This Month's Picks

The Wave [Deluxe Edition] (CD)

Tom Chaplin
Since Keane announced their hiatus in 2013, their brand of tragic pop has been missed. Try listening to their seminal hit "Somewhere Only We Know" without getting emotional with all its baroque beauty. Lead singer Tom Chaplin's first album, The Wave , comes from an emotional place itself. Famously, he battled a cocaine addiction in the mid-2000s, and relapsed in the anticipation leading up to his first solo album. But The Wave feels like a victory in the wake of that type of terror and horror. If you miss the forward-thinking and simultaneously nostalgic Brit-pop sound of 1995, this album sounds like a spiritual successor. The Wave has a lovely production with luscious string parts and drums that are as elegant as Hal Blaine's famous drumming on The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds . The lead single, "Quicksand," opens with a small orchestra playing thick harmonies against a twinkling piano. Chaplin sings about being beaten, worn and exhausted by the world, but sees optimism at the end of the tunnel. He smoothly croons that there's victory and happiness to be had in small failures, and that you can eventually find success, even in your darkest moments. "Hardened Heart" comes from a similarly optimistic viewpoint, unfortunately born out of sadness. In a quiet intro, he questions how he made it to this point and how he maintains his existence in this world, and then the song hits a crescendo that feels like happiness made into soundwaves. There's a type of fragility in his vocal bravado that is almost on par with similarly introspective albums like Frank Sinatra's famous September Of My Years . With his upcoming Los Angeles performance at the El Rey Theater in February, The Wave is a perfect way to feel the spiritual connection and power of his music. More
Genre: Rock

Run The Jewels 3 (CD)

Run The Jewels
El-P and Killer Mike return with another gorgeous, hard-hitting turn as Run the Jewels. The beats are cinematic and distinctive; the lyrics are bold, political, and timely. The genius of the LP is in its seamless blend of thought-provoking lyrics, whip-smart production, and seriously catchy songwriting. Run the Jewels 3 is top notch work and features an equally excellent crew of guest artists, including Danny Brown, Kamasi Washington, Joi Gilliam, Trina, Boots, and Tunde Adebimpe. More
Genre: Hip Hop

Reflection (CD)

Brian Eno
At 68, Brian Eno constantly takes incredible leaps and new experimental risks with every album. It only makes sense that one of the godfathers of electronic music has been making some of his most forward-looking music since signing to the similarly forward-looking Warp Records. The Ship 's structure was somewhere between dream pop and ambient poem and his collaborations with Underworld's Karl Hyde recalled the Afro-future sound of his experiments with David Byrne. Reflection continues his fascination with sculpting ambient music in surprising ways that feel like a completely different experience with each album. His previous ambient albums were created through various methods including tape loops, manipulation, and computers or through his famous "Oblique Strategies" cards. Reflection is the recorded version of his new ambient music and visual app for iOS and AppleTV that creates a constant stream of sound and sonic serenity. This version made for CD and vinyl represents one of the possibilities the app can create through various algorithms. This is all very heady and out-there stuff for one of the most peaceful and meditative albums in recent years. Unlike some of his prior ambient works that required you to almost not listen and to let it create an acoustic soundscape for you to inhabit, Reflection has a thicker, heavier sound that is like a thunderous wall of organ ambiance. It shifts somewhere between computerized drone and church organ as the heavy bass creates a zone of clear thoughts and angelic sound. It's anti-chaos that can make you stop and really calm down in our increasingly insane world. After the dire nightmare that was 2016, it's wonderful to have the first major album of the year be as contemplative and relaxing a listen as this. More

Kairi Chanel (CD)

Dave East
Dave East brings it hard on his tenth mixtape (and first album on Mass Appeal Records). Kairi Chanel feels like a return to the rough, gritty sound that defined the artists of New York rough past: Ghostface Killer, Nas, and Cam'ron. The beats are shamelessly old school with heavy bass, vintage drum machines, high-pitched synths, samples with gun shots, and even an element of Middle Eastern sounds. He flows like the great street storytellers who talk of wannabe Scarefaces and gangsters who sell drugs, kill, and deal with their newfound wealth. His rhymes are clean and feels like a poet giving a ghetto oratorio or soliloquy. "Type of Time" is reminiscent of the underground sound of the early naughts. Rife with violent imagery over a melancholy piano riff, there's a lonely mood to all the killing and street-earned arrogance that it teeters between straight-out condemnation and joy. "Can't Ignore," which features 2 Chainz, is almost deranged with their flagrant selfishness over all the stacks they got. It's almost an ironic statement over how much expensive stuff they have and what it represents, as 2016 has been a year that's disenfranchised the poor even further. But the much more relaxed "Keisha" is also a fiery-filled rant where he vents about a woman he loved and how it fell apart. Behind the machismo and hard attitude, there's a type of regret and sadness in the song as he obsesses over her. Ruthless and direct, Dave East is going to start sneaking on the radio more and more by doing an album like no one else does anymore. More
Genre: Hip Hop

Atomic [OST] (CD)

Mogwai
Mogwai – the Scottish purveyors of contemplative, swirling, cinematic instrumentals – have certainly found an extracurricular niche scoring diverse projects such as the documentary Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait , Darren Aronofsky's film The Fountain , and French TV series Les Revenants . Their latest album, Atomic , is a re-recording of their soundtrack to the Mark Cousins' Hiroshima documentary for the BBC, Storyville - Atomic: Living In Dread & Promise . More of an art-piece than a documentary, Storyville  deals with the horror, fear, innovation, and hope surrounding the events of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb with images and moods as opposed to a structured narrative. Mogwai’s  Atomic  matches the film’s contrasts at every turn with their trademark shifts from shimmering minimalism to grand noise-oriented rock, sometimes in a sinister vein. The dualities of the modern world – innovation and obliteration – are heard in these revelatory shifts.  More
Genre: Rock, Soundtracks

Awaken, My Love! (CD)

Childish Gambino
Things move fast in the internet age. Only three weeks ago did Childish Gambino announce his new album and now here it is. His second album, Because The Internet , was more complex and sensitive than any other hip hop album of 2013 as Gambino would jump moods from self-loathing to good humor to long passages of loneliness and 21st century angst. Now, at nearly three years since that album and at the end of the first season of his television show, Atlanta on FX, comes his hotly anticipated third album. In the wave of Kendrick Lamar's and Kamasi Washington's spiritual journey of African-American music that's simultaneously spiritual, retro, and futuristic, Awaken, My Love!  shows more influence from George Clinton, Prince, and even King Crimson than it does with the world of modern hip hop. The epic three-part track "Me and Your Mama" opens with a chorus crying out against some new agey rhythms that suddenly cut out amid a glut of drum machines and prog drums that turns the song into classic psych funk by way of gospel. Childish Gambino cries out with real pain "This is the end of us / Sleeping with the moon and the stars" as his voice distorts into a cacophonic echo of insanity. But the song mellows out by the end with a soft melody that feels right at home in the world of The Isley Brothers. "Redbone" is a smaller, less ambitious song that instantly catches you with a simple melody that trots along at a more leisurely mood. Channeling Prince, he turns up his falsetto into a screechy performance that shows off his chops as an R&B singer. The minimal funk gives him a chance to show off his real range that stretches beyond what he's shown on other albums. 2016 has been a great year for hip hop and Awaken, My Love  caps the year off beautifully with new directions and more far out ideas than anyone else. More
Genre: Hip Hop

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