This Month's Picks

The Colour In Anything (CD)

James Blake
English songwriter/producer James Blake’s latest LP is contemplative, lush, and lovely. His melancholic, velvety voice rises and falls over textured, rich soundscapes inspired by gospel, R&B, garage, and Burial-style dubstep. Blake has always been the master of his own unique brand of intelligent, emotional electronica, but this time he’s brought a few interesting collaborators into the mix, namely Frank Ocean, Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), Connan Mockasin, and Rick Rubin, who co-produced seven of the tracks. The overall effect is vivid, but it’s not necessarily easy listening; The Colour in Anything is a cathartic, sometimes achingly vulnerable statement on lost love, healing, and self-discovery. More

Lady Wood (CD)

Tove Lo
Tove Lo makes pop music of a different kind: smart, wild, and emotionally raw. On her latest, Lady Wood , the Swedish singer delves into similar lyrical territory, but adds a fine layer of gloss and studio sheen. Lead single “Cool Girl” delivers on its promise; it’s witty, self-deprecating, minimalist, and yes, icy cool. Wiz Khalifa makes an appearance on “Influence,” a downer party jam about club life, confidence (or lack thereof), and chemical use. Tove Lo once again stakes her claim as pop diva of disco darkness. More
Genre: Rock

Emotions & Math (CD)

Margaret Glaspy
Margaret Glaspy’s debut LP Emotions & Math will appeal to fans of bold yet barebones songwriting à la Courtney Barnett, Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten, and Laura Veirs. It’s a surprising album not only for Glaspy’s take-no-prisoners lyrical approach to love, relationships, and breakups, but also because of the way she builds on her diverse influences from the worlds of grunge, country, and folk. Glaspy alternates between gritty blues rock and ‘90s snarl, which means her sudden turns towards the introspective pack even more of a punch. With confident, versatile vocals, down south guitar and minimal percussion, the New York-based artist manages to tick all the boxes required for an indie singer-songwriter, while creating her own unique take on the genre. More
Genre: Rock

Head Carrier (CD)

On Head Carrier , the Pixies prove they're just as raw, smart, combative, and thoughtful as when they burst onto the scene with their 1988 full-length, Surfer Rosa . This is the band's first LP with new bassist/backing vocalist Paz Lenchantin, whose dulcet voice serves as an interesting contrast to some of Black Francis' more aggressive moments. At times the songs on the LP are bristling and confrontational, in other moments the music is lovely and nearly sweet, but with a barely hidden edge to it. Head Carrier covers a lot of ground, both emotionally and musically, and it's impressive to see a band who has been so consistently awesome throughout the course of their career knock another one out of the park. More
Genre: Rock

We Can Do Anything [Indie Exclusive] (CD)

Violent Femmes
The Violent Femmes are in rollicking, raucous form on their country-inspired recent LP, We Can Do Anything . Album opener "Memory" sets the tone with an upbeat, infectious, sing-along chorus before Gordon Gano and crew inject some fairytale silliness into the epic "I Could Be Anything." (Seriously -- references to battling dragons and winning the hearts of princesses abound.) The tracks here include many taken from old Violent Femmes demos, some co-penned by Gano with various songwriters, and one track ("What You Really Mean") is a cover of a song written by Gano's sister. Quirky, good-natured fun. More
Genre: Rock

Calico Review (CD)

The Allah-Las’ Calico Review is like the soundtrack to a 1950s California beach movie: easygoing and breezily cool, with just the slightest hint of rock ’n’ roll danger. The guitars flirt with surf rock tendencies, the vocals drift into psych territory, and the songs have that relaxed, shambolic garage rock influence. The album was recorded on the same soundboard used by the Beach Boys for Pet Sounds , which makes sense as Calico Review shares many of those sunny harmonies, but with a contemporary edge and a darker undercurrent. On this latest LP, the beach meets the Los Angeles streets and the Allah-Las prove once again that they’re one of the finest purveyors of modern psych/garage. More
Genre: Rock

Wonderland (CD)

Sarah McLachlan
Is Christmas Sarah McLachlan’s new Lilith Fair? With the release of her second studio Christmas album (actually, third if you count 2015’s The Classic Christmas Album , which is actually a repackaging of her first holiday outing, 2006’s Wintersong , plus five additional songs), Wonderland cements the holly, jolly holiday as McLachlan’s new cause. Unlike the daring assortment found on Wintersong that mixes and matches songs like "Silent Night" with Lennon & Ono’s "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and Joni Mitchell’s “River,” Wonderland is a collection of ten well-known classics and standards, plus one Canadian hymn ("Huron Carol," likely unfamiliar to most Americans but certainly in the spirit). The production is slick and full, and McLachlan fills these old chestnuts with her trademark register breaks as her emotive voice slides from low to high, which will thrill fans of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Surfacing . More
Genre: Holiday

Wede Harer Guzo (CD)

Dahlak Band, Hailu Mergia
You often hear about DJs and labels "digging in the crates," but what about digging in the crowded, hot streets and storefronts of Ethiopia? Awesome Tapes from Africa has not only rescued beautiful tapes and LPs from relative obscurity, but it's discovered lost gems that are so ingrained and connected to their own regional music scene and culture that they become an exciting new perspective on music that's so far from the world of Western ears. Hailu Mergia is, without a doubt, their greatest success story. Their first Mergia release was a mysterious and unique mix of endless accordion harmonies and simplified digital drums with almost new agey synthesizers for a low-fi, psychedelic dream. Sourced from Mergia's only cassette copy of the album, Wede Harer Guzo is more indicative of what Mergia could do with a higher budget and a large band. Doing a series of traditional Ethiopian standards with a large brass band, the music is less ethereal than Ethiopia's most famous jazz musician, Mulatu Astatke, and instead goes for heavy beats and funky brass that feels strangely reminiscent of Nigeria's Fela Kuti. "Sintayehu" opens with a catchy, funky riff that instantly amplifies when the brass kicks in and the drums start to pound viciously. It's no longer just some nice jazz track, but goes into a full funk freak-out that feels right at home with long-lost breaks and beats. "Migibima Moltual" is a more sensitive, smoother affair that is perfect for dancing after one too many drinks. The delirious keyboard haze over a slow, modal progression is typical of Ethiopian folk tunes, until the keyboard comes to overtake the song in an unexpectedly aggressive swing. For those who are desiring something on the outer horizons of music, nothing gets more interesting and beautiful than Hailu Mergia. More
Genre: World

Acoustic Christmas (CD)

Neil Diamond
Though Neil Diamond's established 1992 classic, The Christmas Album , explored seasonal standards with his smoky voice and very early-'90s production, his second Christmas album scales things back further for a raw, intimate holiday mood. Produced by Don Was and Jacknife Lee, Acoustic Christmas is the antithesis of Diamond's large, bombastic standards and instead goes for small ensembles and a mellower atmosphere. Singing along to Christmas classics like "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night," the sparse, simple production highlights Diamond's voice and all the shades of his deep timbre. If you ignore the Christmas elements, the album feels like Neil Diamond crooning along to a few acoustic guitars, allowing him to stretch and explore the depths of his sound, just like a classic folk album. A perfect example is "Do You Hear What I Hear?." The soft sizzle of a snare is barely present, the stand-up bass adds a little color, and the guitar has baroque overtones. But as soon as the gravel of Diamond's voice pops on, it's hard not to be drawn in and moved by its power. And the anti-war Christmas ballad feels more prescient in these increasingly dark times. "O Holy Night," a song instantly synonymous with the classic, gospel Christmas ballads of the past, feels bold and exciting as Diamond gives a powerhouse performance alongside a discreet guitar and piano, creating beautiful textures and sounds that paint a peaceful Christmas portrait in your head. The delicate arrangements just show the agelessness and showmanship of one of the all time greats. In contrast to all the over-produced Christmas songs that clog the airwaves, Acoustic Christmas is a warm cup of tea that gets the spirit right. More
Genre: Holiday

Moana [OST] (CD)

Lin-Manuel Miranda
If you've stepped out of your house sometime in the last three years, at some point you were bombarded with the inescapable soundtrack from Frozen . Those songs were everywhere and became part of American pop culture in an unexpected way. Disney is looking to strike twice with the soundtrack to their newest film, Moana , even recruiting the talents of Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) to mix things up and give it a new dimension and success. The film is set in the South Pacific, so the songs all have flavors of Polynesian melodies with island rhythms, Hawaiian percussion, and catchy chanting that feels perfect to sing along to. Australian band Te Vaka was enlisted to capture the feel and sound with the right level of authenticity. Bandleader Opetaia Foa'i uses the sounds of Somoa and New Zealand to capture a type of music which you've never heard before. "Logo te Pate," one of their classic tracks used in the film, is catchy beyond belief. With the heavy drums, clapping, and chanting, the song almost possesses you to dance and move. The song doesn't use any synths, just old fashioned musical styles that make it addictive and it will get stuck in your ear. This music is atypical of Disney's Broadway-style songs, but is no less moving than any of their previous soundtracks. When Hollywood scores start to sound the same, Moana 's soundtrack is a refreshing splash of cold water. More
Genre: Soundtracks