To listen to Pharmakon is to stare the beast straight in the mouth. Margaret Chardiet’s latest album starts with heavy breathing, panting and a buzzing synth that sounds more like an electroshock therapy machine. “Intent or Instinct” builds deliberately with an atonal loop gathering strength until she unleashes a nasty banshee wail. Free of too much digitized effect, it sounds truly bloodcurdling. It’s also immensely cathartic. And “Body Betrays Itself” feels like it takes over your very being, her most powerful musical statement to date. Not everything in such harsh surroundings works—“Primitive Struggle” is about as inviting as it sounds, full of coughing, spitting and heaving along to a digital heartbeat. But Chardiet can really surprise you, too. “Autoimmune” actually nudges closer to something resembling pop, like the dirtiest Trent Reznor would ever let himself get. And in the incantation of the title track, Chardiet’s actual, human voice can be heard, albeit echoed out into infinity, and the result is quite affecting, given how she shreds her voice across the rest of the record. So Bestial Burden isn’t for the faint of heart. Dismiss it and you might even get a laugh out of its relentless brutality. But give it your full attention, and it just might change you. So don’t be afraid. Dive in and let Bestial Burden swallow you whole.
There are no real Lost Loves for Minus the Bear; songs which could've been B-sides or cutting floor scraps get their proper love on this EP of unreleased tracks from the last seven years of their career. From the opening track, "Electric Rainbow," you're confronted with ferocious crying guitars, 400-horsepower percussion and droning synths. This isn't just a curiosity for Minus the Bear fans, but a track that reverberates with a passion equal to their previous albums. Closer "The Lucky Ones" is one of their most bitterly ironic tracks of pure white-knuckle emotion. It's unflinching, angst-ridden post-prog pop that any lesser band would envy. For artists to reject tracks of this quality would been a Sophie's Choice, but they've found their home and are waiting for you to give them the respect they deserve.
Dan Snaith’s latest album moves his varying aliases closer together, utilizing some of the dancier aspects of his work as Daphni without sacrificing his core indie-electro-pop appeal as Caribou. The albums starts on a brilliant note with “Can’t Do Without You,” a sumptuous love song that circulates some of the psychedelic swirl of previous Caribou releases even as it taps into EDM culture’s builds and breaks. “Silver” is a sweet, dazzling digital tapestry of sound that tips its hat to ’80s synth pop while retaining its now cache. Snaith touches on many eras of dance music throughout Our Love , on the freestyle-vibing “All I Ever Need” and the luxuriously banging title track, which ends in a nod to Chicago house classic “Good Life.” Yet Snaith’s work is still his own, as tracks like “Dive” feature wavering keyboards and breathy vocals that make you feel like you’re teetering. Some of the later tracks fail to distinguish themselves, but none sounds remotely bad. Our Love is a warm, inviting listen from start to finish. It’s yet another bit of perfection from Snaith.
Using Al Green's former backing band, The Hi Rhythm Section, with melodious, mellow horns and splashes of jazzy, organ sparkle, former folkie Frazey Ford has reinvented herself into the 21st century progenitor of the blue-eyed soul sound of the '70s. Her wispy, almost childlike folk vocals easily could have gotten lost in the Stax-like sound, but the arrangements are soft and delicate. "September Fields" almost makes you think it's going to be a coffee shop acoustic set before suddenly an organ sneak attack pops up from behind. The tragic ballad of "Weather Pattern" is the raw, tear-filled ballad most musicians don't have the spirit to sing without sounding hackneyed or hollow, but Ford nails it so gorgeously and almost effortlessly. Indian Ocean 's amalgamation of funk and folk work so harmoniously, you'll be asking why can't more musicians blend things beautifully like this?
On his ninth studio album, Mark Lanegan delivers the gravelly voiced goods, with a few surprises. “Harvest Home” starts the album on a strong note, as Lanegan’s whiskey-soaked voice and tremoloed guitars are joined by some Gary Numanesque synthesizers and a propulsive beat. Lanegan goes mellow with some worldly psych-soul on “Seventh Day,” and he sings gorgeously on the lushly atmospheric “Torn Red Heart,” breaking our hearts with his vulnerable croon and lyrics like “you don't love me, what's to love anyway?” Some of the digital effects on tracks like “The Killing Season” sound a bit dated, like leftover trip-hop backing tracks from the ’90s, but even then, that song is saved by Lanegan’s cool lyrics, full of creepy details that strike the senses, like “the perfume of your blood” and “I feel your hands around my throat.” And while it’s nice to hear Lanegan stretch a bit, when he’s in his familiar wheelhouse of slow-burners, the results are still wonderful — “I Am the Wolf” possesses beautifully bleak acoustic guitar strums and reverbed electric guitars that fall like rain to set the stage for Lanegan's dusky drawl. And “Judgment Time” is a spare, organ-driven spiritual ode “a strung-out angel” so elegant and evocative, it could serve as an elegy to a war film. With terrific variation and strong melodies, Lanegan seems to nail every nuance on Phantom Radio .
Afro-soul stars the Budos Band are back with a metallic barnburner of a fourth album. The Daptone-signed instrumental band have a way of making their horns sound larger than life, their guitar riffs sound gigantic and beats sound perfectly considered, on songs like the psychedelic title track, that make an absense of a singer an afterthought. On “The Sticks,” the 10-man band craft a kind of funkadelic Led Zeppelin track with gnarly, evil riffs and a bassline that won’t quit that could have existed in virtually any decade over the past half-century—that fact that it’s here now just feels like a gift. True heads know the distance between funk and metal is only skin deep, but Burnt Offering manages to make that incredibly apparent. It’s like locking Black Sabbath in a room with Parliament and ending up with something too out of this world to fathom. Cool beyond believe, Burnt Offering has us hooked. Keep it coming, guys.
Alejandro Rose-Garcia's second album under the name Shakey Graves is the kind of music that keeps Austin weird and retains its Texan flavor. And the War Came is a blissful late-night drive of FM country ballads buzzing out of the busted stereo of your old car. Surprisingly minimal, Shakey Graves, armed with his guitar, whiskey-pitched vocals and foot-stomping percussion, gives country-rock an edge of millennial hipness lacking from most contemporary acts, but without any of the ironic distance. His sincere approach comes through in the feelings of love and joy he has for the country culture around him. The album's single, a duet with Esmé Patterson called "Dearly Departed," recalls Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris on the legendary album, Desire . Shakey's voice drenched in whiskey and beer harmonizes in a swirl of Beauty and the Beast against Patterson's sweet, melodious twang. The sparseness of "If Not For You" with just a man and his guitar feels more like Depression Era hobo folk where someone pours out through the soul not for money or recognition, but because they know no way to keep it in. For those who think "country music isn't for me," they should blast some Shakey Graves in their car and see how he's keeping Texas the hub for interesting country.
Ye, what else hath risen from the fallen ashes of the LCD? Former LCD Soundsystem drummer Pat Mahoney and Dennis “Jee Day” McNany of The Juan Mclean release their eponymous debut, Museum Of Love . The duo made themselves known last year when they released the darkly groove ridden “Down South” back in 2013 along with the repetitiously soulful “Monotronic.” The album is indeed a continuation of the beats set in motion with their pre-released singles. At the forefront and most apparent are the distinct vocals of now frontman Pat Mahoney. Having named the outfit after a Daniel Johnston song the vocals are surprisingly soulful. Uniquely placed between a sort of David Byrne / Bryan Ferry croon, the vocals are draped over Jee Day’s complex disco beats. The velvety vocals are employed remarkably well, comforting the listener as they groove through the eerie steely “Learned Helplessness in Rats (Disco Drummer).” The experience culminates in the closing track, “All The Winners (Fuck You Buddy),” which actually sounds like a closing credits tune complete with obligatory orchestral strings. The shadow of the inherent nepotism of DFA’s flagship group completely cast aside, let us welcome freshly Museum of Love in all its soul shaking glory. Thanks be.
Weezer have had it up to here with Weezer. They make as much plain on “Back to the Shack,” the first single from Everything Will Be Alright in the End , singing a mea culpa: “Sorry guys I didn’t realize that I needed you so much/I thought I’d get a new audience, I forgot that disco sucks.” So Everything is their bid to make things right, packing all of the catchy melodies they’d been neglecting as of late into one album. Songs like “Ain’t Got Nobody” bring back the pizza party power-pop and rocketship riffs of their early work, with “Happy Days” melodies aplenty in songs like “Eulogy for a Rock Band.” And Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino shows up to co-write and trade off vocals on the catchy “Go Away,” which could’ve easily fit on a Best Coast album as well and shows just how much Weezer remain influential. Their reverence to the same ol’ influences and lyrical territory is summed up by the intro to “Lonely Girl,” which just repeats a few chords and the words “My lonely girl” four times, before following with “so baby come on.” But it comes off as charming here for the first time in a while, sounding legitimately like a band of high school friends still in love with classic rock ‘n’ roll. Things get a little corny now and then, as they often do on Weezer albums—there’s a silly little pop song called “The British Are Coming”—but they pair those kind of sentiments with strong melodies. By the time we get to the album’s metal-inspired trilogy ending, it’s like, who cares, it’s Weezer and they’re doing their thing. With the solid Everything Will Be Alright in the End , Weezer restore that kind of faith from their audience and probably will strike a chord with a few new young fans along the way, too.
Pop music's most fantastic chameleon, Arthur Russell, was able to morph from discotheque debonair, minimalist 20th century avant-garde composer, East Village folkie or floor-stomping, white-man funk god. Despite all the talents he died in relative obscurity, except among the New York heads, due to complications from AIDS. But like the case with so many great artists, it's in death that outsiders discover their treasures like they're forgotten artifacts and they garner the respect they always deserved. Now after so many reissues, books and documentaries, Arthur Russell is remixed, chopped up and redone for the 21st century by an eclectic cast of musicians including Robyn, Sufjan Stevens, Blood Orange, Devendra Banhart, and Scissor Sisters. This is not just another tribute album featuring an odd menagerie of B-sides and by-the-number tunes, but is instead a complete reexamination and reinterpretation of iconic Arthur Russell tracks with layers added to his already dense songs. Hot Chip knead's mutant disco sideshow "Go Bang" into Fela Kuti by way of a Macbook. No release this year has so many tasty and diverse flavors than this.
Foxygen’s new album is a sprawling double-length opus that packs as many great psych-rock melodies and eccentric ideas as will fit onto one album. Foxygen’s songwriters, Sam France and Jonathan Rado, turn their talent and rivalry into something truly strange and special. The album still relishes in turning classic rock on its head, with Bowie-esque loungey pop songs like “How Can You Really” that sound instantly memorable while still remaining idiosyncratic, coy even. There’s a real sweetness to tracks like “Coulda Been My Love” and its Stonesy whispered nothings, while “Cosmic Vibrations” reimagines The Beatles’ “Long, Long, Long” as a languid sungazing weed jam that explodes into a hippie romp. The band’s lyrics cut through the lazy cool with real emotions, asking “if you don’t love me anymore, how come you never say it to my face?” on “You & I” and finishing desperately with “Why doesn’t anybody help me? Why doesn’t anybody care?” From there, the album gets wilder, delving into piano-laden suites with beatnik delivery and Flaming Lips-ish psychedelic breakdowns (“Star Power I-III”). The album becomes like a hall of mirrors in both scope and sound, as songs fade in and out, turning from organ-fueled kraut pop to lo-fi synth ballads and everything in between, mixing Link Wray and Suicide and The Clean and whatever else until it sounds kind of like three mixtapes glued together with weird little melted intros and outros barely holding it together. It goes without saying that this is not an album that was made with the iPhone generation in mind. You miss a bit of their last album’s brevity and ease. But what would a Guided By Voices album be without its odds and ends, for instance? What …And Star Power is, is never boring. Lots of things pass for psychedelia these days, but this is the real deal, an album guided by unbridled thought and passion and dream logic rather than aged constraints.
Massively influential sludge gods the Melvins get help from a couple of Butthole Surfers on their latest album, Hold It In . Paul Leary and Jeff Pinkus back the band up on bass and guitar, respectively, together with longtime members Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover, but Hold It In ’s sound is classic Melvins, full of heavy, drilling guitars and foreboding vocals on great tracks like “Bride of Crankenstein.” While the Melvins’ sonic repertoire hasn’t expanded too much over the years, songs like “Brass Cupcake” lean closer to new-wave, with palm-muted, Cars-esque guitars that explode into manic cries of “they’ve got a lot of mouths to feed!” and a more metallic second half. With Hold It In , the Melvins have given their fans plenty more chunky riffs and piledriving rhythms to feast on. Hold it in and don’t let go!