This Month's Picks

Sleeping Operator (CD)

The Barr Brothers

Making a second album can be daunting for a group. Having to live up to expectations of their previous release without repeating themselves, the pressure can be severe. For the Barr Brothers, Sleeping Operator takes risks that wouldn't have been expected from the neo-classical folk music quartet whose previous album of gentle harmonies, harps and bouncing guitars was more 1961 than 2011. But now they sound 2014 with a vibrant production stepping them out of merely folk and throwing them into a blend of folk-pop ballads with luminous horns, avant-rock percussion, thick string parts and mellow guitar jam-outs. The first track, "Static Orphans," is the ambient cold-opening to a surprisingly indie-rock jam, "Love Ain't Enough," followed by "Wolves" which sounds right out of a '70s country-rock album your parents might have listened to. But they haven't let go of their folk roots. Culminating in "Please Let Me Let It Go," you're left with a sublime sadness that few artists can achieve. This is interesting folk music at heights that few artists can touch.

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Genre: Rock

And The War Came (CD)

Shakey Graves

Alejandro Rose-Garcia's second album under the name Shakey Graves is the kind of music that keeps Austin weird and retains its Texan flavor. And the War Came is a blissful late-night drive of FM country ballads buzzing out of the busted stereo of your old car. Surprisingly minimal, Shakey Graves, armed with his guitar, whiskey-pitched vocals and foot-stomping percussion, gives country-rock an edge of millennial hipness lacking from most contemporary acts, but without any of the ironic distance. His sincere approach comes through in the feelings of love and joy he has for the country culture around him. The album's single, a duet with Esmé Patterson called "Dearly Departed," recalls Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris on the legendary album, Desire. Shakey's voice drenched in whiskey and beer harmonizes in a swirl of Beauty and the Beast against Patterson's sweet, melodious twang. The sparseness of "If Not For You" with just a man and his guitar feels more like Depression Era hobo folk where someone pours out through the soul not for money or recognition, but because they know no way to keep it in. For those who think "country music isn't for me," they should blast some Shakey Graves in their car and see how he's keeping Texas the hub for interesting country.

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Genre: Folk

Lost Loves (CD)

Minus The Bear

There are no real Lost Loves for Minus the Bear; songs which could've been B-sides or cutting floor scraps get their proper love on this EP of unreleased tracks from the last seven years of their career. From the opening track, "Electric Rainbow," you're confronted with ferocious crying guitars, 400-horsepower percussion and droning synths. This isn't just a curiosity for Minus the Bear fans, but a track that reverberates with a passion equal to their previous albums. Closer "The Lucky Ones" is one of their most bitterly ironic tracks of pure white-knuckle emotion. It's unflinching, angst-ridden post-prog pop that any lesser band would envy. For artists to reject tracks of this quality would been a Sophie's Choice, but they've found their home and are waiting for you to give them the respect they deserve.

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Genre: Rock

Queen Of The Clouds (CD)

Tove Lo

Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Nilsson, better known as Tove Lo, has been gaining momentum and mainstream attention since 2012. In her debut EP Truth Serum the pop phenomenon unabashedly admits, “I eat my dinner in my bathtub, then I go to sex clubs/Watching freaky people getting it on.” It wasn’t until that track “Habits (Stay High)” off Truth Serum was remixed by experimental hip-hop producers Hippie Sabotage that Tove Lo received international attention. Now that she has received the attention of the masses, her true confessional has begun. Much like her debut EP, Queen Of The Clouds remains brash and earnest, although it now takes on a narrative style that the full-length has afforded her. The album is split into three different segments: “The Sex,” “The Love,” and “The Pain.” “The Sex” culminates in an almost hyper-dance orgasm “Timebomb.” The climactic triumph of which is only made realistic by Tove recounting, “You’re not forever, you’re not the one.” Her playful lyricism becomes more of a self-effacing tool during her love song “Moments” where she lists all of her faults and explains, “…but on good days I’m charming as fuck.” The pain of this awareness is overshadowed by her hit single “Habits (Stay High)” which is a shockingly deep portrait of a personal relationship and the effects it had on her. The synergy between this open-book mentality and out and out club beats make this debut a lyrically dark dance charmer.

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Genre: Rock

In A Dream (CD)

The Juan MacLean

Post hardcore guitarist turned electronic musician John Maclean teams up with post LCD Soundsystem vocalist Nancy Whang to release In A Dream. The record has an immediate dancability indicative of any DFA release. However, the pedigree between these two lends a familiarity that gives the record a certain timelessness. During the last days of LCD System Nancy Whang was asserting herself as a creative force in that group. With the dissolving of LCD Soundsystem, Nancy has turned it way up as the prominent vocal feature on Maclean’s record. Maclean churns out some killer pop-disco synth bangers, while Whang keeps the hooks coming. The single “A Simple Design” highlights the partnership that Whang and Maclean have, and leaves hope for a new definitive duo for the DFA label.

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Encyclopedia (CD)

The Drums

Conceived by its members as the fusion between a synth take on The Sound of Music and amelodic No Wave, The Drums craft compellingly tumultuous music on Encyclopedia. Thrilling opener “Magic Mountain” is about as far from The Drums’ first album and its sunny Cure-at-the-beach vibe as you could get, its highwire vocal doing battle against fraught guitars and theramin. You can hear that Sound of Music thing on songs like “I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him,” a girl-group-style ode to drifting apart with shooting-star synthesizers and misery-laden guitars. “Kiss Me Again” feels a bit like The Drums’ earlier work, particularly the more frantic Portamento, but the newness comes in how adventurous founding members Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham allow themselves to be melodically while remembering how great they are at writing hooks like “kiss me again” sung out into infinity. Encyclopedia is definitely more of a bummer record, but there are some really nice classical melodies buried under the mopeyness and experimentation—“Break My Heart” is a great Brian Wilson-style lament, even as it slowly struts off the pier. And when they go full force on the “Face of God,” it’s like a surf song about a tidal wave, as its vocals suggest tragedy and its bassline and synths creep too far upward to tingle at the back of your neck. It’s like the aural equivalent of losing your innocence and becoming bitter, reminiscent of Weezer’s evolution from The Blue Album to Pinkerton, full of catchy tunes that are chewed and spit out. So Encylopedia stings a little, but in a good way.   

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Genre: Rock

Mean Love (CD)

Sinkane

Brooklyn based Ahmed Gallab’s third full-length album, Mean Love, is soul-funk genre bending pop record. With the tracks are loosely based on the meditation of love gone wrong, Sinkane uses all manner of instruments and genres to weave this piece together. The result being his most experimental and pointed release yet. The multi-instrumentalist’s vocals wash over thick bass lines in the '80s soul inspired single “Hold Tight.” “Galley Boys,” is done with an almost country island pedal steel vibe. One highlight is with the track “Omdurman.” The album's brightly hymn-like closer has the communal reminiscence of the work that Gallab did as the musical director of William Onyeabor tribute The Atomic Bomb! Band.

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Innerworld (CD)

Electric Youth

Electric Youth broke out in a big way with “A Real Hero,” a song that came to define the sound of the film Drive and its corresponding soundtrack. The duo double down on that impossibly romantic synth sound on Innerworld, their long-awaited debut album. That slow-burning pulse is back in songs like “Innocence,” perfectly capturing the romantic ideal of first love with synthesizers that at first sparkle like eyes being rubbed awake and then dazzle with gentle orchestration. Subtly enough referencing the soundtrackers of ’80s proms like Yaz and Alphaville, Bronwynn Griffin’s breathy voice sometimes floats by as a dream and other times catches onto a lighter-waving sentiment, like “we are the youth, we like to sing” (on “WeAreTheYouth”). Though Electric Youth may lack a bit for originality, Innerworld pretty skillfully avoids sameyness by appealing to current Europop-indebted dance music on tracks like “Runaway,” though they’re at their comfortable best on songs like “Without You,” building from their favored digital throb into a lovable freestyle couple. Griffin and her partner, Austin Garrick, have been a couple since the 8th grade, and thus their ability to make every synth stab feel like a dizzying first crush rings authentic. It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard some of the sounds here before, or that they even include the three-year-old “Real Hero”; Innerworld’s swoony romanticism makes you feel like it’s the first time.

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Ebb & Flow (CD)

Judith Owen

Owen writes songs that are emotional and timeless, recalling the golden age of avant-storytellers like Joni Mitchell & Elton John in their heyday, effortlessly combining jazz, folk, and rootsy rock into an exquisite blend of classic songwriting and musicality. The Welsh singer's technically gifted piano playing and strong, smooth, smokey voice ensure a musical experience of exceptional quality and depth as she directs a truly all star band of session players (Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar, Waddy Wachtel) through her repertoire. Fans of Carole King and Joni Mitchell will find not an imitator but a new and growing voice making good on that legacy.

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Genre: Rock

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Season One (DVD)

Emmy-winning action-comedy that calls to mind cop sitcoms of yesteryear with a few modern twists. Cult comedians like Joe Lo Truglio and Chelsea Peretti help make it extra special.

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