fidelity, opposite themes suitable for arena-size sing-alongs (which already seem like another throwback).

Not all songs reach the rafters, but more often than not Imploding the Mirage offers escapist, grandiose pleasures.

— Steve Klinge

The cover image for Bright Eyes' Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was.
Dead Oceans
The cover image for Bright Eyes' Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was.

Bright Eyes

Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was

(Dead Oceans ***)

Considering Conor Oberst’s history as a poetically gifted sad boy and the sorrowful circumstances surrounding the first Bright Eyes album in nine years, it’s a wonder Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was is as upbeat as it is.

“Chopped the celery and made the soup, didn’t have much else to do,” Oberst sings on “Hot Car in the Sun.” “I was dreaming of my ex-wife’s face.”

In addition to divorce, the new songs by the singer, who has once again teamed with Bright Eyes collaborators Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, are haunted by the loss of his brother Matt, who died in his sleep in 2016.

“Pageturner’s Rag,” the album opener, features Oberst’s mother speaking truths relevant to the times: “People need right now to feel they have something to look forward to. We have to hold on.”

Oberst follows that with “Dance and Sing,” which, by his standards, is a party tune. “I’ll grieve what I have lost, forgive the firing squad / How imperfect life can be, now all I can do is dance on through.”

Down in the Weeds mixes private reflection and societal concern. It’s about battling depression and impending apocalypse. But the music never gets too downcast: Producer Mogis makes the songs swoon with orchestral strings, and embellishes the sturdy folk rock with decorative touches.

Back in the early 2000s, when he was already a decade into a prolific recording career, the now-40-year-old Oberst was saddled with a New Dylan burden he couldn’t possibly live up to.

In the years since, he’s continued to make worthwhile records. (Check out 2016′s solo acoustic Rumination and his 2019 collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers as Better Oblivion Community Center.) Down in the Weeds shows a resiliency and optimism that marks him as one former wunderkind who still has a bright future.

— Dan DeLuca

Swamp Dogg

Sorry You Couldn’t Make It

(Joyful Noise ***)

Although he’s best known as one of R&B’s more colorful characters, Jerry Williams, a.k.a Swamp Dogg, is no stranger to country. For one thing, he and Gary U.S. Bonds cowrote the Johnny Paycheck hit “Don’t Take Her (She’s All I Got”), which was nominated for song of the year by the Country Music Association in 1972.

Swamp Dogg delivers his own affecting version on Sorry You Couldn’t Make It, accentuating the anguish. The set, which features instrumental and vocal contributions from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, also contains some country-soul gems, including “Sleeping Without You Is a Dragg” and “A Good Song” (“is what the world needs”) — can’t argue with that. “Family Pain,” the only track with fiddle, takes the album’s darkest view, while “Billy” is a stone-cold country tearjerker.

The highlights, though, are two duets with the late John Prine, whose “Sam Stone” Swamp Dogg had previously covered. “Memories” is built around what sounds like a quintessential bit of Prine folk wisdom but is actually a Swamp Dogg original: “Memories don’t leave like people do.” And “Please Let Me Go Round Again” is a plea for more time on earth that, even with the duo’s seemingly ad-libbed banter at the finish, takes on added poignancy in light of Prine’s passing this year.

— Nick Cristiano