This Month's Picks

Future Brown (CD)

Future Brown

The electronic all-star team of Fatima Al Qadiri, Jamie Imanian-Friedman, and Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda of Nguzunguzu, release their eponymous debut album Future Brown. As the title would suggest the album is hard to define, if not impossible. Having bonded over New York’s music, art and fashion scene this crew expertly blends all of the genres and styles one would expect to come from that pedigree. Future Brown’s music blends dancehall beats with a mid-Eastern flare. It forces Miami bass and dance cuts to commit to the structure of a hardcore grime track. All while maintaining the depth and the intricacies you would expect from world class electronic producers. But while the music does stand on its own, the crop of outstanding rappers and featured vocalists this team has put together is downright savage. Timberlee on “No Apology,” Shawnna on “Talkin Bandz” or Riko Dan on “Speng” are some shining highlights. Get this release and look forward to what this new team might put together in the future. It is stunning.

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Complicated Game (CD)

James McMurtry

Austin-based James McMurtry releases Complicated Game, his first album since 2008’s Just Us Kids. The album stands by the storytelling hallmark the Americana artist is known for but keeps it a bit more acoustic than his previous. He also keeps it a bit less baldly satirical than his previous couple records. Songs like “We Can’t Make It Here” or “Cheney’s Toy” are conspicuously missing in favor of the more lyrically and musically engaging like the opener “Copper Canteen” or the single “How’m I Gonna Find You Now.” Recorded in a New Orleans studio with producer C.C. Adcock Complicated Game has less of the rollicking sound you might expect on a midnight set from McMurtry’s Heartless Bastards (which he still performs on Wednesday nights at the Continental Club in Austin) and more of a methodical story-driven roots vibe. If there is anything that James McMurtry does well its lock the listener in with his spellbinding lyrics. Complicated Game is no exception.

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Genre: Rock

Mourn (CD)

Mourn

Catalonian teen quartet Mourn makes a passionate racket on their debut album. Singer Jazz Rodriguez Bueno channels PJ Harvey with her raspy delivery and more cutting lyrics on tracks like “Dark Issues,” or a young Siouxsie, on the way she can play with emotions but still bring a smile to your face, on songs like galloping opener “Your Brain is Made of Candy.” Her band keeps things terse, inspired by the likes of Nirvana and The Ramones, yet their clean guitars and neat grooves on standouts like “Philliphius” and “Otitis” suggest wisdom beyond their years. A handful of tracks read as more juvenile alt-rock exercises, yet Mourn also never loses momentum, bashed out with a live-tracked, Steve Albini feel and the animated precision of off-the-cuff ideas rehearsed and captured in one raw take—Bueno’s wail at the end of bonus track “Boys Are Cunts” feels both visceral and well-timed. It’s an incredibly promising debut that puts our faith back in so-called wasted youth.

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Genre: Rock

Ibeyi (CD)

Ibeyi

Twin sisters Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz draw upon their Afro-Cuban heritage for their bewitching electro-soul debut. The sisters’ close harmonies and unison chants spill out hauntingly on “Oya,” an invocation to a Santeria spirit built on a digitally scuffed tribal beat. The sisters are the daughters of Buena Vista Social Club percussionist Anga Diaz, who died when the girls were pre-teens, and his spirit (as well as that of their deceased older sister) hangs overhead, but however ceremonial Ibeyi can feel at times, it’s rarely funereal—“my ghosts are not gone,” they sing, but “Ghosts” pulsates with lively chants. Only on standout “River” does it feel mournful, the sisters’ minor-key, gospel-influenced harmonies creating gothic atmosphere alongside a creeping piano and knocking beat. Ibeyi feels strange, its spare beats, eerily clipped sounds and occasional corroded hip-hop beat jibing uneasily with the sisters’ ritualistic vocals, but that underlying feeling of pain also serves to make the album’s spare landscapes feel oddly soothing in a cathartic sort of way. Perhaps it’s the Diaz’s directness—on “Behind the Curtain,” they sing, “dear audience, sweet spectator, we’re together for good,” and you can’t help but feel the connection. It’s an impressive and endlessly intriguing debut from the 20-year-old Diaz sisters.

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Holding All The Roses (CD)

Blackberry Smoke

At first glance Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke are a throwback Southern rock outfit. Ah, but there is more to Charlie Starr and company than meets the eye. After sharing the stage over the last 15 years with the likes of Skynyrd, ZZ Top, and Zac Brown Band (the latter whose label they just left,) Blackberry Smoke has honed their own unique voice. Holding All The Roses, their first release on Rounder, is a catchy southern rock record with tinges of bluegrass and Alt-'90s songcraft. Whether it’s the infectious Good Ole’ Boy Rock ’n’ Roll “Let Me Help You (Find the Door)” or the Chris Cornell influenced “Woman In The Moon,” the album flits back and forth between a Rock album and a contemporary country record. The band is obviously well versed in both genres. This is especially noticeable on tracks like “Randolph County Farewell” where the bluegrass acoustic work of Charlie Starr (Lead Vocals, Guitar) and Paul Jackson (Guitar, Vocals) leads directly into a heavy number aptly named “Payback’s a Bitch.” Ultimately a fun listen.

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Genre: Rock

Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt. 2 EP [Import] (CD)

Aphex Twin

Just four months after breaking years of silence and releasing the excellent Syro, Richard D. James is back with another brilliant piece of music. Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 EP is based around the kind of computer-controlled “live” instruments you can play with on GarageBand. That gives the EP some pulse, on the clanging percussion, cut-up hip hop beats and vague sense of dread on that permeates through “diskhat ALL prepared1mixed 13.” “diskhat 1” is even gnarlier, with a heavier beat and percussive elements that echo just out of time. Wild piano lines slither quickly up and down the trunk of “DISKPREPT4,” while “disk prep calrec2 barn dance [slo]” calls to mind gamelan music, as does much of the EP. A few tracks sound like more like unused drum beats and loops left over from Syro, but they also work as part of James’ seeming goal to break down tracks and announce them unceremoniously, removing expectations and letting pieces stand on their own. And however short, like the 38-second, alien funk of “diskhat2,” most of them leave their mark. By the end of the album, we’ve looped back into more clanging funk, and it’s clear James has left us with plenty to chew on over the course of the extended EP’s 27 minutes. If we’re lucky, James will just keep cranking these out as he sees fit, given the extraordinary quality of both Syro and this EP.

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Lost Themes (CD)

John Carpenter

John Carpenter, known mostly for directing movies such as HalloweenEscape From New York and Big Trouble In Little China is releasing his first ever solo album (not accompanying a film). That’s right, not only is the man a landmark director he is also a pioneer in the minimalist synth genre. In collaboration with his son Cody (of the band Ludrium) and his godson Daniel Davies (who composed the songs for I, FrankensteinLost Themes is an excellent portrayal of Carpenter’s damn near trademark sound that we as moviegoers have unknowingly heard for decades. Without a celluloid backdrop with which to re-purpose these cinematic hypnotic synthesizers or erupting guitars, Carpenter’s compositions take on a narrative life of their own. The nine-track opus starts strong with the menacing “Vortex.” A track which immediately stands alongside any contemporary electronic musician out there today. It is not until you get to “Mystery” that the out and out epic horror feel of the work jumps out. “Night,” the final track on the album, is an atmospheric epilogue that fades out of view as somberly as the imaginary pictures that have danced in your head.

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Genre: Rock, Soundtracks

Sky City (CD)

Amason

Amason, the side project formed in 2012 by various members of the Swedish musical elite, has proven yet again that the Swedes know pop music inside and out. A musical powerhouse of genre splitting talent Gustav Ejstes (from Dungen), Amanda Bergman (Idiot Wind), Petter Winnberg and Nils Törnqvist (Little Majorette), and Pontus Winnberg (Miike Snow) all bring their unique styles to an extremely well written and dynamically performed debut album. "Algen," the opening track to Sky City, presents itself as a blueprint for what all of these artists jumbled together might sound like. Electro-ish beats polished with psychedelic drone over a standard call and response pop tune. The rest of the album opts to showcase each of the individual artists’ talents without veering too far from the original blueprint. The only notable difference on the record is Ejstes and Bergman vocals. The mix however is perfect. “Elefanten” rings like a b-side from the Ta det lugnt sessions, whereas “Went To War” and “Velodrome” carry Amanda Bergman’s unmistakable voice to new heights. The highlight of Sky City is the nuance of the whole piece remaining listenable and cohesive. Each track maintains just slightly different production. Techniques which may seem too retro or forced had they not been exacted with the expert skill of a proper Swede's knowledge of pop. ABBA would be proud.

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Genre: Rock

No Cities To Love (CD)

Sleater-Kinney

It’s tough to come back after a nearly decade-long hiatus, especially after your band’s best album (the combustible The Woods). But Sleater-Kinney succeed with aplomb on No Cities to Love, which scales back on Woods’ volume without dialing down the ferocity. Cities roars right out of the gate on “Price Tag,” as Corin Tucker gives a scathing indictment of American greed over Carrie Brownstein’s tuff gnarled riffs. Janet Weiss also gives a typically dynamic performance, switching between off-kilter punk-funk and straightforward rawk on “Fangless” and giving “No Anthems” and “Gimme Love” their pounding swagger. There’s a sense that Tucker, Brownstein and Weiss are growing comfortable with one another again, and appropriately, No Cities to Love is curt at 10 songs (thankfully trimmed of any fat whatsoever, really). When the trio fits together perfectly, as on “Surface Envy,” it’s a marvel to behold, its acidic riffs swaying and bursting at the seams while Tucker gives her band a worthy rallying call (“We win, we lose, only together do we make the rules”). Decidedly, No Cities to Love is yet another win for the returning rock titans known as Sleater-Kinney. 

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Genre: Rock

The Grand Budapest Hotel [OST] (CD)

Alexandre Desplat

What would a Wes Anderson movie be without a soundtrack as bright and detailed as its imagery? Desplat, who has worked with Anderson on his last two films (Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom) provides a constantly moving soundtrack that is both tense and playful, offering a sort of mocking sleuthy erudition that can only come by way of real appreciation for the lilt of the music it imitates.

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Genre: Soundtracks