Welcome to Extended Play, a weekly feature here on the Music Mix wherein our intrepid staffers review albums and album-related products that didn’t fit into the magazine. The location of these reviews online should not diminish their importance in your eyes, Mixers. In fact, their proximity to Facebook should just make them even more relevant. Don’t forget to stream the “Download This” selections while you are reading the reviews…
This week: Next to Normal (Original Broadway Cast Recording); Jeremy Enigk, OK Bear.
Next to Normal (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Despite its 11 nominations for next month’s Tony Awards, Next to Normal is not your great-aunt’s idea of a Broadway musical. First, there’s the subject: a bipolar suburban mom’s roller-coaster ride through psychiatric treatment and the fallout on her very dysfunctional family. Second, the music actually rocks — as this cast album amply demonstrates. Alice Ripley, who plays the lead role, has a sweet soprano that she uses to lovely effect on ballads like “I Miss the Mountains,” but she also captures all the anguish of her situation on more rock-tinged, power-chord-driven numbers like “Do You Know.” Fellow Tony nominee Jennifer Damiano has a touching self-contained number, “Superboy and the Invisible Girl,” that nails the anxiety of any teenage girl overshadowed by a flashier sibling. And as that spotlight-hogging brother, Aaron Tveit (recently seen on Gossip Girl) shows off his Idol-ish vocal chops on melodic tunes like “I’m Alive” and “I Am the One.” Throughout this double-disc set, Next to Normal refreshingly proves that it’s the rare new stage musical that doesn’t rely simply on pastiches of older musical idioms. A- — Thom Geier
Download This: “I’m Alive,” “I Am the One,” “I Miss the Mountains”
Indie Rock (Lewis Hollow)
The former Sunny Day Real Estate/Fire Theft frontman’s latest solo effort is an exceedingly pleasant collection of songs whose careful, meaty arrangements support his reedy voice without ever overwhelming it. Ranging from peppy, swelling chamber rock to more subdued acoustic-and-keys numbers, the new material may not be “emo,” as that genre is currently defined; it frequently falls closer to Mark Kozelek’s work in Sun Kil Moon. But Enigk’s one of the movement’s forefathers, and even in his ripe old rock star age (like, 34!), he can still craft a melody-and-lyric combo that’ll make you take a deep, cleansing breath — though now we should probably just classify that as “good songwriting.” “I will wait my whole life for your love,” he nearly moans on “Vale Oso,” as sympathetic horns rise in the background. Selfishly, one hopes he never gets it. A- — Whitney Pastorek
Download This: “April Storm”