Risk is the parent of ruin and reward. Laura Burhenn understands this better than most, and indeed, saddled her excellent 2010 debut with the weighty "What We Lost in the Fire, We Gained in the Flood." Where that record was a rendering of life's chanciness draped in warm pop-soul tones from the depths of the '70s, Burhenn has decided to risk her easy goodwill by turning her sophomore album into a siege weapon against the status quo. Politics and pop don't usually rest easy, but what has Burhenn on the barricades, namely the asymmetries of America's ledgers, both moral and financial, is something most folks can get behind, and she finds ways to make the musical marriage work. The album begins with its direst tidings of wolves at the door and debts come due, all soaked in dark, insistent electronic tones. Especially so with the crunching, minor-key cacophony of the title track, a call to war that's hard to ignore. Burhenn isn't without subtlety, settling in at the end to deliver the battlefield poppy of "Greatest Revenge," a gently damning piano and string number with a devastating breakdown that makes her lament crystal clear.
It's been half a decade since the Hives churned out a new album, but the scarily-committed Swedes haven't kicked their addiction to "Raw Power." Their take on stripped-down and amped-up Iggy Pop-style garage punk propelled them to international renown during the heady days of the early 2000s, when a definite article and a restrictive color scheme were prerequisites to success (see: The White Stripes, The Strokes, et al.), and they've burned like a long fuse since then. With such a hiatus, it could be forgiven for thinking the black and white-clad clan had fizzled, but their fifth full-length is as bombastic and blistering as one could reasonably expect from a band this deep into its discography. From early single "Go Right Ahead," which recycles ELO's "Don't Let Me Down" into a furious anthem destined for an extreme sports video game franchise near you, to the Blackhearts groove of "I Want More," the Hives' seem more comfortable than ever in acknowledging their DNA and embracing their rank as the cartoon princes of pure rock energy. These songs aren't designed to last beyond the brief seconds they blaze through the speakers, but it's a ripping good time while they do.