Album reviews: Leonard Cohen, Prince, Ghostigital, and Los Lobos

A mix of styles on Los Lobos' Llegó Navidad usher in the holiday season with humor and joy.  Publicity image. A mix of styles on Los Lobos’ Llegó Navidad usher in the holiday season with humor and joy. Publicity image.

Leonard Cohen

Thanks for the Dance (Sony)

Recorded during the same sessions as You Want It Darker, which was released three weeks before Cohen’s death in 2016, Thanks For the Dance continues Cohen’s meditations on decay and mortality, though the first half is also deliciously carnal—the Lorca homage “Night of Santiago” smolders even as Cohen’s recitation recalls William Shatner doing “Lucy in the Sky.” Some clunker lines and one shoddy song (the lazily political “Puppets”) are worth it for the moments when Cohen expresses genuine wonderment and, in the same instant, brutally analyzes it. As producer, his son Adam places everything in a tasteful, dusky frame; he also recruited Beck, Feist, and quintessential Cohen collaborator Jennifer Warnes to flesh out the tracks—but don’t expect The Last Waltz; the guests stay in the foyer, barely taking off their boots, and after a half hour, the dance is over. [8.0]

Prince

1999 Super Deluxe Edition (Warner)

Prince didn’t intend for 1999 to be a double album, explaining “I just kept writing”—and this five-disc motherlode shows how restrained he was, after all. The remaster on 1999 sounds a smidge less tinny and trashy than the original, which may or may not be to your taste—but the real attractions lie on the other four discs anyway. There’s a passel of 7-inch edits and B-sides on disc two, plus an extended version of “Little Red Corvette.” On discs three and four, the goodies really flow—there’s a delicious demo of future B-side “Feel U Up” along with the new-wavey “Turn It Up”; the no-wavey instrumental “Colleen”; and “Vagina,” drumless punk funk with a Joni Mitchell- esque middle eight. Wonderfully intimate demos of “International Lover” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” more than balance out a few mediocre sketches. And the cherry on top is a November 1982 show in Detroit—the newly-crowned Revolution blazes through material from the just-released 1999 along with highlights from Dirty Mind and Controversy, and for the 75- minute set, life really is just a party. [9.7]

Ghostigital

Aero (Smekkleysa SM ehf)

Icelandic ambient duo Ghostigital have reissued their minimalistic 2008 album Aero, and the title isn’t trivial; the album was partially recorded on Iceland Air’s flight 615 (which the liner notes helpfully specify and which, incidentally, you can still take from Reykjavik to JFK). On half-hour leadoff track “Landscape,” undulating, droning passages alternate with burbly tones from guest bassist Skúli Sverrisson. There’s a foreboding tension throughout Aero, but through the trancey guitar figures of “30,000 Feet” and the muted drum machines of “Transatlantic,” the dam never bursts. More than an inventive stunt, Aero is a low-key coup. [7.1]

Los Lobos

Llegó Navidad (Rhino)

If Los Lobos continue to get snubbed by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, maybe they should just skip it and get the National Medal of Arts. After a rich career of over four decades, spanning corridos and roots rock, norteños and swampy psychedelia, they’ve gone and given us a first-rate holiday album, effortlessly covering a typically rangy catalog of styles. There’s ’70s salsa (the Willie Colón cover “La Murga”), a summery take on the late-’50s novelty hit “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” and the sock-hop slow dance original “Christmas and You.” The production is clear and warm, the effortlessly perfect performances pulse with humor and joy, and from the first notes of “La Rama,” Llegó Navidad is a treasure. Play it, dance to it, learn to sing with it, celebrate it. [9.0]

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