O.C.’s Rx Bandits haven’t released an album in five years, which is maybe why Gemini, Her Majesty is such a treat. The band’s high-tension alt-prog sounds like something that’s been bottled up for too long and waiting to explode, offering smoke before the fire on the choral “Intro” and then launching into the steadily building riffs of “Ruby Cumulous.” They sound like successors to The Police on the confident “Wide Open,” reining in their expert riffery to focus on melodicism. When they can dispense both catchy melodies and pummeling musicianship, as on single “Stargazer,” the band is damn near unstoppable, doling out chugging riffs and dynamic rhythms while tying ribbons of harmonic guitarwork around them and exploding into a singalong chorus. There are times when you want Rx Bandits to let the songs breathe a bit more so their melodies will stick, but the chilled-out vibe the band is going for gets top billing on “Meow! Meow! Space Tiger,” a sparkling, beachy ode to staring at the sky and “finding your truth.” The band walk a fine line—how is it possible to sound so laid back and yet so detailed and precise at the same time? Rx Bandits somehow make it work on this terrific comeback record.
Two months after releasing Someday World , wry public intellectual and musical polymath Brian Eno is releasing another album in collaboration with Underworld's crooning braintrust and techno-minded guitar manipulator Karl Hyde. Birthed out of the same sessions that gave us Someday World , High Life is less pop and more pure polyrhythmic experimentalism. The record is a little more repetitive, a little more meditative, but equally high energy and equally afro-kraut injected. Decidedly weirder than the last record, I think this is the album I was hoping the last one would be. Funny that this one should be called High Life while the previous record owed much more to that specific Ghanaian genre of guitar pop. This record traverses electronic glitch skitter shuffle to filthy dense guitar processing expertly and occasionally melodically, returning now and then to the strange global pop of the group's previous collaboration. Recommended.
For their new album, Dirty Heads have changed things up a bit. The reggae-influenced Cali band have made things pop a bit more, heightening the impact of the beats and beachy melodies on songs like “My Sweet Summer.” “Burn Slow” sees the band going more full-on hip-hop, erupting into an unexpectedly speedy flow partway through that serves as a counterbalance to the song’s overall laid-back vibe. On the title track, the band seems to address its own ever-evolving sound, building up acoustic guitars, harmonies and a rap-like delivery into a grandiose chorus, hitting on the allure of folk-rockers like Mumford & Sons. Occasionally Sound of Change falls prey to trying to please everyone all the time, but what they’ve lost in having one steady sound they’ve gained in wide appeal, as the band aptly handles every avenue down which it takes it sound and sheds some of the overt Sublime influence that previously marked the band. Fans of Dirty Heads should have no problem getting with the band’s new sound, and the winning Sound of Change should see plenty of new fans flocking to the Dirty Heads fold as well.
SomeKindaWonderful seemingly have come out of nowhere with a knockout first record of smart, radio-friendly pop rock that proves producing such music is easier said than done. The story goes that lead singer Jordy Towers left L.A. for the Midwest after a major label deal didn’t go so well (you may remember his almost-hit “Pretty Monsters,” with B.o.B.). While there, Towers hooked up with local musicians Ben Schigel and guitarist Matt Gibson, drunkenly jamming one night and coming up with future hit “Reverse,” which now can be found ruling rock radio with its “Be My Baby” Motown beat and Towers’ irresistible vocal hook. Good thing he made that move— Somekindawonderful aptly bounce between lust-fueled pub rock (“Cornbread,” “Honeymoon”) and soulful synth-pop (“Police,” “Hard for Days,” “Caveman”), somehow marrying the two in such a way that their songs wouldn’t sound out of place on just about any station. Led by Towers’ raspy croon, there doesn’t seem to be much that SomeKindaWonderful can’t (and don’t) do on their debut. Here’s to second chances.
From the twee indie-folk of their 2009 debut Oh Yeah to the darker and richly layered Paradise , Sheffield duo Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson (Slow Club) continue to sonically evolve with their third full-length album, Complete Surrender ; their most self assured and streamlined effort to date. Heavily influenced by R&B and girl group sounds, Taylor and Watson stray from their panoptic song structure of the past to embrace a more stripped down approach. The delicate simplicity of these more basic song arrangements only further enhances what Slow Club is known best for, powerfully rich vocal harmonies earnestly expressing love and loss. With soulful numbers like “Suffering You, Suffering Me” and “Not Mine To Love,” Complete Surrender often feels like a tear stained pillow fight at Stax Records. With that in mind, it never comes of as gimmicky or retro. Instead, Slow Club manages to combine Northern soul with bedroom pop to create the breakup anthems of your dreams.
Already, Fuego is being hailed as the best Phish album since Billy Breathes , which is a unique distinction. When BB came out in 1996, it was the band's most concise, pop-oriented album. Short songs and hooky focus that made a lot of new fans but potentially alienated some old ones who were looking for more long-form progressive folk-reggae-jazz-rock of the kind they were used to. After BB the band generally continued in that poppier direction, still turning those concise songs into lengthy workouts on stage but the studio-Phish was, from that point on, a different animal. Fuego is unique because it's a crossover more than a throwback. It incorporates the bands mature hookiness and focus as well as the live stretching out their fans follow them around the country for. Elements of classic progressive rock are everywhere here, so it's great to see Bob Ezrin, the legendary producer of Pink Floyd's The Wall and Lou Reed's Berlin , behind the boards here, acting also as studio adviser, encouraging the band to make the record a closer representation of their live show. This record should certainly grow a large garden of new Phish fans while supplying the die hards with more fodder for live improvisation and more classics to sing along to.
For those that missed picking up a copy of The Black Angels’ Clear Lake Forest EP on Record Store Day, you are in luck. This seven-song psychedelic nugget has been re-released on 12” clear vinyl, CD and digital download. Floating in the bluesy, acid-laced waters of their 2013 release, Indigo Meadow , the Angels continue their mastery of sun-kissed sonic kaleidoscopes. Opening track “Sunday Evening” jangles and pops while lyrically posing the question, “What if I told you that everything you know isn’t even really true?” From there, “Third Eyes” and “Diamond Eyes” showcase the Angels perfection at layering fuzzy noise and sunshine pop while “The Flop” and “Occurrence at 4507 South Third Street” are organ driven, up-tempo numbers that channel a surf party on acid. Taking things down a notch, “The Executioner” is a blues inspired maelstrom of distortion and reverb with the rather hedonistic message, “If it feels good, do it again.” The final track, “Linda’s Gone,” manages to encapsulate everything great about the Velvet Underground while still sounding like the Black Angels. These Austin psyche revivalists may not be inventing the wheel but Clear Lake Forest proves they are always moving forward while taking the listener on a wild ride.
Danish noise pop darlings the Raveonettes have lightened things up a bit with their latest release, Pe’ahi . Appropriately titled after a town on the north shore of Maui, Hawaii, you can see that Wagner and Foo have been using surf culture as their latest muse, both sonically and lyrically. Combining surf-pop, warm fuzz, and tropicana with the bright melodies and girl group harmonies they are best known for; this is their most dynamic and baroque work since 2008’s Lust Lust Lust . Tracks like “Endless Sleeper” and “Sisters” drown you in warm fuzz while dreamy songs like “Killer In The Streets” let you float through glorious waves of melancholy. The mood of the album is breezier and more upbeat than previous efforts and is set to be the definitive summer soundtrack.
Goatwhore have little use for the trappings of the specificities of heavy metal subgenres. The so-called blackened death metal band will start with pulverizing beats and riffs in a song like the epic “Schadenfreude” and promptly move into melodic, straight-forward metal riffery and growled yet intelligible vocals detailing the downward spiral of humanity. They touch on thrash metal with the early Metallica-inspired “FBS,” packing as many dynamic changes into the song as possible without sounding busy or sloppy. And “Bearing Teeth For Revolt” has some real old-school metal flair, drumming up fond memories of Judas Priest with its tasty licks. So Goatwhore might not like being penned in when it comes to crafting their nuanced metal mayhem. So what? With Constricting Rage of the Merciless, New Orleans’ Goatwhore take what they like about various metal subgenres and weld them together into something powerful and unique.
Effortlessly appealing pop-classical trio combines pop sensibilities and presentation with classical arrangements and a keen ear for a powerful melody. Their fourth album, and second self-titled release, finds the group continuing to expand and experiment within their niche sound with mostly quite beautiful results. Experimental production and percussion techniques takes the group's stringed approach from a strict chamber performance to something more enveloping, something atmospheric and inclusive like a pop record. Featuring lovely contributions from singer songwriter Joshua Radin, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, and virtuosic ukulele upstart Jake Shimabukuro.
If Erasure’s Andy Bell was born a millennial, he might have sounded like Bright Light Bright Light. Rod Thomas’ project can be described as disco-folk—Thomas first worked as a folk artist, busking and recording demos until working with the right producers to find his sound—so his second album, Life Is Easy , sounds like a nu-disco record with a folk core. Songs like “There Are No Miracles” hearken back to a time when danceable pop songs had heart, as Thomas sings about hard life lessons over dazzling production. On album highlight “I Wish We Were Leaving,” Thomas gets to work with musical hero Elton John (with whom he’s toured), singing with an invigorated John and crafting a soothing New Age-inspired pop tune. And just when Life Is Easy is in danger of feeling a bit sleepy, Thomas drops “An Open Heart” into the mix, a booming, irresistible synth-popper, and the house-inspired “Good Luck,” successfully bridging the gap between the ’80s pop that has informed Thomas’ sound and modern, radio-ready dance music. On Life Is Easy , Thomas creates dynamic, modern pop with real feeling that somehow sounds effortless.
Vacationer are described as a “Nu-Hula” band. What the hell is that, you might ask? It’s what you want to be listening to at the beach, on vacation, all summer basically—truthfully, Relief couldn’t be a more appropriate name for this album. Kenny Vasoli’s smooth vocals whisper sweet nothings float over the band’s cool, jangling riffs on songs like “Glimpse,” pillowy synths on “Heavenly” and funk bass on “In the Grass.” They’re kind of like a more laid-back Vampire Weekend or happier Tennis, writing immediately likeable songs with knotty little melodies on songs like “The Wild Life” that sneak into your head and stay there, even as they’re dressed up as islandy trifles. “There’s no point to making plans,” Vasoli sings on “The Wild Life” over a reggae-infused beat and chill vibraphones, and we couldn’t disagree. Here’s your summer soundtrack.