This Month's Picks

Tribal (CD)

Imelda May

The overall brassiness of rockabilly lends itself very well to Dublin’s Imelda May. It is always a dicey proposition to attempt to reclaim a genre of a bygone era. Luckily Imelda May seems to have good intentions. Well, maybe not good intentions…but this is no cheesy throwback or retro cash grab. On her fourth record, Tribal, May seems to have perfected her blend of contemporary rockabilly, new wave and straight-ahead bad-ass pop. The dozen tunes written by May and her husband (and guitarist) Darrel Higman swing from genre to genre with ease. From the high octane "Tribal" to the dreamy '50s malt shop inspired "Little Pixie" to the downright sleazy blues of "Wicked Way," this effortless cohesion is maintained solely by Imelda’s rockabilly sensibilities. All of which leads the listener to get a sense of the importance of the tribe to which she is referring.

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Genre: Rockabilly

Commune (CD)

Goat

The second studio record by this Swedish based Avant-Collective whose cult-like presence and mysticism indicate that the band has been operating in a far off land for the last 30 to 40 years. Their first album, World Music, filled with fiery jams and afro dance grooves, seemed to journey through space and time, sending the listener traveling the vistas of the world in the acid wash past of the '60s. Commune, by comparison, transcends space and time. The opening tribal gongs of "Talk To God" create a sense of some sacred initiation. As the gong fades the eastern guitars and hypnotic percussion tumble you forward. It isn’t until the jarring gnarl of the other worldly chant hits your bones that you notice you are part of the ceremony. Meditative pace lulls you into a thirty minute hazy trance. All at once, swept up in the dance, you conjure memories of icy Swedish witch burning ceremonies. Your primal communing of all other beings talking to god. Your God. You chant “INTO THE FIRE! INTO THE FIRE!” A gong rings. The memory fades. You have been converted.

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Genre: Rock

Human Voice (CD)

Dntel

Dntel, solo producer by the name of Jimmy Tamborello has long been creating soundscapes for others to put their human voice over. With Human Voice Tamborello has refused listeners the rights to their own language. Instead, he has created a world where connection is fleeting, melody is deconstructed, and all “voices” mechanized. An interesting proposition when the bulk of your listeners associate your music with Death Cab For Cutie’s emotive crooner Ben Gibbard. Nevertheless, the gambit pays off. Amidst the bits and grids of Human Voice, the mechanized voices morph through layered synths and staccato beats from the unintelligible to a distinct melodic pattern and back again. After 8 tracks It gives the listener the feeling of having communicated with a being not unlike a robot Ben Gibbard.

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This Is All Yours (CD)

Alt-J

With a sophomore record, there tends to be quite a bit at stake. All too often an act tries in vain to access the same immediacy and power that they were able to flaunt in their first release. Not to mention how much time and energy a band has had to craft their first etchings into popular consciousness. A second record is somewhat of a second chance these days to prove that you can still do that thing people liked, or at least fake it. English Indie rockers Alt-J are clearly an exception. Their second effort, This Is All Yours, is an example of a band using their second chance as a “give ‘em an inch, take a mile” credo. Coming off the commercial success of An Awesome Wave the now trio is taking some chances with their already defined sound. This Is All Yours blends similar electronics and harmonies from the first record with sound collage ("Every Other Freckle"), folk ballads ("Choice Kingdom"), so-cal funk ("Left Hand Free"), and even a Miley Cyrus Sample ("Hunger of the Pine"). An Innovative leap from a band that otherwise could have left well alone.

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Genre: Rock

Too Bright (CD)

Perfume Genius

Aptly named third album from Seattle based Mike Hadreas. With his previous output Hadreas had depended heavily on his lyrical prowess to shine through his sparse piano compositions. With tracks like “Queen” and “My Body” the lyrical dependence of dealing with his place in society as a gay man remains, but the self-effacing and fearful panic is barely contained. Instead, it is let out in focused evanescent bursts. Aided by the production of Portishead’s Adrian Utley, Too Bright is a perfect example of an artist catching up with his thoughts and being able to express his deeper feelings through his craft.

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Genre: Rock

Another Language (CD)

This Will Destroy You

On This Will Destroy You’s third album, the Texas band continues to refine its sound while delivering explosive post-rock tunes. “New Topia” is austere and atmospheric, until Jeremy Galindo and Chris King’s guitars erupt into heavily effected pyrotechnics, while Donovan Jones drilling bassline and Alex Bhore’s bashing cymbals drive the song downward so it’s grounded to the core. “Serpent Mound” follows suit, its synth and piano tones and guitar noises floating without a beat for half the song before the song’s sonorous second half lurches foraward—the effect is like a peaceful deep-ocean dive that turns up a mammoth sea beast. Thankfully, TWDY don’t rely on this exact dynamic too much—Another Language works because its songs move like waves, uneven and unexpected in their swells of sound, as the seven-minute “War Prayer” holds you rapt with its builds and releases. Though they don’t quite break the post-rock mold, TWDY mine such power out of the formula that you won’t really care—and when they try, as on the marching, easily digestible “Invitation,” you find yourself trusting that this is a band that knows what works and what doesn’t. With their searing, beautiful guitars and rippling drums, This Will Destroy You make you feel like you’re floating and seeing the earth pass beneath you. Another Language is a fantastic post-rock trip.

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Genre: Rock

This Is My Hand (CD)

My Brightest Diamond

Onetime Sufjan Stevens collaborator and now a formidable art-pop songstress in her own right, My Brightest Diamond (aka Shara Worden) pushes her songs further into accessibility with This Is My Hand. The sound of the record finds Worden singing over playful orchestrations, wielding her operatically trained voice slowly like a great and powerful weapon. “Pressure” begins with a drumline cadence and marching band horns, drawing soul out of her sometimes austere vocals and layering them over the song’s sexy strut “Before the Words’” huge, propulsive drum beat and jazzy bassline pair nicely with her hauntingly cooed vocals. Though she mines gold at playing the witchy vamp, it’s great, too, when she climbs out of her shell. “I am a lover and a killer” she sings with growing ferocity over a muscular groove on “Lover Killer,” finding inspiration in Prince and kinship in St. Vincent. “This is what love feels like!” she sings before unleashing a desperate wolf cry in “I Am Not the Bad Guy,” with a throbbing menace reminiscent of Radiohead, or a more friskier version of Third-era Portishead. Tracks with more open space, like “Looking at the Sun,” offer a chance for her divaesque vocals to come through beautifully, even as her words are foreboding (“wrestling with a double mine like two horses pulling both sides,” she sings creepily over Disney-level orchestration). “You never know minute to minute where I’m going” she sings tantalizingly on “Shape.” True. But that’s what makes listening to This Is My Hand so thrilling.

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Genre: Rock

Ices (CD)

Lia Ices

Singer/songwriter Lia Ices creates a virtual tapestry of sultry vocals, worldbeat touches and languid synthesizers on her third album. Tracks like “Tell Me” bounce on digitally smudged loops of eclectic noise and clashing percussion, while Ices’ voice chirps and coos above. Loose acoustic guitars jangle and imitate sitars on “Thousand Eyes” while Ices sings casually, vocals dripping with reverb. It’s a voice and style that recalls Kate Bush and Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser, especially on the sublime dream-pop of “Love Ices Over.” Occasionally she drowns herself out in reverb (which usually sounds great, but also muffles a voice this soulful), and her singsongy vocals all but shake you into submission on songs like “Higher.” Ices is better the more it chills out—a song like the “Electric Arc” builds majestically and doesn’t ask much of you but delivers in spades and leaves its primal, exotic melodies swimming in your head. Fascinating in its construction without ever coming across as academic, Ices is addictively fun art-pop.

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Genre: Rock

Just Enough Hip To Be Woman (CD)

Broncho

Whoa this is fun stuff! These guys have a sunny spontaneity and cheap pop rock fizz that reminds me of the Strokes or the Modern Lovers or the Clean. Oklahoma power pop dudes play bouncy, classic-sounding '80s trash that would sound pretty good on a John Hughes movie soundtrack. "Class Historian" has the deceptively simple hooks and harmonies of any Cars or Roxy Music bubbleglam, but it's just trashy enough to be made by millenials on the go. Broncho gives you the roller rink riffs, and stints not on the ooh oohs and the sha-la-las. Like Pavement, they are great pop craftsmen, but they keep it sounding delightfully cruddy.

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Genre: Rock

Heigh Ho (CD)

Blake Mills

Surprisingly seasoned at just 26, avant-Americana guitar wiz Blake Mills is best known for his work with Fiona Apple (who also shows up here, along with Jon Brion), as well as with Neil Diamond, Band of Horses and Alabama Shakes. These are tough, reverberant anthems, with distinctive production that's at once stark and scintillating, not unlike later Tom Waits albums. His guitar work is bold and heavy, with the vintage twang of Daniel Lanois or Neil Young, and his voice breaks with stinging honesty. Fans of dusty desert alterno-blues will find that Mills rambles with the best in the pack, from Cass McCombs to Tinariwen, Chris Robinson to Will Oldham. Just when he seems to be ripping into a late night whiskey gospel ballad, a wave of billowy ELO-style orchestration washes up and drenches it all in an aquamarine shimmer. There's a great musicality here, and a sonic pallet rich enough to dive deep into.

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Genre: Rock