This Month's Picks

Starboy (CD)

The Weeknd
The Weeknd's Starboy represents a further evolution in the alternative R&B singer/producer's sound. Featuring guest appearances from Daft Punk, Kendrick Lamar, Lana Del Rey, and Future, the album is brighter, splashier, and more polished than his early, ultra underground mixtapes. Fortunately, it works and that's due to Mr. The Weeknd himself, Abel Tesfaye's impressive ability to merge pop culture into his own dark vision. Want to know what an album inspired equally by The Smiths, Prince, Bad Brains, DeBarge, David Lynch, and David Cronenberg sounds like? Take a listen to The Weeknd's latest LP of artfully produced dystopian afterparty jams. More
Genre: Soul

Dim Mak 20th Anniversary (CD)

Various Artists
Steve Aoki’s homegrown LA record label reaches the two decade mark this year, and to celebrate they’ve put out a comprehensive retrospective featuring 20 of their most seminal releases. Dim Mak first made its mark in the 2000s, releasing essential material from indie bands who would go on to immense success, such as Bloc Party and The Kills. They later positioned themselves at a forefront of the burgeoning EDM scene, as reflected in the album’s opening cut, the now-ubiquitous “Warp” by the Bloody Beetroots. Dim Mak’s eclectic approach is displayed in Aoki’s selections; this compilation pulls from a diverse pallet of sounds and attitudes, but congeals around its shared mission of releasing music that is energetic and impossible to ignore. More

I Could Be Happy (CD)

Nouvelle Vague
Nouvelle Vague could almost be mistaken for a novelty act if they weren't actually so good. The duo of Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux (plus several delicate, soft-spoken female vocalists) has made a name for themselves by transforming tracks by The Sex Pistols, XTC, Joy Division, and The Buzzcocks into loungey, space age era bossa nova songs that belong more at a tiki themed party than in the loud timbre of a punk venue. But I Could Be Happy introduces something new: original songs. And the best part is that they don't fumble for one bit. Maybe by cutting their teeth on covers of perfect and complex rock songs, their original material doesn't land flat. "Loneliness" could be taken as a nostalgic crooner track that seems influenced by the exotica vibes of Yellow Magic Orchestra as organic sounds are gently stirred with an electronic flavor than can only be described as "chill." But the unique covers are still there! New wave band Altered Images' seminal single "I Could Be Happy" not only provides the title of the album, but is also a real highlight. The joyous, bouncy track feels like it took a handful of painkillers as it slips into a mellow variation that's more like a walk on the beach than a jolt of punk electricity. The Cure's "All Cats Are Grey" was already a haunting track that was seeped in a mysterious atmosphere and offered a taste of what more serious-minded '80s bands would do. But Nouvelle Vague's cover has a childlike whimsy that overshadows the brooding nature of the original. Instead of droning synths and echoing drums, the air of tragedy is added by touches of Celeste and an accordion that fuels the angst. As 2016 proves to be a grim year, I Could Be Happy is a musical ray of sunshine. It's pure candy for the ears and a quiet treat to end the year. Pairs excellently with a sweet cocktail. More
Genre: Rock

Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg (CD)

Gillian Welch
Gillian Welch's Revival was the album 1996 needed. Even though she was born in New York City and was raised in Los Angeles, the Appalachian sound of a century past became part of her DNA. Despite being thousands of miles away from the sound of barefoot stomping, jug music, soapbox drumming, and hillbilly rock, Gillian Welch absorbed the sound, even to that sassy, iconic country twang that's so associated with her voice. Twenty years later, Welch's sound seems as ageless now as it did in 1996. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of her debut, the outtakes, alternate, and live versions are being reissued as an official bootleg compilation, much like in the vain of Bob Dylan's famous Bootleg Series . Welch's songs are soaked in a sense of American tragedy and joy that might feel more relevant in 2016 than it did twenty years ago. Her original demo of "Orphan Girl" is a plain and simple ballad that brings mist to your eyes. Its sadness feels rawer and more poignant as her solo version lacks the richness of a fully produced track and the complexity of musicians accompanying her. Alternatively, "455 Rocket" marks the influence of rockabilly queens like Wanda Jackson as the track goes for a major key, upbeat rocker that sounds like a perfect 45 single. But the real highlight might be her primitive home demos of tracks like "Tear My Stillhouse Down." You can hear her figuring out her sound somewhere in the flat, mono landscape of a bedroom tape. What folk music is and what authentic folk music should sound like has been a hot debate since the Greenwich Village scene of the '60s, but Gillian Welch keeps traditions of uniquely American music alive and fiery. More
Genre: Country

Better Ash Than Dust [EP] (CD)

Stick To Your Guns
Orange Country hardcore/metalcore group Stick to Your Guns have released a powerful, brutal statement with the Better Ash Than Dust EP. The songs are relentless and aggressive, so it might come as a surprise to discover they’re also…ridiculously catchy. Combined, the hard-hitting guitar riffs, primal drums, and urgent, melodic vocals take metalcore to a whole ‘nother level. And that’s what makes Stick to Your Guns so great; even with your ears ringing and your teeth clenched from head banging, once the EP is over you’ll be jumping out of your seat to put it on again. More
Genre: Rock

Love & Other Crimes (CD)

Masked Intruder
Madison, WI four-piece Masked Intruder have created the perfect party record on their short but sweet Love and Other Crimes EP. The riffs are hard, the lyrics alternately heartfelt and hilarious (case in point “Everything is awesome when you’re running from the cops” from, yes, “Running from the Cops”). The songs are simple but dynamic: a real testament to the power of the mysterious masked band’s songwriting skills. If you’re a fan of snotty good-time pop punk, you’ll want to turn this one up loud. More
Genre: Rock

Citizen Of Glass (CD)

Agnes Obel
Berlin-based singer Agnes Obel’s Citizen of Glass is a quietly intense, devastatingly lovely album inspired by the German legal term gläserner berger, or glass citizen, a nod to our lack of privacy in the internet age. Obel, a classically-trained pianist, creates dark, crystalline chamber pop by incorporating the sounds of centuries past — the celeste, the spinet, a 1920s synth called a Trautonium — with lush string arrangements, voice modulation, and electronic effects. The LP is dark and enchanting, well-suited for the winter months ahead. It’s a forward-thinking album rooted in the sounds of the past; you’re unlikely to hear anything else like Obel’s singular vision this year. More
Genre: Rock

Three (CD)

Phantogram
On Three , Phantogram have perfected their unique combination of gritty electronica and earworm indie pop. The duo draws inspiration from hip-hop, soul, and electro to create truly dynamic songs like the seductive, defiant “Run Run Blood” and the infectious “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore.” The music may be buoyant, sometimes startling, and always catchy, but the lyrics often do an about-face into darker themes of failed romance, power dynamics, and addiction. If you’re looking for a little more danger on the dancefloor, Phantogram deliver. More
Genre: Rock

The Colour In Anything (CD)

James Blake
English songwriter/producer James Blake’s latest LP is contemplative, lush, and lovely. His melancholic, velvety voice rises and falls over textured, rich soundscapes inspired by gospel, R&B, garage, and Burial-style dubstep. Blake has always been the master of his own unique brand of intelligent, emotional electronica, but this time he’s brought a few interesting collaborators into the mix, namely Frank Ocean, Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), Connan Mockasin, and Rick Rubin, who co-produced seven of the tracks. The overall effect is vivid, but it’s not necessarily easy listening; The Colour in Anything is a cathartic, sometimes achingly vulnerable statement on lost love, healing, and self-discovery. More

Lady Wood (CD)

Tove Lo
Tove Lo makes pop music of a different kind: smart, wild, and emotionally raw. On her latest, Lady Wood , the Swedish singer delves into similar lyrical territory, but adds a fine layer of gloss and studio sheen. Lead single “Cool Girl” delivers on its promise; it’s witty, self-deprecating, minimalist, and yes, icy cool. Wiz Khalifa makes an appearance on “Influence,” a downer party jam about club life, confidence (or lack thereof), and chemical use. Tove Lo once again stakes her claim as pop diva of disco darkness. More
Genre: Rock