National CD Reviews

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ARP
The Soft Wave
Smalltown Supersound
Street: 09.07
ARP = NEU! 75 + Double Fantasy + Cloudland Canyon
Alexis Georgopoulos’ ambient solo project is an inviting bath of warm analog tones unbound by trajectory or orbit. Glowing washes of synthesizers, droning guitars, and codeine-drip percussion meet you halfway on your comedown from a night of dancing or in the middle of a nighttime cross-country road trip. Georgopoulous filters his luminescent drags of pitch-shifted tonality through a few decades’ worth of krautrock influences, Balearic down-tempo, and classic Eno ambience, creating a golden and sunlit companion to summers past and present. The Soft Wave finds beauty in the aural disruption and destruction of sound waves stretched to their absolute breaking point on the excellent long-playing opener, “Pastoral Symphony: I. Dominoes II. Infinity Room” and piano-laden “Catch Wave.” You will be hard-pressed to find a prettier album this year. –Ryan Hall
 

Bars of Gold
Of Gold
Friction
Street: 08.24
Bars of Gold = Bear Vs Shark + Q and Not U + Modest Mouse
On their debut album, Bars of Gold have accomplished a feat that most bands never will: these Chicagoans have created an album that is incredibly easy to listen to. Featuring the explosive vocals of Marc Paffi (formerly of Bear Vs Shark), these eight tracks are reminiscent of the poppier bands of the post-punk revival of the early 2000s, but with a healthy dose of punk rock and post-hardcore sensibilities. Opener “Boss Level” is probably the weakest track, but the 8-bit synth and Paffi’s lightly gruff vocals keep it from getting stale. “The Hustle” is easily the standout track, as it sounds like Paffi has angrily wandered into a Franz Ferdinand song armed with a banjo, as the band rips up the scenery with a steady drumbeat and cool synths. Even when the guitars are crashing into and out of each other and the drumming gets more complex on “Birds” and “Up Up Up,” it all comes across as more relaxed than masturbatory. All of the description in the world really doesn’t convey how great this album is, so procure it by any means necessary—like, now. –Ricky Vigil

The Black
Sun in the Day Moon at Night
Moon
Street: 10.12
The Black = Hank Williams + The Byrds
I like garage rock—throw me nostalgia for an era during which I did not exist and I will fucking eat it up. But this band takes everything I didn’t like about my grandfather’s country music collection and merges it with everything I don’t like about CCR and is trying to sell it as garage pop. It’s amazing to me how uncool these fuckers are—the vocalist’s nasally voice whining like a drunk 16-year-old singing, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” One of the biggest factors in a rock n’ roll band’s success is being cool; you can’t just throw on a slightly tapered black and white suit and fake it.. The Hives tried that already and nobody has heard from them in years, and I am pretty sure The Hives would beat these guys’ asses in a drunken brawl, and they are Swedish, so that is saying something. –Cody Hudson

Blonde Redhead
Penny Sparkle
4AD
Street: 09.14
Blonde Redhead = Slowdive + Cocteau Twins
Listening to Blonde Redhead’s eighth album, Penny Sparkle, frustrates me. I think the band withdrew from the identity I grew to love and entered the Federal Witness Protection Program. Don’t expect a repeat of 23, don’t expect to hear brilliant fluttering whirls of rhythmic chamber-pop or thoughtful placement of feedback. PS instead delivers layers of emptiness that require a great deal of patience. If you doze off at the wrong moment, things may get painful. “Not Getting There” has a surreal electric soundscape in which to lose yourself. “My Plants are Dead” is bleak, sparse and guaranteed to cause emotional turmoil. The trio teases you with a light dose of momentum on “Will There Be Stars” and “Everything is Wrong.” Penny Sparkle is poetic enough to remain totally abstract and personal enough to identify with. It’s just a shame the band has followed up their best work to date with their weakest moment. –Courtney Blair

Blue Water White Death
Self-Titled
Graveface
Street: 10.12
Blue Water White Death = Xiu Xiu + Nico + Shearwater + Former Ghosts
Blue Water White Death is a collaboration between Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart and the siren-like Jonathan Meiburg from Shearwater. Blue Water White Death hardly reaches beyond the sum of its parts. While the project purports to be a collaboration (every instrument is played by the two), the album is divvied up pretty equally between the two, with each musician taking lead vocals on every other track. But Stewart’s penchant for sabotaging his own compositions with moments of ghostly, piercing audio-terrorism is distributed equally between both camps’ contributions. Aside from Meiburg’s gorgeous vocal contributions (you MUST hear “Song for the Greater Jihad.” NOW) much of this much-anticipated contribution falls into the insufferable art-song arena of late-era post-VU Nico. It is not in their favor when I say that Blue Water White Death sounds exactly like what you would expect between this collaboration—easy to get lost in, but hard to imagine returning to. –Ryan Hall

Boris & Ian Astbury
BXI
Southern Lord
Street: 08.16
BXI = Pierced Arrows + The Cult + A Place to Bury Strangers
As head-scratching as a collaboration between the legendary goth-metal howler Ian Astbury from The Cult and Japanese drone/doom metal harbingers Boris may seem, the experiment, while compromised, is an overall success. Aside from the reverb-drenched shoegaze cover of The Cult’s “Rain,” sung by childlike-voiced Wata, there is little indication that Boris, known for causing an ear-bleeding wall of noise, is accompanying Astbury’s belting voice and quasi-mystical anthems. Anthemic is certainly an applicable word here. “Teeth and Claws” and “Magickal Child” are fist-in-the-air, four-on-the-floor burners which trade some of the more subtle moments of Boris’ atmospheric guitar work for chugging riffs and sell-all crescendos. While this may seem like a strange departure in the prolific Japanese trio’s catalogue, it is nonetheless an accessible gem of a record and a bright spot in their illustrious career. –Ryan Hall

Breathe Owl Breathe
Magic Central
Hometapes
Street: 09.28
Breathe Owl Breathe = Kings of Convenience + Feist + Horse Feathers
This album, which borders on electro-folk, immediately sounds familiar. It never breaches new ground, or makes you second-guess it, because it feels safe. They do a really good job of making catchy melodies; it almost feels like Kings of Convenience tried to make a Grizzly Bear album. However, I think the album would have been far more interesting and fun to listen to if they would have had more keyboard-heavy songs (like “Board Games”) or used the female vocalist (who sounds so similar to Leslie Feist that it nearly makes me uncomfortable) more often. –Cody Hudson

Budos Band
Budos Band III
Daptone Records
Street: 08.10
Budos Band = Fela Kuti + Connie Price & The Keystones + Ennio Morricone
It’s time for dinner, so pull up a chair to the table: a blazing main course of spooky Afro-funk-soul is about to get served. Side dishes include punching bass lines, skull-crushing horns, pulsating guitar, multi-layered percussion and Booker T-like organ. Budos Band returns with their third album, simply titled III, released on the you-should-know-by-now Daptone label. III finds the nine-, sometimes dozen-member band in a darker and moodier place, sounding like they’ve scored an early Bond film. The meal starts off with the savory “Black Venom,” followed by the seasoned “Unbroken, Unshaven,” and finishes with the mysterious “Reppirt Yad” (Day Tripper backwards). The meal only takes 38 minutes, but it will leave you completely satisfied. –Courtney Blair

Castevet
The Echo & The Light
Tiny Engines
Street: 08.17
Castevet = Braid + The Casket Lottery + My Heart to Joy
For me, the best way to measure a new band’s greatness is whether or not I feel inspired to track down their back catalog after hearing a new release. Within a week of hearing The Echo & The Light, I became the proud owner of every other Castevet release so far. Not to be confused with the black metal outfit of the same name (who are probably more deserving of a moniker inspired by Rosemary’s Baby), the Chicago-based Castevet is one of the better post-hardcore/emo revivalists to emerge in recent years. If a band sounds even remotely similar to Hot Water Music, I’m usually on board, so the gruff-yet-melodic vocals of Castevet pulled me in, but the excellent guitar work on The Echo & The Light is what really makes it stand out. Will McEvilly and Nick Wakim weave around each other’s playing, recalling the post-rock-influenced emo of The Appleseed Cast. Angular, melodic, driving and emotional, The Echo & The Light is one of the most surprising and promising releases of the year. –Ricky Vigil

Chloe Charles       
Little Green Bud EP
Self-Released
Street: 09.21
Chloe Charles=Mary J. Blige + Joni Mitchell
Chloe Charles’ voice defies categorization—she sounds like several iconic female vocalists ranging in diversity from Beth Gibbons, Sade and even Joni Mitchell—and is absolutely riveting. The five songs comprising this EP could best be described as “chamber pop,” as Charles plays a classical guitar and there are violins and violas and even glockenspiel, and yet modern enough to entrance, with some subtle programming here and there. There was no press sheet with this EP and I still don’t know where she came from—and more importantly, why she isn’t signed to a label yet—but hers is a major new talent. All five tracks are consistently fantastic and I found myself listening to them over and over again. Lyrically, I was reminded of the intelligence of Suzanne Vega—and especially her eponymous debut’s lyrics of cold, winter and cracking—but her vocals defy a solid comparison to any specific artist. The absolutely gorgeous “Soon On A Snowflake” is like a lullaby captured inside a snow globe and “Progression” and “Water” are equally lovely. The EP’s closing track, “Salamander Red,” is perhaps that most pop-friendly tune here, and where Charles’ voice sounds its freest. This is a fantastic introduction to a talent we’ll hopefully be hearing a lot more of in the future. –Dean O Hillis

Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire
Songs of Ill Hope and Desperation
Prosthetic Records
Street: 06.06
CTTTOAFF = Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza + Masakari
I love an album that doesn’t waste any time getting to the point. Pop in Songs of Ill Hope and Desperation and you’ll be aurally assaulted quicker than you can say “I wish my CD player was iPod-compatible.” On “Shat Out My Bones,” CTTTOAFF do what every aggressive band should do at least once––they beat the hell out of their instruments for 57 seconds, and end the song with fist-pumping downbeats. “Gold Frankincense & Myth” is the band’s most versatile track, offering a lot of snare drum-less sections to rest your aural palette between bludgeonings. “Empty” is actually comfortably full of blastbeats, growling, and chaotic guitars, all packed within 48 seconds. For how long-winded this band is in text (20 syllables between their name and the album title), they are certainly direct and to the point in song, and that’s a good thing. –Andrew Roy

Combichrist
Making Monsters
Metropolis
Street: 09.28
Combichrist = Front Line Assembly + Velvet Acid Christ + Icon of Coil + Hoccico
Fresh on the heels of last year’s Today We Are All Demons, Combichrist is back with Making Monsters to further stick their proverbial foot up the electronic and industrial music scene’s ass. I used to attempt to follow the who’s who in industrial music and more aggressive/dark electronic music, though it always feels as if there is some new band pushing the so-called “boundaries,” and I gave up on the genre aside from Front Line Assembly and current scene frontrunner Combichrist. I listen to the last three albums from Combichrist quite regularly—each has their own strengths and weak points, but I’m hard-pressed to find much of anything wrong with Making Monsters. Its traditional industrial/dance undertones push the dark, pulsing beats of the album into the realm of feeling like the awesome old-school of industrial but with a clean modern spin. As any artist should, Combichrist is getting better with experience—expect plenty of the bass pumping, darkly twisting and irreverent anthems from Making Monsters to dominate not just your subwoofer, but also just about every dance club. –Bryer Wharton

Cowboy Indian Bear
Each Other All The Time
The Record Machine
Street: 05.14
Cowboy Indian Bear = We Were Promised Jetpacks + Player Piano + Peter Bjorn and John
Despite ALMOST sounding like most other indie-pop/rock bands out there, Cowboy Indian Bear makes it happen in the best way possible. With sharp percussion and dance-y beats, catchy lyrics and a contagious energy throughout the whole album, what they made is pure, lustrous, sunshine pop. Although some songs are grittier than others, Each Other All The Time flows together seamlessly, all 12 songs with their own dynamic sound. "Madeline" starts the album off with a bass-heavy, soulful tune effortlessly switching it up on "Oh, Madison," favoring trumpet-y keyboards, upbeat glockenspiel and catchy lyrics. They have an eclectic sound, still keeping it low-key, focusing on warm harmonies and thoughtful music, not just noise. Cowboy Indian Bear has had a small following since their debut in 2008, a two-song split with It's True, indie cuties from Omaha, and has since opened for acts such as The Appleseed Cast, Eagle Seagull and Murder By Death, to name a few. They've got a unique sound while still definitely appealing to the masses, securing their longevity in the ever-changing indie-rock scene. –Kyla G

Dive Index
The Surface We Divide
Neutral Music
Street: 10.12
Dive Index = Notwist +Portishead – Beth Gibbons
The Surface We Divide is the perfect soundtrack for leaving the club lonely to go back to your uptown condo. Dive Index mixes electronic and acoustic instrumentation for a sleek, sparse sound reminiscent of the Notwist or Lali Puna. This album employs four different singers from around the world, recorded and sent in to producer and bandleader Will Thomas á la Postal Service. The variety of the vocalists offers good contrast to the melancholy instrumentation of the album, which becomes slightly monotonous by the end of its 51 minutes. The pattern of these tracks—starting off quiet and building up to an energetic finish with repetitive, mantra-like refrains—doesn’t come off as formulaic, however, largely because bandleader Will Thomas’ production is impeccable. Where the album falters is in providing memorable hooks. The album fits a particular mood perfectly, but a couple spins won’t get any melodies stuck in your head. In short, this album isn’t breaking any new ground, but if you’re a fan of this particular sound, it would make a good addition to your record collection. –Nate Housley

Dark Dark Dark
Wild Go
Supply and Demand
Street: 10.05
Dark Dark Dark = Beirut + Trailer Bride + Bramble
The instrumental and lyrical connection between Dark Dark Dark’s multi-instrumentalists Nona Marie Invie and Marshall LaCount has always felt intrinsic and familial. The way LaCount’s banjo curves around Invie’s piano and vocal lines sound second nature. With Wild Go, however, the Minneapolis chamber-folk group has expanded their inherent musicality with a sextet of acoustic musicians. This expanse in membership contributes to the sweeping grandeur of every ballad and traditional folk song on the album. Dark Dark Dark venture through the murky waters of traditional American folk, ranging from upbeat street-corner busking to jazz-influenced piano ballads with an ever-present tinge of nostalgia and sophistication. The cinematic album closer “Wild Go” is a regret-filled description of a post-apocalyptic New York City that sends chills up my spine every time I hear it. –Ryan Hall

Dusted Angel
Earth Sick Mind
Mankind Records
Street: 10.12
Dusted Angel = Earthride + Kalas + Kyuss + High on Fire
There is no play button to listen to Dusted Angel’s debut full-length, Earth Sick Mind, only a boom button. It just may be the closest I’ll ever get to pushing down the plunger to demolish a building or some other decrepit structure. The album is seriously one sick and thick groove machine—it doesn’t tire, it keeps on rolling with various tempos and different branding of all that is the mighty groove. Somebody genetically engineered some mammoths for this album or its sonic equivalent for the rhythm section of Dusted Angel—it sounds like a big, fuzzy beast stomping concrete cinder blocks into dust. “Tards on Shards,” and “Pulverizer,” are two of the best doom/stoner/groove metal tracks you’ll hear all year. High on Fire has gotten redundant—it’s time for them to move over and let a band that can come up with some hugely devastating riffs and memorable songs steal some limelight. Find this record, own it, and embrace the power of the riff, because when they’re good, damn, they’re good, and Dusted Angel just dished out seven tracks for your worshipping ears to be pleasured by. –Bryer Wharton

Encoffination
Ritual Ascension Beyond Flesh
Selfmadegod Records
Street: 09.28
Encoffination = Disembowelment + Decrepitaph + Grief + Incantation
This is one claustrophobic album. The more each track progresses, the more you feel trapped and full-on immersed in its awfully low-end sound. Ritual Ascension Beyond Flesh has been available on tape and vinyl since earlier this year, but Selfmadegod is giving it the digital treatment for mass consumption and distribution. The two-piece act, comprised of members of Festered and Decrepitaph, does pay an obvious homage of early death/doom acts, but gives new meaning to atmospheric death/doom. Its pace is like funeral doom. There aren’t many sustained riffs, vocal passages or drum beats that you’ll remember, but that is far from the point of Encoffination. Listening to their first full-length is an experience. Forget the singular tracks and churn this maggot-ridden, rotting, distortion-filled album as a whole, and you will earnestly feel enveloped in it and trapped—not as if you’re on the brink of death, but buried and dead with only an abyss to stare into. Ritual Ascension Beyond Flesh rumbles with decayed, echoing sounds that kill thoughts of afterlife bliss. If you didn’t fear death before, this record will reignite that fear. –Bryer Wharton

Enslaved
Axioma Ethica Odin
Nuclear Blast
Street: 09.28
Enslaved = Emperor + Opeth + Bathory
If you enjoy what Enslaved have been up to lately, Axioma Ethica Odin starts off where the band’s last record, Vertebrae, left us, but takes us to a much more pleasant state of mind. The progressive style of hypnotic and just overall epic sound incorporated into their black metal meanders its way through speedy riffing and calming moments. The album really has a full immersion effect: Catching a song on a random playlist doesn’t cut it. The new offering needs to be embraced as a whole. Shut yourself in a room and just listen—there’s plenty to be discovered, layers and textures that don’t all hit you on initial listens. I’ve listened to the album a multitude of times, and I still find something I haven’t heard and feel something I haven’t felt from it with every listen. My utmost respect goes to Enslaved for playing the music they want to play, not what they think their audience wants to hear. –Bryer Wharton

Everyone Everywhere
Self-Titled
Tiny Engines
Street: 06.15
Everyone Everywhere = Cheap Girls + Weakerthans + Bridge & Tunnel
Can we all go back to using the word “emo” strictly to describe a musical genre? I, for one, am uncomfortable hearing my mom refer to misguided mallgoths as emo kids, and when people refer to the third Spider-Man film as “emo,” like they’re all clever, it makes me want to gouge some eyes out. Besides, there are a bunch of legit, new emo bands that really don’t need the negative connotations of the word associated with them. Everyone Everywhere is one such band. Following last year’s solid A Lot of Weird People Standing Around 7”, this self-titled full-length continues the band’s blend of emotional power-pop and plaintive yet playful vocals. The main thing that sets Everyone Everywhere apart from their peers (and believe me, there are a ton of bands making similar music right now) is their effective mixture of melancholy with bouncy, driving song structures. If you’re a fan of late 90s greats like Superchunk and The Promise Ring, this should be right up your alley. –Ricky Vigil

Freddie Gibbs
Str8 Killa
Decon
Street: 08:03
Freddie Gibbs = Bone Thugs-n-Harmony + Bun B
Freddie Gibbs represents everything that he wholeheartedly thinks he is. He is gangsta rap to the fullest. He even lets you know that in the song “Rep 2 Tha Fullest”: I represent it to the fullest/Any given day could die by the bullet. But who is he trying to convince on this album—his fans or himself? I’m not super impressed with this album. Every song lyrically kinda sounds the same. Bitches, the game and thugging can only be portrayed in the same way so many times before it gets boring. It’s full of that high-hat-saturated sound throughout, collaborated with pretty much any kind of gangsta rap sound from the 90s. “Rock Bottom” features Bun B and sounds like it could be straight off a Bone Thugs album. Didn’t we do this 10 years ago? You gotta wait at least 20 years to start the circle of bringing back old styles and claiming that they’re yours. Isn’t that the rule? –Bethany Fischer

Gospel Claws
C-L-A-W-S
Common Wall Media
Street: 10.26
Gospel Claws = Cold War Kids + Local Natives + Foreign Born
This summer record is coming out way too late in the year. I wanted desperately to hate this band, since they are from Arizona, and nothing good ever comes from the state of deadbeat dads. I couldn’t do it, though. They pulled together everything I like about Foreign Born and Local Natives. With their undistorted guitars and just the right amount of reverb, they won me over. The singer has a swagger and voice that is quite similar to that of Cold War Kids frontman Nathan Willett. It is all pretty pleasant—you’ll just have to pretend it is still summer in October …But hey, it’s Utah, so it just might be. –Cody Hudson

Highlife
Best Bless EP
The Social Registry
Street: 09.28
Highlife = Here We Go Magic + Fela Kuti + White Magic
It is pretty hard not to love this brief summer EP from White Magic contributors Douglas Shaw and Mira Billotte. Recorded on a small island off the coast of Trinidad, Best Bless is a wild combination of staccato, reggae-inspired riffage, spot-on backup singers, traditional instrumentation and a rhythm section without a single back-beat. Best Bless keeps things legit by showing an almost reverential respect for their host country (writing the songs using traditional time signatures and instruments) and avoiding the appropriation of third-world musical styles into some garbled conceptual notion of “world music” (here’s looking at you, Vampire Weekend). A thoroughly enjoyable, albeit brief, headphone encounter that suggests great things for a full-length. –Ryan Hall

Kathryn Williams
Relations
One Little Indian US
Street: 10.12
Kathryn Williams = The Police + different voices
Cover albums are always a risky move by any artist or band. If you’re established, it can seem like a stopgap between projects. If you’re relatively new, it can seem like you’ve run out of your own ideas. Fortunately, Kathryn Williams’ self-produced covers set, Relations, is refreshingly sparse and intriguing, even if some of the choices don’t immediately seem to be. After Jeff Buckley and k.d. lang’s definitive readings of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” its inclusion here appears a bit predictable, and while Williams doesn’t add much to prior covers, her live take is rather pretty. Much better are the more original choices, like the Bee Gee’s “I Started a Joke,” Pavement’s “Spit On A Stranger,” and especially Nirvana’s “All Apologies.” Stripped-down melodies and arrangements, with that pretty instrument that is her voice singing at times in hushed tones, it almost sounds like we’re eavesdropping on a private rehearsal, which is also a big part of the appeal here. The aforementioned “All Apologies” is greatly served by the string accompaniment, which make those intriguing Cobain lyrics seem that much more ironic. The strings sound downright sinister, with Williams’ voice overdubbed perfectly up until the final note. Relations marks the second of three releases this year alone for the prolific singer/songwriter and is clearly a worthy addition to the ever-growing Kathryn Williams’ canon. –Dean O Hillis

Kylie Minogue         
Aphrodite
Capitol
Street: 07.06
 Kylie Minogue = Olivia Newton-John Through The Vocoder Looking-Glass
Let’s face it, Kylie Minogue is a survivor. In her 20-year-plus career, she has consistently released some great dance cuts and has never stopped working and releasing material. A star of Madonna-like proportions just about everywhere on the planet except America, hers has always been an arresting talent and it is always great when she makes dance floor-ready material, and Aphrodite is simply full of it. Lead single and album opener “All The Lovers” is irresistible and is fairly representative of the album as a whole: a killer melody and chorus wrapped in a delicious bass line. “Get Outta My Way” and “Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)” don’t just simmer, they boil over until the fantastic title track lands midway through. She collaborated with an eclectic variety of writers and producers, including Pascal Gabriel, Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters) and Tim Rice-Oxley (Keane) and most notably, the unfailingly great Stuart Price. Minogue herself is a great songwriter and had a hand in writing three cuts, including the divine “Too Much” and “Looking for an Angel.” This is one of those rare albums whose tracks all sound like they could be released as singles, at least in remix form. The appropriately titled “Can’t Beat The Feeling” concludes the proceedings on a nice high. For those completists, the iTunes and Amazon deluxe digital versions both boast a different bonus track and videos from her 2009 US tour. –Dean O Hillis

Les Savy Fav
Root for Ruin
Frenchkiss
Street: 09.14
Les Savy Fav = Superchunk + Archers of Loaf + art school
If you had asked me, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to make a record that was both melancholy and decidedly urgent at the same time. Yet this, the fifth full-length record released by LSF, on bassist Syd Butler’s Frenchkiss imprint, manages to feel both mellow and hurried. The album is a little more conventionally rock-like than 2007’s Let’s Stay Friends. The vocals are more consistent, almost robotic, and fit into space hollowed out by the sharp, loop-pattern-driven guitar. Butler and drummer Harrison Haynes continue to be one of the best rhythm duos in rock, and vocalist/beard enthusiast Tim Harrington consistently sings his heart out. The record has a distinctly sexual flare this time around. This is something that doesn’t quite fit with the hyper-yet-relaxed feel of the disc as a whole. Then again, maybe that’s how sex really is—overly inventive and yet still overly normal. As per the record, it seems like the band is trying to stay relevant, even if that relevance is to a crowd that they have long since won over. The truth is, no matter how good the record is, the songs are still meant to be heard live. –Woodcock Johnson

Lustre
A Glimpse of Glory
De Tenebrarum Principio
Street: 09.21
Lustre = Summoning + Burzum + a hymn to nature
Ambient black metal is fairly the same to judge as just plain old ambient music. If the artists succeeds at crafting an atmosphere that the listeners can immerse themselves in and escape for the duration or cause some sort of emotional reaction, the artist succeeds. Swedish one-man act Lustre, at the helm of Nachtzeit notable of Hypothermia, does craft a distinct atmosphere that is simple yet vibrantly lush and inspires mind immersion. There are plenty of natural sounds on the album’s three long tracks: wolves howling, birds chirping and the sound of running water. It’s really hard to even lay claim that A Glimpse of Glory is full-on black metal, but there’s really nothing wrong with it. For me, it is a mind-escaping experience. While most black metal focuses on negative and harsh tones, Lustre coasts along with epic and majestically tonal but diverse keyboards. The guitars, sparse as they are, whisper in the background with drumming keeping the tempo slow and subtly yet beautifully somber—the only meandering into a harsh tone is the brief vocal portion on the first track. This is a success for ambient music—it doesn’t bore, it serenades, and more importantly, it’s something I can find myself returning to. –Bryer Wharton

Mad Caddies
Consentual Selections
Fat Wreck Chords
Street: 07.20
Mad Caddies = Pepper + Less Than Jake + Dropkick Murphys
This is what they call skunk music: half ska, half punk, and in this case, a smattering of reggae or Dixieland, too. The Mad Caddies have been around for a while, and this collection of fan-picked favorites showcases their energy and pop sensibilities. At their best moments, they evoke Reel Big Fish, New Found Glory, UB40 or Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, depending on the mood. Fat horns with plunger wahs, quick two-step guitar into distorted chords with solid punk rhythm backing it up are all they need. The vocals are smoother than typical for the genre, but that’s a good thing. “Leavin,” “No Hope,” and “Mary Melody” are all fun-as-hell classics. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, but I bet the pits at their shows are wicked. Consentual Selections is a great pickup for old fans or those looking for an intro. Personally, I miss stuff like this from when people still listened to ska. –Rio Connelly

Masakari
The Prophet Feeds
Southern Lord
Street: 06.08
Masakari = Early Graves + Behold
This is what I want to hear when I’m in the mood for no frills, fast, angry, complex but not overly mathy music. Yes, I’m in that mood a lot. The Prophet Feeds has changes when changes are called for, vocals where vocals are called for, and kick-assery from beginning to end, since that’s always called for––and none of the songs overstays its welcome. I’d like to know why the band decided to use roman numerals for each track, then put them out of order (XVI, X, XI, XII, VIII ... ). Maybe the numbers create the combination to a safe where they keep their Bibles and rosary beads because they are really into hidden irony. But there’s no reason not to pick up The Prophet Feeds––you get violent punk mixed with the kind of grindcore you listen to when you’re about to jump out of an airplane. –Andrew Roy


Mass Shivers
Contoured Heat
Licking River
Street: 06.29
Mass Shivers = Cream + The Flaming Lips + moe.
This exuberant psych-rock jamfest is a lightshow of ideas fuzzed together and layered over and under each other. With both bass and guitar blended into one twisting wall of sound on most tracks, the distortion has the annoying effect of making all the songs run into each other. There are ideas and hooks that stand out here and there, and ones that occasionally sound like Queen, Pink Floyd, or Ratatat, but mostly I found the entire album somewhat ... blurry. The faint and occasionally off-key vocals are stylistically similar to classic 60s pop acts, but fall short in catchiness and are often indistinct or cheesy. The track “Languid Liquid” is epic enough, but I could do without the chanting of “hey zamma zamma, ho zamma zamma” ruining the finale. There is a lot of talent in this band, but I think they need a little more time to crystallize and find a direction instead of just making fuzz. Keep at it, guys. –Rio Connelly

Matthew Dear
Black City
Ghostly International
Street: 08.17
Matthew Dear = Pantha Du Prince + LCD Soundsystem + Luke Vibert
2010 has been a banner year for artists associated with the microhouse genre making broad overtures to pop music, and in the process, making career-defining albums. Four Tet, Ellen Allien and Pantha Du Prince are on the short list for this accolade. With Black City, the enigmatic Detroit noisemaker Matthew Dear ranks as one of the best. Black City, as the title suggests, is dark and almost unsurprisingly bleak. Departing from his tumultuous genre-shifting past, Dear offers a cohesive collection of songs about alienating sexuality and body dissatisfaction that weave in and out of pulsing disco-influenced beats, iced-out synth lines, and percussive vocal patterns. Dear’s voice is pitch-shifted down to create an ominous yet engrossing, narrated trip through the black city. A step away from the dance floor, Dear is on top of his game, mapping out with topographic accuracy the dark alleyways and nightclubs of his cerebral city. –Ryan Hall


Moonshine Hooligans
Subterranean Secrets
Moonshine Music
Street: 10.26
Moonshine Hooligans = My Morning Jacket + Calexico + more whiskey!
Since I am a sucker for well-placed tambourine, I was immediately drawn to Moonshine Hooligans of Charlottesvile, Va. The album has shoegaze tendencies, but mainly sticks to a more folksy sound, keeping me wanting to hear more. Some songs like “The County Line” and “Arcadia” are lighthearted, but they aren’t afraid to take it down a few notches with songs like “The Knife Waltz.” Two brothers are the main components of the band, writing the music and lyrics, one on drums and the other on guitar and bass with talent, here and there playing the fiddle, Hammond organ, mandolin or harmonica, drunkenly singing about ghost towns and girls. The last song changes directions with “Moonshine Dub,” appropriately named for its super bass-y/older reggae feel. Sounds weird, but it’s not bad, considering the rest of the album is jangling banjos and thoughtful harmonies. Out of place, but an amusing last song after hearing the second-to-last, is the harmonica-ridden “Final Story of the Night.” Under half an hour, Subterranean Secrets holds its own while getting cues from The Avett Brothers and Band of Horses. This is an exceptional first album from a young band, and I’m stoked to hear more from them in the not-so-distant future. –Kyla G.

NOFX
The Longest EP
Fat Wreck Chords
Street: 08.24
NOFX = Adolescents + RKL + The Vandals
Among the vast and nerdy sea of punk rock vinyl collectors, there is perhaps no group more rabid and smelly than NOFX collectors. As such, it’s pretty goddamn hard to find some of the more obscure NOFX releases, especially if you want colored vinyl. Thankfully, The Longest EP collects 30 tracks spanning from 1987-2009, including two unreleased tracks and five different EPs—but good luck finding it on vinyl. This collection features some of the best (well, at least some of my favorite) NOFX songs ever, including “The Longest Line,” the reggae-fied “Kill All the White Man,” the pseudo-historical “Jaw Knee Music” and the vastly underrated Never Trust a Hippy EP. Of course there is some crappy stuff—the S&M Airlines 7” hasn’t aged well, and the War on Errorism commercial is annoying—but this a pretty solid release overall. If you’re willing to drop $30-40 on eBay for the double LP, or if you aren’t an idiot and are therefore willing to spend $10 for the CD or MP3 version, The Longest EP is definitely worthy of any punk rock collection. –Ricky Vigil

October Tide
A Thin Shell
Candlelight
Street: 09.28
October Tide = Katatonia (old) + In Mourning + Opeth (old)
October Tide, a side project of Katatonia guitarist Fredrik Norrman, released their first record in 1997, Rain Without End, and also had the fortuitous opportunity of including Katatonia vocalist Jonas Renkse. Not fully acclaimed at its initial release, Rain Without End has since become heralded as one of the best death-doom metal releases, period. October Tide have returned after a 10-year absence, headed by still-Katatonia guitarist Norrman and a reinvigorated lineup, including the vocalist from In Mourning. If you know of Rain Without End and embrace it as a favorite, don’t go into listening to the latest A Thin Shell with the expectations that it’s going to recapture what that album did. A Thin Shell is a musical vehicle driven by its favorable, memorable and amazing guitar work from Norrman that feels much more displaced from the sound he creates for Katatonia (past and present). The album twists and turns from staunch brooding & churning, slow, heavy guitar-riffing to excruciatingly melancholy melodies. It easily holds listeners’ attention with an exceptional track-by-track building and descending atmosphere. While encompassing feelings of uneasiness, it also has dashes of hope included in its melodic death and doom, with melodies that are vastly intoxicating, laced with brilliantly somber harsh undercurrents. –Bryer Wharton


Old Man Markley
For Better, For Worse 7”
Fat Wreck Chords
Street: 10.26
Old Man Markley = Filthy Thieving Bastards + Flogging Molly + Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
The very notion of an eight-piece bluegrass band being signed to Fat Wreck Chords might not be appealing to much of the label’s fanbase, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that could cause me to ruin a perfectly good pair of pants–interpret that however you wish. Featuring members of Youth Brigade and Angel City Outcasts, this definitely isn’t the old, rich, entitled-white-guy-with-a-banjo style of music that traditional bluegrass has become (looking at you, Steve Martin), but more of a fusion of old-timey folk and punk rock. The title track has a gigantic chorus that will permanently ingrain itself in your head, as a tale of love, heartbreak and murder unfolds over the symphony of washboard, fiddle and mandolin. The B-side features an amazing cover of the Screeching Weasel classic “The Science of Myth,” which translates surprisingly well to Old Man Markley’s style. Give these guys a chance, and hope that the full-length arrives sooner than later. –Ricky Vigil


The Paperbacks
Lit From Within
Parliament of Trees Records
Street: 08.10
The Paperbacks = Counting Crows + The Rembrandts + Redd Tape
I was talking with my buddy the other day about the best double-albums ever released––Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness, The Wall, and Physical Graffiti, among others. Smart bands release double-albums when they have an overwhelming amount of interesting, varied material that just can’t be whittled down to 15 tracks. Fortunately for the Paperbacks, there is an album’s worth of good, less-is-more-rock material on Lit From Within. Unfortunately, there’s not two hours’ worth of good material (32 tracks!). They really would have benefitted from a friendly voice of reason to convince them to wait until they’re more established before releasing enough genre-specific music to get me from Salt Lake City to Fillmore without repeating a song. But these Canadians create a pleasant blend of indie-garage-pop that would be great for the video montage you made during your last week in the college dorms. –Andrew Roy

Pretty Lights
Spilling Over Every Side
Pretty Lights Music
Street: 07.29
Pretty Lights = STS9 + Ratatat + new Bassnectar
Derek Smith, the Colorado-based mastermind behind the Pretty Lights name, has done it again with the second installment of a planned trilogy of EPs in 2010. Each of his albums sound the same in the best possible way: a unique, funky, warped sound, with very glitchy, broken-up, complex and intricate beats. It’s comprised of equal parts funk, electro and hip hop, with a jazz and blues mentality, and honestly, I can’t help but absolutely freak out everytime I listen to it. It’s like fusion food, except awesome, not completely retarded. The new EP grooves through each track, bringing a fill of everything best about Pretty Lights. “Hot Like Dimes” incorporates the lyric “Fuckin’ you up every time that I drop” and no words could more aptly describe this music. And it’s free! Seriously, just go download this and start going nuts. –Jessie Wood

Street Sweeper Social Club
The Ghetto Blaster EP
Cooking Vinyl
Street: 08.10
Street Sweeper Social Club = Rage Against the Machine + The Coup
Boasting Tom Morello of Rage fame and Boots Riley of The Coup, The Ghetto Blaster EP brings out the best and most expected from both artists. Morello plays his signature riffs to accompany Riley’s free-flowing hip hop style. Riley’s history of political and civil activism fits in with Morello’s past artist pairings, but the coupling sounds more like an off Rage Against the Machine. Morello is a skilled guitarist, but he doesn’t bring anything new to the table in this latest venture. His similar sound doesn’t hold the band back, though—it just adds a familiarity to the music. Boots Riley’s influence is apparent in the more laid-back approach of the band, and it’s easy to tell that these guys are just having a good time. Nothing makes this more apparent than their cover of LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.” Yeah, they did it. –Ben Trentelman

Tera Melos
Patagonian Rats
Sargent House
Street: 09.07
Tera Melos = The Flaming Lips + Fang Island + Yo La Tengo
Combine technicality with acid-induced songwriting and add a flare for the dramatic and you might get Patagonian Rats, the latest LP by Sacramento trio Tera Melos. Distorted vocals and distorted guitars thrash and spiral over thunderous drum fills everywhere on this record. When I said technical, we’re talking about Deerhoof, Umphrey’s McGee, and Hot Club de Paris all rolled into one slinging spooky pop album with anthemic choruses à la freak pioneers the Flaming Lips. It’s kind of hard to express in words, but it’s a lot of fun. On tracks like “Skywatch,” their chops almost get the better of them, just like the Mars Volta, and the freakout loses the song. Others, like “Trident Tail,” sound slightly overcrowded with ideas, but most songs are like “Kelly” and “The Skin Surf,” which make me want to yell along with the sonic crowd. “Frozen Zoo” may be my favorite track, with its almost funky guitar groove. I highly recommend this disk for anybody looking for some surprises in their music—this stuff kicks ass. –Rio Connelly

Thank God
Ice/Age
Exotic Fever Records
Street: 07.27
Thank God = Mr. Bungle + Loom + Lightning Bolt
Some bands are random for the sake of being random, but there’s logic behind the lunacy on Ice/Age. These guys have created a promising recipe for complex, chaotic, cataclysmic and almost counterintuitive music. One thing is for sure––if you get bored, it’s your own fault. The vocals go from screeches to spoken word to screams, all within seconds sometimes. The guitars/bass venture from atmospheric to angry to all-over-the-place, all while absorbing the listener into each anthem. Underneath it all is a drummer who is clearly fluent in his craft, naturally going from blastbeats to accents to simply keeping the rhythm flawlessly. Well, I take it back, nothing on this album is flawless—and I thank God for that. Ice/Age actually sounds like it was recorded live, the way it should sound. These guys nailed it. Pick this one up. –Andrew Roy

The Thermals
Personal Life
Kill Rock Stars
Street: 09.07
The Thermals = The Ramones + The Strokes + Matt & Kim + Titus Andronicus
It’s almost never a good thing to hear that a band has “grown up.” It can mean maturation of direction and studio experience, or an addition of nuance and sophistication to their songwriting. What it all too often means, though, is that a band that used to sweat raucous energy or crackled with intensity has calmed down, and that’s rarely beneficial for fans. The Thermals haven’t really done any of those things. Personal Life is the first record since 2004’s Fuckin A, in which the band has recorded as a full trio, and it shows. Westin Glass, who has been their live drummer for awhile now and who also adds vocals on this record, has taken a rightful spot in the studio, freeing Kathy Foster to focus on her role as bassist and the band’s steady anchor. Add guitar and distinct vocals by Hutch Harris, and you have the Thermals pumping out simple, catchy punk with rhythms that varyingly heave, thrash, or cruise. With their low, driving bass lines, “Never Listen to Me” and “Not Like Any Other Feeling” almost feel like shoegaze, while “I Don’t Believe You” and my early favorite, “Your Love Is So Strong,” are fast shouters with “whoah-a-oh” hooks. Lyrically, this record is one large question regarding personal relationships, but Harris sings with such exuberance that it really feels fresh, like he’s narrating current events. Have the Thermals grown up? Fuck no, but they might make a prettier mess these days. (Urban Lounge: 10.29) –Rio Connelly

Various Artists
Salsa Explosion!:The New York Salsa Revolution 1969-1984
Strut
Street: 09.28
Salsa Explosion = NYC + Cuban Immigrants + Larger Bands
With this salsa compilation, Strut Records manages to assemble an impressive group of essential Latin recordings from the archive of the New York City-based record label Fania. Fania came onto the scene in the early 1960s, promoting Caribbean and South American music, taking full advantage of the big city’s immigrant base and the tendency of white Americans to follow dance trends. What started small quickly grew larger, thanks in part to dance formats like the rumba and the mambo. Before long, many Cuban performers were following in the footsteps of Ricky Ricardo—mixing Latin music with American big band sound. This disc beautifully showcases this successful format, featuring the likes of Willie Colón, Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. The recordings are remastered and come complete with liner notes and archival pictures. For several of the 15 songs on the comp, this is the first time they’ve been available on CD. The horns are real, the beats pure and driven, and the popularity of the music is metaphorical in that it foreshadows the influence that Latin culture would eventually have on every aspect of life in the US. Honestly, it makes me hate Arizona even more. –Woodcock Johnson

Wildbirds & Peacedrums
Rivers
The Control Group
Street: 08.24
Wildbirds & Peacedrums = St. Vincent + Tune-Yards + White Hinterland
The third release from Sweden’s Wildbirds & Peacedrums is a combination of two five-song EPs, Retina and Iris, which focus on exploring themes of water. Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin, the husband and wife duo behind the name, continue their signature style of creating something out of (almost) nothing—their sound is almost entirely composed of Mariam’s vocals and Andreas’ percussive skills. Rivers begins with the intense and dramatic Retina EP. Full of ghostly choral arrangements, primitive drumming and powerful, borderline soulful vocals, the first five songs create a sensual and magical atmosphere. Iris creates an atmosphere as well, one that is brighter and lighter, due in part to the addition of the steel pan, which lends a tropical or whimsical feel to the music. The striking difference between the sounds on each EP is slightly jarring, yet remarkably perfect. Retina’s dark mood, followed by Iris’ lightness, is the sound equivalent of a dreary, rainy day ending with sunshine and blue skies—definitely not a bad thing. –Vanessa Wardy

Working for a Nuclear Free City
Jojo Burger Tempest
Melodic Records
Street: 10.12
Working for a Nuclear Free City = Yes + Stone Roses
Judging from the 33-minute, single-song second disc, the Dadaistic title and the opening track that could be a B-side from Yes’ Fragile, the second LP from Working for a Nuclear Free City is their venture into capital-P Prog. But where prog is usually the domain of long, conceptual sagas and organ solos on every track, Jojo Burger Tempest consists of bite-size pop songs that lack any discernible central narrative. This includes, oddly enough, the second disc—one very long track that sounds like a patched-together medley of song ideas that didn’t make it onto the first disc. Working for a Nuclear Free City do a virtuosic job of packing an album full of captivating pop songs composed of a kaleidoscopic variety of timbres, but the lack of a grand statement makes the double album seem like a bit of a tease. Additionally, the airy harmonies that show up on only about half the tracks are so delectable they make the instrumentals sound a bit like interludes. Jojo Burger Tempest is like watching two hours of great trailers—I can’t help but wonder how it would have turned out as a feature film. –Nate Housley