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Jim James
Regions of Light and Sound of God
(Spunk/Cooperative)

★★★★

The evocative title of Jim James' debut solo LP speaks, at least in part, of its initial inspiration: God's Man, a wordless 1929 ''novel in woodcuts'' from Lynd Ward, whose stark images depict a Faustian fable with the weight of biblical parable. Conceived by the My Morning Jacket frontman as a ''soundtrack'' to the book, Regions of Light and Sound of God adds all manner of things Ward didn't: word, colour, movement, etc; James seeing its Depression-era austerity as translating, soundwise, to a kind of retrofuturistic, psychedelic soul. Since their beginnings as rustic harmonists rolling tape in a grain silo, My Morning Jacket have hardly been limited by genre or convention, but James' solo blows the doors off; his ''score'' finds him as composer, commanding various esoteric instruments and tape sounds. Playing mostly everything and showing a keen productional ear, he's also at his most direct, lyrically; the grey incidentalism of MMJ lyrics exchanged for a black-and-white sincerity as clear and evocative as a woodblock print.

ANTHONY CAREW


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Richard Thompson
Electric
(Proper Records/Planet)

★★★★

''I GOT a two-week guitar lesson while he camped out in my house.'' Producer Buddy Miller is describing his recent recording of Richard Thompson at his Nashville studio. While there is a subtle country twang here and there, this is most definitely pure Thompson. It is also one of Thompson's best. The playing, with drummer Michael Jerome and bass player Taras Prodaniuk, swerves from folk to funk. The genius of Thompson is his marriage of the technique and the idea. He has never been divorced from it but on Electric, it shines through. From the first track, Stony Ground, with its churning rhythm and menacing guitar riff, there is muscular intent. On Sally B, Thompson, frankly, shows off, leaping into a solo that traverses rock and folk and signs off with an avant-garde flourish. Few guitarists are capable of this kind of virtuosity. Then there's My Enemy, a ballad so delicate, its harmonies and solo so fragile, it could almost shatter like glass.

WARWICK McFADYEN


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Foals
Holy Fire
(Warner)

★★★

WITH concert performance increasingly dominant in the minds of contemporary artists, it's not surprising that albums are increasingly influenced by live circumstances. When a band enjoys international success, the result is often 18 months of touring, a period when songs are remodelled by audience expectations. For English five-piece Foals, that means a swelling of their sound on Holy Fire, their third studio set. The band's feel for intricate, interlocking song structures remains, but they come with an appreciable swell and vocal harmonies on My Number, a single whose Afro-pop guitar is sturdy enough to cross a festival field. Frontman Yannis Philippakis was subsumed by the mix of funk flexing and math-rock arrangements on Antidotes, the group's 2008 debut, but now he takes pride of place in the mix even as the lyrics circle unfulfilled desires and urban melancholy. As the British dance-punk outfits move into their second and third albums, it was inevitable that one would embrace size as a form of destiny, and for much of Holy Fire, Foals do.

CRAIG MATHIESON


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Dirty York
Feed the Fiction
(Independent)

★★★★

WHEN American novelist Jack London described the 19th-century saloon as an environment where ''men talked with greatness, laughed great laughs, and there was an atmosphere of greatness'', he might have inadvertently foretold the perennial appeal of southern rock'n'roll. Melbourne band Dirty York may be about as American as regulated gun ownership, but they get the program. The band's latest record, Feed the Fiction, is awash with the greatness of southern rock sensibility. Be Home and Alive captures the mythology and misogyny of the '70s rock'n'roll lifestyle; Stitches in My Pocket is as dirty as the Allman Brothers after a week boozin' on the road. Free to Find Out is exiled with early-'70s Rolling Stones; Dollar Bet Man spends quality time in the basement with Bob Dylan and the Band. Keepin' Me Up and Sweet Sensation offer enough meat-and-potato riffs to feed an entire family of Lynyrd Skynyrd fans before See Beyond finishes the record in sentimental style.

PATRICK EMERY


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PVT
Homosapien
(Create/Control)

★★☆

WHEN Sydney trio Pivot contracted their name to PVT in 2010, it was an essentially meaningless piece of legal sidestepping. But, given the radical change the band have undergone on their fourth album, Homosapien, it now seems far more meaningful. Beginning life as post-rockers chasing fidgety rhythms, the trio were nerdy instrumentalists led by drummer, Laurence Pike. They slowly expanded that brief, incorporating more ''pop'' in their compositions. But Homosapien throws itself headlong into a world of new-wave revivalism; their former rhythmic mania now sitting uneasily on the edges of pseudo synth-pop. Even when Pike is clanking wildly on Casual Success, he's no longer the star of the show; brother Richard's vocals are forever pushed forward. Evolution is the album's most transparent attempt to tap festival-friendly, youth-radio-ready populism; its Darwinian title suggesting PVT see their changing sound as an adaptation to the contemporary marketplace. Maybe Homosapien helps PVT stay alive, but it feels anything but inspired.

ANTHONY CAREW


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Murphy's Law 
Big Creatures & Little Creatures
(Independent)

★★★☆

BASSIST Tamara Murphy, who received the 2012 inaugural PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission, heads a band here with drummers Joe Talia and Daniel Farrugia, trombonist Jordan Murray and guitarist Nashua Lee. The ensemble blends heady atmospherics with grooves and melodies, along with a mix of electronics and superlative musicianship. Boulders Make Strong Friends opens with Murray providing a thrusting staccato trombone over guitar, bass and drums. It shifts to a riveting guitar solo, underpinned by driving drums before fading into electronic atmospherics. The track then segues into Refractal, followed by the final take, Bitter Sweet. Opening with Murphy's accentuated bass, Murray's trombone then enters so subdued, floating across the top like a wraith. As Murphy starts bowing the bass, her distinctly classical lines come through over Lee's guitar. This is enchanting stuff, it's hypnotic and hallucinatory, and is not an album you mindlessly play in the background. Rather, it requires close listening.

LEON GETTLER