National Music Reviews

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Innovative Leisure
Street: 09.18
Allah-Las = Growlers + Night Beats
The long-awaited, self-titled debut from LA’s Allah-Las doesn’t disappoint. The 12-song release radiates a psychedelic and carefree vibe, reminiscent of a long day at the beach. I felt the surf swells lapping against my legs, the sand sticking to my skin and the salt water splashing into my face, stinging my eyes as I listened to this album unfold. The album features all four gems from the Tell Me EP released last May, but it’s the previously unheard tracks that shine the brightest. The simple drumbeats and guitar playing on “Busman’s Holiday” sound as if they could have been found on Black Angels’ Phosgene Nightmare, and “Sandy” touches on an Icarus theme of a woman who flew too close to the sun. Allah-Las certainly aren’t re-inventing the genre of ’60s surf rock, but I’m still stunned by their simplistic approach. If an Indian summer is on the horizon, this will be its soundtrack. –Jeanette D. Moses

Antony and the Johnsons
Cut the World
Secretly Canadian
Street: 08.07
Antony and the Johnsons = Morrissey + Perfume Genius
Newcomers to Antony and the Johnsons undergo an experience similar to traveling to north Alaska for a summer job: It’s cold, different, the sun rarely shows, but the scenery becomes rewardingly beautiful for those who make it. In Cut The World, Antony Hegarty has extracted all of his most cogent tracks from previous albums and rerecorded them live with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra. The result is incredible. With Hegarty’s naturally melancholy cabaret vocalizing, the orchestral accompaniment texturizes perfectly, especially prominently on tracks such as “Swanlights.” As stated, this is a live album. However, other than “Future Feminism” (an eight-minute monologue), it’s easy to be convinced it all happened in a studio. Like previous works, Cut the World is aesthetically brilliant just as it is spiritlessly disturbing. Successful artists like Hegarty can live without the sun only because they’ve learned how to glow in the dark. –Gregory Gerulat

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Mature Themes
Street: 08.21
APHG = Of Montreal +
R. Stevie Moore
After the (arguably deserved) hype of Before Today, I was prepared for this album to be a letdown. I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of taking the more traditional approach of producing more accessible music after a hit album, Mature Themes brings back all of the awkwardness and weirdness of older Ariel Pink. It probably isn’t what a lot of newer fans are expecting, but after a few listens, they will be dancing along. From the opening track, “Kinski Assassins,” in which Pink sounds like he is doing a dramatic reading of his own song, to the soul cover “Baby” (Donnie & Joe Emerson), each song is different from the last. The nonsensical lyrics blend perfectly with the abstract pop music, and each song is interesting. –Cody Hudson

As I Lay Dying
Metal Blade Records
Street: 09.25
As I Lay Dying = Killswitch Engage + Unearth
This is definitely the start of a new chapter for As I Lay Dying: They have never been as dynamic or exciting as they are on Awakened. Tapping punk guru Bill Stevenson to produce has helped elevate the metalcore elements that this band has been perfecting their whole career to new heights, both in terms of emotion and song structure. Bassist Josh Gilbert’s clean vocals have undergone transformation in particular, moving beyond a simple complement to Tim Lambesis’ screams and becoming their own stylistic element, creating some standout sections on most tracks. Guitar work is dizzying, as usual, with added confidence and power, as Nick Hipa moves beyond riff repetition and builds more complex narrative with fearless fretwork packed into every second. With its soaring guitar and vocal harmonies, my personal jam’s got to be “A Greater Foundation,” and it’s one of my favorite closers in their career. This is their best album to date, period. –Megan Kennedy

Symphony of Shadows
Svart Records
Street: 10.23
Bedemon = Pentagram + Black Sabbath + Saint Vitus
Knowing that Bedemon originally held Bobby Liebling, Randy Palmer and Geof O’Keefe of the mighty Pentagram in its ranks, I was interested but skeptical about this record. Also learning that Palmer, who passed away in a car accident in 2002, played a big portion on this album and the fact that it is being released 10 years later was a bit worrisome. Surprisingly enough, this record is brutally strong—hell it’s better than Last Rites from Pentagram. Forget the beefs, the history and all that stuff and just listen to this record for what it is: pure ’70s inspired, horror-filled doom. Wicked rough-and-tumble guitar tones shred with a nice, warm all-over enveloping bass tone, and I’m just listening to the mp3 version. The vocalist is channeling something dark—this sounds like it could have been released in ’71. Here’s to hoping that Bedemon keeps on trucking with more albums like this. -Bryer Wharton

Between The Buried And Me
The Parallax II: Future Sequence
Metal Blade Records
Street: 10.09
Between The Buried And Me = Opeth + space drugs + The Human Abstract
The prog geniuses return with a full follow-up to last year’s three-song EP, The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues, continuing the narrative of two space travelers trying to cure humanity of its flaws. On top of their recognizable sound, imagine a frosting mixed with equal parts old-school horror movie and dark carnival. A kind of goofy, charming insanity is the end result of that experiment, best demonstrated by “Lay Your Ghosts To Rest,” where giant-stomping riffs and angry screams are overlaid with jumping organ notes. The drum and synth work on Parallax II conjure up acid trips of the ’70s and let them channel the predecessors in their genre. If this band can sound “happy,” this is where they’ve done it, joyously somersaulting all over the fret board and drum kits while Tommy Giles Rogers haunts the melody with his incredible singing voice and wall of screams. Creatively, this album is a standout milestone without losing any of the intensity so prevalent on past efforts. –Megan Kennedy

Bill Fay
Life is People
Dead Oceans
Street: 08.21
Bill Fay = Nick Cave + Tom Petty + late Johnny Cash
Though this British singer-songwriter enjoyed a brief career in the late ’60s/early ’70s, Life is People is Fay’s first studio LP since 1971. Flowing from hopelessness to astonishment, Fay crafts songs that are both expansive and deeply personal. Bellowing strings coupled with Fay’s sad, shaky voice fall into the depths of despair on “Big Painter.” His world-weary lamentations continue in the vast psychedelic blues of “City of Dreams.” There’s plenty of light to balance out the darkness with the soaring “Cosmic Concerto” and the feel-good rocker “This World,” featuring Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who helped bring Fay out of obscurity in the mid 2000s. The highlights of the record are the showcase of Fay’s weathered singing in “Never Ending Happening” and an intimate vocals-and-piano rendition of Wilco’s “Jesus, Etc.” The latter is an absolutely flooring piece, reminiscent of Cat Power’s version of “I Found a Reason,” and is reason enough to buy the album. –Cody Kirkland

Billie Ray Martin
Five Takes (A Song About Andy) EP/DVD
Disco Activisto
Street: 09.10
Billie Ray Martin = Viva + Candy Darlings
Much like her stunning recent work as The Opiates, this soundtrack to five short films, which the consummate Miss Martin has made in honor of Andy Warhol, has an inner reflective quality about it. Akin to Warhol’s experimental Factory films, the title references five different films that are based around the same song: “On Borrowed Time.” But like the man’s work itself, each “take” is varied and strikingly unique. Collaborating musically with Scottish DJ Waterson—who creates backgrounds painted in minimalist electronica for Martin’s quintet of vocals to breathe in—the song reflects Warhol’s fictionally confessed perception of his surreal existence. Director Joern Hartmann filmed Martin in the Warhol-based Art’otel Berlin, making use of one of her best features (besides that voice): those wildly expressive eyes. The DVD is presently offered through her website, but fortunately, this EP is available digitally everywhere. –Dean O Hillis

The Calm Blue Sea
Arrivals & Departures
Modern Outsider
Street: 10.09
The Calm Blue Sea = Mogwai – passion + Elizabetown + refrigerator noise
SXSW hometown favorites The Calm Blue Sea definitely have the talent, but are sorely lacking depth to their latest venture. Arrivals & Departures is far more of a modern film soundtrack than what would be considered a great instrumental album. As well constructed and orchestrated the music is with light vocals sprinkled in from time to time, there are moments where it feels empty and the music is simply happening for the sake of happening. You could easily take a track like “Diaspora” or “Tesoro,” throw in a “romantically meaningful” scene from any lackluster coming-of-age romantic drama with Kirsten Dunst over it and not know the difference between this album and any generic soundtrack made in a Hollywood basement. The album isn’t disposable as it definitely shows great musicianship and an ability to keep a continued theme, but it certainly is as forgettable. –Spencer Ingham

Cars & Trains
We Are All Fire
Fake Four, Inc.
Street: 09.18
Cars & Trains = The Western States Motel + Radical Face
We Are All Fire is an admirable effort for Portlander multi-instrumentalist Tom Filepp. He racks up the necessary talents in the self-aware indie folk category with respectable navel-gazing tracks like “Ten Thousand Ships.” Unfortunately, this is Fillep’s only strong suit. After lulling filler tracks such as “Asking” and “Foamy Waves,” I was bracing myself for the expected powerful chant-stomp anthem or a vivacious pop-hook toward the album’s end, but ended up empty handed. Thus, this album results in very little variation as far as track textures are concerned. The title track is an interesting Slow Blow-esque instrumental opener. However, I believe their tenth track, “Slow Song,” would’ve made for a more suitable album title. – Gregory Gerulat

Cat Power
Matador Records
Street: 09.04
Cat Power = Beth Orton + Laetitia Sadier
It’s been six years since Chan Marshall released an album of original Cat Power material. Following her 2006 release, The Greatest, Marshall took some time toreexamine her approach to music. On Sun, her ninth studio release, she is sporting a new pixie do on the cover, indicating, as this Sun rises, a new Cat Power is born. Sun is loaded with haunting electro-textures, echoing guitars, rolling drums, plentiful danceable beats and a pinch of auto-tune. One could mistake the Latin-laced lead single “Ruin” for the theme music to Sex and the City. The old Cat Power appears briefly on the haunting “Always On My Own.” Ricocheting guitars reminiscent of New Order roll through album closer “Peace & Love,” while the legendary Iggy Pop joins in a duet on the 11-minute highlight, “Nothin’ But Time.” A ray of light has broken through Marshall’s overcast past, revealing that her new approach to music is stunning. –Courtney Blair

Crooked Cowboy & The Freshwater Indians
Annalog and Her Hopeful Diaries
Neurotic Yell Records
Street: 09.04
Crooked Cowboy = Mark Lanegan + Willie Nelson
The Crooked Cowboy has worked with several well-known artists, including Tito Larriva, Jimmy Cliff and Willie Nelson. He has not released much music under his own name, and this EP is a good introduction. At under 20 minutes, it already feels comfortably lived-in by the first time you finish listening, becoming more enjoyable with each play. The sound is that of a spaghetti western soundtrack crossed with early country music. Opening track “Bed Bugs” is carried by a repeating chord progression on an acoustic guitar, the strings sounding as worn as the Crooked Cowboy’s voice. “History of The Bug (Part IV)” primarily consists of a creepshow piano progression and mournful harmonies. The album’s production is lo-fi but clear, the instrumentation relatively sparse. If these songs were recorded in a bright room, and nobody was sitting on a blanket with an instrument older than they were, I don’t want to know. –T.H.

Dark Dark Dark
Who Needs Who
Supply and Demand
Street: 10.02
Dark Dark Dark = Sharon Van Etten + Wye Oak
My first thoughts when I listened to this album was that I should send this to an ex—it holds a good amount of emotion, yet is delivered with raw sincerity and bravery that avoids the sap so often found with heartbreak. Vocalist Nona Marie Invie belts out the tunes in a way that recognizes the fleeting nature of relationships, and embraces the change headstrong and loud. The lyrics are not the only focus, though; the band took a lot of care in musical composition, and the emphasis on the piano was a major selling point for me. –Brinley Froelich

Breakup Song
Polyvinyl Records
Street: 09.04
Deerhoof = Ponytail + These Are Powers + The Go! Team
Deerhoof’s 12th studio album is another lunar step beyond the difficult sonic territory the band carved out for itself towards the latter part of the 20th century and solidified in the early 2000s. On Breakup Song, the quartet offers a quick, breezy collection of spastic pop tunes, turning the dance amp up to 10 on “There’s That Grin” and “Mario’s Flaming Whiskers III.” Ed Rodriguez’s guitar is all over the place, coming in stabs of compressed noise or beautifully distorted on the hair-raising intro on “To Fly or Not to Fly.” Many of the tracks have the distinct sound of a Latin merengue party happening in the apartment next door, beautifully muted with jagged rips of Rodriguez’s guitar punctuating the air like a brass band. Timid steps towards experimenting with accessibility have finally culminated in the band’s most pop-oriented and enjoyable album to date. –Ryan Hall

Metalocalypse: Dethalbum III
Williams Street
Street: 10.16
Dethklok = Gwar + Zimmers Hole + Nevermore + Testament
Not having watched recent seasons of Metalocalypse—the animated television show that follows the fake band but real musical endeavor of co-creator Brendon Small—I’m afraid some of the comedy of the songs on this latest opus is lost on me. That stated, compared to the last two Dethklok albums, the third feels much more serious. Small’s growling is a bit less pronounced, and the lyrics fall wayside to what sounds like pretty rehashed guitar crunching. Dethalbum III is pretty similar to the previous records, though Small has mentioned that the guitar harmonies take more influence from the likes of Queen this time around. It’s not all bad stuff—if you enjoy the tunes from the show, you’ll like this set of fresh songs. –Bryer Wharton

Dinosaur Jr.
I Bet on Sky
Street: 09.18
Dinosaur Jr. = Dinosaur Jr. + Folk Implosion
With the rosy glow of an unlikely reconcilliation ‘tween the working trio now five or six years in the dust, indie-rock megalith Dinosaur Jr. looks forward and beyond their usual conventions to showcase their vitality and staying power in a fly-by-night era of Internet jingoism and trending. I Bet on Sky isn’t a carbon copy of their squalling ’80s master-works, and it gets a slot in the canon for its restless streak of melodious creativity. Riff-wizard J Mascis splays his caterwauling chops all over creation, but pulls back more than usual, letting the (yes, I’m saying it) funky rhythm collision of Lou Barlow and Murph take center stage on cuts like “Watch the Corners” and “Recognition.” Subtle touches like tinkling pianos compliment the salvo, and the ever-laconic vocal treatment, given the circumstances seems just a little … brighter. Still braying, still brash, still tuneful and heavier than a sock fulla anvils, I Bet On Sky isn’t anything short of brilliant and essential. –Dylan Chadwick

We Come In Peace
Sudden Death
Street: 07.31
D.O.A. = Germs + Ramones + Dead Boys
I have to say, even though I’ve been a D.O.A. fan for quite awhile and thought I knew what to expect from them, We Come In Peace put me on my ass. That is not to say that their trademark blistering punk rock isn’t found on this record, but it’s the addition of rocksteady and ska songs that was most surprising. “The Man With No Name” is lead singer Joe Kiethley’s salute to the Clint Eastwood’s character while fellow hardcore pioneer Jello Biafra throws in on the politically driven anthem, “We Occupy.” My favorite track on the whole record is their cover of the Beatles’ “Revolution,” which they play with way more energy and revolutionary attitude then Lennon and McCartney ever put into it. The surprises around every turn on this record mixed in with the D.O.A.-standard-style punk rock are a testament to just how amazing of a band D.O.A. is. –James Orme

Nuclear Blast
Street: 10.09
Enslaved = Emperor + Borknagar + Windir + Helheim
Of all the Norwegian bands that arose in the early ’90s, I’ve listened to Enslaved the most. Part of that might be the fact they have a gazillion albums, but no matter. RIITIIR leaves off right where Axioma Ethica Odini left Enslaved fans: serenaded and equally grizzled. The clean singing from the band keeps getting better and so do the playing skills—there are moments from the guitars that keep you scratching your head. The whole album flows, leaving listeners ready to hit repeat—I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve listened to this. “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” and “Roots of the Mountain” crash like iron in an epic battle. Enslaved have created a rock-solid album to please listeners—even for the folks who don’t consider Enslaved black metal anymore. –Bryer Wharton

Felte Records
Street: 10.02
Eraas = Sigur Rós + Laurel Halo
With vocals that sound like a wailing ghost and sound effects that feel like a haunted house, I have to dub this album totally appropriate for Halloween. It completely captures the spirit of the dead and mixes that with an industrial post-punk pitch. Mysterious noises like slow footsteps on the wood floor above you, a door slamming or the wind, howling, are looped psychedelically and reverbed with an orchestrated quartet, especially apparent in “At Heart.” The album is pretty experimental throughout, but “Fang” stands out as a danceable, head bob-able track. Fear not, and this album will captivate the dark side. –Brinley Froelich

Icky Blossoms
Saddle Creek
Street: 07.17
Icky Blossoms = YACHT / Peaches + Le Tigre
A majority of this album plays like it’d be right at home in the New York underground club scene. The songs are typically led by heavy, fast bass-lines and can quickly lead the listener to a mostly-in-control-yet-slightly-drug-induced feeling. The guitar grooves polish and accentuate the sound on some tracks, my favorite being on “Deep in the Throes,” with bass licks calling to mind The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Sarah Bohling’s vocals are a driving force, and her delivery combined with the cascading synths on the album’s opener creates a piece reminiscent of Phantogram’s finer moments. Icky Blossoms’ polished form of heavy electronic, rock-influenced music is catchy enough and gleams with esoteric-pop credibility.  –Justin Gallegos

Joe Jackson
The Duke
Razor & Tie
Street: 06.26
Joe Jackson = Duke Ellington + Elvis Costello
Joe Jackson’s love of jazz has increased gradually over the years and this love has slowly been creeping into his own work. It’s no surprise that he took on the challenge of reinterpreting the music of one of America’s greatest composers, Duke Ellington. On The Duke, Jackson’s not imitating Ellington—he explores each track well beyond the original form. Jackson enlisted an eclectic group of talent including Iggy Pop, Brazilian vocalist Lillian Vieira, Roots drummer ?uestlove, jazz staples Christian McBride and Regina Carter and others. Unfortunately, the album opens with the lackluster “Isfahan,” which is dominated by the smooth jazz guitar work of Steve Vai. “Rockin’ In Rhythm” is fronted with the up-tempo piano and horn work that will make you think you’re marching in Mardi Gras. Don’t miss Sharon Jones bringing her soul swagger on the excellent “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues.” –Courtney Blair

Killing California
No Pentagrams No Crosses
Street: 06.19
Killing California = (Monster Squad + Burning Love) X (Whiskey Rebels + Trash Talk) X (Krum Bums + From Ashes Rise)
Opener “Now I’m You,” with a Motörhead-esque intro and snarly vocals, made No Pentagrams No Crosses the release for me, immediately. Killing California pushes into the realm of post-street punk fiercely, where vocalist Danny Craig’s throatsmanship along with gruff backups take me back to the circle pits of my bonerpunk days. Yet the slow, brooding breakdowns of “Limbs”—with thrash-cultured guitar work to boot—indicate that these punk rockers are up with the hardcore avant-garde set into motion by all the D-beat peeps. “Forty Nine Miles” exhibits a pulsating snare-to-kick rhythm that dwindles into the harmony-based, distortion-turned-down guitars in “Forty Nine Miles,” which then erupt with dense chugs. The rhythmic change-ups in “Bones And Sand” lend the track a sense of depth, as does the psychedelic character of “Dirt.” Made-for-mosh closer “Down Town” ties it all together with informed dynamics, rendering the release a must-have. –Alexander Ortega

Slaughterhouse Records
Street: 08.07
Lavatory = Entombed (old) + Carcass + Dismember (old)
Remember when there wasn’t this thing called the Internet and you heard about bands through your buddies? Salt Lake’s own Slaughterhouse Records brought a little EP release from Malaysian band Lavatory this summer, and I snagged the CD because the word on the street was that it was killer Swedish-style death metal. Well, blow my brains out and call me Kurt, this little EP is flatulent in fucking shit up—fucking enough shit up to raise some eyebrows and get picked up for an album deal with the generally face-punting Pulverised Records. Just think when they make the cover of Decibel magazine, you’ll know a little label in SLC that gave ’em a push. Seriously, this is four tracks (I don’t count the intro) of glorious ’90s Swedish death. The louder, the more it hurts. The more it hurts, the better it gets. –Bryer Wharton

Maserati VII
Temporary Residence
Street: 10.02
Maserati = Turing Machine + NEU! + El Ten Eleven
Blame it on Adult Onset ADHD, but I don’t love this new Maserati album. I know it may be semi-blasphemous to criticize anything Jerry Fuchs-related (although his lockstep groove does not grace this album), but Maserati’s marathon-length kraut jams feel unbearably repetitive where repetition is the whole point of the game. With nary a change in tempo once the bass locks itself down with Rottweiler ferocity, these meandering space jams pulse lifelessly. The album’s saving grace, the thing I would return to if I were involved in endurance sports, is the addition of Steve Moore from Zombi on keyboards. His presence expands the group’s sound further into the space/psych jams than on 2010’s Pyramids of the Sun, but without the excitement and freshness of that album. –Ryan Hall

Meshell Ndegeocello   
Pour Une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication To Nina Simone
Naïve Records
Street: 10.09
Meshell Ndegeocello = Miles Davis + Prince
Like her late idol to whom these 14 interpretations are dedicated, Ndegeocello is a force unto herself. Rather than offering staid readings of the legend’s back catalog, these covers are infused with Ndegeocello’s distinctive stamp, as well as the talents of some guest vocalists, including Sinéad O’Connor (on the bluegrass-tinged “Don’t Take All Night”), Toshi Reagon (on an uncharacteristically upbeat “House of The Rising Sun” and a pretty “Real Real”) and Valerie June (a languid “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” and stomping lead single “Be My Husband”), among others. Like Simone, Ndegeocello has used her talent to promote equality throughout her career, but what is most interesting here is when she wears her producer’s hat and allows others’ voices to deliver the words; the most notable example of this being her collaboration with Cody ChesnuTT and their gorgeous take of “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” –Dean O Hillis

Choose the Light
Chimera Music
Street: 10.02
MI-GU = Mike Watt + Plastic Ono Band
MI-GU, a duo comprised of drummer/vocalist Yuko Araki and guitarist Hirotaka Shimizu, is the kind of band that I could imagine plenty of musicians wanting to play in after hearing. Araki plays in various projects with many of the musicians whose songwriting aesthetics one might compare to those heard on Choose the Light. Among them are Yuka Honda and Nels Cline. It’s a musically intimidating circle, and one Araki fits into without question. In addition to their technically impressive musicianship, Araki and Shimizu display an equally notable ability to create an immersive sonic environment—a Nintendo-style synth and lounge organ are the main instruments in “Pulling From Above.” Choose the Light’s title track is similar to Mike Watt’s “In the Engine Room,” with vocals both spoken and sung, and a clean guitar sound with a strong sense of movement. This record is certainly worth a listen. –T.H.

Minus The Bear
Infinity Overhead
Street: 08.28
Minus the Bear = This Town Needs Guns + As Tall As Lions
If you found Minus the Bear’s last album, Omni, to be weird and awkward (and let’s be honest—you did), you will probably be happier with Infinity Overhead. It is pretty standard fare for Minus The Bear: It isn’t incredible and it isn’t bad. Omni was a slip-up—they have since corrected and are back on cruise control. It’s the same skittish, slightly bland prog-rock you have become accustomed to hearing. This is their fifth studio album and it is decent, but indistinguishable from a great majority of their newer material. I just miss the days when they had goofy song titles and didn’t take themselves so seriously. –Cody Hudson

Self Entitled
Fat Wreck Chords
Street: 09.11
NOFX = Lagwagon + No Use
For a Name + Guttermouth
It’s 2012. This is the 12th NOFX album. By this point, you’ve decided whether or not you’re on board. The band’s sonic formula hasn’t changed much since their mid-‘90s skate punk glory days, but Self Entitled does find the band a bit more energetic and engaging than their previous album, Coaster. Humor still plays a huge part in the NOFX sound (“72 Hookers”), but they also revisit some more serious issues à la The War on Errorism in “She Didn’t Lose Her Baby.” The album’s high point, at least for me as a pretty big NOFX fanboy, is “I’ve Got One Jealous Again, Again.” The song is a heartbreakingly funny sequel to “We’ve Got Two Jealous Agains,” their earlier tale of falling in love with both a girl and her record collection, and features one of my favorite Fat Mike lyrics ever: “I got the record player, but I didn’t get the house.” This is nothing more and nothing less than a NOFX album—those who are into it, including myself, always will be. –Ricky Vigil

Nü Sensae
Suicide Squeeze
Street: 08.07
Nü Sensae = (Rudimentary Peni + (Witch Hunt – instruments)) * (Witch + Beach House) * Sonic Youth
Vancouver’s Nü Sensae boast an album of which this humble reviewer enjoyed every track. The release is a cogent piece in and of itself, where each song, though distinct, functions as a necessary component of Sundowning. Guitarist Brody McKnight’s billowy singing tempers frontwoman-bassist Andrea Lukic’s meaty shrieks throughout, as with “100 Shades,” where Lukic executes the bulk of the vocal duty with intermittent, drawn-out additions that McKnight provides. Nü Sensae’s lyrical composition shines darkly with fragmented lines that illustrate the tortured, psychotic disposition of the band’s sound: “Wigs singed coral flames barking/my sisters talkin’ to me”—these words follow an eerie surf intro in “Whispering Rule.” Nü Sensae solidify the rhythm in songs like “Spit Gifting,” with solid rock n’ roll rhythms on each instrument, and closer “Eat Your Mind” plummets from the sky with violent shrieks and meaty strumming. Sundowning demonstrates that punk is art just as much as ever. –Alexander Ortega

Reel Big Fish
Candy Coated Fury
Rock Ridge Music
Street: 07.31
Reel Big Fish = Less Than Jake + Goldfinger + Save Ferris
Your favorite ska band is back with a new album and better than ever. Candy Coated Fury is full of fast tempos, chanted choruses and horn-section hooks. The themes of scorn for former girlfriends, hating other people and feeling talentless are familiar to RBF fans, but somehow don’t get tired on this disk. Maybe we’re all too busy skanking to worry about it. We’re just doing what they ask on songs like “Don’t Stop Skankin’.” The catchy and often humorous lyrics abound in other songs like album opener “Everyone Else is an Asshole.” Never once does the action from the ever-solid rhythm section and melodic horns lag or get boring. That said, this record is for ska fans and might not be the best introduction to the genre. These guys still kill it live, and I hope they keep it up, so I can be skanking in the pits well into my 50s. –Rio Connelly

Rosie Flores
Working Girl’s Guitar
Street: 10.16
Rosie Flores = Janis Martin + Collins Kids + Bonnie Raitt
It’s one thing to take a cute girl and make her the lead singer of a band—it’s obviously going to get some attention—but rarely do you see a chick on lead guitar. Even though she sings lead as well, Rosie Flores has always struck me as guitar player first, and on her records, her guitar easily speaks as much as her voice. Before the Stray Cats or Reverend Horton Heat, Flores was banging out rockabilly and roots music on the early L.A scene. Working Girl’s Guitar is Flores flexing her guitar muscles over an eclectic array of tunes—the track “Surf Demon #5” has twisting licks around an organ melody, while she bounces rocking riffs against Elvis’s rockabilly classic “Too Much.” I don’t think Flores will ever be a super star, but play her for any girl guitar player, and they’ll immediately connect with someone that has been there and done it. –James Orme

Sea Wolf
Old World Romance
Street: 09.11
Sea Wolf = Blind Pilot + Margot and The Nuclear So and So’s + Horse Feathers
Sea Wolf’s latest album is a welcome departure from the last—that isn’t to say White Water, White Bloom wasn’t a good album, but, in many ways, it felt like more of the same after his big 2007 debut. Old World Romance shows real growth and finer choices from Alex Brown Church’s indie folk band, starting with the ever-rotating band who, in this incarnation, sound like the tightest grouping he’s worked with so far. The music has been stripped down with fine guitar plucking and expanded drumbeats, creating a more genuine musical flow while keeping the orchestral uniqueness. Lyrically, the grand story telling has been pushed aside for a more personal connection to Church, with songs like “Old Friend,” “Priscilla” and “Saint Catherine St.” revealing a wistful and occasionally painful side to the lead singer. Old World Romance is a great change of pace and one of the best albums Sea Wolf have produced to date. –Gavin Sheehan

The See
Pretending and Ending
Street: 09.18
The See = Built to Spill + Kings of Leon/The Cave Singers
The See portray a few different voices on their debut album. They hone in on their ability to magnify their appeal with minimalism and more of a folk undertone on songs like “Old Souls” or “Head Like A Stone.” “Old Souls” is a haunting folk tune that perhaps would fit nicely in one of Wes Anderson’s eclectic films. Their arena-quality guitar licks on “The Good Fight” benefit more from the less frantic drums part way through. When things slow down sonically or are structured more tightly with all playing instruments at a similar pace, The See seem to shine the most. The album’s last two tracks are perfect examples of their tighter playing structure opposed to the rowdy ska punk of “Storytelling.” Overall, their sound seems destined for larger arenas rather than small venues and a local circuit in Arkansas. It shouldn’t be long before they reach our salty city with their anthemic energy. –Justin Gallegos

Shintaro Sakamoto
How to Live With a Phantom
Fat Possum
Street: 07.17
Shintaro Sakamoto = Cornelius + Christopher Cross
Shintaro Sakamoto’s already a legend in his home country of Japan for fronting the psychedelic band Yura Yura Teikoku. Three years since the band broke up, Sakamoto has gone solo with his debut How to Live With a Phantom. This is a Japanese album start to finish. You will experience a throwback to the ’70s, with playful percussion, vintage synths, psychedelic pop and even breezy yacht-rock guitar rhythms. Highlights include the fluttering guitar and sexy sax solo on “You Just Decided” and the funky afrobeat rhythm of “Mask On Mask.” Even though To Live With a Phantom is a strange listen, it’s still highly accessible. –Courtney Blair

Shiny Toy Guns
Five Seven Music
Street: 10.23
Shiny Toy Guns = Metro Station + Ming & Ping + The History Of Panic
With an overtone of desperation, the Shiny Toy guns revive their form of emo pop on their comeback album. The album opens like the theme music to a fantasy filled movie or video game. The lead track is layered with 8 bit synth contributions and penetrating yet delicate female vocals by Carah Faye, the band’s original vocalist. The songs continue in dramatic format from there, with lyrical themes of mostly discontent. The album overall is reminiscent of music from the ’80s inspired by heartbreak, but with a new wave, electronic twist.  I will say that somehow the song “Carrie” reminds me of Bonnie Tyler’s, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”  The band sounds their freshest on their second single off the album, “Fading Listening.” The single moves easily and even grooves with the tangible emotions of the echoing lyrics; and is an interesting if not promising sonic direction for the band. – Justin Gallegos

Slug Guts
Playin’ in Time With the Deadbeat
Sacred Bones
Street: 07.24
Slug Guts = Pixies + Joy Division
I listened to this ragged record of anxiety-ridden death rock while driving across the midday California desert, which proved to be the perfect setting to take in this Brisbane seven-piece’s brand of psychotic post-punk revival. Slug Guts’ third LP, like Howlin’ Gang and Down on the Meat before it, evokes the uneasy, discordant sound of ’80s Aussie predecessors The Birthday Party. Caustic, angular guitars surround tortured, echoing wails over a minimal drumbeat—all of it bouncing around a desolate cavern of reverb. The sounds of a deranged saxophone and warbling synthesizer sneak into some tracks, adding to the general feeling unsettling abandon felt throughout the record—a feeling more obvious and intense than in their previous records. Playin’ in Time With the Deadbeat is a rad release—if you can ignore that steady, incessant snare crash in every single fucking song. –Cody Kirkland

So Many Wizards
Warm Nothing
Warm Nothing = Wild Nothing + The Drums
After multiple listens to this album, I still can’t quite pinpoint why I don’t want to listen to it again. After the first couple of tracks I was feeling hyped for more pop that seemed like it was heading down the road similar to Destroyer, but instead it fell into this cutesy-sappy land that got pretty annoying. The lyrics are hopeful, and in the words of band leader Nima Kazerouni, they emphasize “letting go of all the bullshit that modern society wants us to care about and getting to the heart of what really matters. Which is nothing.” While I dig bands that are similar, this album really did what he wanted, I guess, which is nothing. –Brinley Froelich

So Many Wizards
Warm Nothing LP
Street: 08.07
So Many Wizards= The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – electric guitar + Girls
Lo-fi hipster pop is all the rage lately, and I’m not sure I understand the appeal. Watered down versions of catchy songs from the ’60s and ’70s? My generation has a vague idea of inventiveness at best. I’d like to say So Many Wizards disproved my opinion, but it more or less solidified it. There is nothing technically bad about Warm Nothing’s slightly surf era guitars and light, non-threatening vocals—however, it seems to be lacking a focal point of musical interest. It is a bit difficult to distinguish one track from the next and I feel as though even I saw this bad live, it would be dull. “Best Friends” could be featured on some sort of indie romantic comedy with its sickly cute lyrics, “I don’t care what we do as long as there’s a park and then a bench for two.” So Many Wizards aspires to be in the running with Best Coast, but doesn’t quite qualify. – Kia McGinnis

Unknown Component
Blood V. Electricity
Street: 10.23
Unknown Component = Jeff Tweedy + Muse
Though blood comes closer to victory, within this album’s musical context, Blood V. Electricity is the work of an artist with a respectable understanding of the necessity for balance between organic and programmed performance elements. Unknown Component is a solo project in the true sense of the word. Keith Lynch composed, performed, and produced each song on Blood V. Electricity. His production is especially of note—intimate but not oppressive, and warm in tone. Musically, however, I lost interest around the halfway point. Admittedly, this had more to do with my own musical preferences than Blood V. Electricity’s actual quality. “Painting the Weather” and “Through the Surface” are album highlights and solid reference tracks. Both are relatively slow, like folk ballads in tone and composition. Considering that these songs appear toward the end, perhaps Blood V. Electricity is best listened to from back to front. –T.H

Various Artists
New Rides of the Furious Swampriders
Sireena Records
Street: 06.15
New Rides of the Furious Swampriders =  Puscifer + Sons of Perdition
Most compilation albums suck, and even more cover albums fall short of sucking. The fourth installation of a presumably amazing set of CDs (I was only able to get my hands on the third album), the …Furious Swampriders is a compilation/cover album of serious effort. Put this in your CD player and I guarantee after four listens, you’ll find your ass driving to nearest sage blanketed desert with no expectation of when you’ll be back. Two songs that caught my ear were M. Walking on the Water’s cover of “Enjoy the Silence” and The Dad Horse Experience’s “Kingdom It Will Come.” …[O]n the Water’s version is haunting, like a killer waltzing with a corpse in a decrepit villa. Get me? The Dad Horse, on the other hand, is a German man blowing every fucking Austin-based Americana band out of the water. The fact his music hasn’t hit it huge in the US is sad. Find this album online, snatch it up, fill your gas tank and head west. –Alex Cragun

Thanks Anyway
Street: 07.24
Woodpecker = The Mountain Goats + The Decemberists/Sunny Day Real Estate
Let’s get it all out in beginning: I liked Woodpecker’s sophomore album, but there were some parts that were a little too folky and not enough rock n’ roll. It’s emotional, it’s funny, it’s long chords and harmony over chirping banjos and violins. The songs are well constructed and layered, but lack a clear balance. This album leans too much on slow folk tempo to get through what sounds like a fast-paced Vandals tribute. I appreciate their experiment is mixing genres, but maybe I’m not the best audience for their kind of music. Now, please don’t write the band off entirely. I’m excited about what they have to offer next—hopefully more of what I did like here. Songs like “Matt & Ben” and “Black Lodge” are by far the most balanced examples of mixing early emo and folk. I’m pleased with this well thought-out concoction, but turn down the Okkervil River and crank up some Jawbreaker, guys. –Alex Cragun

Tin Angel
Street: 08.28
XXL = Can outtakes + Tim Hecker
If side projects have a reputation of being tossed-off and half-assed, XXL (the collaboration between Xiu Xiu and Italian act Larsen—see where they got the name?) plays to type, right down to the umlaut of the album title. On this, their third studio release, it’s not that the ideas are bad, it’s that there simply aren’t enough of them. The group improvised the songs, rearranged them and recorded the final versions, and the only song that should have been salvaged is the surprisingly affecting closer, “Vaire.” Don’t spend the 18 minutes and 28 seconds of “Oi! Düde!” trying to find something that doesn’t sound like a side project improvising while tape rolls. For that matter, I’d steer clear of these guys until they discover EPs. –Nate Housley

Aagoo Records
Street: 07.10
Zulus = Teenage Jesus and the Jerks + At the Drive-In + Death From Above 1979
A cacophony of post-everything, Zulus newest album needs listening to … now. Citizens of the rock-acropolis (Rockropolis?), Zulus will crush your windpipe with one hand and use your skull as a crude cartwheel mallet. Unrelenting, competitive guitar riffs mashed over distorted bass lines and with vocals reminiscent of Henry Rollins, this band makes you wish more noise rock was worth a listen. I have had this album on repeat on my computer for a good part of the month. I just can’t get over the levels of badass played out in 22 minutes. I expect to put this on my Top 10 list of the year and hope you agree. You can find their music on Spotify or buy it online. Come for the song “Kisses,” but stay for “Death in the Current.” –Alex Cragun