Two albums to listen to: A career-defining record and a free release

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Editor’s note: In this recurring column, music writer Chris Duncan suggests two albums to listen to this week. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @chr_dunc, and your pick might appear in next week’s Two Albums To Listen To.

A Song for You – Carpenters

For a duo defined by its greatest hits compilation, the Carpenters have surprising breadth.

Before releasing their fourth album in 1972, Karen and Richard Carpenter never focused heavily on album quality but instead chose to produce singles. At this point in their careers, the Carpenters were a bit of an anomaly — their sound didn’t fit in with the guitar-heavy rock everyone else was playing, yet their success was immense.

A Song For You was nothing like their previous efforts. The record is built with a focus on becoming a cohesive work rather than a radio success. Although some of their most popular hits came from A Song for You, every song in between is still a worthwhile listen.

Music fans commonly associated the Carpenters with the duo’s clean and quirky image, but this album brought a new focus to their music.

Tracks to listen to: “Top of the World,” “Hurting Each Other,” “Goodbye to Love”

 

Star Wars – Wilco

Few bands can compare to the might of Wilco, and for good reason. The group has released nine full length albums, each with a sound different from the others. Most fans label them as an indie rock act, but their experimentation with country and harder rock shows how far their styles span.

Wilco  released Star Wars with no warning July 16 on the band’s website. This free album is more loosely composed than their previous records, with less intention to create an artistic statement. Instead, the group used the opportunity to experiment with its sound by providing sparser instrumentation. Jeff Tweedy, the group’s leader and songwriter, wrote his lyrics specifically to give guitarist Nels Cline a chance to test new production and composition techniques.

This isn’t to say the album is sloppy. The melodies on the album are catchy and the guitar performances provide a solid foundation for each song. Overall, the album is an easy-going experience and could be mistaken for a demo tape by friends rather than a meticulous effort.

Tracks to listen to: “Random Name Generator,” “Where Do I Begin,” “Magnetized”