Beyoncé — 4 (Sony)
Saurabh & Gaurav

FROM the opening lines of the crushing 1+1, Beyonc`E9’s voice is ripe and full-bodied, and the glow continues through until the climax of the album’s last track. I Care rolls in on meditative percussion and low-profile synthesiser drones, surging during a therapeutic chorus. Meanwhile, Rather Die Young is 4’s best foray into grown-up music, channeling Anita Baker-era R&B before Beyonc`E9 pays tribute to Luther over sunny-day synths and finger snaps on Love on Top. Martika’s Love, Thy Will Be Done is conjured in the Frank Ocean written I Miss You, which boasts a sound design of ambient synths that expand and contract as they progress through their chords, maintaining an even level of intensity throughout. The song climbs higher and higher, chorus by chorus, until Knowles reaches her apex, delivering some of her best vocals on the album. Elsewhere on the album are the swinging Love on Top, the Caribbean drum-n-bass hybrid Countdown, and album highlight End of Time, a joyfully vibrant collision of Afrobeat and Latin jazz. Ryan Tedder adorns the soaring waltz I Was Here with strings, guitar tremolos, and forlorn pianos. Moving from there to the slowly spreading synth notes and drum-machined/hand-clap rhythm track, I Still Care takes a drift of Peter Gabriel’s Salsbury Hill with her voice moving from silken to powerful, suggesting 4 is an album about the voice of the woman, who played Etta James in Cadillac Records. Party, co-written by Kanye West and featuring Andre 3000 of Outkast, is a slow paced number that sounds like a remix of a Human League song. 4’s strongest track makes its appearance closer to the end of the album, sandwiched between the promising horns of End of Time and the aforementioned Run the World (Girls).

Best track: Run the World (Girls)

Worst track: Rather Die Young

Rating ***

Eleanor Friedberger — Last Summer (Merge Records)

Eleanor Friedberger invites listeners on a dreamy journey to her past on her debut solo outing. The album carries over many of the themes and obsession of her work with brother Matthew, but it severely restricts its scope and vision in order to give the songs a new personal poignancy. Combining the experimental pop of The Fiery Furnaces with Friedberger’s soaring vocals, Last Summer is an enchanting, intimate look into a season in the city. My Mistakes, along with its accompanying video, has been making its internet rounds for the past month or so, and it’s easily the album’s catchiest number, tossing saxophones into a sonic playground that keeps things pleasant by resisting the urge to reach for the extreme. Glitter Gold Year bonds faintly pounding pianos with boasting vocal melody, giving off a shoulder-shrugging impression that belies the theme of the song. She captures the dreamy, sentimental experience of recalling the past, at times romanticising and at others sternly reflecting. On Scenes from Bensonhurst, Friedberger flips through a series of memories, tracking, in near-cinematic form, the arc of a relationship that eventually went nowhere. While songs like Owl’s Head Park and One-Month Marathon deliver a healthy dose of melancholy, the album’s overall variety injects pleasure at just the
right moments.

Best track: My Mistakes

Worst track: I Won't Fall Apart on You Tonight

Rating ***

Album of the month

R.E.M. — Life’s Rich Pageant (Capitol)

Now 25 years old, Life’s Rich Pageant gets a double disc reissue full of demos from the 1986 recording sessions that showcase this golden age of the Athens, GA band. The remastered version of the album emphasises how tight R.E.M.’s song construction and arrangements had become after just four albums. Every song is pure spit-shine and polish, The Flowers of Guatemala as airy and light as a world where "flowers cover everything," though its ruggedness is found in the country-infused Indie rock strum of What If We Give It Away? From opener Begin the Begin to the joyous closing cover of the Clique’s Superman, Life’s Rich Pageant sounds like an album imbued with a swaggering confidence. Two demos featured on this reissue’s latter half Bad Day and All the Right Friends would be a couple of the band’s finest singles of the 2000s, appearing on compilation discs with new life. With Bill Berry’s thundering percussion lines and Peter Buck’s trademark jangly lead guitars, Hyena is a standout for how R.E.M. and producer Don Gehman, best-known at the time for his work with John Mellencamp, foreground the rhythm track. These Days moves fast while the astounding Cuyahoga flows like the tide building up eagerness until finally offering the release of a truly stirring chorus halfway through.

Best track: Hyena

Worst track: Two-Steps Onward