National CD Reviews – February 2011

Share this:Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0

Accordion Crimes
A Higher Quality Version of This
Self-released
Street: 07.12.10
Accordion Crimes = They Might Be Giants x (The Pixies + Hole)
At times frenetic, always stripped down, occasionally taken out back, shattered and then taped back together, Accordion Crimes provides a really interesting take on three-chord post-pop pedal-punching punk. In an era where digital perfection is almost a given, Bryon Parker’s vocals are deliberately compressed and strained, like Bad Brains’ vocals recorded from a prison telephone. The EP opens with the excitable “Potshots,” a song that has definitely had too much sugar, before settling down to cooler tracks like my personal favorite, the crumpled but rockin’ “Lacota” and the laid-back, self-aware “Vacation.” Things pick back up for the frankly weirdly wild “Forcast,” and then slow down again with “Planes,” which sounds like a Daniel Johnson cover without the personal demons and defenestrations. –Madelyn Boudreaux


After the Fall
Eradication
Mightier Than Sword
Street: 10.12.10
After the Fall = No Trigger + Strike Anywhere + Propagandhi
Eradication was recorded for one reason and one reason alone: to kick your ass. As the torch-bearers for melodic hardcore have become older and less active, a void has risen within the genre. Albany, New York’s After the Fall have filled that void and then some. The album opens with the Strike-Anyhwere-on-steroids anthem “Soliders” and the band carries a political bent reminiscent of Propagandhi on the trio of opening songs. After the Fall then tackle issues of scene unity and aging in the world of punk rock with equal amounts of ass-kickery for the remainder of the album. The lyrical themes get a bit tiresome towards the end of the album, but holy fuck this album is a lot of aggressive fun. Guest vocalists from No Trigger, Make Do and Mend, Defeater and The Stereo State show up at various points, adding to the general awesomeness of Eradication. There hasn’t been an album like this in a long time, and After the Fall have definitely made a fan out of me. –Ricky Vigil


Arbouretum
The Gathering
Thrill Jockey
Street: 02.22
Arbouretum = Black Angels + Pontiak + Wooden Ships
Taking its inspiration from The Red Book by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, Arbouretum’s fourth full-length finds the quartet swimming in conceptually deep water and building epically paced psych-drone towers of song. Lyrically, The Gathering is full of guitarist/singer/lyricist Dave Heumann’s explorations deep into his psyche pitted against gigantic, song-spanning guitar solos and droning, improvised jam sessions. When The Gathering becomes unhinged, like on the 10 + minute “Song of the Nile,” Heumann’s reverbed-out, repetitive guitar-throttling channels the same blessed-out headspace necessary for meditative spelunking into the caverns of the mind. For fans of Black Angels’ earlier dirge-heavy tracks and Black Mountain’s glorious aping of classic-rock guitar riffs, The Gathering is a godsend. –Ryan Hall


The Arrivals
Volatile Molotov
Recess Records
Street: 10.06.10
The Arrivals = Naked Ray Gun + Murder City Devils + Bear vs. Shark
Post punk is kind of strange genre. It’s a reaction to punk rock, and that kind of means it can be anything, and it’s easy for bands to get lost in all that, but when it’s done right it’s damn good music. The Arrivals do it right—great songs, played well and played with passion. These Chicago boys toy with mood and tone like it was play dough in their hands. Guitars blare without being over bearing. Vocals are poignantly performed with captivating lyrics, and the bass gallops right along with drums, adding atmosphere to every track. The Arrivals have found the perfect balance by sounding different enough to be original, but not so much as to alienate unbabtized ears. Certainly they’re a band to watch out for and this record is definitely worth a listen. –James Orme


Asteroid #4
Hail to the Clear Figurines
The Committee to Keep Music Evil
Street: 02.08
Asteroid #4 = The Byrds + Fairport Convention
The newly trendy sounds of psych-rock have caused a number of bands to emulate the reverby drone of 60s British bands. Asteroid #4 has been playing for more than a decade, explaining why they stand apart upon first listen from the trendspotters and why they will still be around while other bands morph into chillwave or something. On their sixth record, Asteroid #4 explore the softer, introspective side of psych, building tunes up from a soft, slow beginning to a swell that shows a band at the top of their craft. It’s appropriate that they’ve signed to Anton Newcombe’s Committee to Keep Music Evil, as both Asteroid #4 and The Brian Jonestown Massacre have long been committed to keeping music good while mining the riches of the 60s. –Nate Housley


Broken Records
Let Me Come Home
4AD
Street: 01.11
Broken Records = (Big Country - The Waterboys) + Mumford & Sons
For any serious music lover (meaning, lovers of serious music) of a certain age, “4AD” signifies complex, darkly beautiful concoctions. This band’s sophomore release is largely a departure from that recipe, but it may have been boiled too long: at some point, even the most delicious flavors can lose their distinction. Sounding very Scottish (which they are), Broken Records opens with the achy-hearted “A Leaving Song”, but things pick up considerably on the industrial-age protest of “Modern Worksong.” Ultimately, they might have been better served by a producer with a better grasp on their folk-rock sensibilities. All the parts are lovely, with an intense, raw, pounding heart, but the result is too glossy and refined. I want to cut their leashes and watch them run wild on the moors. Still, the least frenetic track, the beautiful and sparse Bad Seeds-esque duet by frontman Jamie Sutherland and guest vocalist Jill O’Sullivan (Sparrow and the Workshop), “Dia Dos Namarados” stands out as an excellent direction for this talented band that just doesn’t seem to have found its stride yet. –Madelyn Boudreaux


Caroline
Verdugo Hills
Temporary Residence Ltd.
Street: 01.25
Caroline = Julee Cruise’s Heiress Apparent
With her lilting and beautiful voice, Japan’s Caroline Lufkin has created another striking backdrop for her kaleidoscopic sound.  This is ultimately chill-out music, but thinking person’s chill-out music.  Unlike her bona fide Japanese pop star sister, Olivia, Lufkin walked away from a lucrative major label deal, and returned with 2005’s self-made debut, the much acclaimed Murmurs.  As part of Mice Parade for the past few years, she seems to have picked up on that band’s knack for incorporating several styles at once, yet still create a sound that is warm and original. Verdugo Hills is sung in English, and yet at times, Caroline’s voice reminds me of that fragile vulnerability Elizabeth Fraser’s sometimes has, especially when she is not singing in English.  Each dreamy song is melodically layered and above all are those angelic vocals.  With the exception of the lead track, “Swimmer,” the song titles are fairly insignificant (“Seesaw,” “Pink Gloom” and “Lullabye,” for example); however, the music is anything but. Snow boasts marching band horns reminiscent of Björk, while the chirpy xylophone on “Gone” ends things with a slightly optimistic vibe.  There is nothing finer than an album you want to listen to immediately again, and Caroline has created just that. –Dean O Hillis

 

The Caribbean
Discontinued Perfume
Hometapes
Street:  02.22
The Caribbean = late Why? + the Mountain Goats
Written in the wake of a nervous breakdown, Discontinued Perfume sounds surprisingly calm.  The Caribbean possess the rare talent of being able to turn emotional trauma into something accessible and pretty.  Their poppy sound is definitely skewed, taking after the likes of the Mountain Goats.  Chord progressions take sudden left turns, melodies lie innocently over discordant arrangements, and songs bubble up out of sound collages. The affecting closer “The Declarative” fades out the album gorgeously, suggesting a measure of peace with Discontinued Perfume’s overarching theme of keeping one’s art compartmentalized from everyday life.  It’s the maturity to which this tension is approached that makes this album so noteworthy.  Rock n’ roll is a young man’s game, but 46-year-old Michael Kentoff makes rock music that is fascinating without turning itself into a self-destructive spectacle.  That deserves your attention.  –Nate Housley

 

Cave Singers
No Witch
Jagjaguwar
Street: 02.22
Cave Singers = Deer Tick + Megafaun + Ryan Adams
The album starts out with a mildly upbeat folk song drenched in pleasant vocal harmonies extremely reminiscent of Fleet Foxes (needless to say, I was stoked). Track two keeps up the folksy beat, but trades the harmonies for a singular female vocalist. Track one and two are definitely my favorites. Then track three hits, and the album completely changes direction and becomes a gritty blues album. At points it is pretty charming, but at other points, the vocalist sounds like John Cougar Mellencamp. “Distant Sures” near the end of the album encapsulates everything I like about the beginning of the album. It’s pleasant having these serious bluesy songs broken up by Fleet Foxes folk. –Cody Hudson

 

Death
Spiritual | Mental | Physical
Drag City
Street: 01.25
Death = The Stooges + Richard Hell + Bad Brains
Years before punk broke and years before Afro-punk even existed, the Hackney brothers recorded their first album … For the Whole World to See. Although it wouldn’t see a release until 2009, these three African American siblings from inner-city Detroit bottled all of the rage, anti-establishment lyrics and blistering-fast tempos and guitar solos that would define punk. ... For the Whole World to See is a stone-cold classic. Spiritual | Mental | Physical, however, feels more like a collection of B-Sides and demos instead of the cohesive musical statement of their debut. Considerably rawer and less polished, Spiritual | Mental | Physical retains the pace of their debut, but little else. Kudos to Drag City for culling everything that this important band released, but it is a shame they didn’t exist long enough for a proper follow-up to an amazing debut. –Ryan Hall


Deerhoof
Deerhoof vs. Evil
Polyvinyl
Street: 01.25
Deerhoof = These Are Powers + Marnie Stern + Blonde Redhead
Deerhoof’s evolution from a spastic, no-wave influenced rag-tag group of classically trained musicians to an unrivaled institution in indie rock is one that has yet to be imitated. Deerhoof’s eleventh full-length finds the group abandoning San Francisco and recording the album totally sans producer. Without a guiding hand, Deerhoof vs. Evil doesn’t return to their early experimental years (what Deerhoof album isn’t experimental?) of self-aware deconstruction, but explodes with HUGE choruses, memorable melodies and some of Ed Rodriguez’s most diverse guitar-playing to this point. At points, Rodriquez smears massive pop-metal power chords across the chorus of “Secret Mobilization” or plays delicate flamenco-inspired passages on the gorgeous “No One Asked to Dance.” Deerhoof vs. Evil is one of the most anticipated albums of 2011 and is sure to be one of the most freaked-out over. I am restraining that urge as I write this sentence. –Ryan Hall
 

Depressed Buttons
Qwerty EP
Mad Decent
Street: 12.14
Depressed Buttons = The Faint + Oakenfold + See & Say noises - vocals
Comprised of three members from The Faint, this trio put together this four-piece EP of techno tunes while The Faint sits on hiatus. Unfortunately, that's about all there really is to it. All four songs come and go with little fanfare or hook to keep you listening. There's great structure and it’s awkwardly catchy, but what it gains in keyboard and computer trickery it lacks in emotional drive. Qwerty sounds no different than the hundreds of instrumental dance-noise albums that have come before it. If it were playing in a club, this is the filler music a DJ would use between Depeche Mode and Ministry remixes. While it serves as a decent side project for a group with obvious signs of talent, it in no way compares to what they accomplish as a whole. If anything, it's sadly shown that when separated, these three are more the bells and whistles of The Faint. Without vocals or a rock edge implemented to the beat, it's simply background noise that can easily be ignored. –Gavin Sheehan


Diet Kong
Beautiful Blackout
Patriarch Recordings
Street Date: 11.16.10
Diet Kong= Matt & Kim + The Strokes + Sesame Street + LSD
Beautiful Blackout starts out with an infectiously dance-y "Shoot The Freak," a strong introduction to the five-song EP, but from there, the album lacks any real originality. "A Forest" is the next song, playing into the psychedelic realm a little bit while still remaining danceable. It's all pretty catchy, and they'd definitely appeal to the club-rat hipster scene, but I find myself getting bored with Diet Kong’s too-hazy guitars and unimpressive voices. The next song, "Skin Colored Crayon" is by far the biggest question mark on the album 'cause the beats are kinda cool and the overall feeling of it is funny enough, but the lyrics reference playing on jungle gyms and skin-colored crayons too much for my liking. Creepy. Ew. They get a little bit Savage Garden-y in "Open," and not in the ironic, ha-ha kind of way. It’s like everything bad about 90s music melted into one album, and they only slightly redeem themselves with the last song. It's a little bit too dumb, but reminds me of summer, and warmth, which is true for the album overall; there's nothing outstanding about Beautiful Blackout, but it does have some interesting elements to it. –Kyla G.

 

DOM
Sun Bronzed Greek Gods
Astralwerks
Street: 02.15
DOM = Passion Pit + MGMT
Re-mastered, re-mixed and really fucking awesome, DOM’s Sun Bronze Greek Gods is the soundtrack to the best weekend of your life. DOM offers drums that punch sunshine through broken, juvenile lyrics about drugs, parties and the language of love. The beats are bright and full of movement, and you can’t help but shake your ass to it. Originally released on cassette, this eight-track album charges feeling into the everyday grind of life, with Dominic’s fuzzy voice tickling the tone, keeping the fun, lo-fi sound of the album pitch-perfect. Power anthem “Burn Bridges” delivers hyper drums and pushy guitars that keep the heart beating, while “Living in America” has a living pulse that jumps against lyrics when Dominic sings “It’s so sexy/to be living in America/it’s so sexy, baby” that makes me reconsider the irony. Maybe America is sexier than I ever gave it credit for. –Liz Lucero


Dream Diary         
You Are The Beat
Kanine Records    
Street: 02.15
Dream Diary = Jonas Brothers Do Twee Pop
There is a cloying story on nearly every website that is enamored with this band, where founder and vocalist/guitarist (and long-lost Jonas Brother) Jacob Danish Sloan (possessor of the most nasally voice I’ve heard in some time) and guitarist/vocalist Madison Farmer (who potentially could possess a pretty voice, but it is so far buried in the mix it is hard to say) literally bump into each other on a New York street and “accidentally” drop their iPods which conveniently are both playing The Queen Is Dead. Did this far-fetched sounding encounter really create this overrated band? Should we really care? Personally, I’m not buying it for a second and neither should you. Along the way, they encounter Sloan lookalike Alexander Lezzi to play drums and the Jonas Twins And Their Kid Sister was born! Well, not quite, but they did form a band. It is too bad that somewhere on this journey, they decided to make Sloan the lead vocalist, as he simply can’t sing. The music that Dream Diary (which is their real name) has created for their debut isn’t bad, per se, but it is fairly forgettable. Worse are the lyrics, which are uncredited, so I’m uncertain if this is Sloan’s handiwork or a collaborative affair. But with throwaway lines like “As obvious as snow, I know I’m wrong” and later, “Your cheeks like gold, do you get lonely/You search to find if I’m your only” (both from the doomed “Tombs Of Love”), I can only speculate who the guilty party is. I gave this album three complete listens and I’m sorry, but I don’t hear Belle & Sebastian, The Pastels or The Field Mice (to name but three “bands” they have been likened to) at all. Instead there is the constant whine and often unfinished pronunciation from yet another untalented sensitive singer/songwriter. If only Sloan had been playing a solo song from the original maestro on his iPod that fateful day instead: “Any fool can think up words that rhyme/Many others do/Why don’t you?” and had understood Morrissey’s irony, he could have possibly spared himself the sidewalk collision—and more importantly, our ears—of his “talents” altogether. –Dean O Hillis

 

Duchess Leo
Golden Gray
Whale Heart Records
Street: 01.25
Duchess Leo= Toro Y Moi + Helios
Golden Gray is little more than an arrangement of feelings which have been broken up into 10 ambient tracks. There is a progressive element to each song that keeps it feeding into itself, but overall, this creates a melodic trap that seems to be running towards nothing. Meek vocals are sprinkled too sparsely throughout the album and should be used more. “Compass” and “The Joy” are easily the two best tracks on this album because they are fleshy and rich with vocals and the trimmings of accompanying distant instruments. The additions give these songs actual depth, rather than implied depth; created only with the circular warbles from distortion peddles. I wouldn’t consider this a complete miss because the feeling of Golden Gray is gripping, but I guess I like my music more direct rather than sounding like a flippant inner voice. –Liz Lucero

 

Ensemble
Excerpts
FatCat Records
Street: 01.25
Ensemble = mid-period Stereolab – John McEntire + Owen Pallett
Excerpts is a pleasant listen. Songs are carefully constructed without being heavy, like an expertly baked confection. The immediate reference point, given Ensemble’s lilting chanson francaise influence, is the chamber-pop side of Stereolab, though Ensemble’s arrangements are light and open (see “En Attendant L’orage”) where Stereolab’s are dense and cerebral. Just like a baked good, however, Excerpts doesn’t stick to your ribs. The songs are melodious without being hooky. While the album is composed of pop songs, it’s not hard to see why main man Olivier Alary has done film scores and composed pieces for museums; the album plays like different movements of a suite, ending on a Jonny Greenwood-esque string drone. As with many classically based crossovers, Excerpts impresses with beauty but probably won’t make its way into regular rotation for many pop fans. –Nate Housley

 

Hammock
Longest Year
Hammock Music
Street: 01.11
Hammock = Sigur Rós + Talk Amongst the Trees-era Eluvium + Max Richter
It is hard to find a more fitting soundtrack for the month of January than Hammock’s Longest Year. The Nashville guitar duo’s surging drones and unfolding melodies encapsulate the barren expanse of the high desert surrounding Salt Lake City. Instead of being uniformly desolate and alone, however, Hammock’s drones are warmed from within with an unnamable sense of longing and hope. I have never quite heard a cello line literally ache as much as I have on title track “Longest Year.” While ostensibly winter music, Longest Year is also New Year’s Day music; a palate-cleansing slab of post-rock with classical flourishes that echoes back all of your hopes and fears for 2011. The earth is not a cold, dead place. –Ryan Hall

 

Hello = Fire
Self-Titled
Schnitzel
Street 11.26
Hello = Fire = White Rabbits + Handsome Furs
Dean Fertita has his dirty little fingers in many dirty little pies. Playing keys and guitar in Queens of the Stone Age, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. His first solo project, Hello = Fire, could easily be written off as an overdone parody. Thankfully, the album manages to gather pieces from each of his bands and adds layers that revive the melodies. Tracks like "Nature of Our Minds,” is a slow-burning ballad, laced with spacey, psych synth. "Parallel" bursts through Fertita's often ridged voice, slinging a dark and oblivious, rock n’ roll trip. "Looking Daggers" and "I Wanna like You" offer groovy pop guitars and circular hooks that encourage you to stomp your foot to the beat. Each piece combined helps to break up the direct irony overdose and creates an honest sound, making Hello = Fire a band that is more than merely the sum of its members. –Liz Lucero


John Vanderslice
White Wilderness
Dead Oceans
Street: 01.25
John Vanderslice = MK Ultra + Okkervil River
I have seen John Vanderslice live four times in the last three years, always out of convenience and never genuine interest. The main reason is that he plays an awful lot of festivals, always early in the day with all of the shitty bands. With albums like this, he will never play a festival later than 4 p.m. For White Wilderness, he brought in an entire orchestra, and the results are less than impressive. On songs like “Piano Lesson,” where the orchestra is getting really creative and fairly liberal with their use of pizzicato, Vanderslice’s bland, never impressive voice sounds like a weird generic version of Owen Pallett. That is probably the most exciting thing about the album. You’re not Sufjan Stevens, Mr. Vanderslice. –Cody Hudson


Juliana Barwick
The Magic Place
Asthmatic Kitty
¨Street: 02.22
Juliana Barwick = Grouper + Inca Ore + Valet
Juliana Barwick creates choral music for the indie crowd. Composed primarily by looping her voice into a full choir of harmonizing singers, it is difficult not to see hints of traces of John Taverner’s masses and liturgies holding a commanding sway in her elegiac compositions. They certainly feel as holy. Barwick’s compositions feel unbelievably light; they are gossamer threads of vocal melodies floating heavenwards like a feather caught in an updraft. Instead of strictly being a vocal album, Barwick occasionally weaves in simple instrumentations like a plodding, three-note piano line, skeletal guitar work, martial percussion, strings and field recordings of distant fireworks. I don’t think it is too early to call The Magic Place one of the most gorgeous works of 2011. –Ryan Hall


Lemuria
Pebble
Bridge 9
Street: 01.11
Lemuria = Bridge & Tunnel + The Thermals + Tennis
I’m pretty sure that most punk and hardcore kids are drawn to Lemuria primarily because of their highly adorable co-vocalist Sheena Ozzella—there’s nothing like a cute girl with tattoos and a sweet voice to quell adolescent rage. Lemuria’s Bridge 9 debut is a bit more intense than previous releases, but it still maintains their inherent cuteness. The first track, “Gravity,” is a bit too boring and sparse to be an album-opener, but Ozzella’s vocals over the indie-punk-pop stylings of “Wise People” and “Pleaser” pick up the pace. When the band’s other vocalist, Alex Kerns, shows up, the album really shines. Kerns’ songs are a bit more cutesy than Ozzella’s this time around, but they’re also more memorable and lyrically interesting. The best song is easily  “Chautauqua County,” where Ozzella and Kerns’ distinct vocal styles meld over the album’s most energetic track.  Check this one out if you don’t mind the idea of pop and punk mixing in a way that has nothing to do with The Ramones. –Ricky Vigil

 

Lia Ices
Grown Unknown
JagJaguwar
Street 01.25
Lia Ices = St. Vincent + Joanna Newsom
On Grown Unknown, Lia Ices creates a captivating balance between her angelic voice and the sparse, demanding instruments. Her voice echoes ghostly over precious lyrics that embrace the bare percussion. Much like her 2008 release, Necima, Grown Unknown creates a voyage of sweetly serenaded ballads. From the distant whispers in “Love is Won” accompanied only with modest piano, guitar and discreet drums, to the humming sparkles of “Little Marriage” that needs little more than the haunting oohs, Grown Unknown is inviting. “Daphne” offers layered vocals from Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. His inclusion creates a marriage of the two harmonic voices that is so powerful and chilling it begs a desire of these collaborations happening more often. Each song creates a blurry separation of the melodic elements of Ices’ own voice and weaves the album into a dreamy trance. As they say, if it’s not broke, don't fix it. –Liz Lucero


Loch Lomond
Little Me Will Start a Storm
Tender Loving Empire
Street 02.22
Loch Lomond = Frightened Rabbit + Neutral Milk Hotel
Five people is a band, six is a choir, which is fitting for Loch Lomond’s new release, Little Me Will Start a Storm.  This album features a collective sound that swells gently, building to a storm of echoing choruses that are veiled in soul-crushing lyrics. It’s an arrangement that seems fitting to be played at the funeral of a dear friend or some other dark and dreary gathering. Depressed, expressive instruments like the mandolin, melodica and banjo add a distant reverence that plunges you further into the sweet serenade of darkness.  However bleak, Ritchie Young and Johanna Kunn’s dynamic give-and-take of vocals preserve the beauty of the sedation. Whether it’s the waltz wondering glow of “Elephants and Little Girls” or the sweet fragility of “Alice Left Without Stocking and Earrings,” each track delivers a melodic chamber of melancholy that is enveloped in growing lightness, so thankfully it never feels like a really messy depression. –Liz Lucero

  

Lose the Tude
Self-titled
Street: 11.23.10
Sacred Plague
Lose the Tude = Black Flag + Crucial Youth + Broadway Calls
You have to hand it to a band that names itself Lose the Tude and has a song called “Keep Nike Out of Hardcore”—they’ve already branded themselves before you hear the record. Hailing from Ohio, LTT play fast, loose, unpolished hardcore reminiscent of days of yore. Their strong suit is the lyrical content, from the aforementioned “Keep Nike Out of Hardcore” which calls out consumerism in the hardcore scene, to “Spray Out,” about writing graffiti, and “Give a Shit,” where one of the multiple vocalists proclaim, “We give a shit/That’s something you don’t get.” The multiple vocalist approach of LTT is a bit distracting, but since many of the vocals are gang vocals, it works out in the end. While at times bordering on gimmick, Lose the Tude has a solid foundation and this self-titled 7” is a fun listen that presents surprisingly insightful lyrics. –Peter Fryer


Mind Spiders
Self-Titled
Dirtnap
Street: 01.25
Mind Spiders = Mean Jeans + Turbo Fruits + The Estranged
Dirtnap Records can always be counted on to deliver weird, dirty punk rock n’ roll, and this debut full-length from Mind Spiders is no exception. Yet another side project from the criminally underrated and dearly departed Marked Men, the recorded version of Mind Spiders is really just Mark Ryan handling all of the instruments by himself. Most of this album consists of simple, fun, Ramones-y garage punk swimming in reverb, including the excellent album opener “Go!” Near the end of the album, the tone changes and things get all spooky. The reverb gets even more insane and some unsettling synth elements work their way into “Slippin’ & Slidin’” and “Neurotic Gold,” creating a strangely appropriate counter-balance to the album’s earlier sounds.  If you dig the idea of a weirdo recording a garage-rock album in his bedroom all by himself (and really, why wouldn’t you?), Mind Spiders is definitely for you. –Ricky Vigil

 

Plastikman
Arkives
MINUS
Street: 03.01
Plastikman = Paul Kalkbrenner + Gui Boratto
Richie Hawtin, the man behind the minimal techno Plastikman moniker, has decided to follow up his 2010 tour with a special release in February 2011. Arkives is a limited, made-to-order collection of 17 years of Plastikman music: six remastered, previously released albums, and five albums of rare and unreleased songs and remixes. I had a limited promo version containing only 22 songs, but this album sucked me into some sort of dub house-inspired mind-bending acid vortex, and all of a sudden, my ears were vibrating and I felt like I was literally inside of a synthesizer. This is super minimal stuff, so don’t expect to dance. Expect to slowly sway back and forth to the music. This is where Hawtin’s genius shines through—in the quiet, slow buildups and gentle breaks, the slight and subtle changes in pitch or tone. Plastikman music in general is hard to find, so this compilation provides a great opportunity to pick up some of the best and trippiest electronic music of the past two decades. –Jessie Wood

 

Reverend John Wilkins
You Can’t Hurry God
Fat Possum
Street: 01.04
Rev. Wilkins = Booker T. Jones + Solomon Burke + the hills of Mississippi
There’s been a trend the last few years to track down regional musicians at the top of their game and get them to lay down some tracks. Fat Possum Records is at the forefront of this trend, focusing on little known blues and soul musicians from the Southern states. The Reverend John Wilkins fits well into this “find ’em and record ’em” movement, as I’ve heard it called. The guy’s been straddling the line between secular and spiritual music since the mid-1960s without ever sitting down to record. The guy is, as a result, a masterful songsmith. Lyrically, I would put him on par with any of the gospel music greats of the classic era. Musically, he pulls in an almost Stax Records sound, with cool jams being punctuated with Hammond organ and sharp electric guitar. It’s Sunday morning music that may actually inspire you to iron a shirt and drive your grandmother to services. –James Bennett


Sam Humans/The Heligoats
Live Free & Let Loose
Greyday Records
Street: 01.11
Sam Humans = Titus Andronicus – The Ramones/The Heligoats = The Thermals + Bright Eyes
This record is a split 10” from like-minded musical acts Sam Humans and The Heligoats.  They both share a taste for fervent rock revivalism with a quick and dirty aesthetic.  Sam Humans’ songs don’t last quite as long as one might expect, since they hint at an expansive intensity rather than an explosive one.  Opener “Hate is the New Love” seems to be building, only to end after two minutes.  Humans dial back the speed on half of his side, but without sacrificing intensity—“Can’t Stop the Sun” turns into a meditative mantra.  The Heligoats, for their side, manage to mold their righteousness into workmanlike rock hooks.  “Turn Down the Offer” steals the show with its driving guitar riff and memorable chorus.  While the songs are strong, the split 10” format plays a bit like a sampler rather than a fully formed artistic statement.  There is clearly more happening here from both bands than can be expressed in 10 songs between the two. –Nate Housley


Samiam
Orphan Works
No Idea
Street: 09.17.10
Samiam = Jawbreaker + Avail + Hot Water Music
In the mid ‘90s, all kinds of punk and punk-ish bands were snatched up by major labels following the mainstream breakthrough of Green Day. None of these bands really became the gigantic corporate moneymakers that the labels likely craved, but most of these bands worked hard and some, like Samiam,  even achieved mild success. Orphan Works compiles 18 tracks recorded between 1994-1998, Samiam’s major label days. The only real rarities are covers of The Stooges’ “Search & Destroy” and The Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man” with the rest of the comp consisting of alternate recordings, a radio performance and live versions of some Samiam favorites. The alternate versions of “Ain’t No Size That Small” and “Clumsy” are pretty good, if not too different from their album versions, but all of the radio recordings are rough and hard to listen to. The live recordings, including “Full On” and “Time by the Dime,” are easily the best part of the record. Like all compilations, Orphan Works is a mixed bag, but die-hard Samiam fans should thoroughly enjoy this one. –Ricky Vigil


Shores
Coup De Grace
No Idea Records
Street: 10.31.10
Shores = June of 44 + Red House Painters + Seam
Coup De Grace was recorded in 2008 and is just now seeing the light of day. Being a huge fan of 90s indie rock, this struck a chord with me immediately, but upon repeated listens it starts to just disappear. Shores successfully capture the tone, style and melancholic vibe of the bands mentioned. What they lack is the experimentation, the textures that characterized many of the bands they cop. Tonally, they seem stuck in two or three very similar keys. They are a two-piece, so maybe you can't hold the lack of texture against them. “Meanwhile” and “Palm” are the standout tracks to me and they are enough to keep me looking forward to the next album. It is at least perfect music for a rainy day, or the endless Utah winter. –Elliot Secrist

 

Sic Alps
Napa Asylum
Drag City
Street: 01.25
Sic Alps = Modern Lovers + Kurt Vile + Psychedelic Horseshit
Burn your vinyl. Melt your tapes. No resurrection. No reunion tours. No fuzzy nostalgia. Sic Alps’ “kill yr idols” approach to songwriting offers no nods to an imagined past or an immediate now. Napa Asylum, at 22 songs and 47 minutes is stuffed somewhere between the grittiest Velvet Underground pop songs and the abrasiveness of the Siltbreeze label in a sort of dated timlessness. This album was either recorded in 1969 or 2010. There is no way to tell. Napa Asylum is the much-anticipated fourth album from the San Francisco trio. The album ranges from short, coherent pop songs with AM Gold hooks to even shorter squawking, squealing, shrapnel-spewing noise tracks. Each have their place under Napa Asylum’s loose, fast and loud lo-fi tent; however, the Sic Alps have always sounded better on the verge of self-destruction, which Napa Asylum teeters on the brink of often. –Ryan Hall


Social Distortion
Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes
Epitaph
Street: 01.18
Social Distortion = Bruce Springsteen + The Ramones + The Blasters
There are a lot of preconceived notions about what a record from Social Distortion should sound like. In some instances, Hard Times is exactly what you’d expect (the hard-charging “Machine Gun Blues”), but surprises such as the more soulful “Bakersfield” are a delight. The record has a few bland tunes, but not enough to really complain about. It’s easy to tell that Mike Ness and the gang have matured into a rock n’ rollin’ machine—elements like 1950s female back-up vocals and organ/piano that would’ve never worked on a punk rock record 20 years ago have been blended into this one fairly seamlessly. “Alone and Forsaken” is a punk rock take on a Hank Williams song, and Social Distortion really nailed it. The hardcore mohawk set may not appreciate the eclectic sound Social D has cultivated, but there’s plenty here for anyone who loves rock n’ roll. –James Orme

 

Southside Stranglers
Too Much 7’
Grave Mistake
Street: 12.21.10
Southside Stranglers = The Damned + Generation X + The Adicts
I love putting on a vinyl 7 inch—something about it just puts me in the room with the band. This fun little punk rock 7 inch from Virginia’s Southside Stranglers draws heavily from the garagey early day of punk rock, and it took me straight to the heart of what it meant to be punk rock. It’s mean, fast and a bit repetitive, which is to be expected. I’d really like to see this band live, because it’s obvious the energy is the fuel this group is running on. Rapid chugging guitar riffs, lean spartan lyrics sung in perfect cadence with the rhythm, and pounding almost tribal drums fill this release. Anyone who hates punk rock didn’t have bands like this in their neighborhood growing up. The Southside Stranglers could easily grow and mature into fresh and original, but for right now they’re just another good punk band, and that might be good enough. –James Orme   

Spawn Atomic
Retro Future
Giant Girlfriend
Street: 11.2010
Spawn Atomic = Misfits + Wednesday Night Heroes + Son of Sam + Blitz
When I initially look at the cover to The Retro Future, for some reason, I assume it’s a space-psychobilly album—the cartoonish art depicts an alien zombie who holds an astronaut family hostage. Spawn Atomic, however, successfully melds street punk with horror punk—better than The Ghouls have proclaimed on their Myspace. “Silver Bullet” employs Misfits-style “whoa-ohs,” whose hollow melodies sound like something that could have come from Legacy of Brutality, while the swift, D-beat “Baby Seal Club” pounds out gang vocals and a single-note guitar line that closes the track. “Road Warrior” and “Destroyed in Seconds” dip into a thrash element with chuggy guitar rhythms, but generally stay within punk minimalism. “Fog City Axe Murderer” stands out as a raucous but fun track that opens with a sound-byte from So I Married an Axe Murderer, which encompasses Spawn Atomic’s style of fast, catchy hardcore with morbid themes. –Alexander Ortega


Tankard
Vol(l)ume 14
AFM
Street: 02.22
Tankard = Destruction + Artillery + Sodom + Kreator
Kings of beer, thrash and party metal Tankard have returned to kick some ass further and kick all the retro-thrashers that think they’re Satan’s gift to metal right smack in the balls. The aptly titled Vol(l)ume 14 is the Frankfurt, Germany-based band’s … well, 14th album. Tankard’s been thrashing shit up since 1982 and their last album, Thirst, ruled and this one kicks the shit out of Thirst. Seriously, fuck retro anything, listen to the real shit instead of silly imitators. Vol. 14 offers such lyrical insights as: rules are lame, dieting is stupid, dissing on BP’s oil spill mess, band fanboy morons, thrash-metal speed-dating and other great topics; they’re actually fun as hell and the songs immediately stick in your head. “Weekend Warriors,” is my thrash anthem as of late and I don’t anticipate it changing. There was a time when bands made records where just about every song had its quality and stood memorable; that’s exactly where Tankard’s new record lies for me—it includes great thrash riffing, some terrific guitar melodies and vocals and lyrics that get you singing in the shower after a huge hangover. I reiterate, fuck retro thrash in its lame orifices, Tankard just pissed in an empty Beck’s bottle and handed it to the retro scene. –Bryer Wharton
 

Various Artists
Blow Your Head Volume 1: Diplo Presents Dubstep
Mad Decent
Street: 11.01
Blow Your Head Vol. 1 = Rusko + Benga + James Blake
In this compilation album, Diplo attempts to cast a wide net over the large and diverse genre of dubstep. Dubstep has undergone something spectacular in 2010 in that it caught an entire nation by the balls and squeezed. People are going apeshit for this stuff, and rightly so. These dubstep producers and DJs are making some of the best new music, period. Blow Your Head is a response to that, and also, Diplo’s hand-stamped approval and endorsement of the sound. Because of that, this album has one of every kind of dubstep that is being explored at the moment. There’s dub-house inspired mellow beats with a focus on subtleties, there’s progressive, warped, womp songs, there’s the biggest hits, and the in-your-fucking-face bangers that dubstep is so noted for. Each song on this album provides a glance of a different direction that the many, many tentacles of dubstep are crawling towards at the moment. –Jessie Wood