National Music Reviews 1/13

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Mass V
Neurot Recordings
Street: 11.27.12
Amenra = Pelican – Neurosis
Amenra’s imitation of mid-’00s sludge metal rings as hollow as their shallow lyrics and flimsy “ritual” premise. This album really feels like going to church. Every song is like a monotone sermon delivered over redundant sludge riffs. The lyrics are meaningless pap, and the “concept” feels vapid and self-indulgent. Perhaps I’m asking too much of the self-described “Church of Ra,” but Mass V sounds less like a ritual to an ancient Egyptian god of the sun, and more like Easter Mass with your smelly Aunt Gretchen. Sludge fans won’t find anything new or surprising here, but some people find routine comforting. If you want to have a little fun amid the tedium, try reading the lyrics to “A Mon Ame” to the tune of a soft jazz song. –Henry Glasheen

The Barbaras
Goner Records
Street: 10.30.12
The Barbaras = Wavves + Jay Reatard
This now-defunct Memphis surf-garage-pop band was headed by former Jay Reatard bandmates (and eventual Wavves band members) Billy Hayes and Stephen Pope. The songs were recorded and edited by Jay Reatard and held as collateral to keep the two from leaving his band. They were thought to be deleted before Reatard’s death, but much to the band’s surprise, here they are. The opening song, “Day at the Shrine,” sounds like it could be a B-side from either Blood Visions or King of the Beach. They are a bit more Reatard than Wavves (but that probably has something to do with his editing), but at times, their surf sound really shines through and almost has a Beach Boys quality to it. –Cody Hudson

Big Dipper
Crashes On the Platinum Planet
Almost Ready
Street: 11.27.12
Big Dipper = Volcano Suns + The Embarrassment + Iron Gerbils
Many years ago, I heard the term “astronomy pop” used to describe Big Dipper. I can think of no better way to illustrate the band’s bringing-together of wonderfully arranged, sharp guitar riffs, double vocals and otherworldly harmonies. When you pair those aspects with one of indie-rock’s most intuitive and driven rhythm sections, you’re left with something that simply feels celestial—even ethereal. Big Dipper was, of course, originally active from 1985 until about 1990. Those five years left us with four studio albums and an independent, smart rock tradition that continues to fuel musicians and fans to this day. A successful reunion tour and a three-disc retrospective drove the band to finally work on new material. Crashes on the Platinum Planet is the band’s first new album in 20 years. And they haven’t missed a beat. The lead song, “Lord Scrumptious,” gives off a palpable, early-1970s British psychedelic vibe, going from quiet to loud and back again without ever feeling forced or pessimistic. “Princess Warrior” comes across as a simple, romantic pop song until you listen more closely and realize the lyrics talk about a difficult recovery from illness. It is also one of a few tracks where drummer Jeff Oliphant does the lead vocal. The other 10 songs are equal parts hard rock and straight pop—a testament to Big Dipper’s uncanny ability to still create the type of music that made them important over two decades ago. –James Bennett    

Black Forest Fire
Transit of Venus
Sedimental Records
Street: 10.22.12
Black Forest Fire = The Cranberries + Silversun Pickups + Beach House
Shoegaze isn’t for the ages anymore. With bands like Ringo Deathstarr gaining popularity, it is safe to say shoegaze is back—you better bust out your Doc Martens and your stretched-out sweaters. Transit of Venus is a great example of everything right in the Austin music scene: boy/girl dream pop vocals, minimalistic melody and a circular song structure. Black Forest Fire is a three-piece band formed upon a dare—why that matters, I don’t know, but the band wants people to know that. One of the major criticisms I have of this album is that it sometimes lacks variety. Most of the songs are played at the same tempo, in the same key. The first few times I listened to the album, I wasn’t able to clearly decipher between one song and another. However, once you learn to speak Black Forest Fire, the standout songs on the album are “August Spring” and “Saint Christopher”—textbook shoegaze, but goddamn, are the guitar riffs to mumble for (Catherine Wheel would be proud). Find them on Spotify or buy their album online. –Alex Cragun

Bogan Via
Wait Up
Common Wall Media
Street: 10.29.12
Bogan Via = Taco/Beach House
Taking their cues from mid-80s pop, Bogan Via makes electronic-inspired folk songs about … life, regrets? I’m still not sure. Track one, “Wait Up,” is interesting, if not promising. It’s one of the two songs with less of an 80s tinge and more of a haunting baroque sound. Now, you can’t really go wrong with an 80s influence, but the vocals are a bland match for the electric rhythms. If they went for more of a lighthearted approach in their songs, they’d find a larger audience. The ‘80s hit, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” is a good example of the direction these two are capable of. Their closing track, “Kanye,” must be the neglected child of this classic. With a slower melody and electronic pulse, the duo’s odd style of singing fits nicely. This six-track EP has a strange appeal and is worth a listen. –Justin Gallegos

The Capsules
Northern Lights & Southern Skies
Vespera Records
Street: 01.15
The Capsules = Evervess + Hope Chest + Blonde Redhead
Its been almost four years since The Capsules’ last release, Long Distance Dedication, but sadly, the only thing that’s changed in that time is their appeal for techno fans. While present but sparse on their previous album, the group has nearly transformed itself into a tech-pop band (complete with a drum machine backing up a band with a drummer), abandoning the piano and guitars played so lightly, which helped propel them into the indie-rock spotlight a decade ago. For what it’s worth, there are some impressive tracks that define their new direction, like “Our Apocalypse” and “Time Will Only Tell,” along with tracks that highlight singer Julie Shields’ haunting vocals, like “The Heartbreaker” and “All at Once.” Fans of the previous incarnation’s sound will probably be left disappointed at the Metric-esque direction they’ve taken themselves in, but The Capsules are sure to pick up new fans along the way. –Gavin Sheehan

The World is Too Much for Me
Street Date: 11.27.12
Challenger = Tycho + Barney
At first listen, I wasn’t a fan of Florida-based, electro-pop group Challenger’s airy synth pop. It made me feel like I was in a bad ’80s movie, but when I gave the CD a second listen with an open mind and a blunt in hand, Challenger’s The World is Too Much for Me began to grow on me. The same airy synth pop feel that made me not like the album at first now had my imagination going wild. The album is well produced, but just not my cup of tea, unless unbelievably stoned. The song that I dug the most on the album was “Are You Scared Too?” because it confused me in a good way. Soft, fun but chill melodies paired with soft vocals were soothing to my ears, but the lyrics themselves sounded way too ominous for me to make sense of the song. Another song that I kind of enjoyed was “Is There a Safe Place We Can Go?” The poppy synth along with the electric keys and fun 80s drums made me happy, but I was really annoyed with Challenger’s way of whispering their lyrics—it grew annoying and tiresome. The album reminded me of a kid I hated taking acid with: He would always ask really vague, never-ending, naïve questions that would really annoy me, but I couldn’t hate him because it’s who he was. He would like this album. –Mama Beatz

The Wilderness
Lefse Records
Street: 10.23.12
Cemeteries = Grizzly Bear + Wild Nothing
One-man band Kyle J. Reigle has taken some of my favorite elements of other bands—mainly Beach House—and blended them into a big, dreamy shoegaze soup. Each song blends into the next—at times, this is pleasant, but it is mainly just boring. The latter half of the album picks up the tempo a bit, which really plays out favorably. “Roosting Towns” is probably my favorite track. With its pounding drum beats and almost math-rock-like guitar lines, it is probably the only track on the album where Reigle sounds like he has a sense of purpose. Like many shoegaze or dream-pop albums, The Wilderness rides that line between stunningly boring and stunningly beautiful, and I suppose it is more of the latter, be it ever so slightly. –Cody Hudson

Cody ChesnuTT
Landing on a Hundred
Vibration Vineyard
Street: 10.30.12
Cody ChesnuTT = Terence Trent D’Arby + Stevie Wonder + Ben Harper
In 2002, Cody ChesnuTT caught our attention with the release of the stellar, homemade, lo-fi, all-genre-encompassing, double-disc debut album, The Headphone Masterpiece. Ten years later, the sophomore album, Landing on a Hundred, is released. The primitive production, which was apparent on his debut, has now been set aside. This is, however, a brilliant evolution through the mind of a young man—this is new, modern soul. With the help of a 10-piece band, we find an album full of rich fidelity. The subject matter of the poignant lyrics on Landing on a Hundred show a raw, honest and spiritual man. Reminiscent of Marvin Gaye, the album opens with many soulful vocal layers on the God-searching “Til I Met Thee.” Foot-tapping and head-bopping will ensue the minute “That’s Still Mama” starts. Emptiness and true pain is revealed on “Don’t Follow Me” and “Everybody’s Brother,” which is about a former crackhead turned Sunday school teacher. –Courtney Blair

The Second Mechanism
Rise Above Records
Street: 11.20.12
Diagonal = Jethro Tull + Omar Rodriguez-Lopez projects + Dream Theater
If somebody recommends what they believe is a good example of prog, they probably actually mean fusion. Unfortunately, the cold, clinical feel often present in the music on The Second Mechanism is more easily associated with the former. At its best, this album has quick moments that had me hoping things were moving into more of a Zappa direction—technical skill, grace, and versatility matched by intelligent sincerity, a sense of space—and a sharp sense of humor. This is not the case. For example, in "Hulks," after the build/tease that opens the track—vocals enter where they are not entirely welcome, and Thor may as well be mentioned early to get it over with. The Second Mechanism is good for what it is—a skillfully executed prog album. Perhaps my fault is in wishing it were something different. I’ve heard elevator sax played over single-note, faux-jazz guitar runs and tom-tom fills before. Everything will be fine. –T.H.

Desolate Shrine
The Sanctum of Human Darkness
Dark Descent
Street: 12.18.12
Desolate Shrine = Ulcerate + Portal + Asphyx
Dark Descent closed out its year with a few fanciful releases, and this concoction from Desolate Shrine is particularly interesting. The Finnish band is three members strong, but one guy does all the instruments, and two vocalists (who are difficult to differentiate) are on hand. The Sanctum of Human Darkness is definitely a mood piece and a full album attention-driver more than an album of singles screaming for the repeat button. It’s death metal in the dirty dirge sensibility of it all. Riffs don’t flow in harmonious, catchy pinches—it’s discord and ruin upon layers of bleak, emptied cruelty. The album may take a lot of time to sink in, but when it does, it’s heavy to heavier to heaviest. This would be a bastard on LP, to which it will be available—hooray plus smiley face. –Bryer Wharton

Dirty Projectors
About To Die EP
Domino Records
Street: 11.06.12
Dirty Projectors = St. Vincent + Talking Heads
There is a drum-and-clap groove on the opening track, “About To Die,” not akin to most Dirty Projectors songs. When I listen to it, I feel like I’m swimming in a pool of weird artistic swagger. Frontman Dave Longstreth says to “let the vastness grab you like an alien embrace.” That’s what happens on this EP and “vastness” is a great word to describe this band’s music. What I like most about this EP are the guitar grooves and faint picking that back most of the songs. Aside from track one, Dirty Projectors are not an easy listen.  They require an earnest listener. Things slow down on song “While You’re Here” and “Here ‘Til I Say I’m Not.” I love Bob Dylan’s voice, and after a few listens, I could hear a resemblance in Longstreth’s voice on these two songs. This EP is a perfect condensed form of the band’s most recent LP. –Justin Gallegos

Disorder Recordings
Street: 11.06.12
Doomsday  = Goatwhore + Wolvhammer
Doomsday is a new inception from hardened metal veterans, including Jeff Wilson, other former members of black metal band Nachtmystium and a million other projects between them. This album is a heady, crunchy mix of dark punk rock, guitar-driven thrash, and doom metal, relentless as a grizzly on speed clawing your eardrums right from your head. There is an odd melody here and there that bleeds through the roaring din, and a perfectly wicked solo on “Bring Down The Knife” that is intense enough to make your heart explode, just before the tempo slows to a sludgy, nightmarish crawl. A primal thickness oozes throughout the album, conjuring images of monsters in the blackest forests, and making the atmosphere so much deeper than its speed and acidity would first imply. A great cover of GG Allin’s “I Kill Everything I Fuck” gives the album’s end a fun punk sendoff, and demonstrates the impressive abilities of these musicians to run the genre gamut while still putting their own signature on the sound. –Megan Kennedy

Electric Shepherd
The Imitation Garden
Street: 12.18.12
Electric Shephard = Brian Eno x Led Zeppelin
Confused and lightly chaotic, Electric Shepherd’s sophomore album listens like an underwater drum and bass hallucination. The psychedelia is infused with a dense blues foundation in an innovative and tantalizing manner. Cymbals dominate most of the drum sections. This album is a laborious undertaking and is not to be trifled with. To sit down and focus your entire attention for the one hour and 12 minutes that it jams could cause either mind explosion or narcolepsy. The Imitation Garden is best utilized as the backdrop for intense contemplation or relaxed activity. Sample “The Escapist” to spice up your mundane daily chores. The scope of tones alights the imagination and is best on the second or third try. –LeAundra Jeffs

Franz Nicolay
Do the Struggle
Eggshell Armor
Street: 08.06.12
Franz Nicolay = Folk Hogan + Dismemberment Plan
Fans of the Hold Steady should just go buy this album. Stop reading this review and buy it. For those that are not fans of the Hold Steady, please sit down, because I’m going to have to explain why you should buy this album. Do you like early Bruce Springsteen? Like the stripped-down guitar and the ballad lyrics of “Atlantic City”? Well, Franz Nicolay is kind of like that. Nicolay is the turducken of Eastern US bands. A little bit of Billy Joel, some Against Me! and a touch of the Drive By Truckers. Do The Struggle is very well crafted, lyrically and instrumentally. Sometimes it drifts into the boundary between over-produced and well-produced; sometimes because of unnecessary violin, but mostly because of unnecessary chamber echoes and hand claps. Nicolay’s album is worth a listen by anyone who can appreciate speed banjo (see “Live Free”); if you don’t like it by the third listen, then hand it off to a friend who recently discovered gypsy punk, they’ll appreciate the story-based lyrics of Nicolay. If you immediately find Nicolay’s vocal style off-putting (Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen have a lot of influence on Nicolay, in my opinion), then you’re not going to like this album. Buy it online, find it at Bandcamp and Spotify. –Alex Cragun

General Lee
Raiders of the Evil Eye
Play The Assassin Records
Street: 11.15.12
General Lee = Underoath – clean vox + ISIS
Was 2012 the Year of French Metal? This New World colonist says yes! Hailing from Béthune, General Lee demonstrate an intensive and respectful mastery of post-metal on their newest release. The emotion in the music here is key, an ingredient overlooked all too often; Raiders not only welcomes it, but lets it lead the way, showcasing a range of contrast between bedlam and serenity that is intensely satisfying. There is so much energy in its oceanic ebb-and-flow; crashing crescendos, mellow hums, strangling chaos and layered atmosphere make this an incredibly standout record. Cathartic screams add a crunch to catchy guitar riffs, all this built upon a firm foundation of versatile drum work that carries you through the sonic landscape like Charon’s boat along the River Styx. –Megan Kennedy

Everything What We Recorded
Street: 02.28.12
Gumshen = Muse x the Chap + Pink Floyd
I was surprised to learn that Gumshen’s not British (and the album title’s phrasing makes me think this might be by design). The most obvious touchstones for Gumshen are the kind of prog-funk-pop bands that the UK loves to produce: Muse, Klaxons, Arctic Monkeys. “Every Drop of Rain” especially has the kind of arena-indie chorus that comes straight out of 2000s’ Manchester. Despite the sound of things, Gumshen is from Seattle, and their musicianship matches their eclecticism, turning something that could be a disaster (cf. the Debbie Harry-esque rapping on “Say What you Want”) into a coup—at least, for an American band. –Nate Housley

Heathered Pearls
Ghostly International
Street: 12.11
Heathered Pearls = Hobo Cubes + Tycho + ARP
Polish-born Jakub Alexander—a.k.a. Heathered Pearls—performs house music filtered through a busted ear drum and a dangerous level of codeine. Alexander takes all the best elements of recent synth worship of Cluster revivalists like Emeralds and filters it through an excessive amount of sun-washed fuzziness. This thing has no hard edges. Every arpeggio, every lapping synth drone is utterly lacking in tangible quality. That is probably the best thing about this album. Loyal turns field recordings into static. Looped Tibetan prayer bells on “Ringing Temple” and the Doppler Effect whine of an ambulance on “Left Climber” are all sanded down to match the floating placidity of a thousand synth waves washing on top of each other. –Ryan Hall

How To Destroy Angels
An Omen EP
Columbia Records
Street: 11.13.12
How To Destroy Angels = Orbital + VNV Nation
Fronted by Trent Reznor and his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, How To Destroy Angels is an electronic-based group continuing the collaboration and digital experimentation between Reznor and producer Atticus Ross. If you liked the soundtrack work for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or The Social Network, then you’ll have a decent idea of what you’re getting into. There isn’t any industrial-strength fury or angst here, and the six-song EP is soft enough that it’s going to be a tough transition for Nine Inch Nails fans. Particularly, instrumental tracks “On The Wing” and “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” are almost quiet enough to be electronic ambience. Even the non-instrumental songs don’t showcase a lot of passion behind Maandig’s beautiful vocals, and being able to hit the notes doesn’t mean anything if it still sounds like boring background music. –Matt Brunk

Jah Wobble & Keith Levene
Yin & Yang
Cherry Red
Street: 11.12.12
Jah Wobble & Keith Levene = Public Image Ltd + King Tubby + Miles Davis
2012 has been a good year for Public Image Ltd. fans. After 17 years, John Lydon and PiL released This Is Pil. Also, two original PiL members, Jah Wobble and Keith Levene, released a four-song, self-titled EP. To close out 2012, Wobble and Levene released the full-length, Yin & Yang. “Fucking Yin, Fucking Yang/Soft little whisper, big fucking bang” spits Wobble’s Cockney, in-your-face vocals on the opening title track. The downside: Four of the 10 tracks are repeated from the EP. The title “Yin & Yang” is perfect, Wobble’s thunderous, wandering bass lines flawlessly ride alongside and then interweave with Levene’s demented, freeform guitar rumblings, which create a pure balance throughout the 10 songs. The standouts are the pop-tinged “Mississippi,” the jazz fusion of “Fluid” and the strange, drug-induced trip you take while listening to “Within You Without You,” a Beatles cover. –Courtney Blair

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine
Alternative Tentacle
Street: 10.16.12
Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine = Dead Kennedys + D.O.A
After nearly four decades of rocking the mic and encouraging direct action, it may be time for Jello to retire. Shock-u-py is well produced, and the songs are well written, but the EP lacks any cohesion. The EP often comes off overly preachy, even for a former presidential candidate. The first song, “Shock-u-py” tries to draw a parallel between the labor strikes prior to the New Deal and the modern Occupy movement. Clocking in at nearly eight minutes, the song ends by reminding the Millennial Generation to “remember who you are.” Dragged down by sometimes useless lyrics, the song is in stark contrast to Biafra’s previous work with GBSM. According to Biafra’s Bandcamp, the song was meant to be a protest song/rock song hybrid. I would argue that the song is more-so a tribute to the Dead Kennedys, with much less metaphor and imagery. If you’re a DK fan or D.O.A fan, you’ll love most of this EP, especially the song, “We Occupy,” a much stronger protest song than “Shock-u-py.” With its ska hooks and catchy lyrics, “We Occupy” encapsulates everything I hope to hear in their next album. Maybe I shouldn’t give up on ol’ Jello, as he has yet to give up on me. –Alex Cragun

Jim Kuemmerle and the Triangle Jazz Project
Our Work is Never Done
Cornering Records
Street: 03.20.2011
Jim Kuemmerle and the Triangle Jazz Project = Marsalis Brothers + Glenn Miller Orchestra + A Touch of Eastern European Swag
Some critics say jazz is dead, but clearly, they haven’t heard Jim Kuemmerle’s most recent album. Released last year on the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, Our Work is Never Done uses music to shed light on a pertinent social issue: the safety of the worker. The fire cost 146 primarily immigrant women their lives. Throughout the 10 tracks, we hear their voices in the wailing horns, in haunting minor keys, and in the Eastern European folk melodies. Separate from its social activism, this album brings new energy to contemporary jazz. The variety of instruments, the fusion of big band and post-bop, along with tastes of ragtime and R&B, make for a dynamic sound. Our Work is Never Done illuminates the evolution of the jazz genre over the past century, borrowing elements from each decade to create a masterpiece. –Anna Kate Gedal

Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition
White Buffalo
Fat Possum
Street: 01.22
Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition = John Spencer Blues Explosion + R.L. Burnside + Christopher Owens
There’s always been an allure to the South, where country, bluegrass, blues and jazz have all found a home. It’s a cross-section of American culture where things like rock n’ roll and barbeque were born. Jimbo Mathus, a Mississippi native and former Squirrel Nut Zipper, attempts to channel the spirit of the South on this record. With a carefree approach to most of this record, it lacks a little too much grit to be considered authentic, and not just watered down. The penultimate track, “Run Devil Run,” is a sultry, loping blues song that brings to mind juke joints at midnight and drinking moonshine around campfires. The title track is another fiery blues rock example of this band diving deep enough to convince me of their true Southern nature. The rest seems to be more pop rock with a roots music lilt to it, and with the little risk it embodies, the payoff is just as deserving. –James Orme 

Here EP
Last Night on Earth
Street: 12.17.12
Knox = Burial + The xx + Portishead
Knox is a brother-and-sister pair from Brooklyn, and it’s their sweet, soft vocals that hold this album together. Their harmonizing is subtle—their voices are only tinged with slight differences—but beautiful, crafting a cozy nest to inhabit while digesting the music. The sound itself finds some sort of meeting place between the dark, patient beats of post-dubstep, the experimental trend of percussion-izing vocals, and the effective mood setting of trip hop and shoegaze. The tone of the EP’s three original tracks are echoed and desolate, and the two remixes of “Here” by John Tejada and kuxxan SUUM up the tempo with techno-influenced, four-to-the-floor beats. Tejada leans towards the 2012 future garage sound, while Kuxxan SUUM revisits Four Tet’s roots, both creating vastly different but endlessly danceable versions of the same track. –Jessie Wood

Earth Blood Magic
Street: 01.08
Kontinuum = Enslaved + Solstafir + Ulver + Bathory
In the realm of metal, “post”-any genre can get frightening and start folks judging before they’ve even listened to something. The post-black metal tag shlepped onto Kontinuum’s debut album, Earth Blood Magic, really isn’t all that warranted—call this album straight-up dark metal, because there isn’t any huge sensibility towards much black metal. This five-member band from lovely Iceland with three guitarists works very well as a moody piece of music—sometimes bleak and just as often, beautiful. The record uses layers and layers of slickly produced guitar work, making for some big, fat depth. You may have to be in just the right mood to take thid album at full strength, but it’s definitely an easy snag recommendation to start out your January. –Bryer Wharton

Look a Little Closer
Street: 09.12
Levek = Local Natives + Simon and Garfunkel
First impressions can leave a weird stamp on you. There are very special moments, however, when that initial impression can throw you for a loop, and something you thought was one way turns out to be something completely different. During the first 30 seconds or so of “Black Mold Grow,” the first song on Look a Little Closer, it left that weird kind of impression on me, but I’m happy to report that this is one of those cases where I was surprisingly being taken for a pleasant loop. There’s a fantastic variety on this album of old folk-sounding tunes mixed with stellar grooves. “Canterbury Bell” and “Girl in the Fog” honestly feels like it’s straight from the soundtrack to The Graduate, slipping somewhere between “Scarborough Fair” and “April Come She Will.” I personally loved the bossa nova territory it ventures into, as heard in “Muscat Mingle” and sprinkled throughout the album. –Brinley Froelich

Smalltown Supersound
Street: 11.16
Lindstrøm = Supergrass + diskJokke + The Field
A beautiful world exists, largely in Europe, in between trip-hop and house music. It’s nowhere new, and bands and musicians have lived there comfortably for years, but it’s always nice to hear music out of that place. Lindstrøm has created this beautifully happy, hypnotizing album. It’s so light that it seems to have taken no effort at all. Lindstrøm has said that he may have reached out a little too far with his previous album, so Smallhans seems like a decision to go back to basics—even the song titles are names of cheap meals. This isn’t the type of record that will blow your mind and that you’ll put on an infinite loop for a few months. This is a quiet, patient album that will sneak up on you, and 10 years from now, you’ll still be listening to it. –Jessie Wood

Lisa Germano
No Elephants
Badman Recordings
Street: 02.12
Lisa Germano = Juliana Hatfield – Joni Mitchell
Both Germano’s voice (ever fragile and still a tad too breathy), and especially her songwriting, remain a challenging—though by no means uninteresting—listen. After stints as a critically acclaimed 90s darling, followed by a self-imposed exile from the business, it is refreshing that she decided to return to her first passion, since there is no denying her talent. Having said that, unfortunately, most of her new album relies a bit too much on static, feedback and unnecessary sound effects. This nearly topples the title track and remains a big problem on “Dance of the Bees,” and the otherwise-pretty “… And So On.”  It’s a real shame, too, since underneath all the pointless clutter is a simpler, more accessible song cycle. Working again with producer Jamie Candiloro (R.E.M., Luscious Jackson) is likely the culprit, but maybe they are equally to blame for the questionable additions to the mix. –Dean O Hillis

The Ganzfeld EP
Thrill Jockey
Street: 10.16.12
Matmos = Hess is More + Bjork + Black Dice
The Ganzfeld EP is an experiment in telepathy. Matmos recruited people to sit in a dark room while Drew Daniel, one-half of the electronic music duo, attempted to telepathically communicate the band’s concept of the album to them. The subjects then described what they saw, or heard, or thought about, and Matmos used that to craft the album. The first track, "Very Large Green Triangles," successfully combines all of these wacky noises into a strong rhythm and melody. The kick drum is a deep voice, which is a tad creepy, but the song comes into its own in the chorus, which is just weird and catchy enough to get stuck in your head for the day. The third and last song, "Just Waves," is created by voices simultaneously reading out the subjects’ accounts of the experiment, creating a slightly terrifying rhythm, tone, and a dash of harmonizing—just enough to make it a song, albeit an unsettling one. –Jessie Wood

Menahan Street Band
The Crossing
Daptone Records
Street: 10.30.12
Menahan Street Band = Parliament + Miles Davis + Barry White + Duff Man
Frankly, I had no idea Brooklyn hipsters could have soul until I heard Menahan Street Band’s latest album, The Crossing. For lack of a better word, their music is sexy. The layered brass section, the trilling flutes and the serenading funky trumpets all make for a luxurious sound. If The Crossing were a fabric, it would be cheetah-print silk. The psychedelic guitar riffs harken back to Jimi Hendrix and other, likeminded, acid-dropping, late-60s icons. The band’s talent has been recognized by big guns including Jay-Z and 50 Cent, who’ve chosen to sample the Brooklynites’ tracks on their own. This album is contemporary and fresh, capturing the blinding pace of New York. In their songs, we hear the hustle of the Brooklyn commute to Manhattan. We hear drunken flirtations at Bushwick bars. We hear the glamour, depression, loneliness and the mania of life in The Big Apple. –Anna Kate Gedal

Michael Zapruder
Pink Thunder
The Kora Records
Street: 11.17.12
Michael Zapruder = John Vanderslice x Andrew Bird
Pink Thunder is the result of a six-year project to put the poems of a couple dozen poets to music. The music is charmingly ramshackle—the instrumentation varies from track to track, but they all share a twee-pop aesthetic. Pink Thunder is not without its pitfalls. It seems the purpose is to showcase the poetry, but whatever music is in the words gets overshadowed by the meandering arrangements, which themselves are largely without hooks. And the weight of some of the poems is belied by the scant length of the tracks, most songs clocking in around the two-minute mark. It’s a novel approach to poetry, but the music doesn’t quite fulfill its promise. –Nate Housley

Miles Jones
The Jones Act Part III
Mojo Records
Street: 10.23.12
Miles Jones = Theophilus London + Kid Cudi
This guy is a solid combination of everything that’s current in electronica, pop, and rap right now. Miles Jones finds a delicate balance in two ways on this album. First, he has created rap songs that sound mainstream enough to make radio but are not overly pop. The layered vocals and synth percussion provide a pop appeal, but each song has enough substance to give it a lasting quality. Second, Jones has made an album that is half gangster swag and the half a love album. “Somebody” is a sexy R&B jam and “Scorpio” has old-school street appeal. Consider Miles Jones to be Canada’s version of Drake. The energy and confidence permeated through Jones’ music is empowering enough to make this artist a star. –Justin Gallegos

The Modern Sounds
Sing and Play for You
Street: 12.04.12
The Modern Sounds = Charlie Christian + Big Sandy + Hank Ballard + Hank Garland
It’s one thing to be one of the best rockabilly bands I’ve ever heard—it’s another to be one of the best jazz, blues, rockabilly, and country bands that I’ve ever heard, and be just a three-piece band. The members of the Modern Sounds have been stellar figures on the Chicago roots music scene for the past few years. These boys have been members of acts like Devil in a Woodpile, Cave Cat Sammy and J.D McPherson, but when these three musicians come together, they perform melodic, and rhythmic feats that few others could. Now I’ll warn you that this record is very music geek-oriented, and that’s not to say that if you don’t get it, you’re somehow less of a music fan. The first half of the record displays their vocal talents with three-part harmonies and will lull you into submission, as in the tune “Boogie Woogie Baby,” which has a rockabilly bounce that’ll get anyone moving. The instrumental side might be hard to get through for some, but jazz fans and musician nerds will be in heaven, as these boys truly get down to some playing. –James Orme

My Education
A Drink for All My Friends
Haute Magie
Street: 11.27.12
My Education = Mono + Rachel’s + Come On Die Young-era Mogwai + Trans AM
Post-rock is the new secular liturgy—a wide-eyed religious revelry so tightly bound in tradition and performance that it is in danger of losing its meaning beneath rote memorization. My Education, however, play unbound and completely unhinged with a sort of Pentecostal zeal and passion, breathing new life into a tired sub-genre. When they let go, the experience is closer to any spiritual awakening I have ever had. Their close collaboration with legendary SLC ensemble Theta Naught speak to constant push and pull between precision and unrestrained heaviness on the album. A collaborative high point for both groups that explores this dynamic is “… For All My Friends.” Cathartic and heavy, this is breathtaking stuff. –Ryan Hall 

Greatest of Deceivers
Indie Recordings
Street: 11.20.12
Nidingr = Dodheimsgard + Mayhem + Naglfar + Dark Funeral
Upon the reception of this record, lo and behold, I discovered I had their album, Wolf Father, which is the precursor to this latest set of tunes. There’s a reason I didn’t even know I had that album— it’s completely forgettable. If you go with the trends in the realm of black metal, sheesh, don’t ya know Norway is just out o’ fashion? Plowing through the record numerous times end-resulted in the judgment that this one’s pretty forgettable as well. It tries a few things, like being weird for weird’s sake; some good melodies do occur, and “Dweller in the Abyss” has some nice progressions. In the end, it all feels a bit run-and-gun, let’s change our pace from mid-to-fast, and have the nothing-out-of-the-normal black metal vocals. Don’t get me wrong, the album tries, but it ultimately feels emotionless and dry. One would be better off looking into the other albums of other bands from mainstay members Teloch and Blargh. –Bryer Wharton

Old Man Markley
Blood on My Hands 7”
Fat Wreck Chords
Street: 11.06.12
Old Man Markley = Trampled by Turtles + Larry and His Flask + Red Smiley
Old Man Markley needs to be a huge band soon—it’s just one of those things that would make the world a little more right. When mediocre bands like Mumford & Sons are winning Grammies and playing stadiums while these guys are grinding out bar gigs, it’s just a damn shame. Since these guys came on my radar two years ago when they released their debut, Guts and Teeth, they have consistently exceeded my expectations with their amazing playing, well crafted songs and their tremendous live show. Their new single, Blood On My Hands, gives a tease as to what might be in store for us as far as an upcoming full-length release. The title track is equally aggressive and sophisticated with blazing banjo and enchanting four-part vocal harmonies. The B-side is an exclusive cover of Dillinger Four’s “Folk Song,” to which they give a jaunty treatment with their string playing, but the melody and spirit of the song come through, which is truly where the charm of the songs lies. I can’t wait for more from these guys. –James Orme

The Parson Red Heads
Yearling (Deluxe Version)
Second Motion Records
Street: 08.16.2011
The Parson Red Heads = The Byrds + Iron and Wine
If you’re looking to get your fix for some great folk-rock, this 17-track album will do just that. This four-piece Portland band put out this album a little over a year ago, but it sounds as though it could have easily come out on the late 60s. The deluxe edition of Yearling includes an additional six songs, which only helps solidify the band’s impressive songwriting ability. The majority of the songs are also over the four-minute mark, which enables the band to really groove together and show off their chops and harmonies as well.  There are a handful of groovy, mellow folk tunes on this record, but some of the highlights include, “Burning Up the Sky,” “Time Is Running Out,” and “Seven Years Ago,” just to name a few. There really isn’t that much to put down on this album, albeit the deluxe version may run a bit too long if you listen straight through. –Jory Carroll

Pere Ubu
Lady From Shanghai
Fire Records
Street: 01.07
Pere Ubu = TV on the Radio + Teenage Jesus and the Jerks + Wire
Pere Ubu is a band I am aware of and whose records I own—but I cannot recall the last time I found myself listening to any of their music. Hearing Lady From Shanghai, I have the feeling that this will not change much. From its beginning in 1975, the band represented a turn toward greater experimentation within the musical context of the post-rock/no-wave genres. “414 Seconds” is as easily digestible as the music on Lady From Shanghai gets, and accurately demonstrates the album’s aesthetic—dance music at odds with itself, vocals not quite sung or spoken, guitars that sound like guitars but are played in the jagged style of much post-punk. It is useful for a sense of musical history, as the band has inspired several well known, contemporary acts—whether those artists or a majority of their audience are aware of that indirect inspiration. –T.H.

Royal Flush
Rosemary’s Garden
Mellow Boy Records
Street: 09.06.2011
Royal Flush = Diamond Rugs + Jet
The second album from the L.A. band Royal Flush has its hits and misses as their sound borders between indie and commercial rock. The band cites inspiration for this album from the 1978 Charles Bukowski book Women, which becomes blatantly apparent after listening to the opening track, “O.N.E.” The tune features lyrics such as, “You can’t fuck with ’em, and you can’t fuck without ’em. You can’t fuck with ’em at all.” However, the real highlight of the album comes midway through, with the five-minute tune, “Stop This Beating of My Heart (Torn in Two).” This ballad easily separates itself from the other mediocre ones on the album, mostly due to the fact that the song features some acoustic guitar, piano, and even some nice orchestral string arrangements. Although Rosemary’s Garden lacks some sincerity at times, it is amusing and a decent listen, nonetheless. –Jory Carroll

Street: 09.04
RTB2 = Bardo Pond/(The Sheepdogs + The Rentals)
In this era, Star Wars-influenced band names are practically a dime a dozen (If I had one, I’d choose “Jefferson Star Destroyer”). However, the music ushered by RTB2 is something of its own breed. With their album, 2, RTB2 bring a wide array of styles to the table. Blues riffs brush shoulders with early 2000s pop rock in “God Will Be the One to Blame.” 90s alternative fans will possibly enjoy “Goon.” And blues pop shares a taxi with drone rock in the remaining tracks. In the entire record’s genre Texas-switching, the pop element sounds the most divorced and might cause a few premature skip button presses. To wit, “Another Black Beauty” would be more solid if they ditched the synth interludes and evolved more of the noisy blues components. Bands like RTB2 shouldn’t need cheap pop hooks as a failsafe. They can survive perfectly without them. (Kilby Court 12.19) –Gregory Gerulat

Sleeping Bag
Women of Your Life
Joyful Noise Recordings
Street: 11.27.12
Sleeping Bag = Weezer + Japandroids
If the Beach Boys experimented with a garage rock album, it would sound a lot like Women of Your Life. The knack the Beach Boys had for extremely catchy vocal melodies is the same way Sleeping Bag grabs you with their instrumentation. Their guitar rhythms are never stagnant. There’s always a mean solo or guitar effect right around the corner in each of their songs. If you loved the Blue Album, then you’ll dig this record. I didn’t know how much I was missing ’90s alternative rock in my life until I played this one. “Saturday Night” is one of the most unorthodox indie jams I’ve heard. It’s catchy from the start, and the Nirvana-esque guitar energy of “Coco” makes these two songs my favorite on the album. –Justin Gallegos

Substance Abuse
Background Music
Feed The Peeps
Street: 12.04.12
Substance Abuse = People Under The Stairs + Zion I + The Alkaholiks
It’s been six years since Los Angeles-based emcees Subz and Eso Tre released their critically acclaimed album, Overproof, and the duo has clearly been busy. Hip hop has changed a lot since then, but these guys pretty much ignored the hype and kept making the music they wanted: old-school California hip hop. The beats are heavy with sampled strings, phased bass, muted guitar and the occasional, funky horn. Continuing their history of collaboration, Background Music is full of guest appearances by the likes of Myka Nyne, Percee P, Sadat X and even the legendary KRS One. However, while the songs are of consistently high quality, there’s something missing from this album. Maybe it’s one or two really addictive hooks, or a blisteringly fast verse, but the tempo is solid throughout, and it leaves me wanting a little variation. That said, “Goon Hand,” “Don’t Get Us Wrong” and “Rear View” are some favorites. Substance Abuse is worth checking out, including their back catalog. –Rio Connelly

In Limbo
Carpark Records
Street: 08.01
Teen = The Shangri-Las + TV On The Radio
God, this band is cool. Fronted by Teeny Lieberson of Here We Go Magic and comprised of two of Teeny’s sisters and another chick, Brooklyn’s TEEN mixes a 60s girl-group vibe with psych vastness and lo-fi percussion and production values in a way that sounds brand new and not rehashed, like so many other bands. The opening track, “Better,” sounds like a four-track recording of late-night basement magic—a Styx-sounding keyboard riff and adorable vocals hooked me. The next song, “Come Back,” highlights the band’s underwater girl-group party side. The rest of the band’s repertoire varies from twee rock to drifting, vocal-centric space journeys. The song I can’t stop listening to, though, is the badassness of “Electric.” Haunting, echoing vocal harmonies over a driving, one-note bass line in the verses and acidic guitar and synth riffs in the chorus show a dark, powerful side to the band. There aren’t any other bands out there that sound like TEEN—In Limbo should be in your record collection by now. –Cody Kirkland

Torsnes Beats vol. 2
Sellout! Music
Street: 10.12
Torkelsen = Prefuse 73 + Jonti + Lazerbeak
At times glitchy and at other times subdued, Torkelsen’s new volume of beats speaks libraries about what this talented artist can do. Coming all the way from Norway (where it’s apparently already the future), the album is very free-form and expressive, following ideas down rabbit holes and developing half-remembered dreams. Like a lot of Scandinavian electronic music, it sometimes has these moments of vastness that I imagine pair well with a view of some fjörds or bleak tundra from a Volvo, but then the beats drop and songs like “Borgepunk” are as gritty and urban as anything by Nightmares On Wax. It’s hard to pick favorites with an album like this, because there aren’t really things like hooks present. It’s more like a cassette mixtape of instrumental hip-hop that plays well as the soundtrack to a montage, citing many different moods and pallets. I’m going to put it on during bright winter afternoons where I’m warm inside, but the music needs to go well with the icicles outside—Torkelsen is perfect for that. –Rio Connelly

Smalltown Supersound
Street: 09.25
Tussle = Outhud + Liquid Liquid + !!!
Tussle, as a band, is an anachronism: an out-of-joint throwback to Hacienda’s proto-house, Kraut’s locked-in groove and DFA’s early aughts experiments in riding a sweaty, gnarly beat to its bloody death. The San Francisco group knows their history; the fact that members of the legendary Liquid Liquid lent a hand in the recording of Tempest is a testimony to this. Tempest, however, is no lowly genre experiment. It is visceral, goofy, danceable and totally addicting. The marathon-length songs lock into a steady groove, which lends itself well to anything that requires sustained mental concentration––like marathons. Or ultra-marathons. Or long bike commutes. Or ultra-long bike commutes. Tussle is waiting. –Ryan Hall

The Vaccines
Come of Age
Street: 10.02.12
The Vaccines = latter-day Strokes + Maximo Park
The Vaccines’ first album, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?, provided tremendous likability while the title provided a puzzling question, which I couldn’t answer until now: I was expecting anything but Come of Age. In this most recent release, The Vaccines drift far away from their initially charming stoner-surf rock sound and deep into the realm of excessively anthemic power-pop—a genre least liked by stoners or surfers. Most of the album contains simplistically rhyme-focused lyrics with a recurring “misunderstood underdog” theme. Luckily, a few songs like “All in Vain” abandon this concept, which consequently makes them decent at best. In sum, this album is ironically unfit to be a soundtrack of any budding rebel, unless Nancy Reagan were to direct a troubled teen PSA where the script contains the phrase “get loaded” more than twice. –Gregory Gerulat

The Escalation
Hells Headbangers
Street: 01.22
Vomitor = Deströyer 666 + Vöetsek + Hellhammer
There’s a ringing in my ears, and it’s not from the first track off this, Vomitor’s third full-length album, “Pits of Nightmare/Pitch Black,” which is basically a whole lot of guitar noise. This Australian band, known for being raw, dirty and all those unpleasant things, screams punk rock ideally, but it’s all damn metal in the end. The band’s 2010 record, Devil’s Poison, made my arm hairs, even the gross ones that are all long, stand up. The Escalation is a bit different in the fact that it’s not all speed—there are plenty of breaks with grooves and basement production, and the guitar sound could probably grate cheese if you played this record loud enough. It’s oddly perplex in its simplicities, but it’s a record you can spin and spin and be happy about. I thought the last album was nasty––this sucker’s drenched in acid and, at times, it actually can be a painful listen—good thing I’m pretty close to a masochist. This death and thrash stuff is something Australia is truly ruling the world at. –Bryer Wharton