Benjamin John Power of electro-noise-pop duo Fuck Buttons crafts an album full of experimental instrumentals that pulsate and contort like gelatinous beings. “Loam’s” synth squelches, clipped beats and warped vocal snippets slowly come into focus on a tune that feels alien and yet strangely beautiful when viewed in the right light. However, Blanck Mass’ sounds are still plenty accessible. “Dead Format’s” beats heave and gallop with a tribal, festival-friendly groove. “No Lite” strips back some of the din to focus on its hypnotic, static beat, while the sound swirling around it evolves across the track’s nearly 10 minutes. “Atrophies” is one of Power’s best, utilizing arcade-game synthesizers and an 808-style handclap beat without sounding exclusively like a throwback, allowing the track to shift and morph in strange ways when necessary. Like Fuck Buttons, Blanck Mass’ occasionally unsettling and mostly vocal-free sound is an acquired taste, but it’s kind of like trying an exotic new flavor and suddenly realizing you liked truffles all along—after just a few tracks of Dumb Flesh , your palate shifts and you’re hooked.
After leaving the Prefuse 73 moniker lying dormant for several years producer Guillermo Scott Herren has returned. "I've come back to hyper focusing, immersing myself in the sounds, rhythms, and formations that created Prefuse 73 in the first place," he says. "… Right now I'm at my most confident and comfortable since 05/06." Rivington Não Rio is the only full-length release in his trio of recently announced Temporary Residence recordings. Sandwiched between Forsyth Garden and Every Color of Darkness , Rio is the key to unlocking this “epic triptych.” The album does not attempt to push too far outside of the spacey and low key, keeping it fairly even keeled and balanced. The entire album moves with a casual head nod pace, layered just enough to lose focus on the present. Tracks like “Applauded Assumptions” and “Inside” instrumentally meander and warp through beats and glitch experimentation. When Herren adds vocal talents, such as Pinback’s Rob Crow on “Quiet One” or Sam Dew on “Infrared,” his beats and glitches seem to merge and weave in between the words. Whereas in "140 Jabs Interlude” Herren has alt rappers’ Milo and Busdriver take the front seat and drive the beat. Heren may be returning to the sound that made up Prefuse 73 in the first place, but Rivington Não Rio has much more to offer than just a return to greatness.
The melody that is at the heart of Bill Fay is one of resounding hope shrouded in melancholy. His records from the '70s blend elements of baroque pop, polished canyon folk and spirituality so delicately that the melodrama is all but completely washed out. In 1971’s Time of the Last Persecution particularly he excavated yearning, loss, and overall faith with a such blunt edged instrument that at first listen it is merely a throwaway folk rock record. A deeper listen, however, proves it to be masterful. It is that simplicity and nuance that has earned him a following of modern songwriters such as Jim O’Rourke, Jeff Tweedy, and Nick Cave. After his critically acclaimed return, Life Is People , in 2012, Fay releases his follow up Who Is The Sender? . Now in his mid seventies his oft used soft-spoken execution and world weariness comes off as almost prophetic, certainly larger than life. Who is the Sender? is above all a meditation on expression. Who is the sender in which he (Fay) is the vessel for the message? A thought which continues to reveal layers of itself throughout the record. Tracks like “War Machine” and “Order of The Day” represent the fire and drama that Fay still has burning inside of him, but instead of expressing that anger he has transformed it into an acceptance of the inevitable. Which is by no means apathetic, he is sublime in his forcefulness. With that anger and fury comes overwhelming sadness. The sadness remains so repentantly tortuous that you can hear religion in his voice. In fact you only need to hear the title of “Bring It on Lord” to know that he has come to some sort of crossroads with his spirituality. Once you hear the spiritual message that was sent through him, you will know that Bill Fay is every bit as hopeful and human as he ever has been.
At only 25, Laura Marling is releasing her fifth album, following 2013’s excellent, Mercury Prize-nominated Once I Was an Eagle . Like that album, Marling expertly details relationships and breakups on Short Movie , only there’s more variety here—sometimes she’s playing wistful acoustic dreamscapes a la Joni Mitchell, other times she lets loose with snarling attitude like a young Chrissie Hynde. She delivers medieval kiss-offs to a caustic relationship over majestic guitar playing and ambient guitar noise on “Warrior” (“I can’t be your horse anymore/You’re not the warrior I’ve been looking for”); immediately following, the rockier “False Hope” describes urban loneliness in detail. Tracks like “Walk Alone” explore the nuance in Marling’s exquisite voice, while “I Feel Your Love” and “Strange” approach bluegrass and spoken-word delivery from a unique standpoint. “Do I look like I’m fucking around?” she asks on the alluring yet slightly menacing “Don’t Let Me Bring You Down.” The answer’s no—whatever Marling tackles on her remarkable fifth album, she does so capably, transforming her demons into songs that cut to the heart.
Recreating yourself isn’t easy when you’re one of the biggest bands on the planet. But Wilder Mind sees Mumford & Sons successfully shift from “Civil War”-style folk rock to a more wide-reaching rock sound boosted by synthesizers and light orchestration. It’s a similar feat that Kings of Leon pulled when it added ’80s guitars to its Southern Rock or how Killers looked to Springsteen for inspiration. Songs like “Tomkins Square Park” and the title track offer spacious grooves for Marcus Mumford’s never-better vocals to emote over, while “The Wolf” goes full throttle with huge, crunching guitars. Touches of synthesizer wriggle their way into songs like “Snake Eyes,” which moves from a spare, heartfelt opening into a swift gallop. Mumford’s voice sounds wearier (and better) than it did on 2012’s Babel , which suits his lovelorn lyrics well, and he’s learned how to rein it in for maximum impact on tracks like the anthemic “Believe,” giving Bon Iver a run for his money. Not all Mumford & Sons fans will like the changes the band have made, but in doing so, Mumford & Sons have proved themselves to be a better, more interesting band than their detractors have given them credit for, risking it all for a more layered, produced sound when they really didn’t have to. For those who miss the old style, the album’s second half offers folksier tunes like the lovely “Cold Arms.” With Wilder Mind , Mumford & Sons have gotten wilder indeed, and they’re all the better for it.
Besides having one of the best band names in garage rock, Guantanamo Baywatch have one of the best sounds in the genre. The band pulls from classic soul and early rock ‘n’ roll, infusing their raw vocals with a lot of sass and soul on monster-mashin’ tunes like “Jungle Bride” and fearing not to slow down the tempo for waltzing breakup ballads like “Too Late.” The band’s surf-inflected, honky-tonkin’ guitarwork is smartly done, going for melody over pure prowess on songs like the instrumentals “Raunch Stop” and “Cory Baum’s Theme.” Guantamo’s combination of stellar instrumentals and campy group sing-alongs proves a winning combination on this stellar new album from the Portland trio.
Power-pop band Surfer Blood are back with a third album that finds the Flordians maturing without losing their hooky edge. The trampolining melodies of songs like “Grand Inquisitor” are reminiscent of similarly classy pop acts like XTC, while the band’s sparkling guitar lines and throaty vocals bring to mind post-punkers like The Feelies. Surfer Blood pull off power ballads easily (no easy feat) on tracks like “I Can’t Explain,” where guitars streak around like shooting stars behind a pensive melody, and “Saber-Tooth & Bone,” a spacey, ’50s-style tune given a new-wave twist. Though Weezer isn’t the fairest point of comparison, fans of that band’s classic work should love Surfer Blood, especially on songs like first single “Dorian,” with intricate guitarwork and a snaking melody that wind their way into your head. Hook-laden rock ‘n’ roll with brains ain’t an easy thing to find, and Surfer Blood deliver it in spades with 1000 Palms .
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.
Twenty years ago, if you were to try to sell an album of all a capella covers of famous radio pop singles, you'd be laughed right into the nearest clearance rack. But times have changed. The intense cultural penetration of this tongue-in-cheek pleasure has abandoned its formerly ironic coat and has been embraced seriously. And while Glee and Pitch Perfect are undeniably comedies, the music itself is taken seriously and lovingly with deep layers of vocals that become convincingly synth-like in the cacophony of voices.
Even though Pitch Perfect 2 might be missing Anna Kendrick's mega-cute hit, "Cups" (though a melancholic, a capella version is included), they're making no stops to prove the sequel's soundtrack isn't just a carbon-copy of the first soundtrack with new classics morphed by Pitch Perfect 's goofy, funhouse mirror renditions of pop songs including "Jump," "Any Way You Want It," and "Lollipop." And did we mention a cameo by Snoop Dogg? Get your vocal chords warmed up and get ready to bring the house down with the sing-a-long soundtrack for the Summer.
It's hard to get excited about psychedelic rock when the style of fuzzed-out guitars and reverb heavy vocals has penetrated every crevice of indie rock radio. So it's a refreshingly cool glass of LSD-spiked Kool-Aid when Talk in Tongues ends up being the dance album of psych weirdness you've been craving. After the Los Angeles-based quartet released "Still Don't Seem to Care" from seemingly out-of-nowhere, it proved to be a left field hit of heavy-funk bass and crisp percussion contrasting against illuminating guitar solos while the vocals seem to float in from the cosmos. It was rattling and wild. After their song made the rounds on social media sites and blogs, Talk in Tongues has prepared their first album, Alone With a Friend , in a hurried session meant to just spawn a B-side. Frenetic and crazed without ever feeling sloppy or messily assembled, Alone With a Friend seems to channel that joy and exuberance of one too many pills that seem to kick in real late at night, right when the music gets beautiful. Transcendent stuff.
The Tallest Man on Earth aka Swedish troubadour Kristian Matsson can make the most seemingly typical thing—a white guy with an acoustic guitar—sound extraordinary, thanks to his earnest voice and unbridled passion. On his fourth album, Matsson takes another cliché—the road- and world-weary album that follows the breakthroughs and touring—and makes it work like a charm, adding additional players and generous instrumentation to the fold. The full-band sound, with jangling guitars, tambourine, mandolins, woodwinds and ethereal choral harmonies, makes the darker lyrics go down smoothly ("I'm sure I'll sleep when all this goes under/but now, will I sleep alone?" he sings on “Darkness of the Dream”). It’s a balancing act: When Matsson sings of “all this fuckin’ doubt” in a cracking voice on the glorious “Sagres,” declaring “I could drink until I sleep through all the scarier times,” the sentiment is tempered by holiday orchestration that, vice versa, could sound treacly on its own. Matsson’s directness is appreciable; “What if we never see through cryin’?/Tomorrow’s wailin’ alone,” he sings on “Fields of Our Uncertainty,” and though he never answers that question, he seems at peace with the uncertainty. Dark Bird is Home may be lyrically gloomy, but its festive instrumentation and surfeit of passion offer comfort to anyone who takes his words to heart.
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.
Durham, NC indie pop duo Sylvan Esso pick up hometown favorite Hiss Golden Messenger, instrumental hip hop from Madvillain, electronic producer Dntel's latest, Smithsonian Folkways collections & more at Amoeba Hollywood.