Its lengthy incubation process notwithstanding, V.V. Brown's clever debut album, Travelling Like the Light, is as genuine, natural, and deep as mishmash throwback pop can get. There are a couple contemporary moments, like "Shark in the Water," featuring strummy verses and a surging chorus, but the album mostly shoots forth nods to R&B and rock & roll of the '50s, '60s, and '70s that are relentlessly playful, whether the lyrics reveal tears, daggers, or butterflies. Brown, an English songwriter who has written hits for the Pussycat Dolls and Sugababes, is bound to provoke comparisons with Janelle Monáe for her retro look and boundless energy, but she's closer to being the child of Kirsty MacColl and the sibling of Jazmine Sullivan, messing with pop traditions as she courts and reprimands with a large, youthful voice that positively dances.
Originally released on Polydor in 1974, "Fragments of Light" does not bend to mid-'70s genre-classism. Fluid, meditative guitar leads and innovative use of synthesizers, combined with a noted lack of percussion (and vocals) on all but a few songs, have drawn comparisons to Kosmische legends Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh. "Space Closure," the only track with live drums, resembles the kinetic progressive rock of fellow Italian Franco Battiato, while the shimmering bliss of "Do You Love Me?" rivals the American power pop that Falsini surely absorbed during his time in the States. A certain airy, homespun feel lends "Fragments of Light" its unique character.
Pere Ubu's troubles with record companies are legendary within certain underground rock circles. In perhaps the most bizarre turn of events, the group's collected works of 1978-1982 – after being out of print for nearly a decade – were reissued by Geffen as a five-disc box set, Datapanik in the Year Zero. Named after the group's 1978 EP, the set is arranged chronologically and occasionally substitutes live versions for studio tracks, but that hardly matters – nearly every song the band recorded during the five-year time span is included.
Helge Sunde is a 44-year-old Norwegian trombonist and composer who often works with jazz/classical composer Geir Lysne, sounds as if he checks out Hermeto Pascoal, Django Bates, Carla Bley, and British jazz and TV composer Colin Towns – and who has produced a cracker of a contemporary big-band album with this set. Sunde's Denada ensemble has produced powerful work before, but the balance of moods, melodic variety and arranging ingenuity on Finding Nymo (the sax-playing Nymo brothers Frode and Atle are star soloists) ought to raise his standing outside continental Europe. He throws listeners off the big-band scent with the eerie vocoder whispers at the start, but busy phrase-swapping between the horns, and arrhythmic ensemble riffs with solo-sax wails rising out of them introduce a Django Bates feel. When In Rome is a hooting, swaggering theme with revving engines and street noise, Valse Triste starts like a funeral lament and turns into a demonically waltzing dance, and the title track begins as tentative, sputtery improv, then coalesces into a melody. Guests Olka Konkova (piano) and Marilyn Mazur add flourishes to an already formidable set.
It's a tall order to compile the best classical music of the twentieth century, but EMI has selected its top 100 classics for this six-disc set, and it's difficult to argue with most of the choices. Without taking sides in the great ideological debates of the modern era – traditionalist vs. avant-garde, tonal vs. atonal, styles vs. schools, and so on – the label has picked the composers whose reputations seem most secure at the turn of the twenty-first century and has chosen representative excerpts of their music. Certainly, the titans of modernism are here, such as Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Béla Bartók, Dmitry Shostakovich, Sergey Prokofiev, Claude Debussy, and Benjamin Britten, to name just a few masters, but they don't cast such a large shadow that they eclipse either their more backward-looking predecessors or their more experimental successors.