This Month's Picks

Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt. 2 EP (CD)

Aphex Twin

Just four months after breaking years of silence and releasing the excellent Syro, Richard D. James is back with another brilliant piece of music. Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 EP is based around the kind of computer-controlled “live” instruments you can play with on GarageBand. That gives the EP some pulse, on the clanging percussion, cut-up hip hop beats and vague sense of dread on that permeates through “diskhat ALL prepared1mixed 13.” “diskhat 1” is even gnarlier, with a heavier beat and percussive elements that echo just out of time. Wild piano lines slither quickly up and down the trunk of “DISKPREPT4,” while “disk prep calrec2 barn dance [slo]” calls to mind gamelan music, as does much of the EP. A few tracks sound like more like unused drum beats and loops left over from Syro, but they also work as part of James’ seeming goal to break down tracks and announce them unceremoniously, removing expectations and letting pieces stand on their own. And however short, like the 38-second, alien funk of “diskhat2,” most of them leave their mark. By the end of the album, we’ve looped back into more clanging funk, and it’s clear James has left us with plenty to chew on over the course of the extended EP’s 27 minutes. If we’re lucky, James will just keep cranking these out as he sees fit, given the extraordinary quality of both Syro and this EP.

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Lost Themes (CD)

John Carpenter

John Carpenter, known mostly for directing movies such as HalloweenEscape From New York and Big Trouble In Little China is releasing his first ever solo album (not accompanying a film). That’s right, not only is the man a landmark director he is also a pioneer in the minimalist synth genre. In collaboration with his son Cody (of the band Ludrium) and his godson Daniel Davies (who composed the songs for I, FrankensteinLost Themes is an excellent portrayal of Carpenter’s damn near trademark sound that we as moviegoers have unknowingly heard for decades. Without a celluloid backdrop with which to re-purpose these cinematic hypnotic synthesizers or erupting guitars, Carpenter’s compositions take on a narrative life of their own. The nine-track opus starts strong with the menacing “Vortex.” A track which immediately stands alongside any contemporary electronic musician out there today. It is not until you get to “Mystery” that the out and out epic horror feel of the work jumps out. “Night,” the final track on the album, is an atmospheric epilogue that fades out of view as somberly as the imaginary pictures that have danced in your head.

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Genre: Rock, Soundtracks

Sky City (CD)

Amason

Amason, the side project formed in 2012 by various members of the Swedish musical elite, has proven yet again that the Swedes know pop music inside and out. A musical powerhouse of genre splitting talent Gustav Ejstes (from Dungen), Amanda Bergman (Idiot Wind), Petter Winnberg and Nils Törnqvist (Little Majorette), and Pontus Winnberg (Miike Snow) all bring their unique styles to an extremely well written and dynamically performed debut album. "Algen," the opening track to Sky City, presents itself as a blueprint for what all of these artists jumbled together might sound like. Electro-ish beats polished with psychedelic drone over a standard call and response pop tune. The rest of the album opts to showcase each of the individual artists’ talents without veering too far from the original blueprint. The only notable difference on the record is Ejstes and Bergman vocals. The mix however is perfect. “Elefanten” rings like a b-side from the Ta det lugnt sessions, whereas “Went To War” and “Velodrome” carry Amanda Bergman’s unmistakable voice to new heights. The highlight of Sky City is the nuance of the whole piece remaining listenable and cohesive. Each track maintains just slightly different production. Techniques which may seem too retro or forced had they not been exacted with the expert skill of a proper Swede's knowledge of pop. ABBA would be proud.

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Genre: Rock

No Cities To Love (CD)

Sleater-Kinney

It’s tough to come back after a nearly decade-long hiatus, especially after your band’s best album (the combustible The Woods). But Sleater-Kinney succeed with aplomb on No Cities to Love, which scales back on Woods’ volume without dialing down the ferocity. Cities roars right out of the gate on “Price Tag,” as Corin Tucker gives a scathing indictment of American greed over Carrie Brownstein’s tuff gnarled riffs. Janet Weiss also gives a typically dynamic performance, switching between off-kilter punk-funk and straightforward rawk on “Fangless” and giving “No Anthems” and “Gimme Love” their pounding swagger. There’s a sense that Tucker, Brownstein and Weiss are growing comfortable with one another again, and appropriately, No Cities to Love is curt at 10 songs (thankfully trimmed of any fat whatsoever, really). When the trio fits together perfectly, as on “Surface Envy,” it’s a marvel to behold, its acidic riffs swaying and bursting at the seams while Tucker gives her band a worthy rallying call (“We win, we lose, only together do we make the rules”). Decidedly, No Cities to Love is yet another win for the returning rock titans known as Sleater-Kinney. 

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Genre: Rock

The Grand Budapest Hotel [OST] (CD)

Alexandre Desplat

What would a Wes Anderson movie be without a soundtrack as bright and detailed as its imagery? Desplat, who has worked with Anderson on his last two films (Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom) provides a constantly moving soundtrack that is both tense and playful, offering a sort of mocking sleuthy erudition that can only come by way of real appreciation for the lilt of the music it imitates.

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Genre: Soundtracks

Viet Cong (CD)

Viet Cong

From the ashes of the band Women comes Viet Cong, including that band’s bassist and drummer. Like Women, Viet Cong trade in gleaming, clashing guitars and droning vocal harmonies that seem to hang in mid-air, on tracks like “Bunker Buster.” “Pointless Experience” whizzes around with rocketing guitar riffs that beg to be heard on headphones, while “Continental Shelf” surfs on a New Order-ish bassline and brown waves of grimy guitar noise and leaping vocals. Though Viet Cong can be plenty crowd-pleasing when they want to be, on the new wavey “Silhouettes,” for instance, they’re also unapologetically experimental, though usually with a purpose—if you make it through the punishing industrial pulse of the first half of “March of Progress,” you’re rewarded with a haunting multivocal séance and surprisingly upbeat ending. And on final track, “Death,” the band seems to pay tribute to fallen Women guitarist Chris Reimer, with the kind of expansive guitar exercise worthy of Reimer’s sorely missed talent. Like Women, Viet Cong prefer to say what they need to say and then get out, but it’s always better to leave listeners wanting more. And any post-punk fan will be left wanting a lot more Viet Cong after hearing their dynamic debut.

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Genre: Rock

Dark Side Of The Mule (CD)

Gov't Mule

Back in 2008, Gov’t Mule played an epic three-hour gig at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre on Halloween night. That night the jam band performed a setlist comprised entirely of Pink Floyd covers. Not that it is surprising that Warren Haynes and his cronies would do a tip of the hat to Floyd per se, but to set up archival releases showcasing those efforts? A whole new thing. As the first entry in a newly launched archival campaign, Gov’t Mule is releasing Dark Side of the Mule, the full show from 2008 in Boston, wonderfully mixed and mastered to capture the band's essence. It will be released on CD, as well as a deluxe three-CD/DVD combo and as a double-vinyl edition. These archival releases aim to highlight the band's evolution as well as a catalog of their influences. And with nearly 300 songs in their live repertoire alone, you can be sure there is a lot more where that came from.

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Genre: Rock

Negative Qualities (CD)

Single Mothers

How punk rock can someone be when their songs are about trash talking typewriters and first editions? Surprisingly punk. Sweaty and angry, Drew Thomson belts out some of the nastiest and most sophisticated lyrics to come out of not just punk, but any band of the last year. And this isn't whiny, tantrum trash talk. It's pure cathartic rage of adulthood being spewed all over the mic. This isn't someone spilling their guts. This a full-on studio disembowelment.

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Genre: Rock

Warpaint (CD)

Warpaint

Warpaint’s The Fool was a great slow burner of a record, one that grew on you with each successive listen such that it continues to sound great years on. Now, four years later, the ladies of Warpaint return with their long-awaited second record. As is their way, Warpaint unfolds at an unhurried pace, relishing in subtleties with songs whose meanings or melodies you might be able to place right away, but whose impressions lasts much longer than instant gratification-style pop songs. They’re sort of the spiritual successor to the band Slowdive, the shoegaze greats who encountered as much acclaim as derision during their time, due to their milky, washy music, but who have since been ensconced as one of the most beloved bands of the ’90s. The effect of Warpaint’s music is similar, washing over you in spurts and leaving streaks. With a band like this, it’s generally tough to name singles or easy entry points, but Warpaint has some moments that stick out, namely “Biggy,” a great, trip hoppy pop song along the lines of Radiohead’s Kid A/Amnesiac period, while “Disco // Very” sees Emily Kokal’s vocals getting distorted and nasty over, yes, a disco beat, recalling some of the disco-rock of the ’00’s, only with a dirtier, dubbier tone. In these songs, Warpaint sees the band stretching their wings a bit, while fans of the first album will find much to love in the album’s dark, atmospheric corners. It’s altogether a fantastic, well-considered second album that proves the rewards of patience.

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Genre: Rock

Atlas (CD)

Real Estate

It should be no surprise that Real Estate’s third album is another impeccably crafted piece of beautiful guitar music. The New Jersey band has only made the necessary updates to their sound over the past few years, like polishing a statue into perfection. The album’s first few tracks offer everything we’ve come to love about this band, with sunny jangle-pop songs (opener “Had to Hear” and single “Talking Backwards”) butting next to nostalgic, minor-key songs about suburban splendor and decay—like being depressed about seeing a high school friend that never moved on, Matt Mondanile sings “I walk past these houses where we once stood/I see past lives, but somehow you’re still here,” with perfect precision on “Past Lives.” Real Estate’s lyrics have often taken a back seat to their shimmering guitarwork, but here they’re a bit more prominent, shining a light on Mondanile’s minimalist approach—despite how lovely the music is, songs like “Crime” are pretty depressing when you get down to it, with lyrics like “I wanna die/lonely and uptight.” Musically things have expanded a bit, as the band throws in more overt nudges toward easy listening and ’70s singer-songwriters in “The Bend” and country tinges in the gauzy, pretty “How I Might Live.” Instrumentally, these guys are just top notch, as they make instrumental “April’s Song” an album highlight, even without Mondanile’s soothing vocals, allowing his tremoloed, romantic guitar lines to do the singing for him. Atlas is simply a stunningly beautiful piece of guitar pop.

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Genre: Rock