National Music Reviews 2/13

Angel Olsen
Half Way Home
Bathetic Records
Street: 09.04.12
Angel Olsen = Ingrid Michaelson + Nancy Sinatra + Regina Spektor
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what genre Olsen’s vocals fit into on her most recent album. Surely we hear the obvious folk connection, but the pain her vibrato certainly taps into the R&B and blues tradition. Think Erykah Badu and Billie Holiday. She is one sad-sounding lady with an electric guitar. Her voice is astoundingly beautiful, yet equally tear-inducing. You have probably have never heard of Olsen because of her commitment to non-normative routes of musical production. In 2011, she released a literal mixtape, Strange Cacti, and only this year put out Half Way Home, her first non-cassette project, released on vinyl. I do applaud her for going back to basics, but Olsen’s dedication has cost her listenership. Her methods are, however, not without benefit. She has developed a cult following in a small circle. Outside of it, she remains virtually unknown. So if you’re sick of Cat Power and your struggles call for a new depressed diva/singer-songwriter, give Half Way Home a listen! –Anna Kate Gedal

The Invocation
Ván Records
Street: 12.07.12
Attic = Mercyful Fate + Portrait
The Invocation sounds like a long-lost King Diamond album, complete with falsetto vocals shrieking out gothic horror lyrics and dramatic organ interludes. This is Attic’s first full release, and it’s a sincere tribute to classic horror-metal spookiness. Arcane oaths, ghostly apparitions and occult heresy abound on The Invocation, and Meister Cagliostro’s high vocals sound surprisingly similar to the King himself at times. Even though this album treads familiar territory, Attic show promise in their whole-hearted imitation of Mercyful Fate. What this album lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in a keen sense of its source material, and an unflinching adherence to a style that tested the boundaries of ’80s heavy metal. –Henry Glasheen

Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits
Trainwreck to Narnia
Rooftop Comedy Productions
Street: 12.17.12
Bobby Joe Ebola = They Might Be Giants + Crimpshrine + Brian Posehn
They’re back, and they’ve never been in finer form. San Francisco folk-punk-metal-rockers Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits have dropped an album that would have made my Top 5 list for 2012 had it been released earlier, or had my deadline not been so far before the year ended. For the unfamiliar, I have championed these guys since meeting them in 2010 when they played a two-man show at Raunch where they blew the tits off of all 10 people in attendance. While most people would too easily dismiss Bobby Joe Ebola, and Trainwreck to Narnia, simply as “comedic punk,” there is more to the band than appears at first blush. Their “comedy” is socially conscious, and they pander to absolutely nobody. While tracks like “Censor the Word,” “Bone Dagger” and “The Last Child Soldier” won’t be winning Grammy awards anytime soon, Bobby Joe Ebola has released an excellently crafted and presented album that is worthy of far more attention than folks in this town have ever bestowed on them. –Gavin Hoffman

Chelsea Wolfe
Prayer for the Unborn: A Tribute to Rudimentary Peni
Latitudes Records
Street: 01.29
Chelsea Wolfe = David Lynch/(Cat Power + PJ Harvey)
Diehard fans of ’80s UK anarcho-punk band Rudimentary Peni may be surprised that Chelsea Wolfe’s bleak, atmospheric take on their songs was recorded in their same studio with the same producer. Wolfe fans don’t need to know or enjoy Peni’s rapid punk to get into these covers—Wolfe remakes the songs completely her own. They aren’t merely covers: They’re starting points for what sound like original Chelsea Wolfe tracks. Wolfe’s brooding, bluesy buzzsaw and haunting vocals make the originals even more nervous and uneasy. Prayer opens with the scorching “A Handful of Dust” before waltzing doom-folk takes on “Echo” and “Black on Gold.” The title track here becomes a dark, post-punk incantation. What she brilliantly births from the Peni tunes is a ghostly layering embedded in Nick Blinko’s lyrics. The whole affair covers seven tracks in less than 12 minutes, so whether you’re a fan of Peni, Chelsea Wolfe or both, give these tracks a listen. –Christian Schultz

Children of Technology
Mayhemic Speed Anarchy
Hell's Headbangers
Street: 11.30.12
Children of Technology = Inepsy + Celtic Frost + Syphilitic Vaginas
Italian thrashers on the NWOBHM tip: What Mayhemic Speed Anarchy lacks in length (2 cuts), it more than makes up for in insistent homage as both tracks (one of which a Black Uniforms cover) sputter and grind with all the gasoline-gargling, gravel-growling gusto of their Moto-Dis forebears, combined with the leather-clad evangelism of Turbonegro. Studded machismo, falsetto squeals, siren solos and the occasional foray into charged swede-crust means—there are zero stylistic complaints on my end. If only their name was a reference to the mighty Carnivore … Wait, is it? –Dylan Chadwick

Christy & Emily   
Klangbad Records
Street: 01.22
Christy & Emily = Indigo Girls + Melissa Ferrick
About as exciting musically as watching paint dry, the fourth release from the dynamically dull duo of Christy Edwards and Emily Manzo is excruciatingly lackluster. As boring as the music and general execution overall are, the lyrics—save only the Walt Whitman ones on "Rolling Ocean," which they obviously didn’t write—are equally banal. It is though they took a bunch of downers and set out to write songs, then took even more while recording. The one-dimensional aspect to the vocal takes—even when the pair harmonizes—is completely devoid of emotion. Self-taught guitarist Edwards needs a lot more practice whereas Manzo’s keys are nondescript and both could use a big dose of cheesy Top 40 radio to understand what melody is. I see a market for this album, and I'm afraid it stereotypically wears plaid shirts, sports mullets and is female—and that is not a compliment! –Dean O Hillis

Street: 12.11.12
Churches = Rogue Wave + Band of Horses
Churches is a newly formed Bay Area band comprised of indie rock vets Caleb Nichols (Port O’Brien, Grand Lake), Pat Spurgeon and Dominic East (of Rogue Wave). This two-song single was funded and promoted by the band’s Kickstarter plea to “Help CHURCHES turn this song into an LGBT anthem!” “Lovelife” is no “I’m Coming Out,” though. Churches are reaching for anthemic heights, but plateau alongside similar efforts of artsy arena rock like Coldplay or The Killers. It’s a perfect fit for today’s mainstream radio climate; I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it happily slotted between Of Monsters and Men and Grouplove on X96. The B-side, “Save Me,” is a quaint Americana-flavored pop tune. Both are stuck in the mid-’00s glut of unapologetically sincere, vocals-on-your-sleeve indie rock. They’re well written, but not very exciting. Churches has an EP out there, too, worth checking out if you’re into these tracks. –Christian Schultz

I Versus the Glacier
The Maple Forum
Street: 01.22
Clamfight = Mastodon (early) + Hull + Clutch (old)
The thrash n' sludge style pumped out here seems like a style of tunes I tried to get on the boat back when Mastodon rolled in then jumped ship when it got really boring. The self-described “fat guy” metal displayed here by these not so Jersey Shore, Jersey dudes is well played for its genre. “Sandriders,” is a damn hook-filled cut with a nice solo peppering up the groove. “Age of Reptiles,” starts out with some monster riffs as well. Clamfight are effective at dishing the riffs with ease. I however subscribe to the ideal that any band can play good musi—even catchy music. When the heart behind it—that guck that makes you go, “Oh shit”—isn't there, though, it ends up being forgettable. Don't let me spoil the riff party—this one's worth checking out. –Bryer Wharton

Cliff Dweller
Emerald City
Hand To Mouth
Street: 11.14.12
Cliff Dweller = Godspeed You! Black Emperor + Rachel’s
When he’s not busy composing a score for a film or a television commercial, Ari Balouzian is busy working on his audio/visual project, Cliff Dweller. On his latest release, Emerald City, he creates a dusky atmosphere, textured with cinematic elements. Sample recordings from sermons have been placed delicately throughout the album, including a preacher performing an exorcism and commanding “Put your hand on your bible, out you devil,” on “Healing Line.” The nine-minute “Big Black Red Hole” builds slowly with emotionally charged stretches of music into a deadly mixture of cacophony and industrious noise. Emerald City gives you the sensation that you are out to sea in a dark, dreary storm with someone or something lurking just beyond the fog and you’re terrified to face the reality. –Courtney Blair

Defeated Sanity
Passages into Deformity
Street: 02.05
Defeated Sanity = Disgorge + Gorgasm + Severed Savior
Oh, sweet, dark, brutal bliss why must you end in less than an hour? Germany's Defeated Sanity have been dishing out the ridiculously heavy for—well, technically … Let’s just say a long time. Among the vast brutal ranks of bands with 2007's Psalms of the Moribund and its predecessor Chapters of Repugnance, this four-piece that abounds in talent has been kicking everyone's ass for a good many years now. Passages into Deformity is extremely heavy-handed on the bass guitar—enough to make my expensive sub woofer murmur and mumble with pain. But that's how the DS has always been, easily, and thankfully, more technical in the bass department, making things punch that much harder. Passages into Deformity offers up some of the best production for Defeated Sanity yet. If you're a fan of brutal death or know what these guys have been up to, this one's a no-brainer that will blow up your brain. –Bryer Wharton

Django Django
Ribbon Music
Street: 10.09.12
Django Django = The Byrds + Foster the People + Hipster Club Beats
This London-based indie quartet has somehow created a new hipster sound in an overpopulated genre. Their first album, named for the band, blends ’60s-inspired harmony over synthesized beats. At times, this foursome is delicate and whimsical. The listener floats along melancholically through the track, “Love’s Dart”: “Love’s dart/No longer sharp/…If you’re walkin’ in circles/ You’ll find yourself back at the start.” The haunting melodies are offset by galloping, light-hearted rhythms. It’s refreshing to hear indie artists who possess both pleasant timbre and tonal accuracy. The music that emerged from the 1960s and early 1970s still defines American pop culture, and it’s no easy feat doing it justice. But, somehow in their first album, Django Django have contemporized this sound and made it their own. –Anna Kate Gedal

Drivin’ n’ Cryin’
Songs about Cars, Space and The Ramones
New! Records
Street: 09.18.12
Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ = Groovie Ghoulies + Hunx & His Punx + Guadalcanal Diary
With nothing but the prominent Johnny Ramone bobble head, toy cars and a space helmet for cover art, you could make a fair judgment of Songs about Cars, Space and The Ramones, as with the title itself. Songs about Cars, Space and The Ramones core pay off comes with the third track, “Johnny Rides Shotgun,” a high-energy track about a car ride with The Ramones, complete with the signature “Hey Ho” chants. Although a Ramones theme ties all 6 tracks together, Kevn Kinney’s vocals remind me more of Stiv Bators of The Dead Boys than Joey Ramone throughout the album, but especially in “Moonshot.” I can’t help but wonder if it has anything to do with the appearance of Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome via guitar solo and backing vocals on “Out Here In The Middle Of Nowhere.” Regardless, if you’ve ever gone through a Ramones phase, this album might trigger some nostalgia. –Steve Richardson

Einstürzende Neubauten
Live At Rockpalast 1990
Made In Germany Music
Street: 12.17.12
Eintürzende Neubauten = early Swans + Ton Steine Scherben
Live At Rockpalast 1990 is a CD/DVD set taken from Einstürzende Neubauten’s performance at Germany’s Rockpalast festival. With that in mind, I would advise watching the DVD at least the first time—and every time, when possible—that you wish to experience this music. The sources of the band’s sound are often strange, interesting sights. Neubauten built instruments out of whatever hardware and machinery they had available. The instruments they had, and acquired over time, were usually played with said hardware and machinery. The music on this set sounds like the apocalypse beginning above a steel mill, while a towering beast inside narrates the event. Still, I’ll happily take vocalist/guitarist Blixa Bargeld’s vocalizations here, backed by absolute instrumental and mechanical chaos, before submitting again to the experience of hearing his calm, unsettling interpretation of Kylie Minogue’s part in Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Where the Wild Roses Grow.” –T.H.

The Evens
The Odds
Dischord Records
Street: 11.20.12
The Evens = Fugazi + Bikini Kill
How is it that Ian MacKaye is 50 and still this good? When did Amy Farina and MacKaye find time to produce this album? I don’t expect an answer, but I expect you to get off your ass and buy this amazing album. Purely acoustic with dual harmony, this album invites the listener to participate. Several times, I caught myself pseudo-jamming on my way to work: providing backup vocals to Farina in “King of Kings” or index drumming to “Architect’s Sleep.” Sorry, brutal dudes, but it isn’t a Minor Threat album, and Ted Leo has no influence on this set of 13 songs. This album is a transition in this couple’s career—it’s still angry, it’s still fast, but they’ve got a kid now, so it is natural to write about that (see the song “Kok” or “Warble Factor”). They’ve managed to transcend their previous venture and form something completely unrelated—how hardcore is that? –Alex Cragun

We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Street: 01.22
Foxygen = Rolling Stones + of Montreal + MGMT
In early 2011, the classic rock-obsessed duo, Foxygen, handed off a CD-R of what would become their debut album, Take The Kids Off Broadway, to singer/songwriter and super producer Richard Swift (Joshua James, Gardens & Villa, Damien Juardo) after one of his performances. Swift was impressed with what he heard and wanted to work with them. Months later, Foxygen began recording their sophomore album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, with Swift. The result is a meticulously crafted album, a psychedelic musical journey though California that meanders through a mix bag of ’60s soundscapes. “No Destruction” has a Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan-like delivery, “San Francisco” is an exuberant glockenspiel ride and “Oh No 2” is reminiscent of The Beatles’ Rubber Soul-era. Not only are Foxygen the ambassadors of peace and magic, they are the ambassadors of nostalgia. –Courtney Blair

Frontier Ruckus
Eternity of Dimming
Quite Scientific Records
Street: 01.29
Frontier Ruckus = Horse Feathers + Gram Parsons
For their third record, Frontier Ruckus went above and beyond the usual 40-minute album by releasing a double LP, which features 20 songs and an overwhelming amount of lyrics to digest. Even though there is a lot of material on this record, the majority of the tunes have a catchy appeal. The band puts a nice twist on the typical country-folk sound, with some great playing on the banjo, pedal steel guitar and even some violin. But due to the high volume of lyrics from singer Matthew Milia, the band’s sound blends nicely together and doesn’t overwhelm. On the fourth track, a tune called “Birthday Girl,” it finally dawned on me how much Milia sounds similar to the late Gram Parsons and his band, The Flying Burrito Brothers. All in all, this double album is an enjoyable listen, but could have benefited from a bit more playing and less singing. –Jory Carroll

Heat Dust
Texas Is Funny Records
Street: 11.27.12
Heat Dust = Sonic Youth + No Age
I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a sucker for vinyl design, so the black splotch melting from the center of the record, like a broken egg yolk, to the clear vinyl, had me interested before the needle dropped. Thick fuzz cushions every frequency of Heat Dust—the vocals almost buried in scratchy tufts of wool and feedback. The pace of “I Was Afraid of Dying,” a song sounding like something between Dinosaur Jr. and Superdrag, sets it apart as the most energetic (and my favorite track). “Let Them Give Up” slows the tempo, but keeps the fuzz. The long-sustained notes of the backing vocals float behind lead vocals repeating, “Just give up.” Side B begins with the upbeat “Priority Mail for an Asshole” and slows for “Thick Distance,” following in the tradition of Side A. –Steve Richardson

Howling Hex
The Best of the Howling Hex
Drag City Records
Street Date: 02.19
Howling Hex = Camper Van Beethoven + The Kills + Gram Parsons
When I first heard this band, I was reminded of the desert, and the music sent to me red Iron County in a junky station wagon. It turns out that the Howling Hex are from New Mexico, so they understand the Southwest. A cross between garage rock and a drunk Cracker album, though the title suggests, this album ain’t a “Best of.” Characterized by off-kilter waltzes and lo-fi vocals, Neil Hagerty's vocals are whiny and spoken-word-ish, but it works well with the hammer-on and pull-off guitar licks in the background. This album goes down well with a cold beer or some hot atole on your porch, because we all know how fucking cold February is. I'm not sure where you can find the album except Amazon, but I'd rather see them live. –Alex Cragun

Kite Party
Baseball Season
Animal Style
Street: 02.14.12
Kite Party = American Steel lite + The Strokes + Fugazi
Beginning with low-key guitar lines in “Welcome to Miami,” Kite Party indicate that they’re here to rock, but more so in the way that a rock exists under a trickling stream. The pensive guitar mood carries over into “Runner,” where high-necked melodies weave through the verse section, which allows the track to burst with tempered strumming in the chorus. The “oohs” in “Spirit Gum” and “ahhs” in “Buried in Dogs” are pleasant amid the overall-airy sonic character that Baseball Season exudes, although this ambience pervades the release to the point that no tracks really shine through. This, however, is mitigated when you experience this album on vinyl—the olive-green and russet coloring is gorgeous, and it makes for relaxing rock n’ roll fare when you’re not quite ready to throw on the Enya. “Hightower” stands out the most with its meaty yet controlled drumming and ring-out guitars, with vocals that tumble along scratchily. –Alexander Ortega

Sole Creation
Agonia Records
Street: 02.19
Kongh = Middian + Ocean Chief + Kayo Dot
This Swedish sludge/doom metal duo has certainly improved since their previous albums, expanding on their dynamic and heavy rhythms and delving deeper into their dark, atmospheric sense. Kongh fills their two shortest tracks, “Sole Creation” and “The Portals,” with a unique rhythm and dissonant heaviness that produce a genuine sense of foreboding and dread. Meanwhile, “Skymning” entices with its haunting Earth-like guitar dirges and slow, heavy riffs. By comparison, “Tamed Brute” feels half-baked and loosely constructed, with a disappointing anticlimax that makes the 12-minute track drag on at a sluggish pace. It's obvious that Kongh has reached a more advanced sense of composition for their music, but they still struggle with filler in their longer pieces. –Henry Glasheen

La Big Vic   
Cold War   
Underwater Peoples Records
Street: 01.29
La Big Vic = A Fine Frenzy + early Cocteau Twins - any sign of Elizabeth Fraser
Bedroom recordings aren’t always destined to stay there, but the point of wanting to make it on some level—and, let’s face it, this is most artists’ main goal—means producing music that appeals to more than just one’s self. While it is by no means horrible—but equally by no means special—the trio’s sophomore album suffers from an uninspired blandness. Lead single “Ave B” has a jazziness to it, and that’s about all. The droning synth sound throughout has already been done (and arguably better) before, the asinine track-naming (“Emilie Says,” “All That Heaven Allows”), which seems to have no reference to a musical counterpoint, is cloying and while it is all listenable, they simply aren’t unique enough musically. I wonder if these bands actually realize how dull their sound is, or if they secretly wish to be banished to indie-level hell for the rest of their days? –Dean O Hillis

Anxiety Despair Anguish
Denovali Records
Street: 11.27.12
Lento = Pelican + Mare + Baroness
On paper, Lento sounds like an overly burdensome cocktail: doom guitars, experimental structures, post-rock backbones, random acoustic interludes and zero vocals. With their second LP, Anxiety Despair Anguish, Lento quickly surpasses all expectations. Aside from being more produced and polished, this album contains more consonance and intricate melodies than any of their previous works. The first track, “Glorification of the Chosen One,” exemplifies their newfound complexity via biting guitar riffs layered on top of atmospheric rhythms. From there, it begins stockpiling momentum. You catch a break with “Blackness,” which features one of few acoustic interludes that would normally be considered as too novelty, but successfully serves as an intermission between the heavier tracks. While it’s true that hybrid metal bands are less successful than their purist counterparts, Lento’s Zen-like balance makes them more than a worthy contender for any metal fan. – Gregory Gerulat

Mykki Blanco
Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss
Street: 11.09.12
Mykki Blanco = House of LaDosha + Le1f + Azealia Banks
By embracing the recent blur between the sacred circles of drag and hip hop, Mykki Blanco, nee Michael Quattlebaum, is making some of today’s most bizarre pop music. Blanco is a post-Internet rapper who vogues with a group of New York artists pigeonholed for their queer identities rather than artistry. Cosmic Angel, Blanco’s first full-length mixtape, delivers on post-Internet hype with eccentric rhymes, catchy beats and mutant rap, with plenty of assistance from hip hop’s hippest young producers. So here’s Blanco, a one-gurrrl clan shape shifting through cartoonish icepunk, in Gobby-produced tracks “Riot” and “Betty Rubble,” and witchy freestyles on “Teenage Dream” and “Squanto.” The Brenmar-produced “Wavvy” is Blanco’s party anthem and the catchiest tune here. Brenmar also produces Blanco’s most masculine track, “Kingpinning (Ice Cold).” Angel is a quirky grab-bag, but the production is tight and Blanco’s vocals are simultaneously goofy and threatening. If you want to know what sounds Kanye and Minaj will be copping this summer, start listening to Mykki Blanco. –Christian Schultz

Parquet Courts
Light Up Gold
Dull Tools
Street: 01.15
Parquet Courts = Tyvek + Box Elders + The Trashies
The stripped-down sound of Light Up Gold captures the essence of a quality house show. Parquet Courts vocalist Andrew Savage has a voice reminiscent of The Mr. T Experience, a band I had almost forgotten about. Savage teeters at the edge of his voice’s limited range, creating a pleasant strain as he struggles for each note. The two guitars and bass each seem to play their own complementing riffs throughout the album, creating constant movement and filling in for the melody the vocals lack. “Borrowed Time,” with its chanted vocals coming out in spurts and featuring a simple but tasty guitar solo, captures the gist of the album and may be the most fun. Light Up Gold diverges some with songs like “Careers In Combat,” where Parquet Courts take about one minute to inform us that “there are still careers in combat my son,” and not much else. –Steve Richardson

The Reckless Kind
Golden Age Thinking
Lugosi Records
Street: 10.23.12
The Reckless Kind = The Dramatics + American Steel + The Boomtown Rats + Thin Lizzy + Otis Redding
With members of AFI and American Steel, The Reckless Kind graft punk onto the wider realm of soul-meets–’70s butt rock (in a good way). Golden Age Thinking begins with gusto with the wistful “Somewhere Else,” where singer Phillip Mills croons, “I close my eyes and wonder if you’re kissing someone else.” Although Tracks 2-4 come across as the cuttable fat of the album, they have their charm, e.g. the Elvis-like swagger of “Leave My Girl Alone.” The ball gets rolling again and doesn’t stop in “Sneakin’ Around” wherein the tale of mutual cheatin’ pours over a mid-tempo back beat that the horn section propels along—it’ll have you swinging that eyelash-batting dame in circles under the disco ball. “Infinity to Go” offers speedy northern soul with a dash of James Brown, and “Lazy Bones” boasts ripping major-key guitar work. Throw this one on for the next dance party. –Alexander Ortega

Samantha Crain
Kid Face
Ramseur Records
Street: 02.13
Samantha Crain = Paleo + Sallie Ford
The voice that this woman carries throughout the album is remarkable. Let it be known that this Samantha Crain has got some serious soul, with her bluesy-twangy voice enriching the sounds of her guitar. Kid Face is a follow-up to her debut album, You (Understood), both produced by the one and only John Vanderslice, which should be a hint to the quality. “Somewhere All the Time” is probably the moment on the album that it feels the most country-like, but it’s in a way that makes you want to just kick back and enjoy the moment, with her lyrics asking to “take a little time” and not rush through life. These songs are catchy, and I often found them getting stuck in my head—luckily, I was happy to hum along. –Brinley Froelich

Scott & Charlene’s Wedding
Para Vista Social Club
Critical Heights
Street: 11.12.12
Scott & Charlene’s Wedding = The Velvet Underground + Black Lips (200 Million Thousand)
The melodic mastery and down-to-earth lyrics of Scott & Charlene’s Wedding warms my soul. The fuzzy guitars emphasize pop rhythms and make you feel all right to feel kind of bad. “Footscray Station” perfectly plays out the feeling we all have of wanting to leave our town for something better, but feeling the dread of responsibility, with lines like, ”I’m still driving trucks, I’m making no bucks. I got to go back to school.” “Epping Line” is brutally honest and conversational: “It’s my dad and he’s got news for me about how I’m going to lose something big.” It’s the kind of soothing blues that Weezer nailed with “Say It Ain’t So.” This is one of the best albums of 2012. –Justin Gallegos

Shai Hulud
Reach Beyond the Sun
Metal Blade Records
Street: 02.19
Shai Hulud = Zombie Apocalypse + With Honor + Buried Alive
Welcome back, Shai Hulud—it’s time to mosh. Incredibly, Reach Beyond the Sun is only Shai Hulud’s fourth studio album in 15 years—their first in five. Fans will be happy to note that Chad Gilbert has returned to the vocal helm, and it makes all the difference. 2008’s Misanthropy Pure, while proficient, was bland, and this reviewer had given up on the band. Fast-forward to 2013, and Shai Hulud sound fresh and hungry. Shai Hulud have always suffered from trying to cram 200 musical ideas into a 2:00 song, usually resulting in a cluttered mess. On RBTS, the songs are often brief, still, but musical ideas are given room to breathe and sink in. Each flourish, melodic line and chug is now discernable. Lyrically, Shai Hulud can be over-the-top serious, which is comical at times. But, we all have days when we need to scream, and this is as good a soundtrack as any. –Peter Fryer

Sister Sin
Now and Forever
Victory Records
Street: 10.22.12
Sister Sin = DORO + Motörhead - Lemmy + a dash of Vixen
Now and Forever is one of those albums that makes for great energy at a derby bout, but sitting down to listen to the whole album just feels like waiting for Motörhead to start. Compared to their previous album, True Sound of the Underground, Now and Forever is much more butt-rock than classic metal, and, unfortunately, retains a Steel Panther-esque quality about it, though it’s supposed to be straightforward and serious. Frontwoman Liv Jagrell definitely has some pipes on her, and she really kills it on “The Chosen Few” where the beat has that nice, mid-tempo hair-metal swagger, allowing Sister Sin to fit into their new niche(?). “I’m Not You” fits this dichotomy less so if not for the “whoas,” but “Running Low” makes me want to drink on the hood of a Jimmy in 1985 well enough. Liv, start wearing hipster clothes to make butt-rock ironic, and Sister Sin will be OK. –Alexander Ortega

Song Sparrow Research
Street: 07.26.12
Song Sparrow Research = (Dirty Projectors/ Beirut) + Breathe Owl Breathe
The baroque element Song Sparrow Research has doesn’t limit them to that genre. They have the classical vocals, a violin, viola and a cello. They also pack an electric bass, clarinet and saxophone. When all these instruments are playing, the band occasionally stretches itself into an area of jazz. They really dabble with their rhythms as well. “New Ragtime Revolution” has the guitar and drums playing at a fast enough pace to create a punk rock feeling. This band’s music is romantic enough to create an “evening in Paris” vibe, but energetic enough to keep you awake. I’m sure their live show is fantastic. “Ever Feel So Down” is my favorite, with it’s sporadic tempo and harmonic “ohs” in the chorus. The complex instrumentation SSR provides should satisfy jazz and folk fans alike. –Justin Gallegos

Street: 02.19
Spektr = Haemoth + The Axis of Perdition + Dodheimsgard
With the seeming overgrowth of black metal–type bands increasingly adding industrial elements to their music—some to the point of going flat-out industrial/goth in bad, oh-so bad ways—France’s Spektr offer a welcome, different end of the spectrum of industrial/experimental/noise deviation. Spektr foregoes any vocals for Cypher, so this monster is an all-music affair. Talk about harsh tones: Some of this record has noises that seem to punish my ears in a new way. “The Singularity,” aside from the drumming, is a fantastically done black metal song. Traditional black metal folks may frown at the very strong industrial/noise elements of Cypher, but in regard to some of the “others,” there’re no peppy dance beats here. If you’d like to listen to 45 minutes dedicated to screwing with your head and making the listener as uncomfortable as possible, jump on in. I’m not sure what’s been going on in France in the last few years, but the country is dosing up the scale of oddities in black metal. –Bryer Wharton

Pinnacle of Bedlam
Nuclear Blast
Street: 02.19
Suffocation = Gorguts + Immolation + Decrepit Birth
Since Suffocation reunited with Souls to Deny in 2004, it feels like they've been treading water a bit with their records—either that or playing it safe making records that are likeable but not highly memorable. Well, since I got my paws on this, I've been blasting it and attempting to form a formidable review in a short amount of time of actually hearing the record. Pinnacle of Bedlam is the best of old Suffocation and new Suffocation, even with drummer Mike Smith departed. “Sullen Days” feels like completely unexplored territory for the band. Death metal fans are just as finicky about their genre as any other metal genre fiend, so my point on this album may feel a bit moot, but hot damn, the more I listen the better it gets. There is more technicality, more speed and most importantly, more heart behind the record. February, so far, is a damn good month for all types of death metal. –Bryer Wharton

Swarm of Arrows
The Great Seekers of Lesser Life
Dullest Records
Street: 11.23.12
Swarm of Arrows = early Torche + Doomriders
Swarm of Arrows bring a heavy serving of bread and butter to the table of contemporary sludge/stoner metal with their latest release, The Great Seekers of Lesser Life. While this isn’t your garden-variety sludge/stoner album, it follows a basic formula. To wit, the album hits the ground running with the erratic opener, “Alive Like Death,” which gives you a taste of the band’s slashing guitar work up front. Further on, you have your sludgy, anthemic frontrunners “Illuminate” and “Gravel and Gold,” which are both top heavy with roaring bass and hooky melodies. In between these, you have your essential, lulling stoner hooks with tracks like “The Sky Will Save Us All.”  The album solidly finishes with “Breath Of The Hourglass,” which kicks you out the door with the same momentum the album originally started with. Although this record may not cause us to rethink our best-of-2012 lists, it’ll undoubtedly fetch a few listens. –Gregory Gerulat

Vulture Kult
Don't Let Rock N' Roll Ruin Your Life
Street: 09.01.12
Vulture Kult = The Darkness + Black Sabbath + Motörhead
Vulture Kult sounds like something Bill and Ted would blast from their phone booth stereo while flying through the circuits of time. With every strum of his nonstop riffs, Hans Bielefeld’s pick against the guitar strings produces a squeak, like a saliva lubed cheese curd between slick teeth. Seriously nonstop riffs, the brief breaks in strumming come only when a string must be bent. With one exception, “Vultures From Above,” where Bielefeld sings narrative, melodically similar to “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” the vocals vary little from track to track. This wont bother anyone interested in a high-power hybrid of melody and a flapping uvula. The two tracks winding down Don't Let Rock N' Roll Ruin Your Life, “Movie Of Me,” a psychedelic organ-slow-jam, and the instrumental “Checking Out,” could have been picked up during a stop in the ’60s. –Steve Richardson

Waves Of Fury
Alive Natural Sound Records
Street: 10.29.12
Waves Of Fury = The Oblivions + The Orwells + The Strange Boys
The music gods should have saved the title of the Jaco Pastorius album Punk Jazz for Thirst, although Punk Doo-wop might be more fitting. The harder I try, the more unclassifiable Thirst becomes. You’ll find dirt and distortion on every level of Thirst, from the horns and quick slopes of trombone notes, to the piano intros, to the froggy vocals and screams. “These Things I Leave You” makes beautiful use of abrasive, squealing noises that your mother wouldn’t understand, after which, everything drops to total calm as the track changes to the soft horns and piano intro of “Pretender Soul.” Transitions like this show the extent of the dynamics of Thirst that keep me interested. –Steve Richardson

Wayne Hancock
Street: 02.26
Wayne Hancock = Hank Williams + Hank Thompson + Carl Perkins + Nat King Cole
The king of underground country swing is back at it with a new record. Now, the Wayne “the Train” sound hasn’t changed much over his nearly 20-year career, but it is remarkable how he’s always been able to use his trademark sound to travel through country, jazz and rockabilly territory. With a few songs sans the usual steel guitar accompaniment, Ride struck me as more of a rockabilly record, but is certainly within the bounds of what you’d expect from Hancock. As far as lyrical content, stories of cheating women, the joys of outlaw freedom, and tales of heartbreak, loneliness and woe are staples on each release from “the Train” because they are the ingredients of not just great country music, but music in general. The country music scene could do with a lot more characters like Wayne, who push the music’s limits while staying truer to its roots than any well-known names associated with the genre today. –James Orme

White Blush
Street: 11.30.12
White Blush = (Early Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark + Depeche Mode – Dave Gahan) x Blouse
White Blush is L.A.-based artist Carol Rhyu, and this self-titled, six-track EP is her first proper release. Rhyu skillfully balances lush vocals and dream-pop arrangements over an array of synths and drum machines. David Lynch’s siren Julee Cruise is Rhyu’s self-proclaimed muse, but Austra’s Katie Stelmanis or Blouse’s Charlie Hilton are more apt comparisons. Her music is classically ’80s-synth-inspired, with breathy Kate Bush-esque dreams buried under crystalline minimal synth structures. A standout track is “Mirror,” which features a synth progression that recalls Kraftwerk via New Order’s “Your Silent Face.” Keep an eye out—White Blush is the stuff that labels like Captured Tracks uncover and turn into your favorite overnight post-punk hype.  –Christian Schultz

The Bat, The Wheel, and the Long Road to Nowhere
Candlelight Records
Street: 08.13.12
Zatokrev = Neurosis + Isis + Mastodon
Oh boy, more shoegazy Neurosis worship – just what I always wanted. In case my sarcasm hasn’t translated well, let me clarify: I really wanted to like this release. I found out about Switzerland’s Zatokrev by complete accident, due to their magnificent split with fellow countrymen Vancouver from 2008, and I’d inadvertently forgotten about them until this was thrust my way. I instantly remembered the aforementioned split, so I re-visited it, and while it wasn’t the best thing since spiced calamari, it was still pretty good, so I looked forward to reviewing this full length … and almost fell asleep multiple times while muscling through it. What was billed as “sludge/doom” is nothing more than screechy black metal vocals intermixed with Cookie Monster death metal vocals shoveled over the last 42 Neurosis albums. For those of you who are still on the Neurosis/Isis bandwagon, have a field day—here’s your new favorite record. –Gavin Hoffman