This Month's Picks

Sacred Harp And Shape Note Singing (1922-1950s) [Box Set] (CD)

Various Artists

In the 1800s shape notes (a less complex method of musical notation) helped create an easy pathway to choral singing and a unique, moving style that is unearthed in these beautifully cleaned-up field recordings.

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The Satanist [CD/DVD] (CD)

Behemoth

Already hailed as a classic of the genre, The Satanist arrives with ample hype from the death metal community. Luckily, Behemoth blow away expectations throughout their 10th album. “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” begins with familiar enough surroundings—a low-end, Sabbath-inspired riff, a processional and Nergal’s shredded yet intelligible vocals—but they blow the thing apart with tribal beats and ghostly synths that explode in the middle of the song and don’t let up for its remainder. “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer” offers no such soft pedaling, launching right into its pummeling beats, gothic riffs and satanic, individualist lyrics. Though Behemoth trade in familiar death metal tropes, their tones and subjects are so well-considered across the album that the Polish band can only be called masters of the genre at this point. The Satanist is a thing to admire, ungodly in its power of noise.

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Genre: Rock

Deep Fantasy (CD)

White Lung

Singer Mish Way is a captivating presence and the songwriting has killer guitar hooks. Definitely delivered without compromising, making killer anthemic punk that exists outside narrow genre styles.

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Genre: Rock

Refractory Obdurate (CD)

Wovenhand

Heavy and “literary” (in the biblical sense), sludgey and deep with ancestral folk roots as well as goth-punk layers. Folk-prog rock steeped in shadows and echoing desperation and hope.

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Genre: Rock

The Lucid Collective (CD)

Archspire

Possibly the best tech-death band in the world, these Canadians need to be heard to be believed. Pure raging tech: no clean vocals, the shweeps picks, the tappy-tappy. Blazingly fast, yet highly musical drumming. Truly innovative bass playing. And a vocalist who spits the lyrics as fast as the guitarists are shredding the notes.  

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Genre: Rock

Marie et Marion [SACD] (CD)

Anonymous 4

The unearthly Anonymous 4 combine historical scholarship with contemporary performance intuition to create their magical sound. Explores songs that juxtapose desire for the earthly lady Marion and adoration of the heavenly Virgin Mary.

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Genre: Classical

Lese Majesty (CD)

Shabazz Palaces

Led by Ishmael Butler (formerly ‘Butterfly’ of Digable Planets) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire, Seattle duo Shabazz Palaces take hip-hop out of the streets and into the astral plane. Their 2011 debut Black Up was a critically acclaimed space age masterpiece with fragmented beats over dark, hallucinatory soundscapes. The follow up, Lese Majesty, continues where Black Up left off while sprawling into other dimensions of sound and space. Featuring 18 songs grouped into seven suites, the album expands rather than drags, showcasing Tendai’s dilated rhythmic mastery and Ishmael’s inimitable way with words. With a playing time of 45 minutes, Lese Majesty takes us back to an age when musicians embraced the long player format. Each song beautifully melts into the next one to create a mood instead of just another hit. Like a galactic sonic roller coaster, Shabazz Palaces are challenging and expanding the hip-hop landscape, taking it to the moon and beyond.

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Genre: Hip Hop

Present Tense (CD)

Wild Beasts

Wild Beasts began as an indie rock band exceedingly true to its name, with Hayden Thorpe’s wooly falsetto careening through cabaretesque arrangements. Since then, they’ve whittled away until the band has come closer to the post-rock stylings of Talk Talk, with propulsive grooves to keep things grounded. The latter half of that equation gets expanded on Present Tense, their most widely appealing album to date. They’ve never done anything quite as boldly pop as “Wanderlust,” which pivots on a four-note synth groove that they keep layering on until they’ve got an awesome tower of sound. Thorpe’s feminized vocals make “Mecca” sound like a lost Kate Bush song, floating on cloudy synths, crystalline guitars and rumbling momentum from Wild Beasts’ excellent drummer, Chris Talbot. “A Simple Beautiful Truth” works similar grounds, using catchy, ’80s tropes like new-wave beats and Asian-inspired synth melodies to explore tough-to-reach emotional territory. Through those poppier concessions, the band earns its way into songs like “Pregnant Pause,” a spare, almost mystical heartbreaker—“sometimes you seem like a lost cause,” Thorpe sings sadly, pleading “speak to me in our tongue.” Though likely still strange as ever to new ears, Wild Beasts have their best chance yet at worldwide recognition while maintaining their singular identity on Present Tense.

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Genre: Rock

The Soul Of All Natural Things (CD)

Linda Perhacs

A legend of Topanga Canyon folk, Linda Perhacs returns with her first album in more than 40 years. She’s been living life as a dentist while an Internet-age cult built around her New Age-folk album Parallelograms, with Devendra Bahart asking her to appear on his album Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. Modern acolytes like Julia Holter and Nite Jewel (aka Ramona Gonzalez) help out here, helping transform compositions like “River of God” into stunning, swirling pools of layered vocals, softly plucked acoustic guitars and light touches or organ and backward guitar. Songs like “Daybreak” are simple and beautiful, seeming to well up with light as they progress, while songs like “Intensity” are more directly strange and alluring, combining New Agey aphorisms (“We are in the rhythm of an energy sea,” for instance) with exciting polyrhythms, woven strands of vocals and intriguing musical touches that seem to spill out perfectly. It’s a similar story to Animal Collective’s work with Vashti Bunyan a few years back, and similarly, The Sound of All Things is a complete triumph.

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Genre: Folk

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