Ought

Ought
Sun Coming Down

Constellation Records
Street: 09.18
Ought = The Velvet Underground + Deerhunter + Perfect Pussy

Tim Darcy’s preening, anxious lyrics are endlessly quotable. Decrying an imagined love, he carries himself along the tensely paranoid line between the surreal and existential. At any given moment, he’s leaning toward the bizarre and then back again to the mundane, only to find himself standing iron-footed in the middle the whole time, simply swaying in the breeze. “It’s a little bit strange,” Darcy breathes out on “The Combo.” And the music is a little bit strange, with the at times droning guitar seeming to percolate Darcy’s thoughts with a chattered picking, and the drum relaying itself in a hazy version of your favorite math rock anthem. It’s intelligent rock n’ roll peering through the eyes of the coolest beta male at that Dada-themed house party you and your friends never got invited to, but you know you wish you had. –Brian Udall

King Dude – Sex

King Dude
Sex

Not Just Religious Music
Street: 10.28
King Dude = Morrissey + Swans + Johnny Cash

King Dude are some of the most qualified spelunkers to the darkest corners of the mind. If you’re among that certain class of civilians in the world who enjoy depth to the point of peril and religiosity to the point of insanity, let TJ Cowgill show you what rock n’ roll sounds like in hell. And that’s not an exaggeration; the genre they’ve labeled themselves as online is “Luciferian,” and Cowgill references the great Beelzebub at several points across the album in a submissive respect that’s transcended fear to a level of shriveled, ashy acceptance of the mortal coil.

The first half of the album goes back and forth between a sad and gloomy folk and heavier, not-quite-metal rock. It stays consistent thematically, but the mood changes so often that it’s hard to ever get comfortable. “Who Taught You How To Love” is an un-danceable serenade to an 18-year-old actress from L.A. In her Lolita-esque love story, Cowgill is both narrator and participant. Turning on a dime, “I Wanna Die at 69” has Cowgill crooning, “I want to put myself between both of your legs / And have you kiss my lips to taste what I taste” in this guttural, drunken way that gets darker and less sober with each turn. A heavy, melodic riff amplifies the stumbling through the streets, a loaded revolver jumps in at the chorus to bring red into the King’s eyes, and then in the background, this young woman confesses, court-witness style, to the violence and Satanism of the man. And that’s just the beginning of the album.

At the halfway point of the album, demarcated by the post-punk, instrumental number “Conflict & Climax,” the music becomes slightly more poppy and, at times, experimental. King Dude have touched the lightness of pop in previous albums, but in this latest attempt, it seems as if they’ve managed to incorporate a gothic vibe. “Swedish Boys” has backup vocals faintly ooh-ing in the background, something you’d expect to find in the newer styles of beach garage or alternative indie music. Then “The Girls” comes into play, with a theatrically absurd introduction to the sound of applause. In an almost avant-garde style, Cowgill sings the first line only to be drowned out by that applause, and he pauses to tell the audience to stop before he continues. It’s a fun little trick that a number of experimental groups are incorporating, whether it’s laughter or applause or some other form of audience participation, which brings to mind a self-conscious humor usually associated with groups less involved with the dark prince.

But, let’s be real: This swaying across the bright and shadowed cracks on the face of man could put anyone in a daze. What’s great is that the band is able to lend out the stark religious motif running through the album—hedonism in the vein of nihilistic sexuality—an emotional power that conjures up all those subconscious mental states that the world’s conservatively religious parents have worked so hard to atrophy. But, if anyone’s looking to get deeper than drugs could ever take them—to see the humor in the dark—let King Dude pour black water across the pagan soil sitting forgotten in the fields of your soul. Let him baptize you in the rivers of hell and decry Jesus’ retribution. Just remember that the Devil’s river runs dry, and soon, so will you. –Brian Udall

Beachmen Pink

Beachmen Pink

Beachmen
Everybody’s Pink Inside

Self-Released
Street: 09.12
Beachmen = Pinback + Beach Fossils + Cloud Nothings

With the second self-released album from one of Salt Lake’s most up-and-coming bands, the conversation has changed. Everybody’s Pink Inside is an almost entirely new approach for the band, but still sticks to the same strengths that have established Beachmen as a rollicking good live show (evocative vocals and catchy but substantial drumming). The album is intimate, an inwardly searching trail of breadcrumbs to reach a distant, psychic shore and come back again. As a live band, the energy is up. It wouldn’t be unusual to walk into a show to find the dancefloor crowded and vibrant. It’s almost as if the private recordings of the album were torches, lighting the way to the celebrated, frequently visited destination of a live show—a show where all the members of the band give off the persona of a well-established, inventive-but-consistent local group that is meant to be noticed—and they are. –Brian Udall

Conor Oberst | Ruminations | Nonesuch Records

Conor Oberst
Ruminations

Nonesuch Records
Street: 10.14
Conor Oberst = Elliot Smith + M. Ward + Nick Drake

Conor Oberst’s talent as a musician has been established for so long that it’s amazing that he can still come out with new material that has his same incredibly distinct style and still flows across with an emotional prowess whose equal you honestly may never find anywhere else in your lifetime. And while the music itself carries along well, it sits very much in the background of the defining feature of Oberst’s music. His lyricism.

The beautifully rhyming words have this weird attribute of being exactly what needed to have followed the line before and being the one you never would have seen to put there yourself. This album feels like Oberst is acknowledging and emphasizing this aspect of his music. The band has been sent on vacation while he sits around with nothing but a guitar, a piano, and his harmonica peeling away yet another layer of his soul. If he keeps it up he may one day peel his way right into the raw, sensitive ectoplasm we’re all running around looking for.

But this introspective voyage Oberst has been on has two very different sides lying to his left and right. On “Gossamer Thin” he has this verse that goes, “She likes the new pope, She’s not scared of hell, They meet once a week at a secret motel.” And while it’s actually really charming and oddly heartwarming to think about a young fling the pope is caught up in, the characteristic, heartbroken tone Oberst has always had gives the scenario this existential import that only he can manage. This bittersweet feeling of a happy situation being sung about in a way that drags your mind inwards.

His voice has this grounding effect when paired with sweet lyrics but when Oberst dips his feet into the black pool the tone keeps him floating at the top instead of drowning in it. On “Counting Sheep” he sings, “Temperature’s cool, Blood pressure’s fine, One twenty one over seventy five, Scream if you want, No one can hear you.” While the lyrics sung in any other way could come across as too much, his realist, matter of fact tone has the ability to point you towards his acute sense of ennui without forcing you down to that low, twilit setting where all the beauty and all the terror in the world is born.

He travels from fame and adultery to bar conversations to Ronald Reagan. Calls out for love and calls out for death. His is a mind that eats continuously and it’s obvious that some things are bitter to taste but don’t worry cause he’s willing to regurgitate it into your skull. You get all the nutrients and don’t have to bother to chew. Life of a poet. And now that’s official, a la Bob Dylan. Now that musicians are poets too I think all we’ll have to do is wait until Oberst doesn’t sound like he’s in his late twenties so the immortals handing out the Nobel prize will take notice. I got a hundo that says he’ll get nominated some way down the line. And I got another hundred that says he’ll disappear into the fuzz of history’s maw but I think he’d prefer that anyway. –Brian Udall

Suuns | Felt

Suuns
Felt

Secretly Canadian
Street: 03.02
Suuns = Odonis Odonis + Temples + Dirty Beaches

Suuns have always stood in their own realm between noise, post-punk and dance with a dark and isolated dystopian vibe. Their experimental style evolves with each album, but with the upcoming Felt, the band is in an around-the-world scenario that finds them in a more playful mood than that of the rest of their work. Their attraction, at times, to cold and unwelcoming rhythms that deny the listener a sense of connection has largely given way to a warmer, if still undanceable, sensation. Their world remains bleak and dark, but it feels less like the band is hidden in a maze of dark alleyways and more like they’ve moved to some tucked-away venue where the crowd dances together while still being completely alone.

The tone for this starts with the opening track, “Look No Further,” where boozy percussion drawls behind singer Ben Shemie as he evokes primordial scenes of rock, clay and myth. It’s a stark progression from their past as an alienated and alienating force. The aesthetics of the sound have become more palatable without becoming commercial.

Something else the band plays with is the percussion of the album: some solid house rhythms that fit well into their new style. It lends itself to the “club collective buried in the slums of the future” mindset they’ve placed themselves in. It’s not as if they’re adding anything particularly new, instrument-wise, to their repertoire. Instead, their experimental nature has led them to fresh, new grounds that demonstrate that they still have room to explore. They certainly haven’t given up their outsider status: Their sound is uniquely their own, but their wandering sound has brought them closer to what other artists are already doing, which gives them an approachability that may have been less apparent before—all without sacrificing the arena they’ve been harvesting from for years.

One thing they try out on a few songs—which is a little more hit-or-miss—is their use of autotune. In more than a couple songs, the vocals are drenched in this pop cliché. At times, it seems to work: “Materials” is entirely autotuned, and it’s one of the groovier tracks with a southerly, minimalist approach. Unfortunately, on other songs, it can seem a little grating in its disconnect with the rest of the band’s elements. To be fair, this doesn’t take away from the album much. The nature of an experimental group feeling their way through uncharted territory almost demands that not everything is going to be a polished gem of a track.

Suuns are anything but smooth at the edges, and for them to have as many successes on this album as they do is definitely evidence that these guys are really coming to settle into themselves without becoming complacent. If anything, the fact that they make it feel easy and natural to have my head nodding to the beat of some woozy little number while there are sirens and something being digitally devoured in the background is fantastic. And in another song, they have table saws setting the tempo off for a heavy post-punk number. Suuns haven’t stopped challenging the idea of melody and rhythm—they’re just continuing to make it a lot harder to say that you can’t do it well. –Brian Udall

TRAAMS

TRAAMS – Modern Dancing

TRAAMS
Modern Dancing

FatCat Records
Street: 11.13
TRAAMS = Holograms + Parquet Courts + Wolf Parade

The sophomore album by post-punkers TRAAMS is easily upbeat without sounding cheesy, making it a serious contender for a spot on your next house party playlist—or maybe just a backdrop to washing your dishes the next day. A few things have changed since their debut. The level of reverb that fell like a wet blanket across their sound has been cleared up, allowing for a cleaner, more professional persona to come across. The one pitfall they still fall into is the lyrical content. At times catchy, their lyrics are jumbled up overall as a slur of one-liners that don’t always fit together. But what they give up in continuity, they make up for in the use of vocals as instrument, which clicks with the sort-of Kraut-pop guitar riffs and simple drum melodies. It’s a step in the right direction for the next round of festivals with these Brits. –Brian Udall

Ty Segal | Ty Segal | Drag City Records

Ty Segall
Self-titled

Drag City Records
Streets: 01.27
Ty Segall = Jim Morrison + King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard + Jefferson Airplane

At this point, asking someone who Ty Segall is amounts to asking how the weather is in Los Angeles. It’s sunny. It’s always fucking sunny—where have you been? Playing with three other bands on top of his solo career, Segall has been pumping out albums constantly for our grateful ears since 2008, with the release of his first self-titled album. While he sometimes disappears into this mystical persona of a man who ripped his third eye from opening it too wide, this album is Segall at his most human.

Ty Segall is self-defeating from the top, with Segall singing on “Break a Guitar” about how he’s gonna be a big rock star when he starts breaking guitars, like all good rock gods do—and this doesn’t stop. On “Papers,” he sings, “The papers depend on tape / So they do not fall.” Coming from the guy who brought us Fuzz, it’s just gold, deadpan comedy, but it’s totally in character. “Thank You Mr. K” is a mad-cap Harold and Maude scenario, which is so simple and so cinematic, it couldn’t have come from anyone else. You can practically see the pair running from the senior-home security in sunny California’s palm tree hillsides.

The album is a bit more thematic than are his other works. “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)” caps in at just over 10 minutes and—while almost half of it is instrumental—lays out a little tale about a mysterious man showing the protagonist how to become famous. All this self-derision brings out Segall on a personal level. It’s hard to say how much he’s struggling with being famous (he’s been doing it for a while now), but he’s toned down the reverb on the album more so than on any of his other works, which means that these things are obviously on his mind. And he wants you to listen.

On “Talkin’,” Segall sings a little bluesy number about someone he’s met who is talking shit about all their friends, and he straight up calls them out, saying that all their bitching about other people is just reflecting back on them. It’s intimate in a way that he’s only ever gotten close to in his love songs. He sings a lot of them, and even on those, he’s always been one step back from that kind of personal-opinion approach in a song. Another slower song, “Orange Color Queen,” is just this: a love song that doesn’t really reveal anything about Segall, but is still great and sweetly psychedelic. His lady is so beautiful and wild, even the morning sun takes an interest in her.

There’s breadth on Segall’s second self-titled album that we haven’t seen from his solo project for a while, and it feels great to get a personal touch that doesn’t rip you out of your seat. Instead, Segall seems to be trying to put you back into it. There’s been a lot of work done in the past few years when it comes to his music and, while his other projects have let him explore other worlds, it seems as if his solo project has been living in the shadow of Melted for too long. I think this album may just be the one to drag this band up to the present stage again. –Brian Udall

GOLD – No Image

GOLD – No Image

GOLD
No Image

Profound Lore Records
Street: 11.06
GOLD = Esben and the Witch + Savages + HAIM

GOLD’s sophomore album leaves a bitter taste of iron in your mouth. It’s heavier both lyrically and rhythmically than their previous album, certainly bringing them closer to a certain riot grrrl motif that’s been floating around the musical ether. But while their ethos is blossoming into something substantiated, their musicianship is still in budding form. A wailing, fuzzed-out backdrop only changes when the song does. While charging into the black, the lead guitar and drums can’t seem to let go of each other throughout the album, which comes off as idiosyncratic. On “D.I.R.,” Milena Eva smoothly whispers, “Only death is real.” And while they attempt to stare straight into that prospect, they can’t shrug off the comforts of the standardized song structure they used in their debut album. It’s a step in the right direction, but some ingenuity wouldn’t be a bad thing next time around. –Brian Udall

Spoon | Hot Thoughts

Spoon
Hot Thoughts

Matador Records
Street: 3.17
Spoon = The Strokes + Wolf Parade + Japandroids

If a band wants to stay relevant longer than two decades, they are going to have to be a part of that elusive group of artists that can redefine themselves without losing themselves. Spoon settled into that title with ease some years back with the stable hand of frontman Britt Daniel steering the band’s vision. They found their new voice when they went from rising potential to having the ability to take minimalist hooks and an “atom bombs and blunt razors” attitude and turn it into rock n’ roll’s new underdog lifestyle in 2002 when Kill The Moonlight came out. They came out even more dedicated to romanticizing the beast that is rock n’ roll on Gimme Fiction in 2005. They swam around in that pool of catchy, outsider grunge that they’d discovered through their next two projects: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Transference. They fine-tuned the music so meticulously that the band took four years off to work on separate projects to gather more energy for their next project together.

When they finally came back with the album They Want My Soul in 2014, Daniel brought in Dave Fridmann to produce, and this combined with Spoon’s time apart changed its tune once more. Fridmann has worked for bands from Flaming Lips to Tame Impala with a onetime Miley Cyrus album thrown in. His pop sensibilities helped produce a sound that carried into his second project with Spoon, their ninth and most recent album, Hot Thoughts. While it’s not the sound you’d hear splashing out of the same pubs they started their career in, the music is unmistakably professional. The textures they manage to pull out of the keyboard create this heady space around the band, which seems fitting to the album’s title. Most of the songs let go of their signature minimalism a little, but it never sounds overcrowded.

“Do I Have To Talk You Into It” is the closest they get to nostalgic, with Daniel’s voice sounding more emotionally raw than he allows himself to be on the rest. But on a song like “Pink Up,” where the rhythm sounds the way a tropical sunset feels on your skin, the light of the sun fades in a way that captures its beauty far better than it could be recognized at full blast. Backup vocals glide in and out like waves of warm water on a black-sand beach. Following right after, the second single dropped from the album, “Can I Sit Next To You,” comes in with a strong radio-pop beat that eventually glides into this impossibly catchy Middle Eastern riff that will quite literally take over the muscles in your neck and feet and have them moving in time with the beat before you get the chance to snap yourself out of the trance.

Not to be left out of the all-encompassing, political dramedy that we’re all steeping in, the album even has a song about Trump’s Wall. “Tear It Down” is the perfect road-trip anthem as you and a handful of homies head to the border with sledgehammers and hacksaws to sneak past the ICE authorities in the dead of night for a little Monkey Wrench Gang antics. Daniel hovers in front of the piano singing, “Let them build a wall around us / I don’t care I’m gonna tear it down.” Whether the new sound changes Spoon’s audience or not, it’d be a lie to say they aren’t good at what they do: bringing fire to a young rebel’s heart. –Brian Udall

\\GT// beats misplaced

\\GT// beats misplaced

\\GT//
Beats Misplaced

Communicating Vessels
Street: 10.16
\\GT// = Radio Moscow + 13th Floor Elevators

Warbled and watery, \\GT//’s debut album is the kind of rock n’ roll that punches out of car radios right into that smug little face your live-in uncle can’t seem to get rid of when you’re playing DJ. Beats Misplaced collides and splashes technicolor streams of hard, psychedelic ecstasy all over your already fuzzed-out seats. The three-piece band hails from Birmingham, Alabama, and that Southern psychedelia gives guitarist/vocalist Scotty Lee’s fade-away lyrics the kind of powerful aesthetic they seem to be trying to avoid, turning the whole album into a kind of dance around the bonfire. As the members take turns dipping their instruments into the flames, they pull back and let the riffs melt everything into a puddle at their feet. Give it to your burnt-out dad, and give it to your greenhorn brother—just as long as you give it a listen. –Brian Udall