3:33 (THR333REE)
EP-1
Parallel Thought
Street: 04.06
3:33 = Massive Attack + Dälek – vocals + Lustmord
THR333REE’s debut EP is an excellent throwback to early 90s trip-hop and schizoid instrumental hip-hop. Utilizing an excellent live drummer, 3:33 has a strong backbone that keeps each noise-laden midsection within a traditional hip-hop framework. While released on the prolific hip-hop label Parallel Thought, 3:33 explores the avante-garde turntablism of Thomas Köner, musique concrète, and the seedy underbelly of Tricky’s beat palate. The midsection is full of dark, and oft-times harsh tones, that paint ominous tones across the seven-song EP. At 22 minutes, 3:33 ensures high returns on multiple listens. Highly recommended. –Ryan Hall

Adele
21
XL Recordings/Columbia           
Street: 02.22
Adele = A sobered-up Amy Winehouse
Oh the fickle world that is pop music. When something—or rather, someone, in this case—comes along that is deigned lucky enough for airplay, a musically starved public eats it right up. There is no denying that Miss Adkins has a fantastic and powerful voice (she absolutely does) and that she is talented (again, no argument about that) but how this album is already so popular is beyond me. Having now topped both the British and our own pathetic American charts is quite troubling, since it is such a weak effort. Besides the bluesy lead-in “Rolling In The Deep,” the aurally sumptuous “Rumour Has It” and “Set Fire To The Rain,” this is mostly filler. And this doesn’t appear to be entirely Adele’s fault; it’s simply a case of too many cooks in the kitchen at once. As a music fan, I’ve never truly understood the need for multiple producers on the same effort. When the artist and producer are in sync, it would logically seem like a natural progression that there will be a slight coherence to the proceedings, if not a uniform sound overall. The mistake with 21 is that there are six different producers (seven if you count Adkins herself on one track) and therefore, six different interpretations for her sound. The worst choice seems to be veteran Rick Rubin, who simply doesn’t understand her voice and his tracks sound overcrowded and therefore, overproduced. The exception is his take on The Cure’s “Lovesong,” interestingly presented here with a very subtle bossa nova tone, but still an odd song choice. Adkins is responsible for co-writing all but the aforementioned cover track and maybe if she had stuck it out with just one of these six, her just so-so songs would have benefited from the relationship. Instead—and despite that strong voice—they get lost in the proceedings. –Dean O Hillis


Akron/Family
Akron/Family II (The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT)
Dead Oceans
Street: 02.08
Akron/Family = Steve Miller Band + Animal Collective + Blitzen Trapper
Written in a cabin beneath an active volcano in Japan and recorded in Detroit’s abandoned Michigan Central Station, Akron/Family’s sixth full-length should, on paper, sound a lot weirder. Instead, S/T II (despite the anachronistic title) is the band’s most accessible and cohesive album to date. Straying from the free-form psychedelic-folk of previous releases, album opener “Silly Bears” roars out the gate with full minimalist bravado in the form of gang-shouted vocals and Marnie Stern-style guitar theatrics. From there, S/T II ranges from balls-out ragers, sampling freely from prog, noise, psychedelia and shoegazey atmospherics to beautifully orchestrated folk ballads. “Creator” ends the album with a recontextualization of Pharoah Sanders’ jazz masterpiece “The Creator has a Master Plan,” into a gorgeous, slow-building closer. A few delightful diversions into pure studio weirdness aside, a novitiate AK listener would do well to start with this album and work backwards. –Ryan Hall

Alcoholic Faith Mission
Running With Insanity EP
Paper Garden Records
Street: 03.29
Alcoholic Faith Mission = Animal Collective + Yeasayer - Grizzly Bear
The latest release from this Danish sextet brings an upbeat, layered collection of experimental, synth-pop sound. Having spent a considerable amount of time living and recording in Brooklyn, the current electronic boom seems to have taken hold of this project. Every track on the EP bursts with a playful, in-your-face attitude expressed through electronic, synthesized textures. An abundance of hand-clapping and echo-driven vocals seem to dominate Running with Insanity. While this works for the self-titled track and “Drowning (In Myself),” there are other times where it just doesn’t mesh. But for a little five-track release, this EP does offer a refreshing change from the band’s previously subdued albums. –Ryan Schoeck

Benighted
Asylum Cave
Season of Mist
Street: 03.29
Benighted = Aborted + Circle of Dead Children + Desecration
France’s Benighted have become a recent obsession of mine; I snagged their previous album released in 2007, Icon, a few months back and was hooked. I immediately went back through the band’s albums I could get my brutal death metal-lusting hands on and found a brutal death metal band that manages to keep its core sound and brutality but mix things up with every album. Asylum Cave is no exception to the band opening new channels of earnest audio pain. Icon was very much an album rooted in distinctively brutal death metal, with some hints at slam DM, meaning the grooves flowed frequently. Asylum Cave is the most grindcore the band has ever sounded, as making the album’s speed and ferocity that much more intense. There isn’t a bad track on this album. This strikes that violent brutal music-loving nerve to any maniacal music fan. Add to the whole mess of brutal face-pounding prevalent riffs some fantastic soloing hiding amongst the albums cuts. Asylum Cave doesn’t get old, it only gets better; the production is near perfection, the clarity of riffs, bass, drums, vocals is astounding and just makes things that much more violently and gloriously distorted. There’s a big beastly, gnarly bear in this Asylum Cave one that even Chuck Norris couldn’t take down on his best day. –Bryer Wharton

The Berg Sans Nipple
Build with Erosion
Street: 03.08
Team Love
The Berg Sans Nipple = Animal Collective + Album Leaf + Tortoise + Tuung
Reasons why I want to hate this: 1. The band name has the word “nipple” in it. 2. The band is comprised of two guys, one of who is a Frenchman named “Lori.” 3. They are associated with Conor Oberst, who I find extremely annoying (there, I said it). 4. I have all of these reasons to judge it and hate it, but when I put it on, I REALLY, ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS RECORD. Therefore, (5) I hate them for proving all of my assumptions wrong. Build with Erosion is experimental, multi-instrumental glitch-and bell pop, layered with watery, dripping effects on the vocals. As messy as that sounds, the album never feels overdone. It’s a sound that many attempt to do and fail, while these guys make it seem effortless. This sophomore effort is totally dreamy, as soon as you get over the word “nipple.” –Mary Houdini

Maggie Björklund
Coming Home
Bloodshot Records
Street: 03.22
Maggie Björklund = Neko Case + Jesse Skyes
First making her mark as a contributor to the thriving music scene in Seattle, Maggie Björklund is now writing her own tales of tangible sadness. Epic odes to old Spaghetti Western classics fit for a Quentin Tarantino film. The wail of Maggie’s pedal steel and her mysterious voice recalls the jaundice images of the Old West, painting the landscape in deep colors of dark and lonely. Tracks like “Wasteland,” “Falling” and “Frost” weave in delicate instrumental punctuations that envelope and aid the dusty, soulful honesty in Björklund’s voice. Meanwhile, the cry of the guitar and desolate plea of harmonic partner Mark Lanegan of The Screaming Trees in “Interwined” and title track “Coming Home” provide a haunting duet of gloomy romance. –Liz Lucero

Blood Freak
Mindscraper
Willowtip
Street: 04.05
Blood Freak = Mortician + Frightmare + Pig Destroyer + Repulsion
Blood Freak have been making a name for themselves throughout the last 10 years with their horrified brand of gore grind and death metal, so enjoying said genres of mighty metal is a prerequisite to getting full enjoyment of Mindscraper, the band’s debut for Willowtip Records. Fans can really go either way with this one. It’s basically a combo of their fantastic previous effort—2007’s very grinding effort, Multiplex Massacre—and its more death n’ groove, meaty, lower-tuned predecessor, Live Fast, Die Young … and Leave A Flesh Eating Corpse. Blood Freak utilize the heavy bottom end as much as they can with the new offering—it requires a bit of patience, because initially, it’s going to feel like a blur of songs. However, a few listens in, you’ll be grasping the blood-coagulated, old, wound-gooey groove-riffing until that old wound is fresh again. Mindscraper kind of reminds me a bit of what Pig Destroyer would be like if they had songs that lasted four to five minutes. Blood Freak opted for longer cuts of meat here to let songs develop—when the band has leads or solos jar into the mix of buzzed-bass-grizzled fun, they strike a definite poignant nerve. Mindscraper isn’t quite the follow-up I would’ve liked to have after Multiplex, but it serves my bloody needs. –Bryer Wharton

Broken
Message in a Bottle
Ghost in the Machine
Street: 03.12.2008
Broken = Chase 12 - Chase + Joe Beat + Blockhead
Although this album surprised me by being better than I originally thought it would, Message in a Bottle is an example of why I don’t actively search out electronic beat records. A number of Broken’s songs tend to be a little too long and fairly repetitive, an unremarkable tendency I attribute to the genre as a whole. I often found the otherwise well-crafted music melting into the background. I found the cover of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” particularly disinteresting, though I can’t necessarily blame Broken for that. Over all, it’s not a bad album to have playing in the distance while you drink coffee and smoke weed, and that’s okay. Samples include a Vietnam-era politician stumping over the need for education cuts, over hyped people shouting, and profound philosophical parables like, “a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” At least Broken’s heart is in the right place. –Mike Abu

Buck 65
20 Odd Years
Warner
Street: 02.01
Buck 65 = Sage Francis + WHY? + B. Dolan + Cecil Otter
Named for the duration of this Canadian rapper’s hip-hop career, 20 Odd Years is both an accessible introduction for those unfamiliar with Buck 65’s unique style, and a thorny, angular addition to his fan-loved catalog. Buck’s distinctive, low rasp of a voice brings to mind B. Dolan and Sage Francis most readily, with this release coming closest to Francis’ recent Lyfe album, using country and folk elements to make his songs unique. More abstract than B-boy, the rhymes are usually pretty opaque, but do contain some lines that are absolute burners and make you want to sing along as you learn the songs. Fellow Canadians Nick Thorburn (The Unicorns, Islands), Jenn Grant, and others also lend their considerable vocal talents, providing unique touches that Buck himself cannot. “Stop” features an excellent performance by Hannah Georgas and is notable for its near-perfect, shimmery pop under the raspy lyrics. “BCC” is a jaunty little nursery-rhyme-esque classic while “She Said Yes” is slow and sweet, but my favorite has got to be “Zombie Delight,” in which Buck spits some sweet rhymes about, you guessed it, the zombocalypse over a rock beat. It turns out zombies can dance. –Rio Connelly

Burzum
Fallen
Candlelight
Records/Byelobog Productions
Street: 04.05
Burzum = Burzum
Having abandoned the “black metal” tag years ago, Burzum’s Varg Vikernes returns with his second album in two years following his release from prison, and it’s a whopper. Mixing classic Burzum-style songwriting—tremolo guitar picking, solid and steady bass, and drum beats ranging from blastbeats to slow, plodding tempos—with well-produced, experimental intro and outro pieces, Fallen stands above any simple metal sub-genre. Droning, soaring pieces give way to skull-crushing, Panzer tank-driven, frenzied aural onslaughts that run the gamut of thrash, black, doom, and traditional heavy metal. The almost-spoken word interludes, and the folkish chorus of Jeg Feller, the album’s second (and most catchy) piece, neatly tie the album together, making it a must-have for die-hard Burzum fans, and those who are simply curious. –Gavin Hoffman

By a Thread
Self-titled
Revelation
Street: 03.22
By a Thread = Sunny Day Real Estate + Jimmy Eat World + Texas is the Reason
Over a decade since their last release, Vancouver’s By a Thread return to ‘core iconoclasts Revelation Records (a veritable rehabilitation clinic for ‘90s hardcore and post-rock bands) for their post-millennial follow-up. While they’ve certainly honed their chops to develop an increasingly “mature” sound, blending pop arrangements with post-hardcore bite, the album sounds like something I’d have slapped onto a middle-school mix-tape. (The layered crooning at the end of “Line Ups” plays like an Incubus B-Side. I’m serious). Still, it’s riddled with more hooks than a corn-fed catfish in a Kentucky pay-lake (“Bloodshed”), and its marriage of muted electronics and shimmering pop-production (“Fashion” and “Reign”) infectiously guarantees a few extra spins on the turntable. It struggles to distinguish itself from other radio-friendly bands of their ilk (Jimmy Eat World) but it’s a fervent slab of angst-pop that (like a middle-schooler) constantly jockeys for your attention. –Dylan Chadwick

Carpenter
Sea to Sky
Goldstock Records
Street: 09.21.10
Carpenter = Eve 6 + All American Rejects + Jimmy Eat World
Carpenter was originally formed out of three deceased Vancouver punk bands (All State Champion, Daggermouth and By a Thread) and became a Canadian indie hit with their debut album Law of the Land in 2008. Although they nail the post-grunge/90s emo sound that dominated prior to nü metal, they’ve somehow kept themselves from falling into the “darker” end of the talent pool. Carpenter are almost the perfect anthem rock band that one could hope for. But the unfortunate discovery is that Sea to Sky doesn’t stand out. All 10 songs appear catered for light alternative radio. The album is littered with college kid vocals yelling over the same four chords, abuse of a crash symbol, and lyrics containing no value or thought behind them. Sea to Sky sounds easily created and becomes easily forgettable, making the album unappreciated and generic, like many of the artists whom they emulate eventually became. Carpenter could have created a far better effort with their skills, but cheapened out for airplay. –Gavin Sheehan

Exene Cervenka
¨The Excitement of Maybe
Blood Shot
Street: 03.08
Exene Cervenka = Emmylou Harris + Pink Martini + Joe Strummer
Now I’m gonna break forth wall and come right out and say I love Exene Cervenka. She’s the best vocalist in all of punk rock, and whether it’s with X or on her own, she has a way of capturing me. I’ve always respected the Strummeresque courage she has approached her career outside of X, by tackling folk, R&B, country, rockabilly, and everything in between, but always bringing along her own punk rock swagger. The Excitement of Maybe encompasses all of that and more. An organic record to say the least, from one track to the next, it’s so effortless that when it ends, I just keep putting it back on. The opening track “Already in Love” has brilliant lyrics like “It’s late, it always is, girl groups and drugs, it’s only Tuesday night and I’m already in love,” coupled with a superb arrangement by producer Dave Alvin, with horns and vocals that make the melody jump. Exene has never let me down, and she’ll do the same for any music lover who gives her the chance. –James Orme

Chixdiggit!
Safeways Here We Come
Fat Wreck Chords
Street: 02.15
Chixdiggit! = Teenage Bottlerocket + Groovie Ghoulies + Teen Idols
The Great White North’s answer to Screeching Weasel (minus the girl punching, of course) Chixdiggit! are one of the great bands of the ‘90s pop-punk explosion that often go unnoticed. This 5 song EP is the first new Chixdiggit! material since 2005 (not counting 2007’s Chixdiggit! II, which featured re-recorded versions of the band’s 1995 Sub-Pop debut) and delivers just the kind of fun, semi-snotty Ramonescore that fans have come to expect. There’s a song dedicated to a haircut (“Swedish Rat”), a song about how much of a dick one’s friend can become after acquiring a canine (“Since You Got a Dog”) and a somewhat-sincere song simply entitled “I Hate Basketball”—maybe if Canada’s only NBA team didn’t totally suck the band’s opinion would be different. All in all, Safeways Here We Come is a fun little EP—it isn’t anything new, but there are definitely far worse ways to spend 16 minutes. –Ricky Vigil

Colourmusic
My_____is pink L.P.
Memphis Industries
Street: 05.10
Colourmusic = Health + Brian Jonestown Massacre + Goldfrapp
Colourmusic employs hard-hitting textured bass, lush sexy vocals, pop sensibilities and psychedelia on their album My______ is Pink. Colourmusic is quite the fitting name as listening to these guys can cause synesthesia! The tracks on My______is Pink have a life of their own, with more evolution than a book on Charles Darwin. This music is sexy as hell. I’ve taken acid, and I’ve fucked, but I’ve never fucked on acid. I’m betting Colourmusic has. The album comes on strong and smooth and is quite the piece of work. The vocals are both beautiful and creepy, like a gorgeous girl in a bar who just oddly stares at everyone and doesn’t talk. The harmonies on this album alone would be enough to carry it. The bassist, Colin Fleishaker, must have went to the DFA1979 school of fucking shit up and starting parties because he pounds. His bristly and textured bass keeps the listener’s head just above the reverb sea. “We Shall Wish” is like a lover hoping they will be invited to stay the night after a great evening with someone they just met, though it ends a bit abruptly. “Dolphins and Unicorns” stands out, and it is reminiscent of MGMT’s “Electric Feel.” I will be using this song to get chicks in the mood. On “My Little Death,” things go deep space. I haven’t heard anything like that since I smoked DMT. A piano circles in the back of a heavily oscillating square wave synth. I must admit, it zoned me out in the most lovely way. Near the end, the vocals roll back like an angel coming to save and then it just suddenly stops. At times, these songs approach full-on psychosis and I fucking love it—hell, I love the whole trip these guys are taking me on. –Tom Bennett

Cut Copy
Zonoscope
Street: 02.08
Modular Fantana
Cut Copy = OMD + LCD Soundsystem + Hot Chip + coked-out house party.
These Aussies have changed their style from synth-rock to just straight-up synth, but they do a good job of it. This definitely fits into the “sound du jour,” so it’s easy to listen to this and think fixies with tiny handlebars paired with tiny moustaches and whatever other 80s rehash the kids are rocking these days. Despite that, you’ll get stoned and daydream of summertime: drinking tallboys with your beautiful friends on the lakeside while you look beautiful and eat beautiful food. I catch myself balking at the cheesy lyrics (“Baby, baby, can’t you see/We’re on a path to eternity”) while simultaneously tapping and singing along, because it’s so melodic and catchy it doesn’t matter. As much as I didn’t want to like it, it scratches a pseudo-disco psychedelic itch, which will be perfect for the poolside boombox. –Mary Houdini

Defeater
Empty Days & Sleepless Nights
Street: 03.08
Bridge 9
Defeater = Have Heart + Modern Life is War + Okkervil River
Music is an art form, and in hardcore, it’s sometimes hard to recognize the art through the blind emotion. On one end of the hardcore spectrum, you find a brotacular spectacle of machismo—on the other, you find Defeater. Emotionally viable, lyrically poetic and musically engaging, Defeater adds to their repertoire of peerless hardcore with Empty Days and Sleepless Nights. Proving just as adept at shredding vocal chords as using them to sing, vocalist Derek Archambault has range. The first 10 tracks of the album pick up where Travels left off. With angry, thought-out and gripping arrangements, these tracks really show what emotional hardcore can do in 2011. The last four tracks are acoustic numbers—more akin to Saddle Creek than Bridge 9—and show Defeater as a creative force that sits just as well beside the Carrier as Bright Eyes. Highly recommended. –Peter Fryer

Derrick Hart
The Shock You Experience at the Sudden Recollection of the Moment You Were Conceived
Wrecking Ball Wreckords
Street: 01.01
Derrick Hart = Sparklehorse + early Pedro The Lion
When reviewing an album, I like to write from a mostly objective point of view, but I can’t help opening this by saying that, on a personal level, I love this music. Derrick Hart’s debut full-length sounds like it was meticulously crafted by the hands of an experienced musician. In fact, that’s not far off, since it had a gestation period of three years. Fans of Pedro the Lion’s simple, arpeggiated guitar playing and on-the-fence-about-religion lyrics will like songs like “God Is Love Is God Sends Fire” and “Cities of Sinfulness.” Some Sparklehorse influence is evident by the depressed, self-demonizing lyrics of opener “You’re Winning So I Quit” and “Coldness.” Hart’s ironic statement on strength and masculinity on “0073735963” makes it the strongest of the 20 tracks on this amazing album. The Shock can only be picked up at Wreckingballwreckords.com, but it would be well worth doing so. –CG

Dropkick Murphys
Going Out in Style
Born & Bred
Street: 03.01
Dropkick Murphys = AC/DC + The Pogues + Swingin’ Utters
By now, we all know what to expect from a Dropkick record: Irish folk played at a blistering pace alongside buzzsaw guitars and the familiar Boston accents passionately and proudly blasting over everything else. The Murphys’ brand of Celtic punk has become popular the world over and with their seventh studio release, they’ve somehow become sharper and more precise, with each song more easily bringing their vision to fruition. “Memorial Day” is jaunty banjo-driven song that stands out with its melody and rhythm, while “Sunday Hardcore Matinee” recalls the glory days of ‘80s hardcore shows and paints a picture of ultimate camaraderie. With 16 years of success under their belts, it’s easy to wonder where these boys from Boston fall on the musical landscape. Well, when you can get both Bruce Springsteen and Fat Mike (NoFX) to perform guest vocals on your record, you’re in an exceptional position to garner respect from a large part of the music community. There’s a definite formula to the Dropkick Murphys’ sound, but they do what they do so well on this record. –James Orme

Grails
Deep Politics
Temporary Residence
Street: 03.08
Grails = Slint + Ennio Morricone + Arbouretum
Deep Politics is the much anticipated follow up to 2008’s excellent Doomsdayer’s Holiday and is worth every second of the wait. Grails play ethnic white man blues—the kind that delves deep into every corner of the Anglophile universe—from Celtic string sections, Spaghetti Western soundtracks, and sparse piano arrangements to crushing guitar riffs and exploratory psychedelic passages. Like the best of Anglo culture, Grails is excellent at appropriating a completely diverse musical landscape and synthesizing it into a cohesive musical statement. Grails sample freely from instrumental hip-hop, long-dead Delta bluesmen, post-rock and tightly orchestrated chamber music to create some of the most arresting and gorgeous instrumental long-players in recent memory. There are few albums that reach the grandeur and scope of Deep Politics while remaining infinitely listenable. –Ryan Hall

Gypsyblood
Cold in the Guestway
Sargent House
Street: 04.12
Gypsyblood = Pavement + The Clean
Cold in the Guestway is a channeled testament to the inescapable dark energy of frigid Chicago winters. I’d like to think of it as the musical version of Mike Brown and me smashing our kitchen. There’s a noticeably raw element to these catchy pop songs, with cool melodies and interesting layers of noise and percussion blanketing the album from top to bottom. It was recorded in a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, an old warehouse that was later converted into a practice space, and the faint sounds of other bands mixed with street noise bleed through on multiple tracks, providing for a unique recording. Sure, the guitars are fuzzy, the drumming is fairly aggressive and the vocals are pulled from multiple pop sources, but what makes this record stand out is simply the feeling of it. In my opinion, this album is solid, and I recommend you check it out. –Mike Abooya

Heirs
Fowl
Denovali Records
Street: 04.04
Heirs = Isis + Jesu + Godflesh + Swans
Taking post metal to new heights or musical levels is a hard task to do. Australia’s Heirs aren’t out to break the mold, but to play on well established themes, sounds, and structures, twisting and pulling, just because they can. Take the depravity, repetition and soul-crushing nature of Godflesh and mix it in with the crescendo-building, more melodic Isis, and you have a good indication of Fowl. I applaud artists that can create different imagery while listening as well. Fowl starts out peaceful and melodic enough and degrades repeated in cycles. It all has that air of apocalyptic haze or just dangling on the edge of a cliff by your fingertips—relief may or may not come in the next song, it’s all up to the listener. Heirs’ shoegazy to full-on distortion isn’t new, but it’s a nice trip to take. It’s seducingly calm, and even though time-wise, it builds up over an extended period, it really feels like Heirs can make things go to hell really quick. –Bryer Wharton

I Fail
Highways…
Sacred Plague Records
Street: 08.28.2010
I Fail = (Kakistocracy + Fingerprint)/Fugazi
“Gorgeous” may not be the normative way to describe a hardcore album, but Highways … bellows and reverberates like murder, its spirit rooted in the beauty of terror. The clean chord-picking in the opening “Wall” swiftly grows into a thick, gnarled hardcore piece with smooth transitions between fast D-beats and and slower, accentual percussion—all encased in distorted chords that flow from power chords to more complex musical intervals. Guitarist Eric Sunderman barks gruff vocals with interjectory shrieks from bassist Kaleb Keefer—the lyrics of the release do not affect rebelliousness from a super-apolitical speaker but, rather, question the status quo in simple, thoughtful way. “Broken Windows” springs through nimble orchestration with a single clause for lyrics: “Staring at the world through broken windows.” “Eisenhower” and “All = All” are heavy yet intricate thumpers that set the inlay of a well-rounded EP that demands multiple listens. –Alexander Ortega

Pat Jordache
Future Songs LP
Constellation
Street: 04.26
Pat Jordache = Animal Collective+ TV on the Radio
On Future Sounds, it sounds as if Mr. Pat Gregoire, a.k.a. Pat Jordache, has had a bit too much to drink. His music has been referred to as “stripped,” but I would say it sounds more like butt-naked and ranting. Pat Jordache’s voice sounds like that of someone who might ask you for change on the street. I can barely make out anything he is saying and just want him to leave me alone. Jordache makes attempts at jangly guitar, but just struggles along disjointedly. He often employs dual vocals, one high and one very low, reminiscent of early tracks by The Flaming Lips, where the bass voice spoke under Wayne Coyne’s. The percussion consists of woodblocks, chimes and what sounds like a bike bell. “Phantom Limb” was one of the few tracks that grabbed my attention. A brushed snare roll and a pleasant bouncing bass line provide a solid backing as a soft, high vocal and an organ gently pop in and out. Jordache’s vocals were clearer this time. I got excited as the last song, “Ukuuu,” began, but only because it meant the album was almost over. “Ukuuu” featured a guitar and vocalizing in reverse and would have been a nice track if Jordache would have kept it at that. While Jordache’s experimentations on this LP are commendable, I would have liked to have seen a little more attention to detail and not so much bedroom-noodling. I think Jordache was showing the capabilities of his looping pedal instead of writing solid songs. –Tom Bennett

Kids of 88
Just A Little Bit
Dryden St.
Street: 02.15
Kids of 88 = Starfucker + Delorean + Passion Pit
The second single from their Sugarpills release, “Just A Little Bit,” is the kind of dance song you want to start your night off with, maybe dancing around in underwear in your room before going out, if you’re into that kind of thing. The point is, the fast-paced beat is infectious and heavy, the lyrics are easy to sing along with and have a few little yelps and howls, and the chorus is just fun. The production has that same dense quality you find on Muse records: all distorted, yet totally polished at the same time. The single also contains “Downtown,” which is just as fun, but a little funkier, equipped with synth horns and a twangy guitar line over its tambourined-out throb. “SQRL” starts off slow but comes out like a Chromeo-influenced ‘80s shimmer fest that builds to a great release. Rounding out the single’s five tracks are a couple remixes of “Just a Little Bit,” both fine in their own way, but not as catchy as the original. I’ll be looking forward to the next dance-tastic release from these New Zealand newcomers. –Rio Connelly

LAKE
Giving & Receiving
K Records
Street: 04.12
LAKE = Grandaddy + Kings of Convenience + Frightened Rabbit
Simplicity is the name of the game with LAKE’s newest album, Giving & Receiving. Each song is built upon basic rhythms and familiar indie rock structures. There are small glimpses of experimentation throughout the album, but they’re short-lived and mostly found on instrumental tracks. For the most part, LAKE plays it safe, especially vocally, where the lack of risk-taking and charisma can get boring. Their simple approach is most effective on lighter, happy songs like “Within/Without” and the horn-laden “Stumble Around,” where their quirkiness is endearing. When they get more serious on “Mother Nature’s Promise” and the title track, the flatline vocal performance causes the environmentally-themed lyrics to feel contrived. Ultimately, the album is good, but not memorable. –CG

Little Scream
The Golden Record
Secretly Canadian
Street: 04.12
Little Scream = Cat Power + Portishead
Laurel Sprengelmeyer’s debut album, The Golden Record, creates wounded monologues of conflicting melodies that equally swell into consuming overtures of percussion and float gingerly over the tiny expressions of her voice. Running parallel to Sprengelmeyer’s somber elegance are tracks like “Cannons” and “Red Hunting Jacket,” that excite the listener with marching beats that serve as a successful guide through the dirty and fragile accusations and the pulsating rhythm. Standout track “The Heron and the Fox” weave together fine threads of damaged longing that haunt the whistling, parched tales of love. Each layer combines a beautiful contradiction, much like her moniker Little Scream suggests. (The State Room: 04.02) –Liz Lucero

Lumerians
Transmalinnia
Partisan Records
Street: 03.01
Lumerarians = Spiritualized + Black Angels + Secret Colours
At close to an hour, the Lumerian’s debut release does not spare anything in its maximal drone rock. We have heard this lock-step kraut-influenced percussion, reverbed-out vocals, church organ swells and endlessly exploratory guitar work in bands like (and bands who sound like) Wooden Shjips and local drone-stars Tiny Lights and Plastic Furs. Lumerians stand out from this crowd in their ability not to get lost in their own headspace. The San Francisco-based band have enough variety to keep the listener from completely falling under the hypnotic spell of repetitive percussion. Guitars and that bleating organ squeal and circle around in the upper register while the percussion does its droned-out 4/4 beat beneath. –Ryan Hall

Man Overboard
Real Talk
Run For Cover Records
Street: 07.20.10
Man Overboard = Green Day + Fallout Boy + Smashing Pumpkins (post-1999)
For a band that so openly champions the “defend punk rock” mantra, they couldn’t have created something more poppy if they were playing from a how-to book written by Creed. The Boston-based group formed only a few years ago with the claim of taking back punk, almost declaring by press and presence alone that they were ushering in a new era, and highlighted this debut album as the first step. There’s definitely a harder edge to their beats and chords, yanking out the gritty buzzsaw distortion for almost every lick. However, Real Talk seems to be going through the motions, as if instructed by others on how to arrange their music, which makes everything about their “punk revolution” feel fake. It doesn’t help that most of the songs talk about ex-girlfriends in a whiny crybaby voice. Without the minor edge they have, Real Talk would be classified under emo, and rightfully so. –Gavin Sheehan

Billie Ray Martin
Sweet Suburban
Disco EP
Disco Activisto Records
Street: 02.28
Billie Ray Martin =The One and Only
How Billie Ray Martin consistently appears to make great dance music so effortlessly—especially in this overcrowded genre—is as much a testament to her perfectionism as it is to her prodigious talents. With no less than three releases planned this year, Martin always takes her time, making sure her great offerings continue to inspire as well as astound. Her latest slice of dancefloor heaven, the sublime Sweet Suburban Disco, is no exception. Co-produced and programmed by Maertini Broes’ Mike Vamp, this at first deceptively slow number builds into a trademark BRM hummable chorus that is impossible to resist. This is Italo-disco subtly reinvented, with a delicious beat and constant groove, but above it all is the amazing instrument that is her voice. Like all of Martin’s digital releases, this download boats a generous variety of mixes and remixers, including superb interpretations by Horse Meat Disco’s Severino and Freaks’ Luke Solomon, not to mention the sleek disco stylings of DJ Ray Grant. I may be slightly prejudiced, but for my money, the extra smoldering Vince Clarke mix is hard to beat, especially when you hear him repeat the title using his own filtered vocal. –Dean O Hillis

The Measure [SA]
Notes
No Idea
Street: 11.09.10
The Measure [SA] = The Lawrence Arms + The Ergs! + Iron Chic
Welp, it totally sucks that I’m just hearing The Measure [SA] for the first time because they’re only playing one more show (at the 10th installment of Gainesville’s yearly The Fest this October) and it bums me out that I’ll probably never get to see them live. This is top-notch Jawbreaker-influenced punk rock with plenty of poppiness and energy. The album starts off with a driving drumbeat from Mikey Erg on “Be Yours” before a fast, sharp guitar riff washes over and Lauren Measure’s voice grabs your attention. The next track, “Hell, I’m No Daniel Craig” features a few blistering sections of harmonica rage and is rounded out by the rougher vocal style of Fid. Other highlights include the Fid-fronted “St. Kathleen,” which ends with handclaps and the catchily repeated chorus of “I can’t wait,” “How Do You Spell ‘Sartre’?” and “Timburkulosis.” Part of what kept me away from The Measure [SA] for so long was because of the daunting size of their back catalog, but Notes is a great place to start as it features some of the most fun punk I’ve heard in a long time. Now if only I could afford a plane ticket to Gainesville... –Ricky Vigil

Jared Mees and the Grown Children
Only Good Thoughts Can Stay
Tender Loving Empire
Street: 05.10Jared Mees and the Grown Children = Bright Eyes + Margot & The Nuclear So and Sos
On the surface, Only Good Thoughts Can Stay seems to be a sunny, energetic journey of pop melodies. But prying further, past the joyous guitars and bright glistening horns, lies the recognition of something darker. Jared Mees howls over the lightness of the piano and drums, while Megan Spear softens the blows with her sweet serenade, creating a beautiful harmonic sound. Much like the narrative of his 2008 release, Caffeine, Alcohol, Sunshine, Money, Mees brings his life to the table for examination, with personal allegories woven into each song. “Hungry Like a Tiger” and “Juicy Fruit” have boastful swelling beats with excitable drums that encase the adrenaline-laced horns keeping afloat any threat of loosing those good thoughts. (Urban Lounge:03.24) –Liz Lucero

The Megaphonic Thrift
Decay Decoy
Sonic Unyon
Street: 03.08
The Megaphonic Thrift = Sonic Youth + Dinosaur Jr.
Decay Decoy is Norwegian band The Megaphonic Thrift’s US debut, but still, how have I not heard of this band? The band’s equipment was destroyed in a fire the night before their recording date, but you might only be able to tell from how fiercely the band attacks their fuzzed-out jams. Taking a big page from Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, Decay Decoy starts crunchy and catchy and proceeds to get more intense, often mixing the aggressive with the pretty to magic effect; check out the wash of noise that ends “Candy Sin.” Maybe I’ll get sick of this record by the time they send over their follow-up, but I doubt it. –Nate Housley

Melmac
Le désert Avance
Ronda
Street: 11.01.10
Melmac = Godspeed You! Black Emperor/Tim Hecker
On their third album, duo Melmac conjures up a wealth of textures ranging from wistful ambient sounds to overdriven drone to Godspeed-esque melancholic guitar-plunking. Fourteen-minute closer “Soldat” is the most successful on the album, as it’s the one where the band stretches its wings and gives the song the full weight of introspective focus the form deserves. The rest of the album sounds a little too impatient to truly work in the most patient of genres. The different sounds are compelling, but not enough time is given to letting them sink in. –Nate Housley

Memphis
Here Comes a City
Arts & Crafts
Street: 03.08
Memphis = Death Cab for Cutie + Mae + Broken Social Scene
Best friend duo Torquil Campbell and Chris Dumont have always produced indie pop laced with a special mixture of ambient noises and catchy melodies. Their third full-length release, Here Comes a City, is more of the same. It also resembles Stars, the other group Dumont fronts, but in this less electro-pop setting, his vocals sound even more like Ben Gibbard. Even the lyrical content recalls Death Cab for Cutie, especially on “Apocalyptic Pop Song.” They’re prone to the same repetitive instrumental tracks, which helps to break up the pop songs and make the album a more contemplative experience. Here Comes a City is not the best this genre has to offer, but is worth checking out if you’re a fan of its predecessors. –CG

Most Precious Blood
Do Not Resuscitate
Bullet Tooth
Street: 02.01
Most Precious Blood = Buried Alive + Ringworm + Indecision
One might assume that longtime Brooklyn-based heavyweights Most Precious Blood, coming off a mysterious five-year hiatus, have some catching up to do. However, their newest offering proves not only that they couldn’t care less about convention, but that the wait was well worth it. Born of chunky ‘90s metalcore, but buzzed with frantic millennial paranoia, Do Not Resuscitate seethes with the crazed vitriol and spastic experimentation of a defiant band back to reclaim their territory. Constantly progressing, Rob Fusco showcases more deft vocal range than ever, lyrically blending the traditional (“Animal Mother”) with the terrifying (“Stuart is a Dead Man Walking”), the redemptive (“Of Scattered Ants that Swarm Together”) and the suicidal (“Do Not Resuscitate”). Awash with keyboards and electronic samples, the album marks a triumphant return to form, a nihilistic leap forward and a compelling sonic portrait of maturation in the most restrictive of genres. Excellent. –Dylan Chadwick

New Lows
Harvest of the Carcass
Deathwish Inc.
Street: 01.02.11
New Lows = Think I Care + Integrity + Colin of Arabia
With all the hints this Boston band has been dropping since their 2006 inception (The Paincave Sessions Tape? Brutal!), the blunt-force brilliance of this LP should surprise no one. Boasting a mishmash of notable ex-members and the pummeling production of Painkiller Records’ own CC, the album births a harrowing pastiche of cosmic gloom and blinding rage. Lyrically it seethes, a dismal epic of suffering and defeat, and musically, it refuses to stagnate. “Born and Razed,” with its buzzing, low-end bass, bludgeons relentlessly, “Plaguegrounds” frenetically morphs from a swampy mid-tempo stomp to a razor-wristed whiplash gallop and “The Pounding and the Hollering” mashes over eardrums with a tribal tom beating akin to a pagan funeral march. Violently caustic and gleefully sardonic, New Lows doesn’t push genre boundaries to produce feverishly compelling work…they simply claw at themselves. –Dylan Chadwick

Obscura
Omnivium
Relapse
Street: 03.29
Obscura = Atheist + Necrophagist + Death + Morbid Angel
Germany’s Obscura have returned again and thankfully this time around, instead of hearing about how amazing their new album is second-hand, I get to initially judge and listen for myself. Hype can be irritating and not reading any hype for this record actually allowed me to judge Omnivium for what it is, instead of wondering why people think it’s so damned amazing. Credit is given where it’s due—the four players that make up Obscura all play their asses off and then some. Is this the best tech-death metal album I’ve ever heard? By all means, no. While the album doesn’t have a direct flow between songs, each composition is thought out to be perfectly executed, but still leaves room for the important improvisational feeling that the progressive nature of Obscura carry with them. You could easily compare “Euclidean Elements” to some improvised jazz compositions. The way the band transitions from tempos or just different instrumental planes and textures is done almost flawlessly. There is obvious talent here and fortunately for Obscura, I don’t think the band has hit its peak quite yet. –Bryer Wharton

O’Death
Outside
Earnest Jenning Record Co.
Street: 04.19
O’Death = The Microphones + A Hawk and a Handsaw + The Decemberists
Just when I’m beginning to think most folk-rock bands have begun to melt into one banjo-playing, sad gypsy/mountain man band, O’Death comes out with a new, fresh take on a genre that has worn thin with mistreatment. O’Death were pioneers in the new Gothic Americana movement, playing with elements of bluegrass and country, but still as cutesy indie rock as a band can get. The first single off the album, “Bugs,” has such a haunting, sad feel, but an underlying that is a ray of sunshine (banjo) that picks the song right up. The next few songs are classic O’Death: hand claps, fiddle, slightly pirate. O’Death kicks Mumford & Sons’ ass at being a truly darling band while giving The Decemberists a run for their money with their rock n’ roll attitude. Oh yeah, plus, these guys toured with fucking Battles. Um? Awesome. They’re coming to town with Strange Boys and Natural Child and even though they’re no Battles, it’ll still be a good time, for sure. (Urban: 04.03) –Kyla G.

Phineas And The Lonely Leaves
The Kids We Used to Be
Self-released
Street: 02.11
Phineas And The Lonely Leaves = Okkervil River + the voice of Robert Schneider
Originally a solo project of vocalist Timothy Feeny, Phineas And The Lonely Leaves’ second album is presented by a full indie rock ensemble from all over New York. Though the band is touted as having raw and crazy live performances, these characteristics just don’t show themselves in this album. The standard rock-band fare of a guitar, drums, vocals and some claps are all there, brought together in a fairly well-produced package. Unfortunately, the album just doesn’t leave much of an impression. All of the songs are mellow, subdued and generally pleasant to listen to, they just aren’t exciting or strikingly original. Stories of childhoods past, hot summers, warm beers and love found and lost—the typical stories are all there to create some lyrics that most people can connect to. Sadly, they’re all stories we’ve heard dozens of times already and they’re just not any more engaging this time around. –Ross Solomon

Poor But Sexy
Let’s Move in Together
Self-released
Street: 02.15
Poor But Sexy = Mayer Hawthorne + Dave Matthews Band + Barenaked Ladies
I’d try and describe how incredibly awful these vocals are, how consistently unlistenable this music is, how utterly revolting I find the entire concept of this “post-punk-funk turned R&B band” to be, but I don’t have the space. Instead, I’ll rearrange some lyrics to tell a sad love story: “You came to my party, you danced with me, you put some very suggestive songs on a mixed CD. Next I saw you were dancing with another man, your hands all up in his hair and your hips like hands in his hands and I said, you don’t have to hide, you don’t have to lie, just tell me about it. I will take your confession. I want you in my life, but if you’re sloppy drunk, then it won’t be no fun. It was a sad story to live down—she was pissing herself like a racecar driver. Maybe this whole thing was ill conceived. Maybe I need some whiskey.” –Mike Abu

Ringo Deathstarr
Colour Trip
Sonic Unyon Records
Street: 03.08
Ringo Deathstarr = Jesus and Mary Chain + My Bloody Valentine + Tripwires
There’s nothing Yellow Submarine about this album. Ringo Deathstarr is a nu-gaze quartet out of Austin that specializes in noisy melodic pop songs layered in a thick fuzz of feedback. The male vocals are noticeably subdued and low in the mix, with male and female vocals harmonizing interchangeably, providing for subtle reverb-infused harmonies that span an impressive spectrum. The band clearly fancies a whirlwind blend of often indecipherable sonic guitars, which might have made for a potentially boring sound if it hadn’t been for the powerful drumming. In my estimation, a wall-of-sound approach to music can be overwhelming at times, but the underlying use of straightforward beats help to sustain a distinguishable focus to the songs, a simple effect most noise bands fail to appreciate. I’m not really a shoegaze type of guy, but I’d check Ringo Deathstarr out if they rolled through Urban Lounge. –Mike Abu

Rot in Hell
As Pearls Before Swine
Street: 02.01
Deathwish
Rot in Hell = Integrity + Ringworm + Holy Terror
Other than power violence, there really isn’t a niche sub-genre in hardcore with as clearly a defined sound as Holy Terror. You know exactly what it’s going to be before you hear it. Holy Terror is a genre comprised of bands caught in Integrity-worship/camaraderie—depending on your viewpoint—that make some evil-sounding shit. This album has been a while coming, being recorded back in early 2009, but it’s still relevant. Regardless of the trappings of being in a narrow genre, Rot and Hell are solid—filling the space they occupy well. It’s not an album simply of fast and evil; there are plenty of moody interludes, extra instrumentation, spoken word portions and lead guitar riffing, which are all things bands in the latest wave of Holy Terrorism miss out on. Those not into Holy Terror probably won’t find much here, but those who are, or want an introduction, will eat it up. –Peter Fryer

Royal Bangs
Flux Outside
Glassnote Records
Street: 03.29
Royal Bangs = Flaming Lips + Radiohead
Royal Bangs originally started in 2001 and followed the “DIY” handbook for five years, eventually self-recording and producing their 2006 debut album We Breed Champions before being forced into hiatus. Things probably would have stayed that way had Patrick Carney (The Black Keys) not found them on MySpace and immediately signed them to his label. Since that time, the Tennessee natives re-issued their debut and released their sophomore album Let It Beep to mixed reviews. Now after a label switch and a lineup change, Royal Bangs are back with a new album. Flux Outside contains some of the strangest drum fillers and guitar effects found on any indie release, but it works beautifully. On songs like “Bull Elk” and “Silver Steps,” Ryan Schaefer’s near-strained vocals echoed out a sympathetic howl through what otherwise sounds like unfiltered noise. Flux Outside is a fine piece of experimental rock. –Gavin Sheehan

Run With the Hunted
Self-titled
Panic
Street: 11.23.10
Run With The Hunted = Most Precious Blood + Catharsis + early Converge
I foolishly assumed this would be dogmatic, preachy, 90s-style chug-core, rife with warnings (in requisite drop-D tuning) about an impending vegan apocalypse. Shame on me for making short-sighted assumptions, but thank the ghost of Raybeez I was wrong! For their first full-length, these Phoenix natives blend a biting cocktail of metallic hardcore urgency, Botch-esque chaos, and bleakly witty lyricism to create a forceful, challenging and multidimensional record. Political? Absolutely, but it never cheapens itself with militant rhetoric and actually finds great strength in the short moments where they break away from restrictive 90s hardcore norms. “Occam’s Razor” whips itself into sweaty rock n’ roll fury similar to Bars or Heavier than Heaven-era Blacklisted and the maniacal riffing in “Magna Cum Laude” is downright infectious. My only gripe is the awkward spoken-word poetry of “Synesthesia,” but I certainly can’t fault ‘em for wanting to save the Earth. –Dylan Chadwick

RYAT
Avant Gold + Avant Gold Remixed
Obvious Bandits
Street: 03.08
RYAT = Yeasayer x Bjork
Avant Gold is a stew of genres that sounds like a trainwreck on paper—drum n’ bass, prog-rock, dubstep, jazz—but sounds revelatory in its execution. The maximalist production is superb, making effective use of the kitchen sink approach without sounding amateurish or pedantic. The album impresses on first listen thanks to the unique sonics, but continues to sound better due to the solid songwriting, especially “Not for this Lifetime,” a track that starts promising and only gets better. The accompanying remix disc sounds similar to the original’s cut-and-paste aesthetic, and predictably does the best work with the best source material—Botany’s remix of “Not for this Lifetime.” A uniquely talented voice, RYAT is an artist audaciously following her muse. –Nate Housley

The Saddest Landscape
You Will Not Survive
Panic
Street: 09.28.10
The Saddest Landscape = Pianos Become the Teeth + Touche Amore + Suis La Lune
The circuitous cycle of music has thrown yet another curveball into the wider world of punk rock as screamo (think skinny, pale dudes clad in all black with French band names rather than Hot Topic kids with multi-colored hair) has made a return. The album artwork of You Will Not Survive features a black and white photo of a downward facing young man smoking a cigarette in front of a dead bush clinging to a gray building—This should adequately prepare your head for plenty of anguished screaming and pummeling, somewhat jerky songs. Opener “Declaring War on Nostalgia” begins with a rapid but empty drumbeat followed by piercing guitars before vocalist Andy Maddox takes over the track. When it comes down to it, the focal point of screamo is the vocalist, but the band behind him is responsible for creating the mood, making him sound as desperate and fucked up as he needs to be, and The Saddest Landscape do a great job of this. Other highlights include the dramatically titled “Eternity is Lost on the Dying” and “Imperfect But Ours,” which contrasts Maddox’s harsh vocals with a smooth, haunting female voice. Clocking in at just over 25 minutes and consisting of 7 songs, You Will Not Survive is intense enough that you won’t really be able to handle any more--but in the best way possible. –Ricky Vigil

Scepticflesh
The Great Mass
Season of Mist
Street: 04.19
Scepticflesh = Rotting Christ + Hollenthon + Dimmu Borgir + Nightfall
¨This is one gratuitously grand, beautiful, monolithic piece of music. Greek-bred Septicflesh have been honing their craft for almost 20 years now; granted, they took a reprieve from crafting music from 2003 to 2007, but they hit the metal scene hard with their 2008 return album Communion; this latest offering, The Great Mass, continues where the last album left off thematically, but musically the songs’ creativity have morphed into pure perfection. Scepticflesh have never been the typical death metal band, utilizing atmosphere with keyboards, orchestrations and depths upon depths of guitar, vocal and songwriting variations. Once the opening track “The Vampire from Nazareth,” hits, you’re stuck—jaw dropped—head tightly clung in a vice-grip and really the only bad thing about The Great Mass is that it ends. The production is absolutely flawless; there are so many bands that attempt to incorporate orchestration into their music to give it that grandeur sweeping and massive feel, like Dimmu Borgir’s attempts as of late, but Dimmu and the others like them often fall flat. Not Septicflesh, not this album—the orchestration mixed with harsh-to-melodic guitar-riffing will strike awe in listeners with every returned listen. I’d challenge this to be compared to some highly renowned classical compositions. There is nothing like The Great Mass in metal—grasp it, embrace it and most of all, be taken to realms you’ve never experienced before. –Bryer Wharton

Shunda K
The Most Wanted
Street: 01. 11
Fanatic Records
Shunda K = MC Lyte + Da Brat + Rob Bass/DJ EZ Rock
This lady is dope. She spits like a lot of ladies (and dudes, bros, MUTHAFUCKIN’ MCs) wish they could. It’s really refreshing to hear someone of this caliber rhyming with this kind of authority. Her lyrical stylings punctuate staccato beats and have good flow, and plenty of roll-bounce. The album is high-energy and hooky as hell with an awesome sense of street cred (i.e., smarts). It’s a little uneven in spots, but as an early effort, it’s definitely impressive and has high-quality, lo-fi authenticity. Highlights include the title track, where she serves her bragging rights with lightning-fast rhymes over 80s beats and comes out swinging hard into the bombastic mission of “DANCING” before dropping into worldly polyrhythms of “Feel Da Bass.” Shunda K’s talent is so real, if she were a “G” she’d be fuggin’ rich. I would love to see her throwing down at a battle. I get the feeling she’d be putting heads on sticks. –Mary Houdini

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club
Unentitled
Alternative Tentacles
Street: 03.01.11
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club = Nick Cave + the Devil Makes Three + Tom Waits + the Sadies
Strange, dark and haunting, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club pounds out their unique brand of alt-folk and country without regard to trend, fade, or influence from anything of their own choosing. The gospel-style, call back choruses on “Do You Know Thee Enemy?” is more of a disturbing device than a call to God. The best thing I can say about Slim Cessna and his cavalcade musicians is that they have way of invoking folk and bluegrass without any sort of blatant mimicry. Religious themes shine throughout the record, but the strongest example may be the epic “Hallelujah Anyway,” which starts out as a creepy gospel-derived track and stops to tell an evocative story of religion, and sin in a testimonial style that only Slim Cessna could bring you. One-of-a-kind every time out, if you’re looking for something original or different, then look no further—the Auto Club is here to save you. –James Orme

Small Brown Bike
Fell & Found
No Idea
Street: 04.26
Small Brown Bike = The Casket Lottery + Samiam + Grade
Lacking the noodly guitars and nasally vocals of their peers, Small Brown Bike stood apart from their early-2000s emo/post-hardcore brethren with their combination of emotion and ass-kickery. Fell & Found is the band’s first album since reforming in 2009, and it showcases Small Brown Bike at the top of their game. Nothing about this album feels forced—Small Brown Bike seems to have reunited because they actually want to make music with each other rather than cash in on their former glory. The title track and the jangly “You Always Knew Me” are great emotive punk rock songs, but the album really shines when co-vocalist Ben Reed takes the mic and slows things down with his gravelly voice on “Sleep River Sleep” and “Just Bones.” Those unfamiliar with SBB will be better off with Dead Reckoning or the band’s split with The Casket Lottery, but Fell & Found is a great example of a reunion album done right. –Ricky Vigil

Snowblink
Long Live
Fire Records
Street: 02.15
Snowblink = Feist + Andrew Bird + Laura Gibson
To best describe the sound of this Toronto-based duo, it would require one to leave their armchair and step outside of the city. Composed of just Daniela Gesundheit and Dan Goldman, lush harmonies and gentle vocals drive this nature-themed release. Long Live’s effortless warmth can be attributed to well-structured melodies and plucked guitars featured throughout the album. From the opening track “Rut & Nuzzle,” well into “Green to Gone,” there is a strong questioning element lying within Gesundheit’s lyrics. This collection of tracks is offered to the listener using natural observations narrated along a beautiful, folk-pop-infused journey. –Ryan Schoeck

The Sounds
Something to Die for
SideOneDummy Records
Street: 03.29
The Sounds = Blondie + Goldfrapp
For their fourth album, the workmanlike dance rock group produced it themselves. Appropriately, the emphasis remains on the hooks rather than on anything too experimental or self-indulgent. That being said, some songs do overstay their welcome—should a Sounds song really last 5:33? Also, the album closer sounds like a country ballad and not in a good way. But for the most part, the Sounds know what they’re good at—even if it’s not imbuing catchy pop songs with sly wit like, say, Goldfrapp—and they’re not shy about it. “We conquer our planet with dance,” Maja Ivarsson sings. Enough said. –Nate Housley

SUNS
Close Calls in the U.S. Space Program & The Howl and the Many
Self - Released
Street: 08.31
SUNS = Circa Survive + Local Natives
SUNS’ six members deliver spacey jams that incorporate fuzzy waves of lyrical absentmindedness with densely layered percussion that rises and falls through liquid tempos. Separating their nine-song EP into two entities allows the listener to mentally compile the different progression and draw a stark line of contrast. The first five tracks including “Bright Lights” and “Little Horn” are a throbbing sludge of wandering rhythm, while the final four with “Everything Changes” and “Four Winds” offer up a raw vulnerability of aggression with thrusting drums and cruelly shouted vocals that create a wounded aesthetic that serves as a compelling driving force. Overall, SUNS’ effect is a dark invasion of spirit that is equally inviting and overly pretentious. –Liz Lucero

T-model Ford and Gravelroad
Taledragger
Alive
Street: 01.11
T-Model Ford + Gravelroad = T-model Ford and Gravelroad
T-Model Ford may be the last true bluesman from the Delta in the entire world. His playing is an extension of his soul—to know his music is to know the man, so to speak. Largely autobiographical in content, T-Model has built a career with fans that aren’t interested in the technical aspects of his playing, but the honesty of it. Usually taking a Spartan approach with just his guitar, drums, and a the occasional guest, this time out, however, the nearly 90-year-old T-Model has joined forces with accomplished blues players Gravelroad. The result is a spectacular blues record. While the boys in Gravelroad complement T-model’s personality and style, they never get in his way; instead, they combine for some dark and dirty blues tunes. “Red Dress” is a song that stands out because of its simplicity and the chemistry in the playing feel, which is especially tight. I hope T-Model Ford returns to doing things on his own like on Pee Wee Get My Gun and Bad Man, but I also would love to hear more records like this as well. –James Orme

Ebo Taylor
Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980
Strut
Street: 04.11
Ebo Taylor = Fela Kuti + Miles Davis + Sly and the Family Stone
Fans of Afrobeat, take note. Ebo Taylor was a Ghananian contemporary of Fela (they studied music in London together in 1962), and with this collection, he clearly makes his mark as one of the founding fathers of Afrobeat. His songs showcase a fusion of jazz sensibilities, soul horns, funky bass and organs mixed into traditional African rhythms that are guaranteed to keep the body bouncing from top to bottom. The lyrics are often political descriptions of ethnically divided ‘70s Ghanaian life, and the struggle for equality is prominent throughout this collection. Ebo’s use of the electric guitar makes his music stand apart from other Afrobeat bands, and his sublime virtuoso performances blend surprisingly well. My only complaint is that this two-disc compilation isn’t spinning on my record player right now. –Mike Abu

Thursday
No Devolución
Epitaph
Street: 04.12
Thursday = Jupiter-era Cave In + City of Ships + The Appleseed Cast
With the aptly titled No Devolución, Thursday delivers a sound they have been hinting at since 2006’s A City by the Light Divided. No Devolución is a collection of cold soundscapes populated by a thick layer of atmospheric instrumentation. Fans who didn’t enjoy the slower passages of recent Thursday releases aren’t going to be into this, but those who somehow graduated from the Warped Tour to Mogwai or had their eyes opened by Thursday’s split with Envy will eat this up. Vocalist Geoff Rickly’s voice is electronically filtered throughout most of the album, but it adds to the detached, empty (but in a good way) feeling of the album. Highlights include “Sparks against the Sun,” featuring piano and an excellent swelling of synth just before the chorus, and the slow-burning “Magnets Caught In a Metal Heart.” The album is a bit too long and a few songs fall flat, but overall, No Devolución is an excellent addition to Thursday’s catalog. –Ricky Vigil

Toro y Moi
Underneath the Pine
Carpark Records
Street: 02.22
Toro y Moi = The Sea and Cake + Holy Ghost! + Epstein
For a follow-up album to a scene-starting, genre-producing, oft-copied debut, Chaz Bundick sure knows how pull the rug under music journalists. While much of the hyper-complex instrumental arrangements, lock-steady funk bass lines and Brian Wilson-inspired choral vocals were buried underneath an avalanche of reverb and fuzz on 2010’s Causers of This, Bundick has pushed these elements to the forefront of his production and all but abandoned the warped, effects-driven sound palate of the blogger-coined chillwave genre. The result is an album showcasing top-notch arrangement capabilities and bustling musical ideas ranging from 70s adult contemporary, to krautrock, to funk, to French house, but lacking in the immediacy and bracing charm of his debut. (Urban Lounge: 03.30) –Ryan Hall

Various Artists
The Big Pink Presents: Tapes
!K7 Records
Street: 10.18.10
Tapes = Stardust + Mr. Oizo + “American Bandstand”
As a musician, Milo Cordell is best known as one-half of the multi-versatile British electro-rock duo The Big Pink, but on the side, he moonlights as a producer on numerous artist’s work across both sides of the pond. This time, Cordell decided to stretch his legs beyond the singular group album and put together a compilation of techno and dance music from relatively unknown musicians, most only gaining the kind of exposure social networking would allow. Little reasoning seems to have gone into the structure of the 19 mesmerizing tracks beyond what Cordell enjoyed listening to at the time of its construction. Tapes is a tour de force of underground American electronica, both conventional and experimental, with little repetitiveness and great promise from several involved. The only disappointing factor is there’s nothing on here from The Big Pink, as the band name was simply pimped out to garner attention. –Gavin Sheehan

Various Aritsts
Fania Records 1964-1980: The Original Sound of Latin New York
Strut
Street: 03.21
Salsa Explosion = Desi Arnaz + Tito Puente + Fania All-Stars
In the latest installment of collections from Strut, this highly anticipated two-disc set captures the development of the renowned New York salsa label Fania from its establishment in 1964 through its formative years. Legendary artists like Ray Barretto and Willie Colon helped shape what was to become Fania’s distinctive sound (a mixture of salsa, jazz and AfroCuban), and the new “Latin Motown” movement was strongly embraced by the exploding Latin communities across New York City in the 1970s. From somewhat of an outsider’s perspective, it was easy for some of these tracks to blend in together, but after listening through a few times, I found myself heading to the Internet to find out more about the artists. The album includes a 32-page booklet compiling a history of the label, album art and photos, so if you’re not familiar with salsa, this would be a great place to start. –Mike Abooya

Wolf Ram Heart
Betrayal of Hearts
Sovereign States
Street: 04.05
Wolf Ram Heart = The National + Andrew Bird + Phil Spector
Named after the evil, multidimensional corporate law firm from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer cult classic spin-off Angel, Wolf Ram Heart is a psychedelic dark pop band from Columbus, Ohio. They write gloomy ballads intertwined with slowly evolving instrumentation, and their use of a male/female vocal combination gives their hooks a fairly Ravonettes-esque sound. I really like an organ player who isn’t afraid of sliding down the keyboard furiously for a solo, and Wolf Ram Heart appears to know how to tastefully to utilize said energy in a somewhat solemn album. Apparently the album was recorded on a rural farm deep in Amish country, and I’ve been told you can hear the churchy Sleepy Hollow influence. I think I’m gonna keep this one in the van for a bit and see if I can’t explore it further. –Mike Abu

Xray Eyeballs
Not Nothing
Kanine Records
Street: 04.19
Xray Eyeballs = The Black Angels + 13th Floor Elevators + Jay Reatard + Black Lips + The Growlers
This Brooklyn-based garage rock outfit combines dreamy psychedelic melodies with a distorted raw edge to create a debut album packed with instantly catchy tracks. On the first four tracks, the group sounds like The Black Angels on a heavy dose of methadone—which ultimately makes for the perfect soundtrack for a rainy Sunday hungover afternoon. The music is mellow enough to space out to, but engaging enough that it won’t put you to sleep. On “Drums of Dead,” the band threw a curveball with opening notes that would sound more fitting on a song from The Cure. After the brief surprise, it was back to more of the same—melodic garage rock with a psychedelic edge that occasionally broke the mold crossing over into slightly more distorted territory. Although the album clocks in at 11 tracks, at times it sounds more like six, with many of the songs blending together into a sort of indiscernible mash. Despite the sometimes-repetitive nature of the songs, I have a feeling that in a live setting, the Xray Eyeballs would flesh out the monotony. Standout tracks include “Kamsing Nights,” “Fake Wedding,” and “X-Ray Eyeballs Theme.” –Jeanette D. Moses