This Month's Picks

Defend Yourself (CD)

Sebadoh

Amid the countless recent reunions of '90s bands, the timing seems perfect for the return of Sebadoh. While he's been toiling beneath the din of J Mascis' guitar heroics in the reunited Dinosaur Jr. for years, Lou Barlow's second-fiddle position in that band hasn't given enough of an outlet for Barlow's own songwriting. Thus Barlow sounds hungry on Defend Yourself, the first Sebadoh album since 1999. "Can you tell that I'm about to lose control?" he asks on the outset of the album on "I Will," over a serviceable melodic jangle. That statement proves true, as things get more interesting as Defend Yourself progresses. The stuttering "Beat" provides ample room for Barlow to shred both his guitars and vocals. It sounds as though Barlow's world is coming apart in the rumbling "Defend Yr Self"—an understandable position, given the end of his marriage, which provides bitter fuel for Barlow's fire on this album. Songs like "Oxygen," an upbeat indie pop-rocker, and "Once," a tentative instrumental, provide respite (though "Oxygen's" typically caustic lyrics remind us that even the shiniest apples from Barlow are laced with arsenic). But Barlow's at his manic best in songs like "Inquiries," which heaves into a nauseating (in a thrilling way) final portion, or "Final Days," which pairs headlong, full-band rush with world-doubting lyrics ("it's all made up and a waste of time" Barlow sings under his breath). With a mouthful of bile, Barlow spits out the songs of Defend Yourself. The resulting record feels as crucial and relevant as anything he's been a part of.

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Genre: Rock

Days Are Gone (CD)

HAIM
L.A. sister trio HAIM have seemingly been around so long, it’s hard to believe Days Are Gone is only their debut LP. That’s due to the band trickling out singles throughout the year that that have gotten better and better, all of which are included here. “Falling” moves on an echoing drum pulse and middle sister Danielle Haim’s husky, breathy vocals, falling somewhere between Christine McVie and Fiona Apple, and careful, creeping guitar riffs. “Forever” moves on an ’80s R&B shuffle, while the sisters’ back-and-forth vocal aerobics and harmonies employed Este, Danielle and Alana Haim showcase their greatest strength—the inborn chemistry fostered by playing in a band together since childhood. Their best song yet, “The Wire,” is bold enough to get called a Shania Twain knockoff by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow—they must be doing something right. Its Gary Glitter strut allows Danielle to really vamp and play the relieved ex-lover with glee, while youngest sister Alana steals the show with her swaggery second verse. The rest of Days Are Gone isn’t as strong as that dynamite opening, but even when the songs feel overstuffed, the sisters’ boundless energy makes the entire thing such an entertaining ride that you won’t mind the occasional whiplash. The details really make it worthwhile—the way the guitars pulse like they’re emulating synthesizers on “If I Could Change Your Mind,” the crazy, warped Miami Sound Machine-style vocals on the title track. We haven’t had a pop band like this in years, one with both the smarts and technical capability to call to mind classic pop acts from Fleetwood Mac through Destiny’s Child in one feel swoop. And Days Are Gone will no doubt make young women everywhere ask for guitars and pull their sisters into jam sessions. For that alone, we’re thankful for Haim.More
Genre: Rock

Seasons of Your Day (CD)

Mazzy Star

It's no surprise that Mazzy Star guitarist David Roback says the band was always recording throughout its long hiatus since 1996's Among My Swan. They still sound like the band that bummed out a million teenagers in the '90s on Seasons of Your Day. Opener "In the Kingdom" seems to underline the influence the band has had on acts like Beach House, Roback's warbling country guitar, gentle organ and Hope Sandoval's airy vocals taking ownership of that particular combination of sounds. Dark strummer "California" steers them into darker territory—Cali. ain't all sunshine and palm trees, Sandoval seems to remind us as she wistfully sings "it's so far, far away." "I've Gotta Stop" sounds like the Rolling Stones circa "Wild Horses" if they did even more heroin—no easy feat. That narcotic haze only occasionally gets lulling, though, as it has on some of their other releases. For the most part, Seasons of Your Day is more grabbing than anything the band has done to this point. Previously released songs "Common Burn" and "Lay Myself Down" are included here, sounding even better within the context of the album. They bookend one of Mazzy Star's best songs yet, the title track, capturing the mystery and subtle eroticism of Mazzy Star classics like "Into Dust" with just two fingerpicked acoustic guitar chords, some light strings and keys, and Sandoval's impossibly alluring voice, singing simple lines like "won't you let me come inside ... I know you've been missing me" that somehow evoke an entire relationship's worth of details. The band makes it easy to let them back inside with the stunning Seasons of Your Day.

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Genre: Rock

7 Days Of Funk (CD)

7 Days Of Funk

In the words of the Holy Ghost of Funk, Bootsy Collins: "Well glory be! The funk's on me!" 7 Days of Funk's debut EP is a revelatory event for for fans of and freaks for The Funk, and should be particularly pleasing for those whose funk du jour is syrup-thick mid-tempo boogie-funk seasoned heavy with synthesizers a la Yarborough & Peoples or Zapp. This latter strain of funk has seen a resurgence in recent years, aided in large part by Angeleno Dam-Funk who makes up half of 7 Days of Funk's funknamic duo. Who's the other half? None other than the Doggfather himself, Snoop aka Snoop Lion aka Snoopzilla for this release, in an explicit homage to the Bootsman. Snoop has flirted with throwback funkestries on previous releases and is responsible for the global dispersal of the G-funk sound, but never before has be given himself so wholeheartedly to the funkmersive concerns expressed on this EP. Easily transcending the side-project ghetto, 7 Days of Funk is two major voices in contemporary music, subsuming their individual identities into something new and simply huge. A match made in funk heaven.

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Genre: Soul, Hip Hop

Cupid Deluxe (CD)

Blood Orange

Solange Knowles’ bud and producer Blood Orange (aka Dev Hynes) helped her make the True EP, one of the finest R&B releases in recent memory, and now he’s got his own album, Cupid Deluxe, to keep the smooth vibes going. In truth Hynes has been plugging away for years, first as Lightspeed Champion and as part of Test Icicles, but his recent production work has drawn more attention to him than ever before. And with good reason: everything Hynes touches seems to be impossibly smooth, channeling memories of ’80s synth-funk and classic soul into something that feels undeniably modern. “Chamakay” utilizes vibraphone and jazzy bass to set a nocturnal stage for Hynes’ breathy delivery, akin to The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye. “You’re Not Good Enough” is good enough to have been a single for any of his various collaborators, riding on a slinky funk riff and heartfelt dueting vocals. Everything comes together gorgeously on “Chosen,” a sultry ballad with Disney-quality vocals, floating horns like something out of Roxy Music’s Avalon and loads of sexy atmosphere. Remember Cupid Deluxe come Valentine’s Day—it’s a deal-closer of a record.

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Genre: Soul

Shangri La (CD)

Jake Bugg

Jake Bugg may be a wee 19 years of age, but he seems to be plugging along at twice the clip of his contemporaries without a care of what other artists are doing around him. On his second album of the year, the Rick Rubin-produced Shangri La, the handsome young Brit digs hard into Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and a bunch of other not-particularly-hip-right-now influences to come up with a poppin’ folk-rock sound that is both contemporary and blows a lot of other radio sludge out of the water. “Slumville Sunrise” is positively twangy, with Bugg delivering a nasally load of words over a country chug before it explodes into a gloriously ragged rockabilly solo. “What Doesn’t Kill You” dispenses with quick punk riffs, while “Me and You” is an acoustic jangler that traces the steps of his heroes, but Bugg comes up with a masterful tune of his own (it’s here that he’s most reminiscent of another, once young and prolific troubador, Ryan Adams). He’s still got a ways to go before he’s as distinctive as his forebears, but for now, Bugg has mastered a balance of grit and grace that makes Shangri La an incredibly appealing listen.

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Genre: Rock

Inside Llewyn Davis [OST] (CD)

Various Artists

The Coen Brothers continue their strong track record with their films’ soundtracks on the Inside Llewyn Davis OST. The film covers a fictionalized version of the 1960s New York folk scene, and as with their O Brother Where Art Thou?soundtrack, this one’s also produced by T. Bone Burnett and features performances by its stars. Lead star Oscar Isaac has a lovely voice, casting a morose spell on opener “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me.” He proves a great match to Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons (who worked with Burnett on putting together the soundtrack) on “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song).” Those curious about how Justin Timberlake fits into the equation should be directed to the picturesque “Five Hundred Miles,” sung with co-stars Carey Mulligan and Stark Stands, on which Timberlake sounds sweet and of the era, eschewing any pop star touches, while Mulligan stands out with Emmylou Harris-esque backup vocals. They’re not all winners—Timberlake, Isaac and Adam Driver’s “Please Mr. Kennedy” is too goofy out of context from the film—but overall, Isaac successfully emerges as a deserved star from the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack, owning most of the songs and holding his own among artists that include Bob Dylan, whose “Farewell” is a gem originally written for The Times They Are A-Changin. (It was released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 in 2010.) While you’re waiting for Inside Llewyn Davis to be released, why not check out how its stars recreate the 1960s folk scene on its soundtrack? You won’t be disappointed. 

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Genre: Folk, Soundtracks

Veronica Mars [OST] (CD)

Various Artists

Starts off with a matured version of the theme song done impeccably by Alejandro Escovedo and complements the movie and the beloved characters’ return to Neptune, CA. It’s a sun-drenched, eclectic mix with ominous undertones – just like the fans like it.

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Genre: Rock, Soundtracks

Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles (CD)

Various Artists

Bring on this chalice, this heavy 666-sided die of dungeon-underground wizard rock so dank you’d think it’d been sarcophagus-sealed since ’77. In fact, one of the song titles included in this collection is “Sealed in a Grave” — too muuuch!

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Genre: Rock

Joyland (CD)

Trust

When you first put on Joyland, you might be afraid. Grandiose, beautiful synths and mournful vocals begin it like some damn Sigur Ros album. Where are the dirty, dark disco jams? Well wait just a second pardner, cause that New Agey opening is a red herring for Trust’s nastiest set of jammers yet. “Geryon” sounds like a zombie singing over ’90s Eurodisco. The title track warps those vocals into a higher register for diva-ish freestyle pop. While it’s a lot of fun, some tracks onJoyland fuse that desire to be taken a little more seriously hinted at by the title track with Trust’s poppier ambitions, like the OMD-style, subtly catchy “Are We Arc?,” the dynamic, multilayered disco of “Capitol,” and “Icabod,” which lets Robert Alfons’ throaty vocals move a bit in their low register and rise for a rousing chorus. So while Trust are more fun than your average modern synth-pop band, using a variety of influences in the service of crafting great dance songs, they also shouldn’t be dismissed as just a party band. Joyland proves Trust is a band to hold onto.

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Genre: Rock