Author: LeAundra Jeffs

Hectic Hobo
Our Medicine Will Do You In
Self-Released
Street: 08.15
Hectic Hobo = Squirrel Nut Zippers + Tom Waits
The Hobos are back with their third venture. This time around, their sound focuses much more on the piano, and an outstanding violin player has joined their ranks (as heard on “Scarecrow Jones”). Production quality has improved tenfold, lending more to the music than they previously could on We Lost Our Legs In The War, We Just Can’t Remember Which War. The accordion is less prominent, and there is more balance in the percussion and bass. The band has delved headfirst into folky twang—where they previously waded at armpit level—and it’s mixed with a previously unrepresented 1920s ragtime influence. Auxiliary instruments are still vital to their sound, such as an especially ghostly saw on “Prison Prayer” and percussive chains on “Hole in My Coffin.” Most lyrical content involves heavy drinking or the woes of love. This album is more well-rounded and versatile than the last. Turn it on, and you won’t stop stomping your feet to this rhythmic masterpiece. –LeAundra Jeffs
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Richard Tyler Epperson
Hourglass
Self-Released
Street: 04.08
Richard Tyler Epperson = Bob Schneider + Explosions in the Sky
 
This mix of often sweet-sounding acoustic guitar and multi-layered instrumentation is definitely pop-radio ready. Honeyed vocals and saccharine, sometimes cheesed-out lyrics work together with soft effects to create a warm blanket of music to envelop your eardrums. Spacey electronic effects and lilting piano add to the album’s velvety dimensions. The entire work is beautifully produced. On the other hand, the style presented has been done many times before, and comes across a bit lackluster and unexciting. Two songs, “Like Always” and “Lights,” are distinctively glitchy. Chilly piano melodies and whiplashing minor-key instrumentation sets “Like Always” apart from the rest of the album. In the end, Hourglass is pretty and easy to listen to. –LeAundra Jeffs
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Legs
Pass the Ringo
Loglady Records
Street: 04.23
Legs = The Who + The Libertines
Pass the Ringo sounds like vintage British Invasion rock put through a broken tape deck in a car with all the speakers blown. Using lo-fi techniques can add grunge and soul elements to an album, but Legs create a fuzzy washout of their music, making any distinct instruments difficult to pick out. I was further dispirited when I realized Legs’ music is endearing underneath a cacophony of ill-produced instruments. “Two Colours” (reminiscent of Arcade Fire) and “The Kingdom’s Collections of Slides and Super 8” are exceptions that I enjoyed. Stop hiding your talent! If the din was cleaned up slightly, it would sound less like an act at a middle school battle of the bands and more like a finished album. –LeAundra Jeffs

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Insect Ark – Portal/Well

Insect Ark – Portal/WellInsect Ark
Portal/Well

Autumnsongs Records
Street: 06.08
Insect Ark = King Woman + Locrian

Experimental sludge and smoldering, ambient drones smash back and forth unexpectedly in this record. Always instrumental and constantly bleak, Portal/Well seeps into the tarred marrow of your bones and grips, forcing emotional opisthotonos. “Collector” is especially bass-heavy, and Insect Ark exhibit this motif across the album, especially in light of the fact that frontwoman Dana Schechter is, by trade, a bassist. The title track features pinpricks of hallucinatory and nightmarish industrial grind. I’ve had to listen to this album in chunks because it forces me to marinate my psyche in my irrevocable fear of yawning, inky abysses that are both metaphorical and tangible. Pain is often translated into pleasure—Portal/Well is terrifying, and my indulgence thereof is intense and unabated. –LeAundra Jeffs

Juana Ghani
She Lost Her Head
Self-Released
Street: 06.13
Juana Ghani = Dark Dark Dark + Gogol Bordello
Juana Ghani seem to have a penchant for bringing to life a seedy, seductive back alley in Italy or Russia through their simultaneously languid and staccato music (“Na Zdorovie”). Every song is heavy on the accordion and fiddle, which feeds directly into their distinctive style of gypsy-influenced folk punk. Leisl Bonell’s voice is sweet and sinister, adding an element of contrast to their style. There are so many members in the band that even their simplest of songs are layered to the point that you can’t pick out every element, even on the 15th time around. Juana Ghani’s live shows are a circus act with saber, belly and fire dancers, and I can vividly imagine one of these rowdy performances with every recorded beat and minor-key inflection. –LeAundra Jeffs
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Howls
Howls
Buddyhead Records
Street: 05.13
Howls = PVT + Planet Earth–era Duran Duran

If I close my eyes as I listen to this album, I’m walking through an inky venue with strobing lights, and shadowy glitter is falling in slow motion from the ceiling. The Howls craft brooding electronica such hallucinations—they progress in each song from minor to major keys, from psychedelia to fuzz-rock, and sexy to sentimental acoustic guitar. Every few verses, something unexpected is incorporated on an unsteady crescendo, impressing me further. For example: buzzing effects combined with new wave guitar stylings on “No Man,” or “Electric Wave,” an amalgamate of vintage influences and modern methods. At times minimalist, at times a muddled wall of sound, this album incorporates seemingly every point of a spherical spectrum. Throbbing bass lines and metamorphosing piano are integral ingredients of every song. “Sixteen” and “Sunset Junction” come off slightly schmaltzy, but musically have merit. Howls is sure to be one of my favorite albums of the year. –LeAundra Jeffs

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Funk&Gonzo
Spread Like Fire
Self-Released
Street: 02.28
Funk&Gonzo = Pepper + Sum 41 + Ocean Floor Traffic
Chyeah, brahhhhhh … ahem … Sorry, this reggae is twisting my brain up. Funk&Gonzo are a reggae, funk and alt-rock mash-up that had me checking the computer after every song to make sure it hadn’t shuffled to a different artist. When I heard the Bradley Nowell–esque rap vocals, I was reassured again that nothing had changed. The musicianship exhibited on Spread Like Fire is impressive. Four live tracks, featured at the end of the album, all sound clean enough to have been recorded in an acoustically engineered studio (try “Olly Olly”—“Funk-Da-Puss” is a bit ridiculous). Some songs, like the title track, morph into imitation metal breakdowns. I was dissatisfied with the vocals, which I’ve concluded are an attempt to fit a ska style. Reggae reminds me of unity. Alternative rock, reminiscent of 30 Seconds to Mars, makes me think of whiny teenagers and excess eyeliner. In the end, a lack of focus detracts from the upbeat mindset driving their music.

 

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EszterBalint

Eszter Balint
Airless Midnight

Red Herring / eOne
Street: 08.07
Eszter Balint = White Magic + Rasputina

Eszter Balint is a wicked mix of sultry black widow and eerie freak-folk banshee. Airless Midnight swings seamlessly from bass-heavy ’90s alt rock to banjo-twanging, black bluegrass. Morbid lyrics slither like a death adder into eardrums with eyelids fluttering and mouth agape. “Let’s Tonight It” is heavy, swirling and dissonant with a chugging, seemingly broken bar piano. “The Mother” is drunken and allegorical. Feverish lust exudes from this album. It feels like sinning, and who doesn’t like some temptation? 
–LeAundra Jeffs

Tupelo Moan
Cocaine and Chicken Grease
Self-Released
Street: 07.12
Tupelo Moan = Rubber Factory–era The Black Keys + The Dead Weather
Fuck yeah! No, seriously, I said, “Fuck yeah,” every 20 seconds the first time through this album. I tried to find both of the items listed in the album title to get the full effect. I ended up with a bowl full of powdered sugar, for looks, and a giant trough of chicken nuggets. My life could be worse. Tupelo Moan stick their heads straight into the gutter of ultra-heavy, dark, gritty blues. Substantial guitar effects are always applied and are usually superimposed with horn sections that sound like sex (“I’m Gonna Go Now”). Simplicity in all instruments allows you to focus on the intensity without being overwhelmed. Chaos ensues in a few songs with irresistible discord and aggression—“Marie Laveaux” is an example. I’m going to get sweaty in my underwear and punch things now. –LeAundra Jeffs
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Lydia Lunch & Cypress Grove
A Fistful of Desert Blues
Rustblade
Street: 05.30
Lydia Lunch & Cypress Grove = Tom Waits + Johnny Cash

Like a mysterious mirage amid sand dunes, “Sandpit” begins the album with Spanish-influenced blues and existential wonderings. In her classic style, Lunch moans like a witch with a voice made out of sex. As the album progresses, the music transforms from minimalist acoustic stylings to heavy western rock, all with a murky blues style. Every song is consistently littered with dark lyrical content ranging from lost love to murder. At one point, on “Jericho,” the album becomes political, referencing the war in Iraq. The drums are always intense, whether they’re lo-fi and fixed in the bass register or cymbal-heavy and crashing. The occasional Middle Eastern influence or strange background effect adds interest. If you enjoy eerie compositions voiced by a devil woman like I do, A Fistful of Desert Blues should be next on your to-do list. –LeAundra Jeffs

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