National Music Reviews

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The 2 Bears
Be Strong
DFA REcords
Street: 01.30
The 2 Bears = Pet Shop Boys + C+C Music Factory + Hot Chip + Black Box + Gay Anthems
The 2 Bears are Raf Rundell and pudgy velvet tenor Joe Goddard from Hot Chip who collaborated on a club, dub dance album as sort of an “homage” to the gay club scene that has culturally been permeating the straight scene seemingly forever. While somewhat of a departure from the inventiveness of Hot Chip’s quirky instrumentation and playfulness, The 2 Bears’ tongue-in-cheek delivery of love and peace and acceptance (and shout-outs to some great hip-hop influences) is confusing at first, and then comes across as sweet and very, very danceable. With songs about Bear Hugs and RuPaul-esque phrases like, “You better work!” over piano power chords via 1992, these guys are managing to recreate a feeling that was very inclusive about that particular era of club scene. With the obvious nods to the divas and the drag queens, 2 Bears manage to maintain a lot of the fun without being overly campy or taking themselves too seriously. An impressive effort; fans of Hot Chip will not be disappointed, and hopefully, The 2 Bears will keep it inclusive. –Mary Houdini

A Place to Bury Strangers
Onwards to the Wall
Dead Oceans
Street: 02.07
A Place to Bury Strangers = Joy Division + Sonic Youth
EPs are typically used by artists as a low-stakes outlet for getting some left-of-center ideas off their chests. Don’t let the format here fool you, though––Onwards to the Wall is five songs worth of A Place to Bury Strangers doing the same motorik post-punk they’ve been forging for two albums now. You may even wonder if you’ve heard some of these songs before. The lack of adventurousness may be telling—A Place to Bury Strangers may be admitting here their lack of interest in any grand narrative. But it’s not a bad thing if you happen to like taut, dark, catchy music, which I do. (Urban: 03.11) –Nate Housley

The Alligators
Time’s Up, You’re Dead
Bridge 9
Street: 03.27
The Alligators = Insted + Agnostic Front + Cerebral Ballzy
Thank God The Alligators didn’t decide to “branch out” musically as a supergroup. Comprised of Roger Miret (Agnostic Front) and 3/4 of Insted, The Alligators aren’t trying to make a sonic jazz odyssey on Time’s Up, You’re Dead. Instead, they’re throwing it back to their roots. And a throwback by people who were there tends to work (OFF! falls into this category as well). The only sonic departure on this album is the marching band drumline that closes out “Cause and Effect,” with the gang vocal “We gotta stand and fight/start a fucking riot” screamed over the top. Don’t worry, it’s not as cringe-worthy as it sounds. Don’t expect any masters-level theses on politics; what you get here are fist-pumping, tear-down-the-system bursts of rage. Miret’s vocals are significantly Grover-reduced on this album, setting it apart from recent Agnostic Front output. And, even though Insted was posi and upbeat back in the day, those guys can go hard when they need to. Was there really any doubt that this wasn’t going to be at least halfway decent? –Peter Fryer

Andre Williams
Hoods and Shades
Street: 02.28
Andre Williams = Barry White + Ike Turner + journeyman soul experience
Talk about paying your dues. Andre Williams has been involved in music in some capacity for over 50 years, yet he still is unknown to most people. This record came about in the summer of 2010. Williams performed at a soul music festival in Detroit and charmed so many of his fellow performers that they all got together the next day and recorded what can only be described as an old-school Motor City folk record. R&B roadmen Don Was, Dennis Coffey and Jim White helped to round out the nine-man, laidback soul group, over which Williams presides. The result is a familiar-sounding nod to the streets of Detroit, ripe with groove-driven music and steeped in lyrics about hustlers, hoodrats and danger—all guided by Williams’ gravelly, soul-prophet voice. It is a slow record. It is familiar because it relies heavily on the backbone of R&B standards and progressions. It has a real garage-rock feel to it as well, since it was recorded on the fly by musicians who barely knew each other. It isn’t as saucy as some of his other recent work, but that may work to its benefit. I mean, imagine that, an Andre Williams record you could actually play on the radio! –James Bennett

Andre Williams and the Goldstars
Street: 11.15.11
Andre Williams = Barry White + Ike Turner + a sax player
Nightclub is the Andre Williams record I have long hoped to find. It’s more of an EP than it is a full-length record, as it features only five tracks and clocks in at just over 17 minutes. What makes it special is that it gives the listener a chance to hear a handful of songs that really reflect Williams’ current sound. The Goldstars have been his backing band on the road for several years now—both times he came to Salt Lake, he brought them along. Before the Goldstars became his default road band, it seemed like he recorded and played with pretty much anyone who had a day off. As a result, you never knew what you were going to get. The cool thing about Nightclub is that it allows the energy of a live Andre Williams show to really shine through. Fuzzy guitars, rock lounge organ and saxophone work in absolute concert to build a flawless nest where Williams can comfortably perch his signature God-of-the-old-funk-testament voice. It is equal parts rock n’ roll, R&B and 1950s dance party. It is easily the most fun, and most natural-sounding recording that Williams has done in years. God bless the Goldstars for putting up with the challenges of working with a hard-livin’ soul pioneer, and for gracing us with an optimistic look into the talent of Mr. Rhythm himself. Now if it were just a little longer… –James Bennett

The General Strike
Street: 03.20
Anti-Flag = The Clash + Comeback Kid + Street Dogs
In contrast to recent work, Anti-Flag take The General Strike in the direction they would have gone from the material they released on their split with Bouncing Souls. The 22-second opener “Controlled Opposition” demonstrates that Anti-Flag have deviated from pop-punk mixed with folk, slamming out three lines of lyrics over a vicious D-beat. Anti-Flag overcome the cheesiness in which they were somewhat mired from being too direct, which often taints political rock; “1915” exhibits the use of narrative, historical perspective, and quotes to communicate the potential of workers to spur progress. Anti-Flag employ snippets of language that read surprisingly poetic over fierce power chords and a raging beat in “Bullshit Opportunist.” In terms of musical composition, Anti-Flag skew song structure, such as in “Turn a Blind Eye,” where there isn’t a clear chorus, but the song as a whole is catchy as hell. This album conveys balance between politics and art, music and songwriting—get it. –Alexander Ortega

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour
Out of Frequency
BMG Rights
Street: 01.31
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour = Gorillaz + M.I.A. + The Ting Tings
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour is a pop duo from Denmark made up of Mette Lindberg (vocals) and Lars Iversen (producer). The follow-up to their debut, Fruit (2009), Out of Frequency is just as good as the first album, if not better. TAGT have an impressively full sound, especially for only having two members. The album has horns, screams, drums, guitars—the works. It actually reminds me quite consistently of the energy that college marching bands bring to sporting events. They are on point, full of vitality, and deliver exactly what you expect from them—every track on the album makes you want to get up and cheer. “Major” is a standout track, with its crazy drum rolls, chants you can sing right along with, and a feel-good chorus. Another great track is “Heart Attack,” with a synth solo right in the middle and the electric organ. Really, this whole thing is a masterpiece, and the Asteroids Galaxy Tour should be proud of what they’ve accomplished. –Kylie Cox

Barren Earth
The Devil’s Resolve
Street: 03.13
Barren Earth = Opeth + Insomnium + Swallow the Sun
It’s hard not to say this sounds like Opeth in their prime of Still Life and My Arms, Your Hearse, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering Opeth is now in completely progressive realms. The Devil’s Resolve is a straight-up melodic progressive death metal opus. The progressive nature of The Devil’s Resolve is, thankfully, minimal––you’ll spend the bulk of this album listening to blunt, foreboding guitars with acoustics, guitar leads and soloing meant to complement the main darkness of the album’s eight tracks. Album opener, “Passing of the Crimson Shadows,” sets the pace and tone of the record and plays out like a recap of the band’s debut. “As it is Written” sees Barren Earth in their own unique glories—it truly feels new and fresh, and is the track most listeners will return to. Other tracks are just as meaty, with dark harmonies, setting a new standard for the genre and giving Opeth die-hards something to pine over and get their “heavy-with-melodies” fix. –Bryer Wharton

Big Deal
Lights Out
Street: 09.05.11
Mute Song
Big Deal = Other Lives + Moldy Peaches
Big Deal is yet another couple duo, comprised of United Kingdom natives Alice Costelloe and Kacey Underwood. For this album, all they have used are their voices and their guitars (and the help of GarageBand on a few tracks). Big Deal isn’t bad at all, it just isn’t good, either. I wouldn’t recommend it based on the fact that it doesn’t differentiate itself from anything else. It’s just … fine. I could throw it into the background of some show on the CW and never notice it again. Don’t get me wrong, it does have some redeeming qualities. For example, “Chair,” and really the rest of the album as well, have lyrics that anyone can relate to. The writing is excellent. “You only want me for the songs I write about you, about how I like you … I wanna be your lover, trying not to be your friend.” However, the mixture of the definitive melodies with the wavering, soft voice rubs me the wrong way, and I can only listen to it for so long before I am both bored and frustrated. They need to figure out what exactly they are¬– a rock band or a dream-pop band¬– and move forward from there. –Kylie Cox

Black Bananas
Rad Times Xpress IV
Drag City
Street: 01.31
Black Bananas = Empire of the Sun + The Go-Go’s + The Beatles (The White Album)
It’s an acid trip of an album. It’s weird. It’s awesome. It’s mildly uncomfortable at times. But you still go back for more, again and again. Take another hit … don’t be afraid. This album is the first by the new project Black Bananas, a band that evolved from the remnants of RTX, the previous project of vocalist and band-leader Jennifer Herrema, and her bunch of music-minded cohorts. It’s wild and exciting, and with influences sourced from the classic, female-fronted rock bands of the ’70s to modern electronic experiments, the album is, above all, very bouncy and danceable. It’ll surely leave you with an afterglow, but if you wait too long before popping it in again, beware the comedown. –Ischa B.

RVNG Intl.
Street: 02.07
Blondes = Todd Terry – Frankie Knuckles x “Planet Soul” Compilations circa 1995
A couple of guys went to Oberlin College and studied music and then moved to Brooklyn and started making house albums. The way that this differs from any other sort of house music, I guess, is the way they layer it? I think? Supposedly, they used a lot of live sounds as opposed to samples, built each song up to a crescendo of sorts, and then dismantled it again. I don’t want to totally write this off, but it is hard not to, with a genre of music of such an elite grouping of people, past and present, doing it so well that Blondes will be hard-pressed to get into that upper echelon of greatness. I want to support this as an achievement, but two hipster rocker guys in Brooklyn just makes it seem pretentious, and as each meticulously layered song clocks in at roughly 7 to 9 minutes, it’s not going to appeal to the iPod generation or the party rockers, either. And, you can’t really even dance to any of it. Maybe get really, really stoned, and listen to it really loud while lying on your floor surrounded by dirty laundry. –Mary Houdini

Cate le Bon
The Control Group   
Street: 01.17
Cate le Bon = Fiery Furnaces + Beach House + She & Him
Following her debut album, Me Oh My (2010), Cate le Bon unveils CYRK, an album devoted to the experiences she has had over the past two years. Booking shows from SXSW to Café Hotel to Glastonbury, it’s safe to say that she has kept herself quite busy. This album shows maturity from her last, and showcases an established, more existential and experimental side to her music. CYRK highlights her deep and seductive voice, with songs and whispers that lure you in with every note. A highlight track is the wistful ballad “The Man I Wanted.” It has lyrics any woman can relate to, such as “He would make my hands his home, the man I wanted.” Another standout track is the upbeat “Falcon Eyed,” with its chorus sung in octaves and impossibly indecipherable lyrics. “Puts Me to Work” is another good one, and it has some heavy guitar riffs that remind me of the early days of The Strokes. Overall, CYRK is light, pleasant and the perfect record to fit into the quintessential indie soundtrack. Just the kind of songs you’d play when the trees start to bloom, and just in time. –Kylie Cox

Street: 03.06
Ceremony = Wire + Television + Dead Kennedys – Jello and everyone but East Bay Ray
“Not like their old stuff” is to Ceremony what “delicious but terrible for your heart” is to saturated fats. This ain’t Ruined. It ain’t Violence Violence. It ain’t even Rohnert Park. Fistfuls of hate, once flailing at the world, have grown limp, bitter and indiscriminately forlorn—but in a good way. Think aching dead-end psychedelia funneled through smog-choked California dreams, hunks of post-punk, tribal pop and surf drone awash in the stew. Keith Morris blows a capillary, gets bored, bong rips and listens to Pet Sounds. Ross Farrar mashes his vocals into wailing, vaguely British territories; “World Blue,” “Adult” and “Ordinary People” seethe and sputter with nary a mosh part, while razor-wristed vitriol gives way to bleary-eyed, albeit tuneful, hopelessness. Naked, shivering, frail, venomous and disinterested … figure it out, doofus. An excellent record that lots of people will hate. Guess they really were sick of Black Flag. Well done, boys. –Dylan Chadwick

Street: 01.24
Chairlift = Yeasayer + The Bird and the Bee + Imogen Heap
Although they are most commonly known for, and associated with, their single, “Bruises,” which was featured in the iPod campaigns of 2008, Chairlift deserves some positive recognition as a band and not for just one song. Something, the follow-up album to Does You Inspire You (2008), is a solid record all on its own. Since collaborating with Apple, the duo has gone on to work with bands like Washed Out, Holy Ghost, and even worked with Das Racist. They are touring this spring, joining forces with Active Child, and even making their way to Austin, Texas, for SXSW. The album begins with “Sidewalk Safari,” which is a strong track with a commanding chorus and distorted guitars, but it is contrastingly paired with the soft, dreamy voice of Caroline Polachek. The single of the album is “Met Before,” which could have been stolen right off of the Drive soundtrack. The difference between albums for Chairlift is that this album is noticeably more mature. It’s less of the bubble-gum pop, never-ending-happiness of 2008, and has developed into a longingly beautiful list of tracks. So if you’ve written them off as a one-hit wonder, I suggest reconsidering. –Kylie Cox

Classics of Love
Asian Man
Street: 02.14
Classics of Love = Night Birds + Common Rider + The Explosion
Holy shit, this rules. I mean, I knew it would be pretty awesome since Classics of Love features Jesse Michaels (Operation Ivy, Common Rider) and all three members of Hard Girls, but this album kicks parts of my ass that I didn’t even know I had. While their 2009 EP Walking in Shadows exposed the punkier side of Michaels that had laid dormant since his time in Operation Ivy, this full-length album takes it to a whole new level, infusing early ’80s hardcore speed (“What a Shame,” “It Will Not be Moved”) and even some ska (“Castle in the Sky,” “Bandstand”). The best part of the album, though, is that you can actually sense how excited Michaels is about making music again, through his impassioned and urgent vocals. It’s hard to describe, but this just feels like a punk rock record should. It’s still early in the year, but I seriously can’t see how any other punk album could be better than this one. –Ricky Vigil

Crushed Stars
In the Bright Rain
Street: 03.06
Crushed Stars = Kissing Cousins + Morrissey
Moody without being quite emo, dark but not the teeniest bit goth, this album must be what the kids call “indie” these days, because I don’t know where else it would fall. Sensitive-young-man Todd Gautreau could teach Game Theory a thing or two about hurt feelings as he warbles, Morrissey-like, and wanders though some dreary nights. Decently written and recorded, the album gnaws at me, but never quite manages to get its teeth into my brain—song after song floats by on sad little gossamer wings, pretty but without guile or, alas, soul. Possibly most telling is that the closest thing to a standout track, “House on the Hill,” is an Epic Soundtracks/Kevin Godfrey (Crime and the City Solution, These Immortal Souls) cover. But play this for your next cute, quirky-girl date and I bet you’ll get laid. –Madelyn Boudreaux

The Darcys
Arts & Crafts
Street: 01.24
The Darcys = Steely Dan – (Walter Becker + Donald Fagen) + Radiohead
After releasing their self-titled, sophomore album last October, The Darcys decided to take on the challenge of reworking one of the most brilliant albums of jazz history: Steely Dan’s Aja. The irony in this rework is that The Darcys have stripped Aja of all its groove and swing and turned it into a darker, dream pop style, exemplary of popular music today. The rework as a whole is stylistically dumbed down and much less interesting than the original, but this is due more to the nature of the genre than a fault of the band. Steely Dan’s lyrics were notoriously dark and esoteric, and so the dark musical undertones that the Darcys have added to the sound help to bring the darkness of the subject matter to life in a way, but Jason Couse’s voice doesn’t hit the ear quite as forcefully as does Donald Fagen’s (lead singer of Steely Dan). Knowing the original album so well, I can’t get into the Darcys’ version due to the stylistic differences, but it is certainly an interesting, contemporary take on a legendary jazz album. –Chris Proctor

The Doozer
Keep It Together
Street: 01.31
The Doozer = Syd Barrett + Neutral Milk Hotel
Keep It Together gave me the sense that I’d heard it before, almost immediately upon the first listen, but it’s not a feeling of comforting, instant familiarity. It sounds like somebody else’s music—like Syd Barrett, only without the organic eccentricity. Many ’70s psych-folk hallmarks are present—intentionally sleepy-sounding vocals, consistently down-strummed chords, lyrics that could belong in a travel guide or an exquisite corpse fairytale, and instruments deserving of better fates than being the answer to “what would make this sound like a carnival?” Every musician on Keep It Together obviously has a respectable level of ability. “The Island” is a good reference for the overall sound. My favorite aspect of this album is the clear production and skillfully balanced mixing of the many instruments used in its recording. Keep It Together will certainly find an audience. I just don’t anticipate being a part of it. –T.H.

Escort Records
Street: 01.31
Escort = (’70s-era Michael Jackson – Michael Jackson) + Lauryn Hill
With their first full-length CD, Escort plans to pour across the nation straight from the disco dance floors of New York. Unfortunately, while their 17-member ensemble might be impressive live, the magic of a band that size doesn’t transfer to this LP–which mostly sounds like it was squeezed out of a synthesizer (although “Cocaine Blues” and “Makeover” aren’t all that bad). Escort is mainly held together by founders Eugene Cho and Dan Balis, who produce, record, play and sing for the band. Parisian Adeline Michèle fronts for Escort, but may be spreading herself too thin by also fronting for The Crowd and working on her solo career. Even though the sound isn’t perfect, if the whole world roller-skated nonstop and everyone lived at the roller rink, we could survive solely on this album. –Johnny Logan

Eux Autres
Sun Is Sunk
Bons Mots
Street: 02.28
Eux Autres = Dum Dum Girls + Tilly and the Wall
This is a bright, upbeat indie pop album with every song more infectious than the last. The trade-off between female and male vocalists is incredibly welcome, as the bubble gum pop girl’s vocals tend to wear a bit thin. This six-song EP is the perfect length, leaving me quite satisfied; it never has a chance to grow dull. The highlights are definitely “Broken Record” and “Down Your Street”; the latter of which is the only time the optimism seems to fade, leaving a beautiful minimalistic pop piece. –Cody Hudson

Every Time I Die
Ex Lives
Street: 03.06
Every Time I Die = Alice in Chains + The Bronx + Hot Damn!-era Every Time I Die
Every Time I Die’s brand of Southern-tinged metalcore used to scratch me right where I itch. Hell, I’ll even admit to owning (loving) Hot Damn! and spinning it consistently throughout high school … But ETID records in 2004 and 2012 are thoroughly different animals. Although Ex Lives freely back-glances to the competent grooving, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and achingly familiar “fast bit/slow fadeout” formula of the early millenium, its strength is only realized when it strays from its own path. In fact, it’s only when the band freely embraces the clanging caterwaul of their Dixie-boogie tendencies (banjo pickin’ on “Partying is Such Sweet Sorrow,” or the ghostly Staley bray of “Drag King”) or abandons their niche completely (“Indian Giver”’s stoner-robic space romp ranks as a creative zenith) that Ex Lives makes much impact. The rest of the time, clipped, frenetic and a tad derivative, it sputters like tired holdovers from high school’s dog days. –Dylan Chadwick

The Fall
Ersatz G.B.
Cherry Red
Street: 11.14.11
The Fall = Public Image Ltd. + Wire
At least once a year, we are blessed with a new release from Mark E. Smith and his continuous rotating band members. On album 29, Ersatz G.B., we find Smith rambling incoherently and sounding unhinged at times, but this is the same Fall we fell in love with. Smith snarls his wit over rapid-fire drums and spacey keys on album opener “Cosmos 7.” The key track is the snappy, dub-driven “Taking Off,” revealing a sliver of pop. Smith sounds tipsy as he mumbles “I’m so sick of Snow Patrol,” on the rockabilly-frosted “Mask Search.” Smith growls, “I had to whack off the cat to feed the fucking dog,” on the highly repetitive drum-and-bass “Greenway.” Eleni Poulou, Smith’s wife and keyboardist of 10 years, creates a Nico and Lou Reed moment with “Happi Song.” As the late, great John Peel once said about The Fall, “They are always different; they are always the same.” –Courtney Blair

Waxploitation/ZZK Records
Street: 01.10
Fauna = the tamest versions of (Calle 13 + Pitbull + Beastie Boys circa Licensed To Ill)
At first I thought this was a review from the local indie outfit of the same name. THANK GOODNESS, IT IS NOT. Instead, it’s a mish-mash of reggaeton and cumbia-flavored drums and electronics with bro-Latino vocals that are mixed poorly and songs that aren’t really that exciting as a whole, but that have a lot of potential. Seeing as how everyone loves a good “baile” funk dance party, I want to challenge Fauna to step it up and get raunchy, damn it. Get drunk. Get dirty. –Mary Houdini

New Epoch
Deep Medi Musik
Street: 02.07
Goth-Trad = Mala + Distance + Hatcha
New Epoch is Japanese producer Goth-Trad’s first LP in seven years. With that long of a wait, it’s no surprise to anyone familiar with his work that the album is ambitious, dark, and introspective. The album is both a nod to mid-2000s dubstep and a glance at what lies ahead in the broad genre of bass music. It’s a guaranteed classic. There’s intricate and complex composition, dub-reminiscent melodies and quick, spattered drums layered on top to complement the heavy, heavy sub-bass. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the production is the rhythms. They are remarkably simple, yet so unique. In a day and age where most music sounds the same, Goth-Trad stands out with ease. And he does it all with a minimalistic, economic style that perfectly complements the focal point, the sub-bass. The album title, New Epoch, refers to a new age for Japan after the earthquake, the album an expression of the hope of the Japanese people that something new is starting. It’s fitting, because the album feels like a new start in bass music. –Jessie Wood

High Dive
No Idea Records
Street: 12.14.11
High Dive = Nada Surf + The Donnas’ high-school album
Coming from Bloomington, Indiana, High Dive is a Queer punk band featuring Toby Foster on guitar, Ryan Woods (who also plays with Defiance, Ohio) on bass and Nick Romy on drums. Though their sound is a little unpolished–it wouldn’t be punk if it wasn’t–High Dive has some of the most honest and revealing songs about growing up queer I’ve ever come across. Their cover of Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” is also particularly enjoyable. If you’ve ever felt out of place or as though things will never get better, this is an album you should give a listen to. If you can’t find them at Graywhale, order it at –Johnny Logan

America Give Up
Rough Trade
Street: 01.16
Howler = The Strokes + Television + Weezer + meh
Give Up America is a cute and shiny pop record, covered in a thin layer of dirt and grime, mixing sounds of sunny ’60s California pop and mid-’00s Strokes-flavored rock. All of the songs sound good, are almost catchy, and have a nice, lighthearted vibe. Each track could stand alone as a single, and will probably see radio airplay—Give Up America, Howler’s first full-length album, was even featured on NPR’s First Listen. But no matter how much I like the record’s title, Give Up America is just America’s latest installment of mediocre rock music. If it wasn’t for frontman Jordan Gatesmith’s weird, exaggerated vocals, I wouldn’t be able to distinguish Howler from any other pop or rock band on the radio. Although Give Up America sounds kind of cool, I’ll probably forget about it within a week or two. Howler are good at what they do, and that is making unexceptional rock music. Take Give Up America for what it is: just OK. (Kilby: 03.30) –Cody Kirkland

Hairdresser Blues
Hardly Art
Street: 02.28
Hunx = Jacuzzi Boys + Xray Eyeballs + The 321s
The debut solo EP from Seth Bogart of Hunx and His Punx isn’t exactly what I expected. While his material with Hunx and His Punx bursts at the seams with flamboyance and John Waters style trash (that’s the good kind), the songs on Hairdresser Blues feel a bit lonely and heartbroken. Although the lyrics on “Let Me In” are melancholy, where it seems as if Bogart is begging a former lover to “Let me into your life and finish what you started,” the guitars are poppy and upbeat—it’s a dichotomy that gets played with throughout the 10-track EP. On tracks like “Hairdresser Blues” and “Private Room,” the playfulness Hunx and his Punx are known for emerges. Ultimately, Hairdresser Blues is different enough from Bogart’s work with Punx that it’s interesting, and yet it’s similar enough that it won’t alienate his existing fans. –Jeanette D. Moses

Junior Bruce
The Headless King
A389 Recordings
Street: 01.31
Junior Bruce = Clutch + Sleep + Kyuss
With a moniker derived from Roger Corman’s classic Death Race 2000, Junior Bruce hits all the right notes on their debut The Headless King—a thick, pummeling stoner rock fest steeped in the muggy stickiness of the South. Fronted by ex-Bloodlet howler Scott Angelacos, Junior Bruce has crafted an impressive debut. The bass is turned up in the mix, and the production is thick, but the instruments remain discernible. And as for Angelacos’ voice—it was unique in the hardcore scene, and is just as unique in the stoner-metal realm. The man must drink straight motor oil, smoke two packs a day and gargle nails—in short, it’s tremendous. The only snipe that can be taken at The Headless King is that some riffs can repeat a few times too many, but then again, that may just be the point of stoner metal. Get on this. –Peter Fryer

Labretta Suede and The Motel 6
Dirty & Dumb
Street: 02.16
Labretta Suede and The Motel 6 = The Coffin Lids + Deadbolt + Mad Marge and The Stone Cutters
Rock n’ roll refugees from Auckland, New Zealand, Labretta Suede and Johnny Moondog (not their Christian names, I’m pretty sure), after having reformed their greasy rock outfit with a new rhythm section, have cranked out 11 tracks of primal rock that draw on the three purest rock n’ roll genres: punk, garage and rockabilly. Labretta’s strength is her attitude—that low and smoky growl that she’s got will get through to any red-blooded male. The songs are verging on simplistic, but restraint has paid off here; nothing gets in the way of the obvious centerpiece of the band, which is Labretta’s performance, so with the band trucking along tightly behind her, she’s able to take it anywhere she wants. The boogie of “Mean Mouthed Mamma” gets anyone with a pulse moving. “Priscilla the Monkey Girl,” is the strange, spoken-word story about carnival freaks that gets weirder as it goes on. Honestly, this is bare-bones, black leather jacket caveman rock n’ roll with a spooky hot chick as a lead singer—kind of a no-brainer formula to follow, with few places to go wrong. –James Orme

Six Cups of Rebel
Street: 02.07
Lindstrøm = The Knife + Gang Gang Dance + Prince
This guy was all over the “Best of” lists for 2008’s release Where You Go I Go Too, and has managed to build upon his reputation and dated sounds without sounding, well, dated.  The opening intro track brings to mind some sort of spirit-evoking gothic church organ, anticipating sounds that are moody and dismal.  It’s the perfect introduction to the Norwegian super-DJ’s fourth album, because from this dark and cloudy organ, there is just no telling where Lindstrøm is going to take you.  Already creating waves on Pitchfork and Stereogum, this disco-based producer is pushing the boundaries of a disco-type heavy techno genre that one would think has long been played out.  Here, you hear his skittering vocals over the top of Italo-disco dance beats and conjured ’80s synth lines, with all the macabre happiness of dark places.  On the fourth track, “Quiet Place to Live,” the layered pops and bass lines are anything but sparse, yet they aurally construct a landscape that is so pleasant and airy, you can’t believe that it’s constructed of matter at all. This is a seminal balance of Lindstrøm’s impressive working talents. –Mary Houdini

Little Barrie
King Of Waves
Tummy Touch Records
Street: 02.28
Little Barrie = Primal Scream + 22-20s
In 2005, the Nottingham trio Little Barrie released their debut album, We Are Little Barrie. Flash-forward seven years and after the addition of drummer and vocalist Virgil Howe (son of Yes guitarist Steve Howe), the band shows maturity and a newfound confidence. Once again, they team up with indie legend Edwyn Collins as co-producer to continue their brand of bluesy soul sounds from the garage. They catch a gritty wave in the garage on the psychobilly-esque opener “Surf Hell.” There’s a vintage, effervescent swagger to “How Come,” while the title track takes you on a smooth blues-influenced ride. They show off their Jim Morrison impression on “Dream to Live,” and kick their raw attitude into high gear on “Tip It Over.” King of the Waves is slick from start to finish. –Courtney Blair

Nuclear Blast
Street: 03.27
Meshuggah = Vildhjarta + Textures + what every so-called “djent” band wishes they were
To answer the loyal Meshuggahites, the big question is, is Koloss going to disappoint them? Not at all, not in the slightest. I’ve always admired the way these Swedes can manipulate generally the same tones and chords into multi-layered and dynamic albums. Layers upon layers is what you’re going to get with the new album. In terms of flat-out mechanized, cold, bristling discontent with that extra hint of rage, Koloss beats the band’s last album, Obzen, into oblivion. Formulas the band’s been working with since Nothing, which made every fan or newcomer of the band go crazy, are used here to their maximum potential. If the year goes on and people aren’t talking about this album, I’ll be at a loss. I always wondered if the guys in the band liked math in school. Koloss plays out like a physics lesson gone horribly wrong—the album creates equations on top of equations that equal the right answer, but somehow in the wrong way.  Koloss brings the elements from the band’s past few albums into one beast that, guaranteed, every time you listen, you’re going to interpret differently or find something new. –Bryer Wharton

Nada Surf
The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy
Barsuk Records
Street: 01.24
Nada Surf = Pavement + Built To Spill + Thermals
When it comes to a band whose exaltation sprang from the mindless, MTV-promoted anthem, “Popular,” it’s hard to believe they’d still be able to make a feasible living. On the other hand, Nada Surf still remain one of the grandfathered outfits of staple ’90s alt-rock. They furthermore remind us of it with their latest release, The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy. The opening track, “Clear Eye Clouded Mind,” is a sign of things to come—crunchy and fast-paced hooks with pervasive power chords reminiscent of The Replacements. Longtime fans will probably enjoy the slower and original-sounding “When I Was Young,” and “Jules and Jim.” The lyrics focus around being young, and adolescent nostalgia. And by that, I mean almost all of the album’s lyrics. This record is good, but it would be better if it smacked less of an impending midlife crisis. (Urban: 03.27) –Gregory Gerulat   

Deathwish Inc.
Street: 02.28
Narrows = Botch + Godflesh + Breather Resist
Lordy, do I hate the term “supergroup.” Save that shit for cosmic roller derby or whatever else you do on weekends. Bleuch. I won’t mention the band’s pedigree (Rob Moran, Dave Verellen, etc.) because if you know … you just know. Get it? Taking some sonic cues from the flailing thrall that was 2009’s New Distances, the Seattle band “narrows” (hyuk hyuk!) their approach a bit, condensing their spastic, fuzz-mammoth sound into lean slabs of plump riffs and thundering surges. The eight-minute sprawl of “Greenland,” infectious rythmic drone of “It’s the Water,” and howling trundle of “Face Paint” coalesce into a corpulent showcase for the band’s modus operandi (heavy heavy heavy) while the painful chiming of album closer “SST” stops just short of heavenly territory. Angelic bliss for rotten souls. Leaden chaos for your Ambien sad-cake? Here ya go, loony. Also, to hell with the term “mathcore.” Who comes up with this garbage? –Dylan Chadwick

In a Dim Light
Monotreme Records
Street: 03.12
Nedry = (Portishead – Beth Gibbons, Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley) or (Wayne Knight’s character in Jurassic Park – the dinosaurs)
Just in time for spring comes another seemingly faceless band with a bunch of depressing-sounding bleeps and blips accompanied by grating vocals, all fashioned together and labeled “songs.”  While not quite as tragic as nails down a chalkboard, singer Ayu Okakita’s vocals are affected and border on childlike, annoying warbling, as though she hasn’t quite mastered the English language she’s attempting to sing in. There are two other members behind the generic electronic sounds—Matt Parker and Chris Amblin—but they haven’t created anything remarkable.  Lead single “Violaceae” is unwelcoming and dark, and it is just plain sad when the best song on the album ends up being a two-minute instrumental entitled “Land Leviathan.” The label’s website states that Okakita “absorbed T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets” as inspiration, but hearing the poor girl’s cloying vocals is more akin to imaging she took a page from his Old Possum’s Book of (Im)practical (Alley) Cats instead. –Dean O Hillis

Night Genes
Like the Blood
Street: 01.31
Night Genes = Julian Casablancas + Xiu Xiu
Have you ever tried listening to Nick Cave but thought to yourself, “Gee, I’d really be into these guys if they sounded more folkish and sang about nihilistic metaphors instead of vampire sex?” Me neither, but if you did, then Like the Blood would be the diamond in the rough for you. In this second release, Eric Ingersoll philosophically mumbles his two cents on cryptic folklore with a deep, sonorous timbre. It pairs well on some tracks such as “Cyber Me,” but sounds awkward when forced against others, as heard in “Ornaments.” However, the nasal-pitched, mezzo-soprano backing vocals Amy Foote produces is a redeeming element, significantly on “Woods are Full of Animals.” This is an ultimatum album—you’ll either love or hate it. Cramming muzzled and grave Jamie Stewart vocal styling within the frames of pop-folk leaves a nonexistent middle ground which most casual listeners usually yearn for. –Gregory Gerulat

One Finger Riot
Come Drag Me Down
Post Planetary
Street: 02.21
One Finger Riot = Massive Attack x Dr. Dog
Come Drag Me Down is the debut album from one-man band One Finger Riot, the project of Faris McReynolds. McReynolds was a painter in LA before abandoning it for music. While the concept of a one-person bedroom electronic project isn’t entirely unique, McReynolds’ style draws on disparate influences—pop-rock, trip-hop, glitch electronica. The album finds him settling into a distinct sound—melody-driven piano tunes over minimalist beats—but it may take more time for the sound to evolve into something that feels more organic and compelling. –Nate Housley

Plants and Animals
The End of That
Secret City Records
Street: 02.28
Plants and Animals = Grateful Dead – Phish + the Frames
Plants and Animals tap the shaggy side of classic rock as well as some ’90s alternative for an album that sounds slightly disjointed, like the product of two songwriters competing for control. There are campfire acoustic jams alongside angst-ridden guitar riffs. Fortunately, each mode is just as tuneful as the other, and Plants and Animals aren’t stingy with cool vintage guitar effects. As easy as The End of That is to listen to, I hear hints of something more epic than is realized here. Maybe if they weren’t pulled in different directions, they could have achieved it. –Nate Housley

Dope Boy Magick
Mad Decent
Street: 02.28
PO PO = Black Time + Wavves
The first image that the band’s name brings to mind is a Teletubby’s bowel movement. Despite the horrible name, I’m immediately entranced by PO PO’s “garage-rock-with-more-balls” sound – “Dnt Wnt U, Jst Wnt It All” features much more complex rhythms and better vocals than MC5 ever had, but PO PO still manages to deliver the noise where it counts – half to the medulla oblongata and half to the testicles. They sacrifice some energy for more psychedelia on tracks like “Holy Mountain,” but the additional drone feels fitting. The only flaw (besides the annoying spelling on the track titles) is its lack of direction. Tracks like “POPONGUZU” and “Sik Sik Sik” sound more akin to garage-electronica than garage rock—and certainly not in a way that marries the two. It needs to be one or the other, since PO PO can’t successfully fill the gap between the two. –Gregory Gerulat

Echo Ono
Thrill Jockey
Street: 02.21
Pontiak = Dax Riggs + Naam + Love Battery
A trio of Virginia brothers playing rock n’ roll with a ’70s bent? Might seem like a saccharine copycat of that Kings of Leon group o’ goofballs, but this ain’t no Barnes and Noble soccer-mom shit. This is riffs and fuzzed-out stoner-robic melodies for long drives on the Wyndorf expressway. Monolithic analog drums (think Grand Funk’s Closer to Home) shake the Earth off its tilt and the Mississippi Queen’s wigglin’ her moneymaker. Sure, you’ve already heard it (MeteorCity’s no secret) but it’s done with such loose precision and hypno-swagger you’ll swear it’s the only good thing you’ve heard in years. All I’m saying is, had I been a teen in the Nixon era, hearing “Left with Lights” or “Across the Steppe” would’ve steered me clear of that snarky punk-rock nonsense for good. Gimme loud guitars. Gimme solos. Gimme effects pedals. Gimme a time machine. –Dylan Chadwick

Prinzhorn Dance School
Clay Class
Street: 01.31
Prinzhorn Dance School = Wire + Gang Of Four + Joy Division + Young Marble Giants
Not surprisingly, Prinzhorn Dance School is right at home on King Hipster James Murphy’s (LCD Soundsystem –duh) DFA label; it lends throwback to the sounds of the late ’70s no-wave and post-punk, and shamelessly pulls from some of the genre’s most influential elements. This two-piece creates such sparse, angular, and downright snotty songs they sound like a backhanded compliment, leaving you wondering if they are sincere or laughing at you behind your back. While you stand there not getting the joke, they jag the instrumentation and bark their call-and-response, one cocky and full of confidence, the other moody and distant. You can practically hear the sneer on their faces as they’re leaving to go snog your girlfriend. Listen to “Seed, Crop, Harvest” and the opener “Happy in Bits,” and you’ll know exactly what I mean, loser. Don’t worry, you can still say you were the one who heard of them first. –Mary Houdini

Artoffact Records
Street: 02.07
Saltillo = Tim Hecker + EntropiK + Beats Antique
If Mozart took some acid and locked himself in the studio with The Glitch Mob, the resulting music would probably sound a lot like Monocyte. The album places acoustic and electronic music side by side, practically begging for them to contradict. And yet, under the expert production of Saltillo, the two extremes (the strings and the drum machines) complement each other perfectly, creating a sound that is at once archaic and futuristic. The bass and drums are glitchy, experimenting with catch and release, with silence and syncopated kicks. The strings are draped on top; beautiful, antique melodies that are perfectly haunting. Saltillo has created true modern classical music that looks back into music history, but falls back on truly 21st-century beats. His composition is reminiscent of Emancipator, with an appreciation of the ebb and flow. He pulls out instruments one by one, letting the song build up and release organically. Sparse, well-placed vocal samples provide a narrative of mood for the album, enhancing the emotional resonance of the strings. –Jessie Wood

Secret Colours
Street: 01.01
Secret Colours = Fairport Convention + Brian Jonestown Massacre
A couple things about this record aroused my suspicion, the first being that the band is from Chicago, yet they use the British spelling of “colours.” The second is that I found out after listening to the EP once through that the band is a sextet; I had thought they were a trio, quartet max. Neither of these things has any direct relationship to the music—a laidback, polite take on British psych by way of American garage—but they may help explain why the songs on this album stay safely in the confines of those genres. The tunes are a little too by-the-book, as if the band were trying to get pigeonholed. As a consequence, EP3 is a frustrating listen. –Nate Housley

Sick Friend
The Draft Dodger
Street: 02.14
Bird & Flag Records
Sick Friend = Telekinesis + Cursive
All the way from Montreal, the Canadian two-piece project Sick Friend brings us the highly anticipated debut album, The Draft Dodger. The band is brand new to the music scene, and is made up of Michael O’Brien (vocals, guitar) and Geordie Kingsbury (synth, drums). The album is decent, and the musicians are extremely talented, but as with all brand-new bands, they just have to figure out exactly what their sound is and who they are. A lot of bands tread lightly on their first album, perhaps so as to not alienate any of their possible audience, and that’s exactly what Sick Friend did here. If you’re in the mood to sway to and fro at your local bar, “Nothing Tragic” has a pretty funky guitar sequence made just for that kind of night. The title track, “The Draft Dodger,” uses the distorted guitars layered with the cut-time tempo and synth-bass to create an epically heavy song. Other than those two tracks, however, not a ton stands out. Overall, it’s an OK first run, but if they want to progress to a second album and a larger audience, they had better get it decided who they are and stick to it. –Kylie Cox

Solar Logos
Symbolic Insight
Street: 12.30.11
Sonolumina = (Faith and the Muse – Monica Richards) + (Dead Can Dance – Brendan Perry)
Solar Logos is the debut album by this worldly Colorado-based twosome, made up of dancer bahiya (a.k.a. Jewl Petteway) and producer Wesley Davis, along with a wide array of musicians and rhythm-makers, including a six-year old on accordion and strings (she sings, too). With all the opaque design sensibility (I hate not being able to read the tracks and liner notes!) and mystical mumbo-jumbo one expects from such things (are those crop circles or petroglyphs?), the end product is great for all you aspiring dark belly dancers out there. It is an interesting concatenation of folk-inspired world music, deep club trance beats, glitchy found sound, and electronic noize, particularly on “Sengali.” Nine tracks feature a bewildering array of other instruments, both familiar (flutes and horns) foreign (tablas) and all but made-up (banjola), all crashing together into nine tracks, or one big, messy, rhythmic masala. Play this while bringing new democracy to your favorite Middle Eastern country, or pump it in the desert while burning stuff, man. –Madelyn Boudreaux

Street: 01.17
Spielgusher = Mike Watt + Richard Meltzer + Japanese pop-punk
Mike Watt can do no wrong. He can confuse the hell out of you sometimes, though, because he’s making music for himself and he couldn’t give two fucks what the rest of the world thinks. This is one of those cases where the project was important to Watt, but we may not always know what to make of it. In its purest form, Spielgusher is the result of a long-shelved Minutemen project. Richard Meltzer, an early rock critic, DJ, and former Blue Öyster Cult lyricist, had sent Watt some poetry to be set to music. Of course, D. Boon died and the project never came to light. Recently, Meltzer recorded spoken word versions of 40 of his poems—including many of the 10 “spiels” he had sent to Watt all those years ago. At the same time, Watt was recording music with members of a Japanese pop group called Cornelius. This record unites these two projects into a trippy mixture of stand-alone poetry, marimba and bass-driven instrumentals and everything in between. Meltzer makes no attempt to sing and Watt makes little effort to disguise how unrelated all the parts of this recording are. That being said, it’s pretty fantastic. With 63 tracks, there are bound to be some missteps, but it is so much better than the sum of its parts. And honestly, if you think you can make it work any better, start your own band. –James Bennett

Spoek Mathambo
Father Creeper
Sub Pop
Street: 03.13
Spoek Mathambo = Quickness-era Bad Brains + Sweat.X + TV on the Radio
Johannesburg, South Africa visionary/provocateur Spoek Mathambo’s take on dubstep/house/hip-hop on 2010’s gate-crashing debut, Mshini Wam, and subsequent arrival into American musical consciousness, was revelatory. Mathambo’s Sub Pop-released sophomore album relies less on the low-end wobble of Mshini Wam and its Music is the Weapon of the Future political focus. Instead, Father Creeper embraces a refreshingly eclectic synthesis of African pop, hip-hop and rock. Father Creeper is still plenty weird, funny, dirty and political. Spoek’s inclusion of Nikolaas Van Reenen’s shape-shifting guitar work—ranging from Highlife to anthemic—takes Spoek’s out-of-the-box rapping, soulful crooning about blood diamonds, apartheid-martyr zombies from the “riot days,” and township-specific economic stagnation into uncharted territory. Father Creeper’s breadth and eclecticism is a lunar step forward for Spoek Mathambo and the small group of artists in the new African avant garde. You will be hard-pressed to find a better album this year. –Ryan Hall

Steve Adamyk Band
Forever Won’t Wait
Street: 11.15.11
Steve Adamyk Band = Jay Reatard + The Revolts + The Adverts
Pop-punk power trio packs a lot of punch; alright, I hate me for writing that alliterative intro, but it’s true—the Steve Adamyk Band play some damn catchy, energetic stuff. Unlike most punk bands, nothing feels contrived, this is just a four-piece band playing up-tempo punk rock with actual melody, another thing most punks have forgotten about. Finding limited success with other bands Million Dollar Marxists and The Sedatives, Adamyk has struck upon a formula that allows lead and backing vocals to harmonize with the guitars, which comes together as this rolling force of sound. Subject matter doesn’t stray too far from the usual punk stuff of hating the future, and the drudgery of the normal world. They even throw in a great cover of The Dickies’ classic “X-Eyed Tammy,” which if anything, just proves their good taste. These Canadian boys put together a record that I generally make all the way through each time I put it on—very rare for me. –James Orme

Wierd Records
Street: 02.28
Vaura = Swans x Earth
Vaura is serious. In an indie landscape where musicians haven’t been irony-free since Henry Rollins’ heyday, it takes some guts to title an album after a horizontal lunar eclipse. Fortunately, Vaura lend the appropriate gravity to their work without crossing the Axl Rose line into self-parody. Selenelion is satisfyingly dark and heavy. Vaura draw on the vibe of no-wavers like Swans, particularly in the vocal department, but also lend the sound an intuitive metallic touch. If a band can refrence Borges and title a song “Obsidian Damascene Sun” and still inspire fear, they’re doing something right. –Nate Housley

The Wedding Present
Scopitones Records
Street: 03.20
The Wedding Present = The Buzzcocks + Cinerama + Art Brut
There’s a variety of different vocations which I absolutely cannot fathom anybody doing for longer than 20 years, and this includes being the quirky-mannered frontman of an everlasting Brit-rock band. David Gedge is back in Valentina, and is still chasing girls while vying for lighthearted jesting in lieu of damaging and despairing heartbreak. The foremost odd and eccentric ballad is “Girl from the DDR,” which is a break-up letter directed to a German part-time lover who seems to take the news quite decently. Tracks like “Meet Cute” and “524 Fidelio” are catchy, but not catchy enough to sound like potentially irritable commercial jingles. Valentina may be shelf-worthy, but like most contemporary Brit-rock, should only be reserved for party mixtape openers and carefree idleness. –Gregory Gerulat

Wymond Miles
Earth Has Doors
Sacred Bones Records
Street: 02.07
Wymond Miles = Ennio Morricone + Dirty Three + Marc Ribot
The four tracks on Earth Has Doors are majestic, but not grandiose. Recorded with a Tascam 388—a vintage cassette-recording console—the production is lush and refined rather than lo-fi, which is often associated with the sound of cassette. Spaghetti western guitar lines, atmospheric use of reverb and echo, rolling drums and bowed instruments create an absorbing sonic environment. The album has a short running time, but I started it again immediately after the last song ended. “As The Orchard is With Rain” is a good example of Earth Has Doors’ tone, with delicately plucked violin, acoustic guitar and tape echo fluttering at alternating speeds. “Earth Has Doors, Let Them Open” begins with synths resembling a slowed-down Tubeway Army. While vocals are not prominent throughout, they have a great deal of presence when they do appear. Ideally, Earth Has Doors would be an EP for something greater. I want to hear more. –T.H.

Xiu Xiu
Street: 03.06
Xiu Xiu = New Order x Bright Eyes + Prurient
On their latest LP, Xiu Xiu stick with the sound they’ve mastered on recent outings—grim 8-bit synth-pop that turns unexpectedly into moments of gorgeousness—even as the cast of musicians changes once again. As usual, Jamie Stewart’s vocals are like a car wreck that one can’t easily turn away from, even as the music on Always is catchy and even danceable at times. “I love abortion/You’re too good for this world” sung-spoken in Stewart’s unhinged yelp, might be the most chilling thing I’ll hear this year. Another fascinating, dualistic entry from a band I’m still unsure what to think of. –Nate Housley

Xray Eyeballs
Splendor Squalor
Kanine Records
Street: 02.28
Xray Eyeballs = Thee Oh Sees + Ty Segall
On their second-full length album and after a few lineup changes, Xray Eyeballs have refined the melodic garage pop found on last year’s Not Nothing into a sound with more teeth. Where last year’s album felt occasionally monotonous, with songs blending into one another, Splendor Squalor’s song batch remains diverse. Splendor Squalor opens with the driving drumbeat of “Four” before careening into the 80s Cure-influenced “Die Little Love,” and then onto one of my favorite tracks on the album, “X,” with its repetitious chorus of, “I control you/You control me.” On “Syrup,” the band slips into an older sound that’s dreamy, hazy and reminiscent of Jesus and Mary Chain. Honestly, what surprised me the most about this album though, was how many of the tracks had been performed live when I saw Xray Eyeballs play CMJ last October. I can’t wait to see what this group has in store for the remainder of 2012. –Jeanette D. Moses