This Month's Picks

Before The World Was Big (CD)

L.A. duo Girlpool find something new and intriguing among familiar elements on their debut LP,  Before the World Was Big . Twin vocals wrap around lonely bass and guitar lines that wander the empy space left by a lack of accompanying instruments, placing the focus on the Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad's vocals, wide-eyed and untamed like two feral children searching for clarity in a supposedly civilized world. Their debut calls to mind indie-rock heroes of yore from The Breeders to Modest Mouse without really sounding like any band before them—a feat in and of itself—singing of the trappings of a typical life ("Ideal World"), endless tour boredom ("Dear Nora") and the sudden nostalgia that hits at the end of your teenage years, where Tucker and Tividad currently find themselves, evoking the image walking to and from school in matching dresses and feeling like you grew up too fast on the title track. Unlike that of most bands, the hype surrounding Girlpool is entirely understandable—it's rare to find music this special. More
Genre: Rock

Kicker (CD)

Zella Day
If you like your pop with a hint of the alt you’ve come to the right place. Zella Day, the Arizona born songstress who first got recognition after acoustically covering The White Stripes "Seven Nation Army," is back with another foray into the pop world. "Hypnotic," the breakout single from her 2014 self-titled EP, has the swagger of a top radio hit with a western (as in Morricone) tinge. Her follow-up single, "High," occasionally hits the level of a Del Rey melancholy blended with the ferocity of a Rihanna. Apart from the savage singles  Kicker  contains several mid-tempo tracks that are balanced out by some killer pop-rock inspired tunes. More
Genre: Rock

Multi-Love (CD)

Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Unknown Mortal Orchestra continue their transition into the best funk band from another dimension with  Multi-Love . The title track sounds like Stevie Wonder on a space-rock kick, as frontman Ruban Nielson raspily sings of polyamorous affairs over proggy movements and danceable beats. “Like Acid Rain’s” disintegrated R&B dazzles and melts in your ears. “The World Is Crowded’s” lockstep groove accompanies lush soul vocals singing quizzical lyrics, asking “did she blow my brains out?” like a robot waking up from a one-night stand. And “Ur Life in One Night” takes the psychedelic-leaning funk and soul of the ’70s and making it sound truly interstellar, as though Curtis Mayfield and Funkadelic records were transmitted via satellite to an alien galaxy, and this was the responding message. But however proudly UMO wave their freak flag,  Multi-Love  is still rooted in reality. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” begins on a film-noir opening, with cinematic horns, booty-shaking jungle drums and 007 riffs growing into curious melodies that curl into an earworm chorus on perhaps their best song yet. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s particular universe is perplexing only until you get your footing; then you’ll never want to leave. It’s truly one of the best things we’ve heard all year. More
Genre: Rock

Little Neon Limelight (CD)

Houndmouth hail from New Albany, Indiana where just across the river lays Louisville, Kentucky and the bulk of the clubs where this Americana group cut their teeth. In 2012 the group played SXSW where they were immediately signed to Rough Trade. Since then they have played countless festivals and released the critically acclaimed full-length  From the Hills Below the City . Now after that blast of success Houndmouth have returned to prove that a  Little Neon Limelight  certainly ain’t gonna change them. The opener “Sedona” begins with a desert wind whistling, intimating that as a group they may be a long way from home. As the music builds and Matt Myers demands the listener hear his words the group sounds clearly comfortable in their new home. Out of the gate “Otis” has Katie Toupin delivering a classic country style tune, lending itself to the campfire sing-along. This style of storytelling pops up later in “Black Gold” where you can hear the oft-compared “The Band” influence. “My Cousin Greg,” however, is the shining star of this record. Each member of the band delivers a verse in this rollicking bluesy tune leading to the triumphant chorus “If you want to live the good life you’d better stay away from the limelight.” Clearly, this sentiment is something the band has thought about and something they have executed expertly in  Little Neon Limelight . Each of these tracks could play equally well on the festival circuit or in the neon beer light of a small Louisville dive bar. More
Genre: Rock

Alone With A Friend (CD)

Talk In Tongues
It's hard to get excited about psychedelic rock when the style of fuzzed-out guitars and reverb heavy vocals has penetrated every crevice of indie rock radio. So it's a refreshingly cool glass of LSD-spiked Kool-Aid when Talk in Tongues ends up being the dance album of psych weirdness you've been craving. After the Los Angeles-based quartet released "Still Don't Seem to Care" from seemingly out-of-nowhere, it proved to be a left field hit of heavy-funk bass and crisp percussion contrasting against illuminating guitar solos while the vocals seem to float in from the cosmos. It was rattling and wild. After their song made the rounds on social media sites and blogs, Talk in Tongues has prepared their first album,  Alone With a Friend , in a hurried session meant to just spawn a B-side. Frenetic and crazed without ever feeling sloppy or messily assembled,  Alone With a Friend  seems to channel that joy and exuberance of one too many pills that seem to kick in real late at night, right when the music gets beautiful. Transcendent stuff. More
Genre: Rock

Pitch Perfect 2 [OST] (CD)

Various Artists
Twenty years ago, if you were to try to sell an album of all a capella covers of famous radio pop singles, you'd be laughed right into the nearest clearance rack. But times have changed. The intense cultural penetration of this tongue-in-cheek pleasure has abandoned its formerly ironic coat and has been embraced seriously. And while  Glee  and  Pitch Perfect  are undeniably comedies, the music itself is taken seriously and lovingly with deep layers of vocals that become convincingly synth-like in the cacophony of voices.   Even though  Pitch Perfect 2  might be missing Anna Kendrick's mega-cute hit, "Cups" (though a melancholic, a capella version is included), they're making no stops to prove the sequel's soundtrack isn't just a carbon-copy of the first soundtrack with new classics morphed by  Pitch Perfect 's goofy, funhouse mirror renditions of pop songs including "Jump," "Any Way You Want It," and "Lollipop." And did we mention a cameo by Snoop Dogg? Get your vocal chords warmed up and get ready to bring the house down with the sing-a-long soundtrack for the Summer. More
Genre: Soundtracks

Darling... It's Too Late (CD)

Guantanamo Baywatch
Besides having one of the best band names in garage rock, Guantanamo Baywatch have one of the best sounds in the genre. The band pulls from classic soul and early rock ‘n’ roll, infusing their raw vocals with a lot of sass and soul on monster-mashin’ tunes like “Jungle Bride” and fearing not to slow down the tempo for waltzing breakup ballads like “Too Late.” The band’s surf-inflected, honky-tonkin’ guitarwork is smartly done, going for melody over pure prowess on songs like the instrumentals “Raunch Stop” and “Cory Baum’s Theme.” Guantamo’s combination of stellar instrumentals and campy group sing-alongs proves a winning combination on this stellar new album from the Portland trio. More
Genre: Rock

1000 Palms (CD)

Surfer Blood
Power-pop band Surfer Blood are back with a third album that finds the Flordians maturing without losing their hooky edge. The trampolining melodies of songs like “Grand Inquisitor” are reminiscent of similarly classy pop acts like XTC, while the band’s sparkling guitar lines and throaty vocals bring to mind post-punkers like The Feelies. Surfer Blood pull off power ballads easily (no easy feat) on tracks like “I Can’t Explain,” where guitars streak around like shooting stars behind a pensive melody, and “Saber-Tooth & Bone,” a spacey, ’50s-style tune given a new-wave twist. Though Weezer isn’t the fairest point of comparison, fans of that band’s classic work should love Surfer Blood, especially on songs like first single “Dorian,” with intricate guitarwork and a snaking melody that wind their way into your head. Hook-laden rock ‘n’ roll with brains ain’t an easy thing to find, and Surfer Blood deliver it in spades with  1000 Palms . More
Genre: Rock

Dumb Flesh (CD)

Blanck Mass
Benjamin John Power of electro-noise-pop duo Fuck Buttons crafts an album full of experimental instrumentals that pulsate and contort like gelatinous beings. “Loam’s” synth squelches, clipped beats and warped vocal snippets slowly come into focus on a tune that feels alien and yet strangely beautiful when viewed in the right light. However, Blanck Mass’ sounds are still plenty accessible. “Dead Format’s” beats heave and gallop with a tribal, festival-friendly groove. “No Lite” strips back some of the din to focus on its hypnotic, static beat, while the sound swirling around it evolves across the track’s nearly 10 minutes. “Atrophies” is one of Power’s best, utilizing arcade-game synthesizers and an 808-style handclap beat without sounding exclusively like a throwback, allowing the track to shift and morph in strange ways when necessary. Like Fuck Buttons, Blanck Mass’ occasionally unsettling and mostly vocal-free sound is an acquired taste, but it’s kind of like trying an exotic new flavor and suddenly realizing you liked truffles all along—after just a few tracks of  Dumb Flesh , your palate shifts and you’re hooked. More
Genre: Experimental

Dark Bird Is Home (CD)

The Tallest Man On Earth
The Tallest Man on Earth aka Swedish troubadour Kristian Matsson can make the most seemingly typical thing—a white guy with an acoustic guitar—sound extraordinary, thanks to his earnest voice and unbridled passion. On his fourth album, Matsson takes another cliché—the road- and world-weary album that follows the breakthroughs and touring—and makes it work like a charm, adding additional players and generous instrumentation to the fold. The full-band sound, with jangling guitars, tambourine, mandolins, woodwinds and ethereal choral harmonies, makes the darker lyrics go down smoothly ("I'm sure I'll sleep when all this goes under/but now, will I sleep alone?" he sings on “Darkness of the Dream”). It’s a balancing act: When Matsson sings of “all this fuckin’ doubt” in a cracking voice on the glorious “Sagres,” declaring “I could drink until I sleep through all the scarier times,” the sentiment is tempered by holiday orchestration that, vice versa, could sound treacly on its own. Matsson’s directness is appreciable; “What if we never see through cryin’?/Tomorrow’s wailin’ alone,” he sings on “Fields of Our Uncertainty,” and though he never answers that question, he seems at peace with the uncertainty.  Dark Bird is Home  may be lyrically gloomy, but its festive instrumentation and surfeit of passion offer comfort to anyone who takes his words to heart. More
Genre: Rock