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Mr. Tophat - Dusk to Dawn Music Album Reviews

The Swedish producer and frequent Robyn collaborator offers an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes.
Hardcore Robyn fans already know the work of Swedish producer Rudolf Nordström, aka Mr. Tophat. He co-produced “Baby Forgive Me” and “Beach2k20,” two of the gorgeous, gently filtered house-pop tracks from last year’s Honey; his own 2017 release Trust Me, a three-song, 35-minute EP of throbbing, desaturated grooves, featured Robyn throughout. His latest solo release, Dusk to Dawn, is an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes. More melodic than the distortion-warped A Memoir From the Youth, two and a half hours of mostly chill, mid-tempo house conceal interesting moments within slack expanses. At its best, it’s a triple-album endurance listen that rewards partial concentration; at its slowest, it’s an illustration that Tophat’s signature long-format tracks don’t scale.

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Tom Petty - An American Treasure Music Album Reviews

This big box set marks the first posthumous release from the Petty estate and finds new meaning both through songs we thought we knew and necessary obscurities.

Tom Petty’s music has been obsessively compiled, assessed, and summarized. If you want the full story, there’s Peter Bogdanovich’s four-hour documentary, Runnin’ Down a Dream. If you’re interested in a grittier account, try Warren Zanes’ epic biography, Petty. Here for the music? In 1995, Petty mined his vaults with Playback, a comprehensive collection filled with singles, deep cuts, and outtakes. That set arrived just two years after his 12-times platinum Greatest Hits, expanded in 2000 for the immersive Anthology: Through the Years. And befitting a bandleader who many would argue lit up the stage more naturally than the studio, there’s 2009’s four-disc Live Anthology, collecting highlights from three decades on the road.

Petty’s legacy has been sustained through such retrospectives, arguably more than any other artist of the classic rock era. His output was so consistent for so long that no single studio record could accurately frame the breadth and depth of his catalog. Following his death last fall, it was both telling and touching to hear famous fans covering songs from across his career, whether it was the National dusting off a late-career weeper, Phoebe Bridgers meditating on a 1987 deep cut, Bob Dylan putting his spin on a singalong strummer, or Miley Cyrus closing her eyes and belting out a wistful lullaby. While compilations can feel like cash grabs or contractual obligations, Petty’s music invites this type of listening. His songs form their own universe, primed for diving in and finding your own little corner.

So An American Treasure—a new career-spanning collection and the first posthumous release from the Petty estate—is not without precedent, making its ability to say something new even more impressive. No Tom Petty collection has ever felt so thoughtful or complete. With a tracklist selected by those closest to him—his wife, Dana; daughter, Adria; two Heartbreakers bandmates, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench; and his studio collaborator Ryan Ulyate—it’s the rare career survey that makes you reconsider the work it collects. It is filled with love, vulnerable in a way it might not have been had Petty himself overseen it.

Consider the inclusion of an alternate version of “Rebels,” a song with a troubled history. In the mid-1980s, Petty and his Heartbreakers toiled over the Southern Accents opener, culminating in Petty breaking his left hand after punching a wall in frustration. He felt that the studio rendition didn’t hold up to his original demo, and the Heartbreakers were losing valuable studio time worrying with it. Listening again, the problem seems obvious: Like a lot of Petty standards, “Rebels” is both anthem and elegy—the tale of a down-and-out Southerner confronting his limitations, dwelling in pain that was once pride. With a triumphant horn section and a “hey hey hey” refrain, the music works directly against the lyrics. On any given listen, you might hear one side winning over the other. It’s a fascinating battle for a listener but a frustrating one for an author trying to document a definitive take. With a slightly altered mix and more dynamic horns, this version feels more decisive.

The context helps, too. Petty’s growth as a songwriter is the focus of An American Treasure, which shades in the spaces between his radio staples and leaves room for his growing pains and left turns. There’s no “Free Fallin’” or “American Girl,” but four selections from 2002’s oft-derided The Last DJ make the cut. That album’s poor reputation is based in part on its bitter reflections on a changing music industry, but these highlights focus on the wild romance that brought Petty to the business in the first place. The gorgeous “Like a Diamond,” the swooning road song “You and Me,” and the sprawling “Have Love Will Travel” are all solid additions to his catalog of love songs. They shine brighter here, their happy endings left in place.

For the most part, Petty albums are focused and concise, sometimes to a fault. His compilations make room for all the detours he could have taken. As usual, the selected outtakes are as polished and enduring as the album cuts. “I Don’t Belong,” recorded for 1999’s dark Echo, merges post-grunge angst with power-pop sweetness. It presages Americana-based indie by the likes of Rilo Kiley and Bright Eyes that would help carry Petty’s influence into the next decade. More famous outtakes like “Keeping Me Alive” and “Surrender” (which previously appeared on Playback and Anthology, respectively) now seem as immortal as any of his hits, despite never making it onto a proper album.

Many of Petty’s best-loved songs find new resonance here. Stripped-back takes of “I Won’t Back Down,” “Insider,” and “Even the Losers” unveil the multiple perspectives locked within Petty’s most familiar tunes. He was not an autobiographical songwriter, but his character-based writing, so free of pretense, feels revealing. “Two Gunslingers,” an allegory that offers as much wisdom about senseless violence as it does a toxic relationship or a bad record deal, appears in a live acoustic rendition that is more baldly emotional than its studio counterpart. It is a showcase for the tenderness that allowed him to find success even as he mellowed out. “You’re a good man to ride the river with,” Johnny Cash once wrote to Petty, aptly capturing the comforting presence that shined through all his greatest songs. Working mostly chronologically, this set flows so that you feel you’re riding alongside him.

Both the condensed and deluxe editions of An American Treasure stretch from Petty’s early tracks with the Heartbreakers to his late work with Mudcrutch, the hometown band he reunited in 2007 and with whom he’d release his final music. “This town broke my heart/Then just carried on like nothing happened at all,” he sings in the closer, “Hungry No More.” It’s easy to imagine this being the fear that drove so much of his music: our stories and memories forgotten, leaving the world with us. There’s a distinct desire in Petty’s work to make an immortal connection, whether that means getting back in touch with his old Gainesville pals or writing hits that would echo in stadiums around the world. An American Treasure doesn’t prioritize one more than the other, because Petty never saw a distinction.



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