Avicii, "TIM" (Universal)
The first words from the first single of Avicii's latest album are a gut-punch: "Can you hear me? SOS." Not long after he wrote the lyric, the Swedish DJ-producer was dead. The hardest part is that his posthumous album, "TIM," is a farewell wave from an artist who clearly was at the top of his game.
Avicii, whose real name was Tim Bergling, died in Oman last year at 28. He left behind a dozen excellent songs that show he had grown into a pop music powerhouse, attracting the likes of Imagine Dragons and Coldplay's Chris Martin as guests.
Days before leaving for Oman, he sent new music to his team, outlining what songs he wanted on his forthcoming album. No two are the same.
He explores Indian sounds ("Tough Love"), hip-hop and glam ("Excuse Me Mr Sir"), does a little Troye Sivan-like frank intimacy ("Freak"), uses blissed-out harmonies ("Peace of Mind") and tropical vibes ("Bad Reputation"). Joe Janiak offers vocals on two tracks, Bonn on another pair and the Swedish production team Vargas & Lagola collaborated on three songs.
Avicii adds ominous strings with Imagine Dragons to create the near-operatic "Heart Upon My Sleeve." His collaboration with Martin on "Heaven" might remind you of the Coldplay man's work on the smash hit "Something Like This" with The Chainsmokers. It could even be better.
"TIM" is the culmination of Avicii's song-based flair that incorporates elements outside EDM. Unlike other DJs, his songs aren't rushed. He lets them breathe. The predictable tricks his rivals use are absent here. The songs feel organic, not processed.
Lyrically, it's tempting to find darkness and, sure, it's there. "Can I get a little peace?" go the lyrics on one song. "Down upon my knees," go another. "I still feel broken."
But "TIM" is optimistic in tone. "All the breath in your lungs/Is stronger than the tears in your eyes," the lyrics go on "Hold the Line." And despite fighting with a lover in "Tough Love," it concludes: "There's no place I'd rather be than in your arms."
Even "SOS" — which reunites Avicii with Aloe Blacc, who sang on Avicii's biggest hit, 2013's "Wake Me Up" — has hope: "I can feel your love pulling me up from the underground." There is the power of love all over "TIM." Let that be his legacy.
Jamie Cullum, "Taller" (Blue Note)
Eight albums into his career, Jamie Cullum deploys the vast musical repertoire of a cruise ship pianist, which he once was. Name a song; he'll play it. Eager to please and hard to stump, Cullum willingly tackles any genre.
As a result, "Taller" is a grab bag that doesn't quite cohere. The 10-song set (plus six bonus tracks on the deluxe album) has big ambitions and big arrangements, but it's stylistically scattershot as Cullum explores the past several decades of the pop songbook.
He serves up Bruno Mars-ish party funk ("Usher"), a Dylan quote ("Drink"), a Prince-parroting falsetto ("Monster"), a Sinatra-worthy elbow-bender ballad ("You Can't Hide Away from Love"), and a Mark Ronson-replicating woofer test ("Taller"). Even the lyrics suggest a vocabulary on steroids with the line, "I won't be your apparatchik."
Elsewhere Cullum sings, "The truth is times are strange," but "I won't write off mankind," which sums up the overriding topical tone. An emo confessional, "The Age of Anxiety," rings especially true.
The songs would be have benefited from fewer synthesizers and more piano, but Troy Miller's string orchestra charts are terrific. Horns and a children's choir are wedged into the sprawling mix. It's doubtful anyone will like everything here, but there's something for everyone.