Ratings: **** Excellent, *** Good, ** Fair, * Poor

Damon Albarn

Everyday Robots

(Warner Bros. **1/2)

nolead ends Damon Albarn's consistently unpredictable career has delivered plenty of thrills, from early 1990s Brit-pop beginnings with Blur and cartoon-band triumphs with Gorillaz, plus numerous memorable side projects along the way. But this is the creatively restless 46-year-old's first proper solo album, so reminiscences like "Hollow Ponds" mean to tell us something more personal about a songwriter more typically at home relating nonautobiographical stories.

On the title track, on "Lonely Press Play," and on "The Selfish Giant," in which he proclaims that "it's hard to be a lover when the TV's on," Albarn strains to make insightful points about alienation in the computer age. His observations about us all turning into automatons, however, are mostly banal. The album is always pretty and beautifully produced, but it's also slow-paced and sleepy to a fault, as if Albarn felt the need to ditch any trace of playfulness in undertaking such a soul-baring project. Only on the 43-second trifle "Parakeet" and the bouncy "Mr. Tembo," written for an orphaned baby elephant Albarn encountered in Tanzania, does he dare to lighten up and invite the listener to the party.

- Dan DeLuca

nolead begins Pixies
nolead ends nolead begins Indie Cindy
nolead ends nolead begins (Pixiesmusic ***1/2)

nolead ends Twenty-three years is a long time between drinks, and that's what's passed between the Pixies' last studio album (1991's Trompe le Monde), and this handsome cobbling-together of new EPs, recorded with original members (Black Francis, Joey Santiago, David Lovering) and their premier producer, Gil Norton. In this reteaming, with several still-raw bruises (not to mention their well-documented shifts in girl bassists), the Pixies' instrumental menace and spidery arrangements are zealously intact, along with their signature start-and-stop-on-a-dime dynamics, jangle-crunch guitars, and Francis' insistently icy allusions to grouchy gods and mopey monsters of all stripes.

Like much of Indie Cindy's best, a savage song such as "Bagboy" would be right at home on their classic album Doolittle. Not that Francis' corrosive kvetches, moans, and heated hollers - or the band's instrumental wall of woe - sounds dated. Their ferocity feels particularly fresh-yet-familiar on tracks such as "Andro Queen." What's updated is the sound, the way tunes like "What Goes Boom" and "Snakes" bound from your speakers, whether spin-cycle slow or ragingly hyperactive. One complaint: Indie Cindy should have included newer songs beyond the recent-and-very-recently released EPs.

- A.D. Amorosi

nolead begins Rodney Crowell
nolead ends nolead begins Tarpaper Sky
nolead ends nolead begins (New West ***1/2)

nolead ends In a 2005 interview, Rodney Crowell talked about how he had become interested in pursuing a "singular sensibility" rather than hit records. That may sound pretentious, but at his best Crowell has always melded artistry and accessibility. Now, coming off his Grammy-winning collaboration with Emmylou Harris on Old Yellow Moon, he has done it again.

With Tarpaper Sky, Crowell wields his considerable skills to play everything from the voice of hard-won experience (the bookends "The Long Journey Home" and "Oh What a Beautiful World") to a wounded lover ("God I'm Missing You"), to a wayward son ("Jesus Talk to Mama") or a loving portraitist ("Grandma Loved That Old Man"). If the 63-year-old Crowell sounds like the sage elder amid all the tasteful Americana, well, he can still get pretty frisky: "Frankie Please" is pure adrenaline rush, a breakneck rocker with a Chuck Berryish tumble of words to match, and "Somebody's Shadow" is a blast of sax-fueled R&B that would be right at home in a rough-and-tumble roadhouse.

- Nick Cristiano

Top Albums in the Region

This Week Last Week

Locally   Nationally   Locally

1   1    Various Artists Frozen   1

2   2    August Alsina Testimony   -

3   5    Ingrid Michaelson Lights Out   -

4   4    Jason Derulo Talk Dirty   -

5   7    Pharrell Williams G I R L   2

6   9    5 Seconds of Summer    She Looks So Perfect  3

7   6    Luke Bryan Crash My Party    9

8   12    John Legend Love in the Future   8

9   8    Lorde Pure Heroine   14

10   3    NeedToBreathe    Rivers in the Wasteland  -

SOURCE: SoundScan (based on purchase data from Philadelphia and Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, Chester, Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties). Billboard Magazine 5/3/14 © 2014

In Stores Tuesday

Ray LaMontagne, Supernova; Yanni, Inspirato; Rodrigo y Gabriela, 9 Dead Alive; Old 97s, Most Messed Up