In 2015 the overload of the senses is rather hard to impress upon humans. As information flows freely at a breakneck pace, anesthetized youths engage in a barrage of cultural and emotional assaults on the daily. There seems to be an infinite capacity to the modern humans’ sensory intake. Enter Tom Jekinson AKA Squarepusher. IDM’s antidote to the sonically apathetic. In Damogen Furies Squarepusher has concocted a Free-Jazz inspired unity with the current sound of EDM. The unifying qualities however tend to sound more like an affable acknowledgement of the times backed with an uppercut of unpredictable drill and bass. This unpredictability is due to the spontaneous recording techniques at Jekinson’s disposal. A setup that he created on the road to imitate his home studio, which allows him to record and mix everything in one take. Once that fact comes into view the epic club banger vibe of the opener “Stor Eiglass” or the proficient build of the '80s synth-scape “Exjag Nives” all the more impressive. The bombastic spontaneity of Damogen Furies is equally as innovative as Squarepusher has known to be in the past, with a brutality that matches the current landscape. Brace yourself.
Guster’s most vibrant album yet bulldozes inhibitions, propelling the band to a harder-charging, more freewheeling. Packed with tight hooks, muscular guitar riffs, clanging percussion, and surprisingly dark lyrics.
Aptly named Joywave are leading the charge of a genre-less, pretentious-less, alternative pop era. The sound lies somewhere between the unapologetic body shaking of Hot Chip and the cinematic appeal of Bleachers, the latter being current tour-mates. The appeal of Joywave however is the outright denial of the placeholder conformism of such comparisons. Case in point they have wryly claimed their music is a mash up of Pitbull and Coldplay. After receiving critical acclaim from underground mixtapes, culminating in a feature spot on Big Data’s hit single "Dangerous," Joywave found an audience. They dropped the How Do You Feel EP a year later to an outpour of media attention. Several months and a couple of viral music videos later, the boys from Rochester are back to ask How Do You Feel Now? The album continues in the same vein of the EP. In fact, all four tracks remain on the album including the danceable savage single “Tongues.” Curveballs include the Generation Y dirge “Traveling at the Speed of Light” and the robotic hip-hoperatic closer “Bad Dreams.” Exploration aside, the pop spirit of How Do You Feel Now? is what drives the record and the group itself. That spirit, akin to the joyful ecstatic hum of a young festivalgoer’s experience awaiting climax. That is what Joywave has to offer. And there is no doubt that, with the release of this record, they will soon provide said festivalgoer with one hell of a payoff.
Calexico releases have always been eclectic collections stringing together various strings of Americana and indie rock into what’s been referred to as “desert noir.” Edge of the Sun feels like their most refined release while staying as diverse as ever, augmented by the duo’s sojourn in Mexico City while writing the record. Though it’s dotted with upbeat, jangling country-rock numbers, Edge of the Sun pit stops in Tejano territory (“Coyoacan”), hits up dusky biker bars along the road (“Bullets & Rocks”) and stops to come up with a killer electro-cumbia tune (“Cumbia De Donde”). Guests show up to keep the party going—Neko Case makes “Tapping on the Line” a gorgeous electro-country duet, while Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses helps take the soaring “Falling From the Sky” achieve lift-off. It’s a fine line Calexico walk, but nine studio albums in and the band is able to confidently wrangle a wide swath of sounds for an unpredictable album that is altogether gripping.
If you thought Built to Spill’s first album in six years would be some somber collection reflecting the band’s elder statesman status, think again. Untethered Moon roars right out of the gate, on “All Our Songs.” Doug Martsch lives up to his indie guitar hero mythos with fluttering space cowboy licks and cosmic solos, singing lines in a creeping whisper that could be self-deprecating or sarcastic, but it’s tough not to feel a thrill when he sings, “rock and roll will be here forever.” “New Zoo” builds on that momentum, as new guns Steve Gere (drums) and Jason Albertini (bass) prove their meddle with a steadily building groove over which Martsch drapes intricate guitar lacework, opening up into an R.E.M.-inspired melody. There’s a sense of futility to Martsch’s lyrics that can be funny at times or a drag at others—one song is called “Some Other Song”—but the irony is that Untethered Moon brims with energy and melodic ideas (for the record, “Some Other Song” is one of the album’s catchiest tunes). However exhausting the journey may be playing with the same band for more than 20 years, it’s clearly refined Martsch’s craft to the point that Untethered Moon feels effortless and powerful.
Butch Walker’s name appears on the credits of superstars like Taylor Swift, Keith Urban and Weezer. Yet name recognition has somewhat eluded Walker. Afraid of Ghosts doesn’t attempt a pop crossover like his earlier, pop-punk and chamber pop releases. Rather, the singer/songwriter and producer recorded Afraid of Ghosts at Ryan Adams’ studio, and the album has some of that similar Americana-flavored flair as Adams’ releases, looking to Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young as inspiration. He’s still a pop songwriter at heart—songs like “I Love You” are self-explanatory, but they take on a relaxed, world-weary vibe that suits Walker’s delivery, even as his way with hooks and pop structure are impeccable. Not surprisingly, Afraid of Ghosts sounds perfect, too; his love song to an old fantasy crush object, “Chrissie Hynde,” is accompanied by floating steel guitar and delicate piano, as Walker’s hiccupping croon rests above. But Walker is also careful not to overdo it, as by the time you notice all the details thrown into “Still Drunk”—some organ here, choral backups there—you’ve already been drawn in by Walker’s direct, confessional style and the one-take vibe of his performance. You might not think Walker distinguishes himself as an artist at first, but the more you dig into Afraid of Ghosts , the more his personality becomes apparent. Ever the producer, he can’t help throw orchestral flair and a piercing rock solo into “Bed on Fire,” and a huge finish onto the touching “Father’s Day.” On the stunning title track, in which Walker seems to sing of caring for his ailing father, he sings “I’m gonna take just what scares me the most and turn it into something real.” His lyrics would seem to also sing of determination to stand out as an artist in his own right, something he has certainly done with his best release yet.
The singer/songwriter/producer and Spacebomb Records founder returns with a second album that re-creates the American songbook D.I.Y.-style, moving from classic R&B to country-soul to gently orchestrated romantic indie pop.
Luscious, mind-bending synth music comes to us from Mndsgn, the latest signee of the ubercool Stones Throw Records. Taking synth-funk jam “Message From the Stars” by The Rah Band and filtering it through a cavalcade of analog effects on “Txt,” Ringgo Ancheta creates a new cult classic of his own. Tracks like “Homewards” sprawl out on chilled out beats and landscapes that sound like they’ve had acid sprayed across them, gently disintegrating over you like melting ice cream. It’s not all dayglo synth jams though, as some of Yawn Zen’s dark corners are equally intriguing, like “Sheets,” with an introspective vocal that gets chopped up by a death-march lo-fi beat, and “Frugality’s” strange, spaced-out gurgling sounds. Trippy and odd yet lively and playful, Yawn Zen makes for a magical introduction to an intriguing new artist in the Stones Throw fold
Alabama Shakes’ meteoric rise thankfully hasn’t tarnished what made them special to begin with. Sound & Color is an assured follow-up to Boys & Girls , further defining the band’s garage-blues sound without just relying on singer/guitarist Brittany Howard’s explosive voice to carry the show. The title track features some gorgeous harmonies and orchestral touches that start the album off in a classy way. But Sound & Color quickly proves gritty, as Howard’s banshee wail rips open first single “Don’t Wanna Fight.” “Dunes” is a deep, weird Beatlesesque track that finds Howard struggling to maintain her identity among rising fame (this one has “fan favorite” written all over it). Although it’s pretty obvious how powerful Howard’s voice can be, it reveals new shadings across the album, vacillating between a sweet coo and penetrating cry on the celestial funk of “Future People” and curling into a wild croon and big belt on “Gimme All Your Love.” About that voice—it’s impressive for sure, and Howard and co. have figured out when and where to unleash it, marking the biggest improvement the band has made. When the band does let loose on tracks like garage burner “The Greatest,” the results are all the more sublime. It’s rare when a band can capitalize on hype without succumbing to it as Alabama Shakes have; rarer still that they can avoid the sophomore slump with such aplomb. Alabama Shakes succeed with flying colors on their second outing.
Great music for three female singers. Ducking and weaving in ancient style, harmonies vibrating against our hearts. Absolutely sumptuous timbre in these three together, luxurious material in this collection of cardinal cool. ECM supreme sound!