This Month's Picks

While No One Was Looking: Toasting 20 Years Of Bloodshot Records (CD)

Various Artists

Bloodshot Records is a biggie in the indie music world. The Chicago based label has represented such various artists like Neko Case, Old 97s, The Sadies, the Gore Gore Girls, and Ryan Adams, that referring to them as "varied" might be a bit of an understatement. Now twenty years since their inceptions, respect is being paid by an even LARGER variety of artists like Shakey Graves, Andrew Bird, Chuck Ragan, The Minus 5, and Superchunk in a variety of tribute tracks representing the diversity and wide catalog of music that has been birthed out of Bloodshot Records. Not just a mere tribute, but a true letter of love to one of contemporary music's most eclectic and influential labels.

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Genre: Rock

The Next Four Years (CD)

United Nations

It's fair to say that after years of war, constant drone attacks, economic problems and touchy social issues, people are getting fed up and angry at the world. And United Nations are ready to be your mouthpiece. The loudest, fiercest attack of bloody-fisted, violent vocal rock that's a cry of pain. Punk hasn't lost any of its ferocity or social criticisms. It's alive and well in United Nations' songs like "Music for Changing Peace" and "Meanwhile on Main Street," calling out Capitalistic hypocrisy and post-Occupy rage.

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Genre: Rock

Modern Vintage (CD)

Sixx: A.M.

By all logic of rock and roll living, the stars of supergroup Sixx: A.M. should either be dead or stuck in the dark world of reality TV. But instead they've made the anthem rock, roundhouse kick of 2014. With guitar licks and vocals right out of the heyday of hair metal distorted through a MacBook, Sixx: A.M. manage to keep '80s radio rock filtered with the unique computer/synth sound of the techie era. So put some mascara on, coif your hair, shrink your jeans, and get ready to rock out.

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Genre: Rock

Holiday For Swing! (CD)

Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane might be known more for being the king of crass animated shows like Family Guy and American Dad, but who knew the voice of Peter Griffin had the pipes to belt out holiday classics while simultaneously invoking the energy of Fred Astaire? Sprinkled with goofy humor and arrangements right out of Arthur Freed's MGM musicals, Seth MacFarlane plays it (mostly) straight with iconic vocalists like Norah Jones and Sara Bareilles joining in to add a bit more class to the mix. A couple of martinis and Holiday for Swing!, and December will feel like June in no time.

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Wonder Where We Land (CD)

SBTRKT

SBTRKT is modern music's demagogue. Is he electro weirdness? R&B bedroom jams? Dancey club hits ready to get turned up at midnight? He's everything and it's why he has such an audience! Three years since his debut album, he returns to unleash a new series of jams that are ready to chew you up with cathartic lyrics and music sculpted by syrupy-thick bass lines, electronic ambiance and vocalists like A$AP Ferg who can keep up with the intense beats.

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Don't Disconnect (CD)

Sarah Jaffe

As soon as the title track begins, the spare production of droning synthesizers, rattling bass and heart-gouging vocals, your bones are chilled and shaken. But your ears are yearning for more. Rejecting her previous low-fi, acoustic ballads, Sarah Jaffe steps into the studio at full creative powers and delves into the world of electronic pop. But this isn't candy coated electro pop: it's true expression by an artist using newly found studio tools to sculpt new pop sounds with heady, dense lyrics filled with the agony of modern twenty-somethings. This is 21st century pop.

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Genre: Rock

Christmas In New York (CD)

Renée Fleming

Renee Fleming has long been an iconic figure among the American opera scene with her distinct voice and virtuosity. But since her iconic take on the national anthem at Super Bowl XLVIII earlier this year, those who've never listened to the music of Puccini, Strauss or Copland are suddenly clamoring for more. Now, the famous soprano wants you get cozy with a hot cup of cocoa, a warm sweater, and a fireplace with some of the most resplendent takes on classic Christmas songs. With classic torch-like performances and smooth as ice arrangements, Christmas in New York assures its place in contemporary Christmas collections among names like Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Burl Ives.

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Genre: Holiday

In Return (CD)

ODESZA

The smooth vibrations of ODESZA are fuzzy and softer than ever with their sophomore triumph, In Return. With never a dull moment, ODESZA creates a sonic ether of syncopated, African style percussion, chiptune arpeggios and and minimal synth flare, turning something a lesser artist would filter into derivative dance hits. The unique blend of wild sounds turn each track into a Technicolor pastiche of electronic bliss.

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In The Mood (CD)

Herb Alpert

After his 2013 GRAMMY winning Steppin Out, Herb Alpert, at 79 years old is still at it and making surprising innovative music in 2014. In The Mood is a spirited re-imagining of classic jazz tunes, as well as a few originals. Opening with the familiar Glenn Miller tune "Chattanooga Choo Choo," Herb's more modern arrangement is built on loops provided by his nephew Randy Badazz Alpert. "It's a little bit electronic, with some jazz floating over the top of it at times," Herb says. The album features inspired versions of "Begin The Beguine," the Everly Brothers tribute "Let It Be Me," as well as several tunes featuring the vocals of Lani Hall, the former singer of Sergio Mendes' Brasil '66 and Alpert's wife of 40 years. In The Mood proves it is always exciting to see a true artist forging a new way to approach his sound.

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I Forget Where We Were (CD)

Ben Howard

Ben Howard, alongside his fellow bandmates Chris Bond and India Bourne, release I Forget Where We Were, a follow up to 2011’s Every Kingdom. In his sophomore effort Howard pushes himself and those around him further musically while maintaining melodies as striking as his first outing. This makes for a less accessible but more moody atmospheric listen. I Forget Where We Were, while fueled with agile finger picking, hammering and other guitar antics, is both lyrically and musically haunting. The album's true hold on the listener is far more mesmerizing than virtuosity alone.

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Genre: Rock