National CD Reviews

Lesser Known
Street: 03.22
Adventure = CFCF + Propaganda + M83
Let’s just get a few things straight. Adventure’s sophomore album, Lesser Known, is equal parts F-Zero (SNES version) soundtrack, early ‘90s Estonian action/thriller score and steamy network cable lovemaking scene accompaniment. Full of soft filters and squiggly synth lines, Adventure’s main man Benny Boeldt mines afternoons of eight-bit synth wizardry and Giorgio Moroder’s entire back catalogue to create something vaguely nostalgic but wholly retro-futurist forward-thinking. Boeldt has worked with Dan Deacon and has been associated with Baltimore’s Wham City Collective (Future Islands, Videohippos) before jumping to the super-credible Carpark Records (Beach House, Belong, Toro y Moi) for this 2011 release. The album is destined to elicit either fist-pumping or eye-rolling on the first listen. (Urban: 3.30) –Ryan Hall

Alright You Restless
Knitting Factory Records
Street: 02.15
Agesandages = Akron/Family + The Mamas and the Papas
Agesandages utilize a freak-folk lineup to make snappy, rootsy tunes that recall the candied hooks of 60s folk-pop. The commune feel is present in the chorus of warm harmonies, but these guys don’t rely on the novelty of their earthiness for success. Songwriting and adroit production anchor the album, and the musicianship is clear even without knowing that seven vocal tracks were recorded live with one mic. The songs are breezy without the mawkishness of soft rock, so you don’t even have to feel guilty about enjoying it. –Nate Housley

The Aggrolites
Rugged Road
Young Cub Records
Street: 02.22
The Aggrolites = The Upsetters + The Slackers + The Maytals
The world’s foremost practitioners of dirty reggae have returned with another solid batch of Jamaican-flavored tunes on their fifth album. The vinyl/digital version of Rugged Road is easily The Aggrolites’ briefest effort, at 10 tracks and just over 30 minutes (a CD version with bonus tracks will be released later this month), but there’s still a lot to like. The album starts in a mellow mood with “Trial & Error,” featuring vocalist Jesse Wagner substituting his usual booming voice for a smooth falsetto. The Aggrolites then jump around the musical landscape of reggae with “Enemy Dub,” the rocksteady style of “Dreaming of Erie” and the organ-driven skinhead stompers “Eye of Obarbas,” “The Heat” and “In the Cut.” Even though the band’s instrumentals are always top notch, it would have been nice to hear Wagner’s excellent vocals on more than four songs. The Aggrolites may not be breaking any new ground with Rugged Road, but when a band is this good, it’s hard to complain about more of the same. –Ricky Vigil

Agnostic Front
My Life My Way
Nuclear Blast
Street: 03.22
Agnostic Front = Negative Approach + Cro-Mags + Blitz
Agnostic Front has been kind of a line in the sand for me. If you were able to hang out during Cause for Alarm or Riot Riot Upstart, you were cool in my book. Playing CBGB more than any other band, their legend has been solidified a thousand times over. I’ve always been fascinated by the way Agnostic Front would wander back and forth from a more street punk hardcore sound to a more thrash or metal-sounding hardcore. It never came across to me as any kind of gimmick, but more like them just playing the way they felt. Also, with Roger’s other band, the Disasters, his punk side was more exercised outside of Agnostic Front. On My Life My Way, they’ve found the perfect balance of punk and heavy hardcore. They’ve somehow fit metal’s hefty guitar with street punk’s urgency and energy on “More Than a Memory,” placing double-kick drum ferocity in the midst of the ‘80s-sounding hardcore anthem “That’s Life.” This record, perhaps more than any other, exemplifies what Agnostic Front is about. With an unrelenting hardcore ethos, Agnostic Front puts it plain: You’re either with ’em or not, and fuck off if you’re not. –James Orme

All Tiny Creatures
Street: 03.29
All Tiny Creatures = Broken Social Scene + Pinback + Here We Go Magic
There are moments in your life where everything seems to align perfectly—the air, the person, the smell and the colors. All Tiny Creatures’ new release, Harbors, has managed to create a sound that could magically score those moments. Whether it’s a wave of circular massaging notes or a fixation of groovy repetition, this dynamic sound is queued up and ready to go. Each track serves up a stimulating visual rhythm: humming watery percussion of “Triangle Frog,” “An Iris,” which agitates against a catchy bounce of drum and the spiral drone of “Glass Bubbles,” which inspires an emotional transcript that could encompass a fun, spontaneous adventure. Though the lyrics are whispering and sparse, the overlapping echo ensures the masterful production of Harbors has the perfect piece to complete the perfect moment. –Liz Lucero

Music Belongs in the Background
Street: 02.22
Also = The National + 80s Pink Floyd
It’s unfortunate to title an album with the nondescript Music Belongs in the Background, unless the band are actually styling themselves as a television soundtrack indie band trying to cash in on licensing. One slightly jazzy, mid-tempo rock song blends into the next, and I found myself wondering if the disc was almost done by track six. Lead singer Drew Conrad’s soporific baritone and the preening over their guitar tones make The National sound punk as fuck. There’s nothing on the album that isn’t well done; it’s just so inoffensive that it’s hard to swallow. –Nate Housley

The Aquabats
Hi-Five Soup!
Fearless Records
Street: 01.18
The Aquabats = Phenomenauts + They Might Be Giants + Bowling For Soup
While the majority of their peers in the ska-punk scene rely on their horribly dated back catalogs, The Aquabats definitely deserve credit for re-inventing themselves as a high-energy super-hero-power-synth-pop outfit over the past decade. However, it pains me to say that Hi-Five Soup! is pretty goddamn hard to listen to. Since the release of 2005’s Charge!, head Aquabat (and noted Mormon) Christian Jacobs, aka MC Bat Commander, has spent most of his time working on the children’s show Yo Gabba Gabba!, which he co-created. Hi-Five Soup! is therefore a weird hybrid of the Aquabats’ normal nerdy tales of triumph and non-sensical, pseudo-motivational pop-rock for pre-schoolers. Let’s get the good stuff out of the way: opening track “Shark Fighter” is a lot of fun, “Radio Down” (which features Biz Markie) is a great reggae-y tune and closer “Luck Dragon Lady” is weirdly sweet for a song about a character from The Neverending Story. Now for the bad: everything else. Too general? Alright: an inexplicable, unfunny appearance from 2003 internet celebrity Strong Bad, the incredibly grating “Poppin’ a Wheelie” and the pseudo-racist, hyper-annoying “Hey Homies!”. Maybe in a few years kids who grew up on Yo Gabba Gabba! will dig this, but until then we should all probably just ignore Hi-Five Soup! –Ricky Vigil

Federico Aubele
Berlin 13
ESL Music
Street: 04.12
Federico Aubele = Sneaker Pimps + Julio Iglesias
Being an accomplished Latin lounge singer, Aubele was an unknown in the states until he performed at Lollapalooza in 2009. The performance helped his third album, Amatoria, gain Billboard exposure, but failed to catch real American attention. That slight spark of attention might have played a role in the formation of Berlin 13, where Aubele takes his familiar role of Spanish-speaking baritone and crooning to Jamaican bass lines with Latin percussion and guitars, and melds it with an electronica sound. Berlin 13, while original in composition, sounds catered to the masses, as if instinct told Aubele to tone down his roots and aim for the clubs. Berlin 13 is absolutely soothing and enchanting at times, but the electronica additions occasionally remove one from the groove. It’s still better than many who fear experimentation, however, and worth a listen. –Gavin Sheehan

Ava Inferi
Season of Mist
Street: 03.28
Ava Inferi = Madder Mortem + My Dying Bride + Moonspell
Stalking empty to crowded corridors, shadows long and lingering or full-on disturbed entities, there are ghosts among us, ghosts of past lives, imprinted memories or just ghosts of the tormented, living. You pass by them and, chances are, only give them a glance. We often walk through our days focused on our inward world, less aware of the greater physical and spiritual surroundings. Onyx is an album that will resonate through your soul long after its audio passages have passed through your ears—it will whisper itself to you either in its darkened beauty and somber melodies or in its hefty, weighted feel. Ava Inferi’s songwriting is adept, natural and brilliantly resonating. With each listen, the strength of the album is just as strong as each individual song, with female vocal ranges going from operatic to calm, serenading like dark lullabies. The music is purely dark metal with whispers of epic doom. The guitar work has the unique ability to draw you in with its pure melodies, heavy and damned riffing or highly ethereal effects—all from Rune Eriksen (Aura Noir) with roots in black metal and notably, a stint in Mayhem. Take the journey of Onyx, and open your mind outward—you might just notice something you never did before. –Bryer Wharton

Birds of Avalon
Bladen County Records
Street: 03.15
Birds of Avalon = The Flaming Lips + Mudhoney + Stone Temple Pilots
Sometimes when I’m bored I like to go used clothes stores and buy vintage clothes from the '60s and '70s. I usually pick the clothes that looked like a hippie may have worn them. Then once I get these sweet retro duds home I get a big pot, put all the clothes in it, fill it with water and put the pot on the stove to boil. My reason for doing this is so I can hopefully soak all the LSD infused sweat out of these clothes so I can drink it while listening to my favorite '70s psychedelic rock throwback band, Birds of Avalon. Once my dose of old school acid sweat kicks in, the band starts getting all Zepplin on me while mixing in badass volume swells and math rock break downs it makes me want to revive the sexual revolution and invite my neighbors over for a block party orgy. You have to give the band credit because when the majority of psych bands stick to rehashing the same bullshit, BoA adds a lot of modern elements that make them worth paying attention. I think everyone should get into this band so they can hear some decent post psych and have a block party orgy of their own. –Jon Robertson

Brain F≠
So Dim 7”
Grave Mistake
Street: 1.15
Brain F≠ = Super Wild Horses + Nervous Eaters + Rape Escape
Brain F≠’s (Alternately, Brain Flannel?) second single on Richmond, VA’s Grave Mistake Records is the kind of record you drunkenly buy from the band’s merch box at a house party and immediately forget about until one day you’re thumbing through your records and BOOM! Think mid-tempo, female fronted, shit-fi stuff with political lyrics that make you feel as if you had personally torched a cop car outside the Republican National Convention or something. Maybe it’s how incomprehensible it all sounds, but the group vocals are bizarrely like of something Peelander Z might do if they could chill out for half a second. “Symptom Set,” the b-side, is driving, dirty basement punk at its finest. I’m not sure if there’s a straightedge message in the lyrics or if the band members are bragging about their drug use. Either way, this is certainly worth $5. –Nate Perkins

Showroom of Compassion
Upbeat Records
Street: 01.2011
Cake = pop rock + a little country + horns + monotone vocals
Well, it’s been six years since Cake released an album, and after giving it a listen, I now know why, they couldn’t come up with anything new. I must admit I’m not a fan, but do partake in some guilty-pleasure listening (“Stickshifts and Safetybelts,” anyone?) from time to time. What made the band a good influence and a major success was their trademark sound and their witty tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Although this albums’ single, “Sick of You,” has the classic Cake signature arrangement (up-tempo, funky bass, rock riff with a sing-a-long hook), I found the rest of the tracks to be average at best. I found even on this track that something was amiss. John McCrea’s distinct singing style is usually what ties their tracks together (and does on the single), but at times it seems that the music and vocals are on different wavelengths. I found the lyrics way too dumb-ed down for these guys that I had known for either their forthright silliness or witty metaphors. On a whole, if you like Cake, one-trick ponies and the same sound for 20 years, then you will definitely enjoy this release. However, it seems to me that some bands, after finding major success, may need to go their separate ways to find that inspiration again. Maybe it’s Cake’s turn. –Shawn Mayer

Cobra Skulls
Bringing the War Home
Fat Wreck Chords
Street: 01.18
Cobra Skulls = One Man Army + Swingin’ Utters + La Plebe
In addition to having the best name and the best logo in all of punk rock, Cobra Skulls are also one of the great under-appreciated bands in punk today. Every single Cobra Skulls song seems to be a mini-manifesto, focusing on subjects both obscure and well-known, political and personal, and Bringing the War Home continues that tradition. Opener “Doomsday Parade” is about the end of the world or global warming or both, or something. All I know is that it’s awesome and ends with La Plebe’s horn section. “ICE in the Night” is the bounciest song about illegal deportation I’ve ever heard, and “Hot Sand” sounds like Fugazi and The Slackers coming together to make an anti-war song. The EP ends with an excellent cover of Bad Religion’s “Give You Nothing” and the ‘50s pop stylings of “Life In Vain,” which is more awesome than I have room to describe here. Seriously, go pick this one up—I promise you won’t regret it. –Ricky Vigil

Best of Gloucester County
Sounds Familyre Records
Street: 02.22
Danielson = The Pixies + Arcade Fire’s Funeral + The Polyphonic Spree
I don’t think I’m the only person relieved to see Daniel Smith, frontman and creative force behind iconic indie rock band Danielson, back at work. It’s been five years since the band, mostly made up of of Smith’s family members and longtime friends, has released an album. Best of Gloucester County, however, shimmers with evidence that the time was spent developing these songs. The disc starts off with the strong, exuberant rock track “Complimentary Dismemberment Insurance,” which features some of Smith’s typical biblically-inspired lyricism. “This Day is a Loaf” is a combination of Queen-style choir rock and Neil Young folk, while “People’s Partay” is a silly, offbeat tribute to block parties. The banjo licks of long time band member Sufjan Stevens come to the forefront on the soft-spoken folk tune “You Sleep Good Now.” Even with a rich history behind them, Danielson have produced a collection of songs worthy of its title. –CG

Dash Rip Rock
Call of the Wild

Alternative Tentacles

Street: 08.03
Dash Rip Rock = Jimmy Pop + (Dead Milkmen X King Missile) + The Monkees
Country-tinged drunk rock by this Southern Louisiana trio, featuring original frontman Bill Davis, this album is a long way from their 1987 dark swamp-punk roots. Yet they don’t let being on Jello Biafra’s label separate them from the things they love: Mardi Gras, boobies, drunk Cajuns and everything that makes Louisiana the partier’s destination. Meth Lab Girl recalls the simple sing-along college punk of the 1980s, while drinking anthems like Party 101 and Party Hall of Fame make sure no one is taking this thing too seriously. Paint the Town Red is a bluesy dancehall rocker, while the funky falsetto of Everybody’s Gettin’ Hooked Up Tonight sounds like something Ween would foist on the world. The only problem with this CD is that it can’t come close to the energy of Dash’s live shows. Wanna try? Shoot a fifth of your favorite libation until you feel like flashing your neighbors and then play the CD real loud till you get arrested. Now you’re partying, Dash-style! –Madelyn Boudreaux

Delicate Steve
Luaka Bop
Street Date: 01.25
Delicate Steve = Menomena + Rafter + The Dodos + Black Moth Super Rainbow
Apparently, these songs all used to have lyrics, but this New Jersey five-piece decided they weren’t needed. I’m not sure what they would’ve sounded like, but I agree. This is rich, playfully complex music driven by free-form distorted guitar lines that live in the squealing upper range and provide seemingly endless dreamy melodies for a backdrop of thumping, lo-fi percussion and funky bass plucks. Half riffs on the folk or post-rock genres are evident, but all with kind of a lackadaisical ease—almost unconcerned for the tension inherent in many genres. The songs range from layered guitar-picking interludes to rollicking, expressively psychedelic jams. The title track “Wondervisions” uses a fuzzed-out organ to max effect, while “Sugar Splash” is almost Latin. “Butterfly” contains one of the most addictive little tunes ever, which might get stuck in your head for weeks. This is just plain joyful, fun music—some of the most unique I’ve ever heard. I would especially recommend this for audiophiles, as the production is excellent and these guys know exactly how they wanted it to sound. This is a perfect headphone soundtrack for a really good day. (Urban: 3.28) –Rio Connelly

The Disciplines
Virgins of Menace
Spark & Shine
Street: 02.15
The Disciplines = The Posies + Foo Fighters + recent releases from Saves The Day
Sometimes side projects are off to the side because they lack the natural vibe that exists in a musician’s main endeavor. That is the story of Virgins of Menace, the second full-length release from Norwegian rock band The Disciplines. Singer Ken Stringfellow has decades of experience playing with The Posies, R.E.M. and as a solo artist, but with The Disciplines, he taps into a slightly grungier, more abrasive sound. Each song on the album displays a blend of garage punk aggression and light-hearted, melodic pop rock. This dichotomy works on some songs, like the title track, and the up-tempo breakup song “Some Kind of Sickness.” Unfortunately, most tracks sound too produced and contrived to be legitimate. The album as a whole sounds like an aging musician trying to hang onto the concept of rock. –CG

The District Attorneys
Team Clermont
Street: 02.08
The District Attorney = Surfer Blood – The Beach Boys
The District Attorneys hail from Georgia and by God, that’s what they sound like. This group may be considered indie, but this album should come with an Americana/country warning label. While the vocals are slightly evocative of the Beach Boys, they come off sounding whiny and distorted, especially in the songs “Where Have You Been Lately” and “The Caro-lines.” It’s as if you’re hearing the music from the other side of a long tunnel. The guitar work is similar in almost every song, and the result is that it all blends together in an unmemorable mass. The EP was cut in six days and the sound reflects that. The EP is good for one or two listens during a long hot summer, but it’s not good for much else. The District Attorneys sound just like their name: forgettable, blah-blah bland, unimaginative and boring. –Julianna Clay

Street: 03.08
Dornenreich = Drudkh + Fen + Secrets of the Moon
If this is the next step in the ever-evolving and progressing musical journey of Austrian-bred Dornenreich, I’m quite content with it. I haven’t avidly followed the band—bits and pieces crossed my path throughout the years, but my interest was more in the band’s 2000-era material, Hexenwind and Durch Den Traum. Flammentriebe comes out swinging with its title track only offering relief in the form of pure agony. The new album brings a pristine and disturbing mix of the intensity of older albums and tidbits of the atmospheric and folksy sadness of the more recent albums. This latest offering is unbelievably decisive and infectious, oftentimes manic and depressive, while riddled with painful and angry pushes of musical and vocal insanities. “Tief im Land” is an outstanding song with sharp violin work piercing along with Dornenreich brainchild Jochen Stock’s perfectly executed loud and soul-bashing tremolo riffing. The bulk of the guitar riffing here is crushing, working either perfectly or in juxtaposition with the violin work. This is Dornenreich’s most accessible album, but the words ‘complacent’ or ‘conformist” are not in the band’s vocabulary; Flammentribe is going to be talked about long beyond its year of release. –Bryer Wharton

Duke Garwood
Team Clairmont & Fire Records
Street: 01.25
Duke Garwood= Scary Jungle + SnoreThe aptly named Dreamboatsafari commands attention, starting its super-eclectic self out with “Jesus Got A Gun.” Its bluesy roots are heavy, and with a laid-back, Jack Johnson-esque ease, the album flows through seamlessly to the second track, “Gods In My Shoes,” but gets lost in the dream-safari in the next few tracks. “Panther” boasts a monotonous chanting throughout the whole song with no musical stylings to redeem it, and continues to un-impress me with such tracks as “Gold Watch” and “Space Trucker Lady.” I’d rather listen to seven minutes of my roommate getting fucked in the next room. At least witnessing next morning’s walk of shame is more amusing. “Summer Gold” perks up the album a bit, and then goes straight back into the boring “no-music-music” for the next few songs. Closer to the end of the dream-safari, there is a little too much alterna-jazz for my liking, and then some more lifeless songs. I’m not entirely sure what kind of feel Garwood is going for on this album, as it’s slightly reminiscent of Dewey Cox’s trip down acid lane with The Beatles, and then the ensuing million-instrument, jumbled orchestra of noise. It’s weird, but not weird enough to be intriguing, just sort of dull. –Kyla G.

Faun Fables
Light of a Vaster Dark
Drag City
Street: 11.16.10
Faun Fables = Sol Invictus + [(Dead Can Dance – Brendan Perry) x Miranda Sex Garden]
This fifth full-length release from this California outfit plus long-time collaborator Nils Frykdahl (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) relies heavily on the bella voce delivery of frontwoman/artist/playwright/director/tour de force Dawn McCarthy and a variety of folk and symphony instruments not usually found in rock music (bodhran drum, glockenspiel, shakuhachi flutes, plus “brooms [and] flour sifter”) to create a gorgeous, layered exploration of the natural cycles of seasons and life. Artily referencing disparate sources such as Willa Cather, Fellini, Rod McKuen and Laura Ingalls Wilder, and drawing inspiration from Anglo-Celtic and Nordic folk music, the sound is decidedly folk-gothic Americana—equal parts Current 93 and Loreena McKennitt. Songs like “Housekeeper” and “Sweeping Spell,” paeans to the overlooked sorcery of keeping house, raise the very ordinary to the sublime, while “Hollow in the Home” invokes the psychology of Red Riding Hood. The album has its twee moments, namely the interludes and “Violet,” but the overall effect is enchanting. –Madelyn Boudreaux

Fern Knight
VHF Records
Street: 11.10.10
Fern Knight = Comus + Espers + Pentangle
Castings, the fourth release from this Philadelphia quartet, explores a sound rooted in medieval, ancient trad-folk themes. This concept of drones and lulling melodies provides a dull, lifeless feeling consistent throughout the record. Leading the neo-psychedelic group is the classically trained cellist/vocalist Margaret Ayre. Recorded entirely in a gothic East Coast mansion, the tarot-inspired concept gives off a mystical, “old-soul” sound. Reverb-thick, droning howls introduced in the first track, “From Zero to Infinity,” maintain a presence throughout the album’s entirety. Cello and dark, eerie harp notes lope along underneath Ayre’s chanting vocals, in what is an all-too-redundant direction by the record’s archaic end. –Ryan Schoeck

Morning Side Records
Street: 04.12
Figurines = Band of Horses + Built to Spill
Figurines’ fourth album threatens an overdose of sweet pop rock strangulation … in a really awesome way. Littered with catchy hooks and tambourine breakdowns that feel sinful but with a grace of pop perfection, track after track is a roundhouse kick of danceable keyboard slang and pumping drums that gets the toes a tappin’. Happy and positive is the lyrical message on tracks like “Free Today,” and with a name like that, how could it be anything but? –Liz Lucero

New Love
Upset! The Rhythm   
Street: 11.08.10
FORMER GHOSTS = soundtrack for Saw X
With a voice that could make alley cats in heat cover their ears, Former Ghost Freddy Ruppert’s new album, New Love, is an experimental and depressing mess. Somewhere, Ian Curtis can continue in his troubled-yet-hopefully-peaceful slumber undisturbed as yet another pretender to the throne fails. For a sophomore effort, this is awfully weak and cloying, despite the presence of Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart and early Siouxsie Sioux-sounding Nika Roza Danilova from Zola Jesus. In my online research to try and discover why someone paid money to make this mess of an album, I discovered a new musical genre used to describe it: “coldwave.” God help us all! New Love is 13 tracks long with about 11 of those being overlong, with only “New Orleans” and “Taurean Nature” being really memorable and helping to illustrate that this would have made a better EP than a full album. “New Orleans” has a bit of a melody, which is lacking greatly in the other songs, and it is Stewart’s contribution that appears to make it more listenable. The presence of female vocals—like guest Yasmine Kittles of Tearist—and the especially great Danilova certainly improve the songs they appear on, but Rupperts’ vocals are mostly dreadful, and the music by turns is bland and forgettable. I have no trouble picturing fictional serial killer Jamie Gumb playing this to his awaiting-to-be-skinned victims down the well of his basement as a pre-torture device for keeping them in line. Or this would make a perfect accompaniment to a Saw movie, although neither is intended as a compliment. –Dean O Hillis

Giant Sand
Blurry Blue Mountain
Fire Records
Street: 11.10.10
Giant Sand = Leonard Cohen + Okkervil River - The Jayhawks
Twenty-five years in the making, Giant Sand brings a creative collection of new songs rooted in the American Southwest. Sole center of the group, Howe Gelb, highlights this latest release with textured vocals wavering over subdued guitar riffs. Doing so, Gelb occasionally misses the mark of strong vocal/guitar accompaniment. The lo-fi, alt-country mood of the album is immediately present in the first track, “Fields of Green.” A hushed acoustic guitar wanders aimlessly behind the forward vocals delivered by Gelb. The “dream-state” feel of Blurry Blue Mountain creates a loose, experimental sound that would be more fitting as rough-draft material than a full-length, proper release. -Ryan Schoeck

Street: 01.25
GroupLove = Clap Your Hands Say Yeah + Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
It isn’t hard to understand the fast-growing appreciation for LA-based newcomers Grouplove. They offer a rousing collaboration inspired by the fateful events that led to the formation of the band. Each track reads like an anthem induced with a pitch-desperate plea of soul-searching that is better aided with help from a friend. Though it’s an EP of just seven tracks, Grouplove packs it full and each member is present in the sound from the bellowing chorus of “Goldcoast” and thumping howl of “Colours” that grabs you around the throat and makes you listen to every word. Even the easy serenade of “Getaway Car,” which lulls over the chords, takes you in and reiterates a comforting concept of how nice it is to have a family, especially the ones you are able to create yourself. –Liz Lucero

JJ’s Crystal Palace
Helpcomputer Records
Street: 03.01
Guitaro = Radiohead + Crystal Castles + new MGMT
It’s been about six years in the making, but the Canadian trio Guitaro’s second release was definitely worth the wait. JJ’s Crystal Palace further cements them into the genre of dream rock, and is like a kaleidoscope of sounds. “Come at the Sums” blends all of the best ‘80s sounds: lower-register vocals, synth and a contagious beat. “Chateau 100” contrasts heavy guitar with smooth piano and higher notes. JJ’s Crystal Palace flawlessly blends guitar, male and female harmonies, piano and synth to deliver something that’s truly worthy of the cliché “easy on the ears.” The album floats and flows effortlessly from song to song to the extent that it almost feels like an out-of-body experience. It’s perfect for a mellow evening of star gazing or a trip of any kind. –Julianna Clay

Dave Hause
Paper + Plastick
Street: 02.22
Dave Hause = The Loved Ones + Jesse Malin + Frank Turner
Between spending time in speedy hardcore outfits The Curse and Paint It Black, serving as a roadie for The Bouncing Souls and founding pop-punk-turned-roots-punk heroes The Loved Ones, Dave Hause’s musical career has had an interesting trajectory. Hause’s first full-length is highly reminiscent of The Loved One’s 2008 album Build & Burn, which is a very good thing. While Hause definitely takes some cues from Bruce Springsteen, he infuses his own energy and outlook rather than simply aping The Boss and other classic rockers. Also working in this album’s favor is the full band that backs Hause on every track—these songs would be much less interesting with just Hause’s voice and an acoustic guitar. Highlights include “Melanin,” the creepy folkiness of “Prague” and the hard-rocking “Rankers and Rotters.” Even though you can’t throw a rock at a Fat Wreck Chords Christmas party without hitting a punk-gone-folk frontman, Resolutions has proven that Hause is one of the best. –Ricky Vigil

Heidecker & Wood
Starting From Nowhere
Little Record Company
Street: 03.15
Heidecker & Wood= Tim & Eric + The Eagles + Hall & Oates
Tim Heidecker, the “Tim” from “Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job”—one of the more bizarre live-action comedies on Adult Swim—does a more than adequate job of making an almost straight-laced album with Tim & Eric composer Davin Wood. Though the majority reading this won’t know the difference between Tim or Eric Wareheim (unless they’re a stoner) this doesn’t matter—the music stands for itself. Heidecker does a fine job sans Wareheim, satirizing big rock from the 70s and 80s, utilizing honey-sweet vocal harmonies and clean, driving guitar. I was expecting more blue jokes given Heidecker’s personality and career choices but the album is pretty clean. What we have is an Andy Kaufman-esque exploration of pop music genres from the latter half of the 20th century. Wood and Heidecker: awesome job, great job. –JP

Jag Panzer
The Scourge of the Light
Street: 03.08
Jag Panzer = Iced Earth + Judas Priest + Iron Fire + Primal Fear
U.S. heavy metal heroes Jag Panzer have made a triumphant return after seven years of no material released. The band that started humbly in Colorado Springs in 1981 still have brilliant metal tunes to offer. Usually, Europe gets to lay claim to heavy metal and power metal-type thrones, but generally, the U.S.-based heavy metal bands that do strive for that extra perfection achieve glory and Jag Panzer have deserved every word of praise they’ve received. The Scourge of the Light rivals the latest from Iced Earth, even more metal appetite-appeasing than Iron Maiden’s latest. The album is large in scope and songwriting. Guitar prowess is at the band’s height. From shredding in tracks like “Condemned to Fight,” “Bringing on the End,” “Cycles” and “Burn,” there is riffing and intricate guitar-playing flying in maddening guitar solos and leads that will melt every piece of plastic in your home. Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin’s vocals offer up the primordial ooze of what heavy metal vocals should be, from screaming falsetto to melodic crooning and everything in between. The vocals help solidify The Scourge of the Light as a flat-out masterpiece. “Call to Arms” is a ballad-type track that can be a turn-off in traditional metal, but this one just keeps me raging. Fans of straight-up heavy metal, if you haven’t heard the name Jag Panzer, there’s always a time to start—there’re literally legions of fans that have been waiting for this record. It was worth it—seriously, find out for yourself. –Bryer Wharton

La Sera
Hardly Art
Street: 02.15
La Sera = She & Him + Maria Taylor
La Sera is a very different sound to hear from “Kickball Katy” Goodman, bassist of the noisy, Brooklyn-based garage punk band Vivian Girls. For her solo material, Goodman has crafted a collection of songs whose dreamlike ‘50s pop sound would’ve fit in on The Lawrence Welk Show. Still, it isn’t jarring to hear her signature light, airy voice put to less frantic music. If anything, it’s more fitting and comfortable. Concise, melodic songs like the first single “Never Come Around” and “Hold” quickly become addicting with their ethereal harmonies. On “Dove Into Love,” Goodman lazily croons a prom night ballad that sounds like it was recorded live in a high-school gymnasium, but it’s not all corsages and two-steps with La Sera. Most of the lyrics on the album are dark, sad or creepy. Don’t let that scare you off, though; there’s gold hiding in the darkness. –CG

Wooden Heart
Street: 06.29
Listener = Suicidal Tendencies + Tom Waits
Listener is a blend of interesting techniques, to say the least. He does what he calls “talk music.” Vocally, he can be a bit tedious throughout a full-length album, but his lyrics are raw and poetic, which make the growls a bit easier to swallow. My only criticism is that the vocals need to be broken up at some point. The intensity can be a little overwhelming without a change-up. It’s kind of like a mix between the overly intense rants of Suicidal Tendencies with the story-telling style and eerie kroons of Tom Waits. The beats on the album are impressive on songs like Falling in Love with Glaciers. They tug right on my little heartstrings, with intricately put-together rhymes then made original, obscure, and unique by Listener’s vocal snarl. I’d say check it out for a sweet change-up in your musical lineup. –Bethany Fischer

Lloyd Miller & the Heliocentrics
Lloyd Miller & the Heliocentrics
Strut Records
Street: 07.19
Lloyd Miller & the Heliocentrics = jazz worth buying
This is music to ponder to. Well, really, it’s music to do just about anything to. LMATH are rhythmic technicians, in the most enjoyable way. I don’t know if Miller and Co. have created something totally fresh, I just know that this album sounds so cool and smooth that you’ll think you just stepped into a Cool Whip factory. But, the most memorable moments here consist of traditional jazz mixed with Middle Eastern themes. Tracks like “Electricone” and “Pari Ruu” fuse these themes so well that it gives me hope that the Middle East and America could actually get along someday, too. As if to prove that they won’t settle for what we’re used to, they offer up “Salendro,” which could be on an Aphex Twin album the way it bounces through the ambience. beginning to end. This album hits the spot. –Andrew Roy

The Luyas
Too Beautiful to Work
Dead Oceans
Street: 02.22
The Luyas = Sleigh Bells + School for Seven Bells + Memoryhouse + Dr. Seuss
If the name of this album is an indication of how this band feels about themselves, their vanity is completely justified. The Luyas open the album with its namesake “Too Beautiful to Work,” a dynamic and energetic song despite the lyrics being slightly indiscernible. From there, the album just gets more interesting. “Moodslayer” features an instrument that sounds like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, called a moodswinger, which is a 12-string electric zither. The album also incorporates a plethora of other instruments, like a French horn in “Canary,” a bassoon in “What Mercy Is” and a cello in “I Need Mirrors.” Singer Jessie Stein’s childlike voice is worthy of inspiring spontaneous goose bumps― it manages to simultaneously be eerie and ethereal throughout the album. Listening to Too Beautiful to Work was an otherworldly experience. The combination of sounds was almost like taking a fascinating trip to an alien planet. –Julianna Clay

Mathew Sawyer and the Ghosts
How Snakes Eat
Fire Records
Street: 01.18
Mathew Sawyer and the ghosts = Destroyer + The Robot Ate Me
This album is decent, not that indie-rock really needs another guy with “that” fucking voice. You know that fucking voice, the one you hear in Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Wolf Parade (Wolf Parade has two fucking guys with that voice), Harlem Shakes and Destroyer. Does anybody naturally sound like that? It has to be a product of listening to those bands. That aside, the album is a pretty good listen. The acoustic songs build up ever so slightly, keeping themselves from being boring but avoiding the grandeur that a lot of indie bands shoot for (I call that, Sufjan Stevens Syndrome). –Cody Hudson

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
Go Down Under
Fat Wreck Records
Street: 02.01
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes = Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes are back, but this time they’re going down under. Go Down Under features five covers of Australian bands and artists. In true Me First and the Gimme Gimmes fashion, they’ve taken these songs and put their own spin on them, and like always, it is an entirely successful endeavor. With just a few alterations, like picking up the beat, adding major chords and heavy guitar, they accomplish what many bands can’t―they take essentially slow-paced, boring songs and make them interesting and uniquely their own. Their version of Olivia Newton John’s “Have You Never Been Mellow” is definitely more entertaining than the original. And their rendition of Air Supply’s “All Out of Love” comes off as sounding most sincere (if not forcefully so). Me First and the Gimme Gimmes are very much like the crazy scientist in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. They take songs and inject their own special brand of life into them. Go Down Under is an excellent example of just that. –Julianna Clay

The Mixtures
Stompin’ at the Rainbow
Street: 04.01
The Mixtures = Cannibal and the Headhunters + the Ventures + Los Lobos
I had never heard of the Mixtures until this disc graced my inbox. I had heard of the legendary Eastside LA dance parties in the early 1960s—places where kids of all races and ethnicities would voluntarily mix and mingle in the days when racial segregation was still very much the norm. The Mixtures were more concerned with filling the dance floor than they were about whether or not people would care that they counted blacks, Asians, whites and Native Americans among their members. This album is a reissue of their classic 1962 live LP. If you get the vinyl version, it will be an exact replica of the original record. The CD version includes a few more tracks that come from a handful of later singles. So vinyl enthusiasts won’t feel cheated, these additional tracks are included as a free download with the LP purchase. Stompin’ is mostly an instrumental record. Sixties standards like “So Fine” and “Peter Gunn” make up the bulk of the recording. It isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it is the perfect lounge-around-the-house music. Plus, there’s a brief appearance by future Newlywed Game host Bob Eubanks. I love old LA. –James Bennett

Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Sub Pop
Street: 02.15
Mogwai = This Will Destroy You + Broadcast + And So I Watch You From Afar
Hardcore will Never Die is the Scottish post-rock band’s seventh album and second with producer Paul Savage. Savage was responsible for Mogwai’s gate-crashing debut Mogwai Young Team. The same quiet-to-deafeningly-loud dynamic that defined one of the most influential albums of the 90s and set the blueprint for post-rock appears in spades on Hardcore. At this point, it would be easy for Mogwai to settle back into what they do best with awe-inspiring, tremolo-picked guitars, hummable bass lines and airy keyboard lines. Yes, Hardcore is the best of Mogwai playing Mogwai—however, the kraut-influenced “Mexican Grand Pris” is a delightful curveball. The track could easily be mistaken for a Broadcast (R.I.P. Trish Keenan) mid-tempo burner with its click-track and lockstep bass line. For most of the album, however, Mogwai sticks with what they do best, and in the process, create one of their strongest (and heaviest) albums to date. –Ryan Hall

You Need This Music
Street: 10.26.10
NOTTZ = New Jack Hustle + Edan + Outkast
I’d never heard of this dude before, but apparently I’m sleeping, ’cause he’s worked with everyone—Busta, 50, and even Dre? Now having made the move from in-demand producer to slick-lipped lyricist in his own right, You Need This Music is his debut record as such. He is still all about collaboration, though, enlisting a varied array of talents to help add flare to his already solid beats. I mean, Blackmilk, Kardinal Offishal and Asher Roth I can understand, but then include Travis Barker, Little Brother, and the unlikely soul of Mayer Hawthorne, and that’s the next level. The record starts with a streak, “Fair Warning” and “Blast That,” both having excellent beats that grab you right away. But best is this record’s surprising depth. “I Do it for Yawl” and “I Still Love You” are thick with shimmer, crisp production and R&B choruses. Closing out with a burner featuring a cameo from Snoop Dogg, and you having something rare these days: a solid hip-hop record. That being said, NOTTZ himself’s lyrical style ends up occasionally mealy-mouthed—too much vamping with swear words and hip-hop clichés; not enough true rhymes. But this record is impressive, to say the least. The beats alone are enough for me to buy this record as an instrumental project, so all the guest spots are just gravy. –Rio Connelly

Of Legends
Season of Mist
Street: 03.29
Of Legends = Hatebreed + pre-calculus Meshuggah+ Winter Solstice
I can’t blame metal bands for wanting to emulate Meshuggah’s chug rhythms of doom, though it would be nice if one of them could try and make it interesting. Such is the case with this metal debut of Luis Duboc of The Secret Handshake fame. He brings us Stranded, a metalcore album that he has written and performed himself, aside from the beneficial addition of Travis Orbin’s impressive drumming. While Duboc is clearly a master of his instruments and offers us a sharp and technically solid production, his crossover into metal leaves me without the emotional thrashing required to make an impact. Aside from a few painfully short Dillinger Escape Plan-esque creative outbursts, the two-minute songs bleed together in an almost fundamental expression of what I imagine metal sounds like to an outsider. He has a solid scream, but his choice to go monotone only flattens his voice against the sound of the drop-tuned guitars like a corpse catapulted at a fortress wall, and his lyrical outrages against assimilation and worship of a false god feel … Well, false. By the album’s end, I’d forgotten most of what I’d heard, and my only desire was to check out Orbin’s other projects. –Megan Kennedy

Old Man Markley
Guts N’ Teeth
Fat Wreck
Street: 01.18
Old Man Markley = Old Crow Medicine Show + Mumford & Sons + Flatt & Scruggs
It occurred to me a long time ago that it would be great idea to approach American folk and bluegrass the same way that Flogging Molly and others had approached Celtic folk music. Years later, I’m listening to a band with unmatched instrumental dexterity that brings my musings to life. Old Man Markley are going to do to American roots music what the Pogues did to Irish folk. These songs have so much going on in them that there are subtle nuances popping out with each listen. With a nine-member lineup, it’s astonishing that each pluck of the banjo and every drag of the fiddle bow can be heard. Fairly easygoing in tone, the record keeps a jaunty pace, slowing for the occasional haunting ballad, but then picking up the tempo to span the spectrum and show this band can do it all. A bit different from regular Fat Wreck releases, but good is good and I hope to hear a lot more from these guys and gals. (Burt’s: 03.16) –James Orme

Frozen Food Section
Street: 03.15
Pandelerium = Quarshi = Dizzy Rascal + ICP
By far the best aspect of this record is the intro, featuring a sample of Kenny Powers from Eastbound & Down talking a bunch of shit about how bad ass he is when he really lives a sad pathetic life. This is a great exemplification of Pandelerium. The album is 15 tracks of a bunch of dudes rapping about how bad ass and pimp they are. When in reality they are just a bunch of normal dudes biting on other emcee’s styles and lyrics. The beats however are actually quite legit. With the occasional misstep of a played out rap rock track the other beats that stick to a chill hip hop vibe are enjoyable to listen to. Maybe I’ll hit up the DJ / producer in this band and ask him, to remove all the fruit cakes vocals of the tracks and send me an instrumental album. –Jon Robertson

Aqui Estamos
Street: 01.26
Parlours = Rilo Kiley + Azure Ray
Parlour’s self-titled EP is a promising new debut from Middle America. The album is an upbeat folksy story about lessons in love carried by the pure and radiant voice of singer/songwriter Dana Halferty. Short and sweet at only five tracks, listeners get a small taste of one delicious harmony after another, from the first rosy track, “I Think I’ll Call You Mine,” with an impressive use of the ukulele and a handclap solo, to the easy, twang-laden “I Don’t Mind” that finishes with steady tickling percussion. Parlours has created a pleasing medley of folk with a hint of rock n’ roll that is simple and genuine, and I hope continues for many albums to come. –Liz Lucero

Parts & Labor   
Constant Future
Street: 03.08
Parts & Labor = Husker Du + Dan Deacon
When I first heard Parts & Labor several years ago, I was really excited about the then-rare combination of punk energy, electronic squeals and unabashed melodicism. After a few listens, their heart-on-sleeve sincerity started to feel a trifle awkward. Now that indie music has been simultaneously dabbling in both radio pop and experimental noise for the last few years, Parts & Labor’s sound seems prescient. This record, their fifth LP, offers more complex song-craft while keeping the propulsive tempos and soaring choruses, with an extra sonic boost from co-producer Dave Fridmann. The pitfall is that the near-constant high wears one out too early for the terrific climax of closer “Never Changer.” Having an album worth digesting in two sittings isn’t such a bad thing, though. –Nate Housley

Jessica Pavone
Army of Strangers
Porter Records
Street: 02.15
Jessica Pavone = Theta Naught + Aidan Baker + Russian Circles
In a similar fashion to Aidan Baker’s 2010 masterpiece Liminoids/Lifeforms, Jessica Pavone and her small ensemble weave open-ended post-rock arrangements around written and improvised classical compositions. While a completely instrumental and aggressively “rock driven” piece, Pavone uses cellos and violins to reach emotional heights that a standard three-piece rock ensemble can’t. These classical components, which vacillate from tight, in-the-pocket accompaniment to total free-form improvisation, shade Army of Strangers with moments of broken-free revelry to dirge-like funeral marches. If there is a fault to Army of Strangers, it is that there is little middle ground between the two emotional poles. The album is a constant act in tension and release, overwrought and contemplative, without much room for anything in the middle. This weakness, however, in the world of watered-down “post-classical,” may be the album’s greatest strength. –Ryan Hall

The Perfect Vessels
Name Our Own Stars
Makeshift Music
Street: 04.12
The Perfect Vessels = Sonic Youth + Dashboard Confessional
The guitarwork on The Perfect Vessels’ Name Our Own Stars is very evocative of Dashboard Confessional, particularly on opener “Running Out of Time.” Although the comparisons are there, the singer’s voice ultimately falls short of Chris Carrabba’s melodic whisperings. Truthfully, they’re average, nasal and even strange-sounding, which would indicate a lack of auto-tuning. While this works for artists like Wayne Coyne in The Flaming Lips, it doesn’t for The Perfect Vessels. The harmonies don’t always blend. However, there are a few songs here and there that make the album tolerable. “Maria” is romantic and wistful and “Shade Tree Astronomy” (the namesake of the album) is charming, with its fun beat and keyboards. In fact, all the chords and hooks in Name Our Own Star are golden, but the vocals and lyrics are more silver. The album is good, but predictable, ultimately leaving something to be desired. –Julianna Clay

Strangest Feeling (EP)
MT6 Records
Street: 07.28.10
Rakkasan = Marilyn Manson + TAD + Blood Circus
Rakkasan have been around just over a year, but the Baltimore trio haven’t branched out much beyond the Northeast yet, only sending out copies of this EP to smaller record shops across the country. Strangest Feeling has all the earmarks of a band just starting out, from the instruments bleeding over each other to the mismatched timing from single takes. Rakkasan spent way too much emphasis on lacing an echo behind every single lyric while screaming, followed by what feels like gloating on guitar solos that don’t fit. It is as if leader Vince Agro was saying “Hey, look what I can do! Can you hear it? I’m so fucking awesome and so is my fucking axe!” Strangest Feeling carries the passion of late 80s grunge but lacks the drive. There’s great promise here, but it’s a good thing Rakkasan haven’t toured yet, because they need serious work. –Gavin Sheehan

Red City Radio
The Dangers of Standing Still
Paper + Plastick
Street: 02.22
Red City Radio = The Menzingers + Nothington + The Swellers
There are only two things that don’t mix well with punk rock: Christianity and positivity. I want music made by weird fuckers who can’t quite come to terms with the directions their lives have taken and have no one else to blame but the insidious and largely imaginary “the man.” Red City Radio aren’t Christians as far as I can tell, but holy shit, are they positive. There’s nothing wrong with that, but this album definitely isn’t for me. Every song sounds pretty similar, populated by many a “whoa-oooo” and gruffly delivered lyrics about brotherhood and good times that will surely be eaten up by regular readers of The success of quasi-posi-nostalgic punx like Latterman and The Menzingers will surely spawn a few more bands in this vein, so if that’s your thing, you should definitely hitch your wagon to Red City Radio—I’ll be listening to some dead heroin addicts instead. –Ricky Vigil

Strange Behavior
Paper + Plastick
Street: 12.21.10
Retorations = Jena Berlin + Lucero + True Widow
This four song EP from Philadelphia’s Restorations is a truly interesting combination of several different facets of the greater punk rock world circa 2010. Strange Behavior opens with “Title Track,” featuring guitarwork with a heavy country influence, but the most interesting thing about the song (and really all of Strange Behavior) is the feeling of space that the song creates. This is a strange fusion of punk rock, alt country, indie, emo and post rock. It may take a few songs to click, but the songs on Strange Behavior have an arresting quality, holding you in their space as they play. That said, Restorations doesn’t quite hit the mark. They have a very interesting style, but it doesn’t feel fully realized yet. The aforementioned “Title Track” and “Documents” do a great job of creating and sustaining a mood, but it seems that these songs need a little bit of something else to be truly mind-blowing. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait long to hear more new music from Restorations, as Tiny Engines will be releasing their debut full-length later this month. I hope to hear great things from this band pretty soon. –Ricky Vigil

Reverend John Wilkins
You Can’t Hurry God
Fat Possum
Street: 01.04
Rev. Wilkins = Booker T. Jones + Solomon Burke + the hills of Mississippi
There’s been a trend the last few years to track down regional musicians at the top of their game and get them to lay down some tracks. Fat Possum Records is at the forefront of this trend, focusing on little-known blues and soul musicians from the Southern states. The Reverend John Wilkins fits well into this “find ’em and record ’em” movement, as I’ve heard it called. The guy’s been straddling the line between secular and spiritual music since the mid-1960s without ever sitting down to record. The guy is, as a result, is a masterful songsmith. Lyrically, I would put him on par with any of the gospel music greats of the classic era. Musically, he pulls in an almost Stax Records sound, with cool jams being punctuated with Hammond organ and sharp electric guitar. It’s Sunday morning music that may actually inspire you to iron a shirt and drive your grandmother to services. –James Bennett

Roger Miret and the Disasters
Gotta Get Up Now
People Like You
Street: 01.24
Roger Miret and the Disasters = Sham 69 + Cock Sparrer + Dropkick Murphy’s
With buzzsaw guitar riffs, rapid rhythms and a truly legendary frontman, Roger Miret and the Disasters are the band I play for people when they ask, “What is punk rock?” Their fourth offering, Gotta Get Up Now, is a clear declaration to the world that punk rock is thriving and the premier driving force is going to be the Disasters. An underground veteran, Roger splits time between this band and the hardcore stalwarts Agnostic Front, and he never ceases to surprise me with just how different the two bands are; the Disasters have a more street-punk flavor and leave the heavier hardcore territory to Roger’s other band. That’s not to say that the Disasters are light fare in any way—“Bare-Knuckle Beat down,” “Outcast Youth” and “Stand Up and Fight” are all down-and-dirty anthems from the street. Miret never pulls any punches in his vocal delivery or his songwriting style; he comes at you quick and vicious, so you better be ready. –James Orme

Guilty Rainbow
Antephonic Inc.
Street: 04.12
Roommate = At War With the Mystics-era Flaming Lips + The Cure + Thom Yorke
We live in an age where the electro-pop bands grow on trees and are sold for a dime a dozen. A new Postal Service rip-off is born every hour and artists like Sufjan Stevens and Iron & Wine are turning in their acoustics and banjos for synthesizers and drum loops. It’s not a genre where I typically hold out a lot of hope of hearing something innovative, but innovation is exactly what Roommate have accomplished with their new album, Guilty Rainbow. The band’s third full-length release is full of dynamic songs that jump from skeletal songwriting frameworks to lush, atmospheric walls of sound. Frontman Kent Lambert presents some peculiar lyrics throughout the album, but they perfectly meld with the strange, eerie mood. Lambert has compiled an album that perfectly blends sweet melodies with dissonant, fuzzy noises, and will likely be one of my favorite albums of the year. –CG

Secret Cities
Strange Hearts
Western Vinyl
Street: 03.29
Secret Cities = New MGMT + Vintage Pop + The Mamas and the Papas + Beach House
The world doesn’t like change, and the world doesn’t like strange. MGMT experienced this first hand when their latest record, Congratulations, came out last year. Secret Cities takes that same leap into something radically deviant in their new album, Strange Hearts, but with a more successful result. They retain their retro-indie sound but add entirely different elements. “Brief Encounter” features a trumpet and delightful harmonies. However, the gem of this album is its namesake, “Strange Heart.” It combines the best of everything in the album, including an excellent drum beat, playful keyboard and catchy lyrics. The whole album is a tribute to old-fashioned romanticism. The cover art for Secret Cities’ Strange Hearts looks like a scene right out of Alice in Wonderland where she’s lost in Tulgey Wood and surrounded by all sorts of bizarre and interesting creatures. Listening to the album was a very similar experience. Strange Hearts was like taking a trip to Wonderland. It was very peculiar, but pleasantly so. –Julianna Clay

This Is Where We are
Velvet Blue Music/Spune
Street: 01.25
Seryn = Sufjan Stevens + Rogue Wave - Fleet Foxes
This is Where We Are stands out as a record devoted primarily to beautiful vocal arrangements. While other notable attributes are present, they are pushed aside in light of the courageous harmonies that seem to embody this release. Elements of folk-pop and bluegrass are laced throughout the album, providing an airy, lightweight feeling to the songs. Standout tracks “Beach Song” and “Of Ded Moroz” build off subdued ukulele introductions and launch into walls of beautifully textured harmonies. The first full-length release from this little Texas band won’t keep them flying under the radar for too much longer. –Ryan Schoeck

Tear in the Sun
Street: 12.07
Shedding = Bear in Heaven + Markus Mehr + Ruby Suns
One thing that is truly impressive about Connor Bell’s lengthy drones is how long he can hold a sustained note. Bell (who operates under the moniker Shedding) creates drones on the harmonium that are stretched to their absolute breaking point during his album-long story arc of disillusionment, detachment, catharsis and eventual disintegration. At the core of this search for a new world, Bell’s acoustic-electronic dirges break free from the constraints of traditional song arrangements and delve into buzzing, shimmering soundscapes full of unchanging pitches and keys that hum by unnoticed for much of the song. While an album of this ilk could stand on its own as an astute drone piece, Bell’s electronically modified vocals and unfolding narrative make Tear in the Sun an ultimately compelling listen. –Ryan Hall

Southside Stranglers
Too Much 7”
Grave Mistake
Street: 12.21.10
Southside Stranglers = The Damned + Generation X + The Adicts
I love putting on a vinyl 7”—something about it just puts me in the room with the band. This fun little punk-rock 7”, from Virginia’s Southside Stranglers, draws heavily from the garagy early days of punk rock. This six-track release took me straight to the heart of what it meant to be punk rock. It’s mean, fast and a bit repetitive, which is to be expected. I’d really like to see this band live, because it’s obvious the energy is the fuel this group is running on. Rapid, chugging guitar riffs, lean, Spartan lyrics sung in perfect cadence with the rhythm, pounding, almost tribal drums. Anyone who hates punk rock didn’t have bands like this in their neighborhood growing up. The Southside Stranglers could easily grow and mature into fresh and original, but for right now, they’re just another good punk band, and that might be good enough. –James Orme

Eddie Spaghetti
Street: 02.15
Eddie Spaghetti = Reckless Kelly + Dale Watson + Tom Petty
I’ve always said country brings out the best in people and this record is the proof. Now I like the Supersuckers’ brand of no-holds-barred rock n’ roll, and at the heart of all that rockin’ is Eddie Spaghetti, but when he went to release and record his third solo country album, Eddie took that same no-holds-barred attitude and combined it with more of an eclectic approach. When an artist can take covers like Willie Nelson’s soulful “You Were Always on My Mind” and place it on the same record as the snotty punk of the Dwarves’ “Everybody’s Girl” and somehow twist and turn them until they make perfect sense together—that’s something special. Because on his status as ringleader of the Supersuckers, Eddie’s solo work naturally reflects his years in that band, but he makes it work for him. Supersuckers fans will love this, country fans should love it and I will be spinning this one for a while. (Burt’s: 04.20) –James Orme

Spawn Atomic
Retro Future
Giant Girlfriend
Street: 11.2010
Spawn Atomic = Misfits + Wednesday Night Heroes + Son of Sam + Blitz
When I initially look at the cover to The Retro Future, for some reason, I assume it’s a space-psychobilly album—the cartoonish art depicts an alien zombie who holds an astronaut family hostage. Spawn Atomic, however, successfully melds street punk with horror punk—better than The Ghouls have proclaimed to on their Myspace. “Silver Bullet” employs Misfits-style “whoa-oh[s],” whose hollow melodies sound like something that could have come from Legacy of Brutality, while the swift, D-beat “Baby Seal Club” pounds out gang vocals and a single-note guitar line that closes the track. “Road Warrior” and “Destroyed in Seconds” dip into a thrash element with chuggy guitar rhythms, but generally stay within punk minimalism. “Fog City Axe Murderer” stands out as a raucous but fun track that opens with a sound-byte from So I Married an Axe Murderer, which encompasses Spawn Atomic’s style of fast, catchy hardcore with morbid themes. –Alexander Ortega

Street: 03.08
Starfucker = The Strokes + Beach Boys + M83
Good ol’ Starfucker. I remember when this band started getting a little attention and seeing the band name floating around. I always thought that based on their name they were some trashy ridiculous techno metal thing similar to Lords of Acid. Then I heard these dudes and realized they were more like a kick ass hybrid of Mew, Pavement, and Air. These guys deliver some amazing techno indie rock pop that you can’t help but smile to while listening. If someone made an R rated movie adaptation of the board game Candy Land, Reptilian would be the soundtrack with track five “Death as a Fetish” being the main theme. Maybe next time the band cross dresses for a show they can all dress up as Princess Lolly. –Jon Robertson

Colin Stetson
New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
Street: 02.22
Colin Stetson = Roswell Rudd + John Zorn + Albert Ayler
How long can you hold your breath? One minute? Maybe? By virtue of his impressive circular breathing techniques, bass saxophonist Colin Stetson can sustain a tone without taking a breath for some god-like amount of time. Stetson’s rich, timbre-heavy percussive playing has sent him around the world as a touring member of The Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, as well as recording with TV on the Radio and LCD Soundsystem. Stetson’s sophomore solo album finds the horn player alone in Hotel2Tango’s storied recording space with 20 mics set up catching the deep, sonorous landscapes of Hans Zimmer-esque low-tone horn blasts, swirling, Philip Glass minimalist compositions, and staccato, and Shining-inspired free-jazz/black metal explorations. Recorded completely live with hardly an overdub, New History is impressive in its range and scope, housing dissonance and harmony within the same song, and often, within the same breath. –Ryan Hall

Tiger Bones
Go Over Here
Dedd Foxx
Street: 03.01
Tiger Bones = Joy Division + Wolf Parade
Go Over Here is an EP of nervy post-punk that, while exhibiting the grit and verve of a young band, doesn’t transmit the danger that energized the likes of Joy Division. It sounds as if the sloppiness of indie rock has crept in and diluted their sound, loosening the tension that is the core of post-punk. The last track on the EP combines the bass line of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump into the Fire” with Joy Division’s “Transmission.” It works well enough, but it invites comparisons to the myriad of half-assed mash-ups propagating like bacteria on the Internet. It’s to the band’s credit that they aren’t strictly aping their influences, but Go Over Here shows they have a few kinks to work out. –Nate Housley

Shugo Tokumaru
Port Entropy
Street: 02.15
Shugo Tokumaru = Sufjan Stevens + Andrew Bird + The Beatles
On his fourth studio album, Port Entropy, Tokyo-born singer and multi-instrumentalist Shugo Tokumaru continuously constructs sunny potpourri opuses that deserve your attention. Yes, every lyric is recited in his native language, but I promise you won’t even notice the language barrier once you hear the top-notch pop perfection of “Rum Hee” or the whimsical whistle of “Lahaha.” The slight psychedelic ukulele on “Malerina” should not be overlooked, nor the confident toy piano plunking on “Laminate.” It’s time to put on your best-dressed smile—Port Entropy is the perfect way to introduce spring. –Courtney Blair

Black Tent Press
Street: Unkown
Tonetta = !!! + Ariel Pink + GG Allin
The minimalistic artwork and white vinyl of this album really don’t do this guy justice. I used to think Ariel Pink was weird … I no longer feel that way. Tonetta is a 62-year-old Canadian man who doesn’t listen to music or watch television. He lives in a weird lo-fi pocket of the 80s. His songs are like uncomfortable, erotic situations. With an incredibly gritty, extremely lo-fi sound (his 4-track only has one drum beat, which he uses extensively), Tonetta describes his sexual exploits. I honestly feel that purchasing the record isn’t the best way to introduce yourself to the music; you need to watch some videos, do some homework. If you like videos of a buff 62-year-old man dancing around, poorly lip-syncing songs about anal sex, you can thank me later. –Cody Hudson

Various Artists
Torture Garden

Shinto Records
Street: 11.01
Torture Garden = [Industrial Revolution + The Marvels of Insect Life] X SRL + Sin-Faktory
Shinto Records gives you a dose of really creepy, experimental darkness in aural format, and you’re gonna like it—or at least, part of it. Twenty-two international artists featured in three acts adorn this CD (along with a hot, half-naked Asian woman), making it an excellent chance to hear what some truly underground dark music artists are up to around the world. Crossing genres from hypnotic, ambient trip fests (Phantoms of the SS, Sadore) to staccato noize trauma (Schultz, e.g.) while dipping into beautifully grungy world-goth (1 Phantom, Mau Bast), this is not a CD that encourages you to tap your toes and nod your head; this is more of a “shiver dramatically and wrap you sweater around you in dread” experience. Sounding like the outtakes from Edward Ka-Spel’s bad-trip audio diary or dance music from Perdido Street Station, the whole CD creeps along on little demon feet and runs its dripping claws down your spine. –Madelyn Boudreaux

Wake Up Lucid
Street: 02.15
Wake Up Lucid = Black Rebel Motorcycle Club + The Stooges
Had Hanson had a big, dirty, city upbringing, this is the kind of music I’d imagine they’d be making today. But while they are still (somehow) catering to small-town, squeaky clean teeny-boppers of today, L.A.-based Wake Up Lucid has channeled the dirty, raw energy of the early Stones, and made something more modern with it, but still waaay raunch-and-roll. There is a gritty type of magic in their sound that is hard to find these days and carries through the first track, blues-y “Broke Down House” all the way through, to their last, sex-driven “Red Lights.” Although it took me a few rotations to remember that this kind of music actually kicks a bunch of ass, I’ve been jamming it day and night. My dad would love this band, and my little sister might be into it, if anything I have taught her about music has gotten through. They’re a little bit Them Crooked Vultures and a lot Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in all the best ways. It’s a shame the album is only five songs, as the ending is a little disappointing, if only for the abruptness of it. –Kyla G.

Warm Ghost
Uncut Diamonds vinyl EP
Partisan Records
Street: 02.15
Warm Ghost= Little Dragon + Ready, Fire, Aim
Only a few select times a year does an album come across with both aplomb and understated simplicity. This is that kind of album from newcomers Warm Ghost. It has an almost perfect blend of ‘80s styling and 21st-century synths. The vocals are lush, when they occur, and nicely parsed/spaced when they mostly don’t. The first track from the vinyl release (side A) is “Open The Wormhole In Your Heart,” and it really does that, penetrating four chambers into an extra dimension of electricity and sinoatrial bump bumps/thump thumps. –JP

Mike Watt & the Missingmen
Street: 03.01
Watt = the Minutemen + fIREHOSE + the spirit of San Pedro, CA
At this point, Mike Watt can really do no wrong. The man is completely unfuckwithable. Not only was he a driving force in bands that defined and redefined punk music in the 1980s, but he has also continued to make new music, to keep older music in print and to include friends and musicians that may have otherwise been lost to time. As charitable as he can be musically (reigniting the Stooges, working with old collaborators Kira Roessler, George Hurley and Joe Baiza), he sometimes releases music that is really only for him. Thankfully, he lets us join in on the party. On Hyphenated-Man, Watt reteams with Missingmen Tom Watson and Raul Morales. The album documents Watt’s experience of having to revisit Minutemen songs in preparation for the We Jam Econo film. It’s clear that the quick, stripped-down style of his early days reinspired him in a big way. Of the 30 (!) songs on this record, the longest clocks in at about two minutes. Some of the same riffs and themes are recycled throughout the disc, which really helps the overall composition to congeal together. It’s like you’re listening to 30 parts of a single tune, and I think that was what Watt was going for. It really is songwriting at its best—no filler, right to the point and stripped down to the bare nada. (Complex: 04.23) –James Bennett

Jason ... The Dragon
Southern Lord
Street: 03.15
Weedeater = Buzzov*en + Sourvein + Sleep
Better run over to your local sporting goods store—you’re going to need some big old fancy boots to get out of the sludge Weedeater’s Jason … The Dragon expunges from its every sonic nuance. Dave “Dixie” Collins, creator of Weedeater after the mighty Buzzoven split, had this album in the works to come out last year, but Dixie shot off his big toe while cleaning his favorite shotgun. The new record doesn’t wander out of the territories explored by Weedeater, though Jason… does go into  slower and more sludged-out realms and offers a hell of a lot more bass, highly comparable to the band’s 2002 album, Sixteen Tons. Dixie’s bass muddies up the guitar playing in an oh-so-blasting fashion—it’s as if the sound the album emits from your audio-playing device is something fully tangible. You can inhale it or just outright grasp it from the air. Jason … offers much to any sludge or doom fanatic, with plenty of monster grooves that insist you to hit “repeat.” The crazy, psychedelic, jamming bog-water-foggy, weird anthem, “Psalms of Opium,” is also great fun in a break from the full-on weight of this record. (Burt’s: 03.05) –Bryer Wharton

Alex Winston
Sister Wife
Heavy Roc
Street: 03.08
Alex Winston = Florence & The Machine + Kate Bush
When you think of Detroit, also known as the Motor City and the birthplace of Motown, usually, polygamy doesn’t generally cross one’s mind. However, that all may change thanks to Alex Winston, the classically trained opera singer gone indie. Her six-song mini-LP, Sister Wife, was produced by the New York duo The Knocks, providing danceable melodies that work synergistically with her sassy high soprano voice. On the title track, she sings, “Hey there sister wife/Get the hell out, it’s my night.” It’s a shame Big Love is in its final season—this song would be a perfect intro. Anyone know if TLC’s show was signed on for a new season? On “Sweet James,” Alex brings out her best Kate Bush stylings and steers her way into your heart with “Choice Notes.” Sister Wife proves this songstress will continue to give Detroit’s musical history a good name. –Courtney Blair

Fat Possum
Street: 02.15
YUCK = Smith Westerns + Dinosaur Jr. + Silversun Pickups
Despite the suggestive description of their name, YUCK delivers a sound that is less yucky and more heartbroken, with a give-and-take of clear harmonic contrast running into each other effortlessly. Just three of the album’s 12 tracks—“Get Away,” “Holding Out” and “The Wall”—shove dirty guitars and spastic, whiny arrangements around, creating a sound seemingly worthy of a such a name. The rest of the album unfolds into a somber and lyrically damaged letter to “the one who got away” and at first seems misleading. However, the delicate ballads like “Suck” and “Suicide Policemen,” sung with the tag-team effort of Daniel Blumberg and his sister Llana, swing gently over the straightforward drum and guitar riffs, suggesting a recognizable wail of pain that identifies the routine “yuck” factor of life and makes the album, along with the band name, fittingly perfect. –Liz Lucero