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Tuesday Reviewsday: Midlake, Carla Morrison and Omar Souleyman

Syrian musician Omar Souleyman, performs at the 16th Sonar Festival in Barcelona on June 19, 2009, an annual festival of electronic music and multimedia arts running from June 18-20, 2009.
Syrian musician Omar Souleyman, performs at the 16th Sonar Festival in Barcelona on June 19, 2009, an annual festival of electronic music and multimedia arts running from June 18-20, 2009.

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It's time for Tuesday Reviewsday, our regular segment in which we talk about the best in new music. This week we're joined by music critic Steve Hochman and Justino Águila associate editor of latin music for Billboard.

Steve's Picks

Artist: Midlake
Album: Antiphon
Release Date: Nov. 5
Songs: “Antiphon,” “The Old and the Young”

An antiphon, a Greek word, is the response part of call-and-response singing — a choir or congregation answering a priest or cantor, first applied to ancient Christian liturgical music. In the case of Midlake, hailing from Denton, Texas, the band is the choir, perhaps making a response to Tim Smith, who after serving as lead singer and primary songwriter since the band formed a decade ago, left in the middle of making what was to be the next album.

What could have been turmoil turned to creative opportunity. The rest of the band and a few new members regrouped, scrapped most of the material-in-progress and embraced a collective spirit. The result on Antiphon is an enveloping, gorgeous, lush, quasi-psychedelic sound that at once maximizes and expands the sounds the group had evolved so winningly with 2010’s The Courage of Others and 2006’s The Trials of Van Occupanther.

Guitarist Eric Pulido stepped to the front as primary vocalist, but it’s clearly a collective effort. Obvious comparisons can be made to some of the more genteel Pink Floyd moments and Moody Blues — that’s a compliment — the latter in particularly on songs sporting Jesse Chandler’s flute.

And the English folk-rock influences that were prominent on the last album are integrated in the songwriting again, while some old-timers might also be reminded of the inventive ‘60s L.A. band Spirit. Of course, they also fit well alongside such contemporaries as Radiohead and Wilco, without sounding like either. and the choral-like vocals and layered swirling sounds are all Midlake, renewal both of a sound and the band itself.

The title song blends all of it into an entrancing rush, while “The Old and the Young,” the title a nod to the cross-generational scope, shows off a new, lighter spirit. All of this came out at a recent show at the Masonic  Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the “new” Midlake mirroring the muted old-wood, rustic nature of the site.m -- Steve Hochman

Midlake - Antiphon [Official Music Video]

Artist: Omar Souleyman
Album: Wenu Wenu
Release Date: Oct. 22
Songs: “Wenu Wenu,” “Nahy”

You know the Adam Sandler movie "The Wedding Singer"? Omar Souleyman is a very different wedding singer. Oddly enough, the Syrian artist has become a world music sensation with his electronics-juiced variations on dabke, the Arabic rhythm that powers wedding and other celebrations in that region.

Having brought a modern energy to the music, he’s been a much-in-demand star for those celebrations at home for years, but in recent times has taken the music to festival stages in Europe and even here in the U.S., grabbing the attention of various music nuts and aficionados — Bjork is among those with whom he’s collaborated in the past. It’s easy to hear why. I first heard about him via Henry Rollins’ radio show and I was hooked.

His new album, Wenu Wenu, was produced in Brooklyn by English electronic musician Kieran Hebden, a.k.a. Four Tet, though it is still of a piece with Souleyman’s work with long-time collaborator Rizan Sa’id — passionate vocals over spiked rhythms and bleating electronic keyboard lines. 

“Wenu Wenu,” means simply “Where is she? Where is she?” These are songs of the heart, content-wise no different than thousands of other folk songs from just about any culture on Earth. But the very fact that its from war-torn Syria puts other spins on this. But neither the artist nor the music have any outward political thrust, and there’s even very little overt Islamic content. 

Though the title of the song “Nahy,” with more traditional instrumentation, as far as I can gather, references things that are forbidden or seen as wrong. Still, this is party music and perhaps a good reminder that even amid war and strife, the celebrations of life can go on. -- Steve Hochman

Omar Souleyman - Wenu Wenu (Album Trailer)

Justino's Picks

Artist: Prince Royce
Album: Soy El Mismo (I'm The Same)
Songs: "Darte Un Beso" (Give You A Kiss), "Te Regalo El Mar" (My Gift To You Is the Ocean)

At 24, Prince Royce is gaining major traction for his bachata (ba-CHA-tah) style of music—a genre that originates from the Dominican Republic. Royce, who was born in New York, has taken the music to new heights by bridging several genres together from … bachata to pop and R&B.

Add smooth vocals and a charismatic persona and you have one of Latin music’s most promising artists who is already touring and working with major artists such as Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull and Selena Gomez.  In 2010, Prince had several commercial successes including a bachata remake of the classic Ben E. King song “Stand by Me,” which catapulted the crooner into a bigger spotlight.

"Darte Un Beso"

Artist: Carla Morrison
Album: Déjenme Llorar (Let Me Cry) 
Songs: "Maleza" (Undergrowth), "Eres Tú"

Latin Grammy-wining Carla Morrison hails from Tecate, Mexico, and has become a rising star in music thanks to her powerful and penetrating love ballads resonating with fans in the U.S., Mexico and beyond. The Latin alternative singer/songwriter began her career performing in small bands, but eventually went solo and started earning rave reviews for her unique style, voice and relatable lyrics. Morrison’s music has connected with a young generation of music fans, especially women, who appreciate her melodic style that accompany heartfelt lyrics.