Comedown Machine

The Strokes

The Strokes spent the past six years burning through all the leeway earned with once being declared saviors of rock ’n’ roll. The synth-heavy Comedown Machine is hardly a letdown of last-straw proportions. It also wasn’t made to woo anyone back.

But maybe what the Strokes want is a clean break. No tour supporting this fifth studio record is on the table. And lyrics like “Decide my past/Define my life” over the New Wave bleeps in Tap Out feel freighted with a band sick of being forever graded against their 2001 breakout Is This It.

That might be a fair grievance. But also in bounds is the fact that One Way Trigger is a ringer for A-ha. By the time frontman Julian Casablancas is finally ripping through an angry and satisfying chorus in the rocker 50/50, interest in which way this decent but disjointed album lands has already faded.

— Paul J. Weber

Associated Press

The Book of My Lives

Aleksandar Hemon

Srebenica. Sniper Alley. Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. If memories of the Bosnian war are starting to fade, pick up a copy of Aleksandar Hemon’s The Book of My Lives.

The Bosnian-born writer, who came to America through a cultural exchange program and sought political asylum when the siege of Sarajevo blocked his return, is an elegant and funny writer who, amazingly, didn’t write in English until he moved here in his late 20s, in 1992.

The title comes from a chilling essay about a charismatic, Shakespeare-spouting literature professor with whom Hemon studied at the University of Sarajevo, who later became a confidant of Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader accused of war crimes.

Professor Nikola Koljevic tells his class how his 5-year-old daughter began a book titled The Book of My Life, but “planned to wait for more life to accumulate” before starting chapter two. Hemon is charmed by the story but years later berates himself for falling under Koljevic’s spell. “I kept trying to identify the first moment when I could have noticed his genocidal proclivities,” he writes.

All of these essays were originally published elsewhere, accounting for its somewhat disjointed feel. But cumulatively, the pieces add up to a singular life — acutely observed, deeply felt and scarred by the savagery of the Bosnian war, the sorrowful journey from multiethnic Sarajevo to multiethnic Chicago and the death of a child.

If there is one weakness, it’s Hemon’s fondness for abstractions, as in, “The funny thing is that the need for collective self-legitimization fits snugly into the neoliberal fantasy of multiculturalism.” The words “exteriority” and “interiority” show up more than once.

But far more passages sparkle with finely observed details of life in the waning years of Yugoslavia, turning darker as Hemon anticipates the tribal hatreds that would eventually tear apart his beloved country.

When, in the opening pages, an innocent joke at a children’s birthday party is misconstrued as a racist insult, bringing the festivities to a crashing halt, you know with dread in your heart what will be coming next.

— Ann Levin

Associated Press

Native

OneRepublic

OneRepublic continues to show that the group’s musical rapport is as strong as ever on their third album, Native.

Frontman Ryan Tedder’s falsetto is superb throughout the new offering, which bleeds with emotion and substance. He and his four band mates are completely in sync.

Tedder, who has written and produced singles for music’s biggest acts, from Adele to Beyonce, shines with star appeal alongside a variety of instruments that are smoothly intertwined, ranging from the acoustic guitar to drums. The 12-track album is filled with refreshing and catchy songs: That’s certainly evident when the album kicks off with the well-crafted opening track, Counting Stars, and first single, If I Lose Myself, co-produced by hit-maker Benny Blanco.

Preacher has Tedder reflecting on the days of his childhood, recalling how his life was infused with wisdom by his grandfather, who was a pastor. Tedder’s voice also touches the soul on midtempo tracks like Burning Bridges, the Jeff Bhasker-assisted Can’t Stop and Don’t Look Down.

— Jonathan Landrum Jr.

Associated Press