This Month's Picks

Runners In The Nerved World (CD)

The Sidekicks

This band has a way of blending pop and punk without sounding like a pop-punk band. They have a knack for catchy music and a talent for writing a coherent record. It’s like The Beach Boys Plus! 

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Genre: Rock

Soused (CD)

Scott Walker, Sunn O)))

When black metal/experimental band Sunn O))) team up with ’60s-pop-pinup-turned-avant-garde-vampire Scott Walker, you know the results are going to something special. Indeed, Soused makes good on its promise as each artist is in top form on these five extended sound pieces. Walker's disturbing imagery and bellowing vocals are a perfect match for Sunn O)))’s metallic sound waves on “Brando,” as Walker sings “A beating would do me a world of good” amid whipsmacks and Blade Runner synths. Walker leads us through the bleakness of “Herod 2014” with a relatively sweet, ghostly melody as the band’s groaning guitars and insect-like beats make us feel like we’re heading deeper into a dark cavern of sound. The aggressive “Bull” makes for the clearest entry point into the album, with Walker doing his campiest Count-Dracula-leading-a-metal-band vocals and Sunn O))) going for classic hard rock chords on recognizable choruses (but even then, they leave us in the wilderness for extended periods of creeping silence and warm drone). “Fetish” finds all participants at their nastiest, while “Lullaby” ends the album by luring us in with a few minutes of relative quietude before Walker sings some of his most terrifying vocals over the band’s metal riffs—it’s a lullaby for anyone who falls asleep too easily. Soused doesn’t make for easy listening, but it’s never dull, either. Walker, in particular, sounds reinvigorated by his involvement with Sunn O))). Hopefully Soused is just the beginning of a sick and beautiful partnership.

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Genre: Rock

Run The Jewels 2 (CD)

Run The Jewels

Run The Jewels, the super talented hip-hop power duo of El-P and Killer Mike, outdid themselves in 2014 with their anticipated follow up to last year's excellent self-titled debut on Fool's Gold. For the all killer no filler sequel, released via Nas' newly launched Mass Appeal Records and simply entitled RTJ2 or Run The Jewels 2, they turn up the sonic and lyrical assault with an in your face album that is as much rock as it is hip-hop and, while only eleven songs deep, it satisfies on every level, leaving listeners longing for more. If only for the pitch-perfect second single and best song on the album "Oh My Darling Don’t Cry," this album would be worth buying but everything on here kicks ass. As E-Lit at Amoeba Berkeley noted, Run The Jewels is better than anything either El-P or Killer Mike have done individually up to this point in their respective careers - and they've each done some amazing work! RTJ2's select featured guests include Zack de la Rocha, Travis Barker, Diane Coffee, and BOOTS.

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Genre: Hip Hop

Primus & The Chocolate Factory With the Fungi Ensemble (CD)

Primus

Les Claypool and the original mid '90s lineup of Primus reunite to take on childhood! More precisely Primus pays homage to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Primus & the Chocolate Factory is a terrifying psychedelic nightmare wrapped in childhood wonderment and sugar coated with joy, much like the 1971 masterpiece. To ring in 2014 Primus played a hometown show with a rollicking classic set followed by a cover set of the soundtrack of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The show featured Claypool donning full Wonka attire, a magical set of lollipops and mushrooms, Oompa Loompas and a Glass Elevator. They even sold limited chocolate bars all named after Primus tunes! Life changing. Now they have taken that magic and distilled it into the release Primus & the Chocolate Factory. The track listing is almost directly identical to the order the songs play out in the film. It opens with “Hello Wonkites” which is an introduction more fitting than the “Pure Imagination” medley. Aided by Critters Buggin percussionist Mike Dillon, the zip-bang drum work of Tim “Herb” Alexander gives the whole recording a topsy-turvy progressive feel. The guttural “Candy Man” begins and we get a full sense of what type of Wonka Claypool really is (imagine Gene Wilder fronting The Residents.) The freaky conductor on this boat ride fades in and out vocally through the “Oompa Loompa” refrains and the less than hopeful “Pure Imagination.” The whole journey leaves the listener like the proverbial Veruca Salt wanting More! Now!

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Genre: Rock

Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper (CD)

Panda Bear

The new album by Panda Bear is perhaps his most accessible yet. This is not to say the music isn’t as strange and unique as anything he’s done. “Boys Latin’s” brilliant vocal pastiche gets stuck in your head but keeps your mind swimming. “Crossword” is heartfelt and gorgeous, along the lines of Animal Collective’s “My Girls.” “Come to Your Senses” swirls with slithering, shaking sounds, but percolating guitars and synths carry strong melodies to take you through it. “Principe Real” is like Wonderland funk, bouncing on handclaps and cartoonish organs. And “Tropic of Cancer” is a Beach Boys-inspired oceanic ode that crests on beautiful harp and digital whispers. While Panda Bear’s work has always been inspiring, Grim Reaper sheds any kind of shyness present in his previous releases. It’s a beautifully made, all-embracing piece of experimental pop music, and one of the best releases of early 2015.

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Genre: Rock

Brill Bruisers (CD)

The New Pornographers

The New Pornographers are back in a big way with Brill Bruisers. While the band’s past couple of outings have struggled to match the energy of their roof-burning early work, Brill Bruisers comes roaring out of the gate right away with AC Newman’s School House Rock-style title track. Neko Case takes the lead on a few sublime tracks, like the scenic “Champions of Red Wine,” while Destroyer’s Dan Bejar’s songs carry just that right amount of oddity to make the whole album a bit more magical, as on the swirling new wave of “War on the East Coast.” Songs like “Family Fools” are some of their best Fleetwood Mac-style aural dreamscapes of layered vocals and lush synths, and gorgeous harmonies abound, as on the pretty “Backstairs.” Occasionally New Pornographers fall into the trap of their songs being more clever than emotional, but even still, those songs keep you interested by finding new ways to approach the same old power-pop, using vocal aerobics on “Hi-Rise” and giving a lovely sentiment some quizzical melodicism for added depth on “You Tell Me Where.” It’s perhaps their strongest work since high-water mark Twin Cinema, a return-to-form that longtime fans will no doubt find to be a perfect end-of-summer gift from the gods.

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Genre: Rock

Strangers To Ourselves (CD)

Modest Mouse

It’s been eight years since the last Modest Mouse album, so forgive Modest Mouse if they have a lot to say. The sprawling, 15-song Strangers to Ourselves has a lot to offer both fans who’ve been with Modest Mouse’s since the ’90s and those newer to the fold. The soft opening of the title track actually feels quite revolutionary in the band’s catalog, wearily beautiful in its dreaminess. Single “Lampshades on Fire” feels closer to classic Modest Mouse, a stomping singalong that sounds downright gleeful in its cutting social commentary on how we’re screwing up our planet—“Well we’re the human race/We’re goin’ to party out of this place.” The more somber, mature-sounding tracks still pack snarls and growls and song titles like “Shit in Your Cut.” The band stretches into new territory on songs like “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996),” whose digital beat, suggestive lyrics and vocal manipulation makes it sound like the band is collaborating with The Knife, or, more simply, on the ragtime-style “Sugar Boats” and new-wave ballad “Wicked Campaign.” Even when they’re being more predictable, Strangers to Ourselves is still a lot of fun to listen to, laying interesting percussive elements and spiderlike guitarwork into single-worthy post-punk jam “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box,” while the more subdued songs, like “Pups to Dust,” are worthwhile for Isaac Brock’s ever-remarkable voice and lyrics, which move from folksy to obtuse and obscene at the drop of a hat. After such a long hiatus, it’s wonderful to hear them still in fine form and doing what they do best.

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Genre: Rock

Yawn Zen (CD)

Mndsgn

Luscious, mind-bending synth music comes to us from Mndsgn, the latest signee of the ubercool Stones Throw Records. Taking synth-funk jam “Message From the Stars” by The Rah Band and filtering it through a cavalcade of analog effects on “Txt,” Ringgo Ancheta creates a new cult classic of his own. Tracks like “Homewards” sprawl out on chilled out beats and landscapes that sound like they’ve had acid sprayed across them, gently disintegrating over you like melting ice cream. It’s not all dayglo synth jams though, as some of Yawn Zen’s dark corners are equally intriguing, like “Sheets,” with an introspective vocal that gets chopped up by a death-march lo-fi beat, and “Frugality’s” strange, spaced-out gurgling sounds. Trippy and odd yet lively and playful, Yawn Zen makes for a magical introduction to an intriguing new artist in the Stones Throw fold

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Genre: Hip Hop

Fresh Blood (CD)

Matthew E. White

The singer/songwriter/producer and Spacebomb Records founder returns with a second album that re-creates the American songbook D.I.Y.-style, moving from classic R&B to country-soul to gently orchestrated romantic indie pop.

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Genre: Rock

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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