National Music Reviews

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

Addison Groove
Transistor Rhythm
50 Weapons
Street: 04.10
Addison Groove = Tycho + Major Lazer
Transistor Rhythm was not what I thought it would be, which in this album’s case, is a very good thing. Intriguing and soothing lyrics over eclectic festive drums with beautiful abstract samples make this album one of a kind. Anthony Williams, a.k.a. Addison Groove, has been producing music since the early two thousands, mostly under his other pseudonym, Headhunter, and it shows. Entrancing tracks that flow into one another effortlessly made this album feel more like a story my ears were reading eagerly. My favorite track on the album, “Bad Things,” featuring Spank Rock, is definitely the most vulgar track on the album as well. The fact that I’m incredibly crass makes me biased; it made my booty pop and my ears happy. If you’re looking for some jazz, Transistor Rhythm has that too; “Ass Jazz” will have you swinging with the best of ‘em. Transistor Rhythm is definitely a must-buy, and Anthony Williams is definitely someone to keep an eye on! −Mama Beatz

Alex Winston
King Con
V2
Street: 04.10
Alex Winston = Kate Bush + Florence & The Machine + Björk
The songstress, Alex Winston, was raised and classically trained in the land of Motown. After moving to New York, she charmed her way onto the scene with the release of her 2011 debut EP, Sister Wife, which showcases her brand of quirky-indie-pop, leading the critics to peg her as the Florence Welch of America. Winston follows up with the solid full-length debut, King Con. Six of the tracks have been collected from her EPs and include odd topics ranging from polygamy, parasites, and Elvis impersonators to televangelists. “Goddamn, you’re back again,” Winston sings with a high-pitched quiver over the marching drum on album opener “Fire Ant.” Listening to “Medicine,” you’d swear she was being backed by Arcade Fire, and who knew a song like “Host,” comparing one-night stands to parasites, could sound so sugary? –Courtney Blair

Ane Brun
It All Starts With One
[PIAS] America
Street: 05.01
Ane Brun = Hanne Hukkelberg + Sharon Van Etten + Lykke Li
In Ane Brun’s latest album, It All Starts With One, the Norwegian singer/songwriter/composer easily slips into any/all roles that we have come to associate with Scandinavian musical exports. Over these 10 songs, Brun’s commanding tenor (which sounds oddly similar to ’90s crooner Chris Issak … listen for it) plays the domineering band leader, ringing out over a clanking and stomping orchestra of free-wheeling instrumentation, to the delicate chartreuse whose vocal lilt punctuates sparse piano lines with exquisite delicacy and sadness, to the misplaced Nashville tragic-hero interpreting the excess of The Grand Ole Opry through the barren expanse of a Norwegian winter. Collaborations with fellow Northerners Jose Gonzalez on “Worship” and First Aid Kit on “Do You Remember” are exercises in careful and deliberate composition and are quite excellent; however, Brun was born a balladeer and the highest returns of the album are the songs where Brun’s heartbroken voice is virtually unadorned. –Ryan Hall

The Avengers
Self-Titled
Water Records
Street: 05.15
The Avengers = (The Violators – British – male vocals) + Patti Smith
I had never really gotten into The Avengers before I got this album to review, which I’ve found to be a shame. Not only was the band a seminal ’80s punk band, but their front woman, Penelope Houston, croons feistily over these classics. In this two-disc set, you won’t necessarily find anything “new,” but your nostalgia for this band will be aroused, as this release features outtakes, live performances and rehearsal tapes in addition to all the tracks from The Avengers’ studio releases. Even with the live recordings from 1978, such as in “I Believe in Me,” the recording quality deftly conveys not only the sound quality of the performance, but Houston’s raw passion as well. Additionally, fans of the band will muse over varying versions of the same song, like with more-present guitar track on the “White N*****” on the second disc as opposed to the version on the first. Longtime fan or Avengers n00b, this release will satisfy any punk junkie’s retroactive rock n’ roll yearning. –Alexander Ortega

Brother Ali
The Bite Marked Heart
Rhymesayers
Street: 02.13
Brother Ali = Atmosphere + Talib Kweli + Grouch
In preparation for a full-length album release coming this August, Brother Ali has released a free digital EP titled The Bite Marked Heart, retaining his signature brand of soulful rapping and talent for imaginative storytelling. Fellow Rhymesayers artists Jake One and Ant produced the tracks, which provide a soul-infused brand of hip hop under Ali’s lyrics about love and the inevitable pain that comes with it. In the track, “Haunted Housebroken,” Ali creates a clear picture of a relationship’s tainted foundation caused by a cheating partner when he raps, “Time can ice the pain, and try to hide the stain, glue it back together, yet it’s never quite the same.” The album features vocals from Aby Wolf, Nikki Jean and Stokley Williams, as well as a guest appearance from Phonte on the track  “I’ll Be Around.” This release is one more example of why Brother Ali leaves most others pale in comparison. –Chris Proctor

Bruce Springsteen
Wrecking Ball
Columbia
Street: 03.05
Bruce Springsteen = The Boss
I’ve never been a huge Springsteen fan, but I’ve never disliked his stuff, either. He’s always seemed to me to simply be an excellent guitarist and songwriter that consistently releases great “background music” tunes. Wrecking Ball doesn’t change my opinion of him in any way. It’s well put together, with each song having its own place on the album, but it plays seamlessly as a singular piece, ebbing and flowing exactly as it should. This isn’t going to win the Boss any new fans, but it won’t disappoint old fans, and I’m almost positive it will garner well-deserved spots on mainstream writers’ “best of” lists. As an aside, the liner notes sport one hell of a eulogy to departed E-Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons. Good on ya, Boss. Keep rockin’. –Gavin Hoffman

Buildings
Melt Cry Sleep
Doubleplusgood/Cash Cow
Street: 02.28
Buildings = noise/math rock + Jesus Lizard + Fugazi
Industrial, high-tension, belligerent: this is the quickest way to describe the new release from Minneapolis three-piece Buildings. It’s a short album of punk, post-rock and experimental influence, a half-hour jaunt of tight drumming, aggressive riffs, and powerful bass lines that doesn’t waste a second on half-assed filler. There’s a smattering of groove in tracks like “Born on A Bomb” and on the demented bridge of “Mishaped Head,” but the sound never strays far from the line of chaos. New bassist Sayer Payne has stepped up to add distinctively brilliant layers to their sound, and the drum work of Travis Kuhlman continues to innovate and take the music to incredible new heights. Usually, the noise rock in the vein of Buildings doesn’t resonate long with me, but that’s not the case for Melt Cry Sleep. Through all the discordant dreams and anxious, far-away bullhorn vocals, there is something deeply charming and drawing in every song that burrows in your brain. There’s just something different about the rock these guys play, and that’s a good thing. –Megan Kennedy

Caltrop
Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes
Holidays for Quince
Street: 04.03
Caltrop = Goatsnake + Into Another + The Allman Brothers
I don’t know what it is about the American South that spawns so much great psyche-rock (methinks it’s got something to do with the unbearable humidity). Caltrop ain’t new, which is why Ten Million Years … sounds so confident and cohesive (I heard they all spend their days laying drywall together or some blue-collar shit). Heavy, but not metal, the album finds a sonic balance between “weighty” and “ethereal,” pulling in disparate influences from the usual Sabbath and Blue Cheer fare, to contemporaries like Baroness and even Sleep. Thunderous mountain-man drums (“Light Does Not Get Old”), loose guitars (“Birdsong”) and brainy arrangements distinguish it from the usual “we’re from the south and love rock n’ roll” camp, but a lil’ swagger and a leaden mastering job courtesy of James Plotkin (Isis, Earth, etc.) keeps it grounded and (dare I say?) catchy. Sure, I like my rock music smart, but I like it to be a little batshit too, ya know? Street date was my birthday. –Dylan Chadwick

Cheers Elephant
Like Wind Blows Fire
Self-Released
Street: 05.08
Cheers Elephant = The Beach Boys + The Velvet Underground
I was unsure at first of what to think of Cheers Elephant—perhaps it was the hipster photography on the inside of this album’s CD case—but once I started listening to Like Wind Blows Fire, their third album, all that uncertainty went out the window. The harmonies put out by Derek Krzywicki (guitar), Matt Rothstein (bass) and Jordan del Rosario (guitar) are powerful and intricate, and Robert Kingsly (drums/percussion) doesn’t disappoint either, though I hear none of their albums compare to the energy of their live shows. Cheers Elephant have been rocking all over the East Coast and mid-West, including four sets at SXSW, since late January, but they have yet to schedule any dates here in the SLC (don’t give up hope entirely; their website says more shows will be added to the current tour). It’s music like this that makes working at SLUG freakin’ sweet. –Johnny Logan

Cory Branan
Mutt
Bloodshot
Street: 05.22
Cory Branan = (Tom Waits-character and originality + Willy Nelson-great songwriting + Nick Cave-personality)
 To put it simply, there’s no character coming through on this record. When I listen to a Johnny Cash record, I’m as interested in his character, his person, as I am in the songs that he sings. Cory Branan doesn’t come through in anyway I care about. The record is roots muzak that I’d expect to hear in an elevator or a dentist office. I love a ballad, I love country and folk, but you got to pull me in, and all that happens here is a lot of deep self-involved, introspective bullshit. I’ll skip right to the two tracks I found worthwhile—“Jericho,” with its juicy saxophone riffs and choppy tempos, actually sounds like a song the players had passion for, and the country-stomper “Karen’s Song” brings to mind honky tonk, but isn’t pinned down by it. Mostly, Mutt tries for a wanderlust feel and ends up lost and hard to follow. –James Orme

The Cult
Choice of Weapon
Cooking Vinyl
Street: 05.22
The Cult = The Cult + Cavedoll + The Doors
This is another classic Cult album. Five years after the release of Born Into This, original Cult members Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy—with drummer John Tempesta, and bassist Chris Wyse, long-time producer Bob Rock and co-producer Chris Goss (Queens Of The Stone Age)—put together Choice of Weapon, which uses physical and emotional ammo as its theme. The new album has that same Native American influence as all other Cult albums, and Astbury is sounding more and more like Jim Morrisson. If you are a diehard, you may especially like two of the last numbers when Astbury’s voice is his strongest, in “A Pale Horse” and bonus track “Every Man And Woman Is A Star”; the latter I see as a hit. The album has a message of how we use all kinds of “weapons,” from knives to even cameras. Choice of Weapon is all you would expect from The Cult if you don’t mind Asbury’s slightly changing voice. He can still hit the high notes, I’ll give him that. Choice of Weapon, after five years of hiatus, stands strong for the ’80s new wave/metal band. –Portia Early

The Dark Monk
True Underlord
XIL/Metalface Records
Street: 02.28
The Dark Monk = MF DOOM + Cannibal Ox + Quasimoto
Horror-influenced beats and deep, Chali 2na-like vocals characterize this release from MF Doom protege The Dark Monk. Pretty much a 40-minute brag session, Dark Monk fails to exhibit any of the seemingly endless creativity of his mentor. There are some alright beats here—all deep bass and creepy loops—but the majority is simple boom-bap without anything in the way of hooks. The monk’s deep voice and clear delivery are good, but because the tempo and tone vary so little, there’s not a lot inviting a second listen. That being said, there are a few tracks that are solid, especially “Real Terror” and “Can’t See ’Em,” the best on the record. I get the impression this guy wears a mask when he plays live, but instead of seeming unique, True Underlord comes off more as imitation. Hopefully this won’t be his last project and we see a little more inspiration on subsequent releases. –Rio Connelly

Dirty Fences
Self-Titled
Volcom
Street: 04.10
Dirty Fences = Backyard Babies + Head Cat + the Anomalys
If you worship rock n’ roll like I do, guess what, the New Testament is here with six blistering tracks of garage punk with the slightest tip of the hat to early rock n’ roll from the likes of Chuck Berry. After listening to them for the first time, I felt as though I should light a candle and say a prayer. “East Hill Gun” starts with a frantic guitar strumming intro, which is then joined by pulsating bass lines. Once that fuse is lit, it’s too late and the song has exploded into a frenzy of rock n’ roll. I can’t convey how much I am pleased by this record. It has no time to worry if it’s punk enough or cool enough—what it is, is fucking good enough to blast through any genre that tries to claim it. The Dirty Fences have just joined a short list of artists that actually play rock n’ roll, the real stuff that you can hear the blues in, and it’s wild and crazy and even through it’s played viciously fast, I still want to dance to it. Whatever it is that the Dirty Fences do next, count me in! –James Orme

Dubious Ranger
Found Recordings From The Panda Valley Mining Company c. 1931
Self-Released
Street: 05.22
Dubious Ranger = Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (- Nick Cave) + Bob Dylan
In what appears to be their sixth album, San Francisco’s Dubious Ranger put together 12 songs about an imaginary mining town. Their website indicates the music was made with “instruments such as rusty pipes, bells and tea kettles,” and, unfortunately, that’s what most of it sounds like. As lackluster as all that might be, there are a couple of really decent songs floating around on this album. I could get behind you downloading “1999,” “Like Vampires” and maybe “Sarsaparilla,” but otherwise, I recommend passing on this album as a whole. –Johnny Logan

The Dunwells
Blind Sighted Faith
Playing In Traffic
Street: 02.14
The Dunwells = Mumford and Sons + Avett Brothers
From the beginning to the end of Blind Sighted Faith, the five-piece band from Leeds, England, belts out tight harmonies accompanied by folk instruments, very similar to that of fellow English band Mumford and Sons. Led by brothers Joe and David Dunwell, the band recorded their 11-track debut album at Willie Nelson’s studio in Texas, and the result is nearly 45 minutes of polished, country-folk tunes. The majority of the album is made up of soft, acoustic numbers that strongly emphasize The Dunwells’ powerful vocals, which at times are comparable to the harmonies of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. However, there are a few tracks, such as “Follow the Road” and “Hand That Feeds,” which offer an edgier rock sound. Dave Hanson’s electric guitar-playing also contrasts nicely against the banjo and acoustic guitar-playing of the Dunwell brothers, and adds some depth to the otherwise soft country tunes. –Jory Carroll

Ducky
The Whether EP
Self-released
Street: 02.21
Ducky = Grimes + Imogen Heap + Animal Collective
Morgan Neiman’s sound under the pseudonym Ducky is obscure and abrasive, and on The Whether EP, she is both without sounding gratuitous. Her counterintuitive, sometimes sporadic beat structures and distant, esoteric vocals take the listener into the darker corners of the experimental niches of electronic music. The EP’s visual accompaniment, found on thewhetherep.com, is just as obscure as the music, and adds to the down-the-rabbit-hole experience of the EP. Altogether, The Whether EP is unusual to be sure, but then again, “usual” is often boring, which is something this EP certainly isn’t. –Chris Proctor

Elika
Always The Light
Saint Marie Records
Street: 03.05
Elika = Madonna + Coldplay + Moby
Being a fan of shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, I almost confused the Always the Light for the soundtracks of the above shows. Evagelia Maravelias and Brian Wenckebach, the two members of Elika, are absolutely talented. Strong but somber synths with Maravelias’ beautiful voice make me wish it were summer even more after listening to this new album of theirs. Chill drum patterns, sultry harmonies and lyrics that made me want to shed a happy tear, had me fall in love instantly with the album. My favorite track “Count Your Steps,” reminded me of early Madonna—it’s so good! The tracks on the album all had a different feel to me, from ambient to glitch to even slightly poppy; “Always the Light” had me confused as to what genre it would fit into. Which honestly, to me, makes it a one of a kind. If you’re looking for something to listen to this summer, this album is perfect for a sunny ride up the canyon. −Mama Beatz

Erasure             
Fill Us With Fire Digital Single
Mute
Street: 03.06
Erasure = Early Depeche Mode – doom and gloom + extra glitter
I love it when I’m proved wrong and another single gets released from an album that has been out for a while and isn’t necessarily storming the charts. Three cuts from Messieurs Clarke and Bell’s latest opus get the dance floor treatment. In the capable hands of Jrmx, Liam Keegan and Gareth Jones, it alights with a new disco-y shimmer. Already a US Billboard Dance Chart hit, Yiannis’ wondrous re-work of the duo’s previous single, “Be With You,” is an added incentive, while the previously released B-side “Shot To The Heart” is a bit of a head-scratcher. But small matter, as the crème de la crème here is not one, but two epic mixes of “A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot” (by Wayne G & Andy Allder and Timothy “Q” Wiles as XOQ, respectively) that literally ignite the release. –Dean O Hillis

ExDetectives
Take My Forever
Post Planetary
Street: 02.14
ExDetectives = Dinosaur Jr. x (Blur + Grandaddy)
When it comes to acts like ExDetectives, I can’t help but think of Ken Foree’s televangelical quote from Dawn of the Dead: “When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth”—assuming that hell has been losing its vacancy to ’90s alt-rock bands for awhile now. Band founder Faris McReynolds drops his vocation as an artistic painter to pick up a guitar and bring us vintage indie rock clad in fuzzy and reverberant distortion in Take My Forever. He aims to be parallel to Dinosaur Jr., and succeeds in tracks such as “Halcyon” and “The Crown,” with a fleeting tenor which smacks slightly of Radiohead circa Pablo Honey. Although McReynolds may not be as prolific as the 90s indie-rock revivers Yuck and The Joy Formidable, Take My Forever is a must-have for people who yearn for auditory mementos from the Clinton administration era. –Gregory Gerulat 

fIREHOSE
lowFLOWS: The Columbia Anthology (’91-’93)
Columbia/Legacy
Street: 04.03
fIREHOSE = the Minutemen + ed fROMOHIO + an obsession with funk and jazz
As the story goes, Mike Watt and George Hurley had sworn off music after the death of Minutemen guitarist D. Boon until a kid from Ohio named Ed Crawford convinced them to start fresh as fIREHOSE. This two-disc anthology couples the final two fIREHOSE albums with a live EP and a few other rare or unreleased tracks from the later years of the band. What makes this anthology work is that it shows the band at their peak and also shows them as their desire to keep going started to wane. Flyin’ the Flannel was arguably the best fIREHOSE record ever made—a disc that captured the raw power of their live show and the delicate, poetic nature of their individual personalities. Mr. Machinery Operator captured a different sound altogether, mostly because of the post-production fuzz work of J. Mascis. As this was fIREHOSE’s final album, there is a feeling of things not quite running on full cylinders. That being said, it still will reward the listener with catchy tunes and almost unfathomable rhythm. If you don’t already have these songs, this album would be a great way to get them—to hear the journeyman independent rock that inspired and guided much of the great music of the 1990s. –James Bennett   

Gift of Gab
The Next Logical Progression
Quannum Projects
Street: 03.27
Gift of Gab = KRS-One + Brother Ali
Uplifting, honest and sun-soaked, this new release from former Blackalicious emcee Gift of Gab is a musical conversation on the daily hustle. Gift of Gab’s flow is quick, multisyllabic and undeniably skilled. The veteran’s songs are positive, inspiring and unpretentious in their subject matter. Gab explores the human experience, spiritual warfare and stories of his neighborhood and his roots. On the track “Rise,” when Gab asks, “Through the trifling times/Hail Mary to the world, can we heal with rhymes?” among the guitar riffs, there is explicit musical maturity. The album features funk legend George Clinton on the track “Everything is Fine,” adding to the old-school grind. Gift of Gab’s most recent work is a paradisiacal addition to a spring day for a dose of positivity and organic hip hop. –Meera Masud

Gypsyphonic Disko
NOLAphonic Volume Two
Self-Released
Street: 04.02
Gypsyphonic Disko = Girl Talk x (Galactic + Matisyahu)
A mixtape project by Ben Ellman, saxophonist and producer for Galactic, Gypsyphonic Disko combines a mashup mentality with klezmer music, eastern European rhythms and generally dirty hip hop. The result is just as spastic as that sounds, but even better. The off-kilter rhythms and samples from unfamiliar instrumentation evoke some underground dance club you found while traveling in some faraway country whose name you can’t pronounce. Accordion, violin, shrill horn and thump tuba combine with lyrics by Juvenile, Mos Def, Mystikal, and a lot more. This second of two volumes features some original performances by Big Freedia, Katey Red, and Emynd. While not the kind of thing I could really listen to alone in my spare time, given this as the soundtrack to a raucous party, I would shake it hard to the funk of this unique release. I don’t think this will be the last effort from Ellman, which is great—he’s adding some much-needed variety to the palette of the bounce genre. Stand still, I dare you. –Rio Connelly

Hollow Earth
We Are Not Humanity
Panic
Street: 04.24
Hollow Earth = Turmoil + Buried Alive + Most Precious Blood
Punishing hardcore that’ll stray from the paradigm. The phrase rings as moldy as "straight up, no-holds-barred," but the action proves refreshing. Detroit usually gets its HC due via Earthmover, Cold as Life (plenty of vocal homages to the latter here) and sketchy stories involving white-power breeding colonies (wait, was that Buffalo?), but Hollow Earth stays off the cutthroat dick-riding with thick washes of ambience and a knack for melodic leads. The formula makes "90s worship" an imminent term, but grates when left to its own devices for too long ("The Great Remembering" draws an agonizing pace only compounded by the soul-deadening vocals). Somehow managing to paint by the numbers in the ether of metal and hardcore, We Are Not Humanity will strike relevant for true fans of impassioned hardcore with a non-traditional bent, but might alienate (or bore) those with a rabid taste for mosh. Welcome to the Terror zone. –Dylan Chadwick

JBM
Stray Ashes
Western Vinyl
Street: 05.22
JBM = Damien Jurado + Earth’s calmer moments
I was almost expecting Stray Ashes to be a “modern folk” album, based on the moody black and white cover art. Thankfully, the music completely defied my cynical expectations. The guitars are warm and electric. Reverb is plentiful, though not overbearing. Jesse Marchant’s (the man behind JBM) vocals are ideal for the songs. “Thames” makes emotionally effective use of a piano lead line. The following track, “Moonwatcher,” contains some of my favorite guitar work on the record. In addition to Marchant, bassist McKenzie Smith and drummer Macey Taylor’s performances on Stray Ashes serve the songs. John Congleton’s production never gets in the way of a good take. I began listening to this record barely wanting to hear it, but Stray Ashes quickly drew me in before the first track had even finished, and left me interested to find what was coming next. –T.H.

Junior Toots
A Little Bit of Love
Crown Of Fire
Street: 03.06
Junior Toots = Toots and The Maytals + Buju Banton
When you’re the son of Toots Hibbert (Toots and The Maytals), it’s guaranteed the reggae genetics will be passed along. Clayton Hibbert, a.k.a. Junior Toots, is a perfect example—although he has the reggae gene, he stepped out of his father’s shadow, creating his own style and energy, combining the sounds of roots reggae, hip-hop, ska, dancehall and R&B. For his fourth album, A Little Bit of Love, a Kickstarter Project was put together to raise funds for production. The goal was exceeded and the result is straightforward reggae. Tracks like “Call On Jah” and “Physically Spiritually” stay true to roots reggae and the message of Rastafari while “Puss and Dog” and “I Believe In You” have a hip-hop modern twist, showing Junior Toots’ diversity. The highlight, “Seek The Truth,” featuring Sol Atash, is so smooth, it’s a shame the track clocks in at just under three minutes. –Courtney Blair

The Love Below
Every Tongue Shall Caress
A389
Street: 04.10
The Love Below = The Swarm + Left for Dead + Unbroken
Is there a point when an indefatigable, passionate vocal style becomes too much? Particularly in a genre as vocal-melody-unconcerned as hardcore? If so, The Love Below comes dangerously close. That said, there are standout components of The Love Below’s latest. To start, the album artwork is intriguing, revolting, disgusting and fitting all at once. The Love Below’s sound is dirty. The playing is loose; some songs have a lackadaisical structure consisting of a simple fret-walking riff acquiescing to another, because, why not? But, when those riffs hit, man do they hit. The end of “God Don’t Make No Trash” eschews the chug breakdown for what is arguably heavier: the grooved-out mosh riff. Make no mistake, there are enough tempo shifts and syncopation to show there is musical skill in the ranks of The Love Below, and the audible mix of the bass is a welcome choice. Polished and clean doesn’t fit a band like The Love Below, and as a result, even the blemishes on Every Tongue Shall Caress add to the overall experience, rather than detract. –Peter Fryer

Mean Jeans
On Mars
Dirtnap Records
Street: 04.17
Mean Jeans = Ramones + Nobunny
Need summer party music? Well, Mean Jeans is back with a whole album of would-be Ramones B-sides to fill your house with happy, boozing tunes. Mean Jeans is honestly not the best band around, but the fact that they clearly aren’t taking themselves too seriously is incredibly endearing. With the exception of slightly higher production values (a bit less lo-fi), On Mars isn’t too much of a creative departure from 2009’s incredibly well received Are You Serious?. The songs retain the same sense of humor and catchy hooks, and although it seems as though Mean Jeans haven’t learned any new chords, you’ll probably be too busy partyin’ to care. –Cody Hudson

Mouse On Mars
Parastrophics
Monkeytown Records
Street: 02.28
Mouse On Mars = The Glitch Mob + Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Mouse On Mars, a.k.a. Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner, have been in the electronic scene since the early ’90s, which in my opinion, has caused them to age like a fine wine when it comes to their skills in the studio. Funky, abstract and strange are just a few terms that come to mind when listening to Parastrophics; it’s like a buffet of odd, but in a good way. It was like trance, not in the way that it sounded, but by the way it made me feel. With devilishly intriguing synths with layers of cryptic samples and fun keyboards, Parastrophics has a track for anything that calls for crazy funky music playing in the background. It woke up my imagination and with every track, induced a short film; “Syncropticians” inspired a short film that eventually ended with a guy walking down the street in a clown outfit with a parrot. Don’t ask how, I still don’t know. My favorite track on the album “Chordblocker, Cinnamon Toasted,”— its weird buzzing and sample of ping-pongs (I believe) dropping on the floor is fantastic. My daydreams have become more vivid and interesting since putting Parastrophics on my iPad. It’s definitely a wonderful harvest of surprises for any music fan. −Mama Beatz

Peelander-Z
Space Vacation
Chicken Ranch
Street: 04.10
Peelander-Z = the Phenomenauts + Screeching Weasel + the Cars
You know when someone tells you that a certain band is so much better live than on their records, and you’ve never seen that band, and you’re left thinking, what the hell does that mean? I think that Peelander-Z is definitely one of those bands. This New York-based Japanese pop-punk band is a way over-the-top comic book act whose live shows are legendary, but their records have always had trouble capturing the same spirit. Here on Space Vacation, they’ve definitely captured the crazy part of their live act; one song that stuck out for me was “Mr. Tea,” which has a rockabilly style to it, but is literally about how this guy hates coffee and prefers, you guessed it, tea, I mean it’s brilliant and so far gone at the same time, I’m at a loss. One second a rocket is being launched to start the record and the next they’re getting serious (not really) with the acoustic “Love Love Peelander Z.” Maybe the cultural differences are too great or possibly these boys are just nuts—I don’t know if I get it, but I also don’t know if I’m supposed to. One thing is for sure, I’ll be looking out for a live Peelander-Z show I can attend, because the record may not top their live show, but it is a big fun commercial for it. –James Orme

Pennywise
All or Nothing
Epitaph
Street: 05.01
Pennywise = Rancid + Bad Religion + everything on rerun since the mid-90s
If I’m being completely honest, I was totally stoked about this new Pennywise album. Then I started listening to All or Nothing and I remembered their last album, and the album before that, and the album before that, and the … well, and then I remembered why none of the Pennywise music on my iPod is from after 1993. Do yourselves a favor: pass on this album and pick up Unknown Road or Pennywise’s self-titled album instead. –Johnny Logan

Pick Your Side
Let Me Show You How Democracy Works
A389
Street: 04.01
Pick Your Side = Weekend Nachos + Pulling Teeth + Agnostic Front
With the current flareup of political and cultural warfare, it would stand to reason that music would follow suit. Pick Your Side (which features former members of Haymaker/Fuck the Facts) are in. Their unwavering, pissed-off, blistering viewpoint on a slew of topics makes no bones about where they stand on Let Me Show You How Democracy Works. On the music side, PYS’s sound, refreshingly, doesn’t follow the near-powerviolence speed, followed by plodding doom tempos of other bands. It’s speed, and more speed (with a hint here and there of metal solos, melody and mosh parts). Lyrically, PYS cover a broad range of topics, perhaps the most controversial being their thesis that criticism leveled at Islam is often construed as racism, when, in fact, the criticism is anti-religious, not racist. In their eyes Islam and Christianity are two sides of the same coin (additionally evident through the excellent album cover). Unfortunately, some of the other political viewpoints on the album are more reductive, but then again, who said punk was supposed to be cerebral all the time? Fast, angry, political, and no-bullshit—that’s where Pick Your Side stands, and it’s a good place to be. –Peter Fryer

The Real McKenzies
Westwinds
Fat Wreck Chords
Street: 03.26
The Real McKenzies = the Pogues + NOFX + Gordon Lightfoot
There’s something about western Canadians playing a blend of Scottish Celtic and Los Angeles pop punk that just doesn’t speak to me. It just seems so unauthentic—like Clapton playing the blues. Still, for those who like neo-Scottish (Nova Scotian?) pirate songs, this is a great record. And many of the songs are great. The opening track, “The Tempest,” is driven by a piercing bagpipe melody that makes me wonder why I never joined the navy, mutinied and sailed off on my own. Other highlights include a cover of Jim McLean’s “The Massacre of Glencoe” and a take on Stan Roger’s “Barrett’s Privateers” (an unofficial anthem of the Canadian Navy—I didn’t even know Canada had a navy). The cover songs and the songs written in a traditional seafaring style are quite enjoyable. The bulk of the songs, and especially the pop-punk ones, are just hard to get through. Much of it sounds like ska-core revival music without much of a horn section. Singer Paul McKenzie does a hell of a job spinning yarns and recounting drunken stories over whatever the band belts, but in the end, it is not a very strong record. –James Bennett

Ringo Deathstarr
Shadow EP
Sonic Unyon
Street: 03.13
Ringo Deathstarr = My Bloody Valentine + The Jesus and Mary Chain
This Austin four-piece has been labeled as a noise-pop band and was recently fawned over in Nylon Magazine in a September 2011 online feature, in which the writer referred to their “signature musical touches, like scuzzy reverberating guitar riffs and dreamy, faraway vocals,” as if Ringo Deathstarr possessed a unique, “signature” sound. Yeah, the guitars are skuzzy and reverberating and the vocals are dreamy and faraway, and it sounds really neat. That’s because, sonically, Ringo Deathstarr is an exact replica of every shoegaze band from the 90s. The only discernible difference between this band and My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus and Mary Chain or Ride is that Ringo Deathstarr hits a little bit harder but otherwise, the replication is uncanny. Don’t get me wrong—the Shadow EP is good and I will continue listening to it, and probably their forthcoming LP—but this band exists for the same reason that people clone their old and decrepit pets. –Cody Kirkland

Royal Dead
Go Bat Go
Kheperi Global Media
Street: 03.24
Royal Dead = Mike Ness + Tiger Army
Most psychobilly bands come off as gimmick bar fodder rather than modern tributes to rockabilly. For Royal Dead, this issue was heavily weighted in the former category. More pomade and jean material than music, Royal Dead’s album lacked the central tenants of good psychobilly: a solid rhythm section and solid, well-rehearsed bass grooves. “Dead Sled,” the first song on the album, comes off as rushed, unrehearsed, and unintentionally chaotic, with the lead guitar off by an eighth of a beat most of the track. The album does has a saving grace in “Dark Harvest” (sans pick slides), reminiscent of a pre-radio Butthole Surfers. The song is smooth, and slightly experimental, but most important of all, it sounds authentic. It didn’t sound like they decided to write a song about the psychobilly genre; there were no a clichéd titles like “Zombie Stomp” or “Corpse Bride,” no amalgam of Mike Ness, dragsters and The Misfits. There were plenty of moments like this peppering the album; too bad it is immediately smothered in psycho-sauce. –Alex Cragun

Saint Vitus
Lillie: F-65
Season of Mist
Street: 05.22
Saint Vitus = Black Sabbath + Pentagram + Sleep
Metal fans will debate to no end where doom metal came from: was it the mighty Black Sabbath, or the much-applauded but often overlooked Saint Vitus? The latter’s 1986 classic Born Too Late is one of the best damn doom metal albums, let alone metal albums, ever created, and Lillie: F-65 sounds like it could have immediately followed it. They say catching lightning in a bottle is next to impossible once, let alone twice, but this record is fucking magic. The lineup here is the same as Born Too Late, with the exception of the passed-on great drummer Armando Acosta, but “the new guy” channels Acosta amazingly. As I continue to be bombarded with music from established bands and new bands, the cynicism in me wells up, but guitarist Dave Chandler has renewed my faith in riffs that make your brain boil and leave you speechless—see “Blessed Night”— while bassist Mark Adams succeeds in destroying the shit out of your subwoofer. Albums don’t get to be called perfect often, but Lillie: F-65 is beyond perfect. –Bryer Wharton

Sleepy Sun
Spine Hits
The End Records
Street: 04.10
Sleepy Sun = Led Zeppelin + Brian Jonestown Massacre + Heartless Bastards
Rehashing ‘60s and ‘70s music is really trendy these days. There is a psychedelic revival happening, and for the most part, I think it is completely stupid. Bands like Sleepy Sun are doing (albeit much heavier) what bands like Brian Jonestown Massacre already did in the ‘90s, which is attempt to channel the ghosts of a psychedelic golden age. No matter how much shit I talk on this kind of band, I can’t get over a simple and obvious fact: they fucking rock. Sleepy Sun’s version of vintage psychedelia isn’t groundbreaking, but they are undeniably skilled and seem to possess genuine classic rock n’ roll coolness. Songs such as “Stivey Pond” and “Creature” retain the bad-ass stoner-rock groove of the band’s earlier records, while “Boat Trip” and “Martyr’s Mantra” showcase vocalist Bret Constantino’s beautiful androgynous howling and signal a prettier-sounding direction for the band. Even though, in theory, I should hate this band, they just sound so good. Spine Hits is bitchin’—buy it. –Cody Kirkland

Steve Aoki
Wonderland
Dim Mak
Street: 01.10
Steve Aoki = Britney Spears + Benny Benassi + Ja Rule
I’m honestly surprised that I didn’t immediately fall in love with Wonderland, since it features some notable guests—I absolutely adore Rivers Cuomo, but I can’t stand him on “Earthquakey People.” When it comes to vocal tracks, if everything doesn’t fit like a tailored suit, I want none of it. Wonderland was just too busy for me; there was too much going on with no fluidity. One of the tracks I did enjoy was “Steve Jobs,” produced with the amazing Angger Dimmas, and that’s probably because it’s the only track that doesn’t feature a vocalist. Without the vocals, the tracks in “Wonderand” would probably make an amazing album on their own. −Mama Beatz

Subwaste
Broken Machine
Warbird
Street: 03.20
Subwaste = One Man Army + the Unseen + Bouncing Souls (early)
I’ve listened to quit a bit of punk rock in my day, and it takes something special to ring my bell—Subwaste rang the hell out of it when I put on this record. Broken Machine hasn’t rewritten the punk handbook, but damn if they didn’t do as well as it could be done. The first tune, “Lone Wolf,” struck me as way more thoughtful than previous material I’ve heard from this band, with well-paced rhythms, harsh yet melodic vocals, and hard-charging guitar work—it’s everything that I look for in a tremendous punk song. The entire record has a bounce to it that makes it move right along, and makes it very re-listenable. It’s the element of fun that really gets to me here. That is definitely not to say that this is a silly or lighthearted record, but with all the themes of life being broken and fucked up, this record captures the feeling that we’re going to try and forget it and celebrate it at the same time, which makes this album punk rock. It’s what this record does so well. A really good band just got great and you can hear it on this record. –James Orme

Theresa Andersson
Street Parade
Basin Street Records
Street: 04.24
Theresa Andersson = Frou Frou + Sarah McLachlan + Etta James
Female multi-instrumentalists are starting to slowly become more and more common, but Theresa Andersson (besides being a Swedish transplant in Louisiana) still sets herself apart with her unique tangling of indie pop with soul and (if you’ve ever seen her YouTube videos) a naturally jaunty composure akin to a lonesome girl singing into a hairbrush. Aided by a plethora of instruments, two loop pedal boards and her dexterous synchronizing, Andersson returns with Street Parade. In this conceptual release, Andersson belts Kerouac-mannered lyrics in airy yet soulful odes about New Orleans’ carnival season. The boisterous opener, “Street Parade,” is worthy to be the title track. The gentler “Hold On to Me” brushes elbows with Imogen Heap’s terraform style with its use of electronic noise-looping. Sadly, she doesn’t tour much outside of New Orleans, but hey, it never hurts to have another reason to visit New Orleans ourselves. –Gregory Gerulat

Tiger! Tiger!
Cut Them Where They Bleed
Chicken Ranch Records
Street: 03.13
Tiger! Tiger! = early No Doubt + Your Best Friend
The vocal sound quality is a little crappy and the lyrics aren’t exactly mind-blowing, but something about this band makes me want to rush to the edge of a stage and fucking dance. Lead singer and guitarist Buffi Aguero’s voice is poignant and perfectly jarring. Mario Colangelo (drums), Sam Leyja (organ) and Shane Pringle (guitar/sax) throw down some “get off your ass” music to keep your toe tapping. Plus, the band’s bassist, Susanne Gibboney, is super hot. Join me in my disappointment that Tiger! Tiger! does not appear to be coming to Utah any time soon. –Johnny Logan

Torche
Harmonicraft
Volcom
Street: 04.24
Torche = Melvins + Big Business + Tweak Bird
Put down the bong and pick up the Kool-Aid, because the world’s foremost practitioners of sugary-sweet doom pop are back with a new full-length. Harmonicraft ventures far from the sludgy caveman stomp of 2008’s Meanderthal and into the spacey realms of classic rock and Melvins-y weirdness. Torche’s particular brand of metal has never been afraid to be catchy, but Harmonicraft is far and away the cleanest-sounding Torche material to date—and not necessarily in a bad way. “Kicking” sounds like the love-child of mid-’90s and mid-’70s radio rock, while “Snakes Are Charmed” features a ridiculously catchy main riff and soaring guitar passages. The album also displays a bluesy swagger on a few songs, most notably “Reverse Inverted,” and the quick-fingered plucking of “Sky Trials” and “Harmonicraft” are reminiscent of prog-rock, minus prog-rock’s inherent shittiness. I miss the slow, bludgeoning heaviness of Torche’s older material, but in the end, Harmonicraft is too goddamn fun to complain about. So, go ahead and drink the Kool-Aid—you probably won’t regret it. –Ricky Vigil

Twin Steps
Serial Parade EP
Cola Bruin
Street: 04.10
Twin Steps = King Khan & the Shrines + Thee Oh Sees + a tidbit of The Go! Team
Immediately upon playing the first track off of this EP and hearing a shrill vocal ensemble paired with archaic R&B guitar riffs, my head perked up. Initially coming off as kindred to an In the Red act, Twin Steps undoubtedly hook in fans of King Khan, but solely for a short while. Not only is Twin Steps sugar (doo-wop), spice (gritty garage rock) and everything nice (some surf guitar in there somewhere), but they’re also experimental—the kind which teeters on being potentially sabotaging. To wit, “Wove of My Emotion” would be a better hook track without the awkward downtempo/noise interlude at the end. Luckily, the riveting and psychy “Junkie Song” (which smacks loosely of a John Dwyer piece) keeps the album afloat regardless. Still, peppering solid garage-wop with artsy electronics isn’t exactly a “you got chocolate in my peanut butter” experience. –Gregory Gerulat

Twin Steps
Serial Parade EP
Cola Bruin
Street: 04.10
Twin Steps = The Beach Boys + The Blood Brothers
This three-piece Oakland upstart mashes together live instrumentation and vocals with samples of old records and found recordings in a hip-hop approach to rock music, lifting and manipulating vocals, saxophone riffs and basslines from The Supremes, Etta James and others. Apart from the samples, though, Twin Steps couldn’t sound more musically different from hip hop. Riding this decade’s wave of retrophilia, Twin Steps’ doo-wop rhythms, 60s pop-guitar noodling and 10-year-old-girl vocals from Drew Pearson make for a strange, albeit original sound. It’s often hard to tell where the samples end and the instrument playing begins. At times, this results in a rad, unique collage of sound—at other times it results in a car-crashing, vocals-driven headache. The EP’s standout track is “Junkie Song,” a frantic and upbeat number with a big, fat saxophone sample and wild, wailing lyrics about going to hell. The rest of the songs on the four-song EP come close to being good, but any goodness gets lost in the clusterfuck of sounds and grating vocals. Hopefully, by the time Twin Steps records an LP or decides to come through Salt Lake, they will have their crazy parade a little more organized. –Cody Kirkland

Uncurbed/Warvictims
Split
Sacred Plague
Street: 02.29
Uncurbed = Tragedy + Skitsystem + Wolfbrigade
Warvictims = Discharge + (early) Amebix + The Varukers
Good goddamn, this is one fuck of a release. Sweden’s Uncurbed have been bringing the crusty D-beat since before most of the “punks” I know were born, and fellow countrymen Warvictims are meaner than a rabid bat on acid. While there’s nothing groundbreaking, life-changing, or musically revolutionary on this angry piece of wax, both bands offer up eight songs apiece of absolutely punishing, anti-authoritarian filth. The Uncurbed side showcases a heavier and more metal-driven form of D-beat, whereas the Warvictims side leans toward more a traditional and venomous style of crust. I’ve seen fewer of these bands’ patches sewn to denim vests around town than most other bands of their ilk, which tells me either the kids aren’t paying attention, or simply don’t care. Either option sucks, because this release will fuck up anything by the Adicts or any of that other tripe that passes for punk rock nowadays without so much as a passing thought. –Gavin Hoffman

UNISON
Self-Titled
Lentonia Records
Street: 04.10
UNISON = Salem + Sleigh Bells + Modern Witch
Unison is boilerplate Witch House. The proliferation sub-genres created in the blogosphere has created a cult around very small but novel characteristics that Freud calls the “narcissism of small differences.” It also creates niches of music fans who know Witch House is a proper noun. “Boilerplate Witch House” for the faux Black Mass uninitiated, is slabs of overwrought synths and distorted guitars piled over skittering drum machine breaks, with equal parts cooing female and DJ Screw pitch-shifted vocals. To make the claim that the French duo UNISON is a watered-down version of Salem or Modern Witch isn’t to take away from the sheer giddy thrill of UNISON or Witch House in general. Unison is pitch-perfect in nailing the conventions of the sub-genre; it has the visceral thrill of pop-occultism and 80s slasher flicks, but without the real creepiness and danger of the sub-genre’s pioneers. –Ryan Hall

Vacant Fever
Kill Kill Kill EP
Self-released
Street: 03.06
Vacant Fever= QOTSA + Women
I feel like lead singer Daniel Michael Miller’s clear desire to be a mid-90s grunge superstar conflicts with the sheer amount of synthesizers and effects his band uses. Instrumentally, the album is pretty noisy, and seems to pulsate (in an almost throbbing way) its way to completion in an extremely apt 11 minutes. With the extremely vague lyrics, and grimy guitar lines, Vacant Fever is pretty much begging to be an opening act for The Foo Fighters or Queens of the Stone Age, cashing in on both your early 90s nostalgia and your thirst to stay relevant. –Cody Hudson

Various Artists
Kitsune Parisien II
Kitsune
Street: 02.14
Kitsune Parisien II = Parisian synth/dance underground
Kitsuane Parisien II is a 14-track compilation put together by the label Kitsune, showcasing the talent of the hottest musicians in the Parisian scene, and a taste of what’s to come in 2012. BeataCue, We are Knights and Birkii are just a few of the talented musicians on Kitsune Parisien II. This album made me feel fun, sexy and ready for adventure. Owelle made me feel like Kate Winslet on the Titanic, but not the part when it was sinking—the part when Leonardo DiCaprio is holding her by the ledge. My favorite track on “Kitsune Parisien II” is without a doubt “Kiho,” by Beatacue. It felt like a fairytale, the way everything on the track just flows together. The synths in "Kiho" made me feel as if I am on a roller coaster ending Neverland—it was great. Kitsuane Parisien II is a gift for the ears and mind. −Mama Beatz

VCMG
Ssss
Mute
Street: 03.13
VCMG = [(Depeche Mode – Dave Gahan) x MCL] + Magda
For decrepit androids like me, the words “Vince Clarke (Erasure, Yazoo, Depeche Mode) and Martin L. Gore (Depeche Mode) collaboration” are like a new lube job after a few decades in the rain. Unfortunately, for decrepit androids like me, these two godfathers of all things plinky have not stood still waiting for the future to catch up with them, so this is nothing like I imagined. It’s techno, pure and simple, with only a hint of the hyper, candy-happiness of Erasure or the brooding and darkly sexual designs of Depeche Mode. Although a few tracks, like the woozy “Bendy Bass,” do stand out, an instrumental CD like this can become a techno morass as the tracks run together in all their four-on-the-floor glory. You young ecstatic automatic androids with your new-fangled light sticks can probably beep and bop all night to it, but I’ll just sit in the corner and rust. –Madelyn Boudreaux

Vertacyn Arc Materializer
That’s a Negative on the Leapfrog, Captain America
10GeV
Street: 01.2012
Vertacyn Arc Materializer = Flaming Lips + Caribou + Syd Barrett
It took me a couple times before I was able to make some sense of this album. The opening song, “Stealing Office Supplies,” for example, is a 38-second blitz of abstract noises that ends almost as soon as it began. There are several short tracks like this mixed throughout the album, which itself is less than 30 minutes in length. Even though it is a quick listen, each one of the 12 songs is unique. A large part of the album is instrumental, but there some tracks with vocals. However, it’s hard to comprehend with the blaring of abstract noises. Even when there are lyrics, like in the song “Pitch, Yaw,” the two words are just repeated over and over again. The highlight of the album is the psychedelic number “The Twin,” which also happens to be the longest piece on the album, clocking in at just over four minutes. This is a challenging listen with lots of unfinished ideas, but there are a few moments of clarity. –Jory Carroll

Y La Bamba
Courting the Storm
Tender Loving Empire
Street: 02.28
Y La Bamba = She & Him + Calexico
This album really grew on me. When I first heard Y La Bamba in 2011, I didn’t like them: too much nasal-based vocals and an overwhelming crowd of instruments. NPR’s Tiny Desk couldn’t convince me to like them and for a year, I had no second thoughts on the issue. I was given this CD, and after my seventh attempt at listening to Court the Storm (it takes me awhile to shake off preconceived notions) through and through, I began to appreciate what Y La Bamba was trying to convey. Luz Elena Mendoza wails about the struggles of faith and love, all over a fast-paced Southwestern sound. Reaching out to her childhood influences, Mendoza’s use of traditional Mexican folk strengthens the album and brings new life to modern folk, keeping an arm’s length away from the over-mowed folk-grass movement. I never felt alienated as a listener, nor did I feel awash after repetitive listening. Just because Y La Bamba is from Portland doesn’t make them the proverbial “dime a dozen” band. I suggest you check out this album if you’re a fan of Horse Feathers or Calexico. –Alex Cragun

Zammuto
Self-Titled
Temporary Residence
Street: 04.03
Zammuto = Death By Salt IV + Nolens Volens + Laurie Anderson + Beck
There’s ear candy, then there’s Pop Rocks and cola ear candy, which is Nick Zammuto’s latest project. The former The Books co-operator starts with the track “Yay,” which makes you think, “I almost hear human voices, but it’s so chopped up I’m not sure,” which goes into organ-playing furiosity. Every song has its own wild electronic originality. Zammuto leans heavily on different vocal effects—it sounds like he is singing with auto-tune in the song “Too Late To Topologize,” only it doesn’t suck. “F U C-3PO” is finished in “Mr. Roboto”-like vocals. Then there is this lovely Sigur Rós-esque ballad that ends the album. If you are a fan of trance and modern-dance music or weird percussion obscurity, then this is your album. Each song is infectiously catchy and your head and stomach just might explode with delight. –Portia Early