This Month's Picks

Lion (CD)

Peter Murphy

Bauhaus front man Peter Murphy’s latest solo album is richly emotional, dark, and romantic – but would you expect anything less from the undisputed King of Goth? Also prepare for some rabble-rousing pirate sea shanties.

More
Genre: Rock

HEAL (CD)

Strand of Oaks

Folk artist Strands of Oak (aka Timothy Showalter) makes a huge leap on his latest record, HEAL. Facing marital woes after extensive touring, Showalter spins his emotional turmoil into rock gold, eschewing the more folk-based sound of his earlier material for a huge, all-embracing rock sound. You’d be forgiven for thinking those riffs on opener “Goshen ’97” sound like Dinosaur Jr.—that is Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis shredding away while Showalter unleashing his wavering croon in an ode to teenhood (“I was lonely, but I was having fun!” he cries). Showalter has made a pop record in the same way Bruce Sprinsteen does, pairing a huge drum sound and synthesizers with emotionally naked lyrics on songs like the title track (“I spent 10 long years feeling so fuckin bad/I know you cheated on me, but I cheated on myself” he sings through gritted teeth) or the hooky, Stevie Nicks-inspired “Same Emotions.” But even with Showalter’s newfound pop fixation, these are at their heart folk songs, confessional tunes that could be played on acoustic guitar and would still sound great. He pours his heart out in songs like “Shut In”—“I lose my faith in people, why even take the time?” he sings in relatable self-pity, despite the song’s huge sonic impact—and on “JM,” he crafts a sweeping tribute to the late Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and The Magnolia Electric Co. that manages to feel both intimate and epic. While HEAL is not a small-sounding record by any stretch of the imagination—in fact, Showalter is wholly dedicated to creating a massive sound here—these are still songs that cut to the core, reserving the noise until just the right moment. His fans should be able to see that, while he’ll be snapping up plenty of new ones with HEAL who will wonder what they’ve been missing all this time.

More
Genre: Rock

Wig Out At Jagbags (CD)

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

Amid all the reunions of ’90s bands, Pavement’s was an anomaly—no new material, just some shows, a best-of release and then kaput, all within the year 2010. That’s perhaps a good thing, since it gives people a chance to focus on frontman Stephen Malkmus’ work both solo and with the Jicks, which has been largely excellent—and underrated. Wig Out at Jagbags finds Malkmus and co. loose and having fun, but still writing solid songs that stick. After a couple of jammy numbers, the album picks up with the poppy “Lariat,” which funnily seems to call out Malkmus’ own fan base (“we grew up listening to music from the best decade ever!” he sings at the conclusion). Alt-rock revivalism gives way to a piano-led rock ballad on “Houston Hades.” “Rumble at the Rainbo” finds the band poking fun at its own elder status within the underground community—“come and join us in this punk rock tune/come slam dancing with some ancient dudes,” Malkmus sings. The more improvy numbers might lose some people, even if relistening to Pavement finds as much emphasis on exploration as melody, but they always come back with a catchy tune—“Chartjunk” features horns and Malkmus playing a not-jokey guitar solo, and seeming to enjoying every minute of it; “Independence Street” is a Velvets-esque, dry ballad; and “Surreal Teenagers” closes the album on an energetic high. With an album as fun to listen to as Wig Out at Jagbags, we’ll let Malkmus close the book on Pavement and move into a new era.

More
Genre: Rock

A Million Ways to Die in the West (DVD)

This hilarious comedy from Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy and Ted, is filled with witty one-liners and an all-star cast. When Albert (MacFarlane) loses his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) to his moustached nemesis (Neil Patrick Harris), a mysterious and beautiful woman (Charlize Theron) rides into town and turns his luck around. But when her notorious outlaw husband (Liam Neeson) arrives seeking revenge, Albert must put his newfound courage to the test. Also starring the outrageous Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman.

More

Different Every Time: Ex Machina / Benign Dictatorships (CD)

Robert Wyatt

It’s tough to make a compilation album for an artist as idiosyncratic as Robert Wyatt and have it make any sense, much less make it enticing to new and established listeners. Different Every Time gets the job done by splitting things up—one disc houses highlights from across Wyatt’s career, including some of his time in Soft Machine and Mole Machine, whereas disc two has collaborations new and old. It might seem strange to begin with the 18-minute, serpentine Soft Machine track “Moon in June” (from their iconic Third album), but the prog-rock jam perfectly introduces Wyatt’s penchant for making adventurous music that still pleases the ear, setting the stage for countless artists to follow (see Radiohead, Flaming Lips, Tame Impala, too many others to name). Mole Machine’s “Signed Curtain” calls out its movements as they’re happening (“this is the chorus, or perhaps it’s the bridge?” Wyatt sings in his inimitable falsetto). Wyatt’s solo material veered further into jazz, jazz-rock and jazz-fusion territory, always with a sense of singularity that precludes it from being mistaken for any other performer. From “A Last Straw’s” spirited scatting to “Yesterday Man’s” heady psychedelia, “The Age of Self’s” grooving synth-pop and “Cuckoo Madame’s” cascading layered vocal (which whould set the stage for his collaboration with Bjork, “Submarine,” included on disc two), there is a simply stunning amount of variety here. That gets amplified on disc two, with collaborators as diverse as Hot Chip, Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera, jazz trumpeter Mike Mantler and avant-garde composer John Cage. Throughout, Wyatt’s earnest, naked vocals and style, ancient in inspiration and forward-looking in execution, remain the through-line. As Wyatt’s solitary vocal sings freely through his closing collaboration with John Cage, “Experiences No. 2,” we feel as though we’ve gone through a series of visions by a true seer of music.

More
Genre: Rock

Wasted Years (CD)

OFF!

OFF! seemingly came together out of necessity for its musicians, who came up in legendary punk and hardcore bands (Redd Kross, Black Flag, Rocket From the Crypt, Hot Snakes and Burning Brides) and perhaps needed a new outlet. Accordingly, OFF!’s sound is unrelentingly furious, packing legions of hardcore hooks into minute-long bouts.  Sooner or later, though, they’d have to go a bit further, and Wasted Years is the sound of OFF! expanding things without losing the immediacy that has made their work so compelling. After a couple of good ol’ quick bangers, the album digs into some Black Sabbath-style dark riffery (“Legion of Evil”), complex, metallic screeds (“No Easy Escape”) and a song that actually breaks the two-minute mark, the catchy “Hypnotized.” Rather than being banged out as quickly as possible, Wasted Years’ songs sound whittled away until only the core elements remain—“Death Trip on the Party Train” doesn’t need to be a second longer to tunnel its way into your brain. The album is also remarkably consistent, as each of its 16 songs stand out, with second-half standouts like “I Won’t Be a Casualty” and “Time’s Not On Your Side” (Key line: “There’s a 2x4 in my hand slicing my eyes!”) maintaining interest throughout. At this point, OFF! stands with any of its members’ previous bands as a hardcore punk band for the ages.

More
Genre: Rock

Plowing Into The Field Of Love (CD)

Iceage

Danish band Iceage do away with the heavy post-hardcore distortion on their latest release, but if anything, Plowing Into the Field of Love finds the band fiercer than ever—just from that title alone, we know this isn’t going to be a gentle affair. The country jangle behind “The Lord’s Favorite” shows you what to expect from this new era of Iceage—acoustic guitars are strummed as if trying to knock dust from the strings, drums gallop and thrash like wild horses and pianos plink eerily out of step in the background. Singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt channels none other than Patti Smith in his wordy desperation in extended tracks like "On My Fingers," though his bark and bite on “How Many” has the feel of their earlier work, with a side helping of the (relative) restraint they’ve shown here. From rumbling Western hardcore (“Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled”) to acoustic death marches (“Cimmerian Shade”), Plowing is unendingly bleak, save for the nighttime croon of "Against the Moon," which lyrically manages to make pissing in public sound romantic. You occasionally wish for a melody to lighten the mood, but Iceage have never been compromising before, so why start now? The joke’s on anyone who looks for a “mature” Iceage; Plowing Into the Field of Love sounds like it was made by a band of undead outlaws, and that’s just how it should be.

More
Genre: Rock

You're Dead! (CD)

Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus’ fifth album is as strikingly original as anything he’s put out while also becoming streamlined. Of course, to the uninitiated, it’s still pretty nuts. “Theme” builds on droning orchestration before exploding into a jazzy interlude that sets the tone for the next few tracks. “Tesla” shuffles and pings back and forth like its titular Tesla coil, while “Cold Dead’s” dense and mind-bending harmonies excite while lush horns and synths relieve the sensesHere’s where You’re Dead gets fun. “Never Catch Me” finds a hopped-up Kendrick Lamar spitting rhymes as quickly as they’ll come over FlyLo’ head-spinning twists and turns. Captain Murphy and Snoop Dogg jump in for a fun 8-bit spin on FlyLo’s sound in “Dead Man’s Tetris.” On “Coronus, the Terminator,” FlyLo sets the stage with backwards instrumentation and rain while Singer Niki Randa’s breathy voice helps create a futuristic Quiet Storm track. Angel Deradoorian continues the spell on the mystical “Siren Song,” and  “Turtles” sounds like it would soundtrack a hip wildlife special, with its echoing bird calls and cascading bassline. Now here’s where it gets insane again, as Thundercat asks, “Can you feel the walls are closing in?” through Radiohead-level paranoia and ominous melodies on “Descent Into Madness,” which leads into the true madness of “The Boys Who Died In Their Sleep,” with a creepy-ass vocal by Captain Murphy. But it’s all good by the time we get to the end, and we feel like we’ve truly been on a journey. By balancing his headier material with pop-oriented moments, Flying Lotus takes us on a one-of-a-kind trip with You’re Dead.

More
Genre:

Clark (CD)

Clark

Chris Clark has been releasing impressive music under his surname throughout the 2000s, so it’s a curious thing that he gives his latest album the self-titled treatment. Oftentimes, that move can be construed as a redirection of sound, or a renewed bid for attention. In Clark’s case, it signifies perhaps his strongest work to date. Beginning with the throbbing “Winter Linn” and moving into the high-minded, melodic “Unfurla,” Clark immediately hits hard and keeps you engaged for the duration of its 47 minutes. From “Unfurla’s” horror movie synth stabs, the creeping “Banjo” and the stormy “Sodium Trimmers” to the scenic “Strength Through Fragility,” whose piano lines seem to wash into the sea, Clark incorporates a variety of highly evocative sounds. His ability to weave these sounds into the mix while keeping his work eminently listenable is part of what makes it so special. As you dig further into Clark, more dynamic pieces like “The Grit in the Pearl” and the extended and simply marvelous “There’s a Distance in You” grip you with their dynamism. Though he’s not reinventing the wheel soundwise, Clark is an incredibly strong album that does re-establish Clark as a singular talent in the world of electronica.

More

Skeletal Domain (CD)

Cannibal Corpse

Twelve studio albums and a twenty-five year career hasn't diluted or dulled Cannibal Corpse into schlocky and anemic metal. "Kill or Be Killed" and the title track are sonic walls of vocals straight from the gut, crazed drumming and long wild guitar riffs that make you know Cannibal Corpse aren't just the granddads of death metal, but the the reigning kings of metal who are prepared to up the ante with the grimiest and darkest metal to penetrate your soul. This is music that'll rip your face off, gouge out your eyes and smash your skull in. And you'll love it.

More
Genre: Rock