This Month's Picks

Edge Of The Sun (CD)

Calexico

Calexico releases have always been eclectic collections stringing together various strings of Americana and indie rock into what’s been referred to as “desert noir.” Edge of the Sun feels like their most refined release while staying as diverse as ever, augmented by the duo’s sojourn in Mexico City while writing the record. Though it’s dotted with upbeat, jangling country-rock numbers, Edge of the Sun pit stops in Tejano territory (“Coyoacan”), hits up dusky biker bars along the road (“Bullets & Rocks”) and stops to come up with a killer electro-cumbia tune (“Cumbia De Donde”). Guests show up to keep the party going—Neko Case makes “Tapping on the Line” a gorgeous electro-country duet, while Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses helps take the soaring “Falling From the Sky” achieve lift-off. It’s a fine line Calexico walk, but nine studio albums in and the band is able to confidently wrangle a wide swath of sounds for an unpredictable album that is altogether gripping.  

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Genre: Rock

The Powers That B (CD)

Death Grips

Remember when rap-rock was a bad thing, before Death Grips came along and radically re-created the genre? That’s not really fair to Death Grips—they basically created their own genre of aggressive electro noise, Zach Hill’s wildman drumming and MC Ride’s berserk raps. The Powers That B might be the last Death Grips album, since the band announced it was disbanding last year, and accordingly, the trio plays through The Powers That B as if their lives depend on it—or, perhaps more appropriately, like they’re on a suicide mission. From the get-go, Disc Two doesn’t let up, starting with out-of-breath spring “I Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States.” From there, we rev up through “Inanimate Session,” which starts literally sounding and feeling like the uphill chug of a roller coaster before the inevitable set of winding loops that unsettle your sense of balance. By comparison to its opening tracks, the robot-metal of a track like “Why a Bitch Gotta Lie” may feel like a reprieve; at the very least, it’s a worthy entry point, as is the nearly danceable caveman-stomper “Beyond Alive” and epic “On GP.” Although Death Grips aren’t really about accessibility, Jenny Death is the most engaging thing they’ve done in some time, since their breakthrough release, The Money Store. Meanwhile, the previously online-only first disc, Niggas on the Moon, features Bjork samples warped into hyper-real chirps and percussive elements; it’s a more difficult listen, but one that fans of Death Grips’ extremism should appreciate. Taken together, it’s an utterly intense listen; you may not remember your own name after taking in two discs of Death Grips’ unrelenting force, which means it’s the consummate way to experience Death Grips.

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Genre: Rock

Black Metal (CD)

Dean Blunt

Dean Blunt’s Black Metal exists in some mystery universe between King Krule, The Weeknd and Galaxie 500. On one hand, the experimental pop artist, who put out the acclaimed sound collage mixtape The Redeemer, last year and who was once one-half of the duo Hype Williams, touches on the indie-pop past of his label, Rough Trade, with airy guitar-and-piano soundscapes. But unexpected elements, like an ‘80s pulse on “X,” cut-up beats on “Forever” and female counterpart vocals on songs like the jangly “100,” keep things endlessly intriguing, while Blunt’s dry delivery cuts through dreamy tracks like “50 Cent,” giving them an urgency that contrasts sharply with the austere music. On one hand, it can be a little jarring to hear such disparate sounds on one record, as Black Metal’s second half takes electro/hip hop detours that sound pulled from an entirely different album. But when Black Metal works, it really is seamless, and music that sounds messy on paper is nothing less than sublime on record.

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Black Messiah (CD)

D'Angelo

The long-awaited Black Messiah caps off 2014 as the year’s best soul album. But to call it soul or R&B would be reductive. Even more so than D’Angelo’s previous two albums, the excellent Brown Sugar and neo-soul masterpiece Voodoo, Black Messiah eschews any preconceived notions of what R&B, pop, music in general should be. Black Messiah draws upon a rich history of black music, notably blues, jazz and gospel and funk, and blows them out into billowing, smokey jams that seep under your skin, work their way into your veins. “Ain’t That Easy” rides hard on The Vanguard’s hip-hop beat and raunchy funk chords, while D’Angelo delivers an impassioned vocal and conciliatory lyrics like a sleek modern-day update of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” “1,000 Deaths” lays out Black Messiah’s other theme, starting with a powerful passage by an African American preacher that rails against the presentation of Jesus as a white savior. Over The Vanguard’s stuttering, skronking beat, D’Angelo’s multitracked vocal paints a harrowing picture but makes its most memorable couplet a rallying cry for the oppressed (“A coward dies a thousand times/But a soldier only dies just once), ending in an ecstatic, Prince-worthy cry and Hendrixy guitar explosions. Like Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah albums, or (aesthetically) like Kanye West’s Yeezus, Black Messiah is remarkably adventurous throughout. “The Charade” shuffles along a beat reminiscent of Radiohead’s “There, There,” dazzles with springs of sitar and builds to a thick climax. Similarly, “Back to the Future (Part I)” and “II” breaks up a future-funk suite about breaking up, keeping you engaged with its heady groove. Black Messiah’s more accessible moments make for some of the loveliest songwriting D’Angelo’s put to tape, with lush devotionals like “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” and “Really Love” and the jaunty alien jazz of “Sugah Daddy” making for perfect mixtape material. D’Angelo definitely kept us waiting a while for this one, but his remarkably consistent catalog to this point shows that the best things come to those who wait. Truly, Black Messiah is a densely layered soul masterpiece.

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Genre: Soul

Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders (DVD)

From his beginnings to his tragic death in 1991, Looking for Johnny documents the legendary hard-living rock 'n' roll guitarist who inspired glam-metal, punk, and the music scene in general as a member of the New York Dolls, The Heartbrearkers, and beyond.

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Devo: Hardcore Live! (DVD)

Devo captured live in Oakland, performing early experimental tracks. No matter how messy, beginnings are exciting. Especially when what happens next endures the test of time. For Devo the beginning happened in the basements and garages of Akron, Ohio. The songs they wrote were raw and unfiltered with no commercial intent. They called it Hardcore Devo. Performing 21 oddities, intercut with poignant stories told by Mark, Jerry and Bob 1, this program is a tribute to the departed Bob "Bob 2" Casale.

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Nightbreed (BLU)

For the first time on home video, you can experience Clive Barker's original director's cut of Nightbreed with over 40 minutes of new footage, all mastered in high definition from the original camera negative.

Boone (Craig Sheffer) may be a troubled young man, but his troubles are just beginning. Set up as the fall guy in a string of slasher murders, he decides he'll hide by crossing the threshold that separates "us" from "them" and sneak into the forbidden subterranean realm of Midian. Boone will live among the monsters.

Hellraiser creator Clive Barker writes (adapting his novel Cabal) and directs this vivid leap into horror that asks: in the battle of man vs. monster, who's really the monster? The answer supplies flesh-crawling suspense, sudden fear, a colorful Danny Elfman score and a creepy array of shape-shifting beings. They are the Nightbreed, denizens of a world beyond death, beyond the imagination, perhaps beyond anything you've seen.

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The Stand-Up Years 1964-1968 (CD)

Woody Allen

A new two-disk compilation of Allen’s three comedy albums recorded between 1964 and 1968. Also includes 25 minutes of interviews.

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Genre: Comedy

Hyperview (CD)

Title Fight

Title Fight had made a name for themselves on a handful of releases based around heavy, melodic guitarwork and razorwire vocals. On Hyperview, Title Fight stray further from the emo/punk format by turning their guitars into dream-rock vehicles and toning down the vocals in favor of soaring shoegaze melodies. The change suits them, as Title Fight are able to shake things up with mangled noise rock chords on “Chlorine,” moody basslines on songs like “Hypernight” and power-pop arrangements on tracks like “Mhrac.” The band’s watery, textured guitar playing makes for pleasant listening on the plaintive “Your Pain Is Mine Now,” but the band can still deliver a dose of the good ol’ screamo-style singing on “Rose of Sharon,” placing them in the same boat as bands who’ve similarly paired picturesque guitarwork with corrosive singing and driving beats, like Fucked Up and Deafheaven. Fans may have to get used to the more impressionistic style they use here, employing Chapterhouse and Swervedriver as influences as much as Jawbreaker or Rites of Spring. But those who are willing to evolve with the band will be rewarded with a perfect marriage of pulse and shimmer, on songs like standout “Liar’s Love.” And those of us new to Title Fight have a much-needed dose of gorgeously loud music on our hands with Hyperview.

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Genre: Rock

The Best Day (CD)

Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore makes the Sonic Youth breakup a little easier to swallow with a warm salve of a solo album. Sonic Youth fans will delight add beautiful harmonics and familiar chords of a song like “Speak to the Wild,” as the permateenager sings infectiously, “the time has come to join a band.” “Forevermore’s” extended drone, slacker romance and heroic guitar runs feel like comfort food you feast on for eleven minutes. The Best Day is a relatively peaceful album, and the drone built into some of these tracks makes them bleed together somewhat. But Moore mixes things up to keep it interesting, offering glittering mandolin and psychosexual musings on “Tape,” a Television-style rave-up on the title track and good ol’ punk thrills on “Detonation.” It may not be much you haven’t heard from Thurston Moore, but it sure feels good to have him still making like this. Fans of both Sonic Youth and Moore’s solo work will find plenty to cherish on The Best Day.

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Genre: Rock